You’ve bought them as birthday presents, you’ve received them as Christmas gifts, you’ve stared at them online with lusty eyes, or you might just be looking to buy one with that oh-so-tempting Amazon gift card you got in your stocking. I am talking, of course, about 2015’s board games, and boy has it been a good year for them. Whether you’re simply curious about what came out of 2015 in the world of tabletop gaming, or looking to buy some new games with your newly acquired holiday cash, we felt that now is a more appropriate time than ever to give homage to the top board games of 2015.
Let’s just get right to it. Keep in mind that this list is in no order.
Codenames is a game that caught me, and many others, off guard. To say that this game is a massive hit among tabletop gamers would be an understatement; indeed, it’s the #1 party game on Board Game Geek, and just can’t seem to stay on the shelf no matter where it’s sold. A simple $20 party game, many have paid more than double that to get their hands on it during times of sparse inventory and high demand.
Given the unusually high amount of attention Codenames has received, especially being a party game (which often are met with lukewarm reception among dedicated gamers), I decided to give it a shot. After playing it, I couldn’t think of any reason why it’s so popular other than that it’s just fun. Really! There’s no standout mechanic here, nothing that jumps out, nothing that makes it particularly MORE compelling or unique than any other game. It’s just fun, and resonates well with just about everyone who plays it.
So, how does it work? Basically, there are a bunch of words on a table arranged in a grid, that hide 8-9 “spies” of two different teams. One person on each team has to give one word clues to their companions to get them to guess certain words on the board. Every word corresponds to a spy (or even worse, the insta-lose assassin), so the teammates have to carefully guess words that will reveal their own spies, and not the enemy team’s. For example, if two words were “apple” and “banana,” the spy master could say “fruit, 2” to signify that two of the words on the board are related to the word “fruit.” The real words are often not so simple as that example, and that’s where the game gets fun.
Ultimately, Codenames is a game about “mind-melding,” which is why it resonates so well with groups. Can the loving married couple outwit the two people in the room who just met each other? These kind of questions arise when you play Codenames, and in the end of the day, it’s just the perfect mixture of simple, addicting, and outright fun.
Price: $72.31 (Currently short in stock)
The Legacy experiment is something that first began with Risk, a game that can be quite controversial in the gaming world. Risk: Legacy, dating back to 2011, came out with a bold mechanic: a game that progresses and permanently changes with each session. In Risk: Legacy, decisions you made mattered. While something might benefit you in the current game, it might have serious repercussions five games down. The game tells somewhat of a story, a story that the players themselves create. Every session creates consequences, positive or negative, in the games to come, and the game mandates that you rip up cards and destroy various components so that the whole thing is irreversible. Risk: Legacy is over for good once it’s over, and many players have been known to frame their copies when it’s all said and done.
Enter Pandemic: Legacy. Despite the negative press that the gaming community gives to Risk, its Legacy version was a resounding success. Players have been clamouring for a new Legacy game ever since, and come 2015, we now have one in Pandemic: Legacy.
Although Pandemic Legacy has not been out for very long, it has already received accolades and high praise, almost across the entire board. People love Pandemic Legacy, even more than its Risk predecessor.
This one follows the same ideas as the Legacy game that came before; decisions are permanent, consequences follow, and the game shifts and morphs over every session until it is finally completed, its fate sealed for good. I suppose what gives Pandemic Legacy a strong sense of appeal is the game that it’s based off of. Pandemic has always been a co-operative game, and established itself as one of the best de-facto co-op experiences in the market, before co-op games were popular. Pandemic helped to spearhead the emergence of co-op games, so it’s no surprise that Pandemic Legacy appealed to a lot of people. While Risk Legacy was a game about destroying the world, Pandemic Legacy is a game about saving it, and working together with your friends to do so.
In a culture that’s currently obsessed with post-apocalyptic fiction, this game fits right into our 2015 cultural paradigm. It doesn’t hurt that, aside from that, the game itself is just fantastic.
Blood Rage is one of 2015’s Kickstarter poster boys. Indeed, Blood Rage began as a Kickstarter, and now enjoys life as a widely popular, mass-distributed game that’s fairly high in demand.
Eric Lang has grown even more as a designer since his previous releases, and has brought us the game we always wanted Chaos in the Old World to be. Blood Rage is a guys-on-a-map game, yes, but its spirit and depth surpass much of what we’ve seen in the genre to date, and I believe it has the diversity and power to cross boundaries as an ambassador between gamer demographics.
Blood Rage isn’t perfect. Some of the visual design is a bit off, and it’s far from an inexpensive game. Though not particularly complicated, it is definitely complex, so it does require a certain analytical approach to play that not every game group would be interested in. A bit of missed design space could have been used to improve replay value, but the game is strong enough to hold on its own even without the help of expansions.
