Tag Archives: new year

My 2014 in Games

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

Most played

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 LibreA 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.

Solo Cardboard

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.

Looking Forward

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.

My 2013 in Games

Well, just like I did in May, I’m getting an odd compulsion to look back over my gaming in 2013, now that it’s all over.

Games with others

Most Played

The games I played with other people more than any other in 2013?

Coloretto and Pandemic (8 plays each)

No, neither are a surprise. Coloretto‘s quick, light and very popular at Newcastle Gamers. I’ve even got my own copy now, although I haven’t had the chance to inflict it on anyone yet. Great game, and I’m sure it’ll continue to get played a lot.

As for Pandemic, it’s one that I’ve used to introduce a few non-gamers to the world beyond Monopoly. It’s my infection vector (subject-related reference intended). Co-op, fairly quick, relatively simple… again, it’ll continue to be played for a long time to come.

Runner-up

Special mention has to go to Hanabi and Hive with 6 plays each. Both wonderful games in different ways. I need to find someone to regularly play Hive with. It shouldn’t be too hard to talk someone into it…

Best New Games of 2013

Keyflower. Keyflower, Keyflower, Keyflower. Love that game (and yes, I know it was technically published in 2012, but I didn’t get to play it until 2013). Tragically, according to BoardGameGeek, I haven’t played it since April! April! That needs to be rectified sharpish.

Terra Mystica should get an honourable mention here too. I’ve only played it once (and only two-player), but it was a corker.

Classics Discovered in 2013

Every board gamer has a few classic games in their mind that they’d “like to play”. Every so often, that opportunity presents itself. Here are a few I got to play in 2013. (I use the word “classic” fairly loosely – it’s a mixture of oldies and well-regarded-ies.)

Twilight Struggle: I’ve still only played this once face-to-face, but with a few more play-by-email games under my belt (using the Vassal engine), this has taken its place in my pantheon of favourite games. A stunningly good game.

Brass and Age of Industry: I’ve lumped these two together, what with AoI being a streamlined reworking of Brass. I got to play each of these twice in 2013, and they’re both fantastic games. I imagine Brass would be the harder sell to many people, and it’s a much more brutally unforgiving game, but I do prefer it in many ways (not least the north-west England setting).

El Grande: I wasn’t blown away by El Grande, but it’s such a classic that it was impossible to say no to a game.

High Frontier: Almost exactly a year ago, I played High Frontier. I would very much like to play it again. Olly now has the Colonization expansion. This is a delightful confluence of factors, which I’m sure will result in space-based awesomeness at some future point.

Solo Cardboard

I spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting at my desk staring at cardboard and wood in front of me. I love board gaming alone. It’s quiet, it’s intense and it’s (usually) challenging.

Leading the 2013 field in number of plays is Onirim (25 plays), followed by Friday (15 plays). I much prefer the gameplay of Friday, but Onirim takes about half the time and doesn’t need quite as much thought. It’s quite telling that 18 of those 25 plays were in December, during my current illness. It’s about all I could do in those early weeks.

Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? is the next most popular solo game in my 2013, with 8 plays. I haven’t played it for a while, so maybe it’s time to have another run at keeping the world safe from terrorists. Thunderbolt Apache Leader, Field Commander Napoleon, Cuba Libre, Cruel Necessity, Space Empires: 4X and D-Day at Omaha Beach have all had multiple airings over the year (and it’s a little ambition to get a proper multiplayer game of Cuba Libre in this year). I seem to have settled into a fairly wargamer-ish solo regime, I think largely due to the sense of narrative gained through playing these games (as well as the substantial educational value in historical gaming). Nevertheless, euro-favourites Agricola and Snowdonia have also hit the table a fair few times in a solo capacity. In fact, Agricola‘s set up behind me right now.

Digital Board Gaming

It’s been a pretty full year for digital versions of board games across various platforms. I’ve been playing a few games by email using Vassal (most notable being Twilight Struggle and Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland: 8-12 December 1939), playing a few on Boîte à Jeux (mainly The Castles of Burgundy and Trajan, with a smattering of Agricola and an exploratory Dungeon Petz thrown in for good measure) and playing a lot on the iPad.

Carcassonne is still my gold standard for iPad gaming, and it’s still getting a lot of play even now. Eclipse put in a very good showing on its iOS release this summer, but Eclipse tends to shine with four or more players so asynchronous multiplayer games can get a little unwieldy in terms of downtime between turns.

Agricola on iOS… gaaaahhh. I love Agricola. I absolutely don’t love the iOS version. There’s too much visual faff, too much scrolling required, too much pictorial representation of what the print version does so well with words. I don’t find it user-friendly at all. I’m finding it manageable (just) in two-player games, where the number of action spaces is at a minimum (and thus the scrolling is at a minimum) and I can keep a vague idea in mind of what my opponent is doing without having to constantly look across several different screens of information. I know the iOS version of Le Havre is ugly, but at least you can see everything you need to see on a single screen. It’s brilliant. Agricola isn’t.

I’ve recently been putting in a fair few plays of Shenandoah Studios’ Battle of the Bulge and Drive on Moscow. They’re lovely little (well, Bulge is little… DoM is substantially bigger) wargames with an area-impulse system rather than a hex-and-counter approach. There’s a lot of challenge just against the AI, and I keep coming back again and again to Bulge‘s “Race for the Meuse” three-day scenario. It’s so tight for time for the Axis forces to hit the Meuse river by the end of the third day – love it.

Looking Forward

What will 2014 bring in terms of gaming? Well, for now it depends on my recovery from this post-viral fatigue syndrome… and once I’m past that it’ll depend on my work and studies, assuming I’m well enough to fully return to them.

I have a copy of Splotter Spellen classic Roads & Boats arriving in the next few days, plus the &cetera expansion. It’s always sounded like exactly the sort of thing I’d love (resources, networks, building, hexes, wet-erase pens… geese, for heaven’s sake) so I’ve jumped on a copy from the latest printing before it sells out and becomes unavailable for the next five years. Even if I hate it, I can wait a couple of years and sell it on for at least double what it’s cost me. And it’s cost me quite a bit.

January should also finally see the arrival of my Kickstarter copy of Hegemonic, pretty much one year on from when I first backed it. I’m still really looking forward to it – it seems like just my sort of twist on the whole space 4X thing. It’s a lot more like a cross between Dominant Species and Tigris & Euphrates than anything like Eclipse or Twilight Imperium. I know one thing for sure in 2014 though: I can’t be bothered with backing stuff on Kickstarter again, unless it’s proven to be beyond awesome and genuinely requires the backing to get published. If a game’s on Kickstarter, chances are it’ll hit the usual retail channels earlier and cheaper than the Kickstarter copies, and stretch goals generally aren’t going to make enough difference. (Still, Hegemonic genuinely wouldn’t have had the double-layered anti-slipping player boards if it hadn’t been on Kickstarter, so at least that’s something.)

Anyway, here’s to more gaming in 2014!

Agricola schnaps