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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Top 10 Board Games for 2023

#10 The Warp

Number 10 goes to The Warp, an incredibly good board game debut by @jumpingturtlegames. Warp, a stellar addition to the 4X genre, dazzles with its innovative design and immersive gameplay, marking it as one of the finest space-themed board games to date. The game brims with clever mechanics, from terraforming actions to a dynamic game map, fostering a deep, strategic gameplay that transcends mere conquest. Players are constantly engaged with impactful decisions, balancing military growth against resource management and expansion versus direct attack.

Unique to Warp is its card-based action system, allowing players to draw and play cards for maneuvers, with the novel twist of enabling other players to follow most actions, thus eliminating downtime. The game’s combat is intricately influenced by terrain elevation, adding another strategic layer and even allowing non-combatant players to affect outcomes with combat cards.

Negotiations add a thrilling diplomatic aspect, as players can bribe others using resources hidden behind panels. Thematically, Warp beautifully melds its mechanics with a cosmic quest narrative, offering a Starcraft-like vibe. The variety of races, each with unique abilities and the option to combine two factions during setup ensures each game feels fresh and challenging. The only minor critique is Warp’s physical presence; while gameplay is exceptional, a cosmetic enhancement, such as varied terrain heights, would elevate its table appeal.

In essence, Warp is a must-play, offering unparalleled replayability, strategic depth, and engaging 4X gameplay.

#09 The Last Kingdom

‘The Last Kingdom’ by @gamelyngames delivered an immersive and thrilling board game experience, superbly capturing the essence of Bernard Cornwell’s novels and the Netflix series. The game brings to life the intricate dynamics of shifting loyalties and strategic maneuvering,  creating an epic atmosphere that’s palpable in every move.

A standout aspect of the game is the area control battles, which demand tactical acumen and strategic patience. Overplaying your hand early can lead to losing control in later stages, echoing the delicate balance of power and betrayal depicted in the source material. This element of the game encourages players to be cautious yet bold, making for an exhilarating gameplay experience.

The game’s miniatures and components are commendable, drawing inspiration from the TV series. However, the art style might be a point of contention for some of the same reasons. Despite this, the engaging gameplay and brilliant mechanics, especially the shifting loyalties, easily overshadow any artistic shortcomings. The game’s design is as captivating as other renowned titles like Inis or Blood Rage.

‘The Last Kingdom’ is a special treat for fans of the show, with every card and move reflecting chapters from the saga. However, even those unfamiliar with the series will find the tactical depth and cold-blooded strategy compelling. It’s a game that truly makes you feel like a part of the historic struggles of Wessex and Daneland.

Another impressive feature is how well the game scales at two players, a rarity in area control games. It transforms into a tense cat-and-mouse duel, where characters like Aethelwold can snatch victory at the last moment, adding an extra layer of excitement.

In conclusion, ‘The Last Kingdom’ is a fantastic game that I highly recommend for enthusiasts of strategic board games like King is Dead and Bloodrage. Its inspirations are evident, but it stands on its own as a unique and enthralling experience. Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, this game is sure to captivate with its deep strategic gameplay and intriguing theme.

#08 Kutna Hora

Well-deserved 8th place goes to Kutna Hora by @czechgamesedition. The game’s structure, where players manage a pool of actions across five rounds, provides a rich tapestry of strategic possibilities. From acquiring plots to enhancing the cathedral, the range of choices is versatile and dynamic. Using dual-action cards, which become exhausted after use, encourages forward-thinking and strategic planning.

The standout feature of Kutna Hora is undoubtedly its market mechanism. How players’ actions influence resource prices adds fascinating layers to the gameplay. This dynamic creates a blend of long-term strategy and adaptive tactics, as the shifting market can upend plans at any moment. Despite this, the game balances predictability and organic progression, offering a well-planned yet fluid experience.

Focusing on production is another well-executed aspect of the game. Players concentrate on just three goods, tailoring their building strategies around them. Deciding when to take income, considering the market conditions and your production levels, introduces a layer of tension and strategic depth. The game offers ample room for decision-making without being overwhelming.

Building placement and adjacency scoring further deepen the strategic elements, encouraging thoughtful consideration of each move. The game also includes some direct in-game scoring opportunities, such as through officials and city goals. Thematically, Kutna Hora stands strong, with every action feeling justified and cohesive and all game elements connecting seamlessly.

The primary criticism lies in the game’s economic structure, particularly in the early stages. It can be easy to find oneself strapped for cash, especially if one avoids adding a public building in the initial turns. This financial constraint can result in losing a full round to catch up, though this is often due to player decisions. Understanding the game’s economy mitigates this issue in subsequent sessions. A potential solution, such as introducing loans with costly paybacks, could add an interesting dynamic and alleviate this challenge.

Kutna Hora offers a complex and rewarding experience that balances strategy, planning, and adaptability, making each session a unique and engaging challenge.

#07 Dark Tower Covenant

Return to Dark Tower by @restorationgames lands in our ranking again, thanks to the Covenant expansion, enhancing the game with several notable features that deepen the gameplay experience.

