Ed Beach is a lead designer at Firaxis Games. His first project as lead, Sid Meier's Civilization VI, shipped earlier this year. He's an avid board game player and designer, having worked on the card-driven wargame Here I Stand, and its sequel Virgin Queen, as well as four games in the series Great Campaigns of the American Civil War. You can find him on Twitter as @EdBeach23.
As everyone can imagine, 2016 has been a very hectic year for me. Successfully shipping my first AAA title as lead designer made for many months of juggling priorities and overstretched time commitments. Finding hours to just sit down and enjoy some gaming was often difficult. So instead of coming up with the Top 10 Games I played this year, I’m breaking it into the Top 5 I did get a chance to try, and the Top 5 I’m looking forward to catching up on now that I have more opportunities.
Also, for those not aware of my background, please note that I have designed a number of board games in addition to my work in video games and on the Civilization series. When I get free time, I’m just as likely to be spending it with paper maps and dice as I am with a controller. So these lists will be split pretty evenly between tabletop and computer games.
Top 5 Games I Did Play
1. XCOM 2
Although the latest generation of XCOM games have been made by my colleagues down the hall, I haven’t contributed besides being a guinea pig for some of that team’s focus tests. This allows me to play the XCOM series just like a fan would. I did get a chance to put dozens of hours into XCOM 2 early in the year, but once again the game proved too difficult to beat that quickly. Flipping the tables and making XCOM into the rebels working against the alien overlords was genius. I’ll be finishing this one shortly, even if my squad gets wiped a few times first.
As anyone who has read up on our design philosophies for Civilization VI knows, I steadfastly believe that the map is a key actor in any good 4X strategy game. And this is where Stellaris shines, for it starts the game by creating a procedurally-generated galaxy. That’s an amazing way to state up front that “this game is going to be epic.” I haven’t had time to master this one or keep up with the latest updates, so I’ll need to get back out in space to catch up in 2017.
Let’s jump over to board games. A design I have admired greatly since it came out in 2010 was 7 Wonders. Much like in a Civilization game, you are tasking with building one of the wonders of the ancient world. However, the game design is a wonder as well: it accommodates up to seven players at a table with no added down time regardless of how many are playing. My only quibble was that it couldn’t be played with just 2, except they solved that this year when the Duel version made its way to America.
My family is obsessed with the Ticket to Ride series. We have tried all the variants and expansions, and own most of them. We’ve helped run the Ticket to Ride tournaments at the World Boardgaming Championships each of the last 10 summers. So imagine my surprise when the newest TTR variant includes a “tech tree”. Does that work? Throwing a tiny bit of Civilization game design into Ticket to Ride? Yes, it does, though I had the edge in the first few games of this we tried since I had studied how this one had been put together very carefully. I expect the rest of the family to catch up to me on this one soon.
When I was working on publishing my first board game ever (Stonewall’s Last Battle on the Chancellorsville campaign), I was helped by an Avalon Hill staffer with a great sense for elegant design and presentation in a board game, Mark Simonitch. Although most of my work on Civil War games has been at the operational or campaign level, I’ve always loved games that encompassed the entire war. So imagine my excitement when I heard that Mark’s latest game would be a new treatment of the war at that grand strategy level. So far the yearly campaigns have been great and I will tackle the full war shortly.
Top 5 Games I Am Anxious to Try
When I need a break from deep-thinking games, the Uncharted series has been my franchise of choice. I love the way Naughty Dog folds in just enough believable history and archaeology to really catch my attention. Don’t ask me how much time I spent staring at all the Renaissance-era objects in the museum in Cartagena in Uncharted 3! I’m behind a game right now. Time to catch up.
I normally don’t play shooters at all, but as a history geek how can I ignore the chance to be dropped into a World War I battlefield and check out what that is like?
Back in the 80s, my favorite grand strategy game was SPI’s Freedom in the Galaxy designed by John Butterfield. That game put you in a fictional Star Wars-esque setting and tasked you with launch a rebellion against their deeply evil Empire. Finally in 2016 we saw a spiritual successor published, Star Wars: Rebellion, a new board game with the actual Star Wars license. I have heard nothing but amazing things about this game. How can you not love it when there is a risk that even Leia gets turned to the dark side?
The other hot commodity in the board game market is the new T.I.M.E Stories series. The game’s deck of cards navigates you through an amazing story through time to save the planet from destruction. I haven’t even tried the first and already the third one is out: set in the Middle Ages. This one needs my T.I.M.E. badly!
And I have to end with a game I’m personally anxious to see in 2017. I work with a team of Civil War board game enthusiasts on the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series. Our latest board game on the Atlanta campaign just made its preorder target and should be coming out from Multi-Man Publishing within the year. Sherman’s Atlanta campaign is one of the most famous of the war but has never been covered in this much detail before. Check it out!