Thursday, December 28, 2017

GJJ Games Reivew - Ice Cool - By Brain Games

Ice Cool
Designer: Brian Gomez
Publisher: Brain Games
2-4p | 20m | 6+
GJJ Games Reivew - Ice Cool - By Brain Games
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Game Overview:
I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of dexterity games, yet I seem to keep getting dexterity games to review.  For the most part I've had a lot of fun with the dexterity games that I've reviewed.  Maybe it's because I've been pretty picky about the dexterity games I choose to review, or maybe it's because I really do like them somewhere deep inside.  I think it's the former, but it's probably a tiny bit of the latter, too.  While I do prefer games that stretch my brain, there's always room for a wild good time flexing my dexterity skills.  Dexterity games aren't ones that will hit the table regularly, but it seems like I enjoy them when they do.  That said, I do prefer dexterity games that have more strategic decisions than stacking blocks.

Ice Cool came out in 2016 and made a bit of commotion with dexterity game fans.  I remember watching a few reviews thinking it looked fun, but wasn't sure how much actual playtime it would get with my game groups.  This November, however, at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG Fair), Brain Games had about a half dozen tables set up with copies of Ice Cool out to play.  So I tried a quick game with my son and another boy that was visiting the fair.  We found it quite fun in the brief game (with only partial rules) we played, and Brain Games decided to give me a copy to play some more and review for them.

In Ice Cool, two to four players are penguins at school. (Get it? Ice Cool = High School!)  Each round one penguin is the hall monitor and the other penguins are ditching class and looking for fish.  The game will play a number of rounds equal to the number of players (double for two players), with each player taking on the role of hall monitor once (twice with two players).  Players flick penguins around the game board trying to avoid getting caught by the hall monitor while performing amazing feats of flicking skill to maneuver around the board collecting fish.  It's a game for ages six and up, and despite the young base age and silly theme, I don't think there's a top limit.

Components & Packaging:
There aren't too many components in Ice Cool.  12 colored wooden fish correspond to the four penguins' colors.  Four more white fish hold the game board together.  There are four penguin ID cards, four color reminder cards, and 45 fish points cards.

Let's not forget the five rooms that make up the playing area.  These might just be the coolest component of all.  The game box actually becomes the playing area!  Under the cover you'll find a few baggies with the other components, the rulebook, and five boxes, including the main box's bottom.  These all get placed together to form a square of four rectangular rooms with a smaller square room in the middle.  Holes in the sides of the boxes line up for form doorways.  This is really a pretty ingenious system and everyone loves it when they find out that the box is used to make up the play area.
Using the box as part of the game always impresses me!
OK, so the box might not be the coolest component after all.  It's pretty neat, but it's really the four penguins that steal the show, as they should.  Playing with the penguins is virtually irresistible.  Like the classic Weebles toys, they wobble, but don't fall down.  The penguins are weighted at the bottom and rock mesmerisingly back and forth, just begging to be flicked.  Even without the game, they're super fun to play with.
Look at that penguin!  So flickable!
On top of the awesome box/playing board, and great playing pieces, the game's artwork is surprisingly great.  Each box represents a different room in the penguins' school and is outfitted accordingly.  There's a classroom, gymnasium, cafeteria, kitchen, and lounge, each with unique, thematic artwork.  There are plenty of fish posters on the walls, snowballs in the corners, and streaks in the ice floor from ice skates.  There's great attention to detail, and looking at what's in each of the rooms is half the fun!

Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup only takes a few minutes.  Simply open the box, take out the nesting room boxes, align them each by matching they symbols by the doorways, and clip them together with the white fish.  Then add the colored fish above the indicated doorways and pass out a penguin and matching ID and reminder card to each player.  Shuffle the fish points cards and you're all ready to play!

Players can choose which side of the reminder and ID cards they want to show.  One side has a female penguin and one a male penguin, although a few are pretty androgynous and will work for either boys or girls.

Playing the game is also super simple.  The game can be taught in about two minutes.  The game is completed in rounds equal to the number of players (double for two players), and each round players' penguins will either be Runners or the Catcher.  The Catcher will start by placing the penguin in the kitchen, anywhere inside the red lines.

Then each Runner, in turn, will place their penguin on the red dot in the classroom and take a turn.  A turn consists of flicking your penguin through the rooms, trying to collect fish.  If you flick your penguin through a doorway that has your colored fish above it still, you get to collect that fish and one of the fish points cards.  It's even possible to flick through multiple doors in one shot!
Flick a penguin and watch it skate across the board!

After each Runner has gone, the Catcher gets to take a turn.  Instead of trying to collect fish though, the Catcher is trying to catch the Runners.  If the Catcher penguin bumps into a Runner, the Catcher will collect the Runner's ID card.  If a Runner bumps the Catcher at any time, even not on the Catcher's turn, the Catcher will collect the Runner's ID card.

