Welcome back to my review of the Top 10 Board Games of 2015. In this article, I’ll be presenting my Top 5 games released during 2015. You can read the first part of this article covering Games 6-10 and a few honorable mentions here.
That said, let’s pick back up with the:
Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015
5. Baseball Highlights: 2045 by Eagle-Gryphon Games
Baseball Highlights: 2045 is a game for two or more players that is supposed to play like watching the SportsCenter highlights of a series of baseball games. You start out with a generic team made up of rookies and a few veteran players of three types: naturals, cyborgs, and robots. Each type of character has a set of strengths, for instance robots tend to generate a lot of hits, naturals are better defensively and draw more fan support, and cyborgs tend to make the best pitchers. Each team has a deck of fifteen cards representing their roster, and only six players will play in each particular outing. Players score a certain amount of revenue based on who played that game which they use to draft new players from the market. In order to place a new player card in your deck, you demote one of the current players from your roster to the minor leagues, ensuring you never exceed your 15-card roster. Single games take maybe five minutes, and most plays typically have you playing several games to start customizing your roster, then playing out a championship series.
I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but this game is just fantastic. The back and forth between players is really exciting, and even though you only get six players per game, the timing of when to play them is really important. Where this game really shines is in it’s ability to stage tournaments. The base game comes with the ability to play four different teams, but new expansion team decks were released that allow you to expand the tournament out and accommodate a lot of players (up to 16 teams) that would make for an incredible larger bracket. There’s so many different strategies you can take as you build out your team: You can sign a bunch of robots to generate runs, but not a lot of fan support; you can build a heavy defensive team to shut down other players; you can try to build a team that generates a lot of fan support to try and recruit a few really powerful hitters; or you can try and sign a bunch of players that try to combo off each other. I love playing this game, and have to say it’s probably the best sports-themed game I’ve ever played.
4. Specter Ops by Plaid Hat Games
Specter Ops is a 1-vs-All game where one player takes on the role of a secret agent trying to infiltrate and sabotage a Raxxon Corporation facility, while the other players play Raxxon Hunters dispatched to chase the agent down and take him out before he can complete his mission and escape. This is a hidden movement game, where the Agent records his movement secretly on a sheet of paper and is only visible to the Hunters when he enters their direct line of sight on the board. The Agent has to sabotage three key mission objectives and escape before either the Hunters can do enough damage to him or reinforcements arrive to pin him in after 40 turns. Each Hunter has a couple of abilities that allow them to narrow in on the location of the Agent, while the Agent is given a couple of limited use pieces of equipment to help them against the Hunters. It makes for a tense game of cat and mouse that’s fast paced and exciting the entire time.
I love this game. I believe this is the best hidden-movement game out there (though I concede there’s a case to be made for Fury of Dracula, which takes twice as long to play as Specter Ops). The variety of Hunters and Agents allows for a lot of replayability. With all the movement recorded on paper, there’s this great moment when the game ends, win or lose, when you can replay the entire mission and relive exactly where the agent was the entire time. There is an additional play mode when you play with five players (Four Hunters and the Agent), where one of the Hunters is secretly a traitor working with the Agent. The rules for this mode are a little clumsy, and I would strongly recommend not attempting this unless every Hunter has played before, but it definitely creates a different experience when you can no longer trust that the information coming from the other Hunters is truthful. I think I prefer playing the ‘standard’ play mode to this variant, but the way it takes a 1-vs-All game and makes it more of a team game is very interesting. All in all, this is a fantastic game, great design, great theme, and one I’m always excited to play.
3. Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game by Upper Deck Entertainment
If you’ve read some of my earlier articles, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of this game, the Predator franchise, and the Legendary game system. Previous entries in this system, which are set in the Marvel and Aliens universes, are cooperative deck-building games where players recruit heroes or important characters from their respective universes to struggle together to accomplish a get of goals while overcoming wave after wave of enemies along the way. The Predator version of this game allows players to recreate the events of the first two Predator films, which would be enjoyable by itself, assuming you are also a fan of that franchise. Mechanically, I think this is the best implementation of the cooperative Legendary system. Where this game really shines is in the alternate play mode as Predators. The Marvel version attempted to do a semi-cooperative experience where everyone works together but one player does the most good and wins, and that didn’t work at all for me. In this version, they created a truly competitive mode where each Predator is trying to hunt the biggest game, and can scrap with each other along the way, trying to collect the most trophies gathered by killing human characters from the first two Predator films. There’s additionally some expansion cards that allow the Predators to try and hunt Aliens if you also own the Legendary Encounters: Aliens game, which was a major draw for me as well.
