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Top 10 Board Games of 2015

Most people I know have learned to stop asking me things like “What games do you have?” and “Which board game is your favourite?”

The second question Is the worst to have to answer, because I like many for different reasons and whichever one I consider as my favourite changes constantly. The first one, I answer with some photos on my phone, I can’t list them all out – I have two Ikea billy shelves full, and a third one well underway. My friends now know to ask me “What have you been playing recently”, a question I love answering a little too much and just won’t shut up about.

Which brings me to this post! I like making a list of the things I’ve been playing this year – usually I’ve done it for video games, but this year, I’ve played far more board games than electronic, so I can speak to the quality of these an awful lot better. Numbers 7, 2, and 1 are well played with two players (although all of them support more than two), and all the others usually support 2 but work best with 3 or 4 players. So there’s a good mix this year. Let’s get to it.

Wow, did you know you can make a reversed UL in HTML5? You won’t know this if you’re using IE.

(If you’re currently using IE, please stop.)

Adam’s Top 10 Board Games of 2015!

  1. Specter Ops

    Stealth action games have been done before and likely better – I haven’t played Fury of Dracula but everyone really talks about it, and the new edition this year is apparently really something. I really enjoy Letters from Whitechapel, as it’s tense and super thematic. But Specter Ops is after my own heart – it not only makes you assassins, but it gives you all crazy assassin superpowers.

    One player moves in secret without placing a figure on the board, and the others try to see them so that they can stop them. Once the hidden assassin takes too many hits, it’s game over. The assassin has to sabotage any 3 out of 4 possible power generators of sorts, and then escape without dying. They have several tools they can use to do this, and the main part of the experience, like anything with hidden movement, involves a mind game, with a lot of single and double bluffing and staring at the board with furrowed brows. Both sides have an equal amount of panic (a lot), as the assassin really knows just how close they are to being caught, and the hunters are baffled with the possibility that the assassin really could be anywhere, and the powers in play starts to throw into doubt what information they have is even accurate.

    The last cool thing the game does is when there’s five players – one of the four hunters is actually another assassin working in secret. They have to pretend to be a hunter, and at any point when they would see the assassin, nothing happens. Any time they want, they can throw off their disguise and go into hiding to help the other assassin complete their objectives. It adds a whole other flavour to the game that changes the feel of it entirely.

    Any hidden movement game is really exciting but this one just won for me so hard on theme.

  2. T.I.M.E. Stories

    When you start to own a sizable collection of board games (hint: you probably don’t ever need to do this), coming across something truly unique is very hard to come by. T.I.M.E. Stories is one of the most unique and interesting ideas I’ve seen all year. As a “decksploration” game, you’re tasked with travelling through a deck of cards trying to solve a mystery in as short of an amount of time as possible. Run out of time, and you’re sent back to the beginning of the run to try again. This is made possible by the fact that you’re all time agents. Did I mention you’re all Time Agents?

    There’s a lot of incredibly unique ideas in the game and replaying it is fully out of the question (once you’ve beaten it, it’s done, and it’ll really only take you 5-6 hours to do that). Each expansion adds another 5-6 hours still. If you’re like me, that won’t matter so much. But it’s a major downfall considering how much money it costs. The other major issue was that the game indeed elongated itself by being punishingly hard! We had a very rough time discovering the solution and when you get stuck (unlike in a video game which can give spoiler-free hints), you’re just, stuck.

    These issues aside, there’s some surprises and really cool ideas that just made me so excited as we were playing it. I’ve already secured the first expansion and I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into it with a bigger group.

  3. Penny Press

    When you own as many games as I do, generally, they start to look awfully similar. It takes something pretty unique to catch and hold my attention, and to make me want to buy it. This one is incredibly creative, even though it’s a formula I’m very familiar with.

    The core of the game is worker placement, sending your reporters out to cover stories. But the thing is, the stories are different shapes, and when you do decide to go to press, you need to take the stories and fit them all, tetris-like, onto your front page. Optimizing your front page based on what types of stories are currently the “hottest” will give you chances to multiply your score. Then advertisements start showing up on your front page, taking up space and making it severely difficult to complete your tetris puzzle. The ads start dictating what types of stories you go out and cover, which is a bit too real.

    It’s very simple to teach but it’s mastering the timing of publishing each run of your paper that decides who wins and loses. Do it too fast and the other players will find a more optimal set of stories, do it too late and you’ll have to scramble to cover everything you need. Really creative little game and it’s been played many a time since we got it.

