Mina's Fresh Cardboard
HAPPY NEW YEAR! We are now in 2017, so it's time to take a look back at what happened in 2016 and put it in some order of order!
Whenever I put together a list of top 10 games of the year, or any other top 10 list of games, my goal is to include the games I most enjoyed playing. This means that my personal preferences, preconceptions, biases, and moods are front and center in these lists. Rather than thinking of this list (or any other top 10 lists of mine in general) as lists of what I consider to be the BEST games of 2016 (or of any other category), consider them to be lists of the games I most enjoyed playing and the games I most want to continue to play. There are some games that I would consider to be objectively better than ones on my list that do not appear here at all and there are some games that "should" be higher or lower on the list had I gone with the "best" criteria. Just keep that in mind when you go through this list.
For games that I have reviewed, I will include some of my final thoughts, adjusted to reflect my current feelings about the game in question, as well as the basic and points I presented in the original review. If you would like to see more details about these, please check out the Review section for the game. For games that I have not yet reviewed, I will try to capture my current feelings as best as possible and provide some general and points.
My overall impression of the year as a whole was quite positive, but some of my favorite games were re-imaginings of ones that had already been published. This year definitely brought a number of such re-imaginings, from 51st State Master Set to Key to the City - London to Avenue to to Evolution: Climate to Pandemic: Iberia to Pandemic: Cthulhu to Cottage Garden. And though I tend to prefer heavier games, some of the heavier hitters don't appear on my list. This may be a reflection of my shifting tastes, it may be a reflection of the quality of games of medium weight that 2016 produced, or it may be a bit of both. Either way, sit down and get ready for some surprises!
*Don't worry, I don't think any of my choices will elicit any heart attacks
Top Ten Favorite Games of 2016
Terraforming Mars is an excellent game, but not one that is easy to review or rate. It wasn't love at first play and it isn't perfect. At least, it isn't perfect for me or with two players. There are nearly as many things I don't like about it as the ones that I do, but the balance falls FAR in favor of the ones that I do. The high level of game-to-game and turn-to-turn variability, broad decision space, and great sense of evolution and progress towards the ultimate goal make Terraforming Mars something I intend to keep playing for a long time to come!
Now, if I had to liken Terraforming Mars to a food item, which I feel I do for no good reason at all, it would be a kumquat, as it features a full spectrum of game flavors. It's a little sour on the outside because it doesn't look all that appealing...at least the cards don't. It's incredibly sweet and delicious in the middle because the decisions you make are so many and varied and each card pulls you in a different and equally appealing direction as the next, and if you're like me, this just makes you smile. And it can be quite bitter if you get unlucky and fail to draw the cards you want/need while you watch your opponent get the perfect ones. It's like a kumquat in another sense too; it so cleverly combines so many game elements and mechanisms, including card play, engine building, tile laying, and resource management, that it overwhelms the senses! I just love it! Sour, bitter, sweet, and tasty! I'll never get tired of it!
Great graphic design that makes the game easy to learn and play
Very satisfying sense of progression
An INCREDIBLE amount of stuff to think about each turn
Interesting spatial element
Unique, science-based theme that comes out in the card effects and actions
Variable player powers
High replay value
The two-player game takes as long as a three-player game, which takes as long as a four-player game, which makes the game quite long (i.e. 1.5 to 2 hours)
Can be difficult to keep track of all effects late in the game, particularly when playing with two players, as your tableau sprawls uncontrollably
Spatial aspect would be more interesting with more than just two players involved
The card artwork is very strange and disjointed, as it combines photography with illustration
Card randomness can be a bit annoying, but given the number of cards you draw throughout the game, it seems to even out
The game has a strange decision curve, with few actions available to you early in the game, many in the middle, and few again in the end
Might be a bit mean for some people, but the stealing that happens in the game is occasional and limited and not at all problematic for me
Roll Player is super! I was hooked on its wild dice rolling, extensive scoring options, and fun theme from my first play! The artwork may be less than sublime, but I'm happy to look past that to the fun and pleasant game that lies beneath. And the stories I get to tell at the end of each game are just priceless! Roll Player is a sweet treat at any time of day! Deep enough for a main course but procedurally light enough for an end-of-night session, it's dice-rolling perfection!
