The Best Board Game Reboots

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The Best Board Game Reboots

Last week I reviewed Nova Luna, a new game based on an older one called Habitats. These kinds of reboots or, as Boardgamegeek calls them, reimplementations of earlier games are more common than you might think. Here are some of the best reboots I’ve ever played, with their original titles and an explanation or two of what changed.

5. Yellow & Yangtze

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Original Game: Tigris & Euphrates

Reiner Knizia remade his classic area-control game Tigris & Euphrates, considered one of the all-time classic Eurogames, with this 2018 game that changes a couple of core mechanics in the original. (This is supposedly because Knizia decided his original game was flawed, but I can’t find any source material showing he actually wrote or said this.) In Tigris & Euphrates, players had four leader tiles each, in the game’s four kingdom colors, and would place regular tiles in those colors to try to control larger areas on the board. You can start ‘wars’ by combining two rival kingdoms with the same colors and two different players’ leaders, or place your leader of one color into another players’ kingdom to try to start a rebellion. You score in all four colors, and your lowest score is the one that counts against other players’ lowest scores—that is, the highest lowest score wins.

Yellow & Yangtze replaces the original square tiles with hexagonal ones, creating more potential for adjacent plays, and adds a fifth kingdom, yellow, that functions as a wild card in the scoring, adding to whatever score of yours is lowest at game-end. In Tigris & Euphrates, you would refill your hand of tiles randomly, but in Yellow & Yangtze there’s a public market of tiles that you can use at certain times to gain more control over your strategy. They’re both great games, and extremely similar, but fundamentally different in how they play out.


4. Citadels

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Original Game: Citadels

Citadels didn’t change its name, but the reboot does multiple things extremely well that should be a model for designers and publishers looking to reimplement other out-of-print classics. Players would choose roles from the eight on the table in each game, changing roles each round, gaining gold—often at other players’ expense—and using it to construct buildings (or districts) for points. The game ends when one player builds their eighth building. The original Citadels came out in 2000 and included eight roles from which players would choose in each round, and a subsequent expansion introduced 10 more. The new version, which dropped in 2016, included all 18 of those plus nine new ones, as well as all of the buildings (now called districts) from the two earlier boxes plus more new ones. Fantasy Z-Man Games also reissued the original game in a $10 small box at the same time that they produced this new implementation, which was both consumer-friendly and an acknowledgement that some folks would just prefer the original.


3. Broom Service

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Original Game: Witch’s Brew

Broom Service won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2015, but it’s actually a reboot of a Spiel-nominated game, 2008’s Witch’s Brew. Broom Service adds a board to the earlier game, and eases up some of the earlier game’s restrictive mechanics, de-emphasizing some of the bluffing elements and making it more of a game of strategic decisions. Players are witches trying to gather ingredients for potions, delivering them across longer distances on the map for more points, while also chasing away bad weather and possibly gathering more points from doing so. The brightly colored, cartoonish art might mislead some players—this is a medium-weight game, definitely not the kids’ game it appears to be at first glance.


2. Downforce

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Original Game: Top Race

Restoration Games’ entire mission is to bring back classics of board gaming with fresh art, rewritten rules, and in many cases new titles. Downforce is their biggest hit and best reboot yet, a huge update to a 1996 game by legendary designer Wolfgang Kramer called Top Race, which brought together elements of several of Kramer’s games, including the 1974 abstract game Tempo, which was his first-ever published title. Downforce, like most of its predecessors, is a car-racing game, and gives each player a hand of cards to use that will advance one or more of the cars on the track by fixed numbers of spaces. Players may also bet on the race’s eventual outcome. The winner is the player with the most total cash, combining winnings from their own car(s) and their winnings in the betting. Downforce has the best art and graphics yet, and well-written rules that make learning the game a snap. The second expansion, Downforce: Wild Ride, just came out this year, introducing two new boards with more complicated racetracks that introduce new tweaks to the rules. Restoration’s other notable reboots include Indulgence, an update of a game previously published as Coup d’État and Dragonmaster; Dinosaur Tea Party, previously published as Whosit?; and the forthcoming Return to Dark Tower, the long-awaited reboot of the 1981 classic Dark Tower.


1. Small World

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Original Game: Vinci

Small World has become a huge success for Days of Wonder, spawning multiple expansions, a popular digital version, and the soon-to-be-released Small World of Warcraft crossover game. Philippe Keyaerts created Small World, released in 2009, as a streamlined, fantasy-themed version of his 1999 game Vinci, which had the later game’s unique mechanic—using one civilization or race to control areas on the board, then deliberately sending that civilization into “decline” so you could choose a new one on the next turn. Vinci was set in Europe, while Small World takes place on abstract maps, and the civilizations are replaced by the various races you would find in Dungeons & Dragons or a fantasy novel.


Honorable Mention

One reboot family worth a mention: Uwe Rosenberg’s worker-placement classic Agricola, which won him the only Spiel des Jahres honor he’s taken home to date, has been recycled, in a way, into two later games. Caverna is a longer, more complex Agricola, replacing the earlier game’s essential card decks with new buildings. Le Havre combines elements of Agricola with parts of another designer’s game, Caylus, in what I think was the point where Rosenberg’s more complex games began to jump the shark, eventually reaching their absurd peak with A Feast for Odin, which felt like three or four separate games stitched together in some sort of Board Game Centipede experiment.


Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.

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