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Our Favourite Games of 2015 - Specialty Awards April 04 2016

Hey guys! We're back again to bring you our annual list of favourite games that were released in 2015. We're doing it a little earlier this time to squeeze a chance for you to get your last-minute holiday gifts.

This year we're adding a couple of new categories to our end-of-year awards to compliment our Top 10 list. So before we get into the Top 10, today we're going to look at the winners for our Specialty Awards. Follow our blog as we unveil the rest of our list over the week!

2015's 2014 Game of the Year - Colt Express

This very special award goes to our favourite game that came out last year. Believe it or not, there are games even we didn't get to play last year. So we wanted to give an award to a game that would have certainly made our list if we played it in time for our last list. 

Recipient of the latest Spiel des Jahres, Colt Express is the full package. The art and design of the game is so nice it literally pops out. The components of the game take full advantage of all three dimensions. It's not the deepest game, but it's got enough to keep you entertained for all five rounds. Often, feeling like you have no control over what is happening would count as a negative towards a game. But in Colt Express the theme of "Wild Wild West" is replicated through the sheer chaos it brings to the programming genre. Making mistakes is rarely this much fun. Winning or losing became secondary to just watching things spiral out of control.

 

Expansion of the Year - Five Tribes: The Artisans of Naqala

2015 has been filled with very big and notable expansions. Just to name a few, we saw expansions for Takenoko, Camel Up, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Five Tribes, Colt Express, Kemet, Suburbia among many others. 

 

Many expansions could have easily taken the award here, but for us it mostly comes down to preference. We loved Five Tribes when it came out last year, and The Artisans of Naqala adds a lot, without bogging down the experience too much. Making meaningful expansions is never easy when the core game is already a solid and balanced system. This expansion adds a new type of meeple, 3 new tile types, and a handful of new Djinns.

The test of a great expansion comes down to whether you would ever consider playing without it. And we feel that after having played The Artisans of Naqala, there's no real need to go back to the vanilla game. 

 

Honourable Mentions Rum & Bones, Epic Card Game, Exploding Kittens

  

This year we wanted to show some love for games that didn't quite make our Top 10, but still warranted appreciation.

Rum & Bones brings the very popular MOBA genre from video games to board games. It doesn't manage to capture the frenetic pace, but it does well to translate objective-based gaming and the importance of team composition. I was fortunate to have a roommate who bought every expansion and add-on. So we had a large roster of characters to choose from. The base game is decent but does lack diversity. 

Epic comes from the folks who brought us last year's surprise hit, Star Realms. Designers Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle give us their take on CCG's behemoth, Magic: the Gathering. Based off a variant of M:tG, Epic takes all the slower paced, build-up gameplay of most CCG's and tosses it out the window. Right off the bat, players are swinging massive monsters and spells at one another. And before you know it, the game is over in 2 turns. And still, there manages to be a good variety and balance to everything in a draft format. Epic doesn't have the same long-lasting appeal as Star Realms, but that's a tall task for any game at its price point.

Exploding Kittens isn't mentioned here for its aesthetic or technical merits, but it's still a landmark game and an important one when looking at the overall evolution of the industry. The game is entirely competent, even if it is a little too dumbed-down. The basic elements of deduction and luck are there. Exploding Kittens is important because of how it found success. It became the most backed project of all-time on Kickstarter, more than doubling the previous record-holder. Success stories in the board game world through Kickstarter are nothing new. But nothing has really captured viral success on a mainstream level like this since Cards Against Humanity. And even without knowledge of the hype, Exploding Kittens is often grabbed off our shelves and enjoyed greatly. So they're obviously doing something right.

  

Images courtesy of BoardGameGeek and its users


Our Favourite Games of 2015 - #10 to #7 April 03 2016

Hey guys! We're back again to bring you our annual list of favourite games that were released in 2015. We're doing it a little earlier this time to squeeze a chance for you to get your last-minute holiday gifts.

Today we'll start going through our Top 10 list. There's a lot of things that get considered when looking at the list. How many times have we played it this year? What was our impression of the game, not just immediately after but a few weeks later? Is there still a desire to play it in the future? We put a lot of thought and care into our list, but at the end of the day it's just our own personal selections.

Let's get started! Here's #10 through #7:

 

10. T.I.M.E. Stories

I hate T.I.M.E. Stories. And then I proceed to play through it again, because the thirst to reach the end is too much. In many mediums, time is used as a device to tell a story in a non-linear fashion. The most recent example in Hollywood being Edge of Tomorrow. And in video games, T.I.M.E. Stories feels very much like Assassins Creed. The question is, does T.I.M.E. Stories successfully translate this device to board games. And the answer is: "kind of".