Fish points cards are kept face-down, however at any time a player may reveal a pair of one point cards in order to take an extra turn.  They can do this as either a Runner or Catcher.  They don't lose the points, just reveal that they have them.
Keep your points hidden, unless you reveal two ones to Skate and take another turn

The round ends after one Runner has collected all three fish or after the Catcher has everyone else's IDs.  Then every player gets a fish points card for each ID they have, meaning the Catcher gets one for their own ID plus one for each ID that was collected in the round, and the Runners only get one if they managed to keep their own ID.  The game ends after everyone has been the Catcher once (twice in a two player game), and then the player with the most points wins!

Score: 9/10 x2

This isn't the deepest game, or the most strategic.  There is a fair amount of luck since points are drawn randomly, but there is also some skill needed.  There are three basic types of flicks of the penguins that you'll want to master.

First is the straight flick.  Gently, but firmly flick the penguin in a straight line by placing your finger directly behind the penguin, near the base, and flicking your finger forward.  This works best if you keep your finger in contact with the penguin the whole time.  I.e. don't start with your finger away from the penguin.  That'll hurt when your moving finger comes in contact with the stationary penguin, and you'll have less control!
Sometimes the kids will perfect the moves faster
than the adults, but it's fun for all ages!

Second is a curved flick.  This is a little more challenging to perfect than the straight flick, but the technique is almost the same.  Instead of putting your finger directly behind the penguin, start with it off to the side a little bit.  The penguin will curve to the same side that you have your finger on.  It'll take some practice to aim a curved shot, but with this shot you'll be able to flick your way through multiple doors, or around a penguin that's blocking your way.

The third type of flick is the jump.  This flick really takes a lot of skill to master, but is pretty cool when executed well.  If you flick the penguin very hard on its head it'll flip right up and over the walls!  This is a great move for getting away from the Catcher, or quickly sending the Catcher to the other side of the school in pursuit of the Runners, but it's a challenge to master and aim well.  Also, if you're a Runner, you don't collect any fish for doorways you jump over, only ones you slide through.

The combination of some awesome flicks as well as utter fails keeps the gameplay exciting and fun.  Games move quickly and analysis paralysis isn't really a problem, so your turn will be back around before you know it.  A four player game takes about 15 minutes to play, so it's great for a quick filler game or a quick wrap-up at the end of the night.  It's also just as much fun for adults as it is for kids, and it's great for adults and kids to play together.  Although I don't drink, I've also heard it makes for a great drinking game.
If your penguin is between the red line and the wall, you can move it out to the red line before you flick it.

So while this won't appear on any heavy games best-of lists, the gameplay is quite fun, fast, and entertaining.  Just don't get too hung up on scores.  With the points cards drawn randomly, there's always the possibility that you'll lose to someone who has fewer points cards than you do, just because they got a few threes when you drew ones.

Score: 8/10 x3

This isn't a game you'll play all night long, but it is one you can easily knock out three or four games of in a row.  It plays so quickly, and it's just so much fun to flick those penguins around the board that you'll immediately want a rematch after the first game.  I think this will likely remain a staple in my game night bag just so we have something quick to play when we wrap up a game at 9:30, but don't want to leave until the game store closes at 10.  It's also a great game that the kids can easily play on their own so the adults can get a heavier game or two in.
Young and old can enjoy the game together!

Score: 8/10 x1

General Fun:
As I said, Ice Cool isn't a game that I'd make the main game of the evening, but it's a ton of fun for a filler or quick family game.  The theme and artwork are great, and flicking penuins is super satisfying.  Dexterity games are usually lower on my list of choices to play, but Ice Cool is always fun and never disappoints.  I think my only frustration with the game is when I play on a larger table.  A smaller table is fine, because you can easily walk around the table to get a good angle for a shot.  But a larger table is a challenge.  We ended up putting it close to a corner and then rotating the board as we needed to make shots from various angles.  Putting the game on a Lazy Susan would be wonderful.
Getting stuck in a doorway doesn't earn you a fish.  You have to make it completely through.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
The MSRP for Ice Cool is $40, which, despite the great components, seems a little high for a dexterity game like this.  The nesting boxes are pretty cool, but when everything is considered, there really aren't that many components to the game.  I'd expect a MSRPbetween $25 and $35, so $40 is higher than I expected and is one of the factors in me not picking up a copy of the game sooner.  You can find the game on Amazon and other outlets for around $30, and my FLGS has it for $28, so that's pretty reasonable.  If your family or game group enjoys fast playing, fun, dexterity games, then you'll definitely get $30 worth of fun out of Ice Cool.  I just wouldn't recommend paying full retail for the game, unless you're a die hard dexterity game (or penguin) fan.
Brain Games had about a half dozen copies of the game set up for people to play
and they were always busy.  It was a huge hit!

Score: 6/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Once again, I found a dexterity game that I really enjoyed.  I had a suspicion that I'd enjoy the game when I saw the first videos of it come out, but was hesitant about how my game groups would take to the game.  So far everyone I've played with has really enjoyed it.  I saw that one of my game group friends even got his family a copy for Christmas!  No, this isn't a game that will be at the center of a hard core game night, but it's a great warm-up or cool down game, and as a family game it really shines.  If you like dexterity games with a fun theme, definitely consider adding Ice Cool to your collection.  Or maybe two...  I wonder how it would play with more players.  I bet you could combine two sets to make a really big school with two Catchers and six Runners for a great time!
Fast, fun, easy game play will make this
a staple in my game night collection!

