The Eleven: Games of 2011

I’m celebrating my decade in the hobby by doing lists of games released since I first joined BGG in 2007.  This month, we’re taking a look at 2011.  As always, this isn’t a comprehensive or ranked list, it’s just games that came out during the year that I enjoy enough to put on a list.  Here we go!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

1st & Goal (Stephen Glenn, R&R Games) is a dice and card based football simulation game where players take on the roles of two teams battling it out on the gridiron.  The game comes with a deck of cards for the offense, another deck for the defense, a magnetic board, and a bunch of dice to role.  The game follows standard football rules – the offense has four downs to get 10 yards and reset the down count, and is trying to reach the end zone for a touchdown.  The way it works in-game is that the offense and defense will both choose a card from their hand – the offense chooses a play they will run, and the defense will choose their defensive formation.  Both will reveal their choice, and the card will tell you which dice to roll according to the combination played.  If the defense guessed well, the offense will have less of a chance to gain a lot of yards, whereas that chance increases if the defense guarded against a run when the offense decided to pass.  There are other rules for turnovers, field goals, penalties, etc., but that’s the basics.  Every time the ball changes hands, the players exchange decks.  When a deck runs out, the half ends.  The team in the lead at the end of the second half wins.

For a long time, the standard in football board games was Pizza Box Football, published in 2005.  I enjoyed PBF, but this game completely replaced it primarily because you don’t have to flip between all different kinds of charts in order to find out what happened.  Everything you need to know is printed right there on the card.  And it does a great job of simulating a football game.  The biggest problem is that I always take it to a Super Bowl party, and everyone would rather watch the game than play it.  1st & Goal has a number of team expansions that allow you to play as different fictional teams with their own strengths, which I’ve never gotten to play with.

Airlines Europe – image by BGG user ABACUSSPIELE

Airlines Europe (Alan R. Moon, ABACUSSPIELE/Rio Grande) is the most recent refinement of the system first used in Moon’s 1990 game Airlines, and later in 1999’s Union Pacific.  Players are not controlling specific airlines in the game, but are rather collecting stocks to try to help the airlines in play to be successful.  On your turn, you can either buy routes between cities (which increases the scoring potential of those airlines), or play stocks from your hand (which increases your scoring potential), or you can trade in some stocks for shares in Air Abacus, or you can just get some money.  As the board fills up with airplanes, there will be occasional scorings, and whoever has the majority in each airline will get the most bonus (second place will also get something).  After the third scoring, the game is over and the high score wins.

This is a very interesting game, one I like more than I ever thought I would.  The game really feels like a cross between Acquire and Ticket to Ride, which is good company to keep.  It’s definitely more complex than Ticket to Ride, but I’d say it’s a good next step up from there as someone interested in route building games works their way towards Age of Steam or the 18xx series.  Plus, it has cool plastic planes.

image by BGG user binraix

Blood Bowl: Team Manager (Jason Little, Fantasy Flight Games) is a game set in the Warhammer universe, and specifically in the world of the original Blood Bowl game (which was first published in 1986).  Rather than playing out individual games as you do in the original system, this game takes you behind the scenes and allows you to build your team for battle.  The game lasts five rounds, and in each round, there will be a number of matches in play.  On your turn, you’ll add a card to one side of these matches.  Cards you play will allow you to build power, steal the ball, cheat, and possibly injure your opponents.  After everyone has played their six cards for the round, each match is individually evaluated and rewards are paid out based on participation and victory.  You’ll be able to collect fans, upgrades, and possibly even new and more powerful players for your team.  After the fifth week, which culminates in the Blood Bowl tournament, the player who has collected the most fans is the winner.

I love this game.  It’s in my top ten games of all time, and so it’s my pick for my favorite from the year.  It’s plenty chaotic, but it also has that base attack mechanism found in other great games like Balloon Cup or Smash Up.  I really enjoy being able to build up my team, and definitely enjoy that cheating is a requirement to really do well.  I don’t know what the future of this game is since Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop are no longer working together, but hopefully there is a future.  It’s a great game.

image by BGG user MasqGames

Epigo (Chris Gosselin/Chris Kreuter, Masquerade Games) is a two-player programmable abstract game where players are trying to push the others around.  The board is set with all pieces in a line.  Each piece is a tile with a number 1-7 on it.  In each round, players will simultaneously select three pieces they want to move this round, as well as the direction they want to move them.  Then both players reveal their first move at the same time, with the larger number going first (ties cancel each other out).  Then you both reveal and resolve your second and third moves in the same way.  The game continues until one player has lost three pieces off the side of the board.  The other player wins.  The game comes with a whole bunch of variants to try out as well that change the game in pretty significant ways.

