The Laurels: Best Striker 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. 

StrikerAlways 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 2015 Laurel Finalists for Strikers:


Honorable Mention: Forbidden Stars

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 120-180 Minutes

Forbidden Stars coverFor the Emperor!

Few game settings have the level of depth and immersion as the Warhammer 40k universe. Spanning board games, card games, tabletop RPGs, computer games, and, of course, its signature miniatures game, 40k is a sprawling tangled mess of diverse factions, robust storytelling, and lots and lots of death.

Just, like, so much death.

In this futuristic universe, things have moved beyond dystopian and into an existence where war between different alien races – as well as numerous human allegiances – is constant and brutish. Simply put, 40k is a neigh never-ending bloodbath where diplomacy and negotiation are often considered signs of weakness.

In some ways, Forbidden Stars is a slight departure from this reality. There’s still loads of conflict in this sprawling box of cards and bits galore, but the premise is a little more focused. In this game, a sector of the galaxy long blocked off due to Warp Storms (giant moving storms in space), has become available for exploration, and all the major players are rushing in for the spoils. Your goal isn’t total domination. Rather, each faction is tasked with accomplishing a number of objectives in order to win – albeit often deep within enemy territory. To get them, you’ll need to build your forces, defeat enemy units, avoid the Warp, and try to hold areas long enough to accomplish your goals.

Essentially, Forbidden Stars is a massive and well-designed area control game. Borrowing heavily from the earlier Starcraft game and chock full of typical Fantasy Flight component quality, Forbidden Stars takes the experience to a whole new level. With straightforward unit generation and a fun card + dice combat system, every skirmish forces you to decide whether to use your resources to defend your position or save them to go on the offensive. Although it takes a couple hours to play and there’s downtime to contend with, Strikers will nevertheless really enjoy this game’s focus on constant strategic decision-making and battlefield outcomes that aren’t completely beholden to luck. Skill and flexibility are at the forefront of this ongoing space saga.

Well, that and death. Did we mention all the death?


The Nominees

2015 Striker Laurel Nominee


Nominee #5: Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 30-120 Minutes

ashes nominee coverOnce upon a time, the world was in a pretty bad spot. Monsters not only roamed the land freely, but they ruled it with malice and force, subjugating humans into some rather dire circumstances. Then along came the Phoenixborn, a group of demigods who rode into town, beat back the monsters, and freed the lands for humans to take over. Sort of like ancient Greece, but in reverse.

It didn’t take long for things to go completely sideways, though. Turns out humans have a hard time sharing land even after centuries of being oppressed, and the Phoenixborn found out if they go all Highlander on one another some can become full-fledged gods. In Ashes, things have devolved to a point where, as one of the Phoenixborn, each player lead human city-states against others for power and territory.

So…apparently it’s exactly like ancient Greece.

In this gloriously illustrated card and dice game, players square off using different customizable faction decks, with each person looking to burn their opposition down to, well, ashes. Ashes is the latest successful title to the continually-growing Expandable Card Game genre, carefully blending spell slinging and unit summoning along with a handful of dice to leverage in an all-out assault on your enemy. Ashes is what you’d get if you threw Summoner Wars, Mage Wars, and Magic: the Gathering in a blender, but the game’s effective use of deck customization, unique faction gameplay, and dice-as-resources creates it’s own engaging experience. Ashes gives you all the necessary tools for a strategic battlefield skirmish of your own creation, and Strikers will love using their wit and skill to eliminate the competition. After all, as the saying goes, there can only be one!


Nominee #4: Star Wars Armada

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games | Players: 2 | Play Time: 120 Minutes

armada nomineeWhen Fantasy Flight Games came out with their well-timed X-Wing Miniatures game, lots of tabletop enthusiasts became instantly hooked. They loved the idea of being scrappy Rebel pilots going up against mighty Imperial fighters – or vice versa – and it was all done using an innovative combat system. Alas, lamented some, one of the few things this highly versatile skirmish game seemed to be missing were the larger capital ships of cinematic fame.

Enter Star Wars Armada.

Armada is an entirely different game that pulls the scope of the Star Wars fight up to the fleet level, putting two players in command of their respective fleets and pitting the Rebel ships against the the Empire. Each side still has access to nimble fighter squadrons, but larger guns have now also come to bear in the form of frigates, cruisers, and naturally, a Star Destroyer. These larger ships pack a significantly harder punch, but they’re also far less maneuverable. Over six rounds, both sides program their fleet movements and make calculated attacks, but there’s also a definite ‘Space Chess’ vibe as each player must guess what their opponent may try to do and plan accordingly. Armada is a cat-and-mouse game with giant ships shooting giant lasers. It ends with whoever attains the most points after those six rounds, or if you obliterate your opponent. Either works.

Star Wars Armada offers a heavily engaging experience, from its gorgeous pre-painted miniatures to the game’s numerous cards, tokens, and dice pools. In this game the very table you play on becomes the battlefield, and movement is calculated by handy custom rulers. The game is a bit of a time investment and has a learning curve (as one would expect when stepping into the shoes of an admiral), but there are few games that offer both the level of physical quality and depth of tactical options aimed squarely at dueling. Most Strikers thrive in games that test their mettle against a worthy foe, and for those willing to take to a protracted battle among the stars to do it, Armada won’t let them down.


Nominee #3: Strife: Legacy Of The Eternals

Publisher: V3G | Players: 2 | Play Time: 60 Minutes

strife nomineeAs is often the case, there is elegance in simplicity. In the case of Strife, this is especially true. Rather than diving into lengthy rulebooks or strange nuances to trip you up, the entire game of Strife consists of a small deck of cards, a d12, and rules that can be explained in about a minute.

