Gaming year 2008

So, how was the year? Pretty wild, if you ask me. (See Gaming Year 2007.)

Good new games (2007-2008 games)

Dominion box

Dominion — Well, I played 28 games of this, and most of them outside BrettSpielWelt. That’s a pretty nice number, considering how late this game arrived. Everybody likes it, or at least doesn’t mind playing a game. Dominion is also really easy to teach and once everybody knows it, moves fast. That is, it’s almost perfect for board game club environment.

I do believe it’s possible to get really bored of it, but so far it’s definitely one of the real highlights of the year and since it’s so easy to teach, I expect it’ll keep value. Besides, I quite like playing it, I like quick turns and games that move along swiftly and there are definitely interesting decisions in the game. Based on some of the comments, I think avoiding excessive play on BSW might be a key to enjoying Dominion in the future as well.

Wabash Cannonball box

Wabash Cannonball — Game of the year, sorts of. This was a major hit in Spring when I got my copy. Our group had the most vocal fans of the game, it’s interesting to see how the game will be received now the Chicago Express edition is coming and more people will be exposed to it. I still like this one a lot, and was happy to find out the five-player game works just about as well as the four-player game. Four is best, but I’m not sure whether three or five players is the second best.

Chicago Express box

Chicago Express is neat, but I’m not buying a copy. I’m hoping Queen will translate it to Finnish and I can get it that way… Seriously though, while the new edition is pretty, I happen to like the Winsome edition, especially the fact that in the same space Chicago Express takes, I can fit four or five Winsome games.


Preußische Ostbahn — The cousin of Wabash Cannonball. This is the German family game of the series, says John Bohrer, and I can tell you playing Ostbahn is more fun than playing Wabash. The games are similar, but different — how deep — in several, interesting ways. There are more companies, the share system is fairly simple, there’s no stock dilution… And then there’s the turn order.

As CortexBomb said in BoardGameGeek, Ostbahn is the turn order mechanism. Players get their cubes in a cup: the leader gets one, the second-best gets two, the next one gets three and so on. N cubes are drawn, where N is the number of players. The cubes tell who gets to play. It can get ugly, but then again, the goal of the game is to win without taking any actions…

This is a pretty rough game, and I need to play more to figure out how to work the stock market to my advantage the best. I’ve played three times and right now Ostbahn is the hottest game for me, the one I’d really like to play more. This is an excellent game.

I also enjoyed the other game in the Winsome Essen set, Gulf, Mobile & Ohio. I’ve only played it once, though, so can’t say much about it yet. It’s definitely the strangest game I’ve played in a while. I have to say I like what Winsome Games has done recently.

Of earlier Winsome games, I also bought Pampas Railroads from the reprint. I only played the game once, but I liked it and wouldn’t mind playing more. It’s a slightly longer game, so doesn’t hit the table as easy.

Small comments: Steel Driver seems like a nice twist on the railroad theme, Steam over Holland is an exceptionally well-produced 18xx title, Le Havre has potential for excellence, but also for way too long sessions.

Good older games I haven’t played before

Die Dolmengötter box

Die Dolmengötter — I skipped this one in Essen 2005 because it looked ugly and not very interesting. I shouldn’t have, because it’s one of the real highlights of 2008 for me. I bought my copy from Tommy, since JC Lawrence said nice things about in Geek and I wasn’t disappointed. I even upped my rating to ten after some hesitation — the game is really, really good, but only with four players.

With four the game certainly nears perfection. It’s 20 minutes of absolute bliss. Interesting tactical decisions, a hint of overall strategy and some luck or player interaction chaos — make sure you max out your highest dolmens and you’re set for glory.

If I ever want an arts & crafts project, I might consider doing a nice-looking re-theming of Die Dolmengötter. The theme is completly bogus and the board is somewhat ugly — I think it could be nicer. I have no idea of a suitable theme, though.

Preference — A traditional card game. There are actually several similar games with the same name, usually identified by the country of origin. We play the Russian variation, which I believe is slightly more complicated than the more usual Austrian game. It’s no Bridge, but a nice three-player game that is just challenging enough while being easy to teach — very easy, if the student has ever played a trick-taking game with bidding.

Preference also plays fast enough. It’s a charming game and though it only works with three players, it’s become a very likely choice if there are three players including me and Hannu and someone who doesn’t hate traditional card games. This one’s definitely worth trying if you’re looking for a trick-taking game for three and want something more casual than Skat.

