2016 is now in the books and while I didn’t play every game that came out, I was able to play nearly 50 new games. There were so many games that came out and of course, so little time and money to be able to buy and play them all. As I looked at the list of games that I played from 2016, I tried to judge them based on how the game made me feel about playing it; in other words was it fun and did it leave me wanting to play more. There was no complex mathematical formula used in this ranking but simply my reaction to the games. While you are at it, check out Alexander’s Top 10 as well as Tim’s. We shared several games in common on our lists but also had some different thoughts.
#10 Explorers of the North Sea by Garphill Games
When Tim got this game, I was immediately intrigued as I have a thing for Viking themed games and really loved the little animeeples! Explorers of the North Sea is the final of a three game series called the North Sea Trilogy (Shipwrights of the North Sea and Raiders of the North Sea). The game requires you to move your Vikings around a modular board made up of islands with various scoring opportunities on them, from gathering animals to raiding and pillaging settlements. The player interaction is great as when you draw a tile to place each round, you have to pay attention to what your fellow Viking explorers are doing and place that tile to either benefit you directly, by making it easier to access, or placing it far from your opponents making it unreasonable for them to traverse the seas to reach. You also can destroy other Viking ships which really puts a kink in their plans. With amazing art (I mean look at that beautiful Viking – can I say that about a Viking?), high quality components including little ships, animeeples and well made tiles, the production value of this game is fantastic. Replayability is high as well as you never know what tiles you will encounter as you randomly draw them. This game really made my list due to being a quick and easy play, with good strategy, fantastic art and lots of great theme. Check out our unboxing video showing all three games.
#9 Colony by Bezier Games
I played Colony for the first time at Gen Con as it was #5 on my List of Top 10 Most Anticipated Games at Gen Con 2016 and was immediately taken by its game play. I do like dice rolling and the idea of using those dice as workers to build or upgrade various two sided cards that represented buildings really appealed to me. The various resource dice are either considered stable (you can store them for later use) or unstable (you must use them or lose them) and it was very interesting trying to develop a strategy to garner both types of resources to build the best scoring cards. These dice are acquired through a draft each round so you can choose what dice you need for your cards unless someone else takes the number you needed. I consider this game an engine building game as several of the buildings allow for resource conversion and the creation of combos that can truly gain you lots of resources or score points in waves. The game does require planning and in order to be successful you must identify the types of cards that are available and identify what resources are needed to allow building the higher valued cards. I wanted to see the theme integrated a little more effectively but it worked and the Pirate lent the game an apocalyptic feel of a society where the strong take from the weak. Simple game play along with a good selection of cards that add replayability and Colony earns it’s spot on my list.
#8 Scythe by Stonemaier Games
Scythe (#3 on my Gen Con list) from Stonemaier Games is a grand Sci-fi/alternate history experience with beautifully sculpted miniatures and absolutely stunning art. But aside from those shiny elements that initially drew me in, the gameplay is very deep, thinky and extremely satisfying. Worker placement mixed with engine building and most importantly combat creates an extremely interactive and sweeping experience as players try to take their fledgling faction to greater heights by capturing resource generating hexes while trying to upgrade their technology and improve their mechs to be able to stave off the other hungry and growing factions. Each faction has individual powers so there is a lot of variability in the game. One of the most interesting and well done aspects of the game is the way actions are chosen. Essentially each player has 4 areas to choose from on their player board. In these areas is both a top-row action and bottom-row action. The top row actions are the basics of the game including “move”, “produce”, “bolster” and “trade” which allow the maneuvering of pieces, production of resources, gathering of combat strength, and acquiring otherwise unavailable resources or popularity. The bottom row actions are “build”, “upgrade”, “deploy” and “enlist”. You cannot take the same action twice in a row as you move your marker around from action to action so this causes the need for a lot of planning for those movements. The really unique thing about the player boards is that costs and rewards of the bottom-row actions are slightly different for each player faction. The goal of each faction is to be the first to achieve 6 out of 10 objectives which include deploying all 4 mechs, winning a battle, placing all available workers just to name a few. The game only ends when any player takes actions that would place their 6th and final marker on one of the objectives. This was also an amazing part of the game as you really need to understand where the other players are with their objectives as well as their points as you don’t want to end too soon and cheat yourself or drag the game out allowing your opponents to claim victory. I loved this game and had I been able to play a few more times it might have ended higher on my list.
