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Bill’s Top Ten Boardgames of 2011

10) Endeavor

Endeavor is a classic Euro in the sense that it has a limited shelf life. I tend to like games like Endeavor a lot the first few plays but with each passing game my interest wanes. It’s formulaic and the random distribution of tiles can’t shake it up enough to feel like anything other than a process. It’s #10 because those first several plays were a really fun time but I don’t have any interest in playing it again. This also shows you that I played a lot of old favorites this year and the “new” game pull wasn’t as hot as in years past.

9) Mission: Red Planet

Any game I can play with my entire family gets bonus points. MRP saw a lot of table time and the combination of role selection ala Citadels, worker placement, and random screw you cards makes for a great time. In fact I have played Citadels so many times I’d much rather play Red Planet for the foreseeable future.

I’m sick to death of Citadels…

8) Lancaster

Technically a Euro, I suppose, but it has enough variation to keep my interest. Granted I may end up feeling about Lancaster the same way I do Endeavor but I haven’t played it as much. Still, I love games with laws that change the way the game plays (by far the best thing about games like Warrior Knights) and I especially like it when players vote to pass/veto said laws.

I also like games with knights on the cover of the box.

Lancaster is very much worth checking out and I hope it stands up to repeated plays and so far it’s got more shelf life than Endeavor and isn’t about shipping lanes. It’s about England and France hating each other and other lords of England hating each other, too. You know I sort of regret putting Endeavor on the list. I think if I had played them more Alien Frontiers and/or Chaostle would be at #10. But I only played them once.

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7) Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat Expansion

An expansion that adds a 5th player to one of the very best boardgames in my rather bloated collection. Just a great, great game.

Have Skaven, Will Travel.

6) A Few Acres of Snow

Deckbuiilding is the hot “genre” right now but if I ever play games like Dominion ever again you know I have simply given up on life.

That said, combining basic deckbuilding with wargames…now you have my attention. I played A Few Acres of Snow, a game based on the war between France and England in North America, several times this year and I learned more about how it clicks after each play. This is a smart, quick, relatively easy design that is a good bridge between deckbuilding card games and card driven wargames. Not as meaty as other CDWs like Twilight Struggle or Hannibal, but it also doesn’t take 3-4 hours to play…

5) Merchants & Marauders

Good pirate games are few and far between in the land of cardboard and plastic and M&M is easily the best I have played and I have played most of them. You’d think it wouldn’t be so damn hard to make a cool game about pirates, right?

M&M takes the adventure game route and tries to tell a story. It reminds me of Sid Meier’s Pirates translated to the tabletop. I’ve played this several times now and the first run was pretty…stale, but future plays started to show how cool this game really is – word of warning though—this game is meant to be played with people who want to get into it. You need to read the cards, get into the mood and just have fun. Rum and coke goes well with M&M. It’s like Arkham Horror in that sense.

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A note — it REALLY is about Merchants & Marauders. It’s totally possible (and can be smart) to play this game and simply stick to the merchant route and avoid the other players who are looking to sail the jolly roger.

Play with hardcore Eurogamers at your own peril.

4) Innovation+ Expansion

A truly great card game that I reviewed here at NHS several months back. The Civ-tech tree card game, this is all about smart play and timing and basic card draw luck. I played Innovation a LOT this past year and started to burn out a bit on it, but I’m still always up for a game, especially with the Echoes of the Past expansion.

3) Olympos

Olumpos is high on my list specifically as a 3-4 player game. I recently played with 5 and it took far too long. This is best when it zips along at a good pace and is over in 90 minutes. Adding that 5th player adds too much time for my taste for what this game is. Now – that said, Olympos with 3-4 is a great game. It’s a guaranteed to make you hate someone at the table. Maybe not everyone. But someone is going to screw you and will make you stare blankly at the board, in complete disbelief that your wife just went out of her way to stab you in the back.

