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We spend most of our time at Game Informer covering the best in the world of video games, but it should come as no surprise that a number of our writers and editors are also big tabletop gaming enthusiasts, following everything from the latest Dungeons & Dragons releases to new family games to play with the kids.
Compiled here are ten of the standout tabletop releases of 2012. I’ve included entries that target different players and their preferred game types, whether that’s a challenging card game, a lengthy role-playing campaign, or a tense strategic board game. I’ve also aimed to include different styles of play, from cooperative storytelling to fierce competition. In all cases, I’ve tried to maintain focus on games that are accessible and easy to learn, whether you’re new to the tabletop scene or you’ve played for years.
Take a look at my selections, and then share your recommendations for your favorite tabletop games in the comments section below.
Since we’re talking about dramatically different types of games throughout this feature, I’ve ordered the list alphabetically.
Android: NetrunnerPublisher: Fantasy Flight Games
The Android game universe is one of the coolest and most underappreciated fictions in the tabletop scene. The new revision of Netrunner is set in this rich backdrop, but replicates many of the original mechanics of the 1990s collectible card game of the same name.
Android: Netrunner is a living card game, which means that all the cards you need to play come in the core set, and there are no random boosters that change things up – an appealing concept for players burnt out on the endlessly changing landscape of collectible card games. Subsequent expansions will also offer a static set of cards, so you’ll always know exactly what you’re playing and what cards might show up.
Asymmetric head-to-head gameplay sets one player in control of a futuristic mega-corporation, and the second player in the role of a runner who is trying to infiltrate the company’s systems. Each of the two roles play in dramatically different ways, but remain balanced against each other. This new version of the game also fleshes out your opening game options by putting you in charge of either one of four corporations or one of three runners. The result is a wealth of variety when you come back to play in subsequent sessions.
If you’re a fan of Bladerunner or anything in the cyberpunk fiction genre, Android: Netrunner is an awesome way to get your fix and simultaneously explore a fascinating and unique gameplay model.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
The original Descent released around seven years ago, and immediately gained popularity for the way it combined the storytelling and dungeon-crawling fun of classic role-playing games with the ease and speed of a board game. The new second edition released this year, and offers a stellar update to the formula and an ideal way for new players to get in on the action.
In Descent, one player takes on the role of the Overlord, and ushers monsters and other dangers into the other players’ paths as they work together to defeat them. Unlike a traditional role-playing game, however, the Overlord isn’t out to assure everyone has a good time – he’s out to win!
Most of the players get to pick between a number of interesting character variations, each of which brings his or her own strengths and abilities to the table. Stick with your character over multiple sessions, and you’ll control his or her growth and changing skills.
Descent’s coolest advancements in the second edition involve increased options to play through a linked series of quests that form into a larger campaign. Depending on whether the overlord or the players win in any given session, different subsequent scenarios unfold, leading up to a tense climax. Even so, the new rules never come close to the complexity or investment involved in a true role-playing game, so the time commitment and rules memorization from players remains in check.
Dixit JourneyPublisher: Asmodee
Whether you pick up the standalone Dixit Journey that came out in 2012 or any of the proceeding excellent games in the series, Dixit won’t disappoint. Ideal for get-togethers with families and friends that don’t normally play tabletop games, Dixit is also a fantastic game to play with kids, letting them express their creativity in a new way.
In Dixit Journey, every player is dealt a hand of cards. Each card depicts a gorgeous, often surreal piece of artwork. One card might show a long road and a lonely figure. Another might exhibit a teddy bear with some dark secret lurking behind him.
On their turn, the active player says a short word or phrase describing one of his or her cards, and places it face down on the table. All the other players look at their cards, and find the card that best matches the spoken phrase. The cards are all shuffled, and then everybody except the active player tries to guess the active player’s card. As active player, if some of the other players guess your card, you win points. If no one or everyone guesses your card, you get no points. Finally, every other player who has someone select their card also scores points as well.
The fascinating but simple premise offers a glimpse into the way your fellow players perceive the images on the cards, and a subtle psychological undercurrent allows each player to strategize about the “story” they’re going to craft about any given card. With multiple stand-alone expansions, it’s hard to imagine ever running out of fun sessions to play.
Iron Kingdoms Roleplaying Game Core RulesPublisher: Privateer Press
Longtime role-playing gamers know the joy of picking up a new RPG sourcebook and diving into a rich setting and ruleset, parsing out its intricacies, and imagining what adventures you’ll go on with your friends. Few RPGs in recent years offer as much promise as the newly released Iron Kindgoms Core Rules.
Miniature gaming fans will recognize that the setting of Iron Kingdoms is the same one encountered in the Warmachine and Hordes games. Unlike those miniature-centric experiences, Iron Kingdoms is a full-on story-driven role-playing game.
The Iron Kingdoms originally emerged years ago as an outgrowth of one of the previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons. This new Iron Kingdoms game uses an entirely new ruleset, but maintains much of the detailed fiction that’s been established over a decade of growth.
That setting is the biggest highlight of the game. Mixing steampunk and magic together in a pre-industrial society, the Iron Kingdoms feels unique from most fantasy experiences on the market. A richly detailed history of different cultures and religions is great fodder for enterprising role-players, and the core rules book is filled with enchanting art that helps to shape a vision of the game world.
Game mechanics are simpler than many tabletop RPGs on the market, based largely around rolling two six-sided dice and adding the result to your character’s appropriate stat for that roll. However, the book gives lots of options for customizing your character with interesting abilities and equipment. One of my favorite features is the way every character chooses two separate careers, letting you craft cool combos, like an alchemist mixed with a soldier.
Iron Kingdoms is still a relatively new RPG in its current form, but new rulebooks are on the way out at a nice pace which will help to expand the available options. Experienced gaming groups that are ready for a break from the standard fantasy or sci-fi setting will find a great alternative by delving into this engaging new system.
[Next up: A comic book RPG, and a cooperative adventure...with mice]
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.