The Laurels: Best Immersionist Games Of 2015

The Cardboard Republic has rolled out the first annual Laurels of the Republic awards, celebrating the best new games released in 2015 for each of the gamer archetypes. What follows are the finalists for one of those groups.

ImmersionistFrom the depths of a cavernous dungeon, to the cold reaches of a distant conflict in outer space, to the exploration of the human condition, Immerionists thrive on a game’s setting. This group gets its biggest enjoyment out of games with rich settings that either tell some kind of story or serve some kind of purpose – games that exist solely on basic mechanical or tactical choices are their kryptonite. Their driving interest revolves more around whether a particular mechanic or component fits whatever narrative is being told than if it is the most ideal option. Immersionists want to be part of the game and feel as if their character belongs in its setting. These roleplayers and worldbuilders demand that flavor actually matter in a game if it’s to hold their interest – something more designers have been taking to heart in recent years.

And with that, here are The 2015 Laurel Finalists for Immersionists:


Honorable Mention: Fury of Dracula (Third Edition)

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games | Players: 2-5 | Play Time: 120-180 Minutes
fury coverMake no mistake with this one: Fury of Dracula would have slid into the list of Laurel nominees effortlessly if not for the fact that it’s a reprint of a game that originally game out in 1987 and is an update to the already revamped Second Edition from 2005. That’s isn’t to say it’s not a really good reprint worthy of your attention though – hence its recommendation.

For those who may have only heard rumors of this legendary creature, Fury of Dracula is an asynchronous game that wraps hidden movement and card-based combat inside a highly thematic race around Europe. Think of it as Scotland Yard if Mr X. decided to fight back. One player assumes the mantle of the eponymous Dracula, whose goal is to move unseen around Western Europe, eluding capture, creating vampire minions, and extending his dark influence across the land to a point where he’ll be next to unstoppable. Everyone else are the stalwart vampire hunters, who must work cooperatively to systematically seek him out, dismantle his operations, and ultimately, destroy him once and for all.

For Immersionists, this is in the wheelhouse of their kind of game. Fury of Dracula has been long-beloved for more than just nostalgic reasons, and rightfully so. This game fuses flavor, strategy, and mechanics together with minimal effort, ensuring that your efforts make sense substantively and thematically. Even after all this time it also still happens to be on the short list of board games that adequately evokes a vampire-centric premise. The Third Edition of the game only enhances this further. With updates from the Second Edition to streamline turn structure, combat flow, and better reflect the invasive spread of Dracula’s hidden domain, the latest version has taken an already great classic and made it even better.


The Nominees

2015 Immersionist Laurel Nominee


Nominee #5: Mistfall

Publisher: NSKN Games / Passport Game Studios | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 90-120 Minutes

mistfall nomineeCome, adventurers! Grab your gear and sharpen up your swords, because we’re about to head into a high fantasy world in need of saving. Enter the land of Mistfall, where thanks to the poor decisions of some higher deities, the lands have run amok with evil creatures in need of assistance separating their head from their bodies. Mistfall is a fully Co-Op deckbuilder, where each member’s deck behaves with their own sets of skills and special abilities. Think Sentinels of the Multiverse, except your heroes are all out of D&D.

To succeed, you must complete a grand and noble quest, which varies per game. Your quest determines which less-than ideal lands you’ll be venturing into and what your goals are. Each round, your group will run afoul of monsters looking to do you harm, and much of the game revolves around killing them before they kill you, which is done through your character’s deck of cards. Cards in your hand can be used either for specific effects or to boost your combat effectiveness, but are discarded afterwards. Such adventuring will also yield treasures, which can be used to purchase new cards.

The twist with Mistfall’s deckbuilding approach is that the deck is your character’s essence. While new cards can be added or retrieved from your discard pile when your party gets to rest, the deck is never reshuffled, and damage taken from monsters permanently removes cards. If you ever run out of cards, you die. Each round ticks the game closer to failure as well, so there are times when pressing forward is necessary if not the most ideal. With Mistfall careful card management, time management, and of course, cooperation with your team is essential to survival, for this game is not of the forgiving sort.

Really, expect to die frequently.

