Words by David C. Obenour
David C. Obenour is the founder and editor for Off Shelf. Prior to that, he served as the editor and co-publisher of Ghettoblaster‘s print magazine, and wrote as a contributor for Under the Radar, The Big Takeover, Filter, Devil in the Woods, Metro.pop, and a number of other current and long gone publications. He has been covering board games along with Gen Con and Origins Game Fair for the last decade. Here are 10 of the games that caught our attention in no particular order.
Two decades into the modern board game renaissance, it’s gotten harder to come up with a game that flips the script. Not only does The Crusoe Crew flip the script, it shares the script as your intrepid group of graphic novel readers work their way through a cooperative adventure with a surprising amount of replayability. This is the first multiplayer game from Graphic Novel Adventure / Van Ryder Game and it will be exciting to keep an eye out for more!
Cryptid (Osprey Publishing)
From their miniatures and table top rule sets, to classic reissues and original games, Osprey Publishing has a pretty outstanding track record. Cryptid offers just the right amount of puzzley joy as you learn from your own clues and deduct the clues of others in a race to be the first cryptid hunter to find your mythic beast. Hard enough to be a fun challenge, but short enough to not be too mentally exhausting – it quickly became a favorite.
Spirits of the Wild (Mattel)
Two-player games can be hard to bust free from the binary experience of either the joy of victory or agony of defeat. Mattel’s Spirits of the Wild address this by creating a game that’s every bit as much about playing your own game as it is about observing your opponent’s. Different colored stones become available and players have to tactfully use their Action Cards to draw, resupply or place them within the night sky constellations.
The Shipwreck Arcana does a marvelous job of enveloping a fairly abstract and puzzley game into a theme so well-developed and presented that you still feel immersed in the setting of a drowning world. Simple numerical rules establish play guidelines to help players cooperatively deduce each others hidden fate number. The trick comes after multiple rules are played to as well as the assumptions made on what rules are are not.
Tower of Madness (Smirk and Dagger)
A fun twist on modern gaming has been borrowing elements from nostalgic classic games and updating them with a more elegant ruleset. Elder Sign did it for Yahtzee and now Tower of Madness is doing it for Kerplunk. Setting itself in the world of Lovecraft, the gothic New England clocktower is only part this reimagining as players work to complete the mission or fail and risk pulling a tentacle from the Tower of Madness. You’ve never thought or agonized this much over marbles before.
For its many expansions, the core game play of the 2015 classic Mysterium has largely remained the same. And when a game is as good as Mysterium after the 18th time through the excited mind starts to wonder, “how else could this game be played?” Obscurio answers that question by adding a traitor, obscuring screens and elements, and more. Maybe not quite as (figuratively) game-changing as it’s predecessor, there’s still an awful lot of new fun to be had here.
Similar to packing a suitcase, there’s some inherent thing about getting things to fit nicely together. An analog version of Tetris (still with moving parts), Arraial finds players trying to build the most entertaining and jam-packed Portuguese street party. Beautiful art, a fun theme, and a familiar way to play makes for a fun half hour.
Underwater Cities is complicated enough to offer real depth, but elegant enough that the rules (once understood) don’t impede your decisions. Like other great examples of mid to heavy Euro-style games, the complexity comes from the variety of options presented. Representing mankind’s most promising thinkers, it is your task to build a network of the best and most livable underwater cities through card placement and chained actions. Maybe not the worst knowledge to have for 2020 all things considered?
For all of the fun that can be derived from pages of rules and trays filled with intricate plastic miniatures, a game that can impress in its simplicity is a joy as well. A chess-like game, players change the movement patterns of their pieces as they compete for dominance over an otherwise very relaxing koi pond.
There are a lot of party games where the rules are hardly worth taking the effort to learn and definitely not worth the effort to explain. Wavelength is not one of those games and thankfully is both easy to understand and explain (always helpful when trying to convince a room that, “seriously, it’ll be worth it”)! The hidden wavelength is twirled, an answer of this or that is presented, the reader comes up with a question with the hopes of narrowing in on their wavelength, a team decides where to dial in, the wavelength is revealed and points are scored and conversations and good-natured arguments are had! Beautifully and smartly done.
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