Blood Rage’s theme is excellent, and is beautifully bonded with its mechanics to provide players with a flavorful and fun experience. Sadly, the thematic elements failed to accurately capture the details and essence of Norse culture and mythology, but this lack of consistency with the source material has no impact on Blood Rage’s stellar gameplay.
The best part about this game is its intensity. The nature of the action phase causes the whole board to rise to a boil, then release all at once when a player decides to start a battle. Blood Rage’s roller coaster of tension provides for a gripping, engaging experience, from the very start of the game to the bitter bloody end.-Mike, BGR Blood Rage Review
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, what are you waiting for?! Check it out!
T.I.M.E. Stories is a wonderful example of the ongoing, thriving innovation that we see in the game industry. It’s really exciting to be in a time where board games are evolving, changing, and progressing into new and unprecedented experiences, and T.I.M.E. Stories is somewhat of a pioneer in that regard.
Taking cues from the Legacy games mentioned in this list, T.I.M.E. Stories is a board game that transcends the “one and done” nature of your typical board game session, by creating an entire narrative for you and other players to explore. The game, self-titled as a “system” unto its own, uses “scenarios” to establish the gameplay context and objective. Each scenario is a deck of cards, and players will choose roles, explore the deck, and try to complete the scenario in as few tries as possible.
There are many stories to be told in T.I.M.E. Stories, and they might not be beatable in just one session. As such, T.I.M.E. Stories also implements a unique “saving” feature that allows you to pack up your game and continue right where you left off. The storytelling mechanics, overarching narrative, and ongoing nature of T.I.M.E. Stories makes it something unique indeed, and it’s definitely something to check out if the concept intrigues you.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
In a year with Forbidden Stars, Star Wars Armadas, Pandemic Legacies, and Blood Rages, a nice light game is always welcome, and Tiny Epic Galaxies is one of them.
Another Kickstarter success, Tiny Epic Galaxies is an addition to Gamelyn Games’ Tiny Epic series. Though we’ve already seen four Tiny Epic games, Galaxies is arguably the most popular of the bunch. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice game at its heart, and everybody who’s played a good dice game can know how welcome they are if you’re just looking for something fun and simple, but strategic enough to scratch that tactical itch. Every time you roll your dice in Tiny Epic, the results represent different things, and you can arrange your dice, take actions, and reroll in whichever way you choose to build and expand your own little “galaxy.”
Whoever obtains the most points through clever expansion of their galaxy wins the game. If you’re looking for something lighter, fun, and quick to play, this one will deliver.
In the board game indsutry, we’ve learned that, when Fantasy Flight Games announces a new board game, based off of a popular license, and packed inside a behemoth-sized big box, it’s something to pay attention to. While next year, this title goes to Star Wars: Rebellion, this year it goes to Forbidden Stars.
Forbidden Stars is based off of the popular Warhammer 40k series, and for many gamers, it’s the conflict game they never knew they always wanted. Yes, Forbidden Stars is a conflict game, where players command armies that are always at war with each other. One thing that I appreciate about Fantasy Flight is that, despite their huge budget, and the guarantee that players will buy their stuff, they still seek to innovate and challenge certain paradigms in modern game design.
Direct conflict games aren’t easy to get right. They’re either swingy, have excessive luck, and unfavorable bullying mechanics, or they’re overly balanced in such a way that the mechanics are so tight and “fair” that nothing big can really happen; in this instance the bombastic wargame might end up feeling more like a thoughtful euro. It seems like a compromise has been made in 4X games, where players can win not just by conflict, but through exploration, resource management, and growth. The problem here is that, if conflict is not forced, different players will have their own ideas about how much of a role it should play. In our games of Eclipse where people don’t want to be overly offensive, it’s easy to be accused of, or even just to feel like you’re being “mean.”
Forbidden Stars fixes these problems with a unique, objective-based system that forces players to battle each other, all the time, but in a way that’s not personal. Players move around the board, upgrading their armies and doing this and that, but the real goal is fulfilling those precious objectives. Sure, the players might get in your way, but isn’t that the point? Forbidden Stars was very well-received among both critics and gamers, and I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of it. Oh, and did we mention those miniatures are just beautiful? Definitely pick this one up if you’re a fan of war games.
7 Wonders Duel
7 Wonders! But for two players! Yes, this already existed in the base game, but not really. 7 Wonders Duel is optimized for two players, and brings over the core 7 Wonders experience, while also making tweaks and additions that change the game and make it feel like something fresh. In fact, after playing Duel, I’m a bit sad that the tweaked mechanics aren’t part of the original game.
