It’s time for one of my favorite posts each year: our Best Board Games list!
As you know, here at GeekDad we love our tabletop games–whether it’s playing games with our kids, going to a big convention like Gen Con, backing games on Kickstarter, or watching Wil Wheaton lose over and over again on Tabletop. Here are the games that topped our lists in 2014.
Just to be clear: this list is, of course, not comprehensive–we certainly didn’t play all of the games published in 2014 (not by a long shot) and sometimes we miss out on big releases. And, of course, sometimes we’re just finally getting around to older games. But here are the games we most enjoyed playing during the year.
Jonathan Liu’s Picks
I wrote up my 10 x 10 Tabletop Challenge so you already know the games I played the most times, so all of those get an automatic mention on this list (though technically 20 Express was on my “best of” last year.) My top picks from that list are Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Robinson Crusoe for the longer games, Machi Koro for a great medium-weight game, and Eggs & Empires and Good Cop Bad Cop for quick games for more players. (And on a side note: both Eggs & Empires and Good Cop Bad Cop were Kickstarter success stories: funded in 2014, and delivered on time or nearly so.)
For the games that didn’t quite make it to 10 plays this year, there were still a few that stood out, ones that I’m excited about playing in the coming year (if all those Kickstarter prototypes don’t get in the way).
This is a puzzle game that toys with your mind, whether you’re the Mastermind or a Protagonist. The Mastermind is trying to manipulate characters to cause various tragedies and plots to unfold; the Protagonists are working together to prevent them. The trick is that you get to loop back in time, carrying with you the knowledge you’ve gained from previous loops. I’ve only gotten to play Tragedy Looper a few times so far, but each one has been a blast. Here’s my original review.
Space Cadets: Dice Duel: Die Fighter
If you like rolling dice and real-time games, Space Cadets: Dice Duel is right up your alley. It’s a raucous team vs. team game, and Die Fighter is the perfect expansion for it. While it’s not for everyone–some people can’t stand the frantic pace–I love the way the game keeps you on the edge of your seat. Read my review here.
Sushi Go! reminds me of 7 Wonders, but boiled down to its card-drafting essence. Not only is it an easy way to introduce the card-drafting mechanic, it’s also great fun and really adorable, too. The compact tin makes it great for on-the-go gaming, and it’s one that I can recommend to both kids and adults. Read my original review here.
Legendary Encounters and Valley of the Kings
I’m still a huge fan of deck-building games, and there were two that really stood out for me this year. Legendary Encounters is a fantastic spin on the Legendary system (which was set in the Marvel comic book universe)–it puts you in the world of the Alien films. While it still uses the same base mechanics, there are some tweaks that really mix things up: hidden enemies, potential hidden traitors, and the dreaded alien player. I love the way the game plays out the theme. (Read my review here.) The other deck-building game I loved was Valley of the Kings, which is a pocket-sized game that is as much about weeding cards out of your deck as it is about adding more cards. It struck me as a new approach to deck-building games and is a lot of fun. (Read my review here.)
Dave Banks’ picks
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
This game can be played in less than 10 minutes and is a great party game, so it got dozens of plays at our table this year. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is simple to teach and, unlike other variations on the Mafia/Werewolf genre, the publisher, Bezier Games, has released a free app (iOS, Android) that handles the responsibilities of a game moderator. It’s my favorite bluffing game right now and one you should be playing if you aren’t already. Read Jonathan’s review here.
Concept is a game that I bought on a whim on my last day at GenCon; I’m glad I did. This party game pits teams of players against each other by using tokens on a board of images to wordlessly describe an increasing difficult number of concepts (and subconcepts). For example, if your word is “milk,” place a token on the icon for food/drink and another on the color white. The charade-like game has an amazing amount of depth and can be played as an easy and fun amusement or as a challenging brain puzzler. Buy it at Amazon.
This game has been described as Dominion meets Scrabble and it’s a pretty accurate representation. This indie card game uses a similar deck-building mechanic to the popular kingdom building game while challenging players to build words with their deck draws. You can use special powers to augment your scores and the game has a number of variations right out of the box. Paperback is not only very enjoyable, it’s one that my book-loving kids really like playing too. Read Jonathan’s review or buy it here.
