Happy New Year.
Yet another Top 10 of 2003 list. This, of course, is the definitive one:
10) Attika - After 3 plays I still enjoy this, but I hear the warnings
of the people who see its replay value diminishing significantly. Not
sure that it will, but I can see the concern.
9) Coloretto - A fun filler. Simple, but presents a reasonably tough
decision for what it is.
8) New England - This may rise on the list. I'm a bit bothered that at
least one action seems absolutely ignorable, but that usually means
I'm missing somethign and I haven't played it enough to really explore
it (which I haven't). I've enjoyed it every time I've played it though.
7) Finstere Flure - Another original 2F game. Good fun for a crowd of
4-7, and a nice production from an independent.
6) Smarty Party - Best party game of the year. Eagerly awaiting an
expansion set of cards.
5) Europa Tour - Best two-player game of the year. I know it was
intended for more, but it really works best with 2.\
4) Domaine - A welcome reissue of Lowenherz that is different enough
to warrant keeping both. Has the definite advantage of being shorter
than Lowenherz. Now if only I could play it well.
3) Global Powers - Could go even higher, but could sink fast. Only
played it once, but what a good game it was. Possibly the best gamers'
game of the year.
2) Santiago - Nice tight design that works very well. Not at all
complicated, but hard to succeed at. Good bang for an hour's effort.
1) Alhambra - A bit of a bandwagon effect here. I did not try this one
until after it won SdJ, and probably wouldn't have bothered with it
had it not won (and certainly would have ignored it had it not been on
the list). But what fun, and it doesn't hurt in the least that my wife
really likes it too. This, to me, is why the SdJ is still the most
interesting gaming award, as I can count on the list to bring to my
attention several games that are off the radar screen and not subject
to Internet buzz. Not all of them will be my cup of tea (Villa Paletti
being a prime example) but really all of them will be excellent games
within their own genres. Plus the Internet buzz favors the English
releases. Other awards like the DSP tend to merely confirm the buzz
and not offer anything instructive.
Toughest omissions from the Top 10: Ice Age, Balloon Cup, Scream
Machine. I only played Ice Age once, with 3 players, and thought it
was better than the comments it has been getting, but would like to
play it more, and with more players. Balloon Cup is another of my
wife's favorites, but I was bothered by the lock-up hole in the
published rules (which we encountered in our first game), though the
author's posted fix works well. Scream Machine is fun, but I wish it
had better artwork.
Games that are fun, but don't offer anything novel: Coyote, Bonobo
Game that left me with strangely no reaction at all: Industria.
Game that fell fastest from the list after early interest: Paris Paris.
Games that I like for the first two hours but really, really wore out
their welcome by the third, fourth, or fifth hour: Age of Mythology
and Game of Thrones.
Games I have yet to try that I think could have made the list: Kogge,
Maya, Magna Grecia.
Biggest disappointments: Mare Nostrum, Anno 1503, Yellowstone Park,
Amun Re. Each of these suffered badly from excessive anticipation. In
the case of Mare Nostrum, after almost two years of buildup, it
probably couldn't have met expectations. It fell so flat in its
initial playing this year, that I've never gotten another game of it
together. Still, I'd like to give it another shot - if I look at it
for what it is and not as "Civilization Light", it may actually be a
decent game. Anno 1503 (Klaus Teuber) and Yellowstone Park (Uwe
Rosenberg) were by two of the authors whose work I consistently enjoy.
But both failed to come up to the level of the author's previous
releases. Anno is OK if you treat it as a race game, but I was
expecting an exploration game, which it is not (or at least not much).
Yellowstone Park doesn't offer a lot of decision-making, but the kids
like it and I think the artwork is nice, so I'll probably keep it. But
. . . Unfortunately both these games put Teuber and Rosenberg in my
try-before-you-buy author category, neither of whom was there before.
On the other hand, Knizia has been on my try-before-you-buy list for
some time. But the hype before Amun Re game out ("Deepest Knizia game
since E&T") persuaded me to throw caution to the wind. Mistake.
Fortunately enough other people like it that it was easy to resell,
but I just found it to be dire.
All in all I thought it was a very weak year. Although there were many
games that I'm happy to play (I do, after all, happily play games) the
top six or seven from the previous couple of years, in 2002 (Age of
Steam, ZooSim, Keythedral, Odin's Ravens, Wallenstein, Puerto Rico,
Wildlife) or 2001 (Funkenschlag, Traders of Genoa, Wyatt Earp, Das
Amulett, San Marco, Capitol), would pretty much all rank higher than
anything in 2003. Games like Alhambra, Smarty Party, and Europa Tour
will likely get more plays than many of these from the last two years
because they are so accessible, but still, on balance, a down year.