On Presidents’ Day, I made my second annual pilgrimage to Toy Fair, the annual toy and game trade show held at the Javits Center in New York, to visit some of the key boardgame publishers who had booths at the show. I spent time with a half-dozen outfits, looking at recent releases as well as major titles due out in 2016.
Asmodee has become the most important publisher in boardgaming with its acquisition of Fantasy Flight Games and merger with Days of Wonder, both completed over the last eighteen months, giving Asmodee a tremendous catalog of some of the segment’s best titles—including the juggernaut Ticket to Ride—as well as a strong stable of upcoming titles. Leading that list is Quadropolis, the first title from designer Francois Gandon. It’s a city-builder with a very tightly integrated theme, incorporating several mechanics familiar from other titles (tile selection from Targi, scoring somewhat similar to Suburbia) with a fresh and ultimately very simple to learn result.
Asmodee also has an upcoming kid-friendly title called Doctor Panic, which I described on Instagram as Operation on PEDs. It’s a timed game where players must complete silly tasks like matching a pattern on a “stitches” card by threading a small rope through the nine holes on a 3×3 card without actually seeing the pattern, definitely aimed at the young crowd but I imagine a bit of a party game once the adults have had a few drinks and suddenly that simple sewing task isn’t so simple.
Zany Penguins, from Bruno Cathala and Mathieu Lanvin, seems a bit inspired by the penguins of Madagascar, as the flightless birds get ticked off by climate change and decide to take over the world. The game comprises one deck of 90 cards, and each player must use his/her penguins to try to conquer five different areas while disrupting other players’ attempts to do the same.
Another Bruno Cathala game, Histrio, takes us to a Renaissance-era theater, where players must recruit actors to join their companies and perform plays for the king—who may prefer a comedy one time and a tragedy the next. The game has the components of a longer strategy game but a listed time of just 40 minutes, with some beautiful artwork and an actual cardboard stage where you can send some of your actors. It’s due sometime in the second quarter of 2016.
Asmodee also has Mysterium: Hidden Signs, an expansion to the haunted house-themed game released last year, coming out this year, as well as two new modules for the game T.I.M.E. Stories, one due in the first quarter of the year and one due in Q2.
Mayfair Games has now split off Catan Studios into its own entity, allowing Mayfair to focus on other titles, including a reboot of one of the best strategy games ever created, Uwe Rosenberg’s genre-changing Agricola. Mayfair will re-issue Agricola in late summer as just a 1-4 player game, with a 5-6 player expansion coming afterwards; the base game should come in at a lower price point because it will include fewer components. Mayfair will also issue a simpler version of the game called Agricola Family Edition, which will dispense with the cards and allow younger players to participate.
Martin Wallace’s Steam gets its fifth expansion this year, with a new box that will allow players to fit all of the expansions into a single case.
New games from Mayfair include Fight for Olympus, the next title in Lookout Games’ two-player series (which brought us Rosenberg’s Patchwork, one of the best pure two-player games ever). From designer Matthias Cramer (Glen More, Lancaster, Rococo), Fight for Olympus has players battle each other using a 120-card deck and a card payment system like that of San Juan, discarding other cards to pay for the one you wish to play. Players will draft heroes of Greek mythology to launch attacks while trying to fill all six card slots at the beginning of any turn, thus winning the game.
Costa Rica: Reveal the Rainforest, from Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan (Elysium, Relic Runners), involves players in a little game of chicken, where players decide how far to push their luck while exploring the rainforest before folding up and heading back to base with their expedition “notes.” The game is lighter than Elysium, which was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres award last year. Costa Rica is scheduled for release in June, but the art and even the title are still liable to change.
iello is best known for the King of Tokyo line of games from Richard Garfield, but they’ve expanded their offerings greatly, including a line of “micro games” that can be played in 20 minutes or less. Welcome to the Dungeon was the first title in the series, with two more titles coming this spring: Candy Chaser and Tempura. Candy Chaser has the players playing youthful candy smugglers, each dealing in one of five specific candies, trying to bid up the price on their individual candies without tipping off other players which candy that player is dealing. Tempura has over-the-top cute artwork of cats consuming sushi, puffer fish, ramen and more. Players deal cards to neighboring players and eventually must start eating from the “buffet,” the main deck, to see how many cards they can draw without getting too many indigestion cards. Candy Chaser plays two to four, while Tempura plays three to seven.
