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My Favorite Board Games - 2012 Edition

By Will Smith

Will talks board games on the first work day of the New Year. If you order them today, you can be playing this weekend!

I play a fair number of board games, occasionally with a handful of friends, but much more often head-to-head against my wife. On any given rainy Sunday afternoon or even after dinner on work nights, we’ll clear off the dining room table, put on a favorite movie or some music, and spend an hour or two playing games.

I mentioned my favorite board game from 2012, Eminent Domain, in my Game of the Year write up at Giant Bomb, but I also played a few more games that I wanted to talk about. Some of these games weren’t originally published in 2012, but I was introduced to them this year and it’s my list. So there.

Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain is undoubtedly my favorite game of 2012. It’s a deck-builder that solves many of the problems with deck builders. The core tenets of the game should be familiar to anyone who has played 4X video games--you gain victory points by building a space empire and exploiting your worlds. As you add planets to your empire, you’ll need to adjust your strategy to suit their strengths and weaknesses.

While you’re primary goal is to maximize your deck in order to score as many points as possible, it includes the right kind of player-vs-player interaction to keep you engaged without enraging your opponents. Opposing players actions typically give you the opportunity to strengthen your empire, rather than weaken your empire.

Games are a good length--typically 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the number of players--and the game is great fun with 2, 3, or 4 people. It’s easy to teach and also comes with some rad miniature spaceship tokens. I really can’t recommend it highly enough and can’t wait for the upcoming expansion. (www.amazon.com, $30)

Kingdom Builder

Kingdom Builder is the latest game from Donald X. Vaccarino, who previously designed one of my all-time favorite games Dominion. At its heart, Kingdom Builder is a territory control game--on each turn, you place settlements on hexes. Each hex can only hold one settlement, and there are some fairly restrictive rules about where you’re allowed to place new settlements on the board. Sounds fairly standard, right?

Kingdom Builder is notable because the game changes every time you play. The 20x20 hex game board is made up of 4 tiles, which you randomly select at the start of every game. While the basic scoring conditions are the same for every game, there are three additional ways to score that are randomly selected in each game as well.

The result is a game with easy to understand rules that demands a dramatically different strategy each time you play, just like Dominion. I just got the first expansion for Kingdom Builder for Christmas, so I’m excited to see what has been added. (www.amazon.com, $45)

The Resistance

I was introduced to The Resistance at XOXO Fest this fall, and soon found myself playing the game every time I sat down in a bar at Portland. You need between five and nine players for a game, but the idea is simple--most of the people playing are in a resistance cell, but there are a handful of infiltrators, selected at random. The infiltrators know who the other infiltrators are, but the members of the resistance don’t know that. The resistance wins by completing three out of five missions successfully, the infiltrators win by sabotaging three missions.

At the beginning of each round, a player selects several other players to go on a mission. In a secret vote, each of those players can then choose to either complete the mission or sabotage the mission. If any sabotage votes come up, the mission is a failure, and the infiltrators win the round. Otherwise, the resistance gets a point.

On the surface, The Resistance is a simple game of deduction and elimination, but it’s more about misdirection, manipulating social dynamics, scapegoating, and outright lying. It’s a quick play and has been fun for every group I’ve played with. (check your local game store)

Mr. Jack

Mr. Jack is another game about deception and deduction. One person plays Jack the Ripper, the other a police inspector; but the identity of Jack is a secret to the inspector. The inspector knows that Jack is disguised as one of eight characters, and has to deduce which character actually is Jack, and then capture him before he escapes the board.

I love Mr. Jack because it captures the best bits from The Resistance--misdirection and deduction--in a two-player game that takes about 30 minutes to complete. (Amazon.com, $38)

Cards Against Humanity

At this point, I expect all of you know what Cards Against Humanity ($25) is. It’s Apples to Apples for awful people. If your friends like jokes about dildoes and feces and Glenn Beck, you’ll probably enjoy Cards Against Humanity.

Penny-Arcade Gamers Vs. Evil for iOS

I love Penny-Arcade’s deck building game from last year, as well as the stand-alone expansion Rumble at Ryleh. But Cryptozoic and Playdek’s port of Gamers vs. Evil to iOS ($5) is a fantastic way to learn the game and play multiplayer with friends, either in real-time or as an asynchronous game. This version is from the same team that brought Ascension to iOS, this is now my go-to when I want to play a board game on the iPad. I may be juvenile, but I always giggle when I play a card called "The Scrotum".

Thunderstone for iOS

Thunderstone is a dungeon crawler that’s also a deck-building game. While the iOS port has some sporadic, but annoying, performance issues, the game is worth the hassle. Each turn you choose between expanding your with heroes, magic spells, and weapons or diving into a dungeon to kill monsters.

The mechanic is fun and satisfying, and the game has a deep single-player campaign that does a good job teaching you basic mechanics and strategies that you’ll need to succeed when you play online against friends later. The game is free to try, but if you want to use some of the cards (and monsters) from the paper version, you’ll need to purchase them for a few bucks each.