The 9-ish Best Board Games of 2017

This year, like the last year, I want to highlight 9 games out of the 56 that was "new-to-me-but-not-necessarily-new-to-the-world". Again, like last year, from feather light games, to less light games.


Voila, here we go:

Filler games

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Jump Drive is Tom Lehmann's re-theme of his own filler called The City -- bringing the game into the Race/Roll for the Galaxy universe. And it works great.

Favourite mechanic: Quite possibly simplest possible implementation of multi-use cards...

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Herbaceous by Steve Finn is another game that borrows heavily on one of the designer's earlier games, as it is kind of a zen Biblios lite -- with beautiful artwork from Beth Sobel (Viticulture, Between Two Cities, ...).

Favourite mechanic: Card drafting ala Biblios.

Party game 

I discovered Faidutti and Lang's Secrets in Essen Spieltage 2017. Normally I'm not a huge fan of hidden identity games, but this one is the best one since last year's Burke's Gambitt. More chaotic, less tense.

Favourite mechanic: chaos-inducing side-flipping.

Gateway games 

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Fortress is part of the Fast Forward series of Friedemann Friese. In his Fabled universe. This one seems to be the best received of the first three, all released this year. It was great fun discovering this game. And by discovering, I really mean discovering. No rules are communicated before it starts -- just some words on player count and advice on player age. I thought this might be a good way to get rules-o-phobic people to play the table, but, alas, no. Rules popped up along the way and had to be read through and interpreted. (Instead of me having pre-digested them...) With my son we ended up playing through the whole game in a couple of sittings -- about 14 rounds, methinks.

Favourite mechanics: well, this is secret, not to spoil anything for others...

Villages of Valeria is a resource management tableau builder with a fascinating twist to the economy. You see, you can use other player's production facilities by paying them from your (very limited) supply of gold coins. This results in this both the fact that you lose the coin (as opposed to you getting it back next turn if you were to use your own facility), the other player gains one coin, but also, interestingly this facility is now locked until their next turn -- so they can't use it while "following" the actions of others.

Favourite mechanics: the economy with the resource blocking.

Solo game 

This has been a good year for this category. I've played solo variants of seven of these nine games on the list. (For two of them -- Jump Drive and Great Western Trail, admittedly, unofficial ones.) Only Secrets and Fortress would be difficult to play all by yourself...
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Oh My Goods: Longsdale in Revolt is the first story expansion for, the possibly worst named game of all time -- Oh My Goods from the great Alexander Pfister. The solitaire variant is really tense as the push your luck element of the planning between the two draws works great even alone.

Favourite mechanics: the push your luck element of worker placement and resource availability.

Enthusiast games 

Three games stand out from my 2017-discoveries in my favourite category of games. And, for now, it is impossible for me to say which one I prefer...

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In his designer diary Juma Al-JouJou lists some of the games and their mechanics that inspired him on his way to creating Clans of Caledonia. Games like Terra Mystica, Navegador, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Brass, etc. The sum of all this feels very tight. Like, well, clockwork.

Favourite mechanic: So many things, but quite possibly the very elegant, simple, and efficient implementation of price fluctuations comes out on top...

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Terraforming Mars is a more theme laden game where you are in charge of making Mars (more) habitable for mankind.  You do this in a kind of, sort of, semi-coop manner, while trying to grab as many points you can along the way. The game is clearly heavily inspired by, among other things, the Mars-trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson -- one of my favourite SciFi book series of all time.

Favourite mechanic: The way you activate awards (that you might end up not winning) and the race to claim achievements.

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Don't let the possibly worst cover art on any board game ever in the history of board games fool you -- Great Western Trail is another gem from Alexander Pfister. On paper it seems rather complicated and fiddly -- a mix of deck-building, worker-placement (with only one worker), point-to-point movement and tile laying, but the rules really click into place during play.

Favourite mechanic: Choose your own speed through each cattle run.

