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Bill’s Top 10 Boardgames of 2012

Once again it’s that time where I lay out my picks for the best boardgames of the year. Keep in mind that this isn’t the “best games of 2012” but rather the best games I played over the past year or so. Boardgames, being the beautiful hobby that it is, tend to age better than, say, a 10 year old PC game. I loved High Heat Baseball to death back in the day but I’m not breaking out the Sammy Sosa classic anytime soon.

So here we go: a list of my personal 10 from 2012. My list is certified to be better than anything Barnes posts because everyone knows he likes terrible games.

You can trust me. Also, I won’t add any of our own games on the list because that would be a clear violation of some kind of rule.

Last year’s list can be found here. Looking back I still recommend most of those games even though I think I overrated the Blood Bowl card game and A Few Acres of Snow has run its course.

So let’s get to it.

#10. Catacombs

I was going to put Eclipse in this spot but then I remembered I don’t like Eclipse as much as nearly everyone else, so Catacombs it is. Catacombs is a “dexterity” game — a fairly common genre with games like Crokinole and PitchCar being the staples. In Catacombs you are still flicking disks around but the disks represent baddies in a dungeon or a hero trying to wipe them out. There is a surprising amount of stuff going on in this game and if you like flicking games then Catacombs just plain works. I play this with my family and while not a regular on the table, I do enjoy it even though I am awful at it. Need someone to miss with a point blank magic missile? I’m your guy. It does offer some hilarious moments like when a warrior kills a handful of sekeltons with one awesome flick.

#9. Clash of Cultures

I haven’t played this enough to really make a call on it — but I did play it and immediately afterward wanted to play it again. The search for a great “civ” game that doesn’t take half a day is one of the industry’s white whales and CoC does a pretty damn good job in pulling it off. This is from the same designer as Merchants & Marauders, which is a nice early pedigree. This comes out I think next week — keep an eye on it and if it’s as good as I think it is, it’ll be a regular on the table.


#8. Omen: Reign of War

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Now out of print and hard to find, Omen is another 2-player card game from John Clowdus, designer of Innovation. It plays in 30 minutes and is full of tough choices as you try to capture cities with ancient soldiers, oracles, and beasts while trying to please the Greek gods. I just love this guy’s work, and the art on this one, unlike Innovation, is top notch.


#7. Mage Knight Board Game

Mage Knight should be ranked higher. It’s such a wonderfully designed game after you get past its initial “holy shit” learning curve. It tells a compelling story, plays great solo, and is an example of outside the box thinking that has proven successful. Mage Knight has sold a ton if units and for such an obtuse game that is quite remarkable. But I never get to play it anymore. It’s terribly hard to teach and is definitely not for everyone and getting it to the table is tough. But I love the game regardless.


#6. Mice and Mystics

This is basically D&D re-themed with mice, rats, spiders, and centipedes. This story driven game is one of THE best family games I have ever played. Will I break this out with my regular group? I doubt it. But playing it with a 12 year old who likes smacking cockroaches with a sword? Yep. You play “chapters” which are tied together in a storybook which is read aloud during each session. You really are playing a story and not just a “scenario” which gives the game a great sense of cause and effect. You have choices to make during a chapter and it feels like a miniatures game of choose your own adventure. You play this co-op which I usually hate but here it works and if you have kids who love adventure stories I can’t recommend it enough. I hate tying “ages” to games like this but it’s not really a “kid’s game” because you do need some tactical thinking and games do last at least an hour so I wouldn’t being this out with small kids — but maybe 10+? Absolutely.


#5. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Do you like Star Wars? The Non-Jar-Jar era Star Wars? Do you like the idea of a fairly simple game of dogfighting between an X-Wing and a TIE Fighter with pre-painted miniatures that look freaking awesome? If there has ever been a game that sells itself, this is it. The only drawback is the price. You really do need to buy more than what comes in the base game to see this reach its full potential but I defy a Star Wars fan to play this and not immediately want to play it again. You will also undoubtedly hear movie quotes flying during each game.

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“Don’t get cocky, kid!”

“I can’t shake ’em!”

“Stay on target!”

“I have you now…”

(the game doesn’t come with that cool Death Star map, that’s a custom job, but how awesome is that?)

#4. 1812: The Invasion of Canada

One of my favorite lite-wargames of all time, if not my #1 favorite. I love this game. How many games of this ilk can you literally teach in 10 minutes and yet find so much depth in its actual gameplay? I have watched this played by the publisher at a convention and witnessed moves I never dreamed of trying — it’s such a brilliant game that only falls flat with those not into wargames due to its era.

The war of 1812 just isn’t considered a sexy war.

But if you want to play a deceptively simple game — and I encourage you to try and get the full compliment of 5-players so you have a player playing each of the American Regulars, American Militia, the Redcoats, the Canadian Militia and the Native Americans — then I strongly advise giving this a look. It’s fast, easy to teach, and will have everyone at the table engaged during every single turn. Doesn’t get much better than that.


#3. Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery

I have to confess — I have played this one time. One glorious time. The game ended prematurely around 2AM and I was so tired I could barely function but I know this — Spartacus has so much of what I like in boardgames in one crazy package it’s impossible for me to ignore it here. Bribes, open trading, negotiation, backstabs, decapitation…

You play as a prestigious House in Ancient Home and you buy and trade slaves and gladiators and try to become the most influential House. It has die rolling, kick you in the teeth card play — there is literally a card called “Jupiter’s Cock” — yeah it’s an M rated game. It’s unlike anything I have ever played and while it’s not a game for those who despise any level of confrontation or luck in their boardgaming, for the rest of us, this simply HAS to be part of your library.

#2. Cosmic Encounter

Yeah, it has taken me this long to play this classic. Don’t ask me why but I finally played it quite a bit this past year and it’s as awesome as everyone told me it was. So much as been written about Cosmic that I really can’t say much about it that hasn’t already been said but sitting at a table with my buddies Billy Baroo, Mace, and Kenny during Abner Con earlier this year was one of my gaming highlights of 2012. This is timeless and should be in the library of anyone who plays boardgames.

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#1. Hansa Teutonica

So this year’s list is full of classic “Ameritrash” designs like Cosmic, Spartacus, X-Wing, and the best game I played in 2012 was…a Eurogame about..wait what IS it about?

“The players act as traders trying to get victory points for building a network of offices”

Well now doesn’t that sound thrilling!

In fact here’s a quote from a review posted at BGG:

What if you took the most boring looking box art imaginable and combined it with the least inspiring and most sleep provoking board in the history of modern gaming? Tag on a completely listless theme and you have 2-5 players sitting around placing cubes with no regard to what they’re actually supposedly doing. We’re traders? Really? We could just as easily be 5 alien races pushing spaceships around claiming routes to planets. No-one would know the difference. Except the board might have a little more color.

This is how I feel, too. And yet, like this reviewer, I love Hansa Teutonica. It has what I look for in all of my Euro designs — I don’t mind some brain burning and I don’t mind games where people study the board and ponder the best move. I don’t need all of my games to be “rip roaring” like a game of Spartacus. I love all types of games from King of Tokyo and Warriors of God — to games like Hansa Teutonica and this is one of the best Euros I have in my collection. There’s a high degree of “Euro nut punching” which means this is anything but “multiplayer solitaire” which I normally hate in my games. This is a cutthroat design which forces players to stop the plans of the other players — sometimes sacrificing your own goal. Sure the theme is pasted on somewhat and the setting is so incredibly dry..but I have yet to show this to someone who didn’t like it and I’ll never turn down a game, which can’t be said for every game I like in my library

So there you have it, another year with a lot of cardboard and plastic being pushed around a table. Too many games, not enough time.

So Barnes..what say you?

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.

22 thoughts to “Bill’s Top 10 Boardgames of 2012”

  1. This is the first time you have done this and have never played any of the games.

    Some great Christmas ideas here though, thanks bill.

    Can you BUY one of those custom Star wars maps?

    1. There’s some guy that is making vacuform Death Star tiles like that (may not be just like that, but similar). They’re surprisingly cheap(ish)…I want to say a 4×4 play area was like $99 or something. I may be wrong. He’s also selling turbolaser turrets to go with it.

      I’ve seen another that had an actual trench, you put plexi over it and you can have battles in it and over it.

      1. thanks Mike. I may look into that. The XWING game looks literally like a dream come true and I’m pumped that both you and Bill like it.

        Now the big question: what DO I need to buy if not just thye base game?

        1. It’s freaking awesome. If you like Star Wars- and I mean REAL Star Wars and not that fake prequel junk- you’ll love it.

          As for what to buy…aye yie yie. That’s a tough call. My recommendation is to buy the base game and make sure you like it first. There’s actually plenty of game there for two players, as long as you don’t want to build squadrons and such just yet. Two TIEs versus an X-Wing is actually a pretty fun match-up. But if you want to extend your inital purchase, I’d recommend moving forward with a Y-Wing and a TIE advanced. This will give you more to play with on both sides not only in terms of ships but also loadouts. Online, this setup would cost you about $45.

          Beyond that, a second Core Set makes for a great expansion because it’s a little cheaper than getting another X-Wing and two TIEs, and you get a second set of templates and other components. You will eventually want to get the X-Wing booster because it includes Wedge, and he’s not available elsewhere. I believe there is also a R5 that is exclusive. Not sure if the TIE booster has anything unique to it.

          Right now, I’ve got two cores, two each of all four boosters. This will play as many as six players pretty comfortably. I’ve got a Falcon, a Slave-1, and three each of the A-Wing and TIE Interceptor on the way when they release.

          1. ‘I’d recommend moving forward with a Y-Wing and a TIE advanced. ‘

            This is exactly what I have. Plenty of game w/ that setup

  2. Really wish Catacombs didn’t have an ‘overlord’ player as I ALWAYS have to fill that roll and that sucks to do every time.

    I flipping love Mice & Mystics. I play it with my regular group and they love it. I paraphrase the story a bit, for brevity, but it’s pure fun. I am very picky about co-op but it’s great here.

