0 8 min 3 weeks

A photo taken of the board game Wyrmspan in play. It shows multiple cards arranged side by side, with game items, like an egg, sitting on top of one.
Photo: Stonemaier Games

The year’s slow start gives you plenty of time to focus on these gems

The early portion of the year is always slow for tabletop releases. The deluge begins in the summer once convention season kicks off and then carries on through the holidays. Despite the transition period we’re now in, there has been a small collection of exciting new games that have emerged. These six titles contain innovative ideas, creative adaptations, or clever twists on existing systems.

This list is not ranked. Instead, titles are offered in alphabetical order.


Dune: War for Arrakis

A render of Dune: War for Arrakis arranged for play. The pieces are red and green, gathered around a crescent-shaped set of mountains on a desert-colored game board.
Image: CMON

Publisher CMON Games is best known for its enormous, sprawling miniatures games. Dune: War for Arrakis is no different, offering a two-hour epic battle for control of Arrakis. One player takes on the role of the Harkonnens, while the other wields the might of the Atreides. You will gather spice with harvesters, maneuver troops such as the Fremen and Sardaukar, and seek to fulfill ancient premonitions.

This game is highly asymmetrical, playing similarly to designers Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello’s previous board game, War of the Ring. Just like that Lord of the Rings epic, Dune: War for Arrakis is a rich and evocative experience that teases out dramatic moments that could have appeared in the book. While this is primarily a two-player game, it does support up to four players with a team format. This game has arrived at a perfect time, releasing in tandem with the fantastic new film and standing tall on the table like a Fremen atop Shai-Hulud.


Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs

Gloomhaven meets Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” is quite the pitch. In Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs, a single player controls a shrunken hero in search of a solution to their plight. The magical spell can only be removed by Hail, the Aesther recluse renowned for her exploits in the original Gloomhaven storyline. You will battle insects and obstacles along the way, ultimately either finding success and lifting the curse, or suffering defeat before you’ve had a chance to establish your heroic legacy.

This Gloomhaven spinoff was originally a fan-made print-’n-play called Gloomholdin’. It has been given further development and reworked into this new product, released officially by Cephalofair Games. It’s inexpensive, compact, and easy to get played as a result of being a dedicated solitaire experience. The fact that it’s able to broadly capture some of the Gloomhaven spirit is remarkable, and it’s quite an enjoyable play.


Mythwind

Cooperative adventure game Mythwind is unusual in that it’s very laid-back and chill. Players work together to build a new town in the magical Mythwind Valley. Magical creatures, odd characters, and engaging story encounters litter the area, waiting to be discovered. The goal is to explore the surrounding countryside while also constructing the town. The player characters develop over time and become more proficient in their specific professions.

The central conceit of Mythwind is that it doesn’t properly end. Lacking a solidified finale, players can continue to play the game indefinitely. Eventually the content may be exhausted, but there is no hard cutoff or forced end time. The story elements interact with player discovery as well as the evolving town. Seasons and characters change over time, affording new quirks and touching moments. This is a game devoid of the typical pressure constraints, instead allowing you to mosey about at your leisure.


Spark Riders 3000

In Spark Riders 3000, up to four players become the crew of the Spark, an advanced spacecraft with sophisticated AI. You are tasked with traversing dangerous sectors and delivering cargo to the various corners of the galaxy. On your journey you will encounter aliens, pirates, and various phenomena. You will overcome these challenges through teamwork, conflict, and puzzle-solving.

Spark Riders 3000 is a cooperative adventure that blends tower defense with narrative and mystery. Much of the game is app-driven, as various encounters are thrown your way unexpectedly. At certain points in the game you will need to perform skill checks or make important decisions, each of which affects the flow of story and outcome of the challenge. This is a streamlined and efficient design that is easy to teach and internalize, but it offers a creative environment with an enticing underlying tension, as the application keeps you engaged and focused. It’s a very modern and exciting experience.


Star Wars: Unlimited

An assortment of cards from the Luke Skywalker starter deck near several kyber crystals and a lightsaber.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Star Wars: Unlimited is familiar. Instead of reaching for innovation, it marries concepts from several other collectible card games, applies the Star Wars license, and produces a very brisk head-to-head battler for both competitive and casual play. What is surprising about this new CCG is that it’s so damn good.

Make no mistake, this is not an overly deep or rich design. But for a 20-minute experience with virtually no waste of mechanisms or effort, it allows for creative deck building and subtle combinations. Even the prebuilt starter decks stand up to many plays. This is an exceedingly joyful card game that has blown up in popularity during its initial release, stealing much of Disney Lorcana’s thunder. While it may be difficult to find boosters right now, more product is coming, and we fully expect it to continue its steep ascent.


Wyrmspan

It’s no surprise that the sequel to smash hit Wingspan is such a thoughtful and focused product. Wyrmspan trades out birds for dragons, putting players into the position of clearing out cave systems to house their mythical sanctuaries. The game plays very similarly to its predecessor, retaining the core system of drawing and playing cards to your personal board. Your creatures still lay eggs, provide special abilities when placed, and sometimes offer endgame scoring.

This new approach benefits players from top to bottom, and it all has to do with the sincerity given to its setting. It would be unfair to call it simply a reskin, as several of the systems have been tweaked in various ways to add light touches of narrative and environment. Clearing out caves via exploration, attending to the whims of the dragon guild, and raising little hatchlings all help to weave a larger narrative. The box even includes a separate reference manual detailing each of the fictional dragon species in the game. It’s wholly committed, and that attitude is expressed in the various aspects of gameplay.

You can read our full review of Wyrmspan here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *