Here are some first impressions of new games I've played at least twice in 2011.
7 Wonders - This is a great game for 3-7 players. I have yet to try the 2 player version but it looks interesting. The drafting mechanic is interesting and there is definitely room for some clever play. Different paths require various amounts of effort (often dependent on neighbors0 so there is more control in a 3-5 player game than in a 5-7 player game. It does play in 30-45mins with 7 players which is a great accomplishment as there is little downtime during the game. A great game and I'll play it quite a bit this year. Rating 8.
Kingsburg - I have played this game before but got the expansion this past Christmas and I like the additional components. The added buildings, events, governors, and particularly the tokens for the King's military support all add more replayability to this game. I have noticed that the game needs people to make decisions fairly quickly or it can bog down (especially with 4-5 players). They have done quite a few changes to mitigate "bad luck" and allow low rolls to have some success in the game so I think the dice mechanism works well. My biggest issue is that each game feels the same. There is a ramping up element and the different building paths allow for variation but the flow is very "rinse/repeat" each year with the only difference being the increasing military requirements. The Event cards do help to liven this up some and the governor cards add more variability so I hope to get some more plays with these new additions. Rating 7
Merchants and Marauders - This is a great themed Pirate/Trading game. I really like the combat and flavor in the game. Downtime between turns can be cumbersome if people don't have their turn planned out in advance. With players that know the game well I think this can be played pretty quickly but the sweet spot seems to be 2-3 players as with 4 it just takes too long. It takes a little more "guts" to play the Pirate role successfully but it is more satisfying than the trader role which is fairly straightforward but repetitive. Even though the rumors/missions add more complications they do add a lot of theme and I have enjoyed most of my games. Rating 8
Nightfall - I think that this is a very creative design for a deck building game. It incorporates players attacking each other but, even better, it allows players to play cards during other player turns. The Chain mechanic is certainly the breakthrough that makes this game work and it is very appealing design as players can chain off of other peoples cards. The game has a lot of elements going on and I have not scratched the surface of the possible strategies (even though the fist box has a fairly limited card pool). I also appreciate the fact that the wound cards can be used to improve your hand so that a player who takes a lot of initial damage is not at a huge disadvantage. My one big negative with the game is that ties are very frequent and the tie breaker is very arbitrary. However, the game is fun and I will continue to explore it this year. Rating 7
Dungeonlords - This game is a difficult one to teach others so I've had to play a few games where I was hand-holding the other players. After the learning curve is over this game does have a lot of interesting decisions. I wish that there was more variability in the creatures and rooms you can have in the dungeon as they make the most interesting impacts. The game is nice but seems repetitive over time and I'm not sure how much replay I will get out of it. Rating 7
Macao - I played this game first back at Gulf Games 2010 and liked it then but was hesitant to get it until I tried it with the family. After playing Caylus and Princes of Florence with the kids, I decided that they can handle even complex Euro-games so I got this one. I love games with clever dice mechanisms and Macao fits the bill perfectly. I like the planning element to the game and the contingency planning that inevitably arise when the dice don't come out as you hoped. There is a risk/reward element to picking the various cards that you want to activate and turn order is more important than I initially thought. I like the flow of the game as early and late turns go faster but the middle turns are really interesting with a lot of card combinations possible and multiple paths to score victory points. There is an issue with AP players as there are so many options but I really like this game and can live with some downtime if it comes up. Rating 9
Castle Ravenloft - Having played AD&D a lot when I was younger this game appealed to me based on the theme and the other reviews I had read. I hoped that it would be fun for my son and I to play and get him ready to move into some RPG's later. The components are top notch and the concept of the monster decision-matrix is really well done. However, I have been somewhat disapointed in the game play. It is almost too streamlined and each turn feels like the previous one except that there may be a different monster or event to deal with. I wish that the game had more tactical decisions and maybe had a more tense combat system but it does move along well and can finish in 60-90 mins. I will probably add some house rules to try and add more replay to the game for me but out of the box it is only a fair game. Rating 5
