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A Quick Note from Todd

So, how ya been?

If you’re reading this, you either still have an RSS subscription or you are ridiculously dedicated. Either way, hat tip!

Obviously there done be some tumbleweeds blowing through this here site, along with a couple of rather lengthy outages. If you ventured here and wondered why the site was janky, or flat out missing, I am sorry about that, and about the rather haphazard theme presentation currently in place. (The old one broke with one of the WordPress updates. Brian did his best to provide a quick fix so that at least the old place remains accessible.) I’d say we’re going to get that fixed, but at this point you know as well as I that we’ve largely moved on to Other Things, at least for the time being. That sucks, but this was always an enthusiast endeavor (as opposed to a career), and these things… well, they’re awesome while they last. And damn was this place awesome.

I’ve been poking through the archives this past week and we put up some amazing constant for those few years we were all active and pushing forward. It was a hell of a thing and, while we made our share of mistakes, I’ll never stop missing that time and all that were a part of it. On the bright side of things, all that fantastic content will remain here and in place for the time being. How long, I can’t say. That’s not so much up to me as, at the end of the day, it’s Bill’s domain and he’s the one who gets the bills. I just wouldn’t anticipate a whole lot of new stuff popping in here going forward, occasional podcast roundups notwithstanding. (JtS does continue on with Brandon, Holly, and me.) If any of the gang drops back in and feels differently about their plans for NHS in 2016, I’m sure they’ll post to say so.

In the meantime, I’ve registered a new domain, ToddsFoolery.com. This isn’t a new venture, or at least it’s not right now. It’s there because I need an online home for all my shit. As I type this, it’s just a re-hash of all my NHS content (with a good chunk of it probably broken in one way or another, given that it’s just a straight import from here), but over the weeks and months ahead I plan to clean that up and build it out as a repository for as much of my written and professional content as I can locate.

Given that all of the pre-NHS outlets I’ve written for through the years have disappeared into the web ether, I need a place I actually own and control and can kinda sorta prove that I’ve been been publishing Things, on and off, for the better part of 20 years. (Not to mention as a way to reference the hundreds of projects I helped publish as an editor for the Pearson Education technology imprint, Que Publishing.) It’s also a place for me to start really mucking around with the nuts and bolts of WordPress, possibly start digging into producing some video, etc. I really don’t know for sure what direction I’ll take it just yet, but as I go forward, if I end up publishing anything new, ToddsFoolery.com will either be the home for it or it’ll be a place where I can link to it.

Although this isn’t meant as a goodbye post, I do want to say that I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading the content we’ve posted here as much as I think we all enjoyed bringing it to you. This place had the most amazing audience I’ve ever been a part of (and without question the best collaborators I’ll ever know) and being a part of it will always be a point of pride. I don’t have comments enabled at TF, but if you want to get in touch, please do so any time. You can find me on Twitter @toddsfoolery or via email — Todd at the TF dot com domain. (Or comment here. I’ll keep checking in, but probably won’t post much.)

 

 

Jumping the Shark Podcast: 2015 Collection (#223-#246)

Herein you will find links to every Jumping the Shark video gaming podcast posted in 2015. I’ve been terrible about posting them the past few months, but then, if you’re listening you’re probably subscribed already, right? RIGHT?!?!

This year, JtS featured the vocal stylings of Todd Brakke (ToddsFoolery.com.

Subscribe at iTunes

Episode 223
Released: 1/11/2015
Synopsis: The first JTS of 2015 features a lot of looking back at 2014. Find out how Brandon, Todd, and Holly marked the passage of time with their most memorable gaming experiences of the year. Plus, much ballyhoo about Fry Scores, Holly’s much-awaited cookbook, which is a real live product now. The phrase “food porn” was invented for association with this stunning piece of work!

Episode 224
Released: 1/25/2015
Synopsis: This week Holly brings us through her 100+ hour Far Cry 4 journey, Todd and Brandon continue to dissect Dragon Age: Inquisition, including why Todd thinks it ultimately failed. Brandon talks cheating in Gems of War of all places. Plus, football, football, football! And somebody, we don’t want to say who, has a girl scout cookie mishap.

