Gaming Year 2017

In 2016 I tried 133 new games. That, I felt, was too much, and in 2017, a move was made to correct that. 17% of my plays were spent trying new games, and it felt too much.

In 2017, I tried just 67 new games. The total number of plays was also slightly reduced, mostly as a function of playing less shorter children’s games. Overall I’m quite satisfied with the raw numbers.

I created another Top 100 list.

I also got together with a bunch of Finnish board game bloggers and created a new board game award called Pelaajien valinta, Players’ Choice. Our first winners were Flamme Rouge for the best family game of the year and Agricola for the best strategy game of the year. We also gave the award for the best board game good deed, which went to Taverna, the first Finnish board game cafe.

Our instant message group has also been a great thing and a constant source of good board game banter for the last half of the year, which has been great.

Moderation

I decided to go for moderation in my game acquisitions. That was a partial success. The first half of the year was very good; I bought just a few games. In September, things got a turn for worse, and I ended up spending over 1,000 euros in game purchases.

However, I also sold games for more than 1,000 euros, so the end result is not that bad. Also, the turnover is somewhat boosted by the three extra copies of Dawn of Peacemakers I had to back in order to make sure the campaign was a success. I was able to sell those games immediately, balancing it out.

All said and done, I ended up buying 35 titles and selling 71.

Kickstarter-wise, I backed a few projects. In 2016, I backed 19 projects, so there the reduction was successful. I participated in four campaigns: I got a bunch of Monikers expansions, the new edition of Brass (and I already have a buyer for my old copy), Root and Dawn of PeacemakersRoot is pretty much the only wild card: I knew what I was getting in Monikers and Brass, and got a preview copy of Dawn of Peacemakers to try out before making the decision.

I also avoided getting review copies of games and only asked for games I really wanted. Many reviews were made with the games available at the local board game cafe.

But moderation is difficult, when you’re faced with the barrage of interesting games. That is something I will continue practising in 2018.

As part of the process to focus on good old games, I started a fifty by fifty challenge, in which I attempt to play fifty games fifty times. Seven new titles made that list in 2017, compared to just one in 2016.

Good new games (2016–2017)

A Feast for Odin was a big one for me this year. It took some effort and some patience to get a copy, but I did get mine in May, and oh yes, it was worth the wait. It immediately shot to the top of my top 100 list. It is really very good, and I love the challenges of handling your workers, filling out your board with items and so on. I’ve only played it once multiplayer, and have mostly played two-player games with my son.

Yokohama I ended up backing due to Hisashi Hayashi‘s reputation and good buzz from people who had played earlier editions. I ponied up the money for the deluxified edition, which was a great idea: the game turned out to be very good and the deluxified edition looks splendid compared to the retail edition. I like this game a lot: it does lots of good things and is refreshing change from the usual worker placement fare.

Dawn of Peacemakers offered the thriller of the year. Not the game, though, but the Kickstarter campaign. 48 hours before the end it seemed unlikely to succeed, and in the end it was really close. For a moment I was in for seven copies, but managed to drop my pledge to just four copies before the campaign ended. I fortunately found buyers for the three extra copies pretty much immediately. Quite the thriller! And yeah, the game is good, too. My review sums up my feelings, and I’m really looking forward to August when we can play this for real.

Nusfjord is a new Uwe Rosenberg worker placement game with a cool Norwegian theme (outside the all male panel of the elders). This is a much simpler game than A Feast for Odin, somewhere on the same scale as Glass Road. That means the game is quite playable even with five players, which is great. The more I’ve played this game, the more I’ve enjoyed the challenge it provides.

Sidereal Confluence is a trading game in space, with highly asymmetrical player powers creating lots of opportunities to trade. The player count goes from four to nine, and since it’s all mostly simultaneous, it plays in two hours or less with all player counts. It’s a huge hog for table space with larger counts, though.  I’ve only played this once so far, but even based on that I’m ready to say it’s one of the best games of the year.

Escape rooms were a thing this year. I finally got around to try one, and was hooked on the first go (largely because we did so well, escaping in pretty much a record time). I also tried out couple of escape room board games: Unlock! is good and the free games are very much worth printing out. Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor is a bit easy but well done. EXIT: The Game is my favourite series, though, these I like the best.

