Best Week 2022! Seeking Thrills!
Press-your-luck. Brinkmanship. Good old-fashioned hassling. Whatever you call it, this past year featured a wealth of great games that were about seeing how far you could escalate a situation before it blew up in your face. Today, we’re celebrating our hobby’s thrill-seekers.
Designed by Richard Nguyen-Marshall. Published by Kharitago Games.
Go and cocaine don’t seem like the most natural pairing, but Richard Nguyen-Marshall’s drugification of the ancient abstract walks the tightrope between careful positioning and the ill-gotten gains of the cartel life. Its best parts are familiar to anyone who’s played Go, asking players to make placements that shore up their network of cells… or prove too flimsy and eventually collapse in grand fashion. In this case, that collapse might also see rivals seizing multiple tons of white powder. The result is fascinating, trashy, and political in equal measure.
#5. Clank! Catacombs
Designed by Paul Dennen. Published by Dire Wolf.
Clank! has always literalized the idea of pressing your luck, but Paul Dennen’s latest effort elevates the series by pulling the rug out from under its players’ feet. Sporting a randomized dungeon to explore, pillage, and escape before its resident dragon turns your rogues into doner kebabs, Catacombs refuses to let players reduce its maze to optimal routes. Even as the map comes together, random events threaten to rotate rooms or see vital resources dwindle. Sometimes, your best hope is to collapse close enough to the exit to crawl to safety.
Designed by Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, & Shawn Stankewich. Published by Alderac Entertainment Group.
At first glance, TEN is about drawing cards. Don’t give in to that impulse. It’s really about choosing when to stop drawing cards. That may sound simple, but when you’re desperate to pull a particular number — one that hasn’t appeared in the market or another player’s collection — the temptation is as tangible as an unattended cookie jar. It helps that some cards subtract from your total, making it take that much longer before you strike ten and bust. If that doesn’t get you chanting “Hit hit hit,” nothing will.
#3. The Guild of Merchant Explorers
Designed by Matthew Dunstan & Brett J. Gilbert. Published by Alderac Entertainment Group.
The brilliance of The Guild of Merchant Explorers resides in its resets between eras. Divided across multiple time periods, players spread across the lands and seas from a single capital city, only to contract when the current age of exploration comes to a close. Establish an outpost, however, and the next great expansion will offer multiple jumping-off points. This produces a sharp tension between gathering coins or preparing for ages to come. Of the recent spate of draw-and-write games, this is perhaps the strongest.
#2. Wonderland’s War
Designed by Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner, & Ian Moss. Published by Druid City Games.
There’s something delicious about watching a plan blow up in your face. Wonderland’s War channels Quacks of Quedlinburg in that regard. Everybody draws from their own bag of chips to strengthen their position in battle, but pull too much madness chips and your pawns will die before they can seize control of Wonderland’s regions. It’s as madcap as its source material, turning every contest into a struggle not only with your rivals, but also against your own uncertain sanity. Unless, of course, you can harness the madness. Good luck with that.
#1. Imperium: The Contention
Designed by Gary Dworetsky. Published by Contention Games.
I’m deeply suspicious whenever a game proclaims it can take [long genre] and make it playable in under ninety minutes. Somehow, Imperium: The Contention — that name: ick — pulls it off. This is a genuine 4X space opera, full of strange aliens and powerful combos, all crammed into a game that plays in about an hour. Oh, and it doesn’t feel crammed. Instead, it offers spacefaring combat and testy border politics. The closer you get to victory, the more everybody else at the table is incentivized to pull you back into the bucket. It’s tense, fierce, and flabbergastingly good.
As ever, dear readers, what are your favorite press-your-luck and brinkmanship games of the year?