Gaming Unplugged: 2010 favorites

December 31, 2010

2010 was a very solid year for my boardgaming experience. The local gaming group is completing its fourth year next month, and we’re still going strong. In addition to providing me with a great way to occupy my Tuesday nights, it has also been a fertile ground for this column; part of me still doesn’t believe that I’ve completed a full year of this without running out of topics.

We have played some awesome new games this year, and since it is apparently required by law to issue forth a year-end recap, I might as well go ahead and put them in order of my favorites. I’ve covered almost all of these in the last twenty-five columns; hopefully I’ll get to the ones I’ve missed in the coming year. Thank you all for reading!

10. Hansa Teutonica: Of course I’d have to lead off with a game I haven’t written about, but it really couldn’t be helped. Hansa Teutonica came out very late in the year and is in many respects the quintessential Eurogame. Somewhat affectionately dubbed “Cube Placement: the Game” by my group for its dry, theme-light nature, HT combines the attribute-leveling aspects of Endeavor with some Ticket to Ride-like link-forming. There are various paths to victory, and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the options. HT takes some getting used to, and is definitely not for everyone, but is one of the “heaviest” games I’ve played in some time.

9. Carson City: Role selection, worker placement, territory developing, and good old-fashioned shoot-outs combine for this wild west experience. Carson City has a lot of moving parts, but is fairly easy to grasp and offers some interesting strategic decisions. Included variants offer fresh takes for future plays, providing additional value, but the core game alone will keep most groups occupied for some time.

8. Fresco: Possibly the only game ever created where you have to choose the time you drag yourself out of bed (or at least force your underlings to do so), Fresco‘s colorful take on worker placement will have you mixing paints like a kid in kindergarten as you work to restore a masterpiece. Additional variants are included for future replays in case the mix goes stale.

7. Catacombs: Part-dungeon crawl, part-dexterity challenge, Catacombs is a rare role-playing style adventure where actual skill will be beneficial. No dice or cards are involved for combat; instead, players (one of them representing the forces of evil) take turns flicking wooden disks at each other — and around obstacles. Challenging yet fun, Catacombs is definitely a unique experience.

6. Tobago: Tobago‘s map-building scratches the logic puzzle pleasure center in my brain, in what is probably my favorite new mechanic of the year. The board and bits are very well designed, and piecing together the locations of the treasures is great fun. Tobago doesn’t hold up well to extended repeat sessions, but is well worth the occasional excursion.

5. Forbidden Island: Pandemic‘s younger sibling offers all of the cooperative strategy of it’s world-saving predecessor in a quicker, lighter package. Ridiculously bargain-priced, Forbidden Island deserves its spot in any gamer’s collection as a perfect filler game.

4. Cyclades: Bid to win the favor of one of the ancient Greek gods each round as you progress your civilization towards the construction of two metropolises, waging war and enlisting the aid of mythical creatures as necessary. A game of Cyclades is sadly often determined by the random appearance of one or two specific creatures (usually Pegasus), but aside from that offers a cornucopia of strategic options.

3. Jump Gate: The indie publication that could. If nothing else, Jump Gate is a testament to how simple choices can make for complex game play. Kudos to designer Matt Warden for his award-winning design.

2. Race for the Galaxy: the Brink of War: I’ve been one of the biggest fans of Race for the Galaxy for the past few years now, and this third and final expansion elevates the game from its filler roots. The addition of Prestige as both a resource and source of victory points complicates things just enough to give the game the weight it was previously lacking, and also adds another subtle layer of player interaction to a game that many deride as “multiplayer solitaire”.

1. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer: I probably would have picked up Ascension even without its being designed by three Magic: the Gathering pros. I like the idea of deck-building games, but until Ascension I never really found one that felt right to me. Ascension strikes that chord in a big way, and I eagerly look forward to seeing how it develops in the coming years.