We’re up to 2012 in my year-long overview of the decade I’ve been part of the board game hobby. As always, this list is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, it’s just a list of some of my favorite games from the year.
Guildhall (Hope S. Hwang, AEG) is a set-collection, hand management style game where players are collecting professions in order to generate points. You begin by playing three cards into your guildhall, which is an area in front of you that will collect chapters each of the six professions in the game. On your turn, you’ll either play, draw, or collect VPs. To play, you place a card and take the associated action. The Dancer allows you to draw more cards; the Assassin allows you to kill cards in other player’s guildhalls; the Trader allows you to trade with other players; the Weaver allows you to play cards to your guildhall right out of your hand; the Historian allows you to take cards from the discard pile; and the Farmer just gives you free points. The interesting thing here is that the more cards you have in a chapter (which consists of one card from a profession in each color), the more powerful your actions are. When a chapter is complete, it can later be turned in for a VP card that could also give you special abilities. When someone hits 20 points, they win.
I love Guildhall. It’s a pretty amazing game that does a ton with just six different cards (I believe there are 20 of each profession in the deck). The system was later expanded with Job Faire, which added six new professions that could be mixed-and-matched, and AEG rethemed it to Guildhall Fantasy in 2016. I still enjoy the original, and it’s one of those games that I’ll play any time.
Keyflower (Sebastian Bleasdale/Richard Breese, R&D Games) was the seventh game of the so-called “Key” series that includes Keythedral, Key Harvest, and the upcoming Keyper. Keyflower is a hybrid worker placement-auction game where players bid on different tiles to add to their villages using different colored meeples. At the same time, you can use tiles in your village, or someone else’s village, or even that are up for bid by placing meeples on them. At the end of the round, you get the tiles you have won (as well as any meeples on them), and add them to your village where they will hopefully produce resources and generate points. After four seasons, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
I generally don’t like auction games. But I do tend to like the ones where there are several auctions going on at once. That way, I can gauge what others are looking for and make decisions based on that. This one has a really cool system to it as you have to play one more meeple than anyone else has used. This is a game I do enjoy a lot, and it’s probably something any Eurogame fan should check out.
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (Devin Low, Upper Deck Entertainment) is a deckbuilder from the Marvel Universe. The base set comes with fifteen different heroes, four evil masterminds, seven villain groups, four henchman groups, and eight different schemes the bad guys will attempt. In each game, you’ll be using different combinations of these. You’ll be recruiting new heroes to your deck in order to fight the bad guys working their way through the city. If a bad guy escapes, bad things will happen. Meanwhile, different scheme twists will crop up that will advance the Mastermind’s plan, and if you fail to defeat the Mastermind before the scheme is complete, you lose. However, if you manage to punch the Mastermind enough times, you’ll win.
This game can be played cooperatively or competitively. The only change in the competitive game is that the villains you defeat go into a score pile and give you points. I won’t play the game like that. I do like to keep score and award an MVP, but I won’t declare someone to be more of a winner than the rest of us. Despite that, this game is a lot of fun and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s any kind of fan of the comic book genre. I haven’t played any of the expansions, nor have I played DC’s deck building game (from Cryptozoic), but I still have a lot of fun with the base game. It’s a lot of fun to build a team and try to wail on baddies.
Libertalia (Paolo Mori, Asmodee/Marabunta) is a pirate role selection game where players are trying to collect the most loot. The game last three rounds, and at the start of each week (game round), one player draws a nine card hand and everyone else finds those same cards in their deck. You then simultaneously choose one to play, then reveal and resolve in sequential order (tiebreaker numbers are to be found on each card). At the end of the round, characters that have survived will collect booty. After six days, the booty is scored and the same person will draw six more cards. This means everyone’s hands will be slightly different in the second week depending on what cards they sat on. After the third week, the player with the highest score wins.
Libertalia is a phenomenal game. It combines role selection with simultaneous play, and as those are two of my favorite mechanisms in a game, that means this is right in my wheelhouse. I’d probably name it my favorite game of the year if I got to play it more often (I don’t have my own copy). There is a bit of chaos if you choose poorly, but there can be some really cool things that happen if you play well. Great game.
Lords of Waterdeep (Peter Lee/Rodney Thompson, Wizards of the Coast) is a Eurogame set in the Ameritrashiest of thematic settings, the world of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a worker placement game, and each player will take turns sending their dudes around the city of Waterdeep. You’ll be collecting quests; cubes (fine, adventurers) to complete those quests; money; buildings; and intrigue cards that can be played to give you an extra boost (and possibly inhibit your opponents). Each player has a secret objective to fulfill in the game, usually in terms of quests you want to complete. At the end of eight rounds, the player who has scored the most points is the winner.
Lords of Waterdeep is a fairly light worker placement game, and probably one of the best gateway games into that genre out there. I think a lot of that has to do with the theme. There’s very little that is reminiscent of D&D in the gameplay, and the game probably could have been turned into just about anything with no ill effects on the mechanics. But by slapping on the D&D theme, the game becomes a lot more interesting to people familiar with that world. The game was good to begin with, and the 2013 Scoundrels of Skullport expansion made it even better.
(As a side note – I was banned from playing this game in our group for a while after I first played because I refused to refer to the cubes as anything other than cubes. They’re wizards, fighters, clerics, and thieves, but they’re cubes. Purple, black, white, and orange. That’s all you need to know, and calling them anything else is counterproductive. I am unrepentant.)
