- page one (the top ten games, good surprises, biggest disapointments, best components),
- page two (best art, worst game, best card game, best party game, best war game, best children's game, best family game)
- page three (most innovative, strangest game, best expansion, game we wish we would have played, biggest brain burner)
You'll note that there are some games on these lists that didn't appear in my Best of 2011 list - that's because I didn't get to play them until the last few weeks!
Best Game of the Year
- While Eric & Tom both picked Star Trek: Fleet Captains (which is kind of an amazing thing in itself), I'll go with Tom's #7 pick - Risk: Legacy. I continue to be amazed at how much fun I'm having each time I play (win or lose) and how much I'm looking forward to the next time it comes to the table. Also kind of proud of naming the Oceania continent "Thunderdome". (BTW, I put Fleet Captains at #10 on my list.)
Best Good Surprise Game of the Year
- There's kind of a tie... between two games by the same designer, no less! I'm not always a fan of Friedemann Friese's work... but both the solitaire deck-building game Friday & the streamlining of the Power Grid system as a prehistoric civ-building game with First Sparks hit me right in my sweet spot. Well done, Green-Haired Man!
- While I wanted Small World: Underground to be, well, more something... it was still a good game. (I wish Days of Wonder would make Relics & Places for the surface-dwelling original game, btw.) And Dungeon Run fell flat in my first playing - though I've since found out that we missed a crucial rule that would have made the end game work much better. So, the jury is still out on this much-anticipated game. Sadly, I can't say the same for Reiner Knizia's Star Trek: Expeditions - which is rife with too much math and too little tension. For the guy who essentially set the bar on cooperative games with his still very enjoyable Lord of the Rings, this was a whiff. (Evidently, I'm in a minority - the expansion for Expeditions just released today.)
- For sheer ooh-aah can't-believe-they-packed-all-those-miniatures-in-the-box, I've got to hand this award to D&D Adventures: The Legend of Drizzt. It's a great one hour cooperative dungeon crawl that focuses on the coolest part of every adventure - facing the big boss in a fight to the death. (Gamer note: I have played Castle Ravenloft - which I didn't like as much as Drizzt - and have not played Wrath of Ashardalon.)
- There was a lot of great art direction/graphics to enjoy this year... but I'm going to have to honor Summoner Wars: Master Set for using evocative yet not overpowering card art that makes it easier to differentiate the cards upside-down (a real need in this game). I also want to give Colby & his gang of henchmen props for creating a graphic design for the cards that works cleanly & brilliantly.
- For me, the worst game of 2011 was the party game Ticked Off! It's an attempt at gamer-friendly Scattegories with a nice twist (having two categories in play at one time) that is ruined by a "smart people need to play dumb & game the system" rule. An honorable mention goes to Urban Sprawl - which would be a perfectly fine game if it lasted an hour but three hours of think-y tactical decisions ruined by a bad card draw is way too long.
Best Card Game
- I didn't actually discover the best card game of 2011 until the end of January 2012... and that is Tom Lehmann's splendid filler game The City. Hopefully there will be an English edition soon - but the German on the cards hasn't slowed down my sons from playing it (and enjoying it immensely). It's a simpler, quicker take on the Race for the Galaxy "pay for your play with cards from your hand" that has a variety of victory paths and a very short playing time (15-20 minutes). I played my first game on Saturday... and have played 7 more times in the following three days.
Best Party Game
- This wasn't a big year for party games... but my family really enjoyed Say Anything: Family Edition. It ditches the questionable questions (those designed to invoke off-color answers), adds some more kid-friendly questions & streamlines the game a bit.
Best War Game
- I'm an old-school wargamer - I cut my teeth on Wooden Ships & Iron Men, the first edition of AH's Third Reich, and the original Squad Leader - but I haven't really been a hex-and-chit wargamer for a very long time. Of course, I realize my pick for Best War Game is not going to go over well with that crowd... as I'm smitten with the Memoir '44 Campaign Book: Volume II. This wonderful book is icing on the oh-so-yummy cake of my favorite game in the Command & Colors system.
Best Children's Game
- Though I think that the expansion for The Magic Labyrinth (sadly only published in Germany, so far) is delightful, the best kid game of the year is the dexterity/speed game, Monster-Falle. Whimsical art, nifty game play... and it even has easy ways to vary the difficulty & handicap the game. Chasing monsters out of the house is fun for kids - and for adults!
Best Family Game
- I sometimes wonder exactly what kind of families gamers have in mind when they choose their "best family games". They certainly don't have my two gamer sons (ages 6 & 10) and my decidedly non-gamer wife. Anyway, my choice focuses on being the best game for MY family... and that is certainly Castle Panic with the Wizard's Tower expansion. We can play the cooperative version with my wife... and then the boys & I can enjoy the Overlord "1 vs the rest" version.
- Oh, man... 2011 was a big year for innovation. The Ares Project found new ways to portray futuristic combat in RTS style... and Ascending Empires managed to do the same thing in a completely different (and new!) way. Quarriors is the first dice-building game. But my pick of this excellent bunch is the wonder that is Risk: Legacy - come on, people! A game that insists that you deface the board, tear up cards, and reveals rules only after multiple plays... there's been nothing like this before. Nothing.
- Well, in Monster-Falle, you're pushing monsters into a hole in the floor. Gubs has you doing some very strange things to save your tiny slug-people. Friday is about keeping Robinson Crusoe alive long enough to defeat the pirates & get him the heck off your island. But none of those touch the weirdness that is LEGO Ninjago - which could just as easily have been called "LEGO Whirling Dervish-ago" or "LEGO License To Print Money Off the Backs Of My Children's Allowance".
- This was a great year for expansions: 7 Wonders: Leaders (which did added some neat twists w/out bogging down the game), Saboteur 2 (which fixed the mess that was the original Saboteur), Claustrophobia: De Profundis (which gave us more of what we wanted - a lot more!), Innovation: Echoes of the Past (some sweet new mechanics to add to the variety), Dice Town: Extension (which increased the options for clever play & chaos), and the myriad of Summoner Wars, Fresco & Tannhauser expansions. I've already mentioned Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower - which turns a very good family cooperative into a great gamer/family cooperative - so I'll go with the one-two punch of Catacombs: Caverns of Soloth & Catacombs: Dark Passageways. The first added a dungeon full of new monsters & heroes... making the game more interesting & more varied. The second was simply a deck of cards that spiced up the system & made it less predicable - a fault if you're playing a Euro game, but a bonus for a dungeon crawl.
Biggest Brain Burner
- I don't play brain-burning games much any more... but two new games managed to bamfoozle me in 2011. My problems with Eminent Domain have primarily to do when & how I learned it - mid-gaming weekend w/little sleep & inadequate nutrition - rather than the game itself. (I'd like to try it again.) But my brain is still trying to get a handle of Rails of New England - it's not the rules, per se, but what the heck I would/could do to be more successful. I know it's not a REAL brain-burner (like, say, Dia de los Muertos) but it certainly made my head spin.
Game I Wish I Would Have Played
- There's a long list of games from 2011 on my "must try" list: Eclipse, Ora et Labora, Blood Bowl: Team Manager, Core Worlds, Olympos, Airlines Europe, Conquest of Planet Earth, Walnut Grove, Nefarious, Helvetia, Hawaii, Coney Island... but the one I most regret not playing is Dungeon Petz. I love the predecessor to this game (Dungeon Lords) and I think Vlaada Chvátil is a wonderfully creative designer - so I'm going to try to fix this omission as soon as possible.