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Shivers of Anticipation: 10 Games I'm Looking out for in 2019

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There Will Be Games

Let's take a gander into the future.

Before we get started, I know. I know! To post a listicle on this sober-minded website, and for it to be focused on whole bunch of hyped, unreleased games feels off-brand, if not downright heretical. Plus, the year is already 12% over! But here’s the thing. As humans, we’re (probably) the only animals burdened with the mental construct of the future and the dark promise of our own inevitable deaths. Fun, right? If there’s a silver lining attached to this crushing knowledge, it’s the strange joy of anticipation, the potential of the pleasure-that-might-be. It has been a bit of a week y’all, so forgive me this—for today and today alone, I’m going to swim in the comforting, lukewarm bath of Kickstarter previews, marketing materials, and strained speculation. So, I beg you: let me imagine the games-that-might-be, while hopefully not completely shutting the critical eye that seeketh to separate the sheep from the goats (all for you, dear reader).

10. Vast: The Mysterious Manor
Patrick Leder, Leder Games
 
Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a game I own, respect, think about constantly, and am still not sure I actually like. Leder Games’ first major release leans hard into asymmetry, creating a fascinating dungeon ecosystem in which each player’s radically different ruleset interlocks with each other’s to make a strange machine. While the game remains radically innovative, its complexities only sometimes lead to fun—a classic case of something to be admired rather than loved. Patrick Leder’s follow-up transports the asymmetrical action to a haunted house and promises to be an easier game to teach and learn. Given that I am a professional educator and teaching Vast: The Crystal Caverns nearly broke me, this is a good thing. We’ll just have to wait and see if the experience of playing the game will live up to its excellent premise.

9. Vampire the Masquerade—Heritage  
Babis Giannos, Nice Game Publishing
 
Friends, I’m sick of legacy games. The promise of evolving gameplay led by player decisions always draws me in, but it’s rare that a game can handle the weight of this kind of prolonged arc—instead, I usually find myself bored after a couple sessions, thinking about the fun we could be having playing something else. That said, I’ve got my eye on Vampire the Masquerade—Heritage, a legacy card game that follows 700 years of vampiric conflict, for a few reasons. First, it borrows its setting from the long running tabletop RPG of the same name, meaning the designer has plenty of fun, gothy material to draw from when building a narrative. Second, it promises a playtime of about half an hour, so getting through the whole thing sounds downright achievable. I remain a bit skeptical—both the designer and the publisher are an unknown quantity to me, and early playtest reports have been mixed—but color me intrigued.

8. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic
Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, Osprey Games
 
Of all the games on this list, this one most resides in the realm of shadows and whispers—other than a scant few pre-production photos, we know almost nothing about what this game will be like. That said, there’s reason to be hopeful: the designers previously worked together on the well-regarded War of the Ring, and Osprey Games has been absolutely killing it with their board game releases lately. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the game is based on one of my favorite novels of the 21st century, an epic that fuses a comedy of manners with fantasy to create something truly unique. If the game is able to capture the source material’s balance of drawing room humor and dark wonder, this could be a hell of a thing.  

7. Football Highlights: 2052
Mike Fitzgerald, Eagle-Gryphon Games
 
Mike Fitzgerald’s last sports game, the homely-but-lovable Baseball Highlights: 2045, did the impossible: it made this sports agnostic fall in love with America’s pastime. Fitzgerald is a master at taking established game mechanics and adapting them to perfectly fit a particular setting (see: the fabulous Mystery Rummy series). What Baseball Highlights: 2045 did with deckbuilding, Football Highlights: 2052 seeks to do with card drafting and hand management, abstracting a football game into its most exciting moments. Best of all, this game comes concussion-free, and won’t drain the taxpayers’ coffers for a neighborhood-killing subsidized entertainment compound. What’s not to love?  

