Since I try dozens of new boardgames each and every year, I thought it might be fun, enlightening, perhaps even life-altering (...) to share my personal Top 10 as the year comes to a close.
So here are my picks for the ten best games published in 2016.
This little gem came as a total surprise at the end of year. The cover caught my eye and I couldn't help but buy a copy and give it a shot. You see, I'm a long-time fan of Alex Randolph's Ricochet Robot, where players compete to solve a puzzle that involves moving one of four robots to a specific spot on the board according to simple movement rules. The covers of both games are visually similar—intentionally so—and Micro Robots seemed to promise an experience akin to that of its predecessor in a fraction of the time. So does it? Absolutely.
Just one robot, simpler (but oh so clever) movement rules, and a game that plays to completion in under 10 minutes. And eminently portable, on top of everything.
While Eclipse had turned out to be the space exploration game of my dreams, my shelves were still lacking when it came to a great space combat title. I had tried many of them but still felt I hadn’t found what I was looking for (cue U2). Then came along Talon, with gameplay that’s best described as Star Fleet Battles with much less (and much more organic) bookkeeping. The action moves fast, fleets are absolutely manageable, and the game can be played in teams as well as head-to-head. Plus, who doesn’t like actually writing on game components?
8. 13 DAYS: THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS (designed by Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen, published in North America by Jolly Roger Games)
I have been playing the classic Twilight Struggle for more than a decade (already!), re-enacting the Cold War with friends and loved ones. Enters 13 Days, which zooms in on a specific episode of that sprawling conflict of influence and brinkmanship. The game ratchets up the same kind of edge-of-your-seat tension that Twilight Struggle generates, albeit in a fraction of the time—and table space.
A game about appointing liverymen to various guilds in a London on its last medieval legs? Sign me up. (Right?)
It’s all about managing your hand, where each card can be used to do multiple things—oh, but you have to pick just one. That sweet agony is compounded by an ever-expanding board where players vie for control of London’s most prestigious guilds (as well as some of the lesser ones, if they happen to fit into your plans…)
When I heard that Daniel Berger had taken A Few Acres of Snow (one of my favorite games by my favorite designer, Martin Wallace), replaced the French and Indian War setting with the First Punic War, and added a bunch of wargamey chrome, I knew the end result would be quite something. And it is.
Think deck-builder with territorial conquest, coupled with naval control, together with an economic engine, and with a little siege action sprinkled on top. Tasty.
A twist on the deck-building genre, Automobiles proposes a bag-building experience, where players add cubes of various colors to their pouches, only to randomly draw them afterwards and try to make the best of the results. Some cubes represent gears that move your race car forward—speed and trajectory depending on the color of said cubes—whereas others enable coveted special abilities. It’s racing at its geekiest and it’s a lot of fun. I’m surprised it has been flying so low under the radar.
4. COMANCHERIA (designed by Joel Toppen, published by GMT Games)
I was already enthralled by Toppen’s Navajo Wars, so I expected big things from volume 2 in the series. And big things I got.
A solo game about the rise and fall of the Comanche empire, Comancheria pits one fearless player against hordes of Spanish, Mexican and American invaders—not to mention a bevy of hostile tribes to the North. The AI that drives the show is lifted straight from Navajo Wars, albeit with a few twists here and there that turn clever into sublime. My favorite solo game, from 2016 or any other year.
You can real my full review here.
You can real my full review here.
3. GRAND PRIX (designed by Jeff and Carla Horger, published by GMT Games)
Another iteration of a previously published system, Grand Prix reprises the thrilling engine that made Thunder Alley a favorite of mine (with 41 recorded plays at the time of this writing). This time, the action moves from NASCAR to F1, but with a game that feels more like a Formula One-themed game than an actual simulation. Nevertheless, I rate it a notch above its predecessor.
You can read my full review here.
I know, everything and anything is labeled Star Wars these days, but this is one instance that rises above the crowd. By a mile.
It’s a game of cat & mouse between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, with the bad guys trying to locate and destroy the pesky Rebels’ base before time runs out. The game’s got everything: epic space and ground battles, resource management, bluffing, great use of beloved characters, and components like you wouldn’t believe. Rebellion is the opposite of a quick cash grab: it sets the bar for what games based on a popular franchise ought to aim for.
If you have three or four hours to spare and don’t mind gripping armrests until your knuckles turn white, treat yourself to a game of Rebellion. It won’t be your last.
Last year, I was blown away by Pfister’s Mombasa, a brilliant design whose only flaw lied in a daunting learning curve. So it was with excitement but also some nervousness that I approached the man’s 2016 offering. Turns out I needn’t have been so cautious: Great Western Trail is the best new game I’ve played in 2016—and a totally intuitive experience to boot!
Each player is a rancher intent on reaching Kansas City to unload valuable cattle. This is achieved through clever use of buildings on the way there—some of them yours, some of them belonging to your opponents. Will you rush to Kansas City to deliver your cargo as many times as possible, or would you rather benefit from everything the intervening buildings have to offer so that your herd is the absolute best it can be once your reach your destination?
You’re just going to have to play it to find out. Again and again.
So there you have it, ten great games in a year that was very generous as far as new games went. (I don’t remember 2015 thrilling me as much.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game waiting.
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