San Diego Historical Games Convention announces Red Flag Over Paris as 2022 Summit Award Winner

The Summit Award logo.

As previously noted, I’ve been working on some projects for SDHistCon, including the inaugural Summit Award. A press release on the 2022 Summit Award winner I helped draft is below. Please contact me with any questions or comments!

The San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon) is proud to announce the winner of the first annual Summit Award. The Summit Award aims to recognize a historical board game published in the preceding year that most broadened the hobby through the ease of teaching and/or play, uniqueness of topic, or novel approach. The winner of the 2022 Summit Award (for games published in 2021) is Red Flag Over Paris.

Red Flag Over Paris is designed by Fred Serval, with art from Donal Hegarty, development from Luke Billingsley, Jason Carr, and Joe Dewhurst, and solitaire mode design by Jason Carr. It is published by GMT Games. It is a 20-40 minute card-driven game for one to two players, depicting the two months of intense confrontation between the Communards and the government in Versailles during the 1871 Paris Commune. Players take control of one of those factions and battle not just for physical control of the city, but also for the hearts and minds of the population. Solitaire variants are included for both factions.

The winner of the Summit Award was determined by members of the SDHistCon Board and SDHistCon Advisory Board. The judges praised Red Flag Over Paris for its ease of teaching and play, novelty of topic, and effectiveness as a historical game. 

Red Flag Over Paris was one of four Summit Award finalists announced in October following a three-month public call for nominations (sent out in Conflicts of Interest #1) that produced more than 48 submissions. Red Flag Over Paris received the highest public nominations of any candidate. The other three finalists, selected by members of the SDHistCon Board and SDHistCon Advisory Board in October, were (in alphabetical order) Atlantic Chase (designed by Jeremy White, published by GMT Games), Nicaea (designed by Amabel Holland, published by Hollandspiele Games), and No Motherland Without: North Korea In Crisis and Cold War (designed by Dan Bullock, published by Compass Games).

Each of those four finalist games was taught and demonstrated at the Nov. 11-13 San Diego Historical Games Convention. Following that, members of the SDHistCon Board and SDHistCon Advisory Board met for a final selection of the 2022 Summit Award winner, choosing Red Flag Over Paris.

The Summit Award will return in 2023, with games published in 2022 under consideration for that award. A call for public submissions will go out in the summer of 2023. More information can be found on the Summit Award page on the SDHistCon website.

About The Summit Award: The Summit Award is an opportunity for the SDHistCon team to recognize the positive impact of a game that broadens the historical gaming hobby by drawing in more players or by introducing a new and unique subject or perspective. Our ultimate hope is that the Summit Award helps foster a discussion amongst players, designers and publishers about new ways to broaden the hobby through teaching, play, topic, and approach. Games are judged on five criteria: Ease of Teaching, Ease of Play, Novelty/Uniqueness of Topic, Novelty of Approach, Effectiveness as a historical game. More details on the award and eligibility guidelines can be found here.

About SDHistCon: The mission of SDHistCon is to create a diverse and supportive gaming community dedicated to playing, discussing, designing, and promoting historically-based board games. Through this commitment, SDHistCon seeks to serve both the existing historical board gaming community as well as grow it through the addition of new voices and perspectives. This is done through physical conventions (including the 2022 San Diego Historical Games Convention from Nov. 11-13), online conventions, the Conflicts of Interest magazine, the Summit Award, and more. SDHistCon is run by a volunteer board, and also has an advisory board composed of prominent members of the gaming community.

Please contact Andrew with any questions on the Summit Award.


San Diego Historical Games Convention Announces 2022 Summit Award Finalists

The Summit Award logo.

I’ve been working on some projects for SDHistCon, including the inaugural Summit Award. A press release on the 2022 Summit Award Finalists I helped draft is below. Please contact me with any questions or comments!

San Diego Historical Games Convention Announces 2022 Summit Award Finalists

The San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon) is proud to announce the four finalists for the first annual Summit Award. The Summit Award aims to recognize a historical board game published in the preceding year that most broadened the hobby through the ease of teaching and/or play, uniqueness of topic, or novel approach. The four finalists for the 2022 Summit Award (for games published in 2021) are (in alphabetical order):

Atlantic Chase. Designed by Jeremy White, published by GMT Games

Nicaea. Designed by Amabel Holland, published by Hollandspiele Games

No Motherland Without. Designed by Dan Bullock, published by Compass Games

Red Flag over Paris. Designed by Fred Serval, published by GMT Games

Each of these four games will be demoed at the November 11-13 2022 San Diego Historical Games Convention. Following that event, board members, advisors and other invited judges will vote on which game will win the 2022 Summit Award. The winner will be announced to the public by the end of 2022. Here are short descriptions of these games, based on their Board Game Geek pages: 

Atlantic Chase is a 30-120 minute game of naval movement and combat for one to two players, depicting North Atlantic surface naval campaigns between the British Royal Navy and the German Kriegsmarine between 1939 and 1942. It uses a trajectory system to model the fog of war these adversaries faced. It can be played as individual scenarios or a campaign, and includes nine operational scenarios and 12 mini-scenarios for two players. It also includes 15 solitaire scenarios, eight where the player takes the role of the Kriegsmarine and seven where they take the role of the Royal Navy.