Tolstoy was a fan of the game. Oh, and when we play Preference, it looks just like in this painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. The archive copy of The PrefPage is probably the best source for rules in English, though it’s slightly vague. Wikipedia has more.

Le Truc — This is another traditional card game that has gained local popularity. Ok, so Hannu likes it. Sid Sackson saw the greatness in this game and listed it in his A Gamut of Games. It is truly a great game. Very simple on the surface: three-card trick-taking with suits having no significance at all. However, the scoring system is where the game shines.

The possibility to raise the stakes mid-hand makes Le Truc work slightly like poker. Many elements are there: bluffing, slow-playing, going all-in. Le Truc is simple, but makes for a great two-player filler, since after all, everybody is carrying a 32-card pack with them all the time anyhow (what? You don’t? I know I do). The game is best played in rubbers, at least the best two out of three, preferably even more, since there’s plenty of luck involved and getting to know your opponent makes for a better game.

I should probably rate this one a ten, since I expect it has a good chance to stay in my standard repertoire for the rest of my life.

Thumbnail image for End of our 1825 Unit 3 game

1825 — I went and bought the whole shebang — well, almost, I’m missing some expansions — in the Spring, the basic sets from BoardGameGeek marketplace and the rest from Leisure Games and Northumbria Games. I’m still missing the Phase 4 expansion, so if anybody has a spare copy, name your price.

I’ve only played three times — two two-player games of Unit 3, one three-player game of Unit 2 — which is a shame, but these longer games are hard to play. 1825 is just too long to fit comfortably in our weekly game nights. However, I can easily say this is my favourite 18xx game.

Qwirkle box cover

Qwirkle — Let’s put Qwirkle here, even though the Finnish edition came out this year. Qwirkle is a really solid game: I rate it as eight, but I listed it on my Christmas Good Games list as the general recommendation (I list games I’ve reviewed and have various categories: for adults, for gamers, for families, whatever, and one general for everybody recommendation). This is a high honour, but I think Qwirkle deserves it.

Why? Qwirkle is simple, has enough luck and skill involved, looks nice, feels nice… It’s non-offensive and perhaps a tad bland. I don’t think many people are going to list it as their number one favourite, but I don’t think many people hate it, either. It’s an easy-going, fun game, with enough new and enough familiar. A solid game, with just one flaw — that’s the score-keeping, which is somewhat clumsy.

Glory to Rome box

Glory to Rome — I finally ordered this from the States, thanks to cheap dollar and Brian Bankler’s constant mentions of it. It didn’t cost much, buying just this one game. It was well worth it, as the game is wicked fun. It’s like Race for the Galaxy, but wilder… I like the ways the cards interact and how the combos can get outrageous. It’s slightly tough game to teach and some people just don’t like it — so, not an excellent game, but a definite keeper, I like it myself a lot.

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Mahjong — I got back to mahjong this year, enough to do a mahjong web site in Finnish. That was — and is — a fun project, and something that was missing from the web. The site isn’t tremendously popular (less than thousand visits a month these days), but at least the few visitors are really active with the Google ads.

I’ve played few games, experimenting with new rules instead of the good-old Japanese classical rules. I’ve tried the Chinese official rules, modern Japanese rules and the World Series of Mahjong rules. It’s the WSoM rules I like the most, they are simple yet give the player enough options. I will play with just about any rules, though, as long as only the winner of the hand is paid. That’s where I draw the line.

I also spent some quality time with Four Winds Mahjong, as I had to buy a Windows laptop to do my new job properly. They haven’t released a new version, but the old one is still highly functional and an excellent tool for getting used to different mahjong rule sets.

Box front: Age of Steam

Age of Steam — Good old Age of Steam. I managed to reach my goal of playing five games, but unfortunately didn’t get any more in. For some reason Age of Steam is slightly difficult to get on the table. Well, I had fun with the few sessions I played, and got to try few new maps. Of course, I bought more maps than I played, so I’m still in trouble.

The Secret Blueprints of Steam maps intrigue me a lot. I tried them once, but the company wasn’t the best possible — it just isn’t a newbie-friendly way to play. I’d really like to try the blueprints with experienced players.

I also got to try New England Railways, an ancestor of Age of Steam. There are interesting differences and similarities, and while my opponents weren’t excessively interested in this game, I found it rather charming.

Tarock — We’ve continued playing tarock — and it is definitely tarock we play, not tarocco or tarot, as we mostly play the Slovenian game with four and Strohmann with two. With three we play Preference, though Cego might be worth trying. We’ve only played Cego once, and that was with five if I remember correctly, and I get the feeling Cego is a three-player game.

