Czech Games Edition, 2015
This game took the board gaming community by storm. I told myself I was not going to get swept up into this hype, but I knew I probably would like this game because it is *similar* to the old word game Password. I played it at a board game meet up a couple weeks before Thanksgiving and yep… that was all I needed to know I was going to snag a copy. The day before Thanksgiving, I stopped by my FLGS with my mother as we were shopping for the last groceries for dinner the following day. I saw they had a copy of Codenames and I got it to play with family.
Codenames is best described as a word association game. The goal of the game is for a team to guess all of their words before the other team. Players are split into two teams, each team assigning one player to be the spymaster. A 5×5 grid of words is laid out on the table, consisting of both team’s words, neutral words, and the assassin word which ends the game immediately if guessed. On a team’s turn, the spymaster gives a one word clue and a number, indicating how many words that clue is associated with. Then, the rest of the team has a certain number of guesses before the other team takes a turn.
This game is very accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike and it is tons of fun (and a bit stressful)! It pushes players to stretch their clues to string together words that have nothing to do with each other. At a relatively low price point, Codenames is a must have for anyone who enjoys a good “party” game.
4. Alien Frontiers
Clever Mojo Games, 2010
Dice placement, area control
My second time at a board game cafe, I pulled this one off the self. I had heard about it and knew a little bit about the game, but what really attracted me to Alien Frontiers was the science fiction theme and the retro art on the box cover. We pulled out the components, stumbled through the rules, and played our very first game. I was WOWed! I was relatively new to the hobby so when I revisited the cafe, I played the game again – just to make sure I really did like it. Again, I had one of the best times!
Alien Frontiers is a worker placement game where players roll their personal supply of dice at the beginning of each turn – those will be their workers for that turn. Players race to colonize a planet, using these dice to collect resources, find alien artifacts, and build colonies. I really like the worker placement aspect of the game, adapting to the dice I roll. Low dice rolls are not punished as harshly in this game as in other dice games, but it is still better to roll high. There are ways to mitigate this by the use of certain special powers attained through the alien artifacts. I also really enjoy the area control on the planet – having majorities gives a player special powers as ing as they control that region. Alien Frontiers will stay in my collection for a long time.
3. Dice Masters
WizKids Games, 2014
Mike Elliott and Eric M. Lang
Dice pool building, head to head combat
I got sucked up into the Dice Masters craze pretty early on, acquiring Avengers V. X-Men and Uncanny X-Men around the same time. Dice Masters is a dice pool building two player game with similar mechanics to Magic the Gathering. Before a game, players construct a team of eight heroes to play with. Players start with 8 sidekick dice and place them in their dice bag. On a turn, the player draws 4 dice from their bag and rolls them. Each dice has energy sides and character sides. Energy can be used to buy dice to place in their dice bag. Characters can be used in the field to attack and defend against the opponent. Each player has 20 life and the player who gets their opponent down to 0 life wins the game!
The sets come in different themes, including Marvel, DC, Dungeons and Dragons, Yu Gi Oh, and soon TMNT. Mainly, I have cards and dice from the Marvel and DC sets, but there are some cards I do keep from the other ones because of their unique abilities. The game can be played straight out of the starter set box but there are booster packs essentially making Dice Masters a collectable dice game. I am lukewarm about collectable games but I will buy a booster every now and then This lands at #3 and was the game I played the most in 2015 clocking at over 50 plays.
2. Smash Up
Area control, hand management
I learned about this game on the Dice Tower’s top 10 list of games that look ridiculous but are actually really good games. I believe Tom mentioned Smash Up. The idea is players are able to choose two factions and shuffle together Smash Up feats factions such as… Ninjas, Dinosaurs with Lasers, Aliens, Princesses, Robots, Zombies, Ghosts, Giant Ants, and so on and so on. On first glance, the game does look pretty ridiculous!
Players then use their newly constructed deck (Zombie Wizards, Time Traveling Killer Plants, etc.) and plays actions and minions to fight over control of different locations on the table. Locations are scored once minion power reaches a critical mass, giving the players with the most power victory points. When a player reaches 15 victory points, the game ends and whoever has the most points wins the game.
Smash Up is very ‘in your face.’ For the confrontational ‘take that’ style, I love to play this two players with my partner. We really enjoy the different combinations this game provides and cannot wait for any future expansions. Plus, The Big Geeky Box is one of the best storage solutions for an expandable card game.
1. Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
Czech Games Edition, 2012
Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini
My favorite mechanism is worker placement and I really enjoy games which put a unique spin on the mechanic. Tzolk’in does exactly that, layering on a brain burning depth of strategy.
Before we begin, I do want to address the theme. While the theme does not impact the game or even comes through while playing the game, it is important to discuss how this theme was chosen and ask the question, is there a power dynamic here? I think there is. Clearly, the Mayan people were a real people and a good number of folks alive today are descendants of the Mayans. The theming on Tzolk’in portrays the Mayan people as mysterious, exotic, “not normal”, and pagan and further, profits from using their image/culture. We need to recognize what themes can put in our minds unconsciously and use these moments to discuss and challenge norms.
On to the game! On their turn, players either place workers or they pull workers, executing the action of the space. Players are placing their workers on the bottom of different wheels. After each round the central wheel spins, moving each other wheel by one. The longer a worker stays on the wheel, the better (mostly) the action usually is. The players are trying to manage their different resources by using these actions, to translate them into victory points. Tzolk’in has a depth of strategy and multiple paths to victory allowing the game to be replayable for the foreseeable future. Definitely a keep for me and my number 1 game I have played thus far.