One of the side-products of not writing a weekly column anymore is that I don’t really need to sit down and figure out my five best games of the year like I’ve done in the past. That’s a shame, because my work with Miniature Market has allowed me to cover far more new games than I would otherwise play. Now that 2015 is in the books I thought it might be a good time to dust off the ol’ blog and talk about what I thought were the best releases of the year.
There are a lot of games that I still haven’t played. I have yet to try out big releases like Blood Rage or 504, though I very much want to. This is also one of the first years where I have some real difficulty in figuring out what my top five should be. Part of that is because I’ve played more, but it’s also because 2015 was actually a very strong year. The games on this list represent a huge variety, and the separation between the top two was very thin especially. I might even feel differently once I’ve had a chance to sleep on it, though my number one feels pretty firm at this point. All of the games listed here came out in 2015, with the exception of one which I’m kind of calling a grey area.
Here are some honorable mention games, older ones that I finally played for the first time this year, or ones that didn’t quite make the cut: Five Tribes and its expansion, Imperial Assault, Star Wars: Risk Edition, Magic the Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers, Mousquetaires du Roy, Broom Service, and Clash of Cultures: Civilizations.
5. WWE Superstar Showdown – This might be a head-scratcher to a lot of people, but believe me that it’s one of the most interesting two-player games of the year. It’s very easy to pick up and understand, but it still allows for some really fascinating double-guessing and combos. Without any flavor text of mechanical flash, it forms a solid narrative of a professional wrestling match, and I don’t even like professional wrestling. In its current form it’s a little thin on content, but more wrestlers are on the way, including ones from the era when wrestlers were goofy. Let’s get some Macho Man Randy Savage up in here!
4. Pandemic Legacy – Ahh yes, the new king of BGG. I’m not quite as rapturous in my praise of Pandemic Legacy as a lot of people. The narrative feels just a little on-rails to me, and it feels a little like you’re playing with a net to catch you if you fall too far. But the actual experience while playing the game is remarkable, like nothing I’ve played before. Every decision has much more consequence, and the permanent changes to the game are a tactile reminder of just how personal and unique games can be. If this is the new top game on BGG, we could do a lot worse.
3. Codenames – Now here’s a surprise. I like Vlaada Chvatil in the abstract sense, but the only one of his games that has stayed in my collection in the long term is Mage Knight. But Codenames might be his most impressive work, because of how human it is. It’s a game about communication, an opportunity to learn about how other people connect ideas in their head. The hobby market has produced some very good “party” games over the last few years, like Dixit and The Resistance. Codenames might be the best one yet, a quick game that forces people to organize how they think in a way that can be expressed to others.
2. Shadows of Malice – This is technically a 2014 release, but it began getting some notoriety this past year. For those who have always enjoyed adventure games like Arkham Horror and Talisman, but have felt that the genre has gotten stale, Shadows of Malice is a must-play. It’s one of the most refreshing takes on adventure games I’ve played in ages. It looks resolutely abstract, but in its abstraction it encourages the players to fill in the negative spaces and create their own images. It also is the rare cooperative game that really forces the players to team up, instead of doing the same thing in different places. But in other ways it feels very old-fashioned. Everything is resolved with piles of dice, and the world of Aethos feels like an old D&D campaign. It’s almost like a hard rest on adventure games, something that could have come out in 1984 and changed how we viewed the genre. It’s expansion, which did come out this year, fleshes out the game to a great extent. It’s a really special release, and I hope it finds its audience.
1. Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition – Almost ten years ago, FFG released their first version of Fury of Dracula, and it was great. It had such a strong sense of atmosphere and delicious tension between Dracula and the hunters. But in hindsight, it always had a couple of snags that really kept it from the upper echelon. Now that the third edition is out, it has removed all the little annoyances, and we are left with the best narrative experience of the year. The turn structure and the combat have both been revamped to great effect, but it has lost none of its potency. It’s still a tense game of cat-and-mouse, filled with moments of eerie calm and frantic action, but now it has been sharpened to a fine edge. The revamped production looks great too, aside from the goofy cover. It’s Fantasy Flight’s best game since Battlestar Galactica, and everyone should play it.