Friday, January 21, 2011

Doug Asked a Great Question

On his wonderful (and long-running) podcast, Doug Garrett asked a great question as a part of a contest: "What are the three best new-to-you games from 2010?"

Well, here's my answer.


Tannhauser: Revised Rulebook

When I played the original U.S. release of Tannhauser back in early 2008, I enjoyed the alternate history theme & the Pathfinding board mechanism that makes checking LOS easy... but the rules were kind of a mess, with some real problem areas that begged for serious development. So, even though I knew this was "my kind of game", I was scared away by "good luck, you'll need to house rule ad infinitum to fix this" nature of Tannhauser circa 2008.

So, earlier this year when Fantasy Flight finally announced that they had revised the rules so completely that they were publishing a new rulebook, I sat up & took notice. One math trade later, I had a copy of the game in my hands to go with the aforementioned rules... and Fantasy Flight had a serious customer on their hands. (It's no surprise that the guy who owns every expansion set for Heroscape & Memoir '44 would do the same with Tannhauser.)

Here's what I like about the game: it combines a compelling thematic world (an alternate history universe where the First World War never ended & the armies utilize alien technology harvested from the Roswell crash and occult items harvested a la Raiders of the Lost Ark), a simple combat & line of sight system that makes game play fast-moving, and a wide variety of characters & weapon packs that make each game a different experience. It plays well as a 2 player game... or with multiple players (up to 10) with each person controlling a single character. And it doesn't hurt that it has pre-painted minis - that stuff is like catnip for me.

This is Hellboy (theme) meets Halo (game play)... and it works like a charm.

A Brief History of the World

Much like Tannhauser, I first played the Ragnor Brothers' History of the World in the mid-90s. The experience was a disaster - six new players coupled with the overly wargamer-tinged rules of the original Avalon Hill publication of the game meant it took us nearly four hours to complete two of the seven epochs... and then we abandoned the game.

It was nearly six years later when I received an early prize table pick at a gaming convention and thanks evidently to a whiff of the massive amounts of plastic figures in the box decided to pick up the Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition as my first pick. The game was substantially better than I had remembered - esp. with the revisions that had been made to streamline the design. It became one of those "once a year" games (because of the length... 4-6 hours) though I wanted to play more often.

Fast forward to late 2009 as the Ragnor Brothers announced that they had - nearly 20 years after the first edition was published - once again made some major revisions to their signature game. The early press was positive enough for me to plunk down some hard-earned cash on it - seeing as how I hadn't played my beloved H/AH copy of HOTW in nearly 3 years.

I didn't waste a penny... though I miss the 7 different plastic minis (one type for each epoch) and the shiny capitol/city markers, everything else I love about the game system is still there - and less. It's shorter, leaner & tighter (our six player game this year took 3 1/2 hours with 2 new players)... and there's actually more room in the game for tactical & strategic decision-making while reducing the number of armies on the board. The refining of the empire deck (giving more thematically specific powers to some of the empires) and the costing of the event deck (many events now come with some kind of VP cost to activate) make for an even better game.

I managed to play it 4 times in 2010... and expect to get at least that many plays in 2011.

Gelini Nightlife

A common theme on my list of "best new to me games in 2010" is "games that have been retooled" and Gelini Nightlife is no exception. Tutankhamen was a very early Knizia design (1993) and my one play left me with a headache & a vow never to play again - the BGG description humorously understates that it is "an exercise in numbers that plays quickly, probably 30 minutes tops, and is suitable for youngsters yet susceptible to analysis."

So when Joe Huber poked me via email following Essen 2009 and told me to pick up a copy of Gelini Nightlife, it's a good thing he didn't mention the resemblance to Tutankhamen. But Dr. K. made a really brilliant change to the game that made it one of my favorite games from last year.

He added a die.

Yep, a die. Randomness. In this case, it replaces the tendency towards AP with a need to properly assess probabilities and then go for it. The press-your-luck element in the game (do I use this roll or let the next guy in line take it?) ups the tension and tendency towards lighthearted mid-game banter.

It doesn't hurt that you're collecting gummi bears (Gelini is a German brand) rather than the standard Euro theme of ancient Egyptian symbols. Even better - the gummi bears are headed for a variety of clubs to go dancing... so your objective is to fill your dance floor first. (Note: this is a simplified scoring system compared to the original game.)

There are some "advanced" variant tokens which add some twists to the game - but it works just fine without them. I've played with kids as young as 5 and adult gamers - it's been a success in every setting.


Yes, I know it's supposed to be three. So sue me.


Possibly the best marriage of theme & game mechanisms since Thebes... a worker placement game that doesn't make me want to run screaming from the room. I also like the way the included expansions can vary the complexity without damaging the purity of the base game.

I'm looking forward to the new expansion box - though it's pretty spend-y.

Dungeon Lords

Almost as good as Fresco at mating theme & game mechanisms... and using worker placement in some very creative ways. The game is much more enjoyable if you (a) have a background in fantasy roleplaying and (b) get to read the very, very funny rulebook.

Burger Joint

Joe Huber (he who recommended Gelini Nightlife) also managed to publish a splendid two-player game of restaurant building that uses wooden cubes as a resource in some tricky ways. Burger Joint plays in 30 minutes and keeps showing us new ways to pursue a win.

BTW, I played an earlier prototype of this game some years back - I like the released version MUCH better.


Take the dungeon crawling of Descent: Journeys in the Dark and add the flicking of Carabande... then subtract 3+ hours & voila! you have Catacombs. It's a one hour romp through the catacombs with combat resolved via wooden discs.

I can NOT wait for the expansion.

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