What, you weren't expecting a freaking EXTRAVAGANZA? Not wearing your tux, you say? That's alright, we're just sitting here in our underwear anyway watching old reruns of EIGHTEEN WHEELS OF JUSTICE.
2010, we hardly knew ye.
Another year is in the books, and from all accounts a good one gaming-wise. This was a year in which we saw something to pretty much suit everyone. Light, fluffy AT? Hardcore post-apocalyptic skirmish-fests? Dungeoncrawls? Hybrids? CDGs? Card games? There was literally something for everybody this year, and the diverse opinions shown on our forums and prevoius "Game of the Year" preliminary thread demonstrate just how much of a great spread we had available to us.
Unlike some years where there was a clear winner--for example Battlestar Galactica in 2008--I think that we saw a lot of quality offerings, each of which could stake a valid claim to being called GAME OF THE YEAR.
We Did It For The Rock. We Did It For the People.
A couple of weeks ago, we asked you for opinions and votes, and hot damn, did you guys and gals ever deliver.
So let's get started, shall we?
There's still a lot of love for the epic FFG coffin box games, and this one squeaked by with the next two by one vote. Runewars was Fantasy Flight's melding of a big battle game with an adventure/questing game (something tried before with mixed results in Robert Martin's much-beloved Quest for the Dragonlords). Set in the Terrinoth universe, it was the first real time I and many other gamers noticed a concerted effort on FFG's part to establish this new universe as their "go-to" fantasy setting. Sure, we knew that Runebound and Descent shared a setting, and yeah, Drakon 3rd Edition got published with some of the minis from one of the Descent expansions, but here we saw the whole "world" as it were encapsulated in one big battle blow-out, where the races of Terrinoth kicked the shit out of each other in pursuit of the mythic Runes, while some of the heroes we knew and loved from other games did their whole questing thing.
Here were some of the praises for Runewars:
"No other game this year has made me want to immediately set up and play again like Runewars, despite it being 2.5-4 hours to begin with. It's a huge game, but not cumbersome and fidgety, and it's fun." --JJJS
"I still love Runewars. Liked it enough after the fourth play to paint the minis. Played it another half dozen times. Definitely a GOTY contender." -- moofrank
Other long-time stalwarts such as Space Ghost didn't put it as first choice, but Runewars ended up in his top 5.
So the fans have spoken, but not by much...this leads us to our next TWO games (which tied.)
2. TIE: Death Angel: The Space Hulk Card Game and Earth Reborn
First up we've got what is probably the most thematically appropriate translation of a boardgame to a card game format ever seen. Everyone who has tried Death Angel has given it really high praises. I have a copy coming to me shortly, and just from researching the game I expect to have similar kind things to say about it.
Space Hulk is renowned for its tension and rich Aliens-inspired theme. Genestealers are blipping on your radar, and the only thing standing in your way of instant death from their blood-soaked claws is your big frakkin' gun and...oh, shit. It just jammed.
So we got a good little game that is quick to set up and distills the essence of its big brother into its stripped down (yet reportedly no less tense) essence. From all accounts it plays great solo, and finding a nice solo game with a quick set-up yet enough meat to warrant your attention sounds like a thing of beauty.
Oh, and there's the little fact that it's only $24.95 MSRP, and, y'know, currently available in stores, because Games Workshop apparently hates money and printed like 50 copies of Space Hulk 3rd Edition.
Don't take my word for it, as I haven't played it yet, but F:AT user AdamK--who didn't pick a favorite but listed thoughts on several--had this to say:
"Amazing that a card game can so closely replicate and possibly even surpass Space Hulk. This delivers, game after game. I am in awe of its implementation."
Long-time vet Shellhead also chimed in: "My game of the year vote goes to Death Angel. It's a very clever co-op/solitaire design that plays quickly but delivers a thematic tactical challenge with decent replay value."
Then, there's Earth Reborn.
The new kid on the block. Well, "kid" seems like a bad choice of words...more like, the big, hulking, bad-ass machine-gun totin' fiend on the block.
And if this discussion were taking place three months from now, I have little doubt that Earth Reborn would have most likely taken the top spot. It had the unfortunate problem of coming out in the tail end of the year, which hurts games like it in these sort of Game of the Year discussions. Not many of us have even had the chance to try it yet. Hell, it can be a challenge just BUYING it yet, as a friend of mine mentioned having a copy in his online cart at one of the online retailers basically bought right out from under him just because he didn't check out immediately.
What's telling though is that of those who have gotten a copy and played it, have gone on to rave about just what an awesome piece of work this is. A two-player skirmish game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Earth Reborn really mixes things up by giving gamers an unparalleled amount of depth for this type of game. Couple in scenarios that have you doing escorts, rescues, and other types of missions, and just a beau-koodle buttload of awesome shit in that huge box, and we have what appears to be THE new stalwart in future AT collections for years to come.
