Krosmaster: Arena
Publisher: Ankama

Gamers hoping to introduce competitive miniature gaming to a younger crowd should take a strong look at Krosmaster: Arena. It’s larger anime-styled figures, colorful visuals, and straightforward mechanics are a perfect introduction to the genre, presuming your new players are up for a few steps of learning. To put it another way, it's not that this title is simplistic, but the rulebook includes several excellent playable tutorials to familiarize players with the core concepts, so it's easy to work your way up to a full game. I adore the aesthetics of Krosmaster, but beyond flashy looks, it makes the list because of its well-balanced and tactical combat. 

Krosmaster: Arena draws on the whimsical characters of a couple of different online MMOs from French studio, Ankama. There’s even an online digital version of Krosmaster to explore if you want to get to know the game before picking up the tabletop edition. The board game version features a grid map that should feel familiar to any players who’ve engaged with video game titles like Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea; it’s a joy to get to play out a combat game in that vein with real, tactile figures at your fingertips. 

Before each fight, players choose the makeup of their teams, draw their teams by chance, or go through a simple draft to get their minis. Gameplay combines miniature movement with the deployment of spells and summons to defeat your opponent. Each character has a limited suite of abilities, so it's not long before you've wrapped your head around what everyone on the field is capable of.

The game components are really stunning. Full color miniatures and vibrant 3-dimensional scenery art makes the board look beautiful. More importantly, much of that scenery has an importance to gameplay, like trees that block line of sight for a spell.

Games play out quickly on the compact battlefields, ensuring no one loses interest through a long, drawn out session. And if your gaming group really enjoys the title, a number of expansion figure sets offer more customization. 

Publisher: Monte Cook Games

Monte Cook holds a place of honor in the history of RPG development, thanks to his many design credits that include work building the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  His latest released project is a full-fledged role-playing game in its own right, funded through the largesse of the exuberant Kickstarter community. 

Numenera is set in a distant, future version of Earth a billion years from today. Eight great civilizations have appeared and subsequently disappeared over this vast stretch of years, leaving behind the detritus of incredible technology. The people of the Ninth World collect these seemingly magical remnants, and though their utility and functions vary widely, they all are called by a single name – the numenera. 

The game mechanics in Numenera are singularly focused on narrative, often at the expense of detailed rules to resolve conflicts or tactical combat. Instead, gameplay is built around encouraging creative thinking and rich storytelling – with a lot of the weight for the narrative placed on the players rather than the gamemaster. 

The corebook that forms the heart of the game is a beautiful, hard-bound and full color showpiece filled with fantastic art that should help to spur your storytelling. With a richly realized fantasy/science-fiction world, simple but flexible mechanics, and the capacity for endless player-crafted stories, Numenera is one of my favorite RPG projects in years. And for us video gamers, Numenera is also the setting for inXile’s upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords
Publisher: Paizo Publishing

In a year dominated by excellent cooperative games, the Pathfinder card game set itself apart with a system that allows character development both during sessions and afterwards, so players can develop a single hero they’ve shaped over weeks or months of play. 

The Pathfinder pencil-and-paper RPG has been a popular option for longtime gaming groups in recent years, and this new card game aims to emulate the progression and cooperation of the RPG within a strategic card game framework. Each player takes a single character, like the fighter, sorceress, or rogue, and its corresponding deck of weapons, allies, spells, and other items. Next, a set scenario dictates several locations for players to visit, each of which contains a prescribed group of monsters, traps, and treasure. The goal is always to track down a hidden villain that lurks in one of the location decks, but you have to dig through various other encounters first. 

In between sessions, your character deck can be fleshed out with new cards found during your previous adventure, and your character’s abilities actually level up, opening up new options for play. Over time, the scenarios and villains get harder, but your newly powered-up character is up for the challenge. New expansion decks (sold separately) continue a full campaign story that could stretch out over months of play.

If you’ve got a gaming group that loves playing story-driven RPGs, but no one to gamemaster your group, the Pathfinder card game is a perfect choice. 

Publisher: Asmodee

My top pick for a raucous family game this year, Rampage draws inspiration from the classic arcade game, and casts players as scaly monsters assaulting Meeple City. With silly mechanics all about dropping game pieces, flicking pawns, and even literally blowing down buildings, it’s nearly impossible to not elicit gales of laughter from the group. 

Rampage doesn’t look like any other game on the market. The flat game board looks like the foundation of a small city, but during setup you’ll stack wooden meeples (tiny wooden people) in between layers of different building floors. Your monster then enters the board, and proceeds to wreak havoc, demolishing buildings and eating citizens. 

Each action you take plays into the theme of destruction. Movement involves flicking a wooden pawn across the board, into buildings or even competing players’ monsters. Get close to a building, and you get to lift your monster figure over the board, and drop it onto the building in an attempt to knock meeples into scoring zones. There’s even an option that demands you set your chin on top of your monster and blow as hard as you can to knock down buildings. 

While luck and physics admittedly play a big part in how the game concludes, objective cards and victory points for different colored figures help to add a layer of strategy. There’s even a clever mechanic for meeples that escape the board, and how they fight back against the towering monsters attacking their city. 

Rampage is a significant step up in complexity from simple physical kids games like Hungry Hungry Hippos or Mouse Trap, but it reminds me of the fun zaniness of those colorful games from childhood. If you have a similar affection for active, physical component-based games, Rampage is hard to beat. 

[Next up: Both Star Trek and Star Wars make the list]