Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Top 10 Boardgames Published in 2017

I compiled a similar list last year, and I thought it would be fun to do it again.
So here are my picks for the ten best boardgames to come out in 2017.


GLOOMHAVEN (designed by Isaac Childres, published by Cephalofair Games)
The boardgame horizon has been filled with a horde of dungeon crawlers of late, but Gloomhaven stands head and shoulders above everything else I've played.
On paper, the concept shouldn't work: a legacy monster that spews about 100 crisscrossing scenarios, with endless card decks and a flood of tiny components. And yet, the whole thing is mesmerising. Gloomhaven is more aptly described as an experience than just a game; it is in fact much closer to a roleplaying game sans game master than anything else.
My character is about halfway through her life cycle, and I'm really curious to find out what the future has in store for her.


CLANK! IN! SPACE! (designed by Paul Dennen published by Dire Wolf Digital and Renegade Game Studios)
Speaking of dungeon crawlers—I had quite enjoyed playing Clank! back in 2016. It was fast, fun, and a deck-builder on top of everything (oh, how I love those). But enough little things prevented it from shining as a truly great game (and making my 2016 Top 10).
But behold! 2017 brought forth a star-spanning descendant that fixes most of what felt lacking. Variable board? Check. More satisfying progress through the dungeon/space ship? Check. More exciting conclusion? Check. Better openness for expansions? CHECK.
Now to find a way to trade in my copy of Clank...


878: Vikings—Invasions of England (designed by Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel and Jeph Stahl, published by Academy Games)
Another sequel! I have sung the praises of all three titles in the Birth of America series, and it was with great enthusiasm that I tackled the first entry into Academy Games' new family: Birth of Europe. I was not disappointed. 878 feels fresh yet familiar, and is another great light, four-player wargame.
The game even sports miniatures instead of the ubiquitous wooden cubes, and I've got to admit that it adds to the overall charm of the engagement.


13 MINUTES: THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS (designed by Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen, published by Jolly Roger Games and Ultra PRO)
13 Minutes's big brother 13 Days made my Top 10 list last year, when I was surprised that the Twilight Struggle cold war experience could be distilled into a 45-minute, white-knuckler of a game. But those crazy designers one-upped themselves and further compressed the paranoia to a mere 13 minutes. Seriously.
Each opponents only gets to play FIVE cards, and every single one is pure agony. You win if you control more battlefields at the end of the match, but then only if you haven't triggered thermonuclear war by then. What more do you want in a 13-minute game?


NEMO'S WAR, 2nd edition (designed by Chris Taylor, published by Victory Point Games)
I'm cheating a bit here, as the original Nemo's War was first released in 2009. But hey, it's my list.
The 2017 second edition is a feast for the eyes, with gameplay to match. It's an underwater solo adventure where you command the famous Nautilus and explore the seas, engage the occasional vessel in pursuit, uncover elusive treasures, and generally try to stay alive.
Driven by story cards (divided into three acts, no less), Nemo's War creates a narrative that never feels the same twice. 


WELCOME TO CENTERVILLE (designed by Chad Jensen, published by GMT Games)
I rarely enjoy dice games—not for long, anyway. They start to feel hollow and pointless too fast for me. But once in a blue moon, one of them falls into my lap and completely seduces me.
Welcome to Welcome to Centerville.
Roll the bones to erect buildings in four different sectors, run for municipal offices (yes, plural!), acquire sumptuous villas along the riverside, embrace vocations by the dozens, and screw your opponents. All in about an hour.


FIELDS OF DESPAIR (designed by Kurt Lewis Keckley, published by GMT Games)
The first world war was a pretty static affair, and so games that attempt to model that great clash on a strategic scale rarely come to be described as exciting. Against all odds, Fields of Despair turns out to be exactly that.
Deploying fog-of-war blocks on a massive scale, the game also proposes tech tracks, aircraft reconnaissance and dogfighting, artillery barrage galore, as well as four short scenarios plus the campaign game. Did I mention the map was absolutely gorgeous?
I've never seen a WWI game like this, and I'm relishing every step I take towards the campaign scenario.