Episode 225
Released: 2/8/2015
Synopsis: The gang isn’t messing around this week. We’ve got Holly’s delightful adventures in The Room and her distaste for Betrayer. Bradon’s straight up Gat Out of Hell, the latest entry in Saints Row. Todd’s hiding in a ball in a dimly lit corner of the Darkest Dungeon. Plus, the glorious return of Birthday Uke and a big-time spoiler section at the very end for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Episode 226
Released: 2/22/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd takes on the economic realities of managing a Martian colony in Offworld Trading Company, Brandon relives the same three days over and over to glorious effect in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Holly jumps on zombie faces in Dying Light.

Episode 227
Released: 3/8/2015
Synopsis: While Holly recuperates from moving, Brandon and Todd keep the torch alive with much discussion of GDC happenings – new Valve hardware, VR headsets, Rock Band 4, and Tim Schafer’s sock. Brandon goes pup-hunting in The Order: 1886 and Todd breaks out his best end zone dances for Frozen Cortex.

Episode 228
Released: 2/22/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd gallivants across the galaxy in a Mass Effect 1 replay. That is, when he’s not unclogging his city’s streets in Cities: Skylines. Holly and Brandon discuss the unrelenting violence of Hotline Miami 2.

Episode 229
Released: 4/5/2015
Synopsis: This week brings a big, deep, crunchy look at the results of Obsidian Entertainment’s highly successful Kickstarter project, Pillars of Eternity. Does this kind of Infinity Engine-inspired RPG work in 2015? (Yeah, you already know the answer to that.) We also kick off with a look back at Wrath of Khan and a wrap-up that features Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, kicking zombies for levels in Dying Light, and much marveling at AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Episode 230
Released: 4/19/2015
Synopsis: For episode #230 it’s the Todd and Brandon show one more time as Todd continues to gush over Pillars of Eternity, Brandon explains why he stopped playing it to start playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and then they take a little detour into the town of Salem for Murdered: Soul Suspect. Wrapping up there’s a bit of an argument over going home with Chewie in the the new Star Wars trailer. Good times.

Episode 231
Released: 5/3/2015
Synopsis: This week Holly is back and the gang is all geared up to talk about Steam’s abbreviated attempt to implement a compensation system for mod creators. Also, Holly’s E3 prep, Brandon goes for a jaunt down Sunset Overdrive, and Todd’s sitting around waiting for The Witcher 3.

Episode 232
Released: 5/18/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd, Holly and Brandon talk about the Witcher 3 pre-release coverage, how useful (or not) preview coverage is, and how it tends to be an indicator of the review for the final product. Sadness. Then Brandon gets into Wolfenstein: The Old Blood a bit before Holly departs and the menfolk talk Avengers: Age of Ultron in full spoilery detail.

Episode 233
Released: 5/31/2015
Synopsis: This week the gang gets obsessive as Holly, Brandon, and Todd talk about addiction in game design and how vulnerable sufferers of OCD are to their compulsions. We’ve also got a wagon load of Witcher 3 impressions and you won’t want to miss Todd’s top 3 Napa Valley wineries. (You know, because visiting roughly a dozen wineries out of several hundred absolutely makes you an expert.) Also, also — Todd has fun with outtakes.

Episode 234
Released: 6/14/2015
Synopsis: It’s the week before E3 so Brandon, Holly and Todd are talking about what they want to see from the big show as well as their reaction to Oculus Rift and Fallout 4. Plus, more Witcher 3 lovin’!

Episode 235
Released: 6/28/2015
Synopsis: This week on Jumping the Shark it’s all E3 2015 all the time as the gang chews over a bunch of new Fallout 4 morsels, Brandon laments that backwards compatibility on the One will in no way improve his life, Holly finds great stories on the show floor, and Todd finds himself feeling joyful about games again (PC Gaming Show excluded).

Episode 236
Released: 7/12/2015
Synopsis: Holly couldn’t make it this week but Brandon and Todd are here to talk about SDCC, Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight and the joy of Apple’s new music streaming serrvice. Come for the game talk, stay for Sad Batman.

Episode 237
Released: 8/9/2015
Synopsis: After a brief summertime respit, the crafty trio are back at this week as we talk about the TIME magazine VR cover and what it says about the future for VR tech. Also Fallout 4 Gamescom developments and how games tackle leveling. Finally, Brandon and Todd light the spoiler bonfire to talk in-depth about Witcher 3, complete with clips from the game. It’s a double-length episode to prove our love to you!

Episode 238
Released: 8/23/2015
Synopsis: This week Holly, Todd and Brandon all take the Gamer Motivation Profile Test at https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/lab/10 to get a sense of what drives them:

Holly’s Gamer Profile
Brandon’s Gamer Profile
Todd’s Gamer Profile

Surprises abound!

