2015 Year In Review

With 2015 now over, your intrepid Opinionated Gamers are taking a look back to answer the question on everyone’s mind about this time of year – what was the best game of 2015?  Of course, all being opinionated, we can’t agree on open or closed holdings in Acquire, so don’t expect anything definitive.  But there will at least be a lot of opinions – hopefully some of which will introduce you to new games to seek out.

Joe Huber

2015 was the best year for new games ever.

OK, not really.  But from my point of view, it’s right up there with the best; by the metrics I use to rate such matters, I have it as the 4th best year ever.  (Well, technically, 1990-2015, but there are no earlier years which would rate higher than 2015 for me.)  At least so far, it’s not a year with a lot of games that would make my top 50 – but there are a lot of games which I’d rate as I love it!, on the Opinionated Gamers scale.

So far I’ve played 96 2015 releases.  And currently 13 qualify as “I love it!” games – a very high percentage.  Rather than arbitrarily listing a top 10 list, I decided to just order and list all 13 games.

My 13th favorite game of 2015 is: Art of War the card game.  In general, I’m not a big fan of two player-only games, and that’s definitely the biggest strike against Art of War the card game for me.  But there’s something very appealing about a game with four different game ending conditions, three of which I consider realistic – ending on three different conditions on my first three plays.  I’m not sure it will hold up in the long run, but I’m really enjoying the game for now.

My 12th favorite game of 2015 is: Favor of the Pharaoh.  I’ve long enjoyed To Court the King, so a redesign – particularly one which puts more emphasis on manipulating the dice, rather than collecting dice – was definitely a welcome sight.  I’ve only played the published game once so far, so it’s hard to guess exactly where the game will end up for me – but given a couple of plays of the prototype as well, I’m very comfortable including it here.

My 11th favorite game of 2015 is: Grand Austria Hotel.  Well, as with all of these – for now.  I’ve really enjoyed my plays of the game, and find that the theme works for me.  The game does move a bit slowly at times; I haven’t seen it as a problem, but I know it’s bothered others.  I’m also not sure how the variability in the game will really impact the game, and whether there will be enough variation for me.  I’m definitely optimistic, though – and I’m enjoying the game enough to rank it even higher, if these concerns don’t come to pass.

My 10th favorite game of 2015 is: Tezuma Master.  The caveat here is simple – I’ve only played the game three times.  But it’s a fascinating game, where players first draft their scoring, special ability, and poison suit – and then play a nice trick taking game with a few twists.  There are even a variety of scoring choices and special abilities, to add further variety to the game.  My concern, as usual with trick taking games, is how well the game will differentiate itself in the long run.  But I’m really enjoying the game so far, and expect it to have plenty more plays in it.

My 9th favorite game of 2015 is: The Voyages of Marco Polo.  For a change, this is a game I’ve played enough to have a solid opinion of.  Well, semi-solid; a nagging concern about the importance of contracts still remains, as I really want a game named after Marco Polo to involve travelling.  But even that concern is somewhat mollified; the criticality of contracts seems to be specific to certain characters, rather than a general issue.  Besides that concern, though, I do enjoy the game quite a bit – like most of my favorites, the game offers players a wide variety of options for players.

My 8th favorite game of 2015 is: Scratch House.  I first visited the Winchester Mystery House more than a decade ago, and tried my hand at designing a game themed around the house.  But my game didn’t capture the theme to the extent I look for, and so I was happy to hear that another designer had given the theme a go.  And, frankly, nailed it – while I do have some concerns about Scratch House, the ability of the game to capture the feel of the house is _not_ one of them.  If we can sort the rules out better, and if being in first place is not as big a negative as it appears, this game could easily move up this list.

My 7th favorite game of 2015 is: Portão para o mundo, Lisboa.  Since Lorna introduced me to Inotaizu back in 2010, Kenichi Tanabe has been one of the designers I’ve paid the most attention to.  So when I heard he had a couple of new games coming out, I made sure to track them down.  And Portão para o mundo, Lisboa has been an immediate hit with me.  In many ways, it harkens back to Inotaizu, as players collect resources through an interactive process, and then carry out actions based upon the resources they’ve collected.  The theme is different – though, as with Inotaizu, the theme is well conveyed by the mechanisms that Tanabe employs.  And Portão para o mundo, Lisboa even offers players influence over the ending of the game, a fun mechanism when done well as it is here.