Good older games I haven’t played before

A Few Acres of Snow may be a flawed game, but it’s still good entertainment and a fresh take on deck-building. The rules updates should fix the broken parts anyway. I’ve played this couple of times, mostly against my son who isn’t really into the warfare part of the game yet, and I’ve love to give this one a go against an adult opponent.

Mombasa was something I had to check out after Great Western Trail, and once I’d played it, I had to buy it (so much for moderation). But it is a splendid, solid game, highly recommended for the fans of the heavy euro game.

Pax Pamir was part of my interest in the works of Cole Wehrle (my Cole Wehrle interview was by far the most-read article on this blog this year), sparked by John Company which hasn’t arrived yet. So far Pax Pamir is the best one: lots of really clever stuff in this game, with an interesting setting and lots of good ideas.

Children’s games

Here’s a list of games that we played at least five times. It’s interesting to see how the games change year after year.

Hero Realms was my son’s favourite game for the most of the year. We ended up playing more than 60 rounds. That’s pretty solid return on investment.

Santorini was also pretty solid: we played it a lot for couple of months, until it hit about 50 plays, and my interest in it waned.

Love Letter is still the most popular family game in our family. It just doesn’t get stale at all.

Coconuts was skipped in 2016, now I made some effort to play it again, and guess what? It’s still very addictive and very entertaining.

Fashion Show still got lots of plays. Those plays are super fast, so it’s something I can play with my daughter to keep her happy.

Afrikan tähti still gets played almost every time we visit the grandparents.

Innovation got on the rotation when I made the effort of translating it to Finnish. This got the attention from my son, and we played the game about ten times. Fun fact: he can win the game if he gets to spam Agriculture. Otherwise, it’s likely I’ll win.

Ty Beanie Boo’s Friends Game is a game for toddlers my daughter found at a library, loaned and then we played it ten times. Fortunately it was then returned to the library, never to be seen again.

Joylings is a terrible game, a combination of Top Trumps and roll-and-move, with cutesy horses. This is definitely something I only do for my daughter.

Klack! is a reaction test game, and mercifully short one.

Europa Tour used to be a thing with me and my son, but we haven’t played it in a while. My daughter has picked it up, though, and requests it occasionally. She still isn’t very good in it, though; this seems like such a random game, but I still win a lot.

The Mysteries of Peking is another game we play at the grandparents. It’s a harmless roll and move mystery, and I can clearly see why it captivates the kids so much. It’s pretty well done for what it is.

Da ist der Wurm drin is not really a game, just a roll-and-move raffle. But it’s pretty fun for something like that.

Super Rhino keeps entertaining, it’s such a fun little dexterity game. People have been hyping up the new Super Battle version, but I’m not sure if I’m interested in that.

The Magic Labyrinth still works, it’s one of the better memory games.

Tumbling Tower is a Jenga variant, and the kids played a ton of it while at a summer cabin that was somewhat low on entertainment.

Dungeon Rush is a speed game, and I’m a bit lukewarm on it. It’s pretty good in the genre, but the genre just isn’t doing much for me these days. This is somewhat problematic as a family game because of the skill differences.

Guess Who? was a Christmas gift for my daughter. I’m sure this will see lots of play. It’s not very painful, and the new edition is somewhat developed from the one I played as a kid: the characters are on a sheet which can be replaced. The sheets are double-sided, with animals on the other side, and you can print out new sheets to increase replay value.

Little Prince: Make Me a Planet is one of my daughter’s favourite games. We play two-player games only, so the meanness in the game doesn’t really come up. It might be a problem.

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Tigris & Euphrates made a nice comeback. I got a copy from a math trade, as I wanted my son to be able to experience this classic. It was really fun to get back to this game after so many years. This is one of Reiner’s finest, no doubt about that.

Mechs vs Minions eventually got almost 20 plays. I’ve now played all the campaign scenarios and haven’t really returned to the game since. My son has played this a little, and I still have the game. It was well worth buying.