Mousquetaires du Roy - I played this at Gulf Games 2011 and really liked the mechanics. The rule book is a challenge and the board could have been designed with a better layout but it does work. The theme is good but some of the events/encounters are effectively the same. The traps are the most flavorful aspect of the encounters as the rest is just what skill check is required and who do I need to defeat in a duel. The combat system is really clever though and it is quick and fun to play with some tactical decisions as well. Also, having players take their turns in any order and share a common pool of money encourages teamwork and group decisions. The other nice touch is the Treachery cards that force the players to take all their turns in a time limit (sand timer) or else lose any remaining actions. The game is challenging and I like that there are multiple things going on too keep the players distracted from their main objective. One problem I have is that nearly every game the player who has a 4 in a particular skill will always buy up that skill to a 6 and be the expert in that particular category. I would have liked to see some way to vary this more but haven't played around with it enough yet. I think that the combat element and the active player working against the others does keep this from being a cooperative game where one player dictates how everyone should act (also the timer!) so that is a good thing. Rating 7
Luxor - This was a little set matching game from Ravensburger that my wife picked up at a garage sale. The kids have enjoyed it and it has some nice elements to it and plays very quickly. It is like a connect four game with some timing and tactical decisions but very light overall. I will play it with the family but wouldn't bring it to any game groups. Rating 5
Stronghold - I really enjoyed the mechanics in this game and it is well designed with two asymmetric forces. The attacker has a lot more decisions to make on how to coordinate the invasion and ultimately faces the pressure of needing to break through in a quick timeline while the defender has to hold out for as long as possible. I think that the 2 player game favors the defender in general but that 3-4 player games may provide more advantages for the attacker(s) to make it more balanced. I haven't played it enough to fully decide on the balance issues but either way it is a fun game to play. It takes a little longer than some other options (especially if teaching it) but I would gladly play it several more times this year. My one major disappointment in the game is that the battering ram vs gate option is not very viable as defending it is too easy and doesn't cost as much resources as it does to incorporate it into the attack. Rating 7
Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien Game - I end up teaching a lot of the games at our group meetings and one of the hosts loves the Flying Frog games and gets me to teach a lot of his games. This one has a funny theme and has a lot of "take that" elements in the competitive game. The cooperative version seems far too easy (even with the more difficult settings) but I think that the competitive game with the active defenses for earth make for the most interesting. This may have been the original design and the other versions were just scaled back from this so that people weren't overwhelmed at the beginning. I think that this is the way I will always want to play this game going forward. I do think that the die rolling and card drawing (especially Space Stuff) is very variable so there is a lot of luck in the game but if you want to just relax and enjoy the crazy theme then it is a decent game. Rating 6
51st State - I have only played this a few times but it took a lot of effort to get through the rule book and to understand how to play this game. There are a lot of options here but ultimately I'm not sure how to incorporate them into a strategy. I probably need to play this one more to understand all the elements better but I'm not sure I want to invest the time and energy into it. I thought that I could handle it as I love Race for the Galaxy (another game with a lot of Icons) but the counter maintainence work and some of the mechanics of this game just feel wonky for me. Rating 5
Of course all of these ratings may change with more playing so we'll see what else 2011 has to offer.
2015 Update: Here are my ratings now on these games. Interesting how most ratings drop over time as I haven't played many of these games in the last 5 years. 7 Wonders and Macao are the major exceptions with M&M being played from time to time.
7 Wonders: Still fun (with first 2 expansions) but doesn't always live up to the hype - Rating 7
Merchants and Marauders: Also still fun but can go rather long - Rating 7
Macao - Still one of my favorite Feld games and still a 9 rating
Castle Ravenloft/Luxor - Still a 5 rating. Haven't wanted to pull them often.
Mousquetaires du Roy - dropping to about a 5. Just misses some elements and doesn't hold up under repeat plays.
Stronghold - Fond memories of this game. Would like to try it again but don't have a copy. Still a 7 rating.
Nightfall, Conquest of Planet Earth, and 51st State - I don't own these and haven't played them much since then and don't miss it -- probably all about a 5 now but would try Nightfall again so maybe a 6 for it.