Top 10 games I enjoyed in 2015
Ah, 2015 has been an amazing year for me in terms of gaming. Since I love looking back and ordered list – of course I am going to put together a Top 10 list! A quick note – I do not play nearly enough games to create a list that would only contain games published IN 2015, so instead I am updating my general “games I enjoyed most” ranking from last year. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
10. Dungeon Roll (63 plays, no ranking in 2014)
You are probably wondering why a game that I rank as a solid 5 made it to my “best of the year” list. My answer is simple (and captured in the photo following below). It is a game that first captured the imagination and attention of my now 3-year old son.
Sure, it might not be the best game ever but I am so happy that I got to share some awesome moments learning to count the number of fighters we just rolled and explaining that a rogue can open as many chests as you want (because clearly, these are both purple on the dice!)
Because of the pure joy I got out of this game and the many times it allowed me to feed Alan without resorting to TV for entertainment – its place on this list is richly deserved. The packaging is also an invaluable prop for explaining how mimics work in D&D.
9. Space Hulk: Death Angel (20 plays, #3 in 2014 ranking, review here)
As I have been exposed to more games, the relative importance of this ultra-brutal, extra-violent space marine romp in my personal hierarchy has diminished somewhat. But Space Hulk is still a reliably fun outing in a compact time slot that is sure to make a victory feel like an achievement.
This game gets a few things very right for me – the tension of ever-present danger with the one-hit kills and the constant dynamic feel of things moving around, despite the static formation of marines are just a couple of these.
Taking full advantage of available expansions made sure that this little gem from FFG has a constant and welcome presence at my table, especially when I am travelling.
8. Codenames (39 plays, no ranking in 2014)
Like the rest of the board gaming world, I really like Codenames. The sheer number of plays it got is a testament to how much mileage I get out of it with very different groups). I admire the sheer elegance that Vlaada Chvatil infused this design with, and knowing the usual complexity of his work – I keep having visions of producers slapping him on a wrist any time he wanted to add a new phase or a type of token :). I think the selection of the words, with their multiple potential interpretation, is often overlooked for what makes this game click so well.
I love this game but it’s so good, that the core mechanism almost seems TOO obvious to me. Perhaps it’s a sign of how beautifully conceived it is. This self-evidence of approach somehow resulted in a reduced overall enjoyment of the game for me. I am also not loving the fact that it’s so easy and approachable that it’s taking away the playing opportunities from meatier games that I’m eager to bring to the table.
This grumbling notwithstanding, Codenames still rocks and should be a part of every board gamer’s collection. You’ll see it rank way higher on my wife’s list :).
7. Patchwork (12 plays, no ranking in 2014, review here)
Speaking of deceptively elegant designs, there’s Patchwork! An astounding achievement for me as this game provides such a satisfying overall experience – from the visuals to the decision making to the kind of competition it elicits.
I was not sure how fun a game about quilting would be, but this competitive tetris with several currencies in play has really come through. Quick, smart, fun and immensely satisfying – this is a fantastic game. Its greatest achievement is its ability to be as easy or as complex as players want it to be without changing anything in the gameplay.
I gave quite a few of these as gifts this holiday season and I think every gaming couple should own a copy. Work great for travel gaming too!
6. Friday (53 plays, no ranking in 2014, review here)
This solo-only offering really blossomed for me this year in the most unexpected way possible. Yep, my kid again. I have never really expected that a mathy survival game with no active elements (like dice rolling) would capture his attention so much, but has it ever! Every one of Robinson’s adventures comes to life as he picks which one we should embark on and the low numbers on the cards, aided by the life markers went a long way to teaching some basic math in a fun way.
The solid challenge and modifiable difficulty built in to this compact but oh so very smart game makes it very replayable and every win does feel like a triumph. I did not think much of it when I got it in 2014, but Friday has certainly grown on me and this kind of strong solo experience is something I hope to emulate in a future design.
5. Tokaido (19 plays, no ranking in 2014, review here)
Tokaido was a beautiful, transcendent lesson in power of simplicity and bite-sized decisions. Never have I felt so calm in a competitive game and never have I felt so good about my progress even when it was nowhere good enough to claim the win.
