Games of the Year – 2009

It’s that time of the year.  Holiday celebrations, New Year’s resolutions, and Best of the Year lists.  It would be a disservice to our readers to pass out Film of the Year awards, so we proudly present Guilt Free Game’s first Game of the Year awards.

After several days of debate, we settled on eight categories with a winner and runner-up for each.  Some of our picks may not astonish you if you’ve followed us for the past year, but we have a few surprises in store.  We’ve kept it fair for each nominee, and all the judges left their bias at the door.  If you disagree with a selection or think we left out your favorite game of the year, tell us!  Leave your comments below, and tell us what you think.

Conquest Games

Winner: Age of Conan

Our first choice for conquest game seems unlikely, it being based on one of the most maligned online games of the past year. Don’t let that dissuade you. Despite sharing its name with the MMORPG, the game is a pure and simple romp in the brutal world of Hyborea as depicted by Robert E. Howard. A communal fate die mechanic frames the adventures of Conan himself, while the players vie for control over various territories, as well as attempting to curry favor with the roaming barbarian, ultimately hoping to crown him as their king. For the conquest fan, you would be hard pressed to do better than Conan this year.     ~Josh

Runner Up:  Small World

Small World takes the basics of conquest games, ditches the dice, and implements its own fun idea.  Players draft their civilization and claim as much territory as possible.  But no civilization can stand forever.  Knowing when to start a new civilization is more important than crushing your enemies.  The multiple boards provided makes sure every game is crowded no matter how many players are involved in the battle, and the adjective/noun race creation keeps the game silly.  If the dice and seriousness of most conquest games turn you off, this light game would be great for you and your friends.    ~David

Adventure Games

Winner: Middle Earth Quest

Right out of the gate, the production values of Middle Earth Quest impress. Look past that and you’ll see a rich adventure game, pitting unsung heroes against the minions in Sauron during the seventeen years before Frodo left the shire. Without a die in sight, two or three players compete with the Sauron player, who commands dark events, evil minions, and can spread his influence across the land. The heroes compete against the game mechanics in a traditional adventure game style, while Sauron plays in a sort of zoomed out view as he spreads his influence, making the situation more dire for the players. Fresh gameplay in a familiar setting is always a treat these days.     ~Josh

Runner Up: Tales of the Arabian Nights

Originally released in 1985, this remake introduces Tales of the Arabian nights to a brand new audience.  Tales may be light on the game, but is heavy on adventure.  Every player wins with a fun story generated by the Book of Tales and the Reaction Matrix.  The thick book filled with stories and the many variables make no two games alike.  You can tell a game is great when even losing is fun. ~David

Role Playing Games

Winner: Mouse Guard Role Playing Game

Mouse Guard has received tons of praise, and its deserved every bit of it.  It’s a unique, simple to learn, roleplaying game bound in a nice hardcover volume, and filled with the amazing art of Dave Petersen.  Character creation is fun because you choose a background for your skills which makes every skill you have define your character much more than most games.  Splitting the session into the GM’s turn and the Player’s turn is something more games should incorporate and it makes everyone contribute to the story.  The no-brainer RPG of the year.     ~David

Runner Up: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition

The newest edition of WFRP takes the flashy components that FFG is known for and pairs them up with a design sensibility highly influenced by FFG’s myriad board games. What comes out is a phenomenal game filled with intense encounters, a fast pace, and an emphasis on the role-playing. We particularly liked the idea of the stance meter as a means to infuse even the smallest action with a bit of flair, and GMs will appreciate the Progress Tracker idea. It might not be revolutionary, but having a standardized means of displaying time passing and the party/adversary progress in a specific encounter, no matter how crazy, is great for the GM (less to worry about), and outstanding for the players (standardization=less confusion).    ~Josh

Light Games

Winner:  Roll Through the Ages

Simple rules? Check. Satisfying strategy and planning elements? Check. Fifteen to twenty-minute game length? Absolutely. Roll Through the Ages is one of the stand outs of the year, creating a great variation on poker dice that, via a cleverly implemented system of resources, expansions, and developments, makes you feel like you are guiding a fledgling tribe on its path to become a great civilization. The rules are simple enough to get anyone who likes to roll dice involved, but even our most stalwart, hardcore gaming friends and writers loved this game. If someone in your life loves lighter fare, or if you or anyone else you know are a huge fan of games like Civilization, this is a must buy.     ~Josh

Runner Up: FITS

FITS, which I just discovered is unnecessarily the acronym for “Fill In the Spaces,” is almost impossible to not compare to Tetris.  As they say, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.  My favorite part of the game is that there are four levels, and each has a progressively more difficult method of scoring.  It gives each session a cool feel if you are playing with a few people.  It reminds me of a trick-taking card game in a way.  The game is very abstract with a friendly color scheme that makes it a simple game to introduce to non-gamers.     ~David

