When I picked out last year’s top 10, I went through the big list of games and started eliminating games until I had a healthy top 30 or so, then I picked out what I thought were the best. Different factors play into those kinds of decisions like particular experiences and nostalgia, staying power within the hobby, and the idea that a game represents its genre better than others. This year I took a top 30 list of games through our ranking engine with one thing in mind: what do I want to play more? I was surprised by some of the results and feel this is a very honest and accurate list.
First up, some honorable mentions:
Arcadia Quest is easily one of my favorite take-that games. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and very much an abstract game in disguise. It’s always a riot (as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously too).
Forbidden Stars is a personal favorite where the fiddly ruleset doesn’t seem to fit into my normal criteria. But it shines at 2 players and the combat mechanics are some of the best in all board game combat systems.
Mission: Red Planet would have been on the top 10 list had I not used the ranking engine for a more accurate cross-section of my tastes. It is one of the best, most approachable area control games and strikes a balance between control and chaos.
10. STAR WARS REBELLION
I initially wanted to play Rebellion thinking it would be some kind of throwback to the Galactic Battleground or Empire at War video games. I typically avoid long, epic games due to a distaste for downtime but I am a sucker for any kind of strategic warfare. While Rebellion satisfied the want for troop maneuvering, it surprised me with a game I didn’t expect. In addition to miniature skirmishes, Rebellion offers a chance to play through a Star Wars story with a very thematic and theatrical feel. And although its epic sweep is broad, the 2 player game affords less downtime than you might expect.
9. SMALL WORLD
If you liked Small World but haven’t played it in awhile, dust it off and take it for another spin. Not sure why I took such a long hiatus from this game but playing it this last year reminded me of what an evergreen Small World can be. With fun decisions in a game that ebbs and flows, players can get an immediate sense of the game state and adapt to opponent configurations. Days of Wonder is even releasing a new board full of rivers this year so be on the lookout as this should spice things up better than the modular board expansion that came out a couple of years ago.
It was hard to see this one come out so low on a top 10. That being said, it’s still on the top 10! There’s a reason this game has had consistent traction with my family and gaming group and that is because of its approachable nature coupled with fantastic gameplay. With clear objectives and a shared playing area, Takenoko keeps the player tension steady throughout the game while not being overbearing. The components are great (the final look of a playthrough is very satisfying) and the thematic implementation only enhances the whole experience.
7. BLOOD RAGE
This is just plain fun. Blood Rage brings together a lot of solid mechanics and provides an arena for troop movement and war strategy without forcing players to slog through fiddly rules and long bouts of downtime. One might assume we’re looking at a war game or something in the area control category. I think what makes this game click with so many people is that it looks and feels like you’re engaged in this kind of competition, but the scoring conditions are not based on gaining supremacy or control and so it becomes a very forgiving game despite its brutal nature. If you enjoy card drafting and strategic card play, this game adds the fun of miniatures on a map. If you’re a sucker for minis and war games, you’ll have a blast easing up in this gorgeously rendered mini-epic.
This seemed to be the grail game for 2016 among our group and many others we interacted with last year. Playing Scythe feels like you’re engaged in a synergistic work of art. Not only because it is beautiful to behold but the gameplay itself is an exercise in elegance and efficiency. While the mechanics are simple, it often feels like you need to do a little more than you’re allowed. Each time I sit down to play there’s a sense that I’m not only trying to achieve victory at the table but also play better than I did the last time. It’s rare that I approach a game with that intent outside the two-player abstract, but there it is. This game hits on many levels for me and I’m eager to challenge it’s staying power this year.
5. LORDS OF VEGAS
I don’t know of a game that implements theme into its mechanics as well as Lords of Vegas. We often talk about theme integration but many themes don’t lend themselves to a one-to-one real world counterpart to in-game action. It helps that Lords of Vegas utilizes high stakes gambling, odds-driven dice rolling, and simple card counts to control rewards and influence in the game. But along with the property/economic theme, I feel the game shines best as an area control game. What’s more, there are multiple paths to gaining control of contested areas, each with its own risk/reward structure. Lords of Vegas has never left my top 10, even though I don’t recall ever winning a single game.
4. XIA: LEGENDS OF A DRIFT SYSTEM
Here is one game I’m glad to see rise on my top 10. Xia offers something much closer to the Firefly experience than the proper Firefly board game, itself. Players captain space vessels in an attempt to trade, steal, transport, smuggle, fight, rescue, harvest, explore, and outwit everyone else in the Xia system. I’ve played games ranging from the friendlier pick-up/delivery sort to the unruly kind where everyone at the table seems to be traders, pirates, and peace keepers all at once. The expansion is set to release sometime in 2017 which promises to revitalize the scope of the game. But even at its base level I highly recommend the experience.
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While I have a lot of justifiable reasons to recommend Coup, let me start by saying in the bluffing/deduction genre this game is a blast. While many deduction games field a party-style team system, Coup is played with six or fewer people and focuses on a single player’s ability to bluff some of their actions. Games run fairly quick and the psychology of successive games adds to the overall depth that Coup provides. For those of you that have couped themselves senseless, grab the Rebellion G54 standalone version to mix it up.
We’ve talked before about the hybrid designs of euro/ameritrash in other games. What I love about Istanbul is the hybrid design of euro/abstract. Abstract strategy will always be a first love for me even as the genre is eclipsed by more accessible games. Now I get to tickle that itch with a wonderfully balanced euro that invites a wide window of opportunities to play. The fact that it is a game played in about an hour, yet still deep enough to sink into allows it to be welcome in several spheres and situations. On top of all that, I find that others enjoy Istanbul for different reasons than I do. It’s a fairly multidimensional game in that respect.
1. DESCENT 2.0
I have to stop and ask if this is my number one for 2017 because of my investment in the game? Or is it inertia from being my number one for the last 2 years? Or because I think of it as the best implementation of my favorite genre: dungeon crawling? Descent is far from dominating my gaming time as I get plenty of other games in a year, but I can honestly say that I play pretty regularly and have enjoyed it in its various roles: as the villain, as a hero against a human, and as a hero against the iOS app. I think it keeps hitting the top of my list because every time I’ve played I’ve been delighted by the experience. I know this is not everyone’s experience with the game (I’ve been on the forums) but I have played many adventure crawling board games, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, and Descent just takes the cake. With the new app implementations, the designers are still giving us reasons to break it out and love it again. I realize this isn’t “the game for everyone,” but it’s certainly my favorite.
See our individual top 10 lists:
See our individual top 10 lists:
See our individual top 10 lists:
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