Best Week 2015, Rebaked!
Sometimes, things take a couple tries before they hit their stride. Best Week, for instance, which was originally a passing flight of fancy but has morphed into one of the most-anticipated and best-read internet series of all time. No, you can’t see the numbers on that. They’re confidential for reasons of national security.
On occasion, even good board games need a second chance. Which is why our First Day of Best Week 2015 is celebrating the year’s best rehashes, the titles that were better the second time around, and the games that morphed into something entirely new — and better.
Was Prohis better when it was called Sheriff of Nottingham, came in a bigger box, and let you become the chicken king? Some might say yes, but Prohis brings more to the table than its trimmed-down profile. For one thing, everyone gets to be the sheriff all the time, calling bluffs and inspecting shipments of novelty Chinese umbrellas for crates of booze whenever they’re convinced someone isn’t on the level. It’s the same game made faster and meaner.
#9. Summoner Wars: Alliances
If I had to choose just one similarity between Hannibal of Carthage and Plaid Hat Games (out of hundreds), it’s that they’re both tactical geniuses who still can’t seem to capitalize on a solid victory. Take Summoner Wars, for example. Here’s a fantastic game that could have garnered much more widespread popularity, if only its critical adoration had been translated into raw sales. This year’s effort is the wonderful Alliances, which merges the game’s sixteen factions into eight hybrids, more than doubling everyone’s options for deck construction in a single stroke. Summoner Wars has never felt wilder.
#7. Tigris & Euphrates
Okay, so there isn’t anything new about Tigris & Euphrates, but Fantasy Flight’s new edition makes it possible for the latest generation of cardboard enthusiasts to experience the rise of civilization through Reiner Knizia’s masterpiece for the first time. Also for your consideration is the same company’s gorgeous reprinting of Knizia’s Samurai.
Grim is fine. Great, even. But not everything requires demonic black-and-white illustrations straight out of that one kid’s notebook from middle school. Sometimes color, a few jokes, and an acknowledgement that your game is profoundly silly can be just what the doctor ordered. Catacombs, for instance, is about flicking the living daylights out of wooden discs, swearing when they slide under the couch, and getting way too invested in how to equip your party of adventurers. It’s a dungeon crawl dexterity game, it’s silly, and having an edition that understands that is pretty grand.
#5. Fury of Dracula
Fury of Dracula has always been a terrifyingly excellent sneaking game, with Europe alternately suffering the wrath of its nemesis and punching back, even if it’s with the new edition’s skinny Mina Harker arms. It might make no sense that she’d be able to smack Drac’s pointies out, but the third edition still manages to be the best outing yet.
#4. Dark Moon
Here’s a game with history. From its humble beginnings as a print-and-play shortening of Battlestar Galactica, nobody could have foreseen its transformation into its final form. Dark Moon endeavors to be the midpoint between those ten-minute social deduction games that seem to be more popular than the rest of board gaming combined and the three-hour sprawl of its granddaddy. It largely succeeds, providing a tense hour of lying about dice, calling your spouse a Cylon, correcting yourself and calling her Infected, then revealing that you were the bad guy all along as you explode the station’s shield generator.
#3. BattleCON: War of Indines
Devastation of Indines has long been one of my favorite two-player games — we even held a tournament earlier this year — so the appearance of the remake of its predecessor (did you get all that?), War of Indines, provided a whole pile of new fighters to learn. One of the best game systems ever designed just got bigger.
Being in love with Greenland is like being locked into an abusive relationship. “Maybe things will be better this time,” I tell myself, right before it punches me below the ribs and chuckles. It’s mean, vindictive, and doesn’t much care if you’re having fun. It’s also compelling, exciting, and educational. It’s a dice game that wants to be smart rather than dumbed down, complicated rather than simplified, and for that, I cannot help but love it.
#1. Pandemic Legacy
I’ve only played seven of Pandemic Legacy’s twelve sessions, but unless it goes seriously off the rails in the last quarter (“Open carton 9 and take the Monopoly board within”), this has already proven one of the best reimplementations of a game I didn’t much care for. While its tale of infectious diseases and the men and women who cure them is less player-driven than the one told in Rob Daviau’s Risk Legacy, it still makes for a gripping time. While it can occasionally feel like a ride through a haunted house, it still manages to make every decision feel crucial and — more importantly — wrong.
Those are my picks for the best rehashes, reprintings, and reenvisionings of 2015. There were plenty of other excellent titles in consideration, games like Sun Tzu, Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice, Coup: Rebellion G54, Arctic Scavengers, Neuroshima: Convoy, and Valley of the Kings: Afterlife. Those might have been considered runners-up, except there are no runners-up in Best Week. You win or you die.
Okay, dear readers, let’s hear what I got wrong!