As is now traditional (because doing something twice counts as a tradition in my book), I’ll cast an eye back over my 2014 gaming now it’s all over.
Games with others
Unsurprisingly, Coloretto tops the list again with 9 plays last year. A great filler, and I introduced it to my wife and in-laws on holiday this summer, accounting for a good few of those 9 plays.
The netrunner-up is… oh, I’ve given it away… yes, Android: Netrunner (7 plays), which is a little more surprising given that I’ve only ever run the nets with two different people. I’d like to get much deeper into this game, but there isn’t exactly a surfeit of opponents out in rural Northumberland and I’m still not up to too many trips into Newcastle where the scene’s a little livelier.
Interestingly, my joint-most-played game of 2013 – Pandemic – didn’t even get played once in 2014. I’ve rectified that for 2015 by playing a game on New Year’s Day, but it’s weird that a game that was so popular among various friends and groups during 2013 sank without trace for me last year.
Best New Games of 2014
Hmmm. There’s really nothing leaping out at me like Keyflower did last year. I’ve really enjoyed my dabblings with Volko Ruhnke’s COIN system games (Cuba Libre, A Distant Plain and Fire in the Lake have all passed under my fingertips in 2014), so perhaps they can share the glory even though only FitL was published last year. They definitely need some more face-to-face play though; there’s only so much my brain can take when it comes to deciphering the non-player bot instructions in FitL.
Classics Discovered in 2014
2014 was the year of Splotter Spellen for this category: Roads & Boats and Antiquity were just glorious gaming experiences. There’s nothing quite like them for freedom, complex gameplay from simple rulesets and, well… looking fairly hideous. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and there’s a beautiful proto-eurogame heart beating under those manky old clothes.
Not really a classic as such, but certainly deserving of a mention: Stefan Feld’s 2010 game Luna, which is possibly his most underrated (or just most widely ignored) game. Like the Splotter games, there’s a lot of freedom in Luna, requiring you to fumble your own obscure way towards a seemingly nebulous goal. Unlike the Splotter games, it’s probably not possible to absolutely destroy your chances in the first turn.
Blimey, it’s been a solo-heavy year. From starting the year with a full Agricola solo series through to December’s arrival of a copy of the near-legendary Japanese solo game Shephy, it’s been non-stop solitairing. Rather than last year’s 40 total plays of Onirim and Friday, I’ve been spreading myself around the solo games much more, with Shephy joining those two stalwarts in the short-and-sweet category.
Apart from them, it’s been all about the heft, with heavy, long games seeing the table on many occasions. Mage Knight has had 5 plays, Navajo Wars 4 plays, John Butterfield’s D-Day at Omaha Beach and D-Day at Tarawa 4 plays combined… these games last multiple sessions and have kept me well occupied when the chronic fatigue syndrome has been at its most annoying.
A special odd mention here for The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43, which I bought near the beginning of the year and traded away within a couple of months. At first, I appreciated its simple dice-table-driven narrative style, and that was perfect for my addled brain in the early months of CFS. And then after a few plays I just got very, very bored of it. There’s barely a game there – maybe a handful of meaningful decisions in each session of play – so it had to go once I was starting to feel a touch better.
Digital Board Gaming
Loads of VASSAL by email in 2014, mainly with Newcastle Gamers semi-regular Gareth: three games of Twilight Struggle (plus another ongoing with Olly now), two of Labyrinth: The War on Terror, one of 1989: Dawn of Freedom (yes, those cousins of Twilight Struggle are very popular with us), a Cuba Libre and the beginning of our ongoing recreation of WWI with Paths of Glory. In the realms of hexes and counters, we’ve also played a short Red Winter scenario and I resoundingly lost the Sickle Cut scenario in France ’40 to someone from BGG (to be fair to me, it was an accurate historical result!). With a game of Unconditional Surrender just getting underway with another BGG stranger (Operation Barbarossa – I’m the USSR and the Luftwaffe have just grounded my entire air force in the first turn), 2015 is already looking excellent on the digital front.
Not so much board gaming on the iPad this year, although a special mention goes to the excellent Galaxy Trucker app released in the autumn. It captures the ridiculousness of the tabletop game in a super-slick package with a compelling solo campaign mode.
It’s already been an excellent start to the gaming year and, as my health gradually improves, I hope to be a bit more regular at Newcastle Gamers. I also want to get back on track with my game design ideas (the Battle of the Bands game needs a lot of bashing into shape before anyone else sees it, but I also have an idea for a solo terraforming/survival game which I’d like to explore) and get along to a few sessions of Newcastle Playtest.
My eldest son is now seven and a half, which means he’s starting to be able to play some slightly more advanced games. It doesn’t mean he always makes sensible decisions, but he’s getting there and – most importantly – he’s interested in playing games. 2015 may well be the year of the family game in this house.