Year in Review 2013 – Part 2

Last week I published the first part of my Year in Review, looking at two extremes: big meaty games and short micro games. In this instalment, I’ll look at 2 player games, some light but still meaty games and finally some Serious games.

Lots more games to look at, so let’s go!

Thinky 2 player goodness

I really like 2 player games but, probably like a lot of people, I don’t get to play them often enough. My love of wargames and the state of my unplayed pile can attest to this. On the other hand, there are some 2 player games that are simple enough and short enough that you can easily get new people into them and hopefully turn them into a regular opponent, if only for that game.

While I didn’t get to play many 2 player games, I was lucky enough to (re)discover these 3 games this year.

  • Puzzle StrikePuzzle Strike: This was quite a discovery for me last year. I had heard of David Sirlin’s games for quite a bit of time now and had even had the chance to see his talk at GDC in 2009 (where he gave out this amazing handout) and found what he had to say fascinating. Now, some people might not like his bombast and self-promoting way, but I don’t care. The man has a fascinating way of looking at games and I really like what he ends up producing. Puzzle Strike is certainly not an exception, taking its cues from Dominion and Puzzle Fighter to make a better deck builder. Dynamic, simple and with some really strong ideas, this is perhaps my favorite 2 player deck builder. I’ve reviewed it in the past here.
  • Android: Netrunner - nice asymmetric gameplayAndroid: Netrunner: I loved this game when it was originally released in the 90s and couldn’t believe it when Fantasy Flight Games announced that they were going to re-release it. The new edition is superb and the asymmetric gameplay is as strong today as it was when it originally was released. I however don’t get to play enough of this and this is why it finds itself on my 10X10in2014 challenge list. Good thing that a lot of people at Ubisoft Montreal play it.
  • pic1688903_tThe Duke: This game took GenCon by storm and it’s easy to understand why. Simple, elegant, with just the right amount of luck, this is perhaps one of the better abstract that I’ve played in a long time. The materials are very attractive as well with all the pieces being solid wooden slabs, which helps in selling the game to a new opponent  and once they start to play… be prepared to play 4-5 games in a row. I gave it a glowing review and it also made it’s way on my 10X10in2014 list, with good reasons. Now if only they could release the expansion packs faster…

Light, but not simple

Those who know me know that I strongly dislike games that are “light”, ie those games where either the decisions are so simple as to be no brainers or where the mechanics are too simple (and yes, many wargames fall into that category, but that’s another rant) that it almost all comes down to luck. I have no problems with games that have simple rules however, as long as the decisions that are made make for interesting twists and turns. The following games exemplify this completely and are awesome to boot!

  • TrainsTrains: I had been waiting for someone to bring this to a wider release ever since I had heard reports of it at Essen and my first few plays did not disappoint me. It is super simple, especially if you’ve played Dominion before and the addition of the board, which at first blush might seem like a gimmick, adds a dimension that’s absent in all other deck builder. Not only does it offer a great path for expansions, it does open up the gameplay by forcing the players to interact with each other, something that is unfortunately absent in Dominion. For more gushing and an admission of my love of train games in general, check out my review.
  • SuburbiaSuburbia: This excellent city building/tile laying game from Ted Alspach is, to me at least, the best next step for people who like Carcassonne and want to graduate to something more meaty. With a fairly simple turn order and more meaningful choices (you actually get to choose the tile you will use), it offers a lot of strategy in a relatively fast game. Be warned however that it can become fiddly as the game progresses as you sometimes have to keep track of all the sub-types since you might gain money/income/population/reputation on someone else’s turn. The App does take care of that quite nicely however, if you are inclined to play on an iPad. With the Suburbia Inc expansion recently released, it will hit my table a few more times in the upcoming year. For more info, check out my review!
  • TriesteTrieste: Oh, this is a nice one. 3 players only, very very simple rules, fast play but lots of neat little decisions. 3 players, 3 different objectives, 3 different decks. At first, it seems like the Merchants will win every game since the City Watch and the Thieves are at each other’s throat. And then it will dawn on you that you can, as the City Watch, allow the Thief to steal from the Merchant. Actually, it’s more like you must allow the Thief to slow the Merchant down. And then the mind games start. I really like what Victory Point Games are doing lately, taking their chance on strange little beasts like this one. Maybe not every one’s cup of tea, but it’s a good one, trust me.

Serious Games

I really do hope that this is a new trend in boardgames because I strongly believe that games can help us explore different aspects of the human condition. I know this sounds very highfalutin and all, but bear with me for a second. Games are the only medium that allows us to explore, safely, any given situation, be they tragic or happy. As such, we owe it to our medium to explore things that are not “fun” (and no, I don’t mean not fun as in broken). Just like not all movies are uplifting or fluff, there should be games out there that aspire to more than just having a good time and these two games are a good first effort. While they may have their detractors, I do feel that they both are important and should be recognized as such.

  • Freedom - The Underground RailroadFreedom: The Underground Railway: One of the most intriguing releases of the last year and not only for the very difficult nature of the coop system. Don’t get me wrong, this game is extra difficult and it should be: it wasn’t easy for the early Abolitionists to bring the free slaves from the deep South to Canada and it will not for you either. Now, I can’t claim to understand how these poor people felt let alone relate to it, but this game attempts to make me understand, if not feel, how desperate their fight was, what kind of difficult decisions they had to take and, at least for me, it works. There are a lot of very hard decisions to take not only from a gameplay point of view, but because you start to empathize with the cubes and see them as innocent victims of the cruel slave trade. Very highly recommended.
  • pic1464496_tTomorrow: I think I liked this game more than most (see my review here). The theme is what turns most people off and what attracted me to the game in the first place. With the right group, it can lead to some interesting discussions and, while it may not be a “fun” theme, a great time can be had. I do agree that maybe the rules got streamlined too much, but on the other hand, it is quite easy to explain to a group of people who are new to the hobby and I think this is where it shines. During a post-game discussion, we did hit upon the idea of re-theming it as a Human Resource game, as the different heads of department trying to downsize without losing too many employees. Might be interesting (or more depressing than the original game as you will see office politics really happen).

In the last part, I’ll go over some of the other game-related events that I participated in 2013 and my plans for this blog for 2014.

Happy gaming!

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