Gaming Year 2019

2019 was a solid year of games.

Updating my game stats app. A major project this year was updating my game stats app. I’ve been keeping my stats in a DIY web app, built with PHP and MySQL some fifteen years ago. I’ve been updating it and adding new features, but I’ve had some problems with it. Adding games to the system on the phone has been very clunky, for example.

This year I did a course on modern full stack development (it’s a free MOOC from Helsinki University and highly recommended) and armed with my new skills, I cooked up a modern version of the stats app, with a Mongo database, a Node.js backend and a React front. It’s been a pleasure to use, and my traditional notebooks have seen less use than before, now that it’s super easy to add plays to the database on my phone. If you want to take a look, you can browse my stats without a login and the code is on GitHub.

18SH. Another programming project was 18SH, a moderator for 18xx games. It’s a terminal app, so you make changes to the game state by entering commands on keyboard. I really like it, combined with 18SH Display it’s my favourite way to handle money in an 18xx game now.

Playing fewer new games. I’m trying to play fewer new games. That was successful. Last year I played 81 new games, this year the number is down to 71. That is a very good direction.

Reducing game purchases. In 2019, I again managed to reduce my game purchases from 2018. I spent almost 700 € buying about 30 games. I also spent 160 € on four Kickstarter campaigns and almost 200 € on Magic: the Gathering. With some money spent on accessories like sleeves, card boxes and fancy tokens, I spent a total of 1,200 € this year. At the same time I sold another hundred games for about 1,500 €. In 2020, I expect I’ll sell less games, but I again aim to reduce my purchases.

Top 100 and 50×50. I did another top 100 list. My fifty by fifty list wasn’t quite as successful as last year, but I did add couple of items to it, and there’s more to come.

Pelaajien valinta. I skipped the Pelaajien valinta jury duties this year, but helped run the act. The family game of the year is Copenhagen and the obvious winner of the gamer’s game category is the Finnish version of Terraforming Mars. The good deed award was given to the Finnish Board Game Society, which celebrated 20 years of service this year.

New look for the blog. Oh, and this blog got a fresh new look! I’m a big fan of Twenty Twenty, which is the new default theme for WordPress.

US riflemen in Undaunted: Normandy
Undaunted: Normandy

Good new games (2018–2019)

Res Arcana started as a loan from friend, but in the end I didn’t return it, I bought it. My friend didn’t like it, but we loved it. At over 20 plays, Res Arcana was the most-played new game this year.

Res Arcana is a simple game, with a fairly small set of everything, yet a huge variety of strategies and tactics. It’s a strong “making lemonade” game – you get eight random cards and it’s up to you what you make of them. I’ve won the game without playing any cards, only using the cards as resources, which is the ultimate proof that the luck of the draw matters very little here.

Pax Pamir (Second edition) was a very promising Kickstarter edition of a game I like. I believed in it enough to sell the first edition long before the second edition arrived, and there was no reason to be disappointed.

The second edition works wonders to the game and is also one of the most beautiful items in my game collection. It’s a very fascinating game of random things happening all around you.

Decrypto is a top-notch party game I would very much recommend to all gamers interested in word-play. The game is all about coming up with off-beat clues to make your team understand which word you’re referring to, without giving out too much information to the opposing team. All in all a splendid game, if you have a larger group at hand.

The Taverns of Tiefenthal feels like a Wolfgang Warsch game. It’s a fine deck-builder where you try to make your tavern run as smooth as possible. In addition of deck-building, there’s some die-drafting and the components of the game are simply charming. I don’t love the modular gameplay system and it’s a bit awkward situation where the game is too heavy for casual gamers and too random for heavy gamers, but it hits my nerve well.

L.L.A.M.A. is very simple family card game. It won the Spiel des Jahres award and seems to divide opinions: some people love it, some just don’t see the game in it. It’s not The Mind, though, it’s just that the gameplay is dead simple and some people see the hook in it while others won’t. I see it, and I enjoy the game as a quick filler.

Q.E. is the auction game with the endless money supply. The player who spent the most money loses the game, though, so you can’t just use an endless amount of money – but if you’ve ever wanted to bid in trillions, here you go. It’s a fun game.