Happy Pigs is due out in the spring as well, a slightly longer strategy game that casts two to six players as pig farmers (you’ll need some fruity soaps), aiming to buy, breed and sell animals over the course of four rounds, representing the four seasons. It’s listed for players 10 and up, but I don’t think it’d be too much for an eight-year-old who’s played a few other titles.
Richard Garfield has been busy, with King of New York Power Up! due this year, and a new title due in the fall called Bunny Kingdom, which promises to have some gorgeous artwork. No demo was available, but the game will involve card-drafting (Garfield’s specialty) and have the players represent leaders of clans of rabbits. I’m just hoping no one has to pass hraka.
iello also has two pirate-themed games coming out this year, Sea of Clouds and World of Yo-Ho: War and Orchids. Sea of Clouds is a card-drafting game where players are pirates aboard flying ships, collecting relics, garnering rum, and recruiting more pirates for the rounds where players must attack each other. World of Yo-Ho will use a smartphone app so that the phones become the ships on the board, allowing for animations when players move, fire upon each other, or even board each others’ ships.
Ravensburger had two new titles to show. One is Orongo, a game from the prolific Reiner Knizia, first released in German in 2014 but recently reprinted for the U.S. market with better-quality components. Players attempt to build moai (statues) on Easter Island by controlling enough adjacent hexes. Like most Knizia games, it’s fairly simple on the surface, but with a lot of math hiding underneath.
Castles of Burgundy is a top-ten all-time game for me, and this summer will bring a card-game version, which will be more portable than the boardgame (which, while incredibly clever, has a lot of pieces). Instead of covering areas on individual boards, players will compete to complete sets of cards representing the same concepts. I’m looking forward to it with some skepticism, since card-game ports of great boardgames often lose quite a bit in translation.
Breaking Games will bring out a complex strategy game, The King’s Abbey, that was originally funded and published last year via a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a worker-placement game with a million little pieces, where players’ main tokens, called monks, are actually dice they roll to undertake various tasks. They also have an abstract strategy game, Aura, in the queue for 2016; players in Aura each have a copy of the same 50-card deck, and must try to diminish others’ decks while protecting their own, ending the game with the most cards. They also demo’d several recent titles, including another abstract game, Circular Reasoning, that takes extremely simple rules of movement but gains complexity because of “gateways” on the board that move every round.
Blue Orange Games, which primarily publishes games for kids, showed several recently published titles, including the more advanced Eurogame New York 1901 (good luck getting that Phoenix song out of your head while playing it), an area-control game on a board that represents a portion of Manhattan as it appeared in that year; and the abstract two-player game Wakanda. They also showed the upcoming lightweight kids’ game called Dr. Eureka, where players must transfer “molecules” from one beaker to another to match certain patterns without touching the balls that represent the molecules.
Other key publishers like Z-Man didn’t exhibit at Toyfair but were still represented through partnerships, such as the upcoming Agricola titles (originally a Z-Man game) from Mayfair. Some of the more anticipated releases of 2016 are coming through the Kickstarter pipeline, such as 7th Continent or Scythe, as well as Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis, which will launch a new Kickstarter campaign on March 8th. If anything, it appears that we’re getting more volume of new boardgames than at any time in recent or not-so-recent memory, with more people willing to shell out $25 and up to fund better gaming experiences, a positive sign for players and for publishers willing to take risks despite the high production costs of good-quality games.
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.