Stonemaier Games’ Realistic Resources

In addition to an incredible library of games (Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities, and Scythe) with incredible production values, Stonemaier Games has produced a series of “realistic” resource tokens with the same high standards of quality applied.

 

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These can be used in place of standard pieces included in a variety of games to “upgrade” the gaming experience. These are high quality sculpted accessories, so while an extremely good value for what they are they are not inexpensive. They are also very well made and look and feel wonderful.

 

 

At this point there are a great number of tokens available of impressive variety. The original Treasure Chest contained realistic style pieces to represent common gaming resources in the form of gems ore, bricks, gold, stone, and wood.

 

 

Starting with the second wave of three sets the tokens got more diverse, and each had a general theme. Food Crate contained grain, meat, corn, bread, crates, and coffee beans. Resource Vault provided sacks, cloth bundles, barrels, yarn balls, steel, and water pails. Energy Box had oil drums, coal, trash, campfires, gas canisters, and uranium.

 

 

The next batch was available together in a slipcase and called the “Token Trilogy.” It was made up of the individual themed sets Adventure Atlas (treasure chests, potions, single and double edged axes, two types of scrolls, sleeping bags to represent fatigue, furs, and bucklers),  Gadget Guide (wrenches, ammo cases, energy crystals, med kits, tech tablets, and deflector shields), and Terror Tome (magnifying glasses, hearts, blood vials, cleavers, brains, skulls, and books). The details on these collections were particularly incredible, including traces of blood on only one side of the metallic bladed weapons, intricate seals on the scrolls, vein coloring on the brains, etc.

 

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The most recent “set” is a group of animal tokens (sheep, horse, dog, pig, cow, fish), offered for purchase separately rather than boxed together as with previous tokens.

There are also pumpkin resource tokens now available for Stonemaier’s upcoming game Charterstone.

 

 

So far I’ve used pieces from the Token Trilogy the most, in games like Tragedy Looper, Scythe, and T.I.M.E Stories. That’s really one of the most appealing aspects of these: Stonemaier Games has gone to great lengths to ensure most of these are useful for a variety of games, so whatever’s in your collection you can likely find some that will get a fair bit of use. Top Shelf Gamer also offers sets of tokens grouped for specific games, such as a bundle of 20 each of wood, food, metal, and oil tokens for use with Scythe.

 

Overall these tokens are great accessories for board game enthusiasts and another series of extremely high quality products from Stonemaier Games.

Top Five “New to Me” Games late-2016

I’ve played a lot number of new games so this year. So many in fact that I decided to do a midpoint look at games that really impressed me. I also did a similar list at the end of 2015. Here are the best games I’ve tried in the second half of 2016.

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time in since my mid-2016 list.
  • I’ve tried around 15 new games since then, so it was again difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Beyond Baker Street and Mystic Vale.

 

5. Project Elite

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Project Elite is a fun, frantic co-op with alternating sections of untimed setup and two-minute real time action rounds. It’s feel like a combination of the best aspects of board and video gaming, and I had a lot of fun during my sole play of it so far. Further thoughts here.

 

4. Android Mainframe

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Mainframe is a great little abstract that I find myself introducing people to often. It is incredibly easy to pick up, largely due to taking the basics of the children’s pen and paper game “Dots” and turning it into a “full fledged” game in such a way to keep it accessible while also achieving a decent level of complexity. Further thoughts here.

 

3. Ravens of Thri Tahashri

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Ravens of Thri Sahashri is a two-player asymmetric cooperative game that focuses on communication through card playing and taking. It has a huge learning curve, but is also extremely unique and rewarding once you get into it. Further thoughts here.

 

1. Scythe (tie)

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I played two new games during 2016 that I adore so much I can’t choose between them. So they are tied for first in this list. Scythe is the latest from Stonemaier Games, makers of other phenomenal games such as Viticulture and Euphoria.  Scythe is Stonemaier’s “heaviest” game yet with a lot of moving parts and generally takes a least a game to get the feel of. But it comes together wonderfully through focus on taking just a couple of specific actions per turn. There’s a lot of depth here and various viable strategies, making for an excellent game. Full review.

