2007: A subjective review
J C Lawrence
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Simply, what struck out or was otherwise notable of the games this year. I'll probably get another 20+ plays in before the New Year, but they should pretty much be a continuation of the patterns of the year so far. There's not much time left for surprises.
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1. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:2543]
J C Lawrence
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'Ohana Proa was this year's big foray into game design. It earned a 3.3 score from the first round of Hippodice (3.1 was needed to advance). I'm pleased with it. It plays very well and effectively does everything I'd hoped for in the design.

Loosely, the goals:

1) Design a game where the core problem is to Get ahead by improving other player's positions. How can you win when your primary way of making points is to improve other player's board positions and abilities to also score, and to score a lot more than you due to your help?

2) Thoroughly implement a gift economy.

3) Make king-making implicit in the game from the get-go (direct result of #1), but make it interesting, challenging, and central to playing the game well. Again, how do you win when your primary activity is to set someone else up to win even more than you?

'Ohana Proa met and exceeded all those goals.

Hopefully I'll muster the oomph to carry it forward into commercial publication.



A brief introduction and description of the game along with pictures of the game in play can be found ftp://ftp.kanga.nu/users/claw/odd/games/prototypes/OhanaProa..." target="_blank" class="postlink" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener">here
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2. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:403]
J C Lawrence
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Wabash Cannonball was the big discovery and excitement of the year. Simply, the best game of 2007. Yes, it really is that good. For me this year's Essen was a rather paltry affair with little of interest. Wabash Cannonball single-handedly rescued that (with Container in a nice supporting but not-quite-justifying role).

I'm ~20 plays in and won't be surprised if I break 30 plays before the year ends. I also won't be surprised if it is my most played game next year. Really, an amazing game.
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3. Board Game: Pampas Railroads [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:4275]
J C Lawrence
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Prompted by Wabash Cannonball I finally got my thumb out and bought a copy of Pampas Railroads after having it on my buy list for almost 4 years. In a great many ways Wabash Cannonball is a highly refined and massively developed version of Pampas Railroads. Sadly I still haven't played, but every indication from the rules, online content and solo-plays is that Pampas Railroads could quite as good as Wabash Cannonball, albeit in a longer, nastier and more generally aggressive package.

Here's looking forward to you Grandpa.
 
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4. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:127]
J C Lawrence
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The single most notable thing about my gaming habits this year is that I stopped playing Age of Steam. Until roughly the middle of this year Age of Steam was played pretty much once or twice every week, sometimes more, sometimes a lot more. In the back half of the second quarter of 2007 I simply...stopped.

Subjectively this happened because I designed and playtested the crap out of Age of Steam: Denmark (adds an 1830's-ish train rush) which was after AoS: Sun, everything I ever wanted out of an Age of Steam game. Really, just everything. There was simply nothing more I really wanted to do any more with Age of Steam: I had AoS: Sun and now AoS: Denmark. I was done. Age of Steam fell out of rotation and other games took the place of Age of Steam. I still like Age of Steam, like it a lot, it is a brilliant game system, but I've had no interest in playing it for more than 6 months now.

(Age of Steam: Denmark)
 
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5. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:2543]
J C Lawrence
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The first half of the year was filled with Age of Steam prototype plays. Two pairs of finished and ready-to-publish maps came out of it:

1:

AoS: Wales (added track gauges)

AoS: South-East Australia (new economic system)

---

2:

AoS: Denmark (builds on AoS: SE Australia with a train rush)

AoS: Isle of Wight (builds on AoS: SE Australia with mid-game partnerships)

---

3:
AoS: Central America is also hanging out there, done and ready, but I don't yet have a pair for it.

Sadly I've not pursued getting any of them published in the current somewhat confused AoS market.
 
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6. Board Game: Kaivai [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:3356]
J C Lawrence
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Kaivai is one of the true great games of the last few years, joining titles like Neuland, Blokus, Wabash Cannonball, Age of Steam, 1860, Traders of Genoa etc. I just wish the box weren't so big that it had to sit horizontally underneath all the other games in my game crate. It makes it such a pain to get out to play. This year the goal was to get in enough plays with local gamers that I could justify bringing out the expansion. We nearly got there too, but it was sidelined at the last minute by Wabash Cannonball, Container etc.

More amusingly Kaivai was also responsible for pointing out how rarely I play with 4 players. 3 is my most common (and favourite) player count with 5 following shortly after. I suspect that even 6 players might have been more common than 4 around my game tables this year. That made it hard to get Kaivai on the table.
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7. Board Game: Clippers [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:2541]
J C Lawrence
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Such a great game with 5 players. I've especially enjoyed the learning process that has gone on with the local players while they learned that it really is worthwhile to ensure that no shipping lines ever reach the western islands. The result has been a sort of wonderful collective Ahhh-ha! moment, transforming the game from simple points accrual to a wonderfully nasty game of turn order exploitation and negative sum deltas.

There is so very much to like in Clippers. Just ask Rusty Ballinger about his last game with me!

