Welcome to Part II of my best of 2016 awards in board games.  This part will discuss the top 20 games of the year, the top 5 expansions, the best solo game experiences of the year, and a list of honorable mentions.

Section 1:  Top Five Board Game Apps

2016 was an amazing year for board game apps.  Many long-standing promises were finally fulfilled, and many unexpected surprises found their way to the tablet screen.  As in prior years, though, some of the most exciting updates were simply expansion packs for preciously-released app games (such as Vengeance for Sentinels and the Pennsylvania and Germany maps for Ticket to Ride).  Despite this, the year was an excellent time to play on the small screen.

One quick note before we get into the top 5: this considers only app versions of games.  It does not consider games that incorporate an app (even those that do so amazingly well like Beasts of Balance and Mansions of Madness – these will be considered in the top 20 games if they qualify).  With that out of the way, here are my top 5 of the year:

(5) Sushi Go

Sushi Go is an ultra-simple drafting game.  Because of this, I was not expecting to see it ported to an app.  However, even though the app costs nearly as much as the physical game, I was delighted when I saw the charming artwork and ease of play the app brings.  One advantage of the app is that it keeps score between rounds, one thing the physical game has a little bit of trouble doing effectively.  Sushi Go is not a perfect app implementation by any means – the multiplayer for example is not particularly intuitive.  However, playing against one or more computer opponents is a great way to get a quick drafting fix when you are on the road.   

(4)  Forbidden Desert

An early release, Forbidden Desert is an ideal implementation of the tabletop game.  While the game was not particularly complex to play in the physical version, the app automates the movement of the storm and makes it easy to view and keep track of which cards have come up which helps with planning.  Excellent graphic design combines with an intuitive interface to make this one of the clear best apps of the year.

(3)  Heroes of Normandie

 

This is a game I have always been curious to try.  However, the physical game suffers from a need for too much table space and a less-than-stellar rulebook.  So when I discovered it was available in an app-based version with a tutorial, I was thrilled.  I was not even expecting this one to get the app treatment, so this was a nice surprise.  What I discovered is a fantastic light war game.  In fact, having tried both the tabletop and app versions, I think I prefer the app, which keeps track of stats, modifiers, rolls, range, and ongoing effects seamlessly.  On the whole, an excellent and unexpected find!

(2)  Cthulhu Realms

The younger brother of Star Realms, Cthulhu Realms takes the simple head-to-head deckbuilding game into the ubiquitous Cthulhu universe.  And while I am not convinced it needed that treatment, the game itself is quite enjoyable.  However, more than any other game in the family, Cthulhu Realms can be a lot to handle in terms of keeping track of damage, defense, prerequisite effects, and other in-game functions.  Here, the app is particularly useful.  Additionally, the app seamlessly handles the constant card shuffling and affords newer players an easy-to-use ready reference for the game’s numerous symbols and icons.  The app also features an enjoyable campaign mode which is addicting and engaging.  On the whole this one is excellent!

(1)  Twilight Struggle

And despite all the rest of the great apps this year, Twilight Struggle unsurprisingly takes the crown.  This app is everything I want in a board game app and it allows me to play this great game much more than I otherwise would.  And while the release of the app (and its Kickstarter funding) invited our friend Charlie Foxtrot to the table, the app itself is worth the wait.  Twilight Struggle is not an easy game to learn or play, and the app makes it much easier and faster.  For example, the app keeps an ongoing tally of scoring in each region so players can see control and domination at a glance.  The app also allows more in-depth analysis of scoring at a tap!  It also remembers prerequisites and monitors easily forgotten rules (such as the double cost for placement in a controlled region).  Late in the year, the company (finally) released the additional promo cards and turn zero expansion, so the app is now a complete package and is one of the best ways to play Twilight Struggle!

Section 2:  Top Five Game Expansions

And while 2016 was a great year for apps, it was an even better year for expansions!  And while my Number 1 slot won’t be a surprise to anyone, any one of these expansions could easily have been number 1 in any other year!

