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The 10 Best Boardgames of 2012

December 22, 2012  |  1:01pm
The 10 Best Boardgames of 2012

Paste’s Best of 2012 series continues through Dec. 31 and is made possible by our friends at Tretorn.

Stratego might be the boardgame of the year, every year (at least before they dumped the Crimean dudes for the Fox Sports robot), but nobody should restrict themselves solely to the classics. Great board games come out every year. Some might disappear to high-priced eBay auctions after one press run, others might eventually wind up with their own shelves at Barnes & Noble and Target (that’s where I bought Settlers of Catan.) Either way, if you like games, and you like sharing and playing those games with your friends and family—you know, real, live people—it pays to pay attention to the boardgame community. Paste’s resident boardgame experts Charlie Hall and Gus Mastrapa collaborated on this list of the best new boardgames of 2012.

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10. Qin
Designed by Reiner Knizia
Prolific board-game designer Reiner Knizia has a reputation for crafting mathematically sound games plastered with only a smidgen of theme. Qin is no exception. On paper you’re jockeying to colonize territories in ancient China, but in truth you’re simply placing colored dominoes to claim new ground or horn in on your opponents lands. Still, the deceptively simple play masks great depth and replayability. Launched simultaneously as an iOS app and tabletop game it’s easily one of 2012’s most accessible offerings.—Gus Mastrapa

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9. Lords of Waterdeep
Designed by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson
Another great entry from Wizards of The Coast, this worker placement game shares relatively non-violent roots with games like Pandemic and Fresco. You’re not competing directly with other players on the board, but merely increasing your influence in the city of Waterdeep at large. Your workers are the fighters, thieves and wizards that roam the city looking for quests to undertake. You’ll draft them to your cause as you try to build structures and complete secret objectives that are known only to you. It’s a slow burn, but a game that I can return to after long absences without much time spent poring over the manual. It will definitely be in my gaming rotation for years to come.—Charlie Hall

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8. Agents of SMERSH
Designed by Jason Maxwell
This game was successfully Kickstarted back in March of this year and, well… you can’t really buy it yet unless you helped fund it. But I had so much fun playing it with the designer, Jason Maxwell, on the GenCon floor this year that I had to put it in my Top 10 list. You’ll play as a Bond-like agent of the UN Secret Service Spies against the international criminal ring SMERSH. What this game has going for it are the opportunities for collaborative story-telling and improvisation. You come upon a beautiful assassin in a casino. How do you approach the situation? You must gain entrance to a secret lab. Do you take out the front door, and everyone behind it, or do you find another entrance? Your decisions will play out as a combination of your character’s skills and some dumb luck, with the results cleverly narrated out of a voluminous play book. Look for a wider release in 2013.—Charlie Hall

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7. Star Trek Catan
Designed by Klaus Teuber
More than merely a phaser-flecked re-skinning of the board game classic Settlers of Catan, this new edition tweaks the winning formula by beaming in characters from the Enterprise that can be leveraged for one-shot benefits like extra dilithium. Miniature star-ships, space stations and a single, pesky Klingon ship replace the original game’s functional but dull wooden bits. A must for trekkers and sheep traders alike.—Gus Mastrapa

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6. Dungeon Command
Designed by Chris Dupuis, Peter Lee, Kevin Tatroe and Rodney Thompson
I never expected Wizards of The Coast to become a board-game powerhouse, but there you have it. This year WoTC has revitalized their miniatures line. Instead of randomized packs of critters and creatures, Dungeons & Dragons miniatures are now sold in themed battle packs focused on a new game system called Dungeon Command. Instead of rolling dice, players will manage a deck of action cards that are keyed to the natural powers of their minions in an effort to get more loot than their opponent and drive them from the battlefield. Noble heroes, vile goblins and hordes of undead all emerge from custom-fitted boxes meant to travel. The game is quick, fun and keeps a hint of the tactical edge that the Fourth Edition of D&D has been known for. It plays well with only a single set, better with two, and offers options to both customize your army and have massive four-way skirmishes. Cleverly designed by a team including Chris Dupuis (Risk: Legacy), this is already a franchise that WoTC has shown a commitment to with multiple expansions just this year.—Charlie Hall

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5. Fleet
Designed by Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle
If videogames are a little obsessed with war, board games might be a tad wrapped up in the intricacies of industry and commerce. The elegant and rustic Fleet sees players building fleets of ships, purchasing licenses to pull different aquatic species out of the waters off of Nuvanut, Canada. The result is an engrossing, competitive exercise in strategy and resource management that feels more Moneyball than Deadliest Catch.—Gus Mastrapa

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4. The Manhattan Project
Designed by Brandon Tibbetts
The race to build and test the first atomic bomb becomes a contest of logistics as rival nations wrangle to recruit the worlds best minds, tap the most fertile fuel resources and build the military industrial complex best equipped for cranking out weapons. The tension here is twofold. Committing scientists and engineers to tasks blocks moves for others. But camp too long and you miss opportunities to exploit them anew.—Gus Mastrapa

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3. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
Designed by Jason Little
Generally I steer clear of licenses in board games, but this title has pleased me from the start. When I first saw a pre-release design on the floor at GenCon two years ago it looked like a bald-faced clone of Wings of War), a slightly awkward card-based WWI/II dogfighting game that’s a bit long in the tooth. But the game is much easier that its predecessors. You’ll use specially made cardboard tiles to lay out your craft’s flight path in secret at the beginning of each turn, and as your field of fire intersects with your adversaries you’ll roll to take them down, burning special abilities along the way. Expansions, while pricey at $15 per craft, offer several new and challenging mechanics to explore.—Charlie Hall

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2. Mice and Mystics
Designed by Jerry Hawthorne
Every once in a while someone goes after the light RPG market by way of the board game. But nothing has quite gotten the magic of Hero Quest like Mice and Mystics. This dungeon crawler has loot, characters that level up and party achievements, as well as a charming mouse theme and gorgeous miniatures. Gift this one to someone between the ages of 9 and 12 on your shopping list—they’ll thank you some day.—Charlie Hall

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1. Seasons
Designed by Régis Bonnessée
According to this handsome card game from Régis Bonnessée the role of a great sorcerer is something akin to a juggling act. An ingenious wheel in the middle of the table marks the passage of time and the ebb and flow of elemental dominance as the seasons turn. It is the goal of would-be magicians to summon familiars, use them to wrangle these elements to their will, zap their opponents with whammies when they can and end the three year cycle as the most powerful wizard.—Gus Mastrapa

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