Best Week 2022! Mind’s Eye!
Gimmicks. Brinkmanship. Trauma. Tradency. Little by little, board games have been growing up, encompassing new ideas and new spheres of empathy and expression. This year, Best Week has been a celebration of that expansiveness. It’s a grand time to be pushing cardboard.
Sometimes, though, a game is about sussing out an opponent’s move before even they know what they’ll do. Playing 4D chess. Wheels within wheels within wheels. Today we turn our inner eye toward the exemplars that let you get into your loved ones’ heads.
#6. Sniper Elite: The Board Game
Designed by Roger Tankersley & David Thompson. Published by Rebellion Unplugged.
Hidden movement games have always put guesswork front and center. In this adaptation of stealth shooter Sniper Elite, one side plays as a sniper creeping invisibly into forbidden territory to sabotage the Nazi war machine while everyone else inhabits the jackboots of history’s most guiltless recipients of exploded shrapnel and long-range bullseyes. Unlike most of its peers Sniper Elite plays fast and loose, coming across as almost improvisational as patrolling sentries disappear one by one and comically large squads of fascists close in on their attacker’s last known position.
#5. Watch Out! That’s a Dracula!
Designed by Amabel Holland. Published by Hollandspiele.
It was tempting to make a Best Week list of hybrid games in part thanks to Watch Out! That’s a Dracula!, a blend of social deduction and auctioning about the famous Transylvanian Count doing his darnedest to buy some real estate but finding himself stymied by bigoted English immigration laws. Hooey. Watch Out! is as devilishly silly as its premise, brimming with accusations galore and laugh-out-loud events that turn the proceedings upside-down. It isn’t often that a ten-minute game winds up being the centerpiece of a game night. Watch Out! has managed that distinction more than once.
Designed by Brigitte Ditt & Wolfgang Ditt. Published by BoardGameTables.com.
What first looks like a kid game thanks to its adorable ants, double-ply food tokens, and straightforward rules soon reveals itself to be a cutthroat game of speculation and pettiness. That’s Bites in a nutshell. Every session has its own rules, little modifiers that adjust how the ants move, what superpower a droplet of wine will bestow on their diminutive frame, whether food will score in one way or another. No matter their combination, however, there’s one constant: Bites is about thinking three or four moves in advance and hoping you don’t get bit.
Designed by Cédrick Chaboussit. Published by Studio H.
I’ve been undergoing a trick-taking metamorphosis of late. Nay — a trick-taking renaissance. It helps that trick-taking is as vibrant and inventive as ever. Case in point, Cédrick Chaboussit’s Shamans. This is another hybrid design, blending trick-taking with social deduction to surprising effect. As either shamans or shadows, players are given plenty of reasons to play their cards carefully. But when even allies can’t trust one another, Shamans becomes more than a hybrid, but a step forward for the social deduction genre as a whole. I think I get the appeal now.
#2. Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
Designed by Paolo Mori. Published by Stonemaier Games.
Opinions on the art aside — the new illustrations match the game’s tone better, but I understand the burning desire to be wrong about something — Paolo Mori’s second stab at Libertalia expands on what made the original so good while also easing its wonky tiebreaker. This is still the finest loot-dividing game ever designed, but larger and smoother. Oh, and the loot tiles look like candies, which gives me an extra incentive to fight for each and every one. Winds of Galecrest is the definitive version of a classic, and it never fails to get everyone at the table laughing.
Designed by Matilda Simonsson. Published by Milda Matilda Games.
When I’m feeling down, I sometimes go onto BGG and peruse the negative reviews of excellent games. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a juice cleanse, getting out all the bad in one spasmodic rush so I can focus on the good again. Turncoats is the find of the year, every copy hand-assembled by Matilda Simonsson, with a ruleset so compact that it belies the river’s depth below. Oh, every so often somebody will think they’ve solved the thing. That’s an opportunity to treat them to a humiliating defeat. Turncoats, with its ever-shifting allegiances and shifty armies, its war compressed to the density of a diamond, and its shadowy string-pulling that leaves the table an elegant tangle of shared and conflicting incentives, does in fifteen minutes what many games can’t manage in two, or four, or six hours. With apparent ease, Turncoats enters into conversation with bulkier titles like Pax Pamir and The King Is Dead — and holds it own.