In Strife, your goal is to conquer different battlefield locations over the course of a mere three rounds. At your disposal each round is a set of 10 character cards, each having two unique powers that serve a dual purpose. In life, both you and your opponent drop a character at a location in the hopes of claiming it for points. Combining their strength with some crazy power, you see who prevails. Those characters are then sent to your Legacy pile, where in death/exile/retirement its second ability will aid you in the following turn’s fight.

The catch is that both players have the exact same cards, and everything on the board is publicly known. Strife heavily leverages the idea of perfect information as both players scheme and strategize to see who can get the upper hand in a taut dance of decision and deduction. The game also boasts some fairly intricate combos between locations, the characters fighting over it, and the ones atop your Legacy pile. Are you able to guess what your opponent is up to? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

For such a small footprint Strife packs a large amount of intrigue into its gameplay. The concept is simple and easy to understand, but like an iceberg floating inconspicuously in the water, there’s a lot of substance just beneath the surface. Strife is as much about advancing your own path to victory as it is ascertaining what your mirrored counterpart may try. For Strikers, sauntering into this conflict is an easy choice.


Nominee #2: Baseball Highlights 2045

Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games | Players: 2/4 | Play Time: 45-60 Minutes

BH nomineeThe year is 2045. It turns out baseball is still around, but it’s undergone some significant changes. Not quite full on Futurama Blernsball different, but the national pasttime now touts players with some shiny new gears and hinges. It turns out that a lot of people found traditional baseball a little too slow and boring for our sophisticated fast-paced modern lifestyles. So the sport decided to jazz things up a bit by allowing in humans with cybernetic upgrades, as well as a whole host of robot players. Lo and behold, these drastic changes panned out, for now baseball is more popular than ever.

Food for thought.

That is the world players step into when entering Baseball Highlights 2045. In this original game of deck optimization, each player is the manager of an up-and-coming baseball team whose hearts and CPUs set on winning the coveted World Series. Throughout a single season, both sides go head-to-head, pitting their teams against one another with player abilities ranging from stealing bases to countering the previous card’s effects, as well as threatening to score points. BH2045 also brings deck management into equation, as after every game both sides shake up their rosters by recruiting better teammates – though teams never consist of more than 15 cards. After a 3-game skirmish, the person whose team wins a best 4-of-7 match wins the pennant and the adoration of fans everywhere.

Baseball Highlights brings forth a creative sci-fi inspired look at baseball while distilling the sport down into a much more fast-paced affair. Play a card, try to score runs. Repeat. What makes the game so intriguing, however, is the notion of honing your team to be more efficient at handling your opponent. Whether it’s deciding when and which card to play each round or which units to upgrade, every decision revolves around out-thinking and outplaying the opposing team, which Strikers love. With high degrees of decisive decision-making and replayability, BH2045 is a home run of a game and earns its runner-up spot on this list fairly easily. You don’t even have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this one – although it doesn’t hurt.


The Winner

2015 Striker Laurel Winner

2015 Striker Laurel – Blood Rage

Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60-120 Minutes

blood rage winnerFor the glory of Odin! To arms my brethren, for tonight we rest in Valhalla!

We’d try to make this particular winner a surprise if we could, but in all honesty, no 2015 list would be complete without mentioning this insanely popular title. And it’s popular for good reason. From its thematic tones to its straightforward rules, Blood Rage is a resplendent area control and card drafting game that puts the Norse lands entirely up for grabs.

In this game, players are clans seeking to earn the most glory and prestige before Ragnarok happens and the world comes to a violent end. The reward is a place in Valhalla next to Odin, and there is no second chair. Throughout three rounds, each clan chooses to attain glory however they see fit, from pillaging neighboring lands, to upgrading your clan’s stats, to taking on specific quests, each of which contains viable paths to victory.

Mostly though, it’s all about the killing and the dying. Because getting killed a lot can work out in your favor too. These are Vikings after all.

There was some reservation about giving Blood Rage the top spot in this list at first, considering it’s technically a reimplementation of designer Eric Lang’s earlier work Midgard, but it’s evident that there’s been significant enough changes to the original source material and enough merit to this game’s worth to give it its due justice at number one. Through the clever use of drafting utility cards each round and spirited encouragement of getting others to join you in battle in the hopes of meeting a glorious death, Blood Rage elevates the idea that an area control game – and a viking-themed one at that – can be more than just unfettered linear aggression.

Indeed, Blood Rage has plenty of goal-oriented objectives that you not only set yourself, but you likewise can then choose how you want to go about achieving them. While this game certainly rewards fighting by way of units clashing (represented via stellar miniatures), there are numerous ways to attain points, giving this title more nuance than it may seem at first glance. What’s more, even if you are on the receiving end of a slaughter, it rarely feels terribly punishing for long, which is a huge testament to game balance. It is for that reason why this brutal-yet-substantive skirmish game has earned the top Striker rank. With plenty of carnage and player agency in this excellent title, Strikers will be right at home.

Well, at least right before it gets destroyed by a rampaging troll.


Bonus! Blood Rage Contest!

Due to a number of factors including price and availability, we weren’t originally planning on being able to give anything out in celebration of Blood Rage winning the 2015 Striker Laurel. However, upon hearing of their win, the good people at CMON wanted to share in the celebration by providing a prize of their own! So here’s your chance at expanding your Blood Rage collection. Enter below for a copy of the Blood Rage 5th Player Expansion!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: In honor of their award recognition, Cool Mini Or Not has kindly provided a copy of this game expansion 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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