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Top Picks for Toyfair 2012

February 19, 2012

So there were many, many good games at Toyfair. Nothing that’s going to change the industry, but there were still some very well balanced and incredibly polished games. It wasn’t terribly difficult to pick out my top three choices for 2012

Ugh-Tec (Aargh-Tect) – Party, Family Game. Charades meets Blocks.

Fantasy Flight is rebranding a family/party game from 2009 that didn’t see much mainstream attention in the States. In the style of charades, a player uses a preset “caveman language” to communicate to his team how to assemble a set of blocks of various shapes and colors. Each team gets a card with a “blueprint” and a point value. The cave man language is really tight and well balanced. From my brief encounter, vocal commands correspond to color, arm movements to shape, and body and feet movements to actions. Plus it comes with an inflatable club, that the player uses to hit people; once for right, twice for wrong.

The demo guy conveyed how physical and engaging the game could instantly become. Plus a minor variant could add a decent amount of depth. Each blueprint has a difficultly and a point value, and, in the spirit of ticket to ride, a draw 5 and choose mechanic would add a lot of decision making to the game. As it stands, probably my favorite party game out there.

Asara – EuroStrategy Resource Management with interesting Action System.

Ravensburger is putting in its bid for the Euro Game market in the States, with three incredible games. All of which are incredibly well balanced and tightly constructed, the quality of each is certainly on par with a game like Puerto Rico; player skill is a major component, random chance minimized, but play is still engaging and uncertain.

Asara was my top pick of the three, mostly because of it’s elegant mechanics. Players are trying to build towers by purchasing various segments from a variety of markets. In a round, they have a hand of colored buyer cards; place a buyer card on a market and you can make a purchase. However, once a market has a buyer on it, players must place a matching color buyer to take the same action or they must place two facedown buyers. Buyers effectivly represent your number of actions in a given round, so placing two limits your options. Additionally various other actions function in much the same way, getting coins to buy the towers, bidding for first player, and putting the towers together. There are four rounds and a scoring mechanic for number, height, and color of towers.

A lovely girl from Ravensburger explained all three games to me at the booth, and within 5 minutes of each explanation I felt ready to play. Interestingly, each board comes with a basic and advanced version. Conceivably for a broader age range, but I definitely saw it as a bonus for teaching that first game to get the basics and move up to the advanced when the players are ready

Seasons– Card based board game with a shared dice pool of changing resources.

Seasons from Asmodee looks and feels a beautiful game. It has a board, dice, and cards, but don’t let the variety fool you, it’s a brilliantly straight forward and strategic game. It has Euro game elements, but sits squarely in the grab bag genre of “Designer Game”. Seasons starts out with a card draft, where players build piles of cards to be used throughout the game. Game play involves players selecting certain dice, rolling them collectively, and then players take turns choosing certain dice. The dice influence a players ability to play cards, gain points, and move the Season track. The dice players can choose from change depending on which season the game is currently in, and rotates through the four over time. The basic rules are fairly simple, but each card adds unique twists to the game that really spice up game play.

Working at my board game shop, I’ve become very familia with another fairly new Asmodee game, Evo. The games are fairly similar in that the basic mechanics are easy and intuitive, while the pieces and general board shift and change. Some people don’t like having so many pieces to deal with, but I think that Asmodee has implemented their many pieces in a very elegant fashion. Out of my three top picks, this is the one I plan to buy first.

There were a lot of very good games on display, and I’m still consolidating 8 pages of notes. Like I said, at the beginning of the post, there wasn’t much in the way of ground breaking innovation, but I believe many companies are rightly putting their efforts into incredibly polished products. In particular, the quality of the boards and art across the whole fair were pretty incredible. I can guess a bit of that is to justify the increasing costs of many board game, but I think it shows a great deal of professionalism and dignity to the larger public. That may be the name of the game this year as board games extend ever outwards into new markets.

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