This “worker displacement” game is my game of the year, for a couple of reasons: First, it is challenging and offers lots of replay. Each setup is different, so not only does each game play exclusively from your previous try, but setups may dictate a unique strategy for each game. Second, there are so many different ways to score points, no one is ever really out of the game and often the winner is not known until the score is tallied. Great production value from Days of Wonder pushes this one over the top. Read my full review here or buy it at Amazon.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
The Mad King Ludwig loves castles and has commissioned you to build more of them. He has certain demands that will put you in favor, but build your castle however you choose, room by room. The game has a unique bidding strategy where players take turns assigning purchase values for various rooms. Certain rooms, like a billiards room, assign a penalty if they are near others, like a bedroom; however, the layout is entirely up to you. Players have hidden goals, which can dramatically affect the game’s outcome, but most points wins in this deep and challenging tile-laying game that I have loved playing in 2014. Buy it at Amazon.
Michael Harrison’s pick:
Dungeons & Dragons
The latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons hit shelves this autumn after years of beta testing, and it was a return to form. A departure from the game’s fourth edition, which relied heavily on detailed rules for tactical combat, fifth edition D&D is all about streamlined rules and role-playing. The books are expertly designed, and the art is evocative, breath-takingly beautiful, and inclusive. No chainmail bikinis here, thank you very much. Our own James Floyd Kelly compared the newest Dungeon Master’s Guide to the original back in November and wrote, “This is the Dungeons & Dragons I remember playing.” He’s not the only one. Buy it on Amazon.
Jenny Williams’ picks:
Last year, Rory’s Story Cubes expanded their offerings to include a MAX set and some Mix expansions. The MAX set has the same cube faces as the original Rory’s Story Cubes set, but the cubes are extra large. These are perfect for those with poor vision, groups of people, or small hands. The first set of Mix expansions available in the U.S. each include three new Cubes with the themes Clues (mysteries and crime), Enchanted (fairy tales), and Prehistoria (primeval predators). Mix them up with other Cube sets to add another layer of storytelling to appeal to a wider audience. Read Jenny’s review here.
If you enjoy embellishing your board games, customizing them to make them your own, DIY Board Games is for you. Five traditional games are included: Backgammon, Ludo (Parcheesi), Game of the Goose, Snakes and Ladders (Chutes and Ladders), and Draughts (Checkers). You and/or your kids can color the boards and pieces, arrange villages with stickers, and even stitch ladders. A great activity for multiple generations, this is one five-in-one game that you will pull out frequently. Read the original review here.
Rory Stark’s picks:
Smash Up – The Big Geeky Box
The “smash” hit from Paul Peterson, Smash Up, hit a new stride of awesome in 2014. With The Big Geeky Box, Smash Up players get access to the much-needed storage option for their many expansions, as well as an exclusive expansion. What faction could possibly top zombies, aliens, plants, and Cthulhu factions? Why, the Geek faction, of course! The Geek faction is based on Geek and Sundry and Tabletop and features big names such as Felicia Day. When my friend handed me the Geek Faction for the first time, I thought I was going to faint. Why? The first card I drew was Wil freaking Wheaton. I felt amazingly meta playing a card depicting Wil playing Smash Up. Srs lols, bro. Srs lol.
In 2014, Jenny and I backed a Kickstarter for a game called Yardmaster by Crash Games. Somewhere beyond UNO, this resource management game is based on building your train from compatible cars. The player must collect resources such as oil, coal, or cattle, in order to purchase the cars they want. Each car is color coded to the resource required to buy it, and has a number on it. The number on the face of the car is both its value and its cost. In order to add cars to a train, the player must match either color or number between the cars, as one might do in UNO. The first player to 16 points wins. We have found Yardmaster to be a game with interesting mechanics, challenges, and quick play. It has earned its place on our limited game shelf, and is here to stay. (Read Jonathan’s original review here.)