Top 5 Games of 2014
As the last days of 2014 are ticking away and we all are trying to indulge as much as we can in our bad habits before the new year resolutions kick in – I really wanted to recap my year in gaming. It has been a very exciting one for me as in preparing my own game, Cauldron, for kickstarter I got to learn so much about other games out there. Playing these left me with many memorable moments from this year and I want to acknowledge the five games that had the most impact on my developing taste.
A few things I should mention right away – definitely not all of these games were released in 2014. My limited playing time does not allow for in-depth exploration of current year’s releases so we’ve got games from as early as 2011 in the list. I have also learned that what I like most of all is a game that tells a story, preferably an epic one and I think this list really reflects that. It also reflects that I might be over-obsessed with Corey Konieczka since he co-designed 3 of the games on the list.
So without further ado let’s get the ball rolling!
5. Middle Earth Quest (2 plays)
Coming in at #5 is a game I only got to play twice but one that has captured my imagination so completely that I can’t wait to play it again. Middle Earth Quest is an epic asymmetrical offering from Fantasy Flight Games that depicts the events between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. One player, acting as Sauron, aims to cover the lands of Middle Earth in darkness, while 1-3 others work as heroes of the Free People to prepare for the coming conflict so that darkness can be repelled.
The game is truly epic in scope, taking around 3 hours to play through on a gigantic game board double the standard size. It is an extremely faithful representation of the beloved imaginary world and playing it truly makes you feel that you are shaping Middle Earth’s history. The game is complex, but all the systems work well together. It features many innovative design solutions, including card-driven combat where cards count as both actions and hit points.
Tense and grandiose, this entry is a must for Tolkien fans – especially if you have the movie soundtrack providing the epic background.
4. Robinson Crusoe (13 plays)
Coming in at number four is another story-driven game whose designer’s name I have trouble spelling. Ignacy Trzewiczek married theme and mechanics so perfectly in Robinson Crusoe that this very tough co-operative game really evokes the desperation of being stranded on a deserted island. This is a game that pulls no punches – terrible things happen, your progress is lost, unexpected obstacle punish you along the way – and yet, somehow, it never gets to the point where you are not enjoying yourself. The challenge remains across all available numbers of players and the different scenarios available offer amazing replayability.
While the co-operative nature of this game, small reliance on chance, and high difficulty may push some people away – I would highly recommend this game to committed gamers looking for a challenge. The wins, rare as they are are quite satisfying.
3. Space Hulk: Death Angel (14 plays)
Speaking of terribly challenging games – this entry lists estimated success rate at about 40% right on the box (as part of the mission statement for a squad of space marines). Space Hulk: Death Angel is a compact and ruthless card game that puts 1-6 players in charge of several squads of space marines, advancing through an alien-infested wreckage. It carries the atmosphere of a classic space thriller with all the glorious violence indulgence that you would expect from a Warhammer 40K game. Careful planning of your marines’ actions is a must but ultimately it is a small red die that decides your fate. Do not play this game if you are averse to chance. The little red bugger will drive you mad.
In a very small format, the creators have managed to create a very dynamic engine producing great game scenarios. The games are fast fitting into about 45 minutes and the game travels very well, making it a solid choice for trips. Existing expansions bring a ton of exciting new stuff to the solid base formula and this small inexpensive box can reward you with hours of entertainment. I have greatly enjoyed it this year as both a solo and a group game and highly recommend it to others. Click here to read our full review.
2. Lords of Waterdeep (15 plays)
For those of you who were wondering if this list was going to be all Ameritrash – rejoice! A light flexible welcoming Euro makes it on the list and at a very high position too! Players take the role of the mysterious nobles in Dungeons & Dragons world, recruiting adventurers to complete quests. This easy to learn worker placement game has proven to be a huge hit with my family and friends. It is by far my wife’s favourite game (she’s turning out to be a bit of a Euro snob as I learned this year). The theme is present but not intrusive – those who are not interested in owlbears or beholders can really just call fighters “orange cubes” and be perfectly fine.
It works very well for beginners, there is a considerable level of depth, it is competitive with very little direct conflict and it is hard to know who won the game until the very end. If you are looking for a good taste of what modern board games are like – you cannot go wrong with this entry, especially if you like D&D. A strong expansion further enriches the game, but it remains very enjoyable on its’ own – a testament to an engaging, solid formula that should have you entertained for many nights. Click here to read our full review.
1. Eldritch Horror (25 plays)
After a more conventional board game in number two spot, we return to a very much story-based collaborative entry as my top game of 2014. Oh, Eldritch Horror. You’ll note that it got almost double the amount of plays compared to other games on this list – and that’s with a hefty 2 hours playing time even in solo mode. That’s how much I love this game. Why you ask?
It successfully accomplished what I never thought possible. It took several sets of random components – places, characters, events, items and laid out a mechanism that combines them into engaging, awesome stories time after time after time. With very few exceptions, the success rate with which all the little game components click together into one magnificent whole is staggering.
The players take the roles of investigators in 1920s trying to save the world from extra-dimensional terrors as per H.P. Lovecraft. Criss-crossing the globe they look for clues, try to contain gates to other worlds and are slowly working towards sealing away whichever unimaginable evil you are facing. The game is not that complex but it takes a long time as the majestic story unfolds in all its’ terrible glory. Very bad things happen to you all the time and you will come to be proud of the many injuries borne by your investigators. The very high difficulty makes it very replayable and definitely kept me coming back – after half a year with the game I still have not beaten two of the five opponents contained in the box.
In short – it is a roleplaying campaign compacted into a tight 2-4 hour session with all the ups and downs and tension and triumph. Being time challenged as I am – to me this was a truly winning combination. Click here to read our full review.
I wish all of you who read this all the best in 2015 and hope you had a great year of gaming with more on the way!