We here at iSlaytheDragon play a lot of games over the course of a year, both because we love them and because we’ve set out to review as many of them as we can. So at the end of every calendar year, we like to look back and honor one game that stood out in some way. In the past, we’ve limited our award to a new game that was released within the last calendar year, but for 2013, we’ve decided to broaden our scope to include 2012 releases as well–both because of the unreliability of Essen imports and because we simply don’t get to play all the new games right when they’re released. Our winning pick is something that was introduced to us within the last calendar year, and our choice tends to lean toward thematic games (see our 2011 and 2012 winners), but we’ve given each writer a chance to include a “game that got away,” something that didn’t get chosen for top billing but that we individually put in contention to win it all.
Without further ado, our game of the year for 2013.
And the Winner Is…
Libertalia is a sneaky simultaneous role selection game wherein players are pirate captains nearing retirement who embark on three final campaigns to prove who is the piratiest pirate of them all. Players start the game with the same nine roles, but over the course of the game, players’ hands of roles can evolve as players reserve and retrieve different roles for different occasions. Libertalia is pure fun in a box. The components are stunning, the game is dripping with theme, and players are constantly interacting and trying to outguess what one another will play in each round. The game has thrilling moments of tension and revelation, and there are plenty of laughs to be had as well (as when three Brutes kill three Governor’s Daughters, or when everyone plays the Beggar card). Libertalia is, quite simply, a wonderful experience. (Here’s our review.)
If you haven’t heard of this game by now, well, congratulations, you’re about to learn about something awesome. Gravwell is a surprise gem that showed up at this year’s Gencon and wowed pretty much everyone who tried it out. The premise is simple: race to be the first to escape the mysterious 9th dimension by reaching the Warp Gate. The twist: When you move, you move towards the nearest object. Since the other objects are other players ships, that nearest object may change between the time you reveal your movement card and when you actually move. The end result is zany, hilarious game that is so easy to teach, has an excellent learning curve, and results in laughter and fun in every group I’ve introduced it to. The best part is, despite the unpredictability and whatnot, you still can play strategically, you can try to read your opponents, and you can try to intentionally screw them over while advancing your own position. And it all takes place in a little less than half an hour. If you haven’t had a chance to play it, you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible. (Here’s our review)
The Game That Got Away
Futurewolfie: X-Wing Miniatures
I try to pick a game actually from the year we’re awarding, but in this case, I hadn’t had a chance to play X-Wing until 2013. It is made up almost entirely of things I LOVE about board games. Beautiful miniatures, unique and fun powers, cool space battles, dice rolling. The free-form nature of the game creates exciting combat, and it doesn’t take too long to play. I love trying out different combinations of ships, pilots, and upgrades, and seeing what cool things I can do when these powers combine, and the result is always a blast. The only real problem with the game is that I can’t play it more often. A game like this deserves some serious kudos. And speaking of games that got away, can I include Star Trek: Attack Wing in this? Based on the same game system as X-Wing, it actually works really well with capital ships. Though the components aren’t as beautiful as X-Wing, Attack Wing does a great job of capturing an epic feel of massive ships firing torpedoes across each others’ bow. (Our review of X-Wing)
Spyrium is a worker placement game of resource production and conversion. Ho-hum. But wait! While the skin of the game may seem boring, the beating clockwork heart is a fascinating market system of supply and demand. The game revolves around clever placement and retrieval of workers in a market of nine cards. Do you place near the card you want? Or do you place your worker to make a card more expensive for someone else? Do you buy early, paying more but ensuring you get the card you want, or do you wait for the price to go down but risk the card being purchased by the enterprising entrepreneur on your left? The game is full of tension and calculation. The theme is admittedly thin, and since the economy is tight, Spyrium can be a bit of a brain burner, but each game has left me eager to play more. In fact, I may go so far as to call this my favorite worker placement game. (Here’s our review.)
Spielemitkinder: Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is an underrated gem from 2013, with a vibe reminiscent of Ticket to Ride, Kingdom Builder, or Takenoko. Namely, Cinque Terre is colorful, attractive, accessible, and laid-back. It’s a perfect gateway design for new players and families, a nice choice for a relaxed evening among casual gamers, and even a light respite for hardcore hobbyists. With four actions each turn, you will draw cards, move around the board, pick-up produce from the fields, and sell to the five different villages to earn lira and fulfill orders. Supply-and-demand varies every game, so there is replayability. Game play is simple, but requires planning, so it’s casual, yet stimulating. Turns are extremely quick, so there’s no downtime. And it all finishes up in around 60 minutes. The reason it gets away is because the theme is admittedly a little used and lackluster, although if you research the real Cinque Terre in Italy, it could be the start of a beautiful vacation… (Here’s our review.)
When I first heard about this game I was very intrigued. Then I saw some pictures and read some reviews and it sounded like a bit of a mess. Nearly a year passed before I finally got the chance to play it and boy did I regret waiting so long. What had seemed so confusing was actually hiding an incredibly elegant design which seamlessly combined many of my favorite mechanics (drafting, tableau building, resource management, simultaneous play). I like how the game balances several different areas allowing each to smoothly interact with the others: the player’s tableau, the central building area, and the deck. At the heart of the game you have a deck whose composition changes as you build new tiles in the central area. This introduces new cards while old ones leave (in the form of tableau building) when their tiles get built over. As the central area grows and changes the deck changes to reflect this and presents players with the proper choices. It’s organic and clever just like the crazy theme. This is a game that is hard to explain and amazing to experience. (Here’s our review.)