It’s that lovely time of year again when we all come together to celebrate the greatness of the tabletop hobby. Yes, my friends, my compatriots, it’s GAME OF THE YEAR time, and choosing a top game for 2014 turned out to be quite the feat! Our team spent days talking back and forth about which game deserved the top honors. We narrowed down a list of something like 30 candidates to a Best Game and a Runner Up.
There is a small set of criteria we use to help narrow down the selection. First of all, have we played the game? As much as any game can look cool, we can’t judge it if we haven’t played it. Then we try to factor in production quality, innovative mechanics, accessibility of gameplay, and, well, just how fun a game is. Obviously a Game of the Year choice is very subjective. But you should know we’re right. Kenith will back us up.[fifth width=”30px”]–[/fifth][three_quarters][plain]RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWRRRR!!!!! Was that scary enough?[/plain][/three_quarters][fifth width=”20px”]–[/fifth][fifth width=”100px”][/fifth] [full][/full] [fifth width=”30px”]–[/fifth][fifth width=”70px”][/fifth][three_quarters][plain]You’re the man.[/plain][/three_quarters] [full][/full] [fifth width=”30px”]–[/fifth][three_quarters][plain]. . .[/plain][/three_quarters][fifth width=”20px”]–[/fifth][fifth width=”100px”][/fifth] [full][/full] [fifth width=”30px”]–[/fifth][fifth width=”70px”][/fifth][three_quarters][plain]Dragon! You’re the dragon. Sorry.[/plain][/three_quarters] [full][/full]
Oh, and we all got to pick one game that “got away” and did not get selected as game of the year. Plenty of love to go around.
Without further ado, lets start with our Writer’s Picks…
For our writer’s picks, we really have no criteria. It’s up to each writer how they want to pick their “game that got away.” All that matters is whether they liked it and felt like it deserved recognition.
So, check out our picks (and why we picked them) or just skip down to our overall choices for best game of 2014.
There are about 100 games I’d love to give a shout-out to here, but I definitely never try to sneak in extra games where only one belongs. So after hemming and hawwing and being generally indecisive – which is perhaps a good thing, because there were so many solid, unique, interesting, quality gaming experiences to pick from – I finally settled on the obvious.
It’s no secret I love space, I think dice are fun, and combining the two almost guarantees a hit with me. But this year, of all the “mini-4X” games oozing out the cracks, Quantum really felt like it deserves some recognition. The game is not too complex – you get 3 actions that allow you to move/attack, build ships, research, and conquer planets. Dice track everything – they’re your ships, the movement points for each ship, your combat resolution, your research level, and your domination level. The faster ships are easily taken down while your slower ships plod along but crush everything they encounter. Regardless, you’ll need a healthy mix of all your ships to succeed.
Once you ‘get’ the ship abilities, it becomes very easy to do things in Quantum that just feel cool and clever. You’ll be swapping your ships, transporting them, re-sequencing them, and all manner of ridiculousness that only gets supercharged further when you start unlocking new technologies. And, while Quantum definitely rewards success with further power, I was surprised to find that it was difficult to run away with victory – even though you had spicy new powers to work with, you still needed to conquer planets, and with fewer uncontrolled planets available it becomes easier for other players to block you. Even if you do run away with victory, the game only last about 30-40 minutes so it’s easy enough to just start a new game. And it gets even more interesting when you start using wonky board setups or inventing your own layouts.
I love it with 2 players, I love it with 4, and if you’d like to play Quantum with me I will certainly say yes!
Did I mention the beautiful artwork?
It is very likely that Villainous Vikings: Voyage to Valhalla flew right under your radar. Although it made enough splash in its own right when Victory Point Games came out and admitted they released it under-developed, promptly halted sales, and fast-tracked a second edition with better graphic design, clarity, and refined rules. It’s that improved edition that is worth a recommendation as a near miss for Game of the Year. I guarantee this design would have garnered greater attention had a larger publisher released it. VPG is a solid stand-up company, but their titles are almost always criminally underrated because components are produced in-house and don’t compare with snazzier productions coming out of China.
Be that as it may, Villainous Vikings pulls off one of the more difficult tricks in the hobby: it smoothly blends elements of both Ameritrash and Euro games. In Voyage to Valhalla, you embody the persona of a famous (or mythical) Viking leader – with his/her varying powers and abilities. Sailing your longboat around Europe and North Africa, you will raid various locations, trade with others, colonize settlements, and fight other sea captains.
The design employs action point allowance, so downtime is minimal. There are plenty of options in interacting with locations around the board, but not a paralyzing array of them. It has a familiar set collection aspect, intuitive victory point scheme, and a basic economic component that makes sense and is easy to track. The combat system is unique, so that it never feels like a war game – because it’s not. Yet player interaction is direct and meaningful, but not devastating, and no one is ever eliminated. There is some randomness, but that is balanced well with sound tactics and a couple of mechanics to mitigate unlucky rolls.
With a popular theme that is adequately integrated, Villainous Vikings offers varying strategy, tons of replay value, and is simply a lot of fun.
When Fields of Arle was first announced there were some that questioned whether we needed yet another farming/harvest game from Uwe Rosenberg. On the surface it may seem that way. We already have Bohnanza, Agricola, At the Gates of Loyang, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, and Caverna. How much space is left to explore? Fields is proof that there is plenty. It defies the idea that sticking to a theme means churning out the same game over and over. But that’s only part of what makes it special. Rosenberg’s games have been getting more personal and biographical until he finally arrived home in Fields. Saying that this is “just another farming game” greatly understates the beauty of Uwe modeling Fields after the village where his father was born. This game represents his heritage and it’s incredibly special to share in its narrative as you explore the expansive possibilities.
