However ultimately I think one of the best guides of “what’s good” (or, at least, “what’s good for me”) is what gets played. No matter how beautiful and elegant a game is, if it never gets played because it’s ten hours long, it’s hard to count it as a good game. Hence the yearly “nickel and dime” lists where people talk about what games they’ve played at least five or ten times.
In past years my nickel and dime lists have been somewhat uninteresting. They tended to focus on the 2-player games that I played with my wife. Alas, my wife has largely stopped playing games this year, but on the upside my 5&10 list is a more accurate reflection of my gaming tastes (with perhaps too much emphasis on fillers).
Here’s what 2006 brought:
Unpublished Prototype x17
A bit of a cheat since this refers to at least six different games that I can remember: two prototypes that I’ve put together with my partner Christopher Allen; two prototypes belonging to a friend I regularly game with; one prototype by a local company; and one by a friend of a friend. Most of them got one or two plays, but two (including one of mine) are probably nickels.
There’s not really a lot to be said about unpublished prototypes, since they’re innately somewhat confidential. I’m pretty sure at least one of them will see print in the next year, though I’m not sure which one. I’d be surprised if more than two or three of them did.
Rumis x9 [ review ]
I write every year about the hottest new fillers that come and go. Fairy Tale, No Thanks!, and Hey! That’s My Fish! are some of the last several that had a spike in play right after release. However Rumis is a rare filler with long-term sticking power. It’s fun, it’s colorful, and it’s quick. I’m still not convinced there’s a lot of strategy in it; I feel like I somewhat randomly win or lose based upon a few moves. (Though when I told this to a friend last night, he said, “Well, I always lose, so some people must always be able to win.”)
The only deficit of Rumis as a filler is that it’s a big box. I wouldn’t typically haul it around in case I ended up with 15 extra minutes. The main reason it continues to get played (for me at least) is that there’s a public copy over at my local game store.
Blue Moon x8 [ review ]
Here’s a rare 2-player game that’s on my list, but it’s only here because I’ve slowly been writing reviews of all the expansions. Right now 2-player games aren’t really a part of my gaming, so it’s a push to get this played. If I played more 2-players I’d certainly like to play this regularly, as it’s relatively deep for a 2-player game, yet not excessively long.
Through the Desert x8 [ review ]
I don’t know that I’d say that this is my favorite Knizia game, but I’m certainly not surprised to see it at the top of my list. It’s light and it’s fast, but there’s a lot of meanignful strategy to it. And, it has the benefit of being really small in its new edition, and thus often goes into my gaming bag. I find it kind of funny that some of my most played games, like this or Rumis, are the ones that happen to be available at my game store for various reasons — but that doesn’t stop them from being great games.
Coloretto x7 [review ]
I suppose this is another filler game with staying power, since it’s been two years since it was in constant-play-before-gaming mode with my group. On the other hand, I’m not terribly excited by it any more, and I suspect all of this year’s plays were because someone else suggested a game. It’s clever, and it’s simple, but after five or ten plays you’ve mainly seen what it can do.
Hey! That’s My Fish! x7 [ review ]
These seven plays were probablly all new-game-smell plays, as I can’t remember the last time Hey! That’s My Fish! hit either my game bag or the table. Nonetheless, it’s a great filler, mainly due to the fact that it’s very different from the ubiquitous card games that tend to fill the genre. It’s light and not very deep, but it’s pretty original.
In short: Richard Borg has created a superb system with his C&C mechanics. Despite the fact that I have almost no interest in war games, these games do continue to interest me, and have year after year. Either Memoir ’44 or BattleLore is the best of the lot, depending on whether you want casual or more serious. Ultimately C&C:A just isn’t well developed enough to stand up to the superb Days of Wonder releases.
Thurn and Taxis x7
This is the only fully original full-length game from 2006 to make my nickel list, which goes partway toward explaining why I wrote that the releases in 2006 were somewhat disappointing. Thurn and Taxis is not very deep, and I don’t think it has the tactical breadth of Ticket to Ride, which it was clearly trying to emulate. Nonetheless it’s a fine game that I’ve been happy to play and still goes into my bag occasionally. However, I also suspect I’m not going to buy the expansion when it comes out this year.
