Hi, Ethan here! Last year, I posted about some gaming challenges I was participating in, as a way to add some extra fun to my gaming experiences for the year. Well, a week into this new year, I’m here to report that I’m doing it again this year, and even have Amber trying some new ones out too. Here’s what I’m challenging myself with this year:
We may not have been writing posts, but we’ve sure been playing games, and 2016 has brought on all kinds of new and exciting gaming experiences. As we individually rank our top 5 games of 2016, here are some criteria we both followed:
1. The game was released in 2016. This is according to BGG stats on release date, so we’re relying on their accuracy. (That means, please don’t blame us if we mess up!)
2. We’ve played this game in 2016. This may seem like a no brainer, but there are plenty of great games released in 2016 that we unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to play. So if your favorite from 2016 isn’t on here, it may be because we haven’t played it yet.
From there, we created our own criteria on how we ranked our games. We look forward to hearing your comments on our top games of 2016, and want to know what was on your top list of last year?
AMBER’S DICLAIMER: I feel as if I need to preface by saying that making a top 5 list was HARD for me. I tend to find good in most games and this was no exception. I began the making this list by figuring out all the games I’ve played that were released in 2016 (according to stats by Board Game Geek) and eliminated ones that I felt “meh” about there. Then, I began ranking the remaining games (18 of them!) against each other with no other criteria other than what I had the most fun playing. The games on my list may not necessarily be the “best games of the year,” but there ones that I enjoy and will continue to enjoy in 2017.
Amber’s Honorable Mention: London Dread
For those who know me, I had this game on my mind since GenCon 2015. I played it as a demo there in the Greyfox booth and fell in love with the game pretty hard. I followed the game through BGG and social media and was thrilled to preorder a copy for pick up at GenCon 2016. As much as I loved the game at the preview, I haven’t had a chance to play our copy since we’ve purchased our own copy, hence why it’s not in the top 5 for this year.
Amber’s #5: The Last Friday
Having played Fury of Dracula and Letters from Whitechapel both, this game was high on my priority list around GenCon. When it was sold out at the con, I was pretty devastated, but Ethan preordered it for my birthday and we were able to enjoy it with a full group at a game night. One thing that drew me to this game was the theme; I’ve always had a soft spot for horror movies and I finally had the courage to play the killer in one of these games. The game is played in phases, taking you through the story of Camp Apache, and the stages of killing or being killed, making it different than games of the like. I haven’t had a chance to play as the campers quite yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to playing it again.
Ethan’s #5: Salem (2016)
I really like Salem, and not just because it’s the second game called Salem we have in our collection (in addition to New Salem, which only adds to the solution). The 2016 game Salem is a “pure” deduction game, as opposed to the much more common social deduction game, and it gets a lot of points in my book just for that. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to think of many other non-social deduction games besides the classic Mastermind. In Salem, each player controls a group of seven townspeople, three of whom are witches. The game is set up in such a way that there are three witches in every row (the groups each player controls) and every column, similar to sudoku. Then, each turn, players reveal information about their townspeople (such as “1 and 2 are different” or “out of 3, 4, and 5, there is one witch”) without giving too much away. I really like the deduction aspect of this game in trying to piece together the clues you are given with what you already know about your own townspeople to figure out where all the witches are before everyone else. The one major drawback to this game, and the reason why it isn’t higher on my list is that it really plays best with exactly six people for the basic game and seven for the advanced game. While you can play with other player counts, it is a lot better at its full complement, which makes it hard to get to t he table. But, I really enjoyed it a lot, so I hope to be able to continue playing it!
Amber’s #4: Arkham Horror: The Card Game
There’s something to be said about a game that takes just as long to set up and it does to play, and Arkham Horror is no exception to that. Arkham Horror: LCG, however, condenses the game into a more playable deck building format while keeping the fun of the original. The game is still pretty brutal, with your modifiers being chosen randomly out of a bag. We fought hard but lost the first scenario because of this, and it can be a frustrating mechanic when you’re consistently making bad draws. Overall, this game is much more approachable than the full Arkham game with the easy to teach deck building mechanic, which made it one of my top picks of the year.
Ethan’s #4: Imhotep
Imhotep is a game that certainly doesn’t lack praise, as it was nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award for 2016. Even so, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed its deceptively simple mechanics and gameplay. In Imhotep, each player has a supply of large wooden cubes (and seriously, these things are huge for board game components) in their color. Each round, there are a number of variously sized rafts where players take turns placing their cubes. Instead of placing cubes on a raft, players can use their action to refill their supply of cubes (to a maximum of 5) or sail one of the rafts to one of the available locations. The locations include the Market, where players can get cards that give extra actions or end-game scoring, or a myriad of ancient Egyptian architectures, such as the Obelisk, Pyramid, and Burial Chamber. Each of these locations scores points differently, and does so either immediately, at the end of each round, or at the end of the game. In addition, the order in which cubes are placed out at each location is often important as well, so you want to place your cubes on the rafts strategically. I was also surprised by just how cutthroat Imhotep can be. You can sail rafts containing your opponents’ cubes to places they clearly don’t want to go, or prematurely sail to a place they do want to go, blocking it off for that round. So, this game is definitely not for anyone who doesn’t like cutthroat or “mean” gameplay, but as long as you can get past that, it has a lot of table appeal with the huge cubes and evolving structures, and a lot of strategic fun.
Amber’s #3: Mythos Tales
I’ve always been a fan of mysteries but have not always had success at solving them. We’ve played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and while I love the Sherlock Holmes theme, there seemed to be something a bit lacking with it. When Mythos Tales showed up on Kickstarter, I was eager to back it, hoping that the Lovecraftian theme would add that little bit of extra oomph. We cracked this game open and was able to roll right in. We added my newly gamer mom to the second scenario and beyond, and things began to unfold in wonderful and usual ways. Without revealing too much about the specific scenarios, they added new rules to some of the scenarios, including different types of locations and triggering events based on when you visit a location, which allowed them to play a bit differently than just trying to figure out the mystery. I’ll admit that we didn’t get all the way through Sherlock Holmes, it wasn’t really drawing us in, and so if these things happen in that game, we are definitely missing out. But we played multiple scenarios of this game in a row, for multiple days, which makes this one of my most liked games of 2016.
Ethan’s #3: Beyond Baker Street
One of our favorite and most-played games is Hanabi, the co-op game where you don’t know what’s in your own hand and need to work with the other players to figure it out. After about 30 plays, Amber and I have the game down almost to a science. That is why i was so excited to learn about beyond Baker Street, which takes the familiar Hanabi mechanic and adds a Sherlock Holmes theme and some other elements. In Beyond Baker Street, you are working together as characters in the Sherlock Holmes canon to track down a suspect, motive, and opportunity before Holmes himself does. Each of those three items has a card in one of four colors and a target number to reach. Like in Hanabi, players can tell each other the color or value of the cards in their hand, and then use that information to play clues to each of the three areas. So, instead of Hanabi’s playing 1-5 in each of the 5 colors, now the colors players are aspiring to vary along with the number/value of cards they must play in each. In addition, Beyond Baker Street introduces characters that each player is assigned, providing a useful (or not so useful, if you’re looking for a challenge) ability. Finally, the game has several different “cases”, which really are just levels of difficulty, varying the number of clues you can give and cards you can discard to the Impossible. Altogether, while I don’t think this game will completely replace Hanabi for us, Beyond Baker Street is a great fresh take on a favorite mechanic, and a good way to add some more to one of our most-played games!
Amber’s #2: Dead of Winter: The Long Night
Dead of Winter was a group favorite of ours for a while. Though zombies were beginning to fade out of popularity, the story driven scenarios and possibility of hidden agendas kept people interested in this game for a long time. While the game is still brought out everyone once in a while, it needed a special something, which I believe The Long Night did. Instead of just bickering amongst ourselves about each other being the problem, there were real problems in the forms of thieves and new, disgusting, radioactive monsters. The Long Night gave a boost to a beloved game from 2014 and added to an already well-established replayability factor, putting this at my #2 favorite game of 2016.
Ethan’s #2: Terraforming Mars
I’ve only gotten to play Terraforming Mars once this year, but even with that one play I know that it’s a great game and I can’t wish to play it again. As may be inferred from the title, in Terraforming Mars, players take on the role of corporations that are trying to make the red planet inhabitable. Each player gets a corporation with different starting resources and abilities. Then, each round players acquire new project cards, and take turns playing cards from their hand to make Mars more human-friendly, increase your own resources, build something out on the planet, or various other effects. The game ends when three conditions have been met: Temperature, Oxygen, and Ocean Coverage. When these three factors are complete, players calculate their score based on their final Terraform Rating (given when players increase temperature or oxygen levels, or place an ocean) along with Victory Points gained elsewhere. So Terraforming Mars is a game of resource collection and management, as well as some card drafting (you draw cards and choose which you want to pay to keep in your hand) and tile placement, in a race to be the most prestigious company by the time Mars is fully hospitable. The best part of the game is by far the high-quality components. The board and tile artwork is great, and each of the 200+ different cards are all wonderfully illustrated and easy to understand. The coolest component, though, are the little metal cubes used to track resources — they are just so much fun to play with. Terraforming Mars gets two big thumbs up from me after just one play, so again I hope to play it even more in 2017!
