Published in 2011: Best and Worst games I've played and what remains to be tried. Opinions & suggestions are welcome!
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Published in 2009: Best and Worst games I've played and what remains to be tried. Opinions&suggestions are welcome!
Published in 2010: Best and Worst games I've played and what remains to be tried. Opinions&suggestions are welcome!
Okay, now it starts to be a tradition. And as even the jury of the Spiel Jahres has already chosen the best games of the year I guess it's really time to make my (as usual, half-year-late) list of the games published in 2011 that I have played.


The numbered ("ranked") games in this list (first two pages) are these games. You can comment why you agree or why you think I'm stupid to think a game is good when it's terrible.

Then (pages 3 and 4) you'll see the games I still would like to try. You can tell me why I should avoid them based on the first page or why I should choose one to be the next one I try.

The rest is for your suggestions: If you think there are other games not listed that I should try (published in 2011 according to BGG) based on my opinions about the games I played.


Just some notes:
1. I usually try to choose to learn games that I guess I would like. So I like the majority of the games listed - actually, I would happily replay the first 30-35 games or so and wouldn't mind having them in my collection.
2. I don't think complexity or weight has anything to do with quality. You'll see I prefer some ultra-light fillers over complex games. I don't think that's an outrage.
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1. Board Game: Eclipse [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:10]
Laszlo Molnar
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#1

It seems I'm too mainstream. The average geek also chose Eclipse as the best game of the year. But damn, this one deserves it. If someone asked which games were really significant last year I would say there was only one, and that one is Eclipse. This game is brave and it made me re-think how I view board games.

* I like complex euros, but more often than not they make me bored as many of them are about moving the cubes, upgrading, collecting special cards or tokens that make you stronger, and during the game you are doing nothing but combining, optimizing and trying to make the best efficiency engines, trying one of the differently designed paths to win. They are mostly well designed but they are not fun.
* I like but usually don’t love and don’t even want to replay AT games where you have hundreds of game parts, hundreds of tiny rule details and dozens of dice combats. Most of these are shallow and I can’t feel the weight of my decisions.
* I strongly think the longer, more complex and weightier a game is, it should have the smaller luck factor while I love very light dice games for example as they are rather simple and short.

Now Eclipse is a mix of these stuff I have problems with. It's a long, complex and medium heavy game with a considerable luck factor in everything (battles, tile draws…); a game with lots of almost Risk-like dice-driven battles and also the player boards are like the usual complex Euros of the past few years. Mix them together, find the right ratio (I’m sure many will try to follow Eclipse and many will fail) and here you are, a great sci-fi civ game that offers a novel and brave mix of known elements:

The dice battles and tile draws make the boring Euro strategies uncertain, interesting and you have the need to rethink everything here and there; the Euro combinations, optimization and multiple ways to win make the battles important and the game has depth this way.

Finally I have to rethink what I thought about the connection between luck factor and length, complexity and weight: it’s another point of view, but maybe I should say the more deep & long a game is the more fun it needs to remain interesting – and as Eclipse proves, fun might come from the considerable luck factor as well.

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2. Board Game: Lancaster [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:160]
Laszlo Molnar
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#2

Matthias Cramer is one of the most notable new Euro designers. His Lancaster is one of last year's Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees, and deservedly so as it's a fun Euro of medium complexity (and I don’t really think optimization, counting and combination are the most fun qualities a game can have, see here). In Lancaster the main mechanism is somewhere halfway between Amun Re and worker placement; the whole system strongly builds on the idea of mixing worker placement with area majority. The 'kicking others from their action spaces' element is vicious fun but also a nice strategy element (placing your weak knights on important spaces just to be able to re-use them later in the given round). It also has some voting added to the mix. Also the production values are really high: from the size of the markers to the map everything has been designed with extreme care to details and functionality, just like many Claus Stephan games.