My 6th favorite game of 2015 is: SteamRollers.  During my only visit to Essen so far, one of the games I picked up was Twin Tin Bots, based primarily upon the designer.  But I’ve enjoyed the game, and the publisher was very helpful when I had an issue with my copy, so I watch for new releases from Flatlined games – and SteamRollers, an emergency last-minute replacement for their original planned game, looked very interesting.  And it’s definitely proven to be quite interesting – it does a reasonable job of carrying out the idea of Age of Steam – the Dice Game, without hitting any of the issues that keep me from playing Age of Steam.  I don’t expect the game to move up further for me – but I do think the game is a solid keeper, and one I’ll wear out the player sheets for.

My 5th favorite game of 2015 is: Domus Domini.  As I mentioned above with relation to M.U.L.E., I’m a fan of Planet Steam.  And while I don’t count Franjos as one of my favorite publishers, I do appreciate their willingness to take on a wide variety of projects.  So the combination of a new game from the designer of Planet Steam from a publisher who puts out interesting and unique designs drew me right in.  I wasn’t sure at first that the game was for me – but I’ve enjoyed it more with each subsequent play.  Having players competing to provide the best food from their monasteries works nicely; the game offers lots of interesting choices, without overwhelming players with rule complexity.

My 4th favorite game of 2015 is: 7 Symbols, and 7 Nations.  I’ve mentioned previously my susceptibility to trick taking card games; I’m also quite fond of partnership games.  But going into my first play of 7 Symbols, and 7 Nations – I was dubious, frankly.  Getting through the rules, we weren’t expecting too much.  But the game delivered – much more than that.  The use of 49 cards worked much better than I expected, and the game focused wonderfully around the number 7, giving it a sense of theme.  The partnerships, though, are what make the game; there are rules for a non-partnership game included, but I can’t imagine playing that as anything more than a novelty, given how much we’re enjoying the game as is.

My 3rd favorite game of 2015 is: Karuba.  I was fascinated when I heard HABA was releasing a few family games at Essen this year; while a number of their games are family-friendly, few have been really aimed at that market.  But of the group, Karuba easily stood out for me, both for the designer (Rüdiger Dorn) and for the nature of the game (simultaneous path building, in the nature of Take It Easy).  Perhaps the most clever aspect of the game is the need to use some tiles for movement, and others for path building.  This makes for interesting tradeoffs throughout the game.  It’s not a true multiplayer-solitaire game, as there is a race aspect, but it’s definitely a member of that genre – and a good one.

My 2nd favorite game of 2015 is: Minerva.  Hisashi Hayashi has been a designer I’ve been watching for a couple of years now; while not all of his games are hits for me, many of them are among my favorites.  But that still didn’t prepare me for Minerva, my new favorite among all of his designs.  The game is set in Rome, and while the theme is carried out well enough, it’s not what makes the game so enjoyable for me.  The game is primarily a tile laying game, with each player building their own area.  But unlike many games of this type, tiles aren’t activated by placing them, or by putting pieces on them – but by placing residences, and activating a group of tiles in an adjacent line.  There are tricks to allow lines to be activated multiple times – but regardless of how many tricks one uses, eventually more than one single line will need to be activated to get the most out of a layout.  Every time I play, I learn something more – something I love in a game.

My favorite game of 2015 is: Food Chain Magnate.  Like many of the games on this list, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the game at first when I played a prototype – I wasn’t even sure I enjoyed it.  But with the continued development, I’ve enjoyed the resulting game immensely since my first play of the published game.  Most Splotter games have missed the mark with me – but Food Chain Magnate, like Indonesia before it, is an economic game right up my alley.  In the prototype, I felt one was too locked into a path once embarking upon it.  The published game addresses this concern directly by allowing new employees to be trained immediately.  The resulting game is one I have no question I’m just starting to understand – or, as with Indonesia, misunderstand.

