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.
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 overly-lengthy affairs where their opponents will have 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 2016 Laurel Finalists for Strikers:
Honorable Mention: Tyrants Of The Underdark
Publisher: Gale Force Nine / Wizards of the Coast | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60 Minutes
Have you ever tried a new game but throughout the entire thing have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you’ve played it already a dozen times before? That’s pretty much what you get in Tyrants of the Underdark. To many this one will feel both new and familiar all at the same time. Yet here is an occasion where that isn’t inherently a bad thing
Straight out of a D&D lore book, Tyrants of the Underdark delves into to the treacherous and hidden world beneath the surface. In these realms, it’s not just a possibility that things in the dark wish you harm – it’s a way of life. Chief among the inhabitants are the dark elves known as the drow, as well as their host of city names just begging for you to mispronounce.
Representing rival clans perennially seeking to expand their power by undermining their opposition, players take turns accumulating points in two ways. The first is via deckbuilding. Using a standard Ascension-style market row, players acquire better, more powerful cards, each of which is worth VP. A fun twist, however, is that your culled cards become even more valuable. The more powerful the card, the more those culled card is worth, providing an appealing balance between deck efficacy and endgame scoring.
The other means of VP is via board control, which is done by recruiting units. If your units control the majority units in a city at the end of the game, you score points. And if someone else’s pieces are stopping you, it’s not only possible to assassinate them – you get points for doing so.
Because it wouldn’t be the Underdark otherwise.
While Tyrants of the Underdark doesn’t offer any groundbreaking mechanical innovations, it takes well-trodden but proven mechanics and implements them in a way that’s both worthwhile and entertaining. For Strikers, this combination of deck tailoring and objective-fueled board conflict will make for a double-bladed contest they’ll be eager to sign up for.
Number Five: Onitama
Publisher: Arcane Wonders | Players: 2 | Play Time: 20-30 Minutes
Chess is a game respected far more than played. Part of that is its inherent skill gap, but an equally big issue is that your two formats are either hours-long cerebral fencing matches or five minutes of shot clock infused anxiety. Thankfully, we now have another alternative with Onitama – what we affectionally refer to as “Chess-lite”.
The premise is simple: two players on opposing sides of a grid have gathered to demonstrate their side’s martial prowess. Teams consists of five pawns. Your goal is to either capture your opponent’s largest pawn (the sensei) or get your sensei to the center space in your opponent’s back row.
The hook to Onitama is that there are only five moves in each playthrough, which are determined randomly via movement cards. You only have access to two of these moves at any given time, however, and these cards rotate between players after being used, buffered by a fifth card floating between them. Thus, anytime you take a move, you do so knowing full well that in two turns your opponent now has the same option.
Much of Onitama’s allure as a tactical abstract game resides with how well each person takes advantage of perfect information. There’s no luck or randomness beyond the initial card draw; Onitama is yours to win or lose on merit alone. All you need to do is survive the deadliest square dance imaginable.
With excellent components, fast play time, and (mostly) balanced card options, Onitama easily earns its place among other tactical classics such as Hive and The Duke. With Onitama, half the challenge is making the right move, and the other half is trying to outthink your opponent. For Strikers, a battle of wits is always a good time, and they won’t be disappointed with this dojo.
Number Four: 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis
Publisher: Jolly Roger Games / Ultra PRO | Players: 2 | Play Time: 45-60 Minutes
Chances are you’ve heard of the game Twilight Struggle. If not, just head on over to BoardGameGeek for five minutes and you’ll inevitably run into someone who will profess that it’s the best game ever made. It’s a lengthy and involved two player strategy game spanning the entirety of the Cold War, where one side manages the USA, the other the Soviet Union.
Only, there are far more people who have never played this game, mostly because it’s a lengthy and involved two player strategy game spanning the entirety of the Cold War. No one denies Twilight Struggle is well-designed, and it’s admittedly far less rules complex than most realize, but three hour long two-player strategy games make a large barrier for many gamers.
We’re just saying – there’s a reason Pandemic: Legacy took the top ranked spot.
Enter 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis, which seeks to break down that accessibility barrier as if it’s the Berlin Wall. Like its inspiration, 13 Days is a two player card-driven game where each side must plan for, and adjust to, the ever-changing board based on your opponent’s actions.
Like its predecessor, the game’s strategy and complexities reside not with rules and mechanics but from the interplay over how each player handles the escalating issue at hand. With a bevy of player-led choices and a victory condition revolving heavily around manipulating events into your favor, it forces players to make tough decisions at every turn, and it’s done with very thematic aplomb.
For Strikers, 13 Days is an excellent addition to their two-player gaming arsenal. This game distills what makes Twilight Struggle so enjoyable into a palatable 45 minute focus on a single Cold War era event, all while still offering plenty of intrigue and replayability in its own right.
Number Three: Adrenaline
Publisher: Czech Games Edition | Players: 3-5 | Play Time: 45-75 Minutes
Video games been the domain of fast, chaotic, adrenaline-infused shoot-em-ups since they were first introduced via Castle Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Since then, the first-person shooter and its offshoot genres have become so iconic that they’re credited both with the rise of internet-era console systems and the success of eSports itself.
These action-filled games are so popular in part because they’re quick, tense, immersive, and unpredictable. They’re exciting objective-based games where you must blast your way through your opposition, whether that’s stopping an alien swarm or capturing the flag from an enemy base. And if you get blown into mighty bits, well, just wait till you respawn and try again.
