Your board game picks for 2006

I was just wondering what board games people have on their radar lately. Did Santa bring any interesting board games to play, or have you played a cool board game recently? Here are my personal picks for games I’m looking out for:

I’m trying to incorporate more dexterity and party games in my collection. For the most part, games like these are fairly “board-game newbie” accessible, because they tend to have simple rules and end in less than an hour or so. I’m finding these traits to be more valuable in board games. Some people just cannot muster the fortitude to play Twilight Imperium for 5 hours straight, I suppose.

Bausak - Seems like a complex version of Jenga. Instead of simple rectangular blocks, you use oddly shaped pieces to build a tower. It also employs a bidding system to win easy pieces or get hard pieces (that you think you can safely play) cheaply. It tends to run over $65.00 however, which strikes me as a bit expensive for a bag of plastic pieces. Regardless, I like the concept of this game.

Shadows Over Camelot - I had the chance to play this a few weeks ago. Top notch production values, as is usually the case with Days of Wonder. I’m a little skeptical about how replayable it is in the long run, but the traitor mechanic does offer a tempting change of pace for the player. To those who have played this one with any frequency, can the traitor win with any consistency (unless the knights are playing poorly)? The only other co-op board game I can readily compare this one to is Lord of the Rings, where the Sauron player can be mighty hard to beat if played competently (as it should be).

Apples to Apples - If you have a group of good friends who are creative, off-beat, or just downright odd, I highly recommend this game. It makes for a fantastic party game with people you know, but can work fairly well with a group of strangers too because of its simple premise. I’ve had a lot of fun with this game, and it has been my trusty standby when I need to entertain a group of non-gamers. I need more cards, though. One can only play “Whoopi Goldberg”, “My Sixteenth Birthday” or “Socks” so many times before things get a wee bit stale.

Barbarossa - Part riddle game, part sculpting. I’m intrigued by the concept of this game because it’s so unique. It also won Spiel Des Jahres (big German board game award) back in 88, so at the very least there’s a clever game mechanic going on here. I know some believe winning Spiel Des Jahres shouldn’t be a rubber stamp for a board game purchase, but the ones I’ve played so far have been intriguing and worth the money.

Caylus - I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this game lately. It strikes me as a typical German game: lots of mathematical concepts, resource management and theory under the thin veneer of a theme. I can’t deny that its been talked about alot recently, and has gotten rave reviews. Has anyone played it here?

Looking ahead to 2006, these pop up on my gamedar:

War of the Ring - Battles of the Third Age
At first I was excited because I thought the Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith battle games included in this expansion would be sub-boards on which you would have to fight more detailed engagements when forces clashed on the strategic board. It turns out that each is a stand-alone game. I was disappointed at first, but after checking out what they are adding to the strategic game (Corsairs of Umbar, Hillmen of Dunland, Ents, siege towers, trebuchets, the Balrog, Galadriel, and more), I became interested again. I’m also impressed enough with the designers’ work on the original game (poorly organized rules notwithstanding) that now I find the stand-alone games intriguing. After giving the three-player variant of WotR a shot and really enjoying it, I’m eager to try the four-player with the expansion stuff thrown in ASAP.

The Fury of Dracula
Fantasy Flight is putting out a second edition of this Games Workshop classic, rumor has it in February. I enjoyed the one time I had the opportunity to play the original, but there were some things that could stand improvement, so I’m curious about the rules changes they’re making.

Marvel Heroes
Bad superhero boardgames are a dime a dozen, but I have hopes for this one, since it’s being designed by the same Italian team that came up with WotR. The ad copy got my attention:

Re-create the amazing stories of the characters in the Marvel Universe with the Marvel Heroes Board Game! Beginning in Manhattan and moving on into major locations like Latveria, Atlantis, and the dreadful Negative Zone, each player controls one super-hero, while at the same time controlling an evil Mastermind like Dr. Doom or Magneto as they plot to conquer or destroy. Discover allies and power-ups, save citizens and defeat evil henchmen, all the while preventing the super-villains from fulfilling their insidious plans. Showcasing major Marvel heroes like Wolverine, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men, each of the 20 characters featured in the game is represented by a detailed, fully-painted, 40mm plastic figure and an accompanying character card describing the character’s special abilities.

