The Golden Age of Tabletop continues. So many wonderful games, across the spectra from Euro to Ameritrash, from lite to gateway to super-heavy. Kickstarter continued to both give small designers a worldwide platform and remind consumers that the buyer really should beware. The microgame genre really came into its own this year, I think, following in the footsteps of Love Letter: big games in little packages with playing times under an hour. I’m finding as I age that theme (and the execution of theme) matters more and more. My list tries to include games from all the above (in alphabetical order):
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game: Drenched in theme, elegant in execution, cutthroat in negotiation and bluff.
Fire in the Lake: GMT’s Counter-Insurgency series’ latest installment. Put on your soundtrack to Apocalypse Now and submerge yourself in the muddy Mekong.
Imperial Settlers: Ignacy Trzewiczek’s latest iteration on 51st State, with the best set of streamlined rules yet. Here you are building (as opposed to rebuilding) your civ. Each player has a unique deck of buildings to draw from as well as a common deck. This increased asymmetry makes the game more interesting to me. The coming expansion packs are also very promising.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game: I’m a big fan of WizKids whole Legendary series, but this game really puts you into the movies in a rich, thematic way using classic deckbuilding mechanics. You can play through any and all of the Alien movie series, or mix it up any way you like.
Pandemic: Contagion: More of a reboot than a sequel or variant, in this game you play the disease. Yes! Kill as many meatbags as possible! The game is surprisingly deep for all its liteness. I would pick it over Pandemic: The Cure (ie, The Dice Game) just because it covers different ground.
Province: This and Tiny Epic Kingdoms (see below) are perhaps the über microgames: playable in 30 minutes or less, simple and elegant design. Province is like one of those grains of rice etched with beautiful art, distilling the Euro form to its absolute essence. plays only 2-player, while TEP shines with 3 or more, so take your pick—or, even better, buy both!
Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Like Province (see above), TEK was a Kickstarter success story with a sequel (Tiny Epic Galaxies) whose campaign starts on January 8. I did not get on the bandwagon for TEK, but I will for the sequel based on TEK’s excellent design choices (both game- and component-wise). They truly have compressed the fantasy-kingdoms-at-war genre into an engrossing game with multiple paths to victory and different play styles for each race. Kudos to Gamelyn Games!
Valley of the Kings: AEG has released a plethora of excellent small games in the past year or so, of which VotK is, I believe, the best (though Sail to India may be equally as good). I choose this one for its innovative use of deckbuilding mechanics, for the game encourages careful deck building and destruction by the addition of the simple rule that only cards that you delete from your deck score at the end of the game. This simple addition really breaths life into the genre.
And, finally, one Best/Worst of 2014:
Myth: I fell for the Kickstarter hype. The gameplay videos looked awesome. The minis and components are (for the most part) VERY awesome. The gameplay actually does live up to the hype, once you learn the rules. But the folks at Mercs had to relearn the lesson (learned decades ago at SPI) that you must have fresh pairs of eyes look over your rules—not to mention the fact that boardgame rules have different standards than minis rules. A second edition ruleset is due soon, and I think the game has the potential to be a long-run classic. But the launch was a cautionary tale in what Kickstarter is and is not.
Happy 2015, everyone!