Saturday, 10 January 2015

Best Board Games of 2014

Here's something I put together for work: a rundown of the best games of 2014 (NB not necessarily my opinions).  It is amusing at times.

Apologies for the lack of formatting: this is just a text dump.


The best games of 2014 according to Thirsty Meeples.
Concept has proved to be a huge hit in our café this year with new and old gamers alike. In Concept, like charades, you have convey ideas and words in silence. However, instead of using actions, you employ an army of tokens and a board populated with a variety of icons. Concept, like Dixit before it, falls into that tricky category of ‘difficult to categorise’ games. Part party game, part cerebral worker placement challenge, Concept eschews definition but has rightfully earned many plaudits.

Splendor is a Renaissance themed fast-paced game of chip-collecting and card development in which players compete to become the most successful gem trader.
What we love about Splendor is the balance it strikes between structural simplicity and tactical depth. You may only take one action a turn, but puzzling out the best course of action can be fiendishly difficult. Run on the nobles, or power play for the big cards? Play proactively or defensively? Quick to teach, easy to learn and hard to master: what more could we ask from a game of the year nominee?

Five Tribes
A twist on the European style worker placement genre, Five Tribes confronts players with a board already populated by meeples which they must manipulate to seize control of Naqala. Like fellow Days of Wonder title Ticket to Ride, the rules are easy enough to pick up for even inexperienced gamers. However, devising a winning strategy is another matter altogether. Excelling in Five Tribes requires you not only to think of your own benefit, but also how to inconvenience others. In short: it is not enough that you should succeed. Others must fail. For this reason, Five Tribes rightly storms into our top 3 games this year.


The games that we felt had the widest appeal, with easy to pick-up game play and stacks of fun.
Black Fleet
Has your [insert relation here] been winding you up recently? What better way to even the odds than to pillage his trade routes and broadside his fleet?
Black fleet sees players control a small fleet of their own as they attempt to trade, pillage and battle their way to rescuing a maiden fair. Simple mechanics, coupled with a healthy variety of potential ship upgrades make Black Fleet quick to learn with plenty of replay value.

Camel Up
In Camel Up, up to eight players bet on five racing camels in a contest to be the richest at the race’s dramatic denouement.
Camel Up raised a few eyebrows when it bagged the Thirsties’ poorer cousin ‘Spiel Des Jahres’ earlier this year and it hasn’t made it to our very top table here. Nevertheless Camel Up is an outstanding family game. Fun to play? Check. Easy to teach? Check. Flexible numbers? Check (2-8). At £21 it won’t break the bank either.

Sushi Go!
Sushi Go sets players the task of grabbing the best combination of dishes from the sushi boat as they pass by. A clever but concise drafting game, Sushi Go requires players to think on their toes and provides the perfect gateway game to titles like 7 Wonders. If you’re growing increasingly frustrated with your nine year-old’s preference for Dobble over Twilight Imperium, Sushi Go! may be just the spark you need!. Here at Meeples we love it enough to even forgive its titular exclamation mark, notwithstanding the syntax issues it throws up for would be games reviewers.


Eye candy is what drew us in - these three not only looked pretty but delivered solid game play too.
Abyss is a game of card collection, combination and collection. It’s fun and playable in roughly one hour. So far so good. Yet, what really sets Abyss apart is the power of its artwork. From the grimacing Sea Lords which grace its five (yes five!) unique covers, to the cards players compete for, we were enraptured by the calibre of its artistic design. In fact we’d love to see more games follow Abyss’ lead in 2015 and marry great gameplay with quality artwork.

Steam Park
Steam Park is a beautifully crafted management game in which players compete to have the most successful amusement park. As the games title suggests there is a strong steam-punk theme to the game, albeit softened with the pastel palette of a children’s illustrator. By building the right balance of fantastic rides, toilets and stands, you’ll soon put your opponents out of business and ensure your cutesie-robot shareholders are happy. Steam Park may be filling your children’s minds with capitalist propaganda, but look: isn’t it pretty!