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

Eketorp — This game looks good, but it combines all sorts of elements I don’t like. Double-guessing is the worst offender, and the fact that this game took 90 minutes to play. Eketorp looks great, but it looks like the mechanics don’t really mesh with the majority of BoardGameGeeks: the game has just two 10s and nine 9s.

West Riding — I got something of a Winsome Games mania and purchased a set of Winsome Games when I found them at Northumbria Games. Of the three, West Riding was the disappointment. Dutch InterCity, an ancestor of West Riding in a way, is an odd game I’ve played only once, but it’s a short game so I’d like to try it again at some point. West Riding, however, was kind of ok, but definitely not worth the three-hour play time. Were it in the same one hour slot as Wabash, it’d be another story. The third game of the bunch was New England Railways, which I already mentioned.

In the Year of the Dragon — This is a popular game, probably one of the more popular games amongst my friends I just can’t stand. I’ve played this once on board and once on SpielByWeb and I don’t want to play again. Something in this game rubs me the wrong way. It’s kind of like Amun-Re — I can see why some people like it and I kind of think it’s a pretty good game, but just not for me.

Animalia, Kingsburg, Airships, Thief of Baghdad — Meh.

Quick look on the good games of the previous report

Agricola — Five games this year. Requires will to get this on the table, and I’m slightly wary of playing the game with newbies. I would like to play more.

Caylus Magna Carta — Played once. Not a huge hit. Should probably sell this one. Magna Carta felt better than Caylus, but in practise isn’t. In the end Magna Carta isn’t short enough — were it more like San Juan, it would be better.

Combat Commander: Europe — Gone after few games. Too long, too fiddly, high resale value.

1960: Making of the President — Played once, sold. Not my cup of tea.

Phoenicia — Thinking about selling. Didn’t play once in 2008, but I like it — then again, 2008 was the year of selling good games I just don’t play (off went Memoir ’44, Finstere Flure, Tigris & Euphrates, Combat Commander and several others).

Race for the Galaxy — I still like it a lot and I played it, too, but it wasn’t quite the hit I expected. Hard to teach, too slow for my tastes with newbies, not a huge hit with the club.

Through the Ages — Bought the new edition, played it once, definitely not going anywhere (but I wished it got on the table).

Ubongo Extrem — Nice, but… one play of Extrem is all Ubongo I played this year. I like the games, but don’t play them. Perhaps I should sell them, or sell the basic version and keep the Extrem, as I like it more.


Fives and dimes

Games played ten times or more in 2008:

  • Dominion (28)
  • Le Truc (14)
  • Die Dolmengötter (11)
  • Wabash Cannonball (10)
  • Black Vienna (10)

These games were played five to nine times in 2008:

  • Tier auf Tier (8)
  • Race for the Galaxy (8)
  • Qwirkle (7)
  • Mahjong (7)
  • Preference (6)
  • Strohmann-Tarock (6)
  • Set (6)
  • Battle Line (6)
  • Flix Mix (5)
  • Bondtolva (5)
  • Agricola (5)
  • Age of Steam (5)

Pretty good lists, a lot more games than last year. I like these lists, I’m always happy when I get repeat plays for good games. Missing Age of Steam from these lists would’ve been a major disappointment.

Totals come to 284 games of 114 different titles.

Month metric

Top games on this list were Die Dolmengötter (six months) and Le Truc, Qwirkle and Preference (five months).

Year metric

  1. Battle Line (7/8)
  2. Attika (6/6)
  3. Gang of Four (6/6)
  4. Age of Steam (6/6)
  5. Modern Art (6/7)
  6. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (6/7) *
  7. San Juan (5/5)
  8. Ingenious (5/5)
  9. Lost Cities (6/8) *

I didn’t play games marked with an asterisk this year.

Huber Happiness metric

Dominion, Mahjong, Age of Steam, Wabash Cannonball and 1825 brought the most Huber Happiness this year.

Dutch InterCity>/h6>

Thursday session: Dominion, Container

Container box

After a quick hand of Le Truc with Hannu, Petri arrived and Container hit the table. Petri is interested in modern-day business games and Container hits that niche pretty well. After all, the setting is definitely contemporary and the game is all about buying and selling.

This time I managed to avoid embarrassing blunders and actually everybody made pretty good money. When we started, the guys were slightly confused, but figured out the works before the game was over. I think my one-game experience gave me enough of a head start to win the game, but Petri got close (115 vs 92). Hannu had the wrong colours of containers floating around and lacked cash in critical times (and didn’t realize to take a loan), and ended up with 56 points.

