Skulls of Sedlec
SoS is a 2-3 player game based on the real-life Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic, where some of the skulls of people buried there have been arranged into decorative structures. You're tasked with creating your own skull pyramid and earn points based on how well you can meet the placement preferences of the deceased. Royals want to be above other royals, romantics want to be together, criminals want to be adjacent to priests, and so on.
It's the first of three Button Shy games on today's list, and as is their M.O., it's an 18-card game with very simple rules that you can play in 15 minutes. I like it quite a bit and could see it being a great way to fill time when waiting for a phone call or for more people to show up to game night, but I wish it took up a little less table space. Although it comes in a fake wallet and can be easily taken anywhere, you need a decently large area to play and often won't be able to find room.
The second Button Shy game is about building a type of decorative raised granary found in Galicia. You score based on a features like adjacent platforms, number of doors, etc, and can overlay cards to cover up unwanted features or to create adjacencies. I like the cards and the idea of playing them like this, but the action selection at the core of the game is needlessly mean and complicated. Both players pick from four actions each round and can't choose the same one consecutively, but since one is to steal a piece of wall from the other player and another changes their selected action, it quickly devolves into stupid chaos and you're happy to get anything done at all.
I think this can be saved with house rules that remove the actions entirely and focus on the card placement, but the game as designed is bad and I can't recommend it to anyone.
DV is a push-your-luck game where players take turns choosing between a single face-up card or one from the deck. Cards go into a section called the Journey and score points based on their abilities, but if you ever accumulate three cards with the same hazard symbol, you go bust and lose all of your Journey cards. If you get a card you want to keep, you can protect it by resting and placing into a separate area called the Scrapbook, where it still counts towards hazard limits but won't ever leave your possession. Cards can grant special abilities and unique scoring criteria that help you stave off busting and the game ends when all but one card has been removed from the deck.
This is my favorite of the three Button Shy games. I wish there was a way to play it with more players, but even so, it's a tight two player game that has you making interesting decisions on most of your turns. It's also a beautiful game that evokes classic travel posters on all of the cards and shows you places and landscapes that, unless you're very familiar with Death Valley, you probably weren't aware of.
LD is a roll-and-write in which the active player rolls four dice with colored faces into a tray and then orients the tray so that each player is facing a single die. Players then fill in a single space on the board that matches that color, and can collect bonuses if doing so fully filled in a square containing a platform or pavilion. The active player gets to fill in a second color based on the round, and all players may spend gift tokens they've earned to use special abilities. The active player can also grab fireworks tokens to cover up blocks of the same shape that are fully filled in for extra points, and points are also awarded at the end for your second largest connected block of filled lakes and for any boat icons you've fully surrounded with filled lakes.
I like this one because it's quick and easy, but also because roll-and-writes usually don't have the spatial elements that are in LD, so it stands out in a crowded genre. I would have liked dry erase boards instead of paper so that you didn't need to worry about running out of paper, but there are so many scoring sheets that it's not much of a concern regardless.
This is one of my two contenders for best game on this post. It's a cooperative deckbuilder where you're powering up mages in order to take down a terrifying boss before it kills you or destroyers your village. There are a lot of catches that are too much to get into here, but the most interesting twists are that you never shuffle your deck, so card order is fully in your control, and you can often prevent the worst boss effects from happening by sacrificing cards or health. The game is very difficult even on the "normal" level, so it's very satisfying when all your planning comes together and you kill the boss in the nick of time.
This is the most complicated and difficult game this week, so it requires more dedication than the rest of the bunch. It's also the closest to playing a video game, though, and it's such a great cooperative experience that I'd suggest anyone willing to spend some time learning to give it a shot. There's a great app version of it available on Steam and, I think, mobile if you want a cheap way to try it out.
A party game from the '90s that is almost exactly Fibbage. One player chooses one of three (usually) obscure questions from a card and then shuffles it together with some blank cards. Each player gets one card and will have to make up an answer unless they're the lucky one that got the original question card. After everyone has given their answer, players vote on who they think was right and you get a point for being right or for giving the right answer.
It's fun, and I think I actually like this better than Jackbox's take on the idea because the right answer comes from a player instead of the computer. The questions are also better targeted towards things you can reasonably guess at instead of asking you about silly things that no one would have heard about unless they read the local paper's back page that day. Not by any means an essential experience, but worth playing if it's there.
And finally we have Calico, my other pick for best of the week. It's a drafting game where you place one of two tiles from your hand and then take one of three from the center of the board. You score for meeting the requirements of your bonus tiles (the white ones like AA-BB-CC above), which specify the order of colors and/or patterns you need in the surrounding six tiles, for earning buttons by creating groups of three matching color tiles, and for earning cat pieces by creating groups of same-pattern tiles that match their preferences. It's a fascinating game because you're almost always going to go in with a plan only to have to make a new one when the tiles don't cooperate with your idea, and then to have to do it all again when the tiles screw you over again the next turn as well. After you've played for a bit, you'll realize that it's actually about carefully placing each tile to keep your plans as flexible as possible for as long as possible, which means that every turn matters a great deal.
This is the one I'd be most confident about recommending to anyone, with the possible exception of people who absolutely must have player interaction. It's simple enough that practically anyone can learn to play and yet you'll still have new ideas and theories to try out every time you play.