For some reason I find the inclusion of Latveria and the Negative Zone heartening. Rumor has it that a spring release in Italy is scheduled, with a stateside release soon thereafter.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! The Boardgame
Eagle Games has a spotty track record, but maybe this one won’t suck.

Also, on the flipside, I’m really looking forward to the computer versions of Ticket to Ride and Memoir '44 that Brooski mentioned. Especially Memoir.

I’m skeptical of the Caylus hype, just because almost overnight it jumped to #2 on BGG without even having been released in the US. Chris Farrell, whose opinions on boardgames I trust, thought it was good but not great (follow-up post is here). Also, if the playing time is really two hours, that’s too long for us.

Tigris & Euphrates card game I like San Juan as much as I like Puerto Rico, and since I absolutely love T&E, I’m hoping T&E can translate this well.

El Grande This is just a reprint, but I never got a copy of the original EG before it went out of print, and I haven’t been willing to pay the inflated prices on Ebay, so I’m looking forward to this edition whenever it comes out. (It has been pushed back to February after a December date, showing that not only computer games’ schedules slip.)

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation Deluxe Edition I’m not so much looking forward to this game as just very curious. The original LOTR: The Confrontation (or “Hobbit Stratego” as Tom Chick calls it) is one of my favorite games, in large part because of how well the nine characters on each side interact with one another. Adding another 18 characters could be interesting, but it could also be a total overdevelopment disaster. I want to see how this one turns out.

I’m also going to pick up a copy of last year’s Hansa at some point, simply because several people I trust have recommended it to me. Our group is actually not lacking for games to play as - believe it or not - we just discovered Ra a few months ago and have been playing it a lot over Brettspielwelt. I see why the game has such a stellar reputation. Totally great.

I got a chance to play the 1st edition of Funkenschlag (before it became Power Grid) and have to say that the crayon version plays much, much better. I can see why the game got redesigned (accessibility) but it makes for a worse game.

Can’t help you on Camelot, Sunny, as our group refuses to play co-op games, period. Do you guys really play Twilight Imperium? And you like it? The new edition? Why?

I picked up Battleball and Heroscape for my son for Christmas. The former is a cool little “beer and pretzels” type of game in the spirit of Blood Bowl and you may find it at Toys R Us for under 5 bucks. I like Heroscape’s playfield (can make your own landscapes) but haven’t played it too much yet.

I love some of the German games but my kids aren’t old enough yet for most of them. We have played and enjoyed the rerelease of Colossal Arena recently (I leave out the secret bidding mechanic as well as the magister cards).

Last night, my in-laws, the wife, and I all stayed up until 1 AM drinking scotch, smoking cigars, and playing Apples to Apples. It was glorious. I second it’s mention herein. Fabulous game. One note, though: eliminate that rule where the last person to play a card is disqualified for that round. It’s a downer, and doesn’t add enough speed to the game to be worth while.

<a href=“http://www.daysofwonder.com/”>Ticket to Ride</a>:
As I’ve said before, Days of Wonder is a great game company. But until I got Ticket to Ride for X-Mas last week, I had no idea just how excellent their work could be. Ticket to Ride should be their flagship game because is has all the elements of an excellent board game. It’s engaging, super easy to understand, holds great depth, and is done in about 30 to 45 minutes. The rules of this game should be studied in game theory classes. Each turn, you have only three options: take cards, lay track, or take goal cards. Brilliant.

It’s actually Alan Moon’s work, but yeah.

My experience (maybe six games) is that the traitor actually has it fairly easy. The game seems to be stacked against the players at any rate, so the traitor can just kind of lie low and carefully drag his heels.

We had one awesome game where Arthur was the traitor. He knew we were all going for the grail, so he just went to do the Excalibur quest, presumably to use his special power to cycle grail cards to those of us going for that quest. But all the while, he was just chucking grail cards into the lake, using the Excalibur quest as a way to cycle them out of the game!

By the time we lost and he won, he gleefully revealed a hand full of grail cards he’d been keeping from us all along.