Wrapping up, Brandon is excited for The Taken King as well as Mike Bithell’s new game Volume, Holly is not impressed with Sunless Sea and Todd takes Invisible, Inc out for another spin.

Episode 239
Released: 9/7/2015
Synopsis: For this week’s Jumping the Shark, we’re coming at you with Holly’s on the ground reports from this year’s PAX Prime. There was drama. There were new announcements! Except, no. No, there was none of that. But she was there and she’s here to rap with us about it. Also, chicken pot pie! Later in the episode Todd ducks for cover under heavy threat of Satellite Reign and Brandon gets his horror show on with the PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn.

Episode 240
Released: 9/20/2015
Synopsis: This week it’s just Todd and Brandon but they have much to talk about. Brandon gets down and dirty with Destiny 2.0 and the Taken King before describing the joy and pain of the apocalyptic wasteland in Mad Max. Then Todd talks about getting in the right head space for MGSV and AC 4: Black Flag. It’s an open world extravaganza!

Episode 241
Released: 10/4/2015
Synopsis: The gang is all in for episode 241 as Holly delights with talk of her terrifying and emotional journey in the underwater vastness of SOMA. Brandon has his Destiny taken by a King and furthers his love of Nolan North in the process. And Todd says angry things –many, many angry things– about Spike Lee’s influence in NBA 2k16, not to mention the continued insult that is the game’s Virtual Currency system.

Episode 242
Released: 10/25/2015
Synopsis: This week Todd and Brandon return to the world of the Witcher with the Hearts of Stone expansion, Todd heads back to Ferelden with the Trespasser DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition and finally gets around to finishing Pillars of Eternity. There’s also some Destiny talk because when isn’t there?

Episode 243
Released: 11/8/2015
Synopsis: It’s another Todd and Brandon hour of power. This week’s topics include prep for Fallout 4, Brandon’s foray into Halo 5, Todd’s Jedi vision quest in the all-new, all-different Star Wars: The Old Republic v4.0, and a very touching story of Destiny players coming together in peace and harmony.

Episode 244
Released: 11/22/2015
Synopsis: War, war never changes. Apparently neither does Fallout. HEYO! This week Holly, Todd and Brandon share their experiences exploring an irradiated Boston, killing ghouls and synths and scavenging for screws and other exciting pieces of garbage. It’s Fallout 4 week on Jumping the Shark and you’re invited!

Episode 245
Released: 12/6/2015
Synopsis: This week’s episode brings you –gasp– more Fallout 4! Holly drops cooking knowledge bombs gleaned from the wasteland, Todd dons a Silver Shroud (and buys a PS4), and Brandon gives it all up and instead goes raiding tombs in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Episode 246
Released: 12/20/2015
Synopsis: This week Brandon, Holly and Todd get down with the residents of Arcadia Bay and talk about Dontnod’s excellent five part adventure game, Life is Strange. Laughter! Tears! Hella wowzers! Also, Todd has his final thoughts on Fallout 4 and Brandon has more tales from raiding in Destiny. Happy Holidays everyone!

Ticket to Ride: United Kingdom & Pennsylvania Review

I’ve nurtured a long, slow hatred of American cultural imperialism. As a developer, having to spend every working day spelling “colour” wrongly in your code will do that to a man. So, petty as it is, wherever possible, I’ll pick a British version of a thing over an American one. And if a British one doesn’t exist, I’ll seethe quietly while I wait for one.

So it feels like about time that there’s a local version of Ticket to Ride for me. With it being such a great family game, my kids know the routes between Seattle to Atlanta and Essen to Sevastopol better then their own home town. Now they can learn the way around their own country too, with the help of some little plastic trains from either original set.

Or perhaps they can’t. It turns out that this is one of the least family-friendly iterations of the game yet released. Its gimmick is the addition of technology cards, which you buy using locomotive cards as currency. To support this the box has a whole new card deck with extra locos. Plus a new rule that allows you to cash in any four ordinary cards instead of a locomotive. So that’s more rules and a whole slew of new technologies to memorise. No hurdle for hobbyists, but it’s a steep slope for regular family folk.

At the start of the game you can only build poxy 2-space routes in England. If you want to build longer routes, build ferries, build in Ireland, Scotland or Wales you’ll need the appropriate technology to do so. Plus there are more esoteric options, like tech that gives you extra points or lets you cash in less cards for a route.

With all these new options on the table, it looks like a recipe for some new strategies. In reality, however, they function more as limiters. Everyone needs to be able to build longer routes to succeed. It’s hard to imagine doing well without building ferries or outside of England, too. So buying these is a given. As for the other stuff, well, let’s just say I’ve never seen a technology heavy strategy win.

Conversely, there’s a massive ten-space, 40 point route on the board and I’ve never seen anyone claim that and lose. It looks like a bit of a game breaker, although people who’ve grabbed it do tend to fail a few tickets.

In summary, it seems to add extra rules and extra luck of the draw for no particular extra gain. I’ve no problem with the latter, as Ticket to Ride is inherently a luck-heavy game. The former is less forgivable, though. So unless you have a particular geographical bee in your bonnet like me, there’s no real reason to favour the UK map over the vanilla one.

But wait. What’s this? Tucked away on the corner of the cover like an embarrassing elderly relative, there’s a little logo that says “Pennsylvania”. If you rummage in the box there’s a few more cards with funny pictures on. If you flip the board over, there’s another map, another bit of god-damn America.

The new mechanics for this map are a lot more easily digestible. Each time you claim a route, you can grab a stock certificate from one of several rail companies associated with it. At the end of the game, players total up their stocks in each company and get bonus points depending on how many they got. Simple.

Yet what looks like an afterthought turns out to be the better of the two maps. Those stock certificates are mean. They’re kept face down which means you have to try and keep a running tally of what other people are collecting. Unless you’re a human calculator that rapidly becomes impossible. So every selection becomes a cauldron of paranoia, as you wonder whether the card you’re picking is worthless, or a game winner.

Plus, each company operates on a small sub-area of the map. To maximise your points you want to spread widely. So that’s another thing to plan alongside making your tickets and gunning for the longest route. With plenty of blocking opportunities too, the game becomes gloriously brutal. And with both tickets and stock points waiting until the game end, there’s uncertainty right up until the last minute.

So the UK map is only for real Ticket to Ride enthusiasts. But Pennsylvania may be the best variant of the original game I’ve played. It’s almost a shame they made you pay for them both in the same box. Much as I hate to admit it, America wins again.

Barnes’ Best- 2015 Game of the Year Awards

barnesbest

It’s been a great year for games- and not just because I played and reviewed more this year than I think I ever have before, but because there were a number of really high quality, innovative releases that came both through traditional publishers as well as crowdfunding. My collection has a high turnover rate- I don’t keep games that don’t get played regularly beyond the review period- but this year I found myself constantly struggling with finding space to put new games that I want to keep around for a while.

So of course it’s the last day of the year and it’s time to hand out the Barnes’ Best Awards. This year was pretty tough, and I had something of a dry run with the Win, Place or Show feature I ran over at Miniature Market’s Review Corner. I picked three games there- all three are represented here as well- but I was limited to games that Miniature Market stocks. Which actually cut out my Game of the Year choice. I’m also once again changing the format because I can do that, so that I can make sure that the runners-up get their time to shine. Let’s get right on with it then.

Barnes’ Best Honorable Mentions

These are all great games that I felt deserved at least a curtain call before we hand out the awards and head into 2016.

Broom Service- Like a lot of modern Eurogames, this one made a big splash and then sort of disappeared. It sold out as soon as it came out. It even won the Kennerspiel des Jahres. But it’s quietly shuffled away, out of the limelight. Which is a shame, because this is a charming family game with a toothy edge- and a really cool “brave witch”/”cowardly witch” mechanic driving the action. I still love this game, and I find myself trying to get folks to play it quite a lot. If only my kids were just a little older.

XCOM– It’s kind of been shunted off to the side now, but Eric Lang’s “other” 2015 release was a compelling, innovative game that used an app that everyone worried would be obsolete ten minutes after it was released. This was a cool co-op that tried a few new things…and scared away the old folks. It definitely qualifies for a spot on the list.

Blood Rage– And here is the Eric Lang game that everyone liked. Blood Rage is a stunning piece of design work, demonstrating a level of discipline and restraint rare even in the hybrid sector. It’s more Eurogame than Ameritrash in many ways, but it is just about as bloody and breakneck as any other game out there. A great production rounds out one of the best packages of 2015.

Space Cadets: Away Missions– Dungeoncrawlers were a dime a dozen in 2015, but this is the one that had the most heart and the most fun to offer. The golden age sci-fi setting paired up with a couple of exciting, innovative mechanics made for one of the year’s best examples of the genre.

