Thursday, December 21, 2017

Top 10 games of 2017

These are the games we spent the most time playing this year (not necessarily games that were published in 2017).

Last year the list was strictly in order of how many hours we spent playing each game. We did more or less the same this time, but we disqualified any games that we didn't play at least five times over the course of the year.

10. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

6 plays, 8 hours (average play time 1 hour and 20 minutes per game)
Position last year: 4

The Legendary game system has proven to be extremely robust, with several new flavors coming out in 2017 including Big Trouble in Little China, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the notoriously poorly illustrated Firefly, along with an expansion for Legendary Encounters: Alien that allows one player to play as the Alien Queen. But for sheer variety and replayability you really can't beat the original Marvel version. We haven't even come close to playing all the different possible combinations of heroes, villains and plots the game has to offer.

Read the full review.

9. Raiders of the North Sea

5 plays, 8.25 hours (average play time 1 hour and 40 minutes per game)
New to the list this year

Raiders of the North Sea combines some really smooth and deceptively simple game play with absolutely stunning artwork and graphic design, making it a great experience on every level. I fully expect it to make our top 10 again next year.

Read the full review.

8. Steam Park

6 plays, 10.5 hours (average play time 1 hour and 20 minutes per game)
New to the list this year

Steam Park is a game that we've always enjoyed but hadn't bought our own copy of until recently. It's got one game element that I don't particularly care for (a speed-rolling segment at the start of each round), but I was able to come up with a few variant options to fix that and the game remains one of our favorites.

Read the full review.

7. Cthulhu Wars

7 plays, 14.5 hours (average play time just over 2 hours per game)
New to the list this year

We've always loved Cthulhu Wars, and our enthusiasm for it was rekindled this year when a huge chunk of Kickstarter expansions arrived for the game. The miniatures are what most people talk about (and they are spectacular), but it's also a great "armies on a map" conquest game with very smooth rules and a surprising amount of depth.

Read the full review.

6. Wasteland Express Delivery Service

5 plays, 16 hours (average play time just over 3 hours per game)
New to the list this year

A "pick up and drop off" mission solving game that is probably responsible for knocking Firefly: the Game off the top 10 list (it was #2 last year). Its world isn't quite as immersive as Firefly's, but the Mad Max-style post apocalypse theme is fun and still a little underrepresented in board games. Plus, it comes with the best in-box storage system I have ever seen.

Full review coming soon. For now, check out the official website and BoardGameGeek page.

5. Champions of Midgard

11 plays, 22.5 hours (average play time just over 2 hours per game)
New to the list this year

It's surprising that two Viking-themed worker-placement games are in our game library at all, let alone both in our top 10 for the year. But Champions of Midgard is actually quite different from Raiders of the North Sea: a little more complex, a little more random, and a lot more fantastical, with players competing for the opportunity to defend the village from trolls and other mythical beasts.

Full review coming soon. For now, check out the official website and BoardGameGeek page.

4. Star Wars: Rebellion

7 plays, 29 hours (average play time just over 4 hours per game)
New to the list this year

A two player game that takes 4 hours to play has understandably limited appeal, but it's perfect for a couple who are Star Wars fans and frequently spend entire weekends playing games.

Read the full review.

3. Mansions of Madness (Second Edition)

10 plays, 29 hours (average play time just under 3 hours per game)
Position last year: 6

Mansions of Madness continues to be one of our primary go-to adventure games, and a great example of how to integrate an app into a physical board game the right way: the app supports the game and makes it easier to play, but doesn't turn it into a video game.

Read the full review.

2. X-Wing

15 plays, 29.75 hours (average play time 2 hours per game)
Position last year: 1

We didn't spend quite as much time playing X-Wing this year, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The steady flow of new ships has kept the game fresh, and the older models have had some new life breathed into them by our recent (admittedly late-to-the-party) discovery of Heroes of the Aturi Cluster, a fan-made fully cooperative campaign mode with an ingenious AI for controlling the opposing ships.

Read the full review.

1. Conan

26 plays, 31.5 hours (average play time 1 hour and 15 minutes per game)
Position last year: 5

Last year I predicted that Conan would take the number one spot this year, and it's easy to see why. It is an extremely compelling game that is easy to play and incredibly immersive. In spite of a confusing Kickstarter campaign and a somewhat muddy rule book, the game is well supported with a regular flow of new scenarios, and I'm sure we'll be playing it regularly for years to come.

Read the full review.

Honorable Mention

There were a few games that would have made the top 10 if we were going strictly by hours spent playing, but fell just short of the minimum of five plays that we decided on for this year.

