My tastes in board games are always evolving and changing, and 2015 was a very different year that marked a turning point for me. Looking at my play statistics, it’s clear that something changed: I played fewer games than in previous years, and, most importantly, I played many fewer new games than other years.
2015 was the year when I started focusing on playing more often the games I loved, and stopped chasing after trying all the hot new games.
Towards the end of 2014 it dawned on me that most new board games I was playing were ranging from bad to just OK, and only a selected few made it into the good or very good category. So why was I spending so much time and energy playing new games? It’s not like I had played the old ones too much and was done with them. As a matter of fact, I was frustrated with how little I was playing them, and how, if I only play a game once every six months or a year, I’m basically starting over from scratch. So I was always playing games at a very superficial level, without being able to get deeper into them. Not to mention it’s a pleasure to pull out a game and not have to worry about reading or explaining the rules!
2015 was the year of depth for me.
Of course depth comes at the cost of breath, so when it comes time to make a best-of list for 2015, I don’t have nearly as many different games to draw on as other years. Because of that, I’ll limit my list to just 3 games.
Honorable mention: Magic: The Gathering
Magic: the Gathering and I go a long way back. I’ve played Magic on and off for over 20 years and it’s irrevocably intertwined with a lot of the different stages of my life. It has also strongly influenced me as a game designer.
But why list Magic as one of the best games of this year? Because I started playing seriously it again and it’s an amazing game, in every way better than it was in 1995. Standard competitive play is constantly evolving and adapting, and booster draft is very balanced, fun, and skill-intensive. Wizards of the Coast did an amazing job with the Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, Dragons of Tarkir, and Origins sets, and even though Battle for Zendikar was a big let down, I have my hopes up for Shadows Over Innistrad.
Even though I’m moving away from complex games, one of my favorite games of 2015 was The Gallerist by Vital Lacerda. Kanban, by the same author, snuck in my top games of all time list that I created last year, and I like the Gallerist better. The theme is quite unique, the mechanics fresh and different, and you’re hardly ever locked out of a particular action, which is something I find very frustrating in games. The game feels like a giant puzzle with lots of gears where you need to figure out how to make the most money before the end.
To top it off, my wife Amy had a painting accepted in the abstract paintings category, so it’s really cool to play a game with a piece of her art in it.
I love it when a neat theme meets good design into a very cohesive game. That’s exactly what happened in Grand Austria Hotel, and somehow, it manages to go beyond the usual resource-conversion-to-points-engine to something fairly unique and interesting. Two warnings with this game though: 1) It can be a bit brain-burning towards the end with all the bonus actions, and 2) I would avoid playing this at full player count. There’s a fair amount of downtime, and the board state would probably change too much between turns. It worked great at two players and I suspect it would be good with three as well.
(Spoiler free) And the #1 game for 2015 is… Pandemic Legacy! But… this is not the glowing review you may be expecting of the game that rocketed up the BGG rankings and was the first game to displace the Twilight Struggle from the top spot in many years.
I love Pandemic and I love the Pandemic expansions. My wife and I play it frequently and it’s always a fun experience, teetering between success and world collapse. We can play it over and over. None of this should be a surprise since Pandemic was #6 of my all-time games list from last year.
How about Pandemic Legacy? Frankly, if I have to choose, I’ll pick regular Pandemic. Pandemic Legacy is a nice little distraction. It’s a sequence of games where the rules keep changing a bit, sometimes half way through a game. If I didn’t already know and love Pandemic, I might even find it annoying. We’re only about half way through the campaign, but I feel that nothing we do has a meaningful impact in the overall storyline. Things are going to happen independently of what you do, and you’re just going to reveal the next card in the legacy deck.
Still, is Pandemic Legacy fun? Yes, but because it’s Pandemic. It’s good enough to take the #1 spot for 2015 for me. But plain Pandemic is better and it’s the place you should start if you haven’t already.
How about you? Any interesting picks for you top board games of 2015?