The Laurels: Best Tactician Games Of 2018

The Cardboard Republic has rolled out the annual Laurels of the Republic awards, celebrating the best new games released in 2018 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 2018 Laurel Finalists for Tacticians:


Honorable Mention: TOKYO METRO

Publisher: Jordan Draper Games | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 60-90 Minutes

Traditionally, highly strategic Euro games came with a very specific look, such that even a passing glance at a table’s splay of muted colors, copious component piles, and box covers of white men starting off camera while clutching something of importance clued you in to its style. This in and of itself didn’t make these puzzle-centric games bad – theme often wasn’t the major focus to them after all – but for years they helped solidify in the collective gaming consciousness what the idea of a “Euro” game was.

Thankfully, dozens of designers since have been taking us beyond the classic mold with their desire to demonstrate new and exciting, yet still deeply strategic, Euro gaming experiences.

All of which makes sense with the existence of Tokyo Metro. Because designer Jordan Draper doesn’t really do anything classic or traditional. And the gaming world is all the better because of it.

Case in point: Tokyo Metro, a Euro game that looks and behaves markedly unlike its forebears…mostly. For while many are lured in by the game’s artistic-meets-minimalistic layout, complete with a cloth playing board, those that stay are treated to an intriguing and occasionally befuddling moneymaking trip through the Japanese underground.

With Tokyo Metro, each person is a private investor looking to cash in on improving the Tokyo metropolitan subway system, naturally, by trying to receive the healthiest return on their efforts. Using an appealing fusion of worker placement and economic stock simulation, players send several rounds building strategically placed subway stations, buying stock in the various subway lines, speculating on the success of the investments of your competitors, and taking a number of different actions to keep that sweet, sweet, yen flowing in. The more subways that run through the places you’ve invested in each round, the better your bottom line.

Mixing economic simulation, route planning, and a little area control, Tokyo Metro is visually unique game with some serious planning potential flowing just beneath the surface. It’s competitive, dynamic, and forces you to balance short-term needs with long-term payoffs in many ways our strategy otaku adore.


The Nominees


Number Five: Nusfjord

Publisher: Mayfair Games / Lookout Games | Players: 1-5 | Play Time: 20-100 Minutes

Do you like fish? Do you like Agricola? Do you wish Agricola was a little shorter and had about 500% more fish? Then good news! Because that’s Nusfjord in a clamshell.

Technically speaking, Nusfjord was supposed to be a late 2017 release, even being showcased at BGG.Con that year. Unfortunately, with the dissolution of Mayfair Games and acquisition by Asmodee, several titles didn’t make widespread US distribution until close to six months later. While that was unfortunate to all those angling for a copy, it also made it eligible for this year’s roundup. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it quickly swam to the front of the pack. Designer Uwe Rosenberg certainly has a penchant for making highly successful, thinky games, and Nusfjord is no exception.

Set in a rural 20th century shipping village in Norway, Nusfjord is a game about trying to become the most successful commercial fisherman in town. Over the course of seven rounds, in this worker placement game each player seeks to increase their fleet size for larger fish hauls, recruit Elders as unique worker spots on their board, construct buildings that provide special abilities and / or endgame points, and just like their dirt-farming ancestors, try to end the game with as few exposed board spaces as possible.

With only a handful of actions each round, judicious management of fish, wood, and gold are vital to pivoting sustainable short-term gains into a long-term winning strategy – be that by amassing a major fishing fleet, constructing copious new buildings, or something in between. Every decision you take matters. For Tacticians, that’s a pretty solid lure.

Mechanically speaking, Uwe’s Nusfjord is not revolutionary, but sometimes the best games are those that don’t need to reinvent from the ground up. This is one of those games. Using a wonderful balance of worker placement mechanics, a tight resource economy, a refreshing nautical theme, and a variety of paths to victory, all bound up in a serene fishing-centric sense of progression, Nusjord has all the right qualities for success. Hence its mention here today.


Number Four: Calimala

Publisher: Stronghold Games | Players: 3-5 | Play Time: 45-75 Minutes

When it comes to midweight Euro game enthusiasm, few games received such widespread approval from Essen 2017 as Calimala. It was an instant hit among the enfranchised gamer crowd, and when it finally became available in North America in summer of 2018, a whole new swath of gamers finally got to experience the same delight. And while popularity itself hardly fits into our consideration, the underlying reasons why it became such a hit certainly does.

