It’s that time of year again!  It’s time, it’s time, it’s time!  One of my favorite things to do each year is a look back of all the games I have played during the year.  As in previous years, this is a two-part series.  The first will look at the best and worst of the year in different categories.  The second part will provide lists of the best games of the year.

But first, the rules!

 

Rule 1: The awards are decided after careful evaluation by a committee consisting of one member: me!  Feel free to disagree – everyone has the right to be wrong!

 

Rule 2: Board games do not come out on an annual basis; the season is a little off from the calendar year.  In many cases, a game may have debuted in Europe in October of 2015 but not actually made it to my table until sometime in 2016. These games are considered 2016 games for this purpose. For example, Food Chain Magnate is a 2016 game for me, because that is when it became available to me.

 

Similarly, games that came out in October 2016 but didn’t make it to me until by the time I am writing this are going to be 2017 games. Also, games that were considered last year will generally not be considered again this year, with the exception of the Pavlov Award if the games still have not been released.

With that, let’s begin!

 

Part I – Individual Awards

 

(1) Steve Austin Award

The Steve Austin Award is given to the game that rebuilds a tired old genre and makes it stronger and better. 

This year, the nominees are:

  • Mechs vs. Minions – rebuilding programming games
  • The Oracle of Delphi – rebuilding race games
  • Box of Rocks – rebuilding trivia games
  • Beasts of Balance – rebuilding stacking games
  • Inis – rebuilding drafting games
  • Codex – rebuilding mage v. mage battle games

For me, this was a particularly difficult choice.  Ultimately, though, I think the edge goes to Beasts of Balance.

One of my favorite games of the year, this game is a stacking game done correctly.  Not only does it use your iPad flawlessly in a way that is not just a gimmick, it makes what could be an exercise in balance into an actual game full of wonder and discovery.  I adore Beasts of Balance, and it has rebuilt the genre of stacking games in a new way, setting the bar extremely high.

(2)  The Veruka Salt Award

The Veruka Salt Award is given to the game that I simply could not wait for.  This would be the game I checked coolstuff every day for, paid too much money on ebay for, ordered from Europe at ridiculous prices, or checked the online delivery every day for.  Whichever shamefull habit I may have used, these are games I wanted NOW!

The nominees are:

  • Sola Fide
  • Quadropolis
  • Seafall
  • Scythe
  • Potion Explosion

The winner this year is hard to pick.  I am going to give the edge to Quadropolis, though.

I remember salivating over it last year (when it was called CityMania), and I remember hearing that it would be released in Europe first, which prompted me to order a French language copy just so I could have it a month early.  I do not recall how much I had to pay in shipping, but I suspect it was close to the cost of the game.  Fortunately, it did not disappoint and I got plenty of play out of this clever city-building game.

(3) Sharry Bobbins Award

Everyone knows that if you cut every corner, you will have more time to play.  And in honor of this fabulous motto, the Sharry Bobbins Award is given to the game that cut the most corners in production, resulting in the shoddiest game components or largest production mistakes.  This year’s nominees include games with poor cardboard quality, cheap cards, and lots of production errors.  Winning the Sharry Bobbins Award doesn’t mean the game is bad, just that every expense was spared in producing it.

 

The Nominees are:

  • London Dread
  • Twilight Struggle: Collector’s Edition
  • Food Chain Magnate
  • Terraforming Mars
  • Oceanos
  • Aeon’s End
  • Codenames: Deep Undercover

 

Oddly enough, the award here goes to the Twilight Struggle: Collector’s Edition.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game, and I am super happy to have the “Collector’s Edition.”  And while from the outside it is a thing of beauty, the enormous chest was not a cave of wonders.  Several cards were severely misprinted – some humorously, including one in which the word “America” is misspelled, and some in a way that impacts gameplay (such as Brush War being labeled for the wrong deck).

Also, the nice wooden counters are not double-sided, and have a fairly cheap foil stamp.  Additionally, the “pewter” miniatures turned out to be cheap plastic (and arrived broken to many people), and the original dice looked like a child’s plaything (fortunately that was corrected).  And while GMT has been friendly about the numerous problems with their Collector’s Edition, the promised replacements and fixes are still “on the way” and have been for months.  On the whole, the quality of the Collector’s Edition is very poor – aside from the big fancy box itself, you are probably better off sticking with the original!

