My 8ish Favourite Board Games of 2016, Eventually

People enjoy making reflective "best of the past year" lists around this time, and the cardboard community is no exception. With Mike feeling a bit better and several Santa hat-wearing Pikachu now snuggling happily in my phone, I thought I too might ponder out loud which were my favourite board games to come out in 2016.

The first problem with this grand plan is that, contrary to what the uninitiated think when they see our Kallaxes (Kallaxi?), we don't own every board game published in 2016. Mechs vs. Minions is incredibly popular, but I've never even seen inside the box... if it comes in a box. (Here in 2016, or maybe 2017 by the time I post this, board games don't always come in boxes, or have boards. Some even argue over whether certain board games are actually games or if they're "activities". I avoid those arguments because here in 2017, or maybe still 2016, I'm trying to live my best life.)

So, this post is not the meepled equivalent of Rolling Stones' Top 10 Mainstream Guitarists of the Year. (Not sure what he's up to lately, but I vote for keeping Mark Knopfler on the list.)

Furthermore, even though we own 29 of the board games published in 2016 (not including expansions), we've only played 15 of them so far, thus pumping even more water out of the pool.

I know that 15/29 statistic is shocking to some, including a vocal swath within the hobby who fret that more people are collecting than gaming. While I'm pretty pleased with that number (a definite improvement over previous years), let me trot out my excuses and placations:

  • This year we played a bunch of new-to-us games from other years. Look at us, riding that last wave to the Terra Mystica fan club luau!
  • We replayed a bunch of games, especially after work and at lunch with colleagues. Yep, 2016 was the year we played well with others. (Still prefer playing with just Mike, but there's room for variety... so long as I don't have to be the traitor in Betrayal at House on the Hill.)
  • Before my emergency trip to the States, we had fewer than ten unplayed games in our collection. Yeah! (Then leisure time with brain function became harder to find.)
  • And yet, we did scrape together another ten sessions to finish Pandemic Legacy.
  • Also, some games have arrived only quite recently.
  • And you know what? Collecting at the right price and holding in anticipation is kind of fun, too.

What we're looking at here, then, is my lazy opinion on fifteen games that came out this year. So, basically, a public organisation of my thoughts before I argue over the topic with Mike. But to cut the laziness a bit, I'll include photos of favourite bits from each game box for my top eight!

Here's what could've made the list: games sitting steps away, still unplayed, the puuuur tings:

  • Scythe. AKA The hotness of the year. Saving for the savouring. (Update: played! The hype is real. 10/10.)
  • Secret Hitler. This requires multiple people. It's on the list for whenever the work folk get tired of Dead of Winter.
  • Dead of Winter: The Long Night. Should this even be on the list, really? It's not an expansion, but it's kind of the same game as DoW and thus lower priority.
  • Manhattan Project: Energy Empire. Same universe as MP, so also lower priority. (I like notching new worlds.)
  • Dale of Merchants 2. Just played the first one, so see above.
  • Codenames: Pictures. And again, need multiple people.
  • Tiny Epic Western. We've failed twice at being in the right headspace to parse the rules for set-up. Yes, set-up. We love Tiny Epic Galaxies, so why is this so hard?
  • Vinhos. Sooooo big. Sooooo pretty. Saving for that window between recovery from the past school year and preparation for the next one.
  • Vanuatu. Also pretty, also saving. (Update: Played, loved, would place in top 5.)
  • The Networks. I actually just keep forgetting this one exists. That's what happens when you won't buy a new Kallax because you don't want to have to move it in a few months. (A few months!) It's been living with the still-growing collection of picture books. (I have managed to release a few books to the niece... everyone needs to have Babar, in cursive, after all. Yes, even if they are only six months old.) (Aaaaand update: Played. Cute. Will play again.)
  • Tramways. Oh yeah, the one with the well-chosen typefaces. It's hidden in the party game/Pandemic expansion section. Really need another Kallax.
  • The Opulent. I made a foamcore insert for this! So, when we do play it...
  • Little Drop of Poison. Just got here. Took it to Kalbarri with good intentions, so there's t (Update: It's for three players or more? Ooooops.)
  • Plague, Inc. This also recently arrived, plus I'm a bit virus'd out, both in game themes and real life.

    ...

  • Great Western Trail. This game arrived after I started writing this post, in 2017, so including it doesn't seem quite right - more later below.
  • Pandemic Iberia. As above. (Played, but played wrong, but it seems great.)
  • Fields of Green. As above. (Played, enjoyed, and a serious contender for, oh, the #11 or #12 spot.)

FINALLY. The fifteen games we actually did play... now divided into halfish again.

