Welcome to my ninth annual review of games that were new to me in the previous year, along with my fifth annual awarding of the prestigious Spiel des Jesse – my favorite new-to-me game from the last 12 months. I didn’t get a lot of gaming in over the last year, which was kind of sad. But I did play some quality stuff, so let’s get to it!
The following games were all new to me, and are rated on the Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale.
- Altiplano: This was a big hit last year, and still seems to be going strong. I’ve never played Orléans, and I know there’s a debate about which one people prefer. As for this one, I really liked it and I hope to get to play again. Rating: Yeah!
- Amun-Re: The Card Game: Yet another Knizia property turned into a card game. I’m not a Knizia fan to begin with, though I think I like Amun-Re the best of his most well-respected games. This was fairly bland, and the strategy seemed way too apparent to me from the beginning. It was fine, better than some of the card conversions in Knizia’s catalog. Rating: Meh.
- The Artemis Project: I got this as a review prototype for the Kickstarter campaign. Very interesting mashup of worker placement and auction mechanisms, and I look forward to seeing the final version. Rating: Yeah!
- Azul: This was the Spiel des Jahres winner for the year, and I completely support its selection. It’s essentially an abstract game of tile placement, but with beautiful tiles and a tense drafting mechanism. Highly recommended. Rating: Yeah!!!
- Battle for Greyport: I had no idea what this was, and I when I heard it was set in the Red Dragon Inn universe, I was completely uninterested. But then I played, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It’s maybe longer than it needs to be, but I found it to be a pretty good cooperative deck building adventure game. Rating: Yeah!
- The Builders: Antiquity: It’s a fairly light hand management and tableau building game where you’re putting out cards for resources, then spending those resources to build. It’s a nice portable game, but there wasn’t a lot there that enthralled me. Rating: Meh.
- CribbGolf: I picked this game up in a thrift store as Cribbage is my favorite game, and I liked the idea of combining the mechanisms with golf. And I have to say, this was a lot more fun than it should have been. The rules are kind of a hot mess, and the way the board is laid out means you are subject to some wild swings of luck – my dad got a 24 hand one time that landed out of bounds, so it basically didn’t count. But it did add an extra level of strategy as you realize that the “optimal” play wasn’t always the best – getting that pair in the pegging might land you in a sand trap. Rating: Yeah.
- Doctor Who Story Solitaire Game: I’m not as deeply immersed in the Whoniverse as some people, but I do enjoy it. I printed out the recently released second edition of this game, and gave it a whirl. It was fun, though it is a storytelling game and not as strategic as I would have liked. The level of detail, however, is incredible. Rating: Yeah.
- Don’t Turn Your Back: It’s a deck building horror game with not great artwork. Despite my initial reluctance, I enjoyed my play of it. Rating: Yeah.
- Dragonvault: I picked up this solo PNP game for free in a Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale from PNP Arcade. It’s a fairly good game, though I was frustrated in the end that it’s pretty much just about getting the highest score you can rather than trying to beat the game. Rating: Yeah.
- Escape: Zombie City: This was my acquisition of the year. I found it in a Goodwill for $4, unpunched. The box was a little beat up and the CD soundtrack was not there (the sleeve was), but overall, a really good deal for $4. The soundtrack is on YouTube anyway, so no big loss. I got to play it once, and enjoyed it. Rating: Yeah!
- Favor of the Pharaoh: Based on To Court the King, this Egyptian dice game improves on the original with more variety and better art. I liked the original, but this is better. Rating: Yeah!
- Gingerbread House: I like the theme of this one a lot, and I enjoy the puzzle of building the house. There was something about this game that didn’t sit quite right for me, and I’m not exactly sure what it was. I want to play again. My wife liked it. Rating: Yeah?
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle: I traded for this having heard good things about it (and being married to a huge Harry Potter fan). We’ve only played through the first two games, but we enjoy it – I know complexity ramps up in later games, but we’re enjoying the theme (and annoying each other by saying Wingardium LevioSA). Rating: Yeah!!!
- Indian Summer: This is the first of Use Rosenberg’s puzzle trilogy that I’ve gotten to play, and I really didn’t enjoy it. There’s just too many little things going on that didn’t need to be there, and it feels incredibly clunky throughout. To be fair, we were taught incorrectly, but when we figured out what we were doing wrong, it didn’t make things any better. Rating: Bleah.
- Kingdomino: This was last year’s Spiel des Jahres winner. I enjoyed it. It’s very simple and intuitive, and a good introduction to tile laying and territory building games. Rating: Yeah.
- Lazer Ryderz: Probably my biggest disappointment of the year was how much I didn’t respond to this one. The packaging is great in concept, but kind of annoying in practice. And the game was OK, but the components slide around a lot. I need to play again on a less slippery surface, but right now, I’m not crazy about this. Rating: Meh.
- Liberation: I got the pre-production version of this two player hidden identity game for review prior to its Kickstarter campaign. I enjoyed it – there’s a surprising amount to this little 18-card game. Rating: Yeah.
- Majesty: For the Realm: This is a pretty fun engine building game that plays quickly and has some good decision points. I enjoy it, but wonder how much replayability there is. Rating: Yeah.
- Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue: This is the third entry in the Mystery Rummy series I’ve gotten to play, after Jekyll & Hyde and Jack the Ripper. It’s also my third favorite, but I still like it a lot. It’s a great system. Rating: Yeah!
- New York Slice: Another review game, this one an updating of Piece o’ Cake, the archetypal I Split-You Choose game. An incredible amount of theme work was done on this version, and it’s a lot of fun. Rating: Yeah!
