Cardboard Children – Board Game of the Year 2012

By Robert Florence on January 7th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

Hello youse.

I hope you had a great, human Christmas and an inhuman New Year. I celebrated Hogmanay by rolling down a hill, wailing at the skies for mercy. I kept rolling, and tumbled in through the stage door of a giant haunted theatre. I came to a stop on stage, blind drunk but maddeningly aware of the brutish realities of human existence. And it is from that haunted theatre, from that stage, in front of an audience of ghosts and shades, that I present to you…

THE GAME OF THE YEAR AWARD 2012

Good evening! Thanks for coming! My name is Robert Florence, although some people call me Rab, and others call me Rob, and I love it when they call me “Big Poppa”, and so I love it when your mother calls me.

Wow, what a year 2012 was. We had the Olympics, which had everyone in the UK singing off the same hymn sheet for the first time since we all embraced casual racism and sexism in the 1970s. We had Operation Yewtree, which seems to be exclusively focusing on the arrest of some not particularly popular white male celebrities for historic sexual crimes, almost as if the police are scared of arresting any of those creepy rock stars who we know were ALL at it. I look forward to this year’s Operation YouTube, which will see internet celebrities arrested for hate speech, misogyny and fucking annoying haircuts.

It wasn’t all bad. There was also Gangnam Style, a song from South Korea that marked itself as different by not being po-faced and miserable and was sung by a beautiful man who looks like the product of an unlikely three-way between Tom Jones, KD Lang and a Faberge Egg. Of course, we in the West did all we could to destroy this beautiful thing by cramming it into every orifice of the bloated monster that is our sick modern culture. Without an original idea in our shit-addled brains, we mimicked the dance on daytime chat shows and crass talent contests. With no understanding of the true joy within the piece, we resembled sickly puppets bouncing mindlessly as our corporate masters kicked at the strings with their Coca-Cola branded jackboots.

What else? There were films too. There was The Dark Knight Rises, which made no sense, had no compelling characters, but was a study in steroid-induced back acne. There was The Avengers, which was beautiful and lovely and remembered that you can win any audience over with some light banter and some funny jokes. And any film you went to see in the cinema cost about fifty quid and forced you to wear glasses that make you look like a character from some bad 1960s sci-fi about a future world where people pay fortunes to wear weird glasses in the dark so that soulless phantasmagorias can distract them from the cold horror of modern life and oh god it’s true, it came true we’re in that film now.

Let’s get on with the show! It’s my pleasure to introduce my friend and yours, star of Solomon Kane and Ironclad – Mr. James Purefoy!

JAMES: “Thanks, Big Poppa. The honour – ha, it actually says “honour” on this card – The honour falls to me to announce Robert’s choice for his Boardgame of The Year 2012. I can’t believe he’s still into these things, to be honest. I thought it might just be a phase he was going through. I mean – look, Robert works in the TV industry, and let me just say this… there are a lot of sexy, beautiful young women in that game. He could be filling his boots. I’ve told him a million times. “Fill your boots,” I say. “Even better, fill THEIR boots.” But no – family man, games, geek, and so on and so on. “Did you shag a model last night?” I ask him, over breakfast. “No”, he says. “I played Power Grid with my girlfriend for the first time, two player, just to get the mechanics down.” I flung scrambled eggs at him that day. I hit my friend in the face with some bacon over that, God forgive me. But I respect him, in truth. I’ve been trying to destroy his life with shallow pursuits, but I can’t, because geeks seem to be immune to such things. It’s like a superpower, like the ones in the shitty comic books they read. So here I stand, once again, ready to announce Robert Florence’s Game of the Year. And the nominations are…”

NOMINATIONS

LIBERTALIA

SPARTACUS

CITY OF HORROR

X-WING MINIATURES GAME

DIVINARE

NETRUNNER

LORDS OF WATERDEEP – No review, but it IS mentioned in the column I’m most proud of this year.

And the winner is…

Hi. Rab again. And you know what? It can only be Spartacus. I’ll admit that a large part of the appeal of Spartacus is that it came from NOWHERE. There was little reason to expect anything good from it. Here was a TV show tie-in game, by new designers, from a publisher with no board game experience, and yet it shone from the first read of the rules to the last decapitation of my most recent game. Almost every time I drop in to my local board game shop, Static Games in Glasgow, I ask them if they’ve played Spartacus yet. They often laugh, like I’m trying to prank them. I mean – come on! The game is inexpensive, the box is covered with stills from the TV show, it looks like it MUST be a stinker. And yet – And yet -

Spartacus is as strong as Cosmic Encounter and Dune when it comes to the drama of negotiation and player interaction. Every phase of the game finds the players at each other’s throats, but each round ends with an arena battle – it’s maybe the greatest narrative structure I’ve seen within a board game. The subtle intrigue of the card play and the cut and thrust of the markets lay the groundwork for that release of aggression at the end of each round.

