I don't like to do end of the year lists. Some games get overhyped, some games will be overlooked and nobody really knows how any of them will stand the test of time. So I'd like to do a retrospective and look back at how games from 2011 are doing. I feel like five years is plenty of time for a game to cement itself as a success or failure. So let's hop in my time machine and head back to the days when Charlie Sheen was #WINNING, Deathly Hallows Part Two was concluding and I sang Katy Perry and Brit Brit nonstop in my car. Oh, for those of you wondering my time machine is a giant oversized shoe. Nobody ever suspects a shoe.
Let's take a look back at some of the big trends and stories:
The Year of Feld? – Stephen Feld is the darling of many doting Heavy Euro lovers. He crafts wheels within wheels and interlocking systems that are somehow still a game. It's sort of impressive if you're into his design philosophy (mad scientist chic?). He dropped two bombs in 2011; Castles of Burgundy and Trajan. With these two games, Feld etched his name next to Uwe Rosenberg's as THE heavy Euro designer du jour. I can honestly say that when I go to local meetups and boardgame stores I still see people playing these two games ALL the time. I'm not a fan, but clearly I'm wrong because if you even utter the names of one of these two games you're bound to find a few willing players. I mean they're idiots who don't know how to have fun the right way... but who am I to judge? I'm kidding... relax!
The Downfall of Wallace? – Martin Wallace has been a popular designer for a long time and in 2011 he crafted one of the first games to give deckbuilding a purpose, A Few Acres of Snow. It was heralded as an instant classic and people began naming their children, MartinWallace and Automobile. I myself fashioned my lower back with a tramp stamp that said, "BRASS" (and y'all thought spending $200 on a Kickstarter game was a bad idea!). Life was good for Mr. Wallace. Then some bloke discovered the "Halifax Hammer", which sort of, kind of, maybe, meant his new golden goose was broken. After that it all went to hell. I for one could care less about this as I would never look up how to purposely break a game, but the damage was done. People lost their MINDS over this. Subsequently, in 2012 Wallace went on to Kickstart a version of Moongha Invaders that was mired with delays and production issues. It wasn't pretty. I think these two events damaged Wallace's reputation almost permanently. I feel like he still makes interesting designs, but my gut tells me people haven't forgiven the man for these blunders. The fact that Wallace tends to be a bit prickly towards gamers probably doesn't help his reputation. Or at least that is my perception of the situation. I believe it was announced in 2015 that A Few Acres of Snow would be going out of print for good. It's successor, Mythotopia generated about as much of a buzz as a four hundred pound man sipping a Zima.
Legacy games – 2011 brought us the first "Legacy" game with Risk: Legacy. At the time it was a novel concept and brought "nerd cred" back to the classic game of Risk. The radical idea of permanently altering the game was a big hit for those that hopped on-board. The game itself seems to have been lost in the shuffle of time, but its, ahem, legacy (ugh, what a horrible pun) is stronger than ever. Back in 2011 most of us hemmed and hawed at what Risk: Legacy's footprint on gaming would ultimately be. I don't think any of us could have predicted just how big this idea would eventually become in 2015. Thanks to the success of Pandemic Legacy I think it's a forgone conclusion that we will soon be seeing Legacy EVERYTHING. Munchkin Legacy, Love Letter Legacy and of course the inevitable Carcassonne Legacy. HOLD ON TO YER BUTTS!
Now let's take a look at some of the big releases from 2011 and see how they've held up:
Mage Knight – This is arguably designer Vlaada Chavitl's crowning achievement in gaming. Mage Knight is the fantasy adventure epic to end all others. Over the past five years it's been supported with a few expansions and it's still in print. It was one of the best games designed in 2011 and five years later nothing has comes close to topping it in the fantasy adventure genre. Like King Conan sitting wearily on his throne, over the years this game has taken on all foolish enough to challenge it. If Mage Knight were to ever go completely out of print it would surely become a cherished, sought after, grail game. The near future seems empty for Mage Knight, but the game is getting a Star Trek face lift in February. So it will continue to live long and prosper.
Yomi – David Sirlin released this game and people showered it with praise in 2011. Then he opened his mouth. Over the years Yomi has fallen into relative obscurity. I believe its fall from grace has to do with the utter disdain people have for the designer. By many accounts Sirlin is some sort of master level asshat and this reputation has tainted all of his designs. If I recall correctly he was constantly updating the rules like a videogame tournament fighter. This lead to Yomi release fatigue. I'm sure Yomi still has its fans, but if it went out of print I'm sure nobody would really care.
Eclipse – Eclipse, like many games, was originally toted as a Twilight Imperium 3 killer. While I don't think it ever lived up to that particular hype, especially since Eclipse is essentially an economic game instead of a space opera, it's still an incredibly well regarded game. It just received another expansion and people clearly are still all about Eclipse. Fans of hybrid games still count this as among one of the best available.
Game of Thrones 2.0 – Man, FFG really struck gold having this license in their back pocket. With the HBO series becoming one of THE "water cooler" shows of the year the interest in this property was astronomical. FFG capitalized and re-tooled the game. GoT lives in a dangerous, crowded, genre but I think many people are still enamored with the design. The popularity of the license certainly helps, but I don't see this title going anywhere for a long time. This game remains relevant despite only receiving a couple "print on demand" expansions from FFG. Most impressive.
King of Tokyo – This game added to Richard Garfield's impressive resume and it INSTANTLY made IELLO a publisher to watch. When it was first released KoT was hard to find because the voracious demand gobbled up any and all supply available. The simple dice chucking Yahtzee mechanics made it easy to play and it remained quite popular for years. Its successor King of New York debuted in 2014 to critical success... but it seems the luster may have worn off a bit. King of Tokyo's success created a glut of simple dice chuckers and many gamers have picked a new favorite. Still, I fondly remember when everyone and their pet iguanas were playing King of Tokyo nonstop. It was like a perfectly crafted pop song that would just play endlessly on repeat and folks never tired of it. I still think it's a great design, but its popularity might finally be starting to wane.