Arkham Horror x6 [ review ]
I don’t play long games, so for Fantasy Flight’s new edition of Arkham Horror to make my nickel list is nothing short of astounding. It basically means that my RPG group spent 6 of our ~35-40 weeks of gaming last year playing Arkham Horror instead of an RPG. Granted, Arkham Horror may not be that amazing to folks more used to Euros, but as a crossover game into the RPG crowd, the new edition does a very, very good job.
Fairy Tale x6 [ review ]
Yup, it’s another filler. I was obsessively fond of it when it was released, and though the ardor has now cooled, I still think it’s a fine game. However, like others that I’ve already mentioned in this category, I’m not convinced that winning or losing is based on good gameplay. It seems pretty random, but getting there is still fun. (And it’s already racked up one play in 2007 too.)
Dead Man’s Treasure x5 [ review ]
Another filler, this one by Reiner Knizia, and surprisingly not as good as the other fillers on my list. It’s an enjoyable game, but it’s only particularly notable because blind bidding isn’t a common filler topic. I think it has more depth than some of the others, but I also think I’m about done with it.
Kramer’s Hacienda was nearly a 2006 release. I think I got it with just a few days left in 2005 and may not have played it until 2006. As such it’s notable because it’s another heavier game that’s original and is a great design. I expect it to outlive Thurn & Taxis as one of the better games of this last year-or-so, though it just doesn’t quite have that uniqueness to drive fanatical play.
Another Reiner Knizia game. I’ve increasingly realized this year that he’s designed many of my favorite games, and if they don’t all appear on my five and dime list, it’s because he has so many to choose from. Ingenious is a rarity: an abstract that I truly adore. I’m surprised to have played it four times this year before I got a copy at Christmas. It promptly hit the table a fifth time on December 30, the day after my dad gave me my copy. This will surely get more plays in the New Year; it may hit the table tonight.
Knights of Charlemagne x5 [ review ]
Another Knizia and another filler — and another Knizia that doesn’t excite me nearly as much as his more full-length pieces. I think this is a clever game, particularly in its 4-player configuration, but I also feel like Knizia did this genre better with Battleline.
No Thanks! x5 [ review ]
Honestly, Geschkent! only gets play any more when we’re got 5 minutes because we’re waiting for someone, and we don’t care if we finish the game or not. Which isn’t a particularly strong endorsement — but I suppose it’s nice to have rather than sitting around for those five minutes.
Almost There (4): Blue Moon City, Great Wall of China, Havoc: The Hundred Years War, Lost Cities, Mission: Red Planet, Pickomino, Ra, Res Publica, Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride Marklin, Vegas Showdown.
When looking at the good games from 2006 I have to highlight Blue Moon City and Vegas Showdown which were definitely two of my favorites this year. The story of Vegas Showdown is a bit tragic, with Wizards remaindering it just before it won the Games 100 award, but that’s what happens when you sell your soul to the Hasbro devil. I was surprised to discover that Mission: Red Planet really fills the El Grande urge — in half the time and with less beating up on the leader.
You’ll also note another few of my favorite Knizias.
Also Ran (3): Alexandros, Beowulf: The Legend, Bohnanza, Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, Circus Flohcati, Dungeon Twister, Funny Friends, Hollywood Blockbuster, King of the Beasts: Mythological Edition, Ostia, PUNCT, Seismic, Tikal, Winner’s Circle.
Funny Friends and Hollywood Blockbuster were another couple of great releases this year — the first as a totally original game (with a terrible, terrible rulebook, sadly) and the second as a reprint.
Dungeon Twister is a game that I lauded after its release in 2005, and I continue to think it’s the bee’s knees. It’d get a lot of play if I had an opponent who liked it.
And I’ll finally mentioned King of the Beasts: Mythological Edition as a game that doesn’t deserve to be on this list. It got three plays only because we were so dumb-founded by the game that we had to keep trying it to see if it got any better. (It didn’t.)
Author’s Note: I’m pretty sure that nothing on this list has made a nickel any time recently. I think that’s in part because the eurogame industry has moved on a bit since dense fillers like Race for the Galaxy and Dominion showed up and so a lot of these fillers have faded a bit. I do still play some of these games sometimes, however. I think that Blue Moon City, Havoc the Hundred Years War, Lost Cities, No Thanks!, Rumis, and Through the Desert get the most attention. —SA, 10/9/12