(5) Russian Railroads: American Railroads

Russian Railroads is a game I love.  Unfortunately, for new players, it is a game at which an experienced player will…utterly destroy the newcomer.  Expansions level that field a bit by adding lots of new ways to play.  Last year, we had the absolutely fantastic German Railroads, and this year it was followed up by American Railroads.  The new module adds a stock system and bonuses for unlocking different kinds of engines.  This with a new player board makes for some exciting changes to gameplay.  I have not yet had the chance to explore the various strategies in full, but I am eager to do so.  I just wish there were some convenient way to store the whole game in one box!   However, this is a game I will always look forward to getting to the table, and the new American Railroads expansion makes it just better and better!

 

(4) Stockpile: Continuing Corruption

 

Stockpile was a nice surprise last year.  It is one of my gateway games of choice, as it is easy to learn and fun with every level of player.  The expansion just adds more goodness to the games without adding any complexity.  The modules of the expansion seamlessly integrate into the base game, to the point that I would probably just always teach the game together with its expansion, even for first time players.  I especially enjoy the dice, which change how the stocks will behave each round, but do so in a way that is manageable and easy to remember.  On the whole, Continuing Corruption is a must-buy for fans of Stockpile!

 

(3) Imperial Settlers: Aztecs

I am a sucker for more stuff for my favorite games.  This year, Imperial Settlers: Aztecs gave me just what I was looking for!  The expansion adds another faction, bringing the total to 6.  Imperial Settlers thrives on variety, and while some of the expansion rules make adding an expansion a less-than-seamless, more is always better in this type of game.  Additionally, the Aztecs are easily one of my favorite factions under the game.  They do not add the same complexity of the Atlanteans, but still hold their own as a unique and fun deck to play.  As you will recall, Imperial Settlers is one of my Top 10 favorite games, and Aztecs ensures it will stay right up there near the top!

 

(2)  Orleans: Trade & Intrigue

A much smaller and simpler expansion than last year’s Invasion, Trade & Intrigue is a more subtle expansion.  Rather than the modular nature of the first expansion, Trade & Intrigue adds more variety but in the form of add-ons that will likely always appear in my games of Orleans.  Whether it is delivery cards or the alternate special projects board, the expansion shakes the base game up in a wonderful new way.  Orleans is fast becoming one of my favorite games, and the wide variety added by its expansions is always a delight and a surprise.  

 

(1) Summoner Wars: Final Second Summoners 

Not so much of a surprise, really…Summoner Wars got its final expansion this year, and it of course earns my number one spot!  With 8 new decks to play, the combinations and possibilities are just endless.  The new summoners complete the set, making 16 factions with 2 summoners each, plus 8 hybrid factions.  Some of the new summoners are actually among my favorites in the game.  These new decks just make my favorite game that much better, and having 8 in one year is just something so exciting I have to put it as my number one expansion!

Section 3: Best Solo Games of 2016

As mentioned, this is a great year for expansions and apps.  However, it is probably the best year EVER for solo games!  .  While of course it’s usually more fun to play with others, sometimes a quiet evening alone playing a great solo game can be just what the doctor ordered to de-stress after a hard day at work.  From one-player only games to great games that feature a solo play mode, 2016 is a great year if what you want to do is play a game alone!  Here are my favorites:

 

(5)  A Feast for Odin

A Feast for Odin is…a rather large game.  The rules, while not complicated, are a bit difficult to process for a new player.  The sheer number of options each turn (in the neighborhood of 60) can only be described as daunting!  However, as with many of his other games, designer Uwe Rosenberg has included a solo variant with the game.  If nothing else, this is a great way to learn how to play.  However, the solo version is also challenging and rewarding and makes it an easy addition to the list.

(4)  Mansions of Madness

I remember loving Mansions of Madness back in the day.  I played it only a few times, mostly because the heavily-involved setup made it just too complicated to play regularly.  This year, however, a new edition was released that incorporates an app to manage all the bookkeeping and setup.  What this means, then, is that the game works incredibly well as a solo adventure.  A unique hybrid between physical and digital, the new Mansions of Madness creates an ambiance and throws the solo player into the middle of a horror story.  And while the experience can of course be shared, I find that I enjoy the stories best alone.

(3)  Terraforming Mars

From the first time I played this game, I was in love.  The mechanisms work so smoothly, and the game feels so thematic.  And while the game has been incredibly popular around here, I always relish a chance to experience it alone.  Fortunately, Terraforming Mars comes complete with a full solo variant that does not change many of the rules but puts the player in a race against time to terraform mars before the end of 14 rounds of play.  The game is tight and challenging and if I ever manage to win, it is always down to the wire.  The only complaint about the game is that it is easy to forget to move the round tracker which can drastically affect gameplay.  But aside from this piece of user-error, Terraforming Mars is a fantastic solo experience – just as good as the full, multiplayer version.

(2)  Scythe

Scythe is another big-name title from 2016.  I find I prefer Scythe with smaller player counts, and this includes, of course, one player!  The solo version uses a meticulously designed automated player who takes his turns through a deck of cards.  The cards make use of modified versions of individual faction powers, but do so in an easy-to-follow manner.  I find that automated dummy players in games sometimes vary from boring to complicated but are rarely fun.  However, Scythe’s Automa gets it right.  The solo mode is extremely challenging on any setting other than easy, and I find that my few wins are extremely hard-fought.  In addition to being one of the best uses of an automated dummy player ever, Scythe delivers one of the best solo experiences all around.

(1)  Beasts of Balance

Any of the previous four games would have stolen the Number 1 spot in any other year.  But this year the award goes to Beasts of Balance.  The game was a total surprise to me, as mentioned last week.  Combining the thrill and risk of a balance/stacking game with the discovery of an app-based game, Beasts of Balance is an utter thrill to play.  And in fact, it is the kind of game that is best played completely alone.  With new beasts to unlock, the game challenges you to beat your own high score and has an almost Pokemon-like quest to unlock all the different combinations of beasts.  I find this game to be a complete trap for me – I am never able to play just one round.  I find myself always craving “just one more round,” and I find my thoughts return to it multiple times throughout the day.  Beasts of Balance is one of the best solo experiences that can be had this year or any year!

Section 4:  Top 20 Games of 2016

And now we get to the main event, the best games of 2016.  For me, 2016 has been one of the best years ever for games.  There were so many GREAT games that came out that a top 20 is very difficult.  There are several that need to be highlighted, but in the interest of brevity, I will confine myself to only 20.  However, I would be remiss without at least making a short list of some honorable mentions.  These are as follows, but in no particular order

  • Codex
  • Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
  • Santorini
  • Conan
  • Fog of War
  • Fabled Fruit
  • Oracle of Delphi
  • Arkham Horror: The Card Game
  • Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
  • Onitama
  • Go Cuckoo!
  • Dale of Merchants (1 & 2)
  • London Dread
  • Tides of Madness
  • Prospectus
  • Mystic Vale
  • Mombasa
  • Happy Pigs
  • The Others: 7 Sins
  • Defenders of the Last Stand
  • Hero Realms
  • Zany Penguins

Each of these games falls slightly short of Top 20 material, but each is indeed a fine game that is worthy of your time!  However, I can’t write about them as I would rather just play them!

Moving on, though, let’s look briefly at 20 2016 games that are even better than these!   Note, again, that some of these games may have come out in late 2015 but not made it to me before the end of the year and therefore count as 2016 games for my purposes.

(20)  Coffee Roaster

This is a game I adore.  Coffee Roaster is a solo-only experience involving a competition to create the best coffee blend.  As a non-drinker of coffee, I cannot really connect with the theme, but fortunately the gameplay itself is engaging enough to make up for that.  Specifically, you spend your turns pulling tokens from a bag and then using them to achieve specific goals.  Most tokens then increase in value after being pulled, so overall potential strength of your bag pulls is likely to increase over time.  After looking at the goals, you can make the decision when you feel confident enough that you can achieve your targets and start the scoring round.  The game has a good amount of luck, but most of the fun involves mitigating that luck and of course timing the scoring round to maximize your chances of success.  The game is compact and perfect for travel, for example it can easily be pulled out at an airport on a layover.  The rules are simple (although the translation is not perfect) yet they produce a challenging and satisfying experience I can highly recommend.  The game is a bit hard to find in the U.S., but it is well-worth hunting down if you are a fan of solo games.

 

(19)   Aeon’s End

Aeon’s End was a late addition to the list.  I was a bit put off initially by the mediocre artwork and sub-par components, but I am really quite pleased that I gave it a try.  The game is a cooperative deckbuilding game where players are trying to defeat a raging monster.   The game is quite challenging, but it allows a good deal of control because you never shuffle your deck.  This allows you to plan big turns and know you will get what you need, as long as you are able to think a few steps ahead.  The game comes with 4 monsters and multiple unique characters, each with different abilities, and while they all feel different, none is overly complicated.  In fact, it is a lot like one of my favorite games, ShadowRyft, but easier to get involved in and with a better rule book.   While I would not have complained about nicer tokens or better card quality, these are at least passable.  Also, the box is much too big, but perhaps the game will get some expansions and merit its cavernous container.  One thing the game did really well is to come pre-set up — effectively there are packs of cards pre-sorted and ready to go, as well as a sheet that tells you what to do to get started.  This made learning the game a breeze.  I look forward to playing this one a lot more over the coming weeks and recommend it to solo players and coop gamers alike.

(18)    Millennium Blades

 

Millennium Blades, a game about players playing a collectable card game, looked from the start like just the kind of game I would not enjoy.  However, Level 99 Games has rarely disappointed be, so I ordered it through their Kickstarter funding campaign.  After the traditional looooong delay, it finally arrived, and I was so excited by what I found.  The game is a thrilling economic game played in real time that simulates the excitement and thrill of blind buys, but without the cost and frustration that happens in real life.  The game even manages to do something I thought impossible: it uses paper money effectively, with the currency being bundles of paper bills held together with bands.  This makes thematic sense and is actually quite amusing.  My only complaint about the game is that it is something I know I will only rarely be able to play.  The two player rules are not as fun as the “full” game, and the real-time nature of the game makes it hard to teach or convince someone to play.  However, it is a unique and fresh take on the economic games genre and something I am really glad I took a chance on.

(17)    Animals on Board

Moving on to something lighter, next we have the delightfully simple Animals on Board.  The game involves collecting sets of animals, with the twist that you never want to end up with a pair of the same animal — either one of a kind or 3 or more are necessary.  The decisions are very simple, either split a group of animals or purchase a set, but the game allows for strong tactical decisions, with the better planner usually coming out on top.  The production is nice, particularly for Stronghold Games, although the nice arks barely fit in the box and make sorting and storing the game a bit of a pain.  Otherwise, Animals on Board is a definite winner for me.

(16)    Adrenaline

Adrenaline is an area control game with a delightful twist — instead of putting cubes in an area and hoping for the majority, you are attacking your opponents and hoping to have dealt them the most damage at the instant they die.  The game styles itself off of the old first-person shooter video games, with player actions involving gathering weapons or ammunition and of course, attacking one another.  The game plays very fast with lightning-quick turns and engaging decisions.  Also, the fact that you are attacking the other players does not affect their fun, as opponents actually get stronger the more damage they take.  My only complaints with the game are that it does not scale very well and that the weapon cards all work through some not-very-intuitive symbology, but at least the game comes with a fairly thourough weapons manual to explain each weapon clearly.  On the whole, though, if a rampaging smiley-faced robot swinging a hammer doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what more we can do for you!

(15)    51st State: Master Set

 

51st State has had a long journey.  When it first came out, it was a delightful concept that was drowning in a sea of incomprehensible symbols.  Much like Race for the Galaxy, the game effectively required a course in cryptography to play.  Later, the designer came up with the revolutionary concept of using text in place of symbols and repackaged the game as Imperial Settlers (one of my very favorite games).  This year, the lessons learned from the success of Imperial Settlers were reapplied to the original game, and 51st State was reborn.  And what a glorious rebirth it is.  Faster and easier to pick up than Imperial Settlers, the game throws players into the midst of a no-holds-batted confrontational tableau-building game.  While I still prefer Imperial Settlers (due to the unique factions), 51st State works well when I want a shorter, more streamlined experience.  Also, 51st State boasts the year’s funniest rulebook — though you will have to see for yourself what I mean!

(14)    Mechs vs. Minions

The game on everybody’s lips is gonna be…Mechs vs. Minions!  This game is something of a coup in the board game world.  Reviewers were sought out long before the game was publicly announced, with everyone sworn to secrecy.  Then, all at one moment, the game was announced and all the videos were dropped simultaneously.  Gamers of course lost their minds.  The game is fantastic looking, with such care and percision made in every decision.  And while the box is the size of a schoolbus, every inch is backed with intelligent design choices.  Riot Games quickly became the company to beat in the production world!  But the game itself is also good!  Best played with 4 players, the presents a cooperative programming challenge over the course of several stacking missions.  The rules are quick and easy to learn, and gameplay moves at a delightful pace.  On the whole, Mechs vs. Minions was a wonderful surprise and is most definitely worthy of all the hype it received.

(13)    A Feast for Odin

I have been a fan of Uwe Rosenberg for years.  Agricola took over my world by storm back in the day — my box has traveled the world with me and I have played the game hundreds of times.  Because of this, I am always intrigued when Mr. Rosenberg puts out something new.  A Feast for Odin is certainly one of his most ambitious projects.  The cavernous box is filled to the brim with components, including two very thoughtful storage trays.  And there is plenty of game to go along with all of this.  With more than 60 available worker-placement spaces, there is a wealth of options here.  The game also combines Agricolesque worker-placement mechanisms with the almost tetris-like tile placement seen in Patchwork, and does so flawlessly.  There is tons of depth here, and plenty of new strategies to explore with each play of the game.  As with most of these games, fewer players is probably better, in order to ensure a manageable game length, but particularly with 1-3 players, a Feast for Odin is a pleasure to see on the table!.

(12)    Food Chain Magnate

I know this was released at Essen 2015, but it did not become widely available in the U.S. until early 2016.  In fact, the publisher had trouble keeping this one on the shelves for much of 2016, with print runs selling out before they had even been started.  I was fortunate to get the game early on, and I am pleased to say that it lives up to the hype.  The game sees players attempt to develop competing fast-food chains and grind their rivals into the ground with aggressive marketing, control of supply, and price wars.  Food Chain Magnate is one of the most unforgiving games I have ever played.  The economics of the game are cutthroat and vicious, and even a small mistake can have drastic repercussions.  For that reason, players should be prepared to lose their first game by a lot!  However, once you come to understand the mechanisms and strategies, the game opens itself and presents a strategic treasure chest.  Unfortunately, the game is quite expensive and is as ugly as sin, but if you can get past those two substantial hurdles, it is well worth your time.

(11)    Happy Salmon

Happy Salmon is the polar opposite of Food Chain Magnate: it is dirt cheap, fast, light, and instantly engaging.  I adore this game, and it has worked well in every situation.  The game consists of trying to get rid of a hand of cards by performing their actions with other players.  The actions (high 5, fist pound, swapping positions, and the eponymous Happy Salmon) are simple, and the game itself is over in less than a minute.  Players stand around a table shouting the name of their desired action until they find a compatible partner and get rid of the card…then repeat.  Many people probably know this as the game they have heard other playing while they were stuck in the middle of an endless match of Twilight Imperium in the wee hours of a game convention. Also, the game can be played silently, which involves players frantically making strange hand motions to each other, which is a joy to behold as well.   And while some serious gamers may cringe at Happy Salmon’s inclusion in a top 10 of 2016 list, I proudly say that the game should be in everyone’s collection, as it is some of the most memorable fun that can be had in a game night.

(10)    Unusual Suspects

 

On the tail of Happy Salmon comes another fantastic party game.  Unusual Suspects is a game that requires players to judge people by their appearance.  The game is almost like a cooperative version of the mass-marker game Guess Who, but with the delightful twist that you are trying to eliminate people through the process of judging them based on their appearance.  Rather than simple questions such as “Is he bald” the game asks questions such as “Does he have a gym membership” or “Does he give to charity” — and the real fun of the game is the shocking discussions that arise from even the most quiet and reserved players.  The game brings stereotyping and prejudice right to the surface, but does so in a light and non-threatening way.  My family adores this game, and we always play several games in a row.  Unusual Suspects is a treat for just about any group or gathering!

(9)      Quadropolis

Quadropolis was a game I have wanted since 2015.  I recall seeing an early prototype back when the game was called CityMania.  In fact, the game was supposed to be Days of Wonder’s big release of 2015 but it was delayed for some reason or other and did not come out until 2016.  As I mentioned in Part I of this series, I was just clamoring to get this game and spent too much money to order it early from France.  Ultimately, Quadropolis is a light game about building cities, albeit in an abstracted manner.  The game is effectively about planning where different tiles will go in your city and picking the path that will lead you to the most points.  The rules are extremely simple, and while the game comes with a basic and advanced version, I typically skip the basic version and just go with the advanced rules.  Winning at Quadropolis requires you to be flexible and adapt your strategy based on what is available, with the game presenting too many options to allow you to do everything.  The game is lightning quick (unless you’re playing with THAT guy) and really works well with gamers of all ages and skill levels.  Plus, as an ERISA lawyer, I can’t get over calling it QDRO-police, which is something only I ever laugh at!

(8)      Insider

Another last-minute addition to the list, Insider took my family’s Christmas celebration by storm.  The game is a suave marriage of two unlikely companions: Werewolf and 20 Questions!  Each game, the team takes turns asking yes-or-no questions, trying to uncover the secret word.  However, one player already knows the word and is trying to guide the other players to guess it within the time limit but without being too obvious, for if the Insider is caught, he loses.  It is actually harder than you would think to manipulate people in that manner, but a skilled insider can sow doubt among his fellow players and this leads to some interesting discussions.  Accusations fly, particularly if some innocent player makes an inspired, last-minute guess.  We played this over and over again on repeat this Christmas, and it is certainly one of my favorite werewolf-style games of all time, and clearly the best party game of the year.

(7)       Cry Havoc

Now for something a little heavier.  A surprise hit of GenCon, Cry Havoc is a full-scale area control game with plenty of combat.  A card-driven strategy game, Cry Havoc sees 4 asymmetrical factions vying for control of a distant world.  Player have only a limited number of actions and must find ways to exploit their faction’s strengths in a struggle to survive.  This game is far from peaceful, as the game mechanisms actively encourage players to attack early and often.  Timing combines with deck construction and a unique area-majority battle board combat mechanism to produce a fresh, fast, and utterly enjoyable mix of well-produced components and solid mechanisms.  Though this game clearly is not for everyone, Cry Havoc is a great experience for anyone looking for some in-your-face action.

(6)      Great Western Trail

Another heavier game, Great Western Trail is a pure euro-style game where players are trying to maximize their points.  The game has the scintillating of driving cattle across the plains to Kansas City, where they can be shipped westward by train.  And while that may not be the most exciting of topics, the joy here is in the journey.  The bulk of Great Western Trail involves a combination of movement efficiency and deck building.  Players are trying to maximize the value of their hands along the way, so that they have the best possible combination of cow cards by the time their journey ends.  Along the way, players can build buildings to give themselves powerful actions, while also slowing down their opponents.  In addition to all this, the game features some tech-tree building and plenty of individual goals.  It’s actually quite hard to describe.  Now, I learned at Christmas that this game is not for everyone — my cousin tried to play it with me but did not pay attention to the rules and it went over like a lead balloon.  However, I was captivated by the game from the moment I first tried it and after each play I find myself constantly replaying it in my mind, thinking about what I could have done differently.  Certainly, this game is a lot to handle, but it is a rewarding experience for anyone looking for a heavier strategy game this year.

(5)      Burgle Bros.