 

1. T.I.M.E Stories (tie)

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As much an experience as it is a game, T.I.M.E Stories provides a compelling and fun first mission as well as fantastic framework for future expansions/adventures. Full (spoiler free) review.

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That’s it for now. Great year of gaming for me all around.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Scythe Board Game Review

I’m a big fan of Jamey Stegmaier’s previous games (Viticulture and Euphoria) and heard a lot of pre-release hype about his newest offering in Scythe, so had been eagerly looking forward to trying it out. It balances a lot of moving parts in a way that requires some getting used to, but provides a wonderful experience once things click in the players’ minds.

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Gameplay

I debated leaving this section out, as I feel I’d have to get into much more depth than I want to for it to be truly explanatory, but I do want to give an idea of Scythe mechanics so I’ll do my best to highlight the most important aspects of playing Scythe in a somewhat accessible way.

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Each player controls one of five factions (seven after the upcoming expansion) that starts in a specific area of the game board, and has a faction specific board that shows a unique faction power, some starting conditions, and slight variations on four additional abilities that will become available during the game if/when the player builds their four mechs.

 

In addition to a faction board, each player will use a separate, unique player board which with determine which actions can be taken during turns. Each board has a top and bottom row with four actions each, and on a turn you choose one “vertical” and do either or both the top and bottom action on that vertical. The top actions are identical across all player boards, including costs and benefits, but are in a different order from board to board. The bottom actions themselves are the same and they are in the same order on every board, but the costs and bonuses vary.

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The top row actions all involve things on the main game board and/or one of the game’s four “currencies” (explained below). They are:

1) Move: move units on the game board or gain money.

2) Bolster: gain power or draw a combat card.

3) Trade: collect a set number of resources from the bank or gain popularity.

4) Produce: generate resources on certain hexes where you have workers (new workers are also gained using this action).

 

The bottom row actions directly affect your player and faction board (as well as sometimes adding things to the main game board) and generally enhance your powers or make actions more efficient/beneficial. They are:

1) Upgrade (costs oil): move a small block from somewhere on the top of your player board to somewhere on the bottom. This makes the top action you are moving the block from more beneficial and reduces the cost of the bottom action you are moving it to.

2) Deploy (costs steel): move one of your mechs from your faction board to a spot on the main game board where you have a worker.

3) Build (costs wood): move one of your four buildings from your player board to a spot on the main game board where you have a worker (and no other buildings). Two of the buildings provide additional abilities on the game board, and two of them make player board actions more beneficial.

4) Enlist (costs food): Move one of your “recruits” (cylindrical markers) from the player board to your faction board.  This gives you a bonus when you (or any other player) does the bottom row action you moved the recruit from, and gives a one time bonus determined by which spot on the faction board the recruit was moved to.

Each bottom action will additionally give the player 0-3 money. The specific amount given for each action is what varies on the bottom row among the different player boards.

 

So the top actions generally increase things you can spend (besides move) and the bottom actions make taking individual actions better. The fact that each player’s board has different sets of these actions in each vertical along with different combinations of faction and player boards will force different tactics from game to game.

(For a small example, resources generated using the Produce top action can be used for that vertical’s bottom action the same turn. So if production is above Upgrade for me, I may be more likely to have my workers congregated on oil so I can produce it and upgrade in the same turn. If production is above Deploy for someone else, they may be slightly more interested in steel hexes early on.)

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The four “currencies” of the game are:

1) Popularity: measures how much your faction is beloved by the population. Can be spent or lost in certain situations, and determines how much stars, territory, and resources are worth in end game scoring.

2) Power: measures military might, and is used in combat and spent in certain situations.

3) Money: measures your wealth ;), and in addition to being spent for certain actions, acts directly as victory points at the end of the game. The person with the most money wins.