6. Star Crossed
Alex Roberts, Bully Pulpit Games
 
I’m a huge fan of Alex Roberts’ podcast Backstory, in which she interviews designers, scholars, and other luminaries of the roleplaying community. I’m less familiar with her work as a designer, but the upcoming Star Crossed has caught my eye. Her RPG reminds me of the game Dread, in that its action centers around precarious pulls from a Jenga tower. But instead of creating an atmosphere of horror, it focuses on something far more terrifying—love. In this game, two players act out a forbidden romance, with the stability of the tower representing how in control they are of their feelings. While the subject matter might make your regular RPG group blush, this thoughtful game could offer an adventurous pair of role-players a unique experience.

5. Gandhi
Bruce Mansfield, GMT
 
GMT’s COIN system has gone from being a scrappy, visionary guerilla to an bona fide war gaming regime—at this point, there are 11 games either released or being developed for the series. I remain a fan of the games’ core mechanics, which emphasize the tenuous alliances and push-pull dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare, but the question remains: just how many of these damn things do we need? Gandhi, though, promises a few new twists to the formula. Namely, this will be the first game in the series to model nonviolent conflict and peaceful resistance. Whether or not this and other new innovations work to keep the series fresh, I’m excited to see how GMT tackles this piece of history.  

4. Sleeping Gods
Ryan Laukat, Red Raven Games
 
To be fair, the likelihood that this game will actually come out this year is pretty close to nil. That said, I’m excited to follow the progress of Ryan Laukat’s latest storybook game, which is apparently many years in the making. We don’t know a ton about this one yet, other than it will utilize a bound atlas for maps (a la Near and Far) and feature an extended campaign meant for one or two players. The reason I care about Sleeping Gods is simple: lots of designers want to tell a great story, but Red Raven is one of the few companies that actually succeeds in weaving a narrative that sticks with me in any substantive sense. Instead of buckets of bland flavor text, Laukat infuses his games with a quirky, laconic charm that makes playing around in his worlds a memorable delight.  

3. Fiasco in a Box
Jason Morningstar, Bully Pulpit Games
 
If you’ve read my interview with Jason Morningstar, this should come as no surprise (notice the subtle self-promotion there?). Fiasco has long been one of my favorite GM-less, story-driven roleplaying games—its tales of normal folk in desperate situations are the perfect fodder for a fun, surprising, and frequently hilarious session of storytelling with your friends. This new box is aimed at making Fiasco even easier to get into, jettisoning its modular playset design and signature black/white dice for a card-based system. It remains to be seen what effect this new approach will have on Fiasco’s core gameplay, but if it gets Fiasco to the table more often, I won’t complain.

2. Sabotage
Tim Fowers and Jeff Krause, Fowers Games
 
Tim Fowers has been responsible for some of my favorite gaming experiences of the last few years—his games manage to combine technical inventiveness with a breezy, friendly appeal. Having already shown what he can do with the hidden movement genre (cough, check out my Fugitive review), Sabotage finds him teaming up with Jeff Krause to craft a more complex deductive experience. In this game (which early previews have compared to a gamerly Battleship), two teams of players must use a combination of dice rolling, movement programming, and bluffing to outwit their opponents. Early feedback seems positive, so I’m hopeful that Fowers’ hot streak will continue.  

1. Imperial Struggle
Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews, GMT Games
 
How do you follow up Twilight Struggle, one of the biggest hobby games of all time? If you’re Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews, you hole up in your secret lair and spend years designing a spiritual sequel behind closed doors, sending out the occasional brief missive but otherwise leaving fans to marinate in their own anticipation. It’s entirely possible that 2019 will come and go without a release of board gaming’s very own Chinese Democracy, but Gupta has been vocal about doing everything possible to get Imperial Struggle out before year’s end. The game itself is still something of a mystery, though it appears the designers are intent on recapturing the feel of Twilight Struggle while incorporating some of the gameplay innovations the last 14 years (!) have given us. As for me, I’m ready to battle over the fate of the 18th century. You know, whenever these guys are ready.