Nicaea is a 60-90 minute game of tableau-building and alliances for four to six players, depicting the 325 AD Council of Nicaea and the struggles over what would become orthodoxy or heresy. Players commit to sides in theological disputes, scoring points when issues go their way. The player with the most points wins, unless the player with the least points has the most political influence and can splinter the church in a schism to steal the win.

No Motherland Without is a 60-to-120 minute card-driven game for one to two players, depicting the struggles of North Korea’s Kim Regime against the West from 1953 until the present day. One player takes the role of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, seeking nuclear deterrence, improving living standards, and purging elites to prevent a coup. The other player takes the role of The West, aiding defectors, stymieing the missile program, implementing economic sanctions, and pressuring the regime through international isolation. A solitaire variant is included where the player takes the role of the DPRK.

Red Flag Over Paris is a 20-40 minute card-driven game for one to two players, depicting the two months of intense confrontation between the Communards and the government in Versailles during the 1871 Paris Commune. Players take control of one of those factions and battle not just for physical control of the city, but also for the hearts and minds of the population. Solitaire variants are included for both factions.

The creation of the Summit Award was announced in Issue 1 of SDHistCon’s free Conflicts of Interest web magazine in June, with a call for nominations from members of the historical gaming community at that time. More than 48 nominations were received over the next three months. Red Flag Over Paris was selected as a finalist for the 2022 Summit Award based on public nominations. The SDHistCon Board and Advisory Board met to determine the other three finalists, with public nominations also considered there.

About The Summit Award: The Summit Award is an opportunity for the SDHistCon team to recognize the positive impact of a game that broadens the historical gaming hobby by drawing in more players or by introducing a new and unique subject or perspective. Our ultimate hope is that the Summit Award helps foster a discussion amongst players, designers and publishers about new ways to broaden the hobby through teaching, play, topic, and approach. Games are judged on five criteria: Ease of Teaching, Ease of Play, Novelty/Uniqueness of Topic, Novelty of Approach, Effectiveness as a historical game. More details on the award and eligibility guidelines can be found here.

About SD HistCon: The mission of SDHistCon is to create a diverse and supportive gaming community dedicated to playing, discussing, designing, and promoting historically-based board games. Through this commitment, SDHC seeks to serve both the existing historical board gaming community as well as grow it through the addition of new voices and perspectives. This is done through physical conventions (including the 2022 San Diego Historical Games Convention from Nov. 11-13), online conventions, the Conflicts of Interest magazine, the Summit Award, and more. SD HistCon is run by a volunteer board, and also has an advisory board comprised of prominent members of the gaming industry.

For more info on the Summit Award, please contact Andrew here.

The Board and Game Top 10 Games of the Year for 2020

A few of the top games of 2020.

In the spirit of past top-10 lists here, here’s a look at the 2020 games I loved most from what I’ve played. (As with previous lists here, this uses the The Geek All Stars Essen-to-Essen calendar for releases, so I’m considering games released from Oct 24-27, 2019 through the period ahead of Oct. 22-25, 2020.)  The link for each title is to the game’s Board Game Geek page, and the information in each bracket is designer(s), publisher(s). Some, but not all, of them are pictured at the top, with a few more in the photo below.

A few of the top games of 2020.
A few of the top games of 2020.

Honourable mention 1: The Kringle Caper (Jonathan Chaffer, Grand Gamers Guild): This game delivered one of the best escape-room-in-a-box experiences I’ve had. It does a whole lot with only 18 cards and a $12 price point, presenting a great variety of puzzles. The accompanying website to check answers and get hints is very well done, and the tiered hint system is excellent; if you’re having trouble figuring out what a puzzle is asking for, the first hint just lets you know to look for, which can be a great point in the right direction without spoiling too much. The Christmas theming here is excellent, and this was a fun ride. Also, no components need to be destroyed in this (providing that you keep notes on a separate sheet of paper), so it’s possible to pass it on to someone else afterwards, which is always a plus for me.

Honourable mention 2: Loot of Lima (Larry Levy, 

This is a retheming/reimplementation of 2003’s Deduce Or Die, but I haven’t played that one, so this is new to me. It’s an excellent deduction game where a lot of the skill comes down to what question you ask when. The aid included for solo/two-person play (and the corresponding online tool made by Kyle Gillingham) is a great inclusion as well. (More on the game and how it works solo can be found in this BGG review from Spencer Jackson.) I enjoy Larry’s writing at The Opinionated Gamers, and he’s created a great game here as well. 

Honourable mention 3: Fort (Grant Rodiek, Leder Games):

This is another retheming/reimplementation of a previous game I haven’t played (2018’s SPQF), with some additional development from Nick Brachmann and others at Leder Games. (Dan Thurot has some good insight on the differences in his Fort review.) The lead-boost-follow aspects of this remind me of other games I like, from Glory To Rome through Import/Export, and there are some good twists on it here, especially with the deck-building ideas and with the ability to take other people’s unused cards. I haven’t been able to play this a ton yet, so it might wind up higher in a later evaluation, but I’m enjoying exploring it so far.