Olympos is one of those games that’s hard to teach new players even though the rules are surprisingly simple. After one full turn everyone will have it down but it’s unique in a lot of ways. It has the time mechanic of Thebes, the Greek god powers of a game like Cyclades and area/province control of a multitude of games. A real keeper. But again, only with 3 or 4 players.

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2) King of Tokyo

Another game I can play with the entire family. My daughter absolutely loves this and unlike Red Planet I will play KoT with anyone, anytime. It’s ridiculously easy (2 to 3 page rulebook) but this is a great example of how a simple design can still be just as interesting and engaging as a “deep” Eurogame or wargame. A lot of dice, monster powers, and a push your luck style of play equal a hell of a good time.

Seriously if you can’t squeeze out any fun from King of Tokyo then I think games are simply lost on you.

1) Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game

Being a Blood Bowl geek may influence my choice for the best new game I played this year but no matter – when we went on vacation to Kellys Island I played this and King of Tokyo a great deal in the evening and I think it’s the best thing to come out of Fantasy Flight since Chaos in the Old World. I don’t have time to play real Blood Bowl like I did when I was wasting my parents’ money in college, and this is the next best thing. It needs expansions. A lot of expansions. I’m sure FFG knows this…you gotta have Dark Elves and Undead.

This is another game that my daughter loves – she’s a mean orc coach. I had more pure fun with Blood Bowl and King of Tokyo this year than any videogame not called Dark Souls in 2011.

That says it all I think.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

27 thoughts to “Bill’s Top Ten Boardgames of 2011”

  1. God Blood Bowl is amazing, isn’t it?

    Love it, love it, love it.

    King of Tokyo died a fast death in my group. Rules question turned ugly. Very sad as I was enjoying it immensely :P.

    Merchants & Marauders I love, but it takes a long time to play and one player kept getting killed last game which really soured him on it.

    Chaos, Endeavor, and Red Planet are all great though. Definitely group faves.

    Bloated Boardgame collection? I think you should quantify that, Bill

  2. until Blood Bowl. I think it probably resonates more with the BB players then it does with boardgamers. I find the game enjoyable but it doesn’t even crack my top 20, never mind 10. I really dislike the passing mechanics of the game.

    Overall thought it has been a stellar year for boardgames, one of the best I can remember in probably the last 10 years.

    I have Mage Knight and Eclipse sitting on my table right now. Mage Knight could be one of the best conceived games of the last few years (with the worst laid out rules ever)plus a whole bunch of other games that were awesome like Band of Brothers and Gears of War.

    Good year to be a board gamer that is for sure.

    Happy Holidays Bill!

  3. Ok so this is problem a stupid question. I am newly discovering board games in a broader adult sense and the question is more to test my understanding of the boardgame culture jargon than anything else:

    In the blurb about M&M, you say to play with a hardcore Eurogamer at your own peril. Is this because M&M contains a lot of direct conflict that a hardcore Eurogamer wouldn’t like at all?

    That is the assumption I made, but am not sure


  4. It’s a stereotype (which is sometimes accurate) that a lot of hardcore Eurogamers care more about the process of playing a game than the game itself. I love a good Euro, but I also love a good dice rolling game as well.

    M&M is a game that you need to accept that the theme and the “story” of the game is a huge part of the experience.

    It’s the difference between reading an event card to yourself and telling everyone” “I get a +1 roll to combat” and reading the card aloud and telling everyone WHY youy get a +1 roll to combat.

    It’s like Arkham Horror. Playing that game as a process is a chore. Playing it as an investigator and allowing the story of the game to develop…is awesome.

  5. Rules questions? About KoT??

    If people are allowing the rules to get in the way of that game…they’re doing it wrong.

  6. It’s a group thing, trust me, I know how to play such a game but they really need a DEFINITIVE RULING.

    Which is sad, as it was a good game, but now it may lie fallow.

  7. Speaking of 2011, there’s a lot I didn’t get to this year.

    I walked through Troyes a couple of times and liked it but can’t really say too much about it yet.