Overall Score: 81/100

Did you like this review?  Show your support: Support me on Patreon! Also, click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

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.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 101: Bobby Westrick

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Bobby Westrick
Location:Kansas City, Missouri
Day Job:I am a service technician for in ground sprinkler systems
Designing:Five to ten years.
Facebook:Astrologic Game
YouTube:Smash Gordon
Today's Interview is with:

Bobby Westrick
Interviewed on: 9/24/2017

Today we get to learn about Bobby Westrick, a designer from Kansas City, MO. He has a few games in progress, including Astrologic, which will be hitting Kickstarter on February 1, 2018.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Five to ten years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I am an artist at heart & I love all types of games so, natural progression I guess!

What game or games are you currently working on?
Astrologic - A strategy game Astrology & Magic

Have you designed any games that have been published?

What is your day job?
I am a service technician for in ground sprinkler systems

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Boardgame house parties

Who do you normally game with?
With friends or with other peeps in a local boardgame group I'm in

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Either of my finished games (Astrologic & Valgursnatch), Small World, Pandemic, Betrayal at the house on haunted hill, crokinole

And what snacks would you eat?
Cookies, Chips..Anything not too greasy/messy

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Absolutely, Ambient music, Radiohead, Gorillas, Phantasmagoria..Not too loud tho

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Tabletop G&H, There's a cool new BG cafe called Pawn & Pint

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Well my own current - Astrologic. Least fav would be yahtzee. Worst um, Monopoly comes to mind.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I like flipping over things, cards or tokens that reveal things or change gameplay. Least: Overly complex systems where you need books or charts to figure out what to do.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Chess, I'm not even super good at it but no one wants to play me! LOL

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, Video Games, Other Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Other Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Both, I'm kickin around an abstract idea with a pinball plunger and a ball as a mechanic, but no theme has came to mind...yet.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Yes, 2016 Hasbro Game competition. I didn’’t even get honorable mention!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Not really

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Totally out of the blue. I'll either be watching something, or playing something and an idea will just creep up and bite me on the butt.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Usually with a group of other game designers first. Then enthusiasts, kids/teens, and family too

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I've only worked alone, but would love to Co-design with someone. A team sounds like there would be too many cooks in the kitchen.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Not getting discouraged and staying on track. I'm a notorious procrastinator, and I don't take criticism very well sometimes.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Anyone who likes one of my ideas :)

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Don't be afraid to show it to others because you're afraid they might steal it. The only person who thinks it's the greatest game...Evar is YOU.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Take other designers’ criticism with a grain of salt. Everyone's got an opinion and you can't make a game that pleases everyone or it will never get done.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that will soon be published are: Hopefully Astrologic, in a manner of speaking.
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Yes, for an adorable game involving Puppies for children.
I'm planning to crowdfund: I am currently planning a Kickstarter campaign for Astrologic
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Astrologic & Puppies at the Park
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Revitalized more focused version of my twisted dungeon crawlish/commerce game Valgursnatch
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: A few ideas are rollin' around my noggin.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
All of them

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
VHS, Star Wars 4-6, I prefer Mountain Dew

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Mountain biking (minus the mountains), Composing Music, Billiards

What is something you learned in the last week?
That I'm more capable and driven that I give myself credit for

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I'm currently enthralled with Queens of the Stone Age. I love the Hitchhiker series. Horror Movies..Plus TWD, GOT & Stranger Things.

What was the last book you read?
Something by James Patterson..can't think of the title

Do you play any musical instruments?
Keyboards, Does Tamborine count?

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I used to be best friends with Puddle of Mudd singer, Wes Scantlin as a teenager.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Back when I sang for a Rock band called Dropzero, I spontaneously leaped off the stage and crowdsurfed...It was epic.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
My Lovely daughter Lydia

Who is your idol?
I'm not sure anymore...The older I get, the stranger everything & everyone becomes.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go back and see how they built the Pyramids

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?

Have any pets?
I Beagle girl named Lucy that I adore.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
First, I hope to have died of old age when this occurs...With that said umm. I kinda hope boardgames in some form resurface as a form of entertainment and I would love to see that space rock wipe out Capitalism as a whole, to be replaced with something better for future humanity as a whole.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
A big thanks to all who do read this, even tho im not even a blip on the gaming worlds radar...yet!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

If people are curious about my games, here's 2 things to know. Astrologic used to be called Imagica (changed because it's a theme park in India). And Slaughterama was the first incarnation of Valgursnatch. You can find videos for both on YouTube.

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here:

Did you like this interview?  Pleasse show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The 10 11 Best New-To-Me Games of 2017

The  10  11 Best New-To-Me Games of 2017 32 honorable mentions

Well, I knew it had to happen some time.  This year the amount of games I played, including the amount of new games I played, decreased a bit.  Last year at this time I had played 158 new to me games by this time (and 167 total by the end of the year)  This year I'm only just at 100 now.  That's still a lot of new games though, and there have been some really great games that I've been introduced to.  Every year this list gets harder and harder to create.  In fact, this year my Top 10 is actually a Top 11.  You'll see why below.  Also, this year I've continued with The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2017.