#7 Cry Havoc by Portal Games
Another game that was hotly anticipated going into Gen Con 2016 (I had it as my #2) was Cry Havoc from Portal Games by designer Grant Rodiek. This assymetric card driven Sci-fi wargame had me as soon as a I read about it. Throw in great looking miniatures and it immediately was a game that I loved but after playing, knew would make my Top 10 list. The game play is so smooth and the card driven game play is an amazing achievement but the combat system is the pièce de résistance. The combat system is not necessarily about winning or losing the battle but about meeting your objective. The Battle Board is broken into 3 separate Objective areas. At the top of the board is the Region Control Objective, in the middle is the Capture Prisoners Objective and at the bottom is the Attrition Objective. Once both players have placed their pieces from the region where the battle is taking place, both players can then play cards from their hands with varying battle abilities to either move their units around from Objective to Objective, add units to one of the Objectives from their supply or another part of the board or even change the order in which the boxes are resolved. Finally, the Battle Board resolves from top to bottom. First, whoever has the most units in the Region Control Objective box gains control of the region on the game board where the battle is occurring and will place a control marker forcing the other player to retreat after the battle. Next, whoever has the most units in the Capture Prisoners Objective box captures one opposing unit on the Battle Board which depletes the other player’s available forces and scores one point per turn. Finally, for each unit placed in the Attrition Objective box, you will kill one other unit and score one point for each unit killed. So, you might not win the battle and control the territory but you may have won by completing Objectives that your faction needed to further their progress. A truly amazing and dare I say, revolutionary battle mechanic that really is the heart of the game. I still don’t own this game but will definitely add it to my collection as should you.
#6 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis by Ultra Pro International
This game came out of nowhere for me as we saw it at Gen Con, sat down, played and Alexander immediately got up from the table and bought it. 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis is a 2 player card driven game covering the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 16-28, 1962. The game has the same feeling as Twilight Struggle by GMT Games but is definitely a little bit quicker and less complex, while using the same basic theory of trying to influence certain aspects of world opinion utilizing cards either for the Ops value to place influence cubes or to play the event that gives a large benefit. The game play is very fast and rounds don’t last very long. In our plays, we can rip through the entire game in about 35 minutes. I will say that this game is one of the most satisfying 3o minute games that I have ever played. With a fantastic historic theme that feels very tense, as if every move will lead to the ultimate destruction of society in a fiery nuclear holocaust, and very well designed thematic mechanics, this game is a must have for all who like a fantastic Cold War tug of war experience. For more info on the components, see our unboxing video.
#5 High Treason!: The Trial of Louis Riel by Victory Point Games
Another surprise game for me was the courtroom based game High Treason!: The Trial of Louis Riel by Victory Point Games. The game is a very interesting and unique experience of one side trying to defend the criminal Louis Riel, who led two separate but related rebellions in Western Canada, and the other trying to prosecute him successfully. The drama plays out over the course of the trial starting with jury selection where players are trying to amass jurors who will be favorable to their cause by playing cards that move up various aspect tracks. The players then try to utilize event cards skillfully during closing arguments to cement their standing on the tracks. Once complete, the players add up points and a winner is declared. The game is designed as a tug-of-war where each player is trying desperately to get the upper hand. As mentioned above, the first key battle is where you try to manipulate the Jury as best you can to get more favourable jurors for your side. Then in presenting your case you argue the issues that they may or may not care about, and try to make them more valuable pointswise for the prosecution, or devalue them for the defense. You are also trying to sway jurors to your side and hopefully get enough sway to lock them in to a specific verdict making them double their score fo the prosecution of halve their score for the defense. All of this is done during two trial phases and a closing arguments phase with the play of cards. And beware, your cards are different in each phase. I loved the theme (although I must admit was ignorant of its historic roots) and what really solidified it’s spot on my list was the battle! Not in the form of physical combat but in trying to outwit your opponent with a deft use of cards, or by affecting one aspect to the point it became locked or by convincing one juror in your favor thereby gaining a doubling or halving of points. The really great part about this action is that your opponent can see what is happening, but may be powerless to stop it. Great fun with a quick play time, High Treason! was a real hit for me in 2016. For more info on the components, see our unboxing video.