4) Resources: there are four types of resources that can be produced (oil, steel, wood, and food) using different hexes on the game board. Each one is used for a different bottom row action as marked above.

 

Throughout the game, players can earn stars (place their star tokens on a achievement track on the game board) for a variety of things, mostly related to placing all of a particular type of piece or maxing out certain currencies.

Stars can be earned by achieving maximum popularity or power (one star each), building all of your upgrades, mechs, buildings, or recruits (one star each), winning a combat (up to two stars), completing a mission card (one star). Whenever any player places their sixth star, the game immediately ends. All players earn end game money bonuses based on their popularity and the number of stars they’ve placed, territories they control, and resources they control. Most money (after bonuses) wins.

 

There are a lot of details I left out (like the importance and function of the “factory” space in the center of the game board, the encounter cards featuring interesting choices and Jakub Różalski’s incredible art, etc) that both tie the above together and provide additional depth, but hopefully I’ve given the flavor of the main moving parts. The key to the game is that while there are all of these elements working together and a lot of rules to explain and keep track of, each players’ turn is kept manageable by it always boiling back down to “choose a vertical, do one or both actions on it.” I found everything fit well once the game got going and I understood how it all worked in conjunction.

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General Thoughts

It did take me a full game to start to get an inkling of how to play strategically and our group was a bit split, with everyone enjoying it to some degree but some loving it right away and others finding it “one level of complexity too many.” I’d say there is a steeper learning curve than Viticulture and Euphoria. But my personal impression is there’s more depth too,  so I think it’s well worth the slightly higher “start up cost” and I feel it becomes more accessible on subsequent plays.

One things that helps immeasurably is the incredible graphic design. Everything you can do in the game and all effects are represented in symbols on the various boards, so once a player gets the gist of the symbols there are constant, unobtrusive gameplay reminders at hand at all times. The theme is also beneficial in that respect, with the interactions of desperate elements making sense within what they represent thematically.  I also find the theme/game world fun and immersive.

 

Having faction specific character and mech abilities that are separate from the slight variation in action costs and rewards on the player boards is a fantastic way to increase replayability and depth. The flip side of this is players must be willing to be open to letting player board (not just the faction board and special powers) guide strategy to some extent, which can take a little getting used to.

There are a lot of interesting choices to be made, and I love the mechanic of choosing one “vertical” on your player board per turn and concentrating on one to two key actions to keep things manageable yet complex. I found an unusual combination of planning and flexibility is needed to do well, and am enjoying that aspect immensely.

The game plays differently with more players, but retains the same general feel and atmosphere as it scales and the set board worked well at the 2 and 4 player level games I’ve played.

 

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I participated in the Kickstarter for Scythe and got the Collector’s Edition, so even beyond Stonemaier’s general excellent production quality, my version of Scythe shines even more with realistic resources, wooden stars, etc. None of it’s necessary, but I adore the extra layer of visual impact and the weight and feel of the tokens.

 

Overall

Scythe definitely has a learning curve and is Stonemaier’s heaviest game yet, but I was pretty well acclimated after a single game and I adore the way it comes together. This is a unique game that won’t necessarily appeal to all fans of Jamey’s other offerings, but players who can take it for what it is and enjoy adapting to (somewhat) constantly changing situations and balancing needed actions with required currencies will find a thoroughly enjoyable (and quite possibly addictive) experience here.

Quick Thoughts: Mystic Vale and Vast

Here are some brief thoughts on a couple interesting games I’ve played once each so far and enjoyed.

Mystic Vale

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Mystic Vale brings an entirely new slant to deckbuilders: instead of adding cards to the deck, you add overlays to oversized cards to add functionality. Much more than just a gimmick, this is a key improvement to the concept of deckbuilers. The deck distribution of CARDS never changes, so managing deck size or lowering odds of seeing good cards as your deck grows is eliminated. What happens is the cards you’re seeing get (mostly) better and better as they cycle through your deck at the same rate.