    I bought Panic Station and Quarriors as a family Christmas gift. Mage Knight…I’ll need to investigate that.

    I can’t stand the D&D games.

    I JUST placed the stickers on the blocks for Strike of the Eagle (looks great!)

  8. Mage Knight is freaking brilliant. There is no other fantasy adventure game as ambitious in scope or detail except for Magic Realm. I’m curious to see your thoughts on it, Dan…my review will either be next week or the week after.

    Those rulebooks (!) are a grand disaster though…the walkthrough is great, but god help you if you need to find a rule during play.

  9. I support this list, but I actually haven’t played Lancaster or Endeavor.

    Mission Red Planet is cute…it is definitely kind of Citadels mixed up with some El Grande, and the Jules Verne-ish tone is appreciated. This was famously the game that many BGGers complained about having a tight box. I’m not kidding. I wish that I were.

    Horned Rat is completely essential. It makes 2009′s Game of the Year even better.

    A Few Acres, I haven’t gotten to play it enough…I _think_ there’s a great game there and I think it’s really at the vanguard of wedding the whole deckbuilding concept to larger game types where you do more than draft cards. It’s one of Wallace’s better designs of late though, for sure.

    Yeah, definitely don’t play M&M with Eurogamers…the AP will destroy the game. That said, this is the best pirate game ever made, bar none. It’s almost got a feeling similar to an open world video game…complete with quest dispensers, multiple optional objectives, and moral decisions.

    Innovation was on my GotY shortlist last year. One of the best card games in a long time. It’s a little abstract, but the gameplay and strategy is phenomenal. I still haven’t played with the expansion.

    I never got around to reviewing Olympos, but it’s probably the Eurogame of the year. It brings forward some of Keyaerts’ ideas from Small World/Vinci and adds a really cool resource concept and a simple tech tree to make it feel like a grand civ game. The time mechanic is brilliant. But yeah, it really should have rated at 3-4 players. Definitely agree.

    King of Tokyo is on my list this year. An absolute smash, and the best game Garfield has done since Magic. Extremely easy to play, but opening the box is like opening a can of trash talk and bad language. The king of the hill mechanic is awesome, and there’s TONS of variety in the power cards. Shame about the dice quality though.

    Team Manager is also on my list. What grabs me about it is that I think it would totally work as an licensed NFL card game as well as it does a Blood Bowl one. A great, high-level abstraction of a sports season with lots of fun details, drama, and variable team builds. Definitely FFG’s best since Chaos.

    I’m debating whether to blow my five item, one GotY list out to ten and one GotY because this has been an _awesome_ year for board games. There’s been so many great titles released, it’s ridiculous.

    Eclipse could be an 11th hour lock…and Mage Knight snuck in with a shot at the top…

  10. Yeah, but Vlaada is interesting because he’s doing these ridiculously elaborate, very mechanical games that sort of flies in the face of the current trend toward simplicity and more streamlined rules. If games like King of Tokyo, Quarriors, etc. are the Ramones, then his games are like Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

    This is kind of a liability that undermines some of his stuff’s lasting appeal, I think. Galaxy Trucker is awesome, but it’s so dang rules-heavy and the rulebook is a nightmare. Ditto Space Alert, which you really can’t play with a different group once you get locked into the learnign process. Dungeon Lords is cool, but it’s so intricate that it’s “fun” is sometimes buried under mechanics. Prophecy and Through the Ages were cleaner designs, but both were probably his most derivative works.

    Mage Knight is his best game because I think it matches scope and detail with his drive toward more elaborate, intricate rules…it also feels like a playable Magic Realm, which is a HUGE plus.

    I’ve been soloing the crap out of it lately, and just really loving it. I put down Dark Souls a few nights to set up and play a scenario of it.

  11. Not yet I just got it yesterday and honestly I am so consumed with Mage Knight that I probably won’t get to it until next week.

