Number 40 — Kemet
First up this week is Kemet. Kemet is a fast-paced fighting game set in a type of mythological Egypt. Players build their forces and attack to try to win battles and control key locations. Players take actions and spend their essence to customize their armies, move around, and attack. This is similar to the “rage” mechanism in Blood Rage, which we have already discussed.
The best thing about Kemet is how fast-paced it is. The main way to score is through winning battles, so players are encouraged to invade and attack as quickly as possible. Combat is card-based with players selecting from an identical hand of cards simultaneously and adding their forces to the total. The board is also easy to cross, so that players can easily get in each other’s faces.
Of course, then there are the creatures. One thing players can do is upgrade their armies to include these large monster figures to enhance their forces.
Overall, Kemet has a lot of strengths. It has great components, easy rules, and fast, engaging gameplay. Additionally, if you own it’s sister game Cyclades, you can combine the monsters from that game and mix them in for added variety. Kemet also has an expansion coming soon, and it’s one of the best games of its kind.
Number 39 — BattleCon
Next up is a two-player head-to-head combat game. BattleCon feels like a card game emulation of street fighter style video game. Each player takes one of about the game’s 60+ unique characters and tries to reduce the other player’s life to zero. This is done by playing combinations of cards that affect your character’s speed, range, power, and positioning.
The game’s hook is that each of the characters is unique and has its own play style, including strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Many characters involve unique tokens or effects, and even with all this complexity, BattleCon is nevertheless balanced, fast, and easy to pick up. Perhaps the only downside of BattleCon is that it has probably too many expansions. With more than 60 characters, there is no efficient way to store or sort the game, which makes it somewhat of a hassle to pull out and play. But for variety, this game certainly has it all!
Number 38 — Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham is a highly-interactive bluffing and set collection game. Each round, one player takes the role of the sheriff, while the others are merchants trying to bring their wares into town. Players fill a bag with any combination of legal and contraband goods, then announce to the sheriff the contents of their bag. Lying is allowed (and encouraged), and unscrupulous players can enjoy significant advantage. Bribery and negation are also recommended to help the sheriff make the best possible decision on what to inspect and what to let pass through.
Sheriff of Nottingham works well with almost any group. Its simple rules make it easy to teach, and its engaging interactions ensure the game never becomes dry or repetitive. Negotiations and backstabbing ensure, and the game is fast-paced and enjoyable from the first bribe!
Number 37 — Cosmic Encounter
Cosmic Encounter is sort of what I imagine Pandora’s box to be like. The game is undistilled chaos, but it provides one of the best group game experiences available. I have never played a game of Cosmic Encounter that didn’t stay with me for weeks – and some of my fondest game memories ever come from this game.
The game is basically a huge mix of crazy special powers and negotiation. Each turn, players are told by a card draw whom they will attack. Then the player mounts his attack and invites uninvolved players to join him. The defender also invites uninvolved players to join him in defense. Finally, players play cards and see who wins. If the attacker wins, he (and anyone who helped him) gets a colony on the planet attacked. This provides one of the five points required to win.
Much of the charm of the game is the fact that it contains legions of different “alien races” that players can use. There are so many now that no two games will ever be the same. Each different race has strengths and weaknesses, and while some are more obvious than others, each alien race will create a unique play experience.
The game is extremely chaotic. This chaos of the game is its main strength and its main weakness. Though every effort is made to make it clear when things need to be activated, it is a bit difficult for new players to grasp the timing of certain phases and effects, and the vast amount of material to absorb can be daunting. Also, the rulebook is far from great — it is from a former era of Fantasy Flight rulebooks (e.g. Arkham Horror) when they were far from clear or user-friendly. However, despite the chaos, Cosmic Encounter as a whole, delivers a delightful experience of bluffing, negotiation, and backstabbing, and it is always a pleasure (and always memorable) to play.
Number 36 — The Duke
The Duke is an abstract game, where players try to capture their opponent’s Duke piece to win the game. This may sound like Chess, and in many ways, the Duke is similar in concept to Chess. However, the Duke’s execution of its concepts is far superior. While Chess sees symmetrical forces, the Duke sees players building their army by drawing their soldiers from a bag. Furthermore, each piece has its own unique movement capabilities, and after activation, the piece will flip, erasing the prior turn’s movement options and adding new ones. The armies thus become asymmetrical and have an element of surprise.
Now you would think that the fact that each piece has different movement capabilities and action possibilities would make the game complicated to teach and play. However, the brilliance of the Duke is that the abilities of each piece are printed on the tile, meaning you really don’t have to remember anything. There are one or two icons to learn, but they are relatively intuitive. The Duke takes what could have been a complicated mess and makes it something glorious.
