Bolt Thrower: #2015 Game of the Year

Bolt Thrower: #2015 Game of the Year Hot

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MattDPMattDP   December 21, 2015  
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This time last year, I was so tired of the generic nature of most new board games that I'd started to wonder if my favourite hobby had passed its glory days. I've never been happier to have been proved wrong. After a couple of years of wretched releases, 2015 has been a stellar time for tabletop gaming.

When there was so much chaff in the machine, I couldn't bring myself to do much more than pick a top three for my best-of-year posts. Sometimes it was difficult to find even three. This time I'm faced with an embarrassment of riches.  I've never liked the idea of honouring games by category: it feels artificial. If the two best games this year were both dexterity games (they weren't) then both deserve a mention. 

So here's what were going to do. I'm going to run through my favourite games of the year and, at the end, pick one for game of the year. But they're all fantastic. All worthy of your time and money.

Before we get stuck in, I have to admit that there's one title that ought to be in the running which I haven't played. That title is Pandemic: Legacy. Not being an enormous fan of the original, I passed on this at first. By the time it became a must-have game and I wanted to review it, everyone else had it already. Hopefully there'll be time for a review in the new year. I might think that Pandemic is merely average. But since I opened Risk: Legacy this year and it became my sixth-ever top scoring game, I ought to see how the legacy concept works with other systems.

Now, on with the show. 

Star Wars: Armada

X-Wing looked fantastic on the table, but it felt more like a crapshoot than a tactical combat game. That's slowly changing but, however good it gets, it'll never offer as much game as Armada does. And even with unpainted fighters, Armada still looks the biz when it's laid out. I was playing in a pub once, and a complete stranger came over and started taking photographs, muttering "that's mint. That's fucking mint."

I'd argue it's actually more accessible than its older brother due to fewer ships and upgrades and a more predictable play time. So, easy to pick up, fantastic looking, rich and deep to play: what's not to love? Well, the price, I guess. But you don't need a lot of ships to build a fun, functional fleet.

Specter Ops

The sorts of games we love are often bloated with rules and components in place of actual theme. Sometimes this works, more often it just gets in the way of enjoyment. Yet when designers try to strip these things away to make shorter, simpler games, often all that's left is a hollow shell.

Specter Ops is the grandest refutation of that conclusion I've ever seen. You can be up and playing in minutes yet you might end up playing for hours and hours over the shelf-life of the game. It's built taut, asymmetrical and full of cunning deduction on a foundation that looks flimsy, but is rock solid.

Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition

Hidden movement is one of my favourite mechanics, so getting two top titles in one year is a real treat. And with the original Fury being one of my favourite games, it's no surprise I see 2015 has being an out of the park year for quality.

You'll need to put in a bit of work to figure this one out, but it does play fast and it'll reward you a hundredfold. Dense, claustrophobic and slipperier than a box of frogs yet still full of depth and crazy see-saws of fortune. It'll suck you in and never let you out. 

Codenames

People have been mining the seams of social games and word for so long that it's rare anything of value turns up. So imagine my surprise when a designer known for mediumweight thematic titles turned up a great title that was novel in both genres.

The best thing about Codenames is its chameleon-like ability to be all things to all people. It works co-operatively or competitively. You can play it hard or for laughs. Teams can play it just as well as individuals. Whichever way up you turn it, it's still just as much fun.

Churchill

You'd not think, to look at the box or read the rules, that this is perhaps the deepest game I've seen in years. It looks and smells like a negotiation game, and there's plenty of that to do. Yet underneath are layers and layers of mechanics to puzzle over and perfect.

That it presents such a compelling piece of alternative history too is just the icing on the cake. With such variety and replay value, Churchill would go on my "if you only had 10 games" list without a second thought.

And the winner is ...

In keeping with the quality of this year's games, this is the hardest choice I've had to make for some time. So I'm not going to make it: I'm going to let my friends and family do it, without them knowing.

They've had a great time with all of the games on my shortlist. But there was one that got asked for over and above the initial wow-factor of any well designed. One that got worked over, worried at, examined in a fierce competition to be the first to be best. One that shut out the world outside more effectively than the rest.

That game is the new edition of The Fury of Dracula.

I had always dreamed that one day, someone might be able to shoehorn the best bits of the two previous editions into one box, but I never really believed it would come true. Yet there it is, a special Christmas present for me. And for all of you, too, if you're lucky enough to find one under the tree. Have a great solstice. 

Posted: 21 Dec 2015 15:14 by Gary Sax #217900
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Didn't know you liked Armada so much! Great to hear about.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 15:28 by charlest #217902
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Glad to see Specter Ops on your list. It's a fantastic game that no one's really talked about much on the Fort.

