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Another 2023 Ceremony Award - Casual Category

Welcome to the 2023 Ceremony Award for small and casual games! Just like any good ceremony award it will be too long for its own sake in order to account for a ludicrous variety of categories so, be warned.

The Biggest of All

The Witcher: Old World is a game I was impatiently waiting for... Then I got it and it took me three months for it to actually hit the table. But it did hit the table, quite splendidly so with that!

Then I sold it.

The Most Eco-Friendly

A plastic-free eco-friendly game about managing an ecosystem, Biotopes should have been a hit. It turns out the convoluted rules about spending cubes from amphibians to feed a row with the cubes from the land card made me realize I wasn't as adaptive to Euro mechanisms as I hoped. Sold.

The Most Triadic

I love folk tales. I love adventure games with loot, leveling up, and big chunky custom dice. What could go wrong with Threetale, then?

Well, not much. It is certainly an odd game. Picking up steam is the hardest part of it. You are forced to play three-handed. One of my characters remained on her starting tile for the whole game, basically standing there to boost up the skills of the other two. The theme could come through a bit more, but as it stands, I like it.

I didn't have time to revisit it, but this first venture into the lands of Bulgarian folk tales was certainly a charming meeting. Game of the Year material? Hmm, maybe.

The Most War-Torn

Although this one has gigantic minis of the kind I normally cannot stand, I think I loved Dragonbond: Lords of Vaala. Don't mistake me, it's an exhausting solo game since you have to run the AI deck for three factions (the game just plays with four factions, period). And the final is usually anti-climatic because the one AI can stupidly go get killed by another to serve them juicy Victory Points. But it's a very, very cool production. And the rules are smooth and simple (translation issues aside). Another Game of the Year contender then.

The One That Teleports Itself The Fastest

Portals is a very pretty abstract. I read the rules twice. I watched a playthrough. I felt excited to fulfill geometric patterns with color beads. So I ordered it, played it, and then, I sold it. This is the weird instance where you research a game a lot, and in the end, it just doesn't provide enough fun. One of the games I owned for the least time in my collection. Fitting, for a game about jumping from one magical portal to the next.

The Most Magic Wannabe

[Hmm, I don't have a picture for that one.]

Skytear: Horde is a Tower Defense game, just like in Magic: The Gathering, you are actually defending the Fortress of your Heart. In Skytear Horde, you need to protect your castle while churning out the HP of the portals that spit baddies at you. The system is very smooth and easy to play, even though they forgot about one page worth of rules content, including how to actually win the game (just check the appendix online before playing). It didn't provide me any thrill, though. So I got rid of it.

The Most Cinematic

If you ask me whether Sub Terra II is a good game, I will tell you: yes, no doubt! It's thrilling, exciting, it tells an impactful, emerging story, it provides genuine variability from one play to the next thanks to characters with game-changing abilities, so much that I was happy to play the game 5-handed. It just works.

I also just don't like it much, because of too many "gotcha" traps, the need to go through all of the tiles every game, and the weird optimization meta-game when you build the temple in the way that gives you the best chances of survival. For a game about exploration, it's painfully unthematic.

The Most "I'm French, 2023 French releases count as well"

Isn't that pretty? Planet Unknown is a charming production, and a very neat game, with delightful rules, a good margin of freedom, many pathways to victory, lots of variability from one game to the next. Alas, the heaviness of the production weighs it down, and the bigness of the box crushes down the freshness and levity of the gameplay. I can't set up that beast for 10 minutes to play a nice 20 minutes of Euro crunchiness, sorry. I want to try a few more maps, but it's right on its way to the trade pile.

The Most Pummeling Down

I was excited about Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn. To begin with, it's absolutely unique. You play as heroes fulfilling quests in the background of a battlefield, while helping out as they can the good guys' army which is getting utterly crushed by the baddies. And about everything goes wrong. I played through the tutorial mission and felt exhausted, despaired, shattered, all my hopes crushed mercilessly with every single event card or atrocious dice roll in the game. And to add to beat you down even more, you realize Amazon is selling the game half of its price so you'll never be able to recoup the financial loss. Right now, I just don't know what to do with it. For me, it's just too harsh and constraining.

The Most Train Material

Dark Tomb has the great merit that it's one of the rare full-fledged dungeon crawler you can play on a train tray. Unfortunately, I did not find it any other virtue. Sold.

