2016 in paper and wood

by james mathias / 2017 / games

Last year I played 124 different games, 80 of which were new to me. Interestingly, I only had around 180 plays logged, which is pretty low for me.

My daughter was born at the tail end of 2015, and her arrival rearranged my priorities quite a bit. As such, I didn’t play as much as pre-Fred. However, I wouldn’t trade her little smile, and neck hugs for all the games in the world. Sorry games, Winifred comes first.

I still did an abnormal amount of gaming, and tried a lot of new games in 2016. I like playing new games, but I wouldn’t consider myself a member of the Cult of the New. No, I’m the founder of the “Constant search for the best game in the world” tribe, and so far I’ve only found tributes.

In 2016, two-hundred and thirty-one board game related items left my collection. And roughly one-hundred and forty-six game related items entered my collection.

Let’s get down to it, shall we?

Disappointments

Arcane Academy

This was supposed to be a game of tile laying, grid combo explosions! Fast, furious, an insane snowball of turn lengthening, opponent eye-rolling glee.

Turned out to be a constrained, semi-interesting, luck driven, tile laying puzzle, with minor combo potentials. Fun once or twice, but overstays it welcome extremely quickly. Unfortunate.

Burano

This game was touted as the second coming of Herr Feld. It’s Feldian in it’s approach and mechanisms they yelled from on high. Plus blocks! Lots of puzzling over your blocks and your action pyramid! For all intents and purposes this was supposed to be a clever, unique and interesting Euro.

Turned out to be bland, boring, fiddly, and not well produced. Big bummer.

The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game

Castles of Burgundy distilled into a quick playing card game, what could be bad about that? This takes a fun, tense, and wonderful game and condenses it into a smaller footprint, and play time. All the taste, half the calories!

Turned out to be literally Castles of Burgundy printed on cards. Huge foot print, same length, but no dice, or spatial hex puzzle to solve. Feld flat.

Clank!

Sneak into the dungeon they said. Grab some loot, and sneak back out. It’ll be easy and fun they said. An adventure! Just be quiet, and the dragon will ignore you. Get in and out quick, and you’ll suffer no fools, and be all the richer.

Turned out to be a bog standard deck builder with a board tacked on, for “variety”. Same cards, same powers, same, same, same. Shame.

Colony

It’s Dominion with dice! So fast and clever! Fun too! Post apocalypse thematics are all the rage these days.

Turned out to be a slow playing trudge through a uninteresting universe, that didn’t even bother come up with thematic dice or names for the cards. Blah.

Dream Home

Drafting and designing your dream home! Fun for the entire family, simple rules with a deep strategy.

Turned out to be very simple, and shallow. The game had so little game, I had to double check we didn’t get any rules wrong. But nope, it’s just not good. Lame.

Coal Baron: The Great Card Game

Another great Euro distilled into a fast playing card game with a small footprint! Hop on the train, next stop fun times! Choo-Choo!

Turned out to be a lot like it’s brother Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game. Overlong, huge table hog, pretty much the same game printed on cards.

Fool me twice.

Lunarchitects

This was supposed to be a return to greatness for a long out of print classic Glen More. An evolution of those rolling hills. A trip to space to build moon bases! Extra bits and bobs, variable scoring! By all accounts this was to be an improvement.

Turned out to be a boring and lopsided experience, that made me long for Glen More goodness the entire time. This is a perfect example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Underdeveloped.


Surprises

Push it

You place a small disc in the middle of the table, give 2 color-coded discs to each player, and then flick your discs trying to get closest to the center disc. Simple rules. Sounds like it might be boring after a bit.

Nope. It gets better with every play. Laughter, teasing, puffing up, and then deflating when you miss. It’s a blast. Super fun, and fast! This is the dexterity game for every collection.

Santorini

I’ve never been much of an abstract gamer. Chess has always held a place in my heart, ‘cause my dad taught me how to play, but I never really liked playing it. Checkers felt boring. Go seems drab. I just did’t like them.

Santorini changed all that by buying me a Heineken.

Santorini is what I consider a gateway abstract. I backed the game because of its gorgeous presentation, and the addition of the God powers for variety. Truth be told, I’ve played Santorini more without the powers than with. The game is great, it just doesn’t need the powers.

After falling head over with Santorini, I started to look at other abstracts, now I own a bunch, and I love them. I still feel the same about Chess, Checkers, and Go though.

Codex

I’m always interested in games that can give me a Magic like feeling without the constant costs. Codex looked like it might fit that, but for a variety of personal reasons I was super hesitant, and skeptical.

I backed the deluxe anyway, even though I knew I was overpaying for a game that would likely be put on auction after a handful of plays.

Turns out, it’s a brilliant and elegant game. It has some flaws in its presentation and production, but the game is good enough that those things, that normally bother me, don’t.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the game, due to the way its packaged and sold in retail, it’s just not a great value, unless you backed the KS.

Grifters

Since I started in this hobby I’ve been looking for a game where you play as a criminal, and have risk/reward that feels thematic. I’ve tried them all, and something always feel short for me.

Grifters is a simple card game, but it feels more thematic and interesting than a game with hundreds of pieces. It’s fast, and fun too. I was really surprised at how much I liked this game.

Topoum

This is a thematic abstract, like Tash Kalar. I really liked the art and theme of this game, so I imported it from Spain. I was expecting to dislike it, and put it up for auction, but I had to try it to be sure.

Very happy I took the risk on Topoum. A wonderful game with a lot of variety, and deep game play with a simple rule set. I think it might be one of my favorite abstracts with a theme.

Tyrants of the Underdark

Deck building. Route building. Area control. These are all things I enjoy. Dragons. Elves, dark ones. Intrigue. Politics. These are more things I enjoy. I was certain I would like this game. But, I don’t.

I love it.

Tyrants takes all of these mechanisms and puts them together in a masterpiece of game design. Publishers, take note. Tyrants is how you combine popular mechanisms into a solid, cohesive whole.

I have complaints about component quality, but again, the game is so good, I overlook them.


Best of the Best

Without further misdirection, here is my 2016 top 10 games of the year. These are all games I loved playing, played more than the others, and have long term shelf space, if they want it.

If a game appears on this list I recommend checking it out, and trying it.

10: Codex

9: Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition)

8: 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis

7: Inis

6: Topoum

5: The Colonists

4: Tyrants of the Underdark

3: Santorini

2: Great Western Trail

1: Cry Havoc

The bigger you become, the smaller your world gets

Roxane Gay circa 2017