As 2016 wraps toward a close (good riddance!) its time to look over the GOOD things that happened this year. There were a few, in my personal life, of course, but that isn't what these lists are about! I'm going to take some time of the rest of this month and post a few of my favorite 2016 Top 10 lists.
In honor of my favorite video review channel, Man vs Meeple, posting their top 10 board games yesterday, I figured this was a good place to start! If you haven't seen their video (or if you don't watch Man vs Meeple), you can find it here. PS: this is definitely a show you should be watching if you're into board games!
Without further ado, my top 10 board games of 2016:
10. Bloodborne, by Eric Lang
Bloodborne is based on the From Software video game of the same name. The game pits you up against a series of interesting, and sometimes crazy, monsters in a competition to do the most damage to the monster before it dies. The game throws in a cooperative aspect as well: if you don't kill the monster in time, it will run away and no one gets the points! Be warned, however. In this game, much like the video game, you will die a lot. Every time you die you lose all your banked points, called "blood" unless you take a turn to rest. It is a hand management game with a little cooperation and a little "take that" thrown in. Its quick and easy to set up and plays in about 30-45 minutes. Its a fantastic filler game while you're waiting. The best praise I can give it is that it is the most accurate representation of a video game in another format that I've ever seen.
9. Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edition, by Nikki Valens
Mansions of Madness was a game a loved to play, but could never get to the table. Part of that was the obscene amount of time the game took to set up. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition has completely removed that problem. Not only that, it takes away the 1 vs many element and lets up to 5 players play cooperatively. The narrative is controlled by an app, which is one of the coolest integrations of technology I've seen in a board game yet. (X-Com was a good start, but this knocks it out of the park.) The map is revealed piece-by-piece as you explore new rooms, so you never know what will be waiting for you through a door. Couple that with the great presentation: music, sound effects, even voice acting, and the replayability of dozens of modular scenarios and you have a game that will hit the table over and over.
8: The Others: 7 Sins, by Eric Lang
This is the second Lang game to hit my list, which isn't a surprise given Blood Rage was my number 1 for 2016 (and still probably my favorite game of all time.). The Others is not for everyone, as it is a difficult, punishing, one vs many type game. One player takes on the role of a Sin (choose from all 7!) and controls their grotesque minions who are out to destroy the world. There are a variety of different modular setups and 3 different types of stories to tell. This means you might be playing a different objective on a different map against a different sin every time. There are dozens of cool heroes to choose from, and the sculpts are amazing, as Cool Mini just keeps upping their mini game. Its post apocalyptic, its nail-biting, its modular, its got tons of RPG elements, and it looks beautiful. I understand why this game didn't make it to a lot of top 10 lists, but I would gladly play it.
7: Flamme Rouge, by Asger Harding Granerud
I wasn't sure what to expect from Flamme Rouge. It is a game about long distance cycling, which is an interesting theme. My experience with racing games is limited to Formula D, but Flamme Rouge took racing in an unexpected direction. It is a hand / deck management game with a surprising amount of strategy that isn't visible at first blush. You have two decks, one for your Rouler and one for your Sprinter, that each have a set amount of cards. You draw a few at a time and use them to move around the board. Inclines and declines will either slow you down or speed you up, and being at the front of the pack leaves you exhausted, which clogs your deck with low speed cards. Those who are behind can position themselves correctly and drift up to the pack, closing the gap. There are a lot of strategic decisions to made here: if you play your fastest cards first and get in the lead, you'll get so exhausted that all you draw in the end are slow cards which let you watch as everyone passes you. It is a fantastic game.
6. Lorenzo il Magnifico, by Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, and Simone Lucian
This game, on the other hand, I knew I would like right away. Its by the same designers as two of my all-time faves, Grand Austria Hotel and The Voyages of Marco Polo. It takes a lot of familiar elements from those games and re-invents them. Also, it is set during the Renaissance which, as many of you know, is one of my favorite time periods in history. It is a Euro game that allows you to use some of the great leaders of the time (like Leonardo Da'Vinci) as you use a combination of resource management, worker placement, and tableau building to get an engine up and running. Getting that engine going and watching a chain reaction of cool things happen for you is very satisfying. There are other things to manage, such as a Faith track that could get you ex-communicated from the church, and a military track that is needed to clear new lands to allow your resource engine to grow. And, unlike Grand Austria Hotel, you don't have to wait 15 minutes for your turn to come back around!
