Tuesday, January 3, 2012

J. Tagmire's Top Ten Board Games of 2011

I bought a lot of games in 2011. There are killer games that are obviously missing from my list and I either: own them and haven't played them yet (Yomi, Ascending Empires, Discworld: Ankh Morpork), want them, but haven't seen them at retail (A Few Acres of Snow, Food Fighters, Flash Point: Fire Rescue), or I just don't know anything about them at all (is Eclipse some kind of Twilight game?).

But instead of those games, these are the top  2011 games that I played and loved. For some reason, these kept coming back to the table. Some were due to the amazing concept behind the game, and others were for the quality of the design and components. And in the end, all of them were a lot of fun.

Here are my top 10 board games of 2011.

#10. Mondo 

Mondo is a serious brain burner. Even on beginner mode. You have to create an island by placing tiles on a board. You score points for individual areas (sand, forest, grass, etc) and animals within those areas. You lose points for volcanoes. All of that sounds simple, and it is.. but it gets INSANE when you throw a community pile of tiles in the center of the table and start the timer. Everyone is grabbing at once and trying to make it all work. When you're down to a minute, your brain will do things that you don't want it to do. As crazy as it sounds, Mondo is a lot of fun.

#9. Bears! 


Another collective grabbing game, and the start of many exclamation point titles in my top ten. In Bears!, you must quickly roll and grab dice to make matches and score points. Everyone is grabbing from once in the center trying to match up their dice, but there is a key hook that makes Bears! quite brutal.. if you match up a sleeping person and a tent it can go one of two ways for all players. If there are no bears left in the center, everyone with that combination scores 5 points per pair. But if there are any bears left in the center, everyone with that combination loses 2 points per pair. You can really screw over your opponents, but since everyone is grabbing at once, and because the dice rolls are different each time, it's not as easy as you would hope.

#8. Smallworld Underground 

The first Smallworld game is one of my favorites, and the Underground version builds right onto the system. It's a diceless (kind of) Risk with many races and classes. The races and classes are randomized each game and the combos can get pretty awesome (Vampire Lizardmen, Royal Kraken, Immortal Mudmen). I'm still pining for the day I get to play Smallworld with some serious hardcore Smallworld players.

#7. Lego: Heroica 

The Lego games have been pretty interesting so far. They've been all over the charts in terms of difficulty and demographic, which is a good thing because they can hit every kind of gamer. And with Heroica it looks like they've found and settled on a demographic that they would get a little deeper into.

Heroica is a little dungeon crawler. It's very simple… probably too simple, but the joy of Lego is that you can customize the game to your needs. Both in rules and components. I still haven't seen a ton of custom rules online (I last checked a few months ago), but the system is solid. I will be forever bummed that it's not true minifigure scale, but the Star Wars Heroica style game coming out this year makes up for it. I just hope Lego makes little add on packs at the $4 price point (similar to the Ninjago packs). A few monsters, some base tiles and the rules for them? I'd buy them in a second.

#6. Junta: Viva El Presidente

My brother made me buy Junta: Viva El Presidente because it came with a pair of sunglasses. Little does he know, I was probably going to buy it anyway. It's Z-Man's sequel/re-imagining of the old game Junta, and it's very well made. The components are so perfect. Individual die-cut player boards, little paparcraft banana trucks, and the aforementioned paid of sunglasses so El Presidente can bluff his way to victory. There's a lot packed into this little political negotiation game, and in the end it's much more than just a game with a pair of sunglasses.

#5 Redakai 

Purely at a conceptual level, Redakai is amazing. It's a collectible card game, where you battle your opponent (we've seen this before) but the cards are see through (we have not seen this before). Actually only part of the card is see through. This way you can build on top of the card below, and MODIFY it. I'm in love already.

If you place a monster card on top of your opponents hero, the monster will cover up certain area of the hero. You might cover up an attack value, or a hit point (which is awesome because there's only 3!). Then the hero can come back with a spell, covering up one or his/her attributes and making it better.

The game itself has a few issues. The first is that it's immediately viewed as a kids game, or a gimmick. It's definitely not a gimmick, and while being themed for kids, the advanced rules definitely make it much more involved. Also, I wish they released a full game kit with components for 2 players, and then each player could just focus on the cards. That's a little outside of the CCG model, but that's a model that's fading anyway.

Aside from that, the game is beautifully made and inspiring. Partially see through cards, while very expensive to produce, can take game design to a whole different level. If you are into game design at all, I'd suggest you spend the $6 on a pack of these cards (and you can probably find some cheaper right now), just to see it in person. 