Jonathan F.

I hope to play some of Joe’s favorites in the coming months, but as of now I have played 7 of his 13 top titles and have no overlap with him.  This was not a super year for games for me, in that I played hundreds of 2015 games and liked so few that I’m OK being called a curmudgeon.

Good games I played this year included Joraku, Leaving Earth, Council of Four, Steam Time, Come to Fishing Village, Among Nobles, Copper Country, and Forge War. If you figure out what these have in common, please let me know.

For word games, Paperback, Letter Tycoon, and SHH were winners.

This was a great year for expansions: Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition, Shadows of Malice: Seekers of a Hidden Light, Snowdonia: Trans-Australian Railway, Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh, and Elder Sign: Gates of Arkham.

My top five games/game experiences for 2015 were,

T.I.M.E Stories – As a playtester and player, this was a very good game with the Asylum.  I have an unfair advantage in knowing that the system is capable of far more than the Asylum and think some of the coming releases will be incredible.  I can hardly wait to see what others come up with.

Codenames – Party game of the year.  I always enjoy playing and it has a potato chip quality that means every time we open the box, we play three or more times.  It also creates great memories – whether it is someone picking the assassin in round one or a great 5 clue.

The Grizzled – 504 is a masterwork of a metagame.  The fact that it exists is mind-boggling.  The fact that all the games are decent is great.  For me, The Grizzled is a masterwork because it literally transports you to another time and place.  It makes you appreciate small things, like the support of a cup of coffee or a trap that does not cause a mission to fail.  I’m not sure I can call it fun, but I can call it a superb game that truly helps the players empathize with events that happened almost 100 years ago and thousands of miles away.

Baseball Highlights 2045 – I don’t play that many 2p games, and when I do they are often Lost Cities, Jaipur, or Fields of Arle (a top game from 2014).  I don’t care about baseball, deck-building, or cyborgs, yet I still love BH2045.  I’m not even sure why.  I don’t love some of Mike Fitzgerald’s rummy games, even if he is the nicest man on earth, but I love this game the way I love a comfy broken-in pair of slippers.  It has drama, some thought, some upgrading, but it jells into something that is more than the sum of its parts.  Just plain good fun.

Ponzi Scheme – This is a game about people.  Much like Abraca . . . What? last year, it flops or flies on the basis of who you play with.  I had some of the most fun games of the year playing this at Sasquatch.  The people were great and the game facilitated levels of joy you don’t find looking around the table during many games.  Kudos!

I still need to play Kingdom Death: Monster, Hangtown, Scratch House, Minerva, Raiders of the North Sea, Argonauts, Albion’s Legacy, Mottainai, Samara, Bomarzo, and many more, so I reserve the right to have a completely different top 5 for 2015 as of this time next year. I’m not really a campaign gamer, so I’m not sure when I’d ever get to try Pandemic Legacy.

Patrick Brennan

I was ill for a fair swathe of 2015, and worked on FFG LCGs for much of the rest of it, so I haven’t got to any of the above mentioned titles yet. Which is good in one way because I’ve got things to look forward to, and interesting in another in that I still played a fair number of new 2015 titles, just not these. As if anyone needed any reminding how segmented the game market is nowadays.

In a rather sad state of affairs, the only 2015 game I’ve rated higher than a 7 so far is the latest offshoot in the D&D boardgame series, Temple of Elemental Evil. We’ve enjoyed how it explored some interesting new design space, while being smart enough to move on from the not so interesting types of scenarios. But it’s still a re-hash from years past rather than adding anything new to our world. Shoutouts to XCOM: The Boardgame and Elysium as being likeable (if I have to pick runners up), but I guess I’m still a long ways away from being able to assess how close the year is to “bestest evar” yet.

Mark Jackson

As is probably no surprise to my fellow writers and/or any of our loyal readers, my list looks a little different than the folks who proceed me… and since I plan on writing a post about the best new (to me) games of 2015, I’ll just share some oddball highlights here.

