Gaming Year 2023

Subway station art installation

Another more quiet year. 2023 was another quiet year. The number of plays and the hours spent were slightly up from 2022, but if I remove the single most played game from those numbers, the numbers are about the same or slightly smaller than in 2022. This is clearly the new normal.

More new games. I stopped avoiding new games as much as in 2022, and the numbers shot up: I played about 50 new games in 2023. That includes some traditional card games but also lots of new games. That was fine. I wasn’t as reluctant to try new games, but I attempted to get more plays to games I’ve tried.

I got a few review copies. These included my favourite game of the year; the rest were less impressive. I spent a lot of money on games, though. I only bought three new games: Hansa Teutonica, a Tichu deck, and the Serious Nonsense expansion to Monikers. All were excellent purchases. In addition to that, I bought some game materials: a Riichi set, Shogi equipment, a Xiangqi set and a new Go board and stones. These were expensive but well worth it. I didn’t sell a lot of games. I have some games I could sell, but as I don’t need the space or the money, I haven’t bothered with them yet.

Aasialaiset lautapelit book cover

I wrote a book. This was another year of a book. I heard a publisher was looking for an author to write a book on Asian board games. I jumped at the opportunity and got a book deal right away. I wrote the book in about five months and if everything goes well, it’s out in February. It’s called “Aasialaiset lautapelit”, which is “Asian board games” in Finnish – I like names that get to the point. The book covers go, xiangqi, shogi and mahjong; there have been go books in Finnish before, but nothing on xiangqi, shogi or mahjong.

I met Quinns. The celebrity event of the year! We visited Ropecon and had a great time. Shut Up & Sit Down (Quinns, Matt and Tom) were one of the guests of honour this year, and we went to see their every program. They were hilarious. I got to chat a bit with Quinns, got a photo, and the guys autographed my “Shut Up & Sit Down” card from Monikers.

Instagram. I’m back on Instagram. I’m still inactive because posting the same photos about the same games isn’t interesting. I do post occasional game photos on my account @mikkosaari.

Quinns and Mikko

Game of the Year 2023

Forest Shuffle cover image

I was intrigued when Forest Shuffle (Kosch / Lookout Games 2023) first appeared on my radar. It seemed like my kind of game: combo building, card economics, nice nature theme. Then came the first critical voices claiming the game is unbalanced enough to be broken. I wanted to try it out and played a few games on Board Game Arena. These games confirmed that the wolves and the deer are very strong, and the game may be broken.

Despite these worries, I played more, and when Asmodee offered me a review copy, I took it. Two months later, I have played the game over a hundred times. Forest Shuffle is now seventh on my most-played games list. I’ve played about 20 times with the physical cards and the rest on Board Game Arena.

It’s very addictive. There are some balance issues, but nothing I’d count as broken. The main problem is that the best cards feed each other, creating something of a positive feedback loop. It’s not automatic, though. After all, it’s a card game, and you can never guarantee how the cards fall. The key cards you need may not be in the game in the first place! But sometimes, you get terribly lopsided games. Most of the time, especially between experienced players, the games are interesting and even enough.

Forest Shuffle is my 2023 game of the year.

A hand of Forest Shuffle cards

Good new games (2022–2023)

Akropolis. Collect three-hex city tiles and build a city of them. The tiles have different colours with different scoring rules – some want to be on the edge, some want to be surrounded, some go together, some are apart, and so on – and there are also scoring multiplier tiles. The higher the tile is in your city, the better it scores. Akropolis is a simple and straightforward tile placement game for family audiences.

All Roads. This game could’ve been published in 2003. It’s a nice thinky tile placement and pattern-building game. You try to spend your tokens by creating dead ends and loops in the road network. With more than two players, the game has pleasant shared incentives. All Roads doesn’t look remarkable, but it’s a solid filler.

Dune: Imperium – Uprising. I’ve only played Uprising once, and I’m far from an expert in the original game (see below). I’m not certain why the game was released in the first place. However, it shakes things up in an interesting way, and at the moment, I’m interested in playing Dune: Imperium in any constellation.