But the designers didn’t stop with just that innovation, they built a fully formed game around it with other elements unusual in these types of games. Having a set of award cards (that don’t go into the deck and can only be bought with resources obtained from upgrade cards) that grant special abilities and/or victory points in addition to stand alone victory point tokens (that can be obtained directly) give variability in player strategies. They also implemented a FANTASTIC “press your luck” element to drawing hands than makes hand size variable each turn and allows a player to choose to risk losing a turn to try to get make their hand better. It’s easily as good an innovation as the overlays.

I’ve really tired of deck builders, but between the innovative design and wonderful new elements it brings to the genre Mystic Vale is a great, unique game and I’d already rather play this than any other deckbuilder I’ve tried.

 

Vast

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Vast (known as Trove during the Kickstarter) takes a wonderfully unique approach to dungeon crawling and allows up to four players to take totally asymmetric roles of either a knight on an adventure, goblins dwelling in the cave, a dragon guarding his horde, or the cave itself trying to collapse and trap everyone inside. Unused roles are represented by cards that perform set tasks, so any number of players from 2 to 4 can play any combination of roles. As such the replayability should obviously be off the charts, but of course there’s the danger of too much complexity and possible imbalance trying to make four distinct player mechanics work together in so many combinations. Although I’ve only played on game so far, my impression is that Vast did not fall into those traps. There is a learning curve, but the gameplay seems tight, fun, and well balanced. The way the the roles we didn’t used were represented during our game make me believe they are also well developed as player roles.

Cave vs Knight:

Being a sucker for the unusual, I saw only one real choice for my initial role choice and played the Cave. My opponent chose the Knight. My goal was to expand to full size then collapse on her or have her perish within my depths. His was to guide her through smashing a certain number of my precious crystals. So he was essentially playing an exploration game while I was playing a tile layer. It worked wonderfully and even though I played a few things slightly wrong (two to my own detriment, one to my favor) I loved the game and am eager to play again. Interestingly the first thing I want to do is play the Cave again given I now know better how it works rather than try someone new, but I’d like to play every role at different player counts eventually. Mark of a great game when you come out of a single play feeling that way. Excellent production value on top of all that make this look like a must have.

 

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Just a quick look at a couple new to me games. Hope to be back with more in the not too distant future. 🙂

My Top Ten Favorite Board Games (June 2016)

Tastes constantly evolve, so as I mentioned in my first version from November 2015, I intend to periodically revise my top ten games to see how things change and share any new games that have impressed me.

Ground rules:

  • This reflects my favorite things to play right now. I love everything on this list. Order is pure personal preference and whole list HIGHLY subject to change and reshuffling, as ten is a small number to cover all the great games I’ve played and something’s bound to be missing.
  • I need to have played something at least twice for it to be eligible. I think something has to hold up to at the very least a second play to be considered a favorite. So Imperial Assault (still), Trickerion, Relic Knights, and Samurai (and several others) all get automatic honorable mentions, but may very well make it into this list in the future.
  • Some games have been replaced here simply because of other games that suit my current tastes (and those of my group) just a little more. Alhambra, Pillars of the Earth, and Anima are all still fantastic games well worth seeking out / trying.
  • Expansions I have are considered with the base game and won’t be listed separately.
  • The write-ups for reappearing games were changed only as needed.

 

10. Blueprints

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Blueprints is a great pick up and play that’s extremely easy to teach and plays quickly, which makes it valuable to have on hand for in between longer  games. However the setup and nuances make it more than just filler and add a reasonable amount of strategy and depth. It’s quirky, well designed, and most importantly fun.

 

 

9. Viticulture

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The debut game from Stonemaier, which instantly made them one of my favorite publishers. Beautifully realized worker placement game that is just completely infused with the unlikely theme of winemaking. The Tuscany expansion adds several great aspects that make it even more amazing, and the game scales incredibly well and feels like the same game no matter the player count. As usual with Stonemaier the production quality is absolutely unreal, with individually shaped building pieces and gorgeous art elevating the immersion.