It’s a really good (even though a bit unforgiving to be family-friendly enough) game so I was more than happy that I could take part in a playtesting session of a planned expansion with the expansion's designer Wolfgang Panning in Essen (and take part in the brainstorming with him, Matthias Cramer and Dirk Henn afterwards).
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3. Board Game: Artus [Average Rating:6.29 Overall Rank:2085]
Laszlo Molnar
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#3

There are some strong myths at BGG and one of them is that if a game is strongly tactical then it can’t be good.
Artus proves the opposite. Artus is different from the usual Euros and I like how different it is.
Artus has a rondel for better and worse scores (a little bit like the rondel in Michael Kiesling’s Vikings, this game of constant (re-)positioning also has some very far resemblance to Wolfgang Kramer’s Viva Pamplona so it's not surprising they designed this game together). I’m happy Alea chose to publish something really different this time – even though many of the fans of the Alea series might be disappointed. The advanced rules (age 12+) are just amusingly great, having 6 mission cards of which 3 are really menacing until you play them (and you try to play them in the optimal time). Of course more strategy is evident in a 2-player game and a 2-player game is also faster but I have played Artus quite a few times now and none of the 4-player games lasted more than 75 minutes. When played this way, the tension remains high during the game. If everyone tries to over-optimize their moves (which is simply futile as it’s not a strategy but tactical game) then it might get too slow and boring. Play Artus for fun and it becomes really fun.
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4. Board Game: Village [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:77]
Laszlo Molnar
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#4

This is the second one of the two great worker placement Euros of 2011 and both were nominated for Kennerspiel des Jahres - I still think the SdJ jury knows what they are doing, and the win also confirms it. Village deserved the award.

Inka and Markus Brand’s Village is, in a way, the general, usual complex worker placement game with lots of different possible actions and resource conversion – but at the same time it’s really different. It’s like the designers decided they want to make a WP game but make everything a bit unusual, inventive.
The game is full of nice details like the novel idea of generations, the history book, the cemetery, the action spaces where you can buy the goods or learn how to do them and you can produce them for yourself later, the Puerto Rico-ish marketplace or the church where maybe you become a priest, maybe not (pulling meeple from a bag where you placed your worker as well).
It’s an enjoyable game with interesting decisions and many unique ideas.
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5. Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:9]
Laszlo Molnar
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#5

Stefan Feld likes alternating between no-luck and dice-heavy Euros. The closest relative to Burgund is surely Macao. I don't really like the way Troyes uses dice but I really like how it's used in games like Burgund: as a kind of randomizer. Dice tell you which loot you can take a tile from or which places you can place your tiles on. Even so, dice do bring some luck to the game: in the first some rounds they work as a randomizer that sets up the game for you and you can choose which strategies to try to build on. In the last one or two rounds you can rely totally on luck or be prepared for the worst case (when I played the guy who won was doing the latter). I think I enjoyed this one more than Macao and found it more balanced because the tile (vs cards in Macao) distribution felt a lot less chaotic.
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6. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:210]
Laszlo Molnar
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#6

I have never played the original Airlines nor Union Pacific so this game was really new to me. However I have read some of the complaints and it seems to me Airlines Europe is an improvement over the old game (although the map might feel a bit less important here). Also I like that each decision is a little bit painful (and I love painful decisions in games) : buying two permits in the same round is good but costs more and gives you only one share; special shares cost you hard-to-get shares and two rounds until they can score you anything etc.
I played Airlines Europe with my family including my then 69-year-old mother who learns new rules a bit slow (but she likes games and plays Spiel des Jahres-winners quite frequently). Airlines Europe is a bit more complex than her favourite game (which is, of course, Ticket to Ride) but still she could learn it by the second half of the game. Unfortunately AE wasn't even mentioned (recommended) by the Spiel des Jahres jury last year which might be a result of it being a second remake but I can't be sure.