Three isn’t probably the sweet spot of Container — I think more is better, as there’s more action going around, but the game works this way, too. It was a pretty fast, too, clocking in at 60 minutes. Petri loved the game and Hannu seemed to enjoy it, too. My rating is also on its way from 7 to 8.

Dominion box

Thursday’s board game club was a Dominion party, pretty much. I played three games of Dominion during the afternoon, first two times in a row and then a third game just before leaving with some other folks.

It’s a popular game, let me tell you. Ok, everybody didn’t love it, but the game got some “I’ve got to have this” response, which is after all fairly rare. In the first game we used the basic setup and I beat everybody else hands down, in the second one we tried a randomized setup and things were much closer. Hannu won that one. I tried using a Chapel and didn’t do it quite efficiently enough, but it was an interesting experiment. In the last game we used the Village Centrum (or whatever it’s called in English — the difficulty with translations…) setup which was nice, too.

I’m enjoying the game more and more. I’ve still got it rated as eight, but nine is probably closer to truth. The game has plenty of potential, but the question is will it become stale? The designer has played it a lot, which would suggest there’s enough staying power. Well, I’ll just have to see and I’m definitely going to enjoy the game for now!

By the way, I just sleeved the game today. Based on some of the complaints, it would seem like a really difficult task, but I got the Ultra Pro basic soft sleeves, 1, 50 euros per pack, and put the cards in those. The cost was minimal, the size of the cards matches the sleeves well enough, the sleeved cards fit in the insert and the box lid can be shut. Works like a charm, that is.

I also played a game of Russian Preference, a three-player favourite of me and Hannu. We got Gargoyle, another friend of the game, to join us. It was another reminder of why I don’t play games for money. I lost badly: 130, 99, -229. I was deep in the hole after the fairly quick game was over.

Despite my terrible performance, I still really like the game. It’s one of the better traditional card games and my favourite when there are exactly three players around.

Playing-card review 6: Wilhelm Tell cards

Wilhelm Tell cards are fairly common in the Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, western Romania and southern Tyrol. It is a rather beautiful pattern, full of interesting details. The pack has the German suits: hearts, acorns, leaves and bells. Generally, as far as I know, the packs have 32 or 36 cards: 2 (functioning as an ace), king, over, under, 10, 9, 8 and 7 in each suit.

The overs and unders are characters from the William Tell legend (particularly the William Tell play by Friedrich Schiller), hence the name. The over of acorns is Wilhelm Tell himself. The kings are anonymous. The aces feature the four seasons, which is why this pattern is also known as Four Seasons.

The pack was invented by Schneider József, a master card painter from Pest, in 1837. Hungarian Schneider chose the Swiss revolutionary Tell, because using Hungarian characters in the pack would’ve drawn too much attention from the government censors. Funny enough, this pack is not used at all in Switzerland, even though Tell is a Swiss character.

At least Piatnik sells these cards as Doppeldeutsche (Schnapskarten and others), magyar kártya, Mariáš Dvojhlavý or dvouhlavý and with other names, in various pack sizes (24, 32, 33).

Wilhelm Tell Wilmos back

Wilhelm Tell Wilmoś (no. 2867) from Piatnik Editions is a reproduction pack. The box attributes it to Salamon Antal, Keczkemet. Keczkemet is in Hungary, near Budapest. There are no dates in the cards or the box, so I have no idea how old this pack is. I would appreciate even short historical notes in these historical reproductions, because there’s very little information available in the Internet.

Anyhow, it is a neat pack. The cards look very old: the colours are unprecise, the background is brown and spotty, but the pictures have some character and style. Of course the material of the cards is excellent, they just look old and worn.

It’s fun to compare the cards to the newer versions: obviously they are in the same tradition. The court cards are different, but the smaller pictures in the number cards are more alike in the old and new packs. The new packs are better for playing, but for artistic reasons this pack is well worth having (and it’s possible to play games with it, too, no problem about that).

The name, by the way, is cleverly German-Hungarian: William Tell is Wilhelm Tell in German (and in Finnish, too) and Tell Wilmoś in Hungarian, as Hungarian names are written with last name first and first name last.

Wilhelm Tell Wilmos Wilhelm Tell Wilhelm Tell Wilmos Summer Wilhelm Tell Wilmos 7

Magyar karty back

Piatnik magyar kártya (No. 1812 for blue, 1813 for red and 1816 for mini version) is a modern Hungarian version of the pack with 32 cards. Magyar kártya means “Hungarian cards”. The cards have texts in Hungarian, so Spring is Tavasz, Summer is Nyár, Autumn is Ösz and Winter is Tél. All the names have their Hungarian forms, as well.

