As the year comes to close, Jonathan Liu, Dave Banks, and I share our top tabletop games of 2016.
Best appetizer: Valeria: Card Kingdoms from Daily Magic Games
I liked Valeria: Card Kingdoms when I reviewed the Kickstarter prototype, but over the course of this year it’s become one of my favorites to introduce to new players. The mechanics are pretty easy to teach, and it’s a nice mix of luck and strategy—and it doesn’t hurt that it looks pretty. It’s a great way to kick off a game night, but it’s also hefty enough to serve as the primary focus. Buy a copy here, or read the full review.
Best appetizer: Tem-Purr-A from Iello Games
This silly game about sushi-eating cats has been a favorite at my house this year. The artwork is adorable (and kind of weird), and the mechanics really match the theme about daring each other to eat more and more until somebody collapses from indigestion. It’s a great—ahem—filler game, and good for kids and grownups together, too. Go ahead, have another serving! Buy a copy here, or read the full review.
Best buffet spread: Pyramid Arcade from Looney Labs
If you want a little taste of everything, Pyramid Arcade is an entire game system in a box: there are rules included for 22 games, but there are hundreds more online—or you can design your own. From quick filler games like Treehouse to the space battles of Homeworlds, Pyramid Arcade is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of gaming goodness. Buy a copy here, or read the full review.
Best finger food: Ice Cool from Brain Games
If you like flicking games (like I do), then Ice Cool should definitely be on your list. Instead of the usual flat disks, you get wobbly penguins that make it possible to pull off some truly amazing shots, like curved paths and jumping over walls. And I love the way the nested boxes become the playing area. Buy a copy here, or read the full review.
Best Comfort Food: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Wrath of the Righteous from Paizo
I know what you’re thinking: PACG was on the list last year. And the year before that. Well, as long as Paizo keeps making them, I’m gonna keep playing them. My group started the Wrath of the Righteous set last November, and finally wrapped it up a year later, logging about 30 plays in this calendar year. We’ve since moved onto Mummy’s Mask, but Wrath was a really fun adventure, and you can read all about it here. You can order a copy here.
Best New Recipe: Clank! from Renegade Games and Dire Wolf Digital
I love deck-building as a mechanic, and I’m always curious to see what people will do with it next. One of my favorite takes on the genre this year was Clank!, about exploring a cavern and stealing valuable artifacts from a wrathful dragon. It’s deck-building, map exploration, and press-your-luck—they aren’t new ingredients, but Clank! combines them in a fun, new way. Buy a copy here, or read the full review.
Best Main Course: Vast: The Crystal Caverns from Leder Games
In a year with a lot of excellent games, one title stands out far above the others in terms of sheer innovation and mind-blowing awesomeness. Vast: The Crystal Caverns gives up to 5 players totally different rulesets so that it kind of feels like you’re each playing a different game on the same table—and somehow all those games mesh together and it works. Yes, it’s a bear to teach because, well, you’re teaching up to 5 different games at once, but it’s well worth the effort. For me, Vast is my choice of best game of the year, hands down. If you didn’t take my advice and buy it already or back the reprint Kickstarter, you’ll have to pre-order it and wait (and I think it’s more likely to deliver in March than February). In the meantime, read my full review here.
Best Game: Scythe
When you open the box, there’s a lot there. A big rulebook and lots and lots of bits and boards and … it’s a little overwhelming. But then you get a turn or two into Scythe and realize it’s elegantly simple. Yes, there are a lot of choices to make and many paths to victory, but Scythe delivers on all the hype that surrounded the game. And it has incredibly amazing artwork that shows a steampunk-edged alternative universe that is, literally, jaw droppingly gorgeous. But the gameplay is just as wonderful. And clever. And fun, which makes Scythe my game of the year.
