Another year end (beginning of the year?) post about the best games I played for the first time in 2017. This is a very important note because a lot of these games did not come out in 2017; however, I did not get the opportunity to play them until recently. I played 160 unique games in 2017 over a total of 403 game sessions – 79 of those 160 games were new to me. So let’s go with my favorite games from 2017!
- Spirit Island – This one snuck in at the end of the year as my favorite cooperative game of the year! There is so much good in this game, where do I start? Let’s start with the theme. With so many games about colonization, it is refreshing and life-giving to see a game about resisting and fighting back against colonialism. Now this game is super hard to win, so a lot of the time you succumb to colonialism, but it does feel great to push back against one of the most harmful institutions in the world. While the spirits and peoples are not based on real indigenous tribes, I do get a feeling that they are a bit stereotypical in name. I think a game can still be appropriative and stereotypical even in a “made up universe.” Next, the gameplay is stellar! There are so many choices and so many powers you can evoke – I absolutely love the replayability with the different spirits and power cards. I don’t think this game is for everyone but I really enjoyed it – plus it can be played solo!
- Joraku – Another game that snuck in at the last minute. This is a trick-taking game designed by a Japanese designer and all about are control in Japan. Over three rounds, players play tricks and based on the card they played, players can add cubes, move cubes, or remove cubes from the board of Japan. At the end of each round, each territory scores a certain amount of points which changes round to round forcing players to move their cubes. I find these thinkier trick-taking games to be very interesting because it might not always be a good move to win a trick or play a certain suite. I am very happy to add it to my growing collection of trick-taking games!
- Terraforming Mars – The gem of Essen 2016. This game actually made my most anticipated game of 2016 list before all the buzz about it started. I was really intrigued by the theme and board of the game and based on descriptions, I had a pretty good guess I would like the game. Well, turns out I was very accurate in that prediction! In this game, players are different companies investing in the terraforming of Mars. The company with the highest Terraforming rating (basically income plus different end game achievements) wins the game. Players terraform Mars by completing projects (cards) – each card in the game is unique. The only issue with the game is the end game is not forced mechanically and completely controlled by players. Unless players make moves to actually terraform Mars, the game will remain stagnant and it is easy to get lost in building an engine rather than terraforming. It hasn’t been a problem for me because I’ll always try to terraform, sparking my opponents to do the same.
- Raptor – A game where one player plays a mother raptor and her babies?! Yes please!! This game is essentially a two-player abstract game where each player is trying to achieve a goal BUT the theme is so captivating. One player plays a team of scientists who wants to capture baby raptors for science or defeat the mother raptor. The other one plays Mama Raptor who wants to kill all the scientists or get her babies to safety. The way players move their pieces is through a pretty neat simultaneous action selection mechanism. This is probably one of my favorite two-player only games and definitely my favorite abstract type game.
- In Vino Morte – Designed by my friend Chris Anderson, In Vino Morte is probably the best party style game I played for the first time in 2017. This riffs off of The Princess Bride’s battle of wits scene. One player is the bartender and pours drinks (passes out cards) to the rest of the players – the cards can either be wine or poison. In clockwise order, the player can either choose to switch their drink with another or drink it immediately! At the end of the round, everyone drinks – people who have poison die and are out. The people with wine stay in the game. The next person becomes the bartender and it repeats until only one remains. I love this game because it is so simple yet it brings out so much social interaction, dialogue, and meta-gaming (“You poisoned me last round!”). I am excited to receive my full copy later this year. See my full thoughts here.
- Trick of the Rails – Another trick-taking game with a spin – but this time it’s all about trains and stock. Depending on the round, players will either be adding to their stock portfolio or adding value to a train company. This trick-taking game probably has one of the most convoluted strategies because it matters greatly when you win a trick, what you play as an off suite, and what you lead with – ultimately, it will determine what your stock portfolio looks like at the end of the game which is your final score. Out of all my trick-taking games, I think this one requires the most attention and thought (although Joraku might be up there as well). While I would not recommend this as a first trick-taking game, if you love the genre, you definitely need to try this one.
- Sagrada – This has got to be the most beautiful looking game of 2017 – especially when the game is over and you get to see all the finished windows with all the colorful dice in them. Sagrada is a dice drafting game where players are making stained glass windows by drafting different colored dice. Each player has a unique window and must draft certain colors in certain places or certain pips in certain places, making the draft a bit more restricting. In addition, there are end game bonuses for sets of colors and other special conditions that change game to game. Overall, this is a wonderful game that I find very relaxing and very aesthetically pleasing!
- Exit: The Game – I only played The Secret Lab in 2017 but as of writing this, I have played two out of the three Exit games in the first wave. I love puzzles and escape rooms have definitely been a great source of fun and entertainment with friends. The Exit games tries to mimic that experience in a small box at home. I really have enjoyed the experience and many of the puzzles are super clever – some of them are so simple that we have over thought the solution and utterly failed in finding the answer to a puzzle. However, no matter how much we struggle and no matter how much time we take to work through the game, we always have fun working together and feel successful at the end! I am looking forward to the next wave of Exit games.
- IKI – I played this game at a convention recently and completely fell in love with the theme and with the gameplay. Players are business people at the markets in Edo and are opening different shops! Over time, the shop workers gain experience and retire, pushing the player to open new shops with new benefits. But players may want to invest in firefighting training because over the course of the game, three big fires will break out and destroy any shops in its path. The mechanism is one giant rondel and players move counterclockwise around the board taking actions in the area that they land. I like that they are many ways to score points and that the resource management always feels really tight. This game reminds me of Versailles but with much better resource management aspects. If I am able to snag a copy at some points, I’ll be getting rid of Versailles.
- Tricksters: Champions of Time – A third trick-taking game on my list?! I guess I am fooling no one with my favorite types of games 😊 This is a design by Daniel Solis (a fantastic designer) and has the most wonderful artwork by Beth Sobel (probably my favorite artist who has art in board games). Here is why Tricksters made the list: first, the trick-taking element is unique where players can follow suite or follow type, which would be the equivalent to being able to follow number in a traditional trick-taking game. Second, the artwork has a [phenomenal representation of different identities and I love it! Some power combinations can get a bit wonky so even if you pick randomly, I would encourage you to read the powers before jumping into the game.
- A Game of Thrones TCG 2nd Edition – At a local convention in November, I was able to attend a “Learn to Play” session of A Game of Thrones The Card Game with my partner. I had no idea what the experience would be like but I was excited to be able to try a living card game with an intellectual property that we both like! I was a mix of the Greyjoys and the Tyrells and my partner had the Nights Watch and Danerys and the Khals. This is a pretty neat head to head game with resemblances to Magic and other games in that style. You are trying to get characters out with different equipment and attack your opponent for prestige. Once you gain a certain number of prestige points, you win! Sadly, I got dominated BUT I had a ton of fun. And the person who taught us the game let us keep the decks he constructed for us. I am happy to say, I now have this game in my collection and one I look forward to playing with my partner.
What are your favorite games you played last year?!