Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 5 Board Games of 2015

I don't want anyone to misunderstand my list here. I play a lot of board games; I just don't necessarily play all of the newest, hottest board games. I haven't played most of what released in 2015, not even scratching the surface. But, this is what I would deem the five best games of 2015. Take it with a grain of...oh you know.

Number 5: Spirits of the Rice Paddy
Ancient Balinese legend describes a host of powerful spirits who help poor rice farmers achieve success. These farmers have long used a sophisticated irrigation system to organize rice cultivation by integrating religious devotion and social responsibility with traditional farming methods. Even modern farmers seek to placate the spirit world in their quest to produce an abundant harvest. 
In Spirits of the Rice Paddy, players must compete with fellow rice farmers to construct and tend rice paddies. Oxen can build walls and remove large rocks. Ducks can be employed to eat harmful pests and fertilize the fledgling crops. Weeds must be kept at bay. Most importantly, water must be conserved and released with the greatest of care. With a little luck, all that back-breaking labor will pay off in the end. The good news is that the spirits are eager to assist, granting many special abilities, blessings, and magic. The farmer who produces the most rice over seven rounds wins the game.
This game is very interesting. I've played it twice. Once solo and once with Amy. There is a dynamic push and pull between the players in this game. You are all vying for water so you can flood your rice paddies. It has a bit of worker allocation and I love the components. Double layer boards are the future! I would like to try this game more with four. It is okay with two, but I think the competition for water would be much better with more players.

Number 4: Stockpile
Stockpile is an economic board game that combines the traditional stockholding strategy of buy low, sell high with several additional mechanisms to create a fast-paced, engaging and interactive experience. 
In Stockpile, players act as stock market investors at the end of the 20th century hoping to strike it rich, and the investor with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Stockpile centers around the idea that nobody knows everything about the stock market, but everyone does know something. In the game, this philosophy manifests in two ways: insider information and the stockpile. 
First, players are given insider information each round. This information dictates how a stock’s value will change at the end of the round. By privately learning if a stock is going to move up or down, each player has a chance to act ahead of the market by buying or selling at the right time. 
Second, players purchase their stocks by bidding on piles of cards called stockpiles. These stockpiles will contain a mixture of face-up and face-down cards placed by other players in the game. In this way, nobody will know all of the cards in the stockpiles. Not all cards are good either. Trading fees can poison the piles by making players pay more than they bid. By putting stocks and other cards up for auction, Stockpile catalyzes player interaction, especially when potential profits from insider information are on the line. 
Both of these mechanisms are combined with some stock market elements to make players consider multiple factors when selling a stock. Do you hold onto a stock in hopes of catching a lucrative stock split or do you sell now to avoid the potential company bankruptcy? Can you hold onto your stock until the end of the game to become the majority shareholder, or do you need the liquidity of cash now for future bidding? Do you risk it all by investing heavily into one company, or do you mitigate your risk by diversifying your portfolio? 
In the end, everyone knows something about the stock market, so it all comes down to strategy execution. Will you be able to navigate the movements of the stock market with certainty? Or will your investments go under from poor predictions?
Alright, I don't really like economic games or games about markets. I can tolerate Power Grid and lighter economic fair. But I have a group of buddies that is really into them and I just cannot enjoy that much math. Stockpile is my kind of game though. Now, I will admit that I would never play without the variable player powers. I don't think that they add too much complexity that new players would be confused with them and it just adds so much to the game. I know the designer and he is a great guy. I don't need to own this game, but I do enjoy playing every once in a while.

Number 3: 7 Wonders: Duel
In many ways 7 Wonders: Duel resembles its parent game 7 Wonders as over three ages players acquire cards that provide resources or advance their military or scientific development in order to develop a civilization and complete wonders. 
What's different about 7 Wonders: Duel is that, as the title suggests, the game is solely for two players, with the players not drafting card simultaneously from hands of cards, but from a display of face-down and face-up cards arranged at the start of a round. A player can take a card only if it's not covered by any others, so timing comes into play as well as bonus moves that allow you to take a second card immediately. As in the original game, each card that you acquire can be built, discarded for coins, or used to construct a wonder.Each player starts with four wonder cards, and the construction of a wonder provides its owner with a special ability. Only seven wonders can be built, though, so one player will end up short. 
Players can purchase resources at any time from the bank, or they can gain cards during the game that provide them with resources for future building; as you acquire resources, the cost for those particular resources increases for your opponent, representing your dominance in this area. 
A player can win 7 Wonders: Duel in one of three ways. Each time that you acquire a military card, you advance the military marker toward your opponent's capital, giving you a bonus at certain positions. If you reach the opponent's capital, you win the game immediately. Similarly, if you acquire any six of seven different scientific symbols, you achieve scientific dominance and win immediately. If neither of these situations occurs, then the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
I think I like 7 Wonders: Duel more than I like 7 Wonders. That may be seen as heresy, but 7 Wonders: Duel has so many things going for it. The two player version of 7 Wonders is not good. I mean it will fill that 7 Wonders void within your heart in a pinch, but I would just as soon get seven people together and play real 7 Wonders. Or get less people together and play Sushi Go. And Antoine Bauza could have just created a game that retreads on many of these old ideas from 7 Wonders. But he doesn't. 7 Wonders: Duel is a great game. It has enough connection to 7 Wonders that people who know that game will immediately find Duel familiar, but there is enough new stuff to keep people who know 7 Wonders inside and out interested. I love that there are three victory conditions and you need to be watching all of them. Watch out for people trying to destroy all of your resources too. That is a legit strategy.