And my son loves toying with the small planes too!
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7. Board Game: Strasbourg [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:482]
Laszlo Molnar
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#7

Another Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee, another Stefan Feld game. The main mechanism is something like Ra's sun tiles created by your own cards via a push your luck mechanism; and when you play these in some mild auctions you get to place your pawns strategically on the board. One of the more fun and less complex Stefan Feld games; I’d even say it’s the most Knizian Feld I have ever played (which is, of course, a nice complaint from me).
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8. Board Game: Rune Age [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:594]
Laszlo Molnar
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#8

Well, it has happened. I have a Corey Konieczka game in my yearly top 10. Okay, currently it's not in his top 10 ranked/rated games according to the average geek but still. (Do I have a problem with Konieczka? Not really; he's just like a Hollywood director who makes spectacular and a bit dull mega-budget blockbusters while I prefer European arthouse flicks). (forget it, I'm talking crap, see comments below.)

But Rune Age is a nice game. It has a story (well, several stories) but even without looking at the scenarios there are interesting things happening. You resolve events, attack (later also protect) cities that give you more influence, combine your race's powers to interesting effects, attack others' headquarters and so on; it feels a lot more than a deck-building card game. It also has a nice and interesting deck-building system with 3 different resources (strength, influence, gold) building on each other nicely. And the deck-building is not the most important part; what you do with your cards is more important. And as you have different races you can make really nice combos out of the abilities of the cards of your race. And it plays in 60 minutes which is just the perfect length for these "stories".

(on the negative side, while the game has an okay replayability I'd say it has only maybe 30 games in it - with 4 races and 4 scenarios - before it would get samey; but the expansion with more races and more scenarios solves this "problem".)
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9. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:338]
Laszlo Molnar
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#9

Dominion creator Donald X. Vaccarino’s latest was a letdown for many gamers. Of course Kingdom Builder is not really a heavy or complex game; it’s a family game of tactics and strategy. It is made replayable just in the Dominion way while its core idea is probably not as novel as it was in case of Dominion. Also seemingly you are in the hand of luck as you can’t choose but place your buildings on the one terrain that is depicted on the card you draw and on the fields that are next to your previously placed buildings. But I don’t feel this feature very restricting; there are lots of things that you can consider. To me the game, while of course it’s quite strongly tactical, seemed to be easy to plan as well for the next rounds. It’s also a usual good quality Queen Games product so I expected this one to be nominated for this year’s Spiel des Jahres award already last year - I just could not predict its win but I happy to see it indeed won the family game award.
(If only it was cheaper... I would have bought it a long time ago.)
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10. Board Game: Ora et Labora [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:48]
Laszlo Molnar
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#10

I usually agree with how the average geek ranks Uwe Rosenberg’s complex games – I think Agricola is a great game, Le Havre is very good and At the Gates of Loyang is not bad but not nearly as good as the other two. Ora et Labora is somewhere between Agricola (especially Farmers of the Moor) and Le Havre – closer to the latter. Current ratings suggest the average geek likes Uwe’s new game just as much as these and they might be right. But to me it’s a bit too much like those.
Yes, it has some nice ideas like the scoring villages that you need to buy time after time just like you feed your farmers and especially the „2+1 workers” worker placement variation where you can use your workers for your own actions – and others’ workers for their actions in their village (which, in a way, reminded me of another Essen 2011 release, Helvetia, see below). Besides these interesting novelties it just felt too familiar, just like playing the same old games again – and familiarity felt good and bad at the same time.
Also this game has the one feature I don’t really like in Le Havre – players standing and trying to see all the buildings they can use on the entire table, trying to read upside-down etc., which can be AP-inducing in the second half of the game. At the same time it’s easier to see things clear here (lots of icons, little text on cards) and also the look of the game is closer to the eye-pleasing colors (and theme) of Agricola.
But... Once again it’s another game where you collect hundreds of points for different features and combinations. Also until the scoring it’s rather hard to see the scores or even who is leading – it means it’s hard to bash the leader but at the same time it takes away from the tension as well.
All in all, it’s still a really good game, I just wish it had been more different from its predecessors. I wished Ora et Labora had the fun factor of Eclipse as well.
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11. Board Game: Cornerstone Essential [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:2940]
Laszlo Molnar
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#11

(Okay, I admit I'm a bit cheating here. I bought Turmbauer which was released in October 2011 in Essen, so it's kind of a game published in 2011 in Europe - its predecessor Cornerstone and this one (2010) was almost exclusively rated by USA people before 2011; there weren't really any news about it at all in this side of the Atlantic.)

