This is part 3 of my end-of-year posts. I select three nominees in each category and crown a winner. Here are the first two posts on new-to-me games and historical non-fiction books.
Today’s category are non-historical games. I know – games which are not about history? – A wild notion! But I admit, I sometimes dabble in them. No, in fact, more than half to two thirds of my plays are of games which are not about history. They’re often easier to pitch to other people (who might or might not share my interest in the Austrian Succession of 1740), and they often play a bit faster (I assume my Unconditional Surrender! campaign will keep me busy until late 2020). And: They are often (almost!) as much fun!
So, here are the three non-historical games with which I had the most fun this year:
An unlikely choice for me – I am normally not a person to enjoy the calculation-heavy optimization games too much. Power Grid, however, has something to it. It might help that I am interested in energy policy. But that does not explain why a game about power plant auctions and coal acquisition excites me.
But maybe this does: The most titillating thing about Power Grid is the curious dialectic between cut-throat competition and catch-up mechanism: Power Grid is brutal. Tough fights erupt over power plants, resources to power them, and cities to which to sell the electricity; and almost no randomness means that you have nobody to blame for your business desaster but yourself. Plan better, play better – next time, that is. But wait! Power Grid is in fact soft on the not-so-competitive gamer! Being last in number of cities powered (the game’s metric for victory) means you get all the advantages in the turn order, being first comes with all the disadvantages. Build last. Buy your resources at the highest prices. Get only one shot at a power plant. As dialectics go, however, thesis and antithesis are subsumed into the synthesis: Being in last place brings so many advantages that the truly good gamer plans for it. Let’s see if you can wrestle that sweet last place away from your unsuspecting friends, milk them from there for several rounds, and then dash ahead to taunt them from beyond the finish line.
Last little sidenote: It’s always fun to be a villain in games and do things that one normally wouldn’t. And for me, running a bunch of nuclear and fossil fuel plants is definitely one of these things.
Did I mention I like being a villain in games? Well, War of the Ring has me covered. I can march an army of orcs into the Shire and show those silly little hobbits that the power of Barad-Dûr is not to be trifled with. However, as most of my friends who play War of the Ring prefer to play the Shadow, my villain performances are few and far between. Instead, I get to do another, just as fun thing: Being the hero! A long-bearded wizard in a coat so shiny and white it must come straight from a laundry detergent commercial. A shaggy ranger who is scheming to conduct a coup that will make him king of the most powerful realm of men. And, of course, a short delivery boy who is tasked with bringing a parcel of jewellery to a rather remote address.
Their – your! – individual deeds shine in the game – dying and being resurrected, fending off a superior army besieging your stronghold, trekking through the wastelands hounded by enemies. Even when you lose, you will still feel accomplished for what you’ve done. And that is a really nice feeling after a game of three or four hours.
It’s been a close call, but my favorite non-historical game of this year is…
2018’s winner in this category retains its crown! I haven’t played it nearly as often as in the wild days of 2018 (when it accounted for about 25% of my total plays, all the more impressive given the game easily takes four hours), but the few times I did were always epic experiences. Most of all, I like the teamwork aspect – you have to think not only for your character (or characters – I like giving each player multiple characters in low player counts), but also how they can best interact with their fellow investigators. Who deals with which challenge? Who makes a good team with whom? If there is only one investigator next to a particular hotbed of cult activity, can she deal with it even though her understanding of the occult is limited to „Doesn’t exist. Next“? So, it’s kinda like having managerial responsibility for a small department of experts. Just more epic.
Sidenote: I am not the biggest fan of expansions for games. However, I put the Forsaken Lore (Nikki Valens, Fantasy Flight Games) expansion on my wishlist for this Christmas and was happy to receive it – because I have played Eldritch Horror so often already that I am in fact craving new content. And the fact that I played the game around 15 times, did not get bored, and then asked for more should be testament enough to its quality.
Which non-historical games did you enjoy this year? Let me know in the comments!