5. A Feast for Odin, by Uwe Rosenberg
I know many people have this game higher up in their lists, but for me its a solid choice for spot 5. There is an absolute TON of things going on in this worker placement / resource management game. You'll have the choice of over 60 actions to take on your turn, but the way they are divided and laid out on the board never leaves you feeling overwhelmed. The 60 actions are broken down into easy-to-digest categories, like farming, hunting, exploration, etc. This game has agriculture, it has whaling, it has ship-building, it has markets, it has tile placement, it has exploration...it has SO much going on. Yet for all that, its actually a medium weight Euro. The game never feels out of control and there isn't a ton of "take that" happening, though other players can snipe your best placement spots, like in most Worker Placement type games. It combines a lot of aspects of Rosenberg's other games (even a tile placement mechanism very reminiscent of Patchwork.). It is a little expensive for what it is, but that is due to the huge amount of components that come in this box. There are like 20 punch boards: a dream come true for many gamers!
4. The Networks, by Gil Hova
This game came out of nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite games of the year. It has a theme which appeals to me (I love television and really get into all of the TV puns on these Network cards), and is a tableau building game about trying to build the best television network. You will have to manage your money and take on ads to pay for your shows, slot your shows in the best time slots, attach the most recognizable stars to your shows, and make sure they don't dip in popularity as the seasons go on, all in an attempt to score more viewers than the other networks. There is a small bit of "take that" with Network cards that can be grabbed to affect other players, but mostly its a race to grab the show you want for your time slot before someone else does. There is a bit of set collection here too, as you get genre bonuses for having similar shows. This game really makes you feel like you're in charge of a TV network, and an expansion due to come out next year adds drafting and asymmetric player powers, which do amazing things for the game.
3. Great Western Trail, by Alexander Pfister
Pfister is one somewhat of a roll: Isle of Skye won several "Best Of" awards last year, and both Mombasa and Broom Service were highly reviewed games. I think Great Western Trail is his best game yet. It also uses one of the most interesting mechanics I've ever seen in a board game. Its a play on a rondel, where you are constantly moving your cattle from your ranch (the start of the board) to Kansas city, where you will put your cattle on a train (in a set-collection mini-game) to sell it along your train route. The farther your train route extends, the more points you'll get for your cattle (but never more than the total from your set!). Along the way, you'll stop at outposts and buildings, navigate hazards, trade with natives, recruit new workers (engineers to help build buildings, conductors to help move your train, and ranch hands to help you herd more cattle), and try to move wooden circles from your player board onto the score board in order to access the abilities hidden beneath them. As more buildings and hazards get added to the map, you'll have more options of places to stop along whichever route you take to get to Kansas City. Once you get to Kansas, you reset to the beginning and do the whole thing over again: over, and over. This may sound repetitive, but its not. Every path through the West forces you to make decisions, as some of the best buildings may be hidden behind hazards or by tax stops placed by the other players. There is seriously too much going on in this game to give it justice. You just have to try it and play it for yourself.
2. Clank!, by Paul Dennen
This should come as no surprise to those of you who know me best. Deck builders are my absolute favorite type of game. No wait, Worker Placement. No wait, deck builder. Okay, whatever, they're tied as my absolute favorite. Clank! takes a fairly standard deck-building mechanic and builds an entirely different game around it. The cards you use to build your deck are used to buy new cards and fight monsters (pretty standard deck builder fare), but that isn't all. They're also used to move your meeple around a game board, where you are trying to race other players down into the depths to score the most valuable artifact and get back out of the castle in one piece. As you do, you'll make a LOT of noise, called Clank!, which will stir the dragon that lives in the depths. Every Clank! you make is added to a pool, and when the dragon awakes, those cubes are put into a bag and a few are drawn, dealing damage to players. You don't have a lot of health in this game, so managing the amount of Clank! you are making is critical. If you die while in the depths, you score 0 points, so it definitely becomes a push-your-luck, race to the finish game. Its going to be hard to go back to a regular deck builder after this one.
1. Terraforming Mars, by Jacob Fryxelius
This should be no surprise, as I've basically talked about Terraforming Mars non-stop since it came out. I love everything about this game. The tableau building, the engine building, the tile placement, the hand management: all of it comes together to make an amazing game experience that I would gladly play over and over. Add in the advanced rules for variable corporations with their own abilities, advanced cards that scale the game, and a drafting mechanic that really helps plan your hand and get your engine running. Seriously, I can't recommend this game enough. Go get it. Play it. Tell a friend about it. Terraforming Mars is absolutely my number 1 game of the year.
Honorable Mention: Star Wars: Destiny, by Corey Konieczka and Lukas Litzsinger
I'll say this: I like Star Wars: Destiny, the new card/dice hybrid game from FFG, way more than I wanted to. At first, I was very put off by the amount of luck inherent in the dice rolls, and was a little frustrated with it. I kept comparing it to Ashes in my mind, which was one of my top games of 2015. This is nothing like Ashes. The reason this game didn't make it onto my list is because its fairly new, and distribution issues have really botched the launch. I was able to get a pre-release kit (a starter set and a couple of packs), but nothing else, so I really haven't had a chance to dive into the meatier parts of this game, such as deck building. But, I think it is something I will play a lot over the coming year.