  4. ASHES: Rise of the Phoenixborn

    There’s a few reasons why I don’t like Magic: the Gathering, generally. It would be pretty simple for me to get a few decks of cards and play the basic game for fun with other friends really casually at home, but I find the culture inescapable and so does everyone else. For a while I had Mage Wars – very similar premise but with an actual board to add positional strategy to the spellcasting. That one is a bit more mechanically complex, Magic is actually much more simple than that. It just seems so impenetrable. The other problems I hated with Magic were having to wait for specific mana or cards to be able to trigger any spells, the deckbuilding itself being way too imposing, and having to purchase new cards constantly to “keep up” with the game.

    When ASHES came out I’d hoped it would give me a home box Magic-esque game that would fix these problems for me. And it did.

    The characters are all pre-built, although there are rules to customize a deck in the back of the book if you are so interested to do so. You also build a pool of 10 dice, which give you different magic symbols that lets you fuel your various magic attacks and creatures. So there’s some luck involved but not much, really – you still have a wizard, they still make creatures that attack and block, and you still need to kill the other wizard to win. I like the dice much better than mana, as the luck involved to be able to trigger a spell is more overt (and can be modified with some special powers anyway), and you’re given a choice of specific cards to start the game with, so you’re not stuck waiting for a lucky draw just to get going. You also play out every hand fully and then draw several cards at once, so entire turns don’t get shot by one bad draw.

    Basically everything about it is everything I wanted out of this type of card game. I’m so glad it exists.

  5. The Bloody Inn

    Plays so fast and just undoubtedly the coolest little card game that came out this year. The Bloody Inn has a pretty familiar game mechanic – you play cards from your hand to get better ones, and use those to either build in front of you on the table, or take cards directly from the middle and add them into your tableau. What makes it so incredible is the theming: you all run an inn and each card is a guest. Your job is to kill them and steal the most money by the end of the game, all while hiding your bodies well enough to not get caught by the police. When the police do show up, you’ll need to hope the others aren’t hiding bodies as well as you are – or you can just kill all the police. You can also bribe these police so that they can help you kill more police – which ends up leaving you with more bodies. The problem perpetuates itself.

    The only way you get money from a corpse is by the process of successfully hiding a body – for this you need locations to bury the bodies under, and this is where the dual-purpose nature of the cards comes into play. When you grab a card you can either take it into hand as an accomplice (you’ve bribed them), or ignore the guest portion of the card and build it in front of you (the bottom half has a building and special power on it). Or you can just kill that person outright – but you’ve gotta be ready to deal with all those bodies.

    Just writing about this game delights me and we get peels of laughter from playing it. It’s fast to teach and very quick to play, and does very well with more/fewer players.

  6. Mysterium

    If you’ve ever played Clue, you should play this game immediately, because this is nothing like Clue.

    You’re a bunch of paranormal investigators tasked with uncovering a murder by talking to the ghost of the person that got killed (played by one person). The ghost is aware of the person, place, and thing that killed them and they must communicate this to the other players, but the ghost is not allowed to speak during the game. As such, they have a hand of cards they use to give the detectives interpretive dreams in order to try and communicate those three pieces of information.

    I think a friend of mine called this “shitty ghost, awful detectives”. The joy of this game comes both from success and from failure – either you’re all on the same wavelength and you can understand the wordless communication, or you hilariously can’t. The moment it’s over, the ghost player can speak again and the excuses burst forth, explaining all the actions they couldn’t defend in their silence earlier. The concept works wonderfully and even after a couple dozen plays of this game in a few months, I’m still ready for more.

  7. XCom: The Board Game

    Legitimate struggle is usually what results from any story or franchise trying to realize itself in another medium, and somehow stay true to the feel of the original. If Fantasy Flight had such a struggle in developing XCom, it certainly doesn’t show – the transition to this cooperative strategic number feels smooth as can be, and so accurately invokes identical feelings of despair to playing the video game. Just calling it despair is not justice; there’s a special brand of disappointment in building characters, upgrades, or other buffs, and risking it all in a difficult choice, then losing it. Now all your soldiers are dead in America, and nobody went to help Australia, so it’s double dead. The box barely has enough aliens available to even put down on the board. Nice work jackass.

    This time, you get to share the despair with a group of friends, making it ultimately more compelling, as suffering it alone in XCom was probably the worst part of the game. The dice rolls behind the scenes in the video game transfer seamlessly into actual dice rolls made by all the players, removing any doubt that it’s not only the group’s entire fault for every failure, but the universe itself just spitting on you during the misguided flailing you’re trying to pass for an attempt to save the human race.

    Anyway, this game is goddamn amazing, you should play it.

  8. Above and Below

    Worker placement games are a weakness of mine. They have a way of offering a few hardline strategies, so even if you don’t know what you’re doing at the beginning, you can figure out a way to at least do well (or hopefully win) with what you’ve got later on. This game gives you a small village of folks that you can shuffle around to make buildings or produce resources. The real meat of this game, though, is when you go underground.

