Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2017

The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2017
10 Kickstarter previews, and 12 prototypes

Once again, in 2017 I played a pretty big number of unpublished games.  I played a bit less than last year since I had to miss Protospiel Madison this year, and did reviews of more published games than ever before, but since I started this list last year, I wanted to continue it this year.

So for 2017 I'll once again have two more lists, in addition to my main Top 10 New-To-Me Games of 2017 list (look for that in a week or so).  I've included a quick list of the best Kickstarter previews I've done as well as a list of the top prototypes I've played throughout the year (aside from my own, of course).  Keep your eye out for these, some may be coming to Kickstarter or a FLGS near you!  My main list will only contain published games that I've played for the first time this year.
Here are my Top Kickstarter previews and Prototype games that I played in 2016!

Top 8 Kickstarter Previews:
(k-f) Kickstarter failed.  (k-s) Kickstarer was successful.  (k) Kickstarter hasn't launched yet.

First, an honorable mention.  I first played and reviewed Radiant last year, but after two unsuccessful campaigns it was finally funded successfully this tar!  I'm super thrilled that it finally made it because I thought the game was an excellent gateway game with gorgeous artwork.  Radiant, by Randal Marsh, made the number 1 spot on last year's list, so I'm happy it'll finally be released to the masses!

10 - Dragon Dodge (k-s) - This is a cute, light strategy game with a family friendly theme.  Dragon Dodge is a fun little strategy game.  I really like the theme and the mechanics are solid.  It's super simple to teach and doesn't take long to set up or to play.  Dragon Dodge would make a good filler or light, family friendly strategy game.

9 - Pocket Ops (k-s) - The more I think about Pocket Ops the more I realize just how brilliant this take on tic-tac-toe is.  Pocket Ops is definitely an improvement over tic-tac-toe, with the only exception being that you can't play it on a fogged up window in the winter.  That's a small trade off though.  It's small size means that you can take it just about anywhere.

8 - Wanted Earth (k-s) - I had fun playing Wanted Earth.  Overall it played very smoothly.  I've not had the fortune to play a lot of heavy miniatures based games, but of what I have played, this definitely holds its own.  I've heard stories of games having awesome miniatures and horrible gameplay and I'm happy to say that Wanted Earth is not one of those.  Wanted Earth has very cool looking minis and very solid gameplay.  So if you're looking for a good tactical skirmish game with cool minis and accessible gameplay, Wanted Earth should hit the mark for you.

7 - The Brigade (k-s) - The Brigade is a pretty fun game.  I enjoyed every game I played, loved the theme and setting, and liked how each game is a new puzzle to solve.  There are a lot of important decisions, and personally I like having to figure out a new, ideal strategy each game.  The jam packed playing area was a bit of an issue for some of the players I showed the game to, but some didn't mind it either.  If that's something you can tolerate, then the artwork in the game is really great.

6 - Bridges to Nowhere (k-s) - Bridges to Nowhere is really quite an amazing little game.  For such a small game it really packs a lot of thought, depth, and strategy in it.  The first round seems mind numbingly simple and will likely throw you off your guard if you're not careful.  Every single decision you make, even in that first round, has important ramifications throughout the rest of the game.  There is a lot to think about here.  From deciding which bridge types to build, to what symbols to try to match, to whether you should get the one point card you can use or the three point card you can't, just to block your opponent.  Games only take ten minutes or so and offer a lot of strategy in those few minutes.

5 - Manaforge (k-s) - Manaforge is a dice based resource management and engine building game for for two to four players that takes about 20-25 minutes per player.  I found Manaforge to be mechanically simple, strategically deep, thematically fun, artistically beautiful, a great balance between luck and strategy, and a very enjoyable way to spend about ninety minutes.

4 - Fields of Agincourt (k) - My review for Fields of Agincourt hasn't been released yet (look for it in January), but this list will serve as a bit of a spoiler.  I really liked this tile-laying, area control game and so did everyone I played with.  This one is a winner, and I look forward to seeing how well it does when its Kickstarter launches early next year. (Update: The review has been linked.)

3 - Rabbit Island (k-s) - I really, really liked Rabbit Island, and so did everyone I played with.  This was one of the few review games I've received that my friends actually asked to play again.  The theme is fun, the mechanics are very simple and easy to learn, and the gameplay is engaging.  It's a tough task to build a 4x game that is truly a great gateway game, but Rabbit Island accomplishes that goal and more!