So, whadya think? What did I leave off? Which games on my list should be burned with fire? Which German game from 1990 should I be playing instead of all this new crap? Let me know your thoughts and picks in the comments below.

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Andrew  McAlpine (He/Him)
Associate Board Game Reviewer

Andrew McAlpine is a writer and teacher living in Northampton, MA. When he’s not gaming, he’s probably obsessing over poetry and music. He’s also a member of the Connecticut River Valley Poets Theater, where he writes, acts, and directs.

Articles by Andrew

top 10 board games
Andrew  McAlpine
Associate Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Andrew

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RolandHemisphere's Avatar
RolandHemisphere replied the topic: #292240 14 Feb 2019 07:57
Being new here, I’m going risk being uncouth and say I’m keeping my eye on Sleeping Gods. I’ve never owned or played a Laukat game and yet his output tends to capture my imagination, though not my wallet yet. This is based purely on cover art, mind you, but I’m eagerly waiting to see more
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #292243 14 Feb 2019 08:26
I don't have anywhere close to the tenure of a lot of folks here, but as far as I can tell there's no real sense of "couthness".

I'm excited for Sabotage because Fowers has yet to make a bad game. Mediocre occasionally, but never bad. That's why I held off on backing until the thing's actually out. If it realizes its potential I'm going to love it.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #292255 14 Feb 2019 09:22
Yeah, but I have to ask the prerequisite question for any translation of Johnathan Strange into a new medium: will it include footnotes?
AndrewMcAlpine's Avatar
AndrewMcAlpine replied the topic: #292256 14 Feb 2019 09:25

GorillaGrody wrote: Yeah, but I have to ask the prerequisite question for any translation of Johnathan Strange into a new medium: will it include footnotes?


If there's a footnotes mechanic, it's a day-one instabuy from me.
RolandHemisphere's Avatar
RolandHemisphere replied the topic: #292257 14 Feb 2019 09:25
Now I want a game made entirely of footnotes!
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #292258 14 Feb 2019 09:34
There was a recent update on imperial struggle on GMT's blog. It looks interesting, if it's a failure it might be an interesting one.

I'm wait and see on Gandhi. I don't know how well COIN will fit the situation and I *really* worry about the potential for poor research and weird perspective on the process of Indian decolonization
AndrewMcAlpine's Avatar
AndrewMcAlpine replied the topic: #292261 14 Feb 2019 09:52

Gary Sax wrote: I'm wait and see on Gandhi. I don't know how well COIN will fit the situation and I *really* worry about the potential for poor research and weird perspective on the process of Indian decolonization


Reaaaaaaalllyyyy good point...
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #292262 14 Feb 2019 10:12

Gary Sax wrote: I'm wait and see on Gandhi. I don't know how well COIN will fit the situation and I *really* worry about the potential for poor research and weird perspective on the process of Indian decolonization


Well yeah, but isn't that part of the interest here? Sure there's a big risk they could completely screw that up and it will be awful, but I'm desperate to see this just so I can find out. Because if they nail it, it has the potential to transform the tired conversations we keep having about the abuse of neo-colonial themes in gaming.

Several of these are also high on my radar, but I must admit I'm even less optimistic about them than I am about Gandhi.

Imperial Struggle sounds great but I suspect the weight of expectation on it will be too much: how on earth do you follow up on the voodoo that went into the greatest game of all time? And the designers' output since has been nothing to get hugely excited about.

I'm also a colossal fan of the Strange & Norrell book but I can't see how any of the magic that permeated the story will translate into a game. Quite the opposite in fact: what made it great is too literary and ephemeral to reduce to cards and dice. And like Twilight Struggle, the output of the team involved has been sketchy since War of the Ring.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #292263 14 Feb 2019 10:18
I guess my reaction is that I own Labyrinth, which is a really good game but has a lot of poor history/perspective in it. There's an argument out there that Labyrinth is similar to Twilight Struggle, in that it represents "the world according to George W Bush and the foreign policy elite at the time." There's some merit to that but it means some extremely cringe-worthy shit in there. Saddam Hussein card moving terrorist funding to 9 indeed. The expansion is in many ways worse on that front in ways I've outlined elsewhere but, again, makes the actual play of the game much better.