Epigo holds a special place in the history of this blog as it was the first review I ever did where I was sent a review copy by the publisher.  And it’s a really great game.  It’s not the flashiest game out there – the art is kind of bland and the pieces are just cardboard chits.  But I have a lot of fun with it.  Programmable games are kind of my thing, and I really like what this game does with the mechanism.

image by BGG user Henning

Friday (Friedmann Friese, 2F Spiele/Rio Grande Games) is a solo deckbuilding game where you are Robinson Crusoe’s man Friday, trying to give him the skills he needs to survive.  You start the game with a deck of 18 cards, most of which are not helpful.  Each turn, you’ll reveal two hazards from the hazard deck and choose one to fight.  You’ll then reveal as many cards from your deck as are indicated on the card, hoping for enough fighting points to defeat the hazard.  If you succeed, the hazard is flipped 180 degrees and goes into your discard pile, where it will start giving you extra benefits (more cards, more fighting points, the ability to trash unwanted stuff, and so on).  If you fail, you can either spend life points to keep fighting or can take the loss and lose life equal to the difference between what you have and what you needed.  When the hazard deck runs out, you shuffle the discards and they all become harder to defeat.  After you’ve been through the hazard deck three times, you need to fight and defeat two pirates of varying difficulties.  If you succeed, you win.  If your life point total ever dips below 0, you lose.

This is a great game.  A couple of years ago, I did a Year of Fridays challenge, where I played Friday every Friday, and if I lost, I had to listen to Friday by Rebecca Black.  I ended up listening to that song more often than not, but the game remained engaging throughout the year.  I haven’t played it a whole lot since then, but after writing this, I’m definitely getting the urge to return to the island.

image by BGG user kherubim

King of Tokyo (Richard Garfield, IELLO) is what I like to call Godzilla Yahtzee.  All players take control of a giant monster, all with the goal of causing as much havoc as possible.  On your turn, you roll six dice.  You may keep any that you want to and reroll the rest.  In total, you may have three rolls.  After that, you resolve what you got.  If you have three of the same number (1s, 2s, or 3s), you score 1-2-3 points (plus an extra point for each additional number you rolled).  If you rolled lightning bolts, you get that many energy cubes to spend on special cards that give you extra abilities.  If you rolled claws, you attack – if you are not in Tokyo, you attack whoever is; and if you are in Tokyo, you attack everyone who is not.  If the monster in Tokyo leaves the city (because he is dead or a coward), you will then take over as King of Tokyo.  If you roll hearts, you heal, but you cannot heal while in Tokyo.  The first player to get to 20 points, or the last player standing after everyone else has been eliminated, is the winner.

My initial reaction to this game (as documented here) was disappointment as I was expecting something a little better.  After playing it at Gen Con 2012, however, I got it immediately (and had Richard Garfield himself sign the box).  It’s a great light game that is perfect for introducing people to the next step beyond Yahtzee.  A lot of people seem to prefer the follow-up King of New York, which is definitely more complex and strategic, but I love the simplicity of this version.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Kingdom Builder (Donald X. Vaccarino, Queen Games) was the designer’s second game, following Dominion.  That’s a lot to live up to.  In this one, you put four random boards together, then choose three random scoring cards to determine what player goals should be. On your turn, you draw a card, then place three of your pieces in spaces that match the shown terrain.  Pieces must always touch your own pieces, unless they can’t in which case you can place them anywhere.  Special bonuses can be acquired to allow you place more or move stuff around.  Once a player is out of pieces, the game ends and you score according to the conditions on the three cards.  The player with the high score wins.