Amber’s #1: Secret Hitler
Social games are a hit or a miss in our group, with favorites established pretty quickly and misses promptly being pushed to the side. When Secret Hitler was released on Kickstarter, we knew that if nothing else, we’d get a few fun plays out of the game. But this game is a bit different than a normal social deduction game where you have a to figure out “who-dun-it.” Unlike Resistance where you simply choose pass or fail, the President is given three choices of cards. Are they all Fascist policies, giving the President no choice to pass along two of the policies to the Chancellor? Or was there a choice of policies, and someone made a suspicious choice? This added element of decision making creates an extra level of deduction, of causing chaos, shouting and a lot of fun within our gaming group. Because of the more mature theme of the game, we don’t play this at game night, but anytime we have guests in the privacy of our home, someone inevitably wants to play, making this my top game of 2016.
Ethan’s #1: Mythos Tales
Interestingly, while I gave my #3 game, Beyond Baker Street, praise for adding a Sherlock Holmes theme to a game I previously liked, this game does the opposite. The previous game in this case was Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and this game, Mythos Tales, takes that game’s mechanics and replaces the Sherlock Holmes theme with Cthulhu (and adds some other things in the progress). If you’ve ever played SHCD, you’re already pretty familiar with how this game works, but if not, I’ll introduce it to you. It is a lot more like a choose your own adventure book than a game, because there isn’t a board, pieces, cards, or anything like that. Instead, players are given a map, a newspaper, and a casebook with numbered entries corresponding to the different locations on the map. Players are given a mystery to solve and then proceed to the locations around the city, reading each corresponding passage and taking notes of clues they uncover and leads as to where else to investigate. Then, at the end of each case, there is a list of questions players attempt to answer using the knowledge they’ve gathered, and based on points gained from the answers (minus penalties from visiting too many locations), they can compare their scores to Sherlock’s, who almost invariably does much better than the players. Mythos Tales takes this gameplay formula, and moves it from 19th century London to Arkham, Massachusetts in the late 1920s. Professor Henry Armitage takes the role of Holmes in this game, and while slightly more amiable can still be fairly demanding of the players, his assistants. There is a new cast of recurring characters you can visit in each investigation, such as police Inspector Garrison and the eccentric occultist Pasquale Fenton. In addition, the mysteries players encounter are a lot less mundane and have you encounter strange happenings and horrors directly from the Cthulhu Mythos. Mythos Tales also adds a few new elements — some of which I won’t spoil, but I’ll touch on those that are detailed in the rulebook. The first is the Time Track. In the beginning of each case, Armitage gives the players a deadline as to when the investigation must be wrapped up. Each day is divided into morning, afternoon, and evening, so the deadline will be something like “Day 5, Afternoon”. Every location visited, even if revisiting a place or if there is no information there, uses up a unit of time. So, this track really gives players the feeling that they are up against the clock and really need to make their investigations count. The second new mechanic is the Requirement Cards. Starting in Case 2, players may be instructed to take one of the game’s 19 numbered cards during the course of their investigation. This can correspond to receiving an item, like a key, or information that may be used later. Then, other locations may provide a supplemental encounter if players have the necessary requirement card(s). With this, the order of locations visited and clues gathered really comes into play more so than this game’s predecessor, where you could visit anywhere at any time (but where the encounter might not necessarily make sense if you don’t know exactly why you’re there). These two mechanics put together make Mythos Tales feel a lot like T.I.M.E. Stories to me, another game that I really like where you’re against the clock and need to gather items and clues to further your investigation. While there are a few typos and issues in Mythos Tales (which I think is understandable given a game so text-heavy), the designers have been good about publishing errata on BGG that should be kept handy when going through the cases. With that in mind, Mythos Tales has been an amazing adventure through the first half of the game, and I can’t wait to finish up the last four cases and see what new expansions and mysteries are in store!