Best Games of 2017, Part Two

As the last moments of 2017 have faded, and the chill of a frigid northern wind swept over the bayou this weekend, the Krewe de Gumbo set out to record their best experiences of the last year.

But instead of debating the best game of the year, the Krewe decided to tackle the discussion from a different angle. This time, we came up with categories of games and experiences, which might be a little more meaningful than just a dry top ten list of games we have played.

So, without further ado, here is the second part of our Gumbo Look Back at the Best Games of 2017.  These are our favorites based on the games we’ve played so far — with plenty left to go on our shelves! If you don’t see your favorite games, it’s probably because we haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. (If you missed our first post, you can find it here.)

Which games did we get right? Which games did we get wrong? What games would you have included on your own list?

The Game I Wish I Had Played But Haven’t Yet

BJ Bradly Carlos Kyle Dustin
Ex Libris The Thing Dragonfire Massive Darkness/Sonar Rum & Bones Second Tide

With over 1200+ games coming out in the last twelve months, there’s bound to be a few hundred or so that we have not played. Actually, the number is significantly higher than that, and missing out on that many games means there’s some disappointment to face at the end of the year.

Bradly’s choice of The Thing is interesting. The Secret Cabal recently talked highly of the game. They are known for their love of highly themed games, so that’s good praise.

Kyle went with Sonar, the four player version of Captain Sonar that is being marketed through Target stores. I played the eight player version at Pax South 2017 at the Asmodee demo booth. We had some great demo teachers, and a rowdy eight person crew, so I felt that I had a good demo. However, the convention hall was noisy, and I think Captain Sonar deserves a quieter room so that the players can hear each other bark out commands (especially from the Captain.)

I am a sucker for beautiful games with an unusual theme, and Renegade Games’ Ex Libris (which has not been easy to obtain) fits the bill. I think only Bradly in the group has played it, and he gave it two thumbs up. I’ll keep looking and trying to get a copy, because the game fires on all of my acquisition cylinders. (Editor’s note: Since the drafting of this blog, I found it at my FLGS and tried out the solo mode.)

Best Euro / Strategy Game

BJ Bradly Carlos Kyle Dustin
Near and Far Century Spice Road Mint Works Mint Works The Godfather: Corleon’s Empire

There has been a healthy debate on the Dukes of Dice podcast as well as the Duchy forums about the “dearth” of Euro-styled strategy games this year. Sean made a good point that most of those types of games come out in the second half of the year, when their publishers show them off at the Spiel fair in Essen, Germany in October, so we do not always get a chance to play them before the end of the year, which explains the absence on many lists.

I tried to put together a list of the Euro / strategy games that hit our radar this year, and as Sean said, many just aren’t that available or found much in the wild or played.  Here’s my working list (feel free to add more in the comments below!), and unfortunately, I just have not yet played enough of these to really comment:

  • Valetta
  • Coldwater Crown
  • Clans of Caledonia
  • Yokohama
  • Ruhr
  • Gentes
  • The Colonists
  • Lisboa
  • Anachrony
  • Ex Libris
  • Charterstone
  • Bunny Kingdoms
  • 1754
  • Altiplano
  • Yamatai
  • Nusfjord
  • Transatlantic
  • Gaia Project

cropped-img_2983.jpgLooking at our choices, the only big box game chosen that to me fits a Euro definition was Near & Far. The Godfather is much too much of an area control game with direct player conflict to ever be considered a true Euro / strategy game. Century: Spice Road probably fits, but it is definitely not a big strategy game, more of a filler plus like Splendor. And Mint Works was a dud for me as a game (although I am strangely looking forward to my Kickstarter fulfilment of Mint Delivery) that was almost too scaled back to have any meaningful game play.

Dave did not give us his choices yet, but I think he would go with Anachrony, and that’s a pretty tough choice to argue against. It was deep and complex, but had great twists on what are pretty standard worker placement mechanics, and with the additional mech pieces, was pretty cool to look at on the table.

I’ve only played Charterstone one time (ed. note: since this blog post, two more times), so I have not had enough experience to unseat it from Near & Far.   In my opinion, Near & Far is the best game with strategy so far, in other words, the best traditional Euro. It has amazing production value, the story telling aspect is worth the game experience, and it has some pretty solid mechanics that lend itself to multiple ways of victory.

Best Two Player Game

BJ Bradly Carlos Kyle Dustin
Warhammer: Shadespire Fugitive Fugitive Fugitive Warhammer: Shadespire

You would think that based on the voting that the Krewe has limited experience with two player games. I don’t think that’s true at all — the combination of Shadespire and Fugitive have been a one-two punch of two player greatness that is really hard to beat.

Games Workshop has revitalized its brand and marketing lately, and its foray into a relatively light on your wallet, easy to put together clan based tactical games has been a runaway hit in our group. Dustin has already tricked out everything that Shadespire has to offer, with all of the expansion clans and special dice and markers. I’ve already played the game three times, which is unheard of for me in a one-on-one tactical game lately. (Not counting tons of plays of Battle Cry and Memoir ’44 back in the 2000s).

I voted Shadespire, but I really waffled, because I have been blown away by how much fun Fugitive is to play. What seems like a relatively high concept — two players play the fugitive and his / her pursuer, and play cards to aid the escape or capture, depending upon your point of view — turned out to be a deep strategy game that has almost always come down to the last few plays to decide the fate of the fugitive.  I love the artwork and the presentation, and it is one of the few games that is as fun to watch two other people play (cheering or groaning as the game goes along) as it is to play itself.

Best Gateway Game

BJ Bradly Carlos Kyle Dustin
Downforce Frogriders Clank in Space Barenpark Viral

Forget the agreements in the last two categories, the Gumbo krewe broke out in five different directions when debating the best gateway game for 2017. There were so many good entries!

For me, it was a no-brainer. Restoration Games set out to revitalize older games and bring them back to the market, many of which were already de-facto gateway games (since some but not all came from a history of mass market publication.)  Revitalizing meant not only freshening up the rules, but overhauling the design aesthetic.

Downforce is the best looking of the bunch from Restoration. The art is crisp and clean, and evokes a neo-futuristic racing style that is very “new Tomorrowland”-like. The game play is so easy to teach, anyone can bring this to a couples’ game night or family game night and easily teach people new to the hobby (I did at Christmas time, even with young players in their early teens.)  It is one I am considering for game of the year.

But the other choices all had merit.  Frogriders from Stronghold Games is one of those deceptively simple games (checkers! with Frogs!), but once you scratch the surface, it carries some meat on the bone to entice regular gamers to play and enjoy the game. I haven’t got to try Clank! In! Space! yet, but I watched a demo at GEN CON 50, and it was enough to convince me that the game is still an easy to teach and accessible deck builder, but that the new modular board, additional mechanics, and sci-fi references revitalized the game. Barenpark was one of the hottest games to try to get this summer — the initial print run just could not keep up with the demand. When I finally got a copy in late summer, after playing it a couple of times at Dice Tower Con, it solidified for me as one of the best tile laying games of the past few years.

All in all, a good year for Gateway games.

So that’s four more categories down for 2017. How did we do? Did we mention your favorites in 2017? Or did we miss completely. Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook @boardgamegumbo.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

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