Some of you will be thinking “Spartacus ahead of Netrunner? Really?” And yeah, Netrunner is a masterpiece. Be in no doubt. But it’s also a reprint of an already respected game. Netrunner doesn’t NEED any honours from the likes of me. But Spartacus hasn’t been discovered by enough people yet. It’s a classic design that merges different styles of play, but does it more successfully than most. And the theme is so rich. I mean, ridiculously rich. If this game had first seen the light of day thirty years ago, it would have attained legendary status by now. I’m sure of it.

I had expected this year’s award to be a straight fight between Libertalia and City of Horror. But 2012 surprised me. X-Wing blew me away. Divinare charmed me. Lords of Waterdeep chilled me out. All the nominated games are essential buys – great games in a great year.

But Spartacus stands alone. An underdog that stands undefeated in the arena. A champion. My Game of the Year 2012.

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50 Comments »

  1. KingCathcart says:

    Man, that’s a BIG video.

    • KingCathcart says:

      Also, I got Spartacus on your recommendation Rab. Glad to see it was your game of the year.

      Now I just need to find the time to play it…

    • Jubaal says:

      I’ve had Spartacus for a while too, but haven’t had a chance to play it with friends yet. Curse you work and family life! Soon though sooooon….

      On the plus side I bought X-Wing Miniatures at Christmas for myself *cough* I mean to play with my nine year old. It really is a lovely game. The miniatures are beautiful, the rules are easy to understand but there is a fair amount of strategy there. Two free-time thumbs up!

      I also picked up Flash Point Fire Rescue which is as a good family game. You all play Firefighters trying to rescue casualties in a burning building before it collapses.

      As I buy most of the board games for our gaming group they bought me City of Horror as a surprise Christmas present which was kinda sweet. Looking forward to cracking that out and souring all our friendships. Muhahahahahaha

  2. Shar_ds says:

    I got Spartacus via the BGG Secret Santa this year! Now… just need to find 3 people who can put up with 3 hours of backstabbing…

    • toadstyle says:

      Hah. I bought it this Christmas and have one other friend wanting to play…we just can’t find a third!!!

      • shadowy_light says:

        If any one of you folks are in London (west, to be precise) then I would be totally up for playing this, or most other things for that matter.

        • MacBeth says:

          West London you say?

          *eyes box containing tragically underplayed Mansions of Madness*

          ETA I’m eyeing the box – the box doesn’t have eyes. Or does it?

          • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

            Of course it doesn’t have eyes when you look at it. That would be silly.

            It only has eyes when you’re not looking at it.

          • shadowy_light says:

            My RPS forum profile is here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/member.php?11769-schnool

            Happy to act as organiser of any London based gatherings for these kind of games between RPSers who fancy giving them a try. We’d just need a handful of people, and I’m sure we could claim a corner of a pub on some quiet Sunday. Anyway, pm me if interested and we’ll see what happens.

        • zachforrest says:

          i’m dying to play some boardgames, but my normal cadre of friends are too flakey.

        • mikalye says:

          There is a west london gaming club that meets near Northfields, but I have only ever been once. I have been going sporadically to Swiggers for the past dozen years or so (http://www.pevans.co.uk/Swiggers/index.html) but that is Central London on Wednesdays. And London on Board meets in the City alternately on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

  3. lordcooper says:

    John is Rob!

    CONSPIRACY!

  4. Saul says:

    Alright then, I’ll move it to the top of the list!

    Have already grabbed Libertalia and City of Horror on your recommendations (and Dixit and Chaos in the Old World in previous years), and I love them both (all). Libertalia has become our go-to game to play with ANYONE, semi-replacing Dixit. I’ve only played City once so far, because I’m afraid to play it with anyone who isn’t game developers. Game devs are great – they just say “oh, that’s a really interesting mechanic,” instead of “oh my god, you bastard, you are no longer my friend! Also, I’m going to murder you and feed you to wolves!”.

    Keep up the fantastic work, sir.

