My list changed quite a bit from last year, and that’s because my tastes in games seems to have shifted towards heavier euros over the past 12 months. I still like the “Ameritrash” games too, and if you could see my top 100 you’d see some of those titles in the other 90 entries. More and more I feel pulled towards games with some real depth, however, and I feel like 2016 was a year in which my tastes in games became more focused and it was also a year in which I discovered some really great games that I feel will be on this list for quite a while.
10. LEGENDARY: A MARVEL DECK BUILDING GAME
This game is one of my son’s favorites, and thus it has become one of my favorites. It’s not perfect, but it’s very fun. At this point, we own the majority of the expansions and have favorite heroes and villains to play with or against respectively. It just feels cool to take an unlikely combo of heroes up against a Mastermind and a few villains and see what happens. Can Lady Thor, Star Lord, Symbiote Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen and 1940’s era Captain America take Down Apocalypse, his Four Horsemen and the Sinister Six as they try to capture baby Hope? The mixing and matching of heroes, villain and plot lines is one of the best parts of this game. It can also be a weakness from time to time. If you get certain combos of heroes and villains the game can become insanely hard or incredibly easy very quickly. Legendary has so much potential for fun it’s easy for me to overlook this issue, however, and I expect to see my son and I playing many more games with the huge and varied catalog of heroes we’ve collected from the game’s expansions for years to come.
Mombasa effectively combines an intriguing action selection system with the spatial elements of the exploration area of the board and a basic stock market to create a challenging game that forces you to plan ahead and to think about how to best maximize your hand to get the best possible actions on subsequent turns. It’s a brain burner in the best way.
The reverse worker placement mechanic in Nippon is brilliant, and when added to the framework of a well tightly designed area control game pushes this one into top 10 level material. There always seems to be several actions that you’d like to do, but being limited by the available worker pools keeps you from being able to do it all. Choosing and competing for which industries to invest in and competing against the other players for the spots you want on the board all burn your brain in the best way. I was a year late getting to this one, but it was one of the best games I was introduced to in 2016.
Combining the tile-laying mechanic with an economic engine, Suburbia is just one of those games I loved the moment I first started playing it. It pulls me in and makes me evaluate every possible choice in order to have the most efficient engine on the table. The fact that some of the tiles might interact with those in other players boroughs just adds another layer of strategy on top. Every game is going to have a different mix of tiles and when you add in the ever changing market there is a lot of variety in this game. The game is full of tough choices, and figuring out which tile is the best choice is often a challenge that just pushes me in a way that I find very rewarding.
6. STAR WARS: ARMADA
If the large-scale battles that were usually just glimpsed or hinted at in the Star Wars movies ever piqued your interest then this is the game for you. I keep hearing about Rebellion being “Star Wars in a box” and I’d really like to try it out, but for me, this game gives me that same feeling. Heroes command capital ships or lead squadrons of X-Wings, Y-Wings and Tie Interceptors as they maneuver around the table attempting to gain the advantage and turn the tide of the battle. The quality of the miniatures is on par with those in the X-Wing Miniatures game and the battle system offers plenty of depth. I get a little bit of a Chess vibe with this game, and it’s definitely a different beast than the aforementioned X-Wing Miniatures Game. The fact that many battles will end with ships still on the table is, to me, both a nice thematic element and good game design. I can picture the battle between slow moving behemoths in space as my opponent and I slowly turn and position our ships on the table, trying to outmaneuver one another. Battles last 6 rounds so players need to be aware of the time limit both so they know how long they have to complete the objectives for a particular battle and so they can plan the movement of their ships accurately. Sometimes sacrificing a ship or two is worth it if you can damage a larger, more costly ship of your opponents or gain enough points through completing objectives to put yourself ahead enough for a victory after the final scores are tallied.
5. RUSSIAN RAILROADS
Russian Railroads was hit with the Pub when I brought it to the table in late 2016, and any euro game that my friends all seem to like is going to be pretty high on my list. I really enjoyed the player board for this game and the way in which you can customize it via the rails, factories and engineers that you can purchase every round. Every player can choose a very different strategy from the person next to them and every choice seems to carry so much weight. This game is just so well designed and all the pieces fit together so well. Russian Railroads is a great game. It’s the type of game that causes you to think about it hours or days after you’ve put all the cardboard bits back in the box.
Madeira is another tightly designed game by Nuno Sentieiro and Paulo Soledad, who have Nippon, Panamax and the upcoming Brasil to their name. Madeira offers players many options for scoring, and it’s interesting to see how the crown’s request that you pick throughout the game will alter your strategy from round to round. It’s a tough game to grok your first time through, I don’t really feel you can be competitive at this game until you’ve played your first game or at the very least a couple of rounds. This can be offputting for some people, but with this one, the payoff is so good, I don’t count it as a huge negative personally. I want to play this game again immediately after I’m done. It’s challenging in all the right ways. I often find myself stuck between two choices that would both be good for me or struggling to overcome an earlier decision that left me just one resource short of what I currently need. I’m not a huge fan of dice in euro games, but Madeira uses dice in a way that doesn’t bother me. Figuring out how to achieve your goals using the dice you were given for the round is part of the challenge and adds to the strategy of the game. Madeira can be hard, but it’s very rewarding.
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3. THE GALLERIST
Vital Lacerda’s game about running an internationally renowned art gallery is a visual treat. From the high quality components to the works of art created just for the game by various artists including the main artist for the game Ian O’Toole everything is top notch. Discovering and promoting artists is the heart of the game, and most of your actions will be based around buying and selling their art, luring collectors, critics and buyers into your gallery as well as participating in the international market. The theme runs pretty strong in this game. It’s fun to discover and artist and promote him or her and see your profits rise. It feels even better to buy a work of art from an artist that was discovered by another player and who will likely go up in fame whether or not you pump any money into their career. There is a lot going on in this game, but the basic mechanics are pretty simple. The kicked out extra actions add a nice element, with players often hoping to be kicked off of an action space so that they can perform either the free executive actions or spend the fame points and pull off the action for that space.
2. LE HAVRE
A.K.A “The game most likely to dethrone Agricola.” Rosenberg really knows how to design a good euro that requires you to build and engine and run it very efficiently. Le Havre still has a “feed your workers” mechanic, but it’s less tense than in Agricola as there are more ways to do this including just paying money out of pocket. Loans aren’t the permanent point loss that beggar cards are in Agricola as well. Despite those two mechanisms not being as tough, I wouldn’t call it an easier game. You have so many options in this game, and finding the right one is a challenge. There is a tension between what you want to do for your longer term strategy and what you need to do to produce some food for the short term. Ideally, both will align somewhat but if you make a mistake you can find yourself burning a turn or two just to make sure you don’t go too deep into debt. The last few rounds seem to take on a frantic nature as everyone is trying to position themselves well for the end game. The upgradable resources are one of my favorite elements of the game and pulling off a cool chain of actions by upgrading and selling resources or using them to purchase and even better resource always feels great. I don’t see this game leaving my top 10 anytime soon.
I’ve written about Agricola before for one of our reviews, so I’ll keep it pretty short here. Agricola is a game that I enjoy every single time I play it. I like that it’s tight and can be stressful if you’ve made some mistakes. Every move counts. This means it’s not for everyone, but trying to figure out how to be just a little bit more efficient than my opponents or have a slightly better engine is something I really enjoy. It’s by no means a perfect game and some strategies seem to work better than others, however, I have so much fun playing this game that I am willing to overlook it’s few negatives and it still sits atop my personal top 10 list.
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