The standard pattern has been to play Medieval Merchant whenever we have 6 players (tho I actually slightly prefer it with 5 players) and Clippers when we have 5 players. There's nothing to complain about there.
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8. Board Game: Medieval Merchant [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:2003]
J C Lawrence
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Such a great game with 5 or 6. The standard pattern has been to play Medieval Merchant whenever we have 6 players (tho I actually slightly prefer it with 5 players) and Clippers when we have 5 players. There's nothing to complain about there.

Sadly I also owe Aaron and UnknownOtherGuy up at Endgame Oakland an apology over this one. I counted my money wrong in our last game. I didn't get an extra final VP from money. It was a little confusing, Aaron asked me about it in surprise at the time, I asserted that I'd had the money but in truth when I carefully went over it in my head on the drive home and before going to sleep, I didn't have the money, I was ~$3 short. I've been meaning to get back to them and apologise but I've simply never made it back up there since and it has been bugging me to now end. Sorry guys.
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9. Board Game: Greentown [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:8570]
J C Lawrence
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Another game from last year that crept on me by surprise. Greentown had made my interest list early last year but the early commentary and discussion pushed it off my radar. Not much off, but off. Rick Heli locally proved to be a big fan. Joe Huber dismissively dislikes it, which I ran along with (supported by other commentary) until I noticed that Joe's tastes have been evolving strongly toward less confrontational games and well, Rick just kept on playing it every time he came to a games day. A few overheard comments from Rick's table later (one complaining that it was a brain burner) and a quick conversation later and I'd setup to order a copy from David Fair.

It was a great purchase. It isn't the most amazing game ever, but it is a solid little game in a genre with few other contenders. Outside of the random order of the ticket cards, it tickles all the right spots.
 
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10. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:176]
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A wonderful game that got to around 20-something plays and pretty much stopped cold overnight. I'll come back to it eventually, but to play well it really needs a dedicated cadre of players who are all very familiar with its particular patterns and I just wasn't able to get that for the play rate I wanted (1-2 games per week). I also couldn't get support to run the sorts of experiments I wanted on the game. Out of rotation it went.
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11. Board Game: David & Goliath [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:2264]
J C Lawrence
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A recent discovery, David & Golith rapidly became my favourite trick taking card game after Sticheln. Certainly it is my favourite trick taking card game for more than 3 players. Delightfully subtle, unintuitive and simply annoying in all the best ways. I especially like how much the game de-emphasises card counting but rewards card tracking (who is out of particular suits).

For my own design efforts David & Goliath was responsible for starting a whole stream of thought around ways to keep trackable information open and yet interesting. Some small parts of this found thier way into 'Ohana Proa. Another larger aspect lead to the design of Succotash. There's more to come from there yet.
 
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12. Board Game: Ricochet Robots [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:639] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
J C Lawrence
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Another fine game like Set and Bongo that I enjoy far more than I like. They all got a lot of play this year. Ricochet Robots however however took work by storm. We set it up on the desk between two cubicals and people were near constantly stopping by to play quick 3-5 target games. It was a fad.

Sadly the primary fans transferred to other divisions so play also fell off as precipitously as it grew, but they'll be back.
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13. Board Game: Twixt [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1741]
J C Lawrence
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This was the year that I discovered Twixt, mostly because I found a few opponents at work. Previously I'd thought it an unremarkable game. Suddenly this year I noticed the core pattern of simply starting a new battle every time you've determined that you've lost the current battle. The game rapidly becomes a mesh of half-fought and only partially determined battles, each one a lunge toward the war, a sort of distributed belli interuptus, and that's where the game really begins to sing and dance and contort like a joker on the gibbet.

Many have described Twixt as like a knife fight in a telephone booth. For a while I came to describe it as a knife fight in a telephone booth with double-edged daggers. Now I think of it as a fight with double-edged razor blades and no handles for the blades.
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14. Board Game: Ponte del Diavolo [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:2601]
J C Lawrence
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A new game to me this year, notable mainly for what it isn't. Ponte del Diavolo is a fine game and even an interesting game, however it suffers merely because it is clearly descendant from Twixt (even tho it is also very much its own game) and Twixt in turn is so much better. The thing which really got my attention however is how many people were interested in Ponte Del Diavolo simply because they liked the look of the wooden bridges. Twixt's posts and fences conversely got no attention. Ponte del Diavolo had people standing around watching for no other reason I could tell other than that they liked the wood tiles and bridges.

Sad.

Oh, and I do wish that Ponte del Diavolo had a forced move mechanism. I suspect the game would be more interesting if players were forced to place bridges (without an action penalty) if/when it becomes logically obvious that nothing else can be done between two tiles/islands. Unfortunately the exact wording of the rule would be difficult and the concept is a bit intractable given the game design, but at some point I'd like to make the effort.
 
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15. Board Game: Through the Desert [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:463]
J C Lawrence
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After Twixt, the year's primary old-game discovery. I'd played the odd game of Through the Desert before, but never with full focus or attention. I addressed that with Jeremiah with a few games this year and it was well worth it.

