New Year, Old Year: 2019 Revisited

Wee Aquinas says yet again, "Reason dictates that we should shun the evils that we cannot withstand, and the endurance of which profits us nothing. Hence there is no sin in fearing them." In other words, wear your masks, dinguses.

As has become a February tradition around these parts, it’s time to rewind a whole year and a month to Best Week 2019. But this is no warmhearted jaunt down memory lane. Oh no. This is an interrogation. This is when we take a look at the titles I proclaimed the best of the year and discuss whether I was right, wrong, or somewhere in between.

Day One! The Inveiglers!

What I Got Right!

Depends on how we classify “right.” Now now, before you accuse me of trying to dodge my stint under the interrogator’s lamp, let me clarify what I mean. When it comes to board games, I’m an omnivore. Heavy stuff, light stuff, multiplayer stuff, solo stuff. This list was specifically about the games you could bring home to mom without fretting over whether they’d track mud across the carpet.

As far as family-friendly goes, most of these have stood the test of time. Horrified is still proof that Prospero Hall is one of the premier design collectives of our day. More importantly, it’s still less punitive than Pandemic, and that’s before we jump into how painfully relevant that one has become. I gifted Horrified to my sister, and apparently it’s seen plenty of use. To lesser degrees, the same is true of Watergate, Men at Work, and Wingspan. That first one in particular. I introduced it to my Dad. It took him all of five minutes to go from “I remember this” to “At least Nixon had the decency to resign.” My personal favorite of the trio is probably Men at Work, which gets so many things right about stacking as a game mechanism without needing to go more than a few inches off the table. That’s impressive.

And then there’s Unmatched. If any game has improved over the past year, it’s this one. That it would still be around was to be expected; Restoration Games was hoping to birth a system, not a single box. That it would exceed itself twice over, first with Robin Hood vs. Bigfoot and then with the sublime Cobble & Fog, I couldn’t have told you way back when. But if there’s any game I haven’t used as a friendly launchpad into gaming’s deeper waters, the answer is the same. It’s possible that this is a reflection of my neglect more than of the game itself, but the fact stands that Unmatched didn’t get nearly as much play as I expected.

What I Got Wrong!

Apart from some pedantry, this big misstep was Bloom Town. It’s cute and combo-y, but those aren’t exactly in short supply in this hobby. If I remembered how it played, I might have more insight into why it hasn’t weathered the test of time. That in itself might be telling.

On a personal note, there were two titles I was often informed I’d gotten wrong. The loudest voices cared very much about Wingspan. When it amassed the hobby’s version of the EGOT, one snooty person thanked me for helping shill Stonemaier products. An odd accusation after I panned Tapestry and Pendulum. I suppose I was wrong about Wingspan’s broad appeal. Allow me to clarify: Wingspan is an excellent game that will appeal to many people, but not to anyone who sends hate mail to strangers.

On the next page, I’ll be less snarky. Promise.

Posted on February 25, 2021, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Sadly, Unmatched kind of fell flat for us. Just ended up feeling shallow and anti-climatic in all of our games following the 1st time we played (The first play seemed very promising).

    Beautiful package though.

  2. Surprised to hear Unmatched fell flat. I thought the game nailed the cliche “simple with a lot of depth” we throw around so easily. I thought it did a particularly good job of forcing actual maneuver. Rarely do my games turn into slugfests, but instead are very drawn out with timed attrition of mobs and a focus on pinning my opponent. This may just be because my son plays as Robin Hood who feels slightly overpowered and really forces opponents to move a lot. I’d also advise against using King Arthur. He’s mechanically the most simple which I think forces players to mindlessly attack and makes him a weak character also. Both Robin v Bigfoot and Bruce Lee are excellent cheaper expansions that add a lot to the game IMO that might be worth trying before you write it off. The raptors are useless. Cobble and Fog is indeed sublime and adds just enough complexity without becoming onerous to really elevate this above a simple skirmish game. Of course it’s a more expensive expansion so may not be worth it if you’re on the fence.

    Sorry for wall of text. Passionate about this game.

    • The later boxes certainly help Unmatched come into its own, though. I can see how someone would find it dull if they only played the original box.

