Highs, Lows & Lucky Rolls: The Year in Board Games

Lizard Lounge has always been a home for gaming in all its guises.

Here for your reading pleasure, our resident board game writers, Stewart, Neil and Thomas, talk through the ups and downs of a year playing at the table. Enjoy.

Stewart

There has been a lot going on in the hobby over the last 12 months. It continues to grow at an extraordinary pace and more and more people are being introduced into it. Large events I went to all expanded and even the UK games expo may get a day visit from me next year. It is not just the people playing the games, it is the number of companies publishing games, number of people designing them, every aspect of the hobby, board game cafés are springing up all over the place too around the UK and seem to be thriving.

So what has stood out for me this year?

A number of things really. First of all Essen. Biggest and best yet. There were a lot of excellent games out there and a couple of not so good ones, but the quality of the games are getting better too. Each year more and more top rate titles appear. Games that were highly regarded a decade ago, a lot of them are now just forgotten.

Games that stood out this year include:

Oracle of Delphi

Mystic Vale

Mare Nostrum Empires

Hansa Teutonica Britannia expansion

Super Motherload

Valley of the Kings

Why?

Mystic Vale and Valley of the Kings are new deckbuilding games that add something extra to the genre. Super Motherload is a deckbuilder with a board that is part of the game. You have to concentrate mainly on what is going on on the board, the first game that I have played of its type that requires you to do so.

Oracle of Delphi is by my least favourite designer, Stefan Feld, but he has done a gem here. The right amount of complexity with added anxiety thrown in! It is a race game admittedly with a tagged on theme, but I don’t mind the abstract nature of the game as the game itself is that good. Probably my game of the year too.

Mare Nostrum Empires is a re-implementation of the fantastic Mare Nostrum. While the changes are minimal, what it did do was put an excellent game back on the map as the original was difficult to get your hands on. Plus the board is a lot clearer in the new version too.

Hansa Teutonica – Britannia expansion. This is just a replacement board for the original game, but with a pile of new rules that change the game significantly. It makes a very good game even better. If you like the original you need to get this. If you don’t have the original, why not?

Conventions

I have been to a number of conventions over the year. Stabcon in Stockport goes from strength to strength, increasing in numbers and the hotel is improving too. Midcon in Derby as excellent as ever and of course BounceCon being the highlight of the year, 5 days of gaming in huge manor house in the middle of Lincolnshire. A friend of mine organises games weekends at his house a few times each year and these are one of the highlights of the year – despite being on the other side of the country.

Disappointments

I have been lucky, not much has left me disappointed this year. I was sad to learn of the demise of Treefrog Games, but the proprietor, Martin Wallace a prolific game designer will still be designing games for other companies. Manorcon was a little disappointing this year, the venue is not particularly great and the food on offer is pretty poor, the company was excellent though. I’ve played a couple of poor games, but I didn’t expect much from them anyway.

Hype

There have been 2 games this year that have been hyped more than Hypey McHype. Scythe and Terraforming Mars. I have played both, I own both and neither deserve the hype they have.

I can understand why Scythe has hype. When it was kickstarted (hiss) you could spend a fortune on component upgrades. A lot of people did and they were very, very pretty. I did like them a lot, but glad that I did not pay the fortune that they cost. And that is the thing, the cost. When you make such an investment in a single game (over £100) you want it to be good, fantastic, the best game you own. You don’t want to spend £100 on a game and then tell the world that it is crap, it will be like admitting you are wrong, you will defend it. However, the game is pretty average.

Pretty average is also how I would describe Terraforming Mars too. This has hype as there was only a small quantity available at Essen and they went in the blink of an eye. It is OK, but nothing special. I have already played far better games from Essen than this. But because of the limited quantity available, people really want to get their hands on it, I was offered £100 for mine. I would have taken it, but didn’t want to rip a friend off as a reprint is due in the new year and I would be surprised if it was more than half that.

