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Suit up, son! You're going to Mars!

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The Decade in Board Games [Jan. 2nd, 2010|01:35 pm]
Suit up, son! You're going to Mars!
Randy Buehler's blog has inspired my to create my own retrospective on the previous decade in board gaming. Here Goes

The Best of the Oughts

2000 - Carcassonne

This game needs no introduction. If you haven't played it, shame on you. That said, this year was a toss-up for me...

Runner Up: Cartagena. Shame on you if you havent' played this game as well. Cartagena is probably the best filler game ever (i.e. a game you play to fill time between other more substantial games). It's status as a filler game is why it lost to Carcassonne, but I probably have—and probably will—play more games of Cartagena in my lifetime.
Honorable Mention: Taj Mahal, a fine Reiner Knizia bidding game.

2001 - (Traders of) Genoa

As Randy Buehler has already pointed out, this was a weak year. However, Traders of Genoa (aka Genoa) is an all-time favorite.

Honorable Mention: Dragon's Gold, the Euro gamer's answer to Munchkin.
Also Check Out: Don, an oft-overlooked Mafia-themed bidding game.

2002 - Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

This was as strong year, that saw the release of many good candidates for Game of the Decade. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is my likely pick for that title. Far and away the best game on the LotR franchise, and quite possibly Reiner Knizia's best work ever.

Honorable Mention: Age of Steam. I only started playing this recently, and apparantly it has had a couple of revisions since then (Railroad Tycoon and now Steam), but I am very impressed.
Honorable Mention: Star Wars: Epic Duels. Way better than you would expect a Star Wars-branded, Hasbro-developed game to be.
Also Ran: Puerto Rico. This one obviously tops many peoples Game of the Decade lists. I also was enamored with it when it came out, but the gild left the rose very quickly for me. I find its pacing to be awkward, and its strategic landscape to be a minefield of suckerpunches. This is my pick for Most Overrated Game of the Decade.
Also Check Out: Clans; Trias; Too Many Cooks

2003 - Vanished Planet

I admit that my pick for this year is a little unusual. This game is an indie (read: amateur) effort, and it shows. The rulebook is illustrated with high-school-quality pencil sketches, the kind you see most often on D&D character sheets. Of the rulebook's eighteen pages, ten are devoted to narrative prose. It's one table was obviously printed on a matrix printer. All that said, I find Vanished Planet to be a charming piece of Naive Art. It's a cooperative game, where each players represent different alien races, all working together to thwart the giant galaxy-eating space amoeba. In most of my games the pacing has been spot-on, with the threat of disaster looming ever larger, and victory coming at just the nick of time. The games we played mostly managed to avoid the one-overlord-player-who-bosses-everyone-around problem that many coop games have.

Honorable Mentions: Alhambra; Attika; Fearsome Floors; Fish Eat Fish; King Me. This was a solid year with many good games but few really bright stars.

2004 - San Juan

Fixed the bugs in Puerto Rico, and inspired Race for the Galaxy. Well done!

Honorable Mention: Ticket to Ride. I'm prejudiced against rail games, and against Alan Moon, so this game almost snuck by me. It's a good game, though!
Honorable Mention: Sunken City, a clever race game on shifting terrain.
Honorable Mention: Duell. This might actually take the top spot if I had played it more than once. But since that one time I have been searching for a copy.
Also Ran: Power Grid I do not enjoy the victory-sprint-detente dynamic of this game. Overrated.
Also Check Out: Tongiaki

2005 - Caylus

Another contender for Game of the Decade. This game epitomizes the action-drafting genre, adding a spatial component—albeit a linear one—that other games before and since are so obviously missing.

Honorable Mention: Vegas Showdown, the game that Amun-Re should have been. I find the pacing to be slightly languid; while most Euro games leave me shouting "hey, I was playing that game!" Vegas Showdown has me mumbling "get on with it already."
Honorable Mention: Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Thanks to this game, I may never play D&D again.

2006 - Great Wall of China

This is a pristine little gem of a game. It achieves what most games can only strive for: to fit perfectly and snugly inside its design space, creating a sense that this is the only version of this game that could exist, with no room for expansion.

Honorable Mention: Through the Ages. Vlaada Chivatl is the new rising star of board game design. If you've been looking for a good board game version of Sid Meier's Civilization, look no further.
Honorable Mention: Arkadia. Similar to Acquire in its mix of spatial deployment and market speculation. I wish the fiction were a better fit.
Honorable Mention: Taluva. Like Carcassonne, but shorter, more tactical and with more direct confrontation. Can be played as an appetizer or a main course.
Special Innovation Award: Space Dealer, a valiant attempt at a real-time board game.

2007 - Galaxy Trucker

Yes. I said it. Galaxy Trucker. Not Agricola, and not Race for the Galaxy either. This game wins on originality. I'm sorry that you don't like it because you made some noob mistake and got your ship blowed up. Space trucking is a job for men, not fuzzy bunnies.

Runner Up: Race for the Galaxy. Don't get me wrong. I love Race for the Galaxy, but it borrows too much from San Juan to get my pick for this year.
Runner Up: Agricola. I love Agricola too, but honestly I find it to be a little too much of a chore to play. The return on investment just isn't as good.
Also check out: Notre Dame

2008 - Dominion

If you have not played this game, please stop reading now, go to a game store and buy it. (Not you, Mom, just everyone else.) This isn't so much a contender for Game of the Decade as it is the first game of the next decade. I predict that Dominion's mark will be found on many games of the "tens."

