New Year, Old Year: 2016 Revisited
Day Four: Lessons!
What I Got Right!
Another easy list. Either I’m getting the hang of this or 2016 was a strong year.
Kolejka/Queue remains one of my favorite “message games” of all time, in part because it wholeheartedly embraces its status as a cultural artifact. The crinkled paper graphic of its box, the cheapo pawns, the fact that Russia actually banned the thing — if that isn’t how you promote your game about the evils of the Soviet regime, I don’t know what to tell you.
Other historical examples also made for easy selections. While it wasn’t without its share of flaws, Black Orchestra at least provided a rejoinder for anyone who claims that they would have just shot Hitler and been done with it. Buddy, when that punk has evaded poison gas, a sabotaged airplane, and a kidnapped convoy, your best bet is hoping he just does the job himself.
Tension was also the order of the day in 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis and An Infamous Traffic, although for very different reasons. While 13 Days didn’t entirely recapture the world-ending brinkmanship of Twilight Struggle in 45 minutes, it came dang close, especially once the DEFCON levels began plummeting like a Lockheed U-2 in 1960. An Infamous Traffic, meanwhile, was possibly the worst a game has let me behave. Whether using missionaries to hook people on opium or starting wars to sell more opium — or, crud, just selling opium in the first place — the tension of waiting for an opposing firm to undercut your prices was almost as bad as the crap you were pulling.
My two personal favorites wound up being Falling Sky and Pax Renaissance, both of which have reappeared on my table multiple times over the past year. Falling Sky because it was a shockingly good translation of the COIN System into a time period just a scootch before the invention of the AK-47, and Pax Renaissance for modeling pretty much every sphere of influence that led to the world shifting from the Medieval into something resembling today. Politics, capital, class, religion, sovereignty, trade, the cross-pollination of cultures — if you can think it, there’s a good chance Pax Renaissance had some way to shove it into its tiny box.
What I Got Wrong!
Most contentiously, Food Chain Magnate is still overrated, and nothing over the past year has disavowed me of that belief. It’s probably the build orders. Or maybe the milestones running counter to the possibility of creative play. Or the way it brags about its lack of chance while still being a very chancy game.
Nah. It’s the build orders.
Tesla vs. Edison also didn’t make the long-term cut, though it’s still the sort of design that’s easy to respect, especially once its expansion hit the scene. Still, there’s a certain brittleness to the way it unfolds, from beat to beat more often than naturally, that makes it less interesting on its fifth play than its first. Ultimately, lighting up America felt like the sort of process that only needed to occur once.
On the next page, we’re talking about the most unique games of 2016 and how well they held up.