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 or so long ago that I'm treating them as new games).  So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 11 New-To-Me Games for 2017, including 30 runner-ups and 2 Special Mentions, so that's 43 excellent games for 2017!

Also, check out my lists for 20162015, and 2014.

Honorable Mentions in Alphabetical Order:

* Indicates I played a prototype prior to 2017 and a completed version in 2017.

Acquire - 1964 - I played Acquire a few times a looooong time ago.  My parents used to play this all the time with their friends, with the plastic tiles rattling around in a coffee can all night.  I found a copy of the 1967 classic version at Goodwill earlier this year and played a few games for the first time  in about 25 years.  It shows its age in some areas, but still holds its own with many modern games!

Apex: Theropod Deck-building Game - 2015 - This was a fun deck-building game about being carnivorous dinosaurs that must hunt to build up your group.  It has some interesting mechanics, although the PvP combat was a little awkward at times, and unfortunately the t-rex miniature is very fragile.

Barnyard Roundup - 2016 - This is a great family bluffing game.  It has a feel similar to Sheriff of Nottingham, but is more streamlined and plays much faster.

Battle Ball - 2003 - Another Goodwill find, I really like some of the mechanics in this.  Particularly how characters trade off speed for power by the use of different types of dice.  This is a mechanic you might find me using in some of my games in the future!

Blood Rage - 2015 - This game took the meme community by storm in 2016 and I finally had a chance to play it this year.  It was a very solid area control and drafting game with some really cool card combos and player interaction mechanics.  Plus the minis are pretty awesome, especially when they're painted.

Bring Your Own Book - 2016 - If there's one thing my family has more of in our house than games, it's books.  We have almost 10 times as much shelf space for books as we do for games, and have almost as many books overflowing the shelves as we do games.  So Bring Your Own Book is a game I wish I could get to the table more.  Unfortunately party games don't get played much in my groups, so, despite loving this the one time I got it to the table, it hasn't made it back since early in the year.

Cavern Tavern - 2016 - I played this once and it was slow going, but super interesting.  We didn't finish the game because it was taking so long, but after a few rounds it was moving quicker.  Now that my game group knows how to play, I'd love to get it to the table again, but there are just so many other games to play that this one hasn't hit the table yet.

Civicus: Dice Game * - 2015 - I reviewed a PnP version of this game in June 2015 before the successful Kickstarter and was told I would be sent a production copy of the game (I even paid a bit to get the 4 player version).  Well, the game was delayed significantly, but finally delivered to backers in the summer of 2016.  But I never saw my copy.  After several emails and about 10 months, I finally got a response.  The designer was no longer with the company that he started, but he gave me the contact info of the new people responsible for the game.  They did eventually send me a copy, and I was excited to play it.  The game plays similar to the PnP version I reviewed, but it has a lot more going on.  I like the game quite a bit, but the scoring mechanic is super fiddly.  I added some custom components to the game to try to help, but its still fiddly.  So a great concept, but a little annoying in the execution.  It's worth a try though, if you ever find it anywhere.  GJJ Games Review

Colt Express - 2014 - Every year my family gets a new game to play for Christmas Eve, and last year it was Colt Express.  Yes, that's 2016, but I played this after last year's list came out.  My wife isn't a fan of this, but my sons and I quite enjoy it.

Dawn: Rise of the Occulites - 2014 - This is a HUGE, game that I was sent to review.  I've managed to get it to the table twice now, but I've only played the introductory scenario.  I want to give a couple of the other scenarios a try before I review the game.  It has some really interesting combat mechanics and the component quality is outstanding, so if you're looking for something really different in a skirmish game, and don't mind a huge price tag, this is definitely worth a peek.  GJJ Games Review - Coming Soon

Death Wish- 2017 - I reviewed a prototype of this back in May, 2016 and found it to be a fun, light set collection game with some great humor.  There are a few cards that aren't family friendly, but they're easy enough to take out and play with kids.  GJJ Games Review

Dice Derbi - 2016 - This is a dice chucking good time!  The core of the game is a ton of fun.  There are cards that really need to be reworked for their effects, but overall this is a light, fun dexterity game.  GJJ Games Review

Dice of Crowns - 2016 - Here's another game that came really close to making the top 10.  It's a press-your-luck game that plays pretty quickly, but has an interesting way of encouraging player interaction.  On your quest to gain crown tokens you'll roll scrolls.  Scrolls get passed to other players who reroll the dice and have chances to earn crown tokens themselves or send daggers to other players.  It's a great mechanic and the mint tin sized game is great to take just about anywhere!  GJJ Games Review

Flea Marketeers - 2014 - I played this on New Years Eve last year and found it quite fun.  It's not a great game, but it was a lot better than I expected.  Each player is a flea marketeer with a table set up.  You buy and sell items, trying to get the most valuable items on your tables.  The catch is, things that are worthless to you may be valuable to another player, and vice versa.  Each player has their own, unique price guide for all the items that become available through the course of the game.  It's quite fun to play!

