Best Week 2014, Day One!
Over a hundred games enter. Thirty games leave.
You know what that means: it’s Best Week 2014, and we’ve got five straight days of the year’s best games! Provided “the year’s best games” is strictly interpreted as “the games Dan Thurot and his gang of pals played and reviewed in 2014, whether they came out this year or not.” But what else could it mean anyway?
Welcome to Day One, also known as The Dog Day Legacy of the Dystopian Shmup in Boomtown Space. As you were, cadets.
#30. The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade
This wasn’t a perfect game, and not only because it only half-captured the spirit of classic arcade shoot-’em-ups. Suspended between awkward player-versus-player action and a distinctly cooperative feel — not to mention being in dire need of a soundtrack (I recommend putting this on repeat) — The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade still did a surprisingly excellent job of emulating the very same shmups you sucked at as a youngster. And without the arcade-floor bullies jeering in your direction as they cashed in their wads of tickets for endless supplies of free candy. Unless your friends are jeering bullies. In which case, new friends are in order.
So what did it do well? For one thing, it turned enemy pew-pew into “threat,” requiring constant motion to tick it away before it transformed into damage on the following turn. And for another, by only permitting the slimmest set of actions each round unless you burned your health for extra moves and shots, it quickly became a balancing act between picking up points and keeping your ship from overheating. Good stuff.
#29. Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia
We’ve been glutted on worker placement games over the last couple years, but Euphoria stands out from the pack for two major reasons.
First, its madcap dystopian setting was more than just unique. It also established an insane four-way economy of energy (generated by hamster wheel slaves), food, water, and the drugs needed to keep your workers stupid enough to go along with your regime’s more nonsensical actions. There’s a lot to do, from tunneling into neighboring dystopias to steal their resources to dealing with airborne bliss-dealers, resulting in a whole pile of ways to get ahead if you know how to properly leverage your society’s labor.
Speaking of laborers, this is the first worker placement game I’ve played where the help are more than mere pawns waiting to be placed on a board. While smarter workers result in smarter work, yielding more resources when given a task, they also carry the risk of figuring out that your government is sort of ridiculous. At which point they’ll run off into the wilderness like THX 1138 (spoiler, I guess).
#28. Dogs of War
Space-Biff! crewman Elliott deemed 2014 “The Year of Hidden Information,” and Dogs of War is one of the prime examples of that trend — as well as Elliott’s game of the year. Overproduced to absurd heights, this could have been a portable game with wooden cubes instead of flamboyantly behatted mercenary captains and it wouldn’t have lost a single thing. Other than the flamboyant hats.
Okay, fine, it would have lost something crucial. More boardgames ought to include such elaborate haberdashery.
At its most basic, Dogs of War is a Nicomo Cosca simulator. And a fine one at that, letting you pragmatically bounce among its belligerent noble houses. Want to filch a win at the last minute? Go right ahead and deploy a war machine after all those arquebusiers and knights have had their day. Want to earn a household’s trust without actually showing up for the fight? You can do that too. Want to join the melee on both sides? Fine, that’s just fine. Whatever it takes to get ahead.
#27. Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy
A game about genealogy? Sounds boring. So boring that I’m getting bored just thinking about it. Yawn.
That is, until I remember that the game in question is Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy. Then I remember that genealogy is more than just a thing Mormons like to do. It’s also how you trim your family tree from scrawny shrub into a proud and bristling conifer, full of powerful marriages, influential connections, and the occasional lopped-off testicle to ensure the suitable gender of your next child. It’s about claiming titles, rubbing shoulders with nobility, and silently hoping that ne’er-do-well American seductress dies in childbirth.
Even though its title is hard to remember (and makes scant sense even when you do), Legacy is easily one of the most unique and sublime games of recent memory.
#26. Xia: Legends of a Drift System
Space: the final sandbox.
What is Xia about? Pretty much anything you’d like it to be. Exploration? Collecting bounties? Escorting scientists? Upgrading space ships? Dumb luck? Yes. Yes yes yes yes.
Trading space commodities? Sure, okay. If you like that sort of thing.
True, its random elements can be overwhelming. Even just rolling well will earn you points. So while it won’t appeal to everyone, Xia proved to be one of the year’s best free-form games, letting you conduct your life as space-captain to the fullest.
#25. Doomtown: Reloaded
During my personal quest to find a tournament-style card game, Doomtown: Reloaded didn’t quite measure up to what I was looking for, but it still holds a special place in my heart for being the most Western-y game I’ve ever played. If you knew how much I love Westerns, you’d understand what a compliment that is. And that’s in spite of Doomtown’s weirder elements, like magical spells, summoned demons, and evil circuses.
Sorry, “evil” was redundant. Just circuses would have sufficed.
Ah Gomorra. One day I will rule thee. By playing poker and therefore winning shootouts.
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We’ll see you back here tomorrow for six more of the best games of 2014!