My 2016 Games of the Year

2016 is almost at an end, and the time has arrived to reflect on my favorite games of 2016, some misses, and some hopes for 2017. I’ll also ruminate upon my collection and other such matters that are no doubt compelling to you.

When I write these posts, my rule is that the game must be new to me in 2016 -- not necessarily released in 2016 -- with the caveat that it’s also permissible if I played the game in 2015 after I wrote my article from the previous year. I say that only because I have a few games that would miss the cut otherwise, and it’s my blog, so therefore, my rules hold sway.

I played a great deal of new games in 2016! I’m no longer the sole buyer of games for my group, which means I play new games almost weekly at lunch with friends bringing a variety of games I might have otherwise overlooked. But, we’ve also played many older games deeply. This pleases me the most! Many of the games on my list were played several times, but also, favorites like Libertalia, Coloretto, and Modern Art still hit the table a few times this year.

Because I played so many good games, but also have so many to discuss, here are the categories, and order, in which this post will follow:

  1. Honorable Mentions
  2. Important Games that Didn’t Do it for Me
  3. Too Soon to Tell
  4. Favorite Games of the Year

After the awards ceremony, grab a cocktail and swing by to ruminate upon my collection. Here, we’ll discuss:

  1. Games I regret not playing enough this year
  2. Games in my collection that have almost no plays (Shame)
  3. My Top 5 Anticipated Games for 2017

Let’s do this!

Honorable Mentions: The games I mention here are good games that just didn’t quite make the cut for me. For one reason or another. All of these are recommended and good. Just not the creme de la creme.

Stockpile: We’ve played this quite a bit. It is quick, compelling, and really, the perfect lunch game. I don’t think it does anything particularly new, but it’s a great combination of delightful auction and market flavors.

Port Royal: We play this 3-4 times over lunch, or if we have just 5-10 minutes left after a large game. It’s a great filler with some fun push your luck elements.

Unusual Suspects: This one is very fun, but I don’t quite think it has the legs of a legendary party game. I cannot quite say why. I will say once I had the question: Does the suspect vape? Antonio immediately shouted “THAT DOUCHEBAG VAPES!” and pointed to the suspect. It was a great moment.

Seafall: This game has had a very turbulent response from serious critics. I like it. It’s basically a legacy version of Merchants and Marauders, with many streamlined elements and a really fun story book. Plus, stickers. I will say the game will lead to some rough emotional moments of the story book screwing you, or your friend raiding your ship and taking your things. It’s particularly hurtful as it’s a legacy, which means the trouncing will have consequences for many games to come. Sometimes that really sucks, and that’s what’s keeping it out of the top spot for me. Then again, I’m dead last in my group (after six games plus prologue), so maybe I just have sour grapes plus scurvy?  

Las Vegas: This game is a laugh riot. It is basically Coloretto with dice. It inspires such pettiness and wonderful table talk. You’re a fool if you don’t get this.

Important Games that Didn’t Do it For Me: This isn’t meant to be my “least favorite games of the year” section. Trust me, it isn’t. But, I thought it would be interesting, not necessarily to be a pissant contrarian, but to briefly discuss some very popular, and I would say important games that didn’t quite work for me.

Fury of Dracula (3rd Ed): I never played the previous editions, but a good friend had and he loves it. I have to say, it wasn’t very interesting for me at all. After a few hours I almost didn’t care. I think one thing I’ve begun to realize is that hidden movement doesn’t interest me at all. I didn’t care for it here, on Spectre Ops, or in Rebellion (next up). I just wasn’t terribly interested in anything happening.

Rebellion: This is a gorgeous, epic production and it’s both ambitious and very well designed. And...I’m not sure I want to play it again. I would, because my friends like it and they spent a lot of money. But, the hidden movement and knowing several rounds before the end of the game we couldn’t win just really turned me off. There is a lot of cool stuff in this game, but I didn’t appreciate the sum of its parts.

Blood Rage: Mid-way through my first round of my first play, two friends with Loki cards stole my action resource. For 10 minutes I sat there, passing, while I watched my friends play. In subsequent rounds, I watched my friends continue to steal cards, action resource, and effectively win for losing a game of war. I get that I played badly, and perhaps I didn’t understand the game. But, Blood Rage was maybe the most frustrating 75 minutes I’ve spent playing a game all year.

Isle of Skye: This game is completely fine. I’ve played it twice. It’s fine. It doesn’t grab me in an “ooo that’s neat!” way like Broom Service does (same designer).

