Continuing my saga through my decade of being in the board gaming hobby, here’s my look at games that came out in 2009. As always, this is not a ranked list, just games I’ve played that I think are worthy of note.
The Adventurers: Temple of Chac (Guillaume Blossier/Fréderic Henry) was one of AEG’s first forays into board games (Fantasy Flight started publishing it in 2012). It is a treasure hunting game where you first roll five dice to determine how many actions players have in a round (the dice result is cross-referenced with your load level). You then will take up to five actions doing various things, like moving or picking up treasure in the various rooms. You’ll start out in a room where the walls are about to snap shut. You then will pass a lava room which you can cross as long as you have memorized runes from the wall room. You could also go around the lava room and try to get treasure from alcoves along the hallway. You’ll then pass a river which you could jump in and try to avoid a waterfall, or you could continue along the hallway and try to cross a rickety bridge or get another treasure from an alcove. As you head for the exit, however, be wary of the boulder that will move at the end of each round. If it gets to the exit before you do, you are trapped forever. If you make it out alive, the player with the most valuable treasure wins.
This game is very much a push-your-luck style game as you try to grab as much treasure as you can. The more you have, however, the more difficult it will be to get enough actions to do what you want to. It has a very clear narrative arc that doesn’t really change much from game to game, but it’s still a lot of fun every once in a while. It is certainly a much better game than its 2011 follow-up, The Pyramid of Horus.
Alea Iacta Est (Jeffrey D. Allers/Bernd Eisenstein, alea) is a dice allocation game set in ancient Rome. In each of the game’s five rounds (six with 2-3 players), each person takes turns rolling all of their dice, then placing some of them on one of the available buildings. There’s the Templum, where you can get Fortuna tokens. There’s the Senatus, where you can get bonus cards. There’s the Castrum, where you can get new provinces. There’s the Forum, where you can get people for your provinces. And there’s the Latrina, which is where your dice go if they can’t go anywhere else (or if you just don’t want to put them anywhere). A round ends when someone is out of dice, and each region awards its stuff. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
I like the dice mechanism in play in this game, where you roll each round and then distribute your dice to where you think they will do you the most good. It’s a little risky to send them to some places early in the round, but you can also lock up some pretty good stuff if you’re willing and able to use a lot of dice. I also think the Latrina is a pretty hilarious touch – it’s exactly what it sounds like, a public bathroom.
Dice Town (Bruno Cathala/Ludovic Maublanc, Matagot) is a game set in the Old West where you are trying to score points through a clever use of poker dice. In each round, players simultaneously roll their dice, then keep a number of them (you have to pay for keeping any number besides one). Once at least one person has locked all of their dice, the others get one last free roll and must keep their result. Then you evaluate the dice. The player with the most 9s gets gold. The most 10s gets to rob the bank. The most Jacks gets general store cards to choose from. The most Queens gets to steal cards from another player and keep one. The most Kings gets the Sheriff, who is responsible for breaking ties (and can be bribed). The best poker hand gets property cards, with Aces helping you to get extras. If you got nothing in a round, you visit Doc Badluck and get a small (though sometimes strategically important) bonus. Once the gold or property cards have run out, the game is over and the most points wins.
I love Dice Town. If I were ranking this list, it would be my number one game. The poker mechanism works really well, especially as you watch what other people are accumulating and try to adjust your strategy accordingly. I also really enjoy the way people can still win things, even if their poker hand is not the greatest. Having a rotating Sheriff is another enjoyable part of the game, though we usually have to make a house rule that you can’t promise any favors outside of the game to win a tie. It’s a pretty easy game to get into, and it’s a lot of fun.