This game has everything I want from a good cooperative game. It’s challenging, and forces the players to work together to be successful. It really does a great job of incorporating the story elements from the Predator films. The deck-building aspect of the game is interesting and allows players to specialize and even work together to help other players recruit great cards to their decks. Then you take all those mechanics and flip it around to be a purely competitive game, and it still works perfectly. It should go without saying that the theme of the game is violent, and that theme is reflected in the game art. If that’s something you have a problem with, then I would stick with the Legendary Marvel line, but if you’re a fan of the franchise, or if you enjoy tough cooperative games with strong theme, this gets a solid recommendation from me.
2. Codenames by CGE
Codenames is a party game designed for two teams that draws inspiration from other word games like Taboo or Password. Unlike those games, which typically use time limits to create tension, Codenames places a five by five grid of random words out in front of all the players, then has one member from each team try to give clues to guess which of those 25 words belong to their team. Both clue givers are working off the same grid of words using a clue card that identifies which words within the grid belong to the red team and which belong to the blue team. Some words are ‘unaffiliated’, meaning they just fill up the grid with additional words to be avoided, and one word is the bomb. If any team accidentally guesses the bomb word, they instantly lose that round. Teams alternate giving clues by saying a single word and a number, for example “Fish Three.” This would indicate to my team that I believe three words in the grid of 25 have something to do with fish. They guess a word, one at a time. If they’re correct, you place a card with your team’s color over the word, and they can continue guessing up to the number given in the clue plus one additional guess. This allows you to potentially go back and take another stab at a previous clue you didn’t get right. If the word they guess is unaffiliated or belongs to the other team, you place the appropriate color card, and have to yield play to the other team. And if you guess the bomb word, you lose. The first team to correctly guess all of their words first wins the round.
There’s just nothing quite like Codenames, which feels initially intimidating, but the challenge becomes really rewarding. It works great in just about any group of six or more, though in theory you could play with just four players. This was by far the most requested game by my family this Thanksgiving, appealing to both the gamer and non-gamer. The challenge in the game comes from trying to link as many words as possible in a single clue, as opposed to trying to guess the most words in a minute. You can give clues for a single word, but if you limit yourself too much you can allow the other team to race ahead of you. It’s challenging, but in a good way that leaves you always feeling like you could do better and wanting to try again. This was easily my favorite party game of the year, and for the shear approachability was almost my favorite game released this year.
1. Pandemic: Legacy by Z-Man Games
The distinction of favorite game of the year has to belong to Pandemic: Legacy. I’ve been writing a series of playthough articles about my experience with this game, but the short version of my review is that this game is brilliant. It takes the core engine of an already fantastic cooperative game, Pandemic, and adds on top of it a layer of narrative and customization that allows a story to evolve as you play. Pandemic: Legacy tells a story about major disease outbreaks threatening the world that takes place over one calendar year, beginning in January. Each game still operates under the framework of being a standard game of Pandemic, which I won’t try to explain in full here, but is one of the most groundbreaking cooperative games ever designed. Starting with this core system, it then adds unique events and decisions that are revealed piecemeal from a secret deck of cards and multiple hidden compartments, cards, and stickers, that allows (and sometimes forces) players to interact with the game rules and modify elements of the game permanently. This allows a narrative to play out over the course of the year that includes twists and turns, and more than a few surprises. My group at the time of writing this article is currently in the month of November, and the story arc is about to reach its climax. I won’t spoil that here, but every time we sit down to play this game, we’re blown away by how invested in the story we’ve become and always wanting to push farther to see how it will end.
As a hobbyist, I buy a lot of games. This means that I will typically play through a new game a few times, and if it’s a truly great game, it’ll come up in the rotation every couple of months maybe, depending on the mood of my gaming group. The idea of sitting down to play the same game so many times (it takes anywhere from 12-24 plays of Pandemic: Legacy to complete the story line, though I’ve yet to hear of anyone who did it in less than 17) was a little intimidating. My group is sitting currently at 15 games played, and we play two rounds of the game each Friday over lunch. It’s become one of the highlights of my week. Pandemic is a great game, and I would say experience with Pandemic is probably required from at least one player you will be playing with should you decide to try this for yourself, but this just takes that experience to a whole new level. It feels like we’re playing through our own Hollywood blockbuster like Outbreak or Contagion. We’ve spent so much time with our characters that we’ve really become attached. Areas of the world have taken on a life of their own. The experience you have playing this game is only really comparable to playing a great Role Playing Game. The core mechanics of the game start to fade into the background and you find yourself just participating in the story, and trying as hard as you can to succeed in that story. There are moments that have occurred while playing this game that I will never forget. This is the best game released in 2015.
So that’s my list. Did I leave off one of your favorites? Let me know what you think down in the comments below.