A standout element in “Covenant” is the Monuments. These are visually stunning and add a challenging layer to the gameplay. Players must balance constructing these Monuments with the game’s other objectives, which can be difficult. However, the effort is well worth it, as the Monuments offer significant advantages. For example, the Endless Necropolis allows for unlimited storage of skulls, a strategic boon in the game.

The expansion introduces new heroes, adding more complexity to the game but also making it more rewarding. Take the Astromancer, who uses curses as a source of strength. Starting with a random curse and having an extra slot for a third curse, this character embodies a playstyle that thrives on a balance of high risk and high reward, which I find particularly enjoyable.

However, there is a slight disappointment with this expansion. “Covenant” is not compatible with the previous expansion, meaning players can’t integrate guilds while using this add-on. While combining both expansions would significantly increase the complexity of the game, it’s a bit disheartening. I am hopeful that future errata and app updates will address this issue, allowing for a more integrated gameplay experience with both expansions. 

Despite this, the already outstanding game became even better because Covenant is just a masterpiece and the perfect example to follow of how to design valuable, enriching original gameplay expansions.

#06 Scarface 1920

Number 6th goes to the Scarce 1920 by @redzengames. This game brilliantly centers around a card-based mechanic, with actions driven by playing cards from each player’s deck. These cards allow for basic actions through icons and come equipped with unique extra abilities. As players progress, they can unlock more vital cards and purchase additional ones from a double display. While this might sound complex, the gameplay is surprisingly intuitive, enabling players to craft impressive combinations.

Adding to the depth, players can expand their network of dealers by drawing more cards from a common deck. Jobs, serving as hidden personal quests, provide another layer of strategic advantage. The game strikes an excellent balance between the asymmetric powers of each faction and common skills. Each boss character has a distinct focus: the purple one excels in jobs, Al is adept at hiring associates, the green boss controls the booze and guns, and the blue one specializes in expansion and theft.

The gameplay is rich and immersive, featuring epic moments through combo creation, and is steeped in the theme of the prohibition era. The names, places, and elements like police roles and raids enhance the game’s authenticity. Its table presence is striking, reminiscent of the best games from CMON, and it’s impressive that Redzen Games could deliver such a high-quality product in their first Kickstarter campaign.

A point of discussion among players is the perceived strength of Al Capone’s faction, with some arguing it’s overpowered. However, each faction has unique strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to the players to exploit or counter them. It’s noted that the blue faction tends to perform better in games with more players, making it a strategic choice for full-table games. The game offers a richly layered, strategic experience combining intuitive card mechanics with deep thematic elements.

#05 Burncycle

Time for number 5th in our ranking! Burncycle by @chipthetorygames was love at second sight, but once it hit us, it became one of our home’s most played heavy coops.

This game impressively demonstrates the ingenuity of its design through the flawless development and management of its bots, offering an engaging and satisfying experience. The strategic depth is evident, as dice rolls are less critical for skilled players. The game allows players to unlock new skills, acquire stronger dice, manage the power of their bots, and dictate their behavior within the network, showcasing the maturity and thoughtfulness of the designer. The balance of randomness and luck is well-maintained, providing the right level of challenge and replayability expected in a cooperative game while still feeling balanced and manageable.

The game’s theme is a standout feature, offering a unique experience that differentiates it from others on the market. It’s not only well-executed but also highly polished. Investing in the optional brass miniatures, which come with magnets to adhere to the chips, elevates the game’s aesthetic appeal, making it one of the most visually striking games available.

However, the game does present a learning curve that might be challenging for some players. A new approach to the mechanics, combined with the decent amount of keywords and long playtime, was an obstacle even for us. But once we overcame it, Burncycle rewarded us with one of the best and most unique board game coop experiences ever.

Burncycle is a huge standout from the crowd this year and another very strong IP in Chip Theour Games’ portfolio. It’s a game that rewards investment in learning its mechanics, offering a rich and immersive experience for those who enjoy deep, strategic gameplay.

#04 Aeon Tresspass Odyssey

Number #4! This game already got one of the few perfect scores we have given this year, snatching 10 out of 10 scratches and our Mark of the Beast Badge. Aeon Trespass Odyssesy by @intotheuknown stands out as a remarkable achievement in game design, combining complex and extensive gameplay with an intuitive and user-friendly interface.

The designers have evidently prioritized a natural, clean design, likely incorporating expertise from a UX designer, to ensure that even with its complexity, the game remains accessible and engaging. The exploration and story phase of the game draws favorable comparisons to “Tainted Grail,” yet ATO surpasses it in several aspects. Common issues in TG, like grinding, backtracking, and the cumbersome search for specific map tiles, have been adeptly addressed in ATO, making the experience more user-friendly and intuitive.

Battles in ATO are often likened to those in “Kingdom Death,” yet many players and BGG users consider them superior. The excellent design of ATO’s encounters provides tense, challenging, and epic moments and situations that excite the game.

The plot of ATO is another strong point, offering an intriguing narrative. Players control a mysterious, bottomless city-ship that serves as home to both the crew and fantastical beings like titans and wild human-like creatures reminiscent of “Attack on Titan.” The game’s storytelling is immersive and well-crafted, with high-quality writing that engages players deeply, possibly even surpassing that of Tainted Grail. As for downsides, the only notable concern so far is the game’s demand for significant table space. 