- Nusfjord: It’s been a while since I’ve played a heavier Rosenberg game, and I really enjoyed this one. Certainly better than Agricola in that the ruining of your plans by another player does not destroy your entire game. This is one I wouldn’t mind coming back to again sometime. Rating: Yeah!
- Pajaggle: It’s a speed puzzle where players are trying to fit their pieces into a board before their opponent does. It’s an OK activity, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it much of a game. I understand there are more ways to play than the one we did, but I’m OK with not exploring it any more. Rating: Bleah.
- Pengoloo: My daughter got this game for Christmas. It’s basically Memory, except with really cool penguins hiding eggs. The components alone make this game worth it, but it’s also pretty good for color matching and memory. Rating: Yeah!
- The Perfect Moment: It’s vaguely a time machine game – more of a tableau manipulation game to get particular symbols out. It’s a fun little puzzle of a game. Rating: Yeah.
- Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle: Another review game. It’s a fairly light programming puzzle game, and it’s really fun. I enjoy the interactions of the roles, and really liked the decision process of the game. Rating: Yeah!
- The Quest for El Dorado: Knizia’s most recent Spiel des Jahres nominee. His games never seem to do anything for me, and this was no exception. There just wasn’t enough variety in the game, and it felt too long. Rating: Meh.
- Raiders of the North Sea: A worker placement and displacement game all in one. I really liked the way different meeples could activate different actions, and you had to manage the present as well as the future. Rating: Yeah!
- Reef: It’s an abstract with some lovely pieces and a lot of strategy. It’s a very lovely game and really quite deep for how simple it is. I liked it a lot, and really want to play more. Rating: Yeah!!!
- Riff Raff: A dexterity game with a rocking ship. This is an extremely stressful game. It has a great presentation, and it’s fun, just maddening at times. Rating: Yeah.
- Shahrazad: A solitaire puzzle game that can also be played by two people. It’s basically about getting numbered tiles in the right order with not much of a theme. It’s a nice challenge. Rating: Yeah.
- Sheepland: This one is a stock market game with sheep. You’re moving sheep into fields, buying stock in that field, and trying to keep the sheep from leaving. I didn’t really like this one at all. Rating: Bleah.
- Skull King: A trick-taking game that lasts for ten rounds. A player’s hand starts with as many cards as the round number, and you have to bid on the number of tricks you think you’ll win, with great penalties if you’re wrong. It’s more fun than I thought it would be, and I’d much rather play this than something like Spades. Rating: Yeah!!!
- Sprawlopolis: Another one I got for review prior to its Kickstarter release, and probably one of the best Button Shy has done. It’s an 18-card city building game with variable scoring conditions, and it’s very challenging and fun. Rating: Yeah!!!
- Stew: Another review game from Button Shy! This one is a hidden information set collection game, and it works pretty well. Rating: Yeah.
- Streets of Steel: This one is a simulation of 80s-90s side scroller video games. It’s got some interesting ideas, but in the end, it’s not really my thing. Rating: Meh.
- Temporal Odyssey: It purports to be about time travel, but the theme is weak and the game is not engaging enough to bring me back. It’s well designed and thought out, it just didn’t grab me. Rating: Meh.
- Timeline Challenge: This one takes the Timeline concept – placing dates in their correct chronological place – and throws in several different minigames to play with the cards. The system is very good as a history game, but I do have problems with the way everything is executed. Rating: Meh.
- Topiary: This is essentially an abstract where you’re placing topiaries in a grid to give yourself the best view. It’s a very good game, and one I would love to play some more. Bonus points for inclusiveness in meeple design (one of the player colors is represented by a wheelchair). Rating: Yeah!
- Unlock! The Elite: This is my first escape room game experience, and it was with this promotional version of the game. My wife and I beat it with a minute or two left, getting four stars. I enjoyed the system, and I look forward to exploring it more – I have two more titles on my shelf waiting to be played. Rating: Yeah.
- Werewords: 20 Questions meets Werewolf. I think this is my favorite game I’ve played in the Werewolf system. It’s quick and it’s relatively fun. It still suffers from the boring roles problem (I hate being a Villager), but at least there’s something to do. Rating: Yeah.
Time for the nominees for the 2018 Spiel des Jesse. Past winners of this award include Argent: The Consortium, Colt Express, Burgle Bros, and Clank! There are two criteria in order to be considered for this award:
- I have to have played it for the first time sometime in 2018. So it doesn’t matter when it was published – as long as I have never played before, it’s in contention.
- I have to have played it at least twice. So games like Altiplano or Reef, which definitely would have been in contention, are out because I only played them once.
Without any further ado, here are the nominees:
- Azul (Michael Kiesling, Next Move Games/Plan B Games, 2017)
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (Forrest-Pruzan Collective/Kami Mandell/Andrew Wolf, USAopoly, 2016)
- Skull King (Brent Beck/Apryl Stott, Grandpa Beck’s Games, 2013)
- Sprawlopolis (Steven Aramini/Danny Devine/Paul Kluka, Button Shy, 2018)
And the fifth annual winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jesse is
This is the second time I’ve agreed with the Spiel des Jahres committee (after Colt Express). I love Azul. It’s a beautiful game, there’s a ton of depth for its simplicity, and it’s quite accessible. I just got my own copy for Christmas, and I’m excited to share it with people. Really, this has been the one to beat since I first tried it back in February, and nothing really surpassed it for me. Some of the games that weren’t eligible for the award might have had a shot – I really want to explore Reef some more – but Azul takes the prize.
That’s another year in the books. Happy 2019, and thanks for reading!