The Best Games of 2015!!!

Hey everyone!  I finally got to a point where I feel ready to discuss my favorite games of 2015.  The reason I usually wait a month when doing any kind of end of year list, is to try to experience as much of the year as I can, whether it’s movies, games, music, etc.  I have played about 122 games that were given a U.S. release in 2015.  There are a few on my list that some game critics counted as 2014 games, but they were not given a retail release in the U.S. until 2015, so in my opinion they are official 2015 games (U.S. Release).  The same rules apply to films.  I am also a film critic, which is why I’m applying film release rules to games as well.  It always irritates me when a game critic includes a game on their list that I CAN NOT yet purchase.  Just because they played it in 2015, doesn’t mean it actually came out in 2015.  So I’m thinking of the average retail game buyer when doing these lists.  Okay, done with my rant.  On to the best of 2015!!!!

First of all, there are several 2015 games that I did not get to play.  Here are a list of all the games from last year that I own that I still need to play:

  • 20th Century Limited
  • 504
  • Bottlecap Vikings
  • Captains of Industry
  • Dice Brewing
  • Favor of the Pharaoh
  • Great Snowball Battle
  • Hangtown
  • Moriarty’s Machinations
  • News@11
  • Princess Bride: As You Wish
  • Princess Bride: Battle of Wits
  • Princess Bride: Miracle Pill
  • Rumplestilskin (AEG)
  • Ships
  • The Staufer Dynasty
  • Steam Works
  • Unpub
  • Yunnan
  • Zhanguo

I’m sure I will play all these eventually within the next year, but I had to draw the line somewhere, otherwise I would never get to my top games list.

Before I do my end of year list, I would like to mention the best games of certain categories:

  • Best Box Cover – T.I.M.E. Stories
  • Best Game Board – The World of Smog: On Her Majesty’s Service
  • Best Overall Artwork – The Grizzled
  • Best Game Components – Tail Feathers
  • Best 2-Player Game – Baseball Highlights 2045
  • Best Card Game – The Game
  • Best Dice Game – Fuse
  • Best Co-Op Game – T.I.M.E. Stories
  • Most Innovative Game – Pandemic Legacy
  • Best Party Game – Timeline Challenge
  • Best Game Theme – T.I.M.E. Stories
  • Biggest Surprise – Warehouse 51
  • Best Family Game – Pingo Pingo
  • Best Strategy Game – Mombasa

 

Now to talk about my absolute favorite games of 2015.  However, instead of doing a Top 10 list, I will be doing a Top 20 list.  There were just so many games that I loved this past year, that I can’t do just ONLY 10.  I want to share with you all of the great games I’ve played in 2015.  And even then, there are quite a few games that didn’t make the list that I would consider great games.  Here are some honorable mentions that didn’t make my list:

All of these I consider really good games, and you should definitely check them out.

Now, one more thing before I list my top 20 games.  These are games that I love. I have a specific taste, so not all of these games are for everyone.  This list is what I feel are the best games I’ve experienced last year.  Also, I’m not going to giving overviews or explain how to play the game.  Just a quick summary on what I thought about the game.  I’ll include links for every game so you can find out more info about gameplay on the Boardgamegeek website.

And finally, my Top 20 Games of 2015………………..

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20. Rum & Bones -This one really surprised me.  I’m not a big miniatures game fan.  Rolling dice and checking hit points just isn’t that fun for me…… usually.  But the Pirate theme REALLY comes out in this one.  I love that each player has several minions scattering around on the board slashing at things, and that you have unique characters you control, all with different abilities.  The Kraken can also show up and just start taking out all players.  And the game plays pretty quick too.  It’s good, chaotic fun!

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19. 7 Wonders Duel – I admit, I wasn’t a big fan of the original 7 Wonders.  Not sure why, but it just didn’t grab me.  My 12 year old loved it and has been bugging me to pick it up, but since I heard that it didn’t play well with 2 players, I didn’t get it.  Well, when this one came out, I decided to give it a try.  Not only did my daughter fall in love with the game, so did I.  The theme is still pretty abstract, but the flow of the game is very smooth.  I love the card drafting mechanism of choosing cards from a grid on the board.  The military track is also a neat edition.  And you can easily breeze through it in just 20-30 minutes.  Very satisfied with this game.