The pictures have mostly the same topics as in the old version, but these are different pictures. Funny detail: in the seven of Hearts, there’s a rider wounded by an arrow. There are two bushes in the bottom corners of the card. In the old version above and in the modern pack with German texts, there’s a small dude in one of the bushes looking guilty. In this version the dude is missing.

It’s interesting, these small details, how the pack has certain standard topics: 8 of Hearts shows a man standing in a small boat, 8 of Bells is the Tell family, 9 of Bells has a wooden fence and a stick with a hat and so on. It’s a standard pattern, but with individual variations. The pictures are detailed and rather lovely. (Actually, Richard Heli’s Customs: Card Games of the Donauschwaben in 18th- and 19th-century Hungary has explanations for the different scenes.)

This Hungarian pack, apparently the traditional standard pack used in Hungary. It’s a practical pack; even though it’s pretty, it’s also good for games. Of course, it’ll take some getting used to, since there are no corner indices. Number cards have Roman numerals. In the court cards, Over and Under are indicated by the location of their suit symbol (top for Over, bottom for Under). Kings have crowns and horses, and no names. It’s slightly confusing at first, but it’s easy to learn.

The Hungarians use these cards for Ulti (one of the most complicated versions of Marriage games), Zsírozás (interesting variant of Finnish Ristikontra), Preferansz (the local variation of Preference) and many others.

Magyar karty King of Acorns Magyar karty VII of Hearts Magyar karty Osz

Doppeldeutsche back

Piatnik Doppeldeutsche (No. 1883 for red Blitz back, 1884 for Karo back pictured here, 1846 for the extra-large Kaffeehaus version and 1808 for Ornament back pictured above; 1885 for Blitz with 36 cards and 1886 for Karo with 36 cards), Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten (No. 1756 for red Blitz back, 1760 for Karo back and 1730 for Ornament back), Mariáš dvouhlavý (No. 1848) or Mariáš dvojhlavý (No. 1809) — whew! So this is a fairly common pattern! This is the German version, with all the names and seasons in their German form. It is used in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and probably other places as well.

The Doppeldeutsche packs have 32 cards (A, K, O, U, 10, 9, 8, 7), except for the ones with 36 cards (adding sixes). Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten has 24 cards (just A, K, O, U, 10, 9), even though Schnapsen is, as far as I know, these days usually played with just 20 cards. Mariáš packs have 33 cards: the regular 32-card pack and the six of bells with acorn and heart symbols and the text “WELI”. This is generally an Austrian feature, I believe, but apparently it is used elsewhere as well.

One would think that the Hungarian and German versions of the pattern are the same except for the texts, but that is not correct. As I said above, the patterns differ. They look the same, but they are different — the devil is in the details, there are subtle differences. Otherwise this is the same, all the basic features of the packs are the same.

Doppeldeutsche Wilhelm Tell Doppeldeutsche Sommer Doppeldeutsche VII of Hearts

I have the Slovakian Mariáš pack and the Schnapskarten pack (and two copies of the Hungarian pack — accidentally — and the historical reproduction pack), which gives me a nice selection of these Wilhelm Tell packs. I’ve found these packs intriguing and interesting: the way the cards tell a story and feature named characters is very charming. These are also very good playing-cards once you get to know them.

Thursday session: Wings of War, Preference

Wings of War is one of those games I’ve wanted to try for a while now, with little success (and little effort, to be honest). Well, the arrival of the new Wings of War Miniatures Deluxe set helped to solve that little problem. Toni from was kind enough to send me a copy (I … Continue reading Thursday session: Wings of War, Preference

Thursday session: Preference, Metropolys, Tarok, Dolmengötter

Another excellent game session this week! When I arrived, PitchCar sessions were over and people were choosing the next games. Hannu quickly got me and Gargoyle to join him in a game of Preference. Gargoyle was a newbie to this game, but he’s no stranger to traditional card games so he learnt quickly. It sure … Continue reading Thursday session: Preference, Metropolys, Tarok, Dolmengötter

Thursday session: Glory to Rome, Preference, Tarock

Our Thursday session was on Monday this week. That’s summer for you… I would prefer a fixed date, but sure, it’s pretty hard to fix when people have fluctuating schedules. I started games with a two-player game of Glory to Rome. I’ve now played with two, three, four and five players — that’s fairly rare! … Continue reading Thursday session: Glory to Rome, Preference, Tarock