10. Blue Skies (Joseph Huber, Rio Grande Games): I sought this one out mostly because of the designer (in addition to writing for The Opinionated Gamers, Huber has designed a number of cool games, including Starship Merchants with Tom Lehmann, and he’s an 1846 legend), and I wound up liking it quite a lot. It’s an economic-focused area control game with a neat theme (airline expansion after deregulation). There aren’t a ton of rules, which is nice from a teaching perspective, but there are good decisions to make;  there’s some luck involved, but not an overwhelming amount. And it plays well on BoardGameArena, which is a huge plus in these times.

9. Big Easy Busking (Joshua J. Mills, Weird Giraffe Games): I picked this one up thanks to the combination of designer (I’ve enjoyed Mills’ Rocky Road A La Mode and his appearances on The Geek All-Stars), publisher (I own and like Weird Giraffes’ Stellar Leap), and theme (I love New Orleans). It’s a fun and easy area control game with a good solo mode and excellent art.

8. Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers (Inka and Markus Brand, HUCH! and R&R Games): A very solid heavier roll-and-write. I’ve only played this one online so far (with Dan, BJ and Don at Yucata), but we’ve had a number of really enjoyable games of it. The map puzzle is excellent, and this has a ton of cool combo abilities. The personality dice are particularly interesting, and they let you have some big turns towards the end of the game.

7. 1882: Assiniboia (Marc Voyer, All-Aboard Games): 1882 has neat twists on a lot of the usual 18xx conventions. It’s a full-capitalization game (companies receive all the money for all their shares of stock when they float), which usually aren’t as compelling to me as the incremental-capitalization ones (companies retain control of shares not held by players, get revenue from those, and can possibly sell them at a later time); it can be tougher to get money into a company in a full-cap game, and that’s not always a puzzle I enjoy. And 1882 also has another trait I don’t often like; it’s a brutal game where player bankruptcy happens quite a bit, especially at higher player counts. But the mix here of compelling private companies, multiple interesting areas of the board with accompanying track puzzles, and lots of possible public companies works really well, and creates a fast, tough 18xx game with a good look at some Canadian railway history. I don’t know that this is an 18xx title I’d always reach for, but with the right group and the right mindset, it shines.

6. Stellar (Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback, Renegade Games): Stellar is quite a cool two-player puzzle from Matt and Ben, who have long been two of my favorite designers. It has some good tension on what cards you’re putting where, and lots of factors to consider with scoring. And the art and production of this is gorgeous, and it looks great on the table.

5. Gulf, Mobile & Ohio (John Bohrer, Rio Grande Games): This is an excellent cube rails game, first printed in 2008 by Bohrer’s Winsome Games but brought to the wider market in 2020 by Rio Grande. I really appreciate seeing publishers like Rio Grande, Capstone and Queen picking up some of these cube rails classics and giving them a slightly-nicer look; while the old versions were fine and functional, the newer ones are much easier to talk other people into. What’s neat about GM&O in particular is the massive number of companies (23), with only eight available at the start of each game. More and more open up as gameplay goes along, which provides more possibilities without being overwhelming. (This will come up again with a different title later in this list.) There are only four actions, one of which is passing, and the rules are pretty well explained by just a few paragraphs on the BGG entry (linked above), but there’s a lot of strategic depth from those simple rules, which always is a highlight of the best cube rails games for me.

4. Beyond The Sun (Dennis K. Chan, Rio Grande Games): Beyond The Sun is quite an interesting take on tech trees, long my favorite part of civilization or space games. The tech tree is thoroughly the center of the game, but the board play still matters, and interacts with the tech side well. I also really like that the tech tree isn’t predictable from the start. Instead, advances let you discover something based on the type of technology you previously researched, but exactly what you get is uncertain. That feels much more like actual scientific discovery than the usual “I need to research this and this so I can get this!”

3. Empyreal (Trey Chambers, Level 99 Games): Empyreal is the strangest take on a train game I’ve seen yet (and I’ve played and love The Soo Line, so that’s saying something!), but it’s a very cool one. This has elements of Terra Mystica, elements of goods-delivery train games like Age of Steam, and elements of the crazy combos you can build in games like Argent: The Consortium (also designed by Chambers). But it winds up feeling like its own thing, and a highly-enjoyable game to play, especially with all the different options available each game from different specialists and companies (and even more with the As Above, So Below expansion). And it’s a train game that’s much easier to get many people who aren’t already into that genre to play, thanks to gorgeous production and some mechanical crossovers to more typical “Euro”-style games. The terrific solo mode here is also appreciated, even more so than normal this year.

2. High Rise (Gil Hova, Formal Ferret Games): I’ve long appreciated Gil’s designs (especially The Networks) and his commentary on the Ludology podcast, so High Rise was an easy back for me when it showed up on Kickstarter. And the game wound up being so much better than I had hoped for. I’m a big fan of time-track games (including Glen More, Rocky Road A La Mode, Francis Drake and more), but this one is even better than most with the bonuses for jumping up (a nice counterpoint to the often-available “take the lowest thing available each time” strategy) and with the various building powers, area bonuses, corruption track and more. It’s an excellent game, and it also includes a good solo mode and a nice Tabletopia module.

1. 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties (Mike Hutton/GMT Games): 1862 is one of the best, craziest, and most remarkable 18xx games I’ve ever played. Between three train types and the combination of full-capitalization and incremental-capitalization companies, this breaks so many of the moulds many people are expecting, but it does so in a useful and interesting way. This originally came out in 2013, but GMT delivered a beautiful mass-market printing of it late in 2019 (which makes it eligible for this Essen-Essen cutoff), and that was my first chance to play it. 