Unique game with a large number of scoring criteria, effects, and options to be kept in mind and an interesting and unusual system of dice activation and allocation
Much to think about for a dice/card game
High replay value
Sense of accomplishment for having created a fun character with a story and personality
Double-sided boards with male/female versions of each character
Production is somewhat lacking
Rulebook is poorly laid out
Much randomness, but it doesn't bother me because I know what I'm in for
Does not feel thematic while playing, but gives you a thematic ending with a unique and strange character
Artwork is poopy
Aeon's End has quickly become one of my favorite and most played cooperative games ever! Of course, it had to make my top 10 of the year!
It would be understatement to say that I had high expectations for Aeon's End. Fortunately, my expectations were met. And exceeded. Aeon's End is a tense, challenging, highly replayable, and intensely satisfying co-op puzzle. Right now, it sits atop my list of gaming obsessions, as I continue to pull it out to try all the various character and monster combinations and take down the baddest of baddies! If you're a fan of deck-building co-ops or co-ops in general, Aeon's End is a must!
Awesome art and story
Unique, variable turn-order system that significantly adds to the decision-making in the game
Unique card-play system
Incredibly challenging and satisfying
Super duper awesome high replay value
Setup and teardown is quite involved and time consuming. This does decrease with repeat plays, but can seem quite daunting when you first start playing
The variable turn order can create some unhappy down time
The game can be easy or impossible depending on the interaction between the market cards, characters, and nemesis in play
Mansions of Madness may seem like an unlikely candidate for a top 10 list from someone like me, but here it is at number 7! I am not typically a fan of games with little control, little information, and a heck of a lot of dice rolling, but this one is so full of story, atmosphere, and excitement that it just keeps drawing me back. I now have all currently available expansions, and though I have yet to play through all the scenarios, I am eager to do so. I do wish a greater number of scenarios could be played in less time, but I'm quite happy to keep this game as a "treat" for when I have tons of time to just explore and interact with it and have fun.
Aesthetically and intellectually captivating - If you have a great sense of curiosity, this game will devour you. The game breathes life into the story through its mechanisms, the atmospheric app, and its awesome appearance.
Super exciting - This game is just plain FUN! You never know what is lurking behind the next corner and surprises abound!
Demands a substantial time commitment (about 2 hours at least)
Seems to be more difficult with fewer players
The newest Feld game is not a Feld game at all! Oracle of Delphi is the least Feldian of Feld games because guess what!? NO POINTS! No salad! It's a race game in which you try to be the first to complete 12 objectives. Each objective tasks you with moving resources and statues to islands that need them, building temples, or fighting monsters. And once you complete each objective, you gain a reward that makes completing others a bit easier. Of course, being a Feld game, you occasionally get punished each round for no reason whatsoever .
Oracle of Delphi is one of my favorite games of 2016 because it has some of my favorite game elements - route planning and action optimization - combined with a fun dice-based action-selection system and a huge amount of game-to-game variability. And perhaps because it is so well aligned with my preferences, it has quickly become one of my favorite of Stefan Feld's games as well!
Fun, dice-based action selection with ability to manipulate dice
Because the game is a race, much action and route optimization is necessary to do well
Much variability in setup, including a variable board layout, many different starting powers, and many different powers you can acquire by fighting monsters
Setup is horrendously difficult due to the strangely shaped tiles. It improves with time, but it's always a bit of a pain
The rulebook isn't as clear as it could/should be
Key to the City - London is quite similar in structure to Keyflower and yet plays out differently enough to warrant owning and playing both. At least for me. You are doing all the same things, including drawing meeples from the meeple bag, using meeples to bid for tiles, using meeples to activate tiles, and using meeples to activate tiles. However, London has a stronger spatial element than Keyflower. Perhaps it could be argued that it's simply different, but I definitely felt like I had to think more about space when playing London than when playing Keyflower. And why? Because London has a clever "connection" system. Many tiles require that you gain and attach to them connectors of specific colors in order to upgrade them. What's more, a number of end-game scoring tiles (which are visible and available to everyone from the start of the game) provide additional points for having a certain arrangement of connections. This means that whenever you place a tile, you have to think about how best to position it in your city in order to be able to connect it to another tile with similar connection requirements and thus ensure you aren't being inefficient. When selecting tiles and actions, you also have to ensure you are able to gain the right colors of connectors.
