Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
I played a frankly ridiculous 117 new-to-me games in 2012, more than a quarter of those at Essen. I truly hope it will be fewer in 2013. I posted top tens of the best and the worst on geeklists recently and thought I'd bring them together here.
1. Hanabi (17 plays)
I would have bet heavily against a co-op being my new-to-me game of the year. I'm a competitive person, and all the co-ops I'd played felt more like team-building exercises than games. But Hanabi sounded interesting so I mocked up a deck back in March, finally getting my hands on a published version at Essen. And wow, what a game. It avoids the alpha-player problem by making the game explicitly about limited communication, and as a result it feels completely unlike anything else I've played. With the right group, you can develop a wonderful sense of trust without ever having to say anything out loud, and it's delightful when a clever clue comes off just the way you hoped.
2. Pax Porfiriana (16 plays)
Phil Eklund has always intrigued me because he doesn't design like anyone else. He chooses fascinating themes and evokes them brilliantly, but his designs have a tendency to be more experiences than games. Pax Porfiriana is both. It's a highly interactive tableau-builder with some of the improvisatory feel of Innovation, coupled with a real historical narrative. As with all Eklund games, the rules are a pain to learn from, but it's not actually a very complex game. Very few games come along that I think and write about this much - it is worth your time.
3. Love Letter (48 plays)
There must be something in the water in Japan, because they keep coming out with fresh, delightful card games like this. Love Letter is an absolute masterpiece of minimalism. 16 cards, 8 unique types, but so many hilarious combinations. Yes, it will be too light for some but nearly everyone in my group adores it.
Rounding out the top 10:
Coup - minimalist bluffing filler
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small - better than the original for my taste
Divinare - Liars Dice without the dice
Sleuth - deduction at its finest, Sackson rocks
Sticheln - turns trick-taking upside-down
MarraCash - old-school Euro full of auctions and incentives
Ninety-Nine - lovely modern design for traditional cards
1. Ubongo 3-D. Genuinely multi-player solitaire, with the most ludicrous scoring system I've ever seen.
2. Hawaii. The epitome of the 'jigsaw puzzle' multiple-paths-to-victory, point salad Euro that I like least.
3. Tokaido. And another one, with the additional problem of featuring far too few interesting choices.
4. Panic Station. Knew this wasn't going to be my kind of thing. I was right.
5. Last Will. Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is and annoyingly fiddly.
6. Nefarious. DXV distills down the role-selection tableau-builder until there's nothing left.
7. The Cave. I liked K2, but this one just seemed to be Tikal + Lost Valley - the good things about those games.
8. Angkor. Didn't like that the action took place on separate boards, and the final score is too close to just being (what I randomly drew) - (how much the other players bashed me).
9. Eruption. Nothing new or interesting and some very heavy-handed catch-up mechanisms.
10. Journalist. Nice theme and artwork, but turns out to be Bananagrams in disguise.