Alright, Christmas is over, I hope everybody found some hot 2013 releases under the tree (or, if you're like me and just compulsively buy whatever you want, put in a CSI order for the new Essen releases!). The next holiday coming up is New Years, so time to start thinking about 2014!
Here are the Top 10 releases of 2014 that I'm most excited about. A couple caveats/observations:
1) As of writing, all of these games should be released in 2014 according to articles, BGG database entries, etc. I'm pretty confident that at least half will make 2014, we'll see about the others.
2) There are a number of spin-off/"sequels" to existing games on my list. If I had done a Top 15/20, I think there would be even more. I expect that it's because it's easier to get excited about games I'm already familiar with and like. Only one non-standalone expansion, though.
3) I definitely seem to be leaning towards more thematic/"Ameritrash", and/or co-operative games. Seven of the games are from American designers, seven of the games have a high-fantasy/sci-fi/horror/comic theme, and five of the games are co-op (or semi/meta co-op). There's only one Euro game on this list. This largely has to do with personal tastes, but also I've found that there isn't as much advanced hype for Euros as there are for American games. We probably won't start hearing about the big 2014 Essen Euros until the summer.
First off, if you don't watch Parks & Recreation, you should, it's a great show. One of the characters on the show, Ben (Adam Scott), is a bit of a geek, and one of his interests is board games (he played Catan on his bachelor party). On a recent episode, he had some free time, and decided to design his own board game, Cones of Dunshire, which parodied hobby games and first-time designers.
As it turned out, Mayfair Games actually helped out with the design of Cones of Dunshire (see article and video here)
The idea was that this would be a kitchen-sink-type thing; it would have elements of Dungeons and Dragons where there were dice, and Catan elements where there would be actual hexes and resources. We all talked about our favorite games, like Dominion and Ticket to Ride, and what elements we could borrow from those. We just wanted to paint the picture that [this character] had spent a week in a rabbit hole of gaming and come out the other end with no clear game — just like a hundred game pieces that vaguely fit together. I think cones came up instantly, like, "Oh, there should be three-dimensional cones." Someone said, "You should roll the dice to see how many dice you roll." Everyone was pitching out ideas. It was the fun of adding details on top of details on top of nonsense.
Mayfair is now considering making Cones of Dunshire a "real" playable game, and at the very least stage some event at GenCon 2014 where it's played by Adam Scott and other P&R cast members, as a promo/charity event. They mention making it a commercial product, but I'd be surprised if that's the case. Can't wait to see this game in action next year at GenCon, though!
Don't really know much about this game, so I'll just quote the BGG entry: "The Battle of Five Armies is a standalone game based on the rules for War of the Ring, which is from the same designers, but with the rules modified to function on a tactical level as they describe a smaller battle rather than the entire war. Ares Games plans to expand the Battles game system in the future, releasing expansions depicting other battles from the Third Age of Middle-earth narrated in The Lord of the Rings, such as the Siege of Gondor and the assault of Saruman against Rohan."
A smaller scale War of the Ring could be pretty cool, if the playtime comes down with it. Still waiting to hear more information on this game.
This game used to be known as "BSG Express", a PnP dice-based "express" version of Battlestar Galactica. It captures the essence of BSG, and condenses it into a ~45 minute experience. For somebody like me that typically can't find 3+ hours to play a single game, this is a huge plus.
I had thought Fantasy Flight might eventually pick up the publishing rights to this game, but they never did. Instead, Stronghold Games did, and re-themed the game as Dark Moon. Evan Derrick, the designer, says that there have been a lot of gameplay improvements to Dark Moon since BSG Express, although at this point we don't have any specifics.
I'm definitely interested in seeing how Dark Moon improves on BSG Express.
Sentinels of the Multiverse was my most-played game of 2013. I managed to beat every single villain from all expansions on Advanced mode. More Sentinels is always a welcome addition!
Sentinels of the Multiverse: Vengeance is the first standalone expansion (can be played without the base game), with 5 new heroes (one of which is a team of 4, sort of like the hero version of the Ennead!), 4 new villains and a revamped Baron Blade, and 2 new environments. The villains can also team up against you, and I'm excited to see how that works. You can find more information on the new heroes/villains/environments here.
The only game on this list I've actually had the opportunity to play already! Chaosmos is a game being designed by Mirror Box Games, who are often playtesting it at various Los Angeles game events/meetups. I actually wrote a beta review of it over the summer, if you want to check it out here.
To give a quick-ish summary, the premise of the game is that a fictional galaxy is collapsing, and each player plays as an envoy of an alien race that is trying to get hold of the Ovoid, the one artifact that will save their planet/race when the galaxy collapses. The game plays over a fixed number of turns, kept track by a countdown clock. When the clock hits zero, the one player with the Ovoid card in their hand is the winner. Over the course of the game, players go from planet to planet trying to find this card, and hide/protect it from other players through deception, bluffing, weapons, traps, etc. It's got elements of Cosmic Encounter (alien races with unique powers), Android: Netrunner (hiding/protecting/booby-trapping cards), Letters from Whitechapel/Scotland Yard (trying to track where players have been), and bluffing games, but ultimately feels very unique.
The game is going to be funded via Kickstarter very soon, January 2nd, you can check it out in advance if you go to Mirror Box's website and click the Kickstarter link (I can't seem to link this directly). In the meantime, here's a preview that UndeadViking did recently:
Very little is known about this game, except that Ignacy Trzewiczek (of Robinson Crusoe fame) is designing it, 2-4 players take on the roles of major characters from The Witcher (presumably it's co-op). That alone gets me excited!