 

8. The Duke

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This slips a bit due to other great two player games I’ve been able to try recently, limited opportunity to play two player games in general, and tough competition from multi-player games. Still The Duke is an incredible two player game with elements of chess reworked into a much more accessible and variable experience. The vast number of movement patterns allows for deep gameplay, yet the smaller board and limited starting pieces keeps things manageable. The combination of each piece having its movement grid printed on it and the fact that the pattern is different on each side is just fantastic, and makes this both incredibly new player friendly and deep.

 

7. Mysterium

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At this point I’ve played so many games that something that seems to have a truly original approach intrigues me greatly. Mysterium is a wonderful asymmetric cooperative game that has a departed ghost trying to guide psychics to the culprit of its murder through sending “visions” consisting of cards with abstract art. It adds a more structured and “complete” feeling game to the base mechanics of Dixit. The hope is that the cards played by the ghost will indicate specific cards on the game board to the psychics, who are working together and can discuss as needed. It plays best with 4 or more players, but that’s not much of a limitation since it accommodates up to 7. Lots of fun.

 

6. Ghost Stories

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Fantastic co-op game that’s fairly easy to teach but has a lot of variation and depth. Best on its own or with Ghost Moon (Black Secret has fallen flat with my group so far). Notorious for its difficulty, but we’ve found it challenging rather than frustrating. The changing board, player powers and enemy cards make every game significantly different, which greatly aids its longevity. It’s also great to have a go to co-op game on hand, as many of my “non-gamer” friends have really enjoyed trying something that has them working with, rather than against, the rest of the group.

 

5. Euphoria

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Stonemaier Games’ second offering, a fantastic dice-as-workers game with an incredibly unique theme of trying to achieve prestige and status in a dystopian world. Little touches like artifact cards depicting objects from today’s world and trying to keep your workers happy and stupid bring the theme to life and it’s very well intertwined with gameplay. Also, the production quality is absolutely unreal, with realistic resources, wooden commodity pieces, wonderful art, etc all making this as great to look at as it is to play. As time goes on I personally find it just a little more compelling than Viticulture, which is why Euphoria leapfrogged it this time around.

 

4. La Citta

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La Citta is fifteen years old and feels so timeless and classic I’m actually surprised it’s not older. Wonderfully thematic game that combines tile laying and resource management as players try to build the most attractive cities and lure the greatest population (the game’s victory points) to them. Details like needing water sources to grow beyond a certain point, having to produce enough food to feed your population, and a changing priority system signifying what people value most in their cities each round make this a fantastically deep, balanced game.

 

3. Castles of Burgundy 

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Castles of Burgundy is unlike any other game I’ve played, and it shines in the unusual way uses dice to determine both which tiles a player can buy and which purchased tiles can be placed on their personal player boards. There are a lot of “moving parts” and things to keep track of, but it’s all logically laid out and intuitive once you get the hang of it. There’s tons of replayability and different viable strategies, even before considering the numerous different player boards available. I fall more and more in love with this game each time I play.

 

2. Tragedy Looper

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Tragedy Looper is unlike anything else I’ve played and I adore both the atmosphere and the way its core mechanics combine mystery elements with those of a logic puzzle. It’s somewhat of a tough game to get your mind around, given unusual mechanics and a non-trivial learning curve, but once you do it’s a great mystery game (a genre that’s underrepresented and hard to do well).  It’s asymmetric, with players who are time traveling and trying to prevent a tragedy, and a gamemaster that is trying to stop them. There are limitations on possible actions based on the scenario and various stats of the characters being controlled, which is where clues about what has happened and how to prevent it come from. It requires the right group of players, but is highly enjoyable once you’ve found them.

 

1. Princes of Florence

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Despite tough competition, Princes of Florence is still my favorite game of all time. It incorporates what’s usually one of my least favorite mechanics (the auction) in a quick and enjoyable way that enhances the balance of differing strategies greatly. At any point if an opponent’s strategy seems to be working too well, the others players need to be making them pay more for the needed components. The way the different elements that can be purchased and used come together is wonderful and allows deep and varied gameplay. The combination of resource management, strategic choices and maximizing opportunities is just perfect and I could (and probably will) play this a million times.