Gadgeteers - 2017 - A huge thank you to Letiman Games for donating three copies for my 24 hour gaming marathon to support Extra Life this year.  Two were for our game auction and one was for me to play and demo.  I really enjoyed this little area control game where players bid for control of parts that they use to build gadgets.  It's a very unique theme for an area control game, and I thought it worked splendidly!

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle - 2016 - This was my Father's Day present this year and since my youngest son was born on the Monday after Father's Day, the family spent the following week playing this.  We quite enjoyed it and got to Year 4 before baby life caught up to us.  Each year adds another challenge to the core gameplay that you learn in Year 1, and while that was interesting, we found it a bit repetitive.  We felt like we were just doing the same thing year after year, just with bigger obstacles, and after we lost Year 4 the family got a bit bored.  I'd love to bring it back out though and finish off years 4-7.

Herbaceous - 2017 - Here's another game that came very close to making the list.  This absolutely gorgeous game by Steve Finn, Eduardo Baraf, Keith Matejka, and artist Beth Sobel is a great, casual game about planting herbs in a garden.  It has similar mechanisms to Biblios, but I actually like it better than Biblios.  GJJ Games Review

Ice Cool - 2016 - Here's another game that will be seeing a review very shortly.  I always say I'm not a huge fan of dexterity games, and then some fun ones come along and surprise me.  Ice Cool is a quick, fun game that's perfect for families or just when you want to have some silly fun.  The box design is super clever, the artwork is great and fun, and the gameplay is hilarious.  I just wish it came with a built in Lazy Susan!  GJJ Games Review - Coming Soon

Island Hopper - 2017 - Two dexterity games made this list this year.  Island Hopper also has a dexterity element, but also some bidding and bribery that makes this a great, interactive game.  Each player runs a delivery service in an island chain and is trying to earn money by completing delivery contracts.  Each round one player is the pilot of a rickety plane and tries to make deliveries to the most profitable islands, but the trick is they fly with their eyes closed and have to drop tokens on the islands blindly.  Other players have opportunities to direct the pilot either toward or away from the islands, depending on their own goals.  GJJ Games Review - Coming Soon

Kingdom Builder - 2011 - Kingdom Builder sat on our shelf unplayed for about 3 years.  This year we finally got it to the table and found it quite enjoyable.  It's pretty casual, but has some interesting decisions despite a simple core mechanic of draw a card and play it.

Kingdomino - 2016 - My son asked for this for his 8th birthday and it's a winner!  Super simple, fast gameplay make this a great filler or family game.  We're super interested in trying out Queendomino sometime soon.

Knot Dice - 2016 - I received this in order to review, so hopefully I'll be getting that out soon.  These are gorgeous dice that form really cool, intricate Celtic knot patterns.  There are a whole bunch of games and puzzles included in this set.  So far I've played a handful of the games and they're all quick, casual filler games with a puzzle-y aspect to them.  I'm looking forward to trying the other games out, too.  I also have my own game design that I'm working on that uses these dice.  GJJ Games Review - Coming Soon

Kodama: The Tree Spirits - 2016 - Kodama is another game that my son asked for on his birthday.  It's a super cute theme, and interesting card game, although it can get a bit fiddly.  It's fun to grow your trees though, just be careful that you don't bump the cards.

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction - 2017 - I reviewed this in April and found it to be a quick, fun card game with some interesting chaining mechanics.  There's a fair amount of luck involved, but with multiple ways to use each card there are also a number of ways to mitigate that luck.  The game does have the feel of the original Manhattan Project, although it plays a whole lot quicker and is a very stripped down version of that theme.  GJJ Games Review

Not Alone - My oldest son bought this with his birthday money and we've found it to be quite enjoyable.  It's best with 5 or more players, but works well at pretty much any count from 2 to 7.  It's some fun bluffing and deduction, similar to Sheriff of Nottingham, but without the need to lie.  It's a super fun theme, and the little bit of artwork that's there is pretty awesome, too.

PWNs: A Game of Strategic Mayhem- I reviewed the prototype last year and received a production copy this year.  A number of the issues that I had with the prototype were fixed for the final copy (namely things like having a puzzle border instead of tiles on a board, and they incorporated my idea to get rid of player elimination), and also added in a number of special abilities that are randomly assigned to pwns at the start of the game.  Personally, I don't like the special abilities - they just add more chaos and information to track in an already chaotic game - but it's nice to have more play style options.  I also found that we ran out of some terrain type tiles occasionally, but overall I still found the game to be a chaotic, fun time.  GJJ Games Review

Pyramid Arcade (Various Games) - My friend Tony had picked up a couple of the Loony Pyramids games last year and we enjoyed them.  Then last December he got Pyramid Arcade that has over 20 different games in the set.  I played the first one the evening after I posted my list last year, and since then we've played a number of the games in the set.  They range in depth and difficulty, and some we like better than others, but there's a game for pretty much everyone and every situation in the box.  It's a great value!

