Happy New Year everybody! To start things off right, here’s the second part of my year end best of list, the board games. If you’re looking for my thoughts on the year’s best role-playing games and other stuff (including the best family board games), check my previous article. So, let’s get to it. First up…
Best Board Game Expansions:
ASCENSION: RETURN OF THE FALLEN
Now, ASCENSION: CHRONICLE OF THE GODSLAYER is my favorite of the deck-builders out there. I think it’s the most flavorful of the bunch, and it’s certainly got the quickest set-up and the easiest point of entry for folks not familiar with the genre. (Not to mention artwork that looks like *nothing* else in the industry.) But after scores of games, it got a little flat, with the same strategies popping up most of the time, and player’s reactions to any given card’s appearance in the center row all but given. RETURN OF THE FALLEN fixed all that. The injection of 65 new cards added just enough variety and a handful of new mechanical interactions to completely shake up play styles. Technically speaking, RETURN OF THE FALLEN is a stand-alone two player game, but it really sings when combined with CHRONICLE OF THE GODSLAYER. Between the two sets, there are now enough wacky combos to pull off to satisfy even the players that came to this game due to its MAGIC: THE GATHERING pedigree.
RUNEWARS: BANNERS OF WAR EXPANSION
RUNEWARS is the best fantasy kingdom-building game currently in print. Probably ever. While there are a handful of new mechanics (presented in a modular, plug-in format) the bulk of BANNERS OF WAR is given over to more of what you loved in the core game, which is exactly what I wanted out of an expansion. More variety goes a long way. More season cards, more heroes, more unit types, more tactics cards, more reward cards, more hex tiles, more quest cards. It’s amazing how much just the new unit types and the development cards add to the game. Any given faction will now play VERY differently from game to game based on the directions you take your upgrades in. Exactly what the doctor ordered. Or, what the necromancers of Nerekhall ordered anyway.
Best Board Game (new edition) of 2011:
WAR OF THE RING, SECOND EDITION
This is one that I’ve already waxed poetic about before. Out of print for years, the newly formed Ares Games has finally made this available again, in a new edition. It’s mostly the same as the first edition, but with new board art and a few rules tweaks to close some strategic loopholes that people were taking advantage of in competitive tournament play. That WAR OF THE RING even sees tournament play at all is a testament to its solid design, as it was really envisioned as an immersive narrative experience. At any rate, any serious fan of The Lord of the Rings or two-player war games owes it to themselves to own this. ONE OF MY TOP TWO GAMES OF ALL TIME. No contest.
So now, without further ado…
Best Board Games of 2011:
MOUSQUETAIRES DU ROY
This little gem is a woefully overlooked cooperative game. Released to very little fanfare in the first few weeks of 2011, this is probably the first game based on Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers novel that’s actually based on the novel and not simply some vague notion of the Three Musketeers’ aesthetic. So it’s worth noting that fans of the novel will probably get more out of this than other players, but it’s a fun spin on cooperative games even if you don’t know your Dumas from your dumbass. It can be played fully-cooperatively, all-for-one, one-for-all, OR one player can take on the role of the Milady DeWinter, pawn of the villainous Cardinal Richelieu. (It can also be played solo!) It’s a wonderfully narrative experience, wherein the musketeer players must deal with hurdles on multiple fronts, including the war with England, and the nefarious plan to discredit the Queen through her paramour. And of course, what Three Musketeers game would be complete without sword duels?
The second cooperative game to make my list this year. We had two tables of this running at a demo event early in the year, and there were multiple high-fives and yells erupting from both of them. Anytime a co-op game can elicit that sort of response, it must be doing something right. Each player takes on the role of one of the Norse Gods or Goddesses and must fight to prevent Ragnorak. Through judicial use of Elven allies, artifacts from the Dwarf forges, and perhaps most importantly, the Valkyries, (who can bring mortal Viking warriors to the fight) the players must defend themselves from six evil foes (including Fenrir and Loki himself) intent on bringing doom to the very halls of Odin. All of this while Fire Giants invade the world of men and Frost Giants assemble to make war with Asgard. Finally, the board art must be seen to be believed. It hardly looks like a game at all, just a beautiful rendition of the titular Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and the various worlds that surround it.
A FEW ACRES OF SNOW
It’s a war game: Pieces on a map. Sieges of forts. It’s a deck-builder: Cards are purchased and added to your discard pile to be shuffled into your growing deck. Yup, it’s both. A game based around the French and English conflict in North America, A FEW ACRES OF SNOW is easily the most novel application of the deck building mechanic since DOMINION. And you’ll need to bring both your deck building and tactical warfare skills to the table in order to succeed.
I’ve already written an entire article about this. If you haven’t already read it, go do so now. I’ll wait.
If anything, since writing that, I’ve only fallen MORE in love with this game. After opening one of the sealed compartments a few weeks back, I had one of our players tell me that I had under-sold the thing. But how could I have known? Don’t let anybody spoil anything for you. If you have any appreciation for dudes-on-a-map-rolling-dice-to-kill-one-another type games, go buy this now. It is an utter paradigm shift. It will be an experience unlike any you’ve had with a board game.
My Board Game of the Year. Hands down.
-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff and organizes the shop’s Tuesday Board Game Nights. [Card.Board.Box] is his monthly gaming column for GamesAndStuffOnline.com. His favorite novel of the year The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, the sequel to The Name of the Wind, the first of a planned three part “Kingkiller Chronicles.” The best new fantasy series of the last decade. At least. Read them. Now.