Even if a game uses the same basic mechanism (like auctions or worker placement) as another, there are other items layered on top to make it a new experience. But some games achieve a pretty close feel to what came before. And, sometimes, the new game provides a fantastic alternative or improvement over already highly enjoyable predecessors. Here are a few you should check out.
Thurn and Taxis & Council of Four
Thurn and Taxis is a game about building postal routes in the seventeenth century. It sounds dry, but it’s a fun and accessible title built around grabbing and using cards to construct routes, which you’ll need to add to or score each turn. If you don’t score the route because you’re hoping to add, but the right cards don’t come up, you’ll lose all your progress.
The Spiel des Jahres winner is a great title and well worth checking out if you haven’t played it. But if you have, you may be interested in Council of Four. Once again, you’re building routes and placing houses down on cities, though this time in a fictional kingdom with a semi-randomizable board. As you place your houses, you get bonuses based on their placement, which is seen in Thurn and Taxis as well.
But Council of Four layers an economy on top. Houses aren’t free and you have to manage your funds. Plus, each individual city gives you a bonus for building there. These bonuses can be used to assist you with further turns. The addition of economy management, and careful planning around the councils (of four!) take the Thurn and Taxis idea to a whole new level.
Scotland Yard & Specter Ops
Scotland Yard, another Spiel des Jahres winner, has a simple premise. One player is Mr. X, a criminal being hunted down by the other players. Every space on the board is numbered. Mr. X can walk from place to place and can sometimes take other transportation. The investigators simply have to track him down. The hitch, of course, is that Mr. X isn’t placed on the board. Instead, he keeps track of his position secretly and the other players have to figure it out. It’s a fun cat-and-mouse game of deduction and risk.
Scotland Yard has inspired a number of hidden movement games, including Specter Ops. Taking place at the evil Raxxon Corporation in the near future, one player is the infiltrator–an operative sent in to raid the corporation’s mainframes. Meanwhile, the other players represent the security force of Raxxon, attempting to locate and kill the hidden intruder.
Specter Ops takes the basic idea of Scotland Yard and does it one better. Rather than a nameless Mr. X, Specter Ops provides an interesting backstory. It gives every player unique abilities they can use to find the intruder or avoid detection. It also gives more of a goal to the hidden player than simply, “don’t get caught.” If you’ve enjoyed your plays of Scotland Yard, then you definitely will want to play Specter Ops.
Battlestar Galactica & Dead of Winter
Fantasy Flight hit a home run with Battlestar Galactica. Not only was the game very true to the source material, it fostered a fantastic paranoia around the table. Some players were cylons, although some of them may not even know it yet. At the halfway point, some human players may find out they’re playing for the cylons and can remain hidden or act overtly now that they want the humans to lose. Finding the cylons and neutralizing them is critical to mankind’s survival.
Another game that does a fantastic job of fostering paranoia is Dead of Winter. Taking place in a zombie apocalypse, the players are working together to some common goal. However, each player has a unique and individual goal that they must also achieve in order to win. Plus, there may be a traitor. What makes players even more wary, despite the fact that a traitor wants everyone to lose, is that there may not even be a traitor every session.
The individual goals make everyone look a little suspicious, which helps to hide the traitor’s presence. Plus the paranoia factor is on high since everyone knows that they may be accusing one another when no traitor actually exists. Bonus: Dead of Winter is a little easier to explain to new players than Battlestar Galactica, especially if they aren’t fans of the show. But if you enjoy a good game of BSG (and who doesn’t?), you absolutely owe yourself a play of DoW.
Have you found games that upgrade or provide great alternatives to other titles? Tell us about them in the comments.
Image Credits: Cranio Creations, Plaid Hat Games, and Fantasy Flight Games