Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2014

So 2014 marked my return to board games. I used to love playing games as a kid.  I grew up playing Clue, Risk, Trouble, Life, and plenty of other games with my family, in high school I used to get together with friends and spend an entire weekend playing Civilization ; in college I spent many hours and hours playing Mafia, Scrabble, Sorry, Spades, and Euchre; and then my wife and I used to play a lot of Pente, Scattergories, and other games together and with friends. Then we had children. And the games reluctantly got packed away and put into the basement.  In fact, the year before my first son was born my wife bought me Khet, then she got pregnant, and we never played it until this past year, 8 years later!

Through the years we had given some feeble attempts at playing games with our sons.  We had Chutes & Ladders, Candy Land, Cooties, Don't Break the Ice, and a bunch of other kiddie games.  We tried other, less typical games, like CooCoo the Rocking Clown, Hullabaloo, and Suspend, too.  None of them really grabbed our kids' attentions, or ours.  Then last Christmas we gave our boys (ages 4 and 7 at the time) Catan Junior as well as a couple of other games, like Cathedral.  Well, one play into Catan Junior and the boys were hooked!  The boys loved Cathedral as well, so we spent the couple of weeks after Christmas playing all sorts of games that I hadn't played in years.  We played Pente, Quarto, finally played Khet, and a bunch more!  I pulled my meager collection of games out of storage and started introducing my boys to them slowly.

But Catan Junior remained their favorite (who can turn down pirates and parrots!), and we played it a whole bunch.  In fact, we found the game so much fun that even my wife and I played it on our own a few times.  But playing with just two adults the game was missing something.  Its options were just a bit too limited for adults.  But we could see the potential in the game and that got us to thinking about what the full version of Settlers of Catan must be like.  So on January 9th (thank you Amazon for keeping my order history) I placed an order for Catan.  That was before I realized it was for 3-4 players.  So then I spent the time between ordering and the arrival of the game researching 2 player variant rules so my wife and I could play.  And play we did.  For the next two weeks straight that's all we did nearly every night was play Catan.  We never knew board games could be so much fun!  We were hooked.

In the past year we've bought and played more games than I had in my entire life previously (and like I said, I wasn't opposed to playing games ever before).  We met new friends that also liked playing games.  And I even started designing my own games!  And now my boys (5 and 8) have moved on beyond Junior Catan (although they still like to play it sometimes) and now join us for Dominion, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Splendor, Takenoko, Star Realms, and pretty much anything else we bring out.  Yes, we've become board-game-aholics in our house.

So anyway, now on to the whole point of this post.  Since getting into board games, and particularly designer or hobby board games, has been relatively new to our family, most of the games we played in 2014 weren't actually released in 2014.  So I can't really do a top 10 new games from 2014, but I can do a top 10 new-to-me games from 2014.  So, without further ado, here are the top 10 games that I was introduced to in 2014.

10 - Survive! (1982)
We discovered the 1984 edition of Survive at our local Goodwill for $0.99.  And let me tell you, that was $0.99 well spent.  The game is a quick, fun, easy to learn bloodbath.  There's not much direct conflict, but getting your meeple to safety off of a sinking island amidst sharks, whales, and sea monsters means there are a ton of casualties.  And the game is awesome!  You'll have a hard time finding the 1984 version, unless you luck out at a resale shop, like me, but the great thing is that it's currently published by Stronghold Games under the name Survive: Escape from Atlantis and includes better components and a small expansion.


9 - RoboRally (1994)
RoboRally simply amazed my wife and I the first time we played it at a friend's house.  We loved the combination of programming your robots with the non-combative confrontations.  This the first game I played in 2014 that someone else owned that we decided we had to add it to our own collection ASAP.  Within a week of playing it the first time we had a copy sitting on our shelves.  We've played the game a number of times since then and have had a blast every time.  If I have one criticism about the game after playing it more though, it's that the games can take a lot longer than you'd expect, especially when you start adding in multiple boards and more than 2 or 3 flags to capture.  But this is still a hit whenever we pull it out.