Earth. Like Forest Shuffle, this game fits my taste well. However, a 15-minute card game works much better for me now than a 45-minute big box game. Building ecosystems is nice, and the game’s simple follow mechanism works well. The big pile of cards offers variability.

Fit to Print. We tried this real-time game with six players. It was chaotic and entertaining, like the best real-time games can be, without being too intimidating. I’d like to play this more, but it looks like that’s not happening; I see my friend who has the game is selling it.

Great Western Trail: New Zealand. I tried this GWT variant reluctantly, but it was fun. Using sheep instead of cattle, the game includes features from the Rails to the North expansion. This seems particularly nice with two players.

Hitster. This was a hit with my wife! Hitster is simply Timeline with music: each card plays a song from Spotify, and you need to figure out where on your timeline it fits. We play this with very relaxed rules, and it’s great fun. We also played this once with my daughter, and it was even more fun, given the generation gap.

Horseless Carriage. I only got to play this new Splotter title twice, but those were both excellent games. This is a top-notch game from the Dutch designer duo and one of their very best. After Forest Shuffle, Horseless Carriage was my second title candidate for the Game of the Year. I want to play more!

A car factory in Horseless Carriage
My factory in Horseless Carriage.

Good older games I hadn’t played before

Brass: Birmingham. Yeah, this game. My friends love this, and I, bitter for the lost popularity of the original Brass, have refused to try this. I caved in, and after two plays, I must admit it’s good. Is Birmingham better than Lancashire? I’m uncertain. I don’t like all the new stuff here. I believe it requires further exploration.

Cascadia. An excellent family game; I would recommend this as a solid general audience game in a heartbeat. I expect this will see play with my game group as an end-of-the-evening filler; it’s such a nice experience.

Dune: Imperium. Our game group has lots of fans for this. I’ve played the game twice; first time with the Rise of Ix expansion and then with both Immortality and Ix. I see how the Ix expansion is useful; I’m less sure of Immortality. It felt like too many bells and whistles, but that may be my inexperience speaking. I like the Dune lore, and the game is strong. My only complaint is that it takes a bit too long, but I’m definitely looking forward to future plays of Dune: Imperium, either Uprising or the base game.

Silk. I remember Matt Lees from SU&SD praising Silk, so when my friend got it, I was interested in trying the game. So far, I’ve played only one two-player game, and the game seems weird and interactive but in an interesting way.

Space Base. This Machi Koro variant has been on my list of games to try. After six plays, I dig it, though I think some of the ships are a wee bit annoying, and I really don’t like the art in the game. I don’t think this is such an obvious and total Machi Koro replacement as some claim.

Brass: Birmingham board in close-up
Brass: Birmingham

Children’s games

Here’s a list of games that we played at least five times.

Twin It! took one session – on the last day of the year – to top this list. My daughter is still very strong in this, though she won most of the games 5–4.

L.L.A.M.A. is still a staple card game that works with any audience.

And that’s the list! We don’t play games as a family any more; it’s mostly only on special occasions like travelling. My children are teens now and very busy with their own lives. My son is in secondary school and spends much time with friends; my daughter is in middle school and competes as a cheerleader.

A game of go developing on a wooden board.
My new go equipment: 3 cm shin kaya goban and double-convex yunzi stones.

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Magic: The Gathering is still a habit; I play slightly less but still grind the daily quests. The constant flux of new cards is taxing, but I am fairly happy with the decision to slow down the Standard format rotation.

Mahjong. The big news about Mahjong is that I’ve decided to stop whining and start to enjoy Riichi. It still has annoying features, but I’ve learned to like the lucky swings. Also, what’s most important is that it’s the variant that I can play. There are weekly games in Taverna (I haven’t been there since September, but hopefully can return), tournaments and online play. I play at Mahjong Soul.

Xiangqi is the Chinese chess. It’s a quick-moving game with clever strategies and tactics. I’ve never been a chess fan. Xiangqi pushes some of the same buttons but is more compact and faster, so I enjoy it more. Also, there are fewer Xiangqi experts around… I’ve played Xiangqi before, which is why it’s on this list, but this is the first time I’ve put some actual effort into the game.