Seriously, I think of everything about the game, the most exciting thing is true scenario play. I hope it works, because quite frankly, I dig skirmish games, but far, far too many of them boil down to "let's meet in the middle of the board somewhere and throw dice at each other until one side is dead." Tannhauser tried this with some fairly weak scenario play, but gamers just decided, "If I kill the other guys, then who gives a rat's ass what my mission is."
The best part though is just how much passion the game is inspiring in those who have been lucky to play it thus far. Here's what our users had to say:
"Best Game I've Ever Played By A Long Shot. No other game comes close." --El Cuajinais
"There is only one GOTY2K10: Earth Reborn. Fantastic value, over the top awesomeness in components, amazingly immersive...and here's the #1 reason: it's a complete fucking game that doesn't need 300 overpriced expansions to deliver the goods. Nothing else comes close." -- ATArmed
"Wow. I just got back from playing Earth Reborn. Yep- its got GOTY all over it. Great Game." -- "Poor Ol'" Steve Avery
"Great components and packing (definitely get bang for your buck: a box that initially can't be closed fully, huge ultra-modular board and a dozen top quality figures), nice theme and background fluff (post-apocalypse with zombies) and a bunch of interesting game mechanics that allow variable depth of play from simple skirmish game to near RPG interaction with the environment." -- Brannagyn
See what I mean?
I know it's Cult of the New talking in some regards, but there is some serious love going on here. Hell, a few more days and I'm sure we'd have seen at least a tying vote for Earth Reborn. But, we gots to cut it out somewhere, so Zev's latest monster offering has to settle for a tie for second.
Still...I'd say there's enough praise going on here that it warrants looking into getting a copy soon enough.
3. TIE: Labryinth: The War on Terror, Cyclades, and Castle Ravenloft
These three brought up the rest of the top 3 vote getters, and it's a disparate lot. For the record, I did count Michael Barnes' vote for Labyrinth as GotY here, as he stated it as such in his Game of the Year article.
Castle Ravenloft was the flagship boardgame offering from the stop-and-start boardgame division at Wizards of the Coast/Avalon Hill, who seemingly dip in and out of the boardgame publishing business every few years. It's a cooperative, DM-less dungeoncrawl, where a pack of adventurers (or just one, for that masturbatory gaming experience) takes on a variety of scenarios, from doing battle or running like hell from Strahd, to trying to take down a massive, vile Dracolich.
With insanely impressive bits, a game experience that changes every time you play, and plenty of that "work together with your pals" light RPG feeling, Castle Ravenloft definitely found its fare share of fans this year.
"Played it with gamers, WoWers, tabletop RPGers, my elementary school sister-in-law and everyone liked it, Very fun, accessable game in my experience." -- Walterman
"[Castle Ravenloft]'s got my vote for sure." -- Generalpf
Even resident denmaster and webmistress Ubarose, who voted for Moongha Invaders as her Game of the Year said this of Ravenloft:
"For nearly a week now, our home has essentially been an open house for gamers. I think the only time in the past 5 or 6 days that games haven't been being played is when everyone was eating, sleeping or watching Star Trek. Surprisingly, the game that has hit the table most often has been Castle Ravenloft. It has that j'ne sais quoi. "
Cyclades hit the floor running this year, another gorgeous production in a growing long line of them from Asmodee games. I've been telling you guys to keep an eye on them for a couple of years now, and they've now definitely taken their place as a player in the AT industry. Cyclades is a game looking to take the crown from Euro/Civ Hybrid champ Mare Nostrum, and while I'm not sure if it succeeded, it definitely was a big hit with AT gamers this year.
It doesn't hurt that the game shipped with some seriously wicked miniatures, with different sculpts for the armies and boats as well as big honkin' plastic representations of some of the most powerful mythological beasties. Even if you're a die-hard fan of Mare Nostrum, you gotta admit, those minis are damned cool.
Bid for the favors of the gods, smite your enemies, build your civilization, and best of all, you can say in your best Liam Neeson voice: "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!" (Unless you're filming your own porno at home, at which point I don't really need to know about it.)
"Cyclades has buckets of unique plastic sculpts, direct interaction with two types of combat, empire building and destroying, dice, plays 2-5 all well, and doesn't take 30 hours to complete....Cyclades is a most worthy contender. " -- Mr. MOTO
"It's fucking cut throat. It's a really mean game and that's why I like it. It has more AT in its attitude than Runewars could ever have (not to mention a theme that doesn't suck)." -- Josh Look
"My vote: Cyclades. Why? Because I've played it probably 15 times, it's fun, it hasn't gotten old, and it's a game that virtually everyone I've played with (about 20 mates) have all enjoyed. " -- Superflytnt
Last but not least is Labyrinth. Hoo boy...I really don't want to bag down this article with some of the stuff that sprung up in Barnes' Game of the Year article, so I'm going to keep this brief. Yeah, it's a sensitive subject. Yeah, it's got the same gameplay vibe as Twilight Struggle (hint: that's a Good Thing.) GMT has also learned their lesson, giving Labyrinth the deluxe treatment with mounted board right out of the first release box.