Terraforming Mars has turned out to be a fine game. I managed to buy a copy in March after long wait, and played it almost ten times. That’s pretty good, as the game hasn’t really sparked in my game group: there are some folks who just don’t like it. It’s a bit on the long side, I agree, which is why I rather like it as a two-player game and without the Corporate Era stuff. But the length is part of the charm: this is a tableau builder that doesn’t end too early.

South African Railroads was on a break for couple of years, but I played it couple of times this year. It’s a good one, one of the better Winsome games. Unfortunately it’s not available anymore. I did a new map for it, trying to learn a bit of graphic design.

The Great Zimbabwe made a comeback after many years of not playing the game. My son turned out to be a fan. It’s a curious two-player game, plays really really fast. I also played my second play of Duck Dealer: the first was one 2010 when the game was released. It’s still a good game.

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

Near and Far was a pretty game, but we played it couple of times and decided to pass it along. It just isn’t very interesting, and I’ve learnt now that outside few exceptions, campaign games are not my thing.

Savage Planet: The Fate of the Fantos was on Kickstarter and was interesting enough that I made a print-n-play copy. After all, the game leaned heavily on Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, one of my favourite CCGs and had pretty cool art. Too bad it was awful, and none of my friends wanted to ever see it again.

Arkham Horror was a great math trade catch: I got a fine copy for two euros. We played it once, figured out the game is absolute garbage, and I sold it for 40 euros. So can’t say I’m disappointed, really, the game was pretty much as awful as I expected it to be.

Cat Tower looked like a fun thing, but wasn’t actually at all fun to play.

BONK also looks like it’s fun, but it was a bit too fast and furious.

Mountains of Madness has a really cool idea, but doesn’t really work as a game, I think. Too heavy for a party game, too bizarre for a strategy game. I’m glad I gave it a go, but no, there’s no need to revisit those mountains.

Where are they now

Pandemic Legacy Season 1. We’ve yet to finish the first season, and I’m pretty sure we never will. It just wasn’t all that interesting; I don’t like Pandemic and while I think the Legacy stuff is a nice added layer of interesting stuff on top of it, it still is Pandemic under all that.

The Colonists has failed to hit the table at all. It’s just too big, and I have so few opportunities for big, heavy two-player games.

Blue Moon fell out of fashion. Time will tell if that was a disturbance caused by Hero Realms, or a permanent change. Same happened to Burgle Bros., which I don’t really miss.

Fives and dimes

Dimes

  1. Hero Realms (66)
  2. Santorini (53)
  3. Love Letter (21)
  4. Coconuts (18)
  5. Mechs vs Minions (17)
  6. Fashion Show (15)
  7. Afrikan tähti (11)
  8. Joylings (10)
  9. Innovation (10)
  10. Ty Friends (10)

Fives

  1. Halli Klack (9)
  2. Kingdom Builder (8)
  3. Splendor (8)
  4. Terraforming Mars (8)
  5. Tzaar (8)
  6. Europa Tour (8)
  7. The Mysteries of Peking (8)
  8. Unlock! (7)
  9. Da ist der Wurm drin (7)
  10. Tumbling Tower (6)
  11. Super Rhino (6)
  12. Century: Spice Road (6)
  13. Dungeon Rush (6)
  14. Fugitive (6)
  15. Nusfjord (6)
  16. Dawn of Peacemakers (6)
  17. Majesty (6)
  18. Guess Who (6)
  19. The Magic Labyrinth (6)
  20. A Feast for Odin (5)
  21. Concordia (5)
  22. Little Prince: Build Me a Planet (5)
  23. Tokaido (5)
  24. Gnomi (5)
  25. Imagine (5)

Year metric

  1. Battle Line (Schotten-Totten) (16/17)
  2. San Juan (14/14)
  3. Attika (13/15)
  4. Dominion (10/10)
  5. Carcassonne (13/17)
  6. Ta Yü (12/15)
  7. Memory (9/9)
  8. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (12/16)
  9. Animal upon Animal (9/10)
  10. Samarkand: Routes to Riches (8/8)
  11. Innovation (8/8)
  12. Schildkrötenrennen (8/8)

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 fourteen 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 10 (10 last year). My total H-index is 40, up three points from last year.