What?

See, half of the games were just substantially heads above the others. Half of the games are a solid double thumbs-up. But before we get to those, the rest, starting with the worst.

15. Monstrous. This game just sucks. I thought it was because I'm not into dexterity games, but then a dex game made my top list, so... it's ugly and boring and an affront to the entire pantheon of Greek gods upon which it attempts to stand. This game brought about household legislation that codifies the amount of information that one spousal unit needs to receive and properly consider before the other spousal unit backs a game on Kickstarter.

14. Under My Bed. UMB is cute, and I'm a sucker for most bluffing games, so it can never super-suck. Plus it was "pay what you want", so, like I said, it can never super-suck. Ahem. (I'm just not into having to take a photo of the cards and squint at it or else memorize them. Cute, but awkward.)

13. Menu Masters. Last year we backed a Kickstarter called "Titans of Gaming". The premise is that the company has established designers of well-regarded board games design a "gateway" (light, broadly accessible) game just for this project. Then, every year, for three years, we get the games they create, whatever they may be.

The premise is fun, although the term "Titans" is questionable, and the production values for the three games we got this year are great. Menu Masters, however, is not great, or maybe not great for two players. I think it's the lack of variety in ingredients for me, and the fact that we're all making the same dishes despite getting to play very different chefs with different assigned cultures.

However, it is a good-looking little gateway, albeit maybe a bit cartoonish, and I'd play it again with a bigger group of forgiving adults or else with kids.

12. Running with the Bulls. Another "Titans" game. As the title suggests, you're trying not to be just another gored statistic in Pamplona. The dice on this one are great: big red ones for the bulls and a die for each member of your team of runners.

Thought has clearly gone into RwtB, and it speaks to my love of luck and dice with mild opportunities for strategy in a gateway. Maybe it's different at higher player counts, but after the second "day" (of three), we had to force ourselves to finish. I think it's just lacking a little something extra to differentiate the rounds, and whatever that may be is worth considering, since I'd otherwise happily play it again. Don't let the Chutes/Snakes and Ladders look fool you!

11. Snowblind. I feel bad sticking a technically good game down here, 11/15, but I don't like racing games. I did like roleplaying, heavily roleplaying, a Norwegian sea captain who's more interested in living a poetic saga for the villagers back home to enjoy than scurrying ahead of Germany to the pole. Mike, however, was all about the scurry. Not so much about the roleplaying, what with roleplaying not actually being part of the game. So, he wasn't able to linger in his weepy memories of the candlelit going-away ceremony at the docks. At least when my scientists froze to death, their souls were warm.

10. The Butterfly Garden. I remember almost nothing about this small card game. I don't remember any issues, but I do remember thinking about how much I'd like a butterfly garden for myself. Inoffensive if unremarkable.

9. Burger Up. We buggered up our first go of Burger Up by accidentally shuffling in the expansion cards, which was easily sorted out as we played, but I think next time we'll go ahead and play with the expansion. Who doesn't want brie and jalapeños with their veggie patty? Damn cafés with their token meatless item that assumes all vegetarians would prefer to get their nutrition through a kale and chia seed high colonic... Fun enough, light game, but possibly one with a runaway leader problem at two players. Time will tell.

And now, AT LAST, my top eight games that were published in 2016 that I also happened to play, disclaimer, disclaimer, et cetera, et cetera.

8. World's Fair 1893. For me half of the fun was in learning more about this historically significant expo, and the other half was in the breezy cool mechanics and the look/feel. I'd like to see the designer come out with re-skins/tweaks for similar events: 1851 expo in London, the Pan-American expo, the Hemisfair, the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, complete with tiny meeples of my grandfather and me on the sky lift...

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

7. Mansions of Madness. Let's make one thing clear: I don't hold with all the Cthulhu-wank out there. It's not Lovecraft's fault that so much of it now seems tired, and I don't blame anyone for enjoying any or even all of the game titles that step into this universe, but I'm generally there, like, sanity.... yawn... old gods... uh huh... yep, there's another cranky thing with wings, got it. (The glaring exception being the first season of a certain HBO show, which I consider some of the finest television ever created.)

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

Anyhu, Mansions lets party-poopers like me enjoy the fundamental spookiness/chaos/stress without feeling like I have to acknowledge the fandom, and combined with an app to do the fiddly bits plus play atmospheric sounds, this is a game worth its investment.

And, knowing this, that's why we paid extra for bubble wrap and other special care from our re-mailer service in the States... as they advised us to after our last shipment arrived battered. Alas, they ignored all that plus used a too-large box, resulting in Mansions of Madness arriving with its box being completely torn along one side.