Love Letter (Seiji Kanai, Kanai Factory/AEG) is the game that started the microgame craze. Consisting of only sixteen cards and thirteen cubes, Love Letter is a game where you are trying to get close to the Princess in order to give her your love letter and receive a token of affection. On your turn, you draw a card and then play on from your hand of two. Each card has an ability and a value – the Guard (#1) allows you to guess what someone else has; the Priest (#2) allows you to look at someone’s hand; the Baron (#3) eliminates the person with the lower valued card in hand; the Handmaid (#4) protects you from attack; the Prince (#5) makes someone discard their hand and draw a new card; the King (#6) allows you to trade hands with someone; the Countess (#7) must be discarded if you also have a Prince or King in hand; and the Princess (#8) eliminates you if she is discarded. If you manage to eliminate everyone else, or if you have the highest card remaining in hand when the deck runs out, you win a token of affection. After winning 4-7 of these (depending on player count), you win.
For a while, it seemed like every publisher was trying to capitalize on Love Letter’s success with their own microgames. There are still some being produced, but I think not in the large quantities they were before. Love Letter was extremely influential in jump starting the genre, but it also managed to be a really good game. There have been a bunch of cash-in themed version since the original release, including Adventure Time Love Letter, Batman Love Letter,
Mice and Mystics (Jerry Hawthorne, Plaid Hat Games) is a family friendly RPG in a box with mice. The basic idea is that players are humans who have turned themselves into mice to escape the clutches of a witch that has taken over the castle. She finds out about this, and starts turning her minions into rats to go after them. The campaign plays out over a series of scenarios, each one advancing the story. Players will take actions and roll dice to resolve encounters. There are opportunities for side quests, and cheese will be produced in abundance. Each scenario has its own objective, and players can keep the same character through the campaign as they go.
This game is a lot of fun, and provides a nice lightweight dungeon crawl type experience. It is challenging, but the rules are simple enough that younger kids can understand it as well. It’s a beautiful game, and one I definitely want to explore more – I haven’t yet gotten past the third chapter, but that’s mostly because it hasn’t gotten played much since my daughter was born two years ago. Someday, she’ll be learning it.
Morels (Brent Povis, Two Lanterns Games) is a two-player set collection game about mushrooms. A row of mushrooms are laid out, representing a forest stroll. On your turn, you take one card from this row, or the entire decay (which is where skipped mushrooms go to rot). As you build sets, you’ll want to cook them in a pan, possibly with butter or apple cider to increase your points. When the forest and decay are empty, the game ends and the player who has scored the most points wins the game.
This is a great game, and I don’t even LIKE mushrooms. It goes quickly, and the forest path can tend to fly if you’re not careful. As you build sets, you also need to make sure you have enough pans to cook and that you don’t exceed your maximum hand size. Also, you need to watch out for the Destroying Angels, which can really mess with your game. An expansion, Morels Foray, was recently Kickstarted, adding multiplayer rules, items, characters, and weather to the system.
NOIR: Killer versus Inspector (D. Brad Talton, Level 99 Games) is one of six games originally found in the Level 99 Minigame Library. In this primarily two-player game, each player takes the role of the Killer or Inspector and plays a game of cat-and-mouse in a 5×5 grid. Neither knows the identity of the other, but the Killer wants to murder most of the people in the grid, and the Inspector wants to catch the Killer. Each player has the ability to shift rows, as well as to kill or investigate adjacent spaces. In the end, the player who accomplishes their objective is the winner.
In my initial review of the Minigame Library, I called this my third favorite of the set, behind Master Plan and Pixel Tactics. Over time, it has become my favorite. It’s a great deduction game, and the Black Box edition added some really good variants of play. I still enjoy PT and MP, but I love the simplicity of NOIR. Master Plan was my favorite, and if it ever ends up getting a deluxe version like PT and NOIR, it might become my favorite again.
Seasons (Régis Bonnessée, Libellud) is a dice drafting game where players are competing wizards in a tournament. At the start of each game, players draft a hand of nine cards, then program them into one of the three rounds of play. Each turn, the active player rolls the dice of the current season, then players take turns drafting a die and resolving the effects. Your main goal is to produce crystals, but along the way you can summon creatures and spells, as well as collect elements and take bonus actions. The undrafted die each round helps determine how far the season marker moves, and each season has its own set of dice. After three full years, the game ends and the player with the most crystals wins.
This game gets my vote for favorite of the year. It was the game I was most looking forward to at Gen Con that year, and I was supremely disappointed to find out that it sold out before the doors even opened. But I eventually got my own copy, and it didn’t disappoint. I have a great time with it every time. Someday, I’ll have to get hold of the expansions as well.
Tokaido (Antoine Bauza, Funforge) is the zen of board gaming. It’s a game about a journey along the Tokaido, or East Sea Road, in Japan. Players are travelers, each with their own special way to earn points. On your turn, you can move as far as you want down the path. Each place you stop in gives you an opportunity to earn points – donate to the temple, stop at a hot spring, buy souvenirs, take a panoramic picture, and of course sample the local cuisine at the various inns on the board. The player who has the most points when all have reached the end of the road, i.e. the one who made the most of their journey, is the winner.
I say this game is very zen, and that refers to the serene look and the way you can choose your own path to victory. Gameplay is far from relaxing, however, as there are plenty of opportunities to block and generally screw with others. It’s good fun, and a definite gateway style game. A collector’s edition with painted minis came out in 2015. I’ve played it, and it’s very pretty, but you’ll get the same kind of aesthetic pleasure just from playing the original.
2012 was a really good year. I had to cut several games from the list so I could get to 11, including Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2nd Edition, Android: Infiltration, Smash Up, Suburbia, and X-Wing. Join me again next month to see how 2013 shaped up (and before that too to see what else this blog has in store). Thanks for reading!