Leaving Earth

4 plays, 22.5 hours (average play time just over 5 and a half hours per game)

We really do love everything about this game (utterly unique game play, top-notch graphic design), except for maybe the incredibly long playing time, which is what prevents it from hitting the table more often.

Read the full review.

Marvel Heroes Strategy Board Game

4 plays, 10 hours (average play time 2 and a half hours per game)

We started playing Marvel Heroes regularly again out of frustration over how tedious Heroclix has become. We've even created some new characters and villains in an effort to freshen up the game a little.

Read the full review.

Star Trek Customizable Card Game

4 plays, 9.5 hours (average play time 2 hours and 20 minutes per game)

It's amazing how often we dig out this old CCG from the 1990s. It was one of the first games we played together, and we still enjoy it from time to time. There are a lot of good Star Trek games out there, but this one is still the best at evoking everything that was great about the show.

Read the full review.

Most anticipated games for 2018

There are a few games that just arrived or haven't arrived yet, that I have particularly high hopes for. I think these three might make the top 10 list next year.

Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks

Doctor Who has had a somewhat troubled board game history, but this one is from Gale Force 9, who proved with their excellent Firefly board game that they understand how to incorporate theme into their games rather than just "painting it on." I've only read the rule book so far, but it looks like it gets to the heart of what Doctor Who is all about: travelling through time, having adventures and fighting monsters.

Official website

Dinosaur Island

A game about building a dinosaur zoo, from the creators of Wasteland Express Delivery Service and Dead of Winter? Yes, please. Although the '90s style graphic design is a bit obnoxious (way too much pink) the game looks solid and I'm really looking forward to trying it. I fear it may replace Steam Park in my amusement-park-building-game affections.

Official website

Mythic Battles: Pantheon

I was on the fence about this one, but the Kickstarter campaign took place when I was in the full flush of euphoria over how awesome Conan was, and not only does Mythic Battles include a Conan crossover element, it looks like a pretty good game in its own right.

Official website

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

War in space

At their core, the Star Wars movies are about the journey from adolescence to adulthood, with characters such as Luke Skywalker and Rey learning about their abilities and place in the world, Anakin Skywalker finding his ultimate destiny as Darth Vader, or even Jyn Erso finally finding a cause worth dying for. It's the human drama that really makes the Star Wars saga as compelling as it is.

But it's also about a whopping big war in space, and that's the part that Star Wars: Rebellion successfully translates into a board game. The box says it's a game for 2-4 players, buttthe four player option just splits each player's duties, and isn't really worth considering. This is definitely a two-player game, as befits the Star Wars saga's rather black-and-white struggle of Empire vs. Rebellion.

What's interesting about the game is that it isn't just an armies-on-a-map Risk-style game with both sides starting out equal. Each player has different goals: the Empire, which starts with a lot more resources, must use a combination of deduction and brute force to find and wipe out the hidden Rebel base, while the Rebel player has to accomplish hit-and-run objectives to drive down the Empire's popular support and undermine its credibility.

Game play involves using the personalities of the Star Wars universe such as Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and even Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt, to attempt missions and lead attacks into enemy territory. Missions can be a simple as using diplomacy to convince a planetary system to join the Rebellion (or the Empire), or as complex as leading an attack on the Death Star, the destruction of which will seriously undermine the Empire's credibility.

The characters available to each player are revealed gradually over the first half of the game; no game is ever exactly the same, as you never know whether you will end up with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, or lesser known characters like Wedge Antilles to work with. Additionally, the mission and objective cards vary from game to game, which keeps the game fresh over multiple plays.

Rebellion is a very complex two-player game that takes about four hours to play, so it definitely isn't going to be for everyone. But if you like rich, deep strategy games and you like Star Wars, it can't be beat.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) The limited number of players and long play time prevent it from getting to the table on a regular basis, but this is usually the first game I think of if I want to play a Star Wars game.

Viking roundup, part 1

I'm not really sure why Vikings are so popular lately. Likely it has something to do with the success of the Lord of the Rings films and the Game of Thrones television series: swords and armor are at the front of the public consciousness, and the historical Viking era provides a ready-made setting without any accompanying copyright issues. Let's take a look at the inordinately large number of Viking games that have made their way into our game library over the past year.

Raiders of the North Sea is an entertaining and great-looking worker-placement game. It's part of New Zealand designer Shem Phillips' North Sea series, which also includes Shipwrights of the North Sea and Explorers of the North Sea. I'm not sure what order the series was originally published in, but Raiders looked like the most interesting of the three so that's the one we picked up first.

