This last year was a very good one for board games. Every year I come across more people who have gotten into the hobby and I get more and more chances to share it with people. I also tend to buy a whole bunch of them, so I did want to write a bit about the ones I enjoy the most.
Take these with a grain of salt. I have… predictable taste, and honestly several of the games on my list are objectively bad games in one way or another (I’m looking at you Mansions). But my heart speaks the truth and I simply cannot ignore it.
Noémi and I argue a lot about Seafall. The sad thing is, we tend to walk away from a lot of nights after playing it not feeling super great about how it’s balanced. But, by the next time we play, we were usually excited to dive in and see more. There’s a super excellent twist early on and the game itself is fun to play. Sailing around, trading, buying expensive stuff, and especially exploring strange new lands has been real rewarding. However too often the balancing feels really off (the catchup mechanics are unreliably useful, and a lot of the milestones/special quests can stack and give one player a hilariously disproportionate number of glory points in one go).
Honestly, as I’ve tried and write about it it’s fallen down like 7 places down on my list, to the point where I wasn’t sure I should include it at all. It’s been a lot of real fun marred with a lot of high-breaking annoying bits that I would never want to inflict on anyone, not to mention the rules are technical enough that we inevitably miss two or three every single game. It has been an experience with some really interesting bits, which means I do want to mention it here, but honestly still not even sure if I’d recommend it at all to anyone. Games like that work best when you have folks that don’t care so much about winning or losing, but in this game, when your progress carries over from week to week, it ends up being real salty even if you’re in the lead. Pandemic did much better on the basis of being co-op, and all being in it together from the start.
Sushi Go Party!
If you don’t yet have this game, this is the definitive version to get. If you do have it, I’d still honestly try and find someone to give your old copy to, so you can enjoy this new game. It adds a bunch of interesting new cards, and you can use whatever loadout of them you want (though the game suggests many nice combinations to try). These all slot into a modular game board, which also has a sushi conveyor-scoring track. Excellent update to an already great game. We get this one out all the time.
Most people don’t enjoy time pressure in games. I really like it, I like timers and countdowns and the stress that comes with a ticking clock staring you in the face the whole time you’re playing. This one gives you a fair bit of time – 12 whole minutes – but you have to plan out your turns for the entire game in those seconds, much akin to a space alert. However this is a mystery/horror game, and is more about exploring and balancing risk than defending yourself from flying meteors. You have a lot more choices in your hands which is nice. Once the timer runs out you run through your planned actions to see how it all went and if you managed to follow the mystery properly, even if you failed a bit, you still have a chance to pull it out in the end. I really like the design and I’m excited to play it more.
I actually love this despite having so much trouble with it logistically when I get it to the table. I think the problem I’ve had with it so far is that the most drunk partygoers have inevitably been the ones that wanted to be captain, which usually ends up with submarines careening about and the game stopping frequently for mistakes. It’s still a real fun and funny time but I think we need to spend more time playing it turn-based until I have some friends that are used to the rules. I’m going to keep trying to get it out for bigger parties, though.
We’ve had some very intense games of this recently. In one I lied quite well as a fascist, and then ended up shooting my girlfriend when the table found out she was the most trustworthy person at the table and were preparing to elect her to get them a victory. I played the rest of the game openly as a fascist, and watched them come to trust and elect my fellow fascist that became trustworthy after I’d fought with him early on and took my subsequent heel turn. A bad policy deck gave them two liberal policies making it impossible to keep them from winning – a lucky draw decided a real damn close game. I hate hidden role games and I find this one the most fun and playable which is as high a compliment as I can give it.
Several times I’ve turned down buying suburbia despite enjoying playing it, largely because I felt it wouldn’t get enough time on the table. My groups mostly appreciate things that are a bit less rules-heavy and technical. Quadropolis was exactly what I wanted and a breath of fresh air, and still give us that city-building feel. It’s got a simple to learn main mechanic, but gives you a lot to think about on the strategy side of things. Suburbia still has a very specific and special place in my heart, but this one is just a lot more flexible and also an awful lot cuter. As usual days of wonder knocked it out of the park with components and box design and everything also.
I don’t think I really owned a proper engine-building game until this, and this one really does it for us for a couple of reasons – one, it’s semi-cooperative, which gives us something communal to work on (I play this with Noémi and neither of us is especially cutthroat so any attack moves don’t happen often, and when they do, don’t sting too much). It’s also super appealing in the design side, they nailed the aesthetic and with very minimal prompting build a very decent theme. We’re also suckers for worker placement which this does very well.
Star Wars: Rebellion
Fantasy Flight always manages to impress me with their production and components, so as soon as this game was announced, I had to have it. Imperial assult is too similar to descent which I play a lot of with my family, and X-wing doesn’t come out a lot and armada is just not my speed. This game is sort of a very active worker-placement, which is deceptive in that it looks like a space war but ends up being more of an easter egg hunt. Everything revolves around having that one good bluff in place as the rebels, and all the games have been won or lost for the rebels based on how well they can hide and build up before the empire closes in. It’s always been an amazing time and with the timing of the movies, maybe I was always going to enjoy this one this much.
Mansions of Madness, 2nd ed.
I love the original Mansions a disproportionate amount. I acknowledge fully that it’s kind of trash, and that there are much better games to spend your time with. But it’s just bait for me. It has everything I like in it, and getting to DM for my friends was very nice. The new game puts the DMing in the hands of an iPad, which was a bit sad, but I was convinced after just a few turns. You can get playing almost immediately, setup is taken down from 40 minutes to 4, and a lot of the bookkeeping and rules are handled by the app so the players don’t have to. It also puts the wiring/slidey puzzles in the app as well, which saves a bunch of time. I think my favourite bit is how the map procedurally generates and builds itself as you explore. The whole experience is just a lot more streamlined and makes it way more easy to play with friends, which I can’t say no to – I’ll also never get rid of the old one anyway!
Absolutely sublime strategy game, which is a simplified Go-based territory control engine. A few random cards/powers and a program deck of potential shared moves drive the theme of the game super well. The randomness only provides slight advantages one way or the other – the game still manages to be fully skill-based. We’ve played it dozens of times and still love it. Scales incredibly well and is very interesting with 2, 3, or 4 players, but we have the best time with it as a 2-player game. I recommend this to absolutely anyone. Exemplary board game design, and so easy to teach, but very hard to master.
Didn’t quite make the cut:
- Joking Hazard – Vulgar judge-based party games often make me laugh but are wearing thin on me.
- Widow’s Walk – I still have all the same problems with Betrayal as before, this doesn’t fix those!
- Merchants & Marauders: Broadsides – Pretty fun two-player game but not quite interesting or memorable enough to make the list.