And so the world stumbles into a new ten-year cycle. How arbitrary. Oh well, might as well use it as an opportunity to pause for breath and look back over the Troubled Teens–through the Tabletop lens.
To set the stage, in 2010 the Spiel Des Jahres winner (covering the previous year) went to Dixit. (The Kennerspiel Award would be given out for the first time in 2011.) Some of the big games from 2009 were The Resistance, Cyclades, Summoner Wars, Dungeon Lords, Macao, and Small World. 2009 was also the year that Kickstarter launched.
Feel old yet?
For each year of the decade I have picked the game that has had the biggest impact on me. That doesn’t necessarily mean the best, most important or most-played game of that year. The games on this list have stood the test of time, and I would still play them with pleasure.
Anyway, here goes:
2010: Oscar for Best Picture: The King’s Speech
7 Wonders won the first SdJ of the decade and is my choice as well, even if I enjoy its brilliant offspring 7 Wonders Duel even more. 7W is a great gateway game despite its complex scoring system, and can be played casually or dead-seriously. It also provided me with a tiny tiny taste of BGG stardom due to a solo variant I invented in 2011 (link) that had a surprisingly-long shelf life and was even turned into a YouTube video by a complete stranger five years later (https://youtu.be/ZRBeTMyFDm4). The arrival of the official app in 2017 sadly but deservedly made my creation obsolete. Sic transit gloria.
2011: Syrian Civil War begins
I was obsessed with Mage Knight. The only reason I haven’t pulled it out recently is that I have to finish sleeving all the expansion cards and I don’t remember what kind I used. Yes, MK is one of the few games I have bothered to sleeve–which for those who know me shows how seriously I took/take it. I even–get ready–bought a special insert for it. Yes, the rule book(s) are a mess. Yes, it has a huge footprint. Yes, it’s an AP sinkhole (which is why I almost always only play it solo). But it’s an amazing immersive experience with tons of scenarios and replayability. Definitely a desert island game for me.
2012: Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys dies
2012 was a bountiful year for tabletop. Love Letter introduced the microgame genre. The Resistance: Avalon (even more than its namesake predecessor) made social deduction games a “thing” and continues to do so today. Wil Wheaton’s YouTube show TableTop premiered and did a huge service to the hobby in giving it a wider audience. Gamewise it was Robinson Crusoe that stands out due to its original, thematic design and level of challenge. It’s not an easy game to learn on your own, but led by an experienced player it feels almost like an RPG.
2013: Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiers on Fox, wins Golden Globe for Best Comedy
When I looked back at the releases for this year I was struck by how few resonated with me, especially compared to the year before. I do like Rococo for its original theme and neat mix of mechanics, but it doesn’t give me that special jolt that the other games on this list do. In the end I cheated a bit and picked Tajemnicze Domostwo, which y’all know in its English version as Mysterium (which didn’t come out until 2015). To be fair, I owned that original Polish edition. It’s a great mix of Clue and Dixit and works at all player counts and with kids as young as eleven. I should know, because I taught it to my Grade 6 classes with great success.
2014: Sochi Winter Olympics
Splendor is simply a great gateway game. It takes five minutes to teach. It’s got clunky poker-ship gem tokens, and you can pack it up and bring it anywhere if you ditch the box and useless insert. It’s a shame the expansion doesn’t get much love, because despite the cost it provides lots of options to spice things up. On the other hand, why spoil the elegant simplicity of the base game? To each their own.
2015: Justin Trudeau’s Liberals win majority in Canadian election
Both 7 Wonders Duel and Codenames came out this year; the former is a personal fave (see above) and the latter is a brilliant spin on party games by the designer extraordinaire Vlaada Chvátil (I mean, the same guy designed this and Mage Knight fer cryin’ out loud). But it is Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 that stands as 2017’s towering achievement. Playing PL:S1 was like binge-watching your favourite show. Suspense, plot twists, hanging-by-your-fingernails tension, always wanting to play “just one more”. And from a game design standpoint, what a Rubik’s Cube of moving parts it must have been. Even if it wasn’t the first legacy game, it set a new standard and sparked a new trend.