There are multiple expansions to the game, including themed expansions around Conan the Barbarian, King Arthur, the Three Musketeers, and Robin Hood. There is also a separate viking-themed version called the Jarl that is fully compatible with the base game. On the whole, the simple and elegant design the Duke makes it one of the best and most exciting abstract games on the market.
Number 35 — Terra Mystica
Affectionately called the “Mermaid Game” by my friends, Terra Mystica is an example of a beautiful piece of game design. While some detractors have described it as “filling in a spreadsheet,” I personally find Terra Mystica to be a marvelous blend of complexity and simplicity, with just enough theme added to make it palatable.
Players take on the roles of fantasy-ish races, each with mildly different special abilities, costs, and resource production capabilities. By manipulating these special powers and by carefully building the right structures at the right time, players will try to score points and expand the reach of their race’s influence.
There is a lot to remember in the game, but the designers have created very functional player board that really takes the more difficult game concepts and makes them manageable. The theme of the game is very dry and loosely draped on, but the fun of the game is seeing how it makes so many small parts fit together so well. The game heavily rewards repeated play, and I am often leery about bringing it to new players. Also, this is another game that can be destroyed by slow play, and the vast amount of choices could lead your AP friends overwhelmed (and by extension, yourself very frustrated). The recent expansion integrates seamlessly, and the game is a delight to play with an experienced playgroup.
Number 34 — Heroscape
Heroscape is one of the most visually appealing games in existence. Heroscape takes random collections of various characters drawn from all genres of history and fantasy and puts them in a head-to-head duel. And it does so with large, fancy pre-painted figures and oodles of interlocking plastic terrain.
Heroscape is just fun! And while the pieces look suspiciously like children’s toys, the gameplay is definitely something that adults can (and do) enjoy.
The main drawbacks of the game are directly related to its scope and size: it takes forever to set up, and it is very difficult to store. Also, it is out of print and difficult to find at a normal price. However, the recently printed Magic: the Gathering Board Game brings many aspects of the game (though with mostly unpainted figures), promises to resurrect the franchise and bring at least a version back into distribution.
Number 33 — Codenames
A new entry to the list, the smash hit Codenames (from acclaimed designer/wizard Vlaada Chvatil) is a party game with style. Players form teams with one member is a “spymaster” and the others are agents. The spymaster gives one-word clues, and players try to pick out one or more words from a 5×5 grid. The game is about finding and communicating connections between the sets of words.
The theme is not particularly strong, and the components are a bit thin and cheap, but the game itself is very strong. It works with any size of group, it is simple, it is fast, and it games are always memorable. Codenames is simple concept elegantly executed, and is well-deserving of its hype!
Number 32 — Web of Power
Returning to the list is a classic from my university days. I discovered Web of Power through Brettspielwelt, an online gaming portal. From the start, the game was engaging. Players use their cards to attempt to place monasteries and advisors (houses and cylindars) into various regions of Europe. The catch, though, is that players are dependent on other players to determine how much they are allowed to place, and most cards are actually valid for use in two different regions.
The game is the perfect length, and it has the distinction of being the first game I ever stayed up all night long playing game after game with a particular group of friends. Although the scoring is a little hard to teach, the overall design is smooth and simple.
The game has reimplemented in a “rethemed” (read “relocated”) version called China. Both are somewhat difficult to come by though, however they are worth the effort. Best of all, it lasts the perfect length.
As an intro to this game, there is a delightfully silly video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLV0AWXNsck
Fury of Dracula has one of the best titles for a board game! The game is a hidden-movement game in which one player plays Dracula, moving around Europe and attempting to spawn new vampires, while the other players take on the role of various other characters from the Bram Stoker novel and try, unsurprisingly, to find and kill Dracula. Dracula’s movement is in secret, and though he does leave a trail, finding him requires careful investigation and guesswork by the investigators. Also, he sometimes leaves behind traps to catch the unwary.
If ever the investigators find Dracula, a combat ensues. Depending on whether the combat occurs during the day or the night, the sides have different advantages and abilities. The combat in the older edition of the game (the one I grew to love) is somewhat difficult to learn. However, the game was recently reprinted, and the combat has been streamlined.
The game is really a lot of fun to play, though it requires a Dracula player who is familiar with the rules, as a mistake on his part can ruin the game. The rulebook includes special rules to deal with a Dracula who cheats (inadvertently, of course), but it’s best just to let the player who knows how to play take on that role so that those rules aren’t necessary.
However, as a game, this one is a surefire hit each time. Also, with its distinctive Halloween theme, I’m virtually guaranteed to get several plays in each October! And with the reprint widely available, others can have that same pleasure now as well!
And that concludes another installment. All these games are fantastic, and even better ones are coming!