Shadowstar Corsairs - I first say Shadowstar Corsairs (then called Darkstar Corsairs) at my first ever Protospiel, at Madison in 2014.  I didn't get a chance to play it there, but my friend Jim did and loved it so much he backed it on Kickstarter.  He brought it to my house in the last week of December last year and I finally got a chance to play.  It's a bit longer than I'd like, and moves slowly at points (especially the 5 player game I played this past November), but the mechanics are solid and the components are outstanding.  If it was my game there are a few things that I'd house rule, or tweak though.  Mainly, I'd separate out the contracts that promote combat from the ones that are more economic and pickup/deliver in nature and then play with only a subset to give you a play style that you'd prefer.  I found that if you're looking for a highly interactive, combat based game, and then get some economic based contracts, it really detracts from the fun, and vice versa.  Each style works well, but they're better when they drive the overall feel of the game than they are mixed.

Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty's Web - Look for a review for this coming shortly.  I picked this up at ChiTAG in November and my wife wanted to play immediately (she's a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan).  After playing I was a bit disappointed.  We felt the game was good, but the randomness and lack of real control really kept it from being a truly great game. I really love the puzzle-y aspect of trying to fit clues and witnesses together to make a path of evidence from a crime to Moriarty, but really don't like the randomness and lack of control that results from just drawing blindly off the top of a pile.  So I came up with my own variant.  Essentially the game plays the same, except on your turn you draw two tiles from the top of a stack, choose one to play, and one to return to either the top or bottom of the stack.  This makes the game a true puzzle, with choices on every turn, right from the start of the turn.  There are a few other tweaks to help with the balancing, so if you want to see the full variant, look for my review coming out soon.  GJJ Games Review - Coming Soon

Wacky Wacky West - I stumbled upon this 1991 Spiel des Jahres Winner by Catan designer, Klaus Teuber, at my Goodwill and had to pick it up for just $2.  It definitely shows it's age, but is still a fun tile laying, voting game that's a great family game.

And now for the Top 11, starting with numbers 10.  Yes, there are two number 10s.  I really couldn't decide, so there's a tie for number 10 this year!  * Indicates I played a prototype prior to 2017 and a completed version in 2017.

But first, here are two Special Mentions.  These didn't quite crack the top ten list, but I wanted to mention them special.

First is the Scythe: Invaders from Afar expansion.  This isn't included this year because it's only an expansion, not a new game.  Last year, though, Scythe was my top game, and it's still one of my favorite games this year.  It's possibly my favorite game ever, but I do have a few others that I absolutely love (Terra Mystica, Carcassonne, etc.) so I just wanted to give a shout out to the new expansion.  I got it right after it came out last year, but it was early this year before I got it to the table.  I don't feel like the expansion is a huge game changer, but the two new factions do add some additional interesting strategic choices.  At first I thought their ability to travel the board without being hindered by rivers would make them too powerful, but they do seem balanced to me.  It does make other players focus a bit more on getting out of their home territories a bit faster, but in all the games I've played with them they didn't seem to get to the factory or find encounter tokens any faster than other factions.  I wouldn't necessarily call this an essential expansion, but it adds more variety, which is always great.  I recently just picked up the Scythe: The Wind Gambit expansion, which I think is more game changing with the variable end game conditions and airships, but I haven't played it yet.  I can't wait to, and am really excited to see what the third expansion brings to the game next year!

Next up is Mole Rats in Space, the new family friendly cooperative game from Matt Leacock and Peaceable Kingdom.  I reviewed this in the spring, and while it didn't make my top 10 games list, it was just shy, which is saying a lot for a kids game.  As the game is, I found it a bit too simple and random, but my family and I have been playing with a simple variant that I developed, and the game is really excellent with that small change.  Essentially, instead of drawing a card and playing it, you have two cards in your hand, play one, and then draw back up.  This gives you some choice and control.  However, to up the difficulty to balance the extra control, snakes are required to head toward a Mole on their level (and for more challenge, have them head to the nearest ladder otherwise).  The base rules are great for families with younger kids, or families new to gaming, the variant makes the game great for gamers that want a bit more.  Be sure to check out my review for the full details!  GJJ Games Review

OK, without further ado, here are the Top 11 New-To-Me Games of 2017!

10. Dice Forge - My 8 year old picked out Dice Forge for his birthday and let me say, he picked another winner!  Dice Forge is a quick playing, dice-building game unlike any other I've played.  The dice-building mechanic is something I expect to see a lot more of in upcoming games (Kapow! is the next one out that I've noticed uses a similar mechanic).  There's also practically zero downtime in Dice Forge.  Everyone rolls their dice for resources on every single turn, so you're always doing something.  My only complaint is that it's sometimes too fast paced.  Often a player is working on swapping out the dice faces while the next player is starting his turn.  Since everyone rolls on every turn, and some cards can let you do things based on what other players roll, occasionally everyone has to wait while the previous player finishes swapping out dice faces.  But if you're looking for a great, fast paced game with a great mix of luck and strategy, Dice Forge is an awesome choice.