As a puzzle and mystery game T.I.M.E. Stories knocks it out of the park. The first case that comes with the game is full of character and excellent world-building. The game punishes you for making some rather obvious, bad decisions. It's an early lesson that you will suffer if you are the type who needs to see it all. The final solution is thematic and well-crafted. It's quite the ride.

Now let's talk about reaching the finale. It's entirely possible to get there in one playthrough - but likely will take two on average. After playing both cases (the game launched with a same-day expansion) I found myself reflecting on the overall experience of T.I.M.E. Stories. It may be a controversial opinion, but I don't think the game benefits from multiple playthroughs. I understand they want players to make smart decisions, or else risk running out of time. But if we removed the Time Unit device entirely, I don't think the game suffers or loses its identity. More often I found myself annoyed at the mechanic. Even travelling to new locations costs a random amount of Time Units, for no real reason. 

I appreciate when designers try to go out and create a new type of experience in board games. I know I'm in the minority, but I just felt that a few mechanics of the game hurt the overall package more than it added to it. With the base game only coming with about 4-6 hours of play, it doesn't really feel like the most valuable experience - especially with Pandemic Legacy doing much more for a similar cost. Each expansion is almost as expensive as the base game, for what is essentially a deck of (very well produced) cards. The possibility of failing a mission and having to replay it almost entirely from the beginning, is supposed to add "replay" value but it feels more like a trope. It does make for a great cafe game, because of its limited shelf life. 

I want to like T.I.M.E. Stories. Actually, I do. I just don't love it. Will I play the next expansion when it comes out? Definitely. It's still one of the best games of the year and the intrigue of seeing how they potentially tie the narrative arc together is worth looking forward to. 

 

9. Spyfall

The party genre saw two big names bring an inferno-level of heat to your local game stores and cafes. The first one arrived in the spring/summer after a lot of hype being created through pen & paper and online versions of the game. Spyfall delivers a unique experience to the genre - which is something much easier said than done for party games. Players are dropped into a shared, remote location and everyone knows the location except for one; the spy. The goal of the spy is to figure out where they are, without giving up their utter cluelessness. The rest of the players put on their best suspicious face in order to discover the identity of the spy among them. 

At first, the learning curve of playing the spy is a very delicate line - which often results in hilarity all around. But as players gain more experience with playing both sides, you will find yourself in the midst of some very tense games. Spyfall provides distrust on the same level as a game of Avalon, which I would argue has caused the most strife amongst my game groups - in an entertaining and good way of course. 

The unfortunate reality with the boxed version is the lack of a player aid listing all the locations on it. Instead, players are forced to share the centrefold in the rulebook. Sometimes the spy will feel like they are being too obvious if they attempt to look at the list of locations, so it can be tough on first-timers. The online version of the game simplifies a lot of small nitpicky things like this. But at the end of the day it's still quick, great fun in a tight package. You'll find yourself playing through quite a few games (since each game only really lasts 10 minutes) and each play will leave you wanting more. 

 

7. Flick 'Em Up

A few years ago I played a quirky, dexterity cooperative game called Space Cadets. I was bestowed the role of Weapons engineer. I had to prepare our missiles and aim them to defeat our foes. Preparing the missiles was a synch. I could prepare three easily in the time I was given. Then came time to shoot them. A simple flick of the finger would indicate how much damage we would deal to our opponents. The other four members would sit, eager in anticipation as a drop of sweat leaked from my forehead. I miss. No problem, I have another missile. Miss again. I feel like I'm shooting free throws in the deciding game of the NBA Finals. I am the Shaquille O'Neal of Space Cadets. My team shakes their head in disappointment. Shame! *rings bell* SHAME!

Fast forward a few years. and now we have an entire game focused on that one haunting experience of Space CadetsFlick 'Em Up is the classic theme of cowboys vs. outlaws in the wild west, complete with duels. Dexterity games are always the eye-candy of board game cafes. Every time a new group watches a table play Riff-Raff they immediately ask if they can try it when they're finished.

Flick 'Em Up may just take the cake for best visual design of the year. Plenty of scenarios are provided to keep things fresh from game-to-game. It's one of the few games that can support large groups, without slowing down the pace of the game. Learning to play is easy, but mastering the techniques and nuances can prove to be quite the challenge. The inability to use your thumb for resistance on your index finger limits your ability to control the power of your flicks. It takes a while to get the hang of, but feels incredibly rewarding when you begin to snipe players across the map. 

Flick 'Em Up is not a perfect game. But at times it perfectly mimics the emotion of a real sport. Team camaraderie, tension among teammates, and victory celebrations are all a very real part of the game. It's certainly the most intriguing game of the year for us. I'm very excited to play more Flick 'Em Up with different groups in the coming months. As Craig Mack once sang, "It's the Return of the Shaq" (ok, maybe those weren't the actual lyrics).