Is it a simulation? Piece of art? Statement on society? Abstract portrayal of one of the skewed notions on the War on Terror? Who gives it a shit. It looks like it is a ton of fun, and hey, just happens to be thought-provoking to boot.
That's all *I'm* going to say about it as I haven't had a chance to play it, but here's an excerpt from Barnes' Game of the Year article (credit: Gameshark.com)
"The card-driven wargame design is brilliant and rich with drama and story, building on the successes of past entries in the genre (most specifically TWILIGHT STRUGGLE) while offering players not only gameplay innovation but also a distinct viewpoint and insight into the ways of the post 9/11 world as it struggles with the emerging threat of radical Islam. " -- Michael Barnes, via Gameshark.com
But I Had To Put Her Right Back With The Rest...That's the Way It Goes...I Guess
We had 5 games that received three votes apiece: Catacombs, Dominant Species, High Frontier, Innovation, and Moongha Invaders. I'm pretty sure on those latter four, availability was a big factor in holding back their support. Catacombs was disc-flicky dungeon battles (something I still really can't wrap my brain around), Dominant Species was a big-time Evo-based Euro with some serious AT sensibilities, High Frontier looks to be
dice placement that DOESN'T suck (yes, all of them before this one kinda sucked monkey nuts...yes, especially you, Kingsburg) a space exploration game with a name that often gets it confused with a totally different game, Innovation was a light innovative card-based take on Civ-building, and Moongha Invaders is a hideously rare Monsters Menace America done right--which sounds good to me, because I really dig MMA. Hopefully at Avery's big bash in June, someone will have some of these available so I can actually PLAY the damn things. Right now...ain't happenin'.
We had scattered onesies and twosies for several titles.
Merchants & Marauders
Battle Beyond Space
Defenders of the Realm
War of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York
Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead
I think I was most surprised by the lack of support for Defenders of the Realm. It's a game that was uberhot on our forums for awhile but seems to have cooled in that regard. Dungeonquest, the AT reprint we were basically all waiting for, came out with a tacked on combat system that is actually very good, but the jury's out on whether the involvement in that little card-playing mini-game matches the level of normal gameplay in Dunegonquest. Thankfully, FFG was quick to issue some variants to get things back closer to the original combat system, and it was a damned fine reprint, all else be told. It was one for a long time that we simply thought we'd never see, and FFG made it happen.
Incursion I think had some of its thunder stolen by Earth Reborn. Still, from all accounts Incursion is the game that Tannhauser should have been in terms of theme and execution.
F:ATties Need Love Too...But They Gotta Pay
What did our admins/moderators choose as their Game(s) of the Year?
Ubarose: Moongha Invaders
Michael Barnes: Labyrinth: War on Terror
Mr. Skeletor: Earth Reborn--for not being "pussified Euro Mickey Mouse Shit"
Mad Dog: Battle Beyond Space
My Game of the Year was Puzzle Strike. Yeah, I know we have a contingent of folks on our forums who don't dig deckbuilding games of any kind. And there are others who are quick to write off anything inspired by Dominion, mostly due to irrational dislike for some of the people who were initially hyping it.
But I'll tell you what--no other game I played this year quite grabbed me like Puzzle Strike did. You can read my original review here.
It solved all my issues and then some. No more VP chasing; the point is to CRUSH YOUR OPPONENT. Its theme is well done--yeah, you might not really like video-game puzzle duels, but I assure you this one hits its thematic notes very well. You don't get the sameness as Dominion as you get variable player powers--that's right, you have three chips for each character that you only get to use when you are that character, making for lots of matchups and strategies all in the base set.
The components were awesome, even though there were early printing issues, Sirlin Games appears to have sorted that out with a new second edition.
Trust me guys, it's a damned fine game. Interactive, variable, thematic, with good bits. I played a whole hell of a lot of good games this year, but Puzzle Strike was the one I spent the most time with. It's a small press game to be sure as Sirlin is a one-man operation, but it's worth hunting down a copy, or at least trying it for free on their online dev server at http://fantasystrike.com/dev.
And...that's a wrap! BIG thanks to everyone who voted, contributed, or otherwise took part in the making and shaping of this article. 2010 was a great year for games, here's to a 2011 that blows our everlovin' socks off.