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18. Tail Feathers – Talk about successfully integrating a theme into a game, Tail Feathers knocks it out of the park.  I enjoyed Mice & Mystics, but occasionally it felt like the game plays itself, like it’s on auto pilot.  But not here.  Set in the same universe as Mice & Mystics, Tail Feathers is a tactical air combat game with mice riding on birds attacking each other.  The Flight system is cooler and more exciting then X-Wing (a game that I just can’t get into).  With that mechanic alone, the game is solid.  But wait, there’s more!  There’s also mice that you have in nearby trees that can attack opponents birds.  And the thing that actually put this game over the top for me was you can have one of your mice move onto a leaf, and cut itself free from the tree, floating around in the sky attacking other birds.  That’s so cool!  Very fun and thematic game!

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17. The Gallerist – Here’s the first of many Euro games that made my list.  I’m just a fan of these types of games.  From the designer of Kanban: Automotive Revolution comes this heavy game about running your own art gallery.  You discover artists, buy and sell their paintings, increase the fame of an artist, bid on international paintings, plus you have secret objectives to go for, all the while trying to get as many visitors into your gallery.  Lots to think about here.  I love worker placement games where you have many choices to choose from.  The components are great, love the original pieces of art in here, and the board is gorgeous.  I loved wrapping my head around this one.

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16. The World of Smog: On Her Majesty’s Service – Probably the most unique game I played last year.  Set in an alternate steampunk universe, this one has players racing to be the first to collect 4 artifacts in the mysterious shadow market.  The board has a bunch of moving gears on it that rotate every time you perform an action on that space.  It has a wicked theme, cool artwork, fantastic components, and plays fast.  Probably has the best production values out of any game I’ve played in 2015.  Plus, the game is actually really, really good!

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15. Champions of Midgard – This one received a lot of hype at Gen Con last year.  I finally played it last month and was a little underwhelmed.  Well, I have played it several times since and it has vastly improved with each play.  This viking themed worker placement game has a really nice flow to it.   I really like that there is a main purpose for placing your workers…… to prepare for combat with various different trolls and monsters.  This game mixes Eurogame mechanics with dice rolling combat very well.  And it’s a fun theme to get into.  This one has a lot of replayability too.  New strategies to try every game.  Glad I gave this one a second chance.

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14. Kraftwagen – While the box cover is pretty boring, the same can’t be said of this interesting Eurogame.  Players are building and selling cars from various different eras, from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s.  There’s also a little Grand Prix track that each player races on throughout the game.  That’s all well and good, but the main draw to the game for me is the way you choose your actions on a roundel on the gameboard.  The last player on the track is always the current player.  This makes the choices really interesting and is the reason why the game is so unique.  It plays rather quick for a Euro.  I also love this game because my brother (who is not a fan of Eurogames) loved it, so I’m putting that down as a personal victory.

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13. The Grizzled – I did a full review of this earlier last year.  This co-operative card game has a really unique theme.  Players are soldiers in the trenches during WWI trying to overcome their worst fears and the trials of war.  It’s very hard, but I found it really rewarding.  The theme really comes through with help from old-timey artwork.  The players really have to be on the same page here to survive the war.  The sense of teamwork really comes through in this game.

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12. Dead Man’s Draw – This was the game I played the most last year.  52 times!  The reason for that is because it plays in 10 minutes, is easy to teach and is a great game to play with non-gamers.  This is a great gateway card game!  It’s a pirate-themed push your luck game that has players drawing cards, trying not to draw the same suit.  If they do, they bust.  Plus, every suit has a special ability, like destroying other player’s cards, etc.  It has a fun take-that element going for it.  The interaction is what really makes this game a blast, as you cheer every time your opponent busts.  Great fun!

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11. The Prodigals Club – The silly theme is what drew me to this one.  Players are rich aristocrats that are so bored with their current lifestyle that they decide to see who can lose all their belongings and reputation the fastest.  That theme alone just cracks me up.  The cards are often hilarious (like bringing a horse to a society party), but it’s the gameplay that is what’s really engaging here.  A deceivingly complex game that has players going down on three separate tracks, through clever card play.  The end game scoring is brilliant.  Whichever track you are the highest on is your final score.  The player with the lowest score wins.  This means you must balance all of your tracks rather evenly.  I really liked that!  Really interesting mechanics with a very funny theme makes this game shine!

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10. The Game – This one is not getting as much love as it should.  Nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres, this abstract co-operative card game has players simply trying to get through a deck of cards numbered 2-99, as they play them into ascending and descending piles.  You can’t tell players what you have in your hand so players must come up with other ways to communicate.  It’s fast, easy to teach, and really intense.  The first time I played it, I thought that there was no way anyone could win….. then I won on my second play through.  It’s still not easy!  I’ve played this several times and have only beat it 3 or 4 times.  It’s another great gateway game to play with people new to the gaming hobby.  One to play with the whole family.  I can see people playing this one with their grandparents.

