Cool white lights are twinkling on the evergreens outside of homes across the gaming landscape. Inside their warm houses, gamers furiously type texts and forum posts and Group Me messages, a solitary debate raging all across the land: What are the best game experiences in 2016?
Here at the Gumbo, we feel your pain. There were hundreds of new releases, far too many even for Tom Vasel et al to sample. And among those hundreds of new releases, 2016 showed itself to be a very strong year, with dozens of contenders for any right minded soul’s top five.
But the journey and the struggle are one and the same, and so, emboldened by a recent binge of playing some of the best and brightest of this year, the Krewe de Gumbo offer their opinions on the top games of 2016.
We haven’t played all of the games. But, we’ve played most of the top 50 games of the year, and we still have plenty of time before the Dice Tower awards in July to sample even more.
Without further ado, we present to you the Top 10 or so games of 2016…so far…
Number 14: Arkham Horror LCG
Fantasy Flight Games has cornered the market on “living card games”, that not-quite-collectible-but-definitely-repeatedly-buyable genre of trading card games. This time, FFG upped the ante with an immersive storyline and cooperative game play that had the Krewe raving.
B.J. – Fantasy Flight gets points from me just for having a scenario revolve around the “Rougarou.”
Dustin Boatman – Love the Cthulhu Mythos but hate money sink CCG and LCGs. Pass for me.
Bradly Billingsley – This one is not on my list, but it is close. These types of games are something I don’t typically get into, and if I had to choose I think Star Wars: Destiny is the better offering of this type for this year.
Number 13: Cry Havoc
There was a lot of prerelease hype for this dudes on a map game from Portal Games. Designed by Grant Rodiek, with a lot of development time from the Portal team, The Dice Tower proclaimed it one of the year’s best way back in the summer time. It was nearly impossible to pick up without a pre-order at GenCon, but it was worth the wait.
Dustin – Amazing game with a lot of hard decisions. The asymmetrical nature can appear to be unbalanced to some, but with repeated plays that goes away. I wish more guys in our group played this one because I think it would be higher.
Number 12: Imhotep
Fresh off his success with friendly little titles like Sushi Go, Phil Walker-Harding unleashed this nasty little brain-burner. Called by many an instant classic, Imhotep made it onto almost all of the top 10 charts completed by the Krewe. The game is ostensibly about building pyramid type structures using big, chunky wooden blocks. But, the reality is that it is all about planning a move or two ahead to jump wildly up in the point standings or push your friend toward an action that was not ideal. A wicked little game, with great components that deserves all of the recognition it’s gotten.
B.J. – I love playing our big, thematic games, but Imhotep also fits my gaming style — it’s easy to teach, and I can finish a game in less than an hour with lots of interesting choices.
Bradly – I can see Imhotep becoming a classic in years to come and one of those essential games that people talk about. Whereas some other games may drop in rating after repeated plays, when the small problems with them get exaggerated, Imhotep is just so solid of a game that I never see it going away.
Dustin – I really enjoyed my plays of this one because I love games with simple rules but tons of strategy. I can play this with my family or my game group and everyone will enjoy it equally. I will say though, Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King could have been on my list in this spot for the same reasons, but since I have only played that one with my family and not my game group, this one gets the nod.
Number 11: Mechs vs. Minions
Mechs v Minions took the social media and board game website world by storm upon its unleashing by Riot Games. The programming game had zero hype before its release, yet sprang to the top of the BGG hotness and burned up the Reddit boards after a coordinated blitz of board game media reviews, previews and videos.
Was the game worth the hype? According to the Krewe, yes, indeed. But was it the combination of the bits and gameplay, or was the Krewe blinded by all of the goodness inside that big box??
B.J. – Unfortunately, I only got to watch this one. I saw the Gumbo group set it up and salivated over all the juicy bits that seemed to just keep coming out of that box. And then, I heard the four guys playing through four scenarios, laughing uproariously the entire time. Since I love programming games like RoboRally and Colt Express, this is one I have got to get to the table.
Dustin – Mechs v. Minions? I didn’t know this was a list of the best components for 2016! With0ut it’s “bling” NO ONE has this on their top ten.
Bradly – Mechs v. Minions? What are we high? Robo Rally Plus does not make my top 10. I prefer competitive games.
Number 10: Islebound
That Renaissance man, Ryan Laukat is well known for his whimsical artwork. Does his latest retail release, a game about exploring a randomized board and earning victory points through pseudo-military conquest and trading, with just a small hint of the storytelling components that would become explored more fully in Above & Below and Near & Fear.