Those different-colored decks to the left kind of look like encounter/adventure decks similar to those in Robinson Crusoe or Arkham/Eldritch Horror. Maybe they require you to make morally ambiguous choices similar to what Geralt has to often do in The Witcher.
Update 1/8 - Fantasy Flight will be publishing this game!
To be honest, I didn't think much of "Pandemic The Dice Game" when I first heard about it. But it's another co-op by Matt Leacock, so I decided to hold my judgement until I heard more about it from BGG.con. Initial impressions are incredibly positive, and a number of people (Ryan Metzler, David Short, Seth Jaffee) say it's better than Pandemic, more challenging, and shorter to play! I'll quote David:
To summarize, The Cure is ridiculously good and Ryan is correct that it's better than the board game (and I adore the board game). There are a couple of main reasons I feel this way:
First, The Cure incorporates elements of Pandemic's In The Lab expansion right into it's core game. Finding the cure for one of the colors is a multi-step process, unlike the board game where you merely stash a bunch of cards. Furthermore, one of those steps requires that players' sacrifice dice to their teammates to increase the odds of success. This made for some very juicy and enjoyable decisions.
Second, The Cure is naturally a more dynamic game due to the dice. The board game can often feel like a puzzle. A fun puzzle, but a puzzle at times. Additionally, the board game can literally be impossible simply by the composition of the initial deck shuffle. In The Cure, you always have a chance due to lucky dice rolls. Yes, this makes it more random than the board game, but like I said, more dynamic and fun. It compels me to continue fighting, unlike the board game which can feel hopeless at times.
Third, The Cure actually felt like it provided more problems for the team to solve together. More things to debate. More paths to argue over. More decisions than the board game. This is huge. It's a dice game, which is suppose to be silly and light, right? Wrong. This actually ended up having more meat than the board game for me.
Conclusion: It's incredible. It's a must buy. It makes me question if I need the board game.
The only "Euro" on my list, and the only non-standalone expansion on my list. But it's for my #1 favorite game of all time!
Very little is known about this expansion, aside from that it's a map based in England, and that it will also include improved 2-player rules. That alone right there should get Hansa Teutonica fans excited!
I know everybody says this, but I actually had an idea floating around in my head for an incredibly similar game for a couple years. Thankfully a more experienced designer and publisher took care of making an actual game out of it!
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game is this first in Plaid Hat's new Crossroad series of "meta-cooperative" games, where a group of players have to work together towards one victory condition, but each player has their own individual secret victory condition that they must fulfill to win as well. Some of these secret objectives are pretty benign, some may put the group at serious risk of losing, and in some cases the secret objective may be straight up sabotage/vengeance similar to "traitor co-ops" like Battlestar Galactica. In the case of Dead of Winter, players are survivors of a zombie apocalypse. I know, overplayed theme, but play testers say it's way more about the group dynamics than killing zombies.
Another big element of a Crossroad game is the Crossroad cards, which are events that can trigger for specific characters under specific conditions. When these come up, the character/group is typically forced to make a difficult decision.
I really enjoy The Walking Dead TV series, and I love the Walking Dead video game that Telltale Games created last year. In the video game, you are presented with difficult choices where often times all your options are bad, and often times you have to decide between what's best for yourself, somebody you care about, or the group as a whole. It sounds like Dead of Winter manages to capture this both in terms of its zombie survival theme, as well as the Crossroads mechanic and hidden objectives.
I can't wait to get a copy of this game, and already have it pre-ordered. Plaid Hat is already has a number of other ideas for future Crossroad games in the works (Lost in Space, Feudal Japan, etc), so it will be interesting to see how big this series gets, and how varied the experiences are.
Cthulhu Wars is a strategy boardgame by Sandy Peterson (of Call of Cthulhu fame) in which the players take the part of alien races and gods taken from the Cthulhu mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft. The game is physically large, and includes sixty-four figurines of the cultists, monsters, aliens, and Great Old Ones that range in height from approximately 20mm to nearly 180mm. Hopefully I have enough room to store it all!
This game was heavily influenced by Chaos in the Old World, an all-time favorite game of mine. There are a lot of similarities between the two games (four evil gods with unique play styles trying to ruin the world), but the key difference is that Cthulhu Wars plays more like a "dudes on a map" game, CitOW is more of a Euro-hybrid. Cthulhu Wars also seems to have a lot more variability in the factions, maps, neutral units, etc you can add to a game. LOTS of expansions will be available right out of the gate for this game (3 more factions, 3 more maps, tons of neutral units, etc), and I expect more to come if this franchise is successful.
The game was originally slated to come out this December, but got pushed to Spring 2014. A Kickstarter ran for this game over the summer, and the game can also be pre-ordered directly from Green Eye Games' website.
The next Legacy game by Rob Daviau. This one is not based on an existing game franchise, and more of a gamer's game than Risk Legacy. SeaFall is a 4X game set in an "age of sail" world reminiscent of our own world during that time. Players take on the role of a mainland empire that consults with a consortium of advisors to discover new islands, explore those islands, develop trade, send out raiding parties, take part in ship-to-ship combat, and more. Similar to Risk Legacy, the game evolves from game-to-game as it is played.
The Legacy system in Risk Legacy was by far the most innovative thing I've ever seen done in modern boardgaming, and I can't wait to see how Rob takes what he learned from Risk Legacy and apply it to a new, and hopefully better, game system. This is easily my #1 most anticipated release of 2014.
Rob's company, IronWall Games, is co-publishing with Plaid Hat Games. Funds for this game will potentially be raised via a Kickstarter project in early 2014.
Here is a great academic talk Rob gave recently on designing a Legacy game, where he talks both Risk Legacy and gives a great design case study of the (work-in-progress) mechanics of discovering islands in SeaFall: