If you are an avid tabletop player, you know how important game pieces are. Along with solid game mechanics, quality game pieces are often what make or break a players first impression of any game. Some game pieces go on to be more famous than the games where they originated. Wooden tokens have been used in games practically forever, but it's the iconic "meeple" token from Carcassonne that people associate with Euro games. Even more iconic are the classic chess figures.
Hundreds of new games come out every year. Many use the standard meeple, wooden pawn, or plastic cube to get the job done. Other games, for better or worse, go out of their way to include new and interesting pieces. We wanted to take a look at ten recent games that include amazing pieces.
10. Gloom: Gloom is always great for a laugh with your friends, though perhaps not your family. Our number ten slot is technically a card game, but it is unique enough to make the list. Gloom first hit shelves in 2005, making it the oldest game on our list. Players all represent families vying to live miserably and die young. You win by keeping your score, and happiness, as low as possible while describing events in your families history. The cards are transparent and designed to stack on top of one another. Placing any card modifies the happiness of a given family member. Make the lives of your family members miserable, and improve the status of other players. The pieces are simple, elegant, well thought out, and still one of the best game pieces around over ten years after it's initial production.
9. Junk Art: We would be remiss in our duties if we didn’t include a game that is all about interesting pieces on a list about interesting game pieces. Junk Art is packed with more than 60 wooden pieces of varying shape, design, and color. The styles of play for Junk Art are almost as varied as the pieces themselves. No matter which method of play your gaming group chooses, Junk Art is guaranteed to be an interesting experience.
8. Heroes of Normandy: Game pieces are the work horses of every table top game, but some have more work to do than others. Military games are notorious for leaning heavily on additional materials to keep track of what a piece can and can't do. Heroes of Normandy managed to clearly pack all the information you need about a given piece right on the piece itself. Every unit in Heroes of Normand let’s you know exactly what it can do with very little board foot print. Somehow the IELLO team found a way to squeeze in fantastic on-theme art as well. Don’t assume they skimped on playability either, this game is packed full of challenges for the most hardcore of military game veterans.
7. Alien Frontiers: Alien Frontiers has been a standout game since it came out in 2010. A steady stream of game expansions and upgrades have come out since it's initial release. The latest BIG BOX version is stuffed with all of those expansions, including the wicked cool upgraded game pieces. The domed city tokens are difficult not to fawn over, especially if you first played the game with the original wooden tokens. The sheer fun of a city under a dome causes players to have a difficult time not fidgeting with the cities. Alien Frontiers receives a lot of love from its fans, many of which go on to customize the game pieces even further.
6. Tortuga 1667: Tortuga 1667 is technically still in production, but we thought it deserved a mention on the list. The design of this game is so rock solid it earned nearly four times its funding goal on day one. If you haven’t gotten in on the action just yet, there are still a few days left to back the project. Most pieces in Tortuga are standard pawns and cards. The game mat unrolls like a treasure map and everything fits nicely in a pho-antique book styled box. The piece we love and believe adds that little something extra to take it over the top are the golden pirate chests. It’s a small change from your standard wooden cube, but it makes all the difference. Game pieces don’t have to be complicated to be great, they just have to make the game better. I can’t wait to get a copy of this one.
5. Potion Explosion: Everything about Potion Explosion is unique and interesting. The designers found a way to make marbles cool for the first time in decades. Players are all students in a school attempting to brew the most powerful and valuable potions. The colored marbles represent spell ingredients. What makes these pieces truly unique is how the game incorporates the box into actual game play. Players can take any marble they want, but if they can get colors to roll in the right order they score bigger bonuses. The design is outstanding and every play through is practically magic.
4. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition: The second edition of Mansions of Madness has several things to love. The designers managed to incorporate an app without disrupting the experience fans loved in the first edition. The tone of the game is dark and otherworldly as you would expect from a game set in the universe of Arkham Horror. While all of the game pieces and art add to that overall experience, it's the quality of the miniature designs that ensures players won't escape from it. I’m always ready to paint miniatures, but these are so great I’ve left them as is for now. If you enjoy solving puzzles and fancy yourself immune to the madness brought on by confrontations with hideous monsters, Mansions of Madness is the game for you.
3. Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia: Masmorra is the latest game in the Aracadia Quest universe from Cool Mini of Not. I picked up a copy at GenCon 2016 and immediately regretted missing out on all of the Kickstarter extras. The game is full of great miniatures and enjoyable artwork. All of theses features helped Masmorra make our list, but it is the unique use of dice as monsters that really convinced us. As players explore deeper into the dungeon, random monsters appear and give the adventurers a hard time. Players never know what kind of monster they will face until after their resources have been locked in for the turn. This unique mechanic adds a bit of tension and danger that should be required for every dungeon crawl. Every monster encounter and adventure is different, and that keeps us bringing Masmorra back to the game table time and again.
2. Kanagawa: This is the second IELLO title to make it on our list and it is for entirely different reasons. Kanagawa, like everything that comes from IELLO, has an intense focus on artistic detail. The game is a surprisingly relaxing combination of press your luck and worker placement mechanics. Each player represents an apprentice to the great art master Hokusai in Tokyo. Throughout the game players create a unique art print while making decisions on where to place cards. IELLO created truly unique pawns for the worker placement portion of the game. These gorgeous pieces represent clay paint pots with brush handles sticking out the top. The design is simple, clever, and contributes to the overall theme of the game marvelously. These pieces make it clear that games can use simple materials and designs to add great value to overall game experience.
1. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures: Any game that makes me feel like I’m in the cockpit of an X-Wing or Tie Fighter is a game I want to play. Miniature games are always fantastic at making worlds feel real during game play and the X-Wing miniatures are better at it than most. Fantasy Flight did an amazing job of capturing the little details that make the Star Wars universe an ever expanding marvel. The clear stands add to the illusion of flight and quickly melt into the background of play. The pieces are great enough to display on a shelf when you aren’t playing. Fantasy flight regularly adds new miniatures to shake up and improve the game play experience. Whether you have never played or you haven’t played in a while, it is always a good time to jump into this game.
Great game pieces are crucial to great game play. You can have a great game with standard pieces, but unique and well designed pieces create experiences that bring players back to the table over and over. What do you think? Did we miss your favorite game piece? Let us know what games make your list.