This was a great year for expansions:

  • Arctic Scavengers: Recon
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Secrets
  • Galaxy Trucker: Missions
  • Tash-Kalar: Nevervoid
  • Pandemic: State of Emergency
  • Suburbia 5 Star
  • Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition
  • and the Crossover packs for DC Deckbuilding (Justice Society of America, Legion of Super Heroes, etc.)

No surprise that some of my favorite games (Pandemic, To Court the King, Race for the Galaxy, Eminent Domain) spawned new games that I loved: Pandemic Legacy, Favor of the Pharaoh, Roll for the Galaxy and Eminent Domain: Microcosm.

Finally, a big shout-out to the incredible creativity of Mike Fitzgerald (Baseball Highlights 2045) and Stephen Glenn (Rattlebones) – there is nothing quite like either of these wonderful designs.

Dale Yu

For my list, I think I”ll categorize it as the Best of _____

Best Co-operative Game: Time Stories – I have loved this one since I played it a few years ago in playtesting with Space Cowboys.  The depth of the story and the intense gameplay make this a keeper.  Sure, as some have noted, the initial scenarios are a bit linear – i.e. you might not play them again once you solve them – I would guess that most groups would need between 4 and 6 plays to finish the first scenario, and that represents 6 to 12 hours of playtime.  In these parts, that amount of time is often all that a game gets at best…

Best party game – Codenames – man, with the right group, this game is a hoot.  It’s as much playing the game as well as playing the other players.  With familiar folks, lots of clever inside clues or obscure references.  With strangers, it’s also interesting trying to figure out what your partners (and opponents) will know.

Best two player game – Ashes – from Plaid Hat – a nice constructable deck game, though thus far we’ve only played the pre-built decks and have had a great time with it.

Best complex game – Grand Austria Hotel

Best family game – Karuba

Best reprint – Mysterium – yes, the art is a little different, but this is a great new version of the Polish game that I can neither spell nor pronounce.  

Best re-do – As opposed to a strict reprint, Favor of the Pharaoh is a great new version of To Court the King.  I really like the new changes to the rules that give the game a bit more to work with.

Best game from the Far East – Joraku

Best Licensed title – Star Wars Carcassonne

Best dice game – Eight Epics

Best expansion – Ticket to Ride: UK.  I love the way that this adds a whole new element to the game with the tech track.  Really adds to the depth of the base game.  The other game you get in the box isn’t so bad either – adding a stock scoring system reminiscent of Union Pacific.

Best dexterity game – This one was going to Flick ‘Em Up until the last month when I got a copy of KLASK.  We’ve had a bunch of fun with KLASK, you can think of it as a mini version of WeyKick.  It fits on a tabletop and won’t empty your wallet either.

Chris Wray

I’ve played 94 games with 2015 release dates, and I’m limiting myself to those games (rather than to games I first played in 2015).  Given the sheer volume of 2015 games I have not yet played, my list will almost certainly change in the future.

10) New York 1901.  This game was much-hyped before Gen Con, and though the hype has calmed down considerably, it is still an excellent family strategy game.  The rules are simple, but the gameplay is fun, and I still could see this as an excellent “gateway” game.

9) Porta Nigra.  This has all the charm of the old Kramer and Kiesling games, with a dash of Stefan Feld point salad thrown in.  

8) Tides of Time.  Tides of Time is a brilliant card drafting and set collection game packed into just 18 cards.  I did a full review back in August.  

7) The Game: Spiel… so lange du kannst!  This took my family by storm, and we played repeatedly.  Gameplay is engaging, even addicting, and I think it has a similar feel to Hanabi, even if it is missing some of Hanabi’s charm.  The “On Fire” cards are a nice — but not essential — addition.  

6) T.I.M.E Stories (Especially The Marcy Case).  I enjoyed the Asylum case in T.I.M.E Stories, but the ending did not impress me.  Nonetheless, I absolutely loved The Marcy Case, and I’m very much looking forward to future T.I.M.E Stories cases.  