#4 Great Western Trail by Stronghold Games
Great Western Trail by Stronghold Games was a highly anticipated release at Essen Spiel (It came in at #1 on My Top 10 Most Anticipated Games from Essen Spiel 2016). Alexander Pfister, a rising star among designers, has done it again with a great game that focuses on the cattle drives of the West. A very eclectic mix of mechanics including deck building, set collection and building buildings along the trail, the game is just so much fun and plays so very well. My favorite part of the game is having to decide which set of workers to focus on, either Cowboys to improve my herd gaining more income when they are delivered to Kansas City, Craftsmen to focus on building my own buildings along the trail to create a more efficient and useful path for my herd to KC or Engineers to focus on getting my train down the tracks opening up new markets and gaining income and end game points from controlling stations. Great choices all around and the building of your own trail to KC is fantastic as you are creating a type of a rondel that you can directly benefit from but that slows other players down. The reason this game has come in at the 4th spot is due to its length. A game will take nearly 2 hours, and while it is truly engaging, interactive, strategic and very fun to play, that is a big time commitment and really its only true negative. But if you enjoy a meaty, thinky challenge, then take a bite out of this “Black and Blue” Angus Point Salad (you’ll understand the reference if you read my review) and enjoy!
#3 Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by GMT Games
You just knew there had to be a wargame in my Top 5 and what a wargame it is! Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by GMT Games is Volume V in the COIN Series (COunterINsurgency) and focuses on the struggle for American independence from their Mother Country England. The game is a multi-faction treatment of the conflict designed for 1-4 players and focuses on all of the players that had a role in the conflict, from the ragged and underfunded Colonists, the oppressive British army, their subversive Indian allies and finally the French who had a vested interest in British rule ending in the Colonies. The game is very assymetric and each faction has a totally different set of victory conditions which makes it very interesting as you not only have to know and focus on your conditions, but must be aware how your enemies are going to win as well so that you can prevent that from happening. Each faction plays totally different and the game is not necessarily about battles, but is more about meeting those conditions through any means necessary which may include area control, killing your enemy’s soldiers, winning over the hearts and minds of the people, etc. The production value of this game is off the charts as the map is absolutely beautiful and probably deserves to be framed and hung in a place of honor on my wall. I love the COIN Series and what Harold Buchanan has done with this design is nothing short of revolutionary. At this time, GMT Games is doing a reprint of the game so I would recommend jumping on that ASAP at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-582-liberty-or-death-the-american-insurrection-reprint-ed.aspx
#2 Mare Nostrum: Empires by Academy Games
Mare Nostrum: Empires came out of nowhere for me. Alexander backed the Kickstarter and didn’t really ever say much about it until it showed up early last summer. What a surprise it was! We played and it was an amazing experience from the get go. I loved the trading of goods and the gamesmanship involved with this aspect of the game. I also loved the combat system. To me, a great game is simple to understand and play but difficult to master. Complexity doesn’t always translate into greatness. In the design of Mare Nostrum, the greatness is on display due to the simple play. The game also has many possible paths to victory as you can win with military might, trading of goods, purchasing upgraded heroes, moving up the various advancement tracks and possibly building the pyramids. The components are also beautiful and the board is very well done. We have only scratched the surface of this deep ocean of a game and I am looking forward to the next time is graces our table. For more info on the components, see our unboxing video.
#1 Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games
My most anticipated game coming out of Gen Con 2016 was Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games and Fryx Games. This game was surrounded by huge hype and great expectations, so much so that I rushed the Stronghold Games booth the first morning of Gen Con to get my hands on a copy. There was no pushing, shoving or hair pulling from others, but I sure did mix it up in order to assure myself a copy. Upon our first play of the game, I was hooked. The depth of the design is apparent as there are many different strategies that can be brought to bear that will lead to victory. You can focus on City building, Oxygen building, or on any number of other parameter building aspects, etc. I still have been unable to get the microbe strategy going! With 208 different project cards, the replayability is amazing and there are lots of strategies to explore. The game also has unique starting corporations that can be used in place of the more generic corporations to increase the depth of the game and open up even more strategies. I also really liked the components including the small metallic colored cubes. Great game with some hard science in a fun and easy to play system. For more information about the components, see our unboxing video. Also, if you haven’t heard yet, Fryx Games has announced an expansion Hellas & Elysium: Exploring the Other Side of Mars.
Honorable mentions were as follows:
Valeria: Card Kingdoms, Ave Roma, Star Wars Rebellion, Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar and Conan.
So there you have my list of Top 10 Games Released in 2016. It was hard to whittle them down as there were so many worthy candidates. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my choices or a summary of your list so leave a comment. Here is to another great year of gaming in 2017!