Saturday, December 12, 2015

The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2015

The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2015 (plus 26 honorable mentions)

As I mentioned in my The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2014 post last year, I'm still relatively new to modern board games.  My list this year has a lot more current games than last year's list, but there are a few older games in the list, too.  And this year I played a LOT more new games than I did last year.  Nearly every week I played at least one new game, and according to my #52GameChallenge for GJJ Games - 2015 page, I played (so far) 134 new games and 186 total unique games this year!  So, from that list, here is my Top 10 New-To-Me Games for 2015.  But before we begin, a quick shout out to the games that almost made the list (there's 26 runner ups, so that's 36 excellent games here)...

Honorable Mentions in Alphabetical Order:
  • Alchemists - I played Alchemists once and loved it.  I really liked the combination of logic puzzle, worker placement, resource/card management, and deduction.  This is one I'd like to play a few more times.
  • Arcadia Quest - I played this once also and thought it was a great take on dungeon crawlers.  I liked the combination of cooperative and competitive play, the lack of a DM, the way players are encouraged to attack each other without gaining up on anyone, and how there is no player elimination so everyone is always in the game.  With only one game played I didn't get to experience how leveling up affects a longer campaign, but it's something I'd love to get back to.
  • Battle Sheep - A great abstract strategy game that hides a cutthroat game of deep strategy behind a guise of cute sheep and kid friendly theme and mechanics.  I love how this plays quickly so you can get in several games in a short period of time.
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig - Another game I only played once, but want to play some more.  Building crazy castles was fun and there was a good depth to the strategy.
  • Dead of Winter - Both time I played this the games were tense and very thematic.  One game we won and didn't have a traitor, another we lost and had a traitor that didn't have to do anything.  The game beat us all fair and square.
  • Deus - A fun game of expanding civilization and pleasing the gods.  This could easily have made my top 10 if I had a chance to play it more.
  • Elysium - Another game where the gods play a big role.  And another that may have made it to my top 10 if I was able to get it to the table more often.  I love the idea of drafting cards that you can only use the abilities of until you decide to score them for points.  It's a great balancing act.
  • Empire Engine - This is a very fun (as long as you don't ask my wife) micro game about managing resources, attacking neighbors, and trying to deduce what actions your neighbors are going to take.
  • Epic - I got this Kickstarter and didn't have a chance to play it for quite a while, but once I did, my son and I loved it.  It's a great MtG-like game that doesn't require spending a fortune on cards and plays intensely from start to finish.
  • FUSE - This is a real-time cooperative dice rolling game that plays in only 10 minutes.  Unlike Escape: Curse of the Temple, which has the exact same description, this game is more about solving puzzles and truly cooperating with the other players to make the most of the dice you get each turn.
  • Harbour - I played this mostly solo, and it plays very well solo, but the few games I've played with other players have been a lot of fun, too.  I love the fluctuating market mechanic. - GJJ Games Unboxing
  • Hive - This is a great two player abstract strategy game.  The big, blocky components, look, sound, and feel great and the unique movements of each piece make this a great strategic game that should appeal to anyone who likes games like Chess.
  • Lewis & Clark - I only got this to the table once and I loved it.  I'm not quite sure why it never made it to the table again, something I hope to rectify in 2016.  The historical context, mechanic where you use the deck you build in order to power worker placement actions, and artwork are all extremely interesting.
  • Looney Pyramids System (IceDice, Pharaoh, Treehouse, etc.) - A friend has been collecting Loony Dice games ever since his daughter 'accidentally' opened a package at our FLGS.  It turned out to be a great investment since the games are quick, casual, look great, and weather resistant.  These games can be taken pretty much anywhere and played, even in wind and rain!
  • Nuns on the Run - my wife grew up in the Catholic school system in Chicago so she just HAD to have this game when she saw it.  We always have a blast when we get it to the table!  I'm almost always the Abbes and Prioress and have never won, but it's always fun.
  • Pandemic - I quite enjoyed this, although my wife isn't a huge fan.  It's definitely deserving of it's place among top cooperative games.
  • Pentoggle - This was actually a prototype game that I played and reviewed which hasn't even hit Kickstarter yet.  The game was a huge hit among everyone I played with and my wife was very reluctant to let me return it.  Keep an eye out for this tile laying, pattern matching game, it's a winner! GJJ Games Review
  • Scotland Yard - Another hidden movement game very similar to Nuns on the Run.  My wife prefers Nuns on the Run and doesn't think you need both in a collection, but I quite enjoy the cooperative aspect of Scotland Yard.  Plus, I've actually won a few times =)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham - I enjoyed this every time I played, but my wife isn't a huge fan (she's not big on bluffing and deception games).  This has also been a huge hit at the game nights I host at my FLGS.
  • Takenoko - I actually first played this in 2014, but it was Christmas Eve, so I count this toward my 2015 games since that's when we really got into it.  This is a family favorite that we love introducing to new people.  The theme, artwork, and mechanics are all fun and accessible.
  • Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends - I really love the tactical pattern making aspect of this game, plus the theme, combined with abstract strategy is something I love.  My wife hates the game with a passion though.
  • Tiny Epic Defenders - Technically I first played Tiny Epic Defenders in 2014, but it was a rough PnP version that I liked enough to back the full game on Kickstarter.  This isn't necessarily the best coop game out there, but I love its simplicity and how the difficulty ramps up.  This is a ton of fun to play solo and coop with my sons. GJJ Games Review (prototype) - GJJ Games Unboxing
  • Tsuro - I love this for how easy it is to play, how quickly it plays, and how well it scales from 2-8 players.  It's a great tile laying game that can easily be introduced to new and younger gamers.
  • Tzolk'in - I only played this worker placement game once, but absolutely loved it.  It'll definitely have to hit the table a few times in 2016.  The worker placement mechanic, and how benefits increase the longer your workers are in play is wonderful.
  • Valley of the Kings: Afterlife - This is another game that will likely get more game play.  I really liked the card interactions and the crumbling pyramid aspect of the game is quite interesting.
  • World of Smog: In Her Majesty's Service - The component quality in this game is incredible.  It's probably my best looking game.  And it's a real great puzzle game, too.  It feels different at 2 players than it does at 4, but it still provides an interesting, fun time.
And now for the top 10, starting with number 10.

