In my opinion, 2003 has been a very good year. While no single game stands out above all the rest, many of the new games this year I expect to continue to do well. I've played over 270 different games this year, and here are my picks for the best.
Top 10 New Games
Amun Re. This is probably not ever going to be in my overall top 10, but will be in the top 40. An outstanding game with some interesting strategic variety.
Attika. This is quite new, but seems to have enough going for it to last.
Finstere Flure. Some people don't go for the kind of chaos this game has, but with 4 or 3 players, it has enough control for my tastes.
Balloon Cup. While this isn't likely to usurp Battle Line or Lost Cities, this is a respectable "little brother" to these classics.
Europa Tour/10 Days in Africa. I like the 10 Days in Africa rule changes substantially better than Europa Tour, and I like that quite a bit.
Paris Paris. This seems to have fallen out of favor, but it's good enough and was a big enough hit this year that it earned this spot.
Coloretto. I'm awful at this, but I'll keep playing it in hope of eventually doing a bit better.
King Lui. Arguably the lightest on this list (though VisualEyes, below is close), but fun and easy to teach.
DieFugger. See my earlier comments
VisualEyes & New England (tie). I think VisualEyes is a clever and effective party game. New England didn't hit home with me as much as it did for some, but I am eager to play more.
Top 10 Old Games
Electronic Catchphrase. Just when I think this is falling out of favor, this becomes better and better.
Light Speed. This has surpassed Pico as my favorite 5 minute game.
Puerto Rico. This continues to be everything everyone says it is.
6 nimmt!. This is now the game of choice for 6 or more players.
Crokinole. We got one of these for our office and it continues to be enjoyed.
Can't Stop. This is essentially the game of choice for 3 players.
Fresh Fish. I still love this game.
Password. I hadn't played a lot of Password in the past, but it got a bunch of plays this year.
Princes of Florence. Another classic. Played with the G8GameTimer it is very interesting.
Filthy Rich. This OOP game is clever and fun, if random. Clever goes a long way with me.
Attika is a very good development game. It does seem to have one issue, however. Especially in the four player game, the "connect two shrines" win condition seems to occur too often, and when it does, it seems heavily luck driven. When the game is played to the other win condition (building all 30 buildings) it seems much more satisfying, and the luck factor seems substantially more manageable.
There have been claims that shrines becoming connected is simply an effect of the players being inexperienced. This seems reasonable, but it doesn't make it any more satisfying. While Attika will certainly get a great deal more play, it may often be with those who have not had a huge amount of experience with the game, and having the game end with a "sudden death" connection seems a shame, especially given how much more fun the game can be when played toward the 30 building goal. The connecting of shrines just feels disappointing as a win condition.
There seem two obvious fixes to this:
Eliminate the shrines altogether. Someone claimed this was way the game was originally. If so, it may be worth trying that way
Provide some other bonus for connecting shrines. My inclination would be to give a card bonus, such as "draw 4 cards" when you connect two shrines. This would encourage shrine connection, but a few lucky early draws wouldn't give someone the game.
I'll probably play Attika a few more times with the published rules before I try one of these variants, but they are appealing. I played again (with the official rules, withe 3 players) and two shrines got connected, after each player had built about 15 buildings. While I wouldn't say the win was undeserved, it is still substantially less satisfying. I think next time I play I'll try the "draw 5 cards" variant I describe above. I finally got around to playing with the the variant, with 4 cards as the "bonus". I like it better, but I think 4 cards may be an insufficient bonus. The problem with eliminating the shrin connection altogether (or too small of a bonus) is that it eliminates much of the motivation to pay attention to what other players are doing. When it's the win condition, it's absolutely essential to pay a lot of attention, and that's a nice feature. We did have a bit of play where players tried to connect shrines, and some of others trying to stop them, but the winner was one of the players who neither connected nor spent much resources blocking connections. I find the game much more satisfying when played to the 30 tile end condition, so I will definitely try this variant again, probably with a 6 card bonus. We'll see.
I finally got around to playing this game from Cwali which they were giving away free with any purchase at Essen. It exceeded my expectation for a free game. It's a quick little game of set collecting with several constraints. Very nice.
Highest 6 nimmt! winning score
I played a game of 6 nimmt! last night, and the winning score was 63. Wow.
Now that's it has been a month, I have some perspective on which games are the real hits. The two conspicuous standouts are Attika (see my comments/concerns though) and FinstereFlure, with DieFugger, Feurio and Pingvinas being pretty solid lighter games. I still haven't played PrincesOfTheRenaissance, which may well deserve a spot on the "hits" list, based on other comments I've heard.
