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Paul's 2010 review Part one

I played 73 games released in 2010 which sounds like a lot until I consider the list of games I did not play. Overall 2010 was a good year, lots of games that I have enjoyed and played multiple times, they just fall short though of my personal criteria for greatness – which is a game I have, or can see myself, playing well over twenty times, Agricola, Through the Ages, Le Havre to name but three.

If there’s a theme running through my likes and dislikes it is inconsistency; this list won’t correlate with my Boardgamegeek ratings, the top five I submitted to Counter Magazine last week and most definitely not to any list I might write next week. It also reflects the fact that I would like to see Euro designers take a few risks and move away from the formulaic.

Onto the list and let’s start at the top – as I intend to cover all 73 games the summary for each game is brief.

1) Navegador – the best of Mac Gerdt’s Rondel series, and has the perfect, but not non confrontational, intense interaction that is the hall mark of a great Euro. There are many strategies to explore and they all seem to have a good chance of success if you are playing your opponents as well as the game.
2) Dominant Species – a brute of a game that bucks the orthodoxy of Euro design, though it’s really more a wargame than Euro. It requires players to accept and then manage chaos, muster huge amounts of concentration and be prepared to ride the roller coaster for three hours or more. Please Chad Jensen, give us some more!
3) Civilization – Purely as a game this should be lower on the list. However, it feels like I’m playing the greatest computer game ever with mates around the table. And it continues to surprise me with the wealth of strategic choices.
4) War of the Ring Collector’s Edition – Should a game be so high on the list when most of my time with it is spent staring in delight as the bits? Yes, the game itself is wonderful and this edition is a lot easier to play than the original
5) 7 Wonders – Once you have got beyond the first few games this a great game of balancing efficiency and counter drafting.
6) Inca Empire – It’s a reprint, but is a shining example of what Euro design should aspire to – clean, thematically coherent and interactive in a subtle, and in this game symbiotic, way.
7) Olympus – A Euro/Civ. game with some ‘take that’ – this game has the most interesting timing issues and the military side of the game means you cannot treat this as a multiplayer solitaire exercise.
8) We Must tell the Emperor – A gaming history Haiku of the Pacific campaign in 45 minutes. It’s so simple yet so tense and for such a short game captures the Japanese expansion and decline perfectly. This is about as long as I want to play a solitaire game which adds to the appeal
9) Defenders of the Realm – This is the first co-op I have loved, it feels like an adventure rather than a puzzle solving exercise, the side quests add a lot of fun and the garish board and components take me back to my gaming youth.
10) Merchants and Marauders – The world needs the perfect pirate game; this is a close as we have got so far. Despite the absence of parrot’s it has adventure in spades and so long as it’s played with said spirit of adventure it’s a captivating way to spend a few hours
11) Age of Industry – It makes ‘Brass’ playable with most gamers, rather than just the hard core. If there are regular map releases then this could be as successful as Power Grid.
12) Command and Colors Napoleonics – The first time I played Battledore I thought the system would be perfect for Napoleonic warfare and CCN is my favourite of the series to date.
13) K2 – It can get very gamey towards the top of the mountain, however its tense, original and popular with my family
14) Lords of Vegas – the spiritual heir to Acquire, demands players actively trade to impose some order on the dice rolling shenanigans. It also gets top marks for looks
15) SNCF (‘Paris Connection’) – If Chicago Express is a sub atomic particle of the Rail 'n Equity school of games, Winsome have found the quark with this gem. Its genius is its simplicity and I defy Mr Bohrer to reduce the formula further.
16) Irondale - John Clowdus is one heck of an original game maker, remarkably so as he only makes game that will fit in a Small Box. Irondale is tremendously challenging and I am sure one day a large publisher will snap up this protean designer
17) Circus Train – There is a wealth of game design talent outside the pool of usual suspects that publishers go to time after time for bland, rehashed Euros. Circus Train is evidence of this talent, if it were picked up by Days of Wonder and given a deluxe production job this would become a best seller. Eulogy over now, the game is reminiscent of coliseum with some point to point movement.
18) Key Market – Any game my wife likes and is willing to play has got to be good, any complex game my wife likes is great by default. The artwork, the speed and variability of play are the other attractions of this game
