Games I Loved in 2012
It is quite common (and enjoyed) for bloggers to write about the best games of the year, or their recommended holiday purchases. I'm not quite qualified to do either, nor did I play enough 2012 games to really feel comfortable filling a list.
However, I did play a great number of games this year, many new to me, and I want to share some of my favorites. Some of these will be old, some new, and perhaps you can use them to steer your holiday purchases if you're so inclined.
Here, in no particular order, are the games I loved in 2012.
This medium weight area control war game has been a big inspiration for me as a designer this year and really well received every time it's hit the table. The game is incredibly easy to learn, infuses variety for its factions very simply through simple custom dice modification and easy-to-use cards, and features really compelling team play.
If you grew up playing Risk, but are over it, give 1812 a look. It plays quickly, doesn't feel random, and has some great choices throughout. This is a great game!
I've played this game extensively. It plays super quickly, is an absolute laugh-riot, and yet has many great decisions. The art and presentation of the game is absolutely beautiful and every component exemplifies what is special about board games. I have already purchased the expansion and frankly, you should have this game.
Almost all my friends have bought this game as a result of my initial copy -- you won't go wrong.
This is the game that built Plaid Hat Games. I've played about 80 games on my iPhone and a handful of games on my physical copy. I wrote about it in an earlier post as well. Basically, this is an outstanding 2 player tactical battle game that has the best elements of Magic without all the complexity. It's smooth, full of variety, and allows for great "ah ha!" moments.
Easily a favorite game of mine for years to come.
Making a return from my 2011 favorites list is Ascension. I still don't own a physical copy (I should), but I've played over 500 games on my iPhone and just can't seem to grow tired of it. Sure, there are times when I set it down for a month or so, but then I return and fall in love again. The game has amazing variety, great pacing, and is just so damn fun.
Keep in mind it isn't much fun with more than 2 players, but honestly I'm not sure I'll ever grow tired of this game.
I feel a little cruel listing this game as it's almost impossible to find these days, but Ascending Empires is outstanding. It plays quickly and is packed full of good strategy. Players briskly take a single action every turn as they build their empire, research technologies, and flick their ships across the galaxy to do battle. Oh, yeah, there's a dexterity element in flicking your ships. Don't let that turn you off! This is still a strategy game, but with a twist. If you can find it, get it.
This may be the perfect game. It can be played over lunch, is incredibly easy to explain, scales beautifully, and is really just an outstanding example of brilliant Euro design. Feld is a master and this is a great offering.
The game is an auction game, but unlike many Knizia style auctions, you place workers to bid and up-bid your opponents in a very tightly contested battle of supply and demand. The core game is beautifully simple and the difficult to find expansion really ratchets it up a notch. One of the best integrated expansions I've seen, Kaispeicher adds a little craziness and potentcy to what is an otherwise incredibly distilled experience. Don't let the terrible title or boring theme steer you away, this is a very interactive, outstanding experience.
This game has been really special for me this year. Unlike most of my games, we created a steady group of 5 of us to play through the campaign (approximately 15 games) and enjoy it together. In my opinion, the experience has been absurdly special and memorable.
At its core the game is Risk. Battles resolve the same, reinforcements are added almost identically...it's Risk. But, unlike Risk, the games end in anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours (depends on where you are in the campaign) and there are a few twists added. But, the beginning is just the tip of this faux nostalgic iceberg.
Firstly, during the games, and at the end of every game, the board permanently evolves. Cities are added, fortresses are placed, and more. And, as you hit certain conditions, you open up packets that add entirely new mechanics, new rules, and permanently alter the board further. We've really had some "holy crap!," crazy-cliffhanger style moments that have been super enjoyable. If you can get a group of friends together every few weeks, you shouldn't miss this.
I bought this game for research -- I'm designing some cooperative games and I wanted to see how this well-known designer handled a player versus game design. It was also cheap and I heard it was good. I was dubious as playing a board game solo is, frankly, just sad.
Well, this game is amazing. It is beautifully streamlined and silky smooth. There is no accounting or any such nonsense. You just play and play and before you know it, you're playing a fourth game. The game is very difficult, but very rewarding and logical. It's a deckbuilder in which winning earns you new cards and losing allows you to permanently remove cards to cull and improve your deck. It has a strong push your luck element and is really all about probability. This is a lovely game!
This is another game that was on my 2011 favorites list. I still really enjoy it and it has always been enjoyed by new players, so I want to bring it back. Alien Frontiers is a dice rolling worker placement game. You roll a set of up to 6 dice and assign them to various stations around the planet to receive actions and benefits.
It's a relatively simple premise that's full of order of effect, combination filled gameplay. It's a bit of a puzzle to solve the problem first and it has just enough randomness to have tension and excitement. I was a bit disappointed in the expansion for the game and probably won't play it much. But, the original game is outstanding and delightful. You should pick up a copy!
This game rocketed up the top games of all time list on BGG. Many have been leery of it, fearing hype and unnecessary acclaim. However, after 2 plays (about 6 hours of gaming) I think this is a fantastic game worthy of everyone's attention. The designer has distilled the typical 8 hour epic space odyssey into something more manageable. The game's mechanics are incredibly intuitive, shockingly so, and the variety that comes about as a result of the research draws, galaxy formation, and races chosen allows for a different game every time.
This is an epic game that isn't for the faint of heart. It's also very expensive and takes time to play. A lot of time. But, if you are so inclined and have the right group, I think you'll really enjoy this game.
Games I didn't get to play so far but desperately want to: Shogun, Vinhos, Twilight Struggle, and Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel. I own all of these and have read the rule books, multiple times, for all of them. Alas, they sit un-played on my shelves. Shame!
Games I played but not enough to add to this list: Castles of Burgundy, Mice and Mystics, Memoir '44. I only played Castles a single time, but that play was sufficient to purchase my own copy. Unfortunately the game is fairly meaty for some of my game friends, so I haven't managed a second play. Mice and Mystics was quite enjoyable, but I've only played it solo once and I don't feel that is sufficient. Finally, I bought THREE additional expansions for Memoir '44 this year. Though I've played the base game several times, the expansions, including the out-of-print Air Pack remain completely unplayed. What is wrong with me!
Do you agree or disagree with anything on my list? Do you have anything to add? What should I have on here? Let's discuss!