On the Underground: London/Berlin is the long overdue new edition of On the Underground, a 2006 game that never got a reprint. The new edition brings in pretty new art, a new and interesting Berlin board, and some small rules updates. I’m very happy with the update.

De Vulgari Eloquentia: Deluxe Edition entered my collection purely on the strength of its theme, despite less than stellar experiences with other Mario Papini games. A fellow blogger assured me the game works fine with two players and selling the theme of developing the Italian language in the late Middle Ages to my son was a breeze.

We’ve enjoyed the game; it’s a fine two-player game, and feels very old-fashioned in a good way. The Deluxe edition is the least deluxe I’ve seen, though, and while the new edition improves over the old one in many respects, it’s still not very well done. That’s a shame, as it’s easy to see many places where the game could benefit from editing and development.

Krass Kariert is an Amigo small box card game I found based on a Spielbox review. It’s a weird climbing game where you can play 1–3 card combos, but if you want to play multiple cards, they need to be adjacent in your hand – and no rearranging, except by playing cards from your hand! Very clever, very simple, and good fun.

Texas Showdown is another Amigo small box, a trick-taking game where you have to avoid taking tricks. The catch is that what you play might not be safe, as the suit can be changed mid-trick: if someone reneges, then it’s free to follow any suit in the trick and then suit with most cards in it wins the trick. That’s a simple twist and works really well.

Combo Color won the Finnish family game of the year award and rightfully so, it’s very good entertainment with a low barrier of entry. The game is all about taking over areas by colouring them. You can start from the starting points or colour anything next to an already coloured area. Areas have scoring features, which range from simple “count the objects” to building chains or trying to gain majorities. Simple rules, looks very attractive and is quick to play – that’s a winner in my books.

Tapestry was one of the hype monsters of the year. I came into it without very few expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I ended up playing the game solo many times, which is really unusual – I rarely do that. In Tapestry, the challenge of maximising your score was interesting enough.

Unfortunately my fellow players weren’t super interested in Tapestry, so I ended up donating it to the board game cafe when I ran out of biggest interest to solo it. Hopefully I can play it some more, but we’ll see.

Wingspan was the other big Stonemaier hit. Currently at 1st position on BGG family game ranking list, it sure is a success. For me, this was fine: I had a copy on loan from a friend and we played it five times, and found it pleasant, if a bit bland. But if you’re looking for a friendly family fare, Wingspan is a fine choice.

Undaunted: Normandy piqued my interest, but I decided not to buy when it arrived. In the end I decided it would make a perfect Christmas gift to my son and fortunately managed to source a cheap copy thanks to some friends. It arrived just in time for Christmas. My son liked the gift, studied the rules, taught me the game and we played the first ten scenarios within a week.

It’s indeed a terrific match for us: we like the WWII squad combat theme, we love deck-building and the game is fairly short, less than an hour for even the longer scenarios. There are some frustrating elements about it, but for the most part, it’s a fine little game with just the right level of simulation for the length and the complexity.

Tapestry board during play

Good older games I haven’t played before

Altiplano was the Game of the Year for me, I think. After having good experiences with Orléans, I spent a while thinking about whether I should get that or if Altiplano would be better. The most common criticisms about Altiplano – the length, mostly – didn’t seem to apply to us, since I was planning to play it with two players.

Turns out it was an excellent purchase. We played the game over ten times and enjoyed it a lot. My son also likes the game quite a bit. Different strategies have been tried. I got The Traveler expansion with the base game, thinking it might get rare at some point. We’ve tried it couple of times; our initial experience wasn’t good, but now we tried it again with more experience, I enjoyed it more.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Operation Barbarossa 1941 seemed like an obvious next step from Memoir ’44. I have to say the whole Conflict of Heroes family is quite a mess with the different versions and their different editions, but I managed to find this and Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 from a Swedish guy on the BGG Market and bought both. We’ve mostly played the East Front.

In general I like the system. It’s detailed, but not too much. The game moves on quickly enough, without getting bogged at the details, and even things like vehicles work logically enough to make gameplay smooth. There’s some gaminess to the way the units move, but there’s also some very sound logic to how things work.

