Our Favourite Games of 2017 - The Ten December 15 2017
Let's be honest, 2016 was not a stellar year for tabletop games. There were a few standouts, but overall it felt like a down year for the hobby. I'm happy to say that 2017 has been a very exciting year for gamers. Each month was full of fun releases, and in most cases the hype was met by stellar games.
People like tend to discuss whether board games are just a fad, or if they're here to stay. I'm happy to say that as long as the industry's output resembles 2017 as a whole, the hobby is here to stay and continue to make waves. Not just for the casual or hardcore, but also everything in between. So without further ado - our 10 favourite games of 2017.
10) Magic Maze
If you've ever played Escape!: The Curse of The Temple you know just how chaotic a real-time cooperative game can be. Now imagine playing Escape! without being able to verbally communicate - that's Magic Maze. It's got a bit of a Hanabi-vibe with how heavily you rely on the entire group thinking and moving as one mind. It can be very frustrating at times, but when you get into a groove everything feels right.
9) Dice Forge
If a game brings a sound mechanical engine with ambitious visual design, you can almost bet on it making our end-of-the-year list. Dice Forge is the result of an artist and designer having a specific vision combined with a publisher who trusts them. Together they've created the best overall package of the year. And while the game could use an injection of additional modules to add more variety, Dice Forge lays down a solid foundation.
This year saw several "escape room" type games hit the market. And considering how big and bloated the actual escape room market is (especially in Toronto), it should come as no surprise. When it comes to designing puzzles for an escape, there's a certain level of elegance that you need to approach it with. They can't be too hard, but they also need to feel rewarding. And while Unlock! isn't perfect in its solutions, it usually feels fair. And it does genuinely feel good when you reach the end, which all you can really ask for.
7) Star Wars: Destiny
Over the course of its first full year on shelves, Star Wars: Destiny has produced 4 sets of products alongside a ready-to-play, two-player box. With every collectible game, the goal is always longevity. Keep the players engaged and communities strong, so that they will always be looking forward for what's to come. And while still in its infancy, the signs point towards Star Wars: Destiny having a big impact on the hobby.
Perhaps the biggest factor to their success has been how easy it is to pickup and play. Without anything resembling a stack for resolving effects in Magic: the Gathering, the gameplay is streamlined to make everything easy to understand. With a low barrier to entry, they can capture the casual Star Wars fans and hopefully transform them into more competitive gamers.
6) Captain Sonar
Captain Sonar reminds me of the team-building exercises I would do as a freshman in high school and university. It requires a particular mindset going in and a very specific (and demanding) table setup. But when everything comes together, Captain Sonar quickly becomes one of the best table top experiences you can have.
The frenetic, real-time pace, combined with the focus on the task at hand produces both a difficult and hilarious challenge. The guys behind the popular Spaceteam phone app also tried their hand at a tabletop game, but make no mistake, Captain Sonar is the truest adaptation to that game.
5) Century: Spice Road
Announcing a table top trilogy before selling a single copy of a game that was already delayed numerous times and eventually re-structured, after getting dropped by the original publisher is perhaps one of the boldest moves a young designer could make. Combine that with the fact that Century: Spice Road was already being hailed by Tom Vasel (the largest online persona in the industry) as the Splendor-killer. The narrative was quickly setting up into what could have been the one of the biggest board game busts ever. But as soon as gamer's finally got their hands on Century: Spice Road all that tension dissipated.
It came very early in the year, so it's easy to forget but Braintopia quickly became of the most played games at For The Win Cafe. Ghost Blitz and Anomia have always been favourites here and Braintopia is the beautiful marriage of those two games. Games that test reaction speed are fun because they immediately pit players in tense situations without having to build up to it. Braintopia is now our favourite game to suggest as a warmup. It even makes for a great stocking stuffer, for anyone looking for last minute gifts!
If you told me a year ago that I'd be singing high praise for a new abstract game in 2017, I would have called you crazy. But Santorini has rightfully earned its place among the elite two-player games. And while you could argue its aesthetic is what even procured any interest to begin with, it was a very intelligent decision to get the game onto tables. The design is what caught my eye, but I stick around for the interesting depths of variety and strategies.
2) Clank! In! Space!
Clank! In! Space! is more than just a fresh coat of paint. As we played Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure, I couldn't help but feel it was an almost perfect game in terms of my personal preferences. With the minor changes introduced in Clank! In! Space! I feel like this is a game that could sustain my interest for a while.
The game is strong at making players feel in control, while still offering up enough twists that will keep you on your toes at all times. Plotting out a strategy in Clank! In! Space! is only worthwhile if you are willing to make audibles. And most impressively, the game manages greed better than any I've ever played.
1) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Two years ago, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 was dubbed our #2 favourite game of 2015. Not to be denied again, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 is firmly our #1 favourite game of 2017 and it was never even in question. As soon as we completed the game (in less than a week), I was ready to crown it the year's champion. It's not a slight to the other incredible games on this list, but more-so a testament to just how good Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 is.
Anytime you are building a sequel to anything with high acclaim and great fanfare, you put your reputation at risk. Think about all the great movies you love that had less than stellar followups (The Matrix, The Mask, Robocop). It may seem like a guaranteed cash-in, but it's never that easy. And following the mess that was Seafall, Rob Daviau had a lot to makeup for. And instead of taking the easy way out and making a game that begins as Pandemic and only slightly deviates from that formula, Season 2 takes risks from the very first game. And it continues to deliver more and more twists and turns that make the whole experience feel very rewarding.
There is no guarantee there will be a Season 3, but given how stellar the first two have been I would lean towards it being an almost sure-thing. We can't wait!
Our Favourite Games of 2017 - Specialty Awards December 05 2017
Let's be honest for a moment, 2016 was not a stellar year for table top games. There were a few standouts, but overall it felt like a down year for the hobby. I'm happy to say that 2017 has been a very exciting year for gamers. Each month was full of fun releases, and in most cases the hype was matched by stellar games.
As we've done the past three years, we're going to be celebrating our 10 favourite games of the year alongside a few special mentions. This week we'll be handing out our Specialty Awards. Be sure to come back next week when we reveal our 10 favourite games of 2017.
Trend of the Year - Games Gone Wild!
It's been 8 years since Cards Against Humanity first arrived, and even now its effects are still being felt in the hobby. For many, it has gotten stale but there's always a new group of gamers who are discovering it for the first time. And with its incredible rise to popularity, over the course of several years, it's clear that this is less a fad and more of a trend.
This is not necessarily a new trend. There have been plenty of clones and attempted cashgrabs in the last few years, such as Crabs Adjust Humidity and Personally Incorrect. But a true test of popularity comes when the mainstream begins to latch on. And in 2017 alone we have witnessed the birth of Anomia X, Telestrations After Dark, Midnight Taboo, Cranium Dark, Codenames Deep Undercover, 5 Second Rule Uncensored and Catch Phrase: Uncensored. The oversaturated market is unlikely to last very long, but it's impressive to see the impact of a game that is nearly a decade old. And if you've ever browsed Amazon's Best Sellers in the Board Game and Card Game sections, you'll notice that these types of games take up a large percentage of the top slots.
Some will say its juvenile, and maybe it is. But ultimately we play games to have fun, and laughter is generally a strong indicator of people having fun. Once upon a time board games were reserved for the geeks, but today it's viewed as a cool social outing. Games gone wild has played a big part in getting it to that point.
2017's 2016 Game of the Year - Imhotep
I had no real interest in playing Imhotep when it was announced, and even when it was released. And even when it was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres, it was on low priority of games to check out. We eventually felt it was worth picking up for our Library, as it's a nice entry-level option for players. When I finally got to sit down and play it, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed it. It's a very unassuming game that doesn't demand much from you, but it's very easy to get caught up in.
Imhotep is the perfect game for friends who love to test the limits of their friendships. It's an awfully cutthroat game when played with the right (or wrong, depending on your preference) people. And I love it for that reason. But even beyond that, it's a game that offers meaningful choices for the players. You'll rarely find yourself making a disinterested move in Imhotep. And for a game where you're only performing one action every turn, that's a fairly big accomplishment.
Imhotep gives gamers a new gateway option that really finds itself among the modern classics such as Ticket to Ride, Splendor and Carccassone. Of these "one-and-done" style games, where players can slowly learn the game by performing a single action at a time I would place Imhotep as my game of choice.
Honourable Mentions - Codenames Duet, Oh! Sushi Game, Shop 'N Time
As mentioned before, 2017 was really good year and while we wanted to maintain our tradition of selecting only 10 games for our final list, we couldn't help but cheat a little and give props to a few more. Codenames Duet, Shop 'N Time and Oh! Sushi Game were all on the cusp, but ultimately fell a little short.
Codenames Duet is one of the few party games that made the transition successfully to a great two-player game with just a few tweaks. And as an added benefit, the cards between the original Codename and Duet can be shared for more diversity. And speaking on games that made minor tweaks to familiar formulas, we really loved Oh! Sushi Game. On its aesthetic alone, it earned its place in our hearts - but the variety of modes they came up with in the rulebook was genuinely impressive. It's a great example of implementing theme to an originally stiff and plain game.
And finally we come to Shop 'N Time, a very small, overlooked release that feels like a sign of things to come. Mobile companion apps are nothing new as we saw it in a big way with Mansion of Madness: Second Edition last year. But the implementation in a casual game felt very natural. Cashing out your items just feels really cool. Give it a few years, and we'll likely see this become the Trend of the Year, as more and more games begin to embrace technology as it advances.