Dead of Winter
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

My personal favorite game from 2014 is Plaid Hat’s evocative and theme-driven Dead of Winter. If you’re a fan of the type of tense human dramas that play out in The Walking Dead comics or TV show, or your gaming group is simply a fan of deep narrative options, Dead of Winter is a must-play. 

You and your friends are members of a small colony of survivors trying to eke out a sad existence in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Although the danger of the flesh-eating creatures is ever-present, players must also deal with the ongoing needs of survival, as well as the possibility that one or more of their fellow players may be actively seeking to sabotage the colony. 

Ostensibly, each player is working together towards a common victory goal in each scenario. But to win, each player must also fulfill a secret objective – some of which might conflict with other players’ goals. Depending on the flow of the story, you can even be exiled from the colony. Add in some fascinating narrative crossroad moments, and you get one of the most intriguing twists on narrative progression in board gaming I’ve ever seen. While Dead of Winter is not recommended for families, (themes include violence, sex, and other adult topics), other gaming groups will undoubtedly find a lot to love in Plaid Hat’s first Crossroads game. I can’t wait to see what Plaid Hat does with this game structure next.

Golem Arcana
Publisher: Harebrained Schemes

Earlier this year, we debated exactly how to cover Golem Arcana. Is it a video game or a miniature-focused board game? Ultimately, we decided that its focus on physical component play made it more the latter, but even so, video game players will find Golem Arcana one of the most accessible and fun ways to explore the tabletop scene.

That’s because so much of the heavy lifting of Golem Arcana’s rules is completed by the accompanying digital app. An innovative stylus is used to touch the board and the highly detailed miniature game pieces, and the stylus sends a signal to the app that provides details such as unit movement, terrain details, and more. 

The dueling game sets two players against one another, each controlling giant magical golems, and the strategic gameplay is rich and rewarding. However, unlike many miniature skirmish games, you don’t need to spend hours learning the ins and outs of combat navigation, leaving each player to focus on their units and how to best their opponent. 

Golem Arcana is highly expandable for serious miniature enthusiasts, but it’s also just about the best introduction I can imagine into skirmish games of this style. If you’re looking for a fun strategic option, but you’ve been scared of the complexities of tabletop rules, this is the game for you.

Kingsport Festival
Publisher: Passport Game Studios

Cthulhu Mythos fans rejoice! Nearly every year brings us some new twist on exploring the nightmarish world of Lovecraft’s horror fiction, and this year is no exception. Passport’s excellent competitive title flips the genre on its head, and puts you in charge of the malicious cultists seeking to bring about the return of ancient and evil god-like beings. Beyond the demented story, Kingsport Festival provides some great gameplay for three to five players.

In each turn, players roll dice that are then placed on various Cthulhu Mythos beings on the board’s periphery. By beseeching these god-like entities, you gain spells, resources, and other benefits that help you to expand your influence across the town of Kingsport. Along the way, you’ll fight heroic investigators trying to halt your insidious plans, as well as block other cultists from getting the influence and power they need. 

Kingsport Festival shines because of the constant choices before every player. The interesting dice-placement mechanic encourages creative thinking, and demands careful deployment in every single turn. 

The extremely dark thematic ideas of Kingsport Festival should ward off some gaming groups from this otherwise excellent game. If you can embrace the idea of going evil for one gaming night, Kingsport Festival is chock full of challenge and hard choices. 

Shadows of Brimstone
Publisher: Flying Frog Productions

Imagine a gun-toting trip into the Wild West, but add in a healthy dose of cosmic horror and otherworldly shenanigans, and you know what to expect from Shadows of Brimstone. Flying Frog’s stellar adventure and exploration game is an ideal choice for players looking for a fully cooperative experience with an unusual theme. 

Shadows of Brimstone comes in one of two separate versions – City of the Ancients and Swamps of Death. Each game is independent and can be played alone, but if you become a big fan, grabbing the other version raises the player cap from four to six, and adds new setting and scenario options onto the table. 

A great modular board and smartly designed mechanics make Shadows of Brimstone fun, but it’s the option for an ongoing scenario-driven campaign that really helps Shadows of Brimstone stand out. Grab this beefy game if you’re looking for an excellent game to keep your group busy for a few months in a continuous progression.

[Next Page: A game to scratch that Star Wars itch, and a chance to travel back in time]