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And that’s it for this time. Will be interesting to track how this list changes in the future. What are everyone else’s current favorites?

Quick Thoughts: Automania, Clans, and Codenames

Here are some brief thoughts on a few interesting games I’ve played once or twice so far and enjoyed.

Automania

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Automania is yet another game that looks more daunting than it is. There are a lot of moving parts to reflect changing conditions and provide depth, but the core gameplay is pretty easy to grasp once you start. The different elements are extremely well balanced and make sense thematically. Running a car factory has never been so much fun.

Clans

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Clans is an area control game with a wonderful layer of hidden agendas beneath it. Everybody’s player color is randomly assigned and secret throughout the game. Trying to make moves that advance your color without giving it away (and thus making it easy for everyone to hinder you) adds a great amount of depth. The only real drawback here is the colors chosen aren’t colorblind friendly, which is a shame since no one can really ask for clarification without giving something away.

Codenames

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Codenames sounded like a mild curiosity to me at first, and I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and fun it turned out to be. The fact that you get to choose how far to press your luck when deciding how many words to try to link with one clue and the ever present instant lose word on the board to be wary of are key in making this a perfectly executed competitive party game.

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Just a quick look at some games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Hope to be back with more in the not too distant future. 🙂

Top Five “New to Me” Games 2015

I’m unlikely to be playing anymore new board games this year, so this is a good time to look back at games that really impressed me.

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time in 2015.
  • I tried around 15 new games this year, so it was quite difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to, Between Two Cities, Codenames, and Disc Duelers.

 

5. Imperial Assault

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I imagine this is only going to climb in my estimation the more I play. There’s a ton of components and rules to Imperial Assault, but it’s obvious that’s to make it a deeper and more challenging game as time goes on. The introductory skirmish I played was easy to get the hang of and already felt like an actual battle between two sides with distinct goals. The fact that it’s Star Wars just makes it that much better. Fantastic miniature game all around.

4. Mysterium

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At this point I’ve played so many games that something that seems to have a truly original approach intrigues me greatly. Mysterium is a wonderful asymmetric cooperative game that has a departed ghost trying to guide psychics to the culprit of its murder through sending “visions” consisting of cards with abstract art. The hope is that the cards played by the ghost will indicate specific cards on the game board to the psychics, who are working together and can discuss as needed. Was a lot of fun. Full review.

3. Suburbia

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Suburbia is one of those games that looks more complicated than it is and is fairly easy to pick up. The basic gameplay is buy a tile and play it to your suburb, and the tiles tell you everything you need to know about scoring, etc. The depth comes in from the way the tiles interact. This is a wonderful, accessible game that has been a hit with everyone I’ve tried it with so far. Full review.

2. Tragedy Looper

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Tragedy Looper is somewhat of a tough game to get your mind around, but once you do it’s a great mystery game (a genre that’s underrepresented and hard to do well).  It’s asymmetric, with players who are time traveling and trying to prevent a tragedy, and a gamemaster that is trying to stop them. There are limitations on possible actions based on the scenario and various stats of the characters being controlled, which is where clues about what has happened and how to prevent it come from. I’ve only played once so far, but I adore the concept and despite playing VERY poorly as GM I enjoyed the game and am extremely excited to try it again.

1. The Duke

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The Duke came out of nowhere to become my second favorite game of all time.  It’s an incredible two player game with elements of chess reworked into a much more accessible and variable experience. The vast number of movement patterns allows for deep gameplay, yet the smaller board and limited starting pieces keeps things manageable. The combination of each piece having its movement grid printed on it and the fact that the pattern is different on each side is just fantastic, and makes this both incredibly new player friendly and deep. Full review.

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And that’s it. Was a great year. What are everyone else’s new favorites?