2023 has already had its fair share of heavy hitters of releases: Earth, Darwin’s Journey, Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory, Horseless Carriage, Hoplomachus: Victorum, and Distilled just to name a few. In any other year, this would be a solid year of releases, ranging from indie darlings, to new releases from designer juggernauts, to reimagings and implementations of existing games.
But 2023 is half over.
I cannot believe the sheer amount of heavy hitter titles there are left to come out this year. I’m only going to be listing five, and I could easily write this article again every single month moving forward with five unique titles each time. My current theory on the matter is that these are the Covid holdbacks, titles that had to be held back for one reason or another due to the pandemic. Combine that with the fact that, uh, everyone was at home all the time for two years meant that many turned towards hobbies and creativity to escape the angst many of us felt from being inside all the time. Thus, more and more games were designed.
While there’s plenty of other factors I could dive into about what led to this crazy year, like shipping container costs peaking and now being at a low that even beats 2019, I’d rather sit here and be grateful that we have such a stacked year, and want to just start talking about the megaliths that are looming on the horizon.
Ok, ok. Maybe this isn’t the next Gloomhaven here. But here me out.
Capstone Games started its Iron Rail series of Cube Rail games in 2019 with Irish Gauge.For those unaware, the family of Cube Rail games can easily be boiled down into a series of keywords: shared incentives, investments, auctions, route building, etc. The way I always describe them to newcomers is with this analogy:
Imagine Ticket to Ride, but instead of one player controlling one color, each player could lay track for each company. Also, each player could invest in each color, and instead of points, those companies would pay out dollars to those that invested in them. Most money wins.
Cube Rails have always been popular within their niche of players. However, Capstone’s release of Irish Gauge in 2019 truly opened the floodgates for more and more Cube Rails games to come out. Besides the two other titles from Capstone themselves in the following two years, Rio Grande Games themselves released roughly six titles themselves in that same time frame (Note: BGG is a nightmare with publishers for Cube Rails, so it’s hard to get a solid list).
And then, for the second half of 2021 and all of 2022, silence. No Rio Grande titles, no Capstone titles. Many theorized that they had oversaturated their own markets, or that they were only swinging for larger, more profitable titles post-Covid to get their revenue back in line.
But none of that matters. In early 2023, it was announced that Rio Grande was going to be launching five titles and one expansion, all to be Cube Rails.
While they announced some big titles such as Wabash Cannonball (aka Chicago Express) would be coming back into print for the first time since 2008, they also announced this weird indie title from an unpublished designer about airlines. 1930 was announced almost to complete confusion, since there wasn’t much detail about the project. Since then, even though there is still not one single image released of the board or any other components, the now-posted description makes it read like it will function exactly like a Cube Rails game.
At worst, this means we get a game built off of solid foundations with a new set dressing. A Cube Rails game but airports is enough to get me interested. However, what if the designer takes a swing? What if Alex Sorbello decides he wants to throw in a new macguffin? Or tweak some existing, oft-repeated systems and make them their own? Without a hard tie to its train roots, 1930 could really try for something special here. And I really hope it does. If not, it looks like Rio Grande will be releasing enough other titles that it won’t matter.
Terra Mystica is my third favorite board game ever. The 2012 classic is truly the most, and I mean most, efficiency Euro there is. Do an action out of order? That’s four potential points lost. Do an action a round late? That’s twelve potential points lost. Get to an upgrade after an opponent? Well, now they’ve scored 20 more points than you. It’s fantastic.
I don’t really want to rehash too much about the game mechanics, since everything is so interlocked that almost no mechanic makes sense without the others present. I will, however, mention that there are 14 factions in the base game alone, and each and every faction truly feels wholly unique in how they play and how they best score points. The differences are subtle enough to explain in a sentence or two, and impactful enough to make you play every faction incredibly differently.
So when one of the original designers of Terra Mystica says they are releasing a game in that family, with most of the original systems intact, and there’s 14 new factions, you can most certainly color me intrigued.
The design team behind Terra Mystica have already released another game that feels quite similar to it called Gaia Project in 2017. This title takes place in space, has a modular instead of a static board, and technology to deepen a faction’s unique abilities. While I don’t dislike Gaia Project, it certainly feels like a lot of the aggressive repressiveness of Terra Mystica is lost in translation, since players and factions have so many more choices to morph and pivot in Gaia Project comparatively.
Age of Innovation seems to be the logical conclusion of what Helge Ostertag has learned from designing the previous two titles. While the art and general feel is 95% Terra Mystica, there’s some tweaks here and there that were present in Gaia Project. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a meld of the two: this is clearly Terra Mystica with a few tweaks. And that’s why I’m so freaking excited.
Plus there’s a faction called the Felines which are anthropomorphized cat people that wear tricorne hats, which is pretty dope.
My partner loves Scythe. I think it’s plenty fine and will happily play it with them. The sheer excitement I heard from them when I told them that there was going to be another Scythe game is enough to keep me excited for the game.
Expeditions seems to be twisting a lot of the more popular parts of Scythe and adding to them in meaningful ways. The first is, there is no longer a static board. The board will instead be made up of tiles that seem to come out face down, making exploration an actual part of the game this time. Sure, there were encounters in Scythe to encourage you to move, but the entire map was revealed from the very start of the game. Second, there’s a heavier focus on card play to improve your abilities and overall position in the game, again adding some much needed variability to the game.
Outside of that, a lot of the hallmarks of Scythe are still present. The unique action selection element remains, if not in a slightly different manner. The high quality production from Stonemaier Games is always appreciated. The captivating art from Jakub Rozalski is still here.
Honestly, I don’t have much more to add to this section, because both my partner and I have agreed to stay in the dark about the game so a lot of its wonder is maintained when we get it. If you want more information, though, Jamey did post a few sample turns in a video on his YouTube channel, and Watch It Played! has posted a tutorial video.
Shem Phillips, the designer of the West Kingdom Trilogy, has designed a solo-only efficiency Euro with some resettable campaign ideas mixed in. On paper, I’m in heaven. I generally like Phillips’ designs. Paladins of the West Kingdom is a particular standout, though Viscounts of the West Kingdom can be quite good too, with the expansions included. The thing is, I often don’t like the solo modes for these games. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the set-up time, or the fact that I often play with cruel people who are 100% trying to stop me from doing what I want to do, but I have always felt something is lost playing these games solo.
With that said, though, the idea that the campaign will make the game harder for you as you win more and more sounds like it will really add to the game. I often find scenario design in most solo games quite frustrating, because they can take a wide open game and narrow it down to fit within the narrow confines of the solo ruleset. And a lot of solo games will tweak difficulty by making these scenarios even more restrictive. Sometimes in rules, sure, but as these scenarios tighten, so does your playground for choices. There is often a strong meta that can happen in solo games because the AI or solo opponent cannot react to you, thus making it so a dominant strategy can form.
With the way difficulty is scaled in Legacy of Yu, however, I’m more confident that there will not be an emergence of one particular way to play the game. Besides that, your income for each turn varies depending on card draw, which I’m sure will be quite frustrating at times, but it will also lead to forced variance. Sure, I can always aim to upgrade Thing A because it usually leads me to victory, but my resources are generally pointing me to upgrading Thing B. Can I make that work?
I’m not really sure what to think. Coverage of this game is weird since it’s a campaign game and reviewers often don’t want to spoil anything. Also, a lot of the reviews that I’ve seen are from solo-only channels, which are happy to get any games thrown their way (not in a “free games” sense, but in a “wow, people actually designed a solo game from the ground up instead of tacking on a solo mode as a stretch goal” sense.)
Either way, I think this game is going to fill me with feelings, which is something that can’t be said about most.
If you’ve made it this far into this article, I can trust you. Let’s have an honest conversation.
I am a trans woman living in the United States in 2023. I am watching my rights disappear in front of me every single day. I am watching my queer family all across the US lose their rights. I’m disgusted, angry, and tired. I’m a Leftist in a country where gerrymandering makes it so a non-Republican presidential candidate needs to get closer to 60% of the total vote in order to win an election. Everything is awful, and it all needs to (metaphorically) burn to the ground.
But man, like, isn’t The West Wing cool? Like. Don’t you wanna be a little bit involved in all that? President Bartlet was able to appease everyone without shitting on human rights (ignoring, well, y’know, a lot of things, but didn’t you see him tell off that annoying Christian woman about gay marriage?) Like, we don’t actually have to burn it all down, right? The system could be saved with the right people in charge, right?
I do find it quite hard for me to reconcile the fact that I absolutely loathe the atrocities of my government, and yet I cannot stop watching the news and getting invested in political discourse. I have such reverence for the topic. Hell, when I turned sixteen, I wasn’t happy that I could get my license, I was happy that I had the money to go out and buy Game Change the day it came out with my leftover birthday money.
So when I heard there was going to be a board game about you being the President of the United States, I was instantly smitten.
Mr. President was announced in 2015. The game has accumulated over 3600 pre-orders, a record number for GMT Games, especially for a solo-only game of this size and weight. I mean, LOOK AT THIS GAME!
(This is the entire game board spread out on the table.)
(This is the Turn Sequence Chart. Don’t worry, if this is confusing, there’s a 28 page booklet going over all of this.)
What do you do in this game? You’re the President. You have to do everything the President does. World relations, domestic relations, party negotiations, choose legislation to promote, don’t get impeached, etc. Don’t fret, though, there’s only 13 auto loss conditions, I’m sure it’s not that hard.
I’m going to level with y’all: I fully expect at least one write up on this game. Maybe two. Maybe I will just write about this game forever. I don’t wanna sit here and talk about its unique mechanics and things right now: I’ll be doing that plenty.
I do want to point out two things. One: this game addresses one of my biggest issues with solo wargaming, which is scenarios. I alluded to this issue with Legacy of Yu, but scenario design can easily kill a game for me. As much as I enjoy something like Herman’s Peloponnesian War, because of the scenarios included, there are entire regions of its map that I never feel inclined to interact with. There are unit types that feel entirely inferior to use. Mr. President obfuscates this issue by having its main scenario be designed entirely around its sandbox feel. The President never knows what’s coming to him, so why should we?
Two: if you have any interest, I’d really recommend taking some time and deciding if you’d want to pre-order it. I’m not a shill when I say this: I just want people to save money! Again, this game was announced eight years ago, and there has not been a price increase since then for its pre-order price. Between the cost of production going up over that time, as well as the game ballooning in size, the retail price of this game will be double its pre-order price. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.
As I said at the top of the article, there’s so many amazing titles that are slated to come out this year. I only named five. What are yours? Did I miss something you think is obvious? Do you have a title you want to call out yourself? Let us know in the comments! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Turn Sequence to read about.