Argent: The Consortium– Level 99 doesn’t make bad games, I’m convinced. But Argent: The Consortium is the best thing they’ve done to date. This is a heavyweight worker placement game that dares to be openly confrontational, competitive and cutthroat. Rich with detail and narrative, Argent would be the best Harry Potter game of all time…if they had the license.

Evolution– Dom Crapuchettes took a Russian card game design and built a surprisingly narrative, thematic game on it. Evolution is really quite simple, but just like in biology things can get complicated pretty quick. I love how this game effectively creates a different biome with each play. The Flight expansion only made it better.

Magic: The Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers– After much angst over whether or not Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro would support this sort of sideways resurrection of Heroscape, the deliverable was a top-notch mass market game with plenty of fun right out of the box. It of course did leave me wanting more, but this game has nowhere to go but up. If the powers that be will let it.

Risk: Star Wars Edition– 2015 was the year that Star Wars returned, and this $25 mainstream title completely surprised everyone by turning out to be a redevelopment of the old Queen’s Gambit design from the Phantom Menace. But this time, the action is set during the three-layered Battle of Endor that closes out Return of the Jedi. Simple, fun, full of drama and loads of Star Wars love.

Before I get into the “big” awards, I want to hand out a special merit badge for Most Improved. This one goes to Star Wars: Imperial Assault. I did not like the core box when I reviewed it late last year. I didn’t feel like it captured any sense of Star Wars, and I didn’t care for the Descent-derived mechanics. After a great mini-campaign expansion (The Twin Shadows), numerous villain and ally packs, and a new Hoth addition, I’ve come around on it. Not quite 180 degrees, but when my friends ask me to bring it over I don’t cringe. Both the skirmish mode and the campaign have improved greatly with more content

Now, the Barnes’ Best Awards for 2015.

2nd Runner Up

Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card Game– I’m kind of surprised that this little game beat out some of the above, but pound for pound this is one of the best card games on the market. It blows its competitors out of the water by offering a rich, challenging dungeoneering experience with meaningful cooperation, interesting mechanics and a genuine sense of that old Warhammer Quest atmosphere. I keep coming back to this game- specifically the Delve mode- over and over again and I come away satisfied every time. It’s the game that I wanted the Lord of the Rings LCG and Space Hulk: Death Angel to be. It’s also the game that I wanted Pathfinder to be. Adam and Brady Sadler completely knocked it out of the park on this, and I think with expansions it will be a game we are talking about throughout the next year.

 

1st Runner Up

shadows

Shadows of Malice- I don’t think any game touched me in 2015 quite the way that Shadows of Malice did. I requested a review copy of this game from one-man-band Jim Felli almost exclusively because it looked so different than anything else from the graphic design to the concepts to the gameplay. And it is very, very different. It’s lean, spare and minimalist but it somehow manages to evoke the same kind of storytelling and engagement that a great D&D campaign or a game of Magic Realm might. It’s a little awkward, a little alien but once you dig into Mr. Felli’s unique vision, an incredible adventure game like no other unfolds. Compared to other, similar designs this game felt like something on the vanguard- daring, risky and challenging.

 

BARNES’ BEST GAME OF THE YEAR 2015

CW1

Cthulhu Wars- It’s something of a Cinderella story for this $200 gorilla because I never thought I would cover it- let alone own it. But Sandy Petersen and his gang agreed to send me one, and I’m glad that they did because it turned out to be my favorite game of the year. It was also the most surprising game of 2015- it wasn’t bloated or underdeveloped at all like most crowdfunded games. Instead, it was lean and quick, managing to feel both old school and forward thinking at the same time. Of course, the production was just insane, with HUGE plastic figures that managed to pop even my miniatures-jaded eyes. Above all else, Cthulhu Wars provided some of the most fun sessions I had all year and I’ve found myself counting down the days until the next wave of expansions ships- I can’t wait to see how the other Great Old Ones, maps and other features work in this system.

So that’s it folks, everybody go home. Wait…what’s this then…apparently there is another. I’m so sorry, there has been a mix-up. One of the games of 2015 is upset because it did not get a medal. So I’m going to go ahead- on behalf of my children, River and Scarlett- and invite this game up to get the MOST AWESOME GAME OF 2015 Award.