There’s a sense of discovery in Fields that brings this world to life. You start in the summer with four workers that can choose from 15 possible actions. Should they work the fields in preparation for the coming harvest? Raise livestock to provide food for the harsh winter ahead? Build dikes or cut peat to make room for construction? Improve your tools so that you can work more efficiently in the future? That’s barely scratching the surface of what you can do. Add in the randomly selected buildings for even more variation. Fields come closer to being a true sandbox then any other game in my collection. There’s even a solo option for when you want to build a village on your own. Fortunately the wealth of options doesn’t result in extended downtime as it was designed specifically for two players. So grab a companion or come alone to experience this compelling glimpse of life in East Frisia.
Jennifer’s Pick: Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter combines storytelling, gorgeous art, and immersive theme into an interactive, post-apocalyptic survival experience delivered via a board game. It’s a “meta-cooperative” game where players are attempting to win as a group while simultaneously trying to achieve their personal objectives. It’s possible that everyone will win, everyone will lose, or some will win and some will lose. Beyond that, the Crossroads cards add another level of decision making and storytelling, forcing players to make public choices that may affect the entire group. I love Dead of Winter because it’s the board game equivalent of playing through a movie script, only the players get to decide how the story will play out. Dead of Winter is appealing to a variety of groups and ages, and can be a great game to bring tweens and teens to the table. You don’t even have to love zombies to like this game because zombies aren’t the main focus; survival is. Fans of dystopian comics, books, and movies owe it to themselves to play this game.
Meghan’s Pick: Eldritch Horror
Eldritch Horror came out late in 2013 and I did not fully experience it until 2014; so it is my 2014 “game that got away”. When it comes to a game that is immersive, thematic, fun and challenging, I look no further than to Eldritch Horror. The rules aren’t terribly complex and become very intuitive quickly. The difficulty comes from the scenarios ofthe game, which can make victory hard to acheive. I always have an amazing time playing this game, even when we get slaughtered. It is the one game that I can consistently get to the table with gamers and non-gamers alike. The cooperative aspect to it lends itself easily to introducing the “non-gamers” to the hobby. I find it is agame that you can talk about long after you have played because the stories are so well done that they suck you in and don’t let you go.
2014 Runner Up: Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a lovely, easy to learn game where you’re a contractor who’s trying to build the best and biggest castle for the aforementioned Mad King Ludwig. The trick is that you don’t just get to buy and add rooms to your castle at set prices and with every room to choose from. That would be boring. Instead, players alternate being the Master Builder who sets the prices for the available rooms each round. This creates a balancing act of trying to set the prices high enough to mess up your opponent’s plans, without setting them so high that you can’t afford to buy anything yourself, all while figuring out how to make the best use of the rooms that are on the table. It’s the kind of game where you can revel in some solid decision making, but even if the subtleties of strategy elude you, you can still enjoy building your nifty castle because the game is just fun. People (non-gamers included) love playing with the rooms, creating fabulous layouts, and having something to look at once the game ends. Well, at least until you tear it apart to play again, which you’ll want to do.
Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for…
Take an enormous, coffin-sized box, pack it to the brim with plastic miniatures and hex tiles, add in ghosts, combat, exploration, ruins, cities, and toss in a thick rulebook for good measure, and what’ve you got?
You’ve got a lot of presuppositions you need to deal with on your own time, because Hyperborea is not the trashy, hyperthematic, hot mess of rules you were thinking of.
Instead you’ve got a massive game driven by an ingenious new mechanic. You activate actions by filling up rows of colorful cubes, cubes you draw from a bag. You start with one of each color, but as the game progresses you can add new cubes by your preference. As each cube is weighted towards a specific type of action – combat, movement, recruitment, production, point-collecting, and science, adding more of a color will make you more efficient at that sort of action. Of course, you’ll still need a mix of all the colors to get your work done that you’ll have to carefully balance your wants and needs. It’s such a neat, clever mechanism to drive a civilization game that it only takes a few rounds to click and then you’re off to the races!
But it doesn’t stop with the bag building; there are three main courses you can pursue to score major points. You can build up armies and control the board; you can generate an efficient point-pushing machine; and you can invest in new technologies which not only give you points but make your society better at what they do. You’ll probably need to invest in at least two, if not three, but I was amazed that I could spend my days warring and destroying Andrew while he practically stayed off the board and church out technology and point crystals, and our scores were very close at the endgame.
While it might not be quite so thematic as to fully satisfy the extremely hardcore “ameritrash” gamer (seriously can we come up with a new term yet?) Hyperborea has enough theme to keep it fun and streamlined, efficient mechanisms that aren’t too difficult to learn. And you can still chain together some very exciting turns with the right mix of abilities, cube draws, and cities on the board.
Hyperborea receives our 2014 game of the year award for it’s innovation, for its excellent balance of mechanisms, and for merging theme and rules into one beautiful package.
What do you think? Do you think another game deserved the award? Let us know in the comments![fifth width=”30px”]–[/fifth][three_quarters][plain]…and I’m watching those comments…[/plain][/three_quarters][fifth width=”20px”]–[/fifth][fifth width=”100px”][/fifth] [full][/full]