5) Joraku.  I’ve only played once, but I absolutely loved my one play.  I’m a sucker for both trick taking and area control games, and Joraku is an excellent combination of both.  I can’t wait to somehow get my hands on a copy.  

4) 7 Wonders Duel.  I love 7 Wonders, and I was curious to see how it could be converted into a 2-player game.  I wasn’t disappointed.  This took everything I loved about 7 Wonders and managed to make it even more tense.  

3) Mysterium.  I reviewed Mysterium over the summer, calling it my favorite 2015 game to that point.  Though it fell to #3 after Essen, I still love this combination of Clue and Dixit that can be played in a wide variety of gaming situations.  

2) Codenames.  This is my most played game of the year — I currently have more than 50 logged plays of it — and every game has been a blast.  This works with a variety of crowds, and it has been a hit with everybody from my parents to my game group to my work friends.  I expect Codenames to be in the running for the SdJ this coming summer.

1) Pandemic Legacy.  It is thematic, tense, and memorable, the sort of game you think about hours after you finish playing.  I think it is deserving of BGG’s number one spot.  

Expansion of the Year: Ticket to Ride: United Kingdom and Pennsylvania are my favorite expansion of the year.  The U.K. map is one of my new favorite maps, and Pennsylvania itself is excellent.  I wrote a review a few weeks ago.

Compilation of the Year:  Elfenroads combines Elfenland, Elfengold (a previously rare expansion), and an entirely new map, Elfensea, all with new (and improved) artwork.  This seems to be the definitive version of the 1998 Spiel des Jahres winner.  If you’re a fan of Elfenland, this is a must-have.  

Trick Taking Card Game of the Year:  I love and collect trick taking games, but this was a bit of a weak year on that front, although I haven’t gotten to try 7 Symbols, 7 Nations (which Joe praises above).  Joraku shines, but it is more of a board game than a card game.  My favorite of the card games is Pi mal Pflaumen by Matthias Cramer and Pegasus Spiele.  I like it, but it is a winner in a weak year.  

Lorna

Best Heavy Euro: Yet to be determined

Best Medium Weight Euro: The Voyages of Marco Polo

Best Multi-Player Filler: Tofu Kingdom

Best Co-op: The Grizzled and Pandemic Legacy

Best Card game: Tezuma Master

Best 2 player game: Tides of Time and Futari Machi

Other games I enjoyed Burano, Dadaocheng, Mombasa, Porta Nigra, Favor of the Pharaoh, Diluvia Project, and Scratch House

Larry Levy

2015 has been quite good for me so far.  Even though I still have many Essen titles to try out, there are already a bunch of games that I love and quite a few additional designs that I’m happy to play.  Here are my top dozen, a list that will no doubt change considerably after I’ve checked out more games.

