The Cardboard Republic has rolled out the annual Laurels of the Republic awards, celebrating the best new games released in 2017 for each of the gamer archetypes. What follows are the finalists for one of those groups.
The 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 2017 Laurel Finalists for Tacticians:
Honorable Mention: Lignum (Second Edition)
Publisher: Capstone Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 90-120 Minutes
Traditional Euro games were known for a few things. They were elaborate puzzle games where players must navigate their way around and find the best solution to the system, putting them at a stark contrast with classical children’s games or luck-based thematic games. They were often seen as aesthetically dry, with little wooden cubes to push around. And their themes were generally, well, rather uninspired. Medieval cities. Farming. Farming to supply medieval cities. And so on.
Euro games have evolved substantially in the last couple decades, but sometimes you still get a modern game with a very traditional feel to it. One such iteration is Lignum, a game about the high octane profession of…logging.
Despite teasing the inherent dryness of the premise, Lignum actually is an exceptionally thinky game that rightfully deserves recognition. In fact, if not for some substantial issues with the rulebook and, by extension, the ability to learn the game, Lignum would have easily earned a place among the titles below. That it had those issues and still earned the honorable mention spot speaks volumes to its merit.
Centered around a 19th century logging region, players compete to run the most efficient lumber mill business possible. Lignum forces you to carefully manage every part of your pulpy supply chain, from clear-cutting raw materials, to upgrading your equipment and hiring workers. (And because you need to have some element of punishment, also ensuring that you have enough food and wood stored to survive the harsh winter season.)
Lignum manages to take a seemingly simple industry and forces you to plan around every aspect of the lumber process while outmaneuvering your opponents in precisely the competitive and deeply strategic way that Tacticians love.
Honestly, it’s the most fun you’ll have around woodcutting since the last time you heard The Lumberjack Song.
Number Five: Pulsar 2849
Publisher: Czech Games Edition | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60-90 Minutes
Most dice allocation games present you with a small handful of different actions and a number of dice to use towards them. The general worry is that if you provide too many options, then the tension of the game falls apart.
Pulsar 2849 takes the opposite approach: giving you a mindboggling amount of variety but only having 2-3 dice each round to use. And it works.
Billed as sort of a Gold Rush among the stars, players are megacorps racing to explore a new sector of space and slap their trademark on everything. Chief among those are pulsars, which humans can now throw superstructures around and harness energy from. Because science fiction is awesome.
Over a paltry eight rounds, players first take turns drafting two dice. The game forces meticulous decision-making even here though, as not only does it affect what you’ll be able to do, the dice you take also has effect on the turn order. A player’s turn consists of allocating their precious dice among the Pulsar’s copious possibilities, from player boards, to claiming planets & pulsars, to developing new technologies. In the end, the person who spins up the most points is the winner.
Pulsar 2849 is an excellent tactics-laden game that may be based among the stars but is quite grounded in its behavior. While much of the core mechanics of visit familiar territory (i.e. Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers), what makes it so enticing to the more strategy-minded Tactician folk is the idea of succeeding through limitation. With expansive strategic options but limited ways to act, each round is a painstaking process of focusing your efforts between long term ambitions and optimizing turn-based options. Pulsar is straightforward yet challenging, frustrating yet rewarding, ultimately leaving you with the desire to experiment new paths over and over again.
Number Four: The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
Publisher: Minion Games | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 60-120 Minutes
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire was a title that got caught up in the nebulous release period during the last week or so in December, right at the height of holiday season. This technically makes the game a 2016 release, but only by the strictest definition. Because of this it missed our cutoff for the 2016 award season. We vowed though if it held up to the competition in 2017 that we would give credit where credit was due.
The fact that we’re talking about it today doesn’t it surprise us in the least.
Despite being part of the Minion Games’ Manhattan Project line, Energy Empire focuses more on postwar energy concerns, including the promises and pitfalls of industrialization and its effect on the environment. In this electric worker placement game, players are various world powers attempting to build the most effective energy network. Each turn you either use a worker to take an action or retrieve them all to generate energy, which can be used for even more actions. The longer the game goes, the more you must contend with the effects of pollution on your board, as well as various world events which provide new scoring opportunities while changing game conditions slightly.
As engines go, Energy Empire fires on all cylinders. It’s well structured, provides numerous paths to generate points, and allows you to cultivate an energy infrastructure as you desire. This is largely through an effective dynamic of purchasing and using bonus actions in your tableau based on the core worker action that you take. This creates the potential for highly potent – and highly satisfying – turns if done right. Between engine building, resource management, and being rewarded for well-timed moves, Energy Empire is exactly the kind of game Tacticians will love drilling down into.
Number Three: Anachrony
Publisher: Mindclash Games | Players: 1-4 | Play Time: 45-120 Minutes
Time travel. On the surface it’s a pretty simple concept. The more you dive into the details of such a fantastical voyage, however, the more complicated it gets. It doesn’t take long for the thread of logic to begin unraveling, and eventually even mundane ideas can become unnecessarily complicated, sprouting paradoxes, causality loops, alternate dimensions, and all sorts of other timey-wimey stuff.