Shogi is the Japanese chess variant. My experience with it is similar to Xiangqi: one play a long time ago, then nothing until now. Shogi is my favourite of all chess games: the drops do that. When you capture an opposing piece in Shogi, you’ll get it in your hand and can drop it on the board to fight on your side. This makes the game very interesting until the end. The game is at the same time slow-moving because the pieces, in general, are slower than in chess, but you can plan swift surprise attacks and clever manouevres with the dropped pieces.

Tichu. I played a bit of Tichu from 2002 to 2007. After that, two games in 2013 and nothing since. I’ve actively avoided playing the game. Not anymore. Since Tichu is universally enjoyed in my game group, I joined the fun and started playing it again. That was worth it: I ended up playing 20 games of Tichu in 2023. I like that kind of repetition and the mastery it provides, and Tichu is well worth it.

Monikers is still my favourite party game. Eight plays in 2023 was great! What’s even better those included some games played with my family. My kids are now old enough to play the game, and even my wife enjoys it. Some of the best laughs of the year were had with Monikers. I added one expansion to my Monikers set this year and will get the next one (Monikers-er) as soon as it hits the friendly local game store.

Hansa Teutonica. As mentioned, I bought a copy of Hansa Teutonica to get it on the table more often. It’s such an excellent game: it joined my short list of 10-rated games. I’ve played it with all player counts from 3–5, and while the game shines as a 60-minute five-player game, it’s also fun with any other player count. It’s such a brilliantly interactive game without being particularly mean.

Innovation had a bit of an off-year, but I backed the new Innovation Ultimate version of the game. That should arrive next year. I’m unsure how much I care about the expansions – I still haven’t used the one I’ve had for years – but considering I have the original first-edition Innovation, I thought a new copy might be useful.

Ark Nova. While the numbers are down, as expected, from the 24 plays in 2022, Ark Nova is still a good game I enjoy playing. I got a review copy of the Marine Worlds expansion, which was nice because it got us playing the game more in December. It’s a good expansion, too; it does good work adding more variety without adding a lot of rules overhead.

A Feast for Odin and Fields of Arle both got a few plays. This was mostly due to the general lack of games played, as these are the A-list games we enjoy. Ora et Labora also got two plays; this was notable because Nooa beat me for the first time. I expect we might play Ora et Labora again in 2024 because of that. Everdell remains a staple game that’s easy to take from the shelf to play.

Krass Kariert. For those wondering if Scout killed Krass Kariert, I can report that Krass Kariert got more plays, and I think it is more fun than Scout.

A mahjong player reaching across the table to draw from the wall.
My mom’s bamboo tiles with my junk mat – that’s much better than the foam core we used to play on before.

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

Jamaica. This old racing game from 2007 hit our table in February. I immediately rated it as 3. I found the game has exactly zero decisions to make that are fun for me. It’s pure misery, and I played the game by randomly choosing my cards. That didn’t get me anywhere, but at least I didn’t have to suffer making annoying decisions.

Moon. A friend is a fan of Haakon Gaarder’s game series. I’ve played all of them and find Villagers and Streets harmless. Moon, however, manages to annoy me. I’m not a huge fan of closed drafting, which this game is, and the game also has common goals that you can shoot for and get sniped by your opponents. Oops, you spent half a game going for this goal; let me take it a turn before you get it.

Tammany Hall. My friends like this game of backstabbing, corruption and bidding. There’s blind bidding, where everybody loses their whole bid. That’s one of the game mechanisms I hate, but it wasn’t that bad. The big swings are, though, and while I see why someone would like this game, it’s not for me.

A closeup of Manhattan in Tammany Hall.
Tammany Hall looks pretty; I’ll give it that.

Where are they now

Lost Ruins of Arnak dropped to just one play. We don’t play it at home – we might, but it’s definitely on the B-list now, and we only have time for the best A-list games. My game group doesn’t have big fans who’d want to play it.

The closest I got to Hallertau was these hops. 😉

Res Arcana also got zero plays. Time to move on? I think Innovation covers everything we need in this particular niche.

Anno 1800 was another previously wildly popular game with zero plays. I believe we’ve seen all this game has to offer. I think I’ll donate this to Taverna because they don’t have it, and having it available feels nice.