Thurmbauer is fun. It has Rumis-like construction of 3D Tetris pieces requiring quite a bit of spatial thinking, it has strategy for your meeple climbing, it has the luck of dice rolls and it also has some Jenga-like dexterity element that adds some fun tension to the game. Of course lots of fun elements don't automatically make a game good, but this one manages to be fully enjoyable.
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12. Board Game: Helvetia [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:635]
Laszlo Molnar
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#12

Helvetia is lighter and more family-friendly than the other two recent Matthias Cramer games but it's still deservedly an age 12+ game.
I only had problems with some production features. (dark illustrations, dark blue meeple, hard to differentiate female and male pawns). I liked the rest.

It's one of those Essen 2011 games where you are collecting buildings to your display, have figures that can activate these buildings and the first buildings provide resources while the third stack of cards are full of buildings that give you victory points. This is the very usual part, although a very family-friendly (simple) version as the buildings are not that hard to learn: some give you basic materials, some give you products, some can be used for exchanging stuff and some give you victory points. Nothing more complex than that.
The interesting part is the theme and how the game is made more interactive by marrying to other villages to use their buildings or waking up everyone in a district, not only your people. It gives some interesting dynamics and interaction to the game.
The rest is a Finca-like race where you try to be the first to transport the goods to get some bonuses for them and also to be the first to build 10 buildings so you can get some further bonuses. The fact that this one is family-friendly is a rather big plus for me as I don’t play with gamers at home.
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13. Board Game: Québec [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:706]
Laszlo Molnar
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#13

Quebec is a very good game. In some ways it's a more perfect design than some of the games above. Mabye I had a bit more fun playing the games above; the ranking reflects this in my list.
But still. It's a very strong design. It's a complex Eurogame with no luck factor (it has a random set-up in the beginning and it does have some multiplayer chaos that makes it more tactical, but it has no luck element during game). Trying to spice up worker placement, adding area majority to the mix is an interesting way in 2011 (see Lancaster above), just like it's quite trendy to use modular boards as a randomizer (Kingdom Builder, Hawaii). But the mix feels quite fresh here, even if very unforgiving. Maybe I would have appreciated a little bit more connection to any theme but still, it's a very good game that is not very well-known here but I suggest trying it for any Eurogamer.

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14. Board Game: Last Will [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:235] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Laszlo Molnar
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#14

This is another Essen game where you collect cards (characters and buildings) in a quasi-worker pacement way to your display just to be able to activate and combine them. But here your aim is not collecting money and/or victory points but losing your money as the one who spends their money the fastest wins the game (according to a funny last will). So you are buying real estates and devaluate them before selling; you invite guests that want your money, organize events - like balls - etc. Also it provides a nice dynamic as even if some buildings can help you spend lots of money, you still need to sell them and spend all the money you got for them in order to go broke.
So the theme is different and is implemented well, but it could still be rather easily converted and re-themed to a game where you are collecting money and/or victory points (in this case you would get money all the time when you spend money right now). And this way the game is still not that much different from the other Eurogames of the past years. But the theme and rythm make it rather enjoyable in the end (the production qualities also help this, although the guest markers could be more different from each other).
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15. Board Game: Hawaii [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:354]
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#15

There was a time when I loved Hans im Glück games but their latest games weren’t that great. Hawaii is like coming back to form (and this year's Santa Cruz is also true HiG quality). If Hawaii has a problem that’s how dry it is and how forced its theme is, making the game a bit drier than it should be. But I love the way the things work (this quasi-worker placement with a point to point movement spatial aspect) and especially the Kingdom Builder effect: with the random set-up of the board it seems Hawaii has a nice replayability as every game is very different. (I also think it has a better mechanism than Last Will above; only the look and theme makes LW go above this one).
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16. Board Game: Tournay [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:553]
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#16