Considering we have similar taste, it's funny that my top five or so wouldn't share even a single entry with yours. Although I haven't gotten a chance to play Fury of Dracula yet.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 15:45 by hotseatgames #217906
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I'm likely getting Fury of Dracula for Christmas, and I've been looking over the rules. It's more complex than I expected, which isn't a bad thing. Still, it looks like the kind of game that needs a couple of plays before people really start to feel comfortable with it.

Or maybe FFG's rulebooks are making it seem more complicated than it is.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 16:38 by MattDP #217913
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charlest wrote:
Glad to see Specter Ops on your list. It's a fantastic game that no one's really talked about much on the Fort.

Considering we have similar taste, it's funny that my top five or so wouldn't share even a single entry with yours. Although I haven't gotten a chance to play Fury of Dracula yet.

Not even Specter Ops? I'm also surprised it hasn't gained more traction round here. Thought it would be right up a lot of alleys.

I think you've plated a bigger variety of titles than me this year. Will be interesting to see how and why your picks differ.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 16:44 by SuperflyTNT #217914
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I hate hidden movement, so Specter Ops was dead before it rose at my house. I hear it's a fantastic game, just not for me. I make an exception with Fury of Dracula...it has two cardinal sins (hidden movement and one v. many) included in it but it is such a fantastic game that I see past those obvious blemishes.

For me, personally, Cthulhu Wars or SC:AM are my "games of the year". I'm really digging "Artifacts Inc." quite a bit, too. I played They Come Unseen and loved it (despite hidden movement/deployment) and really dug it but it's not the GOTY for me.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 16:53 by charlest #217915
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MattDP wrote:
charlest wrote:
Glad to see Specter Ops on your list. It's a fantastic game that no one's really talked about much on the Fort.

Considering we have similar taste, it's funny that my top five or so wouldn't share even a single entry with yours. Although I haven't gotten a chance to play Fury of Dracula yet.

Not even Specter Ops? I'm also surprised it hasn't gained more traction round here. Thought it would be right up a lot of alleys.

I think you've plated a bigger variety of titles than me this year. Will be interesting to see how and why your picks differ.

Specter Ops would probably squeeze into my top 10. This year was just so crazy.
Posted: 21 Dec 2015 16:56 by MattDP #217917
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hotseatgames wrote:
Or maybe FFG's rulebooks are making it seem more complicated than it is.

It's likely the rulebook - there was a lot of complaint about it over on TOS. If you've played versions of the game before, it makes sense, but apparently it's a bit impenetrable if you're not familiar.

Just go with what makes sense and keep the game flowing. It's not too hard. Worry about the detail later.

It's such a great game. Enjoy.
Posted: 22 Dec 2015 01:37 by craniac #217965
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MattDP wrote:
hotseatgames wrote:
Or maybe FFG's rulebooks are making it seem more complicated than it is.

It's likely the rulebook - there was a lot of complaint about it over on TOS. If you've played versions of the game before, it makes sense, but apparently it's a bit impenetrable if you're not familiar.

Just go with what makes sense and keep the game flowing. It's not too hard. Worry about the detail later.

It's such a great game. Enjoy.

Chris Farrell's comments on the rules:
So in general, I'm impressed with the design of the new edition. I think. Because holy crap, these rules are a total fucking disaster. The explanation is at times almost incomprehensible, and fundamental, crucial rules are addressed only deep in the rules reference, if at all. How to enforce hand limits, for example, is never addressed in the core rules, and never addressed at all for items. Rules on what to do after combat with vampire encounters are contradictory (maybe if you ambush you're supposed to discard them?; maybe they have to be face-down to mature?; or maybe they stay out until defeated or matured?; the rules and card text say all three at one point or another). The trade phase is all over the place - the rules say you can trade items or tickets; the references say you can trade only items; the sequence of play summery says you can trade only events. Van Helsing's ability is incredibly confusing. Good grief, it's a total clusterfuck for a game that is actually pretty straightforward and now in its third edition! Now, in practice, the design intent is usually clear enough, and you'll probably do the right thing intuitively. But FFG's rules are so routinely so catastrophically bad, it's totally mind-blowing to me. Is there really no feedback from the customer base saying to fix their rules process?
Posted: 22 Dec 2015 06:30 by MattDP #217973
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Now, in practice, the design intent is usually clear enough, and you'll probably do the right thing intuitively.

This is the only relevant bit of that screed. We followed this advice and only went wrong once, on what to do following an escape from combat.

Yes, the rules are messy. Yes, it helps a lot to have played a previous edition. But just do what seems right instead of demanding to be spoon-fed every rules clause or loophole.

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