Friday, December 16, 2016

The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2016

The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2016 34 honorable mentions

Every year this list gets harder and harder to create.  It seems like every year my list of first time played games grows, and the games just keep getting better and better.  Last year I played 147 games for the first time.  This year I'm already up to 158 and there are still a few weeks to go.  As I've been reviewing more games, participating in more game design contests, and attending more game design meetups it seems I've been playing a lot more new stuff.  Unfortunately this also means that some old favorites don't get played nearly as much as I'd like, something I hope to remedy next year.

So, this year I've decided to add two more lists to this main list.  I've split them off into their own post, of The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2016.  Keep your eye out for these, some may be coming to Kickstarter or a FLGS near you!

This main list only contains published games that I've played for the first time this year (although a couple I played previously in their prototype form).  So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 New-To-Me Games for 2016, including 34 runner-ups, so that's 44 excellent games for 2016!

Also, check out my lists for 2015 and 2014.

Honorable Mentions in Alphabetical Order:
* Indicates I played a prototype prior to 2016 and a completed version in 2016.
  • 12 Days - A quick, accessible trick taking game with a Christmas theme.
  • ...and then, we held hands. - An interesting cooperative abstract strategy game where talking about the game is prohibited.
  • Biblios - A fast card game about collecting books for a monastery.  
  • Codenames - An instant classic party game about getting your partner to identify words from clues given.
  • Creature College - A lighthearted, fun family game involving bidding for turn order, collecting monsters, and then battling them against each other (and Kevin the Gigapig).
  • Dead Man's Draw (AKA Captain Carcass)  - A quick press-your-luck game that has partly inspired one of my latest designs, MiniSkull Quests.
  • Emergents: Genesis - A fun deckbuilder where you are a superhero in training, battling against the other superheroes. - GJJ Games Review
  • Expedition: Famous Explorers - A great family friendly route building game.  This was very, very close to making it into the top 10.
  • Flag Dash * - A great action programming game that is 100% strategy and no luck!  GJJ Games Review
  • Francis Drake - This is a big game with gorgeous components.  Some interesting mechanics make this pretty interesting. GJJ Games Review coming soon.
  • Graveyards, Ghosts & Haunted Houses - I won this in a contest, along with Pirates, Ninjas, Robots & Zombies and even though these are super simple games, I love using them to introduce non-gamers to modern games.  They've always been a hit!
  • Happy Pigs - Super simple to play, lots of meaningful decisions, and almost no downtime make this a great choice for both new and experienced gamers.
  • Jamaica - I played this once and had a great time playing.  There's a fair amount of luck, but the pirate theme really shines in this one!
  • Jarl - Very intriguing retheme and update to The Duke.  The pieces are gorgeous and the rules are pretty simple.  Lovers of chess and other classic games will love this one.
  • Lexigo - A fast playing, fun word game.  This is a great one to play with non-gamers.
  • Lost Cities - It's pretty old, but I played it for the first time this year.  It's a typical Reiner Knizia style game with lots of colors and numbers, but it works wonderfully.
  • Mysterium - This is another that gets a lot of popular love, and was pretty close to being in the top 10.  It's like Clue and Dixit had a baby!
  • Neuroshima Hex! - I'm not usually a huge fan of combat games, but this was an interesting combination of area control and unit selection that I'd love the chance to play again some time.
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf - My family got me this for Father's Day.  I love the social aspect of it, but am not sure I like how you don't truly know what your role is at the end of the night.
  • Pandemic: The Cure - I think I might like this dice variant of the classic Pandemic even better than the original.
  • Patchwork - Another that was very close to making my top 10.  This is a great, strategic two-player game.
  • Pirates, Ninjas, Robots & Zombies - Very similar mechanics to Graveyards, Ghosts & Haunted Houses, but a little bit simpler.  I love playing this with non-gamers because it's simple yet not monopoly.  It's a great gateway game.
  • Qwixx - A friend has this and pulls it out every so often.  It's a fun little dice game that can be played while having conversations about other stuff.
  • Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age - This dice rolling, civilization building game almost made my top 10. GJJ Games Review
  • Star Wars Carcassonne - The theme is awesome, plus it's Carcassonne, so what's not to love?  Nothing really, this was a ton of fun to play.
  • Stone Age - Played for the first time just a few weeks ago, this classic worker placement gateway game was a lot of fun.
  • String Railway - Maybe the most unique game in my collection, in String Railway players use strings as their train tracks to connect various stations.  It ends up being a lot more strategic than you first expect.
  • Sushi Go - For Father's Day my family got me two drafting games, this and The Best treehouse Ever.  Even though they're mechanically similar, they're both very different games and I enjoy them both.
  • Taluva Deluxe - A friend brought this out during my 24 hour Extra Life marathon and I liked it a whole lot.  It's one I hope to play again and have the chance to introduce my wife to.
  • The Best Treehouse Ever - Have I mentioned how much I like Scott Almes' games?  This is another one that's really awesome.
  • The Princess Bride: I Hate to Kill You - A super simple dice game, but it helped inspire one of my newer game ideas, MiniSkull Quests.
  • The Siblings Trouble - I think as my boys get a little older they'll appreciate the story telling aspect of this game a bit more, but I found it a lot of fun.
  • Tides of Madness - If Tides of Time hadn't been on my list last year I'd seriously have considered Tides of Madness for this year's list.  But it's almost the same game, with a slight twist of the madness tokens.
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes' Call - I love, love, love the Tiny Epic series of games by Scott Almes and this expansion to Tiny Epic Kingdoms (my number 7 game from 2014) really ups the game another notch. - GJJ Games Unboxing
And now for the top 10, starting with number 10.  * Indicates I played a prototype prior to 2016 and a completed version in 2016.

