Another year, another top 10. Several things affected this year’s list. For starters, I was exposed to many new games this year. I feel like the more I get to try out different games the more refined my palate becomes. Also, the release of our new Ranking Engine helped narrow the gap among my favorites. As such, only four games remain on the list this year as many dropped to what I presume to be their appropriate spots. I guess we’ll have to see where everything settles as we continue to do these year-in and year-out.
10. PENNY PRESS
If you like unique themes, then Penny Press is a game for you. At its core, it’s basically an area control game. You place your reporters on different news stories trying to be the first newspaper to report them. When you go to press if you have the most reporters on that story you get to add it to your newspaper. The Tetris-like fitting of each news story into your paper is like a mini-game of its own. Overall Penny Press a fairly light game that is just a lot of fun and aesthetically pleasing to look at.
9. 7 WONDERS DUEL
Based on the popular 7 Wonders drafting game, 7 Wonders Duel is designed for just two players. I first got a chance to play this at the West Texas Table Top Con and was immediately enamored with it. I’ve played a lot of two player games and this is by far the best, in my opinion. Drafting in this game is unique in that cards are basically drafted from a pyramid with alternating rows of face up and down cards. It makes choosing cards difficult because there’s always the fear of revealing something good to your opponent. And that’s what I love about the game, decisions are quite difficult; you can’t ignore something for too long or you’ll lose. Great game!
8. LORDS OF WATERDEEP
Waterdeep is a game that excels in simplicity. Worker Placement is a mechanism that I really enjoy and this game focuses on that without adding a lot of fluff or stacked on mechanisms. It does what it intends to do and it does it well. My favorite thing is probably the purchasable buildings that add new spots you can go to as the game progresses. It’ll be hard to knock this one out of my top 10. It fell a little bit because of my #3 game but I expect it to stay here for many years to come.
7. XIA: LEGENDS OF A DRIFT SYSTEM
Ah Xia, probably the most divisive game on my list. People either love it or hate it. This is probably because they are playing with too many people. This game is best played with three, otherwise it’s just too stinkin’ long. What I love about Xia, though, is the openness of it. Sure, you could say it’s basically an exploration Pick-up and Deliver game but I like that I can still win by other means. The painted ships and high quality components bring it up another notch too. It all just comes together nicely making you feel like you’re there, flying your ship through space.
6. THE GUARDIANS EXPLORE
The Pub had the privilege of previewing Guardians Explore during its Kickstarter run. I’m glad we did because this is a truly diamond in the rough. So many games come out each year that some just get lost in the shuffle. Here’s one I don’t hear a lot of hype over that needs some attention. I love Deck Building. I love Worker Placement. And Drafting? Uh, yes Please! Put them together with a great theme and you’ve got my attention. The designer actually calls it Deck Refinement as your main goal is to cull cards from your deck rather than build it up. Once you get your engine going you can dish out some serious combos. Oh, did I mention you’re fighting off monsters too? Good times.
I’m not much of a 4X guy but Scythe reminds me of a typical euro style game with all the 4X elements. I like that as you deploy your mechs they each give abilities that help you explore more efficiently. I like the give and take of hiring workers to expand your territory vs the costs to keep them employed. I like how the exploitation of resources stay on the tiles where they were produced instead of immediately to a personal storage. And I like the use of cards (not dice) in combination with sacrificing power to exterminate your foes. The thing I like most, though, is that when I make upgrades on my player board it benefits not one but two things simultaneously. Plus the whole dystopian mecha theme in this game just works and the mechanisms flow smoothly. A game worth having in any collection.
4. MISSION RED PLANET
This game has almost removed any desire to play Survive anymore. It gives me the same overall feel but offers so much more. It has that Take-That! aspect that just makes me chuckle. It replaces rolling a die with simultaneous card play with each giving unique actions. It limits the amount of memory that Survive was so reliant on and makes it easier to manage. It also adds Area Control and Hand Management. It even scales better with 6 players. Every time I play this game I have a blast and so has everyone else I’ve played with.
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Gary first introduced me to Agricola last year. Sure, I knew about it, but he finally convinced me to give a try and boy am I glad that he did. As much as I like Lords of Waterdeep this game simply outshines it. Every choice you make is crucial to your game plan. A few misplays can cost you the game which can make it a bit of a brain burner. They key is to adjust to what is available. Maximize your efforts. Agricola is my chess in the modern board gaming era. In addition to your standard Worker Placement fare Agricola adds a spatial layer to it that meshes the theme with the mechanisms. And don’t forget all the wooden bits. So many wonderful little bits.
Set Collection is a mechanism that I like a lot. It’s probably in a vast majority of the games that I own. Takenoko is by far my favorite because it takes such a simple idea and puts its own unique twist on it. Normally you collect things and put them in front of you but in Takenoko all you have are goal cards. Instead, everyone will be manipulating the board to acquire sets via pattern recognition as shown on their cards. Since the board is constantly changing you’ll need to claim your objectives at an opportune time or you may miss out on those points. Because this game uses pattern recognition, has such a vibrantly cute look to it, and is pretty simple to teach it’s very inviting to children and family alike.
Engine Building has quickly become my favorite board game mechanism and Deus does this in a way that is just so satisfying, which is why it has jumped to the top of my list this year. Every card you play to your tableau sets your engine in motion. The more cards you add, the more things begin to combo off. I love it! And not to worry, if things aren’t going your way just discard all the cards that don’t fit in your plan. What’s great here is that you don’t have to waste a turn to do this either. Discarding is how you take actions which will give you extra pieces that you may need for your engine to function properly. The board offers some minimal player interaction but there’s enough to keep everyone engaged. The more I play this game the more I want to play it again and again and again.
HONORABLE MENTION – MAGIC THE GATHERING
As I dive deeper and deeper into the board game hobby the less and less desire I have to play Magic the Gathering over my other board games. For this reason it has dropped off my top ten list this year. I still feel like I should give it some love, though, because I do really enjoy playing this game. (I enjoy brewing decks even more) The problem is that it’s really hard to teach to new players and it’s very expensive. Two decades worth of rules are quite a lot to digest. If I hadn’t played Magic when I was in high school, I’m not sure that I’d be playing it at all to be honest. The sad part of the whole deal is that in order to play it to my satisfaction I need to play on a competitive level and that requires good cards which cost a lot of money. I’d rather just buy a whole new board game for that kind of investment.
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