The Laurels: Best Tactician 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.

SocializerThe greatest moment for a Tactician isn’t when they cross the finish line or they best another player. Rather, it’s when all of their moving pieces and disparate strategic decisions coalesce as their carefully laid plan comes to fruition. Always the consummate schemers, Tacticians adore games that not only let them look at things in the long term but are flexible enough that it can be accomplished in different ways. Most Tacticians use layers to their plotting, adjusting if things don’t go exactly as they’d hope – which is almost guaranteed – and they’re adept at leveraging turn-based options to the fullest even if the game doesn’t permit focusing on a grand vision.

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


Honorable Mention: Captains of Industry

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games | Players: 3-5 | Play Time: 90-150 Minutes

captains of industry coverOne downside to an ever-growing array of games competing for our attention is that the chance of a worthwhile game slipping through the cracks goes up. Even the most diehard players only have so much time in the day to devote to new games, and the odds of a good game flying under the radar rise year after year. Case in point: meet Power Grid’s old-timey grandpa in the criminally overlooked economics game, Captains of Industry.

It’s understandable to a point, as the game had some difficulty getting published in the first place. Due to a short Kickstarter campaign simply to get the game published, it didn’t have the typical rollout most games get. Plus, not everyone wants to play a 2+ hour economics game set during the Gilded Age era of the Industrial Revolution.

However, for those that do, such as our Tactician friends, they won’t be disappointed.

In this game, players compete over three lengthy eras to corner as much market share as possible, from production to consumption. Whether it’s flooding the market with lots of cheap wares or pricing commodities so high as to cause shortages, you must continually balance the resource needs of your empire with the need to make money, buy up real estate holdings, or manipulate the consumer market in your favor.

Captains of Industry is a solid economics game that forces you to focus on long term ambitions as well as marketplace volatility and manipulation. From gaining factory upgrades and new technologies to achieving hidden objectives, Captains of Industry does an excellent job representing classic supply and demand visually and mechanically, all with only a fraction of the corruption and graft of the real thing.


The Nominees

2015 Tactician Laurel Nominee

Nominee #5: AquaSphere

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games | Players: 2-5 | Play Time: 75-120 Minutes

aquasphere nomineeAre you ready for some high-octane deep sea adventure? Well…then you’ve probably come to the wrong place. Because that’s not the purpose of this particular voyage. Instead, this game grants you access to the underground research station AquaSphere, where players are tasked with gathering as much research data as possible during their limited four round stay. Of course, accomplishing that is easier said than done.

Armed with a scientist, a trusty engineer, and a bunch of wily programmable robots, players take turns slotting robots to perform over a half dozen different possible actions, depending on how you wish to deploy them. Due to space concerns, only two bots can be programmed at a time, so you must not only contend with choosing which action you’ll want to do next, but also having to anticipate the move after that almost immediately. Do you gather up mysterious crystals, expand your lab, or reposition your submarine? Take all of your possibilities and then multiply them by six; that’s AquaSphere.

Oh, and then there’s dealing with the ocean-based Tribbles known as Octopods: creatures just determined to crawl over everything and cause havoc unless removed. You know, just in case you needed more options.

Using a mix of programming and action-taking, AquaSphere is a conveyer belt of methodical and pragmatic decision-making. This complex and semi-open system affords Tacticians the freedom to determine exactly how they wish to demonstrate to the grant writers back home who the best research team is. Thinking ahead in AquaSphere isn’t just a necessity – it’s an imperative – and for those who enjoys constant strategic tinkering, AquaSphere won’t disappoint. This game has no shortage of levers to pull in terms of potential paths to winning (unsurprising since it’s the product of Euro game folk hero designer Stefan Feld), and each lever is just as viable as the next. Just don’t grab the one marked Airlock Release.