Aeon Trespass Odyssey is one of the biggest achievements in the modern history of board gaming. I recommend this game to everyone who seeks a complex, rich, engaging boss crawler experience surpassing any other game in this genre. 

#03 Ark Nova Marine Worlds

Ark Nova by Feuerland Spiele is again in our ranking, this time getting 3rd place! “Marine Worlds,” the highly anticipated expansion for Ark Nova, has impressively elevated an already top-tier board game to new heights. It introduces fresh elements to the gameplay and addresses some minor issues in the core game.

Including Marine Cards and Aquariums opens up new strategies and combo possibilities. The expansion’s animals feature unique coral reef icons, activating actions immediately upon placement in your zoo and triggering reef actions from previously played animals. This addition enriches the strategic depth of the game.

A potential concern was that adding more cards might dilute the original deck, making the display less significant. However, the expansion cleverly circumvents this issue. Most marine animal cards come with a wave icon, prompting a shift in the display cards whenever such a card is drawn. This new mechanic enhances the importance of the display, keeping it relevant and dynamic.

One of the most exciting features of “Marine Worlds” is the introduction of new asymmetrical action cards. This change makes the game’s core mechanics asymmetrical while maintaining a balanced experience. For example, certain association cards now allow for unique actions like hiring researchers at the cost of a high-strength action. The advanced sides of these cards offer different perks, significantly boosting the game’s replayability.

Other noteworthy additions include one-time tokens for decisive actions, more asymmetrical zoo boards, and a new type of research token that accelerates the play of large animals. All these changes have impacted the gameplay positively. The game retains its balance but becomes slightly more complex, strategic, and surprisingly faster-paced. The alterations make sessions more dynamic, reduce the likelihood of getting blocked, and facilitate the play of more demanding cards.

Overall, “Marine Worlds” is a stellar expansion that enhances Ark Nova in every aspect, making an already excellent game even better.

#02 Age of Innovation

Another game by Feuerland Spiele in our ranking, 2nd place this time! I’m so surprised that the Age of Innovation, the game I was afraid of becoming a lazy Terra Mystica sequel, has proven to be such an excellent title, missing the first place in our ranking by an inch. 

Age of Innovation breathes new life into the strategy game genre, offering a dynamic and versatile play style that sets it apart. The game’s core revolves around territory acquisition and landscape modification, tailored to suit the unique needs of each faction. Its standout feature is the staggering variety of gameplay setups, thanks to the mix-and-match approach with factions and terrain types, resulting in hundreds of potential game scenarios.

The innovations system injects a fresh strategic dimension, providing players with special powers that can drastically alter the course of their gameplay. This system offers a plethora of points and abilities, presenting players with critical choices at every turn. The scoring mechanism in the Age of Innovation is particularly rewarding, where each point feels hard-earned and significant, akin to a satisfying paycheck. 

However, the game’s complexity might be daunting for newcomers, with Terra Mystica serving as a more accessible alternative. Additionally, be prepared for lengthy sessions, as four-player games can extend to nearly five hours. The inclusion of neutral buildings in the game adds another layer of strategic depth, allowing for even more diverse gameplay combinations, such as the possibility of creating a city with just two buildings.

Overall, Age of Innovation is a superb advancement from its predecessor, Terra Mystica, and is an ideal choice for strategy game enthusiasts looking for new challenges and experiences.

#01 Voidfall

Behold, the new king is here. Voidfall by Mindclash Ga es gets 1st place in our Top 10 Games for 2023!

Voidfall brings an innovative and refreshing take to the 4X genre, skillfully blending NPC interactions and Euro-style gameplay elements without losing the quintessential 4X feel. The synergy and combinations between various game mechanics and elements are exceptionally well-crafted, even surpassing games by the renowned designer Master Lacerda. The game’s engine is a marvel, offering various strategic combinations limited only by the player’s imagination.

A key strength of Voidfall is the perfect balance it achieves among its many factions. Each faction is distinct, offering different playstyles and two strategic paths chosen during setup. From scheming merchants building a covert empire to a planet of clones vying for technological supremacy, the diversity in powers, agendas, starting technologies, and setups is impressive. Yet, no single faction feels overpowering.

The execution of Voidfall is flawless. The quality of components, the organizer, the rulebook, the glossary, and the card wording – everything is polished to perfection, reflecting the exceptional work of the game’s testers. Another highlight of Voidfall is its immense replayability, thanks to its wide array of solo, cooperative, and competitive scenarios. This aspect ensures that each game session can be a unique and engaging experience.

The learning curve in Voidfall is steep, but the game’s iconography is masterfully designed, and after one round, everything becomes highly intuitive, including tutorial missions to ease players into the game’s complexity.

Voidfall is a remarkable achievement in the 4X euro genre, offering a deeply strategic and varied gaming experience that will appeal to veterans and newcomers alike thanks to the perfect game’s design. It’s also the best game from an already superb portfolio of Mindclash Games.

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