All in all, my gaming year has been a good one. A Jam packed holiday period of gaming lies ahead. Can’t wait!

 

Neil

When I one day look back at my time spent playing games of one kind or another, 2016, will be viewed as something of a pivotal year. It will be considered the year I had my eyes opened to a world I’d long since forgotten about. In 2016, I started playing board games.

I find it quite difficult to explain the joyous impact my rekindled love affair with games around a table in the company of family, and other such wonderful folk, has had on my life as a gamer, and my life in general.

You see, at the beginning of April my board game collection consisted of the usual suspects. Those crusty old cardboard warriors of yore…Monopoly, Cluedo, Pictionary, Game of Life, and other various guises of Monopoly that each hold the gift of leaving the player wishing for an early death after half an hours play. Now, as we enter the depths of winter and another Christmas approaches, my modest little collection has taken on new dimensions of gameplay and size. Heck, I even had to buy some shelving units to house the obsession!

Anyway, here are a few highs and lows from my year as a disciple of the tabletop brand of play. Year dot, if you like.

Highs.

Where to begin? The whole package of this board game heavy year has been phenomenal. I dipped a toe into the tabletop waters during April, became sucked into the incredible depths this hobby holds, and am yet to surface for a gulp of air.

The gaming highlights have been numerous and frequent. Finally getting to play Dead of Winter and have it live up to the rather grand expectations I held for its zombie riddled apocalyptic landscape was a definite winner. I first became interested in the game purely from being drawn to the superb box art and desolate theme. I watched avidly as Wil Wheaton and friends played across the interwebs. And, when I finally decided to take the plunge and make a boardgame purchase that strayed from the mainstream, Dead of Winter, was one of the chosen few. It currently sits atop the ‘favourite games’ list that lives in my head, and the addition of The Long Night set only further cemented its position.

But in reality, despite having genuinely enjoyed pretty much every game I’ve brought to the table over the past year, the true high point came from what took place around the table more than what took place upon it. The games themselves are truly magical devices that can cast a spell over all involved. They prove the vessel for rich conversation filled evenings, where great laughter and warmth hangs in the air, where families can come together and enjoy the absolute simplicity and beauty of just playing, and, you’ll have to trust me on this one, they can make teenagers loosen their grip on that mobile phone that is otherwise regarded as an additional limb. Honestly.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching my youngest son become fully invested in being the King of Tokyo, my youngest daughter displaying a dark side and a love for treasure during Pathfinder sessions, my eldest son seemingly always pulling the traitor card from the deck, and then revelling in the spotlight it brings further down the line, and so many other countless moments of utter joy. Since we began playing as a family, barely a day goes by where one of my children doesn’t say, “Are we having game night tonight?” And well, who am I to deny them.

Lows

There haven’t really been any notable low points for me this year. Perhaps it stems from being new to the hobby and still in a state of perpetual love for everything I get to play.

The only real dips have come from two areas. The first is centred upon Kickstarter delays and to be honest is something I can take on the chin in good humour and faith. I can’t begin to understand the workload and stress involved in trying to get a game out to the amassed faithful that have shown their belief in you as developer and your game as an exciting product. So, although the couple I’ve backed this year, namely, Unfair and Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove, have now both been hit by delays of a few months, I can take this purely as a disappointment fuelled by the anticipation of getting my mitts on the finished product.

The other disappointment came in the form of a game I’m currently playing and preparing to review. In fact, as I type this I can see said game currently sprawled out across almost every square inch of my table. Last night myself and two of my children endeavoured to play Bardagi: The Claim for Gold. We lasted roughly an hour and then decided to return to it again tonight. The problem is, the rulebook is not exactly the clearest and well written piece of literature I’ve ever come across. In fact, I’ve never before spent so much of the first shots of play with my head in the book scouring for the titbit of information that will allow us to proceed. I’d heard tales of awful rules translations, but here was my first taste. And it was pretty bitter.