7 Wonders Duel is one of the games in this list that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. Here are my closing thoughts of the game:
The game makes significant changes to certain aspects of the original game, almost exclusively for the better. It’s going to be hard playing 7 Wonders in the future without Duel’s highly improved military/science mechanics, and the new drafting system lends a unique personality of its own, ripe with strategies that simply aren’t an option in the pass n’ play style of the original.
Overall, in an industry where two-player games are becoming a highly sought after hot commodity, I can heartily recommend 7 Wonders Duel. At the end of the day, however, I believe the game stands better on its own than as an extension or remake of the original game. It is quite different in nature despite its fundamental similarities, and embracing these differences is what made the game fun for me. Do yourself a favor and try to look at the game as something new and unique, because if you’re expecting a perfectly faithful adaptation of 7 Wonders, you might feel like something is lacking. Let the game shine in the areas that it intends to, and you’ll have a grand old time.Zach, BGR Review
Price: $99 (High price due to unavailability; $50 MSRP)
Mysterium came in hot this year as a sort-of-deep party game, with strong appeal to both seasoned gamers and casual partygoers. The game is sort of a co-operative deduction game, where players have to take hints from a deceased ghost to solve a murder mystery. Mechanically, Mysterium is not unlike Dixit, where creativity is king. Mike had great things to say about it in his review:
Mysterium is a fantastic cooperative experience with an immersive theme, and it absolutely lives up to its hype. As soon as I heard about the premise around GenCon 2015 time, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.
While the game certainly isn’t without its flaws, they are easy to overlook given the big picture. It’s true—certain situations can be very frustrating if you’re not on the same wavelength as the ghost, and it’s possible to lose the game all of a sudden in overtime even if you played perfectly up until that point. These things might not normally be earmarks of a great game.
However, in Mysterium, the appeal is in the journey. Whether or not you win, whether or not your ghost and psychics understand each other, you’ll find that this is a spectacular game. I would recommend it to any of my friends in a heartbeat, no reservations.
Whether you’re having a family game night, a casual get-together with friends from work, or hosting a congregation of battle-scarred war gamers, Mysterium is a blast. Mike, BGR Review
Yet another new addition to Plaid Hat’s family of games, Specter Ops is a futuristic, cyperpunk-esque board game that has generally been met with positive reviews and good reception.
Described as a “sci-fi, stealth ops game of hidden movement,” Specter Ops is a game where players try to track down an infiltrator who is aware of their movements. Players can assume certain roles and utilize advanced technology to help them in their search, but the infiltrator also has access to his own tools. Although Specter Ops doesn’t tread exceptionally new territory, the consensus is that it does what it intends to do very well. Hidden movement games aren’t a new concept, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Specter Ops absolutely knocks it out of the park when it comes to production quality, offering gorgeous minis and a board/components that are overall extremely aesthetically pleasing.
Champions of Midgard
One Viking game on this list wasn’t enough, so we decided to add another. Champions of Midgard is, at its heart, a worker-placement game, and as such, as drawn comparisons to the worker placement games we all know and love, such as Lords of Waterdeep. When it comes down to it, however, Champions of Midgard is a different beast.
While the game is worker-placement, it adds a unique combat mechanic that invites players to be more open and aggressive with their intentions. While Lords of Waterdeep can have elements of scheming and subterfuge, the Vikings won’t have any of that, and the conflict in Midgard is open and visible to everybody. It’s no Blood Rage in terms of grisly Viking warfare, but the game does well to stand on its own, and has been praised by many as being its own unique game. Midgard is also praised for its high quality components, ease of play, and healthy amount of replayability. If Blood Rage is something you think you’d be interested in, but turns you off from its weight and style, Midgard might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Roll for the Galaxy
Roll, not Race, because yes, those are both games. Race for the Galaxy was (is) a popular game in its own right before Roll came along, but Roll DID come along, and it’s now just as appealing as its predecessor.
Both Roll and Race for the galaxy are engine-building games at their core. Despite their similarities, they are still different games. Roll has been praised for its pick-up-n’-play nature, and in a lot of ways, is a more approachable, simpler version of Race. On the other hand, many would argue that Roll has the same tactical depth as Race, and shouldn’t be perceived as a “lite” version of the game meant for more casual audiences.
Regardless of where you might stand on Roll vs Race, one thing about the game is clear: rolling dice is a lot of fun. In Roll, you roll a ridiculous amount of dice at once, and then you get to use them and rearrange them to play actions and make tactical decisions. Everyone I’ve talked to that’s played the game finds immense satisfaction in loading their cup with all those dice and spilling them on the table. Roll has quickly earned a reputation of being one of the best dice games in the market, so it’s definitely something to check out if that’s what you’re into.
