The Cardboard Hoard: My Favorite Games from 2016
First, I haven't played even a fraction of the games that were released this year, especially anything that released at Essen or after. Second, I am leaving expansions off this list. Finally, I'll reiterate that my preferences don't make a game objectively good or bad, these are just my opinions based on my tastes.
So that all out of the way, these were my favorite games from 2016 (in alphabetical order):
I really enjoyed this dice placement, tableau/engine builder, despite the very thin theming. It hit a sweet spot for how easy it was to learn, how quick it played, how many decisions there were to make, and how much luck was present. The variability right in the base box, as well as the great insert, also helped make this game a stand out.
A perfect family game. It has cute artwork and a non-threatening theme that will draw in grandparents and children, but maintains gameplay that can be surprisingly tense and cutthroat. It was easy to learn and teach, but not so simplistic as to become boring after a few plays. Also, the components and insert were both top notch.
I've been a big fanboy of Ryan Laukat and his Red Raven publishing company for some time, and Islebound has done nothing to change my opinion of either. The art, as always, is vivid and evocative of the fantasy world this game shares with Above and Below and the upcoming Near and Far. But more than just being a pretty presence at the table, the game play really engaged me in this game of archipelago exploration -- managing to be simultaneously thinky and breezy.
This past year may not be the best ever year for games, but it's among the prettiest. This game of simultaneously building a paint studio and creating a panoramic picture features stunning artwork by Jade Mosch and spared no expense on theme, coming with a bamboo playmat. But it was also designed by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier (who also designed Abyss together), so the game play lives up to the game's lofty aesthetics.
One of my all-time favorite blends of theme with mechanics, and likely my favorite game of the year. The Networks is approachable, intuitive, has great pacing, a great decision space, scales well, and doesn't overstay its welcome at the table. The graphic design of the game's multi-faceted cards, by Heiko Gunther and Travis Kinchy, is also notable for its elegance and utility.
This thoughtfully designed Kickstarter game from Far Off Games and designer Cody Miller features an interesting card-based push-your-luck mechanism to simulate a surfing competition. It has a nice player count range, playing from one to six players, and scales up well due to simultaneous card play. It also contains an array of well designed components, including custom dice, that help sell the surfing theme.
I also have a few honorable mentions, the first because I enjoy playing it with my kids, but wouldn't bring out with adults, the second because it is a redesign of an older game, and the rest because I haven't played them enough to call them favorites.
If this was a list of top games to play with kids, this game would top the list. It's unique box-in-a-box design has a great table presence, and sets up and breaks down a lot quicker than other flicking games, such as Flick 'Em Upor Rampage. But there is not a lot of depth to the game, and it plays a bit more like an activity.
Order of the Gilded Compass
This re-imagining of Alea Iacta Est is another great gateway/family game. This dice-allocation game draws comparisons to Yahtzee when teaching to new players, but has more in the way of decision making, as well as a variable set-up to increase replayability, and finally, a fun -- if thinly presented -- theme. Since I lauded a few of the other inserts on this list, I do feel compelled to mention that this insert is garbage. As in it literally got thrown out because it wasn't functional in the least.
This collectible card game simulator doesn't make my list solely because I've only gotten to play it at two players, which, due to the two-player rule changes, leaves me feeling as if I haven't gotten to experience the complete game just yet. I expect to remedy that this year, especially with the Set Rotation expansion on its way to me shortly.
One Deck Dungeon
This is a game that I only got to play once, as the Kickstarter delivered during the December holidays. I would like to explore this more, both solo and with another player, but I was very intrigued by my one play.
I enjoyed my one solo play of this deck-building game very much -- to the point I opined that it could replace Marvel Legendary for me. And it might, but before I go making any grand pronouncements, I need to play it more to test its balance, and with other players to make sure the game is equally challenging at different player counts.