South African Railroads

South African RailroadsI bought this game – I was actually the first person to buy the game from Winsome Games when it was first announced.

The gameSouth African Railroads by John Bohrer, published by Winsome Games in 2011.

Elevator pitch: A game of shares, railroads, and auctions set in South Africa, streamlined from the earlier Pampas Railroads and Veld Railroads.

What’s in the box? The typical Winsome clamshell contains typical Winsome components: plain paper board in two pieces, bunch of wooden cubes, share certificates made from coloured paper and small plastic locomotives for player pieces. Everything is spartan, yet functional. My only gripe is the borders on the board: they are pointless, but too prominent, and just confuse players.

What do you do in the game? The goal of the game is simple: get more money than everybody else. Money is made by holding shares and getting dividend payments from the railroad companies.

After the initial auction where the first shares of the companies are auctioned off, players start taking turns. On your turn, you can choose from four different actions: construct track, develop settlements, offer stock and pay dividends.

The actions are limited: the stock action can be chosen by one player, and the action remains blocked until the next turn of that player, who must then choose a different action. Offer stock is available for two players and develop for three. Construct track is an unlimited action, and you can repeat it turn after turn.

When you build track, you choose a company where you are the majority shareholder (a shared majority is enough) and either pay $5 for one link or $15 for a double link. The track network is already present on the map, players just place cubes to build the track. The track network is fairly sparse: it’s easy to get slightly blocked.

Develop action makes stations more valuable. When railroads build links, their income goes up, based on the value of stations on the ends of the link. The focal point of the map is the city of Johannesburg, which slowly develops to be worth up to 10, which is huge. That’ll draw the attention of the railroad companies.

When offering stock, player chooses one share, which is then auctioned. The auction system is very basic, and the money is paid to the company coffers, funding future track construction. Pay dividends action triggers a round of dividends: each company pays their income, divided by five (each company has five shares) to each share.

The dividend payments also control the game length: the game is over after the sixth dividend. The dividends are also triggered by the action track: there’s a track that goes from 1 to 35, and each action chosen advances a cube on the track: track-building by 3, development by 4, and a share auction by 5. Once the cube moves off the track, it’s dividend time. The pay dividends action resets the track.

The sixth, final dividend is paid in a different fashion. It also takes into calculation the company value, which is $5 per link cube on the board. There are also two special areas, which are very expensive, but increase the company value a lot. Also, this final dividend is not divided by five, but by the actual number of outlying shares. A small company with just one or two shares out may pay a lot more than a large company with all five shares out.

There’s plenty to think about on your turns: controlling your money, the company money in the companies you’re interested in, timing issues, game length control – plenty of meat in this game, but it’s all packed into 40 minutes of play.

Lucky or skillful? There’s chaos, but no luck. The winner is the player with the best plans and the best calculations. Sometimes other players do unexpected things which can catch you off guard and there’s definitely some psychological factors in play to devalue pure calculation, but the better value calculation usually wins.

Abstract or thematic? As solid as share-holding cube-pushing railroad games go. The earlier version of this game, Veld Railroads, includes more historical flavour, like the Boer war, but South African Railroads is very streamlined and has no historical flavour outside the names of the cities. It can feel a bit abstract, but the streamlining is worth it.

Solitaire or interactive? Very interactive. Often someone wants to turtle in a corner with a single-share company, but good players won’t let anybody do that, and will attack aggressively. The board offers lots of chances for blocking, too. The game is brutal.

Players: 3–6. I’ve yet to try the game with the full six players; I have a feeling that might be interesting. The game does work well with the range from three to five players.

Who can play? Age recommendation is 42+. That’s John Bohrer’s wry sense of humour, but then again, this is a somewhat demanding game. I’m sure my 11-year-old son would grasp the rules without issues, but I’m fairly sure he’d be pretty far from actually playing well.

What’s to like: Condenses what used to be a two+ hour game into 40 minutes of pleasantly nasty railroading; very interactive: lots of blocking, co-operation, hostile takeovers.