The variable setup here between which companies get which permits and which are available to open in sets A, B, and C makes each game a different puzzle, and a good one. The board play is also quite interesting, as the different trains want different types of track (freight versus local in particular), and the ports and offboards are notable. And it’s cool to see how the routes shape up later in the game when companies are running multiple types of trains. It’s possible to run for massive amounts late in the game and make quad jumps on the market, too. There’s a lot to love about this, and it also has the best solo puzzle I’ve seen in an 18xx title, one that’s absolutely worth checking out. Add that all up, and this is an easy pick as the Board and Game Game of the Year.


The Board and Game Top 10 Games of the Year for 2017

There were a lot of strong board games that came out in 2017, and the limited crossover between the many solid best of lists out there illustrates that. What perhaps stands out the most from looking back over my list of my favourites is how different they all are, and how unique many of them are compared to what we’ve seen in previous years. Every game in this top 10 feels very distinct to me in terms of both theme and mechanics. Here’s a look at the new games I loved most this year from what I’ve played. (As with last year’s list, this uses the Essen to Essen calendar (also used by The Geek All Stars and others) for releases, so I’m considering games released from Oct 13-16, 2016 through the period ahead of Oct. 26-29, 2017.) The information in each bracket is designer(s), publisher(s).

Honourable mention 1: Unfair (Joel Finch, Good Games/CMON): As a huge fan of the Roller Coaster Tycoon video game series, I’ve always been on the lookout for a board game with that sort of amusement park-building feel, and this is the first one I’ve tried that really hits on it. Unfair is very thematic, with all sorts of cool rides, attractions and stands to be built, and there are a lot of interesting game decisions and different strategies here. It’s quite card-comboy, and there are a whole lot of fun combos. This is a game where some of your rides and buildings may be destroyed or closed by other players and the game, so if that bothers you or isn’t a fit for your group, this may not be what you want. But it’s not overwhelming, and there are ways to mitigate it, plus a scenario that takes out negative interactions from other players if that’s more your speed. Overall, it’s a fun game that lives up to its potential.



Honourable mention 2: Lazer Ryderz (Anthony Amato/Nicole Kline, Greater Than Games/Fabled Nexus): Speaking of thematic games based on something in other media, Lazer Ryderz is very much Tron: The Board Game (at least the lightcycle race part) without that license. The game sees everyone laying down X-Wing-style movement templates in turn, capturing prisms by passing through them, and crashing if they don’t make a curve roll or run into others’ laser trails. Something that’s interesting here compared to X-Wing is that it’s not a simultaneous reveal; on your turn, you have the option to increase or decrease speed, then can choose to lay down a straight or curved piece based on the board state in front of you. So while there’s still an element of trying to anticipate your opponent, it’s less intense and easier to adjust on the fly.

Lazer Ryderz

You’re also never out of the game even after a crash, and there’s significantly less rules overhead than in something like X-Wing. That’s fitting, considering that this is a light, fun casual game rather than something suited for tournament play. The mild dexterity elements/rules that you can’t pre-measure/die rolls/general zaniness may mean this isn’t a fit for strategy gamers who insist on always being super serious, but it’s an enjoyable filler for those who like Tron, enjoy zooming around the table and are more interested in having fun than destroying their opponents. And the VHS box-style production (complete with gorgeous 80s-inspired art) is perfect.

Honourable mention 3: Ahead in the Clouds (Daniel Newman, Button Shy Games): This is a lovely two-player network-building game that fits well into Button Shy’s collection of minimalist wallet games. It’s simple to explain and plays quickly, but has some interesting decisions in what building to place where when, when to cloudburst and shake up the building connections, and which contracts to target. Recommended as a great two-player filler. It also has a solid solo mode (Stormfront, included in the Kickstarter copies), which is much appreciated, and now it has a sequel titled Feat On The Ground, which I appreciate not just for the pun, but for how it always puts Duran Duran in my head. I’ll have to check that one out.

Ahead in the Clouds

Honourable mention 4: Sola Fide: The Reformation: (Christian Leonhard/Jason Matthews, Spielworxx/Stronghold Games): Matthews is best known for being half of the team that created head-to-head card-driven historical-themed area-control classic Twilight Struggle, and many of his other games (1989: Dawn of Freedom, 1960: The Making of the PresidentCampaign Manager 2008) have carried on most of those elements. Leonhard worked with Matthews on 1960, Campaign Manager and Founding Fathers, so there’s a lot of experience going into this one. But Sola Fide stands alone (heh, a bit of a Latin joke there) and succeeds on its own merits.

Sola Fide

The head-to-head competition over Imperial Circles does recall Twilight Struggle a bit, but much of the game is quite different, from the pre-game deck construction to the foreign bonus cards. And the way each circle has both a nobles and commoners track is brilliant, making it less appealing to simply cancel what the other player’s doing and more possible to set up big swings. Plus, the game plays in 45 minutes or less. There’s a solid level of historical theme here, especially with the context for each card in the provided booklet, and it’s impressive to see how wide the designers went in their coverage of the Reformation and associated battles, movements and so on, covering people and events from across Europe. It’s a game I highly recommend if you have any interest in the period, and perhaps even if you don’t and just want a quick-playing two-player tug-of-war with some cool deck construction.

