The High Five - Renegade Game Studios
In this edition of the High Five, I take a look at the top games from Renegade Game Studios. Not every release is a hit with me, but I can always count on quality productions with phenomenal artwork. Now let’s see what made the High Five.
5. Ex Libris
Want me to describe the most boring board game theme in the world? Let’s imagine we’re librarians assembling a collection of books that we need to put in alphabetical order! What if I added a Dewey Decimal System expansion? I’ve just described the theme of Ex Libris, minus the expansion part. Yes, that is the theme of this game, and it’s incredible.
So why isn’t this game boring? They gave this game a fantasy theme, wrote hilarious book titles, and commissioned fantastic artwork. Throughout the game, you aim to acquire books for your collection. You need to keep the books in order as you collect categories like “Corrupted Codices” and avoid banned books such as Reference Texts.
Ex Libris is a fun set collection game with card placement that drips with theming and is a delight to play.
Raiders of the North Sea is another worker placement from the designer of Architects of the West Kingdom.
Unlike Architects of the West Kingdom, where you start the game with all of your workers, in Raiders of the North Sea, you only have one worker for the entire game. I love this aspect of the game. On your turn, you’ll place a worker on a space on the board and take the associated action. Then you’ll take a worker off of the board and resolve the action of the space you retrieved the worker. It’s dead simple with plenty of depth to make you think because sometimes the order doesn’t work out the way you want or, more accurately, need.
Raiders of the North Sea has a Viking theme that works well as you gather resources, assemble a crew, and plunder everything. Nothing makes you feel like a Viking more than pillaging everything around you, and Raiders of the North Sea makes me feel like a Viking.
The next game on the list is Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure. Clank! is a deck-building game, as you’d assume based on the game’s title, with a board and push-your-luck elements. Renegade released Clank! In Space, but I prefer the fantasy theme for this game.
As you go lower and lower into the dungeon to gather valuable treasure, you make noise. This noise can awaken the dragon, whose stuff you’re stealing. You can make the case that he may be angry about the plundering. Each time you make a noise, a cube of your color goes into the dragon’s black felt bag of destruction. When the dragon wakes, he draws cubes from his bag to deal out damage. Sure, you may have the most cubes in the bag, but you might get away scot-free, which adds to the thematic tension of the game without feeling cheap. Again, you are stealing from a dragon after all.
Even more fascinating, the most valuable treasures are buried deeper in the cave, but you only score those points if you make it out alive. Do you snatch something swiftly and escape, or do you push further?
Lastly, this is the first game with deck-building that felt like a complete game with all of the components and accouterments you’d expect from a standard board game. The game has deck-building at its core, but it’s not the entire game.
2. The Fox in the Forest
When I heard about The Fox in the Forest, I thought it was a dumb idea that couldn’t possibly work. Being a proper Midwesterner, I was raised with Euchre, and I’m no stranger to the world of trick-taking games. And trick-taking games with two players don’t work. I was wrong. (Maybe I should put that in a smaller font in case my wife reads this.)
One of the things I dislike about a lot of trick-taking games is they can become rote. There may be 2 or 3 turns throughout a game that you actually have to think about how you should play. On top of that, if your hand sucks, good luck. You might as well take a bathroom break.
The Fox in the Forest addresses both of those issues and solves 2-player trick-taking games. Players are trying to win the most tricks, but not too many tricks. Don’t be a greedy jerk. This simple mechanism changes everything. Now, a garbage hand becomes powerful, and a strong hand needs careful management. Did I mention the odd cards in the three suits have powers that allow you to manipulate all aspects of the game? They do, and the level of tactical decisions in this game is off the charts. If you like trick-taking games, do not overlook this classic.
The number one game on this list is Architects of the West Kingdom.
Architects of the West Kingdom is a worker placement game where you start with all of your workers, and you place one worker at a time, but the more of your workers that accumulate at a single space, the more powerful the action becomes. It’s fantastic! Your actions get stronger the more workers you have at a space, but it’s only a matter of time before somebody puts your workers in jail for loitering.
Another cool thing about the game is the idea of virtue. Especially in a game where building the cathedral is one of the actions in said game. Or you can steal taxes! Not so virtuous. Sure, you can swipe the taxes, but how long do you wait while the pot gets bigger before somebody else grabs it first? Throughout the game, you’ll go up and down the virtue track. Of course, the most powerful actions require you to be a little evil and less virtuous. Finishing at the bottom of the virtue track will cost you victory points at the end of the game. So it’s a matter of how long you want to chase that dragon.
Architects of the West Kingdom works, which is why it sits atop this High Five List.
As usual, here are few games that just missed the list but still have something unique to offer.
World’s Fair 1893 isn’t the most recognizable title in the catalog of Renegade Game Studios, even though it currently ranks number 714 on Board Game Geek. Designed by J. Alex Kevern, World’s Fair 1893 holds the distinction of being the first Renegade game that I played. Sure, it was my first, but it’s also a great game. As a 2016 Mensa Select winner, World’s Fair 1893 has a unique theme with set collection, area control, and drafting. I love the history and graphic design of this title.
Flip Ships is a dexterity game. It’s Space Invaders, the board game. I know there is an actual Space Invaders board game that was released not too long ago, but even without playing it, it sucks compared to Flip Ships. I like that Flip Ship is a cooperative dexterity game that doesn’t require people moving all around the room to find the perfect angle. The whole team shoots from one spot. The level of impending doom is spot-on; it seems overwhelming but manageable. As things get more dangerous, your ships get stronger abilities. Unlike most cooperative games that level up players to compete with stronger adversaries, the ships don’t get any stronger. Instead, your ships get stronger as you lose health, a last-ditch effort to save the day. It’s a subtle but impactful difference
Spy Club is a cooperative game with a campaign system that alters the core gameplay in each successive game. Rather than leveling up the players for each new game, the game changes instead. In Spy Club, players work together to solve a mystery, but the game is open-ended enough to craft your own nuanced stories as you progress. This one is going to be fun with the kids as they get older.
Its unique take on the word game genre is the reason Spell Smashers is an honorable mention. Most word games reward players who can create the most gargantuan word out of the letters provided. In Spell Smashers, you’re fighting monsters, and those monsters may be more susceptible to specific letters or even shorter words. This game is more about being crafty than a cunning linguist, and I appreciate that. Like every Renegade production, the artwork is amazing.
I have a soft spot for pirate, and wild west themed games. I have an initial aversion to space-themed games, even though I end up liking most of them. I love the way Junk Orbit makes my brain work. In the game, you’re using astrodynamics to pick up and deliver junk to planets as you move in and out of orbit. Calculating how I can get to where I need to be to drop off the most junk, pick up more garbage, and screw over my neighbors is a delightful puzzle that I enjoy every time I play, even if I’m losing.
ClipCut Parks is a newer game, as in not released yet. When I first heard Renegade had a game coming out with scissors in the box, I scoffed with the indignation of an upper-crust a-hole. It really works well, and it’s fascinating how you plan out individual cuts on a piece of paper to populate your parks. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before and it deserves a mention here.
|Doug Kotecki is the Chief Curator at Tabletop Game Gallery, and even though his brain tells him not to, he still loves Taco Bell.|