Gaming Year 2014

Another good year, can’t complaing. 2013 was good, and 2014 improved upon that.

We bought a house this year and moved in, and that meant I got a bookshelf in my office I could use for games. With most of my games visible there, my son’s interest was piqued, and we ended up trying lots of different games. I’d say this year we really made the move to playing “real” games.

My daughter also continues being a bright little spark. I’m still playing more childish games with her, but at the same time she’s a real fiend when it comes to Ghost Blitz.

We repeated Ropecon with my son, and the experience turned out even better than last year. That is certainly going to be a tradition. Lautapelaamaan was another obvious spot on the con circuit, and I also visited Junacon in Turku.

In 2015, I’ll unfortunately miss both Ropecon and Lautapelaamaan.

For weekly games, I still had my Thursday group. I had to miss quite a few sessions there, but I mind less than before, as I can get better replacement gaming with my son than before.

Good new games (2013–2014)

Coconuts is a silly game of shooting coconuts in baskets with monkey catapults. It also works very, very well. Shooting is a very good balance between skill and luck. My daughter is pretty good at this. I got the game in October, and we got 50 plays out of it by the end of the year. That’s pretty wild, and while the biggest heat is already out, I can see this hitting hundred plays in a year or two – it’s just so much fun.

Splendor was a big hit, especially among non-gamers. It wasn’t a huge hit with gamers, but every non-gamer has enjoyed it. I lifted the game at the top of my annual Christmas recommendations list, it’s so universally good. Short, sweet and looks pretty. I’ve played this quite a bit with my son.

Abluxxen was one of the more popular fillers and generally quite well received. I like this quite a bit, and carry it with me constantly in my card game box. It’s somewhat unlike other games – not a trick-taking game, not a climbing game, but some kind of shedding game.

Subdivision failed quite generally, but was a success with my son. We’ve enjoyed this relaxed city-building game. It plays fast, and offers a nice little puzzle. No interaction, really, but we don’t mind.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig was the more popular Bezier game: this has been universally enjoyed. (Except all the whiny people at BGG; there has been tons of rather pointless complaining about the components, and I’ve found that endlessly boring.) And why not, as this is an excellent game. The theme is fun, and the mechanisms are interesting. Ted Alspach has done a good job here, creating a game similar, but different enough from Suburbia.

Lewis & Clark was a bit of a surprise move. Someone dumped a big load of games at the Finnish board game society forums, and I bought a few. I got this, as my son likes explorers and I thought this might work with him. It was a good choice, as he has enjoyed the game a lot. One of his highlights this year must’ve been the time he managed to beat me, he was so excited. I like this quite a bit.

Super Rhino was a funny little game. I saw a photo of the game, and decided I must have this little dexterity gem. I bought several copies from German Amazon for ~6 euros per copy, and had zero trouble unloading the extra copies. This is a fun little game, though my kids didn’t love it.

Qwixx: Das Kartenspiel is a card-game version of Qwixx, similar but not the same. It’s not quite elegant as the dice game, but I found the game fascinating enough and enjoyed it for 11 plays during the year. Well worth playing.

For the Crown mixes Chess and Dominion. The mixture is interesting, and I’d like to explore it further. Too bad it doesn’t really fit my gaming profile, being a demanding two-player game. I don’t play those much, but if I did, I’d play For the Crown.

North Wind has quite preposterous cardboard ships. Very cool. The game underneath the components is not bad at all. I enjoyed it for a while with my son, but it kind of fizzed out after four plays. We’ll see if it gets back, or gets sold. Both are possible.

Jungle Rumble is a Taiwanese mixture of Agricola-like worker placement and farming and Puerto Rico -like action selection. With cute kittens. Fun, and a nice little curiosity.

Good older games I haven’t played before

Parade has been on my list of games to play for a long time. I finally got around trying this with the Badger Deck I got, and then I bought the actual game, because it looks so nice.

Stich-Meister has been a part of my collection for couple of years now, and I finally got around creating paste-ups for the cards so we could actually play it. It turned out great. Ok, some rounds are a bit bland, if the rules don’t offer anything exciting, but sometimes the rounds are outright hilarious. This has been a fairly popular filler for us.

Samarkand was an impulse buy, mostly because Eric Brosius recommended the game. I’m a huge fan of the later Samarkand, and wanted to see how it was done 30 years earlier. Also, I don’t have many games from 1980, my year of birth, so that’s a good reason as well… and indeed, this turned out to be a pretty good game. Not quite as good as the other Samarkand, but good nevertheless.