Dustin – One of the many I didn’t get to play. I am still looking for that “great” game to be released by Red Raven Games. His art and design is amazing, but thus far all of the games I have played have been good, but not great. Hopefully this one is it.
B.J. – I don’t think this will be the one for you. I liked it a lot, but it hints at the storytelling aspects that Ryan flushed out more with Above and Below and will seemingly take to the next level in Near and Far. I think you will like it, but I don’t think it will be the homerun you are looking for.
Bradly – For me this is the Laukat game for people who aren’t interested in that ‘storytelling thing.’ Essentially it’s just worker placement, but where your workers can only move a certain number of spaces away from their last spot. I do love Above and Below, especially for that Storybook, but there is a place for this Laukat game as well.
Dustin – BJ may very well be right, only time will tell. I am really looking forward to his second edition of Empires of the Void because that one seems to be more in my wheel house.
Number 9: The Oracle of Delphi
Our friend, game designer Jason Dinger, said he heard this one is the “Feld that’s not a Feld.” Jason’s right — it does not have that point salad feel of Stefan Feld‘s other games, yet still has a billion different choices in racing your captain around the board fulfilling Herculean quests and then back to Zeus for the coronation. You will be entranced by the beautiful bits and board, but don’t get memorized for too long — even one or two inefficient turns will leave you behind good players very quickly.
B.J. – With a few more plays, I can see this one going much higher for me. I love the colorful board. I love the clever twist on your standard racing format. Plus, here’s the bonus: I kickstarted Tasty Minstrel Games‘s reprint of Colosseum, so to see the gorgeous presentation in this game gets me excited that I will be receiving a fantastic package when that game is fulfilled.
Dustin- I have never played this one and by the pictures I have seen, nothing grabs me making me want to play. Looked like Catan with standees everywhere, lol.
Number 8: Adrenaline
Could Czech Games Edition really pull off a first person shooter in board game format? According to the Gumbo krewe, they did. We can expect tight scores and lots of in game actions in this first person shooter recreation on a table top. The game was designed by Filip Neduk, and so far is getting rave reviews from our game group — well, those few that have experienced it so far.
Dustin: In our first play, the scores were a lot closer than I expected. Everyone was only a few points away from each other. Final Frenzy takes some getting used to, but if you just take it as a free action for everyone, it’s cool.
Dave – Adrenaline is a great game, might be in my top five.
Bryan – Adrenaline is a pretty good game. I won, but just barely.
Dustin – I grew up playing FPS games, so this theme interested me as soon as I heard about it around Gen Con time. Quake 3 Arena particularly was my favorite in those days because of the competitive, player vs. player environment. Me, my brothers, and my dad all played and even had our own clan. Luckily, after playing, I realized there is also a really good game here, not just theme. As most who know me would confirm, area control is one of my favorite game mechanics and this one does it in a unique way. This one also falls into the “simple rules but lots of strategy” category. Quite honestly, if I had more plays of this one, it may have threatened Cry Havoc for my number 1.
B.J. – finally played this at Gumbo night on Wednesday, and really enjoyed it. We played four players, and that felt like the right amount. Lots of action going on. Even though the rules are simple, and the game has some chaos, there’s also lots of chance for choices affecting your score, since after all it is a modified Euro. Might’ve made my top ten had I tried it before we posted.
Number 7: New Angeles
There is a sharp divide at the Gumbo when it comes to social deduction / bluffing / traitor type games. On the one hand, there are those of us that cannot wait for the next release of games that raise the blood pressure while players cast furtive glances at each other, trying to divine through every nuance the shifting alliances that make up the most fun part of these games. And then, there’s Dave, whose antipathy toward games with open horsetrading, lying, stealing and backstabbery is legion. That’s okay — admittedly, these type of games are not for every gamer, but New Angeles may be the best of the recent offerings.
B.J. – I anticipate this very late to the Krewe release will see lots more plays with the Gumbo in 2017. I loved our play of New Angeles, but it took a couple of turns to get it. Reminded me of a stream lined Fury of Dracula (third edition) where you don’t know who Drac is.
David – I liked it, but seriously, all it is Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Gamewith a different theme. Except in this game whenever you’re the traitor and get caught you have ZERO chance of doing anything. At least in dead of Winter you get exiled, and still have a chance.
Bradly – I love the fact that this is a coop, competitive, and traitor game all in one. You would think in all of that mess the actual mechanics of the game would get lost, but they don’t.
Carlos – Even if you are the traitor, you can still influence the game, you had waaaaaay more money than you needed, throw those dollars around to make people get greedy and vote on suboptimal deals.