Sola Fide is for two players and plays in about 45 minutes. You can read more on it in Sean Johnson’s Too Many Games! review here.

Now, on to the actual list…

10. Spires (T.C. Petty III, Nevermore Games): I love small card games (as we’ll see later on with this list), and Spires is a particularly interesting one. It’s somewhat trick-taking, with interesting decisions for that, from picking which market you compete in to actually competing for cards (especially if you include the Undercutting variant in the rules), but it’s really about making sure you never win more than three cards of any given suit. So, by at least the midpoint, it often turns into more of a trick-avoidance game. But there’s a lot of interesting set collection, too, especially when it comes to majorities in the different symbols (crowns, swords and quills). It’s not like anything else I’ve ever played, which is impressive in the well-trodden trick-taking realm, and it’s a lot of fun. Props here for also including a solid solo variant.


Spires works for 1-4 players and plays in 20-30 minutes. You can read more on it in Eric Buscemi’s Cardboard Hoard review here.

9. The Fox In The Forest (Joshua Buergel, Foxtrot Games/Renegade Game Studios):  Speaking of two-player games, that’s a count at which most trick-taking games either don’t work at all or only work with a ton of adjustments. So why not a trick-taking game specifically designed for two? And this one is very well done; the story it’s based on (The Queen’s Butterflies, by Alana Joli Abbott, which you can read on Foxtrot’s site here) is a perfect fit for the central idea of either trying to avoid tricks or trying to win, but not by too much. It’s a head-to-head trick-taking game where each round of 13 tricks sees you shooting for either sweet spot, 0-3 or 7-9 tricks won.

And the story also makes the odd-numbered cards’ special powers make sense; the low-ranking Swan (1) lets you lead the next trick regardless and also can be played against the Monarch (11) instead of the highest-ranking card it would normally draw out, the crafty Fox (3) lets you change the Decree (trump), the Woodcutter (5) lets you draw a card from the deck, then discard a card, the Treasure (7) is worth a point on its own to whoever wins it, and the Queen (9) counts as a trump if it’s the only 9 played that round.

The Fox In The Forest

With three suits and 33 cards, plus all the suits having identical cards, this isn’t an overly complicated game to teach, but there’s a lot of strategy here from trying to hit those sweet spots and manipulating those special powers to your advantage, especially when it comes to when you choose to change trump. This is an excellent head-to-head game, especially if you enjoy traditional trick-taking games.

The Fox In The Forest is for two players, and plays in about 30 minutes. You can read more about it in Sean’s Daily Worker Placement review here.

8. The Goonies: Adventure Card Game (Ben Pinchback/Matt Riddle, Albino Dragon): This game is an engaging puzzle of trying to make sure the different locations aren’t overwhelmed by obstacles, managing your hand to do everything from mapping paths to the pirate ship to removing troublesome Fratellis, and dealing with the traps that sometimes show up during your search for treasure. To me, it covers the themes of the movie well, especially when you consider each of the Goonies’ special powers and how they all need to work together to deal with the obstacles that show up. I like this a lot as a solo game, whether working with just one character under the solo rules included or controlling multiple characters. It’s also good with more players, as long as you have a co-op friendly group that isn’t super into alpha gaming.

The Goonies

The Goonies: Adventure Card Game is for 1-4 players, and plays in 30-45 minutes. You can read more on it in Chad Osborn’s The Dice Have It review here.

7. Trick of the Rails (Hisashi Hayashi, Japon Brand/OKAZU Brand/Terra Nova Games): I love trick-taking games and train games, so the description of this as “trick-taking meets 18xx in a 20-minute game” was too good to resist. Plus, I’ve long been a fan of Hayashi, from Trains through Sail To India to one coming later in this list, and Terra Nova Games did a superb job on the packaging of this reprint, from the gorgeous cover art by Ian O’Toole (love the choice of a Hudson locomotive) to the attractive and highly-functional card graphics from Todd Sanders to the excellent scoresheets and even an included pencil (which is a small thing, but is highly useful for taking this to game nights and not having to pause to see if anyone has a writing implement).

Trick of the Rails

And the game itself thoroughly surpassed my expectations; it’s a really clever card game, all about trying to boost one or two railways’ profits while maximizing your stock holdings in those railways, and often doing so by losing tricks instead of winning them. The locomotive selection and allocation concept is particularly interesting, as that can make a railway that looked incredibly valuable worth much less (or vice versa). And the different values of each card (when placed as stations) for each railway are also a good choice, making it that you don’t want to always just play the highest card. This is a game unlike just about anything else, and it may take a couple of plays to get your head around it (many of the groups I’ve taught it to have wanted to play a second one right away now that they get it), but for a 20-minute game, that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s not a full 18xx and it’s not a pure trick-taking game, but it’s a delightful hybrid of those genres.

Trick of the Rails is for 3-5 players and plays in 20 minutes. You can read more on it in reviews from James Nathan of The Opinonated Gamers and Jonathan Schindler of iSlaytheDragon.