There are a lot of Whist variants. By "Whist variant" I mean any game reasonably closely resembling the trick taking style of Whist. I don't include "climbing trick-taking" games like Dalmuti, Frank's Zoo or Tichu, but do include Whist, Bridge, Mu, Wizard, Sticheln, Die Sieben Siegel, Spades, Hearts, Hattrick, Foppen, Flaschenteufel, Twilight, Oh Hell, and any number of other similar games.
Broadly, I think of these games as falling into 3 categories: "like Spades", "Klaus Palesch-like" and "clever". Obviously, Spades is much newer than many so you could argue that Spades is "like Bridge", not the other way around. I don't care. I think Spades, while perhaps not the pinnacle of Whist-like games, is a good ruler to measure by. Klaus Palesch doesn't have a monopoly on the kind of game I'm giving his name, but he sure makes a lot of them (Sticheln, Mit List und Tucke, Hattrick), but there are others such as David & Goliath by Reinhard Staupe. Finally, "clever" is obviously a very subjective term and I'm setting the bar pretty low, but some of those in this category are very very clever. Perhaps "none of the above" would be a better category name.
My favorite variety tend to be the "clever" games, but I enjoy all three types. What I don't understand though is the surprising enthusiasm people seem to have for the various "like Spades" games that appear, that, to me, are all pretty similar. In particular, recently "Die Sieben Siegel" has gotten some very positive reviews. Come on, it's a fine game, but I get enough of that with Spades or Wizard.
So, rather than try to fully categorize everything, I'm going to list and put some comments here on ones I am especially fond of in the "clever" category:
"Clever" Whist like games
Twilight/Jeckyl & Hyde. One of the best, cleverest in the category!
Schnappchen Jagd. This one almost goes in one of the other two categories, but it's just different enough.
Was Sticht? This one probably belongs in the "like Spades" category, but the hand drafting is pretty clever
This is a new abstract game from Cwali. Despite it's nominal theme, it is really a very pure abstract. It's fun. It feels like there could be a lot of depth and strategy, but it may take more play than this will get to see it. Certainly a good one for fans of abstracts.
Last weekend I got to play a couple of games of "Die Fugger", a new game from AdlungSpiele. It's a very nice little market game that plays quickly and requires some interesting decisions. The basic idea is players play cards in sequence, and when the 5th of a particular commodity is played, the round ends. At this point, the top three commodities are raised in price and the remaining two are lowered. The price wheel is circular, and when a commodity becomes too highly priced, it crashes back to the low values. There are naturally other details, but that's the basic idea.
It's fun. It also suceeds at something that is fairly rare: it is a quick game that doesn't feel really light. There are a ton of games out there that play in under half an hour, but most of them feel very light. I'm not saying that Die Fugger is as meaty as something like PrincesOfFlorence or PuertoRico, but it packs a good amount into a short game. There's not a huge amount of strategy, but some strong tactical decisions and overall good tension.
I don't like this blog system anymore. I'm trying out a new one. This one will stick around until I decide I'm happier with the new one than I am with this one. The new one is both href=http://server.boardgamestuff.com:8000/mysite/index.php/HomePage>game stuff and other stuff. It even has an RSS feed.
I get a fair amount of spam. On some of my email addresses, over 100 spam messages per day. I use PopFile for my filtering and have been extremely pleased with its performance, and highly recommend it to anyone with a spam problem. It's straightforward to use and very accurate in my experience.
Additionally, at work, I have installed SpamAssassin on our servers, which does a very good job as well, though not quite as reliable as ~PopFile. They work well together though and the result is an entirely manageable level of spam getting through.
Yesterday, we ate at "Cuchi Cuchi", an oddly named restaurant in Cambridge with a interesting approach towards their dishes. Basically, they are a Tapas restaurant, but not exclusively (or even primarily) Spanish food. They have a variety of dishes ranging from $8 to $11. We had 6 dishes for the two of us, but 5 would have been plenty.
Overall, the food was very good. The ambiance was nice as well, with a rather funky decorating style. For food, we had Hot Crab Timbale, Brie en Crout, Chicken Kiev, Beef Stroganoff, a fried tomato dish and a delicious Eggplant with roasted peppers and goat cheese. I especially enjoyed the Eggplant and the Brie en Crout. I very much like the idea of having a number of "appetizers" rather than a single main course, and I hope it's an idea some other restaurants take up.
The quality and environment match the price, but it is a little pricy. On a weekday, they were busy, but we did not have to wait without a reservation.