Still, although the rule book could benefit from a complete overhaul, gameplay is not that complicated. Fight bad guys, play cards, hope to survive to fight another day. That said, Mistfall is still complex enough for you to dive into the world it’s conjuring up, eliciting feelings of a classic tabletop adventure without the need for pencil and paper. It bears similarities to parts of several other games preceding it, but Mistfall’s unique combination of robust high fantasy flavor, interesting deck mechanics, and co-op nature creates a setting of its own worth exploring. With excellent artwork and more than enough replayability to ensure every playthrough pans out differently, this is one co-op that’s as challenging as it is alluring.


Nominee #4: Fallen

Publisher: Watchtower Games | Players: 2 | Play Time: 75-90 Minutes

fallen nomineeTraveling through a dimly-lit cavern tunnel, your path suddenly branches in two directions. One way leads to your treasure, the other certain death. Choose wisely.

That, in a nutshell, is Fallen: a two player exercise in either causing or trying to overcome a series of story-driven and player-driven obstacles.

In Fallen, one player chooses a character as their indomitable Hero(ine) for a dungeon-diving adventure. Your goal is to traverse the underground lair, acquire better skills and equipment, and then finally face the evil Dungeon Lord who is plaguing the land. The other player is said Dungeon Lord. They can’t stop the Hero from reaching them, but they can make the task arduous and challenging before their inevitable showdown by summoning monsters, casting spells, and otherwise making the Hero’s journey all the more difficult. Over the course of four ‘chapters’, or story-driven rounds, a series of back-and-forth turns occur where the Dungeon Lord reads a short paragraph and presents the Hero with two narrative choices. Their selection determines which type of the game’s three attribute challenges they must overcome, and then the two sides square off using dice. By the end of the fourth chapter, only one player will remain standing.

At its most basic, Fallen is one part Chose Your Own Adventure story and one part dice game. Yet for a game that is fundamentally a series of strategy-augmented skill checks, be prepared to experience one of the most flavorful dice games to grace your kitchen table. Fallen puts on a decent show through an innovative blend of narrative gaming, dice rolling, and the feeling of a good old fashioned dungeon dive. With fantastic artwork and components, Fallen plunges you into a pseudo tabletop setting while scratching the same itch, and so long as both players are willing to embrace their roles, Immersionists will enjoy the ride. Thanks to quick turns, largely intuitive gameplay, and an ever-changing array of story cards, each game unfolds differently. Most dice-and-card games don’t imbue a high degree of thematic substance to them, but Fallen is a testament that not only can it be done well, it raises the bar in the process.


Nominee #3: Bomb Squad

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games | Players: 2-6 | Play Time: 15-30 Minutes

bomb squad nomineeListen very carefully. All I need you to do is cut the wires in the following sequence: Blue, Yellow, Green. Do it wrong and this whole place goes up. You have 30 seconds. Tick…Tick…Tick…

If you’ve ever wondered what Hanabi would be like on a timer, now you can find out with Bomb Squad, a real-time co-op game about diffusing bombs and saving lives. It’s a dangerous job, and failing at it has, quite literally, disastrous and / or lethal consequences.

Good luck!

Bomb Squad is evidence that not every game necessarily needs to be lengthy or involved to foster a highly thematic experience. Which is good, because time in this game is not on your side. In it, every player is part of an urban bomb defusal unit. For some reason, your fair city has seen a huge spike in evil doers looking to blow places up. Your goal is to stop those bombs before they go off, which is easier said than done. Each mission in the game sets out the conditions you must face, including the number of bombs you’re dealing with, if there are hostages involved, and above all, how much time you have. Which is usually mere minutes. Literally.

To properly program the robot to stop the bombs, everyone on the team needs Intel, which is only gained by way of a hand of cards. Just like Hanabi, however, you’re able to see everyone’s cards but your own. Therefore, players must quickly and efficiently provide this vital information to their teammates so they can hopefully make the right calls on their turns. Hey, if you’re wrong, well, no one will be around to criticize.

Bomb Squad is so thematically effective simply because of the way it embraces its core premise. Every second matters as everyone scrambles to help one another out, and as the clock ticks down, the anxiety ticks up, making it all the more difficult to maintain your composure and get the job done. Through the use of limited information and a real-time threat looming large, Bomb Squad drops you right into the thick of it. This is precisely the kind of short-term game Immersionists can get into. What’s more, its incredibly modular nature, gives you the freedom to concoct all manner of dire settings to face, adding variety and replayability. Bomb Squad is fast, chaotic, and stressful at times, but the payoff is all the more thrilling if you succeed. Will you answer the call?


