Games that you played five or ten times in a year (five and dimes) have been used as a barometer of the board gaming world for years. Here's what made my five and dime board gaming list in 2011:
Dominion — 19 plays
My winner for the year was Dominion, which made 19 plays, many of those after the releases of Cornucopia and Hinterlands. This also madeDominion my most-played board game ever, with its 94 tabletop plays edging out the 93 plays across all variants of Ticket to Ride.
Generally, Dominion is a good game that really shines due to its variability and its ability to support good expansions. Though, to be honest, its newest expansion Hinterlands didn't thrill me: a lot of the cards seem to make the game drag, while I found neither the new mechanic nor the theme (was there one?) very attractive. For me, Seaside, Alchemy, and Cornucopia remain the top Dominion expansions, in that order.
Though Dominion is a juggernaut, I think it could do even better. It's held back—and this seems really silly to say—by its box. When I want to bringDominion to gaming, I have to choose a single box, and that doesn't always reflect the most exciting way to play. Because of that, Dominion often doesn't get put in my gaming bag at all. I've seen other players face this problem, and as a result Dominion has almost entirely faded from the gamestore scene. The sad thing is that the publishers of other games like Thunderstone and Ascension have figured this pretty simple problem out: they've made boxes that can be used to hold multiple expansions. I wish that Rio Grande would get with the program.
7 Wonders — 18 plays
I was pretty surprised to see that newcomer 7 Wonders almost outpaced Dominion in '11, but it does feature some elements I love, like a huge variety of cards which together make every game dynamic, exciting, and different. However, 7 Wonders really excels in the new idea it brought to the game table: simultaneous play.
Sure, there's been simultaneous play before, usually in the selection of a single card or a single option. 7 Wonders really changed that up by making its entire play simultaneous, vt taking steps that would usually be played one at a time, and trusting players to do them all at once.
7 Wonders could have been a good play with a more normative structure, say with cards being selected simultaneously, but then revealed once at a time. But, it would be long and you'd have huge problems with downtime when the player number mounted. Instead, 7 Wonders literally took a 1-2 hour game and pushed it into a 30 minute package, and that's why it succeeds so well.
Ascension — 10 plays
As I wrote this summer, the iPhone Ascension is what really won me over to the game (though I'd sort of liked it before). I feel like it's the one other early deck building games that really got it. Where most other deck builder games added complexity and made their games too long as a result,Ascension kept things quick and short, so that you're always wishing you had more time—not happy that it's finally done.
I bought 2011's small-box expansion, Return of the Fallen, and that's been a great 2-player set for the wife and me, but we're also looking forward to the new Storm of Souls supplement due out two weeks ago or so.
Lost Cities — 9 plays
This is an old standby for the wife and me that excels because it's tiny and so can be brought on vacation and it can be played even when we're both tired. It's racked up 67 plays over the years and is my #3 all-time board game after Dominion and Ticket to Ride(s).
Unpublished Prototype — 8 plays
Several folks regularly put prototypes on the table at Endgame: Eric V. (author of Armorica, Cambria, and Hibernia) and the design team of Denbaum, Lytle, and Ruggiero (authors of the upcoming Race to Adventure). All told I've played more good games than bad, so I'm always happy to take a bit of time to play & comment on a prototype.
Plays this year include Race to Adventure (on which, more shortly) plus some others.
Eminent Domain — 7 plays
Years ago, the deep-filler category got started with San Juan, a role-selection card game that allowed some deep play in a very short time. Then the category got redefined with the release of Dominion, which offered a very specific type of deep filler—the deck-building game—which has eclipsed some of the neat role-selection fillers that had preceded it.
Eminent Domain was a pleasant surprise because it went back to the deep-filler source by mixing role-selection and deck-building into a coherent and interesting whole. (Basically, you pick roles each turn to get actions, then the cards matching those actions go into your deck for future usage.) It also builds to the same strengths as Dominion and Ascension by producing a game that plays quickly and shortly.
I don't think that Eminent Domain has the same replayability as the traditional deck builders because it has a much smaller set of cards, but I've nonetheless enjoyed seeing the deck building mechanics in a slighter more constrained context (and the fact that it shows up on my five and dime list says that it certainly is repayable enough).
Race for the Galaxy — 7 plays
Speaking of deep fillers, here's one of the classics.
I feel like Race for the Galaxy was the best expression of the San Juan style role-selection game. Even without deck building, it has great variability and replayability due to the fact that you expend most cards as "money" in any game (rather than seeing every card actually played). The expansions just helped that.
However, I also feel like the expansions for Race for the Galaxy had a big downside: complexity. Each one made the game harder to play and harder to teach. In fact, the game dropped out of favor in my gaming groups following the release of the third expansion, because no one wanted to learn the new prestige rules.
I finally learned them in 2011, and felt they added to the game, as did others—hence the seven plays. Still, I'm not convinced it's the optimal way to expand a game.
Carcassonne: The Discovery — 6 plays
A number of variant games have been released for the Carcassonne rules, and I believe that they've generally offered good variations on the core game. However, for me the best two were the ones created by outside designers—Reiner Knizia and Leo Colovini—because those designers were the most willing to really think outside the box about the Carcassonne design.
Colovini's game, Carcassonne: The Discovery, unfortunately got pretty poor attention because of an online exclusive deal which kept it out of game stores until a year past its release—by which time fans had moved on to other things. Which is a pity, as it's a pretty neat game, as I rediscovered this year when I pulled it out of mothballs.
I think it does two things right.
First, it makes meeple placement into an economy. You can place a meeple or remove a meeple on your turn. Meeples no longer get stuck; instead you have to judge when you should remove an unfinished meeple because you don't think it's terrain will close; and you also have to think about when to remove a finished meeple, because you judge that no new opportunities are as valuable as getting that piece back.
Second, it creates terrains whose values are based on other terrains, with mountains scoring based on cities in adjoining terrains. Not only does this require you to think about Carcassonne in a different way, but it allows you to create complementary terrains (or glom onto those of opponents) in a way that the original game did not.
Ubongo — 6 plays
This is a fun game because it's exciting, it's quick, and it's unlike most other games. (FITS, Rumis, and Pueblo scratch some of the same itch.) I've got 18 plays total recorded for Ubongo. My most recent game was on Christmas Day, as I gave it as a present to one of my brothers and his wife, which should tell you how well I respect the game.
Race to Adventure — 5+ plays
I'm not sure how many times I've played this upcoming Evil Hat game, because the first plays were recorded as "unpublished prototypes". However, I've logged 3 plays since it appeared on BGG, so I'm pretty sure I played it 5 times or more over the course of the year.
Suffice to say, I'm looking forward to it, because it's a quick game that requires some careful strategy and has a lot of variability.
Galaxy Trucker — 5 plays
Recently when people have asked me what my favorite board game is, I've answered Galaxy Trucker. It's got a high level of excitement, much likeUbongo because of its real-time element. However, there's also a raw creativity implicit in the game that I've only seen in a few other games like Factory Fun (which unfortunately doesn't quite work because it's got its real-time element in the wrong place) and more recently Mondo. I love creating my own ship. The excitement of seeing how well it does afterward is almost irrelevant.
Make more games like this!
Almost Made It: Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon (4); The Castle of the Devil (3); Fairy Tale (3); Glen More (3); Hibernia (3); King Arthur: The Card Game (3); Mondo (3); Times Square (3).