Ladies and Gentlemen, LOOPIN’ CHEWIE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bolt Thrower: #2015 Game of the Year

This time last year, I was so tired of the generic nature of most new board games that I’d started to wonder if my favourite hobby had passed its glory days. I’ve never been happier to have been proved wrong. After a couple of years of wretched releases, 2015 has been a stellar time for tabletop gaming.

When there was so much chaff in the machine, I couldn’t bring myself to do much more than pick a top three for my best-of-year posts. Sometimes it was difficult to find even three. This time I’m faced with an embarrassment of riches. I’ve never liked the idea of honouring games by category: it feels artificial. If the two best games this year were both dexterity games (they weren’t) then both deserve a mention.

So here’s what were going to do. I’m going to run through my favourite games of the year and, at the end, pick one for game of the year. But they’re all fantastic. All worthy of your time and money.

Before we get stuck in, I have to admit that there’s one title that ought to be in the running which I haven’t played. That title is Pandemic: Legacy. Not being an enormous fan of the original, I passed on this at first. By the time it became a must-have game and I wanted to review it, everyone else had it already. Hopefully there’ll be time for a review in the new year. I might think that Pandemic is merely average. But since I opened Risk: Legacy this year and it became my sixth-ever top scoring game, I ought to see how the legacy concept works with other systems.

Now, on with the show.

Star Wars: Armada

X-Wing looked fantastic on the table, but it felt more like a crapshoot than a tactical combat game. That’s slowly changing but, however good it gets, it’ll never offer as much game as Armada does. And even with unpainted fighters, Armada still looks the biz when it’s laid out. I was playing in a pub once, and a complete stranger came over and started taking photographs, muttering “that’s mint. That’s fucking mint.”

I’d argue it’s actually more accessible than its older brother due to fewer ships and upgrades and a more predictable play time. So, easy to pick up, fantastic looking, rich and deep to play: what’s not to love? Well, the price, I guess. But you don’t need a lot of ships to build a fun, functional fleet.

Specter Ops

The sorts of games we love are often bloated with rules and components in place of actual theme. Sometimes this works, more often it just gets in the way of enjoyment. Yet when designers try to strip these things away to make shorter, simpler games, often all that’s left is a hollow shell.

Specter Ops is the grandest refutation of that conclusion I’ve ever seen. You can be up and playing in minutes yet you might end up playing for hours and hours over the shelf-life of the game. It’s built taut, asymmetrical and full of cunning deduction on a foundation that looks flimsy, but is rock solid.

Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition

Hidden movement is one of my favourite mechanics, so getting two top titles in one year is a real treat. And with the original Fury being one of my favourite games, it’s no surprise I see 2015 has being an out of the park year for quality.

You’ll need to put in a bit of work to figure this one out, but it does play fast and it’ll reward you a hundredfold. Dense, claustrophobic and slipperier than a box of frogs yet still full of depth and crazy see-saws of fortune. It’ll suck you in and never let you out.

Codenames

People have been mining the seams of social games and word for so long that it’s rare anything of value turns up. So imagine my surprise when a designer known for mediumweight thematic titles turned up a great title that was novel in both genres.

The best thing about Codenames is its chameleon-like ability to be all things to all people. It works co-operatively or competitively. You can play it hard or for laughs. Teams can play it just as well as individuals. Whichever way up you turn it, it’s still just as much fun.

Churchill

You’d not think, to look at the box or read the rules, that this is perhaps the deepest game I’ve seen in years. It looks and smells like a negotiation game, and there’s plenty of that to do. Yet underneath are layers and layers of mechanics to puzzle over and perfect.

That it presents such a compelling piece of alternative history too is just the icing on the cake. With such variety and replay value, Churchill would go on my “if you only had 10 games” list without a second thought.

And the winner is …

In keeping with the quality of this year’s games, this is the hardest choice I’ve had to make for some time. So I’m not going to make it: I’m going to let my friends and family do it, without them knowing.

They’ve had a great time with all of the games on my shortlist. But there was one that got asked for over and above the initial wow-factor of any well designed. One that got worked over, worried at, examined in a fierce competition to be the first to be best. One that shut out the world outside more effectively than the rest.

That game is the new edition of The Fury of Dracula.

I had always dreamed that one day, someone might be able to shoehorn the best bits of the two previous editions into one box, but I never really believed it would come true. Yet there it is, a special Christmas present for me. And for all of you, too, if you’re lucky enough to find one under the tree. Have a great solstice.