So I agree with you that it's very exciting that someone is trying it! Which is why I thought about P500ing it. But I don't need another Labyrinth on my shelf, especially because I'm iffy on COIN in the first place for being overly incremental. At least Labyrinth has what I consider legitimately good gameplay divorced from any problems I have with the perspective.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #292265 14 Feb 2019 10:28
My list is very different than yours, but always enjoy your thoughtful articles Andrew.
Gregarius's Avatar
Gregarius replied the topic: #292273 14 Feb 2019 11:51

RolandHemisphere wrote: Now I want a game made entirely of footnotes!

Isn't that A Study in Emerald?
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #292274 14 Feb 2019 12:07
Labyrinth is not part of the COIN series btw and plays entirely differently.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #292276 14 Feb 2019 12:08
I wish there were a Laukat design that I really liked, because his art and world building are excellent, or at least they appeal to me, which is why I keep trying and hoping.
Joebot's Avatar
Joebot replied the topic: #292286 14 Feb 2019 13:10

jpat wrote: I wish there were a Laukat design that I really liked, because his art and world building are excellent, or at least they appeal to me, which is why I keep trying and hoping.


I love Laukat's art (I even have a framed print of his hanging on my bedroom wall) ... but I agree with you about his designs. I've played a bunch of them, and there's always some element that frustrates me, or keeps me from really loving the game the way I love his art. He tends to sand off the really sharp edges of his game, to make losing less punishing, or to make conflict less interesting. Just as an example, if you lose a fight in Empire of the Void II, you don't lose your ships. Your ships simply retreat to your nearest controlled planet. It dumbs down the risk/reward calculation because there essentially is no risk. If you win, great. If you lose, fuck it, no harm dome.

What I've discovered though, is that Laukat's games are GREAT for playing with my 9-year-old who does not take losing well. We can play through a scenario in Near and Far, and have a great time. When we add up the points at the end, it almost doesn't matter because we got to roam around a weird, fantasy world with bird-people and talk to ancient broken robots. Who gives a shit about victory points?? In that regard, I'm very excited for Sleeping Gods, which I think will be another great game to play with my son.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #292288 14 Feb 2019 13:30
You’ve got a few in here that I’m interested in.

I have no idea how to anticipate games these days. There’s just too much coming out and I won’t know how much it interests me until I see it, unless it’s based on an IP that I think will make for a cool game.

Not on your list that I’m excited for:
-GF9’s Aliens game (more for my GF9 love than my substantial Aliens love)
-Restoration Games new Conspiracy
-Whatever “Project Blue” is From Restoration (I’m really pulling for Thunder Road)
-Bunny Kingdom expansion
-Vulcans and Andorians for Ascendancy
-Hopefully a TI4 expansion that consists of a retooled Distant Suns
-Supposedly Deep is finally getting a release. This is the game that was being put out by Leder games but was suddenly dropped and the designer claims they reworked his game into Root. I’m interested to see how close the two are.
-Star Wars: Outer Rim, no sarcasm, don’t @ me.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #292290 14 Feb 2019 14:21

Joebot wrote:

jpat wrote: I wish there were a Laukat design that I really liked, because his art and world building are excellent, or at least they appeal to me, which is why I keep trying and hoping.


I love Laukat's art (I even have a framed print of his hanging on my bedroom wall) ... but I agree with you about his designs. I've played a bunch of them, and there's always some element that frustrates me, or keeps me from really loving the game the way I love his art. He tends to sand off the really sharp edges of his game, to make losing less punishing, or to make conflict less interesting. Just as an example, if you lose a fight in Empire of the Void II, you don't lose your ships. Your ships simply retreat to your nearest controlled planet. It dumbs down the risk/reward calculation because there essentially is no risk. If you win, great. If you lose, fuck it, no harm dome.


