I did a lot of gaming this year. Most of it was Android: Netrunner. If it weren’t for the trivial fact that it came out over two years ago, it would definitely occupy my number one spot in 2014 (and 2013, but whatever). Fortunately, I also played a heck of a lot of other games, too. And here, ladies and gentlemen, are my 5 favourites of 2014.
5. Valley of the Kings
Dominion rocked me like a hurricane when it first came out. I played that thing like it was my job. I logged more plays of it on BSW than I care to admit, and was still hungry for more, as I devoured the first few expansions. Other deck builders hit the shelves, and I reveled in the little twists that other designers would bring to the table. But then… the magic died. I got really bored of deck building. So many deck builders were released in such quick succession, and they all just blurred into one for me.
When a friend of a friend started to set up Valley of the Kings before me, and explained that it was a deck building game, I almost gave up my seat. My interest in the genre had long waned. But I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did. Valley of the Kings offers the tough choices that I was missing in other deck builders. Not only did I have to choose which cards to acquire, I would have to be diligent about removing these powerful effects from my deck if I wanted them to be worth anything at game end. Tanto Cuore did this (albeit in a different way), but it didn’t tickle me the way Valley does. These decisions are often painfully difficult, as you will so desperately wish to play these powerful cards for their effect or money one more time – but you can’t, not if you want to win. You have to learn to let go. Compared to the bloated decks of the other games of its ilk, it’s a rather cathartic experience.
There’s so much game in this little box.
4. Sushi Go!
“7 Wonders, but simpler? Sure. Why not?”
Sushi Go! isn’t difficult, challenging, or deep. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun. I didn’t think much of it from the pitch Nicole gave me, nor did I after the first play. But after that, it charmed me. This simple, little filler has done some incredible work for me this year as a gateway game. Even when there are no ‘new’ players around, this unassuming little tin box has hit the table every game night we’ve had since we picked it up 6 months ago, and I’m always happy to see it there.
“Ooh! A new Rüdiger Dorn game”, I gasped as I saw a group setting it up one afternoon at The Gathering of Friends. As a longtime fan of Goa, Traders of Genoa, Jambo, and Arkadia, I quickly checked BGG to see what people were saying about it. It was very new at the time, and so there was little being said, but the consensus seemed to be that it was a fine game that offered nothing new or interesting. Hmm… That’s too bad. I still had every intention to play it before the week was through, but it was no longer a high priority, thanks to BGG.
Never listen to BGG. Istanbul is fantastic! Well, the folks on BGG were partly right. Istanbul doesn’t offer anything new or groundbreaking. You’re collecting resources and money and turning them into victory points, sure. But if I were to frown on that ol’ trope, the scope of games I’d be free to enjoy would be drastically limited. Fortunately, Istanbul takes my favourite part of Traders of Genoa (the disc stack) and gave this otherwise simple game everything it needed to take a regular spot on my gaming table. The movement limitations these discs enforce careful planning, in addition to offering an easily digestible depiction of what your opponents can and can’t do on their turn, making Istanbul quite accessible, despite its apparent depth.
2. The Staufer Dynasty
Possible, but unlikely bias: I translated the rules.
When I first noted the designer, I immediately hoped for the best. Andreas Steding designed one of my all time top 5: Hansa Teutonica. This isn’t the place to gush about Hansa Teutonica, but DAMN! Yet, another of Steding’s titles, Firenze, didn’t do much for me, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The rules made it seem like a solid game, but I’ve been fooled before.
When my copy finally arrived, I immediately set up a date to play it. The first play did not disappoint. Nor did the second. The decisions were difficult, the set up of the two games made for surprisingly different play experiences, and the scores were tight. There are no catch-up mechanisms, and there’s no run away leader. You have to fight for every last point.
But still, as I pondered about my ‘favourite’ games for 2014, I wondered if this was… too fresh. Was the newness of it blinding me to other games that might deserve the spot? It’s actual North American release date is in 2015… I could leave it to contend with other games released in 2015, no? Absolutely not! This game is the real deal. I played it twice more, and both were extraordinarily satisfying game experiences. To all of you reading: if you like a good Euro, get this to your table now!
Typing this only makes me want to play it again today. The incredible variability of its setup, including the variety of the Privilege cards (you choose 5 different ones from a pool of 15 to vary each game) ensure that The Staufer Dynasty is immensely replayable. I’m thankful that Nicole and Sean feel the same – I’ll have no shortage of opportunities to play it in 2015.
1. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
When a friend of mine first reached into his bag and placed the small box on the table, I rolled my eyes and groaned to myself. Perhaps it was audible. My distaste for Werewolf runs deep, having been eliminated on the first night in several rounds years ago, and watched as entertainment drained from my friends’ faces when they were eliminated early in other rounds. I could drone for some time about why I dislike the traditional werewolf experience, but I would much rather spend my time celebrating Ted Alspach’s invigorating and always engaging One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
Despite my reservations, ONUW captured my imagination immediately. We only played three rounds that first day, but I rushed out to buy my own copy as soon as I could. When it finally hit my table shortly thereafter, eight of us ended up playing for three hours. THREE HOURS!!
It’s hard to believe, but after 50+ plays, the game continues to feel fresh. It has incredible variability, and each game is new mystery I can’t wait to solve. We’ve only now started dipping our feet into a few of the Daybreak roles, and… let’s just say that I’m excited to get my copy.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf exceeded all of my expectations. It is my second most played game of 2014, and will certainly be among my top 5 played games in 2015 — I guarantee it.