(They refunded the cost of the missing bubble wrap et al, but they wouldn't compensate for the damaged items because "it's an insurance issue, and insurance doesn't cover retail packaging." No, it's an incompetence issue, and the box is a component, like a book cover. Whatever: minus 5 sanity and never, ever use ShipItTo again.)

So, I like how in my photo the guy on the side of the box is looking askance at that rip... much like the rip in the world that was caused when we opened a portal to a hell dimension right before losing the game. Oops!

6. Junk Art weighs a ton in its gorgeous wooden box full of solid doohickeys, so whatever you do, don't ship it in an oversized box full of other games with zero padding. (Okay, shutting up on that topic now.)

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

I didn't think I liked dexterity games, possessing slightly numbed sausage links for fingers, but I watched a Shut Up and Sit Down review and was sold. And the only reason I watched a review for a dexterity game is because I will now watch anything SUSD produces; they are that good. (Good = smart, funny, thoughtful, self-deprecating, British.)

What's even more surprising than me enjoying a dexterity game was that Mike and I like it as much at two players as at three times that. With so many different, randomly chosen scenarios, the game is highly replayable and, dare I hope, expandable.

If Mr Jenga is still hanging around your home, show him the exit because (junk) artists deserve the space.

5. Hive Mind - proof that we did manage one game for more than two players. This is the last of the current batch of the "Titans" series, and by far the best. Think of it as sort-of reverse Scattergories with pretty pencils and a mission to drive out the least hive-mindful of your game group. We are totally playing it with my 8s next year when we do our dystopia unit.

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

And by "playing it", I mean just using the cards, which are a game unto themselves. Which three ingredients do YOU think are essential to potato salad? But wait, what do you think everyone else will say? Blow the ghost of Richard Dawson a kiss and let the mustard folk versus the mayo be revealed!

4. Dreamwell. One of those games where early on we look across the board at each other and say, yep, this one's coming to work. It did, and it was such a hit that one co-worker got on her phone and ordered it between turns. The mechanics and goals are simple but so varied that one can stew in happy thinky pleasure as one skates around surreal tiles, looking for the right black swan or bobbly creature that will equal more ethereal success. Beautiful artwork, as much strategy as you want, a little luck, easy set-up, and you can roleplay as a balloon if your tablemates will tolerate it.

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

3. Agility! This game of putting pups through their paces on an agility course had me from the moment I saw it on Kickstarter. Dog Agility is one of our favourite events each year at the Perth Royal Show. (This year they added the less athletic but still just as adorable Rabbit Agility.)

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

Despite my love of the pups and their tunnels and hurdles in real life, I stand by my dislike of "Agility" as a board game name. If you're already into dog agility, it makes perfect sense, but otherwise, at least to me, it's too generic.

So, in our home we call it "Tailblazers" (all credit to Mike). I know the word play's a bit of a groaner, but "Tailblazers" captures more doggie-woggie enthusiasm and the goofy smiles and supportive claps always found throughout the Royal Show's agility audience.

Highlights: wooden dog meeples and bone tokens, lovely art of several different dog breeds on the cards, and enough interesting choices to be made via the wheel-thingy to ensure replayability without having to pore over the rulebook.

2. Kodama. Charm. Charm. Charm. Fireflies. Seasons. Tree spirits. Tree branches. Muted, glowing tones. Scandinavian?

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

So sweet. A bit crafty. Stole all my words.

 

DRUM ROLL.... (a game we didn't play until 2017, sorry)

 

1. Knit Wit

Bits From A Few Favourite Board Games of 2016

Trying to think of original responses to adjectival clues while handling gorgeous components? A game where it's fun even when you fail? This is my number one.

Now, if I'd managed to play Scythe or Great Western Trail before the year ended, Knit Wit would be sitting at #3 just because it doesn't have the scope of these two behemoths, but it's still in my top 5. Hmm, but I'm not sure where I would've put Vanuatu... Or Pandemic Iberia, which we played completely wrong, but it's still... ack.

Okay, two weeks ago the above was my Top 8 list, but now, until the next postie package arrives? (And allowing myself to go to 10?)

10. Mansions of Madness
9. Junk Art
8. Agility (What the hell, now I'm rearranging the original list?)
7. Dreamwell
6. Vanuatu
5. Hive Mind
4. Kodama
3. Knit Wit
2. Scythe
1. Great Western Trail (edging out Scythe with cute cows)

Meanwhile, Vinhos is set up on the table, ready to go. I better click "Post" before...

 

 

13 January 2017 |

Previously: Twice Makes a Tradition
Next:


Hamsters

 CRUISE REPORTS  

Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)