  5. McDan says:

    It is a brilliant boardgame, both for in game treachery and the amount of out of game hate that it has inspired. Even prompting someone, who was so full of fear of revenge from another person they messed over in the game pretty badly, to glue his door shut from the inside. Which meant he then had to make a rope out of bedsheets to get outside to go back in the house to eat. What a game.

  6. UsuallyDavid says:

    Rab, I saw you in Static Games a few weeks ago and considered maybe saying hello and thanks for all your board game writing. Your review of Citadels on Downtime Town got me into board gaming in a big way, and it’s brought me a lot of joy this past few years. (And financial ruin, but never mind that.) I didn’t want to bother you on the day, so I’ll say it here. Thanks!

    Of the games released this year I’ve played Libertalia, Escape: The Curse of the Temple, and Coup, and I had a great time with all three. I’ve also bought City of Horror and I’m waiting to unleash it on my friends. I’ve read the rules and can’t wait to have a shot. It looks like it will be brilliantly friendship-ruining.

  7. Seboss says:

    I would prefer that you refer Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery by its full title Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery, because Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery is its title.

    • President Weasel says:

      Also, “Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery” is a title that does an excellent job of explaining the game before you start. However, be warned: my friends did not accept “but it’s supposed to be a game of blood and treachery” as an excuse for me executing their gladiators for failure in the first two rounds, and held grudges against me for the remainder of the game.

      • Seboss says:

        Sounds like a game you want to play only with close friends :)

        • President Weasel says:

          I tend to treat boardgames as vendetta generators anyway, so it’s perfect for me. I’m still holding a pretend grudge against one friend for settling on what was clearly my continent in a multiplayer game of Civ4 about 3 years ago. 200 years of my brave knights heroically throwing themselves against his machine guns – their sacrifice must never be forgotten.

          • Seboss says:

            Yes, we used to be like that too. But metagaming had the tendency to make us gang up against the usual traitor or best player around the table and it was a source of frustration. So we try to forget about our grudges when the game ends, something like “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.

          • Kdansky says:

            One of my shticks is to remind everyone that Donald (not his real name) will always backstab you. That’s not necessarily untrue, he really deserves this reputation, and on top of that, he’s probably the best player in the group. But I mostly do it to get rid of negative attention myself, because I’m not quite such a traitor, but I certainly win an awful lot of games when nobody’s watching me.

            I really want to play more Cosmic Encounter.

  8. MOKKA says:

    Netrunner does not need any honours, because it does a poor job in explaining its rules.

    • kimadactyl says:

      I thought it was one of the clearer rulebooks I’ve read this year. It’s mostly the huge amount of nomenclature that makes it hard, not the rules themselves IMO.

    • Groove says:

      Surely the key point with Netrunner isn’t that it does a poor job of explaining it’s rules, but that the rules it’s trying to explain are very complex.

      They could have spent more time trying to make the rules accessable, but I can’t think what you’d have removed or simplified without removing depth from the game. And the game is deep. Deep like a deep sea trench, so deep it’s got deep in the name. “Cinema soft drinks are pretty deep”, you might say. “I could fit my head in this, it’s ridiculous how deep this is!” No it isn’t, screw you, stop trying to simplify challenging games!

  9. Stellar Duck says:

    I enjoyed reading this immensely! Thanks Rab!

  10. Oozo says:

    I know that the question already came up in the older post focussed on the game, but maybe with a bit of distance, your judgement might have changed, so: is “Netrunner” fine and fun to play right out of the box? Or are the expansions mandatory?

    I got “Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012″ in the Steam-sale, and it resurrected my interest in the game, which I used to play a bit with borrowed decks back when I was a child . Now, I’m mostly looking for an interesting design, and not so much in finding a game that I’d like to play for years to come. Therefore, longtime replayability is not THAT much of a factor for me.

    That said, would you say that the basic box is good enough for a fair number of games that give you a good insight into what makes the game tick?

    • kimadactyl says:

      It’s very fun to play out the box. The expansion isn’t really worth it until you want MOAR. Actually got 2 core sets before getting the expansion (although the other one is prob out by now!).

  11. AshEnke says:

    How accessible is it for people who aren’t fluent in english ?
    Are the rules really general or is every little card full of details that may be lost for foreign players ?

    I really want to play this game but am afraid that the language barrier will prove to be too high for some of my friends..

    • Groove says:

      From Board Game Geek: “Language Dependence Moderate in-game text – needs crib sheet or paste ups”

      Board Game Geek have a section on language dependence for every game, a very useful resource. They also keep track of different languages that the game is released to.

