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November Madness: Part 1

December 2, 2008

The ďbig danceĒ is still four months away, but my personal gaming madness was definitely November. I played more board games in November than in any previous month, many of them new releases thanks to the fabulous BGG.CON in Dallas, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share my initial impressions to help you formulate your post-Essen shopping lists. Hopefully I can help you winnow your shopping list down a bit if it has grown out of hand, but also help you spot a potential gem or two to throw on the pile that you might have previously overlooked. There are many great sources of information on these games already, from the reviews and session reports on BoardGameGeek, to the other columns on Boardgame News, to the numerous blogs, such as Kulkmannís G@amebox, Melissa Rogersonís Obsessing About Everything, and Mike Sigginsí Gamerís Notebook. However, I might as well add my voice to the din. I thought about listing the 158 games that I played during November in alphabetical or chronological order, but ended up deciding to break them down into categories that would make more sense for purposes of comparing and contrasting the games (e.g., cooperative games, racing games, dexterity games). Without further ado, I present a recap of my November Madness.

Short and Sweet

Before I bore you with my lengthy and inane writing where I go off on unrelated tangents, I thought Iíd give you a short and sweet summary of my thoughts on just the 2008 releases. I got the idea to include this prelude based on Valerie Putmanís most recent column. Just like her column, Iím going to list these new releases in order from my favorite new game of 2008 (Ghost Stories) to my least favorite (Boss Kito). However, Iím going to include any game I think of from 2008, not just brand new Essen releases (so Pandemic, Toledo, and Stone Age get to join the party for example). Iím also going to make a brief comment on each game, since I canít resist, but remember that if you want more explanation of why I like or dislike any of these games, just continue reading further below for more (much more) exposition.

  1. Ghost Stories - My favorite cooperative game ever and my current favorite new game of 2008 after three very enjoyable plays.
  2. Planet Steam - Surprise hit of BGG.CON for me. Deep and fairly long economic game with very interesting supply-and-demand resource market. Trying to time the ebb and flow of prices is an engaging challenge.
  3. Chicago Express - A lot of game packed into a little time (but too big a box).
  4. Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion - Fantastic expansion for a fantastic game. New ship classes and tiles, evil machinations cards, and rough road cards make it much more deliciously difficult.
  5. Le Havre - Enjoyed this more than Agricola, although it ran a bit long with 4 players. Hoping that it's quicker with fewer players.
  6. Dominion - Played 94 times in a couple weeks. Very fast and addictive! Already eagerly awaiting an expansion.
  7. Snow Tails - A nice quick racing game with some neat mechanics for drifting and dent cards.
  8. Red November - Wonderfully tense cooperative game that uses the time track mechanic from Thebes and comes in a tiny box.
  9. Ubongo: Das Duell - Good two-player version of Ubongo for head-to-head puzzle solving. Be warned that the five-piece puzzles are much, much harder than the four-piece puzzles.
  10. Pandemic - My new favorite cooperative game until I tried Ghost Stories and Red November, both of which edged this one out. Still waiting for my copy.
  11. Metropolys - One of the best Ystari games in recent memory (better than Amyitis and Yspahan certainly). Intriguing spatial auction game with discrete bidding like Ra.
  12. Royal Palace - I'm on the fence about this game. It felt very familiar and reminiscent of Louis XIV, which may be a good thing or may make it bland after repeated plays.
  13. Duck Dealer - Not as good as other Splotter offerings, like Antiquity or Roads & Boats. For the same price as Planet Steam, the components are embarrassing, and the gameplay is similarly a bit lackluster.
  14. Steel Driver - Interesting train game, but not as tight or engaging as Chicago Express.
  15. Agricola: Through the Seasons - A solid expansion for a pretty good game. Adds a nice extra layer of planning.
  16. Cities - Very quick tile-laying game that is the cross between Carcassone and Take It Easy that everyone says it is. If that sounds like something you'd like then you probably would, if not then steer clear. For me it was fairly mediocre.
  17. Say Anything - Pretty good party game, but not nearly as enjoyable as Wits & Wagers for me.
  18. After the Flood - Yet another overly complex Wallace game. Not bad, but I'd much rather play his Byzantium if I have three-players and am looking for a game with war elements.
  19. Sorry! Sliders - Poor man's Crokinole is certainly apt. Not quite as portable as I was hoping, but still more portable than my Crokinole board. The variable setups and rules are a nice touch, and the price is definitely right.
  20. Space Alert - Fell short of my high expectations. Was a bit boring and simplistic. Wary of a possibly short shelf life (a la Space Dealer).
  21. Ice Flow - Nothing wrong with it, but nothing compelling either. I'll stick with the more stream-lined Hey That's My Fish.
  22. Toledo - It seems like worker placement games may have jumped the shark in 2008. See below.
  23. Ticket to Ride: The Dice Expansion - An interesting attempt to spice up Ticket to Ride and actually worth trying, but Ticket to Ride without the colors of the routes mattering just seems so wrong.
  24. Witchís Brew - Better than I expected, but still too chaotic and random and long for what it is to be worth playing again.
  25. Powerboats - Yet another racing game that overstays its welcome after one or two laps. See also, TurfMaster and Formula De.
  26. Wasabi! - Gorgeous components cover up a chaotic tile-laying game that reminds me of Alhambra due to the inability of players to exert much control.
  27. Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas - Imagine an action-point puzzle game where the decisions of other players can randomly and severely interfere with your carefully planned puzzle solution. Its saving grace was that it didn't last too long.
  28. Stone Age - Yup, looks like worker placement games have in fact jumped the shark.
  29. Street Paintball - 3 seconds of fun, followed by 3 minutes of searching for the rubber balls that everyone just threw at each other, followed by 3 seconds of fun, followed by... you get the idea.
  30. Boss Kito - Michael Schacht has given us such great games like Hansa, China, and Coloretto. This, on the other hand, was miserable.