Last night I played these three. I had played Attika once, two player, at Essen, with the wrong rules. With the correct rules it is substantially better. It occured to us that given that Hans im Gluck also published Attila, they'll next need to publish "Attija". Maybe an oil related game (Abdullah Hamad al-Attija appears to have been an OPEC president at one point). In any case, Attika is enjoyable and I look forward to playing it more.
Schwarzarbeit seemed to have one of the common deduction game problems: everyone figures everything out at the same time. We played with allowing note-taking, which wasn't clear whether or not if it was intended, but like most deduction games, eliminating note taking would probably make it unreasonably hard. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be played though. Unfortunately, as a result, it was a lot of luck at the end when everyone had figured things out. I'll still give it another try.
Finstere Flure continues to be very enjoyable. In addition to being a very fun game, the components are beautiful and the rules are easy to explain.
I got back yesterday from Spiel in Essen yesterday. It was very good. This evening, I played Finstere Flure, the new one from Friedemann Friese and was very impressed. It's a nice balance of theme and mechanics and was a lot of fun.
I've added some Google AdSense ads to the bottoms of a few of my pages. I'll see how it goes for a few days and decide if I'm keeping them there. (eg, boardgamestuff and game store database)
I'm going to see what I can do to update this page a bit more often, as it's been almost abandoned.
#10: Puerto Rico (1 play) I played what may have been my closest game of this ever. Five players, only 3 or 4 point spread between first and last, very high scores (all around 50), and the game ended by running out of victory points and colonists. I continue to worry about factory strategy dominance, but not too much.
#9: Zirkus Flohcati (3 plays) Rapidly ascending as one of my favorite fillers. To me, this is a bit of a surprise because I don't usually like Rummy games and this certainly has some Rummy flavor.
#8: Princes of Florence (1 play) Luke, Alison and I played an AMAZING game of Princes at the Gathering. Luke had the "G8 game timer" and we played with it all agreeing to play as fast as we could. We didn't time the auctions, but we did time player turns. The whole game, setup and play included came in under 30 minutes. Wow. What a rush. We all made mistakes, but the game was very close in the end. It was a very different experience from "normal" princes, but I highly recommend trying it some time.
#7: Gulo Gulo (3 plays) This is a new dexterity game from Zoch. It probably won't appear on the top 10 again, but it's cute, clever, and deserves mention for having adorable plastic wolverines.
#6: King Lui (4 plays) A great new filler. I think this may prove to have more depth after people have played it a few times than people are realizing. The reluctance to take large piles for fear of going over is justified, but often by not taking them you grant someone else a huge windfall. Some interesting possibilities.
#5: Europa Tour (4 plays) I'm looking forward to the African and US version of this as well. It works well with 2 too. A nice "heavy" filler, or "light" main course.
#4: Coloretto (6 plays) If "It's Mine" is "speed Ra", then this must be Ra, but it's not. I find this very much like "It's Mine" with some interesting tactical choices, especially when played with fewer players.
#3: Paris Paris (4 plays) On my first play, I wasn't that impressed, but during my second game something "clicked" and I really like this. The "untwisted" map on BGG is a useful tool and counting tile usage is critical, but the player impact on what is scored and what isn't is clearly where this game shines.
#2: Balloon Cup (6 plays) Clearly, I'm a sucker for card games where players compete on several "flags" (Battle Line, Lost Cities, Tabula Rasa, etc.). I'm beginning to speculate the luck factor here may be higher than I thought at first, but it's a lot of fun all the same. I've found a strategy of hording gray cards to be very effective at forcing opponents into sub-optimal play.
#1: Amun-Re (4 plays) I am really not sure why I like this game so much. Usually, I can identify a particular new/clever mechanism, a thematic element, a particular decision tension, nice bits, or *something* that makes me like a game. Here, I can't put my finger on it, but I really enjoy it. The mechanisms are good ones, but nothing especially new. I suppose they simply fit together in a pleasing way. Plus, the gloss of using a pyramid pricing scheme in a game about building pyramids is just great.
A crossword puzzle all about board games I wrote has been published in this month's edition of The Games Journal: href=http://www.thegamesjournal.com/puzzles/Crossword1.shtml>http://www.thegamesjournal.com/puzzles/Crossword1.shtml.
This is actually my second effort at crossword writing. My first version was probably too hard to do without extensive Internet searching, but feel free to try it out.
I recently got Cathedral from Gamescape in Palo Alto while visiting there. I picked up the "polystone" version which means the pieces are made of a hard resin material and the picture on the box made them look very nice. Unfortunately, upon opening it I found that the two different colors of pieces were very hard to distinguish in low light and even in good light were quite similar. Fortunately, the folks at Gamescape were very nice and allowed me to exchange it for the wooden version, but I thought it was worth warning others that the Polystone version has some serious issues.