AZUL (designed by Michael Kiesling, published by Plan B Games)
Abstract games occupy a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons (a story for another time). But it's not every year that one of them stops me in my tracks.
Azul is a simple affair, where players draft beautiful Portuguese-style tiles and then arrange them on their "walls" to score as many points as they can with the patterns they create. It's one of those games that's eye catching and easy enough to get non-gamers to the table, while remaining engaging enough to please the veterans. It can accommodate from two to four players and scales amazingly well.
Play the basic version as a learning game, and then flip the boards to tackle the "advanced version," which is really how the game should be played.


THE DOOLITTLE RAID (designed by Jeremy White, published by GMT Games)
At the end of 2014, I reviewed the original Enemy Coast Ahead and gave the game high marks. White had seriously raised the bar for narrative solo wargaming, and I thought ECA would keep the trophy for a few years. Well, it did—until White himself gave us volume II, The Doolittle Raid, and cleared his own bar with room to spare.
Plan 1942's Doolittle raid on Tokyo, train your people, load your B-25s onto your carrier, sail through the Pacific (avoiding Japanese attacks and the whims of Mother Nature), fly all the way to Tokyo (if you can make it), drop your payload and high tail it out of there—only to have to figure out where to land... It's all edge-of-your-seat boardgaming, with a detailed debriefing that tells a complex and compelling story.
Best of all, White made it possible to play all of this without laying eyes on a single page of rules! 
You can read my full review here.


LISBOA (designed by Vital Lacerda, published by Eagle Games)
The man behind The Gallerist strikes again, this time bringing players back to 1755 and right into the heart of Portugal, after Lisbon was devastated by an earthquake, a tsunami and a fire that raged for three days. (I am not making this up.) Your job is to rebuild Lisbon as a thriving metropolis, all the while negotiating the treacherous politics that can carry you to the heights of success or sink you to the very bottom of failure. Cards drive the entire procedure, and while you'll want to do everything a card promises, you only get to pick one option in each case. Sweet brain cramps.
Lisboa is a beautiful, heavy game where all the gears are gilded with gold. It shines.

So there you are! My 10 favorite games from 2017.

STRAGGLERS: I would be remiss if I didn't mention three great games published in 2016, but which I didn't get to try until 2017. Otherwise, they might have made it on last year's list.

Scythe is an odd case: I did play it a few times in 2016, and dismissed it as something unremarkable. Then I got an opportunity to play it again (in 2017) and I completely changed my mind. I have now played this hybrid farming/war/exploration/resource management jewel 22 times and I can't wait to play it again.

Reminiscent of its Russian Railroads roots, First Class was an instant classic with my group. It plays with the elegance of a Paris-Constantinople passenger, feels fresh every time (thanks to interchangeable modules) and ends in a flash. It's also a train game, and I do love me a train game.

I really enjoy cycling games, but Flamme Rouge seemed like it had nothing new to offer. I mean, with three pages of rules, how good could it really be? Turns out I was very wrong. The game is a nail-biting fight to the finish, with a system so simple you wonder why no one came up with it before. Flamme Rouge is pure cycling in a box, and I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming Peloton expansion.

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  1. As always, love to read your posts. You are eminently readable and my appreciation for sharing many fine hours at the gaming table is renewed. The only multiplayer I didn't play in this list is 878. Something to look forward to. That and the FoD campaign. *DROOL*

  2. I'm hoping to revisit Fields of Despair early this year. Last year I only managed to dabble a little with the solitaire system. Even with the little that I experienced, it was a great game.
    I've really fallen for Lacerda games ever since I hunted down and added The Gallerist to my humble collection after one brief play. My copy of Vinhos should be in my hands in a few days and I've already booked a session to experience the joys of Lisboa. I hope I hate the experience as my shelves can't handle any more Deluxe edition Lacerda games. Who am I kidding? I'm sure to love it. Sigh ...

    1. Fields of Despair is a true keeper.
      As for Lisboa, I bought it without trying it -- I just knew.
      I wasn't a big fan of Vinhos (I thought some of the complexity in there was just for the sake of complexity), but since Kanban, I'm completely hooked.

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