So far I think I like the 3 player game best. 2 is a little degenerate, especially if one player fails to pay full attention. 4 and 5 work but tread multi-player chaos too heavily. 3 seems just right yet again.
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16. Board Game: Stephenson's Rocket [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:1128]
J C Lawrence
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I'd long wanted to have another go at this one. I'd played a single game of it years ago, and recalled liking it but little else. Finally Eric P turned up with it locally, I played a 4 player game with him and he utterly hated it and cried that it was the bane and nadir of his Knizia collection. So I bought it from him cheap and played another ~20 games in the next few weeks.

For me Stephenson's Rocket is everything that Acquire and Union Pacific should be and aren't. It plays brilliantly with 2, 3 and 4 players and offers such a different experience with each player count as to effectively be a different game.

The hilight was a couple of 2 and 3 player games with Aaron up at Endgame Oakland. Simply, he's very good and has played a lot of Stephenson's Rocket and it shows. I don't recall if I won any games, but I recall the tortured learning experience and growth very well. Thanks Aaron!

Stephenson's Rocket only fell out of rotation because I wanted to get Clippers into rotation and they have the same size box and fit in the same space in my game crate.
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17. Board Game: Neuland [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:2276]
J C Lawrence
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Late in the year I put Neuland back in rotation. It has been too long. The promised reprint will hopefully make it much easier to get this gem on the table next year.
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18. Board Game: Sluff Off! [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:1227]
 
J C Lawrence
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What David & Goliath was for me, Die Sieben Siegal was for the other card players I play with. They love it. It is regularly requested. Many bought their own copies. It still scatters the SB-Boardgamers' tables like confetti.
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19. Board Game: Billabong [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:2297]
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An new acquisition this year and well worth the money (I got the Franjos edition). Sadly the disjoint between the cartoony presentation and the rather analytical play has put off some locals.
 
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20. Board Game: Wayfinder [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:7983]
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What an odd little game! Very cute.

There's a core ambiguity in the rules over whether all villages are worth 25 points to the player that makes them (their colour or not), or whether only your own villages are worth 25 points to you with all others worth less. I believe the intended interpretation is that only your own colour scores well for you. Amusingly, the game plays very well both ways. Either way I just like this game. It is charming.
 
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21. Board Game: Quo Vadis? [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1986]
J C Lawrence
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Bought, ~10 games played, and shelved out of rotation in less weeks than there are words in this sentence. The problem was simply that too many complained that I won too often. The net result of that was that I then lost every game to negotiated ties among other players. They'd collude to end the game with several of them with tied winning scores and me behind rather than continue the game in pursuit of the solo victory. This happened at least 5 times. Discouraging.

Happily Quo Vadis was a big hit with my kids.

Sadly we never got around to trying anything but the basic game. A task for a future year.
 
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22. Board Game: 1825 Unit 1 [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:3992] [Average Rating:6.86 Unranked]
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This is also the year that I decide to get the 18XX back in rotation (albeit in December). I own a full set of the 1825 units plus all kits and regionals and they are easily playable in an evening. They are far too good not to play. With some dedication next year I hope to be able to get at least a score of plays of the various smaller 18XX like 1825, the state games and possibly even including Steam over Holland in as well.

It is hard to bring old games back into rotation right after Essen.

I really really REALLY need to bone back up on Lemmi's moderator and get back to playable skill. Discipline!
 
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23. Board Game: 18C2C: Manifest Destiny [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:5543]
J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
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We played a single 4 player game at Kublacon for roughly 14 hours straight, calling the game right when the last rush of companies were about to come out and we were about to run for breaking the bank and all but one of us thought we were winning. The game was clearly close. As it was then 03:00 in the morning we opted to sleep instead of continuing. Amusingly enough it was also the first 18XX experience for one of the players (who did a fine job).

It was wonderful. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Heck, I'd do it now without pausing for breath.
 
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24. Board Game: Container [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:637]
 
J C Lawrence
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Campbell
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The second game that rescued this year's Essen for me (after Wabash Cannonball). Not quite good enough to carry the year on its own, but very good none the less.

The depths to which groupthink can descend in this game are astounding. It is possible, tho doubtful, that Container could finally make its way to a 9 rating and join the heady crowd of Wabash Cannonball, Age of Steam etc. I doubt it, it certainly won't make a 9.5, but asides from Wabash Cannonball it has been more than a year since a game chewed up this much enjoyable musing and humming and hawwing time. That's worth something.

Other Essen games which still seem to have a chance at making a good impression are King of Siam, Glik, Steam over Holland, PatimPatamPatum and Rotterdam.
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25. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:34]
J C Lawrence
United States
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Way back in the early part of the year, against my better judgement, I played a game of Power Grid with David Eisen, Deb, Clark, Eric etc. It was a mistake but I stuck it out. While I think (and hope) that I didn't make the game too miserable for the other players (I don't recall whining or pouting or otherwise being really annoying and I sure hope I didn't), what is more amusing is that David Eisen has continued to regularly refer to that single game instance as the carte blanche proof case that you never ever want to play a game with me that I don't and won't like. He's quite emphatic about it too. I seem to have made quite a strong impression though I'm still not quite sure how (he won't say).

Thanks Dave. I appreciate it.
 
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