Here we go again – my look into the last decade of gaming to celebrate my tenth anniversary in the hobby. In fact, this month is the official anniversary – I registered for BGG on August 30, 2007. As for this series, we’ve reached 2013, so here are eleven games from that year. As always, this list isn’t comprehensive or ranked – it’s just eleven games I’ve played and liked.
Castellan (Beau Beckett, Steve Jackson Games) is a two-player area enclosure game, though it can be played with up to four if you have two sets. On your turn, you can play a card or cards from your own personal deck (everyone has the same deck), which will allow you to collect wall pieces. These plastic structures include short walls, long walls, and towers. Your goal is to enclose different courtyards with your walls, which you will then claim with keeps that score points for the number of towers surrounding the area. Once all the castle pieces have been used, the game ends and the high score wins.
Castellan is kind of like the pencil-and-paper game Dots, but with a good deal more strategy involved. It’s definitely a game of figuring out what to use and when, as well as a game of trying not to set up your opponent(s). The pieces are really solid, and the game is a lot of fun. Definitely a far cry from Steve Jackson’s typical Munchkin fare.
The Duke (Jeremy Holcomb/Stephen McLaughlin, Catalyst Game Labs) is an abstract game in the tradition of Chess. Each player begins with the same three pieces on a 6×6 grid – a Duke and two Footmen. On your turn, you may move a piece currently on the board, or you may draw a new piece and place it so it is adjacent to your Duke. Pieces are square wooden tiles that display a diagram of how they move. When you move a piece, you’ll then flip it to its other side to display a whole new way to move. The object is to pin your opponent’s Duke down so it cannot move without being captured. If you do, you win.
This game gets my vote for best game of 2013 (and was the subject of one of my favorite posts I’ve ever done on this site – The Meeple’s Court Reviews The Duke). I love how it took Chess, a game I really don’t enjoy, and added enough randomness and variability to make the system both interesting and tolerable for me. I respect how Chess has managed to survive for hundreds of years, but it is so studied and dissected that all the fun is gone – a more experienced player will always kick a newbie’s tail. I like how The Duke, while still rewarding skill, makes things a little less predictable. Catalyst reworked the game with a Viking theme in 2015 (called Jarl).
Dungeon Roll (Chris Darden, Tasty Minstrel Games) is a push-your-luck dicey dungeon crawl. In each of three rounds, you’ll begin by rolling seven dice to represent your party. Each dungeon level you enter will also roll dice, with this number increasing the deeper you go. Each challenge you meet (monsters, dragons, treasure chests) must be resolved using your party. If you can ever NOT defeat an obstacle, you’ll get no experience for the round. However, if you decide to stop before this happens, you’ll get loot and experience. After three rounds, the player with the highest experience total wins.
Dungeon Roll has taken a lot of flak over the years for being both multiplayer solitaire and too deterministic. These complaints are valid – there’s nothing anyone can do to affect your game, and the decisions are quite frequently very obvious. However, I see this as a really good solo challenge, and can work as a two-player game with players taking turns to roll for their heroes and for the dungeon. I enjoy setting up tournaments – pit the heroes against each other and see who will be the last one standing. This game has the honor of being the ONLY game I’ve ever Kickstarted.
Forbidden Desert (Matt Leacock, Gamewright Games) is the follow up to the very successful Forbidden Island from 2010. In Forbidden Desert, players are working together to find all the parts to a legendary flying machine. However, there’s a sandstorm moving through the area burying parts of the desert in sand. You also have to contend with the sun and be sure to drink enough water so you don’t die of thirst. When players have collected all four parts of the machine, they must bring them to a certain spot and put them together to escape.
Forbidden Desert is a much more complex game than Forbidden Island, and it’s more challenging as well. They have similar plots, but the way you go about is very different. The sandstorm mechanism is pretty brilliant, and players very quickly find out that they have to stay together or die alone. Both games have great narratives, though I think Forbidden Island’s is a little stronger. I also think Forbidden Island is just about the perfect gateway cooperative game, but Forbidden Island makes for a pretty perfect next step.
Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension (Corey Young, Cryptozoic Entertainment) is a space race game where players are trying to make it home by using gravity to their advantage. In each of the six rounds, players will first draft a hand of six cards (three of which are known when drafted). You’ll then play a card simultaneously with the other players, and reveal. Results are resolved in alphabetical order (there are 26 cards in the game). Some will pull you towards the closest object, others will repel you away from the closest object. Others will pull other objects toward you. Your goal is to be the first to escape, or to be the furthest ahead at the end of six rounds.
I haven’t played this one much, but I really enjoyed my first plays. It’s very simple, very engaging, and has a significant amount of push-your-luck available in the programming phase, which makes it highly enjoyable to me. This is one I really need to add to my collection sometime. It was reprinted by Renegade Games in 2014, and I think they’re still producing it.