 

7. 7 Wonders Duel

I've always liked 7 Wonders. It's never my first choice of game to play, but if someone brings it out I'm always game to play it. Even with just three-players 7 Wonders can be quite entertaining. But the game has always been unsatisfying to play with just two. It just doesn't feel like the same game. Enter 7 Wonders Duel. Game designers Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala have accomplished the challenge of making a two-player game in 7 Wonders Duel, while maintaining the feel and style of the original. 

Transitioning from 7 Wonders to Duel is simple, and when you get into the flow of the game it feels just like playing a traditional game of 7 Wonders. That's not to say they haven't added anything new. In fact, the new additions are so cool I think I now prefer Duel to the original. The way new cards are uncovered and made available each Age really gives players something to think about. The new alternate win-conditions force players into suboptimal play, constantly reminding them to pay attention to their opponents future moves. There's a deeper level of interactivity here, that the original sometimes lacked. 

Two-player games are the most important cafe games, due to the volume of dates or two-person outings. We have our favourites here at For The Win, and 7 Wonders Duel is a new, strong staple in our collection of two-player options. I'm sure it will hit the tables many times in the coming years.

 

 Images courtesy of BoardGameGeek and its users


Our Favourite Games of 2015 - #6 to #4 April 02 2016

Hey guys! We're back again to bring you our annual list of favourite games that were released in 2015. We're doing it a little earlier this time to squeeze a chance for you to get your last-minute holiday gifts.

Here are the best 3 games that didn't quite make our Top 3. 

6. Elysium

This game almost earns its place strictly based on its insert. Very few games come with competent inserts, let alone a thematic one! Designed to look like the Pantheon, it holds all components of the game snug. And sitting within the insert, is one of the most gorgeous games ever crafted. Each deck of cards, representing eight greek gods, is beautifully designed by different artists. Such care and thoughtfulness are put into every physical part of the game. But this type of love is not limited to the components, the gameplay is just as elegant.

Every turn in Elysium provides a ton of options. There is a significance in every decision the player makes. With only five rounds and limitations on what can be done every turn, finding the optimal road to victory is key to success. At the same time, players must consider what resources their opponents have remaining every turn, in order to potentially prevent them from accomplishing their goals. Cards can provide round-to-round benefits, but should eventually be transferred into Legends in order for them to score. You never have enough time to do everything you want in Elysium, but that's part of the challenge. 

There's a good amount of variance with Elysium. Each deck plays differently, and putting them up next to one another provides for some cool combinations. I'm excited to see what they have in store for potential future expansions. 

 

5. Chaosmos

It's a well-known fact that I am easily enticed by space games. But Chaosmos is one of the few space games that could be painted with a handful of other themes and still remain the great game it is. A Kickstarter success from last year, Chaosmos, finally arrived in the hands of its backers this year. I was skeptical of the competency of the game. Kickstarter efforts are very hit-or-miss, especially from first-time game designers. A few friends backed the game, and I'm very happy to say that Chaosmos lands solidly in the 'hit' category of Kickstarter games.

Chaosmos is a cat-and-mouse style game where players fight and deceive one another, in order to be the one holding the OVOID when the clock strikes zero. The game mixes combat with deduction & bluffing quite smoothly. With limitations on what players can hold at any given time, players will often have to choose a playstyle that helps them to do one thing well. Should I hold onto the OVOID knowing I can protect it? Should I pretend I'm holding it, but drop it off on a defense-less planet to pickup when the time is right? Should I hold it, but build a trap or base on a planet in order to deflect suspicion? These are the types of questions that players will juggle with from turn-to-turn. There are a handful of ways to approach each turn of the game, all while keeping an eye on the clock. The game manages to deliver those "moment-of-truth" revelations regularly - often accompanied by gasps of despair or gasps of relief.

I've not played a game quite like Chaosmos. It's one of the better experiences of 2015 and I would highly suggest everyone give it a try - as it's also one of the more overlooked games of the year. 

 

4. Roll for the Galaxy

Last year we made the exception for Concept, and this year we're doing the same for Roll for the Galaxy (and according to Dice Tower's list, Tom Vasel agrees). While technically a 2014 release, the game wasn't widely available until January of 2015. Roll for the Galaxy is different take on the popular card game, Race for the Galaxy, adding in everyone's favourite board game activity - dice rolling. 

I accidentally ended up liking Race by stumbling upon it on Board Game Arena. Too lazy to read the rules, I played about 5 games just trying to figure out how the game worked, each time learning something new. It was confusing but intriguing. Even after playing the game over 20 times, there are symbols I forget about and how they work. Learning Race for the Galaxy is not really an intuitive process. It doesn't feel like the theme really connects to the actual gameplay.