Ark of the Covenant was a thrift store find by my friend’s wife. Couple of euros for this… not bad. I haven’t played lots of Carcassonne off-shoots, but I hear this is one of the best, and it’s easy to agree. It’s good. It also made me want to get my hands on The City and The Castle, as I’ve heard really nice things about those two as well.

Rallyman has hovered around my radar for a while, so when a friend sold his copy, I grabbed it (the same friend later sold his Wii U, which I also grabbed – what a good friend). I’m a big racing fan when it comes to video games – it’s pretty much my favourite genre – so it’s nice to have a racing board game. I’m not a huge fan of racing board games, actually, but Rallyman is nice; it’s such a unique game. Also, being Finnish, rally driving has some special meaning for me.

Children’s games

Here’s a list of all children’s games that we played at least five times. It’s interesting to see how the games change year after year. Some classics remain, some turn out to be less popular, in the end. The situations and the ages matter. I’ve had fewer chances to play games with just my son, we’ve had to include my daughter as well, which has changed the games a bit.

Das magische Labyrinth is my daughter’s favourite game right now, so no wonder it got almost 30 plays this year. It’s a good game, too, one I also enjoy playing. We use one house rule: instead of rolling the die, we just move three steps every turn. I don’t think the randomness from the die adds to the game.

Fleeting Foxes got over 20 plays, mostly requested by my daughter. And why not? This is a cute Haba game. It’s simple roll-and-move, but with a good twist: one player at the time rolls dice for everybody, assigning the dice one at the time. There’s some luck and some evaluation of probabilities involved.

Memory, usually in the form of Tatu ja Patu muistipeli, got lots of plays. I still usually beat the kids in this one, but they’ve got better. (Yes, I said exactly the same thing a year ago.)

Don’t Rock the Boat got lots of plays, because one play takes just one or two minutes. It’s not a good game; closer details are below, on the list of disappointments…

The Magic Tower was the 2013 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner. It’s a cute game, and works really well as a two-player game (it’s actually a two-player game, no matter how many players are involved). The plot – a boy rescues princess – could use some modernisation, but kids enjoy it, and I find it quite non-offensive. The princess that jumps out of the castle is a fun component.

Das kleine Gespenst still sees regular play, but has gone down in popularity – last year it topped this list with almost 30 plays. Now we’ve moved on to the Magic Labyrinth… But this still sees play, as my daughter likes the game. As memory games come, this is a good one.

Schildkrötenrennen is one of the staple family games for our family, one of the games my wife enjoys playing as well.

Da ist der Wurm drin is still the best brainless roll-and-move game in the house. It’s quite non-offensive and still sees play.

Geistertreppe is played occasionally with me and the kids. Nobody asks for this regularly, but this usually gets eventually pulled out during longer board game sessions.

Ghost Blitz is still one of my daughter’s favourite games, and one where she can beat me. We still use relaxed rules where the mistakes are not penalized and while I chide my daughter when she grabs many things, we play a relaxed game – and while I win too, it’s always a tight race and often she wins.

Animal upon Animal is like Geistertreppe, it usually sees play as a part of a longer sessions.

Indigo is still one of my favourite family games I can play with both children. We usually play three-player games.

Klack! is still asked for. I still don’t enjoy this.

Die kleinen Drachenritter was a bigger hit last year. This year, I actually traded it away – the more I played, the less I liked it, like I said a year ago. Last year, I hit the limit.

Taki is a souvenir from my trip to Israel, an Israeli Uno variant by Haim Shafir, but while the game is somewhat daft, I quite like the graphic design of the cards, and I enjoy playing this with the children. I see it as a part of my daughter’s education to make her a card game player like my son already is.

Halli Galli was introduced this year, and played couple of times. My daughter likes the idea and requests the game, but while she counts pretty well, she can’t handle the counting necessary for Halli Galli, at least not fast enough, and the games tend to end up in tears.

Troll Trail was way too simple for our kids, so we gave it away to some friends, who got more mileage out of it, as their kids are couple of years younger than ours.

Marrakech got surprisingly few plays, just six. It’s one of my favourite whole family games, and I would’ve guessed we got more plays of it, but no.

Bunte Runde is a game I always enjoy playing, but it’s not very popular.

Colorpop got the five plays required to make it to this list. The biggest enthusiasm has run out, but we always enjoy it when we play the game.

La Boca reached five plays, too. I quite like it, and it works well with a mixed group of children and adults, and takes five or six players quite well while working well with three players. There’s a reason enough to keep the game in my collection, especially as it’s actually quite fun to play.