10. Snake Oil (2010 - Jeff Ochs - Out of the Box Games) - Snake Oil is a party game in which players create crazy products that they try to sell to another player, who is an equally crazy customer.  I'm not usually big on party games, although I occasionally enjoy Scattergories, or Apples to Apples with the right group, and when I received a copy of the stand-alone expansion Snake Oil: Party Potion it was a while before I was able to convince my wife to give it a try.  Finally some friends of ours came over and they like party games, so I pulled it out.  And hilarity ensued.  It had been quite a while since we had last laughed that hard.  Let me tell you, trying to sell a toddler a Butt Volcano isn't as easy as you'd think, especially when there's a Cookie Lake also up for grabs.  We had so much fun with the small expansion game that we went and bought the full game so that we have tons of additional cards to use.  The game has gotten a few additional plays since then (it still needs to be played in the right company), and every time it's resulted in riotous laughter.  You probably won't see many party games on any of my top ten lists, but Snake Oil quickly became a family favorite.

9. Tiny Epic Galaxies (2015 - Scott Almes - Gamelyn Games) - This was probably my most anticipated game of 2015.  I've loved the previous Tiny Epic games designed by Scott Almes so when Tiny Epic Galaxies launched on Kickstarter I backed it on day one and eagerly followed its record setting campaign (the highest grossing campaign in Gamelyn Games' history and big enough to make it onto the 10 most funded and backed tabletop games of all time).  I received the game a few months ago and absolutely love it.  The dice mechanics can sometimes feel a bit random, but there's usually plenty of opportunity to mitigate the luck.  There's quite a bit of strategy, just a bit of take-that interaction, and a ton of fun.  The solitaire variant can be a bit swingy, but it's still a great way to spend a half hour or so.  The Tiny Epic games have yet to disappoint and I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes' Call and can't wait for the launch of the next campaign for Tiny Epic Western.