6. Nemo’s War (Chris Taylor/Victory Point Games): While there is a cooperative variant included, Nemo’s War is a solo game at heart, and it’s an amazing one. It lets you explore the oceans as Captain Nemo with the Nautilus, battling ships, searching for treasure and natural wonders, striving for scientific discoveries, and fomenting rebellions against colonial overlords. A cool twist is that there are four different possible goals that shift the values of those various options, so what you’re trying to do game to game changes significantly. The encounter deck is also terrific, immersing you in the theme and leaving you with some difficult decisions on how much to risk.

Nemo's War

This 2017 second edition comes with gorgeous art from O’Toole, which makes you feel even more like you’re in the world of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Now, Nemo’s War won’t be for everyone; it’s heavily based on die rolls and chit pulls, so there’s a element of luck involved (there are mitigation options, but your rolls will still have a lot to do with your success), it carries a significant amount of setup, it’s much closer to a wargame than a standard Eurogame, and it really does seem best as a solo game. But if that sounds up your alley, this is a voyage worth signing up for.

Nemo’s War is for 1-4 players and plays in 60-120 minutes. You can read more on it in Dan Thurot’s Space-Biff! review.

5. Ladder 29 (Ben Pinchback/Matt Riddle, Green Couch Games):  This is a delightful climbing game for those who enjoy them (some examples include TichuBig 2Scum/President/AssholeHaggis and many more), where play goes around and around, you have to beat whatever’s been previously played (which, in this game, can be singles, pairs, triples, a four of a kind or a run of three or more cards, with four of a kinds also serving as a “flashover” that can beat anything) and be the first to go out. It comes with a deck of four suits ranging from 1-15 (with excellent firefighter art by Andy Jewett), and then five unique cards, the chief (21), lieutenant (18), rookies (0 alone, but the best possible pair together) and dalmatian (0 alone, but wild in a pair).

Ladder 29

What makes this one stand out are the hotspots, though. Each round, players draft “hotspot” restrictions that limit what they can play, with the player currently in last getting first choice. Those limits can range from only leading singles to playing or avoiding certain suits in combinations to ending runs with even or odd cards to taking the start player card, which comes with no restrictions at all. But the harder your limit, the more points you get for going out, so there’s a great tension in trying to find something somewhat difficult that still won’t set you back too much. (And hoping someone else doesn’t draft it first.) This one’s been a great success for me both with my regular game group and with more casual gamers, and it’s very customizable; it plays very well from three to five players, works decently with two, and if you want a shorter game, you can just play three rounds rather than to 29 points. Highly recommended if you like traditional card games with a gamer spin.

Ladder 29

Ladder 29 is for 2-5 players and plays in 30-45 minutes, or less if you use the included three-round variant. You can read more on it in Dane Trimble’s preview here.

4. Rocky Road à la Mode (Joshua J. Mills/Green Couch Games): What happens if you take the engine-building of Splendor where many cards make it easier for you to buy other cards, the time track of games like Glen More and Patchwork where turn order isn’t fixed, but changes based on how powerful of an action you take, and the cards-as-both-playable-and-payment idea from games like San Juan and Race For The Galaxy? Put it all together, give it an ice cream theme, and throw gorgeous Adam McIver art in as the cherry on top, and you get Rocky Road A La Mode. While the individual mechanisms in this will be familiar to seasoned gamers, the way they interact is quite interesting, from trying to time your time track movement precisely to pick up bonus “rocket pop” tokens to debating about whether to play an individual card as an order to fulfill or as something to fulfill an order. And there are several possible strategies, from starting with no-point, engine-building only cards to going for bigger points right away, and from going all-in on one type of ice cream to try and claim that location to diversifying and getting a less-valuable location, but more flexibility.

Rocky Road A La Mode

However, this is also a quick game that’s easy to sell non-gamers on thanks to the art and the theme, and easy for them to grasp given the limited number of options on each particular turn. And it’s one I keep being able to get to the table, thanks to its versatility as a game-night filler or a game to play with a lighter crowd. I wrote a Kickstarter preview of this back in July 2016, liked it so much I backed for a full copy, got that copy this year and have played it a ton since. And I’m looking to play it much more in 2018.

Rocky Road à la Mode is for 2-4 players and plays in 20-30 minutes. You can read more on it in Stuart Dunn’s review here.

3. Ex Libris (Adam McIver/Renegade Game Studios): A game about building libraries in a fantasy setting sounds amazing in the first place, but it’s the execution of Ex Libris that really takes it to a new level. The worker-placement and set-collection/tableau-building mechanics are familiar and should be easy enough to explain to newer gamers, but there are so many interesting twists here that there’s a lot for gaming veterans to explore. In particular, the idea of having to have your shelved books in alphabetical order is great, especially when many of the locations allow you to shelve books you gain, raising questions of if you do that and risk locking yourself out of books you draw later, or wait to shelve but have to take extra actions to do it.

Ex Libris

The constantly-varying locations are another excellent twist, as they feel quite distinct, making it so you’re not just doing the same thing round after round. This also has the advantage of making the spot to take the first player marker more important than it is in many worker-placement games. (And it comes with a draw of cards based on how many assistants you’ve already placed, avoiding the null turn of “I’ll just go first next time” and introducing a bit of pressing your luck and reading your opponents on how long you can afford to waste.) The Tigris and Euphrates-style scoring element of scoring points multiplied by your lowest category is great, making you chase variety,  while the individual goals reward you for specialization. And the solo game is awesome as well, a variable-difficulty puzzle with you battling against the discard pile.

