We’re living in a golden age of board gaming. Anybody who says otherwise just isn’t paying attention, or is being willfully contrary.
That being said, there are a large number of games released in the last ten years or so that missed their window of opportunity. They were released just a bit too soon, and disappeared before the now vastly increased numbers of board-game-playing folks got to experience their wonders. Lucky for us, there’s a few publishers out there smart enough to realize this, and are bringing back a few gems.
I consider it nothing less than my spiritual duty to inform you about these glorious games that you probably missed on their first go ’round. Breathe deeply of the incense, focus your mind, and together we’ll go swimming in the mists of time to view your ill-spent past and the redemption of your board gaming future.
Tigris & Euphrates
Back in print as the first of Fantasy Flight’s new “Euro Classics” line and available now in a gorgeous new edition with stunning plastic monuments and leader icons, Tigris & Euphrates is the epitome of creator Reiner Knizia’s perfectly balanced mathematical sensibilities. On it’s most fundamental level, the game sort of plays like Knizia’s Ingenious on steroids. Simple rules surround a foundation of tile-laying and set-matching, but provide a deep strategically immersive experience inspired by ancient Mesopotamia.
Why does it matter? It’s been referred to as both “The Perfect Game” and in “A Class of its Own” by various reviews. Tigris & Euphrates is one of those amazing games that’s got gateway-game level instructions, but has almost un-quantifiable depths of strategy. You’ll be playing this one for a long, long time.
This one hasn’t been gone that long, just since summer of last year. It had something to do with Kosmos deciding to distribute their games themselves in North America instead of letting Rio Grande do it. But it’s back and on shelves now! A simple two-player card game with a fair amount of depth, players are competing explorers trying to manage their investments and successes across as many as five different expeditions.
Why does it matter? Also designed by Reiner Knizia, Lost Cities is THE default answer to the question “What two player game can I get my non-gaming spouse to play with me?” The pseudo-Indiana Jones theme doesn’t hurt, and you can play the game without a board, making it perfect for travel. And it’s only twenty bucks.
This one is also already available in a gorgeous new edition from IDW Games. It’s been published multiple times in Europe since it’s first incarnation in 2001, but this might actually be the game’s first proper US release.
Push your luck against your fellow adventurers as you strive to take home the most dragon gold.
Why does it matter? Sure, you all work together to take down the dragons, but it’s the strict 60-second time limit on negotiations with your fellow slayers to split the loot that elevates the game. Yup, you’ve got one minute to argue, cajole, and/or convince your companions to give you the gold you feel you deserve. Run out of time before coming to an agreement? You’ll all leave empty handed. There’s no other game quite like this.
Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga
Due within the next month or so, Fire & Axe was published independently before being revamped by Asmodee and released in 2007. Now long out of print, it wasn’t uncommon to see copies sell for $200 on the secondary market. IDW Games is once again the savior here, with a new edition complete with a total graphic overhaul, due any day now.
Why does it matter? It’s the best viking-themed board game ever made. Yeah, I said it. Raids on villages, the sack of Paris, bitter frost-riddled settlements on far shores, all while attempting to out-smart and out-sail your opponents… and with a really compelling Euro-style scoring mechanic. I’ll say it again. It’s the best viking-themed board game ever made. No, don’t argue, just get it. It’s what Odin would want you to do.
Part of the celebrated “mask trilogy” of games designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer (that also includes Tikal and Java) Mexica disappeared from shelves over five years ago. Tikal is a perennial favorite of mine, but sometimes I think Mexica is even better. Players build canals in the pre-Columbian city of Tenochtitlan, and place pyramids of varying heights to claim the districts which are formed between the canals. It’s action-points and area control and cool plastic pyramids.
Why does it matter? As far as I’m concerned, the Mask Trilogy is one of the pillars of modern board gaming. Both Tikal and Torres (the unofficial fourth mask game) won the Speil des Jahres, and as previously mentioned, Mexica might actually be better than either of those. It’s incredibly visually compelling and the new edition, with its textured pyramids and wooden bridges will be an absolutely gorgeous addition to any collection, while the build-them-as-you-go nature of the “areas” that need to be “area-controlled” give the game its unique mechanical spin.
Mission Red Planet
I’ve written about this game in the past, way back in [Card.Board.Box] #3 in 2011. But here’s the short version: Combine designer Bruno Faidutti’s character card selection mechanic with area control and hidden victory conditions. The new edition from Fantasy Flight Games features upgraded components, new mechanics featuring Mar’s moon Phobos, and the ability to add a sixth player.
Why does it matter? One of the first steampunk-themed boardgames, Mission: Red Planet is still the best. The character card mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played Citadels, Mascarade, or Lost Temple. It’s got gateway-game appeal, but the hidden card selection rewards multiple plays.
Stronghold (second edition)
From designer Ignacy Trzewiczek (Imperial Settlers, Robinson Crusoe, The Witcher Adventure Game) comes this game of an orc siege upon a human castle. This is easily one of my favorite games, great as a two player game, and equally fun as a 3-4 player team experience. Out of print for quite a while, Portal Games and Stronghold Games are making a second edition due out before the end of 2015. (Here’s hoping the original’s Undead expansion gets a reprint too)
Why does it matter? The rich theme feels like the best of Ameritrash, but with mechanics like a Euro. Win or lose, you’ll have a rich story to tell after the fact. Like that time the human defenders were utterly blindsided by the suicidal goblin bombers that blew a hole in the ramparts. Or when all hope seemed lost, mankind released the prisoners from their cells and it was only their added manpower that kept the orcs from the tops of the walls.
This one is on my own personal wish list. One of the few games that escaped me over the years, I’m glad to see it’s getting updated and re-released from Academy Games in a new edition called Mare Nostrum – Empires. I already have a number of “big” civilization building games in my collection, but this one stands out with multiple paths to victory and a rulebook that’s only two pages long!
Why does it matter? Designer Serge Laget is an unsung hero of the board gaming world, with some truly outstanding titles under his belt, including Shadows Over Camelot, Mystery of the Abbey and Ad Astra (the latter two with designer Bruno Faidutti). Also, did I mention.. big civ-building game with a two page rulebook?!?
There’s a ton of other re-released hotness coming soon, including Queen’s Neckace, a second edition of the Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game, and out now: Dohdles, a remake of the 1988 Speil des Jahres winning Barbarossa. Desinged by Klaus Teuber the brain behind Catan, it was one of the earliest clay sculpting party games.
-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager at Games and Stuff, where he’s been running Tuesday Board Game Night for over five years. He has most of these games in their previous incarnations and would like to infect as many more people with their board gamey awesomeness. Now if only some brilliant publishers would reprint Faidutti’s Fist of Dragonstones or Kramer’s Wildlife, he’d be a happy camper.
-[Card.Board.Box] is Paul’s semi-regular gaming column. Sometimes, he steals the title from twenty-five year old Cornflakes commercials.