With 2011 now firmly in our rear view mirror, it’s time to look back on the year in board games. And what a year it was. The release schedule for 2011 was as crowded as ever, with most publishers upping their output to capitalize on surging board game popularity, and an army of indie developers trying their luck with Kickstarter projects. There’s simply no way you could play them all, so now it’s time to break down what titles you should be looking for as you game it up in 2012.
Separating the wheat from the chaff was no easy task, but the end result is very telling. This top 10 consists mostly of medium-weight games, all with an appealing theme. The level of strategy varies, but most fit the bill of a traditional well-produced geeky board game.
No party or family games broke through this year (although Dixit: Odyssey was a great follow-up), nor did any of the aforementioned Kickstarter indies make the cut (Alien Frontiers did last year, and 2011 had several near-misses). Originality was also a factor, but in the end, many of the best games wound up being sequels and follow-up efforts where designers made significant improvements to earlier titles.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the first five of 2011’s top board games:
Originally intended to be the lightweight cousin of the classic Space Hulk, this game has become the preferred vehicle for Space Marine-Genestealer conflict on my table. Space Hulk has always been a game about suspense, so when Death Angel was announced as a co-op experience, many eyebrows were raised. It was an idea so crazy it just might work, and Death Angel managed to capture the spirit of its predecessor quite well.
The game is a dice-fest to be sure, but in a good way. There are just enough levers for a strategic mind to pull, but the grim fact that the odds still control your fate will make for some late-game white-knuckle die rolls. Without a true test of skill, Death Angel might not have two legs to stand on, but its incredibly strong theme has kept players coming back for more. [Full review]
9 – King of Tokyo
Many bright game design minds have tried to capture the spirit of city-razing monster battles in a game, yet almost all of these designers have failed. This task needed a seasoned veteran to tame it, and Richard Garfield (of Magic: The Gathering and Robo Rally fame) stepped up to the plate. With King of Tokyo, Garfield crafted a rare marriage of push-your-luck dice rolling and engaging theme.
It’s not Godzilla, but the inspiration is obvious. Players can take on the role of a giant lizard, ape, kraken, mechanical dragon, alien, and even a cyber bunny, but only one of those will be the King of Tokyo when all is said and done. Like Death Angel above, this game takes a dice-fest and slaps a series of simply yet interesting decisions on top (What should I re-roll? Should I stay in Tokyo or flee to Tokyo Bay?).
The components are beautiful, the artwork has a self-aware B-movie style, and in the end, the theme’s appeal puts this one over the top and into the #9 slot.
8 – The Struggle for Catan
Even the board game industry is not immune to temptation, with plenty of cash-grab expansions and sequels serving as evidence (I’m looking at you, Carcassonne). Somehow, Mayfair Games has managed to avoid that stigma with their follow-on Settlers of Catan games. In fact, with the involvement of original designer Klaus Teuber, these games have become worthy kin to their inspiration.
Of the recent Catan releases, The Struggle for Catan stands out. As a 2-4 player card game, Struggle tackles the difficult task of porting a game from boards to cards. Teuber showed his designer chops here, creating an entirely new card game that perfectly emulates the original Settlers of Catan.
There is a travel version of Settlers available, but you should pay it no mind. The Struggle for Catan is a tight little card game that better suits the role, and is a must-have title for Catan fans on the go. [Full review]
7 – D&D Adventures: The Legend of Drizzt
For Wizards of the Coast, the third time was a charm. The formula that was previously worked on in Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon was perfected here as the game added variety in every avenue possible. The Legend of Drizzt has a series-high eight characters, all with their own sets of abilities, and has scenarios ranging from the previously-seen co-op challenges to brand new team competitive and free-for-all settings.
I can’t recommend that gamers own all three given the high total cost, but D&D Adventures has evolved into the best dungeon crawl around, and The Legend of Drizzt is the best of the series. [Full review]
6 – Small World Underground
I get the feeling that Small World Underground won’t be making many appearances on 2011 top 10 lists because it does not stray too far from its predecessor, but that’s exactly why I enjoy it. The original Small World is one of my personal favorites, and one that should see more time on everyone’s tables. So when Small World Underground game along as a stand-alone expansion that added a full slate of new races, powers, and new rules twists for the underground settings, it was a shoe-in for this “games of the year” list.
The game wasn’t broken, so publisher Days of Wonder didn’t have to fix it. They just freshened things up a bit. [Full review]
Stay tuned for part 2 of The Top 10 Board Games of 2011, where we’ll see what games take home top honors, as well as round up some late 2011 releases that didn’t make the cut.
CONTINUE READING – The Top 10 Board Games of 2011 – Part 2