8 - Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004)
As most of my friends know, I love haunted houses.  I ran a very successful haunted house when I was in college and one of the first games I designed is a haunted house game called Polter-Heist.  I started working on Polter-Heist before I learned about BaHotH and only stumbled on the game while I was looking for ideas for room artwork for my game.  While both games take place in a haunted house and have a series of rooms viewed from above, they are both very different.  After discovering BaHotH I watched a TableTop episode featuring the game.  Then I watched just about every gameplay and review video I could find.  I absolutely fell in love with the game without ever having played it.  Unfortunately it was out of print.  But then I found out that it was scheduled for reprint in just a few months!  Yay!  So I put in a pre-order for it at my FLGS and started waiting patiently for my chance to play.  Then I found out a friend had the first edition of the game!  We played and it was as great as I had expected!  We played a couple of more times and then I finally received my own copy.  Then we played some more.  I love that every game is different after the haunt starts, however I really want to try playing with 6 players.  With 3 and 4 the haunts just always seemed a little unbalanced and ended too soon.  But I still love the game, both for its haunted house theme and for its wealth of replayability.  No game is ever the same.  I haven't reviewed Betrayal at the House on the Hill yet, but one will be forthcoming!

7 - Tiny Epic Kingdoms (2014)
Back in July I backed the Tiny Epic Defenders Kickstarter after playing the PnP version of the game, which I thought was a fantastic coop game.  When the Pledge Manager information was sent I had the opportunity to add Tiny Epic Kingdoms to my order, which I promptly did.  When it arrived I was super excited.  Opening the package was incredible.  All the bits and pieces were awesome, and so tiny!  Then I got to play the game.  I was absolutely amazed at the amount of game packed into a tiny little box.  Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a 4x game that is simple to learn and teach and quick to play.  It plays in about 45 minutes so it is accessible to just about any type of gamer: new, casual, or experienced.  The game is a ton of fun, even if it does seem to end sooner than expected at times.  A review of TEK will be coming soon!

6 - Kemet (2012)
Kemet is another of those games that I decided I needed after playing one time.  Kemet introduced me to a whole new way to play a war game.  There are no dice used for combat in Kemet at all!  That's great for me since I really stink at rolling dice.  I just don't have the knack.  Instead of chucking dice each player has a set of military strategy cards that can enhance their attack strength, defense strength, or the amount of damage they can inflict.  Plus there are limits to the size of armies.  So you never have one army that completely overwhelms another army.  And because each player has the same military strategies available to them during the course of the game battles are decided on tactics rather than random chance.  I love that!  And better yet, when you are defeated you don't lose all your soldiers.  Instead they just get sent back to your city so they can be redeployed elsewhere during the game.  So victories in battle are important, but they don't let you destroy opponents to the point where they have no chance in the game.  It's an ingenious battle mechanic that I immediately fell in love with, so much so that I included a similar mechanic in my game To Reign Supreme. (Now listed on BGG!)


5 - Rise! (2012)
I received Rise! for my birthday this past spring and it immediately became one of my favorite games, and has stayed at the top all along.  Rise! is a 2 player strategy game that has a little bit of almost everything in it.  Area control, worker placement, battles, tile laying, construction, and mostly abstract strategy are all core mechanics in Rise!  There are a wealth of options for players to take on each turn and the game is played on an ever changing field, so every game is different.  Depending on who you are playing a game could last 20 minutes, or, more likely if you are evenly matched, 45 minutes or more.  Rise! is a game of deep strategy in a game that's small enough to take just about anywhere!


4 - Star Realms (2014)
Star Realms is the game I have played the most from this list.  The game is a tiny little deckbuilder for 2 players (more with additional decks, or the variant I've provided) that plays in about 30 minutes.  There is also a highly addictive app available for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac.  The ease of play (my 5 and 8 year olds play with me a lot), speed of games, and card interactions result in a high energy, fast paced frenzy of a game and it's an incredible amount of fun to play.  Plus it's small enough to fit in a pocket and take anywhere!  I just purchased the Crisis expansion packs and added them to my deck and they have really added another level to the game.  The game isn't perfect, but it is a ton of fun packed into a deckbox sized package that fits in your pocket!


