Our Favourite Games of 2016 - The Ten
2016 was a tough year for many. And where there is hardship endured, there is always quest for escape. Some folks bury themselves in books or Netflix, isolated from their cruel realities. But others find communal catharsis with friends, family and even strangers. Board games allow us to visit new worlds and explore exciting puzzles, all while having people to share the experience with.
A lot of lists at the end-of-the-year spotlight the "best of". Over at FTW, we don't like to think of things as better than, or worse than. We simply have our favourites. The new games that we enjoyed playing the most in 2016. So instead of a Top 10, here is simply "The Ten":
Not every game has to be a meeting of the minds. If you've followed our Staff Picks this year, you know we're quite fond of good old, dumb fun. IceCool is not only dumb fun, it's also a dumb pun. The game is themed around penguins running around a school collecting fish, an "ice school". Get it?
Last year, we really enjoyed Flick 'Em Up. But for the style of game, it was a bit much to set up and put away. I wish IceCool had different variations on connecting the rooms, similar to Flick 'Em Up's various campaigns. But the ability to play within 3 minutes of taking the game out really makes this one a worthy opener to any gaming night.
9. Mansions of Madness: Second Edition
Developers are constantly pushing the hobby forward as new technology emerge. We've seen it before in XCOM: The Board Game where the mobile companion app is mandatory to play. And with the success of Mansions of Madness: Second Edition this year, I'm sure this style of game will become more and more prevalent as years go by.
Mansions of Madness: Second Edition does a lot of really cool things to justify the technology without seeming forced. But at times it almost feels like the entire thing could be done in-app. It almost feels like the board game part of it is just there so that it can still be classified a board game. So while we did enjoy our brief time with it, the question of purpose continued to linger in my mind.
8. Letter Tycoon
Putting a spin on a word game is always a difficult task. At some point, every word game has fallen into the trappings of becoming a Scrabble clone. The last successful word game I can recall was Paperback, but it wasn't the most casual friendly game. In order to find play, a word game has to be simple enough to pickup for its own audience. Letter Tycoon does a great job of adding mechanics to spelling, while remaining true to why people play word games in the first place.
7. Dead of Winter: The Long Night
The long awaited expansion and standalone to our favourite 2014 release has finally arrived and it definitely delivers. Don't mistake this for a sequel, because largely this is the same game with a few added twists. The best part about The Long Night is that it's just added content for the original. And if you decide you don't like one of the new features, you can just remove it and play without it.
If they just added more characters, more items, more objectives and more Crossroad cards, I would have been more than satisfied. But many of the additions, I wouldn't play without anymore. The colony improvements are an obvious, but well-implemented feature. And to add even more value, The Long Night provides new cardboard-cut locations to replace the flimsy mats of the original Dead of Winter.
There was already a lot to get through in Dead of Winter, and The Long Night ensures that the experience lasts even longer. Energizer bunny.
6. Sushi Go Party!
Taking a classic game everyone loves and reinventing it can often bring disastrous results. Fortunately, they opted to refine and add instead of reinventing. The original cards are all there, and you'll have no problem playing a classic game of Sushi Go! right out the box. But what makes this party worth attending is all the new items on the menu.
Card drafting rarely ever performs well in a two-player setting, but with the suggested setup for 2, Sushi Go Party! becomes a legitimate play. And if you have more friends who want to join in, you can modify the menu to be more suitable for up to 8 players. That's a lot of versatility packed into one tin.
Bingo! An old-time favourite of many people young and old (mostly old). We've seen other bingo-style games before like Rise of Augustus, but Karuba really sticks the landing here.
Players have their own individual maps and use the tiles that are drawn and called out every round to build paths from Adventurers to their matching Temples. While it may sound like an individualistic game, watching your opponents maps is the key to success. As players begin to move their Adventurers into Temples, the amount of points earned for completing the same coloured pair is reduced. The racing really forces players into thinking carefully about their use of tiles. Plus, knowing what tiles remain in the game allows for careful planning at higher levels.
Karuba definitely earned its Spiel des Jahres nomination this year, and was a definite highlight for us.
4. Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne
My top two favourite games of all-time are Cosmic Encounter and A Game of Thrones: Second Edition. When I found out Fantasy Flight Games was doing a Game of Thrones retheme of Cosmic Encounter, I figured this is it - this is the last game I will ever need to play. And hyperbole aside, they really managed to deliver an experience that borrows while feeling very different.
Cosmic Encounter is great because it offers so much variables that alter each experience, but this can be a bad thing for experienced gamers as it can often feel like a lack of control. The Iron Throne provides a much more stripped down experience that promotes diplomacy and strategy over chaos. And as much as I love A Game of Thrones: Second Edition, it is a very daunting task for newcomers to invest the time needed to make that game special. Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne casts the perfect balance between the two very different games, all while still feeling like a fresh new game on the market.
3. Not Alone
There are few one-vs-all board games, and even fewer that are quick and easy-to-play. Not Alone carefully balances both the roles of the Hunted and the Creature. For the Hunted, there's a bit of trust and guess-work to go along with a little luck. As the Creature, you feel powerful, yet challenged from round-to-round. Most games tend to go down to the wire. And table talk is generally used to get into the Creature's head.
To some it may feel like there's not enough strategy and too much blind luck from a cooperative standpoint. But attempting to devise strategies without directly saying what you're trying to do is part of being good at it. It reminds me of Avalon whenever 2 minions of Mordred end up on a Quest together. Which one is going to play Fail and which one is going to play Succeed? Or do both get caught playing Fail?
Not Alone fills a hole in many board game collections, and stands strongly on its own merits.
One of my favourite PC games of all-time is SimCity. I love Suburbia, but it can be difficult to convince a group of people to play because of the mental math aspect. It's not the hardest game in the world, but it can be just exhausting enough to detract some folks. Enter Quadropolis. With its incredibly fancy insert and colourful tiles, it draws in a more casual audience without sacrificing depth or strategy.
We're huge fans of games that scale well, and Quadropolis is as strong with 2 as it is with 3 and 4. There's enough variety and diversity in the games, so each experience feels different from the last. And adding an Expert mode really prolongs the shelf life of the game (until the inevitable expansion).
1. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
Our favourite game of the year was a small Kickstarter project that didn't reach everyone's hands until 2016. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is like playing Clue in today's world of games and actually making it an enjoyable experience. It manages to find a really strong hold in a crowded genre of social deduction games.
In Deception, one player is secretly a Murderer, hidden amongst detectives trying to solve the mystery. The Forensic Scientist is tasked with building the narrative using various scene tiles that vaguely describe the crime. This is where the real charm and challenge of the game shines through. The tiles, evidence and cause of death don't always align to build the best case. This forces the Forensic Scientist to be more creative in telling their story. At the end of every game, we create a story time for the Forensic Scientist to tell us how the murder went down. It's a small touch but adds a great deal to enjoying the game.
Unlike other social games, the Murderer can get away with being a subpar liar. The inability to keep a straight-face is usually the biggest barrier to games like Werewolf and The Resistance. Deception is more inclusive to all types of gamers, and more entertaining because of it.
Of all the games we played this year, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong feels the most timeless. Mysterium generated a lot of hype upon its arrival, but Deception does everything Mysterium does and better.
Thanks so much for joining us again this year! We've got a lot of cool and exciting things coming in 2017, so we hope you stick around. Wishing you and all your loved ones an amazing year from all of us here at For The Win Cafe!