The Cardboard Hoard: My Favorite Games from 2017, and a Look Back at 2016
Let me start, as is tradition, with some caveats:
I haven't played even a fraction of the games that were released in 2017, especially anything that released at Essen or after.
I don’t put expansions on these lists.
My preferences don't make a game objectively good or bad, these are just my opinions based on my personal tastes.
However, unlike previous years, I’m not going to list my favorites alphabetically, as I found this year my choices were easier than in previous years to list by personal preference. So in descending order, here are my ten favorites of the year, followed by a few honorable mentions.
10. Go Nuts for Donuts
A really pleasant surprise that I am very glad I backed during Daily Magic Games’ Kickstarter. I figured my kids would like the simple gameplay and cute art, but I never imagined I would enjoy it as much as I do. Also important to note -- while this game looks like Sushi Go with donuts, the simultaneous action selection mechanism works very differently than drafting.
I’ve always been a fan of two-player games, and I love when one plays entirely different, as opposed to feeling more like a chess or Magic the Gathering variant. While there are other two-player deduction games, none feel like this asymmetrical chase. See my full review here.
This is a late addition to this list, as I received it as a Christmas present. However, since I played it ten times over the holidays, I feel very certain in my conviction of this colorful abstract with its impressive, high-quality components.
7. Ladder 29
This is another Kickstarter game that really surprised me. It has the feel of a number of classic card shedding/climbing games, but the Hot Spot cards add a unique twist that really modernizes and brightens its game play, without over-complicating it.
I do love bears -- but pasted-on theme aside, I really enjoy manipulating polyominoes in the most efficient manner possible. While I don’t love Barenpark as much as Patchwork, it scales well to four players, and does it much smoother than Cottage Garden. See my full review here.
5. Century: Spice Road
Smooth, intuitive, and so themeless it was released twice with diametrically dissimilar motifs -- spice trading and fantasy golems. It serves as a wonderful gateway to European-style board games, and as a first step into the Century trilogy which will grow in complexity with future installments. See my full review here.
4. Whistle Stop
Bezier Games’ strategy titles -- Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Colony -- are a near perfect match to my gaming proclivities, and Whistle Stop is no exception. I love everything about it, from the decision space the train movement creates, to its resource and stock management, and its quirky, unique art style, with one exception being the game’s set-up time.
3. NMBR 9
Remember when I said “I really enjoy manipulating polyominoes in the most efficient manner possible” when discussing Barenpark? Well here we are, at it again, with an even more abstract, quicker-playing polyomino game that incorporates a three-dimensional stacking element. Pure puzzly fun. See my full review here.
2. Circle the Wagons
My favorite microgame, and a phenomenal two-player game that plays way bigger than its eighteen-card deck. See my full review here.
My biggest Kickstarter surprise of the year is my favorite game of the year. While I expected to like this, I did not expect myself and everyone in my family to fall in love with it, to the point we’ve played it almost 40 times, and show no signs of slowing down. It’s simply a gorgeous Sudoku-esque puzzle with tons of colorful dice. See my full review here.
In my Origins blog, I wrote “I have to give Barenpark the caveat of best published game, and say that Ex Libris was hands down the best game I played at Origins... I have absolutely no doubt that Ex Libris will be a gangbuster hit for Renegade and Adam McIver.” I couldn’t add it to my favorites for the year only because I only played it once, and it was in prototype form at that point. I’m sure I’ll rectify that in the future.
Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition
Another game that didn’t make my list because I only played it once -- albeit that one game took over six hours. This colossal space epic, which I got to experience with five other players over the course of a full day, definitely makes my list of favorite gaming experiences without any caveats, that is certain.
Near and Far
I wasn’t able to find a group to experience the campaign with, but nevertheless did really enjoy the one play of this game I was able to manage. I can only imagine my opinion of the game improving if I was able to play through a campaign, as intended. See my initial thoughts from that play here.
Looking back at 2016:
Now that I’ve highlighted my favorite games of 2017, I’d like to take a moment to look back and reflect on 2016 after another year has passed. Basically, this is my annual mea culpa for missing some great titles and overvaluing the staying power of others. So let's see which of my 2016 favorites held up, and which 2016 games I have played since then that deserve some praise.
My favorites of 2016 were Colony, Dream Home, Islebound, Kanagawa, The Networks, and Tavarua, with honorable mentions for Ice Cool, Order of the Gilded Compass, Millennium Blades, One Deck Dungeon, and VENOM Assault. Looking at this list now, it's admittedly a bit on the weaker side for a "Best Of" list, with the exceptions being Islebound, The Networks, and Millennium Blades.
While most of the games on my list are good, they don't stand out as great in a crowded field, which partially explains why I haven't even played Colony, Kanagawa, Order of the Gilded Compass, or One Deck Dungeon again since writing my 2016 favorites list. Worse still, after playing VENOM Assault a few more times, my opinion of it has declined drastically due to some scaling and balance issues.
But, of course, there were plenty of very good 2016 titles I played for the first time in 2017. These included Arkham Horror: The Card Game, Clank: A Deck-Building Adventure, Imhotep, Kingdomino, New Bedford, Odin's Ravens, Star Wars: Destiny, Terraforming Mars, Ulm, and Yokohama. This is partially because I rarely have a chance to play Essen releases the same year they come out, and partially because with so many games releasing, I can’t play everything I’d like, as soon as I’d like, even if I have access to it.
While the 2016 games I’ve played this past year certainly strengthens my opinion of 2016’s overall crop of games, I stand by my previous statement that “the 2016 games I've played don't match up to this banner year of 2015, despite many standouts.” That said, the further we get from 2015, the more I see it as one of those special years that will be remarked about for many years to come.