As you journey through the feudal Japan, collecting impressions and experiences, you get to feel and appreciate french designer Antoine Bauza’s sincere admiration of this culture. Working very well for varied groups of players and combining production design and gameplay into a beautiful whole, this game brought us lots of joy this year.
4. Eldritch Horror (16 plays, #1 in 2014, review here)
This gorgeously complex globe-trotting interpretation of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos started pretty low on my radar this year, after rocking my world in 2014. However, as I got a bit of a break from it towards the middle and late in the year, I got to come back a dozen times and appreciated time and time again the great immersion and flexibility this game offers.
The gears that click into place with the hundreds of cards end up telling engaging stories with staggering consistency and with so much content – you’re never sure what you are going to encounter. The long running time is the biggest constraint here – finding 3 hours to save the world is not always easy, but so worth it!
The inventive expansions really make the game shine, offering lots of new ways to go insane and to face the end of the world. This game really is an achievement for FFG and I am happy they keep growing it.
3. Dixit (36 plays, no ranking in 2014, review here)
2015 was the year I discovered Dixit and early on it was easily my game of the year. The mechanism behind it was so simple, the illustrations on the cards so surreal – it mesmerized me. It was also a fantastic gateway as I got to introduce lots of non-gamers to it and most loved it to pieces. In fact I think I gave no less than four copies as gifts over the year.
It gets somewhat repetitive with many plays, but with proper breaks and extended decks – this gem really has a ton of potential not just for hobby gamers, but for anyone who wants to let their imagination go for a wild ride.
The somewhat weaker art on later expansions is a testament to the genius of Marie Cardouat who illustrated the original and whose work is filled with beauty and sadness and joy and simplicity that hides whole worlds of swirling emotions behind them. I love the fact that a game like Dixit exists and that it gives such a great mechanism for people to look at and use the cards with art as fine as Marie’s.
2. Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game (43 plays, no ranking in 2014)
I have tried this game several times before I bought it this year. It was ok, because I adore all things Tolkien, but the amount of abstraction it required to match up the mechanics to the storytelling never seemed like it was worth the effort. The mechanics seemed clunky and the pace stuttered. And then I got the game for myself…
Emerging now from what can only be described as two months of binge-playing and binge-buying of expansions I can tell you that once you learn the language of this deck-building game – once you get fluent in interpreting how its many rules flexibly come together to tell many stories faithfully recreating the beloved world – then it truly comes to life. Dynamic and immersive, quick enough so it’s easy to get to the table, flexible in how many players it can accommodate, endlessly expansive.. So many great things can be said about it.
It sets so many challenges for the players – constructing the right deck, picking the right strategy, making the right tough decisions. The game is a whole world, as befitting the source material, and I look forward to spending quite a bit of time in Middle Earth in 2016.
1. Cauldron (5 plays, no ranking in 2014)
I have played and enjoyed lots of games in 2015, but by far the most joy and satisfaction I got from a game this year was Cauldron, the one I made myself. Sure, I played it so much in late 2014 that I can barely stand the thought of playing it again. But who’s counting, I had to make sure the game works before I put it on Kickstarter.
I am so sincerely grateful for the feeling of accomplishment and joy of seeing something I conceived make it from an idea to sketches to prototype to a crowdfunding campaign to a box that you can get in stores. So many people helped get this to where it is and I am so deeply grateful to all of them who playtested, illustrated, designed, supported, rated, and raised awareness for it. As this particular project has closed in December – it was sad but so satisfying to say that Cauldron and only Cauldron would be the game of the year for me.
It is certainly not a perfect game but as this recent review suggests – it lets people who like games have fun with people they love. And having had a chance to make something that fits that bill (and includes a Baba Yaga on the cover) is truly priceless to me.
And that’s it! I would love to hear your thoughts on these as well as your own favourites from 2015!
More 2015 lists are going to be coming out soon as I have painstakingly recorded all of my plays and love doing summaries based on numbers! I have also made my wife write down her top 5 and that will be a fascinating list to explore.
Happy New Year! Hope games bring you lots of joy in 2016.