The Laurels: Best Tactician 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.

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 2016 Laurel Finalists for Tacticians:


Honorable Mention: Food Chain Magnate

Publisher: Splotter / Passport Game Studios | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 120-240 Minutes

food chain coverOne of the most entertaining parts of the gaming world is that no matter what prognostications are make, it’s incredibly difficult to dictate with 100% certainty which games will catch people’s attention and which won’t. Some games seem like they’re destined to become the Next Big Thing but flame out quickly. Others continue to sizzle far longer than anyone expects them to.

Food Chain Magnate is in the latter category.

This was a darling game among the 2015 Essen crowd, but to the surprise of many its reputation for integrating theme with a healthy dose of strategic planning continued to grow long afterwards. Enough so that when it made it into US distribution last year its demand warranted multiple additional print runs, which for publisher Splotter (whose print runs are generally on the low side), is uncommon.

Beyond the poster-like cover art, much of the game’s contents isn’t exactly eye-catching. However, once again proving that looks can be deceiving, for what FCM lacks in aesthetics it easily makes up in meaty gameplay.

Food Chain Magnate is a lengthy card-driven game set during the nascent era of fast food empires. Your goal is to channel your inner Ray Kroc and amass the most commercially successful franchise in your territory. Players spend a few hours organizing, expanding, and marketing their business throughout town. From making sales to hiring workers to making sure you have plenty of tasty treats, FCM is an extensive – and sometimes punishing – business simulator.

Tacticians love settings that give you plenty of short-term decisions which directly impact their long term goals, and they won’t be disappointed here. With numerous strategic roadmaps to explore and the time to develop them, Food Magnate is their kind of meal ticket.

Just be careful about that cutthroat competition out there.


The Nominees

2016 Tactician Laurel Nominee


Number Five: Hands In The Sea

Publisher: Knight Works | Players: 2 | Play Time: 90-120 Minutes

hands in the sea nomineeOf all the games on this list, Hands in the Sea was arguably the biggest surprise for us, in part because we had very little exposure to it until late in the year.

Shame on us.

Hands in the Sea takes you back to the days of the First Punic War, where two players face off against one another. One side commands the mighty Romans; the other the famous Carthaginians. Your goal over a dozen or so rounds is to best your opponent, but whether that means through strategic accumulation of VP or tactically capturing the enemy capital is entirely up to you.

Part of why it’s so worthy of recognition is how well Hands in the Sea distills a classic wargame scenario into a mechanically concise and straightforward experience without diluting flavor or depth of choices. So much so that even for a two hour tactical game, Hands in the Sea is still remarkably accessible. Every turn involves carefully plotting moves and countermoves, all using a single deck of action cards with a bit of deckbuilding thrown in.
If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s not a case of battle fatigue: Hands in the Sea is a loving descendant from the well-known A Few Acres of Snow, borrowing much of the core card-driven nature that people love while introducing a whole slate of new material.

Plus it avoids the whole ‘here’s how to break the game with a single strategy’ thing.

Hands in the Sea provides weighty, thoughtful, and calculated playthroughs without getting bogged down with extensive rules baggage. Which is good, because in this long term strategic setting you’ll be spending as much time formulating your own plans as you are outmaneuvering your opponent. For Tacticians, the allure of such a protracted battle of wills will be irresistible indeed.


Number Four: Crisis

Publisher: LudiCreations | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 45-120 Minutes

crisis nomineeReflecting the Tactician’s penchant for the long con, it’s a bit emblematic when we point out that Crisis is the shortest game on the nominee list this year, clocking in at around a (potential) one hour time frame. Yet even in such a “mere” time frame, this charming game of prosperity and austerity has ample strategic avenues to explore.

Yassas and welcome to Crisis, a game set in a fictionalized Greece-that-isn’t-Greece during a time of financial uncertainty and government turmoil. As major corporations within the country, your goal is to walk away profiting the most from your normal business operations.

As to whether the country itself prospers, well, that’s another matter entirely.

Crisis in many ways is your standard worker placement and resource management game, complete with copious ways to use workers each round. From buying and selling resources, to acquiring buildings and laborers to staff them, much of the game revolves around maximizing you own output. The catch, however, is that the country’s economic stability plays a major factor in how long the game lasts. Should players routinely fail to meet certain VP thresholds, the country could fall into insolvency and the game end abruptly. The question becomes whether you want to prevent that from happening – or speed up the process.

Crisis is like if Viticulture had to deal with a blight or Tzolk’in ran out of corn. Thanks to a lot of moving pieces and numerous ways to gain points, Crisis treads some familiar territory while giving players plenty to consider, though often in far less time than you initially think. The question becomes how nimbly you adapt and prosper within such an unstable system. It’s also precisely the sort of question Tacticians will enjoy trying to answer.


Number Three: Nippon

Publisher: What’s Your Game? | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 75-150 Minutes

nippon nomineeThe ideal Tactician game is one that gives them the freedom and time to let their inner machinations grow and mature. While this doesn’t mean those with a penchant for Bond villain level scheming can’t enjoy shorter games, their favorites are those that allow them to pursue goals that won’t pan out until much farther down the road.

And wowzers did 2016 have a lot of those. Especially games about progress and development. Games like Nippon.

Nippon is contest of power and dominance set during the industrialization of 19th century Japan. As one of the country’s major corporate powers, your goal in this reverse worker placement game is to build up your clout and influence over as much of the country as possible before time runs out. To this, each player invests in factories, improves their income and coal production, expands their shipping capabilities, and ultimately wants to demonstrate that their products are the best in the land.

What makes Nippon somewhat different from its contenders here, however, is that Nippon isn’t just about setting carefully laid plans in motion. It also forces you to make dynamic choices on a routine basis. To stay competitive, you must adjust to a continually changing board state.

You know, like industrialization is wont to do.

Nippon requires (and rewards) those who can quickly outmaneuver their opponents’ activities while still maintaining a long term strategy. The game impressively balances its dual requirements for prolonged planning with short term course corrections, and it’s all done while still adhering to its theme.

Nippon is a tight and competitive game where every action taken matters and change is inevitable. For Tacticians, Nippon is an excellent proving ground to demonstrate how well they can keep their master plans in motion in spite of enemy interference.


Number Two: Great Western Trail

Publisher: eggertspiele / Stronghold Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 75-150 Minutes

great western trail nomineeGreat Western Trail talk was everywhere the latter half of this year. From its exuberant reception, to the championing of designer Alexander Pfister, to its reputation for a lengthy but engaging experience, Great Western Trail was one of buzziest games of 2016.

If it had buzzed any more it may have sprouted wings.

In all fairness, this adoration is not misplaced. Great Western Trail is indeed, well, great. It may in fact be the best game about cattle to date.

Yes, in this game cowboys get to do what cowboys actually did. That alone is worthy of some recognition. As one of these cattle rustlers, your job over the course of several rounds is to repeatedly move cattle herds along the board’s winding paths from Texas to train depots in Kansas City. We say repeatedly because once you drop off the cattle, you head back to the start of the path and start all over again. In the end, the cowpoke with the most VP wins.

In Great Western Trail, however, this repetition, coupled with the use of set matching cattle cards, strikes at the heart of the game’s ingenious use of progression and planning. Every repetition gives you the ability to upgrade your operations and add buildings along the roads – buildings that help you and stifle your opponents. Each time through the cycle therefore becomes incrementally more costly to traverse, more lucrative upon delivery, and forces deeper, more interesting decisions.

Chock full of flavor, quality components, and a core mechanic that rewards you for planning for the next loop, there’s little doubt why Great Western Trail is one of the best Tactician games of 2016. If not for another title, it very well could have earned the top spot itself.

Now git along little dogies and find out who…


The Winner

2016 Tactician Laurel Winner

2016 Tactician Laurel – Arkwright

Publisher: Spielworxx / Capstone Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 120-300 Minutes

arkwright winner

Ask anyone who has played Arkwright before, and they’ll explain to you why it ended up as the top pick in the category. Just don’t ask them to explain the full rules in that moment.

We’re just saying: when the ‘short’ version of the game takes two hours, you know what you’re getting into.

Arkwright is a lumbering, sprawling economic simulation machine, providing a deluge of strategic avenues to consider as you attempt to create the most prosperous factories during the Industrial Revolution of 18th century Britain. Over the span of several rounds, your goal is to purchase and improve factories, hire workers, and compete over selling your wares in the marketplace, all in the hopes of creating the most lucrative stock portfolio at the end of the game. To ensure a profit on your investments, players must continually figure out which strategies to utilize, monitor the state of the market, and plan far enough ahead to so you can make proactive rather than reactive business decisions.

Yes, this is a cardboard course of supply and demand. Yet even with the litany of materials and options to consider, Arkwright is surprisingly elegant in its design. Indeed, once familiarized with the basics of the game, Arkwright provides a much smoother experience than it seems at first glance.

When Arkwright’s major complaint is usually more about its dry theme rather than rules or mechanics that says something.

Arkwright is undoubtedly a heavy game, and with a plethora of decisions to make, Tacticians will have no problem finding space to cultivate their long term aspirations with great enthusiasm. Yet even those content with the shorter version are still rewarded with plenty of meaningful, challenging decisions. In either case, for those who love plotting and planning, they won’t be disappointed here.

And that is why we rightfully award Arkwright the Tactician Laurel for 2016.


Arkwright Contest!

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 Arkwright with you all that was a lot shorter than actually playing Arkwright. Because, seriously. We started a Water Frame playthrough back in January and it’s still going. Poor Claudius may have actually merged with the chair at this point. Which…we really should check on.

At any rate, though an extensive array of options was considered, from taking you on a tour of an 18th century English mill in our time machine (long story) to seeing who would be the best skilled at overturning centuries of labor laws, we decided in the end to go with the simplest, driest option we could. Which itself we also find fitting in a loving way.  So, yes, we’re here 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 Arkwright!
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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