Yes, I’m aware that some of these games were released late in 2009. Since I don’t subscribe to the cult of the new, nor do I get massive truckloads of free review games to praise or pillage, I play what I can, when I can, and I review them only after I’ve played them at least three times as to provide a true opinion on how the games actually play. Some reviewers may play a game once or twice with the same people, or worse, as a solo game, but I think that every game should get a fair, educated review and thus a game can’t really be evaluated without giving it a fair shake with both a multitude of plays and plays with different groups. So, without further delay, here’s the list of the best games I’ve played this year!
First, let’s talk about a game that I found to be outstanding in almost every regard, and a game that I love dearly: Cyclades. Some people bitch that it’s not Ameritrash, others that it’s not a Euro, and some just bitch because it’s neither. What it is, my friends, is an exceptionally fun, tightly designed game that is both challenging, well produced in terms of components, and easily one of the most beautifully illustrated games I’ve played this year. While some might not like the fact that you bid upon actions you can take during the game, it adds a tremendous amount of strategy to the game and allows for protracted strategies to take place where a player can build wealth, waiting for the precise moment to strike and defeat opponents’ armies.
Cyclades – 4.5/5 Stars
Next, a phenomenal game that received virtually unanimous high praise is Summoner Wars. This game is fast, pretty, and smart, and to top it all off, it’s cheap. I’m not a huge fan of card games in general unless they involve taking suckers’ money, but this game broke the mold for me. When you consider the expansions and lack of CCG or “deck building” that permeates many card games these days, this game was a breath of fresh air and still a game that I like to play, nearly a year later.
Summoner Wars – 4.5/5 Stars
Now, speaking of card games that have changed my mind about card games, let’s talk about one of the most prolific designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, John Clowdus. The man is a phenomenon unto himself, pumping out fresh, new games through his Small Box Games brand on a monthly basis. Sure some of them have made me wonder what the hell he was thinking, such as Tempt, but the vast, overwhelming majority of his games are tight, brilliant, and most importantly, fun. Irondale, for one, is a tremendously smart city-building game that captured a lot of peoples’ attention this year, and it still hits my game table fairly often. Another game that exploded onto my game table and has since taken up permanent residence is a smart, fun game that had all my friends conspiring and betraying one another, Politico: Fall of Caesar. Finally, a game that I consider to be his Opus Magnum, Bhazum, is the single most engaging, fun card game I’ve ever played, and anyone who wants a game that can be played in a half an hour with a single opponent should own it. It’s simply marvelous, and with Small Box Games’ low price points, anyone can afford to play these amazing games.
Irondale – 4/5 Stars
Politico: Fall of Caesar – 4.5/5 Stars
Bhazum – 4.5/5 Stars
Moving away from card games to my first love, miniatures games, you have to admit that 2010 was a wonderful year. There were quite a few games that had little plastic warriors attempting to commit genocide upon the opposition, but in my mind, one of the absolute cream of the crop this year was Grindhouse Games’ Incursion. It built upon the solid formula that has sustained Space Hulk for all of these years by adding some incredibly slick mechanics, such as card-based abilities and “level-ups” that changed how I looked at Space Hulk and its clones, forever. While Incursion’s “Weird War 2” zombies versus steampunk GI theme may not be as interesting to some as “Space Marines Versus The Alien Menace”, the game’s wonderful visuals and incredibly tight gameplay more than makes up for any shortcomings that one might believe exists in the theme. If you like tactical, squad-based shooter games, this is the one for you. Even better, it’s a full fifty dollars cheaper than Space Hulk’s third edition, making it a hell of a deal.
Incursion – 4.5/5 Stars
Another game that seemed to come out of nowhere and knock the piss of the “establishment” was Clever Mojo Games’ Alien Frontiers. Not only is it easily one of the most fun games I have ever played, it has the distinction of being the only game I’ve played in recent history that had every single person I’ve played it with enjoy it to the point of asking for an immediate rematch. It’s a dicefest to be sure, but the smart resource management and player interaction aspects of the game make this one of the cleanest, tightest designs of the year. No matter who you are or what kind of gamer you are, this is the one that suits all fancies. It’s simply a blast to play, and the fact that it’s being reprinted in a couple of months is a boon to anyone who missed out the first time and couldn’t afford the $120 price tag that the Ebay folks were asking for it.
Alien Frontiers – 4.25/5 Stars
Area control games have always been a lot of fun for me, with games like El Grande, Cave Troll, and Tikal seeing a lot of playtime in my game groups. I was pleased to find a company called Assa Games, who put out two incredibly fun games, Conquest of the Fallen Lands and Galaxy’s Edge. The former is a quest to retake a kingdom that has fallen to legions of fell beasts where the latter is a galactic quest for colonization and military superiority. Both are tile-based and have random layouts meaning the game is virtually infinitely playable, but that is the only similarity they share. These games knocked my socks off, and I am literally going to play a game of Galaxy’s Edge in about a half an hour when my buddy gets here. Definately a couple of great games from a relatively unknown publisher that deserves some love for making a couple of really fun games. Galaxy’s Edge is a lot better, but Conquest is a lot more approachable and one that I would consider to be a “family game” of sorts.
Conquest of the Fallen Lands – 3.75/5 Stars
Galaxy’s Edge – 4.25/5 Stars
Last, but certainly not least is a tremendously fun game that was initially criticized for its use of the ever-hated Comic Sans font, but ended up being almost universally praised as one of the best games of the year. Defenders of the Realm is a mix of a lot of different mechanics, and all of them work. The fact that it’s a co-op game can detract from some people’s enjoyment as some people just like to kill one another all the time, but barring that, this game was the single best game I played this year. With great-looking art, tons of plastic, and one of the most incredibly smart AI mechanics I’ve ever seen, this game is all about fun.
Defenders of the Realm – 4.75/5 Stars
In closing, this was a great year for games and gaming, and I was very, very fortunate to be able to log well over 200 individual games played this year. Luckily, very few of them sucked ass. Some of the losers this year were Tempt, Small Box Games’ first utter failure that I am aware of, Munchkin Quest, which was about as fun as gluing my ball hairs to my legs and then attempting to do jumping jacks, and the worst offender, Halo Interactive Strategy Board Game, which while interactive, is neither strategic, nor a game.
My outlook for 2011 is phenomenal, and my only concern is that I will not have enough time to play games as I would otherwise like to. God bless you all, my dear readers, and my resolution this year is to attempt to both increase the rate at which I publish articles as well as put in some proper attempts to get review games from publishers so I do not run out of games to review for you. I may not be the best, most prolific writer, but you know that I’ve actually played the games, you know that I won’t bullshit you, and you know I always tell you why I like or dislike a game. Take me or leave me, but I’m not going anywhere. I hope you, my reader, will stay on board and enjoy the ride.
Cheers, and best wishes for the new year,
~Pete “SuperflyTNT” Ruth