Nominee #2: T.I.M.E. Stories

Publisher: Asmodee Editions / Space Cowboys | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 75-120 Minutes

time stories nomineeNewton’s Third Law of physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Apparently that also applies to time travel, because whenever such technology shows up, there’s inevitably something or someone that threatens to undermine the whole thing.

At least, that is where you find yourselves in TIME Stories, a time traveling co-op detective game.

In this universe, players are part of the conveniently-named T.I.M.E. Agency. Your goal is to protect the space-time continuum from coming apart due to fissures in time or paradox loops. No pressure or anything.

To accomplish this, your consciousness is sent back in time into the bodies of other people to correct potential cracks in reality. Collectively you must solve your mission by gathering clues, taking actions, and investigating details on your surroundings. The more information you gather the better, for each trip backwards is limited. When the clock runs out, you snap back into the current time frame, the game resets, and you must start the process anew. The difference is that you retain all the information gained from previous trips, advancing the story along and providing a sense of thematic progression as you move towards a conclusion.

Think of TIME Stories as Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day, wherein the focus lies with the investigation itself more than the outcome. Indeed, the goal in this highly narrative card-driven game isn’t whether you’ll win, but rather to minimize how many playthroughs it’ll take your group to succeed at their mission. The game’s entire premises focuses on deducing and unlocking all of a scenario’s hidden story aspects, and its rather innovative in its approach.

The only caveat is that, much like an escape room or a detective story you’ve already read, once you know the plot twists you get diminishing returns on the experience. With TIME Stories, this essentially means each campaign can only be played through once, and while the game’s quasi-tabletop experience has untold creative space for expansions (several already exist), each with their own unique mission, the core game only comes with one scenario. That said, TIME Stories takes you on a thematic journey through time, and for the story-driven gamers among us, it’s certainly one journey worth taking.


The Winner2015 Immersionist Laurel Winner

2015 Immersionist Laurel – Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

Publisher: Z-Man Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60 Minutes

pandemic winnerCome on now. You probably saw this one coming. It’s hard to drum up surprise for the most thematically-resonant game of the year when the shock involved of selecting Pandemic Legacy should meter in at about 0%.

Ostensibly, Pandemic Legacy is regular Pandemic with some added twists, though that’s about as big of an understatement as saying you’re going to get a little wet in a monsoon. This is largely fueled by the ‘legacy’ style gameplay approach, where the outcome of each game adds some manner of permanence to subsequent playthroughs. Stickers will alter the board, components will be intentionally destroyed, and rule changes will modify the flow – or even purpose – of the game. In the case of Pandemic Legacy that includes events like We Can’t Tell You That Because Of Obvious Spoilers or Nope, Still More Spoilers.

Yeah…we can’t actually give away what some of those things are without affecting the experience. Sorry.

That is, essentially, what Pandemic Legacy provides: a complete gaming experience. Throughout the course of 12-24 sessions, you and your team progress through an entire plague-riddled scenario. This game draws you in and holds your attention until the job is done, with the weight of every strategic decision growing heavier the further you go into your campaign. Because the actions you make each game have such direct and lasting consequences on future games, it’s almost impossible not to become invested with your characters, your team, and the goal of curing diseases.

Pandemic Legacy is as much about how you win and lose as it is whether you win or lose. The game is engrossing, challenging, and above all, tells a cohesive story that will be unique to your crew. So much so, in fact, that by the end the idea that you can’t go back and replay it will seem more fitting than punishing. Not only do the game’s tense situations and player-driven alterations make it easy to remember the highs and lows of your Pandemic Legacy runthrough, it sets up a situation where it’s almost impossible not to. Pandemic Legacy’s level of flavor, theme, and engagement makes you care about the payoff of a game in ways that few games otherwise do, which is a testament to its brilliant design choices and why this title has earned its Laurel quite handily.


Pandemic Legacy Contest!

We thought about different ways to sing the praises of how great the winner of the Immersionist Laurel is. Numerous thematic ideas were tossed around, including acting out key moments in our favorite board games or creating our own choose your own adventure story. Then we remembered we actually did the latter already during the Fallen Indie Spotlight. So we’ve opted for a simpler approach instead: providing one lucky winner with the opportunity to enjoy the award-winning game first hand.

That’s right! Enter below for your chance at your very own copy of Pandemic Legacy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: In honor of their award recognition, Z-Man Games has kindly provided a copy of this game for giveaway purposes.

Be sure to check out the 2015 Laurel Award pages for the other archetypes once they go live!

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