Here are some of the games that have caught my fancy of late. As always, these are tabletop games that are new and interesting to me and may not necessarily be new to the marketplace.
What are you playing these days? I always love to hear in the Comments.
The Last of Us: Escape the Dark (Themeborne, 1-5 players, Ages: 14+)
The Last of Us: Escape the Dark joins Escape the Dark Castle and Escape the Dark Sector as the latest game to use the beloved and award-winning "Escape the Dark" game engine. The Last of Us retains popular elements of the previous games like the atmospheric B&W line art, the turn-by-turn "choose-your-own-adventure"-style chapter cards that drive the action, and special character and chapter used to easily resolve action and combat. And it combines them with an open-world board game. Unlike previous Escape the Dark titles where you can only moved forward through the game-space, here you can move in any direction, landing on chapter cards that you must resolve. Also unlike previous games, the characters can split up and move to different locations. And, of course, as the name implies, The Last of Us takes place in the fungal zombie hellscape of the video game and HBO series of the same name. One can only image how the popularity of the HBO show will increase exposure to this game and the entire Escape the Dark IP. As a huge fan of Dark Castle and Dark Sector, this is an exciting development. The Last of Us: Escape the Dark is currently available as a Late Pledge on Kickstarter.
Side Hustle (Osprey Games, $24)
I love side quests and special objectives in TTRPGs and narrative miniature games. Side Hustle is a 40-card deck of special missions, plots, and objectives for Stargrave which players can draw to add extra intrigue to their games.
The goal for most of the independent crews operating throughout the Ravaged Galaxy is that one big score that will set them up for life. Such scores are few and far between, so crews typically find themselves taking whatever jobs they can scrounge – anything for a quick credit. Anyone can sell an alien artefact or a set of neural-fuses, but smart captains know that there are myriad ways to turn a profit…
This expansion for Stargrave consists of 40 Side Hustle cards – missions, plots, and tasks that add variety, depth, and new tactical challenges to wargames in the Ravaged Galaxy. Each card presents a specific objective… and the rewards for achieving it. Some of these missions must be revealed, while others are kept secret. Is your crew attempting to insert a data virus into a key system? Locate a political prisoner? Uncover evidence of a secret scientific cabal? Every crew is out to grab some loot, but what's your captain's side hustle?
The cards come in a really beautiful, sturdy box with awesome artwork on the cover, the back of the cards, and even inside of the box lid and bottom. There are also two cards with rules and info on three Side Hustle markers you'll need to find or make (a pylon, a pit, and a destroyed robot). These are always fun to create and to see what other players come up with.
Keys from the Golden Vault (Wizards of the Coast, $41.45)
The latest in a seemingly endless parade of D&D title from Wizards, Keys from the Golden Vault, is an anthology of 13 heist-themed adventures. These short, stand-alone adventures for character levels 1-11 are designed to be plugged into any setting, can work as one-shots, or be threaded together into a campaign.
Some jobs require more than simply wielding a sword or slinging a spell. Whether it's procuring a well-guarded item or obtaining crucial information from an imprisoned contact, these tasks require careful planning and flawless execution. The secretive organization called the Golden Vault specializes in hiring crews for such jobs, and for the most daunting assignments—pursuing fabulous treasures and stopping dire threats—that crew is your characters.
Old Bones (Joseph McCullough, $8 PDF, $12 Print Zine)
There are a few recent, celebrated tabletop game designers who are more prolific and impressive than Joseph McCullough. His roster of award-winning games includes Frostgrave, Stargrave, Rangers of Shadow Deep, Oathmark, and Silver Bayonet. In an effort to have some fun with these titles, he's created Old Bones, a lovely, old-school "creator zine." Each issue will include things like scenarios, new weapons, potions, poisons, monsters, treasures, and other cool stuff he dreams up. My favorite entries in this issue are Quasar Cola, a rare soft drink from the Stargrave universe which gives you +1 to move and +1 against shooting attacks, and Sensual Apparitions for Silver Bayonet (because who doesn't want to combat a Sensual Apparition?). Since I play (or follow) most of these games, I can't wait to see future issues.
Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game, Ravensburger, $35, 1-4 players, Ages: 10+)
Two of my favorite family-friendly, cooperative games over the past few years have been Horrified: Universal Monsters and Stuffed Fables. The design and mechanics of these two titles come together in Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game. Like Stuffed Fables, you play the game on a story book that contains the gameboard for that "chapter" and the relevant instructions and story elements. Like Horrified, you have little color-coded plastic minis that move from target-to-target along the board to fulfill objectivess and not be caught by the baddies (black riders, orcs, goblins) who are also moving around the board. Decks of story cards, special cards, and plot cards drive the action. One of the clever mechanics of the game are the wild card-like One Ring cards that are plentiful in the story deck. If you use them (to move, to fulfill an object, to use special chapter-specific abilities), you have to advance a ring token along a Corruption Tracker. If you reach the end of the track (the Lidless Eye of Sauron!), the game is lost. Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game is a great way to allow young ones and other family members to play a Lord of the Rings game that isn't too complicated or time-consuming. The box says 10+, but given that it's a coop game and fun to look at and play, younger kids can feel involved, too. Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game is the third in a series of Ravensberger games using the Adventure Book system. There is also a Princess Bride Adventure Book Game and a Wizard of Oz Adventure Book Game.
Ransom Notes ($40, 3-6 players, 17+)
One of the favorite types of games in our family is timed, player-judged, prompt-based word and image-association games. Our go-to is Bring Your Own Book (where books from your library become the source material for answering card prompts, e.g. "A one-liner from an action movie."). Ransom Notes does for fridge magnet poetry what Bring Your Own Book does for your home library. You have a deck of prompt cards ("Write a recall notice for a batch of baby toys that spontaneous combust," "Give someone CPR over the phone."). Each player has a "word cloud" of magnetized words they can draw from in trying to fulfill the prompt on their magnetic "submission card." A player serving as judge for that round decides on the winner and gives that person the prompt card. At the end of the game, the person with the most prompt cards wins. It's silly, it's light and fun, and it's seriously overpriced at $40. I was lucky to have been gifted my copy.
Fairytale: Spin-to-Play (eeBoo, $22, 2-4 players, Ages: 5+)
We got this game at a local bookstore for our 5-year-old granddaughter. She loves it, and out of all the kid games we've been collecting to play with her, she asks for this one the most. It's an extremely simply game where you take turns spinning a dial which points to a series of story elements (heroes, rivals, treasures, magical items, etc). As you collect these elements, you place them on a player story board. The person who collects all of the elements first gets to tell their story using the story elements as prompts. We let our granddaughter tell the story on everyone's board and she's amazingly good at it. I see a roleplaying gamer in her future!