2011 was a tricky year: my family went through a major move, from our tiny rural town in western Kansas to a bustling metropolitan center in the Pacific Northwest. For me, it meant scaling back on game nights as I was preparing for moves and — gasp! — sealing up my games in moving boxes. Probably the hardest part was having to leave them packed up and shoved in the back of the garage while some needed renovations were being finished.
And then came the process of reconnecting with my old gaming friends and shifting gears from playing board games mostly with high school and college kids, and now playing with parents of small children and working out our mutual schedules.
Despite all of that, I still managed to get a good amount of board gaming in this year. (It’s never enough, but that’s a story for another time.) In fact, when going over my list, it was really hard to narrow down the list, because there were a lot of really great games. But here are some of the best board games reviewed on GeekDad in 2011, picked by myself, Jenny Williams, Dave Banks, and Michael Harrison.
- Best Picture: Dixit — Gorgeous illustrations, and a clever scoring mechanic to boot. (review)
- Best Stunts: The Adventurers: Pyramid of Horus — No sequel-itis here! The follow-up to the treasure-hunting game is even better than the original. (review)
- Best Supporting Actors: Flash Point: Fire Rescue — Teamwork is essential to save the victims from the burning building. (review)
- Best Adaptation: Settlers of America – The classic gateway Euro-game becomes a trailblazing, rail-building race across America. (review)
- Best Short: Cambria — Euro-style gaming you can pick up and play in 20 minutes. (review)
- Best Action: Jab: Realtime Boxing — Strategy is important, but so is speed: take too long thinking about it and you’ll be KO’d. (review)
- Best Sci-fi: Battleship Galaxies — Entry-level miniatures wargame, plus it’s gotta be better than the movie adaptation. (review)
- Most Monsters: Castle Panic and Castle Panic: Wizard’s Tower — Co-op or competitive, this is a one-two punch that is great for kids and adults. (reviews: original game and expansion)
- Best Original Game Mechanic: Cornerstone Essential* — The coordination of Jenga with the strategy of Carcassonne keeps you on your toes. (review)
- Best 2-Player-Only Game: Zoxso — Abstract strategy that feels like playing chess in two dimensions. (review)
- Honorable Mention: Eaten by Zombies — For combining two of my favorite flavors, deck-building and zombies. (review)
Game of the Year: I’m adding this category for my own picks. For sheer fun-factor, I pick Catacombs as my top game of 2011. It didn’t necessarily have the most plays, and I admit that it’s not a game for everyone. But it combines the roleplaying of D&D with Crokinole-style disk-flicking, and makes for an experience that has been a blast every time I play it, win or lose. Here’s the original review.
- Best Use of Random Element: Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype – Get your pieces to the other side before anyone else, but don’t get stuck as an ear! (review)
- Most Laughter and Chaos: Shake ‘n Take – Search for aliens as fast as you can. (review)
- Best Gateway Game for Kids: Gubs – Get ’em hooked and then play Munchkin! (review)
- Best City-Building Game: City Square Off – Great for parents and kids to play together, this game has players competing against themselves, as much as each other, to place the most tiles in their city. (review)
- Best Deck-Building Game for Beginners: Dominion – Different each time it is played, yet its finite options makes it easy for new players to learn. (review)
- Best Short: Tsuro – Great for all ages and many different group sizes, this game is quick to play, and even quicker to learn. (review)
- Best portable game: Hive – This play-anywhere strategic tile game will have you buzzing as you attempt to take over your opponent’s hive. (review)
- Best Cartoon Art: Food Fight – Food warriors go to battle on your plate in this humorously and gorgeously detailed card game. (review)
- Best Digital Board Game: Ticket to Ride – The simple and enjoyable railway game makes its way to the digital realm in the best iPad port of any board game to date. (review)
- Most Suspenseful Letters from Whitechapel – A detective game that will have you on the edge of your seat as you chase Jack the Ripper. (review)
- Best Picture(s): Pastiche – Recreate masterwork paintings by building colors on your palette in this fun, family-friendly game. (review)
- Best Horror Game: Elder Sign – An exciting return to H.P. Lovecraft’s dread city of Arkham, but this time, you’re armed with lots of dice! (review)
- Best Monster Flick: King of Tokyo – A dice game full of madcap monster movie mayhem, as you and your friends compete for the top spot in Tokyo. (review)
- Best Short: Carnival – It’s quick, it’s easy to learn, and it combines dice and cards in a new and fun way. (review)
- Best Backstabbing: Launch Pad – The space race gets dirty in this fast and devious card game where you and your friends build (and sabotage) rockets and try to get them into space. (review)
Again, as with last year’s list, these are all games that were reviewed on GeekDad in 2011. So they may not have all been released this year (and there are some games that came out this year that’ll have to wait until next year for their chance). We also coordinated our picks to avoid duplicates, but there were actually a lot of ties involved… What about you — what were your favorites this year?
May 2012 bring lots of great board gaming and no massive earth-ending disasters!
*Update 1/4/12: I’ve been informed that Cornerstone Essential was picked up by Kosmos and is being marketed under the name Turmbauer (“tower builder”) in German. You can buy the imported one now, but Good Company Games is hoping to have it back in stock eventually, at a non-import price.
Thanks to Nathan Barry for our Golden Bots image!