PunchBoard Media: The Big List of Games
Gravwell published in 2013 and designed by Corey Young.
Nominated by Brian Everett
Brian Everett (Cloak and Meeple): Gravwell sounds so simple in concept. Fly your ship out of the anomaly and get to the end of the spiral track. But simple it is not. Gravwell is a programing game at its heart (with a dusting of card drafting). Games end up being played with players eyeing their opponents trying to see into their mind and predict what they are going to do. With cards pushing and pulling your ship you gain momentum to get past all the other ships to get closer to the end of the track. As the game gets closer to the end, your strategy has to change. You no longer have ships to sling shot yourself. It can become a nail biter. This has become one of my favorite games to teach people that are new to tabletop gaming. But it is also great for those that are deep into the hobby.
Patrick Hillier (WYDPTW): With Corey Young being local to me I’ve seen this game in early pre-production form as well as variations that may or may not make it to the market some day. As a fan I had considered my own travel-Gravwell (different than the wooden version Corey made) using a cloth board and smaller bits. My son was learning graphic design at the same time as school and making t-shirts in class so we decided to make ourselves a few shirts for conventions using the same logo. My travel Gravewell eventually went onto a small bag with the cards and bits inside. There is a six player “Captain's Orders” unofficial variant Corey had we played at Origins as part of a Jack Vasel Memorial fund event that was a blast. So on to the game: It may appear chaotic, but it isn’t (completely). There emergency stop cards allow you to mitigate really bad events, and sometimes players will play them just to spite others. The games origin is based around a “catch up” mechanic and there is definitely one there. You can head out in the lead fast using the derelict ships, but suddenly you are far ahead with nowhere to go. Clever drafting of the specialty reverse pushing cards might help. Might.
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games): I’m always on the lookout for undiscovered board game gems and, so, while perusing games at GenCon in the summer of 2013 an unusual-looking demo game in the Cryptozoic booth caught my eye. The graphic design of it was simple but striking, the board portraying nothing more than a track spiraling out from the center and a set of cards for drafting. I shrugged, gave it a try, and immediately bought it. This was the gem I was looking for, and I walked away wondering why I hadn’t heard of it before then. After about six months of throwing it in front of anyone who was willing I awarded it my Game of the Year award for 2013. No other game that year - and barely any game since - has provided such an intriguing and deeply thoughtful puzzle in such a simple and elegant design. The press-your-luck aspect of drafting the cards is rewarding, and watching your ship sling back and forth from the gravity mechanic always feels fascinating and fresh, no matter how many times you’ve played. I was very happy for Corey Young when it found new life with Renegade Games, and if you haven’t experienced Gravwell for yourself make sure you track down this timeless gem.
Ken Grazier (Geek Craft): Gravwell is a very simple game with easy to understand rules and very fun gameplay. It's genius in the way that the players play off of each other, cursing each others movement and celebrating mistakes, but there are few hard feelings at the end. The game can be chaotic and silly, but it still has interesting decisions and feels rewarding when you pull off a big move. Gravwell is one of the go-to games when I know someone is new to the hobby, but I usually insist on playing as well since it's so fun.
Links to reviews of Gravwell
Battlestar Galactica published in 2008 and designed by Corey Konieczka.
Nominated by BJ Rozas
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): Our game group is an amalgamation of people from other game groups. Sort of like Asia the band. Having different groups come together means we get to hear stories about their experiences in Big Games, like Battlestar Galactica. Late last year, I finally got to experience BSG (as fans affectionately call it). Wow, they were not kidding! Now, it helped that I am a fan of the show, and that the players in the game love hamming up the drama and treachery. But this was easily my number one favorite gaming experience ever. I love playing Euros, but none of the games are ever that memorable. Our BSG experience is still one that we talk about to this day, and I think every gamer should experience BSG in all of its tense glory at least once.