Origin is a well-balanced area control and set management game designed by Andrea Mainini. Players take control of tribes spreading outward from the heart of Africa, gradually growing more diverse over time while still maintaining links to their ancestors and all inhabitants of the earth. Isn’t that just lovely. Complementing these mechanics, the game’s components are wooden statues of all sizes reminiscent of sub-Saharan art. Between its enjoyable gameplay and high quality production, Origin is a must-have for anyone who owns (or has ever secretly desired) a dream catcher.


Games that are quick to learn and super fun to play. We were spoilt last year.
Sheriff of Nottingham
In Sheriff of Nottingham players take on the role of merchants hoping to make a quick buck in the city during a royal visit. Competitors take it in turns to take on the role of the Sheriff himself, inspecting their rival’s goods and accepting bribes to turn the odd blind-eye. Sheriff of Nottingham may have more light strategy to it than the other titles included under Party Game of the Year, but don’t let that fool you – its core is all about social interaction and deception. One of our all-time favourites!

Ca$h n Guns (second edition)
An updated version of a recent classic, Cash & Guns allows you the pleasure of pointing a 9mm foam Glock directly between the eyes of your mother-in-law/boss/arch nemeses. Now with added super-powers and even more players, Cash & Guns has rarely been off our tables here at Thirsty Meeples.

Like a weekend in Magaluf, this Russian import is light on rules and heavy on fun.
At the start of every round all players secretly draw a card which gives them their persona. Typically this will list an occupation and a location (i.e. hospital & doctor). However, one player will have a card that simply says ‘Spy’. Their mission? To work out where they are! Here’s the rub: all other players are on the hunt for the spy, so only clever questioning and quick thinking will be able to save you


Three nominations for the ultimate one on one showdown.
Do you love Ticket To Ride, but wish it was, 1) a better two player game, and; 2) had a little bit more complexity to it? If you answered yes to either of the above, then Pagoda might be the game for you. Playable in around 45 minutes, Pagoda pits two opponents against each other in a head-to-head Pagoda construction challenge. Collecting cards will allow you to place coloured tiles and pillars, while the open-hand mechanic of the game lets you play to your own strengths while limiting your opponent’s opportunities. Variable points for building at different heights combined with a set of unlockable powers give Pagoda a depth to match its striking visual appearance. A lovely two player title.

Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
The spiritual successor to the wildly popular Mr Jack, Le Fantome has been a big hit since its release late this year. In this a-symmetrical board game, one player takes on the role of the phantom, with the other being the detective. A variable difficulty curve combined with a new map, character powers and victory conditions make Fantome de l’Opera much more than a simple reskin of an old classic. If deduction, lateral thinking and outwitting your opponent attract you, then Le Fantome de l’Opera is the title for you.

Province is a two-player game set in a newly founded town in which you must strategically manage your resources and workers to build, complete goals, and score the most victory points. Players move their workers to generate resources (Labour and Coin) that are used to build the various Structures, which in turn effect resource generation. However, thanks to the game’s shared worker pool, your opponent can also move the workers, leaving you without the resources you need! As such, not only is province probably the tiniest worker placement game in existence, it also perfectly illustrates the ultimate inefficiencies of a capitalist economy. We suggest the designer should be put under surveillance.


Little games that pack a mighty punch. So many great micro-games can out last year. This was the hardest category to pin down.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
We’ve all been there. You desperately need a game that not only fits in a shoe, but can cater for 10 players. What a conundrum! Happily, not only does One Night Ultimate Werewolf fit those criteria, it is also a fast fun and engaging hidden identity game in the vein of Mafia, and erm, Ultimate Werewolf. Do you hate it when you’re playing [insert hidden identity game here] and you end up as just a regular villager? Well, O.N.U.W. is the game for you as everyone gets a special power and identity. Yes, everyone is special. We blame the X-Factor. The game’s acute social commentary notwithstanding, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a quick-to-learn party game that will be well received by newbies and experienced gamers alike.

Sail to India
All the depth of a Euro-game in a box small enough to fit in your parker pocket? Yes please! We know it was released in 2013, but we only got it this year (& we love it). Our favourite part of Sail to India is the more victory points you accrue, the more ‘Historians’ you have to employ to keep track of your deeds, This provides great balance and ensures most games go to the wire!