Anachrony doubles down on the whole time travel idea while also factoring in a good old fashioned apocalypse angle. So think 12 Monkeys, but with mechs.
In the future, things are a bleak. Not Skynet-level bleak, but close. The planet isn’t doing too well, the environment is shot, and humanity is splintered. The surviving population has made spectacular strides in science, engineering, and even time travel, but petty ideological issues have arisen over who should lead the last major city. In this highly thematic worker placement game of time travel done well, each player maneuvers to set themselves up as the rightful ruler.
Beneath the biosuits and time loops, Anachrony is a brilliant, sprawling medium-weight puzzle game. With a disparate number of mechanics to monitor, a slate of specialized workers to manage, and a tight resource system to navigate, the one thing Anachrony ironically doesn’t provide in abundance is time. In this game, planning for the future, er, past, er…whatever…is challenging, competitive, and rewards those constantly thinking in the fourth dimension.
Yet through all this, the game somehow remains incredibly approachable.
Anachrony may not be a joy ride in the DeLorean, but it’s an incredibly satisfying time travel jaunt in its own right. To Tacticians, the need to properly navigate this landscape is a selling point rather than a complication. In turn, they’ll be provided a mechanically and thematically rewarding experience that’s enjoyable in any time period.
Number Two: Yokohama
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 75-90 Minutes
Yokohama is a prime example that gaming is a global hobby and that superb ideas are not limited to any one region. Originally released in Japan in 2016, it didn’t make its way to North American until the following year by way of TMG. Those who enjoy making calculated moves were rewarded for their patience though, because Yokohama is all about watching a plan come together.
In this slightly divergent worker placement game, players are presidents of various companies during the revolutionary Meiji era in Japan. This was a period of radical modernization, with both internal and foreign influences turning Japan from an agricultural landscape into an industrial powerhouse in just a couple decades.
While Yokohama definitely rewards the long game, individual turns are both simple and highly tactical. Each turn players navigate a modular board layout that changes with each playthrough. You do this by using two different types of meeples: Workers, whom you place on the various action spaces, and the President, who then moves and takes an action. The twist is that you must not only ensure a line of Workers between those two tiles, but the potency of the action you take is dependent on how many Workers are removed at the space when the President arrives.
The beauty to Yokohama is its constant ebb and flow to the board state as each person plots how to make the best use of their turns. Whether it’s to collect basic resources or working on your endgame, Yokohama forces you to think as much about the future as the present. This is why its most telling trait, and why it makes for such an endearing game to Tacticians, is the palpable sense of accomplishment whenever your disparate actions come together for a sizable payoff.
All of this justly earns Yokohama its place on this list. That said, to see this year’s winner we must turn our attention to another country’s rebuilding efforts – albeit under very different circumstances.
2017 Tactician Laurel – Lisboa
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games | Players: 1-4 | Play Time: 60-120 Minutes
Lisboa focuses on the massive modernization and rebuilding efforts that befell the city of Lisbon, Portugal in 1755 when in a matter of days a trifecta of fires, earthquakes, and a tsunami nearly wiped out the entire city. Players compete as city engineers who have been tasked with clearing away the rubble in the downtown district in order to rebuild. Your goal is to obtain the most VP – in the form of wigs.
Really. The VP in this game are wigs. If you check out Lisboa for nothing else, let it be that.
On the surface game flow is surprisingly simple. Over the span of several rounds, players take turns playing a card…and then drawing a card. That’s it.
What makes the game so enticing, though, is how much depth resides with that one simple action. Not only are there multiple ways to play a card, but that choice chains into additional actions depending on when and where you use it. Much of the game revolves around this straightforward-yet-complex decision-making process, and it is through those choices where the game is at its most pristine.
When it comes to an ideal mix of deep strategy, elegant design, and stellar production quality, Lisboa ranks among the top. This game has everything a Tactician wants to see: numerous decision paths, the necessity to think long term, and a sense of accomplishment when those choices pay off.
Lisboa is sleek, sophisticated, complicated, and beautiful, making it a hard Euro to ever say no to. For those who adore planning and plotting their way to success, Lisboa is a well-engineered project that lives up to the grandeur of its namesake in all the best ways.
Which, of course, is why we not only to tip our wigs to it but rightfully bestow upon Lisboa the Tactician Laurel of 2017.
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 splendor of Lisboa without taking you on a walking tour of Lisbon to demonstrate everything the engineers did to reconstruct the city. Because we’re not made of money and that would get expensive. We barely have enough sometimes to give Claudius his weekly pittance.
Of course, then we thought virtual walking tour. We actually gave that some serious thought. But 1), we don’t know how to do that, and 2) it still goes back to the larger problem of us still having to send someone over there to stream the whole thing. We tried having a stranger do it once, but they ran off with the camera. He’s a famous vlogger now though interestingly enough, but that’s another story…
At any rate, in the end we realized that the easiest option was to focus on building up the game and its reputation directly rather. And for that, 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 Lisboa!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Be sure to check out the 2017 Laurel Award pages for the other archetypes once they go live!