The biggest board games and role-playing games of the spring
Spring is here, and with it the prospect that you and your newly vaccinated friends will soon be able to get together in person for some tabletop games. The publishing world feels your excitement as well — there’s a ton of new board games and tabletop role-playing games coming out over the next three months. We’ve rounded up all the information that we could, and dropped the most notable new titles here for you.
My personal picks include Brew, a bright and lovely new game from Pandasaurus, and Rocketmen, a game about the space race by the prolific Martin Wallace. Games Workshop also has a lavish new boxed set called Warhammer Quest: Cursed City, but you’ll need to move quickly to get a copy before they’re all sold out at retail.
Remember that you can pick up just about everything listed below at your friendly local game store as well as online.
Image: Pandasaurus Games
No, it’s not a game about making beer or pouring coffee. Brew is about fantastical woodland creatures and magic potions, and it’s got a lot going for it. First, the incredible art is by Jake Morrison, whose work looks like a mix between a Miyazaki film and an Adventure Time spoof. Second, this game’s mechanics have lots of folks talking. Pandasaurus’ two- to four-player game blends several mechanics that you don’t commonly see together in the same game. It includes dice rolling (like you might find in Machi Koro), worker placement (common in games like Lords of Waterdeep), and area control (common in strategy games, like Risk). Often, a game will be built around just one of those systems, but putting all three of them together like this feels very novel. There’s bound to be something here for everyone in your board game group.
Pre-orders direct from the publisher are live now, and include special foil promotional cards. The game heads to retail on June 16.
Pegasus Spiele has tapped artist John Kovalic (Dork Tower, Munchkin) for its latest: a game called Doodle Dungeon. In it, each player gets a piece of grid paper and a set of shared resources to use for designing their own two-dimensional dungeon. Then they take turns sending heroes through, trying to steal each other’s treasure. Expect the game to reach retail in mid-May. Pre-orders are open now.
Dune: Adventures in the Imperium
Image: Modiphius Entertainment
Modiphius Entertainment’s highly anticipated TTRPG Dune: Adventures in the Imperium is finally making its way to market. You can even get an early version of the near-final PDF if you place a pre-order with the publisher right now.
The game allows you to play in the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune at several scales. You and your friends can each play a single character, forming a party of characters trying to make their way on the deadly planet Arrakis. Or, you can play together as the lords of a noble house of the Landsraad, using assets — including other groups of agents in the field — to bend the destiny of the desert planet to your will. There’s a ton of player aides up for pre-order, as well as alternate covers of the core rulebook itself depending on where you place your order.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
Image: Paul Scott Canavan/Wizards of the Coast
One of the most sought-after new supplements for Dungeons & Dragons, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft kicks in the door of an entire multiverse and welcomes in a new generation of players on May 18.
The Ravenloft setting originally began with the story of the vampire Strahd and his castle, Ravenloft. But in the decades that followed, original publisher TSR expanded that setting across multiple planes. Hidden outside the mists that ring the valley of Barovia are sword-and-sandal settings, as well as settings that more closely resemble the streets of Victorian London. There’s even an entire realm dealing with an apocalyptic zombie invasion. There are more than 30 new settings on offer from multiple new authors, including Amanda Hamon (formerly of Kobold Press), Cassandra Khaw (Nothing But Blackened Teeth), Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), and K. Tempest Bradford (The Copper Scarab).
Bear in mind that fans who are interested in the special collector’s edition cover — featuring a metallic finish and unique art of Ezmerelda d’Avenir — can only get one from their friendly local game store.
Fallout: The Roleplaying Game
Image: Modiphius Entertainment/Bethesda Softworks
Modiphius already has a successful miniatures game set in the Fallout universe; it’s called Fallout: Wasteland Warfare. That game has a stand-alone expansion, a TTRPG called Fallout: Wasteland Warfare Roleplaying Game. But would you believe that the publisher has a third Fallout game, its second TTRPG set in the Fallout universe? It’s called Fallout: The Roleplaying Game, and it’s actually quite good.
It’s based on Modiphius’ proprietary 2d20 system, which may take newcomers some getting used to. But Modiphius absolutely nailed the combat, which is quick and true to the experience of playing Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 — unlike Fallout 76. Best of all, you can play as a Mister Handy robot. Pre-orders are available now, and come with access to an early version of the final book in PDF form.
The new Fallout tabletop RPG makes wasteland combat fun again
Fire in the Sky
Phalanx is a newer publisher that specializes in niche wargames. You might remember it from that wild three-dimensional World War II submarine game, U-Boat: The Board Game, which raised close to $750,000 on Kickstarter in 2018. Now the company is branching out, with more than a dozen titles in print. Among the highest-profile ones is a revised edition of the 1999 classic Fire in the Sky.
Fire in the Sky is a modern take on the classic hardcore WWII wargame genre. Expect plenty of cardboard counters and a playtime north of two hours (likely closer to five). Game designer Tetsuya Nakamura’s fantastic distillation of the Pacific theater is well worth the effort. Pre-orders are available now directly from the publisher.
The Initiative is the latest game from prolific designer Corey Konieczka (Star Wars: Rebellion, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game). On the surface it’s a simple little game about code breaking, themed like a found object that some kids picked up at a garage sale. It even comes with a narrative comic to get you started. But shortly after the first game, it becomes clear that there’s something more sinister at play. We’re hesitant to give spoilers outside of a proper review, but if you’re a fan of puzzles and/or escape rooms, you will want to strongly consider picking this one up.
