The Boardgames of Toy Fair 2015

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I spent a few hours last Tuesday afternoon at Toy Fair, the annual toy and game trade show held at the Javits Center in New York, where they were kind enough to cluster most of the boardgame publishers in a single alley at one end of the main floor. I didn’t get to every publisher’s booth I’d hoped to visit, but hit the main ones and learned about some recent and upcoming releases from each that should be on your radar if you’re as obsessed with boardgames as I am.

Mayfair Games is best known as the publishers of Settlers of Catan, which will be permanently rebranded as Catan with the fifth edition, due in the second half of April, with rules clarifications, unified graphics across all languages, and backwards compatibility with the fourth edition if you mix new expansions with the old base game. Flea Market, the next title from designer Leo Colovini (who also designed the 2014 route-laying title Hot Tin Roof), has players buying and selling junk at the Flea Market, trying to be the first to earn $45 in total to win the game; one player’s trash is another player’s come-up. Agricola designer Uwe Rosenberg’s new two-player title, the Tetris-like Patchwork, was just released in November and combines that videogame’s tile-laying gimmick with Agricola’s penalty for unused spaces as well as a currency aspect that affects what pieces you can acquire.

They have two major releases scheduled for 2015. Extra! Extra!, a huge, complex strategy game where players compete to fill and publish small rectangular boards that represent the front and back pages of a newspaper, melding worker-placement, tile-placement, and resource-management mechanics into one massive game that I’m guessing will run two-plus hours for a single session. The graphics are fantastic, with a 1920s theme that reminded me of the classic film My Girl Friday (coincidentally, a movie legendary for its own complexity, with a script three times as long as that of a typical movie of its running time). We may also see their Masterpiece Mystery-themed game later this year, featuring the Edward Gorey artwork that those of you old enough to remember the series’ original introduction will recognize immediately. I did ask if they had any copies of Cones of Dunshire on site, but they were fresh out.

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R&R’s biggest strategy boardgame to date was the Spiel des Jahres-winning Hanabi, but they’re adding more strategic titles to their stable of party games, with the train-themed Spike and the light card game Spellcaster both appearing late last year. Spike combines the pathfinding mechanic popularized by Ticket to Ride with the pickup/delivery mechanic from the 1980s title Empire Builder, working on a map of the Eastern United States criss-crossed with lines in different colors that represent different ways to route between cities. Spellcaster is a quick game of hand management where two to four players use simple spell cards in four different colors to gain sapphire tokens (the game’s de facto currency) or drain opponents’ energy crystals. Their two newest titles are both social/party games, Caffeine Rush, where players play baristas trying to complete drink orders in a simple card game of pattern-matching; and Spit it Out!, where players have to answer six questions while working against a time limit, but sometimes must deliberately give a wrong answer.

Asmodee has fast become one of the most important brands in boardgaming, with two of the three finalists for the Spiel des Jahres award last year (Splendor, which was my favorite new game of 2014, and Concept) as well as the new classic 7 Wonders, which gets a two-player spinoff this summer in 7 Wonders: Duel. Although 7 Wonders includes rules for a two-player variant, it’s a much better game for three or more players, so a new two-player-only game is a welcome development; it’ll retain the theme and some of the mechanics of the base game, but includes more direct engagement with your opponent. It’s scheduled for a Q4 release.

Elysium is also very highly anticipated, with a Greek mythology theme on a game of card management and set collection for three or four players; its English edition should appear in Q2 this year. Mysterium, due for a potential release at GenCon 2015 in late July, is a cooperative deduction game first released in Poland in 2013, with players taking the role of spiritual mediums working together to solve the mystery of a country manor’s ghost, who was put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. The co-op game Room 25 will get an expansion, Season 2, with two new player roles, “adrenaline” tokens that allow players to make additional moves, and new rooms on the board; it’s due sometime in the next two months. There’s also an expansion coming for the wonderful light-strategy game Takenoko, called Takenoko Chibis, where the original game’s lone panda gets some panda cubs as companions; it’s due at GenCon.

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Fantasy Flight Games’ biggest news was last month’s release of XCOM, a boardgame adaptation of the award-winning sci-fi videogame franchise. The physical version works in tandem with a free app that manages some of the more intricate aspects of game play and employs the timer that makes the game work in real time, so the players (from one to four) must manage all four roles against the clock to try to turn back an alien invasion of earth.

They’re also bringing back the classic Reiner Knizia title Tigris and Euphrates, a top 40 game on Boardgamegeek’s rankings and #12 on my own rankings, with the first overhaul of the graphics since its original 1997 release and some slight rules tweaks to make it easier for new players to understand. They’ve also released two lightweight Knizia titles, Age of War and the Game of Thrones-themed reimplementation of Penguin titled Westeros Intrigue, aimed at new boardgamers and both priced under $15.

Calliope, makers of the hit abstract game Tsuro, will be bringing out a luxury edition of the game in 2015 to celebrate Tsuro’s tenth anniversary, featuring handcrafted tokens and faux-stone tiles, with a limited print run due in the fourth quarter. It sounds like a Tsuro app for iOS devices may also come this year. Their dice-rolling title Roll With It, which came out in a deluxe edition late in 2014, will be featured on an upcoming edition of the web series Tabletop.

I just reviewed North Star Games’ Evolution earlier this month, and was pleased to hear there should be an expansion later this year, with a Kickstarter to fund it appearing in late March. The expansion will include new trait cards all based around flight, with new species boards for flying creatures that limit their potential body size to three rather than the default six.

Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.

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