Monday, January 18, 2010

Best Board and Card Games of 2009

2009 was my first full year as a board game geek. As one of my tens of thousands of loyal readers, you know how much I like making lists. Best of this, worst of that, etc. What better time to do that than the end of the year? Note that these are all games that were new to me this year, not necessarily games that were released this year. Note that I stole most of these categories and ideas from Tom Vasel, who runs the excellent gaming website The Dice Tower. On with it!

Best Expansion:

Dominion: Intrigue. Intrigue turned Dominion from a good game into a great one. It added victory cards that also provide coins and card draws, and also added action cards with multiple uses (Do action A, B or C.) These action cards provide some choices during your turn, and make it feel less like the game is playing itself. This expansion also added more cards, of course, which helps every game of Dominion feel unique. Intrigue had some strong competition for best expansion.

Runners up: Kingsburg - To Forge a Realm; Pandemic - On the Brink; Dominion - Seaside

Best Components:

Taluva. Taluva is the kind of game I'd leave set up on my coffee table if I had a coffee table. And no pets. Or kids. It's about building up civilizations on an island full of active volcanoes. It's a nifty, attractive little game.

Runners up: TAMSK, ZERTZ, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects

Best Artwork:
Stone Age. Michael Menzel did the artwork for Stone Age. His artwork is always gorgeous, see Pillars of the Earth and Terra Nova for other examples of this.

Runners up: Thurn and Taxis, Kingsburg

Best Children's Game:

Go Away Monster!: I bought this to play with my 3 year old daughter. It's a cute little game that teaches shapes, rules, sharing, and the concept of turns as well bravery in the face of the monsters that live in one's closet. Avery likes it, which is the most important criteria. It doesn't make me want to run screaming from the table, which is a bonus.

Runner up: Kids of Carcassonne

Best Family Game:

Thebes. Simple rules, attractive components, not-too-long play time. Enough choices that you don't feel like an observer, enough luck that anyone has a shot. Thebes is a winner.

Runners up: Blokus, Sorry! Sliders, Pack & Stack

Best Party Game:

Long Shot. Another fun filled game with simple rules. It can be played with 8 players without the game slowing to a crawl. This game has gone over well with everyone I've introduced it to.

Runners up: Incan Gold, Catch Phrase

Best Card Game:

Battle Line. My wife and I adore this game. It's short (~30 minutes) and it blends strategy (long term plans) tactics (short term plans) luck and bluffing into an amazing little package. Battle Line had stiff competition for best card game.

Runners up: Tichu, Dominion.

Most Innovative Game:

Space Alert. This is a cooperative game where the players are the crew of a Sitting Duck class spaceship, trying to survive long enough to gather data about a remote sector of the galaxy. This game comes with 2 audio cds. You play one of the 10-minute audio tracks and it tells you when threats appear and where. The threats come from decks of cards that come with the game. This means the game never plays the same way twice. The players need to discuss who goes where and who does what and when. Once the 10-minute audio track is done, you go back and resolve all of the players' actions and find out whether the crew succeeds or whether the ship is destroyed. The game is a hell of a lot of fun whether you win or lose.

Runners up: The Adventurers, TAMSK, Kingsburg

Worst Game of the Year:

The Haunting House. The game alternates between rounds where you choose your actions and rounds where you randomly draw your actions. The game is simply an exercise is frustration, where your characters are trying to escape from an ever-changing haunted house. The reward for escaping the house is that you get to stop playing.

Runners up: Torches & Pitchforks, After the Holocaust

Biggest Surprise of the year:

Long Shot. This game came out of nowhere and really, really impressed me. I demo games for Z-Man games, and this was their game of the month. I have no interest in horses or racing, and so wasn't particularly excited about Long Shot. It's really a terrific game, and an example of why a theme doesn't make or break a game for me.

Runners up: Formula D, Blokus

Biggest Disappointment:

Kamisado. I've only played it a couple of times, and this could certainly improve in my eyes. But so far, Kamisado is a disappointment. I had looked forward to it for months and months, and when it finally arrived it felt pretty underwhelming. It doesn't help that my wife did not like it at all.

Runners up: Ra: The Dice Game, Tales of the Arabian Nights

Best Board Game:

Tigris & Euphrates. My 2 best new games of the year are both card games, best new board game goes to T&E. It's a masterpiece whose strategies unfold with repeated plays. It's got layers of strategy, loads of depth and I can't wait to play it more.

Runners up: Steam, Metropolys, YINSH

All in all, a good year.

Note that these images were all taken from stock photos at various online vendors, or by the users at BoardGameGeek.