Machi Koro. I’m unsure if the kids played this without me, but I didn’t play Machi Koro in 2023. That’s how little we’ve played games together! Love Letter didn’t get any play either.

Hallertau. After three plays in 2022, Hallertau didn’t get any plays in 2023. I guess I’ll have to accept I’m the only one who likes it.

A meeple wearing a red hat.
The sheep runner meeple from Great Western Trail: New Zealand.

Fives and dimes

  1. Forest Shuffle (132)
  2. Tichu (20)
  3. Xiangqi (20)
  4. Shogi (15)
  5. Mahjong (9)
  6. Go (8)
  7. Monikers (8)
  8. Twin It! (8)
  9. Hansa Teutonica (8)
  10. Ark Nova (8)
  11. SpellBook (8)
  12. Innovation (6)
  13. Space Base (6)
  14. Krass Kariert (5)
  15. L.L.A.M.A. (5)
  16. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea (5)
  17. Earth (5)
  18. Hitster (5)
  19. All Roads (5)
A close-up of Die Dolmengötter meeples and pieces.
We didn’t forget the classics: Die Dolmengötter.

Year metric

  1. Battle Line (21/23)*
  2. San Juan (17/20)*
  3. Attika (17/21)*
  4. Tarock (15/17)
  5. Innovation (14/14)
  6. Samarkand: Routes to Riches (14/14)
  7. Ta Yü (16/21)*
  8. Oregon (13/13)
  9. Carcassonne (16/23)*
  10. Age of Steam (15/21)
  11. Love Letter (11/12)*
  12. Mahjong (14/22)
  13. Ingenious (13/20)*
  14. Fields of Arle (9/9)
  15. Merkator (9/9)
  16. Mysteries of Old Peking (13/22)*
  17. Afrikan tähti (13/22)
  18. Die Dolmengötter (11/16)
  19. Dominion (11/16)*
  20. Coco Loco (9/10)*

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

Tom Brewster, Matt Lees and Quintin Smith.
The Shut Up & Sit Down guys at Ropecon: Tom, Matt and Quinns having a laugh.

Staying Power

  1. Mahjong (3.98)
  2. A Feast for Odin (3.90)
  3. Tarock (3.31)
  4. Fields of Arle (3.12)
  5. Innovation (2.89)
  6. Great Western Trail (2.71)
  7. Ora et Labora (2.63)
  8. Ark Nova (2.05)
  9. Magic: The Gathering (2.02)
  10. Nusfjord (1.99)
  11. Altiplano (1.96)
  12. Love Letter (1.85)
  13. Machi Koro (1.54)
  14. 1825 (1.38)
  15. Everdell (1.38)
  16. Spirit Island (1.26)
  17. Merkator (1.25)
  18. Unlock! (1.19)
  19. Res Arcana (1.09)
  20. Oregon (1.08)
  21. Pax Pamir (1.03)
  22. L.L.A.M.A. (0.95)
  23. Forest Shuffle (0.95)
  24. Colony (0.94)
  25. Dale of Merchants (0.93)

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

For each game and each year, calculate SQRT(number of plays in a 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.

The Great Zimbabwe from bird's eye view.
The Great Zimbabwe in all its glory.


My H-index for this year is 8 (10 last year). My total H-index is 50, like last year and where it’s likely to stay for now.

We saw a lot of good art in 2023. I’ll leave you with Undefined Exclusion I by Canal Cheong Jagerroos, one of the most sublime works of art I witnessed. I’d have bought this in a heartbeat, except a) I don’t have a wall for it and b) it costs €32,500.

I also really loved seeing one of Yves Klein’s International Klein Blue works in Louisiana. I didn’t take a picture, as I knew it just wouldn’t be the same.

Undefined Exclusion I, a large red painting by Canal Cheong Jagerroos.

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3 responses to “Gaming Year 2023”

  1. It’s great to read your blog. Still going after all this time. Thanks for keeping it going.
    I’ve played Forest Shuffle a few times on BGA, but haven’t dug into it in depth. I’ll have to look closer now.

  2. Just bumped upon your blog and hats off for creating such a fantastic resource! There are all kinds of interesting observations and I’m really enjoying reading your recommendations. Thank you!!