New Year, Old Year: 2015 Revisited
Day Two: Consternating!
What I Got Right!
This list is nearly a total inversion from the previous one. In fact, only two of its entries seem to have stuck around. I very occasionally play Nevermore, since it’s a perfectly nice drafting-style game that the family can all play together while still getting a slight dose of weirdness. And The Grizzled is fabulous, easily one of my favorite experience-based games of all time. With its expansion, At Your Orders!, it’s even better, giving it new legs far beyond the life expectancy of many of the others on display here.
What I Got Wrong!
Maybe it isn’t surprising that a bunch of games that “consternated” me should wind up exiled to the Basement of Forgetting or on the sales block. On the other hand, while many of these contained clever ideas, in hindsight I haven’t missed them in the slightest. The persistent secret envelopes of Chaosmos were innovative, though unfortunately wrapped inside an uninspiring shell, without much there to bring me back after a handful of plays. Both Onward to Venus and Moongha Invaders represented Martin Wallace at his pinnacle, both in the sense that these were fascinating games without any real equivalent to compete against and because they were a bit crap when you got right down to it. My tolerance for enduring a game’s weaknesses in order to celebrate its best bits has definitely decreased over the intervening year. Hopefully someone will come along and try to replicate Wallace’s auteur approach to design, with maybe a playtest or two before the final release. Hands in the Sea has already done precisely that for Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow, so there’s reason to hope.
DR Congo is one game I’d rather not smear, as it felt timely and bore a positive message despite the meager circumstances of its setting, but it simply didn’t stack up with other “message” games. If I’m going to spend a bunch of hours feeling like I’m wading upstream through bureaucratic sewage, I’d much rather play something from the COIN Series and at least get to blow up my enemies and engage in tenuous negotiations.
Fief: France 1429 is one of those games I’d love to love. It’s got history, backstabbing, and lets your most crucial character die of plague without any warning whatsoever. If only it didn’t take forever to explain and then play. Unfortunately, I simply lack the time to parse the subtle differences between various degrees of papal service, let alone the expansion’s multiple competing knightly orders. I could see this becoming a gangbusters convention game, since that’s an environment where everybody has the time and energy to burn on this sort of thing.
Champions of Midgard was a perfectly serviceable worker-placement game, but I was always a bit cool on it. I’d much rather be holding up Argent: The Consortium as the greatest exemplar of this particular genre. Meanwhile, Artifacts, Inc. and the second edition of A Study in Emerald stuck around for a few more plays before I got tired of their weaknesses. In the former’s case, there’s simply too much emphasis on hiring as many workers as possible in the early stages. And as for the latter, do you know what game I still play and love? A Study in Emerald. Except I’m talking about the first edition, the one that didn’t prune out everything flavorful in favor of a slick-but-dull exterior. Swapping the old for the new is like trading in Cthulhu’s squamous hide for an iguana. One might make a better pet, but that doesn’t make it better.
Next up, the best overlooked games of 2015, and why maybe some of them weren’t as “best” as I’d thought.