19) Grand Cru – Had I made this list three months ago this would have been higher up the list. I like the ‘Age of Syrah’ toughness of the game and the small incremental actions, however virtually no one else iIknow does – and this game needs all players to be engaged either wise it can fall flat. Most promising debut design from the multi-talented (Actor and Chef as well as board game designer) Ulrich Blum
20) Dominion Prosperity – My liking and admiration for Dominion has gone up year on year. ‘Prosperity’ adds some complexity and length to the game, though I am unsure about the length part being good, but the new cards add to the game
21) First Train to Nuremburg – Were it not for this being a reprint it would be a top ten game for the year. I like the 2 player game and the new rules, however the old map is easier to play on for this colour blind gamer
22) Firenze – a tower building game, with some special powers and a Thurn und Taxis constraint on having to keep the towers going up. It’s not as light as it first appears, and you feel faced with tough decisions from the outset
23) Asara – another tower building game, the hook being a great action selection mechanic which requires players to follow suit to take an action. The joy of the game is the hand management, the scoring and tower building pedestrian. This fills a light medium weight spot which I think it will keep in the rota for a few years
24) Workshop of the World – I like Ragnar Brother Games, the themes and the little idiosyncrasies in game design. This is one of their dryer offerings however, the auction mechanic is subtler than it first appears and the joy of the game is the constant revaluation of each route to you and your opponents
25) 1655 Habemus Pape – This auction game works so well because the sets you are bidding for, and their, interactions, tell a story. By the end you will be a lot more familiar with the Papal Election of 1655
26) Fires of Midway – Cracking tense two player game of bluff and hand management that captures the essence of Carrier Warfare in a rather unusual way
27) London – I enjoy every play but every play feels the same, its Wallace treading water and that a bit like Wagner writing a waltz, it just ain’t right
28) Troyes – played it five times, and it’s gone down in my estimation with every game. What appeared novel and genius at first is now just another pleasant way of building a Cathedral in a Medieval City.
29) Innovation - Like Troyes this has gone from being a top game to one I find mildly frustrating, when the cards come together for all players it’s a great game, but that seldom happens
30) Thunderstone Wrath of the Elements – Not got the finesse of Dominion, but the series gets better with each expansion and it’s a go to game when I fancy some solitaire dungeon crawling
31) Castle Ravenloft – An alternative provider of the Dungeon Crawl fix this is just a little too fiddly for me to hit the spot. I love the minis though and some of the character powers are OTT. ‘Wrath of Ashardalon’ is an improvement, but let’s save that for 2011’s list
32) Sun. Sea and Sand - The theme is bright and breezy and the choices pleasantly challenging in this Worker placement game. However, the charm has worn of after a few plays – I will probably enjoy it again after a longish break
33) Runewars – The action selection mechanic is great, there are a lot of options. I wish I could get a little more enthusiastic about the world of Terrinoth – it ain’t Miidle Earth and never will be
34) Dixit 2 – If anything the hypnotic artwork is even better in this expansion. This expansion is necessary to give Dixit longevity, especially if played a few times with the same group
35) Wars of the Roses – If you can put aside the fact this is a Euro squeezed into a theme, this is a solid area majority game with a nasty catch up mechanic through the drafting. The amazing production qualities make the game worth a look
36) Alien Fronteirs – Not the second coming, more like a well themed Euro for the Ameritrash market. Great dice, and if played at pace a good game
37) Key West – The fantastic bidding mechanics and the gaming geography of the Florida Keys provide the ‘hook’.
38) Mord Im Arosa – I can’t think of any other auricular/Euro hybrids. Not to be played whilst listening to AC/DC, but perfect for a late night filler at a convention
39) 11 Nimmt! – No game could be quite as random as it’s little brother, 6 , and this adds a little more strategy to the Nimmt! Family
40) Napoleon’s War 100 days – Lovely system hampered by bargain basement production values, also by the fact CC Napoleonics is sitting next to it on the shelf
41) Level X – This is the only Schmidt Spiel Easy line game i have played, and if this representative then i should try more. It’s a Yahtzee varaiant
42) Vinhos – I never want to teach this game again. I have played it four times and everyone has been a chore because of the constant need to remind players of how to play. Monster complicated, thematically rich – the verdicts out until I get to play a game without having act as a moderator every two minutes
43) 51st State – If this game was themed as European powers in the age of colonialism I think it could have been a stratospheric blockbuster. The Neuroshima setting does not work for the original card play
