2013 was a great year for board games. There were multiple standouts in the casual and hardcore strategy board game categories. It also marked a crazy period of expansion in my board game collection, as I sought to round out my collection with some old standbys (El Grande, Caylus, Shogun) as well as get the latest hotness.
My personal Top 8 Favourite Games mainly highlights the games I played in 2013 that I really liked. It’s not an objective measure of quality, but a subjective measure of enjoyment gained from these games. It includes some games that were available before 2013, but either only widely available in Australia in 2013 or I only managed to get a copy in 2013 due to stores running out. I also limited myself to games that I played more than once, so that I have a reasonable assessment of the replay value. Without further ado, here is my personal list in alphabetical order:
- Forbidden Desert – An improvement over Forbidden Island which was a great light co-op game, cementing Matt Leacock as the king of the casual co-op. You have 3 “trackers” you need to manage, which are water, storm level, and amount of sand tiles remaining and the tension level for all of them feels like a good amount. The goal is clear and thematic, and the clues to the collectibles that you need to find are all on the tiles which reduces information that you need to track. There are also more varied special card abilities and roles which are all useful in their own ways, which keeps the game more engaging for casual and veteran gamers alike.
- Hanabi – Winner of the Spiel de Jahres, it is a simple cooperative ladder card game with hidden information. The hidden information and how you handle sharing that information reduced the impact of one person dominating the gameplay. A major part of the game is managing the limited chances you have to share information with other players. Also unique in that the end goal is very unlikely and you play for high score which motivates people to play again. Simple, engaging, clever.
- Love Letter – Technically 2012, but we played a lot of it in 2013. One of the few games that I made my own crappy version of and own multiple versions. With only 16 cards, it heralded the resurgence of microgames/small box games. Essentially a quick deduction game, you try to knock other players out of a game round with the card effects or stay on to the end of the game with the highest valued card. A lot of the fun is in trying to read the other players and deduce what they have and play accordingly.
- Mascarade – I considered putting Coup up here along with Mascarade, since there are some similarities, but I realised that I prefer Mascarade more and it deserves a place on its own. Mascarade is a bluffing game where every player gets a role card, but can claim to be any role to activate its actions. Other players then get a chance to call them out on their bluff, and possibly reap a benefit if they were the assumed role. This whole process is complicated by the fact that you may not know for certain what your role is, and other players can potentially swap roles with you. It’s a very fun and accessible game with high amounts of interaction, which can handle a large number of players.
- Pathfinder Adventure Card Game – The D&D Adventure System games (Castle Ravenloft and its successors) were a simplification of D&D 4th Edition, and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is similarly a simplification of Pathfinder. It’s got some very familiar parts such as the D20 roll to hit system, the classic ability scores and modifiers, and all the classic theme trappings of a fantasy RPG. Where I feel it succeeds over the D&D Adventure System is the amount of customisation you get and the integration of the campaign mode. Each character gets its own special powers and you can customise each character deck and improve it as you play along the campaign. I also really liked how the hand size is used to represent character durability and how the different card effects are used as essentially effect timers.
- The Duke – A surprise favourite since I’m so horrible at abstract strategy games like Chess. The appeal is that it is similar enough to Chess, which a lot of people know, that you can draw non-gamers in. Random older dude watched us play for a bit outside Jock’s ice cream shop. What makes it more interesting is the variety of pieces, the random draw results in asymmetrical abilities and the flipping encourages different positional moves.
- Trains – An unfortunately bland name masks a gem of a game. Dominion introduced the world to the deck building genre of games. Trains is one of the simplest implementations of deck building as a mechanic in a greater game rather than a game in and of itself. Trains combines deck building and network building in an elegant package. Players build a deck of cards that lets them build train routes on a map more frequently and efficiently. One interesting design choice is that it generally forces dead cards into decks when you build tracks, which you will do more frequently throughout the early and mid-game than other deckbuilders. I really like the implementation, and I feel like it’s a shame that it may be overlooked because of the silly name. It’s also unfortunate that the English version only saw print recently, as it may be overshadowed by other innovations in implementing deck building mechanics.
- Village (and Village Inn) – One of my favourite pseudo-worker placement games, which I’ve written a review of on the site. You draft actions that come with resources, which sometimes requires the placement of a family member token. The core mechanic is interesting as you have to balance out how much you want a particular resource with how much you want to execute a particular action. The other core mechanic is a unique take on the value of worker tokens, which can became very valuable once they “die” and get removed from play, resulting in a cool tension between keeping worker tokens in advantageous spots and knowing when to kill them off for profit. I’ve heard some complaints that this game is just another cube pusher, and yes the actual coloured cubes representing the resources are pretty abstracted, but I think the overall interplay of the mechanics and actions results in a highly thematic experience.
Android: Netrunner: Genesis Cycle, Spin Cycle, Creation and Control – I considered putting this up in the main list, since I have really enjoyed playing Android Netrunner much more in 2013. The main reason for the continued enjoyment is the availability of the additional options from the expansions. I bought a second copy of the base game and have kept up with all the expansion releases and have had fun building decks for all the factions. It’s an amazing game design with asymmetrical gameplay that feels thematic and allows for cute mindgames, bluffs, counterbluffs, and measured risk taking. Card printing companies owe a lot to the mind of one Richard Garfield, PhD.
Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport – The base game of Lords of Waterdeep is already quite good and the expansion simply adds more of the same. It’s even divided into two modules: Undermountain and Skullport. You get more pieces for a sixth player, more quests, more Masked Lords, more buildings, more Intrigue cards, more action spaces and a tweak to the number of agents for a longer game if you like. It also introduces a new mechanic in the form of Corruption that allows for very powerful actions with a points penalty that is dependent on how much everyone uses Corruption. It breathes life into a very solid framework without adding or changing the formula too much. The only slight complaint is that the Undermountain module and sixth player could have been included in the base game, but it may have been the case that the extra materials would have affected the price enough that it became unattractive to casual gamers.
Magic: the Gathering: Gatecrash, Dragon’s Maze, Modern Masters, Magic 2014, Theros, Commander 2013 – Ahhh Magic. My good old cardboard crack habit. I don’t play as regularly as I used to, but I still attend most of the Prerelease Events and still keep the Cube up to date with the latest from Wizards of the Coast. I thought Gatecrash introduced a cool new mechanic in Evolve and some great mill and Extort cards for Cube. I thought Dragon’s Maze was a bit of a mess with so many different mechanics jammed together, but Fuse was a really cool take on Entwine. Modern Masters I just skimmed to update any old frame cards, and Magic 2014 provided some great support for the lifegain theme in Cube as well as a whole bunch of really cool, thematic designs. I have really enjoyed the flavour and mechanics of Theros as well, and it also continued to hit the theme and mechanics integration out of the park. Commander 2013 provided great new tools for Cube but were also incredibly fun decks to play, with many cute combos and strategies within the same deck.
The following games could have made my main list, but I only managed to play them once so I can’t really gauge how much replay value they have, although I am pretty optimistic for most of them.:
Arctic Scavengers – Favourite new pure deckbuilding game I played last year, with some very interesting and thematic mechanical touches, but I’m afraid replay value might be limited.
Francis Drake – Incredible production values, good theme integration and solid mechanics.
Kemet – Reminds me of Nexus Ops in that it’s a great slugfest, and it has really nice minis and big D4s as pyramids to boot.
Kings of Air and Steam – Impressed me with being able to handle 7 players fairly well and keeping us all engaged, and airships always make my heart sing
Legacy the Testament of Duke de Crecy – Good theme and integration of the theme. Really liked looking at the family tree at the end of the game and seeing how you got there. Only played once at WABA’s Decembacon 2013, but I’ve already ordered my own copy.
Libertalia – Very fun card play and since everyone starts with the same hand of cards, you also need to consider other players’ possible moves. Could possibly cripple an AP-prone player.
Police Precinct – Quite a fun co-op game with a surprisingly uncommon theme. The game actually uses donuts as currency, so the jokes were flying fats and furious. Downside is the quality of the components/graphic design, but otherwise a really cool, thematic co-op.
Space Cadets Dice Duel – Probably the best team-on-team game experience that is just amazingly frantic and fun. I vastly prefer it to regular Space Cadets.
The Manhattan Project – Worker placement game with workers of unequal value and a fairly uncommon theme. Liked the race feeling and ability to directly attack other players without crippling them, but would like to play again to get a better opinion of the interactions.
Other Honourable Mentions
I played a lot of games last year, and sadly not all of them could make the Top 8 list, but were still really great games. These games I played at least twice, but with some I still feel like I should play a bit more to get a better grasp of the game.
Copycat – A fine Friedemann Friese design that I’ve reviewed on the site. I feel like I appreciate it more as a design than as a game to play, but it’s still a fine game and really shows how deck building can be incorporated nicely with other mechanics.
Coup – Good game in the vein of Mascarade, but I’ve made it clear which one I prefer. Coup is still great to start or end a game session since players can be eliminated quickly and move on to other things quickly.
Guildhall – Clever interactions between the card effects and fairly easy to explain, but the light to medium card game category is incredibly full and it’s hard to fight against Hanabi and Mascarade.
Ladies and Gentlemen – Quirky theme and a rare partnership game. Fun if people get into the theme but I feel like it’s more fun to be the lady than the gentleman, so it’s a bit of a hard sell.
Last Will – Another weird theme and can be a bit hard to get used to wanting to lose money at first. Nothing really new in the mechanics, but the theme sells it well.
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game – A great co-operative deck building game (just tell people it’s co-operative and tally scores at the end of the game if you feel like it) but some of the villain and scheme combinations can get annoying.
Sentinels of the Multiverse – One of my favourite co-operative games, since it’s basically a WoW TCG Raid deck that runs itself and you don’t have to build and balance player decks beforehand. Bookkeeping can be a bit of a pain, but the app supposedly helps a lot. Motivated me to complete my collection of WoW TCG Raid Decks.
Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game – A distillation of the Shadows Over Camelot board game, and probably my favourite memory game. My go to game for when I want a hidden traitor game but can’t be bothered setting anything up. Unfortunately, not everyone likes memory games, which is a shame.
Smash Up – A cool cardplay and sort-of-area-control game with cute theme and factions. Great variety, but with 4 players it goes on a tad longer than I’d like for what you’re doing.
String Railway – A unique game that uses string as its main gameplay component. Fun and quick for a casual game.
Terra Mystica – A dense strategy game with a large variety of asymmetrical factions. Mechanics are solid and it’s quite fun to develop and upgrade your towns, but I feel like it’s jammed one mechanic too many into the mix.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Very cool mechanic with the gears turning and investing actions for the future. Requires a whole lot of advance planning to do well, which is difficult but rewarding.