Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best New (to me!) Games of 2013

Top ten lists are difficult – especially when I don’t get to play some of the “big new games” for 6 months to a year after they’re released… so a couple of years ago, I listed my Best New (to me!) Games of 2011. It seems to me like that would be an appropriate way to celebrate 2013 as well.

bbgtr_largeHonorable Mention: Glory to Rome

While I actually played my first game of this in December of 2012, I’m letting this one onto the list because of a couple of technicalities:
  1. I didn’t do a “best new (to me)” list of games in 2012.
  2. I didn’t think I’d ever play it again.
But then, while digging around in a comic book/game store in Ft. Worth, TX in the spring, I found a copy of the Kickstarter “black box” version of Glory of Rome… for $35. (Yes, $35 – when new copies go for $100+. It was my Cheap Game Find of 2013.)

Now, multiple plays in (and without the really awful art of the original game), I’ve found a great game of hand management and resource manipulation. Wrapping your head around the flow of the game is tricky – but once you get how it works, it’s addictive. (Suggestion: the first time you play, try playing two games back-to-back so you can “lock in” the way the game works.)

99fa2-tash#10: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends

This just edged out Knizia’s Prosperity for the last spot on my countdown – and it did so by being a weird cross between an abstract game and a thematic battle game. While the rules are simple, “grokking” how to match board play & patterns on your cards can be difficult for some players.
I’m working on a full review of Tash-Kalar for the Opinionated Gamers that should be finished:
  • a. very soon
  • b. tomorrow
  • c. a month ago, like I originally thought
The answer is NOT (c).

3e1fa-box-kwadrat-nowy#9: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy

Back in the day (and I do mean “back in the day” – we’re talking the mid-1980′s here, folks… back when MTV actually played videos), I owned a copy of Avalon Hill’s Down With the King. It was a sprawling mess of a game with 19 possible actions each turn and holes in the rules big enough to drive a truck through. We managed to play it once – and I loved it for the game it wanted to be, not the game that it was.

So when I first heard about Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, I had high hopes that it might just be the game that scratched that same itch. Well, it is… and it isn’t.

This is a much more Euro-gamer-friendly take on dynasty-building – “worker” placement is a key mechanic, along with hand management – but the actions are clearly defined and the game flow (esp. compared to Down with the King) rips right along. It is not (for the most part) a game where you mess with each other (unlike DwtK).

A warning (or an invitation, depending on your tastes): this is an experience game – there are wise & stupid plays, but sometimes the game just conspires against you.

like dice#8: Like Dice

Every couple of years, Adlung comes out with one of their small box card games that turns out to be a really wonderful little game. (I’m a big fan of Vom Kap bis Kairo, Zauberschwert & Drachenei & Adlungland.) Like Dice deserves to join that crowd.

Unlike the other games, it’s a real-time speed math game… which – I know! – sounds like a brainiac yawnfest. But it’s not – there’s a great “slow the leader” mechanic that keeps things close (once everyone at the table has some experience with the game) and it’s just a whole lot of fun to play.

maticoro_box_omote#7: Machi Koro

It’s a small city-building game that packs a lot of fun into a small deck of cards & a pair of dice. What’s not small is the amount of fun I had playing it. It’s a filler game where the value of some of the cards changes with the number of players in the game – and where your choice about how many dice to roll can affect not only you but the rest of the players in the game.

There’s an expansion (only in Japanese) that looks nifty – but I haven’t got to try it yet.

Print#6: Suburbia, Inc.

Suburbia was probably my favorite new (to me!) game of 2012… so it’s not completely a surprise that I enjoy the heck out of the expansion. (Note: I was a playtester for both the base game & for the expansion… and our fearless leader here at the OG – Dale Yu – was the developer.)

What I really admire about the expansion is how it opened up more space in the game by creating a new thing to buy (borders) that both reward & constrain players – but without radically changing the very smooth design of Suburbia. The new in-game goals add some variety, as do the new city tiles.

All in all, it’s a great expansion to an already great game.

GAMEWRIGHT-415#5: Forbidden Desert

Matt Leacock has managed to create yet another wonderful cooperative game – and while it shares some similarities to both Pandemic & Forbidden Island, this game stands on its own. There are more balls to juggle here than in Forbidden Island… and coupled with the gorgeous Gamewright production, it makes for a great gamer-friendly family game.

I wrote a review for the Opinionated Gamers which goes into a lot more detail.

SCD-box-front-1024x957#4: Space Cadets: Dice Duel

Another game that I reviewed for the Opinionated Gamers… a real-time dice game in the Space Cadets universe that has been a hit with everyone who has tried it. Once you know what you’re doing (your first game will be a fumble-fest, I promise), it’s 20-30 minutes of non-stop fun.

Another nice thing: much like the original Space Cadets game, it works great with big crowds.

There is an expansion coming for this – Space Cadets: Die Fighter. (Fans of the game will be pleased, I assure you. I’ve seen it.)

Box-Top-not-final#3: Core Worlds + Galactic Orders

I bought Core Worlds on a whim – I’d always liked the ideas behind Andrew Parks’ Ideology: War of Ideas game and was drawn to the design of a deck-builder/tableau-builder cross-breed. (It doesn’t hurt that I like sci-fi & fantasy themes… as you can probably tell from the top 4 games in this list.) So, based on some positive reviews & some good buzz about a potential expansion, I picked up a copy.

While I enjoyed the original game, it felt… incomplete. When I got the expansion last April, it was like someone had plugged in the game and kicked it into overdrive. There were more ways to build a usable deck – and more options (thanks to the factions & faction tokens) to manipulate the games to conquer planets and create synergies.

I think the game is probably at its best with 3 players, using the pre-game draft of the “zero” round cards and the Galactic Orders expansion… but I don’t think that’s the easiest way to learn the game.

septikon#2: Septikon – Uranium Wars

This game wasn’t even on my radar… in fact, if I hadn’t ended up with a review copy, I still might not know about it.
But I did… and I do… and you will soon. This is a very creative two-player resource management/wargame with tower defense elements from Russia that was Kickstarted last fall in order to be printed for release in the European & American markets in 2014. And it’s a great 45 minutes (or so) of fighting to stay in the battle while things blow up around you.

All right, some of you are barely hanging on now – your “but I don’t like wargames!” reflex alarm is blaring. Maybe it would help you to think of Septikon – Uranium Wars as a resource & opportunity management game… albeit with a whole lot of damage & destruction. Or maybe you could think of it as a worker placement game – if your workers were loyal & mindlessly obedient clones whose entire mission was to pummel the opposing space station into submission.

OK, it’s a war game.

My Opinionated Gamers review includes some tactical tips & an imagined call center dialogue. (Yes, one of my many “keep food on the table” jobs was working in a call center.)

#1: Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition)

In the summer of 2006, I had a really neat opportunity fall into my lap: at KublaCon, I was asked to be an Overlord for the demo of the original Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Scott Alden (Aldie of BGG fame) and I sat back-to-back, each of us of acting as the nemesis Ifor a table of eager heroes. (If you want to hear more of that story, you can read Stay Out Of Range Of The Giant: Descent – Journeys in the Dark.)

The early promise of that first wonderful game withered with repeated plays… it took so long to get the game going, the campaign system was clunky, and an adventure took 4+ hours with a full complement of players. My desire to own a copy myself went the way of the dodo… and about the only reference I made to the game was in reviews of Catacombs. (“Catacombs = Descent + Carabande – 3 hours”)

So when I saw that Fantasy Flight Games was rebooting Descent, I was both intrigued and wary. And, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t choose to pick it up… and I didn’t get an opportunity to play it.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013… and while visiting with friends in Texas (hi, Ed!, hi, Susan!), my boys & I joined them in one of the early Descent 2.0 scenarios just to see how it would compare to the original.

I was blown away… and so were my boys (ages 8 & 12). All of the design ideas I’d loved from the original game were still there – one roll combat, customizable characters, great miniatures & artwork. At the same time, FFG had managed to knock off the “rough edges” – simplifying the Overlord system, losing the silly transport glyphs, etc. Most importantly, they’d broken adventures down into bite-size (read: playable in 60-90 minutes) pieces… and then connected them via a simplified campaign system that works like a charm.

So, I used some of my birthday money and bought the base game & the first expansion in July… and in the intervening 8 months, we’ve played 19 times. With me as the Overlord, one group of friends worked their way through the Lair of the Wyrm mini-campaign. Meanwhile, my boys & I are just about finished with The Shadow Rune (base game) campaign… and then my oldest son has declared that he is ready to be the Overlord and mess with us using our just acquired copy of the Labyrinth of Ruin expansion.

I can’t wait.

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

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