8. The Last Spike (2015 - Tom Dalgliesh - Columbia Games) - The Last Spike is a redesign of an older game from the 1970s.  This update removes the roll-and-move mechanic and cuts down on luck drastically, resulting in a very streamlined strategy game that includes elements of market speculation, semi-cooperative route building, and just a touch of luck.  This is an easy to play and teach game that is great for both gamers and non-gamers alike.  It's definitely an underrated gem, so check it out if you get the chance!

GJJ Games Review - The Last Spike
7. Tales of the Arabian Nights (1985/2009 - Anthony J. Gallela/Eric Goldberg/Kevin Maroney/Zev Shlasinger - Z-Man Games) - This is an odd game.  It's not really much of a game, but more an experience.  It doesn't really matter who wins or loses, it's the journey and stories that unwind that are key to enjoying Tales of the Arabian Nights.  This is a game that my wife saw and really wanted, so it was her Mother's Day present (along with the next game on this list, which also isn't very gamey).  Think of Tales of the Arabian Nights as more of a giant Choose Your Own Adventure story.  Each turn players are presented with a series of choices depending on the characters' locations, abilities, time of day, and more.  Depending on the choices the players make all sorts of crazy things can happen.  There's a bit of chance in each encounter (unless your character has the skills to influence the die), but that just keeps things from getting too predictable.  If you can dream it, it can happen in Tales of the Arabian Nights.  Never thought you'd end up as a sex-changed, beast-formed vizier?  Well, that might happen!  We've since had several nights of wondrous adventure playing this.  I've also downloaded a few variants (some of which are available in the older copies of the game) that can make the game a bit more competitive, but honestly you don't need them.  The game is an incredible experience all on its own.

6. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (1981 - Raymond Edwards/Suzanne Goldberg/Gary Grady - Ystari) - This is another game my wife wanted for Mother's Day that is quite a bit different than any other game.  It's not so much a game as an experience.  In it players take on the role of the Baker Street Regulars, tracking down clues to a mystery.  At the players disposal is a map of London, a London Directory of the addresses of everyone in London, a collection of newspapers (one per case, plus all the papers from previous cases), and a casebook.  There are ten cases in the game (plus some fan-made cases online and hopefully an expansion coming in 2016), which may not seem like a lot since they can't be replayed easily, but the amount of entertainment in each case is incredible.  Despite a number of typos, the story that unravels around each mystery is fascinating.  And each case contains one or more side cases as well.  Once you think you've solved the case you get to compare how well you did with how well Sherlock was able to do.  Or, make that a comparison of how poorly you did with how well Sherlock did.  But the score isn't the point of the game.  The point is trying to figure out the mysteries that are concealed in each case, following each lead wherever it takes you, using the clues to piece together a plausible story.  Each case is a puzzle.  And while I still have my doubts about how Holmes solved a few cases (even after getting the answer I'm not sure that the clues had the answers), I've always had a great time racking my brain, bouncing ideas off my wife, and working together to stumble through the streets of London in pursuit of the truth.

5. Five Tribes (2014 - Bruno Cathala - Days of Wonder) - Five Tribes is one of those games that seems to receive a lot of mixed reviews.  We were hesitant to purchase this one at first because some people really seem to dislike it.  But the mancala-esque mechanic seemed very family friendly and we tend to like both worker placement and puzzle games, so this seemed like it would be a good addition to our collection.  And let me tell you, I'm super glad we did!  The game mechanics are simple enough that my 6 year old was able to pick it up quickly, yet the patterns, puzzles, and tactical strategy the game creates are good for even adult gamers.  (Not to mention that my 6 year old is now a fiend at this game and knocks the socks off of the adults he plays against as often as not.)  We have the latest printing, so the 'slave' controversy isn't an issue with our copy, but whatever version you have access to, this is definitely worth trying out.