After the initial excitement we haven’t played this all that much, because the game is slightly too long and heavy for regular play, but I’m glad we have this and I do prefer this to Memoir ’44.

Cribbage has been around for a while and I’ve known it for decades. I haven’t played it, though, and I think it just isn’t a big thing in Finland. I happened to watch the SU&SD video on Cribbage and picked up Cribbage with Grandpas on their recommendation. I’ve then played the game occasionally with my son, who also likes it.

Potion Explosion was available on Lautapelaamaan and we tried the game there. I haven’t played it since face to face, but I did pick up the iOS version on a friend’s recommendation. I like juggling the marbles in this game, each turn is a delightful puzzle that gives you an opportunity to be clever, and that’s something I always enjoy in games. I wonder why this game hasn’t been released with a Harry Potter theme…

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear board with unit counters
Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear

Children’s games

Here’s a list of games that we played at least five times. It’s interesting to see how the games change year after year.

I’m no longer counting games played exclusively with my son. They’re not children’s games, and don’t make much sense here.

My daughter is still less of a gamer. While my son loves to try anything once, it takes more effort to get my daughter to play something. Once she does, there’s a good chance she’ll like it, but she’s fairly unlikely to suggest playing games. As the kids have grown up and have more interests of their own, we’ve played less games together.

Da Vinci Code was the biggest hit with the kids and has replaced Love Letter as the first option we’ll play. 17 plays in 2019 is a very respectable number.

Combo Color was easy to sell to my daughter, and she’s even suggested playing it occasionally.

Decrypto worked well with the kids. We initially tried it with three players, but that’s not great. If we get a fourth player – like my mom – this is great. The kids like the challenge of coming up with the clues.

Fashion Show is still one of my daughter’s favourite games. Fortunately it plays really fast.

Lovecraft Letter was a mixed bag. I think my son liked this, but my daughter preferred the original. I had this on loan from library twice: on the first time, we played quite a bit of this; on the second time, we didn’t play once, I think.

The Mysteries of Peking keeps on getting plays. We’ve played this over 40 times now. My daughter still prefers to team up with me.

Afrikan tähti is another steady favourite. My daughter doesn’t team up with me anymore, which is a good thing.

Coconuts is something I enjoy playing with my daughter. It’s still one of my favourite dexterity games.

Love Letter was something I expected would reach 200 plays sooner or later, but now it looks like it’s later or never. We only played this five times in 2019, which is a huge reduction in numbers.

Who Did It? still keeps entertaining. The game won the Finnish game of the year award for the best children’s game, and for a good reason, I still think it’s fantastic.

Combo Color
Combo Color

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Magic: the Gathering got over 100 plays. We played more on the first half, and my interest in the game was definitely on a slower burn on the second half. I think this will come and go, and right now I do have a feeling I’d like to play some drafts.

Shards of Infinity fizzed out almost completely, but then a friend brought me a copy of Shadow of Salvation from Essen and we ended up playing the co-op campaign a bit. It’s a nice way to play the game as a co-op.

Just One arrived properly, I got a Finnish copy and ended up playing it quite a bit with the kids. I think this game is very good, I like the way it puts you inside the heads of your fellow players, trying to come up with good clues that match the guesser and won’t collide. Excellent!

Nusfjord has grown on me a lot. I really like it a lot and consider it one of Uwe Rosenberg’s very best. The two-player game in particular is just so short and sweet, even though otherwise the game would benefit from extra players. But as a filler, it’s just great. I also got the Plaice deck and while the metal coins were a bit of a disappointment, the new buildings are a great addition to the game.

A Feast for Odin hit the table three times in 2019, which is the same as in 2018. I’d like to play it more often, but it’s such an involved game we rarely have time for it. But every time, it’s such a pleasure. The Norwegians expansion was very good, it made the two-player game much better. I think it’s a very good expansion and a must-buy if you play with two players. I’m looking forward to future expansions for the game, but I’ll have to consider whether they add enough interesting features considering how rarely the game gets played in the end.

Caverna: Cave vs Cave got the Era II expansion, which doubles the length of the game. The extended version is now an hour-long game, making it much longer than a big box like Nusfjord, which is a bit odd, but I like it. I feel I have two games now: I can choose to play the shorter or the longer version, depending on which experience I prefer at the moment.