 

(4) The Pushmi-pullyu Award:

The Pushmi-pullyu Award is given to the game with the most original, never-before-seen theme in a game.  No zombies, no Cthulhu, no trading in the Mediterranean – this category is intended to award creativity in selecting a subject-matter for the game, not the actual quality of the game itself (though good games are always wanted).  Since there are games about almost everything in the world, this is a hard category to corner!  The nominees are:

  • Theme: Rabbit Divorce, presented by Kune v. Lakia: A Chronicle of a Royal Lapine Divorce Fortold
  • Theme: Making up after a fight, presented by …And Then We Held Hands
  • Theme: Playing a colectable card game, presented by Millennium Blades
  • Theme: Coffee roasting for a competition, presented by Coffee Roaster
  • Theme: Using Haikus to go on a dungeon quest, presented by Haiku Warrior
  • Theme: Using stereotypes to eliminate suspects, presented by Unusual Suspects

 

The winner, by a substantial margin, is Kune v. Lakia.

Although I have not played every game out there, I feel pretty confident in saying that there is only one game about royal rabbits getting a divorce.  And while the game is enjoyable in its own right, for me it is the highly unusual theme that makes the game worth my time.  Whether as a light two-player game or a conversation starter, Kune v. Lakia is a unique find that has a place in anyone’s collection.

 

(5)  Fragor Games Award:

The Fragor Games Award is given to the game with the most over-produced components.  This is not just quality, this is beyond.  This award is about extravagance.  While it does not always mean a game is overpriced, this is often associated with overproduction.  Either way, these games have a bit too much involved – much more than the game needs.  This year we have a small slate of nominees:

  • Hop!
  • Santorini
  • Twilight Struggle: Collector’s Edition

The winner here is Hop!

The game involves tossing a ring at someone and hoping he or she will catch it on a finger.  There are a variety of different ways to throw and catch, but that is really all the game amounts to.  It could easily have been just a ring and a deck of cards in a small box – there was no need to include a large tower, fancy painted figures, or any of the numerous other extras involved in the game.

In the case of Hop, the overproduction resulted in disappointment.  The game’s silly and lighthearted play was disjointed and unconnected with the lavish (and expensive) production the game received.  The overproduction here will probably result in the game being either prohibitively costly or just plain disappointing.

 

(6)  Ralph Kramden Award 

The Ralph Kramden Award is given to the game with stellar components.  This is a game where no corners were cut.  Note however that this is not the same as overproduction.  Here, the choices are well-informed, with quality components that add to the value of the game.  This is an award for a game that got it just right and knocked it to the moon!

The Nominees are:

  • Beasts of Balance
  • The Others: 7 Sins
  • Conan
  • Star Wars: Rebellion
  • Mechs vs. Minions
  • Scythe

 

And while all the games listed above have stellar components, the obvious winner is Mechs vs. Minions.

Every single component choice about that game was done with love and careful thought.  Whether it is the high-quality, pre-painted models, the glossy artwork on each tile, or the careful, easy to use custom insert that comes with the game, Mechs vs. Minions is a fantastic production.  The game did what few others can: it made people think they were getting a good value for the $75 purchase price – the entire game feels like a deluxe, collector’s edition.  Riot Games set the bar extremely high for production and created a game that will be the gold standard for quality for years to come.

 

(7) The IKEA Award:

Ah boardgames…the only hobby that includes a reading-comprehension test followed by an oral exam!  Rulebooks are sometimes amazingly well-organized, well thought-out, and beautifully designed.  And then sometimes they are a disaster.  It is this latter category that the IKEA Award is designed to reward.  To receive this prestigious honor, games compete to provide confusing, incomplete, or user-unfriendly rulebooks.  Things that help are poor organization, walls of text, a lack of illustrations, ambiguities and contradictions, and any other factors that make the game hard to learn based on the information provided.

One would think that, after years of game production, a good rulebook could be expected, but these games prove that horrible rules writing is still alive and well today!

The nominees are

  • Mistfall
  • Operation Kindergarten
  • Conan
  • Burano
  • The Fog of War

2016 will not be remembered as the year of the rulebook!  The competition for worst rules was pretty fierce here.  Ultimately, though, I have to give the award to Mistfall. 

While the others each had significant problems, Mistfall was completely unplayable because of its rulebook.  I tried many times to work my way through the rules, and I am not a person who usually struggles with reading comprehension.  However, in the end I was forced to throw my hands in the air and relegate Mistfall to the closet of shame after numerous failed attempts to get through the rules.  Even though there were many other hot contenders in this race to the bottom, none of the other games had rulebooks that flat-out did not work, so Mistfall wins its only award.