10. Rollet (2014 - David Harvey - Et Games Limited) - Late last year I was asked to review a game called Rollet.  I'm not a huge fan of dexterity games, but Rollet looked fun, so I said OK.  On Christmas Eve the game got delivered, so it went under the tree for the family to open on Christmas morning.  We opened the game up (the box is huge) and were absolutely amazed at the beauty!  Completely handcrafted and made of gorgeous wood, the game looks stunning.  Then we played, and the game was a ton of fun to play.  It's not strategic or deep like most of the games I like, but it's a wild good time in the vein of classics like Air Hockey and Fooseball.  Later in the year Et Games ran a Kickstarter campaign in order to be able to increase the production quantities of Rollet and it was successful (and featured my review in its ads!).  Hopefully you'll see this in retail stores soon as a worthy competitor of other tabletop dexterity action games like Klask. - GJJ Games Review

9. Carcassonne: Gold Rush (2014 - Klaus-Jürgen Wrede - Z-Man Games) - For Christmas last year my aunt and uncle gave my sons gift cards for our FLGS.  Instead of spending it on Pokemon or Magic cards he decided to pick up Carcassonne: Gold Rush and I'm so glad that he did.  If you read my 2014 list you'll see that Carcassonne is one of our family's favorite games (and it still is), but Carcassonne: Gold Rush takes a beloved favorite and adds a few new twists that make this a great respite from the classic.  I have to say, my son made a great choice!

8. Cabaret (2015 - Patrick Dillon, Adam Whitney - Know Chance Games) - Cabaret takes a typical trick taking game and turns it on its head.  Instead of having to follow suit you have to play a suit that hasn't been played yet.  If you can't you play a mime card instead, which costs you points and likely gives someone else a stack of points.  Like all trick taking games, a lot depends on the cards you're dealt, but it also has a depth of skill and strategy needed to excel.  It'll make you think differently about your strategies that you're used to in traditional trick taking games.  Plus the theme is very accessible to casual gamers or people only used to traditional card games.  And it plays with up to six players, so invite a bunch of friends to play! - GJJ Games Review

7. Tragedy Looper (2014 [2011 in Japan] - BakaFire - Z-Man Games) - I only played Tragedy Looper once, but absolutely loved it.  My wife and I played together and found it really fun and want to play more with just the two of us, so I haven't tried to play with others yet.  We loved the stories, mystery, theme, and logical deduction needed.  We've tried to get it to the table a couple of times but something always comes up that prevents us from playing.  Such is a busy life with two kids...  But we will get it to the table again, hopefully soon!

6. Tiny Epic Western (2016 - Scott Almes - Gamelyn Games) - Tiny Epic Belongs On This List...  That's pretty much any Tiny Epic game.  I've loved all of them and Tiny Epic Western is no exception.  There is a ton of game packed into this little box.  The worker placement and poker mechanics combine to create a really thematic game that's a blast to play.

5. Battle of Durak (2015 - Fedor Sosnin - DISRUPTIVE INC) - I won Battle of Durak in a giveaway and then found out from the owner of my FLGS that Durak means Fool in Russian and Durak is a traditional Russian card game.  In Battle of Durak the main mechanics are the same as the traditional game, but there are character abilities and events that change things up.  This is a great blend of a traditional card game with some fantasy character tropes that should be accessible to anyone who is familiar with traditional cards.  It's quick, fun, and keeps you thinking.  I brought this to a Cub Scout campout and everyone had a great time playing, even people that normally don't play any other games. - GJJ Games Review

4. Grifters * (2016 - Dave Fulton, Jacob Tlapek - Indie Boards & Cards) - I first played Grifters back in 2014 when it was You Dirty Rat.  I loved it then and have been following the game along with its name and publisher changes all the way up to it's successful Kickstarter and retail release.  When I got my Kickstarter copy I couldn't wait to play and when I did it was as great as I remembered.  Grifters uses a very interesting, new mechanic called hand-building.  It's similar to deck-building, but cards are never shuffled into a deck.  You always see what cards you have available.  This minimizes the luck factor considerably and makes for some really fascinating gameplay.  After playing my copy a number of friends went out and bought their own copies, something unusual for my group since most of us figure if a friend has the game we'll just play their copy.  But Grifters is one of those games where you'll really want to have your own copy. - GJJ Games Unboxing

3. Above and Below (2015 - Ryan Laukat - Red Raven Games) - Numbers 2 and 3 on this list are almost interchangeable.  I really had a hard time deciding what order to place them in.  In the end, the game that was newer to me made it into position 2 and Above and Below took position 3.  But like I said, the games are almost interchangeable...  They're both by the same designer!  Ryan Laukat has been creating some really wonderful games lately and I'm absolutely amazed that he not only designs the games, but also does all the artwork and publishes them on his own, too!  He's quite the renaissance man and I have yet to be disappointed by any of his games.  Above and Below is a fantastic game that combines worker placement mechanics with a story adventure!  It's like Tales of the Arabian Nights meets Caverna, and I'm completely enamoured with the game.

2. Islebound (2016 - Ryan Laukat - Red Raven Games) - Islebound is also by Ryan Laukat and has a lot in common with Above and Below.  Besides the amazing artwork and being set in the same fantasy world, the characters from Islebound can even be used in Above and Below!  I just recently acquired Islebound and have only played it once, but I think I like it even better than Above and Below.  Where Above and Below really focuses on individual adventures, Islebound promotes player interaction.  I felt like there was a lot more going on in Islebound to keep everyone engaged even when it wasn't their turn.  I did miss the story aspect though (even though that's there a tiny bit with the events), but I'm really looking forward to Near and Far's release next year to really unite the stories of Above and Below with the player interaction of Islebound.

1. Scythe (2016 - Jamey Stegmaier - Stonemaier Games) - OK, it may seem cliche at this point, but yes, Scythe is my top game of 2016.  Last year I succumbed to all the hype and jumped on that bandwagon in a big way.  I first discovered Jakub Rozalski's artwork a few years ago, before I new anything about a game being developed.

When I heard that Jamey Stegmaier was working on a game in that world that Jakub created I was fascinated.  The more I heard about the game the more I thought the game itself sounded awesome, too.  When the Kickstarter launched I was drooling over the game and convinced my wife and parents to buy it for me as a birthday present, even though the Kickstarter was in November, my birthday is in April, and the delivery date was supposed to be August.

I ended up getting the full Art Connoisseur edition with all the super nice bits.  Metal coins, realistic resources, bigger board, and, what I was really after, the Jakub Rozalski Art Book. As it came closer to the release of the game the hype remained high and my expectations were enormous.  Then the first few people started receiving their games and reporting back.  It seemed reception was mixed.  Overly positive, but there were a vocal few that expressed disappointment.  I was a bit worried, but still super excited, and so were my friends.

The huge box arrived just a couple of hours before I was supposed to leave for a game night, so I brought the game with, not expecting to have a chance to play since I hadn't had a chance to read through the rules in full yet.  But a friend had watched the how to play videos several times and when I walked into the game store with Scythe he pretty much demanded that we play.  So I broke it out and let him explain the rules while we set up and skimmed the rulebook for anything he missed.

We played a four player game that evening and everyone loved the game.  So much so that we played it three more times in the space of two weeks.  My expectations definitely were met with Scythe.  I love the theme, mechanics, stories, components, and of course the artwork.  Playing with the super special bits and bigger board really add to the experience, but even without all that I feel that the game is a very solid blend of Euro strategy and American theme (kind of ironic since it was designed in America and is set in Europe).  I still haven't won a game of Scythe yet, but I plan on playing it a whole lot, so I'm sure my time will come.  It really doesn't matter though, the experience of playing is a blast regardless of the outcome.

Well, that's it for my list of Top 10 New-To-Me Games of 2016.  I think overall this is the youngest list of games so far, with all of the top 10 being released in the US within the last three years and the oldest honorable mention being from 1999 and only a handful from before 2010.  I've now played a lot of the classics, so it's rarer that an older game really wows me, but I'm sure there are still some out there.  In the meantime I'll keep playing whatever turns up and having fun with all these wonderful games!  I hope you have a chance to play some of these and I can't wait to see what gems 2017 turns up.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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