    • (answering as anonymous; forgot to put my details in):

      I feel like if I were to try and pinpoint exactly where it kind of fell short is in how the nuance in the strategy/tactics relies on hidden info in the deck. It’s probably just a matter of taste, but somewhere in the
      “My hand’s crap! run away. Still crap? keep running away”
      “I play this, you cancel it. You play that, I cancel it –> Eventually someone hits or gets put on the run again”
      and the limitation of 2 units per team ended up giving me this feeling of having too much maneuverability? or too little friction? don’t know what the best term here would be.

      And what of course offsets this (i assume) is that keenness to examine the decks and keep track of the distribution of cards; “where’s that medussa’s gaze card?” or “where’s that big sniping card of robin hood?”, etc. But just couldn’t get excited about doing so.

      While I sense that this would be the thing that glues that card play and board maneuvering into that paradigm that fans of the game love about it, we just didn’t get the inspiration to do that while playing.

      I guess it doesn’t help that I’ve been spoiled by the other 30 keepers that I’ve collected so far. Probably just not my type of game (Was kind of hoping it’d scratch an itch for a Wiz-War lite or something)

  3. Wow, I didn’t expect you to like Pax Transhumanity. My first play of it put me off so much I just discared the game. It felt so unthematic,you were just trying to assemble the right colors.

    Maybe it’s time to give it another shot and try to see past that.

    By the way, any opinions on Pax Viking? And did you know we have another Pax incoming? It’s called Pax Shamiram and we have absolutely no information on it, but apparently that’s a thing.

    • Pax Viking is good! I have an early copy, and we’ve enjoyed our plays. It feels much more Pax-ish than expected. It’s less conceptual than the other titles, though. Feels more straightforward. Less wacky. Less controversial as well, perhaps.

      First I’m hearing about Pax Shamiram. I know one or two other designers are considering their own takes on the Pax system. Hopefully we’ll see it continue to grow in interesting ways.

  4. I eagerly bought Dune but always hesitate to bring it back out because there always is an argument about the rules, and it almost seems the way the Emperor is written intentionally forces you to make a house rule on his ability.

  5. I admire your bravery in saying you like an Eklund design at this point. I haven’t had a chance to play Pax Transhumanity yet, but I wouldn’t mind trying it. It sounds really crunchy.

    • Eklund still has a good mind for interesting systems, he has just always had garbage opinions

    • That’s kind of you to say, Dave! I’m not sure I’d call it “brave,” though. For one thing, Pax Transhumanity was designed by the Other Eklund. For another… I don’t really care if somebody doesn’t want me to play a game. Anyway, Eklund’s games are odd. They don’t generally argue what his footnotes say they argue. Which is a whole topic I’ve considered writing about many times before, but might never get around to.

      • Of course I’d read that article, but of course it helps to incorporate other designers so we’re not just designating one as our punching bag.

        I’m reminded again of the easily missed introduction in Archipelago’s rulebook that says “The mission is meant to be one of peace… Such a balance can only be achieved through each player’s commitment to make the archipelago a happy and productive colony.” but the game aptly demonstrates how violence can happen without the use of arms.

      • I’m glad that you take that stance, Dan. Shows integrity.

        And yeah, sorry I didn’t realize it was designed by the Other Eklund (tm?). Talking about the footnotes made me think of the first.

        I would read that article if you ever do write it!

      • Triskelli, exactly. I was more wont to write such an article before Eklund’s recent… social media moment? Implosion? Whatever we want to call it, I have no desire to write a piece that could be considered part of a pile-on. I’d do something comparative, but that requires a parallel game to consider. Frankly, Eklund is working in such a niche space that there aren’t as many parallels as I’d like there to be.

      • Dave, ha, yeah, you are definitely not the first person to mix up those two. The footnotes make them especially difficult to separate.

  6. For Sabotage, would you now say it’s not the best of the Fowers catalogue, where in your original review it was a “might be”? And are you even more hesitant to recommend it now?
    I’ve been on a bit of a Fowers kick (Now Boarding and Hardback, awaiting Burgle Bros 2), and the premise/mechanics of Sabotage really interest me.

    Really appreciate your written reviews, as I always find it a lot easier to read an article than watching a 20-30 minute video.

    • I still really love Sabotage! It just wants those caveats: it’s hard to teach, it’s persnickety, and it’s best with exactly four players.

      As for where it falls in Fowers’ oeuvre, I’d put it at number two, right under Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers.

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