New Year, Old Year: 2016 Revisited
Day Three: Iterated!
What I Got Right!
Fine. But if I’m supposed to pick what I got wrong, I’ll need to stretch this a bit, because every last one of these games remains a hallmark example of why board games improve in iterative steps.
Take Tyrants of the Underdark, which is probably this list’s least-impressive game. It’s a hybrid design (between deck-building and area control) that had every last ounce of elegance and depth as something like Lords of Waterdeep. As in, while it wasn’t the grandest or most daring use of its systems, it still created an approachable path of entry for hybrid designs as a whole. That it didn’t catch on as well as Waterdeep was a pity, because it’s when deck-building gets paired with something else that it shines.
Which is precisely the case with Hands in the Sea, by the way. Not only is this a next-step takeaway of Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow, it’s also superior to its predecessor in nearly every regard. Its duel for command of the Western Mediterranean is every bit as gripping, unexpected, and brutal as the historical conflict between Carthage and Rome, with every card, fortress, and administrative necessity serving their purpose.
The same goes for everything else on this list — which was a pretty easy list to get “right,” if I’m being less self-congratulatory about it. Secret Hitler takes the lessons of its predecessors to craft a social deduction game with high stakes and unflinching immediacy. Evolution: Climate is Evolution but with some of its certainty replaced by an equal dose of anxiety. Exceed is Level 99’s BattleCON but faster and less paralyzing. Codex is Magic: The Gathering but without the paid super-decks, as envisioned through the lens of tightly-controlled in-game deck construction. Cry Havoc is about asymmetrical factions except more asymmetrical than usual. And New Angeles? Oh man. New Angeles is the game for people who like their traitor games long, involved, and full of so much negotiation that nobody is leaving that table without getting red-faced at least twice.
So what did I get wrong? Not a damn thing. These games are all excellent. My only regret is not playing a couple of them more often.
On the next page, the preachy games. I mean educational games.