Most worker-placement games give players a set number of workers, which are then placed on various spaces on the board in order to gather the resources needed to accomplish the game's goals. Raiders does something a little different: each player starts with one worker, and a normal turn consists of placing that worker on an available space (activating it to gain whatever resource it provides), and then picking up a worker from an occupied space, activating that space as well. So rather than just competing with the other players for available spaces, your second move is limited to spaces that other players have played on. It's a unique twist on the worker-placement game mechanic that I don't think I've seen in any other game.

The second part of the game involves raiding settlements. Part of the board is divided up into areas of varying difficulty, each containing a random assortment of plunder such as gold, iron and livestock. Raiding the more distant settlements requires more resources and larger crews, but they also give more victory points. Raiding also continues the "place one worker, then pick one up" game mechanic -- you still have to place a worker in order to raid, but part of your reward is a more advanced worker (in a different color) that gives you access to different resources and allows you to raid the more distant and lucrative settlements.

It's a relatively simple but quite ingenious game. It gives players a fair amount to think about, but the rules are quite simple. Additionally, the game play is fairly non-confrontational and so should appeal to less competitive players.

The engaging game play is helped along by some truly spectacular artwork by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, as well as top-notch graphic design by the game's designer, Shem Phillips.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) a game that's easy to play but still challenging, with stunning graphics and high-quality components.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Robots need amusement too

I'm a huge fan of engine-building games, where the goal is to assemble a combination of game elements that will let you do whatever it is you need to do to win, and the main source of competition is that it's a race to see if you can build an effective engine before your opponent does. It's the main reason the Star Trek CCG continues to hold my interest after all these years, and it's why I like Steam Park.

In Steam Park, the goal is to build an amusement park consisting of rides and support buildings. The rides are occupied by randomly drawn robots of different colors, and only robots that match the color of your rides will ride them and give you the income you need to keep your park going and eventually win the game.

Aside from filling up your rides, the other major element of the game is cleaning up the mess visitors leave behind (apparently robots are just as messy as humans). Visitors to your park provide you with income, but they also leave dirt that must be cleaned up, otherwise you lose points at the end of the game. So game play is a balance between building more rides to attract more visitors, cleaning up their mess, and adding support buildings that make it easier to do both of those things.

Player actions are determined by rolling dice with different symbols representing tasks such as building, cleaning, and attracting visitors. At the start of each round, players roll their dice as many times as needed to get the actions they want for the turn, but the first player to finish rolling their dice gets to go first for the round, and the player who goes last generates extra dirt that needs to be cleaned up, so you don't want to spend too much time trying to get exactly the dice rolls you want.

Other than the sometimes frantic scramble to grab the first player token each round, the game involves very little direct interaction with opponents, with each player building their own park and trying to gain as many points as possible before the end of the sixth round. This "speed rolling" phase is really the only thing I don't like about the game - I don't enjoy games with any kind of speed or timed element - but there are a couple of variants that replace this with a turn-based rolling phase (including one I came up with myself, see below) or a drafting phase where all the dice are rolled together and the players take turns selecting the ones they want for the turn.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) An entertaining game with a goofy but fun theme.

Steam Park variants for the roll phase 

These two variants are designed to eliminate the "frantic rolling" part of the game in favor of something turn-based that gives players time to think about what they're doing. I came up with both of these after reviewing a lot of similar ideas on the BGG forums.

Roll in turn
  1. Each player rolls their dice once and examines the results. In player order from the previous round (choose a random first player for the first round of the game), players choose to add some or all of their dice to their pig board.
  2. After all players have decided which dice to keep and which to reroll, any player whose dice are all on their pig board may take the lowest numbered Turn Order token available. If two or more players are in competition for the same Turn Order token, the player who went later in the previous round wins (resolve ties randomly for the first round).
  3. Players who still have dice not on their pig board now roll again, placing dice they want to keep on their pig board. Return to step 2 and repeat until all players have a Turn Order token.
A player using the Planner Park Director (from the Play Dirty expansion) does not reroll their dice in step 3. Instead, that player places any dice they want to keep on their pig board during the first step 1; if they still have dice during step 3 they may change the facing of one die and place it on their pig board, then return to step 2.


Create a dice pool consisting of 6 dice per player (plus 1 espionage dice per player if using the Play Dirty expansion). The first player from the previous round rolls all these dice into the center of the table.

In reverse turn order from the previous round (choose randomly for the first round of the game), players take turns doing one of the following:
  • Choose a die from the pool and place it on their pig board.
  • Take the lowest numbered Turn Order token available.
  • Choose a number of dice from the pool equal to the number of players in the game and reroll them, then add one of the rerolled dice to their pig board.
Continue until every player has 6 regular dice, 1 espionage die (if using the Play Dirty expansion), and one Turn Order token.

A player using the Planner Park Director (from the Play Dirty expansion) may change the face of any blank die they choose from the pool, as they add it to their pig board.