Isaac Shalev (Kind Fortress) At age 40, I find that I’m slipping behind the popular trends that youth culture spins up, but mainstream popular culture seems built around my desires and memories. Battlestar Galactica, a show I remembered more because I slept in its licensed sheets than for its plot or acting, is one of many reboots that attempted to stir the nostalgia of my generation. However, Battlestar avoided the fate of V, The Bionic Woman, and Knight Rider with its dark but hopeful story of conflict between humans and cylons. In a collection of miniseries, full seasons, and assorted extra content, it has surpassed and replaced its source material. And then came the game.
We all looked at the Battlestar Galactica game with dread anticipation. License games, especially at that time, tended to be low-quality productions with outdated mechanisms, best left for the Cylon-opoly crowd. And yet, Battlestar Galactica was being released by the noted thematic publisher, Fantasy Flight Games. Not only this, but the game was cooperative… with a betrayer! Modern mechanisms, plastic sculpts, a host of characters, and the chance to play a cylon! What more could we hope for? And indeed, BSG delivered. Games are filled with tension, drama, bitter betrayals, and nail-biting victories. They also allow players to relive the story, role-play the characters, and write their own ending to a beloved story. And the ending, after all, is the only thing that was ever wrong with the TV show, so have it! Battlestar Galactica may be the very best license game in tabletop history, and I still make a point of playing it at least once every year.
Jamie Maltman (WYDPTW): Battlestar Galactica was my first introduction to a great IP done right as a modern game. For my first play, I was a bit skeptical of co-ops overall, having had a terrible alpha-ruined first experience with Pandemic, and being lukewarm on the 2000 Knizia Lord of the Rings co-op game back when it came out. I had watched the pilot of BSG when it was on TV, but never the actual show, so while I was curious and understood the context, I wasn’t a die-hard fan. It was love from first play, and turned me on to the modern co-op as well. We were thrown into the theme, with the tension and suspicion of the show shining through every action by every player, while the game threw crisis after crisis at us trying to kill us even without the cylon player’s help. The game shone on its own.
Based on that play, I borrowed the series from the owner of the game and devoured it, making it one of my favourite shows ever, and armed with that burgeoning fandom have absolutely loved every play of the game since. This game isn’t for everyone, and never drag an unwilling player along because they can ruin it for everyone. Many would like to see it shorter and streamlined, but because of the theme it’s the one hidden traitor game I’d be happy to play with a group of fans anytime, and it’s one game I set up to play at most conventions I attend, and every game creates a new and fantastic memory.
Links to reviews of Battlestar Galactica
Twilight Imperium 3rd or 4th published in 2005 (3rd) & 2017 (4th) and designed by Christian T. Peterson, Corey Konieczka & Dane Beltrami
Nominated by Luke Paruman
Luke Paruman (Gameruman): In my mind no other game has a scope as epic as Twilight Imperium. Yes you have to try to take a civilization from fledgling space travelers to rulers of the known galaxy, but TI creates a narrative outside of the game itself. I often find players plotting/dealing/planning/ making moves politically almost as if that was the core of game itself. These negotiations often have repercussions that can literally last years.
You don't win or lose a game of TI, you set the stage for the next chapter in the saga, because there will be a next game in which you need to get revenge or maybe repay a debt. Nobody actually remembers who won the most games but everyone remembers that time Monique sabotaged 2 of Kassavan's Space docks just before he could build his counter offensive against one of her allies leaving him utterly helpless. We could have helped him but it was a move so brash, so bold that we had to applaud it's audacity and we just watched the pieces on the political chessboard re-arrange themselves.
It's the moments that are created when you play TI that makes it a great game. A friend of mine is leaving the country in a few months. We are planning a round of farewell drinks before he goes but you know what else we are planning? 1 last game of Twilight Imperium.
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games): I can’t agree more with what Luke has already said above: Twilight Imperium is a massive, sprawling, space opera that, once you’ve played, sinks its hooks deep into your gaming subconscious and never lets go. This is the sort of game that makes veterans perk up at even the slightest mention. “Oh, you’ve never played Twilight Imperium? Please, step into my parlor…” I’ve introduced TI to several gamers over the years, some who have become evangelists themselves, and others vowing never to play again, only relishing in the experience. And love it or hate, that’s exactly what Twilight Imperium is: an experience, an event game, one that you plan whole weekends around. That might sound like horror to some of you, but to me, and countless others through the years, there’s nothing quite like dedicating 12+ hours with your friends, negotiating, trading, battling, backstabbing, and creating great gaming memories.