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9. Grand Austria Hotel – The next six games are medium/heavy Euro games, this one probably being the lighter of the bunch.  Here, players are running their own hotel, tempting guests in their cafe to spend the night by fulfilling the patron’s orders.  The main mechanic of rolling dice to determine how much of each of the six main actions you can take during a particular round works really well.  There’s also added complexity due to other tracks the player’s must pay attention to, or it could result in a penalty.  There’s set collecting, resource management and even secret objectives that you can obtain throughout the game by hiring more staff.  Lots of things going on, but they all come together wonderfully, while making sense thematically.  A very well designed game. 

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8. The Voyages of Marco Polo – Co-designed by the same people who made Grand Austria Hotel, this one’s even better!  Player’s are famous travelers moving around a map, discovering cities, and gaining resources to further fund their exploits.  The dice mechanic used in Grand Austria Hotel is altered slightly here.  You still roll dice for actions, but you can place them anywhere on the board, but depending on what number is on your die will determine exactly how much of that action you can do.  I love trying to figure out the best path to your destination (everyone has hidden goals in that regard), I love the different objectives/contracts you can choose during the game, and the variable player powers that one has through the character that they choose at the beginning of the game is awesome!  Great artwork (which reminds me of Bruges), many ways to score, interesting choices, and a neat theme.  You really have to plan ahead of time in this one if you want to get far.  Lots of strategy here, which I find very rewarding and satisfying.

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7. Orleans – This one was released at Essen in 2014, but did not get a U.S. retail release until last November.  This may have the driest theme on the list, but man… this has really smooth mechanics.  Players are just trying to hire workers and build trading posts to gain influence in the town of Orleans.  The mechanic of gaining workers, then putting those worker tokens in your bag that you get to draw at the beginning of each turn is not an entirely new concept.  Hyperborea (which made my list in 2014) used this same mechanic (but with cubes instead).  But it just seems to work even better in this game.  Every different kind of worker has their own purpose, and depending on how you want to score points will determine which workers you hire.  Players also must carefully plan out when to place trading posts on the map to collect goods, while trying to go up on the influence track.  This is probably the most mechanically sound game of the year.  It just works so well.  I’ve played this over a half dozen times and I always find something new I love about the game.  Even when it’s not your turn, you will be thoroughly engaged, trying to figure out what you’re going to do on your next turn.  A rich, involving game that I found very entertaining.

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6. Aquasphere – This is another game released at Essen of 2014.  It was supposed to be released in December of 2014 in the U.S., but shipping problems caused it to be released in January of 2015.  Stefan Feld has made a crazy game here.  Players are scientists running around in an underwater research facility, programming bots, getting rid of octopods, experimenting on mysterious crystals, expanding their labs, and deploying subs to explore the ocean.  The actions the players have to choose from aren’t difficult, but it’s getting everything to work out the way you want is what’s going to burn your brain in this one.  I loved trying to figure out how I was going to do everything in just a few short rounds.  I thought it was cool how Feld took a programming game and turned it on it’s ear.  I love the modular board, and how it gets put together.  I love the wacky theme.  And I love how complex it is.  I have played this several times, and am still eager to explore the game further, trying to find out the best way to optimize my actions.  Any game that can get me to use my brain this much (and being super fun at the same time) deserves to be high on my game list!

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5. Mombasa – I think this year I discovered that I like games where you’re trying to go up on various numbers of tracks.  Here, players are buying up shares of stocks in 4 different regions in Africa by going up on each track, while building trading posts in each of the 4 regions to make each stock worth more at the end of the game.  Each player also has their own player board with a bookkeeping track and a diamond mine track.  The higher you are on each track, the more points you’ll get at the end of the game.  But what makes this game really interesting is the gameplay.  You choose actions from cards in your hand, and play them face down, then reveal them at the same time.  You can also purchase better cards from your hand from the board, and there’s various bonus actions to choose from too.  I like that you never quite know who is going to win at the end.  It’s hard to keep track of all the tracks and all of the players.  I love that in games.  This one was thoroughly engaging for me every second of gameplay.  I feel like I haven’t explored all the ways to victory yet, which keeps me coming back for more!