Cooperating Explosion

If I had to name a trend to define board gaming developments in 2008 it would definitely be the explosion of cooperative games. Itís not that the concept of cooperative games where the players work together to defeat the game system rather than against each other is new, but rather that the number of new cooperative games released in the past year appears to be a significant increase over previous Essen crops. Knizia gave us Lord of the Rings in 2000 and Days of Wonder brought us Shadows over Camelot in 2005, but those were the two cooperative games that people primarily pointed to when asked to recommend a cooperative game in the past. Now your options are much greater as the genre is really beginning to come into its own. There have been 5 new cooperative board games released in 2008 by my count, and surely more that have flown under my radar.

Racing Round and Round

While cooperative games seemed to be a big focus of designers at this yearís Essen game fair, racing games were a close second. Thereís a long history of racing games, stretching back at least to Um Reifenbreite in 1979 (but a bit further when you count Pachisi from 400 according to the BoardGameGeek database), but that doesnít stop todayís designers from trying their hand at the genre. Iíll preface by saying that racing games are not a favorite genre of mine because they often overstay their welcome, especially by artificially building in length with repetitive laps. Iíll mention three racing games that I played in November, four racing games that Iíve played in the past, and one new racing game that I havenít tried yet.

To Be ContinuedÖ

Iím onto the eighth page in Microsoft Word, so I think your eyes must be glazing over at this point. I think itís time to ďshut it downĒ (as theyíd say on 30 Rock) and save the rest for next time. For those of you who just canít get enough, Iíll give you a little sneak preview. The six genres of games from November Madness that Iíll be discussing next time include: Dexterous Domination, Expansions are the Spice of Life, BGG.CON is Heaven on Earth, Abstraction, Interwebs, and ďOlderĒ Fare (which includes such ďancientĒ games as Brass and Cleopatra). In the meantime, itís time for me to get working on my December Madness so that I have something to talk about in 2009.

(See Boardgame News for an edited version of this article plus additional comments on it)