44) Pocket Battles – Orcs v Elves – I love the first game in the series; Celts v Romans. However Orcs and Elves need some rich gaming texture to make them entertaining, this is not the system for fantasy battles – back to the historical for the next game please
45) Wax – Further testament to John Clowdus’s seemingly bottomless well of creativity. A perfect game for three and a half hours on an Easyjet flight
46) Dominion Alchemy – I really like the potion addition to Dominion. It creates an extra choice that increases the early game options and for that the game is richer
47) Hotel Samoa – No one i know likes this game, which is a shame as the bidding system (high gets you hotel improvements, low gets the income paying tourists) makes each round very tense
48) Heroes of Graxia – The most ‘Magic’ like of the deck builders suffers a little because of the constant need to recalculate stuff.
49) Braggart – Folksy art and drinking gameplay – a good filler for three or four players
50) Rattus – I quite like the aim of escaping the plague and pushing towards the others. Need to play more as I suspect this would be much higher in my rankings with more exposure
51) Porto Carthago – This I need to play again as I remember neither liking or disliking the game
52) Forbidden Island – I am not a Pandemic fan, this has though has the advantage of theme and were I to game with the under 10s I am sure this would become a favourite
53) Don Quixote – I should not like this but I do, especially if the squares are called in a faux bingo voice.
54) Fresco – Looks lovely, thematically wonderful – the rest is almost a parody of the current state of Eurogames.
55) Junta Viva El Presidente – I wanted to like this knock about dice rolling negotiation game but it’s tedious in the extreme no matter how much you try and role play it
56) Seeland – Treading water for Kramer. Pleasant to play once or twice and looks great, but fairly forgettable
57) Poseidon – The errors in the rules are almost unforgivable in an 'entry level' xx game. My first game was a toxic experience, the second marginally better.
58) Leaping Lemmings – It’s like Herbert Von Karajan conducting Barry Manilow – if your bread and butter is the serious stuff (GMT) then stick to it
59) Regatta – Light and fluffy, a ‘Wings of War’ for the Cowes brigade
60) Titania – It’s hard to believe that the same designer created Goa. The game is so over dependent on the mistakes made by the player to your right and very little else. Looks a million bucks but the first HIG spring miss for a few years
61) Samarkand – It’s over before you get going and it really feels like the winner is randomly determined. Fun for the first two or three games, but frustrating beyond that.
62) Last Call the Bartender Game – The first time Wattalspoag have released a duffer. Far too much brain power required for a game about drinking, especially as it should be played when alcohol is in the vicinity
63) Travel Blog – I can’t see the point of this game, especially when compared to the ‘10 Days in’ series – this relies on geographic knowledge whereas in 10 days there is a game underneath the surface. Vlaada please stock mucking around and give us ‘Through the Ages Two’
64) Railways of the World The Card Game – Take all the fun out of Railroad Tycoon, add some cards and this is what you get. I can’ think of any train game that has had a good card game version – the upside for this is that it is better than Ticket To ride’s lamentable effort
65) Settlers of America – A wonderful host of ideas and mechanics shoehorned into a mono victory condition. The end game is excruciating and destroys any enjoyment to be hand in getting there.
66) Merkator – Rosenberg’s next game is not an auto buy for me; it might be unreasonable to expect another Agricola or Le Havre. This is a tedious exercise in cube pushing efficiency.
67) 20th Century – I need to play this game again as my first filled me with apoplectic loathing. I just hated the solitaire optimisation element of the game, to me the antithesis of fun – can’t we share the same board?. Most people tell me I am wrong so will play again
68) Founding Fathers – Unlike 20th Century I did give this a second go and it was worse than the first. Any attempt at planning is easily destroyed by the OTT cards. Why on earth let players build positions which can be ‘Wrath of God’ed out of the game. Armageddon resets were weeded out of Magic the Gathering ten years ago and have no place creeping into boardgame design
69) Puzzle Strike – Interesting game destroyed by the playing pieces and the terrible first set of rules
70) Ascension Godslayer – Deck building with the interesting parts taken out, ugly artwork and a totally unnecessary board.
71) Khan ¬– A blockbusting theme that hides the diriest of multiplayer abstracts
72) Le Grand Hameau – The cards are amusing but broken, and can spoil a nice game of Le Havre.
73) Nuns on the Run – A game about Nuns with LOS? Tedious record keeping, easy to make a mistake, about as amusing as life in a nunnery

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