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4. Fields of Arle – This is another one that was released at Essen in 2014, but did not hit retail stores until January 2015.  I haven’t played any of the other Rosenberg farming games (like Caverna and Agricola), so I can’t really compare this to anything.  But what I can tell you that this is one of the most richest and complete games I’ve ever experienced.  Players are building up their farms by constructing buildings, planting goods, breeding animals, and selling goods to town.  The options in  this game are nearly endless.  On a particular turn, you have 30 options to choose from.  It could be overwhelming at first, but each action space is pretty self explanitory (get 2 wood, get 1 sheep, etc.).  I love figuring out how I’m going to accomplish my goals.  And you can make your own goals in this game.  Many ways to victory.  You score points for your animals, your goods, how often you went to town, how many farm vehicles you used, etc.  Probably the most thematic Euro game I’ve ever played.  It really feels like you’re farming.  An excellent two player game that is rich in its complexity, and ultimately satisfying in its game play.

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3. Baseball Highlights 2045 – Not a sports fan at all, but I love this game.  I’ve played this over 20 times, and it’s always an exciting time.  It’s mainly a two player game (you can play a tournament with more players) that has each player controlling a baseball team in the year 2045.  You can even have cyborgs and robots on your team!  It’s a card based game in which you play a card that has a specific action (like single, double, homerun), and the other player will play a card attempting to counter your threatened hit.  There’s many different plays a player can do: steal a base, double play, clutch single, change all hits to walks, etc.  This game has a perfect back and forth between players.  The flow is really nice.  I also love that you get to draft new and better players between mini-games.  After three mini-games is the world series, which could be up to seven games.  I love the dynamic so much here.  It can get really exciting.  I’ve had games where I was beating my friend pretty badly, only for him to come back in the last games of the World Series to win!  And vice versa.  Even though I don’t like Baseball, I feel they captured the theme extremely well here.  It really feels like you’re playing baseball!  You definitely don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy this one.  I’m living proof of that!  For most of the year, this was my favorite game of the year….. and then I played these next two.

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2. Pandemic Legacy – I know I’m jumping on the band wagon here, but this game really lives up to the hype!  This was the last game I needed to try before I made this list, and boy am I glad I waited.  To be honest, I hate hype, so I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t like this that much, but man…. this game is truly excellent and deserves all the praise it’s getting.  I like Pandemic, but I don’t think it’s the greatest game.  It’s a solid game, but not my favorite.  Legacy turns the original Pandemic on its ear.  Wow!  It starts off very similar (players working together trying to cure 4 diseases), and them BAM!  Bad things begin to happen.  I love that you have all these envelopes and boxes to open during gameplay, adding components and rules to the game.  This literally evolves while you are playing it.  I have not finished it yet.  We just beat April.  But I can honestly say this is one of the most brilliantly designed games I’ve ever played.  I can’t wait to buy another copy of this so I can play this with my brother and daughter.  They’re going to love it.  Yes, it is a consumable game. but it’s definitely worth the price.  You’re going to get a lot out of this, experience-wise.  I can’t wait for more of my friends to play this so I can talk about the games many secrets and spoilers.  Don’t listen to that song by Public Enemy….. BELIEVE THE HYPE!

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  1. T.I.M.E. Stories – I did a full review of this earlier.  This is another consumable game.  In fact, you can finish a complete game of this in under 5 hours.  And that’s it, you’re done.  So why is it my favorite game of the year?  It’s the experience.  This game is the most immersive game I have ever played in my life.  I really felt like I was in the game!  Players work at a time agency that goes back in time to prevent awful things from happening.  In the scenario that comes with the game, Asylum, players go back to the year 1921 in a mental institution.  I won’t give anything else about the story away.  I love how the players work together in this.  Each location you visit is represented by a panorama of cards.  Players choose where to go (either together or by themselves), then they read the card of the spot they chose to go to, and then tell the other players, IN THEIR OWN WORDS, what they just experienced and if they need help or not.  That’s so cool!  It really feels like you’re there.  And the puzzles you have to solve…..  We literally got stuck at a particular part in the game for 30 minutes or so, only to realize that the answer was right in front of us the entire time.  Just the fact that a game can actually toy with you like that is astounding to me.  I played this with my brother and daughter, and we all thought it was the best game of the year.  In fact, my daughter said after the first 10 minutes that this was the best game that I own.  We have also played the second scenario, The Marcy Case, which was also incredible, but a very different game.  Yes, we can’t play those scenarios again, but the developers plan on releasing a new story every few months.  I CAN. NOT. WAIT!!!!!!   This felt like a role playing game and a choose your own adventure book at the same time.  If you’re worried about the price, then find a group and split the costs.  This is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s well worth your time!

 

And that’s it!  My favorite games of 2015!  What’s in store for 2016?  Who knows?  But, you can be sure that I will be there covering it on Project: Gaming Unplugged!  Look for more reviews, possible convention coverage, and as always up-to-date release news!

What were your top games of 2015.  I would love to know.  Please respond in the comments section below.

Happy gaming!

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