2016: Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 100 years
You read me right: in the year that saw Scythe and Terraforming Mars hit shelves (both of which I love dearly), I still pick Millennium Blades for the sheer ambition and uniqueness of its theme and gameplay but also for the humour and whimsy on every single card. I’m still figuring out some of the in-jokes. And yer darn tootin’ I backed everything on KS, and can’t wait to get my copy of the second major expansion, Collusion, sometime next year. You can read my original review here; I stand by every word.
2017: Theresa May calls snap UK election
How could it be anything else but Gloomhaven? I have still barely scratched the surface of its content because it takes so long to set up and it’s so forking hard! Yeah, maybe I admire it more than love it. But as you can read from my original review I went through a lot of trouble to get my copy and organize it, and it undoubtedly sits unplayed on quite a few shelves. But if I had a spare table I would just leave it out permanently and peck away at it every day. Unlike the gothic horror of Kingdom: Death Monster, the other monster-box release of that year, Gloomhaven treads a more traditional fantasy path and despite its title has patches of lightness and humour, especially in its encounters. For instance: my party was returning from a dungeon and came upon an adventurer relieving himself in the bushes. He asked me to hand him some leaves to wipe his botty. I had to choose between helping him or just swiping his stuff while his leggings were down around his ankles. I think I did the right thing. 😉
2018: Greta Thunberg begins her School Strike for Climate
The arrival of the Roll’n’Write trend was kinda catnip for me. Ganz Schön Clever in particular hooked me in, especially after it came out in app form. For whatever reason I felt the need to track my plays of it on my BGStats app–the only game I logged in its digital form. For that reason I know I played it over 500 times last year. Yeesh. Then the digital Doppelt So Clever dropped, and I played that over 300 times. Then everyone started releasing Roll/Flip’n’Writes and things started to get stale, although this year’s Cartographers is a real standout. I also really admired the poem-on-a-grain-of-rice elegance of Orchard: A 9 card Solitaire Game which is not a Roll’n’Write but I want to signal-boost it anyway.
2019: Impeachment hearings begin in US Congress
It was hard work narrowing down a Top Ten list for this year let alone picking a favorite. I really think we will look back on 2019 as an annus mirabilis for Tabletop. So many fun, challenging, original games of all kinds. To hell with it: I’m-a gonna list a bunch:
If your entire collection was just these nine games you’d have an amazing collection! And I wouldn’t have to sweat too much to add half a dozen more games to that list.
Still, if I have to pick one to head the list and end the decade it would be Paladins of the West Kingdom. Perhaps you’re surprised, given my constant harping on designers and publishers always going back to the same well themewise. (Also because of the Tapestry fanboying.)
But while the previous games in the series, Raiders of the North Sea and Architects of the West Kingdom, were merely okay, Paladins is on a whole other level. It’s a cunning and superb meshing together of action selection, worker placement, and tableau building, each of which comes with a little twist. You cannot win without careful planning, but the payoff is pleasure of firing off a combo of actions which gets you exactly where you need to be. It scales seamlessly, including a solo mode which is easy to run but hard to beat. It’s got Mihajlo Dimitrievski’s signature artwork, which manages to be cartoony and severe at the same time. Best of all, it has a fault-free rulebook (lookin’ at you, Tapestry) and high-quality components that aren’t on the nose, which keeps the box and sticker price reasonable (yep, still lookin’ atcha, T-man).
Yes, the European medieval theme is clichéd. But, like Villagers, the theme is justified by the actions you take to bolster and expand Francia. I especially like the choice you have to make to either slay or convert barbarians. Killing them is guaranteed to increase your influence, but converting them brings them onside to fight for you, enhancing your strength and providing juicy endgame bonuses.
To sum up, Paladins of the West Kingdom embodies the best of current game design and production, and hence becomes My Game of 2019.
So endeth the decayed. See y’all in the Twenties.