Runner Up: Captain Sonar
I imagine that running deep through the ocean with crushing pressure surrounding your ship and an enemy hot on your tail can be very stressful and something I’d rather not experience in person. Thanks to Captain Sonar, I know that submarine warfare, on the kitchen table, can be a sweat-inducing experience. In this real-time game, you and your team play cat and mouse against another crew, maneuvering around islands, dropping mines, and trying to stay one step ahead of your competition. Can you sink your opponent before they get you? Find out in this clever deduction game.
Second Runner Up: Quartz
This game is a combination of set collection, press-your-luck, and a lot of fun. As dwarves, you mine the quarry, looking for precious stones. Too much obsidian (abhorred by dwarves) will get you pushed out for the day, so how long do you want to keep looking? There’s a fair amount of take-that between players, but Quartz has a lot of replay in a box of nice components at a very fair price.
Best Party Game: Doctor Panic
In this real-time co-op/competitive game, you play the role of doctors trying to save patients. You’ll have to perform a number of goofy procedures before the clock runs out. No game got more stares or photos taken than when we played this at conventions this year. It’s outrageously fun and, while you don’t have to go full cosplay to get the most out of this game (as we did at Gen Con, in the picture above), it sure makes it a lot more fun.
Runner Up: Happy Salmon
I probably got more plays out of this game than any other in 2016–likely because it plays in under 2 minutes. Players flip cards and try to find another player with the same card to match. Each must carry out some physical action–high five, fist bump, etc.–before going to the next card. First to get rid of all their cards wins. It’s so silly but so good.
Best Family Game: Oceanos
This is a beautiful game based on undersea exploration. Players upgrade their submarines to give themselves greater abilities as the game goes on. There are lots of ways to score points and it’s a game with more depth than it seems. Oceanos is a great game for families looking to take the next step in gaming. It’s a very peaceful experience and one worth checking out.
Most Beautiful Game: Saloon Tycoon
I first saw Saloon Tycoon at Gen Con, and from the visuals alone I knew I wanted to play it. As soon as I did, I know that the game went well beyond how pretty it is. It’s got a lot of strategy and nicely implements its Wild West theme. And did I mention how beautiful it is? Check you my review of the Kickstarter, or get your own copy.
Best Licensed Game: Star Wars Rebellion
I’ve been a fan of the work Fantasy Flight Games has been doing with their Star Wars license since I first got my hands on X-Wing Miniatures. I’ve enjoyed Armada and Imperial Assault as well, but Rebellion is the most downright fun of all of them. A more traditional board game than the others (and, thankfully, there’s nothing to collect), the two-player game pits a player as the Rebels against, obviously, the other player as the Empire. The Rebels simply need to keep the location of their hidden base secret long enough to outlast the Imperials before they can do enough destruction… like blowing up a planet with the Death Star. The miniatures in the game are great, and it really lets you live out your favorite moments of the original trilogy. As of this writing, it appears that the game is sold out on Amazon but might be available elsewhere, or it will almost certainly be back in stock soon.
Best Inexpensive, Light Games: Suspicion, Really Bad Art, and Stick Stack
Mentally, I’ve always grouped these three games together, so I’m going to include them here as one as well. All three were custom designed for Target, where they are exclusively available. Suspicion plays like a much more strategic and fun version of Clue. Stick Stack is a dexterity game with a surprising level of complexity. And Really Bad Art is a fun, ridiculous mix of Pictionary and Dixit. Each is only $20, and each is well worth that amount. Read my full review here.
Best Game for Percy Jackson fans: Oh My Gods!
I first reviewed Oh My Gods! over a year ago when it was on Kickstarter, and my kids immediately fell in love with it. It’s a fun deduction card game based on Greek mythology. I’m happy to say that the game is finally finished and will be available soon. You can read my review here, and be sure to watch this blog over the next few weeks for a chance to win a copy.
Game of the Year: Vast
I agree 100% with Jonathan on Vast. See his more detailed notes about it above, and then be sure to go buy it yourself.
One Last Thing…
Tune in next week as we unveil a whole new way to find a game of the year…