It seems to be an unwritten rule of calendar based civilizations that once your roll of years increases its count, there’s a required moment of reflection over what has transpired. As our thermometers drop and heating bills rise, my birthday also comes around, so I might as well consider both occasions are telling me to write an article about the hits and misses of the past year.
Looking through the list of games, I’ve played everything I really wanted to play (still hoping for an end of year gift from The Gaia Project), and on the whole, it has been a solid year, not transformative, but a small step forward. However, coming with this appreciation is the continued lamentation that there can be too much of a good thing. With too many games to look at, each one’s impact dilutes the other. It takes more and more to stand out from the crowd and an exhaustion of expectation sets in. This was my overarching theme to 2017.
At the end of the year, I can easily say that my best experiences have come from two games, both with a strange similarity yet entirely different when it comes to objectives. The games are Clans of Caledonia and Civilization: A New Dawn. Walk by each one being played, and you see tokens and minis spread across a hexagonal map with resources and contested lands in the play style. Take a closer look, and you’ll see one delivers an area control race game that boils down beefier civ games and the other is a heavier economic meeple-pusher that tickles economic brain cells to optimize income and expenses for points. Both are outstanding games and fit just right with my style of play.
After that, it’s a slightly crowded field, but, like my Top 10 Area Control Games list attests, I have to pick something for the armchair conflict crowd. That would be Battle for Rokugan. My review is forthcoming, but you’d be safe to bet on a high score. Rarely has a game excited me as quickly as this title, specifically for its fast playtime and brutal conflict staging which coalesces area control, diplomacy, and direct conflict. Add to the soup some chaos from East Asian themed Mordor and you’ve got me slurping down bowl after bowl.
The “also-ran” category is filled with titles you’ve probably already heard of, so I won’t belabor them too much here. These are games which will regularly hit my game table due to quality and challenge. With the exception of the cooperative mystery game Unlock!, they’ve all been solidly re-playable.
Before I wrap this article, I want to mention a few misses this year. For better or worse, these games gave a good try, but ultimately deserve the “meh” award for execution or enjoyment.
The highest on the list for expectation and disappointment was Massive Darkness. The smoothness of play and a transitioning of “King of the Dungeon Crawlers” from Descent 2nd Edition to this title did not happen for me. Some say that mantle is now taken by Gloomhaven. I haven’t played that one yet, but it does seem promising. I’m still not a fan of standees.
Second place for highest expectation vis-a-vis disappointment goes to First Martians. After finally figuring out the rules, I want to say that First Martians is in no way a bad game. It’s just not as inspiring as I wanted the first time out. Many of the actions felt mechanical, and it deserves more than just a first play to be appreciated. However, that first play also left such a bland taste that getting it back to the table has been hard.
Finally, I’ll mention Photosynthesis. Again, this is not a bad game, but I’m probably the first writer to say that this game is as exciting as watching trees grow (I’m the first one to ever, right?). I wanted to get excited by this title, but again, even playing it at Gen Con where the passion is at its highest, Photosynthesis just felt like a bland design with little to encourage me to play it again.
Whatever your feelings for the end of another solar cycle, I hope you have great holiday gaming and can find the time to play all the games. This, more than anything else, is the challenge right now. We at Board Game Quest appreciate our readers. If you’ve got beef with what we opine, let us know below. We love having the discussion and value the opinions (especially if they disagree with Tony).