Yeah, that's kind of it, or part of it, for me also. To be fair, I think, even in that game, with all its "X" trappings, he's really just looking to tell stories in the form of the event cards and in the interactions. Like, if A comes and attacks B, something cool or funny might happen, but substantially changing the game-state isn't central, and it's that kind of constraint overall, not just with conflict but also with limits on what can happen and on game length, that chafe to a greater or lesser extent. But Near and Far is one I do like fairly well, even though I won't go out of my way to dig it out, because it plays to those instincts in an obvious, literal way. Anyway, carry on.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #292291 14 Feb 2019 14:21

RolandHemisphere wrote: Now I want a game made entirely of footnotes!


So a Phil Eklund game.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #292292 14 Feb 2019 14:24
None of these are on my radar at all. All I know of coming out that I'm looking forward to is the Pret-a-Porter re-release and the 51st State expansion. I don't know of anything else that's upcoming.
ecargo's Avatar
ecargo replied the topic: #292294 14 Feb 2019 14:31
Despite not fully exploring all of the characters in the Vast expansion yet, I'm excited for The Mysterious Manor too.

From other's comments, +1 to the Bunny Kingdom expansion. That game is always great and my group has really taken to it. And, +1 to Pret-a-Porter re-release. I'm hoping the rules clean-up and edits will make the game even better.
Not Sure's Avatar
Not Sure replied the topic: #292314 14 Feb 2019 20:13
I've had Imperial Struggle on my P500 list basically since it was announced. I don't care if it's "better" than Twilight Struggle, I just want it to be good. That's enough for me.

The Jonathan Strange one is a wait-and-see for me. I like the idea, but I doubt it will translate to a game.

Most of the other stuff listed I'm ambivalent about. Gandhi in particular is not an evolution of COIN I'm itching for. I've already skipped most of the COIN games, but I'll be interested to see how peaceful protest things are handled. I just don't need to find out with my own cash.

Not on this list, I'm excited for second edition Pax Pamir, and that's about it. My buying is way down, but I do like to see what other people are interested in. It's better than an "everything sucks" narrative any day.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #292315 14 Feb 2019 20:17
Yeah, Pax Pamir is looking good.
Not Sure's Avatar
Not Sure replied the topic: #292320 14 Feb 2019 21:57

Gary Sax wrote: Yeah, Pax Pamir is looking good.


We're on as soon as there's a Vassal module.

Re-reading this, my take on COIN came off as harsher than I meant it. I like the COIN mechanics. The F:AT Andean Abyss game was immensely fun, and is responsible for me buying the game. I have a couple of others from the early iterations, but as it went on it started getting chromier and less appealing to me. I look at stuff like Pendragon with the forts and shit all over it, and realize that this is already a shelf toad, it doesn't need more wartiness.

If I'm going to magically play one it might as well be Andean Abyss, which I already own.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #292325 14 Feb 2019 22:52
Anyone want to buy an original 1st ed hardback of Jonathan Strange, in the limited ed white dust jacket, autographed by the author?

Had it for years. Got it autographed at the Borders (RIP) in Seattle during the author’s North American book tour. Don’t anticipate reading it again anytime soon.

Can confirm it has footnotes.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #292327 15 Feb 2019 00:12
In on Pax Pamir vassal if that happens at any point.

I didn't back it. It was as likely to get played as 1e, so couldn't justify. I enjoyed 1e thoroughly though.

Like others I'm curious about Strange but can't see it can really hit the essence of the book.
JonathanVolk's Avatar
JonathanVolk replied the topic: #292368 15 Feb 2019 11:42
I get this feeling that people have cooled on ROOT, but I'm still pumped to play as Crows and Moles.

Anyone wondering if they'll ever bring the woodland ARTHROPODS into the fold? First suggestion: The Wood Wide Web (Spiders).