Keyforge: Dark Tidings
Image: Fantasy Flight Games
Launched at Gen Con in 2018, Keyforge is a bold new collectible card game designed with the help of Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield. It’s billed as the world’s first Unique Card Game, and it more than lives up to the name. Fantasy Flight Games’ procedural technology creates literally billions of unique decks of cards, each with their own names and symbology.
This spring’s new set brings a big twist: so-called “evil twin decks” that place two copies of the same deck out in the wild with different art. You can expect the community to have a field day tracking down their twins once they can reliably get back together in person again. The Keyforge: Dark Tidings Starter Set arrives at retail on May 15.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven
Image: Jason Rainville/Wizards of the Coast
More than just a Harry Potter pastiche, Magic: The Gathering’s new Strixhaven: School of Mages set introduces a multiverse filled with scholarly pursuits and a smattering of sexy coeds. The set introduces five new houses — Lorehold, Prismari, Quandrix, Silverquill, and Witherbloom — each with its own unique vibe.
You can read more about the houses and the set’s gorgeous Japanese-language exclusive cards in our feature story. Looking for tips on where to get started playing Strixhaven yourself? We’ve got a guide for that, too.
Quests of Yore: Barley’s Edition
Image: The OP Games
Pixar’s Onward was the last movie I saw in theaters before the pandemic hit, and the family really enjoyed it together once it showed up on Disney Plus. That film is based roughly on Dungeons & Dragons, but rather than produce a crossover product of some kind, Disney has partnered with The OP Games for something spectacular. It’s a full-fledged “blue box” version of Quests of Yore, Onward’s in-fiction analog for D&D. The box comes with cards, tiles, minis, three sets of dice, and more. It’s quite the package for a movie tie-in, and we’re excited to get our hands on it. Pre-orders are available directly from the publisher. Expect to find it at retail on May 12 and on Amazon.
The latest from Stonemaier Games (Scythe, Wingspan), Red Rising is a strategy board game based on the science fiction novels by Pierce Brown. Co-designers Jamey Stegmaier and Alexander Schmidt describe the game as a “hand-management, combo-building game.” From the product description:
Red Rising is a hand-management, combo-building game for 1-6 players (45-60 minute playing time). You start with a hand of 5 cards, and on your turn you will deploy 1 of those cards to a location on the board, activating that card’s deploy benefit. You will then gain the top card from another location (face up) or the deck (face down), gaining that locations benefit and adding the card to your hand as you enhance your end-game point total. If at any point you’re really happy with your hand, you can instead use your turn to reveal a card from the top of the deck and place it on a location to gain that location’s benefit.
The game is currently available in a digital format via Tabletopia, where you can give it a try for free. A collector’s edition of the game is available directly from the publisher. The retail version will set you back $40, but won’t be available for a few months yet.
Another highly anticipated new game from Phalanx is Rocketmen. It’s the latest effort by prolific game designer Martin Wallace, perhaps best known for his strategy titles like A Few Acres of Snow and Brass: Birmingham. This time, he’s turned his attention to the space race with a competitive deck-building game for one to four players. The game is shipping now, and copies are still available on Backerkit.
A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game
If you’ve been seeking some moist marauders and looking to slosh upon your foes, I have good news. CMON’s lavish tabletop wargame based on the Game of Thrones books is getting a little bigger this spring with the release of the the Greyjoy Starter Set for A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game. The boxed set will cost $99.99 and will come with 55 preassembled miniatures. Retail release is set for mid-May, but no pre-order information is available at this time.
Summoner Wars Second Edition
Plaid Hat Games recently left the Asmodee umbrella to go its own way once again. To bolster the product line, it’s releasing a new version of its most popular game to date: Summoner Wars. This novel card-based tactical skirmish game is a lot of fun for two players, and it’s been refreshed with all-new art from Martin Abel and Madison Johnson. There’s also a digital beta that you can play online right now. The base game runs $50 and will ship in May.
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay – Wrath & Glory: Litanies of the Lost
Cubicle 7’s popular line of Warhammer-themed role-playing games gets a big boost with the launch of Wrath & Glory: Litanies of the Lost. Set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, it includes four stand-alone adventures. From the product description:
Duty Beyond Death: something has gone nightmarishly wrong at the Pakthertius Servitor Manufactorum — investigate to discover its arcane technological secrets, and try to be the first to emerge alive!
Dark Bidding: a clandestine contract to procure a stolen stasis coffin with mysterious contents leads the party deep into the mechanical bowels of the Adeptus Mechanicus’s underworld.
Grim Harvest: a spate of strange deaths at an agri world mega-acreage threatens its crucial crops, but the source may be more sinister than the frictions between the competing Imperial factions in the area.
Vow of Silence: an investigation of potential heretical activity at a silent monastery goes awry when some unexpected — and murderous — guests arrive.
All pre-orders include a PDF version of the book from DriveThruRPG, which you can download right now. Physical copies will roll out later this year. A PDF-only version is available, too, at a significant discount.
Warhammer Quest: Cursed City
The Warhammer Quest series, the spiritual successor to the venerable HeroQuest, is still around. You might remember the Warhammer 40,000-themed Blackstone Fortress from a few years back, which had a nice long life with multiple expansions. Now Games Workshop is going back to the well with Warhammer Quest: Cursed City. Set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy, it might just be the most lavish boxed set that the company has released in years — which is why it’s completely sold out just about everywhere, including at the Games Workshop store. The game includes 60 brand-new miniatures, plus everything you need to play. You’ll likely find copies at your friendly local game store, but be advised that the retail set is in very short supply. Move quickly if you want a copy, and look out for scalpers.
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