Escape rooms continued to be a thing. We’ve played most of the Unlock! games, all Exit games that arrived in Finland, most Deckscapes and some other as well. I still enjoy the genre, though I haven’t bought the latest Unlock! box yet and I’m not sure if I’ll continue buying the easier Exit games, because couple of the recent ones were just too easy to be really interesting.

1825 game with all three units has been on my radar for years. Finally I decided to stop waiting for the perfect occasion and just play it. We did, it took us a long time (about six hours), and it was awesome. I’m definitely doing it again next year, because it was such a delight.

1825 game with all three Units
1825 Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3 and all the small expansions

The not-so-good, the disappointing and the plain bad

Santo Domingo is a boring game of double-guessing what the other players want to do. At least it was very quick.

Polarity fascinated me as a concept and the gimmick of floating magnets in the magnetic fields is cool; unfortunately the game around the gimmick just isn’t any good.

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North was an unasked-for review copy from Asmodee. I was initially pleased, as I did enjoy the original Imperial Settlers, even though I had ended up selling my copy. This one… well, I wasn’t impressed. We played it once, felt the game was too complicated, with messy rules and too long play time. We kept thinking we should give it another go and if I had asked for the review copy myself, I would’ve done that – but now I felt no obligation to play the game and ended up gifting it after that one play to someone who’s going to like it more.

Pandemic: Rapid Response was another unasked-for review copy. Based on our experiences with Escape, I could’ve told right away this is a not a good match for me. We played it once, hated it from the beginning to the end, and that’s it. Worst game experience of the year, by far.

Reykholt piqued my interest when I first heard about the game – after all, At the Gates of Loyang is an interesting game and reworking that into something new, well, I’m interested. But the initial reviews left me cold and I never got the game. I had an opportunity to borrow it from a friend, we played it once, and decided it’s not our thing. So even Uwe Rosenberg – who I think is the best designer of the decade – doesn’t produce hits every time he does a farming game!

I’m not really sure what’s wrong with Reykholt. It was fast, even faster than Nusfjord, but I still think Nusfjord just packs a lot more punch in the short playing time. Here the worker placement just wasn’t very interesting and the scoring neither. In Nusfjord, every worker placement is critical and exciting.

Altiplano player board

Where are they now

KeyForge arrived in 2018 with a big hit, but in 2019, I only played it seven times – and mostly because I got some Age of Ascension decks to review. I didn’t buy any new decks and haven’t seen any Worlds Collide material yet. It’s kind of sad, because KeyForge is a good game I wouldn’t mind exploring more, but it just pales in comparison with Magic for us.

Tokyo Highway was a new game last year when I wrote this review and I have to say my assessment of it was overly positive. The game does give a great first impression, but that fizzled out quickly when it turned out the game is fragile and annoying when the buildings collapse. I’d play this strictly as a two-player game, because then you can just concede if you damage the structure too much.

Dawn of Peacemakers left the collection after we finished with the campaign, as expected. It took us a long time to finish, with long breaks in between. Campaign games just aren’t our thing. My son is distracted by new games, and I’m not a huge fan of long-time commitments either.

I did a big cull in the collection and sold a bunch of really good games that just weren’t good matches for me for various reasons. Many of these were longer games and I decided to focus my long-game plays to a smaller number of titles, making many of these games obsolete in my collection.

Spirit Island was a big for us in 2018, yet we only played it twice in 2019. Not sure why, mostly I guess it’s just the cult of the new and the new games taking over. Dawn of Peacemakers definitely took a lot of time spent playing co-ops. I did back the Jagged Earth expansion in 2018 and it should finally arrive in 2020 (it’s not late or anything, it just takes a long time to arrive), and I’m hoping it will breathe some new life into the game. If it doesn’t, I’m sure I’ll find a buyer for the game…

I made a geeklist of all the games I sold in 2019 (excluding things like used escape room games). Here are some picks:

The Colonists: long enough to get played at most once per year, and my son wasn’t very keen on this.

Hero Realms: didn’t stand a chance against Shards of Infinity or Magic.

