Best Games of the Year 2015
January 3rd, 2016
For the past few years, I’ve played a increasingly larger number of new games each year as I grow more and more infatuated with board games as a hobby. With 58 new-to-me games, 2015 was no different.
What is different is that I feel like I should be slowing down. I’m to the point where I roughly know my tastes and I’m playing new games just to get them played when I’d rather play games I already own. Put another way, I’m buying games faster than I can reasonably play and evaluate them. Mind you, I’m not judging others here, this is for me and me only.
Back to the fun stuff though, I played a number of excellent games, a very few crappy games, and mostly average to good games. I’m still working on separating the wheat from the chaff, but I feel like I’ve come up with a list of 10 games that I really do enjoy and think will remain in my collection for a while. I gnashed my teeth over ranking these 10 games as a top 10 and came to the conclusion that I can’t. I want to play each of them for different reasons and at different times, however, one did stand above all others, and that would be…
I’m a big fan of Eric Lang, I think he makes some wonderful games, so when I saw that he was coming out with a Kickstarter game that looked like it was riffing on Chaos in the Old World, 7 Wonders, and Cosmic Encounter, I had to back it. Add in (what was at the time) a fresh theme and beautiful components and I was one of the few lucky early bird backers who eagerly refreshed the browser until the Kickstarter page was live.
For those who haven’t played it, Blood Rage feels like the marriage of the card drafting of 7 Wonders, with the action point allowance system of Chaos in the Old World, and the combat resolution of Cosmic Encounter. Even better than all of that is how it feels to play. One of my biggest complaints is when a board game overstays it’s welcome. Therefore, the biggest compliment I can give a game is when it feels like I’ve gotten far more play out of the time I spent with it, and in that sense, Blood Rage is a winner. I’ve not played a game of it that went longer than 90 minutes and yet the decisions are tense, interesting, and impactful.
I haven’t played it enough yet, but I really feel like this game will end up on my Top 10 at some point, probably soon.
And now the rest in alphabetical order:
7 Wonders: Duel
Take what’s fun about 7 Wonders and make the two player game not suck. They pretty much hit the nail on the head here. I love the fact that there are three different ways to win and you have to pay attention to all three in order to be successful. I enjoy the variety that comes from the changing wonders and progress tokens. Oh, and back to my obsession with game length: it’s over in 30 minutes. Awesome game.
I’m not intimidated by many games, but for some reason Alchemists languished on my shelf because I was nervous about learning the rules for some reason. I was really interested in the game because of its app integration and its theme, and after a little prodding from some friends, I sat down to learn the not-as-bad-as-I-thought rules. Excited by the game, I asked my wife to play that night and we both really enjoyed it.
Alchemists is a game of deduction and action selection. You’re trying to figure out what ingredients lead to which potions and why. You’re testing potions, selling those potions, collecting ingredients, publishing and debunking theories, and buying artifacts to help. You do all of this in a setting filled with whimsy and humor. CGE continues to impress me with their games.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
I was late to the party on this one. I looked at it and dismissed it as an also-ran of Suburbia and I thought I enjoyed the theme of that versus Castles. Yet, like a sucker, I decided I’d try it out and ended up trading for it.
Well, I was wrong, very wrong. This game strips away a lot of the game state management of Suburbia (income, reputation, other cities affecting yours) and distills it to earning points and making money from other players. I have a much easier time teaching Castles and I always enjoy myself quite a bit more. Also, I think everyone can enjoy looking at their castles after the game and admiring the quirky configurations and eccentric room combinations. Want a dungeon, a train room, and an extravagant garden? Go for it, it’s your home.
There’s no surprise that Codenames is on this list. It’s my second most played game this year only behind Android: Netrunner and that’s because it works just so well and you’re almost always going to play two games of it per sitting. I love the feeling of having to give clues tying words with no shared meaning together and trying to guess what the clue giver was trying to tell you. It’s a tough game at times, and occasionally the random shuffle puts you in a tough spot, but it makes those wins just that much better.
My first game of Forbidden Stars was pretty rough and I ended up quitting the game because I was so far out of competition and having a miserable time. I almost decided to sell it on the spot, but we ended up playing it again two days later and I realized just how much I was doing wrong. I was turtling in a game where turtling is highly discouraged and I lost as a result of that.
Forbidden Stars takes a standard enough area control game and the combines it with a very interesting order mechanic and combat mini-game. Placing your orders facedown in different sectors where the latter orders are executed first makes for interesting decisions as someone else can come along and hold your order hostage. The combat mini-game rewards playing to your factions strengths, but then building in the direction you want to go. It’s a longer game, but we’ve had a good time playing it and I look forward to future games.
I’m really surprised to see The Grizzled on this list to be honest. The game is pretty simple, but it just works. It’s a great cooperative game where the alpha player problem has been handled and the artwork is superb. I’ve played this game 7 times now and I’ve only won once and that was tenuous at best. It’s a hard game and you’ll struggle through it at times, but I love how some very basic components end up telling a pretty deep story.
I had owned and played Hyperborea before and while I liked the bag-building mechanic in that game, the rest of the game fell flat for me. When I saw Orléans on Kickstarter around the same time, I decided to spring for the deluxe version since I liked the look of the game.
In Orléans you’re building a bag full of tokens that you draw at the beginning of your turn. These tokens are somewhat like workers in a worker-placement game, but there are several different kinds of workers. You’ll place these tokens on different spots on your board and reap the rewards. The rest of the game is a pretty standard point-salad kind of game, but the bag-building mechanic works so well here, that I’m happy to play it.
Roll for the Galaxy
I almost didn’t include this on the list since my first play of this game was in prototype form at GenCon 2014, but realistically I played my first game of the published version in January 2015, so I’m including it in this list. Roll for the Galaxy takes what I loved about Race for the Galaxy and turns it into a slightly longer game with the same interesting decisions. It adds dice to the mix (of course) and it simplifies and clarifies the various symbols used from Race for the Galaxy. This game is a series of interesting decisions and balancing the number of dice rolled with the amount of money earned.
Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game
I was a huge fan of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and I’ve played it over 100 times, but it was starting to take up more and more time and space. I ended up selling it because I just never looked forward to building another deck or shuffling my deck for a mulligan. When Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card Game was announced I was pretty uninterested with it, but when it came out I started to connect the dots and saw that it was a combination of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Space Hulk: Death Angel, two excellent, solitaire-friendly games. I ordered it and decided to give it a shot.
Well, if I hadn’t already sold Lord of the Rings: The Card Game this would have me selling it immediately. I no longer have to build decks, let alone build a deck specifically for the encounter, and there’s no more shuffling my deck. You get straight to the action and there’s a campaign system built right in. It’s also clear that they’ll be expanding this one, but the draw to buy new expansions feels lower because I’m not demanding new player cards, just new quests, and I haven’t played through all of the ones in the base set yet anyway.
This really is a fantastic game and I can’t wait to see where they take it.