Nominee #4: Mottainai

Publisher: Asmadi Games | Players: 2-5 | Play Time: 20-40 Minutes

mottainai nomineeCome and sit a spell on the humble Buddhist grounds of Mottainai. Whether just gazing at the sights, reflecting on the daily activities of the monks, or browsing the gift shop for homemade wares, how you’d like to spend your time at this serene locale is completely at your discretion.

Talk about an understatement.

Turns out, for a game centered around monks seeking balance, there’s far more planning going on than there is meditating. Such it is with the card game Mottainai, the spiritual successor to the classic hit Glory to Rome in more than a few ways. Simple in concept but as deep as a zen koan, this serene little filler game crams an awful lot of options into a particularly tight time frame. Generally speaking, Tacticians adore games that give them time to plan and adjust as they scheme towards victory, but Mottainai skillfully illustrates that complex decision trees don’t have to be multi-hour affairs.

In this game, each player is an acolyte in a Buddhist temple. Your goal is to generate the least amount of waste possible, be it in the efficiency of the actions you take or the swiftness of the items you make. Turns in this game are as simple as playing a card (or not) and taking a series of actions based off that selection. All of this is achieved not just by which cards you play, but how you play them. Every card in Mottainai consists of one of five different types, each of which can be used upwards of six different ways, such as adding materials to your crafting area or slotting them to generate bonus actions. And then there’s…well, you get the idea. There’s a fairly moderate learning curve to this one, but the payoff balances out early hurdles. The richness of Mottainai comes with the sheer amount of complexity the game packs into such simple choices, as well as the impressive amount of strategic variability that comes from a single deck of cards. Strategies in this game are like a river: constant and far-reaching but also prone to change. Which is fitting really.


Nominee #3: The Voyages of Marco Polo

Publisher: Z-Man Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 45-90 Minutes

marco polo nomineeOn the surface it may seem a little strange that one of the final contenders on this list is a dice placement game. We wouldn’t blame you. We were a little surprised ourselves. And yet here we are, about to celebrate that very notion.

As the namesake not-so-subtly implies, The Voyages of Marco Polo is a dice worker game based around the fabled legendary travels of Marco Polo through Asia. Over each of the game’s five rounds, players roll their dice to determine their initial options. Then, they use those dice by traveling around to different locations, trading in goods to complete contracts, and collecting as much coinage as they can, all in the hopes of heading home along the Great Silk Road with the greatest amount of fame…er…VP.

While much of the core mechanics behind The Voyages of Marco Polo visit the familiar territory of taking actions based on dice results (think Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers), this game does several things that endears itself to the more strategy-minded among us. For one, it ensures low dice rolling doesn’t limit your ability to win by awarding extra resources to low rollers, allowing players to focus on making decisions rather than hoping for a lucky roll. Moreover, Marco Polo uses asynchronous gameplay by giving everyone such powerful unique abilities that you can’t help but take them into consideration during your planning. The combined effort is a feeling of being able to make viable choices no matter how you roll.

All told, Marco Polo is a marvelous example of the idea that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel if you do something familiar especially well – and it does. Using hidden objectives, special powers, luck mitigation, and the ability to reuse action spaces, Marco Polo ensures that even though dice are at the forefront of the game, you aren’t beholden to them. With a focus both on long-term ambition and turn-based adjustments, this is precisely the kind of dice game Tacticians would look for.


Nominee #2: Trickerion: Legends of Illusion

Publisher: APE Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 75-120 Minutes

trickerion nomineeOnce upon a time, being a stage magician was a respectable trade.

No, really.

Before the days when they were relegated to kid’s birthday parties, desperate TV specials, or cruise ship lounge acts, there was a era when stage shows were marquee events, where illusionists weren’t just part of the performance – they were the headlines. Yes, while we may scoff at people who clang rings, make things disappear, and perform every card trick in existence, we once thought that these people – the good ones anyway – possessed qualities almost as mystical as their art. Their acts, part storytelling, part misdirection, enthralled and excited audiences, and they were something to behold.