Another difference between Keyflower and London is the passing system. Whereas in Keyflower, you could simply return to the round after passing, in London, you have a second passing option; you can cut yourself completely out of the round by sailing your ship to an adjacent river tile and select the number of meeples you wish to receive/your turn order for the next round. One space on each river tile also allows you to add the river tile from the previous round to your city and river tiles can be lucrative sources of points if you effectively satisfy their conditions, so this passing business is always a tempting option.
As I did with Keyflower before it, I ADORE Key to the City-London. At this point, I actually prefer it to Keyflower due to its spatial planning demands. It's also quite lovely to think about visiting all the places on the tiles! I love theatre and the Globe Theatre has always been at the top of my places to visit in the world! I know that's a silly reason to be attracted to a game, but that type of intrinsic attraction isn't something one can ignore, particularly when it comes with such a compelling system attached to it! Love!
Tense bidding/tile activation system
Tense passing system
Unique "connection" system that encourages creating synergistic spatial arrangements between tiles
Setup and tear down is a little fiddly
Connection rods are super fiddly
Kane Klenko is a brilliant designer. His Dead Men Tell No Tales and FUSE became instant favorites and Covert only continues this tradition. But for me, Covert goes further than the rest. Being a deeper and heavier game than the rest of Mr. Klenko's designs, it just gives me more game to love! I love the beautiful puzzle of the game that folds over and under itself so simply yet intricately that it boggles the mind. Except for the code-breaking bit, which seems somewhat detached from the rest of the game, every aspect of Covert interacts with the others in multiple ways, which forces you to think about a mind-blowing number of elements at once. This is a game grows and expands with each play and that's my favorite thing! Mind-expanding game goodness!
Beautiful, intricate, Möbius-strip-like system
The structure of the game reflects the theme
Interesting dice placement system
Interesting form of player interaction
Well-considered scaling to two
Incredible replay value
After a game or two, can be played quite quickly
Looks a lot more boring than it isn't
Can take a few sessions to "get it"
The code-breaking part feels somewhat disjointed from the rest of the game
Scythe may be a somewhat deceptive game. It LOOKS like a high-conflict, fast-paced, miniature-heavy Ameritrashy game thingy, but it is definitely not. Consequently, it may draw the attention of gamers who would not necessarily be drawn to the type of game this is. And it may draw the ire of such players when they are disappointed to find what it actually is. As such, I think it is important to note that Scythe is NOT about conflict. It is NOT about war. And it is NOT about killing. Yes, those elements are there in a very quiet, muted, Euro-ish way, but they are not the focus of the game. So be aware of that. With that out of the way, let's get to what Scythe actually is.
Scythe is my kind of game. It is a game of puzzles and efficiency with a strong spatial planning element and it is gorgeous! It makes me feel like an adventuring economist, planning to take over the world with my numbers and books and resources and clever planning. I love the multi-layered race and the puzzles generated by the variable action boards and player powers. I know that Scythe will be a game I will reach for for a long, long, long, long time to come!
It's so beautiful and it smells like vanilla cupcakes! (SERIOUSLY! The minis smell like vanilla!).
The Scythe world is thematic and unique
A tense puzzly game of efficiency and speed
Highly strategic with many strategies to explore
A great sense of progress and escalation
Map works well even with only two players
Subtlety in aggression with a quick, simple, and effective combat system
A tremendous amount of variability and replay value is generated by the depth of the game, as well as the multiple faction boards and action boards, the huge number of objective cards, structure bonuses, factory cards, and encounter cards, and various faction matchups
GIRL POWER! Many powerful female characters from which to choose!
It is a bit difficult and annoying to keep track of the bonus actions when others take them
Great Western Trail does everything right! From the myriad of ways to score points to the unique hand management demands to the different ways to upgrade your actions to the spatial element of planning your route and building layout to the cute wooly cows, this game has it all! My favorite part of the game is definitely planning for the reckoning that occurs in Kansas. Doing so skillfully involves careful pacing (i.e. determining which and how many action tiles you'll need to use) and ensuring you have discarded, thrown away, or otherwise done away with duplicate and low-valued cows in your hand.