  1. The Voyages of Marco Polo – The best game I’ve played over the last four years or so.  The dice mechanic is really good, but my favorite part is the extremely strong character abilities, all of which are overpowered.  They help give the design a tremendous amount of variety, making each game a wonderfully thinky experience.
  2. Mombasa – A meaty, multi-faceted game.  There’s deckbuilding, boardplay, worker placement, majorities, stock manipulation–a little bit of everything.  It all hangs together very well and is a most challenging experience.  There’s also plenty of different strategies to try out.  Definitely a game I’m looking forward to exploring.
  3. Baseball Highlights 2045 – A very clever sports-themed game by Mr. Mystery Rummy himself, Mike Fitzgerald.  The interplay between offensive and defensive cards (with “threatened” hits and ways of cancelling them) seems artificial at first glance, but it really captures the feel of baseball.  And then you slowly build your team up, with the goal of beating your opponent in a 7 game World Series.  Really innovative stuff!
  4. Codenames – What a great word game!  So far, everyone I’ve played it with loves it.  It’s the perfect opener for my group, since it can handle any number of players, plays quickly, and is always entertaining.  Coming up with good high-numbered clues when you’re the Spymaster is quite the challenge.  Such a simple game idea, but such a good one!
  5. Think Str8! – I’ve only played this once, but I really enjoyed the experience.  It’s a serious deduction game, where asking broad questions or more focused ones can both succeed.  Working out your cards (which the rest of the table can see) is a most enjoyable challenge.  And the biggest surprise is that the designer is Leo Colovini, not the first fellow you think of with subject matter like this!  Best deduction game I’ve played in years.
  6. Ships – A return to form for Martin Wallace (for me, at least), this is a meaty, fairly long, quasi-historical game.  Efficiency is rewarded and since there are only limited opportunities for engine-building, it almost feels like a puzzle at times.  But there’s lots of things to consider and I find the planning required quite enjoyable.  Best of all, it doesn’t feel like any other game I’ve played.  Hopefully, Wallace will continue making games like this.
  7. Porta Nigra – I’ve only played this a couple of times as a prototype, but I thought it had the potential to be Kramer & Kiesling’s best game in years.  It’s a construction game with majorities that has all the hallmarks of a K&K design, but still feels fresh and challenging.  I’m really looking forward to checking out the published version of this.
  8. Nippon – This is a considerably less complex and interconnected game than other titles by the same designers, like Madeira and Panamax, and that’s definitely a good thing for me.  The action selection system is kind of a first cousin to Marco Polo’s (you can always take any action, but it might wind up costing you more money) and it works well.  I’ll need more plays to truly judge this, but it’s off to a good start.
  9. Steam Time – A worker placement game with lots of moving parts.  I really like that stored resources can add to the benefits of your actions, but that you routinely use them for buying things.  So it’s an engine-building game in which you periodically tear down your engine.  The unidirectional worker placement mechanic also works well.  Not a true heavyweight, but there’s plenty to think about, with different viable strategies possible.  Good stuff by Rudiger Dorn.
  10. Among Nobles – Each player tries to maintain their noble family, by arranging marriages for their children, so that they can have their own kids to keep things going.  Each character has a set of actions they can do, which is enhanced once they get hitched.  It’s a very original game with an attractive quasi-historical theme.  It seems to play best with 4 players.
  11. Guns & Steel – A very interesting Civ-themed card game that packs a lot of fascinating stuff in only 60 cards.  It features a double-sided card mechanism, in which the same card can either represent a resource or an ability.  This is very clever and managing your card supply is a nice challenge.  There are some potential concerns about the game’s replayability, but for now, I’m definitely looking forward to playing this some more.
  12. Favor of the Pharaoh – This expanded version of Tom Lehmann’s To Court the King adds a lot more options, a lot more variety, and a lot more interesting choices.  It’s kind of fiddly, but the enhanced gameplay makes it worth it.  I think this is the game that Court the King always wanted to be.

Matt Carlson

I have a bit less data to share than normal since I stopped recording my game plays this year (hmm..  restarting job after paternity leave perhaps?)  I feel like I fell farther behind than normal in keeping up with “the new” this year.  So, ignoring actual release dates, some of the games I enjoyed this year include:  X-Com (just got this for Christmas and loved playing it with my nephews), Pandemic Legacy (barely started the game but I’m liking what I’ve seen), Tiny Epic Kingdoms (this was a big hit among the youth group last winter into spring due to its very quick play.  As a game it was just “OK” but it was a great fit for that time slot.)    Hyperborea isn’t new but it was fairly new to me and I got in quite a few plays, enjoying all but the 6 player one.  I have yet to play Codenames, but expect that to be a good one due to its potential as a non-gamer game.  I’ve used Rolling America as a fun filler several places and still find it interesting.  Finally, I didn’t have big expectations for the kid game,  Yeti in my Spaghetti, but found it an improvement on the otherwise limited Don’t Break the Ice style of game.  As for games I haven’t yet tried, I’m very excited about the new version of Through the Ages, the expansions I haven’t tried in El Grande: Big Box, and Time Stories (if I can find a chance to play – it seems like a game I need to play repeatedly with the same set of players.)

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

2015 was for me a great gaming year. I was able to play really a lot with friends, family and also in the school (boardgame’s classes or laboratory with kids). I played a wide range of games from deep gamers games to easy to learn and play family games. Is not really easy to write a list but I’ll try to do my best, with a special attention to our readers tastes. I include in my list a game not really released in 2015 but that I played a lot this year with 2015’s expansions. You will find several Italian’s games: I think this year Italian’s designers have done a real great job!