That is what Trickerion encapsulates, both thematically and mechanically. In this this uniquely-set Euro game, travel back to the late 19th century. There, over the span of a variable number of rounds, each player oversees teams of competing illusionists. Every magician comes with their own personal magic flair, and that’ll hopefully help you as you strive to build up money, fame, and respect amongst your peers. Trickerion uses a modified form of worker placement, where you get a number of Action Points to spend depending on which worker you place and which space you choose at a given location. As the goal is to showcase that you are the best magician possible, during each round players scramble to procure plans for new magical acts, acquire the materials to pull them off, assemble them in their workshop, and of course, slot shows into the local theater to show off their skills.

What makes Trickerion so compelling is the rewarding degree it integrates its premise while still giving you the freedom to make weighted decisions. Yes, the ultimate goal is to put on a spellbinding show for points, but how you get to that point is up to you. However, with only so many days to perform your acts, time is limited. Forethought and careful allocation of your workers each round is essential in the race to stay one step ahead of the competition. With plenty of strategic depth beneath its alluring artwork, Tacticians will enjoy the logistical puzzle of ensuring they are the ultimate magician. There’s no illusion here: Trickerion is a resplendent medium-weight Euro that puts on one heck of a show and is deserving of its spot.


The Winner

2015 Tactician Laurel Winner

2015 Tactician Laurel – The Gallerist

Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games | Players: 1-4 | Play Time: 120-150 Minutes

the gallerist winnerJust as there are some people who command attention by simply walking into a room, some board games possess enough innate joie de vivre that their mere presence fosters excitement and curiosity from those around it. Whether it’s because they ooze flavor or how intricately woven their gameplay is, some games can’t help but bring notice unto themselves.

This is one of those games.

When we say The Gallerist was easily the heavy hitter of this category, we’re referring to far more than just its physical weight. The Gallerist is a robust menagerie of moving pieces, variable paths to victory, and money management, all tied into a cohesive theme that’s simple in concept but has plenty to explore. This shouldn’t really be a surprise, as this game is from the same designer known for heavyweight titles such as CO2, Kanban, and Vinhos.

The Gallerist welcomes you to the high end world of art. In this game, each player looks to become the most successful (i.e. richest) gallery owner. Accomplishing this requires careful management across multiple avenues. Over a series of rounds you must make the best decisions for your audience, your artists, and of course, your bottom line. Using a modified form of worker placement, you must raise the profile of burgeoning talent, attract attendees, and then raise your standing within the global community by showing off how successful your exhibits are.

Apparently art galleries take far more effort than merely hanging paintings on a wall.

Yet complex mechanics alone don’t guarantee a spot among the top contenders for Tacticians. Beyond the need to strategically plan and plot, the best do so with some flair, which this game does with great aplomb. Your path to victory here is a canvas of your own making. The world of The Gallerist is an interconnected logic system of vision, reputation, and cold hard cash, all fused within a myriad of excellent components and visually pleasing graphics. With ample potential for calculated maneuvering – and being rewarded for doing so – The Gallerist is, quite literally, a work of art. And who are we to argue with greatness?


The Gallerist Contest!

So…here’s the thing. When we were finalizing this list a while back, we wanted to come up with some way of drawing attention to how impressive the winner of the Tactician Laurel is. We brainstormed numerous ways that we could celebrate the grandeur of The Gallerist with you all without, well, actually having The Gallerist. None of those ideas actually panned out. Ironic really: our plans for the category all about planning fell flat. So we originally didn’t plan on having a giveaway for this one.

However, proving that you can’t plan for everything, it turns out our concerns were all for naught. Because…we do have The Gallerist after all – complete with Kickstarter goodies no less. And we’re turning right around to provide one lucky winner with the opportunity to enjoy this award-winning game first hand.

That’s right! Enter below for your chance at your very own copy of The Gallerist – with Stretch Goal materials!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: In honor of their award recognition, Eagle-Gryphon Games has more than 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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