10. Eight-Minute Empire - This is a game that I've had my eye on for a quite a while.  My FLGS had a copy of it for a while and I was planning on finally picking it up with some of the birthday money my in-laws always give me, but someone picked it up about a month before my birthday.  So I waited until mid-August before my FLGS got another copy, and I picked it up right away.  I really, really enjoy this little area control, set collection game.  I like the balancing between collecting resources and conquering territory.  I like that the combat is very casual.  I like that the game plays in 10-20 minutes.  I like that it's super easy to teach to just about anyone.  There's not much I don't like about this game.  I think the last player has a minor advantage, but that's about it, and it's something that can be mitigated through careful gameplay.  Eight-Minute Empire was reworked into Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, which adds modular maps and brings in a bit more combat, plus it has an expansion or two.  I'd love to try that someday, too, but for now I'm super happy with the original game.

9. Potion Explosion - My friend Rick has a copy of this.  I played it and loved it.  When my 8yo was looking for something to spend a gift card to my FLGS on that he won, I suggested Potion Explosion.  There had been a copy at the store for a month or so.  So we watched a few reviews and gameplay videos and he fell in love.  But he wanted to play first, just to make sure.  So Rick brought his copy to the next game night, my son played, and loved the game even more.  So we went to the front of the store to buy they copy they had, only to find out they sold it earlier that day!  My son was devastated, but as proof to how much he liked the game, we're still holding on to his gift card until the store is able to restock the game (hopefully in January).

8. Clank! & Clank! Sunken Treasures - I used to love deck-building games.  I guess I still do, but it's starting to seem like a mechanic that is just overused.  Everyone's got a new deck-builder, it seems.  So while I'll never turn down a deck-builder, it takes something special to wow me these days.  Clank! managed to do that.  I love the combination of deck-building and dungeon crawling that the game brings.  I still find that quite a bit of the game is random with the strategy focused on shifting probabilities, as many deck-builders are, but the element of exploration combined with the race to find treasure and escape before the dragon eats you to bring a level of lighthearted fun to the game that many deck-builders seem to lack.  The Sunken Treasures expansion I don't feel is an essential expansion, but it does add some new elements to the gameplay that are quite fun.  I'm really excited to try out Clank! In Space at some point, too.

7. Element - I reviewed Element in February and was blown away by the component quality and subtle intricacies in the artwork.  On top of that, the game is really awesome, too.  It's an abstract strategy game that works just as well with two players as it does with four.  There's a bit of luck involved, since you don't know exactly what stones you're going to draw each turn, but that's all part of the strategy in the game.  I love how each type of element has its own unique behavior, and the rock-paper-scissors nature of the interactions between the element types.  This has rocketed to the top of my favorite abstract strategy games list.  GJJ Games Review

6. Mint Works - When I first saw this on Kickstarter last year I was super excited.  I love small games, and a mint tin sized worker placement game sounded awesome.  Then I received the game early this year and absolutely loved the gameplay.  It's not the deepest, nor the most strategic worker placement game out there, but it's super easy to teach new players.  It's a great introduction to worker placement games and perfect for carrying around in your pocket.  I've used this both as a way to quickly and easily introduce new gamers to worker placement, and as a quick filler game with my gamer friends.  My only complaints are that the game sometimes ends too quickly (easily remedied by playing to 9 or 12 stars), and the mints get exhausted pretty quickly (I might add a few 3 mint tokens of a different color).  This is a game that goes with me almost everywhere because of its small size and great play.

5. Abandon Planet * - I played Abandon Planet for the first time at Protospiel Madison in 2016 and the game made the number 1 spot on my top prototypes list from last year.  I backed the Kickstarter and got my copy a few months ago.  I've only gotten it to the table once, so far, but really enjoyed it.  I love the social aspect behind the resource collection, although it works best with at least one or two players that go for the social strategies instead of everyone playing strictly logically.  It's still fun that way, but a backstabbing occasionally really ups the excitement factor.

4. Unmasked: Dracula's Feast * - Dracula's Feast made the number 2 spot on my top Kickstarter previews list last year, and the full Kickstarter version finally arrived this year.  The game went through a few changes since the prototype I played - some tweaked and balanced characters, and the elimination of player elimination.  This new game is still super fun, streamlined, and has no player elimination, which is great.  I love that it brings social deduction and logic together into a game where you don't lie.  Yes, your character might be required to lie about certain questions, but you never have to decide for yourself if you should lie or not.  So for those that don't like the deception aspect of many other social deduction games, Dracula's Feast is a great alternative.  Be warned, however, you'll need to use a lot of logical deduction, so it's best to play when there won't be tons of distractions.  I haven't yet tried the Cthulhu & Friends expansion, but that brings in some cool new mechanics and characters that look like they'll shake up the base game a bit.  GJJ Games Review