It's not just the look - there are lots of features of this game that remind you of Troyes (special buildings in 3 levels, 3 colors for the 3 different types, grey for neutral meeples, using others' meeple for money, fighting the negative event cards, having endgame bonus cards that have effects on everyone etc.) while the game still feels rather different.
I guess those who have problems with Troyes (including me) liked this one more and those who didn't, preferred Troyes over this.
Still it's just once again just (a better) one of the recent wave of "usual" euros where you are collecting buildings and/or characters to your display to activate them as often as you can and create combos etc. And while it worked fine, Last Will had the advantage of the theme and an interesting rhytm, Helvetica had the advantage of some great mechanism ideas over this one. Still, it's a good one.
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17. Board Game: Olympos [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:560]
Laszlo Molnar
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#17

Philippe Keyaerts's (Vinci, Small World) game is about 15% Vinci/Small World (conquering places and kicking others out of regions on the map without real battles), 20% Thebes (the very important time track), 15% 7 Wonders (constant resources, mines, and the way of ‘battles’) and 50% Ystari (possibly necessary but seemingly unnecessary complexity by many different special action cards and tiles, many different scoring possibilities and of course several ways to win). It’s a good game. It’s only… Unlike in the best Ystari games, I just can’t find anything really new in it.
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18. Board Game: Drako [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:1008]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#18

A fine little assymetrical card-and-board game – a dragon vs. 3 dwarves on a small hexagonal grid not unlike Neuroshima Hex! – and this game is Polish too (from the designer of K2). It’s lot a lighter and simpler game than NH; even though it has a board it feels closer to the very light Dragonheart but I definitely like it more than NH. But it’s a fun little filler that does not want to be more than what it is and I can really appreciate that. This feature alone makes it a better game (in my eyes) than some heavyweight Euros.
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19. Board Game: Trajan [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:38]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#19

Wait, what? This great Feld design is only #19? Okay, I told you I like most of the games in this geeklist. But the reason is just about the same why Ora et Labora is #10 in my list. Because however original the Mancala-idea is, I must say I start to learn what you can expect from a game by Stefan Feld – it feels like most of his games are built up of mostly the same elements (that are built on a more or less original action selection mechanism).
I’m not saying it’s a problem. It’s just… It’s like Pixar. When the first Pixar movies were released in the nineties they were so novel, so different from the then-usual Disney ethno princess adventure love stories that they really stood out of the crowd. A decade later you could name many threads and aspects that are always present in their movies and although the quality remained really high (well, maybe except from Cars 2), they don’t feel that unique anymore. I start to feel the same about the Feld games and it's hard for me to be amazed by them.
Trajan uses the Mancala idea pretty well. It matters how many „stones” you pick up from a cup, it matters where distributing these stones end and it matters which color is placed where. But the rest is so much the usual stuff that maybe it was why I could not feel the theme at all (the other reason might be the graphic design), always remaining in the background), while I felt the theme even in Feld’s Strasbourg (which is a game not more thematic than Ra). Trajan is a good game, I just didn’t fall in love with it; this is the first Feld game where I felt it was designed by a Feld robot instead of a human being.
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20. Board Game: BITS [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:2553]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#20

I'm not sure this "FITS turned upside down, inside out" sequel is not better than the original. It really turns FITS on its head - instead of using Tetris tiles for creating rows, you are using row sections (dominoes) for creating Tetris tiles, also instead of taking care not to leave gaps, this time gaps don't matter - you are taking care not to make some special forms using your tiles.
It's a surprisingly engaging game with quality and nice tiles. I thought I won’t like it as much as I enjoy FITS but even if it's still (or, if that’s possible, even more) a multiplayer solitaire, I really did. What’s more, my wife demanded replaying the game the next week which is not something she does with each game. It’s what I call Spiel des Jahres quality; as the game is really different from the SdJ-nominated FITS I’m a bit surprised this one wasn’t even recommended last year.
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21. Board Game: Omen: A Reign of War [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:633]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#21