Dustin – Never played this one, but I love Fury of Dracula. By the description I don’t really see a comparison, but I may be wrong. Dave’s comments worry me a little, since me and him tend to agree more on games than the rest of the Krewe.
B.J.: Don’t get me wrong, it does not play like Fury at all…just has that feel of trying to build up your corporation (like your character in Fury) while figuring out which one of us is Drac (or in this case, the Federalist). The game has that same tension.
Number 6: New Bedford
Dice Hate Me Games has carved an interesting niche, releasing beautifully produced games with an Americana feel. Nathaniel Levan‘s entry came in two parts, the initial little worker placement game, as well as its also released expansion, New Bedford: Rising Tide (2016) (which many consider to be essential to playing the game). Yes, it is standard worker placement fare, but with beautiful artwork, an interesting theme, and a twist on the mechanic with the highly thematic whaling board — where sailors outfit ships to cast off into the Atlantic Ocean to bring back huge whales to the dock, while jockeying for position against other outfitted ships.
Dustin – Just so you know, B.J., New Bedford just missed my top 10. Maybe if I had played it more, it may have been higher. Only thing holding it back for me (besides lack of plays) is that it really doesn’t do anything new or different, which isn’t a bad thing, but I can see it getting forgotten in the huge pack of Euro games that are similar.
Bradly – New Bedford just missed my top 10, and wound up as my #11. It’s a great worker placement game, although not my favorite of all time, but there was just so much goodness this year it couldn’t quite keep up. I do think it has one of the best expansions, but again, the The Grizzled‘s expansion barely beat it out for my best of the year.
B.J. – I’ve taken a lot of ribbing from the Gumbo krewe for evangelizing this game, so I am glad to see that the guys deep down liked it. But, I am a big fan of the artwork by Nolan Nasser, and it definitely helps that the game is easy to teach, plays in about an hour, and has a surprising amount of depth of actions and strategy in such a small package. Plus, the bonus is that with the variable tile set ups, you can get so much replay ability out of the game. Two whale’s tails up.
Number 5: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition
There is no surprise that Mansions made the Gumbo top ten. We love big, thematic games; we seem to love anything related to Cthulthu. Mash them together, improve the original by 100%, and inject some wow-geezery with the use of an app to help with all of the fiddliness and provide some thematic backdrop to the game.
B.J. – How is Mansions of Madness so far above Mechs for Bradly, if he “prefers competitive games?”
Bradly – Mansions is only up there because it’s that good. As far as putting you in the world of the game, Mansions does it better than any game on my top 10. Just like New Angeles, the fact that this game ranked so highly in a genre I don’t particularly care for says a lot about just how good it is.
Dustin – Another one I never got to play, but I do like the Cthulhu Mythos, so I am interested. I am a little sketchy on the app though, because I tried the Descent app and it was too clunky for me.
Number 4: Star Wars: Rebellion
With Rogue One hitting theaters this year, it seems like Star Wars mania is even more on the rise. And in 2016, here came Fantasy Flight with another stellar production of a licensed Star Wars game, one that pitted the Imperial side versus the Rebellion over a huge table-hogging map filled with great reproductions of some of the iconic elements of the original movies.
Dustin – Oh, sweet Rebellion, how I wish I could have played you. This is the one game I am positive would have hit my top 5 if I would have gotten to play it. Maybe if our group played games more than once before they move onto whatever other new game they bought yesterday I could have played it, lol. I kid, I kid….Or do I?
Bradly – Maybe if you showed up for a game night or didn’t take month long vacations in Texas we’d actually get to play some of your games, Dustin. I’ve been wanting to play this for a month and haven’t gotten a chance to.
Dustin – Lies! I have asked he who shall not be named (Carlos) to bring Rebellion to Gumbo HQ for over a month! Instead he insists on bringing party games made for your in laws to get introduced into gaming. 😉
Number 3: Terraforming Mars
The buzz has been palpable about Stronghold Games‘s latest euro style import. Terraforming Mars is realistically set in the scientific world of a mission to ready Mars for human habitat. This card drafting, world building game from FryxGames‘s own Jacob Fryxelius provides a lot of opportunities for satisfying card combos, but ratchets up the tension in the final frames as the players get closer to achieving the primary objectives and ending the game. Since its GenCon debut, where it sold out in minutes, the intertron has been on fire with good reviews and playthroughs. The game has its detractors, though not many, which center on the lackluster art direction on the cards and the very flimsy / not very useful player boards. But, the gameplay has been almost universally praised with good reason.
Dustin- Great game, but seriously, the components and design choices are pretty terrible in this one.
