The Laurels: Best Immersionist Games Of 2016

The Cardboard Republic has rolled out the second annual Laurels of the Republic awards, celebrating the best new games released in 2016 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 existing 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’s the most ideal option. Immersionists want to be part of the game and feel as if their character belongs there. These roleplayers and worldbuilders demand that flavor actually matter to hold their interest – something more designers have been taking to heart in recent years.

And with that, here are The 2016 Laurel Finalists for Immersionists:


Honorable Mention: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 120-180 Minutes

mom-2e-coverLike its predecessor Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness is one of those games that you either really like…or you don’t. Chock full of thematic license, story elements, and lots of dice rolling, Mansions is the embodiment of the typical “Ameritrash” game. Yet the announcement of a new edition over the summer caught everyone’s attention – mostly because of the radical changes that had been made.

The premise remains the same: players are a group of visitors to a creepy Lovecraftian house (like you do) looking to complete the objectives of various scenarios. The details of each tale vary, but in general players explore the house looking for some kind of evil at work, defeating said enemy, and saving the day. Players take turns moving about the house by exploring rooms, defeating monsters, and solving puzzles, the flavorful ambiance of which is bolstered each round by the scenario unfolding.

The reason it drew so much attention was how the new edition drastically changed the gameplay by removing the Keeper as a playable role, migrating the functions of the possessed house to a downloadable companion app. The original Mansions existed as a 1 Vs All game, where one player acted as the antagonist working against the rest, but the extra rules and responsibilities of that role often led to uneven experiences. By transferring those responsibilities to an app, the game opens up whole new content areas to explore, reduces downtime, and increases the game’s overall appeal by moving a fully cooperative mindset.

Mansions Second Edition maintains the core appeal of the previous edition while providing a more concise, streamlined, and accessible game overall. More importantly, the inclusion of a digital chauffer keeps the thematic allure of the original that Immersionists thrived on while unlocking plenty of new unholy doors to explore.


The Nominees

2016 Immersionist Laurel Nominee


Number Five: Defenders of the Last Stand

Publisher: 8th Summit | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 100-150 Minutes

defenders of the last stand nomineeDefenders of the Last Stand was in close consideration with Mansions for a nominee spot, as both make improvements on previous iterations of their game. While technically Last Stand is its own game, a good chunk of its mechanics are direct descendants of Defenders of the Realm, a popular fantasy-themed co-op.

This game improves on those previous ideas by streamlining the core functions while adding in a bunch of new flavorful elements on its own, as well as swapping a generic fantasy setting with a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Enter Defenders of the Last Stand, aka Mad Max in Technicolor.

Though the game includes multiple scenarios, the basic premise remains constant: four bands of nefarious outlaws are slowly moving towards the last protected human settlement known as Last Stand. Over a series of turns, players work together to defend the town by moving about the board, fighting off said bandits and their hordes, completing missions, embarking on side adventures, and generally doing whatever it takes to ensure that none of the band leaders make it into the city walls. For if that happens, it’s all over.

Defenders of the Last Stand is a colorful, sprawling game that acts as a mix between Pandemic and Arkham Horror…which given the designer should be no surprise. This your classic Richard Launius dice roller, which amounts to a lot of success/fail dice checks enveloped by an impressive whirlwind of post-apoc theme. Not everyone adores lengthy games that are equal part luck and flavor, but if done well, it makes for an experience that’s hard for Immersionists to pass up on. This is one such case. Will you stave off mutations, slay the raiders, and save the day? You’ll have to saddle up and find out.


Number Four: Black Orchestra

Publisher: Game Salute | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 45-75 Minutes

black orchestra nomineeBlack Orchestra is based on true World War II event where a bunch of German military conspirators collaborated in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. This game reenacts that fateful historical event. Due to a series of poor timing and luck, the real Black Orchestra plot failed (naturally), but that too is reflected in this tense goal to recreate the events with a different outcome.

Accomplishing this task is no easy feat, however, as it requires meticulous planning by everyone working together in this challenging co-op. Victory in this cardboard universe is possible, but it requires having the right characters with the right materials in the same location as Hitler at the right moment – no small feat considering that Hitler is continually on the move and you only have a handful of rounds to pull it off before getting caught.

Black Orchestra isn’t incredibly complex rules-wise; coupled with its co-op nature makes it more accessible than it may first appear. Indeed, the biggest obstacle for this title is the nature of the game itself. While the game admirably offers a WWII-era game that isn’t focused on battlefield tactics and moving vast armies, its assassination premise may not be for everyone.

Still, should you venture into the conspiracy, you’ll quickly find that Black Orchestra is a tightly-wound thematic experience that ratchets up as you build closer and closer to making your ultimate move. Tension in the game is palpable as your tenuous chances at pulling off your objective becomes harder and harder to pull off. In Black Orchestra you and your team will likely only have one – maybe two – attempts at winning. Through a deft blending of mechanics and flavor, Immersionists will find Black Orchestra a dark but thematic experience worth enlisting in.