Dungeon Lords (Vlaada Chvátil, Czech Games Edition) is a game based on the Dungeon Keeper video game franchise. There are two game years, divided into four seasons. During each season you will be sending out minions to get food, improve your reputation, dig tunnels, mine gold, hire imps, build traps, gain monsters, and acquire dungeon rooms. This is done through a simultaneous action selection programming mechanism where being second is usually preferable. After four seasons, an adventuring party will have assembled outside your dungeon, and you’ll have to fight them off before they take over too much of your dungeon. After two years (and two adventuring parties), the player with the most points wins.
Readers of the blog know I’m a Vlaada fanboy, so I’m sure you would have been shocked had I left this one off. I really do like it, tough as it is, but I just never get to play it. There’s a distinct learning curve and a really difficult puzzle element. It’s also got a theme that confuses people – the game plays like a Euro, but its has a heavy fantasy aspect that people weren’t quite used to at the time. It’s definitely one to check out, and one I need to pull off the shelf again sometime.
Endeavor (Carl de Visser/Jarratt Gray, Z-Man Games) is a game of shipping lanes and empire expansion. In each of seven rounds, you will have the opportunity to construct a building, grow your population, ship goods to various regions, occupy cities, attack opponent’s cities, take your tokens back, draw an asset card, or pass. There’s a definite area control element as players try to get the most markers on the various shipping lanes. At the end of the seventh round, players score and the high score wins.
I like Endeavor. I think I liked it more the second time I played than the first. There’s a lot going on, and if I were inclined to use the word fiddly, I would use it in conjunction with this game. I’m not, however, so I’ll just say there are a lot of little chits that go all over the board. It’s a fun game, and one I’d like to play again sometime.
Jaipur (Sébastien Pauchon, GameWorks) is a two-player only game about buying, exchanging, and selling goods at a Middle Eastern market. On your turn, you can either take or sell cards. You can take one card from the market for free, replacing it with another card from the deck. You can instead take 2-5 cards from the market, but these must be exchanged with cards that are either in your hand or your camel supply. You can also choose to take all the camels in the market. Instead of taking cards, you can sell them. Turn in at least one card of a single type, and take that many of the corresponding tokens. If you sell three or more, you’ll also get a bonus token. When the draw deck is empty, the player with the most points (tokens plus a bonus for having the most camels) gains a Seal of Excellence. Gain two Seals of Excellence (best of three) to win the game.
I had heard about this game for years before finally trying it on yucata.de, and now it’s one of my favorites. I still want a physical copy, but I admit that calculations are probably easier online (it tells you how many points your opponent probably has). Nevertheless, this is a really fun game with lots of tough strategic decisions to be made.
Small World (Philippe Keraerts, Days of Wonder) is a fantasy-themed reimplementation of Keyaerts’ 1999 game Vinci. In this game, players are competing for control of a very small world. You’ll take control of a randomly generated race/special power combination, and then start invading regions. You need at least two units per area you go into, plus more if there is a mountain, another race, or other tokens. At some point in the game, you may choose to send your race into decline. It will remain on the board to give you more points, and you will be able to claim another race/special power combination to continue conquering the world. After a certain number of rounds, the player with the most points wins.
After Ticket to Ride, this is probably Days of Wonder’s most popular game. I remember when it first came out, and people were unsure about it because Vinci was such a well respected game. However, it has proved to have tremendous staying power, primarily because of its variability. The expansions greatly increase that, but there’s a lot of fun to be had right in the base box. I enjoy the game quite a bit, though it’s kind of a slog when you reach the higher player counts. Here’s a hint: NEVER PLAY THIS GAME WITH SIX PLAYERS EVER. You have to have an expansion map or the collector’s edition to do that, but just don’t. I did once, and never again.
Steam (Martin Wallace, Mayfair Games) was the third game to use the system created for 2002’s Age of Steam (2005’s Railroad Tycoon [later renamed Railways of the World] was the second). It’s a more streamlined and friendlier version of the system. In each round, players will be able to take two actions in a turn order determined at the start of the round. You can build track, upgrade your locomotive, deliver cubes, urbanize different areas of the board, and add more resource cubes. Money is initially acquired by putting yourself into debt, but as you play, you’ll hopefully start making money rather than losing it. After a certain number of rounds, the player who has scored the most points wins.