Mansions of Madness – Mansions was THE big release from FFG in 2011. It was marred with production issues, the immediate need for errata, and scenarios that were considered unplayable. Despite all that I personally loved the game and was able to move past its warts. Sadly, after the flat out broken release of the Forbidden Alchemy Expansion all but hardcore fans jumped ship. I have a bad feeling that this will soon be going the way of Middle Earth Quest, Horus Heresy and many other FFG under-performers. So if you're on the fence I'd get this sooner rather than later. Who knows, maybe MoM will get a 2.0 version that uses the Call of the Wild expansion as it's starting off point in a few years.
Quarriors – The game that took Dominion, added dice, put it in a tin, and gave it a dumb name. Quarriors debuted at Gen Con 2011 with playful art, easy to grasp rules and a crap-load of buzz. When the game hit retailers there was almost as much backlash as there was fanfare. People complained about the quality of the dice, the simplicity of the game, the need for rules updates (which the designers officially adding via expansions). Quarriors' fate was that of a game that didn't meet folks expectations. It was a simple game and it worked well for what it was. People wanted it to be this in depth, highly strategic, dice builder and that never seemed to be the intention of the game. While it was heavily expanded by Wiz Kids for a few years I believe this beast is now dead. Its corpse has been resurrected by the popular Dice Masters series. For many that was a consolation prize worth waiting for.
Cargo Noir - I don't think I've ever seen a themeless Euro get so mercilessly ravaged by people for essentially being a themeless Euro. The expectations for this were higher than Vince Neil in 1984. Then people played it and found out it was a very basic auction/bidding game with a pasted on theme. I feel like there is an irony joke to be made here. The outrage at the waste of the Noir theme was laughable at best and in my mind completely misguided. Days of Wonder has been known for its lavish productions and Cargo Noir was no different. However, I don't think Days of Wonder was ever really known for pumping out these heavily themed designs. I'll let you in on a little secret though, Cargo Noir is very good at what it is. It's an incredibly mean auction game that is perfect for family game night. The game was essentially tossed off a skiff into icy waters with concrete Adidas when it arrived, but don't believe the anti-hype about this one. If you're an unscrupulous bastard like me you'll find a game that is very enjoyable.
And now for some categories and awards:
Biggest Whiff – Godzilla Kaiju Wars. Has there ever been a more disappointing licensed game? Not for me there hasn't. This game had awesome components and some HORRIBLE rules. Having this piece of crap shat out of Hedorah's rectum hole the same year as King of Tokyo was a slap in the face to Godzilla fans. Can a designer out there come up with a big ass, awesome, Kaiju game that is worth a damn? Pretty please? Maybe Gale Force Nine can make a licensed Pacific Rim game for me...that would be sweet.
Hidden Gem of 2011 - Tom Wham's Feudality. I love this game. No it's not the greatest game out there, but what it lacks in tight design it more than makes up for with sheer, unbridled, fun. You get to build your own fantasy fiefdom, sleep with a slutty-victory-point-spewing Queen, fend off monsters, go to war and all sorts of other awesome stuff in less than ninety minutes. The game happily zips along and it's just a bunch of fun in box. Nobody bought it and nobody seems to have heard of it. It's awesome.
My Game of The Year Then? – Mansion of Madness. As a big Lovecraft nut the chance to play out these intimate stories was a dream come true. The game had issues, but I could happily look past them. When this game was firing on all cylinders it was magical. I still enjoy it, but that love has waned a bit over time. Plus, finding people to play with is a chore.
My Game of The Year Now? Mage Knight. It took me a long time to get around to playing this one, but damn is it satisfying. It has a stigma of being difficult to learn and play, but I think that is a bit blown out of proportion. Plus, the investment is easily worth it. Few games offer the sheer amount of depth and replayability as Mage Knight. This is special kind of game that only comes along once in a great while.
Game That Needs To Be Back In Print? – Without a doubt it NEEDS to be Ascending Empires. Someone... anyone, please Kickstart this game with a deluxe board or something. It's simply too good of a game to be left in the dust. I waffled between this and Mage Knight for my game of the year. In my heart I know that Mage Knight is simply the better game. Still I love this flicking, inter-galactic, space empire, hodgepodge of a game.
My Top Ten Games from 2011
10. Last Will
9. Letters From Whitechapel
7. D&D Adventure Systems - Drizzt
6. Mansions of Madness
5. King of Tokyo
4. Survive – Escape from Atlantis
3. Blood Bowl Team Manger
2. Ascending Empires
1. Mage Knight
Thoughts on the year
Well I hope you enjoyed this little retrospective. Sorry if you now all smell like a pair of bowling shoes... it's a weird side effect of the time machine. Looking back I have to admit that 2011 was a pretty damn good year for boardgaming. Any time a few potential all time greats get published in a single year it's a cause for celebration. Hell, my top four of the year are some of my all time favorites! 2011 had something for everyone. Whether you were a hardcore Euro Lover or a dice chucking Trashlandian, 2011 had you covered with something great. I'm sure I missed talking about some major releases like Lord of the Rings LCG, Flashpoint Fire Rescue, Village, Gears of War and many more. I went with my memories for a lot of things so I'm sure I screwed something up. Feel free to tell me what I messed up or forgot to talk about in the comments.
I look forward to dissecting the year 2012 next January. Until then,"keep on dancing til' the world ends" you sexy bitches!
Hey, look who stowed away on-board the time machine from our adventure to 2011!