La Cucaracha didn’t become a huge hit last year, but got some regular play. Perhaps it’s a tad too chaotic and fast-paced to be enjoyed regularly.

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Agricola was one of the highlights of the year. I like the game, but haven’t really played it a lot, because it’s a big, heavy box, and I don’t like playing with four or five players, as the games take too long. Also, most people prefer using the cards, which I don’t like. Then, after our move, my son noticed the game on my game shelves, and we played it, and it was a hit. My son really likes it. We even moved on to the Farmers of the Moor. This has been some of the best gaming during the whole year.

Europa Tour was a cheap impulse purchase; I thought it might work well with my son. It did, we played it quite a bit during the first half of the year. Then it got a bit overrun by other games. But it’s a fun, mellow game, particularly for two players.

Machi Koro was one of me and my son’s favourite games earlier this year, but like Europa Tour, wasn’t so hot once we got access to my whole game collection and we started playing a wider selection of games.

Suburbia remains one of my favourite games. It, too, got on my local rotation, when my son wanted to try it after playing Subdivision. Despite the text in the buildings, my son can play this with me, as all the buildings are public and open.

The City has been one of my favourite fillers for years now (I’ve been waiting for it to hit 100 plays; it made it to 50 plays last year), but really got wings this year when I made my own version of the game, with the cards in Finnish and with local landmarks on them. I could play that version with my son, who seemed promising, consider the way he enjoys San Juan.

Lost Valley is an old game I owned and played back in 2005. Eventually I traded it away, but now I got it back in the same trade as Lewis & Clark, knowing that my son might be interested in it. He was – it’s one of the games he requests every now and then. It’s still not one of my favourites, but I’m more than glad to play it every now and then with my son.

Walnut Grove, or Light Agricola, as we call it, is like Lost Valley: I think it’s ok, but my son likes it. I had played it twice (or once, as my first play was far enough from the actual rules) before, but now it got a new life.

San Juan is one of those games I really like, but rarely play. However, now that I went and translated the cards in Finnish, I can play it with my son, who quite likes it. Oh, and talking about luck involved in the game: we’ve played nine times, and he hasn’t won the game once. I also got a Finnish version of Puerto Rico in a trade, and we’ve tried that couple of times. Not so great as a two-player game, but it’s quite passable for our use, and it has been fun to get back to that old classic.

The not-so-good, the disappointing and the plain bad

Clinic was the worst disappointment of the year. It seemed like such an interesting game, but it turned out such a mess that I couldn’t finish the one game I started. The rules were awful, the game overly complicated and a huge pain to explain. It just can’t be good enough to be worth the effort.

Joylings combines a rather frustrating roll and move game to Top Trumps, and is about cute horses. Fortunately my daughter isn’t too keen on horses.

Hotel Tycoon is a new version of the old classic Hotel. The rules haven’t, unfortunately, changed. I have, as the game was so awful I can’t see how I’ve enjoyed it before at all.

S-Evolution had a promising idea: trick-taking meets civ-building. Too bad the game doesn’t really work at all.

Don’t Rock the Boat seemed like a fun little dexterity filler, but no; either it’s really difficult, as in the boat tips after second or third move, or way too easy, as in you can play all your penguins to the boat without any problems. All it takes is one broken strategy…

Where Art Thou Romeo? was a good reminder that a small number of components doesn’t, by itself, make a good game.

Mont Saint Michel is a very good-looking Drei Magier game. Too bad the game under all that decoration isn’t particularly impressive.

Where are they now

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-building Game is gone, pretty much. Just one play in 2014, with two plays for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Deck-building Game. These got stuck in my son’s closet, and we’ve had so many other games to play.

Continental Divide was played once, but that isn’t a huge surprise.

Qwixx didn’t become a regular filler, but that’s partly because the card game overran it a bit. Still, doing fine in the very crowded space for fillers.

A Study in Emerald is gone, sold away. Too heavy. I hear Martin Wallace is planning a much easier version of the game; that I might be interested in, but we’ll see.

Russian Railroads got couple of plays, then I sold it away. Not my cup of tea.

Coup is gone, unfortunately no plays at all. Our Thursday meetings have suffered from lack of players, and Coup requires more than we usually have.

Ab in die Tonne sees semi-regular play as a family game.

Carcassonne: South Seas was played exactly once, but I think my son has played this a bit more with his friends (or alone). It’s in his closet, so out of sight, out of mind.

Augustus didn’t do quite as well as I expected. Turns out it isn’t something I’d end up suggesting in most situations.

