The Laurels: Best Socializer 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. 

SocializerThere are few things that Socializers want more out of games than a means to engage with other players as much as possible. If they were a clan, their credo would be ‘Light on Rules, Heavy on Interaction’. Games to this group are less about picking out intricate strategies or figuring out a way to win at any cost than they are about a means to collectively enjoy spending time with other people. As a result, this group prefers games that either have short and simple playthroughs or those that permit them the opportunity to, well, socialize with other players.

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


Honorable Mention: Junk Art

Publisher: Pretzel Games / Plan B Games | Players: 2-6 | Play Time: 30 Minutes
junk art coverThe general premise of Junk Art is as rudimentary as it comes: you are stacking blocks. It’s the thing most people start doing after grasping object permanence but before going crazy with that whole ‘walking’ phase. Junk Art just went and made a worthwhile game around the idea.

Coming to us by way of the design duo known as the Bamboozle Brothers and operating in the same vein as other abstract stacking games such as Bandu and Jenga, Junk Art both deviates and improves on the genre in two key ways that help it rise to the top of the pile. For one, it largely avoids player elimination as a win condition. This means that even those amongst us without the steadiest hands going can still participate and feel engaged without worrying that the slightest wrong move will cause our tower – and sense of self-worth – to come tumbling down. In Junk Art, pieces falling off isn’t just expected, it’s built into the mechanics of the game.

More importantly, Junk Art staves off the death knell of nearly every dexterity-based building game: the inevitable feel of repetition. Tower falls down, you lose. Setup, repeat ad nauseum. Instead, thanks modular goals, every playthrough offers different objectives. Sometimes you want the tallest tower. Other times to use the most pieces. Junk Art is more goal-oriented than merely whose nerves are strongest. And it does this all in a very casual manner. There’s still an air of competition, but it’s one of artistic rivalry more than player-driven conflict. Part game, part live exhibition, Junk Art is a multiplayer spectacle whose entire game premise revolves around the act of creation, and it’s executed in a very interactive, eye-catching way. For Socializers, it’s precisely the kind of game that’ll stack up to their gaming interests.


The Nominees

2016 Socializer Laurel Nominee


Number Five: Beyond Baker Street

Publisher: Z-Man Games / Asmodee | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 20-30 Minutes

beyond baker nomineeIt can be difficult living in the shadow of greatness. Just ask any other inspector at Scotland Yard when Sherlock Holmes in on the case. As far as the papers and citizens of London are apparently concerned, the rest of the force might as well be on holiday.

Well, some have decided it’s high time for a changing of the guard. In this lightweight card-driven Co-Op, players band together as a team of crime-solving individuals and set out to prove that there’s other minds capable of solving dastardly crimes.

Basically you’re the British version of Mystery, Inc.

If you’ve played Hanabi before, the core mechanic to Beyond Baker Street will feel familiar: players each have a hand of cards of four different colors and values ranging from 1-6. The twist, of course, is that you can see everyone’s cards except your own. To win, you must put the correct number of cards onto three different spots on the board, each representing the crime’s suspect, motive, and opportunity. This is done by collectively placing cards from your hands to match the suit and create a sum total equaling that slot’s value.

Each time you provide information to your teammates, however, Sherlock advances one step closer to solving it on his own. Your goal is to solve this lightweight-yet-vexing whodunit before time runs out. The difference is that instead of everything exploding, Sherlock will show up and “Well, Actually” your case away from you. Again.

Beyond Baker Street is both collaborative and tense, keeping everyone invested in the outcome the moment the first clue is handed out. Yet its short play time and concise rules ensures it never drags on or overstays its welcome. Socializers will appreciate donning their cap for some Baker Street sleuthing, and it’s pretty elementary as to why.


Number Four: Ice Cool

Publisher: Brain Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 25 Minutes

ice cool nominee2Sometimes the thrill of a game resides in the depth of its mechanics, the nuance of its strategies, or the effectiveness of its theme. There are more than a few occasions though when it’s not the contents of the game people find so memorable insomuch as the jovial atmosphere it fosters. After all, at the end of the day, games are about having fun.

Ice Cool offers precisely that. The game is nothing but easy unadulterated penguin-flicking fun and whose box behaves like a series of Russian nesting dolls – probably to keep all that ice from.

Kind of fitting, really.

The premise is simple: each player is a penguin at a penguin school trying to sneak around stealing extra fish in between (presumably) lessons in how to be more penguin-like. Each person takes a turn as the hall monitor, whose job is to go around flicking their avian-flavored Weeble into the other players, getting points for ‘catching’ them. Meanwhile, everyone else is trying to move through the small rooms and doorways on the hunt for said fish (and the points they bring with them).

Once one player gets all their fish, or everyone is caught, the board is reset and the next player becomes the chaser. Repeat until everyone has had a chance being the enforcer. Then whomever has the most points wins.

Technically anyway.

In reality Ice Cool is the type of game where may be a winner, but most of the enjoyment comes from the tactile joy of plinking your penguins through – or over – rooms and the sheer unpredictability of chasing one another around the board. It’s a game where the act of playing with others is more important than the end result, making it the kind of game Socializers thrive on. Fresh fish is merely a bonus.