4. Bullfrogs (2015 - Keith Matejka - Thunderworks Games) - Unfortunately I missed out on the Kickstarter for Bullfrogs last year, but fortunately I won a copy from Cardboard Insanity this summer and I'm super glad I did.  Within a few weeks of receiving the game it quickly became one of my most played games of the year.  The game combines highly interactive abstract tactical strategy with thematic mechanics and excellent artwork.  A 2 player game takes 25-30 minutes and a 4 player game is about 40-45 minutes.  The game is pretty quick to teach and plays great with 2-4 players.  This has taken the top spot for abstract strategy games for me, ousting my previous favorite, Rise!.  Plus I've had the opportunity to meet and play games with the designer, Keith Matejka, a few times at Protospiel events and he's an all around great guy! =)

3. Hyperborea (2014 - Andrea Chiarvesio/Pierluca Zizzi - Asmodee) - I absolutely love the idea of games about exploring, building up technology, and battling your opponents.  But I despise random chance based combat systems.  That's why Kemet ranked so high on last year's list.  This year I was fortunate enough to win another game that combines these great elements into a totally unique game format.  Hyperborea is more about building your realm's skills and abilities, spreading out and controlling areas, and occasionally attacking your neighbors.  Hyperborea uses an interesting 'bagbuilding' mechanic where you increase your realm's strength in various areas (like movement, attack, construction, science, commerce, and growth) by adding cubes for each skill to a bag.  Then on each turn you draw cubes from the bag and allocate them to take actions in the various areas.  The more science cubes you have the more frequently you'll be able to make discoveries, movement cubes help you move, etc.  But you really need to maintain somewhat of a balance because each skill has actions that require the use of other skills as well.  It's a super interesting mechanic that moves the combination of strategy and chance of a deckbuilding game into a 4x and resource management style of game that I absolutely love.

2. Terra Mystica (2013 - Jens Drögemüller/Helge Ostertag - Z-Man Games) - There's a reason Terra Mystica has been the #2 ranked board game on Board Game Geek since its release in 2013.  The game really is that awesome.  Terra Mystica is 100% strategy.  There is no chance, no luck at all.  Yet it's not like chess.  It's fairly thematic with variable player powers.  And, though the rulebook makes the game sound daunting, once you learn the mechanics it's actually pretty simple.  Each turn you only have a few options of what to do, but the problem is that every option looks just as good as every other option.  Terra Mystica is the type of game where one mistake can be very difficult to recover from, however you may not realize you made that mistake until much later in the game.  That's not a bad thing because everyone is in the same boat.  Terra Mystica is a game about solving a new puzzle every game.  How do you maximize your resources given the game's current state.  And the design of the game is super elegant.  All the buildings you can build are sorted and stored on a game board and as you use buildings the benefits they provide are revealed right on the game board.  A potentially very complex system of interactions is displayed clearly and concisely in a language independent interface.  The whole thing is ingenious and I love this game!

1. Splendor (2014 - Marc André - Space Cowboys/Asmodee) - There is no game that I played more in 2015 than Splendor.  I got more games of Dominion and Star Realms in, but most of those were solitair on the app.  Splendor was played 30 times with the actual game, and will probably be played even more before the year is out.  We bought this last year to be the family's New Year's Eve game, however we ended up going to a friends' house for New Year's Eve, so we played on New Year's Day.  And then played again.  And then a few more times over the next few days.  We absolutely loved the game.  And to add to the splendor, we blinged the game up with large acrylic gems and gold coins to the game to use instead of the chips (although we often use the chips, too).  We absolutely love the easy rules yet deceivingly deep game play.  This is a game we can quickly teach to new players, they can pick up super quick, yet there are a variety of strategies every game that change depending on the particular cards that come up.  There's just enough luck that inexperienced players can play on a fairly even ground with experienced players, however as you get to know the game you'll definitely figure out more about the various strategies and which ones work best in different situations.  I haven't played Camel Up, but in my opinion Splendor should definitely have won.  It's a wonderful gateway game, filler game, and is just all around fun.  I expect to have a lot more plays of this in 2016 as well, and probably for years to come.

GJJ Games Review - Splendor

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.


  1. I'm pleased to hear your family is enjoying The Last Spike and that it ranks in your top 10 for 2015!