The flow of new games in 2015 just kept going, with more variety in the games I was able to sample than I found in the games I tried in the previous year. The year also saw two all-time classics from Reiner Knizia—Tigris & Euphrates and Samurai—receive slick new editions with improved artwork courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games, both essentials in any serious collection. Here’s my list of the ten best games I tried in 2015, along with a few others of note listed at the end. Machi Koro, which I thought should have won the Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) award this fall, was on my list in 2014, but the Kennerspiel des Jahres (expert’s game of the year) winner is also my #1.
10. Flea Market
A very silly game, light on strategy (although not quite devoid of it) and, in our experience, best enjoyed by the maximum five players with plenty of adult beverages around. Players buy and sell goods—each of which happens to resemble an artifact from a famous film—at a flea market, but their ability to do that and the price of any transaction is determined by the roll of the game’s three dice. It could be frustrating if you tried to play it as a serious economic game, but it is anything but series and in our experiences quick and fun with a few beers out on the table.
The year’s top complex strategy game, although the complexity comes from the number of options available to players rather than excessively lengthy rules. Orleans is simple to learn but plays out over eighteen rounds, which means you’re in for the long haul, choosing between acquiring more follower tokens to allow you to make more moves later in the game and moves that offer the potential for more points. It’s less complex than games like Le Havre or Caverna, but expects a similar level of dedication.
8. Mission: Red Planet (second edition)
This new edition of the 2005 game from Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala (no relation) updated the artwork but also added several rules changes that enhanced gameplay. The steampunk theme is a bit tacked-on, but the remainder of the theme is straightforward: players compete to land astronauts on Mars and place the most in each of the various regions to gain resources from the red planet, but can also sabotage other players, launch ships before they’re fill, and even kill off astronauts already in play.
7. A Game of Thrones: Card Game
A new entry in Fantasy Flight’s series of Living Card Games®, this deckbuilder offers sophisticated gameplay that has you constantly engaged in combat (with cards, not actual weapons) with one or more opponents, and the best integration of theme and game I’ve seen in a very long time. Each player starts with a deck that represents two houses from the series, while the traits and capabilities on the character cards are closely connected to the actual characters’ details.
From Marc André, the designer of Splendor, Barony looks a bit like Settlers of Catan but is actually a clever game of territorial control where players must plan early to maximize their potential moves in the brief but critical endgame. It looks simple and will keep scores close until the final round, but the nuances of the game’s design may only become apparent after you’ve found yourself stuck without a legal move because of something you did (or didn’t do) ten moves earlier.