What’s not to like: Very hard – borderline impossible – to actually acquire; the Winsome look will turn off the uninitiated; updating the action track is fiddly.

My verdict: I forgot this game for couple of years, but now that I got back into it, I realized it’s actually one of Winsome Games’ best titles: it’s very short and effective, but also offers lots of depth, variability and plenty of delightful interaction between players.

Too bad Queen Games (or somebody else) never licensed the game: this one would deserve wider distribution. If you’re a game publisher looking for a meaty game to publish, I urge you to contact John Bohrer to get a license for this gem.

On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, South African Railroads gets Suggest from me.

South African Railroads

Train games aplenty

JunaCon (“TrainCon”) in Turku was an efficient little con. I had booked a group of players willing to try anything, and we blazed through a pile of Winsome clamshells.

Robber Barons is a family game with serious user interface issues, but if you can live with them, it’s actually pretty neat. I quite liked it. There’s a tension between building to high-scoring locations to score points with route cards and developing your network. Five players is probably too much for this, I’d love to try this with just three or four. Suggest

Texas & Pacific I had played before. It’s a clean little version of the Wabash Cannonball hex-cubes-and-shares railroad game. It plays fast, but offers relatively little extra, I think. Nice, but… Suggest

New York Central is a quick but confusing card game. After the first game it’ll click. I’ll have to play this one more, as it was quite interesting. Players collect shares to gain majorities in railroads in order to score passenger runs. Accepting a passenger run to score points means a loss of shares, though, and there’s an end game scoring based on share majorities. It’s pleasantly complicated. Suggest

Australian Railways is one of the Age of Steam predecessors I hadn’t yet tried. It was fun. I like these relatives of Volldampf, as the need to use rails owned by your opponents spices up the game. The Australian variant has an interesting government railroad and nice organic track growth, which means the tracks will be usable from the get go. I liked this enough to print out the Peter Mumford redraw of the map. Suggest

South African Railroads is an old, familiar game, but one I always like to play. It’s definitely one of the better Winsome train games. It plays reasonably fast, yet offers lots of drama and punch. The end game scoring is interesting. Suggest

Rolling Freight was not a Winsome. It’s a train game from APE Games. I considered Kickstarting it, but didn’t, because it was too expensive and too long. Now that I tried it, I’m glad I didn’t, because it is too long for what it is. It has some good ideas, but somehow the whole thing didn’t quite click for me. The game also doesn’t look particularly good (which is kind of funny thing to say after playing a bunch of Winsome titles, but anyway). Indifferent

The Thursday before JunaCon we played Kings of Air and Steam, a Kickstarter project that finally arrived. It’s a pickup-and-delivery game, where you program your airship to pickup goods from factories to unload them to railroad depots, then you deliver from depots to cities with demand. There’s plenty of timing involved, and with the programming element it gets deliciously tricky, especially if you wish to have a plan B in case plan A falls through. Squeezing in a plan C is probably impossible… Not bad, not bad at all. The game scales from 2–7, which is interesting. Suggest

Ansi is playing Australian Railways

Card display in New York Central

Thin blue line

Ruhr region

Railroads to build in Rolling Freight #boardgames

Tracks around Johannesburg in South African Railroads #boardgames

Tracks around Sydney in Australian Railways #boardgames

Gaming Year 2011

2010 was a good year. Well, 2011 was even better. I played more games than on any year on my records. Quality matters, too, but I can control quality more than I can control quantity and if quantity is good, quality tends to be good as well. I played lots of games with my son. … Continue reading Gaming Year 2011

Ropecon 2011

I’ve been avoiding Ropecon for the last ten years or so, but since I missed both JunaCon and JyCon — both more interesting cons for various reasons — I decided to go for Ropecon this year. It’d be a day trip to Espoo, meaning two hours or so of driving both ways and about eight … Continue reading Ropecon 2011

South African Railroads, Skat

I’ve missed two previous Wednesdays (the whole days, simply gone, no sight of them), so I was very glad to be able to attend this week. Vacation hit this week, and lots of people were already playing by noon and we had eight people playing at the same time, which is unusually good. When I … Continue reading South African Railroads, Skat