CUBE PUSHER

In appreciation of modern board and card games.

2010 Retrospective

I haven’t exactly been a prolific gamer over the past few years, even at my peak. This year, though, my board game plays plummeted, and there’s a good reason for that. Three, actually. That’s the number of people in my family now, and 2010 was my wife’s and my first full year spent together with a little one in the house. It’s been quite an experience, to say the least!

I still found time to play plenty of games, though, and the overall numbers for the year were bolstered by trips to the WBC and to EuroQuest, the latter of which was a birthday present from my family. I’m grateful to them for helping to make that happen, and I really enjoyed myself. While there, I had the opportunity to play some of the fresh Essen titles months before they actually made it to the US, which was a huge treat. Another boost to games played came from an unlooked-for source: work. Occasionally, some of my co-workers and I would sit down to a lunchtime game at the office. These were typically short “filler” games, but that’s the perfect fit for lunchtime at work.

There is a lot to my gaming history that I won’t share here, but shortly, it will become clear to most other gamers how much of a lightweight I am in this world of boards, cards, and little wooden cubes. Still, I have some experiences worth sharing, and perhaps some of them will be useful to seasoned and aspiring gamers alike. I’ve certainly played my share of games… it’s just when I look at how many plays some other game bloggers have, I look like a halfhearted dabbler by comparison (and, admittedly, a pretty envious dabbler at that).

I’ll start with an overview of my paltry stats first, then move to the “special awards”, and finally close out with my personal Top 5 of the year.

2010 Stats

Games Played by Year

I played 68 distinct games in 2010, and I had 104 total plays all year. This is down about 15% from 2009, and down about 35% from my 2008 counts. Still, it’s much higher than I would have thought before actually looking at the numbers, so I’m thankful.

There are only 2 nickels (games that I played 5 or more times) on the list: Innovation and San Juan. I’m not a huge San Juan fan, but the guys at work like to play it, and I’m not about to argue when there’s a chance to squeeze a play in over lunch break. Innovation is up there because my non-gamer wife has taken a liking to it, and has beat me more than once (further boosting its spouse appeal)!

Of the 68 games I got to play, 55% of those were new games, about the same ratio as the two previous years. It’s nice to know I’m consistent in one area: I do like to try new games quite a bit. Of my total plays in 2010, 47 were single plays, about 69%. That’s pretty close to the past couple of years as well.

I’ve done a rather bad job of keeping track of my game acquisition stats, but I’ll hopefully get that in order for next year’s reckoning. Suffice it to say that I own far too many games for how often I get to play them. However, I am working on raising a future gamer. Only 5 more years (or so) till he’s ready for Puerto Rico. ;)

In summary, not great numbers by any stretch, but I played games when I could and enjoyed other aspects of life the rest of the time. Maybe 2011 will be kinder to this gamer (it’s not looking that way!).

Special Award: Biggest Surprise

Dominant Species

Photo by Raid1280

The game that totally came out of nowhere this year was Dominant Species. There was minimal news and buzz surrounding its release, but people started absolutely raving about it once it got published. I was certainly impressed with it after just reading the rules, but my one play of Dominant Species confirmed that it’s the real deal. It’s surprising too how “nasty, brutish, and short” the life of a species can be.

Runners-up: Thunderstone, Peloponnes

Special Award: Biggest Disappointment

Twilight Imperium

Photo by Kon Wacht

I don’t like to say negative things about games, so I’ll keep this short. I sat through a nightmarishly long Twilight Imperium, Third Edition for 9 hours (!!!) on Black Friday. I could have played 4-5 other games during this period that were actually fun. It gave me a splitting headache and made me want to punch kittens. I was very excited to play TI3, and was severely let down.

Dishonorable Mention: Campaign Manager 2008, Age of Industry

Special Award: Best “New to me” Game

Twilight Struggle

Photo by halobungieman

Twilight Struggle is a mainstay atop the BGG ranking for some reason. I decided to find out what that reason was this year, and it turned out to be pretty rewarding. I played it 3 times throughout the course of the year, not bad at all for a longer game. It’s a great game that every gamer should try at least once. I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of this one. The rules are so simple, but the decisions are so tough, and the game has a wide-open feel that should let creative thinkers run wild.

