Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Early Dragon Award thoughts: Boardgames

I know there's still a few months left in the eligibility period, but given the event driven release cycle of the industry in general, there's also little reason to believe that a worthy game will be released between now and the end of the period. For the non-boardgamers, the release schedule centers around 2-3 major conventions: Essen Toy Fair, Nurenburg Toy Fair, and GenCon. Yes, there are also Origins, NY Toy Fair, and who knows how many crazy events in Japan, but these three are the major events. As such, the publishers push to have release dates either during the cons, or have early release copies rushed ahead for purposes of the fair.

Quick note, I'm listing US publishers, but if you're not in the USA, Boardgamegeek should have a more complete listing for international copies. So, here's a few thoughts on what I think on are the best games for the award:

Scythe from Stonemaier Games-
I was iffy on the release date of this last year, and that's in part because of Kickstarter. The general release date puts it firmly in this year's eligibility window, though.

What's good: This game is a part 4x(fixed map), part Euro alt 1920's themed sprawl. There's worker placement, area control, resource management, engine building, and a bit of a race as well. Yes, there's combat and encounters, which provide some measure of randomness, though combat is largely to be limited, as one can only score off of two combat wins. There can be some randomness, as there are faction boards and player boards that play in very different combinations. Also, we've got some excellent art, and even Jeffro has linked to the artist's gallery on the Castalia House blog, though I doubt he's played the game. The art for the game came first, and Jamey Stegmaier reached out to get the rights for a boardgame, and did an excellent job.

There's also an expansion out that allows the game to hold 7 players.

Star Trek: Ascendancy from Gale Force 9
This made a big impact on me at GenCon last year, and the only thing holding it back for me is the fact that the first expansions are LATE LATE LATE! This is a real pity, as the game is 3 player only until then.

What's good: This felt like everything a Star Trek 4x game should. Each race(an early version of Cardassians was playable at the events) had their own style of play, ships, and technologies to pursue. The Prime Directive, for example, really slows the Federation down if they find pre warp worlds. Yes, there's an advantage and disadvantage to each race.

The exploration was great, linking and moving worlds until they're locked in place, and the combat hefty with dice pools, and your number depending on weapons and shield research done by each side. The winner is simply the first to a certain number of ascendancy tokens, so this encourages non-Fed players to build up to encounter them faster, as they'll otherwise explore their way to victory.

Terraforming Mars from Stronghold Games
Ok, I have not played this one myself, though I have seen some bits of it. It appears to be a somewhat calculable game(I don't necessarily have a problem with that, as long as it isn't total). It has a number of award nominations already, so I won't be surprised if it's on the final list.

Thematically, this is very much a men with screwdrivers game(if one were to relate it to SF). In this case, I'd say that's good, as it has a cooperative/competitive aspect to it. The players have to work together and still advance their own contributions while making the planet habitable. There's a lot of moving cubes and cards in the game, and I do like the kinds of interaction I've seen when I've seen it played.

As to the minis/CCG/RPG category:  They really should have done a minis/RPG category, and a CCG category, simply due to the difference in sheer number of players. This is honestly a dead category, unless you simply want a nomination. Magic will win it year after year without some rules changes, as they release new sets regularly and each can be considered it's own game.

When you play Social Justice the world loses.

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