London I almost sold, but decided to keep. After that, I played it once and found it still interesting enough.

EuroRails didn’t see much play, as expected, but two plays is quite enough, and it certainly is a keeper.

New York Central is really hard to get on the table, but I still like it.

Australian Railways is just as hard to get on the table as any other game in the family. I bought Railroad Tycoon as well; good luck with that…

Fives and dimes

Again, last year I had a slightly longer list, thanks to a wider variety of children’s games played. This list is still very good. Having Coconuts reach 50 plays in just three months is amazing.

Dimes

  1. Coconuts (50)
  2. Splendor (32)
  3. Das magische Labyrinth (28)
  4. Fleeting Foxes (23)
  5. Europa Tour (22)
  6. The City (22)
  7. Memory (18)
  8. Machi Koro (16)
  9. Super Rhino (15)
  10. Subdivision (15)
  11. Don’t Rock the Boat (15)
  12. Magic Tower (15)
  13. Linko! (14)
  14. Die kleine Gespenst (14)
  15. Schildkrötenrennen (13)
  16. Da ist der Wurm drin (12)
  17. Ghost Blitz (11)
  18. Geistertreppe (11)
  19. Parade (11)
  20. Animal upon Animal (11)
  21. Qwixx: Das Kartenspiel (11)
  22. Castles of Mad King Ludwig (10)
  23. Agricola (10)

Fives

  1. Indigo (9)
  2. King of Tokyo (9)
  3. Klack (9)
  4. San Juan (9)
  5. Lost Cities (8)
  6. Dragonheart (8)
  7. Timeline (8)
  8. Die kleine Drachenritter (8)
  9. Suburbia (8)
  10. Halli Galli (7)
  11. Stich-Meister (7)
  12. Taki (7)
  13. Love Letter (7)
  14. Lewis & Clark (6)
  15. The Troll Trail (6)
  16. Lost Valley (6)
  17. Bunte Runde (6)
  18. Marrakech (6)
  19. Dominion (6)
  20. Skyline (5)
  21. Colorpop (5)
  22. Candy Chaser (5)
  23. Speed Cups (5)
  24. Innovation (5)
  25. La Boca (5)
  26. La Cucaracha (5)
  27. Tarock (5)

Year metric

    1. Battle Line (Schotten-Totten) (13/14)
    2. San Juan (11/11)
    3. Attika (10/12)
    4. Ta Yü (10/12)
    5. Age of Steam (10/12) *
    6. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (10/13)
    7. Villa Paletti (10/13)
    8. Dominion (7/7)
    9. Settlers of Catan Junior (7/7)
    10. Animal upon Animal (7/7)

First number is the years I’ve played the game, second is the number of years since the first time I played. So, I first played San Juan eleven years ago and have played it every year since that. With Battle Line I’ve missed a year. I didn’t play games marked with an asterisk this year.

H-index

My H-index for this year is 14 (13 last year); I played two games on purpose to push it to 14. My total H-index is 33, four up from last year.

Last year I said “30 is pretty much guaranteed to happen, reaching 31 next year is going to be more tricky” – well, I could’ve reached 34 with just couple of well-chosen plays. So, next year 34 is guaranteed, but how much more than that, depends on whether there are new heavy hitters like Coconuts.

Small refreshing

Time for some changes, even though I rarely update this blog these days. Still. This is perhaps the third or fourth new look for the blog, and that’s not much in twelve years.

Time to go modern. The new look is the new default theme from WordPress 4.1, Twenty Fifteen. I like it, it’s clean, modern and easy to read. It should work quite well with mobile devices, too.

The sidebar now features images from my Instagram feed, instead of my Flickr photostream. I still post to Flickr, but I post to Instagram more, and my Instagram feed is maybe 95% board games, so it’s quite relevant.

The green colour didn’t go anywhere, but I changed the exact shade. This time it’s railroad-inspired, a particular shade of Brunswick Green used on passenger locomotives on British lines.

Jungle Rumble

Jungle Rumble boxThe game: Jungle Rumble by Eros Lin, Nightsorrow Chou and Zeldaaa Ling, published by ErosGames in 2013.

Elevator pitchPuerto Rico action selection meets Agricola farming and feeding in a small box with cute kittens.

What’s in the box? The small box is packed with field tiles, kitten tiles, action tiles, cardboard food tokens and wooden bits for water ways, stores and gold. The components are quite decent for such a small game, and the artwork is cute and idiosyncratic. The box is just the right size – except for the English player aids, which don’t fit in the box without folding.