Forbidden Stars: This one is so close. I think it’s full of brilliant mechanisms. It’s really engaging. The progression of your forces, the Nexus Ops style objectives, the asymmetry is all so good. But, it’s also about 3 hours too long. My group plays games very quickly. We do not have AP. Forbidden Stars took us 5 hours to play! I can see where we could play better and more decisively, but the game tends towards a seesaw and I don’t see it shaving 2-3 hours off of it.

Too Soon to Tell: These are games I like, or really like, but haven’t played enough.

Haspelknecht: Although this game has already taken the award for Worst Title Ever in my collection from Die Speicherstadt, my two plays aren’t sufficient to move it into the pantheon of best of 2016. I really like it. I think it’s a beautiful production, firstly, but also, it’s a short (60 minutes), brutal, deep game. If you play badly, it will shove coal in your face. If you play well, you will profit like a bandit. It’s a game that rewards further plays to tighten your skill set. I think this one will do very well in my 2017 listing. My only fear is that I think some of my friends are mixed on it, which will make bringing it to the table tough at times.

Captain Sonar: I didn’t buy Captain Sonar, because I saw how difficult it is to get such games to the table. Thankfully, my friend did! I’ve only played it twice (they’ve played it more), but it is a HOOT. I played as the guy who tracks the enemy’s movement, and it is such a gas. This is a fun one.

Favorite Games of the Year: These are games I’ve played a bit, that I love, and that I recommend without hesitation to you.

Mechs vs. Minions: I’ve played this one quite a bit now and I think it’s just phenomenal. You know it’s gorgeous and obscenely over produced. What you might not know is that it’s dead simple, beautifully varied with scenarios, and just fun. Early when the Xbox 360 came out, I was smitten with Crackdown for its pure video-game like qualities. You could jump over freeways, kick bad guys 300 yards, rocket launch 50 dudes, and drive cars up the side of buildings. Mechs vs. Minions is like that. You’re just stomping around, blowing dudes up, chaotically changing directions. It’s hilarious, it’s satisfying. It’s super fun.

Lotus: Lotus is such an ideal filler (and I don’t use filler negatively). Dragonheart is one of the most played games in my collection, but it only plays with 2. Lotus plays up to four (but scales nicely), adds a light tech tree, and is simply gorgeous. I’ve played it with friends and parents alike and it’s damn near close to perfect.

Onitama: This is the game that inspired Druids. It is pure, simple, and satisfying. The limited cards reduces the amount of public info that normally plagues abstracts.  It is also a beautiful production. If you were curious about abstracts, this is one to try.

Concordia: This is perhaps the deepest simple game I know. The game is effectively a deckbuilder, except you hold all of your cards in your hand instead of cycling them each turn. Not only do your cards indicate your actions, but they dictate how you score at the end of the game. I want to play this game forever. I also want to try the designer’s other game, Imperial. But, I feel I need to get more out of Concordia first, as I’ve just barely scratched the surface.

Broom Service: This is a game that deeply inspired Solstice and fleshes out the brilliant core mechanism of Witches Brew, or Wie Verhext! Each round, you choose 4 of your 9 cards -- everyone has the same pool of cards. Each turn, the lead player plays the card and must dictate whether they are taking the Brave option, or the Cowardly option. The Brave option is far superior, but if anyone after you plays the Brave option, you get nothing. The Cowardly option is guaranteed, but inferior in its output. This is a game of mind-games, doublethink, finding your own niche, and knowing when you need to play with a spine. It’s so good.

Star Wars: Armada: Because of this game, I’ve stopped purchasing new ships for X-Wing, which I also love. I’ve played Star Wars: Armada ten times and I have never won a single game. I’ve come close, but I’m awful at it. But, I still love it. Armada makes some refinements on the X-Wing system, particularly in its combat, which has fewer moving parts but still feels deep. The ships feel like huge, lumbering behemoths, and you must think multiple rounds ahead and compensate for their momentum. The ships released so far are fascinating and provide so many new options. I think it is a perfect tactical experience.

Caverna: This is my game of the year. We’ve played it five times now. Something that really stands out to me is how every game, we almost all pursue new or different strategies, and they all seem viable. We’ve gotten better and better at leveraging the structures for their bonuses and optimizing our workers for their tasks. It’s an immense game, but not overwhelming. It’s slightly chaotic, as it is worker placement, but I love games in which I must plan against uncertainty. Caverna is so good I want to buy my own copy, even though it is so expensive, and I’ll never play it without my friend Matt (who owns it). So, instead of buying Caverna, I’ll probably get A Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden, or Glass Road, because I think Uwe has so much more to share with me.