Links to reviews of Twilight Imperium 3rd or 4th
Alien Frontiers published in 2010 and designed by Tory Niemann
Nominated by Chris Kirkman
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games): In the summer of 2010 there was a rumbling in the boardgame community undercurrent about a little thing called Kickstarter. It seems that an upstart and unknown company had made almost $15,000 on an upstart and unknown game design, Alien Frontiers. The game helped usher in a new era - a new funding frontier, if you will - and also got me covering the Kickstarter beat. The rest, as they say, is history. I plied David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games for a coveted review copy and it arrived that November. There was a lot of pressure for it to be good; no one had imagined board games making money like that when the product hadn’t yet existed. Happily the hype was well worth it. Alien Frontiers was the total product: Well-produced, easy to play, brought a fresh feel to worker placement, and, in the end, was incredibly fun. It was the standout game of 2010 for me and, as such, I awarded it my inaugural Game of the Year. Alien Frontiers is a game that still delivers a good time for various groups of gamers, and I’ve introduced so many people to its charms over the past 7 years. I’m thankful not only for the joy it has brought to my table, but also for paving the way for myself and others to find success and support on Kickstarter.
Patrick Hillier (WYDPTW): An area control / worker placement game when you boil it down the basics but it is so much more than that. The end game goal is the place your skittle shaped colonies on the planet through locating your rolled dice on action spaces. Pairs of dice get you more dice, or the mines to get ore, or the solar collectors to get space either (allowing me to say my either-ore joke). Your dice might block other players and the tech cards add a fun amount of “take that”. As you land your colonies on the planet if you have the majority control of that space you gain a special ability - so the battle for control of areas wages on through the entire game. As a lover of space games, dice games, area control and worker placement this is a fabulous mix of them all.
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): I have only played Alien Frontiers once, at Pax South 2017 in San Antonio. And maybe because my expectations were verrrrry low, I really enjoyed the game. Why were they so low? I volunteered at Indie Boards & Cards as a demo guy that week with Mina from Mina’s Fresh Cardboard. When she found out we were knocking off to play the game, she rolled her eyes and said “Never!” Apparently, she is not a fan of the chaos. Me? Chaos is my middle name -- well, not actually. My buddies and I grabbed the box, read the rules and taught it to ourselves in 30 minutes and off we went. Sure it was King of the Hill-ish; sure it was swingy; sure, the end game kind of sneaks up on you. But, the combination of dice and area control and take that had me at hello and never said good-bye. Not one I need in my collection, but I will certainly play it again.
Isaaac Shalev (Kind Fortress) Alien Frontiers is like a young love, remembered in dappled summer sun, always fresh and unspoiled, and ever unavailable, except in memory. Over the years, we love again, more deeply, more richly, and more honestly. We love in acceptance of faults, rather than in ignorance, and we are better for it. But always, that young love somehow feels pure and perfect, even as we know it is an illusion, a trick of the sunlight playing on our memories.
But what happens when young love isn’t out of reach? Sometimes the reality doesn’t shine as brightly as the memory. Do we turn away from a great game that is showing a bit of age? Of course not. Games aren’t just about the moment of play, they’re about sharing our great experiences with other, about connecting over treasured memories and spreading joy, not just collecting it. I’m glad I played Alien Frontiers when it was fresh and innovative, and I want others who may not have played yet to experience the game. Knowing that it has some flaws, I’m careful though: I try to play at 3 players, and never at 2. I play with the cool domed plastic minis, not the Skittles-cities. I also stick with the base game and ignore the many expansions that have come out. Alien Frontiers is a good old friend, who reminds me of the early days of the Kickstarter revolution. And on any given night, when the stars align, it can still shine like it did when it was young.
Links to reviews of Alien Frontiers