What do you do in the game? Expand your kitten tribe, feed the cats by collecting food and building and irrigating fields and score points by selling food and gold to shopkeepers. These are the main point sources. The game plays like Puerto Rico: there are five action roles available (collect gold, build fields, build water ways, collect food, recruit new workers), and you choose one. The active player gets to do the action several times by flipping worker tiles to sleepy side. The other players can follow and do the action once, or rest: collect one food or wake one worker.

Once a round is over, the unselected roles get a food token, and the starting player passes to the next player. The workers are an interesting twist: they tire, and need sleep after working. If you use all your workers, you won’t be able to leech from other players roles. Also, waking up the kittens costs food: one is free, more costs food.

You also need to feed your cats: two food per kitten. Initially this is a restriction, but it’s easy to build enough fields and water ways to provide enough food for your tribe. This feeding mechanism brings to mind Agricola, but is not nearly as strict.

Lucky or skillful? There are no random elements in the game, just chaos from player actions. An experienced player should be able to win almost always.

Abstract or thematic? The kittens are certainly cute. The farming theme is fun, but not particularly deep. It works, though.

Solitaire or interactive? There’s no direct conflict between players, but as in Puerto Rico and other similar games, best players will consider what actions other players need and want.

Players: 2–4. More is merrier. The two-player game doesn’t shine. The turns go A-B / B-A / A-B, when A-B-A / B-A-B / A-B-A would probably be better.

Who can play? Official age recommendation is 12+, but my 8-year-old son (who plays Agricola) could handle this just fine. For me, Jungle Rumble is probably mostly a family game or a filler for gamers. The game isn’t particularly deep.

Length: This is a quick game, 30 minutes or so, even with four players.

What’s to like: Cute kittens; Quick, compact gameplay; Compact box; Familiar, well-tested game mechanisms.

What’s not to like: Slightly confusing rules; Narrow decision tree.

My verdict: Jungle Rumble was recommended to me as a fun little filler that scratches the same itch as Agricola, just in a lot more compact form. To me the Puerto Rico comparison is even more significant. The game is cute and fun, but seems a perhaps a bit simple: a large part of the fun in Agricola is the wealth of possibilities and variety of actions. Jungle Rumble doesn’t have quite that wealth.

However, the game packs a decent amount of interesting play in a small box and a short timeframe: growing the fields to support a large tribe, getting the gold to create that tribe and making sure your shopkeepers get as much gold as possible are an interesting challenge. I’m not sure if the game is a keeper for the long run, but I’m quite sure I’ll get enough play out of this game in order to justify the purchase.

On the scale of EnthusiasticSuggestIndifferent or AvoidJungle Rumble gets Suggest.

Games with my son

My son has become my most regular board game opponent. We often play in the mornings: on weekends and on schooldays when his school starts on 9. He’s eight years old, and quite the gamer, and here’s what we play now: Agricola — We play the family game, and recently started using the Farmers of the … Continue reading Games with my son

My 2014 top 100: 20–1

Here’s the final installment of my list. See the previous part. Now we’re getting to seriously good games. 20–19 String Railway — Build railways of strings. Simple, sometimes frustratingly imprecise, but all the same very charming. This is a delightful game, a lovely filler in a small box that works with a full range of … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 20–1

My 2014 top 100: 40–21

Here’s the previous part. 40–39 Australian Railways — The third Early Railways Game on the list. The three games are almost identical, but this one’s different, and the best: it features organic link growth. So, instead of railroad links appearing in the middle of nowhere, they form a contiguous network. That’s pretty clever, huh. This … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 40–21

My 2014 top 100: 50–41

Third part of my Top 100 list. Here’s the previous part. 50–48 Qwixx — Delightful filler game with dice. I’ve made an online score sheet for the game. Pantheon — This is the highest-ranking Bernd Brunnhofer title on my list, beating St. Petersburg and Stone Age. Is it a better game than the two, especially Stone Age? … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 50–41

My 2014 top 100: 74–48

This is the second part of my Top 100 list. Here’s the first part with more explanations. Looks like here I’m starting to move to games rated 8+, the previous list was mostly games rated 7. 74–72 Timeline — Very simple idea; other games do the same thing, with more complications. This simple version works quite well, … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 74–48

My 2014 top 100: 75–104

Since everybody else is doing these top 100 lists, I’m joining the fun. This is the first installation, stay tuned for the next parts in the next days (I’m not following Mark’s suit and dribbling the list one by one, especially as the lower positions are essentially tied). How did I make the list? I … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 75–104