Honorable mentions

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Bios Megafauna (second edition) by Phil Eklund is a huge game where you continue where last year's Bios Genesis ended -- the very beginning of the Phanerozoic eon. (There's even rules to play the games back to back.) It feels a bit more like an eurogame (especially the less random event prone tooth and claw variant) than the dice chucking "simulation" that was the predecessor. (Still, both are incredibly fascinating games.) One of the reasons for this just to get an honourable mention is that I still haven't found the time to get through a complete session of it...

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Another, rather huge game I have, sadly, not been able to complete a game of, is the beautiful, beautiful, and very blue, Lisboa from Vital Lacerda. I was introduced to it in Essen, by the designer himself, but that was an hour of anecdotes about Lisboa and explaining the historical context of the various rules and possibilities, rather than actual playing the game. Later I spent an evening with a friend slowly discovering the game, but only getting 3/4 or so through. I can sense the potential in it though, so I can't wait to get more acquainted with it.

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La Granja by Keller and Odendahl was released all the way back in 2014 and is a modern classic. A modern classic that i hadn't yet played. I did and it was great. It felt almost like a Feld game -- given the point salad cultivation. Also, I really liked the solo variant.

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An even older modern classic that I hadn't played yet was the great Russian Railroads from designers Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler. A fascinating take on the worker placement genre. I'm looking forward to try their latest game -- First Class.

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Argh -- A really quick and fun bluffing micro-game about deception and deduction. And animals.

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Flamme Rouge is a simple, fun, and tense deck deconstruction/management bike race game. I love the way the theme meshes with the mechanics of a bike race -- drafting (the physical phenomenon, not the board game mechanic), fatigue, energy reserves, etc.

The games I look forward to the most in 2018

  • Both Brass: Lancashire along with the new alternate version Brass: Birmingham from Martin Wallace are heading my way as kickstarter loot, if all goes well.
  • Ditto regarding The 7th Continent.
  • Evolution Oceans is a stand alone version of one of my favourite discoveries of 2016 with more... oceans. (With art same amazing artist -- Catherine Hamilton.)
  • I got to try a prototype of Imaginarium by Bruno Cathala and Florian Sirieix resulting in a great first impression. It should be released this weekend at FIJ in Cannes, if I remember correctly, so maybe I'll get to try it again soon...
  • Ex Libris (2017) -- A worker placement game about gnomes and books must be a hit.
  • Spirit Island (2017) is another game with a fascinating theme -- somehow, collaboratively, chasing humans off an island.
  • Gaia Project (2017) is "the other Terra Mystica" game of Essen 2017. Closer to the original than Clans of Caledonia. Terra Mystica is high on my list of favourite games of all time, so I can't wait to try this "version 2.0"...
Also, for reference, here's my list from 2016.

(Almost) all games I played for the first time in 2017

56 games

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) * Adrenaline * Aquatico * ARGH * Azul * Bandido * Biblios * Bios: Megafauna (second edition) * Bärenpark * Clans of Caledonia * CV Pocket * Destination X * Dino Hunt Dice * Entropy: Worlds Collide * Evolution: The Beginning * Fast Forward: FORTRESS * Fightlings: The Card Game * Flamme Rouge * Go Go Gelato! * Great Western Trail * Happy Pigs * Herbaceous * Hippo * Imaginarium * In a Grove * Insider * Jump Drive * Karottenklau * La Granja * La Granja: No Siesta * Lisboa * Mini Park * Multiuniversum * Muse * Not Alone * Oh My Goods! * Onirim (second edition) * Operation * Paku Paku * Pocket Mars * Potion Explosion * Rent a Hero * Russian Railroads * Sakura * Scythe * Secrets * Senators * Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery * Spinderella * Startups * SUPERHOT Card Game * Tanto Cuore: Oktoberfest * Terraforming Mars * The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game * Villages of Valeria * Zany Penguins

And 4 expansions

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) – A Dance with Dragons * Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium * Terraforming Mars: Venus Next * Oh My Goods!: Longsdale in Revolt