Maybe me and buddies just play poorly, but I do think a lot of the replayability comes from the uncertainty introduced by the traitor system.

You also have to be pretty delicate with the whole ‘keeping your cards secret’ thing. I keep meaning to search BGG for tips on how that etiquette is supposed to work in Camelot.

-Tom

P.S. What Bruce said about Hobbit Stratego. Adding 18 more units? Huh? That’s like an expansion for, I dunno, chess.

Here are the hottest games my friends and I have been playing (we play board games about twice a week):

Memoir '44 - Sounded sorta dumb to me when I heard about it, but it’s excellent. Almost every game is close, even though there are dice rolls each turn. I almost always feel like I win because of solid strategic thinking, not because of luck. Games only take a half an hour, yet each game is like a play, with shifts in momentum and plot. It’s for two players.

Pirates Cove - I thought this game was kinda dumb AFTER I played it once, and I was sorry that I’d bought it. However, my friends and I just didn’t know how to play it well, and we quickly learned. Now it’s a weekly thing with us. It’s for three to five players.

We play weekly, after hours at the office. We always try the new ‘hot’ games that come out, but here are the ones we return to time and again, as well as new ones that we see as having legs.

Mare Nostrum: as well as the Expansion is one of the better ‘take over the ancient world’ games we enjoy. Plenty of player interaction, and simple combat that makes sense are the highlights. It does take a while to play, so this and other heavy hitters are usually played on a Saturday, once a month. Some of the other big ones we play are Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones (with expansion), Arkham Horror, and Risk 2210.

Descent: Great components, solid game. Don’t go into this looking for D&D or miniatures combat - you’ll be very disappointed. What this is is a fast-paced dungeon crawl. We’re playing this every day for an hour during lunch. There’s a large fanbase out there making scenarios and campaign rules as well.

Dungeon Twister: A 2 player game, but nice and fast, and mostly, great fun. You can get a game in usually under an hour, which makes for a great lunchtime diversion. There’s plenty of expansions coming out soon that will add more to the base game, as well as add to the number of players.

Manila and Niagara: These 2 games have great player interaction and decisions to make, and just enough of the “screw you!” factor to keep the game lively without making it completely unfair.

Shadows Over Camelot and Citadels(w/expansion) get played when we have 7 players. The traitor working against the others is always fun. We’re pretty much even on the traitor/knights splitting victories evenly.

Betrayal at House on the Hill gets played every few weeks. This game really is fun with 5+ players, as the traitor and heroes have different goals and tasks they must work toward to achieve victory.

Caylus is a good game, 8.5 out of 10, but it’s no Puerto Rico. The playing time for Caylus has been over two hours every time I’ve played (4 times). However, every time I’ve played, I’ve had to explain the game to newbies. So I don’t know what the “real” playing time is with experienced players. I should know by the end of January, as I’m sure I’ll be playing it quite a bit then. Power Grid is IMO superior to Fukenschlag, and I owned one of the first copies of Fukenschlag. No one I know will play the first over the second.

My favorite board games played that I’m looking forward to playing next year:

Railroad Tycoon
Beowulf
Caylus
Ticket to Ride: Europe
Conquest of the Empire (Strategic game)
Louis the XIV
Indonesia

Beowulf is not to everyone’s taste, but I really like it. Conquest of the Empire was a pleasant suprise. I paid an absolute fortune for Indonesia, fortunately I really like it!

Lorini

I’ll be interested to know how the game holds up once you’ve played a bunch of times. And what the “real” playing time is.

Interesting. Once someone got a copy of Funkenschlag 1st, no one would play Power Grid. That’s among a group of veteran Empire Builder-style crayon games, so maybe that has something to do with it.

I do, too, but almost everyone I’ve played with has had a very negative reaction to the risk mechanic.

I’m not sure where I stand on Railroad Tycoon yet. I think Age of Steam is a fantastic game but I don’t know if the changes improve it or not. They may make it more accessible, but the “fighting uphill” feeling is gone.

Family commitments mean I am a solo gamer nowadays so my list is a bit different.

