OPINION: Top 5 Games I Played in 2017…

I’m not usually a fan of ‘Best of…’-type lists, but figured I’d join the crowd and mention some of the games I’ve personally really enjoyed this year, taking my own Agents in Time and Minty’s Bootiful Football Game out of the equation, of course!

I recognise that I’m quite fortunate to be in a position to play games on a regular-ish basis, even occasionally 2-3 times in the same week, but it was only back in August that I decided to make more of an effort to log some of my plays via the BGG site, so I’ve used that as the basis for this short list…

5… Wasteland Express Delivery Service

Wasteland Express Delivery Service

I am a big fan of this game, and playing through the campaign scenarios meant we were able to get this onto the table regularly this year, especially when it first came out (September). This is all the more remarkable given that even a quick-ish game will stretch over the 2hr mark, but also testament to its popularity was the fact I managed to play it 7 times in the space of 8 weeks!

Great miniatures, fantastic artwork, and an all-round cool theme (Mad Max in a post-apocalyptic wasteland) means this attracts great attention when it’s on the table. Despite the basic pick-up and delivery mechanism at its core, modding your truck and adding armour, missiles, guns and the like will always have a certain appeal to those of us that way inclined, and who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to hand punk-ass raiders their own candy asses once in a while?

Alas, the game does suffer a little from a lack of direct player interaction and conflict, which means that when a player has planned their moves properly and is in a game-winning position, it’s very hard to stop them. This issue proved particularly troublesome in the last game I played, because even the winner of the game felt underwhelmed that nobody could stop him once he got himself to that stage in the game.

Wasteland Express box layout

I’m still hopeful of finishing the campaign with our regular Thursday gaming group, but there are plenty of other new games now pushing for our attention, so am hoping this doesn’t fall by the wayside in the mean time… It also has probably the best-organised inserts I have ever come across in a box, which makes setting up and tearing down the game quick and easy. Well worth a look if you haven’t already tried it!

4… Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia was one of those ‘sleeper hits’ that got a lot of positive attention seemingly out of nowhere, especially in the run-up to Essen-Spiel 2017. It also proved to be a popular hit with so-called ‘purist Euro-gamers’, with a very Uwe Rosenberg-ish feel to it (AgricolaLe HavreGlass RoadFeast of Odin, etc), despite the fact that designer Juma Al-JouJou cites Terra Mystica as being one of his most direct influences.

Set in the economic trade and export world of 19th-century Scotland, each clan (player) has it’s own special abilities and bonuses, and the game rewards players for playing to the strengths of their individual clan abilities, although there have been questions raised over how balanced or otherwise this is proving to be, with some clans clearly stronger than others it seems.

Although the game is relatively short at approx. 60-75mins (much less if played solo), the need to get a good ‘engine’ in place early on is very important, because managing your money is really tough from the get-go and most players will only be allowed to pursue one contract at a time. And since buying and completing these contracts becomes progressively more expensive with each turn (and forms the crux of the game in truth), the need to balance a number of economic balls at once makes it feel like a harsh learning curve, especially for new players.

That all said, it’s been a popular game with our group and at Beyond Monopoly (York games club) in the last few months, so it’ll be interesting to see how popular it remains as new games hit the stores through 2018.

3… Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Not a new game per se, but I bought this 2016 release in February and it’s had a number of plays this year, moreso at the beginning of 2017 in truth, although I’ve tried to play a lot more of it recently. I always enjoy this, and every time I’ve played it (especially at Beyond Monopoly), it’s invariably been praised as an excellent experience by all. I’d go so far as to say that I believe this is a stronger theme than the original Pandemic, and possibly the most criminally under-rated variant, too.

I’m not sure why, but many would-be players are put off by the Cthulhu theme, yet in the context of both this game and the original Pandemic, the Cthulhu theme works so well here: instead of virulent diseases spreading across the globe, it’s cultists who gather to perform rituals across classic New England fictional towns. These rituals bring forth unspeakable horrors in the form of Shoggoths and the Old Ones, and players are tasked with defeating these cultists (and Shoggoths), closing down the portals through which the Old Ones can break into our world, and more importantly, must avoid their Investigators going insane! Each player’s Investigator card has a flip side to indicate the consequences when they lose their sanity, and although characters can continue fighting against the Cthulhu menace while insane, they’ll have to endure a minor disadvantage while doing so, at least until they can be made sane again by successfully closing a portal or with the help of a Relic card!

A masterpiece in co-operative design, this game is brilliantly themed, with great mechanics, and is a race against time in classic Pandemic style, with the Summoning rate for cultists gradually increasing as Evil Stirs cards are drawn and the game progresses, with more Old Ones and cultists appearing to pile yet further misery and disadvantage on the players. Running out of player cards from the Draw Pile is just one common way of bringing the game to a close, although running out of cultists and Shoggoths, or allowing Cthulhu to awaken will also do the job, and if all players go insane it’s also game over!

I can’t say enough about how well the Cthulhu theme is applied here, and will strongly urge anyone having doubts to make sure they try and play this game at least once in 2018.

2… The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire

The Godfather: Corleone's Empire

This has been a firm favourite of mine (and our ‘Thursday at Travelling Man’ gaming group) pretty much since its first play, and I’m quite surprised it hasn’t received more media coverage in the boardgaming community. Among other things, The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is an excellent ‘gateway game’ for players new to boardgaming: easy to grasp gameplay and clean, basic mechanics make it ideal to introduce concepts like area placement, territory control, hand management, and set-collecting to newer players, whilst still maintaining a sense of underhand Mafioso-style dealings behind the scenes.

Admittedly, the ‘take that’ element can be a bit harder to stomach, but even this is ramped up gradually as Ally powers and Job cards become increasingly devastating later in the game, giving players the opportunity to pre-empt major disaster a lot of the time.

With some great miniatures and cool little metal suitcases, this game looks the part, too, and as well as flowing smoothly from start to finish, the way the tension builds as the game progresses and more family members become available for actions (and ending up in the Hudson River!) works really well, making for an ultimately challenging but enjoyably cut-throat experience most of the time.

1… Civilization: A New Dawn

Civilization: A New Dawn

It’s probably a bit too early to be putting this at the top of such a list, but I can’t deny this game is currently the darling of our Travelling Man group at the moment: the extremely simple but clever Focus Bar mechanic has already proved a huge hit with all players, and we’re really looking forward to exploring this game in a lot more detail over the coming months.

Being fans of the original Civilization computer game and some of the earlier boardgame implementations (excl. Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Boardgame (2010) – I’ve never been a fan of that one!), we were all mad keen to see how this one worked, and work it certainly does, condensing the gameplay of the original down to just a couple of hours, and ensuring it’s a fun and furious few hours too!

Arguably, much of the nuance of the original has been lost, with a lot less emphasis on combat (which is also greatly simplified), and some will argue that this isn’t really a Civilization game at all, but we all agreed the core concepts and theme are still there, and the barbarians and the wonders of course, but it’s all in a much more streamlined, consumer-friendly package. And that Focus Bar implementation is also soooo cool, so we’re still softened and sold on that at the moment!

We’ll probably be looking at extending the game a little by configuring and tweaking the way the winning conditions are organised, but otherwise it’s already proven a great experience for all players.

An early worry is that the Flight technology seems uber-powerful, bringing a sense of doom and exploitation to the endgame, but we’re all mad keen to see how things pan out on that front in future outings…

And that, I think, is your lot for 2017… May I take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for the New Year, and I do hope you get to play the games you want to play over the next 12 months, and have a happy and prosperous 2018.

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