Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The year that was, in gaming at the Castle...

I've been a touch quiet here the last month or so, but I thought I'd kick 2016 off in the expected way, with a retrospective on the previous year of gaming at the Castle.

Last year was a quiet year by my standards, part of this has been to do with my growing family, and a part of this has been to do with my work as a freelance writer for Spartan Games and Modiphius.

The first of these two things, my family, has been wonderful. My children are a momentous force in my life, and I'm sure any parent would attest the same. The are a constant source of wonder, and the tired adage that they grow too quickly is only sharpening in relevance as the years progress.

The second has been an exciting foray into the world of working a second job. As a freelance writer I have had the opportunity to contribute to many of Spartan Games' products, including writing for the Firestorm Planetfall boxed set (Battle for Proteus Prime), the Firestorm Armada boxed set (Return of the Overseers), the Halo: Fleet Battles boxed set (The Fall of Reach), and continued work on Dystopian Legions. It has been tiring, but highly satisfying at the same time. More recently I have also done some work for Modiphius, but perhaps more on this at a later date. All of this has led me to playing much less than the time I have spent working on various games, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope to keep it up in the coming year - we shall see.

Each year myself and a few mates I game with (far too little in the last year) have embarked on a challenge of sorts, 2015 was the year we committed to attempt to play a minimum of 50 unique games, and we kept track of them on the boardgamegeek website. This last year I managed to play through some 80 unique games (which you can find at the above link if you are particularly curious). I'm going to run over some of the better ones here in this post.

Best Kids Game:

Nothing new or surprising here for those who have followed my blog for some time (that might just be you Mum ;) ), but my favourite game for kids this year has been Sorry Sliders. A wonderful and silly little game where you slide Sorry pieces (embedded with a ball bearing) down various tracks in the hope of scoring points. The game is simple in the extreme, and mirrors more beautiful games like Crokinole or Carrom, but it is nonetheless highly enjoyable. It is Shuffleboard, but in a box. If you can find a copy pick it up - it is an excellent game, easy to set up and play, but thoroughly and completely fun.

Best New to me Board Game:

A close draw between Roll for the Galaxy and Takenoko.

Roll for the Galaxy is a spin-off of the highly successful Race for the Galaxy card game, it retains all the best flavours of it's older brother, but manages to make the game experience less tiresome. I enjoyed Race for the Galaxy, but enjoyed Roll for the Galaxy much more for some strange reason. I've only played it once, and would love to play again, but this was a meaty and engaging dice game that seemed to last just the right amount of time.

Takenoko is an absurdly adorable game of building a bamboo garden and scoring points. The pieces draw you into the game experience, but there is more to this game than nice bits. With multiple varieties of cards pushing you to score points in multiple ways, it is an engrossing game experience. While it might seem dry from my simplistic description, the gameplay is dynamic and interesting, with a lot of little things to think about that somehow manage not to confuse the play experience. All in all a thoroughly excellent game that is packed with pieces that just demand to be put on the table.

Best New to me Miniature Game:

Yes, yes. I'm biased. I wrote much of the story in the scenario book. But damn. This game is a rollercoaster. Fast and deadly, aggressive and dynamic, Derek (the designer) and his team have done a sterling job with this. The game is brutal and visceral, handfuls of dice clatter onto the table and tanks, aircraft and infantry erupt into destructive fireballs (metaphorically) on a regular basis. A very enjoyable game that manages to play quickly and yet maintain a solid level of tactical play, thoroughly recommended, for all my biased reasons. The full rules and army lists are available for free from Spartan if you are curious...

Best Role Playing Game:

Several years ago, I started to make a move away from board games and into miniatures games. I seem to be moving through my 'life cycle as a gamer' from the beginning. Miniatures games and role playing games dominated my early gaming experiences and I have been drawn back into that seductive and alluring world. Edge of the Empire has been a game I have GMed for multiple groups, and each time it has been a lot of fun. The unique dice mechanics allow for a level of story telling and player agency that I really enjoy, and the game system doesn't seem to interfere with the story as much as many other RPGs I have played over the years. As a sucker for Star Wars (well, the originals), this game really tickles my fancy, and I have thoroughly enjoyed playing it! Here's hoping we can continue our campaigns rolling into 2016!

Best Small Game:

Scopa is a traditional Italian card game that is widely available from many sources. It is an excellent game, each turn you play a numbered card and capture cards from the middle of table (or add to the cards in the middle if you can't claim any), certain mixes of cards and majorities will score you points. After several rounds the player who manages to achieve the required amount of points will be declared victor by all the others and paraded through the streets. Simple though it is, it is also tactical, interesting, easy to explain and play and very enjoyable. It's available very cheaply, and my advice is to get a copy, whether you play with 2 or 3, or in teams with 4, it is a wonderful little game.

Old Favourite:

Fairy Tale, you sweet, sweet beauty. This is, without a doubt, my most played game. A 'go to' game when we can't decide what to play or play next, I have played this literally hundreds of times and am still not tired of it. Able to be played in 10-15 minutes, it is engaging and full of interesting choices, Fairy Tale is an absolutely brilliant game.

Most Played:

As a person working on Dystopian Legions it is obviously going to number in my most played games of 2015. I am completely biased on this game as I am heavily involved with it, but if you like tactical and interesting miniatures games, with a solid layer of narrative play, then I suggest you head to the Spartan Downloads Page and download a free copy of the rules, the FAQ, and whatever army/yies take your fancy!

Dystopian Wars is THE game my brother and I chose to lead us back into miniatures gaming, the 'most played' moniker is no doubt helped by the fact I played in a tournament last year, but this game is an absolute blast. Again, I am heavily biased as I work for the company, but this game has a depth like few others. All the rules, FAQ and army lists are again available for free on the Spartan Site (same link as above), so well worth checking out. Dystopian Wars has a naval theme that might not tick every players fancy, but boy, the rules and gameplay speak for themselves - this is a fascinating game that rewards replay and careful thought and planning. Absolutely brilliant.

Well, that's about that for my reminiscence on 2015, I'll write again shortly and talk about the upcoming year of 2016 - it seems the time to do that sort of thing...