Heavy strategy/Euro games make you think. Each of these games do just that in their own way. Whether it’s a “point salad” game, area control, worker placement, deck building, or any number of other mechanics, these games force you to solve a puzzle – namely, how best to use the game’s rules and resources to win over your opponents.
The Diamond Climber Awards are in their 4th year, and with each year we’ve grown and changed, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Because our team has such a wide and diverse taste in games it was tough this year to come to a consensus on a <em>single game</em> that really fit the category. So this year we’re presenting multiple picks for Best Heavy Strategy / Euro Game, written in the words of each author who loved this category. We feel this will better represent the breadth and diversity of the games on the market, and offer a more genuine selection for our readers.
After the trials and tribulations of 2020, 2021 saw the return of some sense of normalcy. Thankfully, publishers were there to welcome us back with more new titles than you can shake a stick at. The following were some of our favorites. Which one will get your vote?
A game that continues to pay massive dividends (no pun intended). The first play will usually be rough and feature players scoring low (or in my case, not at all), but afterward you have a challenging game of route-building and resource management that is not afraid to kick you in the teeth.
Khôra: Rise of an Empire
I put Khôra: Rise of an Empire in front of about 15 people over the last 4 months. It has received nearly universal praise from everyone who’s played it. Personally, the game shines because it’s a slick, sturdy Euro for the current state of my life: I’m busy, I have two kids, and I need a game that has interesting decisions that will wrap up within an hour. Khôra: Rise of an Empire is that game. There are a whopping 7 tracks to advance upon, a military/conquest area for those gamers who want a taste of a civ game, and game-breaking cards that all players have access to thanks to a draft that precedes gameplay. You’ve got dice, the thickest player boards I handled last year, and a well-written rulebook; the production of this game knocks it out of the park. Simultaneous action selection speeds up gameplay and games are always close. Khôra: Rise of an Empire misses in only one key area: there aren’t enough cards, so I expect IELLO to release expansion content very soon!
Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
I love this game so much. This tableau building, card comboing, resource managing extravaganza of a game always leaves me feeling satisfied once the smoke clears. It’s a brilliant re-imagining of an already brilliant game.
Origins: First Builders
I had the good fortune to play Origins: First Builders at PAX, taught directly by the publisher. Another member of our writing team had been talking up this game the entire event, so I’m glad I didn’t pass up the chance to learn. Origins: First Builders is a city building game based around the concept of an alien race, guiding you to enlightenment and prosperity. Throughout the game you’ll be able to send your workers (dice of specific colors) to various sites which provide a benefit (with a bonus if your worker matches the color of the site). Compete with your opponents in construction, military, and religion, and be the player with the most points after the victory conditions are met. Origins: First Builders allows you to advance along several axes with multiple ways to score points. I love the use of dice as workers since they “level up” throughout the game and force you to replace them. There’s just so much going on here, but this was easily my favorite heavy game of 2021.
I’ll admit that I’m probably a little biased with this (and 2021 wasn’t a big year for playing heavy games for me) but the Tinners’ Trail reprint would be a mighty fine game even if I wasn’t swayed by the location. But around the time that Tinners’ Trail was getting everyone excited we’d just got back from a holiday in the region, my wife was working her way through Poldark, and I was reading Raynor Winn’s memoir ‘The Salt Path’, a book about love and loss and a middle-aged homeless couple walking the coastal path around Devon and Cornwall following the loss of their business and a terminal diagnosis. Maybe there were better heavy games in 2021 than Tinners’ Trail but this one hit somewhere deeper than mechanics.
Public Market stands out to me as being the type of heavy game that hits a precious sweet spot: complex and full of interesting decisions, yet elegant enough that new players can pick it up and feel competitive. There are a lot of moving parts, but the central throughline is the game’s multiple subsystems. Each one is easy enough to understand on its own – bid for turn order, fit tiles onto your board, use those tiles to complete orders and score points – yet putting them all together gives players a meaty puzzle that feels both intuitive and brain-burning in the best way.