The Voyage of Marco Polo: probably the best “pure Euro” I played this year. It is great! It deserve all the awards gained.

Harbour: what I really would like to find in a pocket game. Simple, quick but with the right amount of deepness.

Star Wars X-Wings: probably the best customizable boardgame-miniature ever. And it is not only due to the theme. This year I got several new wave of starships and also the new core set

Codenames: a real gamers party-game. Vlaada is always on top!

Dojo Kan: probably the best mix Euro-American published this year.

Star Wars Armada: a great gamer experience in the Star Wars world!

7 Wonders Duel: probably the best 2-players games in the last years.

Rush & Bash: Wacky Race, wacky race, wacky race! A great race title, easy to learn and fun to play. All what you need in a family game.

Unusual Suspects: a really new implementation of the “Guess Who ?” idea but with the sharing of prejudices as core mechanic. A great game to play and and experience to think about.

The Pursuit of the Happiness: one of the greatest resources management game of this year,  hidden behind a soft theme. Really fun to play and also really great how theme and mechanics are combined!

Zena 1814: what I really look like in a mid-weight Euro game with a special attention to the theme. Well known mechanics combined in a new way. Great!

Greg Schloesser

2015 was a good year for games, but I am not sure I am ready to label it “great”.  There are a few games I thoroughly enjoy, and a few that are good, but don’t fill be with excess enthusiasm.  Of course, I am currently frantically attempting to unbury myself from an avalanche of Essen releases, but have dozens more to play before being able to give a true assessment of 2015.

That being said, here is my current Top 8 from 2015.

8)  New York 1901.  New York 1901 is perhaps Blue Orange’s most strategic game to date.  Players must acquire property rights and construct buildings and skyscrapers in New York at the beginning of the 20th century (1901, to be exact!).  The rules are fairly simple; so simple, in fact, that when I first read them, I thought the game was going to be overly light with little strategy.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  This is a game that requires quite a bit of careful planning and strategy.

In spite of its relative simplicity, New York 1901 presents players with numerous challenges.  Games are usually close, with only a handful of points separating the contestants.  Other than acquiring a desired plot of land, there is little a player can do to interfere with the plans of his opponents, but in this environment, it works well.  It is a bit surprising that money is not involved, but since the game seems intended to be on the lighter side, that is probably for the best.  I, for one, have been pleasantly surprised, and hope this is a harbinger of similar releases from Blue Orange.

7)  Mombasa.  Clever system of divided “deck building, wherein one’s deck of cards is divided each turn into three separate stacks.  Loads of tough decisions make this a rich gaming experience.  Its big drawback, however, is length.  All of our games have been 3 or more hours in duration.

6)  Isle of Skye.  Isle of Skye is a rich, yet easy to learn tile laying game that captures the enchantment of Carcassonne, yet adds so much more.  This “more” however, does not translate into too much complexity or excessive rules girth.   There is certainly much more to consider, and lots more decisions to be made.

Isle of Skye is a challenging, diverse and fun game.  It is one of those games that is easy enough for families to play, yet has enough strategy and decisions to entice veteran gamers.  I consider it far superior to the designer’s Spiel des Jahre winner and one that should have wide appeal.

5)  Porta Nigra.  A Wolfgang Kramer / Michael Kiesling collaboration is almost a sure-fire hit for me, as they are by far my favorite design team.  They have not disappointed with Porta Nigra, which is filled with the myriad of constant tough choices and decisions that are characteristic of most of their designs.  The rules appear daunting, but the game is actually not difficult to learn or play.  But those decisions … extremely taxing!  I’ve only played once, so the game will quite likely rise in my ratings as I get further playings — and a better understanding of the strategies — under my belt.

4) Codenames.  Count on Vlaada Chvatil to design creative and original games that catch fire within the gaming hobby.  Codenames is somewhat of a twist on the traditional game of Password, but with more decisions and cleverness tossed in.  Attempting to find the write clue that doesn’t also include a word hiding one of your opponent’s spies is quite tough.  I have only played this with four players, but I understand it also makes an excellent party game.