Impulse (Carl Chudyk, Asmadi Games) is a space 4X card game. The board is built in a hexagonal shape using cards, and each player has a base in a corner. The first thing you’ll do is add a card to the end of the Impulse row, which is a series of actions available to everyone during their turn, so you’ll want to put out things that will help you and no one else. Different actions that could be taken are Command (move your ships), Draw cards, Build a new ship, Research new techs, Execute the action on a card in your hand, Sabotage enemy ships, Trade cards for points, Mine new minerals, or Refine minerals into points. The game ends when someone gets to 20 points.
The 4X genre is typically characterized by grandiose presentations and a lot of stuff. This game managed to pull it off with 108 cards and some plastic ships. It’s a pretty worthy addition to Chudyk’s oeuvre, though not quite as great to me as his previous efforts Glory to Rome and Innovation. The second edition of this game is due to be published later this year by Czacha games.
Special note: Impulse was officially released in 2014. However, a prerelease version was issued in 2013, making it eligible for this list.
Mascarade (Bruno Faidutti, Repos Productions) is a social deduction game for up to 13 players. Each player is randomly dealt a character, which is displayed to everyone before being flipped face down. On your turn, you can look at your character, swap characters (or not) with someone else, or claim the special power of a character. Special powers will give you benefits, and if no one challenges you, the benefits are yours. However, someone else can also claim that character. The person who is right takes the action, while the incorrect person loses a coin. If you are the first to 13 coins, you win.
I’m not crazy about social deduction games, but I think this one does it well simply because it effectively mixes in special powers with no completely useless roles. It’s also very attractive to look at, plays quickly, and can accommodate a relatively large number of players. It’s fun.
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (Mike Selinker et al., Paizo Publishing) took the Pathfinder RPG setting and translated it into a cooperative card game. On your turn, you’ll be drawing a card from the location you’re currently in. It could be a boon, an ally, a spell, or even an enemy. Whatever it is, you’ll have to resolve it, then your turn ends (unless you’re able to discard a card to keep exploring). There are several locations in play, and one contains a Villain that you’ll have to corner and defeat. If any player’s deck runs out, they are out of the game, and if all players are out of cards, the team loses. But if you manage to defeat the Villain, you win.
The fun in this game is the ability to customize your deck and use it over the course of a campaign. The challenges are pretty tough as well, especially since you often have to rely on die rolls to see if you meet certain checks. It’s a pretty immersive game, and is fun to play. I’ve only played once in its physical form, but have played to app a few times and like it. New sets and modules keep getting released for the game, with the most recent being Mummy’s Mask in 2016.
Rampage (Antoine Bauza/Ludovic Maublanc, Repos Productions) is a dexterity game about monsters terrorizing Meeple City (in fact, it was later renamed to Terror in Meeple City). On your turn, you have two actions. You can move by flicking your monster disc to another area. You can drop your monster on a building to try to clear floors of meeples. You can flick a vehicle to try to inflict damage on buildings or other monsters. And you can blow on buildings to try to knock them over. At the end of your turn, you eat loose meeples in your area, trying to collect sets to fulfill scoring requirements. The player with the high score at the end of the game wins.
This is a big, dumb game. There’s not much in the way of strategy, just trying to wreak as much havoc as possible. Monsters get special powers and individual scoring opportunities, but it’s mostly about destroying the 3D board consisting of buildings held up by meeples. It’s a lot of fun to play, just be aware of flying meeples. The game was renamed in 2014, presumably because there’s an 80s video game of the same name and concept, and no one wanted confusion.
Sushi Go! (Phil Walker-Harding, Adventureland Games) is a card-drafting game very much in the same vein as 7 Wonders, but with sushi. In each of three rounds, players will get a hand of 7-10 cards. They choose one, play it, then pass the rest. Different types of sushi score different points, and each in different ways. You score at the end of each round, and the player with the most points wins.
This is an extremely simple game that takes the 7 Wonders core and distills it into a much lighter and faster game. It’s fun, and probably a good gateway to 7 Wonders. Gamewright picked the game up in 2014, and the system got expanded to Sushi Go Party! in 2016.
Two Rooms and a Boom (Alan Gerding/Sean McCoy, Tuesday Knight Games) is a large scale social deduction game. Players are divided given roles and divided into two different rooms. In your room, you’re trying to figure out who is on your team (Red or Blue), and also trying to find the President (Blue team) and the Bomber (Red team). After five minutes, each room will send some people to the other room. The next round is four minutes, then three, then two, then one. After the fifth round, the President and Bomber are revealed, and if they’re both in the same room, the Red team wins. If not, the Blue team wins. Other roles may have their own win conditions.
I say I don’t really like social deduction games, but here’s two on the same list. Two Rooms is fun because it adds an element of role-playing. There’s plenty of wild guessing, as in Werewolf, but there’s also a good amount of deduction. As you figure out your team, you’re going to be having discussions and comparing notes, and you really want to protect/kill the President. There’s a good variety of roles, and it makes for a good time, even if you don’t always have much control over the outcome.
Overall, 2013 was not my favorite year for gaming, but there were some good games to come out. What did I miss? Let me know, and thanks for reading!