Age of War
Age of War is a quick-playing dice and cards game of conquest. Fourteen cards are laid out at the start of the game, each showing one castle and the symbols required to conquer this castle, with the symbols separated into battle lines. Each castle belongs to a clan, with some clans having only a single castle and some having up to four castles. A reliance on dice rolls for card acquisition mean that players have to remain flexible if they wish to conquer all before them. However, this randomness is more than counterbalanced by a well though-out rule set ensuring the game rewards sharp tactical play and execution. Accordingly, Japanese Feudal Warfare has now become our go-to method of solving all staff disagreements.


We’ve looked silly and sounded silly but it felt so right :D
Heroes Wanted
Heroes Wanted is a tactical board game for 1-5 superhero hopefuls, attempting to fulfil their dreams of becoming a member of Zeta City’s exclusive crime fighting super team: The Champions of Zeta City. Self-conscious, witty and amusing, Heroes Wanted is the perfect remedy to apathy induced by the seemingly endless supply of superhero mulch currently being vomited out by Hollywood!

Lift it!
Creating a genuinely funny board game is a tough gig. Even rarer is a game which is inherently funny as opposed to having jokes tagged on the end. Lift it! manages this feat admirably. For the uninitiated, Lift it! involves players using small cranes (often attached to their heads) to build structures with duplo-esque components. This is difficult. Doing this without pulling a stupid face? Close to impossible.

Sushi Dice
Sushi Dice is a head to head dice rolling game in which opponents compete to create sushi dishes ordered by customers first. While rolling players have to keep an eye on their opponents dice to make sure no nasty skulls get rolled. What we love about Sushi Dice (as well as its tense gameplay) is that it comes with a bell. If you’ve ever wished you could emphasise your victory over an opponent by ringing a bell in their face, then needless to say, this is the title for you!


Games with the coolest components.
Colt Express
Colt Express has a full 3d train as a board, complete with gun-slinging meeples and cacti. Need we say more?

The Great Heartland Hauling Co.
If you hanker after the simplicity of the open road, where a truck is a truck and a layby-restaurant bacon sandwich is breakfast, lunch and dinner then you’ll love the lorry meeples included in the Great Heartland!

The Doom That Came to Atlantic City
2014 was a good year for Lovecraft fans and amongst the plethora of Cthulu related games, the Doom that Came to Atlantic City stood out to owing to its charming Cthulu meeples!


These were the games that made us feel like we really there man! Yee-haw, Arrr, Pew Pew.
Colt Express
Sorry, haven’t we been through this? The BOARD IS A BLOODY TRAIN.

Dead of Winter
Claustrophobic, unwelcoming and cold. These are just a few of the words used to describe our guru Nathan this year. Luckily those playing Dead of Winter didn’t notice, so immersed were they in in-game crises they faced. We loved DoW, because although on the surface the game is about zombies and survival, the most important elements are the social interactions and moral dilemmas the game throws up. Do you sacrifice an unpopular character for a moral boost? Is your friend’s suggestion that you should share some of your food and fuel with the zombies because they ‘look cold’ really in the best interests of the group? Truly only time will tell…

Star Wars: Imperial Assault
Dum, dum, dum. Dum-de-dum. Dum-de-dum. Imperial Assault may have only hit our shelves at the tail-end of 2014, but it has already earned a place in our hearts. A strong narrative campaign, coupled with high quality miniatures and a neat character development system makes for a truly immersive Star Wars experience. We even forgave it for including a model from the prequel films. Add soundtrack to taste and do not attempt to talk to the opposite sex for at least 30 minutes after exposure.


Last year saw neat developments and twists in game mechanics, here are the three that impressed us the most.
Sheriff of Nottingham – Inspection
Bribes, nepotism and bluffing. 2014 was the year that UK politics came alive in board game form. We loved it!

Five Tribes - Meeple moving
What? You mean the workers are already down on the board? We must shuffle them around, lest they revolt!

Origin – Evolving
The centrepiece of one of our favourite games this year, Origin sees players ‘evolve’ their tribes across the board as they wander across continents. When evolving players must ensure that two characteristics of the pawn you choose are the same (height, colour or strength). This is a clever mechanic that has the added bonus of annoying any UKIP voters in your gaming group.

That’s it! Thanks for reaching the end! We’ll announce our winners in a couple of weeks and don’t forget to vote for your favourite game from 2014 - just follow this link.