The best of 2015, part 1: My best new (and ‘new to me’) games

CodenamesWelcome to the 2015 summary of my gaming year. It’s been a year of highs and lows, with the positives of a rising profile giving me access to more games being more than cancelled out by separating from my long term partner.

My game collection has increased to 165 (up 15 on last year) – a record high. But with at least 15 titles on or soon joining my ‘for sale‘ list, I don’t see this as growth – especially as when you take sales into consideration I’ve actually finished the year financially up in terms of game spend.

Game plays were down to around 450 from more than 500 in 2014. And the second half of the year was well down; when I lost my partner, I also lost my best gaming partner. Sadly, I expect 2016 to be lower still as this trend continues.

Overall I don’t think it was a vintage year for board game releases, but there were some significant exceptions. I’m yet to play Pandemic Legacy but have no doubts about its high quality; while 7 Wonders: Dual is clearly here to stay. More on Codenames below – while middle weight euros were well served with the likes of The Voyages of Marco Polo, The Bloody Inn, Elysium and Shakespeare.

There also seems to be a deepening, saddening move at Board Game Geek towards ameritrash titles – perhaps reflecting America’s growing interest in the hobby, but leaning firmly towards minis and hackneyed sci-fi/fantasy themes. With people going out of their way to sometime even publicly skew the rankings, I think the days of me taking BGG ratings seriously are over – unless they can do something drastic, or offer an alternative.

Best 12 not new but ‘new to me’ games of 2015

The Dwarves boxI managed to play more than 60 ‘new to me’ titles in 2015; many of them 2014 releases, but some going back to the nineties and beyond.

I’m surprised to be still finding so many gems in the board game back catalogue, even after playing more than a thousand different titles in seven years of gaming. Who knows – maybe my absolute favourite game is still out there, waiting for me to discovered it.

It may also be a reflection of my own taste in games being just as well served by older games; or that as long as it is ‘new to me’ it still feels like a new, exciting playing experience. With a few rare exceptions, I’m not feeling more excited about 2015 releases than I am about older games I’m just discovering.


  • Yspahan: This is a fantastic euro game from 2006. In case anyone thought it was a ‘new’ thing, you use a shared dice pool to choose actions. You’re taking control of areas and there is competition, but not in the traditional sense. Unique and clever.
  • Entdecker: The year after Klaus Teuber released Catan in 1995, he followed it with this exploration/tile laying game. It’s pretty wonky and luck driven, but when it’s this much fun and lasts about an hour who cares?
  • The Dwarves: I’m not a big co-op fan, but The Dwarves has a good story and enough dice roles/actions to get around the ‘alpha player’ problem. It also has a really ingenious enemy movement that any game designer would be proud of. Scheduled for a UK release in 2016.
  • Tash-Kalar – Arena of Legends: A proper thinky abstract combat game dressed in fantasy clothing, but none the worse for it. Really good with two or three players, its about creating patterns with your pieces to unleash attacks and/or score points.
  • Spyrium: A pretty standard euro with a really nice twist: each player decides when to move from phase 1 to phase 2 of the turn, with different actions in each. This adds tension, making a limited pallet of options far more than the sum of its parts.
  • Smash Up: It’s not big or clever, but it works. Grab two decks of cards (pirates, zombies, aliens, ninjas, kitty cats…) and shuffle them to make your deck – then battle for control of a series of islands. A daft, in-your-face, sub-hour card game.

Not bought (yet…)

  • Kemet: I keep saying I don’t really like area majority games, then finding ones I like. This works because it lets you create great combos from a large selection, while forcing you to go forward and attack if you want to win. Really good fun.
  • Xia – Legends of a Drift System: Possibly the stupidest, worst designed game I’ve played and really, really enjoyed. Every rule seems to have been channelled from a 12-year-old boy’s wet nerd dream, but somehow it works. Tremendously dumb fun.
  • Amun-Re: This 2003 Knizia offering has all his hallmarks: pasted on theme, auctions, area influence and clever scoring. I think I prefer Ra, but this is definitely a game I’ll look to get regular plays of whenever possible.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse: Another co-op that largely avoids the alpha player problem, Sentinels does a genius job of evoking the super hero theme and suffers none from having all original heroes. Fiddly, but this card game is worth the effort.
  • Hamsterrolle: It’s rare you’ll see me talking about a dexterity game, but this one deserves a little love. How do you make a wooden block balancing game better? Put it in a massive hamster wheel, that’s how! That kind of thinking needs rewarding…
  • Quartermaster General: I somehow failed to play this in 2014, despite it being a London on Board favourite. Turns out everyone was right: a fast playing WWII card game where six players face off in two teams to decide the war – in an hour.

There were a couple of big names just outside this list, including Colt Express (good fun, just not really for me),  Five Tribes (just too much AP to make the list) and Fields of Arle (solid, but just felt like more Rosenberg) plus some great fillers such as 11 Nimmt!, Sushi Go! and Tsuro.

As for last year’s list, I did end up buying Caverna, Africana and Lords of Vegas – and still intend to pick up Manhattan and Tumblin’ Dice.

My 5 favourite new releases of 2015

The Bloody InnWhile I don’t think 2015 will be looked back on as a vintage year, there was some definite keepers for me.

As mentioned above, I haven’t tried Pandemic Legacy and 7 Wonders:Dual – and I’m not interested in a chunk of the year’s so-called bigger releases (Blood Rage, Forbidden Stars, Star Wars blah blah blah). Just not my bag.

I’m playing Marco Polo online and it seems solid – I hope to get a ‘real life’ play soon. I also like the look of Isle of Skye and Food Chain Magnate, but for now this is my top 5:

  1. The Bloody Inn: This has a chance to rival last year’s number one pick, Deus. It’s a clever little card game where cards can do multiple things and you nebver have quite enough turns. I managed to miss it at Essen and it’s genuinely annoying me.
  2. Codenames: Simply a great take on word games from Vlaada Chvátil. Listed as 2-8 players, I’d say 4-10 is right: get into teams and burn your brains with this clever word association game. Great for parties – but only if it’s not really a ‘party’.
  3. Celestia: A game that is simply more fun than it has any right to be – while being the best looking game of the year in terms of art and components. It’s a push-your-luck game where you bet on another player succeeding; which keeps you engaged.
  4. Lignum: A medium-heavy, super brown euro that’s dry as a witch’s tit – with added brain-straining planning and an economy where everything can seem to be worth ‘one’. But what can I say? I really enjoy the challenge, despite its small faults.
  5. Shakespeare: A really solid euro game that would be higher on the list if it had an original bone in its body. My winner of the ‘rearranging the designer toolbox’ award for 2015, it’s the kind of game I love to play but have loads of similar things already.

Honourable mentions go to Lembitu (fun if naive co-op), Treasure Hunter (basic drafting done right) and Elysium (another really good euro), while I’m yet to play my copies of New York 1901, My Village and Mombasa – any of which may crack this list.

A few other titles need mentioning. The new edition of Through the Ages seems like a solid upgrade from my one play; while The King is Dead is a beautiful reimplementation of King of Siam (two plays so far). I’ve also really enjoyed my plays of expansions Concordia: Salsa, Keyflower: Merchants and Heck Meck: Extrawurm – all of which I will be reviewing early in 2016.

SEE ALSO: Previous entries for 20122013 and 2014.

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