This is one of the games on this list that I have yet to review, but when I do, you can expect an overwhelmingly positive review. I have few negative feelings about this game and adore the
Cute and colorful
Many ways to score points, including building buildings, building stations, customizing your deck, hiring helpers, and collecting station bonuses. These can be combined in various ways and seem to be
"Tech" upgrades that customize your ability to accomplish things and encourage you to focus
Too little time, too much to do!
Clever "deck-building" system
Tense hand management
Limited ways to cull deck
51st State Master Set embodies so many of the features that I love to see in games; variable player powers, endless replay value, engine building, a great sense of progression, huge amounts of tension, multi-use cards, interesting decision points, beautiful artwork and pieces...I could go on forever. But more than anything, 51st State Master Set makes me feel like I have progressed, achieved, and evolved over the course of the game and it does so more than any other game I've played. Players quickly take themselves from a place of tight restrictions and impossibility to a place of freedom and possibility and their agency in this process provides an incredible sense of accomplishment. And it's the intensity of this feeling that makes 51st State stand apart from other games and is one of the many reasons this game will forever hold a special place in my collection and in my heart.
Gorgeous art and super duper awesome quality production!
Multi-use cards create a lot of tension and difficult decision points
Limitation of use of conversion actions on players' boards to once
Overbuilding through development is super cool, providing more options, especially late in the game
Great sense of progression
The player interaction provides an interesting decision point and, in our experience, has not been as destructive as it would appear to be
51st State is a largely solitaire game, with players largely focused on building their own tableaus.
Variable player powers
Super replay value
All the tension of a race game without the sense of all being lost if you're not in the lead
Perfect duration to depth ratio
BECAUSE I CAN'T STOP AT TEN...SOME OTHER WONDERS
Dream Home! I've written at length about how much I love the drafting combined with the spatial elements in this game, which is why it makes this list of honorable mentions. Plus, it invariably puts a smile on my face and that has to count for a lot of somethings!
Perfect artwork and production
Many different tactical considerations to make
The spatial element takes the game a step above a simple set collection affair
Interesting for gamers with a theme and ruleset that makes it accessible to non gamers as well
Great sense of accomplishment for having created something at the end and you can tell fun stories about your home's inhabitants...because the homes turn out very strangely sometimes...NO BATHROOMS!? No problems! These people don't poop!
ULTRA FAST PLAYING!
May be a bit too light to stay interesting for a bunch of plays in a short period of time, but this complaint is alleviated by avoiding playing it obsessively in short periods
Roof cards introduce a memory element and I'm not fond of memory elements in games.
Evolution Climate is Evolution perfected. If you have ever had an interest in Evolution and enjoy a deeper, more challenging game, Climate is the one to get! For me, it is perfect thematically and incredibly satisfying as it forces me to think in ways that no other game does. And it allows me to create a happy menagerie of species that I have evolved to persevere through a variety of events and circumstances. At the end of each game, I feel like I have accomplished something huge and important. And I have! I have created species that thrive and survive!
If you have any interest in evolutionary biology, animals, grand stories, or simply love beautiful, elegant, highly interactive card games, I would urge you to check out Evolution Climate! I'm going to have to adapt one of my shelves to keep Evolution Climate at the front and center of it forever!
The most beautiful artwork ever!
Card game that tells stories
Simple rules for a very interesting and deep experience
Numerous tension-filled decision points generated by multi-use cards and player interaction. Climate amplifies this
Every game plays out completely differently due to the huge card variety and climate shifts
Quite strategic with two
Climate introduces a couple of rules that reduce the randomness in the game at any player count
You can use Evolution Climate to play the base game without climate-related events or the base game with the Climate expansion
Millennium Blades was clearly a labor of love for the designer and publisher and represents a most beautiful ode to geek culture. From CCGs to Pokemon to the Princess Bride and Legend of Zelda, you will find all kinds of references and in-jokes here. And when you step away from the details, you will find a game that beautifully encapsulates the experience of being a collectible card game enthusiast. Ultimately, I think that this game appeals to me as much as it does because I am familiar with many of the references and jokes and experiences portrayed in it and I think that it will, for the most part, appeal to others who are similarly inclined. It is frantic and fun and can feel chaotic at times, but it is actually full of strategic and tactical decision points to challenge and engage players. Between the fun and the strategy, I can't see myself parting with this stunning achievement of a game EVER! SO MUCH LOVE! I could play this all day!