#4. Summoner Wars: Master Set 

Summoner Wars feels like Magic: The Gathering meets Chess. There are the creatures and spells of a fantasy card game like Magic, and the strategic movement of a Chess match. That sounds like an awesome concept to me, and as a full game, it works out very well.

I was eyeing Summoner Wars for a while, but the Master Set sealed the deal for me. Instead of coming with a paper playing mat, it comes with a solid, quality playing board. Throw in a box insert that can sort out all of your decks, and it's suddenly my #4 game of the year. I really hope to see more from this game.

#3. Quarriors! 

I've owned Quarriors since the end of the summer and FINALLY just got a chance to play it. And oh man, what was I thinking every second that I wasn't playing this?

Quarriors is a dice-building game. A similar base mechanic to deck building games like Dominion, Ascension, and the rest…, but instead of having to reshuffle when you run out of cards, you just throw all of your dice back in to your dice bag and draw some more! There's much more to the game, but that one is just so sweet, it's hard not to start off with it.

You spend Quiddity (it's currency. Just about everything in Quarriors starts with a "Q") to buy more and more dice. Depending on the dice you purchase, and the side that you roll, your dice will provide Quiddity, Creatures, or Spells. You send out your creatures to attack and defend, and if they survive a round of the game, you earn points for them. It's that simple, and it's that good.

The components are amazing (100+ little custom dice) and the game has a ton of replayability. There are a few variations of each card that corresponds with a set of dice. The faces of the die are the same, but the special abilities, cost and point value can all change, making each game different than the last.

#2. Survive: Escape From Atlantis!

Survive! has been around for years and years, but the new Stronghold Games version brings the intense family sea monster battles right back into our homes… and in a solid new way.

In Survive! you must move as many of your people off of a sinking island, as quickly as possible. Eventually a volcano will bust it's top and the game is over. But escaping isn't that easy. The sea is filled with vicious creatures that your vicious opponents will send right into you. The game can be brutal, but it's all presented in a fun bright, family friendly way.

The components are similar to the original, but even better. There are the same Sea Serpents, Whales and Sharks, but now it comes with much-improved boats, and meeples! The game is also a mix of the Euro version of the original and the old USA version, including the rules for hidden point values at the bottom of the meeples.

This was my favorite game as a child, and I'm so glad to see it again. The recognizable parts were improved, while staying very true to the original. Stronghold went all out with this release and it shows.

#1. Risk Legacy 

This game blew me away from the minute I read an advertisement for it. "A decision you make in Game 1 could come back to haunt you in Game 10." That whole concept is very, very cool.. and to seemed very indie, and very forward-thinking for a company like Hasbro.

In Risk Legacy you modify the game as you play. You choose a faction and add stickers with special abilities. After winning the game, you can name continents and get bonuses if you hold that entire continent in a later game. You can found and name cities, give countries scar stickers (which modify that country in a bad or good way), and everyone's favorite/least favorite.. tear up cards. The game is permanently modified when you throw out the Mongolia card. It will never show up again, so someone that took over Mongolia has less of a chance to earn bonuses and victory points. The strategy in this game goes well beyond the end of your session, and feels much like an RPG. But the joy of it, is that anyone can jump in and out because the story is all right in front of you on the board. If you miss a session, you can see the winner, and the losers, and the results of that session.

There are a few other reasons why this game is so great. The first being that they improved on the Risk model. Not just by customization, but also by making the sessions last just an hour each. Instead of world domination, you start out in one country and work your way outwards. If you hit 4 victory points (obtained through various methods) you win the game.

This was by far my game of the year, and I hope it's a business model that starts off a whole new type of campaign games, where previous actions effect future games. Just the idea gets my head spinning.. in a very good way.


And that's it for my top games of 2011. For me, it was a year of new concepts and ideas. I'm really looking forward to see what can be done with these ideas in 2012, and also seeing a whole bunch of Kickstarter-funded indie games make their way into production.


  1. Looking forward to Life: Legacy.

    In seriousness though, good list. some that won't make it to mine, but pretty solid and I can understand why they made it to yours. Hopefully will have mine up soon too.

  2. You might be onto something with Life: Legacy... a real-time much improved game of Life that ages with you and binds to your actual characteristics and place in life at the time and place that you start each session. As depressing as that sounds, I'd still buy it.

  3. Think we'd have to call it Life: Generations. The next game is played having to deal with the mistakes of your parents, plus you need to drive a car for each sibling that they had (Game 1 you have 4 kids. Now you need to take care of 4 families in game 2)