Monday, January 21, 2013

My favorite games of 2012

I must admit, in 2012 I haven't played as many board games as I wanted to. I only had the chance to try about 40 new games, out of which I selected my top five of the year.

5. Summoner Wars: Master Set

Summoner Wars is a tactical combat game and including this type of game in my favorites for the year must be quite a big surprise for those who know me really well (I usually play either empire building games or Euro-games). The game belongs to a friend of mine and I only played it four times, each time with a different race, but I think I grasped why this game is brilliant. What impresses me is the asymmetric game play, the various abilities, both of might and of magic, which make the game interesting every time you play as well as the balance. I seemed to have a decent chance to win with every race I played and every game ended up quite tight. This is one of the games that I plan to play again this year.

4. Lords of Waterdeep

This game made it to the top for two reasons. First of all it is easy enough so that my non-gamer friends still enjoy it so every time I put it on the table there are people willing to join in. The second reason is that despite my recurrent efforts, I failed to develop a master strategy that ensure my winning regardless of how my opponents are playing. It is one of my flaws to overthink games and to try to find that tweak within the rules that gives me long term advantage, but with this game I am still looking.

The draw-back for me is the theme which does not seem to bear any weight, it's just a lovely image on the front of the box and nothing more from Dungeons & Dragons, but the game play compensates for that. Another plus is that every time this game hits the table, it also leaves withing the hour, making it a nice opening for a gaming night.

3. Clash of Cultures

Clash of Cultures is the game I've been waiting for the whole year, hoping to see a grand strategy game with a medieval setting playable in under 1 hour per player. I did not get all I have hoped for, there are quite a few useless technologies in the game and the game time is well above what's written on the box but the game still calls to me to take it out of the box and play it.

I was waiting for some asymmetric game play, specific abilities and a better structures technology tree, but the game is still great. I didn't have the chance to play it enough time so I know all the rules by heart and simply keep the rules in the box, but I want to reach that level. Before I get to play some more, all I can say is that Clash of Cultures is a game worth playing, it's not difficult to learn and I fully recommend it for those who want to take a leap of faith and move on from the typical Euro-games to something a bit heavier.

2. Might & Magic Heroes

This game has just been released in Polish, so I had to print the English rules and all the cards and to 'pimp' my Polish copy to make it playable in English. Before I tell you more about the board game, I have to confess that I am big fan of the Heroes of Might & Magic series (especially Heroes III) and this is what made me want the table top version in the first place.

Might & Magic Heroes is made after Heroes VI (the computer game) - a game which I only played a few times but looked quite promising. The biggest challenge for a board game designer is shrinking the enormous design space of the computer version into the limited design space of a board game. Knowing this, my expectations were rather modest, so I was in for a big surprise.

Might & Magic Heroes preserves most of the brilliant game mechanisms of the computer game (city building, hero development, combat) without making the game too heavy. The secret is in the rules - and there are plenty of rules - and still the game is almost language independent. There are a lot of symbols used to represent hero abilities, skill and spell, creature abilities and city buildings, but a home-made player aid is all you need to forget about the rules and keep on playing. This board game is a fantasy empire building game which I intend to play a lot in the futures.

1. 1989 - Dawn of Freedom

For those who played Twilight Struggle, 1989 is simply the upgraded version of it. The theme has not changed a lot, it doesn't feature anymore the lengthy Cold War, but just its final days when the Eastern European dictatorships crumbled down together with the Berlin wall. Having lived in those time in Romania, I can almost taste the bitter struggle for democracy which I witnessed myself 20 years ago.

In my opinion, 1989 is more than a game, it is also a history lesson. Every event card made me want to read more and really understand what happened. Most of the cards feature major events and their effects in the game play resembles what had happened in reality.

From the game play point of view, the game is less random than Twilight Struggle, very well balanced and the scoring part has grown a lot, from simply counting controlled countries to playing a separate mini-game for gaining or retaining the power. None of the regions can be ignored without risking a bitter defeat and the events became far more important than the operations value of cards.

I could ramble on for hours about 1989... it is by far the best game I have played in 2012 and a game I hope to see climbing to the very top of the charts.

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  1. A nice list. I've played a lot of Twilight Struggle and will have to give 1989 a try.


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