B.J. – I have seen the complaints about the artwork, and yes, some of the art choices on the cards are questionable. But I like the look of the board (it is a serious attempt at a board game about the actual science of prepping Mars, after all) and I liked the cubes a lot. But you are right — not sure who gave the final okay to those design choices on the player boards.
Bradly – This is a game of substance over style. If you can handle the poor artwork and low quality components, you will find an amazing game underneath. My #6, but easily could have been my #1 if more attention had been paid to the quality of the game. The mechanics, however, are top notch.
Number 2: Vast: The Crystal Caverns
Did any other game captured and bedeviled the game community at the same time as did Vast, designed by David Somerville and Patrick Leder with fun artwork from Kyle Ferrin? This was such a quiet release from Leder Games at GenCon — only to have it become blown up in social media when players returned home and started diving into the unique mechanics. We have all played asynchronous power driven games, but to have a game that had not one but five completely different play styles — each with their own rule set — blew the minds of many gamers. Add to the fact that the game, for the most part, was interesting looking and had interesting characters (where else can you play a Cave?), once players were able to understand and evangelize the game, it quickly became a game night staple. All eyes are on the latest revisions and updated characters from the Kickstarter, but in the meantime, Vast is a very interesting choice for number two game of 2016.
B.J. – Maybe one of the more complicated games to understand, at least for me. Its not like you can watch what other players are doing to understand how your character moves — the asychronous aspects of each character are truly unique. However, the investment in learning the game is so worth it. The tension in the endgame is palpable and makes for some great “Aha!” moments when somebody finally pulls off the win.
Dustin – Never got to play but I am interested. The difficulty to teach is a major flaw though. No one feels like explaining 5 different games to 5 different people every time you play.
Bradly – As the one responsible for teaching this game each time we play, let me just say that it doesn’t make it easy. Luckily the new kickstarter for the reprint is addressing the issue with the rulebook, which is sorely needed. Once you get past that, admittedly large, hurdle you will find an amazing game. This is what every game that makes the claim of being asynchronous should aspire to, but most fall short
Number 1: Scythe
Remember when Jamey Stegmaier front man of Stonemaier Games first displayed the artwork that inspired this game’s development? Jakub Rozalski’s pastoral scenes of a post-world war agrarian society facing the remaining menaces of huge mechanized war machines was stunning, thought provoking, and tantalizing all at the same time. The kickstarter for this game blew up big time, and then the anticipation began to build for the actual game and its components. Would Scythe live up to the hype? At least for the Board Game Gumbo Krewe, this game truly did and actually exceeded expectations. While it does not quite live up to its 4X billings, Scythe scratches so many other itches: the threat of combat, area control, euro type resource and engine building, and the fun of exploring the artwork of the world and devious mind of the designer in the excellent encounter cards that add so much flavor to the experience. Scythe was an easy choice — so far — for the number one game of 2016.
B.J. – Scythe has been the best experience of any game I have played in 2016 so far. Well designed, awesome production, tight finishes, and I love the reward system.
Dustin – Another good game with great components, but I don’t see the hype. I am apparently alone in my group on this one, but I see it as a top 10 or top 20 game but number 1? Not a chance. Although a better game than MvM by far, I feel it is in the same boat as far as gameplay vs components. Boring components and people would give this a 7.5 rating. Still a good game for sure, but no way a number 1 game for me. This one isn’t even my favorite Stonemaier game, might not even be my number 2.
Bradly – We should probably start by pointing out that we play the fully blinged out version of this game with the ‘realistic’ resources and metal coins, etc. That probably skews our opinions of this game somewhat. But even with that, I don’t see another game that came out this year that competes with Scythe. When you consider everything from components, to theme, mechanics, artwork, etc. it’s just better than any other game in 2016, hands down. Or at least it was for me. And the new expansion makes the game even better, I think. A 7 player game of Scythe is almost a completely different animal than a 5 player game, because it, to a much larger extent, forces players into competition. Really there’s not many bad things I can say about this game, except for maybe that I haven’t gotten the figures painted yet.
Dustin- As a serious Dudes on a Map player I am insulted when I sit down in front of a massive board, with amazing plastic mechs, just to have a “who can harvest and manage resources better” contest with other factions with cool mechs. Don’t give me the “threat of war” thing either, because I don’t want a threat, I want the actual WAR! Like the great Bob Barker said to Happy Gilmore, “I don’t want a piece, I want the whole thing!” This is a great Euro, but not even the best one on this list.
So there you have it–our Top Ten games, plus a little lagniappe and of course our usual friendly commentary. We’re still playing and rating games, so who knows what this list will look like in six months. Until next time….
Laissez les bon temps rouler!