We haven’t really had any serious talk about board gaming on either the podcast or the site so far. It was something we talked about avoiding, but I don’t think we can. The fact of the matter is this: Without board games, there is no Wolfman’s Lounge. It’s how Mike and I met, it’s what we do when we hang out, and the number of great friendships we’ve made because of the hobby cannot be counted. We love it, and that’s really what the Lounge is all about, gushing about the stuff we love despite how ridiculous those things may seem.
2016 has been a terrible year for just about all of us. Not just a terrible year, but probably the most terrible year. Yet it’s been a banner year for tabletop gaming, and without the awesome times I’ve had with my friends while sitting around these games, this year would have been almost completely joyless. None of these are exactly “gateway games,” but that’s kind of a dumb term anyways. Play what grabs your attention is what I say.
5. Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games)
Terraforming Mars isn’t really something I’d usually be into. It’s economic, not very confrontational, and does a lot of different things without ever really focusing in on one thing that it wants to do exceptionally well. But it’s on Mars! And it’s about doing sciency stuff on Mars! And all of it’s many different systems come together and work really well, with just enough moments that players race for to make the whole thing exciting. Huge replay value, too, so many options to explore. I dig this game quite a bit.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past (IDW Games)
I’m astounded by how good Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past turned out. TMNT is a huge property, a pop culture staple, but Kevin Wilson and IDW Games didn’t go the route that most would take with it, churning out something simple and ready to take the mass market by storm. Oh no, this is a gamer’s game, make no mistake about it. Mechanically, this thing is rock solid, perfectly emulating the Turtles fighting styles both as a group and as individuals without sacrificing one iota of characterization. The villains are just a fun to play as the heroes, which is something you don’t always see in these “one vs all” games. As someone who loves the TMNT and board games, this game couldn’t have made me happier.
3. Star Wars Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games)
Star Wars: Rebellion is the Original Trilogy made cardboard and plastic. So much beautiful plastic. You can play with 4, but this is really a 2 player affair. The Rebellion needs to strike at the Empire with what small forces they can gather, while the Empire needs to find the location of the secret Rebel base and crush it with their superior numbers. There’s a lot going on in this game for sure, but it’s really smooth once you get going. More importantly though, while it is a game of galactic-scale conflict, it’s really centered around the characters and packed with narrative, just as Star Wars should be. Some people hate the combat, I don’t mind it, but it does take a backseat to the core gameplay of sending characters out on missions and finding out how things would have turned out if Mon Mothma had been frozen in carbonite instead of Han Solo. There are lots of Star Wars games out there, and Fantasy Flight has done a tremendous job with most of theirs, but Rebellion is nothing short of being the definitive Star Wars board game.
2. Vast: The Crystal Caverns (Leder Games)
Not a whole lot has changed in the dungeon crawl genre since the 80s classic HeroQuest, but not only does Vast: The Crystal Caverns set out to change that, it also manages to play unlike anything else out there. Each player takes on one of five roles, the Knight, the Goblins, the Thief, the Dragon, or the Cave itself. You read that right, one person gets to play as the Cave in which all of this is taking place. Everyone has their own win condition and each role shares zero, and I mean zero common ground in rules. That does mean that Vast is not an easy game to teach. Each player is given a double-sided sheet and is told, “Here, read up.” The rules to each role isn’t necessarily all that complicated once you get a few turns in and see how it works, but it does require a bit more commitment on the parts of the players than most games do. I think it’s totally worth it though, as Vast is stellar example of what is possible in board gaming when you throw all conventional wisdom out the window.
1. Star Trek: Ascendancy (Gale Force 9)
That makes three licensed games games on this list. I’ve loved Gale Force 9’s games in the past. WWE Superstar Showdown is exactly the right kind of dumb, quick fun, and Firefly: The Game is one of my favorite games PERIOD, but Star Trek: Ascendandy is far and away their best to date. Yes, it’s a sprawling 3-4 hour game, with quite a bit of luck and little care for modern game designs approach to turn threading, but it still manages to be, for my money’s worth, the single best 4X board game ever released, space setting or otherwise. It re-examines some of the conventions we’ve long thought inalienable from the genre, streamlines the hell out of it, and still manages to nail the themes, not just the setting of Trek. I really love the simple formula taken to the special rules for each race, “Here’s something I’m really good at doing, and here’s one important thing that I’m terrible at/can’t do at all.” The ideals and aspirations of the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans are so perfectly captured, and I can’t wait to see what races future expansions bring to the table. The definitive Star Wars and Star Trek games in the same year? Yes.
2017 has to be a better year. It has to. But 2017 can totally suck for board games for all I care. These five games are going to favorites in my collection for many years to come.