Number 2: The Voyages of Marco Polo
In 1271, 17-year-old Marco Polo started on a journey to China with his father and older brother. After a long and grueling journey that led through Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the "Silk Road", they reached the court of Kublai Khan in 1275. 
In The Voyages of Marco Polo, players recreate this journey, with each player having a different character and special power in the game. The game is played over five rounds. Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform one action each turn with them. The five main actions are shown on the bottom part of the board: 
  • Get resources with 1-3 dice, depending on the value of the resource (camels, pepper, silk, gold). The first player for each resource gets them for free; the later ones have to pay according to the value shown on the dice.
  • Take one resource of your choice and two camels. Each player sets the minimum value for the future dice.
  • Earn money, with any one die netting you five money.
  • Purchase orders: The value of one die unlocks the orders up to that number (shown on the spaces) and allows you to buy one or two of those orders. Orders are refreshed and placed at the beginning of each round. To fulfill an order, players have to spend resources for victory points, other resources, camels, and more.
  • Travel: Two dice are placed to unlock the distance that can be traveled on the upper part of the board, that is, the map. Here, the traveler piece of each player starts at Venice and can decide between several routes eastward, all the way to Beijing. When a traveler stops at a city, they place a marker there, giving them access to a different additional action for the rest of the game. 
After five rounds, the game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most orders, and having reached the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game; these points are added to the VPs gained during the game.
This is my kind of game. Dice placement, exploration, variable player powers. I absolutely adore this game. It was one of those games that when I saw the preview I knew that I was going to have this game in my collection and that I would love it for years. This game has so many paths to victory and I really feel like many of them are viable. Do you complete contracts? Or should you travel and get points and additional spots to place dice instead? I love all of the choices. Great game!

Number 1: Pandemic: Legacy
Pandemic Legacy is by design a non-replayable co-operative campaign game, with on overarching story-arc played through in 12-24 sessions, depending on how well your group does at the game. At the beginning, the game starts very similar to basic Pandemic, in which your team of disease-fighting specialists races against the clock to travel around the world, treating disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues before they get out of hand. 
During a player's turn, they have four actions available, with which they may travel around in the world in various ways (sometimes needing to discard a card), build structures like research stations, treat diseases (removing one cube from the board; if all cubes of a color have been removed, the disease has been eradicated), trade cards with other players, or find a cure for a disease (requiring five cards of the same color to be discarded while at a research station). Each player has a unique role with special abilities to help them at these actions. 
After a player has taken their actions, they draw two cards. These cards can include epidemic cards, which will place new disease cubes on the board, and can lead to an outbreak, spreading disease cubes even further. Outbreaks additionally increase the panic level of a city, making that city more expensive to travel to. 
Each month in the game, you have two chances to achieve that month's objectives. If you succeed, you win and immediately move on to the next month. If you fail, you have a second chance, with more funding for beneficial event cards. 
During the campaign, new rules and components will be introduced. These will sometimes require you to permanently alter the components of the game; this includes writing on cards, ripping up cards, and placing permanent stickers on components. Your characters can gain new skills, or detrimental effects. A character can even be lost entirely, at which point it's no longer available for play.
As of the writing of this listicle, Pandemic: Legacy is the number 2 game on Board Game Geek. And it should be. This game is amazing. It is one of the best experiences I've ever had. Not just one of the best gaming experiences, one of the best experiences. So much fun! I played with my wife and son and we played a total of 20 games. It astounds me that there are people smart enough to create something like this. A true masterpiece of board game design. Risk: Legacy never interested me because at the end of the day it is still Risk. But this was right up my ally. I bought it the day it became available. If Matt Leacock does indeed make a season 2 it will be a instant buy for me. I won't even need to see previews or photos or anything. I absolutely loved this game! 10/10

And my honorable mentions go to Cacao and Dune: The Dice Game. Both are interesting, but not the best of 2015.

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