Runners-up: Innovation, London

Special Award: Best Filler

Roll Through the Ages

Photo by Gryphon Eagle

I define filler as a game that takes roughly 30 minutes or less to play. Roll Through the Ages fits that requirement and takes the cake. It’s an incredibly fun and fast-paced dice-rolling game that incorporates a Yahtzee-like civ-building/scoring mechanic. It’s also over quickly, perfect for playing in between longer games, or to start or close a gaming session.

Runners-up: 7 Wonders, Money

Special Award: Best Gateway Game

Tobago

Photo by thdizzy

I was introduced to Tobago by Kevin (@seizeyourturn) and his wife. It’s simply charming, complete with awesome components, an accessible treasure-hunting theme, and a novel deduction mechanic that narrows down the locations of buried treasure on the island. Did I mention the awesome components?

Runners-up: Acquire, Samarkand

Special Award: Most Thematic Game

Merchants & Marauders

Photo by Omega Wolf

Avast! Merchants & Marauders be th’ game fer ye. Arrr, it’s a pretty impres­si’e game, with lots t’ think about and a great feel. On the run from pirates, I verily felt like a mer­chant in th’ Caribbean, ahoy, but ye can turn pirate and start collectin’ bounties at any time. Me liked the upgradable ships an’ the sea bat­tles. A pence for an old man o’de sea?

Runners-up: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Railways of the World

Special Award: Lunch @ Work Game

Carcassonne

Photo by ZaNaBoZa

What plays quickly and has the shortest possible setup time? Carcassonne, of course. Just set out 2 stacks of tiles, and off you go. This one has turned out to be ideal for lunchtime gaming at the office. I’m not very good at Carc, nor do I own a copy, but I’ll almost never turn down a game of this if I’m at the office and have time (the latter condition occurs less often these days, sadly).

Runners-up: San Juan, Mamma Mia

Top 5 Games of 2010

Just a note of clarification. Before I get into these, let me point out that none of this really means anything. My thoughts on these games are purely subjective, so I encourage you to take it with a grain of salt, and post your own reviews if your tastes differ from mine.

5. Merchants & Marauders

Merchants & Marauders

Photo by Henk Rolleman

I really want to play this one more, and I really can’t say that about most games these days. An automatic berth on the 5-spot.

4. Endeavor

Endeavor

Photo by Matic

It’s a good sign that I’m still into this one. I heavily anticipated Endeavor’s release and haven’t been disappointed in it one iota. Endeavor boasts a tense balance of timing, area control, hand management, and action optimization, all within an attractive and accessible package.

3. Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy

Photo by Utumo

I’ve been pretty high on Race this year. Its depth and richness of strategy is tough to beat, and it’s just a card game! Experienced players can also play this pretty quickly, a big plus. I probably have about 100 plays of this under my belt, by far my most-played game. With the 3 expansions, Race continues to challenge and mystify me.

2. Innovation

Innovation

Photo by EndersGame

A highly impressive game from the designer of Glory to Rome. Its one problem is in scalability: it has a very zero-sum feel for two players, but may be too chaotic with four. Three seems to be the sweet spot. Yes, there is randomness and chaos, but such is the nature of card games, and it plays so fast that it’s easy to just start over with a new game.

And that leaves us with my favorite game of the year:

1. Troyes

Troyes

Photo by lacxox

Troyes is a really special game, of a breed I haven’t seen a lot of in my short gaming career. I’ve been trying to stay away from the 2010 Essen games, but in this case I just can’t resist Troyes. It’s right up there with El Grande and Caylus as one of the finer examples of modern game design. I don’t know that Troyes will ever be ranked as highly as those, but it’s a deceptively deep game with a lot going on, making for a nice blend of tactics and strategy. The dice mechanic is a stroke of absolute brilliance.

Honorable Mentions: Twilight Struggle, Macao, London

That’s it!

Well, that’s all I’ve got. What do you think of my Top 5, and how would yours be different? What were some other games you enjoyed this past year? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter or post comments below.

This “Year in Review” article was heavily inspired by Hiew Chok Sien and Chris Norwood, whose stalwart gaming blogs are radiant lighthouses to my dim, flickering flashlight.

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