This is the third installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. Our featured category for this article is: Strategy Games.
I didn't get to play all the strategy games that appeared in 2011, but this year certainly introduced me to some fantastic strategy games, both new releases as well as a couple of games from the couple of years leading up to this one. If I had to pick a favourite of all the new strategy games I learned this year, London (first edition) and Egizia would be the leading contenders, but really all of the games listed here are excellent. Of the strategy games you learned this year, what was your favourite?
London (first edition)
London (first edition) is a two to four player game that tells the story of the rebuilding of the city of London after the Great Fire of 1666. In the world of modern game design, they don't get much better than Martin Wallace, and he's really produced something quite spectacular with this game.
At its heart, London is a card game in which players ‘rebuild’ the various London boroughs they control, balancing their desire to build extensive boroughs and impressive buildings with the challenges of finance, overcrowding and poverty. The player who most successfully manages these various tensions will earn the most victory points and be declared the winner.
Sound good? Oh it is! Very, very good, the heights of eurogaming goodness type good - as much as that's possible in a card game! London is a stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a card game that has deservedly been the subject of high praise, so I was very pleased to learn and play it in the past year. Elegant, interactive, strategic, scalable - it really ticks all the boxes for everything you could want in a euro-game. It's truly outstanding in every way, and while it's a somewhat surprising game for Martin Wallace - especially given how it uses cards - the dynamics of trying to manage your money, VPs, and poverty points is really well done. Highly recommended.
Want to know more? See my full review: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a game
I consider Egizia to be Stone Age version 2.0. Like Stone Age, it's a worker placement game, and it shares much in common with it. Yet Egizia has the advantage of being slightly more complex, more strategic, and thus also more satisfying. It first appeared at Essen 2009 and is currently just perched outside the BGG Top 100 with a very respectable average rating of 7.59.
Egizia is an Egyptian themed game which has players send their workers to various locations on and around the Nile river. Over five rounds, you'll try to increase the strength of your construction crews, and use them to contribute to the building of impressive Egyptian landmarks like the pyramids, as well as ensure that you feed your workers and manage them wisely. There's lots of different ways to earn points, and unlike Stone Age there are no dice, but there are cards which can be claimed to offer short term and long term rewards, so end-of-game scoring is an important element of game-play.
For a euro, the Egyptian theme is surprisingly well-developed. And while it uses the traditional worker placement mechanic, it adds some excellent twists that limit ship placement, and promote variable long term strategies. While Egizia is no Stone Age clone, this is a strategic worker placement game that fans of Stone Age will not want to miss, and I consider it the superior of the two! Overall a fantastic game!
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Should Egizia be considered Stone Age version 2.0?
Belfort is a 2011 release from Tasty Minstrel Games, and could well prove to be their most successful strategy game yet. It's a worker-placement driven euro with resource management that is primarily about area control. It's strength is that it takes familiar euro mechanics but integrates them in a new way. What's more, it adds a somewhat unusual (for a euro) fantasy theme.
The basic concept of this game for 2-5 players is that you're competing against other players in an effort to use a workforce of elves, dwarves and gnomes to build the city of Belfort. You’ll need to organize your work force, gather resources, stake out building sites within the city confines – all while your competitors are doing everything they can to ensure that they succeed and you fail in your efforts to build this new and beautiful city. But the buildings you create will give you small bonuses, and can you use these to your advantage?
Belfort is a highly polished product in every respect: artwork, components, theme, mechanics, humour, rules. Everything shows evidence of careful play-testing and balance, and it's clear that this game has been a labour of love that has benefited from the hard work of designers, developers, play-testers, publisher, and artist. It sure is no ordinary worker placement game, and is set to make quite a splash over the next year. There is the potential for some downtime and a longer game with the full complement of five players (especially AP types), but aside from that this game gets pretty much everything right. Very impressive game!
Want to know more? See my full review: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: O Gnomeo, Gnomeo...Wherefore Art Thou O Gnomeo?
My review of Troyes was posted just before the end of 2010, but it belongs in this list because the last days of December were less than a year ago, and it only hit the US market in the first half of 2011 courtesy of ZMan Games. Troyes made a big splash when it debuted at Essen 2010, coming in second beyond 7 Wonders in the final standings of the Fairplay list, and was arguably the darling of gamers at the show, its success surprising many who had never heard of it previously. Many consider it to be one of the best gamer's games to emerge from 2010, and if not the best then in the top three.
The game is set in the years 1200-1600, as players use the military, religious, and civil influence of their families to seek to be the most prestigious in Troyes. And yes, that includes building a cathedral! If that sounds like Pillars of the Earth, you're right, but there's a big difference: this has dice! But don't let that intimidate you, because while it may use dice, Troyes does so in a very unique way, to make it a true strategy game of the highest quality. The basic concept of the game is that the citizens (meeples) of the players are placed in three buildings to provide a workforce to build up the city of Troyes. This workforce is represented by dice, which are used to perform various activities (e.g activities by labourers, building the cathedral, countering negative events, or recruiting new citizens).
The combination of great artwork, along with smooth and deep gameplay that features some innovative mechanics is a formula ripe for success. If you consider yourself a fan of medium-heavy eurogames and don't have this already, be sure to take a look at it!
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Arguably the best gamers' game of 2010
Fürstenfeld first appeared at Essen 2010, and to use designer Friedemann Friese's own words, "This is a deck-building game but in a different kind of way." I call it "deck-unbuilding", because you start with a deck of 28 cards and slowly thin it as you buy and build various building cards from your deck onto your farm.
The brewery theme isn't the deepest, but I like it because it's somewhat non-conformist. Players manage a farm which supplies ingredients (spring water, barley, and hops) to local breweries, which in turn will earn players the finances to better develop their landholdings and eventually build a palace. The aim is to generate enough income to buy and build the six Palace cards (akin to the Province VPs in Dominion) from your deck, and the first player to do so wins the game. But in addition to the requirement of careful hand management and deck management, the real appeal for me was the interactive and clever market system that drives the financial aspect of the game - prices for goods vary depending on supply and demand.
It's not a heavy economic game by any means, but for something that plays in 45-60 minutes, it offers a considerable dose of fun and yet enough strategic and tactical decision making to be rewarding. Particularly with the advanced game (which is how Friese designed the game to be played), there are more decisions and more control than meets the eye. I think the game has suffered somewhat of a bad rap from people dismissing it too quickly as depending on luck-of-the-draw after only playing the introductory and beginner form of the game - which was intended only as a temporary stepping stone to the `real' game. Give it a fair chance and play the full game, and like me you could well conclude that this is a medium weight game that has a lot to offer, even if it's not the same kind of heavy-weight as others on this list.
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Friedemann Friese unhinges Dominion-style deck-building by adding beer
Join the discussion: What is the best new strategy game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?
Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games