Been playing:
Arkham Horror , great solo game.
Runebound , bit vanilla for me but has a lot of content
Russian Campaign 4th ed, classic
Panzershreck magazine http://www.homestead.com/minden_games/ , great for solo and small games that come with each edition. Highly reccomended.

In the hopper for next play sessions:
Return of the Heroes
Imperium GDW edition (again)
Paths of Glory

Looking forward to in 2006 and pre ordered
Memoir - Ancients

Silent War, solo sub game in the pacific
http://compassgames.com/silent_war2.htm

Has anyone played the new World of Warcraft board game?

My girlfriend really wants to buy it, and I’ve just barely managed to convince her to wait (indefinitely.) My biggest concern is the playtime and the inability for her to get people together to play it, but if it turns out to be an awesome game (even if only for players of the MMO), then I suppose I can give it my blessing.

Fantasy Flight has a really good track record for my tastes, but I do find myself highly skeptical about their $80 ‘big box’ games…

I got a few of my friends to finally play some non-traditional boardgames. I never really had any friends that were into this sort of thing, so I never got to play any of the games I bought.

Everyone digs playing Settlers of Catan, and are thinking of getting the expansion so 6 of us can play at once.

We tried out Nuclear War (the card game), and it was just a terrible game. I have no idea why people liked it.

Next up is 4 player Illuminati. Everyone is pretty excited about it once I explained the rules.

I have Memoir 44 and Cassereone (or however it’s spelled) and it’s Inns and Catherdrals expansion coming from Amazon next week. I hope I’m not pushing it with Memoir 44… seems a little too wargame-y and might scare some of them off.

It’s my understanding that the cardboard inserts you put into the character markers will be double-sided, with the original character on one side and a new character on the reverse. Each time you play, you choose which of the two sides of each character insert to use. So the total number of pieces on the board remains identical to the original edition, but the players have the option of switching none, some, or all, of the original characters out for their second-edition “partners.” Apparently Knizia’s been consulted every step of the way during playtesting, so with any luck it’ll work great. Plus a bigger board and pieces will be neat.

Knizia’s “been consulted”? So he’s not even doing it? Hmm.

It just doesn’t feel like it needs double the amount of uncertainty. It’s very elegant right now and there’s exactly the right amount of wiggle room for faking out the other guy and trying to figure out who’s where by a process of elimination.

I mean, I’m totally there and all, but if it sucks, I just want to be able to say “I knew it would suck!”

-Tom

I agree that one of the best thkngs about LOTR: Confrontation is the elegance in the interaction of the characters. If you add more, you potentially take some of that interplay away because depending which side of the neato reversible characters you use, your opponent might not have characters in the game which interact with the ones you’ve chosen. Unless characters start having expanded abilities, which means you need more rules, which will make the game less elegant.

I also don’t quite see the point of a larger board. I really like the size and portability of the original game, which I’ve played everywhere, even on hospital tray tables. A larger board just sounds like more of this trend towards overproduction (c.f. Eagle Games).

Also, since this was a “boardgames you’re looking forward to” thread, let me add GMT’s Winds of Plunder to this list. I’m excited about a good pirate boardgame but don’t really get all the love for Pirates Cove, so I hope this is closer to what I’m looking for.

Yeah, those are all good points and I agree with you guys. Especially because I feel like when Fantasy Flight errs in its design decisions, its usually because they forsake European-style elegance in favor of American-style overstuffing. I’m not planning on buying the deluxe version until I hear some good reviews.

Because there are some in my group that crave grand scale war games like Twilight Imperium. The new Twilight Imperium gets some flak from some hardcore gamers due to its victory mechanics, but I feel it’s partially unjustified. I sincerely want to play board games that are epic in scope, but I also want ones that are FINISHABLE. Sometimes TI isn’t finishable within a reasonable timeframe, but usually it can be. My friends occasionally have a quiet Saturday they can spare, and so we have the opportunity to crack open TI.

I feel there’s a lot to like about TI, and there’s a lot that (even in its 3rd edition) could use refinement. No other game I’ve come across captures the flavor of galatic war, alien races, and senate politics better.

I’ll second Memoir 44.

I’m also liking Arkham Horror, another Fantasy Flights Game, though it’s an updated version of an older game.