    There’s a big thick spiral-bound book of adventures – you roll some dice and draw a card and flip to an indicated page in the book, and it tells you which of the hundreds of possible adventures you’re going on. You read it out, and it offers you some choices for what to do. Often it involves rolling some dice to see whether you can succeed at fighting a thing, or locating a thing, or rescuing a thing, or digging up a thing, or any number of other things. Succeeding or failing at these stories is what gets you the real rare items, building options, and cave space underground in which to build checkpoints, all which lead to big money and recognition.

    Part adorable worker management and part choose your own adventure, it’s just everything that I love in one game and I’m a sucker for every part of it. It feels like it was made just for me – if that’s the case then how on earth is it only #3 on this list?!

  9. Cthulhu Wars

    I seriously think this is one of the best games out all year that literally nobody is going to get to play. That’s because of the price – it’s going for about $200 US on shelves right now, and you’re probably only finding it online, which will add plenty of shipping for the enormous box.

    The game itself is fantastic. It’s a strategy game where you take control of one of the Lovecraftian horrors that you’re usually fighting against in this sort of game. Evil gates and doom tokens are a precious resource, not a harrowing countdown. It’s a highly adaptable game and scales well from 2-4 players. The feeling of controlling these grandiose horrors is so palpable, and it’s not only from the foot-high miniatures (no, actually) that you get in the box to stomp around the board making Godzilla noises (though that does help. Slamming one of those figures onto the board when you summon it is incredibly satisfying in itself – size does count for something).

    The huge feel really comes from the spellbook you need to assemble to win the game, each with its own titanic powers. Each side plays totally differently but it feels like a very fair asymmetrical experience, but all of them use one power-based resource that flows up and down based on your map control. It is a bit dice-heavy but it is never grueling to have to go through, and the monsters have enough special abilities that we’ve always seen better planning win the day.

    If you didn’t get in on the Kickstarter you’ll either need to have to have a friend that did, or spend an absurd amount of money. If you’re my friend, you’re in luck – come by and play this with me any time, I totally love it.

  10. Pandemic Legacy

    I’m pretty sure I don’t need to justify why I chose this one. It’s also hard to explain why without spoiling the game in any way. I’m working on writing a 100% spoiler filled version that is going up on the site sometime, but for now (and if you intend on playing it), just know that it’s everything we could have hoped that it was going to be.

    On the off chance you have no idea what I’m talking about, Pandemic is a game about controlling the outbreak of four different virulent diseases trying to wipe out the earth – it’s about curing them all before one threatens us with extinction. Legacy takes that a significant several steps farther and turns it into a story – a 12 scenario campaign that contains win/loss conditions, permanent changes to the board (that you write directly on) and routinely getting rid of any cards, characters, or other components as the story demands. The first time the game forces you to rip a card into pieces, it’s a very tough thing to do, especially for someone that plays a lot of board games and closely guards game component’s well being. It also changes the fundamental rules of the game often, and so early on, in such ridiculous ways that it feels like a fully fresh beast of its own.

    Pandemic was already a really well loved cooperative game, though it hadn’t held an appeal for me for years. This one has legitimately turned it all around.

Honorable Mentions

I loved these games this year too, but they didn’t quite make the cut.

  • 7 Wonders Duel
  • Codenames
  • Spyfall
  • Posthuman
  • Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game

Bonus!
Machi Koro: Deluxe Edition

I’m fudging this one a bit, as this game came out something like three years ago, but the deluxe edition came out this year. I just love it too much to not talk about it.

A few years ago, two friends of mine rekindled my interest in board games as a hobby by playing a game called the Settlers of Catan. In this game I was routinely bodied by both of them (usually one of them), from having played it so many times. I found it really hard to believe that a game, which provides resources literally only on a lucky dice roll, can be routinely won by the same person. I was slow to realize how that worked: gaming it so that you have the best odds of producing, and beating your opponents positionally. Then I encountered a new problem: I realized I was beat within the first rounds of the game, and would be spending the next hour or so playing catchup futilely, as I was too poorly positioned to produce anything and would just lose that way.

Enter Machi Koro: a game like that without the board, and less direct attacks on others (though not altogether without them), but still has the dice and numbers game I enjoyed. It also ensures that you can always produce at least some resources, and although you can fall behind, catching up is much more intuitive. This makes all games very close and exciting, and the art is just so endearing. The expansions add a really cool mechanic where the properties you can buy are randomized, and the same few are always available to everyone to purchase, adding one more luck factor but always giving several options.

It’s so easy to play and flows really well with my game groups, and I can’t get enough of it.


 

And that’s it! So many lists – tomorrow I name my top 10 Video Games of the year! There sure were some barn burners in there let me tell you

Check back on the 31st for that list!

Published inBoard Games

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