As you can see those disappointments barely register, merely miniscule blips on a heavenly landscape of board gaming goodness and new found adventure. Long may it continue.

 

Thomas

So if Stew is the old veteran, wise and full of stories from the field, and Neil is the greenhorn, fresh off the boat and wondering at the marvels that await him, then I am the guy without a generalization that I know of, the one in the middle I guess. I’m your choice of deli meat on this Stew and Neil board game sandwich. I’ve been board gaming for about ten years, but only in the last few years have I really started to pursue the hobby with relish. Deli meat… relish… I must be hungry.

The Low Point

The worst moment of gaming I had was fueled by a wave of nostalgia. I spent many a good time with the old computer game The Oregon Trail, so when I heard about the Target Exclusive Oregon Trail Card Game, I ignored the tagline “Target Exclusive” (which really should have been clue enough) and purchased it. Not expecting a gem, but hoping to be surprised. I wasn’t.

It was a mess of a game, with hints of promise at every turn but those hints were soon strewn upon the floor like so many broken axles and dead oxen. Oh, you want resource management? Sounds good! But how about we make those resources only useful on one bad event? Fabulous! You like playing games cooperatively with up to six of your friends? Come on in! Just ignore those four cards that instantly, unavoidably kill a player, leaving them out of the game and forced to watch this incredibly boring game drag on until you all die horribly. Just like my hopes for this game.

And the Glorious High

My gaming highlight for 2016 comes courtesy of Fantasy Flight and Star Wars Rebellion. I purchased this game in April of 2016. I didn’t play it until August 2016. It was a very heavy, very pricey, hole in my heart. But finally, even though it’s not her usual kind of game, I convinced my wife to play it with me. I say convinced, but really it was just me promising to change the kids’ diapers for a month. We set up the smorgasboard (see what I did there) that is Rebellion, I began to teach her the rules and then a week later we were ready to start. I am being too hard on the game, it only took us several days to read the rules.

We started in, and the Empire came out to an early lead, cutting off diplomatic support to my Rebellion. I had no troops being produced, while the Empire was literally vomiting Stormtroopers onto the board. Things were not looking good, but I had been cheeky. Even though the Empire had my troops on the ropes, they could not find my base. Because she was unable to locate my base, my wife decided to build a second Death Star. My goose was cooked. And yet, despite all its firepower, the Empire could not find my base. It was almost as if the more they tightened their grip, the more star systems slipped through their fingers.

Eventually, through probing, both of planets and of my rebel operatives (don’t ask), the Empire had my location narrowed down to a few planets. One tiny troop carrier landed a couple Stormtroopers on a seemingly innocuous planet right next to one of the Empire’s starting planets… and was promptly greeted by the entire Rebel army. They should have had a bad feeling about that…

And so, with just a few more turns left, the Death Star a mere turn away from flying in and turning my base into an off-brand of Alderaan Paste, I launched a desperate attack against the Death Star. My forces were greatly outnumbered, but if I could just get one fighter to survive, I would have a shot at blowing up the Death Star and securing victory. My fighters were destroyed one by one as rolls of the dice claimed them. But one lone Y-Wing made it through, and I had my shot at the Death Star. One roll of the die to determine the fate of the galaxy. We both stood for this one. I rolled, the die bounced once, twice… I don’t actually know how many times it bounced, I’m simply attempting to create tension… and landed on a hit. Against all odds, I managed to copy the movie exactly, winning the game by destroying the Death Star. And even though my wife has never seen Star Wars (oh no I can hear the furious tapping of keyboards in the comment section now…) she was able to relate to the game because of its tension, pacing, and strategy. Those stories that Rebellion generates, those intense moments of decision making, of risk and reward, gave me some of the best gaming moments of 2016. And because it is basically a two player game whereas Twilight Imperium (an unsurprisingly similar game) is a feast for many more, that intimacy between the players makes it a much more focused duel of the fates, in which two forces vie for control of the galaxy.

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