2 - Lucidity: Six Sided Nightmares (k-s) - Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares definitely brings out the awesome theme in a very unique, and frighteningly gorgeous way.  The game looks beautiful, plays smoothly, is interactive, and tense.  For a press-your-luck game there are a ton of choices to make, and choices that matter.  It's more than just a decision on whether or not to push your luck, these are decisions about probability, and making the best of a bad situation, and which strategy is right for you at any particular time.  There are many layers to Lucidity, and I think you'll have a ton of fun peeling them back to examine the Nightmares inside.  NOTE: I actually game Lucidity a slightly lower review than a couple of games lower on this list, but the Kickstarter campaign added a TON of really cool stretch goals that added some really cool variants to the game.  The core game is still great, but some of the mini expansions that you'll be able to add to the game, plus the whole de-lux package look really awesome.  I can't wait for this one!

1 - Roll Player: Monsters & Minions (k-s) - I'll be honest, deciding which game to put into the number one spot on this list was a challenge.  Lucidity is a really great game, and this is just an expansion, but in the end the strategy and theme that Monsters & Minions adds to an already incredibly awesome game put this in the lead (But just by a bit!)

Roll Player: Monsters & Minions adds what everyone wanted from the original game; the ability to fight the baddies with the characters you create.  And it does this without adding significantly to the complexity or time that the game takes.  Instead it takes the gameplay that you're already familiar with and adds to the strategic choices, giving an even richer gameplay experience in the same timeframe.  Roll Player: Monsters & Minions adds just the right amount of new experiences to keep the game exciting yet familiar; .The minion battles are thematically and mechanically perfect for the game, and the monster battle at the end of the game can help drive alternative strategies, without dragging the game out any longer.  If you enjoy Roll Player, the Monsters & Minions expansion is a must-have.  I'll be including it in every game of Roll Player that I play, once I get my own copy!

Top 12 Prototypes:

I wasn't as involved in BGG contests this year as I was last year, so all of my top prototypes are games I played at Protospiel events this year.  I'm sure there were some awesome titles in the contests, though.  I was just too busy with other stuff this year.  There were also quite a few awesome games at the Protospiels I attended that I didn't get a chance to play.  These are the ones I enjoyed the most from what I did play, though.

12 - U.S.A.T. - This was a very early draft of a game that combines trick taking mechanics with area control and combat.  It's an interesting concept and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Andrew does with it, even though this very early version had a lot of issues.  Lots of promise though! (Andrew Clark prototype)

11 - Unnamed farming game - This game didn't even have a name when I played it in April, but it was a ton of fun!  Some very interesting mechanics revolving around planting crops in your fields and scoring points when you can harvest.  Weeds and other disasters gave the game a bit of a take-that feel, too, which really helped with the player interaction.  Beth and Scott just successfully Kickstarted a very adult card game (that I also playtested and found enjoyable, despite the theme), so hopefully their success there will mean this one will see Kickstarter soon, too.  It's definitely a lot more family friendly! (Beth/Scott Harris prototype)

10 - Farts are Funny - Yes, yes they are.  And this game is a blast! (Pun intended.)  It's low on strategy, but has some interesting player interaction, bluffing, and deduction, all wrapped up in a hilarious card game.  Best of all, it plays up to six players, so you can all pass the blame! (Troy Pichelman prototype)

9 - Sea Dogs - Dave Fulton was part of the team that designed the awesome Grifters, which made it to the number four spot on last year's top ten new to me games list.  Sea Dogs is a pick-up and deliver game about canine pirates sailing between various islands, collecting loot (like tennis balls and dog biscuits), and trying to become the richest dog on the seas.  It had a few rough spots, but will hopefully be polished into a great family game. (Dave Fulton prototype)

8 - Omicron Battles - I played a very early draft of this at Protospiel Chicago in 2016, but the version I played this year was completely revamped, only keeping the general theme.  The new version still has a lot of kinks to work out, but it plays fast and fun.  It's currently a two player game, but will likely be expanded to support multiple players.  The idea is that each player is a ship that is battling another ship in space combat.  Each ship has certain offensive, defensive, and other stats reflected in cards.  Combat is generally determined by cards, but can be adjusted by some dice rolls.  I can see this becoming a big hit for lovers of fast skirmish style card games, like Star Realms.  The game seems super marketable, too, since each ship could be its own booster pack of 20 or so cards.  So get yourself the base game with a few ships to choose from, and then buy the latest ship packs from your FLGS every few months.  Look for this to be a big hit sometime in the future, hopefully! (Troy Pichelman prototype)