3 - Carcassonne (2000)
Carcassonne has been around for quite a while, but I got to play it for the first time this year.  I had watched the Tabletop episode where it is played and immediately thought my wife would like it.  Then in September I met up with a friend that had the game and played.  I loved it and borrowed it for a bit so my wife could play.  And guess what?  She loved it, too!  And so did my sons!  So this Christmas we got the Carcassonne Big Box and added it to our collection.  We love how it is casual, easy, and fun!  Both our boys, ages 5 and 8, love to play the game, too.  As soon as we got the game it moved into the category of games that get pulled out often.  My 5 year old loves playing with the Hills and Sheep expansion because he loves to push his luck (he loves Zombie Dice) and is actually very lucky.  I can't recommend Carcassonne enough as a great family or casual game!


2 - Legendary (2012)
A few months ago I played Dominion for the first time with my wife and some friends and loved it.  That was my introduction to deckbuilders.  Then I picked up Star Realms and also loved it, especially since it was simple enough for my sons to play with me.  Then, while on a trip to Walmart my wife and sons saw Legendary and were intrigued.  On the way home we stopped off in our FLGS and noticed they had a copy of Legendary available for play.  So we ended up unexpectedly spending the afternoon playing.  Let me just say that the game is incredible!  It's a deckbuilder like any other, in some ways.  And totally unlike anything else I've played before or since in other ways.  Unlike most deckbuilders I've played now, Legendary is somewhat cooperative.  Each player is a super hero and they all have to work together to prevent the villains from escaping the city.  But there is a winner.  The hero who captures the most points worth of villains wins!  The card interactions were great and because of all the heroes, villains, henchmen, and scenarios there are nearly unlimited variations of the game.  And with tons of expansions available the game is a different beast every time it's pulled out.  I've heard that the stand-alone Legendary: Encounters is even better, so I can't wait to try that one out someday.  I've only played Legendary once now, but it's at the absolute top of my wishlist (OK, maybe sharing the top spot with Tash-Kalar).

1 - Dominion (2008)
Dominion was my introduction to deckbuilders.  I had seen it a lot, but never played it.  Then, while at a friend's house, my wife and I finally played it.  There's a reason why Dominion is the king of deckbuilders.  Yes, it's no longer the most innovative deckbuilder out there.  But it's super easy to learn, fast to play, and is a completely different game every time you play.  And throw in a few expansions and the possibilities are endless.  We got Dominion Big Box with the Prosperity and Alchemy expansions for Christmas and it's been one of the games we've played most since then.  We love the variety in setups and the ease of play.  My 8 year old son loves the game and wants to play all the time.  My 5 year old wants to like the game, but the speed and action in Star Realms is more to his liking, but hopefully in a year or two he'll grow to appreciate Dominion, too.  Dominion is currently sitting right there at the top of my favorite games list and I don't see it getting knocked out of the throne any time soon.  Just the fact that it's been around for over 6 years now and is still such a highly rated game bodes well for this remaining one of my favorites.  Add to that the fact that it's a great family game, and a great casual game, and it'll be getting game play for a long, long time, I'm sure.  Expect a full review of the game soon.

FYI, the games in the top image for the 2014 date are Machi Koro, Friday, DragonFlame, and Takenoko, four other games I've enjoyed playing.

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  1. Great post. I'm working on my own Best New To Me of 2014 post... hopefully it'll hit my blog before 2016.

    It's so weird to me that you encountered Legendary and Dominion at the same time, because I got in on Dominion (and out again after Seaside or so) pretty quickly.

    I've played a lot of physical and digital Star Realms, and just played the Crisis expansion a friend got. Me gusta!

  2. Thanks Todd! Let me know when you get your list up, I'd love to see it!