SALT LAKE CITY — The pace at which the board games landscape changes can be a maddening one, and this time of year can provide a respite.
From right after Christmas until early spring, game companies seem to release slightly fewer games than usual, owing largely to convention schedules dominating the fall and production demands dominating most of January.
That period of relative calm can present a time to catch up on games that were released later in the year, but it can also present a focus point on the few games that do make it to market during that time. Here are five games from late 2018 and early 2019 that offer something exciting for gamers.
Running time: 40–70 minutes
Easily the biggest hit of 2019 so far, "Wingspan" is a game about bird-watching. There are no castles to be built, no wars to be fought, no planets to explore. Just a whole lot of birds — 170, to be exact, and every one of them is unique with a beautiful illustration.
Wingspan is the first published game from Maryland-based game designer Elizabeth Hargrave, and its exploration of a theme outside of the standards — castles, battles and space — has already garnered significant fans.
Wingspan is a step up from simpler strategy games, but it's a comfortable one. Players collect bird cards, food tokens and eggs, and each card they play will improve subsequent actions players take.
At the end of each round, players will earn points for fulfilling certain objectives — having the most birds that build nests in trees, for example. After four rounds, players tally their points from bird cards and objectives, and the player with the most points wins.
Running time: 90–120 minutes
A late 2018 release, Gùgōng is set in China during the Ming dynasty and revolves around corrupt gift-giving.
By trading cards in your hand with cards on the board, players can take a variety of actions to garner points through a variety of means, from purchasing jade to constructing the Great Wall. Only players who succeed in gaining an audience with the emperor become eligible to win the game, but players need to balance that with the many other actions they have available to them.
Gùgōng combines several elements into one fairly cohesive whole. You could probably take away one or two pieces and still have a game that works, but the complexity of the game is completely intentional.
This is a game made for gamers who crave a little more complexity in their strategy games, but it's also approachable for players with less experience if they have a bit of patience on their side. There's a lot here to remember and process.
Running time: 90-120 minutes
A 2019 release, Comanauts is what designer Jerry Hawthorne dubbed an "adventure book" game. Players can either play an individual game or work their way through a six-session campaign, with both telling slices of the same story.
In Comanauts, players enter the mind of a comatose scientist who has been rendered such by an accident involving his greatest invention: a free energy device. It's firmly in the realm of science fiction, with each player taking on an avatar as they explore the scientist's mind, conquering his inner demons.
Hawthorne previously designed two other notable games where storytelling is a vital feature: Mice & Mystics and Stuffed Fables. Those two are both slanted toward younger players, while Comanauts focuses squarely on the hobby gaming market with more mature content.
Running time: 30 minutes
There are plenty of games that provoke laughter in a group because of some printed text. There are considerably fewer that have the same evocative quality around building transportation networks — but Tokyo Highway is exactly that.
Using a handful of wooden discs, painted cars and long sticks — they're basically the size of popsicle sticks — players construct interweaving highways, while they try not to knock over the system that's already built. Some conditions — building the highest road in an area or the lowest road in an area, for instance — allow players to place cars on the roadway.
With a relatively simple concept, this Japanese-designed game is bound to produce moments of pure entertainment as players test their dexterity.
Running time: 15-30 minutes
Making its way over from Germany to the U.S. is Ganz Schön Clever, or That's Pretty Clever, a two-to-four-player dice game. An initial glance might remind players of Yahtzee, but a play or two shows a more strategic dice game with many paths to victory.
On each turn, players will roll six colored dice, then choose one of those to place in areas on their board, each of which provides a different benefit and potential opportunities to chain multiple actions together. Every die with a lower number than the one you've selected is set aside, unavailable for the round; you can typically select only three dice on a given turn. If you're careful with your selections, you might be able to chain together significant points, but most of the time, you'll probably find yourself wishing you'd picked something different on your first turn.Comment on this story
That's Pretty Clever is one of the games that heralded the arrival of "roll and write" games — again, think Yahtzee, where you roll, then you write on some paper — but it did so from an unusual position. While the game's German release received considerable fanfare, and the app replicating the gameplay experience was released worldwide, the game didn't see U.S. publication until late 2018.
Designed by arguably the single most-talked-about game designer of 2018, That's Pretty Clever is another great game from Wolfgang Warsch, who created other instant hits The Mind and The Quacks of Quedlinburg, and he has more than a few games in development.