So sit down, strap in, and hold on to your seats tight! Because you’re about to enter the rip-roaring, high octane world of…medieval cloth guilds. Hoorah!

Yes, Calimala is about expanding the trade and influence of the lucrative cloth merchant guild of Florence in the Early Middle Ages. Because of course it is.

In it, each player is a member of the guild looking to expand their influence in the hopes of rising from merely elite members of the city to the top tier elite, all of which is done via an ingenious and pleasing action tower system. With Calimala, all of the actions are randomly added to a grid, the distribution of which vastly changes strategies from one playthrough to the next. Your turn consists of adding a disk to the space between two such actions and then resolving each of them. Actions range from producing and shipping cloth, to constructing warehouses to store your cloth, to collecting raw materials for building such things or to donate to city efforts.

If another player places their disk in the same spot, they resolve their turn as normal. Then, each other player in the stack gets to take their actions again. Adding a fourth disk triggers one of the game’s many scoring phases, which provide points depending on who contributed more to spaces on the board. In Calimala, timing and calculated positioning are everything. Every disk placement matters, as success depends not just about working towards the next scoring event but the 4-5 beyond that as well.

Calimala rightfully earns its acclaim by being complex without being complicated. While individual choices are concise and straightforward, stringing them together to form viable strategies is easier said than done. Tacticians will be right at home in this medieval locale. It’s clever, smooth, highly replayable, and turns simple decisions into a refined, fast-playing experience. Which, like the Calimala, explains its elite status.


Number Three: Heaven & Ale

Publisher: eggertspiele  / Plan B Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60-90 Minutes

Not every game is going to live up to its thematic premise. That is true of any game, but in longer, more puzzle-centric Euro games, flavor and theme are often mere window dressing for a mechanically-driven experience. With these titles, the true fun factor is navigating a maze of unknown options and choices to derive the best path forward, and ultimately, forge the most successful path to victory. Their value is in solving a challenge rather than providing immersion. As such, while not purely abstract, many of these games earn a reputation for having a theme that’s largely a veneer and whose premise can be, even on the surface, a little dry.

It’s a little ironic that Heaven & Ale – a game about medieval monks brewing beer – is among them.

In this game, each player controls a monastery tasked with starting its own brewery. Over the span of six rounds, players will move around a circular board and take the action where they choose to stop (think Tokaido). Actions include buying ingredient tiles, recruiting monks, claiming objective tiles for endgame VP, or taking an activation token to trigger planted ingredients and / or placed monks. Ingredients added to the shady side of your monastery ground provide money when activated, whereas those on the light side increase the production value of your respective ingredient trackers. When the game ends, a player’s score is (largely) determined by the value of your least productive ingredient, forcing you to continually balance income generation with moving upwards of six different tracks along your board simultaneously. It’s tight, competitive, and punishing, but the payoff can be quite delicious.

Despite not being super thematic, Heaven & Ale is a game that Tacticians will heartily drink up. Success requires making calculated workflow decisions and chaining them together to generate the most lucrative turns in terms of money and/or production. Like a bunch of spinning plates, there is a lot of management required here for success, and time is not on your side. But for those who enjoy a challenging yet rewarding logic puzzle, Heaven & Ale makes for one heck of a brew.


Number Two: Coimbra

Publisher: eggertspiele / Plan B Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 60-90 Minutes

We already mentioned back in our Architect Laurel announcements how rare it was for a publisher to end up with multiple titles in the same category. Now we’re talking about it for the second time within the same batch of 2018 nominees as we champion eggertspiele’s other major hit of 2018, Coimbra.

It’s been a wild year, to say the least.

Thanks to a somewhat unintentional slow rollout, Coimbra’s popularity benefited by word of mouth over the middle half of the year as it eventually made its way into more and more hands. It also benefited by, well, being an excellent game.

Set in its namesake city during the Renaissance, Coimbra is game where players are elite noble houses trying to build prestige throughout this Portuguese locale. Over the course of just four rounds, players try to raise their influence among four separate tracks by currying favor with local citizens, funding expeditions of discovery, advocating pilgrimages to nearby monasteries, and generally trying to maximize your local benevolence around town. All of this is accomplished via…dice.

