Our Favourite Games of 2017 - The Ten
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!