Card Games

Winner: Dominion and expansions

Dominion was an easy pick for card game of the year.  Like Fantasy Flight’s LCGs (including our runner-up, Warhammer: Invasion), you can purchase one box and have a full game for four people.  It does not force you to collect cards, but it  highlights the reason why people play CCGs.  Deck building is the key to the game, but what elevates this further than any other card game is that you construct your deck throughout play.  Its an addictive mechanic, and the Intrigue and Seaside expansions make it even more fun.    ~David

Runner Up: Warhammer LCG

We are pretty big fans of the A Game of Thrones LCG here at GFG, but the complexity of the game and it’s emphasis on 4 player play really sets a high bar for entry. This year Fantasy Flight released a Warhammer LCG which distills the essence of the AGOT LCG into a simple, high intensity duel, filled with over the top armies and ancient relics of the Old World. You command a faction from Warhammer while competing with your opponent to obliterate your opponent’s capital first. Orcs swarm, Dwarves build, Chaos corrupts, and the Humans are flexible as always. For the Warhammer fan in your life, or for someone who likes CCGs but with out the disposable income to participate in them, LCGs are great, and Invasion is fantastic in particular. Just so you know, Greenskins are totally overpowered.     ~Josh


Winner: Arkham Horror: Innsmouth Expansion

When people talk about cooperative adventure games, it is hard to ignore Arkham Horror. While it can be a bit overwhelming at first, many people find it to be the epitome of cooperative role-playing and adventuring without playing a traditional RPG. The newest expansion adds some phenomenal features for new players and veterans alike. Each character across all Arkham products now has a unique story arc, complete with rewards and penalties, which adds a whole new flavor to the game. The new investigators seem to have been designed with complimentary abilities, making character choice easier for new players and lowering the difficulty a notch. Finally, the addition of the new Innsmouth board adds an additional challenge similar to previous expansions, but the challenge has been balanced well enough that it doesn’t feel completely overwhelming and even new players can enjoy it. Innsmouth wins because it takes one of the great recent adventure games, and makes it so much better.     ~Josh

Runner-up: Pandemic

Pandemic is one of the most popular games of 2009, and no doubt that is due in part to the real life pandemics we’ve witnessed this year.  Players work together as CDC agents to stop four diseases from spread across the globe.  This game is so fun because it is difficult to win, but plays quickly.  If you’ve lost one game, it’s very easy to give it one more shot.  Good teamwork and a little bit of luck will see you to victory.  The game is finally in print again after selling out very quickly on its initial release, and the new expansion On The Brink will add even more challenges — and the swine flu.     ~David

Miniature Games

Winner: World of Warcraft

Miniature games had quite the shock this year with Wizards rebranding their D & D miniatures.  If anyone can fill the void of D&D it would be Blizzard’s brand.  Like most of the WoW games, the Miniatures game picks a specific aspect of the MMO and focuses on that.  In this case each player builds their team of either Alliance or Horde characters to fight in the battlegrounds.  Teams are smaller in size than most skirmish games, and the  new time mechanic makes this game different from anything else on the market. World of Warcraft: The Miniatures Game is a unique experience with a familiar theme.      ~David

Runner Up: Arcane Legions

Arcane Legions does something interesting and unique. It takes the world of epic-scale war games, simplifies the rules, and makes the whole thing extremely affordable. Take on the guise of the Roman, Egyptian, or the Han Empires while battling in a brutal, yet elegant rule set. The minis are colorful, with common minis sporting identifying shields and crests, while the rare units are fully painted. You can also leave your tape measure at the door, as everything in the game is measuring in unit tray sizes. With such a cost-effective means of building an army for the ages, now is the perfect time to get your friends or family to sit down at the table and war over ancient battlefields for glory and honor. If you want to get into war games, but want to stay away from skirmish size games such as the WoW Minis, Arcane Legions is the best stepping stone around.     ~Josh

Euro Game

Winner: Endeavor

Endeavor is a conquest game disguised as a Euro.  Worker placement is the key mechanic here, but the goal of the game is to extend your influence as far as possible.  Instead of amassing large armies, you must manage a successful trading company by creating strong trade routes.  Battles will occasionally be necessary to kick an opponent out of a territory, but these need to be calculated strikes and not fierce expansions.  The board cleverly looks as if everyone laid out maps of the known world as they plot their power grabs.  It is a beautiful and addictive game that nearly found a place in our Conquest Game of the Year category.     ~David

Runner Up: New World: A Carcassonne Game

New World is a slightly different take on an old favorite. While the core game play remains the same, it is the tweaks that make this version special. Players build from east to west, starting from a pre-set board. The scoring is simpler, but the pace is faster, as the addition of surveyors to the mix constantly force you to complete your scoring items quickly. If they move further west than your scoring piece is currently situated, they are removed from the board. What else is there to say? GFG loves fast, simple, but highly strategic game play. If you want a new take on an old favorite, or to introduce friends to something new, charter a ship to the New World!     ~Josh


You’ve heard our winners, now what do you think?  Which of our winners do you think deserves to be called “GAME OF THE YEAR?”

One Response to “Games of the Year – 2009”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Released in 1989, it shares a lot in common with our 2009 “Best Light Game” runner-up, FITS. FITS is often compared to Tetris because it is so similar to how you might imagine Tetris to play […]

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