 

(8) Refrigerator Hanging Award:

This award is given to the game or expansion with the best artwork.  Every year there are games that just stand out.  Overall, the quality of board game artwork is increasing rapidly.  And whether it is illustrations on cards to gorgeous boards, this award looks to recognize games that just look great!  With the increase in quality overall, it is harder and harder to stand out, but the nominees in this group all managed to stand out in a crowded field:

  • Unusual Suspects
  • Beasts of Balance
  • Scythe
  • Inis
  • Conan

 

While all the nominees came with fantastic artwork, the winner was pretty obvious early on – Scythe.

The artwork is unusual but clearly done with love.  The odd blend of Soviet-style characters juxtaposed with large mechanical monsters is memorable long after the game has been put away.  The artwork is so noteworthy that it merited the production of an artbook.  However, more than just looking great, the artwork is central to enjoying the game – it conveys so much theme and story that I cannot even imagine playing Scythe with any other art – it would come across as themeless and empty.  Scythe is a masterwork and is stunning to behold.

 

(9) The Celia Gimenez

This award is given to the game with the worst artwork.  Nowadays there are many great artists who contribute to board games, yet some designers and publishers decide instead to scrape the bottom of the barrel and fill their games with just awful artwork.  As the quality of artwork increases in many companies, this has the effect of causing anything less glorious to look amateurish by comparison.  However year, there are several games to choose from.  The nominees are:

  • Food Chain Magnate
  • Fabled Fruit
  • Vast: The Crystal Caverns
  • Terraforming Mars
  • Sola Fide

 

The winner here is Food Chain Magnate.

The game may be fantastic, but it is UGLY!  The artwork on the cards looks like clip art from a 1960s poster and the board itself looks like a prototype.

On top of that, the game comes with some pretty garish color choices.  On the whole, this is probably the ugliest game of the year.  That has nothing to do with the gameplay, which I quite enjoy – it is merely a comment about the hideous artistic choices that went into its production.

 

(10) The Wallpaper Award

A new category this year, the Wallpaper Award is given to the game with the most pasted-on theme.  Sometimes a game’s mechanisms are so integrated into its theme that you can’t possibly imagine the game without it.  Other times what you get is a box of mechanisms with some sort of theme loosely draped on.  This was a year in which a few games really stood out as being athematic.  The Nominees are:

  • Order of the Gilded Compass
  • Bohemian Villages
  • Yeti
  • Scythe
  • Sola Fide
  • Mystic Vale
  • Burano

 These are all strong contenders, but the nod goes to Sola Fide.

After playing the game, I quickly realized that the game could literally have been about any topic.  The cards feature some historical event or figure on them, but the action itself has literally nothing to do with that character.  And while the game does try to infuse theme through a historical reference guide (which is thicker than the rulebook), it fails on every turn.  The game was a total miss thematically, which is unfortunate as the theme itself is an exciting one.

 

(11)  The Fibber McGee Award

The Fibber McGee Award goes to the game with the worst storage system.  Often, publishers simply don’t care about how you are ever going to fit their games back into the box, keep the pieces separate, and otherwise keep the game in any state other than on the table.  These days, a way to store the game becomes almost expected.  Some games come bursting at the seams with great components, but there is just no way you can keep them all in one box or no way to sort and set up the game in less than an hour.  This is always a major disappointment to me.  This year, several games followed this tradition, but the following Nominees rose above the rest in terms of utterly horrid storage solutions:

  • Burgle Bros.
  • Zombicide: Black Plague
  • Cry Havoc
  • Conan
  • The Others: 7 Sins
  • Arkham Horror: The Card Game

 

This is a close one.  Ultimately, I will give the edge to Zombicide: Black Plague.

CoolMiniorNot is one of the perpetual worst offenders in this category anyway, and with Zombicide: Black Plague, they have outdone themselves.  The models are gorgeous, but there is no way ever to sort them.

The game requires at least two large boxes to store, and the figures are too large to bag in an effective way.  I even purchased a box insert to sort the components and that doesn’t get me where I need to be.  The bad storage problems make me less likely to play the game, which is sad because I really enjoy it.

 

(12) The Sweathog Award:

The Sweathog Award is given to the best reprint of the year.  Whether a simple re-release or a full-on reskin, with this award we say “Welcome Back” to the following excellent Nominees:

  • Carson City
  • Star Trek: Frontiers
  • 51st State: Master Set
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Archaeology

The winner here is Mansions of Madness.