Transplanting that vibrant fighting nature into board games has been tricky. Some games nail the real-time sensation or chaotic outcomes, but few truly capture the pure unadulterated fun of the nascent era first person shooters.
At least, until Adrenaline.
In Adrenaline, players perform the common deathmatch pattern: taking turns running around to different rooms, snatching up weapons and ammo, and then setting their sights on other players. Victory is straightforward: maximize your kill count while avoiding your own death as much as possible. Once a certain number of kills are reached, the game is over.
Beyond maintaining some Euro game structure, Adrenaline’s most impressive trait is how aptly it evokes the source material. Adrenaline is what Frag wanted to be: a reasonably fast and easy to learn game where a bunch of people show up and repeatedly try to kill each other. With decent pacing, unencumbered rules, and the groundwork for more gameplay variants, Adrenaline offers up plenty of analog anarchy.
As such, you won’t need to do any convincing with Strikers on this one to get them on board. In fact, they’re probably already camping your next spawn point…
Number Two: Inis
Publisher: Matagot / Asmodee | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 45-90 Minutes
Welcome to the land of Inis, home of green acres, Celtic lore, and political instability. Inis is a fractured land, divided and scattered but yearning for something greater. The debate has begun over who shall rule. Many will try for the throne, but who can keep it?
Inis is a clever pairing of board manipulation and card drafting, the result of which creates a highly dynamic game. In Inis, it’s adapt or die; tactical thinking and careful timing are key to winning this land.
Each round behaves the same way. The first half involves drafting four action cards, which allow you to add or move units, build structures, draw one-time use cards, and explore new territory. Which cards you chose will determine your possible actions that round.
The second half involves taking turns either executing one of your chosen cards or strategically passing to bide your time, all in the hopes of attaining and maintaining at least one of the game’s three victory conditions. If everyone passes in succession though, the round is over, and the cycle begins anew. Repeat until the king is chosen.
Among the game’s most praiseworthy attributes, aside from its watercolor style artwork reflecting what can be best described as 80’s RPG-inspired Celtic imagery, is the masterful way it forces players to balance political détente with the timely need for a good fight. Both avenues are useful and necessary, as it’s incredibly difficult to beat Inis by strength of force alone. Indeed, one of the victory conditions demands that other players be present in territories you control, upending the standard drive to obliterate your competition.
With a heavy focus on player-led decisions and a marginal degree of luck, Strikers will easily find this island worth fighting over.
As did we. When one of the chief complaints is the lackluster box cover, that says something. Indeed, Inis very nearly came to winning the final spot for this category, but was bested barely by, as it turns out, another game with very similar ambitions.
2016 Striker Laurel – Cry Havoc
Publisher: Portal Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60-120 Minutes
Cry Havoc certainly had a lot of that, with consistent positive buzz leading up to – and well after – its release. Cry Havoc was such a Gen Con darling in 2016 that unless you had pre-ordered it, you had better odds of getting a cold than a copy of this game.
Turns out, there were legitimate reasons for this.
On the surface, Cry Havoc is ostensively a ‘dudes on a map’ style game, replete with superb figurines and asymmetric player powers whose strategies and counterstrategies unfold more with each playthrough. And for many, that alone would be enough.
Yet much like good books, icebergs, and deep jungle tranquility, there’s more to Cry Havoc than it seems. Combat and conflict may indeed be the two core areas Cry Havoc revolves around, but one of the biggest reasons this game reached such a fever pitch is because it isn’t a Space Marine styled quest for the total annihilation of the other factions. Rather, beneath its thick plated armor lies a game with a hidden Euro streak, as the game’s real path to victory is an opportunistic race for points.
It’s just that you can steal those points away by shanking the person holding them.
In this way, Cry Havoc is a wonderful melding of play styles, providing both the simple elegance of battlefield fighting via an ingenious combat system as well as the worthwhile underlying premise for doing so. Battles may be plentiful on this crystal-laden rock over a scant five rounds, but they’re also just a means to an end.
Cry Havoc admirably illustrates the notion that an area control game can be more than unbridled aggression. With elements of battlefield skirmishes, weighted combat objectives, and even a splash of deckbuilding, the game puts its seemingly simple goal directly in the players’ sights, then leaves the path of getting there entirely up to them.
For Strikers, there is no greater challenge or joy than a fast-paced battle of wills and wits – especially if that means fighting their way through their opponents to do so. Cry Havoc provides all that with effortless ease. And it is for that reason why this highly competitive yet substantive skirmish game has earned the top Striker spot for 2016.
Cry Havoc Contest!
When it came to figuring out how we wanted to show off this year’s Striker Laurel. We actually thought the most direct way would be to simply have you bribe Portal Games head Ignacy Trzewiczek by mailing him cookies, but that involves all sorts of issues with customs, shipping, us stealing said cookies before they ever reach him, him being rather upset at promises of cookie bribery being unfulfilled coming back to work against us, and so on. So…we scratched that one. Then we thought it could’ve been fitting to host a massive March Madness style competition using Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but the logistics would’ve been a nightmare. So…we scratched that one too. 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 Cry Havoc!
Be sure to check out the 2016 Laurel Award pages for the other archetypes once they go live!