The year is coming to an end. And what a year it was! I’ll not go into the specifics – you’ve gone through all of that yourselves – yet have to mention one thing: I always do Farewell articles on this blog to review the year in different categories. We begin with new-to-me games – games that I played for the first time in 2020. While there have not been all that many this year – no conventions, barely any physical meetings with friends – here are three I really enjoyed!
I’ve played this game a lot this year with Dave from the Dude! Take Your Turn blog via the Playdek implementation. During these plays, I have felt sucked back into the 2000s, my own lived memory, to all those things like oil price spikes and al-Qaeda that were so important back then and are now all but superseded by more recent events.
At first glance, the game seems to have a clear affirmative perspective on US counterterrorism – that of the US neoconservative government. Military regime changes and subsequent nation-building are the best anti-terrorist measures. A hard stance on terrorism is the necessary prerequisite. But it’s not that simple. As designer Volko Ruhnke has said, he aimed to take the American administration’s perspective on the Middle East seriously – even though he thinks that the neoconservatives in the Bush administration had assumptions that did not operate very effectively. And both of that is in the game. Sure, you can go gung-ho about regime changing against Jihadism, but that will run you into troop overstretch, not do anything against the recruitment potential of the Jihadists, and potentially estrange you from your allies. And those considerations of strategy in a complex world are among the best things a board game can achieve.
A very late addition to this list – I only got the game for Christmas! As I was busy with other Christmas things, mostly eating, I’ve only played it twice so far, but I like what I’ve seen so far.
7 Wonders Duel looks very much like 7 Wonders. That’s not only because Miguel Coimbra did the beautiful art for both, but also because the (flimsy) theme of its multiplayer namesake as well as some of the mechanisms. Still, that impression is misleading. 7 Wonders was very much a multiplayer game that left everyone at the table free to chart their own path. 7 Wonders Duel is very much a two-player tug-of-war in which the choices you and your opponent make have very direct ramifications for both of you – from the selection of cards to build over buying resources in a market dominated by the other player to the threat of a military or scientific auto-win (my take here is influenced by the review Marc from TheThoughtfulGamer has put up just a few days before Christmas). Still, the rules are pretty short and straightforward, and thus you get a crunchy game at a low barrier of entrance.
The beauty of Just One is that it can be taught in three sentences: All players but one know a given word; this last player has to guess it. The others help the guesser by writing down a one-word clue, all at the same time. Any clues which are given by more than one person are discarded. From this incredibly simple ruleset, a lot of tricky decisions ensue: If you have to give a clue for “Egypt”, will “Pyramids” be so obvious that another person gives it, too, thus discarding both? Will “desert” be too generic, or “Ptolemy” too obscure, neither of them being much help to the guesser? – And in the end nobody dares to write “Pyramids”, but two people cancel each other out with “Cleopatra”, leaving the guesser with “Nile” and “Vacation” from the remaining two people.
I’ve played this a bunch of times at a birthday party in early January and had a hoot of a time. Sure, it may have helped that since then birthday parties have fallen a bit out of fashion and I just miss seeing people, but my memory of Just One is a very positive one.
Which new-to-you games did you like this year? – Let me know in the comments!