With the decade coming to a close, I wanted to look at my top games of the past ten years. As someone who got into the hobby in 2011, this seemed like a perfect reflection of not just the hobby, but of my decade of playing as well.
Without further ado, lets look at 2012.
My top five games are Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, The Manhattan Project, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, and Zombicide.
Honorable mention include: Keyflower and A Fake Artist Goes to New York.
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small took a heavy classic of the hobby, Agricola, and made a shortened two-player only version that has lighter mechanics yet does not lose the look and feel of its older sibling. ACBAS is a streamlined version of the original game with tight decision making and players always asking for one more turn as the game reaches its conclusion.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad, at first glance, is a board with cubes being moved from one location to another but the game is much deeper than what it shows at face value. Each decision a player is making is not about a cube but instead about the livelihood of a runaway slave. The guilt and remorse of not being able to save that one individual becomes compounded as soon you won’t be able to save more. The emotional baggage of choosing which cubes to move is incredibly morbid as you’re playing a game revolving around the systematic oppression of an entire race. It takes a theme that’s hard to talk about in general and tactfully creates a game that is not only rewarding to play, but also informative of the time period. It does not pull punches or make light of the situation. For these reasons, Freedom is my game of 2012. There are definitely games that are more fun to play or look prettier from this year but what Freedom was able to do with the subject matter is an outstanding display of design.
The Manhattan Project sticks out from other worker placement games that share similar mechanics as it truly feels like a race between players. In addition to the race aspect, the game can either feature heavy player interaction (with the bombers) or none whatsoever. It’s an interesting set of rules as well since there are no rounds and your workers not only can increase in size but also in what they can accomplish. All-in-all, a solid game that has introduced a shelf full set of expansions and stand alone games.
There are so many games out that have beautiful artwork and components but even seven years after its release, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar can stand up to any of them thanks to its use of gears as the central mechanism for adding a wrinkle to the worker placement genre. Tzolk’in offers a wow factor as soon as the board hits the table and it creates a scenario where every decision a player makes is important because the resources, including time, are scarce. The game can be punishing for those that don’t have similar skill levels or experience and there is apparently a strategy that is unbeatable but it still holds up after all these years.
Zombicide has a lot of problems. There are balance issues with the survivors and scenarios, the rulebook clearly needs an index, the cards are so tiny, and the equipment has a clear hierarchy of usefulness. That being said…Zombicide is a fun time. You’re running through a city, chucking dice, attacking or escaping from hordes of the undead. It’s value Left 4 Dead in tabletop form.
For the 2012 honorable mentions, Keyflower gets a call out as it takes what is typically a tradition euro-style game and introduces a heavy dose of interaction between players. That interaction is indirect, for the most part, but is an integral aspect of the game and something that isn’t typically found in other euros. It’s a great mash-up of mechanics and scales wonderfully across all player counts. The reason for it being just an honorable mention for me is that we found it boring. I wanted to love Keyflower but every time I played (I even tried playing it years after I initially didn’t like it) I just wasn’t invested with what I was doing. It’s a shame too; I can recognize the design of the game but it just doesn’t do it for me.
The other honorable mention is the exact opposite: A Fake Artist Goes to New York. This is a game that you could just create on your own and it’s incredibly group dependent but it can transform a room into fits of laughter as the paper is passed from player to player. Check out my review for more glowing remarks.