7 - Middlin' - Middlin' is sort of a trick taking game with some interesting twists.  In Middlin' each player is dealt a hand of cards.  On their turn they can play, face-down one or two cards from their hand.  After everyone has played, cards are revealed each players' cards summed.  The highest and lowest players are out for the round and the other players can choose an action from one of their played cards to apply to their penguins on the game board.  Through careful selection of actions the penguins can huddle closer to the middle, gaining more points the closer to the middle they are.  But it's not always good to be in the middle.  Each time you are in the group to 'win' a trick you get a pebble.  At the end of the game pebbles are worth negative points, so you really want to balance taking actions with avoiding the pebbles.  This leads to some intense bluffing and deduction scenarios toward the end of the game.  I really enjoyed Middlin' and look forward to seeing it develop further.  (Randy Ekl prototype)

6 - The King is Coming - The King is Coming is an interesting type of area control game.  It uses a very unique mechanic that I don't think I've encountered before.  Over the course of multiple rounds players secretly assign various types of resources into various locations to exert different levels of control over those locations.  Then they gain additional resources for the locations they control.  It's a super interesting bluffing, bidding, and deduction mechanic that translates into a super unique area control game.  I'm hoping to be able to try this one out again at another Protospiel someday. (Daryl Kessler prototype)

5 - Prime Location - In Prime Location players are playing sets of cards in order to build skyscrapers across a cityscape.  As the name implies, there are a lot of prime numbers involved in this game.  It can get a bit mathy, but really has a great feel.  It reminded me of a classic 3M bookshelf game, and one of the good ones, like Acquire.  It has a simple elegance and great table presence. (Randy & Maxine Ekl prototype)

4 - Town Gates - I believe Town Gates was brand new when I played it at Protospiel Milwaukee in April, and it was a really intriguing game.  It's a mix of bidding/action selection/worker placement in order to collect resources that will allow you to complete projects.  There's a variable setup so no two games are exactly the same, and a depth to the strategy that becomes apparent as you play more.  The interactions of the different card types is pretty fascinating.  This is another one I can't wait for the opportunity to play again. (Daryl Kessler prototype)

3 - Rurik: Dawn of Kiev - Rurik Dawn of Kiev is the only game on this list that I didn't play at a Protospiel, although it was at Protospiel Chicago when I was there.  I agreed to playtest the game with my game groups a few times and provide feedback to Piecekeeper Games during their development process.  This one will be on Kickstarter some time next year and I can say it's a solid area control euro game.  It's got some great resource management, area control, and action bidding mechanics that come together in a fairly quick, super interesting game.  And the artwork that is coming out for the game is fantastic.  Keep your eyes peeled for this one! (Piecekeeper Games prototype)

2 - Company of Thieves - Company of Thieves is a really great competitive game that requires cooperating with your opponents  Even as a prototype this was a blast to play.  It's a game where each player is a burglar attempting to steal stuff from neighborhood houses (ok, so not the most moral of themes).  However, these houses are protected by all sorts of challenges that thieves may face.  I found Company of Thieves to be a very fun mix of resource management, cooperation, bluffing, deduction, and competition.  Aside from some balancing and minor tweaks, this game is mechanically very solid and a ton of fun to play.  Table talk is allowed, although resources are all private, so depending on the players this can be a straightforward cooperative game or turn into a traitorous game of wheeling, dealing, bluffing, and deceit. I almost put this game in the number one slot because it was really awesome.  It was a super tough decision and, depending on the day you ask, it's very possible that I would swap the top two places on this list.  Both are great games and I really hope both find a publisher sooner rather than later. (Scott Starkey prototype)

1 - Globalization - Along with Scott Starkey's Company of Thieves, I think Globalization was the best prototype I played all year.  This one needs a bit more work to polish up, but I think it has huge potential to be a huge seller.

Globalization takes some mechanics from Ticket to Ride and blends them with an economic area control game.  Each card can be used for multiple purposes: either as set collection to gain control of areas, or for their economic abilities to produce, transport, or manufacture resources and goods.  Players can go for an economic victory or area control victory.  The game was pretty solid as is, but does have a few rough areas.  It only plays 2-3 players right now, so it needs to get gameplay up to 4 or even 5.  It also has some special bonus cards that were a bit overpowered because they came up repeatedly.  Making them one-time-use cards that are removed from the game after use will help drive early strategies without becoming over powerful in the end game.  A few of the economic tracks also need a bit of balancing, and maybe need to contribute to multiple potential end game conditions.  But overall the game was very solid, played quickly, and was both thought provoking and simple.  It's just a step up from Ticket to Ride in complexity, so it won't be hard to teach to others, but was deep enough that it'll appeal to even hard core gamers.  Keep an eye on this one, it could be a big hit!  (Dan Germain prototype)

Well, that's it, my top Kickstarter Previews and top Prototype games of 2017!  I really played some awesome games and the top few on both of these lists were very difficult decisions.  2018 and beyond is going to be a great time to be a board gamer.  There's some really awesome stuff on the horizon!

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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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