Too bad I can’t say much about this thematic but clever, fight-against-each-other-for-loots card game as I was rather tired by the time I played. But even then I could see it's a very interesting game that I want to explore more; I just feel I would rank it somewhere here after a replay.
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22. Board Game: Power Grid: The First Sparks [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:583]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#22

It really is Power Grid: the family game with a family-friendly theme (hunting and gathering in the Stone Age), nice components, lighter gameplay, a bit even more tension (it doesn't feel as "overbalanced" as the original where, unless you are an experienced PG-player, you can feel like whatever you do it is possible to win) so it's more or less better on each front. Still, ironically, while the thing I missed from Power Grid was tension, voltage, the thing I miss in The First Sparks is a creative spark. It's a gimmick, a nice exercise in making the game more family-friendly and rethemed, and it certainly succeeds. But somehow it isn't more than that.
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23. Board Game: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:331]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#23

I hoped I would prefer this one over London (it’s Wallace + Pratchett after all) but right now I don’t; the game is a bit too chaotic for me. I would not mind but in my first play I managed drawing cards that just could not help me at all and I had no “play another card”, “draw some extra cards”, “discard some cards” cards in my hand during the entire game (also could not get the city card from the district where you can discard cards) so while others were constantly trashing cards or doing combos I was rather forced to do whatever poor decisions I could do based on the cards in my hand. The second game went much better and I think what happened in the first play was a case of an extreme bad luck.
By the way, in a way Ankh-Morpork is Knizian: the mechanism of the game is rather simple and I’d even say boring. But the goals have an interesting and varied framework as all the game is about trying to do everything against the others’ goals being achieved while trying to achieve your goal before the deck runs out of cards as that’s also the possible aim of a player (and if it isn’t and the deck runs out of cards then you even have some standard victory point goals). Add the theme and it’s a fun game with nice replayability. Still I like to have more control even in games as intentionally chaotic as this one.
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24. Board Game: Star Trek: Expeditions [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1458]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#24

After starting/reviving the category of complex cooperative games in 2000 (with Lord of the Rings), Reiner Knizia is back to the genre, once again based on a well-known franchise that has millions of fans worldwide. Well, what's sure is I'd like to know the opinion of non-gamer ST fans on this one as for some reason most gamers like that when it's not easy to win in a cooperative game.
úIn this one it’s rather easy to have an acceptable result in the end; you need bad luck and/or weak players/beginners for the missions to fail. For a designer who is also a mathematician it’s more interesting that you are competing to have nice results as the game can end positively with poor or great results as well. Otherwise the game is about collecting cards and stuff, moving and helping each other, and completing your missions which is done using your character powers (it’s HeroClix) and the cards/tiles you have collected to aid your die rolls. More thematic and chaotic than your usual Knizia, less thematic than your usual AT game, it wasn’t a bad experience, I rather enjoyed it – I even want to re-play it – but it’s still not that special. And if story is the most important factor for you then it does not have good replayability.
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25. Board Game: Skull [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:518]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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#25

It might be the purest and simplest bluffing game I know (its closest relative is Liar's Dice but it doesn't even have the calculation and risk estimation part) : it's pure bluff and psychology with a very nice trick in the rules to make bluffing tense. Also it can be fun to act out the 'theme' of biker gang members fighting for leadership this way. In this game where after bidding, the challenger has to turn up the number of roses they undertook, without turning up a skull at any player. The tricky rule is that the challenger has to turn up his/her beermats first which creates a really fun tension throughout the game. And while it can be called a pure luck game, it's actually a lot more than that with lots of psychology and, in case of more or less equal players, an endgame full of strong tactical possibilities.
If you like pure bluff games you will probably enjoy this one as well; if you don’t, then it won’t change your opinion.
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