Number 10 – Stardew Valley
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Do you like the sedate pastoral experience of Agricola but hate that it sometimes turns into a Hunger Games of starving households? Do you enjoy the bucolic charm of Above and Below but could do without all those subterranean adventures? Well, Stardew Valley may be the exact game you want.
In Stardew Valley you play the part of a young professional, tired of the rat race, who reaches burnout at precisely the time your grandfather passes. He leaves his old farm to you – a ramshackle, run-down nightmare where you’re going to have to work every hour of the day to scratch a subsistence living from the unforgiving soil. Little by little though, with hard work and diligent planning, you begin to turn your starting crops into larger and more profitable yields. You make friends and find lovers in the village. You explore the old, abandoned mines and the treasures within. And you take a stand, or not, against the encroaching presence of globalisation in the form of the JoCa corporation.
It’s genuinely a blissful game that lets you inhabit the cardboard fields of more board games than I could even think to mention. It’s like living in the cornfields of Catan except the only robber is commercialism.
Number Nine – The Sexy Brutale
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I need to begin this one with a disclaimer – one of the team behind Cavalier Studios is Tom Lansdale and he’s a friend of mine from old. I don’t think that actually skewed me towards loving the Sexy Brutale. I would have been just as happy to see him comically fail in his life ambitions, left to live on the streets in conditions of intense penury. Haha, serves you right for dreaming big, buddy!
Anyway, a disclaimer – there’s a personal connection here.
The Sexy Brutale is a great game for those that may enjoy the gradual unveiling of riddles at the heart of things like Time Stories and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. It’s a time-travel murder mystery where the puzzles are tightly linked to temporality. You have the mystical power to move time backwards and forwards and you can use this to intercept the colourful characters inhabiting the Sexy Brutale before murder can be done to them. Your job is to be in the right place at the right time, putting the right obstacles between the victim and the murderer.
Backed up with sumptuous graphics, a gorgeous soundtrack, and some absolutely sparkling dialog this is an under-appreciated gem of a game.
Number 8 – Game Dev Tycoon / Game Dev Story
Game Dev Tycoon doesn’t remind me of a board game so much as it does a type of board game – the relatively heavy industry sims that are exemplified by things like Kanban and Pret-a-Porter. It’s a game in which you take charge of a video game company and work with your staff to produce the classic titles of the future. This particular version is largely a rip-off off the Kairosoft original Game Dev Story but it’s improved much of the flow of the game in the process. Either title would be an excellent choice for your library. I have genuinely invested more time than I’m willing to admit into both of these games and they combine the strategizing of a Eurogame with the thrilling uncertainty of random happenstance.
In these games your job is to balance console licences, budgets, genres, styles of games and staff morale and enthusiasm. The better you align everything against an uncertain market environment the better your games will review. The better your games review, the more they will sell. The more they sell, the more sustainable your company will be – but nothing is ever certain. You’re often only just a flop away from bankruptcy. Advertising, convention appearances, courting your fan-base… both of these titles have enough to worry about to keep even the keenest strategic gamer invested.
Number 7 – The Room
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The history of the escape room is an interesting one – a phenomenon that began on computer before branching out into reality and then into board-games, and then back into video games. The Room is, in my view, the best of all of them and it would be a fantastic game for anyone that enjoys the mysteries of Unlock or the Exit series of games. The Room franchise (for it is a series) presents you with a series of beautifully rendered exotic artefacts that lock, unlock and rotate in inventive ways to reveal more of the narrative. The story is dark and mysterious and sinister… and you keep poking your fingers into things that really do not concern you. Only darkness awaits within, surely, and yet you persist.
I have played each and every one of the Room games, examining weird and exotic items from weird and exotic angles, and have enjoyed every minute of the journey. The touch controls make this a very tactile experience and one I’m sure any escape room fan would find compelling.
Number 6 – Into the Breach
[ website ]
Into the Breach isn’t a port of a board game but it really feels like it should be. It’s got traces of Chess, Onitama and Hive threaded through its DNA. It’s played on a chess-board style grid where every move you make has to be carefully considered and weighed before you commit yourself. Knock the wrong enemy into the wrong square and it can be hundreds of times worse than if you just did nothing.
The framing of Into the Breach is that you are part of a team of mech operators sent from the future to prevent the entire collapse of the human race. Weird alien bug creatures have assaulted the urban centres of the world and it’s your job to stop them. Using your three mechs, each of which have unique abilities, you have to move the alien creatures in ways that stop them destroying critical infrastructure. You have perfect information regarding what the aliens are going to do in their next turn – your job is to prevent it. It’s nowhere near as easy as you think it will be.
Into the Breach is a tough, tense game and about as perfect an example of a board game that never was that I can imagine.