3. Between Two Cities & Between Two Cities: Capitals - This year, our game nights started skewing toward higher player count games.  My kids and the kids in the other families I play with are a bit older and are wanting to play more of the 'grown-up' games, however they're not quite old enough to figure out and play games on their own yet.  So instead of them playing their own silly games (like Connect Four Launchers - which was a big hit last year), they've been asking to play with the adults.  So we often have games of 6-8 players.  So I decided to pick up Between Two Cities since it plays up to seven and I had heard good things about it (plus, I love Beth Sobel's artwork, and Stonemaier Games does some really awesome stuff).  And my game group absolutely loves it!  It plays fast, is simple to learn, there's no downtime, there's some good strategy and interesting decisions, and great player interaction.  The only knock against it is that it only plays 7.  I'd love to have enough components to play with 8 or more players.  We loved the game so much, I decided to pick up the Capitals expansion.  This adds terrains, municipal buildings, and some cool district based scoring.  However, when we played, we realized that we weren't tired of the base game yet.  The stuff that Capitals added to the game were cool, and we did enjoy them, but we didn't feel they were necessary.  At least, not yet.  Of the things the expansion adds to the game, we liked the district scoring the best, municipal buildings next, and finally the terrains.  We might actually throw the district scoring into the base game the next time we play, and maybe try an 8 player game with the municipal buildings, but overall we felt the expansion added more than we were ready for, slowed the game down a bit, and didn't feel necessary.  I'm glad I have it, and I'll likely play a game with the expansion occasionally, but I'm still very happy with just the base game.

2. Bob Ross: The Art of Chill - This game was a surprise for me.  I love Bob Ross, and thought the game was going to be a silly gimmick game.  Then I watched some overviews and thought it actually looked like an interesting game.  So I picked it up from Target (it's a Target exclusive, so you can only get it there, unless you're willing to pay out your nose to someone reselling it on Amazon or eBay), much to my wife's amusement and disdain.  But I convinced her to play, and it's now become her favorite game!  The theme in this game is stellar and just drips off of every surface of the game.  From Bob's incredible artwork to the plastic easel, from the great component quality to the paints and brushes, from the quotes on the cards to the awesome Bob Ross meeple, this is a game that would thrill any Bob Ross fan, even if the gameplay weren't great.  Fortunately, the game plays as great as it looks.  The overall mechanics are pretty similar to Ticket to Ride, but it's much more relaxed.  There's no way to block another player in this game.  The player interaction is a bit low, and there's a bit more randomness with the Bob die that gets rolled at the beginning of each turn, but it all fits with the theme of the game and Bob's trademark 'chill' persona.  Essentially, each turn will start by rolling the Bob die, which will determine if Bob makes progress on his painting or if you get a small bonus.  Then you'll get to take three actions.  You'll be collecting paint and brushes, applying paints to your palate, and earning points by painting parts of the same painting that Bob and everyone else is also painting.  Painting elements first earns you bonus points.  The first to 30 points, or to get to Chill on the point track, is the winner.  Earlier players do have a bit of an advantage, so I like to finish a round after someone reaches Chill, but the game is so casual and fun that it really doesn't matter who wins or loses.  It's really all about the Joy of the Game.

1. Secret Hitler - My friend Kevin brought this to game night for the same reason I picked up Between Two Cities: more players wanting to play a game together.  From our very first play this was a HUGE hit in our group.  I think we played 4 games straight the first time we played, and almost every time since we've played multiple times in one sitting.  Unlike Dracula's Feast, you do have to be deceptive about your role, but unlike many other social games, in this one there are two people plus the game to potentially blame each time something bad happens.

The gameplay is super simple: each round a president and chancellor are elected, then the president draws the top three policies from the draw pile and chooses one to discard.  The other two are then passed to the chancellor, who enacts one and discards the other.  Once a certain number of Fascist policies the Fascist players win, and if enough Liberal policies are passed the Liberal players win.  It's as easy as that.  However, because only the president knows what three policies were originally drawn, and what policies are passed to the chancellor, there tends to be a lot of discussion, blaming, and deception that goes on.

There are only a small number of Fascists compared to Liberals in the game, but there are a lot more potential Fascist policies that can be enacted.  So it's quite likely that two Liberal players might get stuck with three Fascist policies, and no real choice about what has to be enacted.  Then they have to explain how they're not Fascist players.  However, as more Fascist policies are enacted, players gain certain abilities, like eliminating a player from the game, or looking at someone's political alignment.

We've found the game to be a perfect balance between playtime, player interaction, simplicity, elegance, and strategy.  Every single time the game comes to the table everyone has a great time playing.  This is definitely a game that I'd never turn down.  I do wish that the name didn't reference Hitler, just because of the stigma against him, however I think anyone that isn't offended by the name of the game will agree that the game name is only a pasted on theme, and it'd be super easy to change this to Secret Leader or something less generic (there are a ton of PnP versions online, like Secret Pirate, Secret Voldemort, Secret Sith, etc.).  Of all the games I played in 2017 though, this is the one that everyone has a great time with and wants to play again and again, every time it hits the table.

Well, that's it for my list of Top 11 New-To-Me Games of 2017.  Each year this list gets harder and harder to compile.  There are so many great games out there and limiting it to just 10 (or 11) is a real challenge.  I started with a list of about 20 games that I thought were awesome and had a hard time deciding to knock a few, like Herbaceous or Dice of Crowns down to the Honorable Mentions list.  Even though I played fewer games this year than last year, the games just keep getting better and better each year.  My dream is that someday one of my own games can appear on someone else's top 10 list.

How many of these games would make your top 10 list?  Are there any you feel strongly that should have been moved in its position?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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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.