    I still love Blood Bowl. I actually haven’t played a lot of these, compared to your list from last year.

    1. Oh, so you’re the owner of the game? Seems like that always happens to me too. I would LOVE to play Fury of Dracula as a hunter one day…

  3. I’m afraid I’ll have to agree with you about overrating Blood Bowl. I have given it a real chance and it just hasn’t clicked.

    I do need to breakout my ancient version of Cosmic Encounters.

    I’ve been hearing a lot about Mice & Mystics. Going to have to check this one out. And a good Euro is hard to find, so Hansa goes on my list too. I have been soooo tempted by Mage Knight, but I just don’t have the room any more for a game that won’t get on the table. But maybe…

    1. Should have broke out your ancient version of Cosmic about five years ago and made a small fortune! 😛

      I don’t think Blood Bowl was overrated at all- I still like it quite a lot, and I’m really interested in the upcoming expansion. It’s a really well-made card game and I think it catches the Blood Bowl character really well.

      1. But I like playing Cosmic Encouter too much to ever want to sell it. Although it has been years since I brought it to the table.

        My buddy and I played about 6 games of Blood Bowl and it just never felt like we were having much fun. Neither of us is a Blood Bowl guy, so maybe that’s it. I’m wondering if it would be better or worse with 4 players.

        1. I can’t imagine Blood Bowl being terribly good with anything except four players.

          I would think with two it would be dull as hell.

          1. Which is a feature of game reviews too often ignored: how many players does the game work with. That is, by far, the feature of the geek that I use the most…number of players “Best”, “Recommended”, “Not Recommended”.

  4. I ordered Mice & Mystics, King of Tokyo, Dungeon, and Survive as Christmas presents for my kids this year. They finally arrived last week and are now sitting in a box in my closet, waiting for the 25th. I so very badly wanted to break them out this weekend for some quality family gaming time.

    1. That is a great list of games for kids. I say to heck with Santa, bust some shrink.

      Survive is such a great game…I was watching Gremlins the other day and I thought it was kind of cool that at the end, when Spike’s in the toy store, you can see a bunch of copies of it displayed in product-placement fashion.

    2. I grabbed King Of Tokyo and the expansion during a quick one day sale at Funagain and yes, it is being saved for Christmas (for me, actually :). Looking forward to trying it out.

  5. My personal game of 2012 (given the small number of board games I’ve actually played) is the new third edition of Puzzle Strike. By far my favourite deck-building game, it beats the pants off Dominion as far as I’m concerned.

  6. This is an awful list of horrible games. Apart from X-Wing and Cosmic.

    Nah, this is a pretty good assortment, I wouldn’t kick any of them off the table…even the ones I’ve not played I’m interested in checking out.

    I’ll have my list up probably the week after Christmas. I’d like to try to play a couple more things like Mice and Mystics before I commit.

    I will say this- my GOTY is on Bill’s list. Probably not hard to figure out which it is. It’s not Cosmic. Cosmic is my GOAT game. There is NO better board game that has ever been published. It is the Ur-game, the ultimate expression of the medium.

  7. I forgot about the Spartacus game. It looks awesome.

    I finally played Cosmic Encounters and Eclipse, both of which I enjoyed very much. I think Cosmic will see the table more often than Eclipse for a variety of reasons.

    Clash of cultures looks interesting too.

  8. I was introduced to Hansa in 2010 and have had a special love for it since then. I haven’t had a chance to play the expansion board yet but I think it is a solid game with really easy set up and take down. For 2012, I think Spartacus may be my #1 although I have played quite a lot of Eclipse. My only beef with Eclipse is the set up and take down times. Almost on par with Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, or Mage Knight. Ughh.

  9. I’m really undecided about Catacombs. It’s fun but it seems completely reliant on an overlord player who’s willing and able to properly pace and balance the game. Also the art is laughable.

    I don’t feel the Mage Knight love that a lot of other people do either. Everything Bill said about it is true, but it’s a curiously sterile, procedural experience. And I find the action limitations frustrating and irritating: “look, I am a mighty mage knight who can lay waste to armies and conquer mighty fortresses … but today, I can only move at a pathetic crawl because my poor little legs are tired. I need to sit down”.

    Blood Bowl is over-rated but not by much. It just needs to be faster playing and it’d be brilliant – it’s full of neat ideas and fun moments.

    I really need to play 1812. But I have only a passing interest in its subject matter so I’m not buying it on an off-chance, and the likihood of anyone I know landing a copy is near zero. So I probably never will.

    I’m not saying anything positive about good games because of course I have my own version of this list in the pipe, and that’d be pre-empting what I write.

  10. At the moment, Virgin Queen will have to be my game of the year. Which is partially because I haven’t had much of a chance to play many 2012 games in 2012. Heck, my copy of No Question of Surrender is still unpunched. And I didn’t have the time/money/space to get Red Winter or Kingdom of Heaven which both look really nice.

    Still, Virgin Queen is a really good game so far, especially with four or five players. I think I still prefer Here I Stand six.

    Of course, if you don’t insist on full games, and allow expansions, the game of the year is easily Festung Budapest.

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