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A Handful of Excellent Sandbox Games


As I wrote last week, the “sandbox Euro” of Feudum is a handsome but troubled youngster. It’s got some great ideas, a slick sense of style, and knows it’s clever. But maybe that’s the problem. For everything it does right, it comes parcel with two exceptions, fussy rules, or instances where it stubbornly refuses to be streamlined.

Still, it’s hard to deny that this dizzying blend of movement puzzle, player-driven feudal holdings, and market manipulation taps into something desirable. The freedom of a sandbox game can be intoxicating, trusting players to pursue their goals with unusual latitude. Where most games offer an intensely curated experience, it’s a joy to be set loose within a set of systems and trusted to sink or swim, boom or bust.

So, as an alternative for those who might be thirsting after something a little more open-ended than usual, what follows are a bunch of my favorite sandbox-style games, ranked in order of their ascending complexity.

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Alone Time: Solopelago

* Reference Reference Pear not included.

Greetings, fellow lonely boardgamers! Now now, before you wind your typewriters for the composition of strongly-worded letters (in my imagination, your typewriters are electric but powered by treadle), I realize this issue of Alone Time is over a month late. Worse yet, the content isn’t even original — I talked about the rather-fantastic Archipelago a mere couple weeks ago, and here I am caught on repeat.

Still, this is an experience any self-respecting solo boardgamer ought to know about, because it turns out that one of the freshest recent multiplayer boardgames is also one of the freshest recent solo games to hit the market. Once you pick up the Solo Expansion, anyway.

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Yes, this game includes golden pyramids.

Turns out 2013 is one hell of a year to be playing board games. Back in March, I wrote about a game called Kemet that I assumed would be one of the best titles of the year — and it turns out it still is, though now it has a competitor in the form of Archipelago, the latest from designer Christopher Boelinger. Now, maybe at this very instant you’re muttering that Archipelago technically released in 2012, but I have two counters for that: one, I had no idea this gem even existed, and we’ve always run things on our own time here at Space-Biff!, and two, if you knew that off the top of your head, why are you even reading this review? Surely you know it’s amazing by now? Why don’t you go play it instead of hassling unpaid board game reviewers?

Anyway, Kemet and Archipelago would be about as different as two games could be if it weren’t for precisely two similarities. For one thing, both force their players to ration a limited pool of actions like precious canteens of water in the desert; and for another, they’re both determined to make you despise your friends for the evening. This time around though, it’ll be because your best friend just swindled you out of a bumper pineapple crop. That little turd.

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