As members of The CR celebrate the annual Winter Harvest and end of year festivities, we’re spending this week closing out 2014 by recapping the best new games released for each of the gamer archetypes. We announced the overall winners in our podcast, but here we look at the final five choices for each group.
Always looking for the next conflict, Strikers are those who prefer to make bold, declarative statements in their games. Their ambitions are simple: win by any means necessary and do it quickly if possible. Strikers thrive in games where there are clear goals and the player’s chances of a particular strategy isn’t going to completely fall apart due to high degrees of luck or lengthy affairs where their opponents will have far more ample opportunities to stop them. In short, the best Striker games are those where they are given a pointy stick and told in which direction to swing it.
And with that, here are the top five games of 2014 for Strikers:
#5. Doomtown Reloaded
The resurgence of old collectible card games reinvented in a less randomized fashion as “expandable” or “living” card games has been talked about before, and the latest addition to this trend was AEG resurrecting Doomtown as Doomtown Reloaded. This wild west themed setting has players choosing from decks that utilize one of four unique factions. The premise is easy enough: use your townsfolk, gunslingers, outlaws and whatever else you can get your hands on to control the fate of the town of Gomorroa.
Although it’s a card game, Doomtown’s deck creation system allows you to mix and match cards to create the precise sort of deck strategy you want. Combat is resolved in poker-style showdowns, and playthroughs are generally quick, making for a game that has a decent amount of depth while keeping a simple rule set and end goal. Not to mention, its mix of theme and mechanics make for the kind of setting where you know there isn’t such thing as shared victory.
All of this will be appreciated by Strikers, as they know that there’s only one way to control this town…and it’s through their opponents.
#4. Battle Merchants
Battle Merchants by Minion Games is primarily an economic control game, so while it’s full of weaponry and has the word ‘battle’ in its title, it doesn’t immediately mean it would be a game appealing to Strikers.
In this game about being arms dealers, however, there isn’t a lot of room for timidity. The goal of the game is to craft and sell the most weapons possible to the game’s warring factions (whom you have no direct involvement with) and then get out of town with the most cash. You could care less about which factions win the ongoing conflict in the land, and you’re perfectly able to sell your wares to both sides if it’ll help you turn a profit.
This game wasn’t our September Indie Spotlight choice for nothing.
What really works for Strikers in Battle Merchants is that unlike many games of economic manipulation, there is a fairly low degree of chance. This is a game about trying to maximize your moneymaking while also giving you the ability to block other players attempting the same thing. In fact, that’s one of the smarter moves you can make. Hey, it’s only business!
North Star Games has traditionally been known for lighter social style and party games, and Evolution is their first foray into something more substantive. The results were revelatory.
In Evolution, each player guides one or more species of animal through a series of adaptations by bestowing various traits upon them such as being better at fending off predators or requiring less food than normal. As everyone increases the size of their animals and the size of those herds, however, you must always be careful that there is enough food to go around to sustain them all since the more critters you have survive, the more likely you are to win.
Left alone, that wouldn’t all that enticing to Strikers. What really sells this to them is one specific trait – Carnivorous – that adds an entirely different dynamic to the game. Unlike all of the other creatures running, flying, or scampering about, carnivorous creatures don’t eat from the central pool of available food. Instead, as meat eaters the only way those animals can survive is by chomping down on other creatures.
Namely, those of your opponents.
This adds a more confrontational side to the game and affords Strikers the ability to not only interfere with other players and their attempts to win, but it’s also done in such an impressively thematic way that even Darwin may have appreciated it.
#2. The Battle Of Five Armies
When the Tolkien-themed War of the Ring came out in 2004 from Ares Games, it had the luxury of arriving at a time right after the cinematic Lord of the Rings trilogy had run its course but before interest in the genre started to wear off. It also happened to be a decent fantasy style strategy wargame. The result was something that quickly developed a sizable fan base while also making it difficult to find.
Battle of the Five Armies is the successor to that game, with a few notable changes. Thematically, this iteration takes place during the single pivotal battle at the end of The Hobbit instead of a worldwide fight for the survival of all Middle-Earth. Thus, it’s a little less epic in scope. Some may see that as a negative, but it also aids in focusing more on a singular objective. Besides, there’s still plenty of grand-scale stuff that can happen.
Mechanically, the game also takes some design lessons learned from it’s First to Second Edition printings of War of the Ring. That is, besides shifting the focus to more of a strictly battlefield tactical affair, it has improved the battle system from its predecessor and dropped the number of players to two.
It’s only natural, then, that Strikers would gravitate to this game – and with good reason. A two player tactical skirmish game with a straightforward goal that lets players control their own destiny? What about that wouldn’t they like?
#1. Star Realms
When Star Realms arrived, it hit the ground running and never really looked back. Although the result of a 2013 Kickstarter, it wasn’t debuted until the spring of this year. The game, officially made by White Wizard Games, is the brain child of the creator of Ascension (hence having some mechanical similarities) and Magic: the Gathering hall of famers (hence the highly aggressive style of play). The result clearly works.
Star Realms is a simple enough deckbuilder. In it, two players acquire cards for their deck from a central pool. The cards are comprised of four different factions, each with their own philosophy on how to put you across the finish line first. Whether it’s working towards thinning your deck, drawing multiple cards, or putting out cards to slow your enemy’s attack against you, Star Realms has a handful of straightforward but effective strategies to leverage each game.
Yet the tempo of the game is really what puts the game over the top for so many people, and why it’s easily the Striker’s game of the year. There is little room for major flourishes or tricky responses. Instead, it’s all aggressiveness, all the time. Star Realms is as brutal as it is short, with games usually not lasting longer than about 15 minutes, and rather than striving for a passive win via victory points, you win by doing enough damage to take off your opponent’s head. It’s simple, quick, and plays to all of the things a Striker loves about gaming, making it this year’s clear choice.
Be sure to check out the 2014 Top Five lists of the other archetypes!