I have not played Age of Steam, and my one Railroad Tycoon experience was memorable for being a disaster where the three experienced players beat up on the two newbies in the game by not explaining the rules properly and taking advantage of our poor decisions rather than trying to help us figure out the intricacies of what was going on. I like Steam better anyway because you can play it without auctions (the standard game does include an auction for turn order, but I always hate when games throw that in). Steam is a very challenging game that requires a lot of thought from the players involved, and I look forward to playing again.
Tales of the Arabian Nights (Eric Goldberg, Z-Man Games) is yet another reimplementation, this one of the 1985 game of the same name. In this one, you play a character from Middle Eastern folklore (Aladdin, Sindbad, Scheherezade, etc.) trying to fulfill their own personal quest. At the start of the game, you determine your goal in story and destiny points, then you begin to explore the world. At each stop, you will have an encounter, and will have to decide your reaction to it. Results are listed in a Book of Tales, with 2000 different story paths. Once you have fulfilled your goal, you must return to Baghdad for one final encounter in order to win.
This is a storytelling game, and as such, there is not a lot in terms of strategy going on. You can try to choose responses that relate to your skills, but ultimately, it comes down to luck. But the experience of the game is like no other, and if you don’t care about victory, you can have a lot of fun. In one memorable game, I was Ensorcelled and Insane, which meant other people were moving me AND making all my decisions for me. It resulted in an absolutely hilarious confrontation with Black Giants that I’ve never forgotten. The game is pretty much Choose Your Own Adventure in a box, and it is a wonderful experience, even if it isn’t the most strategic game out there.
Tobago (Bruce Allen, Zoch Verlag/Rio Grande Games) is a treasure hunting adventure game where players are using inverse deduction to find treasure. The game is played on a randomly assembled board, with trees, huts, and idols scattered around. On your turn, you either move your jeeple, or you place a treasure map next to one of the four treasures. Treasure maps will effectively help narrow down where a treasure is, and the goal is to get it down to one possible spot. When that spot is found, the first player there will get first choice of the treasures to be found there, and other players who contributed maps will also get some. After each treasure is resolved, the idols will rotate, leaving amulets behind. If you pick up an amulet, you can avoid cursed treasures, or even take extra turns. The player who has gathered the most loot when all of the treasure cards have been drawn is the winner.
Tobago is an extremely clever game where players have to both work together and try to work on their own to give themselves the most chance to find god treasure. The cursed idols add an extra dimension of caution to the treasure gathering experience, and having amulets is crucial to not having to worry about that. Overall, this is very much a gateway style game and I’m very disappointed that it didn’t even get a Spiel des Jahres nomination – it definitely deserved it.
Word on the Street (Jack Degnan, Out of the Box) is billed as a tug of words, and that is an extremely apt description. It’s a 2 player (or two team) game. One team reads a prompt off a card (such as A Mythological Animal), then starts the timer. The other team must then come up with a good word that is appropriate for the prompt, such as Chimera. They then pull each letter in the word on space towards their side. In the case of Chimera, they’d move the C, H, M, and R – there are no vowels in this version (though there are in the junior version). Once your team pulls a letter over their side, it is claimed and will no longer be pulled, even if it is used in another word. Collect eight letters to win.
I’m not a party game fan, nor am I a word game fan. This one is great. It’s very quick, and it’s shockingly difficult to think of appropriate words that will pull lots of letters in only thirty seconds. This is a really good game for family gatherings, and I’d recommend it over something like Scattergories every time. Sadly, Out of the Box is no longer in business, and I have no idea if someone else will pick it up. I hope so – it’s a fun one.
There’s 2009. Let me know what you think of my picks, and if there’s anything else you would add. Thanks for reading!