This game won the Spiel des Jahres in 2012, and while I didn’t pick it to win that year, I’m fine with the choice.  The game is a lot of fun and really provides a lot of strategy despite the seemingly random setup.  It gets a lot of flak from its detractors who mostly seem to dislike the lack of options from the terrain card – you don’t have a hand, you’re stuck with what you get.  But I think the game has a lot more subtlety than that.  You have to work with what fate gives you.  I like this game a lot.

image by BGG user aguynamedbry

Mage Knight: The Board Game (Vlaada Chvátil, WizKids) is one of the few games Vlaada has done outside the spectrum of Czech Games Editions.  In this one, you take on the role of a Mage Knight, wandering the countryside in search of glory.  It’s an adventure style game, with exploration, encounters with monsters, the ability to level up your character, and some deckbuilding elements as you acquire better cards to your hand.  The card play system is very intriguing, and it often takes a lot mental gymnastics to figure out how to get your character to do what you want him to do.  I can’t really give a full overview in this one paragraph, but the game is quite challenging.  There are a number of scenarios with their own goals included.

This is one of the heaviest games I own, and not just because of the amount of stuff crammed into the box.  It’s a definite brain burner, and one I’m unlikely to play with more than one or two others because of all the thinking that goes on.  It’s one of the best adventure games out there, and has a really challenging solo mode.

Ninjato – image by BGG user adamw

Ninjato (Dan Schnake/Adam West, Z-Man Games) is a worker placement game where you are trying to infiltrate different clans.  During each of seven rounds, you will be placing three shurikens at various locations – the Dojo, where you acquire cards to invade clan houses; the Clan Houses, where you may try to defeat guards with strength (high cards) or stealth (low cards); the Sensei, which provides different skills you can use once per round for the rest of the game; the Palace, where you can bribe envoys with treasures that they seek in order to score points; or the Pavilion, where you gain rumors for final scoring.  Scoring happens three times per game, and the player with the most points after seven rounds wins.

This is a pretty simple worker placement game with a lot of depth and difficult decisions to make.  There’s a push-your-luck aspect to invading the Clan Houses, and different paths to take in order to score what you need.  Plus, it has little wooden shurikens as your workers, and how cool is that?

image by BGG user jayboy

Takenoko (Antoine Bauza, Matagot) is another Asian themed game, this one involving one of the cutest game pieces ever in the little mini panda.  You start the game with three different objective cards, one from each available stack – panda, garden, and plot.  On your turn, you’ll first roll a weather die that will give you a benefit (an extra action, an extra move, etc).  Then you will take two different actions.  You could draw three plot tiles, adding one to the garden and growing bamboo if it is irrigated.  You could draw a new objective from one of the stacks.  You could move the gardener and grow bamboo in adjacent irrigated spaces.  You could take an irrigation channel and either place it immediately or hold onto it for later.  And you could move the panda, eating some bamboo wherever he lands.  When one player has completed a set number of objectives and the others have had one more turn, the game ends and the player with the high score wins.

This is a great gateway style game for several reasons.  One, the rules are very accessible and easy to pick up.  Two, it has great visual appeal with the colors, and the 3D nature of the bamboo, panda, and gardener figures.  And three, it plays pretty quickly.  I enjoy it a lot.  Someday, I’ll have to try the giant version – pointless, sure, but cool to look at.

image by BGG user vittorioso

Village (Inka Brand/Markus Brand, Pegasus Spiele) is the Kennerspiel des Jahres award winner for 2012 that combines worker placement with time management.  At the beginning of each round, each location on the board is seeded with various resource cubes.  On your turn, you’ll take a cube from a location and do the action – harvest grain, grow your family, craft goods, visit the market, travel the world, go to the council chamber, visit the church, or throw cubes in the well to take any of those actions.  At the end of each round, there will be mass where you have the opportunity to advance family members in the church scoring.  As time wears on, your family members will start to die, and will be either added to the village chronicle or buried in an unmarked grave.  When the village chronicle is filled, or the last unmarked grave is occupied, the game ends and everyone tallies scores.  High score wins.

This is a very intriguing game from start to finish.  There are elements of worker placement as you try to put various people in the right parts of the village, but actions are limited in the number of times they can be taken as you remove cubes from them.  Some of these cubes are plague cubes, which are not good but sometimes necessary to take.  The act of killing off your people as you go is probably what this game is most known for, but the whole is a great experience.  Check it out if you haven’t had an opportunity.

Before anyone tells me that I forgot Castles of Burgundy…I haven’t played it.  Well, I have, but I wasn’t able to finish my one face-to-face game when the teacher severely underestimated how long a learning game would take with three newbies.  So until I get in a full game, it’s not eligible.

That’s it for this month.  Thanks for reading!


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