Yes, dice, a heretical word among many fans of heavier games.

But in this hefty and cerebral dice allocation game, Coimbra’s emphasis is less on chucking them and more about allocating them in the most advantageous way possible. Because in Coimbra, every pip value and die color has merit.

Each round players take turns allocating three dice to different locations on the board, usually in the hopes of acquiring citizenry cards. The value of these dice determine not only the order in which the dice are resolved but the costs needed to claim a card. These cards provide a host of different effects, including raising your influence tracks and providing endgame points. And if that wasn’t enough to process, the color of the dice also determines which types of incomes you’re eligible for each round.

Despite being about dice, Coimbra leaves little to mere chance. Every decision requires multiple angles of consideration that feed into your long term ambitions. Strategic optimization is paramount to succeeding in this colorful, well-produced game, with victory predicated on your ability to maneuver your way around the landscape, solving this dice-based puzzle in the most beneficial way.

Between its dice-centric approach, excellent presentation values, and depth of synergistic planning, Coimbra was a strong contender in this year’s category, and for quite a while was even the frontrunner. But for this year’s eventual winner we had to move out of the Age of Discovery and into the Age of Enlightenment…


The Winner

2018 Tactician Laurel – Newton

Publisher: CMON Limited / Cranio Creations | Players: 1-4 | Play Time: 90 Minutes

Welcome to Brown Town, population, Newton.

While certainly not as vibrant and colorful as the runner-up, and looking much like the quintessential drab Euro games of yesteryear, Newton makes up for its outwardly austere surface by providing a game that tests your ability to prioritize and organize your actions in the right order.

Following in the steps of the great thinkers before you, Newton drops you into the early 18th century as young scholars with a ravenous desire for learning. Your goal, over the course of six rounds, is to maximize your learning potential in the hopes becoming one of the next great Masters of the contemporary age. All of this is accomplished through the use of Action cards.

Every round, you will play five Action cards, each corresponding to one of the major areas of advancement in the game, be it Studying for endgame points, Lessons for more advanced Action cards, or Traveling to different universities and experimenting on paths for new technologies. Where Newton is especially gratifying is that the strength of your action is dependent on matching symbols in your tableau, be it by the previous cards you played during the round or the Action cards you have to leave behind each round as a permanent bonus.

True scientific success in Newton is therefore highly contingent on which cards you play and the order in which you play them, with desired moves requiring logical calculations on how to go from Situation A to Result B. In Newton, the decision-making process is as much about forward planning as needing to reverse engineer how to make that happen. Newton is big on making those mental gears turn, which, despite not being a game huge on theme, is actually pretty fitting.

Newton is low on interaction and visual pizzazz, but its depth of winding decision-making, numerous paths to accumulate points, and absolute necessity that you be able to analyze and evaluate how to chain together the most optimal turns possible ensures a wonderful brain-burning experience. In this game, the long-term efforts you put into achieving your goals will most certainly equal the satisfying reward you receive on the other end. And that’s not just us saying it: that’s the law.

Which is why after careful scientific study and experimentation, we have concluded that Newton is deserving of the Tactician Laurel of 2018.

Newton 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 clockwork style splendor of Newton without having to go a little overboard. Because we’re not made of money and those nerds at NASA still won’t call us back after last time. But that’s another story…

We tried to play around with different ways of championing the game, such as having each person come up with their own flow chart on how they process new game information, or to host an online seminar on the history of wigs, or taking everyone out for some 18th century style experiments. And in all honesty, we were really close to going down that latter path, but then words like “electrocution” and “cadaver” and “again” started cropping up more and more. So we were forced to abandon our pursuits. Some people have no vision for scientific progress, sheesh.

At any rate, in the end we realized that the easiest option was to focus on rewarding everyone in the most Newtonian way possible, by providing one lucky winner with the opportunity to enjoy this award-winning game first hand in exchange for a simple contest entry.

That’s right! Enter below for your chance at your very own copy of Newton!
One Copy of Newton

Be sure to check out the 2018 Laurel Award pages for the other archetypes once they go live!

ArchitectsmallTacticiansmallSocialsmallDaredevilsmallImmersionsmall Aggressivesmall