And that’s just on the mechanics side. The presentation of Ex Libris is incredible, from the hilarious individual names for every single book to the cleverness of the graphic design from McIver and Anita Osburn (which includes the great decision to put all the symbols you need at the top of a card, allowing you to read the title flavor text or not as you wish and allowing cards on a location to be easily stacked) to the bright and vibrant artwork from Jacqui Davis. The custom meeples for each special assistant, from the gelatinous cube to the sasquatch to the snowman, are a terrific touch, making each player feel different. (And those special assistant abilities are a great way to shake things up a little). Each game plays differently thanks to the mix of special assistants in play and when locations come out. And the decision to provide a dry-erase scoring pad and a marker’s an excellent one; that allows for a much bigger scoring pad than the small standard sheets, and it can double as a reference sheet in play (and the outlines of scoring on the town spaces are also extremely helpful for teaching the game), and be used over and over without worrying about running out of scoresheets. All in all, this is a superb package.

Ex Libris plays 1-4 players in 45 minutes. You can read more on it in Jennifer Derrick’s iSlaytheDragon review here.

2. Yokohama (Hisashi Hayashi, OKAZU Brand/Tasty Minstrel Games): Yokohama first came out in 2016 in Japan, but the 2017 Tasty Minstrel re-release is marvelous, especially the deluxe Kickstarter version. With realistic resource tokens, metal coins, and excellent artwork and graphic design from Ryo Nyamo and Adam McIver, this game looks beautiful on the table. And it plays superbly as well. The central mechanic of spreading your assistants out on the board and moving your president to collect them and take actions, with more powerful actions coming when you have more people and/or buildings in an area, is a lot of fun, but that’s only part of the game. You also need to figure out which technologies and contracts are the most helpful, both from a flag-matching set collection perspective and from what they actually do, plus compete for area majority on the church and customs boards.


There’s a lot of potential for brain-burning here, and a lot of indirect player interaction; you generally can’t take an action where someone else’s president is standing, and you have to pay them if you move through an area with their president, so everyone’s movements on the board matter, as does their selection of the technology cards and contracts you want. But there’s enough flexibility that you can almost always still accomplish something even if it’s not your first choice, and you can plan out enough options in advance that turns usually don’t take too long. And there are lots of different strategies to explore, and the modular setup of the board affects how each game plays out, as do what technologies and contracts come out when.


This is quite different at different player counts, too; I’ve played with three and four players, and the four-player game actually feels more open thanks to the extra locations involved, including two of almost everything. The three-player game can feel tighter with more restrictions based on what your opponents do, and that can be a good or bad thing based on your playing preferences. I haven’t tried it with two players yet, but that setup looks promising as well. This is a game I’m very glad I got this year, and one I look forward to continuing to play and explore for years to come.


Yokohama plays 2-4 players in 90 minutes. You can read more on it in Chris Hecox’s review here.

And, last but not least…

The Board And Game Game Of The Year: Wasteland Express Delivery Service (Jonathan Gilmour/Ben Pinchback/Matt Riddle, Pandasaurus Games): Some of my favourite games involve pick-up and deliver mechanics and fulfilling contracts, including Merchants and Marauders and Shadowstar CorsairsWasteland Express has some familiar elements from those, but is very much its own thing, offering a highly-thematic Mad Max-style experience. A lot of thought went into the backstory of the world, the different factions, the special locations and personalities, and the delivery company and its drivers, and the gorgeous terrain art, miniatures and card art really help immerse you in that world. A whole team worked to put this together, from Riccardo Burchielli’s illustrations to the graphic design from Jason D. Kingsley, Scott Hartman and Josh Cappel and the 3D renders from Justin Bintz. And the GameTrayz plastic inserts to hold everything are amazing; it takes time to sort everything into them the first time you open this box, but they make individual game setup, takedown and storage really easy, and dramatically speed up the game.

As for gameplay, this is a sandboxy game with plenty of different strategies and elements to explore, including zipping around the board quickly (the additional momentum from continuous moves without stops is a nice mechanic, as are the limits on which actions you can take each round), spending a lot of time on deliveries to upgrade your truck, focusing on the public contracts or drawing private contracts. The truck upgrades give you lots of different paths to pursue, from extra movement to extra hauling to boosted combat capabilities and more. And each individual action you do resolves relatively quickly, so there’s less sitting around and waiting for your turn than there is in many games like this.

Also unlike, say, Merchants and Marauders, the focus here is more on the deliveries and contract fulfillment and less on the combat;. There’s no actual player-to-player combat unless using a variant, and combat doesn’t have the harsh consequences it does in some other games. But that’s great for the purposes of this one; combat still matters, and can be an important part of completing objectives or gaining resources, but things never get all that disastrous even if you lose, as you only take some damage (and there are ways to repair it, and no way for your truck to be destroyed). And the market is often changing, and quite important, so there’s a bit of an economic side here as well. Overall, this is a more Euro-style take on a thematic pick-up-and-deliver game, and it works quite well. In fact, there are even some elements of train games (a not-so-secret love of mine) in this, particularly the contract-based crayon rails games like Empire Builder. And the mechanics here all fit together well and are fun, as to be expected from Riddle and Pinchback; there’s a reason this is the third game from those guys in this Top 10.