This is how a reprint should work.  The game scraps what didn’t work well in the previous version and kept the same feel.  The older version was so difficult to set up (and could be ruined by even the smallest of errors).  While I loved the old game, the barrier to entry was so high that it just never got to the table.  The new version solves each and every problem of the old version and adds more.  It includes a fantastic app that takes care of all the mundane parts of the game.  Now you can set up and start playing instantly.  The new version is also compatible with all the old expansions.   I am pleased to see new life in this fantastic old game.

 

(13) [Insert your least-favorite politician here] Award

This award, conveniently named so as not to be controversial, is given to the game that proved to be the biggest disappointment this year.  2016 was a year full of disappointments on many different levels, and board games are by no means exempt.  Sometimes it is for disappointing game play, sometimes it is appalling production values, and sometimes it is because the hype machine ran just a little too loudly, but for whatever reason, the following games really let me down:

  • Sola Fide
  • Tallinn
  • Covert
  • Shipwrights of the North Sea
  • Saloon Tycoon

 

Here the choice is easy. 

Sola Fide was a game I was SUPER excited about once I heard about it at GenCon.  The game was supposed to represent the wars of reformation, with one player taking on the role of the Catholics and the other the Protestants.  While this is a theme that interests me anyway, when I learned it was designed by Jason Matthews (of Twilight Struggle fame), I just could not wait to try it.  This was going to be a new favorite, my game of the year for sure.  And then I got it.  I was initially put off by the game’s drab artwork and bland appearance, but I stuck with it.  But once I got to the gameplay, I was devastated.  Sola Fide is just plain boring.  They took everything that made Twilight Struggle great, threw that away, and kept the rest.  There was no real tension, no great decisions.  The historical flavor and thematic presence that Twilight Struggle brought was abandoned for a thinly pasted-on veneer of reformation.  I do not know if the game was a victim of my excitement, but I was really horribly disappointed in Sola Fide.

 

(14) The Monty Nevarro Award

This award is given to the game that proved to be the biggest surprise this year.  Whether it was because of the style or look of the game, or because I just never really thought about it, or because I just did not even know it was coming, this is an award for something that, much like Mr. Nevarro, is the last one I’d expect…to love.  The Nominees are:

  • Beasts of Balance
  • Insider
  • Vast: The Crystal Caverns
  • Box of Rocks
  • Arkham Horror: The Card Game

I always love a good surprise.  This year, the surprise arrived late, hitting my table only in December.  It was a game I knew literally nothing about, but once I heard about it, I could think of nothing else.  That game is Beasts of Balance.

Combining extremely high quality components with a clever integration of app and gameplay, the game took over my world in a big way!  Now that I see it, I remember looking at it on Kickstarter years ago and ultimately deciding to pass.  But I am thrilled to have it now.

The gameplay is engaging, the figures are stunning, the app works like a charm and is more than a gimmick.  This game is is something I did not see coming and the last game I would have expected to love as much as I do!

 

(15) Mormon Standard Time Award

This award is given to an older game that I discovered for the first time in 2016.  This could be because I just never thought about the game before, because it never quite crossed my path, or for any other reason.  However, this is a game I was late to the party for but was so excited to find.  The nominees here are

  • Pax Porfiriana
  • Jaipur
  • Beasty Bar
  • Nyet!
  • Praetor
  • Mare Balticum

 

The winner here is Beasty Bar.

I learned this game in Estonia at the winter gaming camp, and I immediately fell in love.  The game is super simple, portable, and delightful.  I have taught it and played it numerous times, together with its expansion.  The theme is a little out-there, but the game implements it just perfectly.  This is a game I passed over in past years but I am glad I finally found.

 

(16)  The Pavlov Award

This award is given to the most anticipated new game or expansion.  The difference between this and the Veruka Salt Award announced earlier is that this award is looking forward at games that are not yet available, games I am salivating over based on the discussion of others.  These are games that have been announced but are not yet available (at least to me).  The Nominees are:

  • Caravan
  • Imperial Struggle
  • Days of Ire: Budapest 1956
  • Mountains of Madness
  • Flick ‘em Up: Dead of Winter

 

The winner here is Imperial Struggle.  Although you would think I would have learned something from my experience with Sola Fide, Imperial Struggle is a collaboration by both the designers of Twilight Struggle.  I am so excited to see if they can bring back that same magic.  Even though the era of history is not quite as familiar to me, I have high hopes that these designers can infuse it with the tension and delight that made Twilight Struggle such a success.  I simply cannot wait to have this game on my table!

 

 

And that wraps up this part of my annual lookback series.  Next time we will look at my top 20 games, as well as my top expansions and solo games.  Thanks for following along and I hope this helps you find an amazing game to try!

 

 

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