Honorable Mention: Witch's Brew. I am in awe of this game. A trick-taking game with the actual trick-taking part amputated and replaced with action drafting. Or something. I wish I could in good conscience pick it over Dominion.
Honorable Mention: Pandemic, a very good cooperative game. I love the way this game uses its card deck; the discards get put back on top of the deck causing history to repeat itself.
Honorable Mention: Le Havre. I might like this game more than Agricola. The narrative dimensions of this game are very compelling, making it easy to enjoy even when you're losing.
Also check out: Zooloretto

2009 - TBD

Doing this list has made me realize a couple things. Firstly, for all the games I play my actual coverage of what gets published is still pretty poor. (You'll notice there are some Deutcher Spielpries games that I don't mention, probably because I never actually palyed them. Secondly, I often miss games the year they come out and get back to them in a later year. That said, I haven't seen enough of 2009 to really pass judgment. Right now, Chaos in the Old World is a stand-out contender, though I'm also looking forward to playing Dungeon Lords.

[User Picture]From: shaggy_man
2010-01-02 09:59 pm (UTC)

Galaxy Trucker

Au contraire, my friend. At least in my case, I made some noob mistake and wished my ship had blowed up. It was limping along not participating in the game that got my particular goat with this one.

Having said that, I suppose it's only fair to put my own stake in the ground. For me that'd probably have to be Agricola or Zooloretto (which I think was actually 2007, not 2008).

Edited at 2010-01-02 10:04 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: algorithmancy
2010-01-02 10:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Galaxy Trucker

Point taken. I just want to be clear that making the noob mistake and getting decimated happens to a lot of people. I wasn't singling you out. :)

You are correct about zooloretto being 2007. My bad.

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[User Picture]From: treiza
2010-01-03 12:47 am (UTC)
Hey, I've played almost all of these! Go me!

Galaxy Trucker, argh!! It's embarrassing enough to realize I'm possibly the worst truck manufacturer in the galaxy, but to then force me to haul my jalopy over an entire trucking route is just cruel and unusual punishment.
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[User Picture]From: dfan
2010-01-04 01:57 am (UTC)
Your 2000 list is pretty short; is there room for Blokus?

I need to check out Pandemic.
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[User Picture]From: algorithmancy
2010-01-05 02:19 am (UTC)
I've played Blokus 0 or 1 times, not sure which.

Yeah, check out Pandemic.
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[User Picture]From: fredrickegerman
2010-01-04 02:17 am (UTC)
I tend to have a long lag time, and unlike you I love Puerto Rico and Power Grid. But 2002 was just insanely good; Star Wars: Epic Duels is the only game on that list I haven't played. And AoS and PR I will actively seek to play given sufficient play time.

Should play Dragon's Gold some more, but it falls in the "Munchkin" bin and I just don't go for that too often. Definitely have to try Galaxy Trucker and Through the Ages. Any comparison of the latter to other lighter-weight Civ-likes? Say Age of Empires, or Age of Rennaissance, or that Eastern Med one Ted hauled out once?
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[User Picture]From: countertorque
2010-01-16 07:01 am (UTC)
I rank Puerto Rico and Powergrid higher than algorithmancy.
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From: franklantz
2010-01-04 10:24 pm (UTC)
Great list!

We played a lot of Small World over the Christmas break. What a great game! I think it was released in '09 so add that to your TBD list.
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[User Picture]From: algorithmancy
2010-01-05 02:20 am (UTC)
Yeah, Small World was on the list but I feel like it's too derivative of Vinci.
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[User Picture]From: ricedog
2010-01-05 12:17 am (UTC)

Chaos in the Small World

I've played only 2 games that were published in 2009 and I like them both a lot (I also like Vinci a lot, which is what Small World is based on). I would probably vote for Chaos in the Old World because it's more innovative, but I would still like to see someone demonstrate how Khorne can win against similar-skill experienced opponents.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-05 05:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Chaos in the Small World

Perhaps we'll get that chance this weekend!

Fun post, Mahk. It's funny--at some level I never really BELIEVE that someone who spends his career making games enjoys simpler games than I do (and I mean simpler to PLAY, understanding that those games may well be much harder to DESIGN). I always imagine that you're playing Eurogames because, well, you didn't have time for Titan or Through the Ages that day. Just another example of self-centered myopia I guess.

I would also vote for CitOW as GotY for 2009, though I feel about it the same way Mahk feels about Dominion. Dominion has already started to spawn knockoff/evolutionary games. Hopefully CitOW can usher in a generation of Eurogames where the players are all different, and in 5 years we won't think of playing CitOW because there is Chaos in the Third Millenium or whatever.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-12 01:53 am (UTC)

Re: Chaos in the Small World

Game designers are just like game players - we all have our own styles and tastes. Personally, I'm like this blogger - I like tight, elegant games with self-contained mechanics, which work well with varying numbers of players and don't take too long to play. I know from designing games myself just how hard it is to accomplish these objectives. When it comes to games, it's very easy to achieve simplicity through complexity (that is, games where the strategy is fairly obvious, but the mechanics are complex), but much harder to achieve complexity through simplicity (i.e. games with simple rules, but challenging implications for those rules, and interesting and difficult decisions to be made).

Definitely going to check out some of these games. In particular, the author's description of Great Wall of China makes it sound like exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-06 04:40 am (UTC)

Thanks for the list!

Thanks for the list, Marc. I'm completely oblivious to even the existence of most of these games (although I have played a lot of Carcassonne for money over the years....won and lost hundreds of $$ in single games!). I look forward to checking some of them out.

--Matt Mihaly
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[User Picture]From: countertorque
2010-01-16 07:06 am (UTC)
I thought Race for the Galaxy was most overrated. It's entirely derivative, but everyone seems to rave about it. Maybe it's only a couple of people raving and I just live too close to them. Which isn't to say that I don't like playing it.

I've only played a few Le Havre games, but I still really like it. I would never think to play Agricola or Caylus if I could play Le Havre.
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