The Most "You've never heard about it"

I like area control and tile-laying. I like simple games with a pasted-on nature theme. Ergo, I like Vorex. I played it only twice but happily enjoyed both of my plays, and it plays very fast. I'm just not good at it for the moment, even though during the game, I always feel that I'm making very clever moves. There is something I don't quite get. Anyway, nice little obscure game I'm happy to keep for the moment.

The Most Train-Frenzy One

Twisty Tracks is a tile-laying game about bringing trains to train stations. I love the simplicity of it. Each turn you lay a tile and you move the train along the track. That's it! No additional rules. But it's deviously smart. The only issue? It's just way better multiplayer, adding a tension that isn't there in the solo game. It should become a worldwide family classic. It deserves it.

The Best Game/Box Ratio

When I received Explorers of the Woodlands in the late summer, I was simply delighted. Usually, when you get a KS, you receive far too many boxes, each of them way too big in its own right, to feel comfortable about it. Explorers of the Woodlands was tiny. Smaller than Pauper's Ladder. And yet when you play it, it sprawls like a real dungeon crawler and plays just like it. It's all the more a pity then that the gameplay is just not quite up to it.

The Most Deceiving

Tucana Builders, the board game sequel of Trails of Tucana, deceived me twice. First, I thought it would be like Trails of Tucana, a sweet, fun, delightful even! flip-and-write about drawing paths on a map. I was excited about the board game version and ordered it immediately. First, it's ugly. Really, really ugly. It takes some effort to stand the view of that board. Second, it's just nowhere near as fun, as fresh, as crispy as Trails. It's a luckfest with no control where you excessively rely on drawing very specific tiles. So I was immensely disappointed. Then I played it again. And again. And again. Five times in a row. Now it's my most-played game published in 2023 (if you don't count Dorfromantik, that is). And I think it's better than Trails of Tucana. But you'll know more about that in a short while - I have a review incoming. Game of the Year Material.

The Most Invading

I got Retrograde as part of my Pew Pew series. It's a real-time roll-and-write, and the solo mode pits you against a timer. The timer is not the issue though: everything is too constrained, and even though you get cool power-ups, by the time you activate them, the game is almost over. The whole game is just too short too shine, but a longer play would have exposed the tedious repetitiveness of it.

The Most Iconographic

I believe Medieval: Jan Žižka is a very nice dice game. It has medieval-inspired iconography that is just charming and immersive - a feeling shattered into pieces by the beyond ugly character art on the cards. It's a dice game, but you grow your dice pool by recruiting a bunch of followers that will help you attend events successfully. It doesn't work for two reasons: being language independent, the events are just a listing of icons (way to kill the buzz), and the solo mode pits you against an annoying character that fails to provide any interesting interaction - it's just a kind of bully that comes punching you while you are playing a fun game. Sadly, I sold it.

The Cutest Meeples

When I saw the little ducks of Abducktion, coupled with the fun silicone UFO they come in and the solo mode justification I needed, I simply could not resist. It's also a game about fulfilling patterns and, well, you know me. So I played it, and I achieved the ultimate top-tier score in my first play. Now why would I revisit it?

The Most "Sun shines in the depthes of Moria"

The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game is a classical co-op series of puzzles where you need to optimize your actions to fulfill a sequence of arbitrary objectives, while managing the ever-incoming threats and runs against a merciless timer. I quite enjoyed it, especially since it's the right amount of challenge for me: if I play casually, defeat is quickly upon me, but if I sit five minutes before the game starts to figure out a strategy, it usually pans out. It helps that I like the theme - any other theme and my interest would have waned.

Summing up

It's been a long post, and it's due time to part ways. There are other games I have played: Aethermon: Collect, Caper Cards, Trailblazers, 20 Strong, Wild Realms, Worldbreakers: Advance of the Khanate, Deep Dive, Forgotten Road, The Last Stronghold, Lanfeust, Siege of Valeria, PaleoVet, Hack & Slash 2... And possibly even more I got, but couldn't play: Materia Prima Inquisition, albeit long awaited, The Isofarian Guard, Trudvang Legends, Horizons of Spirit Islands, The Struggle for Zorn...

Still, I hadn't realized 2023 had been so rich gaming-wise until I wrote this post. It brought a lot of disappointments, but getting rid of games is just a nice bonus when you own too many. And there have been a few titles that made it to my Top 20.

That seems to be an amazing conclusion. Some games are really cool. Some games are mediocre. Some games are rather bad. Some are for you. Some aren't. No matter the year, platitudes apply.

So, have a great year 2024, in your gaming and beyond.

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