We normally stick to videogames at Paste, but if you look not-so-closely you’ll see that the section head above just says “Games.” There’s no reason those games can’t involve a board, dice or even cards. Twentieth-century classics and The Big Bang Theopoly might dominate the board game shelves at your local Zayre or Maxway, but if you look deeper you’ll find a number of fascinating new board games released every year. Boardgame analyst Gus Mastrapa looks at a few of 2011’s best.
Twenty years ago civilians were gobsmacked by the idea that comic books weren’t just for kids any more. Ten later and the same were wowed that adults played videogames. Let’s not follow in those dull footsteps. Just know this: Board games have steadily evolved and mutated in the years since you played Clue on the basement floor. Of the hundreds of ingenious cardboard diversions released this year, the following five deserve your special attention.
Designed by Mike Elliot & Eric M. Lang
Published by WizKids
Rolling the bones is fun. That’s why Quarriors comes with a tin full of 130 custom dice printed with spells, monsters and warriors on the sides rather than pips. Everybody starts with the same basic dice. Turn-by-turn players use the results of their rolls to capture new dice and whack on the other players in their quest for glory. Quarriors is quick and breezy—the board game for those who’d rather shout “Yahtzee!” than pore over a rulebook. Look for the new Rise of the Demons expansion to add even more dice to your cup.
A Few Acres of Snow
Designed by Martin Wallace
Published by Treefrog Games
Board games have had a long, fruitful love affair with history. If there was a battle waged there’s a cardboard box somewhere that aims to recreate said clash. A Few Acres of Snow depicts the struggle between Britain and France to control North America. But rather than focus myopically on combat this game takes a more holistic approach. Players collect cards to gain cities, militia and trade routes on a lovely map of Eastern Canada. Of course bloodshed is an option. Both sides can hire Native Americans to raid or ambush their foe. For astute context be sure to read the historical commentary in the back of the manual – where you’ll also learn that the game’s title is a witty bon mot from Voltaire around the worth of Quebec.
Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino
Published by Queen Games
Donald X. Vaccarino is best known for his smash-hit card game Dominion—a peppy deck-building game that has has lured many new gamers to the table. Kingdom Builder is a fine effort to keep those butts parked. Player take turns placing settlements—little multicolored wooden houses—on a hex map divided by forests, plains, canyons and deserts. The twist here is that no two games have the same victory condition. Three random cards drawn at the beginning of the game dictate the rules for winning. A modular board comprised of unique segments adds further variety. Not only are the maps different on each panel, but cities there also grant players unique ways to build and grow their kingdom.
Blood Bowl: Team Manager
Designed by Jason Little
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
If only fantasy football were this dorky. Blood Bowl: Team Manager puts players in charge of teams whose benches are filled with elves, goblins and orcs warriors who battle to the death as they fight for touchdowns. Where the classic table top strategy game recreated the jukes and passes of individual matches Blood Bowl: Team Manager zooms out to the full season. Players use a fistful of cards to commit unique ballplayers to face-offs where the push and pull of ball possession can help turn the tide of game. Some might find this prolonged gridiron battle grueling, complex and a little fiddly. Those lightweights can hit the showers.
Designed by Rob Daviau & Chris Dupuis
Published by Hasbro
Chances are that even the most casual observer of board games has heard something of Risk: Legacy—a bold attempt to freshen up the venerable, but often interminable, classic war game. The big idea here is that decisions you make during the course of play can have repercussions on future games. Some cards are meant to be banned from the game forever once used. Stickers permanently change the board. And cards sealed (to prevent spoilers) will emerge five or six games in to add drama to the campaign. Risk: Legacy is best played with a full embrace of these changes. Tear up banned cards to add further gravitas to the world-changing events and your ongoing campaign will live on in your memory, even when the box is sitting on the shelf.
Gus Mastrapa is a freelance writer who lives in the high desert of Southern California. He has contributed to Wired, Edge, The A.V. Club and Killscreen. Follow him on Twitter: @triphibian.