  12. I agree however I have only soloed it so far. In fact I just ran out at lunch to get sleeves for the flimsy cards.

    I don’t think I have ever played a game like it and I can’t wait to try it with some other people tomorrow night. I dread teaching this game, mostly because as you said looking up a rule is like a game of where’s waldo.

  13. I’ve already decided that I _won’t_ teach people how to play it. RTFM. The walkthrough is actually excellent, and it does show you almost everything. After playing a full game of it (with two heroes), I pretty much got everything about the game.

    Oh, Wizkids and their crap cardstock…yeah, sleeves needed. Good thing I still have a few cases from the AGF days.

  14. Man, I hate that for you…the thing about KoT is that there are very, very few rules to be worried about. It’s more about shit-talking and ass-kicking. If you get all bunched up over the handful of rules…you’re doing it wrong!

  15. I love your decision to make this list about games that were _new to you_ this year, rather than new to the universe. If you’re playing it for the first time, it doesn’t matter if it’s older than chess.

    Most of my board gaming recently has been with my GF, rather than with a steady group. That means that I’m constantly looking out for games that can be played 2 player, rather than games which require 3 or more. This has made my options more limited than I’d like.

    One of the more interesting things I’ve discovered is just how much theme makes a difference in getting her interested in a game. She’s a bigger nerd than I am (she makes a living in the games industry…), but isn’t much of a sci fi or fantasy fan, and so I’d have to do a bit of fast talking to get her to play Space Hulk or Horned Rat.

    On the other wrist, she’s getting me a copy of Thunderstone this Christmas. Turns out that great mechanics can make up for a theme that would ordinarily be skippable.

    So: of these games, which would you recommend as a) having great mechanics b) are good for 2 players and (importantly!) c) can be easily understood by two players reading the rules for the first time?

    The later requirement probably rules out anything by Fantasy Flight, I know.

  16. I think Risk Legacy would be in my top three for 2011. It was only released this past month so I can see why you may not have played it. The dynamic board is a really fun mechanic and it may inspire me to buy another copy since the games will play out differently. We haven’t finished opening the “achievement” packets yet so I am still looking forward to it getting even better. Now that I think about it I would put it at #1 for 2011.

  17. Innovation and Few Acres of Snow are the only two player games on the list.

    However, I just started messing with Claustrophobia which looks to be an EXCELLENT 2-player Dungeon-crawler. And very straight forward.

  18. Claustrophobia is outstanding, I actually like it more now than I did in 2009. I think it may be the best dungeoncrawl on the market. It’s extremely easy to explain and play with very little fuss or mess. The only real negative is that it’s strictly for two. The new expansion, De Profundis, is essential.

  19. As are the free scenarios. I was actually able to pay a nominal fee and get all the free scenarios in book form. I can’t recall the web site but I received 2 nice books with all the added scenarios and the free campaign.

    This was suppose to go under the Claustrophobia stuff. Ugg.

  20. I had to double check to make sure that 7 Wonders released last year and not this year. If that wasn’t on this list (and if it had launched during 2011), I woulda snapped. Otherwise though, I entirely agree with the list. And like previous comments have said, it’s been a great year for games.

    I still haven’t played Dominant Species yet either, but I’ve been hopeful for that too.

  21. 7 Wonders was on my list last year but in truth I have had my fill of that game. It’s run its course with me.

  22. We played Blood Bowl Team Manager, and only two out of the five of us had any prior experience with Blood Bowl. I was pleasantly surprised to see that (1) BBTM was a good game on its own, and (2) it helped people “get” Blood Bowl for the first time. The original Blood Bowl can sound pretty goofy to the uninitiated: “Yeah, yeah, football with orcs and elves, and it has real strategic depth. Suuuuuuurrre, whatever you say.”

  23. Especially King of Tokyo and A Few Acres of Snow.

    Personally in 2011, I also enjoyed Fleet Captains, discovered Talisman (late to the party, I know), and finally got the massive location deck expansion Arkham Horror has needed for a couple years now.

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