  12. hemmingjay says:

    First, great article. Now, although Spartacus is a great game, awarding it game of the year honors over Netrunner on the grounds that it needs more help promoting is silly, at best. The best game should win a best game competition. A three legged dog wouldn’t win at Westminster on the grounds that it had to try harder, nor should Spartacus be promoted from it’s strong 2nd position.
    Otherwise, excellent writing and advice as usual.

    • Groove says:

      Yeah, I have to agree. Spartacus might actually be the best game of the year but after that I just have no idea. Is it actually better than Netrunner or is it just pretty good and less well known?

      If it’s better than Netrunner or simply the best thing after Netrunner I still really want it, but this is kind of offputting. The If-you-discount-the-games-better-than-it Game of the Year award. It feels dirty, like the voting in a tv talent competition.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        But Spartacus struggled on when it got cancer in its squeedlyspooch and lost its job taunting the fish on a deep-sea trawler. It got up at dawn every morning the day before it had to get up to sell dirt to farmers to keep food on the table for its children, Jayden, Brayden, Hayden, and Jayden 2. It was beaten down and beaten up, but it was never beaten! The only thing that kept it going was its regular attendance at the Church of Jesus Christ Gladiator. Now Spartacus is finally finding an outlet for its lifelong devotion to playing the Elbonian Nose Flute.

        How can you say it is not worthy? Have you no heart, sir? Have you no humanity?

        • hemmingjay says:

          I do have humanity, but I let my cold hearted reptillian logic prevail since it has had a harder go at life where as humanity is already popular. It just seemed like the right thing at the time.

    • Rindan says:

      If you only have 1 friend, Netrunner is much better. If you have two or (better) three friends, Spartacus is better. Assuming you have both options , I would take Spartacus.

      Netrunner is a game of neat mechanism, strategy, and light bluffing. Drawing the right cards and having your opponent drawing the wrong cards won’t win the game, but it will get you 70% of the way there so long as you don’t do anything stupid. Once you get all the mechanisms down and don’t do anything stupid, I think Netrunner becomes about adjusting your risk taking levels. You often have the option to do something risky and score big, or play safe hoping for a better chance, but perhaps slowly get ground down. They key to Netrunner is known when to make that calculated risky move because doing waiting for an advantage is going to get you crushed.

      Spartacus is social. Good cards, lucky dice, and some light strategy don’t hurt, but working your fellows with bribes, getting favors, and handing out backstabs is how you win. You will extort, beg, and plead your way to victory or defeat. This game will make you hate you friends. You will be screaming at each other, threatening a thousand retributions for betrayals, and in general be loud and noisy at each other.

      The highest thrill of Netrunner a quiet terror when you make a last big gamble to win or lose despite the odds, or when you set up a perfectly executed trap and your opponent approaches it and balks or steps in. You quietly play through the outcome and accept victory of defeat.

      The highest thrill of Spartacus is when you suddenly and violently turn on your nominal ally and use their own aid and resources to plunge a knife DEEP into their back. As you execute this perfect treachery you cackle aloud with manic glee, while they first try to buy you off to stop or, when that fails, scream at you with spittle flying that they will fuck you over so hard in retaliation that you will wish you were never born.

      These are two games that are as different as could be. Personally, when I have the friends to play it, Spartacus is my hands down favorite because it encourages intense interaction and activates your treacherous ape strategy section of your brain. I have a deep love for Netrunner too though because it is a game me and a friend can quietly play and enjoy without having to organize a bunch of people.

      My advice? Get both. They are both completely fantastic games.

  13. Easy says:

    Rab, best summary of 2012 ever!

  14. Commander Gun says:

    Of the list presented, Netrunner is the clear winner imho. I would not call it a reprint either, as there were quite some differences with the existing CCG, which was even better than the FFG game (more liberties in deckbuilding, both in available cards and without the construction limits of a rolecard or whatever it is called).

    However, there’s one thing that is bothering me a bit, both of the nominees and in your reviews in general:
    Almost all games are Ameritrash. Now, granted, i personally prefer them over the eurogames as i am not that good in mathematics, but it could be a nice idea to review some more eurogames for a bit more balance. I think there were games this year (Kingdom Builder is the obvious example) that were much better than all nominated games in this list.

    • Harlander says:

      The FFG version does have the vast advantage of the “not having to collect the cards randomly” aspect of the conversion from CCG to.. just CG I guess?..

