Jobby looks back at 2016 and lists his favourite games of the year…
New to Me In 2016
Before I begin the countdown it should be noted that these are the top ten games that are new to me this year. Most of these weren’t published in 2016 but they should be relatively new. Without further ado, on with the list!
10. Tigris & Euphrates
This game about warring civilisations at the beginning of time is a bit of a cheat because I’ve only played it once. Worse, I’ve only played it with two players and all I’ve heard seem to indicate this works best with more. However, this is definitely a game that I want to get played more.
I thoroughly enjoyed the strategic and tactical nature of the game: when to wage war, when to expand, when to put your own leader in a neighbour’s city, etc. I also enjoy the trademark Knizier winning condition where players gather a variety of different points but their end score is the lowest of the different points.
9. Viticulture Essential Edition
This is a great worker placement game about wine making. It has card play that is a big part of the game, though, which is a little different to most WP games. Played over seasons, you plant vines, grow and pick grapes and turn those grapes into wine to fulfil orders. This all feels very intuitive and the mechanics match the rules well.
My problem with the game? It’s a race to get to 20 points to win and my fiancée always wins those types of games! 😉
8. 7 Wonders Duel
7 Wonders, the drafting game about building the ancient wonders of the world, was an instant hit with all the people I game with. However, it didn’t really support playing with two players (there were some rules in the rulebook but…)
7 Wonders Duel boils its big brother down to a two player game which is great for couples. It does a good job, too. It replaces the drafting aspect with the cards being laid out in an overlapping pattern. Players can only take cards that don’t have any cards on top of them. This leads to some wonderful tension as you want to take a card but don’t want to free a card for your opponent.
7. Treasure Hunter
A surprise hit this year for us. Surprise because I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this game and it turned out to be great. The game has players drafting adventurers (numbered cards) in an effort to win treasure. However, sometimes you need the lowest total to win the treasure. Oh, and don’t forget to collect dogs to keep the mean goblins from stealing your coins! Lots of fun and has worked really well with everyone we’ve played it with.
6. Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends
Another abstract-ish two player game on my list (there are rules for three and four players but it really feels like it was designed as a two player game). Players are wizards competing in a tournament to prove their skill. Place stones to complete objectives and score points. Place stones in the right pattern and special powers can be played. It can somehow feel more complicated than it is (the patterns can be matched in any rotation and even mirrored!) but it does feel like a world of possibilities are there.
5. KUMO Hogosha
A beautiful, beautiful game about Sumo wrestlers battling in a rotating arena trying to push the Stone of Balance into their opponent’s area. Not only is the artwork lovely but the gameplay is unique. Player’s pieces are six dice which represent their team of Sumo. The face up side shows the action the Sumo can do: running, throwing, pushing the Stone, etc. Want your Sumo to do something different? Turn the dice to another face! With simple rules, but plenty of opportunity to mess with your opponent, I feel that this game is going to offer more and more with more plays.
This game was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres award and was somehow beaten by Codenames which has baffled me. Players are architects in ancient Egypt building monuments and pyramids. Each turn you can load a stone on a boat, refill your stones or sail a boat to an area where the stones are used. What I love is that the boat you sail doesn’t even have to have any of your stones on! There is a lot of sailing other people’s boats to areas where you know they didn’t want them to go which leads to a lot of colourful language at our table! A great game which deserved to be the true winner for the Spiel des Jahres (I’m not bitter!)
Phil Eklund returns with another scientific-paper-as-a-game. This is a prequel to his Greenland and looks at the dawn of Modern Man in 43,000 BC. Up to three players control a species of proto-humans and lead them to develop language and survive in the harsh environment they live in.
This game has some truly bizarre concepts going on. During the first part of the game, players are trying to get coloured discs onto their board in order to cement language into their humans’ brains. With that done, they can then live as tribes and marry, negotiate with other tribes, etc. What scores victory points is determined by the mating strategy the player chooses.
I have only played this solo (much like Greenland) where the aim is to keep all your people alive. It does feel simpler than Greenland (less rules exceptions and the graphic design is clearer), it also feels less harsh. At some point I am going to have to pin down two friends and try this with others! As a solo game, though it is great!
2. Leaving Earth
This game took a bit of getting hold of for me – at the time I got it there was only one website in Europe selling it. Another very different game. Players control a government in the 1950s at the beginning of the Space Race. There are various missions that must be completed: get a satellite into orbit, land a man on the Moon, orbit Mars, etc. So players must research various technologies to achieve these goals.
What makes this very different (and very maths heavy) is the space travel. The designer has made this into quite a simulation. To move from one area of space (or take off from a planet) thrust must be produced. Rockets are used to produce thrust but rockets weigh a lot and are used up when they are fired. This means a spaceship might need lots of rockets for a mission but that means it weighs a lot so more powerful rockets must be made. Sometimes you take years of game time to load up a spaceship only to have it blow up on the launch pad!
Tough, unique, full of maths but very, very interesting!
1. Navajo Wars
For me, this is the most outstanding game that I have discovered this year. It has given me a truly different feeling when I play it. The rules and the way it plays are unique to me. Even the scoring seems unusual with the player scoring either a Victory, Minor Loss or Major Loss – no points!
Navajo Wars is a solo only, historical game with a number of scenarios that take the player through the history of the Navajo people as their world was turned upside down by the arrival of various other nations who sought to take their lands. It is tough. You really get a feel that the Navajo were at a disadvantage against everyone who came their way.
I love the way the turn structure works. Each turn a card is revealed and the player can choose to spend precious Action Points to go first or they can let the Enemy go first. The Enemy’s actions are dealt with using an ingenious system of instruction tokens that rotate around an area of the board as they are used. This gives the player some information as to what is coming but is never 100% predictable as events can change the order of the instructions or even swap them with others.
It’s a long game, though, so my opportunities for play are limited. I am really looking forward to playing this more during 2017.
Found any favourites this year? Let us know what you found in the comments below!