Number Three: The Networks

Publisher: Formal Ferret Games | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 60-90 Minutes

the networks nomineeThe Networks is the kind of game that you can tell what to expect before you even open the box. Between its name, description, and quirky-yet-lovable artwork, players have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting into when sitting down to play. You expect it to be goofy. You expect it to be clever.

It also happens to be a solid lightweight strategy game with a heavy dose of oddball flavor.

In The Networks, each player starts off with a player board outlining their entire massive media empire.

Alright, maybe it’s not so massive…

…and it’s not quite an empire yet…

Okay, fine, you begin with a third-rate public access station that has absolutely no viewership. Happy? It’s entirely because the most marquee of your three starting Shows is Aunt Mae’s “Let’s Pickle!”. Heck, even she doesn’t watch her own show.

Over the course of five rounds, players do what you’d expect your goal in a game on TV programming to be about including procuring shows people want to watch, finding notable actors and actresses to star in them, securing advertisements to pay for them, and (hopefully) landing the most amount of viewers possible to watch them. At the end, the person who racks up the most viewers is the winner.

With screwball humor and well-developed mechanics, this game offers both charming flavor and solid design. The Networks is basically UHF: The Board Game – in the good way. It encourages you to excel at the inanity of television programming on the one hand while lambasting it on the other, and yet this charming mix of motives adds up to a game that’s amusing and strategic all at once.

As a result, it really shouldn’t be surprising why Immersionists will be eager to give running their own station a shot.

Besides, it’s not like they can do any worse than Aunt Mae…


Number Two: Star Wars: Rebellion

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games  | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 180-240 Minutes

star wars rebellion nomineeOf all the titles on this list, Star Wars: Rebellion is probably the least surprising of the lot. It’s Star Wars. It’s Fantasy Flight. It’s a massive, in-depth, hours-long contest where one team acts as the intrepid Rebel Alliance and the other the Galactic Empire.

Honestly, it’d probably be more surprising if it didn’t show up on here somewhere.

Star Wars: Rebellion doesn’t focus on one specific part of the original Star Wars story. Rather, it straps you in and has you play out the entirety of the Original Trilogy. You can fire the Death Star, seek out Yoda, become a Jedi, command swarms of Stormtroopers, conduct sabotage raids, and a whole lot more. Space battles? Check. Character conflict? Check? An all-encompassing fight for the hearts and minds of the citizenry? Absolutely.

As you’d expect in such a lengthy and complex game, every contest fought will unfold differently as you attempt different tactics to undermine your opponent. It’s basically a giant What If box for the plethora of ways the original story could have played out differently. And yet the entire experience remains quintessentially rooted in the Star Wars mythos.

Indeed, a large part of the game’s appeal is surrounding yourself with the litany of characters, ships, and events found throughout the iconic movie storylines, putting you in the forefront of the action as it unfolds.

In Star Wars: Rebellion, you aren’t just a distant battlefield commander: you are leading the charge for your side. The game may be time-consuming and complex, but between the wealth of choices to make and usual excellent production quality, Rebellion is an excellent candidate for Immersionists who want a sustained thematic experience that’s longer than a normal board game but shorter than actually fighting a war in a galaxy far, far away.


The Winner

2016 Immersionist Laurel Winner

2016 Immersionist Laurel – Millennium Blades

Publisher: Level 99 Games | Players: 2-5 | Play Time: 75-120 Minutes
millennium blades winner

On paper, Millennium Blades shouldn’t work. Touting itself as a self-contained collectible card game simulator in a box, Millennium Blades celebrates CCGs while also cheekily poking fun at everything they stand for.

It’s admittedly a weird concept.

Yet somehow, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, not only does this meta-game title function, but it flourishes. From its highly original concept to its untapped depth of flavor potential, Millennium Blades engulfs players in the thematic escapade of what it’s like to be part of a CCG environment but without having to set fire to a bucket full of money to do so.

In this all-encompassing trip into card-flopping, players are high-tier players of a centuries-old game called Millennium Blades. Over each of the three rounds, you will focus on buying and selling cards in the market, snatching up promo cards, turning in sets, and even trading with other players. Of course, you also assemble a small hand of cards to compete in tournaments to demonstrate who is the most skilled tourney pro.

Inexplicably, Millennium Blades functions simultaneously both an homage to the CCG world and something completely independent from it. Its deck building is compelling, its tournaments exciting, and with a nearly endless array of card combinations and set permutations, to say that game has immense variety would be an understatement. It also takes extensive steps to be widely accessible, even to those traditionally weary of CCGs.

This is a game where you can both explore the card-centric world it has created while also taking the reins of portraying a powerhouse character within it, offering plenty of strategic acumen on top of a small mountain of flavor.

Because of this, Millennium Blades has easily and rightfully earned the Immersionist Laurel of 2016.


Millennium Blades Contest!

We thought about different ways to highlight how great the winning title 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 already did the latter back in 2015. 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 Millennium Blades!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: In honor of their award recognition, Level 99 Games has kindly provided a copy of this game for giveaway purposes.

Be sure to check out the 2016 Laurel Award pages for the other archetypes once they go live!

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