Games I Regret Not Playing Enough This Year: As I looked through my list of what I did play, it was a bit glaring to see what I did not play. I have a handful of favorites that I barely played this year. I thought it would be interesting to briefly discuss this.

Star Wars: Armada - I played ten times this year, which is not insignificant. But, I’m still learning, I have more fleets to try, and I’ve spent a small fortune on this game. I want to play it 15 more times in 2017.

Warhammer 40,000: Conquest - I bought this game on a whim this year because I love CCGs/LCGs and I wanted to try another. I was sad to see, after I liked the game, that it is being cancelled as a consequence of Fantasy Flight ending their partnership with Games Workshop. As such, I spent a lot of money gobbling up expansions sooner than I would otherwise for fear of not being able to get them later. Therefore, I’ve spent a lot of money on a game I’ve played 4-5 times. Conquest makes some really nice improvements on deckbuilding, which I blogged about previously. It also has some really nice head to head tension that I think helps it stand out from other Magic-derived CCGs. I want to dig in more in 2017.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - Are you seeing a pattern? This is a game I love, and own quite a bit of content for. But, it is a very difficult game. It requires you deckbuild cohesively against the current quest. This means I effectively need to plan a session for us to deckbuild, then follow it with a session to play, then maybe another session to tweak and replay. It is not unlike planning a Raid in World of Warcraft. I’m always down for it, but I’m not sure my friends always are!

Android: Netrunner - This is my favorite game and my most played game that I didn’t design. The problem is that I only have one friend who plays it seriously, and I don’t always have the time/energy/enthusiasm to attend local events. Matt and I always want to play, but for us to do so we have to have decks ready (and we buy every pack, which means we need to include those), and we need to exclude the others at lunch who don’t play.

Combat Commander: Europe - This is a game I played quite a bit last year and it didn’t hit the table once this year. It is my favorite war game and I want to play it so much more. Alas, it’s a 3 hour game, and two player only, so I cannot play it over lunch.

Conclusion: I love two player games and want to play them more. But, two player game nights are the exception -- we normally have four. If Antonio comes over, that means we cannot play Netrunner (he doesn’t play), and we can only play Conquest if we prepared. We often play X-Wing or Armada. If Matt comes over, we try to play Netrunner, but then miss the others. In 2017, I need to figure out how to get in some more serious two player time.

Collection Games with Far too Few Plays: Similar to the category above, these are games I own, but don’t get played nearly enough.

  • Claustrophobia - It’s two player (see the above issues), but so good. Ugh.
  • Fief: France 1429 - This is a brilliant game that is intensely complicated and requires exactly five people to play. That means I have to rustle up a fifth who has 3 hours to kill. I wish it worked better with four!
  • The Gallerist - This is a good game, but it is far more intricate and complex than a game like Caverna. Therefore, we tend to just get out Caverna!
  • We the People: A gift from Josh I really want to play. But, it’s two player (see the above issues).
  • Stratego: Waterloo: A gift from Josh I really want to play. But, it’s two player.
  • Twilight Struggle: I’ve only played this twice after 4 years of ownership. That kills me inside. But...it’s two player.

My Top Five Anticipated Games of 2017: These are the games I know about that are coming out in 2017 that are sure to delight me.

Legends of Andor: Journey to the North - I wanted this game as soon as I saw it. For the longest time, Fantasy Flight wasn’t importing any of the expansions from Germany. Well, Kosmos now has the license and the expansions are arriving. I love Andor and have finished all the core box scenarios. Once I finish Seafall and Mechs vs. Minions, I’ll be purchasing this. The sea focus looks wonderful and I just love this game.

Star Wars Armada: The Corellian Conflict - One of my top five games adds persistent scenario conflict? Yes.

Star Wars: Destiny - I love CCGs and I love most of Fantasy Flight’s output lately. I expect Destiny to be a crisp, beautifully developed game. Antonio and I have bought both Starters and a booster box to split. Very excited to enjoy a small meta with him.

Android: Netrunner - The Terminal Directive - My favorite game adds a legacy style campaign? What? Yes. This is so damn ambitious. I expect it to be incredible.

1754: Conquest - The French and Indian War - I love 1775 and 1812 from Academy Games. Easily two of my favorite war games. They are elegant, deep, FUN, and team-based. Also, really beautiful productions. 1754 looks fantastic with its tweaks to the system. Plus, I just read two books on this conflict, so I’m ready to go.

Conclusion: At just shy of 3000 words, I think I’ve said plenty. What were your favorite games of the year? Any surprises? Disappointments? Share them in the comments.