This year brought us a wealth of awesome video games to explore, but they’re not the only stellar games from 2013. From time to time we like to take a step back and examine the growing world of tabletop games. Board games, card games, and tabletop role-playing games have seen a renaissance in the last decade, with hundreds of amazing titles that run the gamut in genre, theme, and style of play.
I’ve selected ten of my favorite titles from 2013 to highlight here, representing a spread of competitive and cooperative play, licensed and original works, and a range of complexity from family-friendly games to highly strategic titles of conquest and control. The games chosen all released in North America in 2013, or at least saw their major rise to awareness by the public during that time.
Take a look at my selections, and then share your picks for the best tabletop games of 2013 in the comments below.
Since the games discussed are from so many different genres and styles of play, I’ve ordered the following list alphabetically.
BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Many video gamers count BioShock Infinite among their favorite games of 2013. If you’re in that camp, or if you just like a highly original competitive game, you owe it to yourself to check out The Siege of Columbia.
Two players (or two teams of two players) take on the role of the Founders and the Vox Populi, and build of an army of followers led by charismatic leaders to try to control the floating city of Columbia. As you play, two wild card elements wander the board in the form of Booker and Elizabeth, often sowing chaos where they pass.
Plaid Hat Games has found a multitude of ways to tap into the game features of the BioShock Infinite video games, like including sky-lines which units can use to traverse the board at high speed (but at great risk), and Elizabeth’s ability to alter reality as she moves. The game presents a gorgeous map of Columbia, and the over 50 miniatures included help the table come alive.
Smartly written rules and beautiful art are the icing on the cake of this excellent release – it’s a perfect transition game for players hoping to make the jump from video games to the rich world of high-end tabletop gaming.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Arkham Horror has been a staple of the board game scene for years – a cooperative game in which players work together to confront a rising ancient evil in a small Massachusetts town. This year, Fantasy Flight released a successor to Arkham Horror that draws on many of the game’s best features, but streamlines play, and expands the scope onto a global scale.
In Eldritch Horror, players each take on the role of an investigator wandering the continents in an attempt to solve mysteries related to the emergence of a world-shattering Lovecraftian creature. Depending on the group’s choice of adversary, the flow of your adventure and objective changes, offering tons or replay value.
Every part of Eldritch Horror exists to serve the cause of compelling narrative. Your character has death-defying adventures, fights battles, and faces horrible ordeals. Even once a character is defeated, other players can come to have adventures about resolving their fellow hero’s demise. The game also encourages fun risk-taking, where some cards are acquired that might randomly flip later in the game if not resolved, often leading to tragedy. The sense of impending doom and constant setbacks works because all the players are in on the challenge together, and working toward a common goal.
Gameplay moves faster in Eldritch Horror than its predecessor, and it’s a great choice for large gaming get-togethers, since the game supports up to eight concurrent players (albeit with a much longer playtime). Its dark themes might not be a great fit for younger players, but everyone else should enjoy its pulpy plots. For a great entry into higher end cooperative games, look no further than this title.
The Greek mythology game Cyclades was an excellent game of conquest and fantasy that released a few years ago, and the newly released Kemet seeks to explore a similar concept rooted in the myths and monsters of Ancient Egypt.
Two to five players each take control of an Egyptian tribe as they try to capture and control the rich lands along the Nile. Along the way, players call on the Egyptian gods to rain down their powers and aid in attaining victory.
Kemet features a smart organizational mechanic for each turn, in which players take actions during a day phase to deploy their massive armies, raise pyramids, and take over temples, and then a night phase during which players gather prayer and victory points based on the current state of the board. I especially like the combat mechanic, which demands players choose attacks between a set of six cards, with the knowledge that use of any one card depletes it until the rest of his hand is spent. I also really enjoy the mythological creatures that join your forces, each of which brings its own special abilities into play.
Kemet includes a bevy of detailed minis to represent your armies, the coolest of which are the mythical monsters that populate the land. Its two-sided board allows for customized play that works well for whatever group size is playing. In addition, fans of Cyclades will be happy to find that a crossover kit (purchased separately) is available that lets you draw creatures from either game into the other. Kemet is one of the more challenging and complex games on this year’s list, but if you’re up for a little groundwork, its strategic options are top-notch.
[Next up: A great new role-playing game, and a family game inspired by a classic arcade title]