Mind-boggling amounts of gorgeous artwork. Fábio Fontes' hand must have fallen off!
HUGE amount of content and high replay value
Unique theme that is effectively carried by the mechanisms and art/production. CCG simulator!? SIGN ME UP! This thing rekindled my love for Magic: The Gathering!
Unique mechanisms, including chaotic real-time action in the deck-building phase and the player-versus-player battle tournament phase that involves spatial relationships between cards
Super exciting real-time deck-building phase
Resetting the game is troublesome
Shuffling the giant deck is hard
Takes a long time to play (about 2 hours with 2 people)
The tournament phase doesn't involve a lot of decision-making
Millennium $ assembly is a serious commitment - Project "Assemble Millenium Bucks" took us several days and hours to complete.
Rules are not quite as well developed as they could and should be in some places
Two players does not appear to be the ideal player count
FAVORITE EXPANSION OF 2016
2016 brought many exciting expansions, but the one that topped them all for me was Dominion: Empires! Hyperborea: Light & Shadow, Deus: Egypt, and 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon were among my most highly anticipated expansions of the year, but Dominion: Empires topped them all. Why? Because while every Dominion expansion has tweaked the game and created additional challenges, no expansion has tweaked the game and created additional challenges like Empires. Between the Landmark cards and Event cards and the debt cards and the action cards that interact with VP tokens on their piles, Empires gives players a lot more to think about on each turn. The Landmark cards encourage players to compose their decks in ways they would not normally be inclined to and give the game more direction than a pure race for VP cards and the Event cards give them more buy options and create crazy combinatorial possibilities each turn. Debt cards create a lot of tension in the game, giving players tempting, powerful cards that can shut them out of buying cards for a turn or two. The end result of all the additions is an advanced Dominion that will challenge seasoned Dominion players and give those looking for more out of this game exactly what they are looking for. This expansion was MADE for me! I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT!
Additional scoring options that will not clog your deck and will give you a lot more to think about
Debt provides another option to consider
Split piles of related card types add a lot of tension, encouraging you to dig through certain piles to reap greater and greater rewards, while benefiting other players
Landmark cards give you extra scoring options and encourage unusual deck-building strategies
Even more variety for Dominion
Definitely takes longer to play than most other expansions
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2016
I am going to get a lot of flack for this one, but I was highly disappointed with The Networks. I'm not one for fluffy games with kitschy themes and television is of little interest to me. Perhaps I'm simply the wrong audience for this game, but here's what I had to say about it earlier in the year:
The Networks is a game in which you become a TV network executive, adding shows to one of 3 prime time slots (8, 9, and 10 pm), placing stars and ads on those shows, and making money and gaining viewers. The goal of the game is to gain the most viewers through your shows and revenue. You will have to spend money to acquire and retain stars and shows and will gain money through ad revenue. And money can be a very good thing to have because creating a focused network that consistently shows comedy or sport or science-fiction shows may allow you to turn your money into viewers later in the game.
Ultimately, The Networks is a simple drafting game in which all the cards to be drafted are visible to all players at the start of each round. This is an interesting concept and one I assumed would make the game feel more strategic than a typical drafting game. And indeed, having this information does make the game feel strategic (despite the fact that some cards are randomly removed every 3 turns in a 2-player game). However, our session lacked the level of tension that I favor in games. Money wasn't very hard to come by and Network cards, which grant special powers, were too plentiful and powerful. A higher player count may increase the tension, but with two, everything felt too loose and easy. For us. This may not be an issue for players who prefer lighter games and intend to play The Networks for laughs (because it is uproariously hilarious) and light strategy. We don't. At least for how long it took to play. I could see myself enjoying this game much more if it took 20 minutes to play, but it took over an hour and that's too much for me for the game's weight in my eyes So sad. But I would still recommend The Networks to those who are looking for something funny with simple mechanisms and a relatively light weight. And perhaps to those who are able to consistently play at higher player counts.
This is a small preview of next week's fun! I had a lovely time at Snakes and Lattes with some great designer and publisher and general friend people and will be at Board Game Base Camp with them this weekend! You'll get to read all about my adventures in a board game cabin in Middle-of-Nowhere, Ontario next week!
I may have to post a day late because I'll be on a super secret surprise mission on Thursday evening! Happy Gaming, everyone!