3)  Roll for the Galaxy.  Race for the Galaxy is a card-based game designed by Tom Lehmann that took the gaming world by storm when it was released back in 2007.  While most of the gaming world adores the game, I never warmed to it.  Indeed, I hold the game responsible for planting the seeds of discontent that ultimately became my avowed intergalactic revolt against the liberal use of icons in games as opposed to text.  Race (as it has become known within the hobby) didn’t present players with just a handful of icons that needed to be learned.  Rather, it pounded them with a virtual meteor storm of icon-laden asteroids.  It was simply too much for me to endure.

Much to my surprise, Roll for the Galaxy has captivated me, much like Race for the Galaxy captivated legions of gamers (except me!).  The icons are kept to a minimum, and those that are present–there are basically five–are easy to understand.  The rules are a tad bit confusing–as is the cluttered player aid summary and explanation on the player screens–but once learned, the game plays quickly with few questions or problems.  While there is a healthy dose of luck involved (few dice games are luck-free), there are numerous methods to manipulate the dice to one’s favor.

It is fast and fun, presenting players with challenges and decisions throughout, yet having enough luck to provide those exciting moments.  While I am doubtful that it will ever earn the accolades or achieve the popularity of Race, it will certainly prove more easily accessible for more people.  For me, at least, this return journey into the galaxy has proven far more fun than the first venture.

2)  Elysium.  I always applaud originality in game design.  Sure, there is wisdom in the old adage / question “Why reinvent the wheel?”, but in games, the same mechanism being used over and over again grows tedious and smacks of lack of inspiration or creativity.  So when a game is published that uses a brand new mechanism or idea, it certainly receives well deserved accolades.  Those accolades are even greater if the game built around that mechanism is a good one.

The choosing of the columns mechanism in Elysium is highly original and a stroke of genius.  Such a simple idea introduces often excruciating dilemmas and forces players to make some tough decisions.  The timing of using cards for their powers by keeping them in the Domain versus the desire to complete Legends and earn victory points, which is made doubly difficult by the limited number of transfers that a player will likely have, is yet another constant thorn in a player’s side.

I love this game.  It combines ease of learning, fast play, incredibly creative and angst-inducing mechanisms, and a seemingly endless series of tough choices throughout.  When a game can accomplish all of that, it is a huge winner in my assessment.

1)  Pandemic: Legacy.  The brilliance of the Legacy system is the evolving story it creates.  It is akin to watching a riveting television or cinematic mini-series, or reading a series of on-going novels.  The story doesn’t end or wrap-up nicely at the conclusion of the first installment.  Rather, it continues to develop and evolve … or devolve.  Situations change, forcing players to rethink their strategies and formulate new plans of action.  Players quickly get immersed in the story and it becomes personal and real.  Players become invested; they care.  This is brilliance.

Pandemic: Legacy is an amazing game system that will grab hold of the players and won’t let go.  It is addicting, but in a good sort of way.  The marriage between Matt Leacock’s excellent Pandemic and Rob Daviau’s pioneering Legacy system is a perfect union, one that is certain to be celebrated and revered by gamers around the globe.

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5 Responses to 2015 Year In Review

  1. omesjtollie says:

    It’s always nice to see some top ten lists from other people. Some games I’ve yet to try, but were mentioned by multiple people in this post:

    Joraku
    Karuba

    If you want to see my own top 10 list, head over to boardgameblues.wordpress.com

  2. bluechristmaswreath says:

    Different perspectives help sharpen my own. Games I did not notice or care for before, but have now got me intrigued from this article are Karuba, Grand Austria Hotel and Elysium. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Good to see plenty of mentions for Codenames and Baseball Highlights, which were easily my top two. I’d have liked to see a mention of Pax Pamir too though!

  4. I’m glad to see some of my favorites reflected here so frequently! Thanks for the great lists.

  5. Pingback: 7 Wonders Duel – Game Review | The Opinionated Gamers

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