In the board game world, the North American convention season is mostly over. Gen Con saw a unique attendance of almost 62,000 people and had slightly over 400 new games. The upcoming convention at Essen, Germany in October already has a list of almost 600 new games, and it is not done yet. With so many new games, how do you, the discerning reader, know which games are good? Let me share with you the best five board games I have played so far in 2015:
by Cool Mini or Not (2-5 players)
If you have played the video game Valiant Hearts, you will be familiar with the theme of The Grizzled. Set in World War I, this is a cooperative game where you and your friends are French soldiers trying to survive the war through a series of missions. Each mission is executed quite simply by discarding cards from your hands. The trick is not to have three of the same threat symbols showing on the cards. This is a surprisingly depressing game, because it is not easy to win and choices you make often lead to disappointing circumstances or puts your team in dire straits.
You want to do well with your team members and succeed but often the cards you have to play will be met by groans and moans from everyone. Surprisingly in a game about war, there is no fighting involved. It is all about teamwork and survival. Do not misinterpret that the game is bad. This is an excellent game with easy to learn mechanisms, but every wrong move gets compounded. You may quickly find yourselves struggling to empty your hands of cards. One point to note is that the catroonist who created the amazing art in this game, was killed earlier this year in the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. The Grizzled is a very experiential game that everyone should at least give it a try.
by Czech Games Edition (2-8 players)
If you fancy a game that is easy to learn, plays well with large groups of people and has loads of replay value, Codenames is a good pick. This is a party game designed by the great game designer Vlaada Chvátil. That was a big surprise to many people because he previously designed complicated games that had many moving parts. Codenames is a simple team-based party game using a single mechanism: deduction.
In the game, players are divided into teams of spies. Spymasters try to get their teams to be the first to deduce all their teams’ spies from a shared set of 25 randomly selected codewords. It is not that easy to pull off, because Spymasters can only give single word clues each turn. For example, in the list of 25 codewords, “Millionaire” might belong to my team but “Casino” might not. If I gave the clues “Rich” or “Money”, my team could mistakenly guess “Casino”. It is very frustrating to see your team members’ thought processes as they take the clue you gave and run far off target. It is equally frustrating when you wonder why your spymaster is giving such lousy clues! Vlaada has cleverly included a hidden assassin mechanism which immediately eliminates a team when selected. This prevents random guessing from anyone. Codenames has been a runaway hit with everyone who played it.
by Ravensburger (2-5 players)
“I am the Brave witch….”
“No, I AM the Brave witch…”
Such are the conversations you will hear around the table when people are playing Broom Service. This game brings metagaming to a whole new level, wrapped in a highly amusing theme. Players try their best to predict what their opponents are doing. They decide if they want to be brave, which provides great rewards, or be cowardly, which provides mediocre rewards. This decision is where the game shines. For example, I really want to get all those potions but do I push my luck and risk to be Brave? Or should I chicken out and play safe? Should I play aggressively and mess with my opponents? Will I be able to find some way to mess with them? The range of emotions you get—from you pushing your luck to tasting your opponents’ anguish after messing with their choices—is absolutely delicious.
The game also comes with a few expansions, which provide even more variety. Broom Service was also recently awarded the prestigious German boardgame award, Kennerspiel des Jahres 2015.
by Plaid Hat Games (2-5 players)
Inspired by Metal Gear Solid video games, Emerson Matsuuchi designed Specter Ops to give players the feeling of sneaking around a cityscape, dodging opponents and completing objectives. The game is set on a beautifully designed board. One player is the agent who will try to remain unseen while the other players are hunters who scour the board for the agent. Specter Ops accurately captures the tense moments as the agent narrowly slips past unsuspecting hunters and when the hunters finally corner the injured agent. The game also boasts several hunters and agents to choose from, each with unique powers. This allows for a lot of variation and asymmetrical play.
Being aware of everyone’s player powers is key to destroying the sneaking agent or evading the clueless hunters. I’m elated when my well-placed hunters finally caught a glimpse of the agent and we cornered him for the win. Specter Ops even has a traitor game variant where one of the hunter players is secretly working for the agent! If you enjoyed the Metal Gear Solid series, Specter Ops is a must.
by Cool Mini or Not (2-4 players)
Vikings, awesome monsters, lots of fighting and dying gloriously to reach Valhalla. That’s all you really need to get me excited to play! Blood Rage is an area control, dudes-on-a-map type of game where players are different clans vying for a chance to wage war against each other and die in glory during Ragnarok. With exquisitely detailed miniatures and a promise of much action, this is a high-interaction game where being passive will get you nowhere. You get a chance to set the path for your clan by drafting cards at the start of each round and then, if you choose your actions wisely, executing them precisely as you intended.
The cards range from upgrading your clans so you get more points when you are victorious in battle, to allowing you to summon huge monsters like the Frost Giant to fight by your side. Careful drafting and invading are crucial to beating your opponents. The game does not make it easy, because every card feels so powerful and necessary. You have to make the right choice to win Blood Rage. I might really want that fierce Fire Giant, but I will risk passing this powerful attack card to my opponent. Ah decisions, decisions, sweet deliciously tough decisions. Have I mentioned the enormous monster miniatures and how cool they look on the board?
Eric Teo is currently a 2nd year MFA student at NYU Game Center. He hosts a review site with podcasts, written and video reviews about boardgames and can be found on twitter @duckizz.
Note: If you buy any of these games through the retail links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.