Roll for the Galaxy takes all the problems I had with Race and irons it out to a more complete and fulfilling experience. Every aspect of the game makes sense. There's a flow to it all. It's much easier to explain Roll to a new player than Race. Newbies can build meaningful strategies in their first playthrough, whereas the first game of Race always turns into a lot of head-scratching and analysis paralysis. After playing Roll for the Galaxy, I have no desire to play Race for the Galaxy anymore. It's a colourful and fun experience. Even without comparing the game to it's older sibling, Roll stands on its own as a fantastic board game.

 

 Images courtesy of BoardGameGeek and its users


Our Favourite Games of 2015 - #3 to #1 April 01 2016

3. Broom Service

I was a big fan of Elysium this year, and felt it was a solid pick for this years' Kennerspiel des Jahres. When I saw it was beaten by Broom Service, I felt compelled to try it out. Not the prettiest looking box, it's a game that can be easily overlooked as it sits on a shelf. We've had it for a few months now and it's seen maybe only one play in total. I would highly recommend this one to anyone looking for a new light strategy game for 3-6 players. 

Broom Service is a different take on a programming game. The order in which your program plays its cards is at the mercy of your opponents. You can't plan linearly. You need to be prepared to make audibles along the way. There is also a surprising level of cutthroat to such a whimsical game. The game isn't all a crapshoot however, there are plenty of ways to manipulate each turn to your advantage. Reading the map and anticipating your opponent's moves is a huge part of the game. 

It's not quite A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, but Broom Service brings a lot of the same feelings. And I love AGoT: TBG, so I would consider that high praise. The bluffing and turn-to-turn decision-making are what make this game a worthy winner of this years' Kennerspiel des Jahres. And Broom Service certainly earned its spot on our list.

 

2. Pandemic Legacy

Risk Legacy was an interesting concept that breathed life into a familiar, but unexciting game. Creating permanence in board games is still a fresh idea - even if it scares some potential gamers away. Not everyone feels comfortable tearing up components and defacing the game board. But all of this is part of the experience. At its core Risk is not that great, or even fun. Most people play it out of nostalgia. The area-control genre has evolved a lot since then. So while Risk Legacy was a success, it still came down to the fact you were still playing Risk

Pandemic Legacy takes the campaign-style board game and applies it to a more fundamentally sound system in Pandemic. And as the game evolves over time, introducing new mechanics along the way - it eventually evolves into something much larger in scope. It's not just playing Pandemic 12+ times. The fear of what lurks around every move made, and what consequences it may have in future plays, really adds a level of tension not found in board gaming. 

The campaign can twist and turn, and even though the general narrative will be the same for most playthroughs, each board will create its own personality. As you begin to see cities crumble and mess with your game, you lose faith in them and eventually make decisions with your heart. It becomes more of an experience than a game. You will talk about your months with other players and how you dealt with certain obstacles, curious to compare. It's a social event. 

With Season 2 sure to follow, Pandemic Legacy made its impact on the gaming industry in a large way this year. When it was announced years ago, it brought excitement, but was in no way a surefire hit. There were many ways they could have dropped the ball, especially given the hype. But it's no secret now that the game has earned its place among the board game elite. 

 

1. Codenames

The next evolution of one of the best-selling party games ever (Taboo) has arrived. Party games that require teammates to guess a word are plentiful. Some are done with great execution and some not-so-great (to put kindly). Codenames adds the element of wagering and risk/reward to the genre. Being able to successfully guess multiple Agents using just a single word clue is one of the most accomplishing feelings I've had in any game. 

With Codenames there is an element of personality to the game. Each teammate will interpret your clues in different ways, so being the spymaster comes with the task of how to best steer your team to victory. The game is essentially infinite in its variability. Even if you somehow get through every Agent card, with every possible layout you can expand your game using your own Agent cards. Many have even opted to use Dixit or Cards Against Humanity cards in place of the standard Agents, for a different kind of experience. 

Codenames is one of those games that just oozes brilliance. A game so simple, but doused with the same level of creativity and intelligence as last year's Concept. It's no surprise the game has shot up to the Top 100 of BoardGameGeek and solidified itself as #1 in the Party category, in very short time. Codenames rests comfortably in the cream of the crop of 2015, and I think it will hold up very strongly in the years to come. 

 

 

We hope you found our end-of-year awards insightful, entertaining or at least interested in the games that came out this year. Wishing you and yours a happy holidays, from us here at For the Win! Hope to see you in the new year.

TL;DR

  1. Codenames
  2. Pandemic Legacy
  3. Broom Service
  4. Roll For The Galaxy
  5. Chaosmos
  6. Elysium
  7. 7 Wonders Duel
  8. Flick 'Em Up
  9. Spyfall
  10. T.I.M.E. Stories