Roads & Boats and Greed, Inc.: sold both of these for the second time, and neither will get a third chance.

Indonesia and Food Chain Magnate: these went too. Playing Indonesia was super hard for some reason, and Food Chain Magnate just isn’t that much fun. Of the Splotters, I’ve kept Antiquity, The Great Zimbabwe and (surprising as it may be) Duck Dealer.

Mombasa: whenever there’s a chance to play Mombasa, there’s a chance to play Great Western Trail, and I’d rather play Great Western Trail.

La Granja and Solarius Mission: both games are fun, but just too complicated for their own good. Even after repeat plays I found myself looking up rules in the rulebook. I prefer games that are more streamlined, it seems.

Completely filled home board in A Feast for Odin
A Feast for Odin

Fives and dimes

  1. Magic: The Gathering (104)
  2. Res Arcana (21)
  3. Da Vinci Code (17)
  4. Altiplano (16)
  5. Dale of Merchants (13)
  6. Shards of Infinity (13)
  7. Decrypto (13)
  8. Tapestry (12)
  9. Combo Color (11)
  10. Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal (10)
  11. Undaunted: Normandy (10)
  12. Fashion Show (9)
  13. Unlock! (9)
  14. The Quest for El Dorado (9)
  15. Lovecraft Letter (9)
  16. L. L.A.M.A. (9)
  17. Afrikan tähti (8)
  18. Mysteries of Old Peking (8)
  19. Nusfjord (8)
  20. The Mind (8)
  21. Cribbage (8)
  22. Conflict of Heroes (8)
  23. KeyForge (7)
  24. Q.E. (7)
  25. Coco Loco (6)
  26. Just One (6)
  27. The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth (6)
  28. Texas Showdown (6)
  29. Krass Kariert (6)
  30. Love Letter (5)
  31. Dawn of Peacemakers (5)
  32. Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (5)
  33. Who Did It? (5)
  34. Wingspan (5)

Year metric

  1. Battle Line (Schotten-Totten) (18/19)
  2. San Juan (16/16)
  3. Carcassonne (15/19)
  4. Attika* (14/17)
  5. Ta Yü (14/17)
  6. Age of Steam (13/17)
  7. Dominion* (11/12)
  8. Einfach Genial (12/16)
  9. Tarock (11/13)
  10. Samarkand: Routes to Riches (10/10)
  11. Innovation (10/10)
  12. Memory* (10/11)
  13. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation* (12/18)
  14. Villa Paletti* (12/18)
  15. Oregon (9/9)
  16. Agricola (10/13)
  17. Schildkrötenrennen (9/10)
  18. Das magische Labyrinth (9/11)
  19. Love Letter (8/8)
  20. Die Dolmengötter (9/12)

Games marked with an * didn’t get played this year.

Staying Power

Update 26.1.2020: I’m adding this late to the review, mostly so that I remember to do this next year.

  1. Love Letter (3.22)
  2. Magic: The Gathering (2.75)
  3. Agricola (2.27)
  4. Suburbia (2.01)
  5. Tarock (1.85)
  6. Fields of Arle (1.84)
  7. Mysteries of Peking (1.77)
  8. Innovation (1.61)
  9. Dominion (1.41)
  10. London (1.38)
  11. Ora et Labora (1.38)
  12. Carcassonne (1.37)
  13. Battle Line (1.30)
  14. 1846 (1.23)
  15. Age of Steam (1.20)
  16. Afrikan tähti (1.20)
  17. Brass (1.19)
  18. Terraforming Mars (1.10)
  19. Dale of Merchants (1.09)
  20. Oregon (1.07)
  21. A Feast for Odin (0.993)
  22. Memoir ’44 (0.982)
  23. Unlock! (0.973)
  24. Mahjong (0.902)
  25. The City (0.839)

This is a metric devised by Eric Brosius, where the scores for the games are calculated this way:

For each game and each year, calculate SQRT(number of plays in year) * (5/6^(current year – year)). Sum these, divide with the sum of year weights, raise to the second power and multiply by the game length in hours.


My H-index for this year is 10 (11 last year). My total H-index is 44, up one point from last year.

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