Wasteland Express Delivery Service

I really appreciate the decision to include an (optional) campaign with eight scenarios to work through in addition to the free play mode. Most of the scenarios don’t change things that much from a strict gameplay perspective, with some only altering the public contracts, but the flavour text for each is awesome, and the continuous story builds the immersion even more. And the ones that do change the rules up more do so in interesting ways. Beyond that, while the game doesn’t have an official solo variant in the box, it’s quite easy to set up and play solo in several different ways, racing against the clock to see how quickly you can fulfill contracts (easily tracked by the event deck, where you flip one card each round), moving raider trucks towards yourself on the roll of a die if you want some more opposition, or even testing out this Grand Lord Emperor Torque’s Revenge variant a BGG user came up with. (I haven’t tried that one yet, but it looks fun.)

Wasteland Express Delivery Service.

Overall, Wasteland Express Delivery Service is an excellent game, one that balances Ameritrash and Euro influences well to bring a ton of theme into a mechanically-solid pick-up and deliver game. It’s beautiful to look at and a whole lot of fun to play. And who doesn’t want to deliver packages in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? That’s why it’s my choice as the 2017 Game of the Year.

Wasteland Express Delivery Service is for 2-5 players in 60-120 minutes. You can read more on it in Alex Bardy’s review here.

Here’s a full look at all the games in this year’s Top 10 and honourable mentions. Thanks for reading!

The Board and Game Top 10 Games of the Year for 2016

With 2016 wrapping up, it’s a good time to look back at the year in gaming. It was an incredible year for board and card games, with a ton of impressive releases. Here are my picks for the top 10 games released this year.

(Note: this is using the Essen Spiel 2015 (Oct 8-11) to pre-Essen 2016 (Oct 13-16) calendar many gaming sites and podcasts go with. I think it’s a good timeframe, as games that come out at or after Essen don’t have much time to get played before the end of the calendar year. Also note that I haven’t played everything out there, so this list may change over time!)

Honourable mention 1: Kansas Pacific (David V.H. Peters/Winsome Games/Queen Games). This is another great entry in the line of Winsome Games rail games re-released by Queen Games with nicer components (others include Chicago Express, German Railways, Paris Connection (also by the same designer) and Locomotive Werks), and it has some unique elements. There’s an excellent mix of pressure to rush across the board (only three of the six companies can reach the end, and it’s rare to see three actually do it, plus many cities offer more rewards if you’re there first) and penalties for haste (track’s much more expensive if you build a lot of it, and sticking close to your starting point can pay off too). Granted, this was actually a 2009 release from Winsome, but the deluxe Queen version came out this past year after Essen 2015. If you’re into train games, this is highly recommended.

Honourable mention 2: Tiny Epic Galaxies (Scott Almes/Gamelyn Games). This is my favourite of the Tiny Epic series so far, offering some really cool decisions. It’s a die-roller, but there are tons of ways to use and/or mitigate particular roles, and there are plenty of paths towards victory. Do you use planets for short-term actions or try to colonize them? Will your opponent get there first? How much effort do you put into upgrading your empire? The solo game in this is excellent, and I like it with two or three players too. However, it does feel like it bogs down with four or five; this may be player-dependent (those prone to analysis paralysis are really going to slow this one down, as there are so many possible options), but it’s a game I’d rather play with a small group, and a group that plays quickly. Overall, this is another excellent game from Almes (who I’ve been a big fan of since his very-underrated Kings of Air and Steam.) I Kickstarted the Beyond The Black expansion, and am looking forward to seeing what it adds.

Honourable mention 3: Potion Explosion (Stefano Castelli, Andrea Crespi and Lorenzo Silva/Horrible Games/Cool Mini or Not): This came out in 2015 in Italy, but CMON brought it to North America in 2016. It’s a very cool game that brings a Bejeweled-like Match Three feel to the tabletop, with some neat twists (especially when it comes to using potion powers). My non-gamer wife says it’s her favourite game, and we’ve had a great time playing it together. Highly recommended as a gateway game for anyone who likes that sort of Match Three gameplay.


Honourable mention 4: 504 (Friedemann Friese/2F-Spiele/Stronghold Games): 504 might be the most unique game I’ve ever played, as it’s 504 different games in one box. It’s a fascinating game design experiment, and it works generally well, as long as you’re able to figure out the different modules’ interactions. It also gets better as you play it (even using different modules each times, you get more used to some of the central concepts on subsequent plays). It’s an excellent game to explore, but one challenge is getting it to the table; it’s not always an easy sell to people, and it’s not terribly easy to explain any particular setup. Still, this can be a lot of fun, and I look forward to exploring it more.


Now, the actual list…

10. Hands In The Sea (Daniel Berger/Knight Works): I love Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow (despite the complaints about a dominant strategy), and this game from Berger and new publisher Knight Works feels like an even better version of it. The Rome-Carthage First Punic War setting is perfect for this, and the deck-building system feels perfect for a clash of those empires; the bigger your empire gets, the more difficult it can be to manage. There are some excellent twists in this one, too, including naval combat/interdiction/support, events and strategies, a neutral city (Syracuse), and more. I’ve played this one a couple of times so far and have quite enjoyed it; I’m looking forward to exploring it even more. Check out Dan Thurot’s excellent review if you’re interested in learning more on this game. Read more