    • Prime says:

      Oh lawks, now that I’m into board games do I have to worry about these artificial divisions as well?? “Ameri-trash”?? Bad enough that as a PC Gamer I have to hate consoles BECAUSE FUCK CONSOLES IS WHY- can’t there be just one sphere where we Geeks all just get along?

      • Groove says:

        Ameri-trash may be a derogatory title, but the category it refers to is games that put thematics and production values over mechanics. Eurogames are the opposite, that put solid mechanics first but often involve running a post office in 18th century Bavaria.

        The ‘-trash’ is unnecessary, but Ameri-games and Euro-games are really useful categorisations.

      • Commander Gun says:

        I was hoping that the fact that i rather play Ameritrash myself would have the effect of people overlooking the possible, but of course not meant, insult-like name. It is what it is often called, that is all.

        I think the fact you are worried about me using this definition is geeky in itself by the way, just look on the forums of a random mmorpg and you see what i mean :)

    • Joshua Northey says:

      While the people who place a lot of stock in the “Ameritrash/Eurotrash dichotomy are kind of lame, I do agree that Rob has very specific interests and basically ignores whole genre or two of the games market.

      These are broadly “the Euro-likes” which focus on well made concise rule sets, balance, economics, and such, rather than fiddly cool bits.

      Kingdom builder is a pretty fun game, though I feel like it could have benefited from being a little less abstract and a little more realistic.

      • Geeman says:

        I think the other typical distinction is that Amerigames tend to have more player interaction and, in some cases, randomness (through dice or cards, though of course many Eurogames have the latter), while Eurogames are commonly focused on maximizing your personal game-economic engine, with interaction generally limited to bidding, trading, or jockeying for limited actions or resources. If I’m rolling dice to sink your ship, I’m playing an Amerigame; if I’m allocating workers to build it, it’s Euro.

        Of course, the distinctions are only useful as a means of describing what you like and guessing at what you may like. I happen to enjoy both. (And while they may describe typical points of origin, I’ve seen lots of good ones in either category from the “wrong” shore of the Atlantic.)

  15. PoulWrist says:

    I got it when the original article on it aired. Has anyone else who got it have the same annoyance with the combat movement mechanism? It just seems broken compared with the rest of the game. Which is all brilliant.

    • Reapy says:

      I was going to come in and say that having played the game with 4 people just once, I found the combat mechanics to be the least climatic part of the game, though spartacus just happened to be in the first round of bidding and i pounced on him, and he pretty much demolished everyone else in the game. But yeah the arena fights were a lot of kiting around in places and dragged on in others.

      I wonder if the expansion that adds group fights and the like will correct this.

      One thing that was great was how the two female participants, who aren’t as familiar with more of the hardcore games, who struggled with descent v2 etc, were able to really get into this game and enjoy it. The auctioning and betting phases I think were the big winning areas for them, leveraging already understood mechanics so it had an immediate payoff, enough to make them stick around for sections that might not understand, like the arena fights.

      For ~25 dollars though it’s pretty ridiculous to skip out on this game. Really is a good one.

  16. TCM says:

    My personal board game of the year is War of the Ring Second Edition — but since it’s just a tweaked up reissue of one of the greatest board games of all time, I am not sure it should count as a 2012 game, heh.

  17. Gothnak says:

    Got Netrunner for Xmas, and today Horus Heresy arrived in a BGG trade, so i’m still catching up with some old recommendations.

    A guy at work got Libertalia, so fingers crossed i’ll have tried that one out in a month or so.

  18. mavis says:

    I played Spartacus at the weekend on your recommendation and I was not that impressed (as a tie in board game it’s miles ahead of what I expected).

    It’s possible we got a rule wrong but it seemed to go on for a really really long time and specifically it really felt like it was dragging near the end. A specific problem was that any time a player went for victory they got slapped down and generally ruined themselves for quite some time ahead.

    So after playing it I’m surprised it’s game of the year.

  19. Melipone says:

    Thanks Rab! Will join the masses in prompting a sell-out of Spartacus. Netrunner is undoubtedly my game of the year, loving the chance to get back into some deck building after leaving the CCG world many moons ago. Great to have a game that’s quick to play, deep and is designed for two players.

  20. Armitage says:

    I was about to shame you for not mentioning “Smash Up” until I realized it came out in 2009. Well… for me “Smash Up” was my boardgame of 2012. Can’t wait for the expansion “Awesome Level 9000″ coming out in March. You have to be excited for anything with a title like that.

  21. The Pink Ninja says:

    Wot, no Suburbia?

    No Pax Porfiriana?

    No Kemet?

    :(