If you’re looking a fun, spy-themed party game, Spyfall is probably the game you’re looking for. “But, what about Codenames?” Ah, great question. Codenames, while spy-themed, hardly feels like a spy-game (in my opinion). Codenames is, at its heart, a word-game/mind-reading/deduction game, and the only “spy” thing about it are the little pictures of spies.
Spyfall, on the other hand, makes one player into a spy, the spy which other players have to find out and expose. Every player is given a card with a location on it every round, but there’s always one spy, and players have to communicate with each other to establish who is “where,” and when it comes to the spy, he or she better have a convincing tale for the other players. The players have to identify who is the spy, while the spy has to identify the missing “secret” location for that round. This is a deduction game through and through, and has been very well-received as one of the up-and-coming party games of the year.
Steampunk Rally is an engine-building game. No, literally, it’s a game where you build engines. In Steampunk Rally, every player is an inventor that’s trying to make the next big steampunk invention. Using a “dice placement” mechanic, combined with familiar mechanics such as a card draft, players have to construct the machine that will win a race across the Swiss alps. It’s not all about your own machine in this game, as you also have the option of interacting with other opponents to sabotage their efforts.
What I like about Steampunk Rally is the uniqueness of its theme. While steampunk is a theme that’s ever-so-slowly rising in prominence, I really love the idea of creating a vehicle and participating in a race within a board game, as that’s something I haven’t seen done before. Steampunk will no doubt appeal to a wide amount of people, and the race mechanic is definitely intriguing on its own. Curious? Check it out!
Who doesn’t love a good tower defense game? Okay, while this isn’t tower defense, it is base defense, and the game has players defending against a deadly enemy called the “Hive.”
Xenoshyft is yet another Kickstarter baby of 2015, raking in $242,000. In terms of gameplay, the game combines deck-building, resource management, combat, and defense mechanisms to provide a thrilling experience that truly replicates an “onslaught.” Xenoshyft is also a co-operative game, and puts each player in a different role to utilize their own special abilities in unison to protect against the enemy threat. Even if all is quiet in Xenoshyft, you’re never completely safe. The game has been described as having survival horror elements, making this more than just a sci-fi alien invasion. Players have to be sure to be prepared against vicious surprise attacks, and you might just not live to see another day. Be careful!
While many seasoned gamers might disagree with Kittens being on this list, it is undoubtedly one of 2015’s most notable titles. In a phenomenon that I don’t fully understand, Exploding Kittens began as a Kickstarter title, and then proceeded to rake in eight million dollars, making it the most backed Kickstarter project of all time. That would be quite an achievement if it were only ranking among board games, but to beat every other Kickstarter, ever? That is simply unremarkable, and again, even I have no idea what created so much demand for Exploding Kittens.
That being said, it was funded (obviously), and with so much money to publish it, it’s definitely here to stay.
Exploding Kittens doubles as both a party game and a filler game. It’s fun to play with multiple people, but even better, it can be played very quickly, and it’s extremely easy to teach. It’s a simple card game, but it’s enjoyable, and it’s quite comical, depending on your own personal brand of humor. Exploding Kittens is essentially Russian Roulette. It’s very simple–you can play cards on your turn, and you end your turn by drawing a card. If you draw an Exploding Kitten, you lose. That’s all there is to it. The cards, of course, provide workarounds. Each player has a precious “defuse” which can prevent the explosion, and many cards allow you to peek through the deck, change it, shuffle it, steal cards from other players, or to skip turns entirely. As the deck diminishes, the threat of the exploding kittens becomes ever more palpable, and it’s fun seeing players become increasingly desperate to play whatever they can to avoid their demise.
I got Exploding Kittens for christmas, and to be honest, it wasn’t high up on my wishlist. I’ve played games “of this type” before, and they never appealed to me. I’m talking super casual card games with “lol so random” humor, such as Munchkin and Killer Bunnies. I’ve played Killer Bunnies, in fact, and hated it so much that I didn’t think there’d be any way in the world that I’d enjoy Kittens. I’m pleasantly surprised to say that I was wrong. I love Exploding Kittens. It’s remarkably easy to teach, it’s enjoyed by all, and it actually has enough strategy built in to where it feels satisfying to play. With a collection full of heavier games, I was actually glad to have Kittens in my collection as good filler material.
So, there it is. While it’s very difficult to narrow down 2015’s best games down to fifteen entries, I feel pretty good about this list. But, do you? Don’t be afraid to sound out your opinion in the comments!