Number Three: Potion Explosion

Publisher: Horrible Games / Cool Mini Or Not | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 30-60 Minutes

potion explosion nomineeAre you familiar with basic colors? If so, great! You’re ready to play Potion Explosion.

Inspired in no small part by the “Match 3” genre of video games, Potion Explosion is a laid-back enterprise in trying to acquire the necessary resources to concoct a series of potions, all of which revolves around the game’s conspicuous contraption. These potions provide one-shot effects when used, but they’re also the game’s victory condition: the first player to build a specific number of potions is the winner.

Attaining and completing potions in this game is done via a series of low-key turns. (Alas, a potions class in Hogwarts this is not.) Instead, players take turns removing a marble from one of the device’s gravity-fed marble trays to use as an ingredient for a potion in your tableau. However, if that act of removing one out causes two surrounding marbles who share a color to smack together, then you’re able to pluck those out to use in your potions as well. And if those two marbles closing the gap share a color, well, you get the idea.

Potion. Explosion. Get it?

While the game offers quick turns, an inviting nature, and the tactile reward of manipulating marbles, one of its best attributes is its pacing. Although it can be played as a madcap race of marble-plinking mayhem, Potion Explosion thrives best as a game that keeps you invested while still allowing you to hold a conversation. Potion Explosion is precisely the sort of game where you can chat with fellow players at a pace of your choice while still plying some light strategy and remaining invested in the outcome.

Because of all that, one shouldn’t need a magic elixir to see why this is an ideal Socializer game.


Number Two: World’s Fair 1893

Publisher: Foxtrot Games / Renegade Game Studios  | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 30-45 Minutes

worlds fair 1893Be sure you grab your Cracker Jacks, because we’re up for a bully good time!

World’s Fair 1893 was an early bet for this category and remained such for much of 2016. Not only had we watched it since its inception, but it was also our May 2016 Indie Spotlight selection – one of only two 2016 Laurel nominees with that distinction. And with good reason.

Using a wonderful blend of unique theme and concise but easy to learn mechanics, World’s Fair constructs a venue where simple rules meet meaningful decisions. With an emphasis on player decisions while minimizing complexity, the game offers the ideal balance of accessibility and strategic possibility to create this approachable-yet-rewarding lightweight thinker – even for many who’d prefer to be riding the Ferris Wheel rather than working around it.

In World’s Fair 1893, each person operates as one of the fair organizers. Your goal is to be the person with the most reputation after three rounds in an effort to prove you’re best suited to run the whole shebang. Using a combination of card set collection and tactical cube placement, everyone take turns sending supporters to one of the game’s five major exhibit areas and collecting cards from those spots. These cards range in purpose from providing bonus supporters, advancing the round one step close to completion, and / or are used for generating points at the end of each round as well as the end of the game.

We’ve known this game to be a wonderful light strategy game that Socializers will enjoy. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, this is a case of history repeating itself, being the second year in a row that a title by the excellent team-up of Foxtrot and Renegade were the early favorite only to be blindsided by an unforeseen title taking the category by storm…


The Winner

2016 Socializer Laurel Winner

2016 Socializer Laurel – Captain Sonar

Publisher: Matagot / Asmodee | Players: 2-8 | Play Time: 45-60 Minutes

captain sonar winnerWhen this game surfaced at Gen Con, few people knew much about it. There was little buzz, next to no coverage, and at first not even Asmodee was aware that they had a hit on their hands. That’s how stealthy this submarine-based game came onto the scene.

Since then its status climbed as word spread about a highly interactive, highly social team-based game that can be taught in minutes and not only handles up to eight people – it’s the preferred player count.

In Captain Sonar, players form two teams of submarine crew members. Your goal is simple: sink the other sub. Each team member is delegated one of the game’s four roles: the Captain, who dictates the direction of the ship and executes various ship-based actions; the First Mate, who coordinates the availability of said actions; the Engineer, who manages the health of the ship itself; and the Radio Operator, with the most social role of all, whose job is to literally listen to the opposing team and track the movement of the other ship – as to properly blow them out of the water when the time comes.

Captain Sonar is one part game, one part real-time simulation, and the whole experience is equal parts, madding, memorable, inviting, and addicting. As both ships hunt each other like steel-plated sharks, every playthrough exudes palpable layers of tension, from close calls of being caught, to the pains of your intel being wrong, to the joyous exuberance when you finally catch your prey.

Captain Sonar is apex of what Socializers desire in a game, where easy to follow rules and a straightforward premise is paired with highly energetic and dynamic gameplay. When the biggest issue is that you want to immediately reset and go again, it doesn’t take a naval expert to understand why it earned this archetype’s top spot for 2016.


Captain Sonar Contest!

We thought about different ways to celebrate the winner of this year’s Socializer Laurel, including orchestrating full-scale naval war games or trying to get the largest simultaneous fan viewing of The Hunt For Red October. However, since the movie isn’t on Netflix Streaming and the Department of the Navy refused to take us seriously, in the end, we opted for the most direct approach: providing one lucky winner with the opportunity to enjoy the award-winning game first hand. So that is what we’re going to to do right…now.

That’s right! Enter below for your chance at your very own copy of Captain Sonar!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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