Next up we have a much-too-small box with a ton of game inside.  Burgle Bros. is a cooperative game where players are trying to pull of a major bank heist … or some other massive robbery.  The game sees players work together to find and crack three safes and escape.  Of course, however, the building being burgled is not a defenseless farmhouse, and players need to contend with locked doors, alarms, and three pesky security guards who are on patrol.  Burgle Bros. is difficult to win, though when it happens, it is an exhilarating experience.  Of course, the game looks best when played with the completely unnecessary tower that puts the building’s three floors on…three separate floors.  However even without that accessory, Burgle Bros. is a delightful cooperative experience that you will remember for days!

(4)      Pandemic: Iberia

2016 saw two re-themes of Pandemic: Pandemic Iberia and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.  Of the two, I find Pandemic Iberia to be the superior game.  Pandemic Iberia features many of the same mechanisms as the classic Pandemic, but set in mid-1800s Spain.  Four diseases are ravaging the countryside, and a team of intrepid doctors is trying to learn about them and prevent their spread.  The basic gameplay is the same as the original Pandemic, with a couple differences.  For example, players are much less mobile, as the game takes place before the onset of air transportation.  Instead, players have to invest in building a rail network so they can efficiently move around the board.  Hospitals must be built in each disease color, and a cure can only be developed at the correct hospital, which inhibits the players’ efficiency in a subtle, but significant way.  Also, players are never particularly skilled at curing diseases, and even once the “cure” has been discovered, there is no more efficient way to remove disease cubes.  The game features two challenge variants, one in which each disease takes on a historical identity (Typhus, Cholera, Yellow Fever, or Malaria) with a special ability that makes it harder to fight, and one in which the cubes represent patients flocking to regional hospitals for treatment, moving around the board at the end of each turn.  I love this both as a solo game or as a traditional cooperative game, and it is a welcome addition to my collection this year.

(3)      Beasts of Balance

I have already written about Beasts of Balance a few times, so this will not be long.  Simply put, I adore this game.  It is fast, fun, beautiful, and works wonderfully as a solo experience.  If you have not yet played it, you should.  It is very much worth its high cost, and it is a game I see myself filling many an evening with.

(2)      Scythe

What more can I say of Scythe?  This game speaks for itself.  The artwork is rich and evocative, the gameplay is simple but engaging, the solo variant sets the bar for solo variants.  The components (at least in the premium edition) are just fantastic as well.  However, be cautious – with its expansion, the game is playable by up to 7 players which you should NEVER DO!  The game is best with 1-3 players, 4 in a pinch, but never more.  What the game does best is its speed, and this would be significantly hindered if more people were involved.  With that warning out of the way, Scythe is one of the best action-selection/area control hybrid games out there.  A delightful mix of combat, engine building, economics, and efficiency, Scythe is something that has to be played to be understood.  I could play this game any time; I am always in the mood – even as I am writing this, I am wishing I were at home playing it.  In any other year, this would be my Number 1 game.

(1)      Terraforming Mars

However, in this year, Scythe is eclipsed by another game: Terraforming Mars.  This game was a bit of a surprise for me.  I bought it at GenCon on a whim, having not had a chance to try it first.  But I was not disappointed!  The game exudes theme, with each action, each space, and each card carefully researched.  In Terraforming Mars, players work on building an economic engine that will allow them to terraform the planet in the way that best benefits their own company.  A card-driven game, Terraforming Mars sees players managing their resources and carefully balancing short-term gains against long-term goals.  Players must be able to use their special abilities and adapt their strategy to the ever-changing Martian landscape.  The game is dynamic, and the wide variety in cards ensures that no two games will play out the same.  The game does have some problems: it is unfortunately kind of ugly looking, with Stronghold Games having gone a bit cheap in their tile and card quality.  Also, the rulebook is not the best, but it serves the purpose.  Finally, the player mats are susceptible to disturbance with the slightest bump of the table — the game really should have come with a plexiglas overlay, though this is available from third-party sellers.  However, despite its flaws, I love this game.  While Scythe is clearly the better production, I find Terraforming Mars to be the better game, and that is what counts for this list!  I always want to play it, and enjoy every experience, whether I win or lose.  Terraforming Mars is one of my favorite games of all time at this point, and it wins my highest recommendation as my number 1 game of 2016!

Section 5:  2016 Statistics

Now that I have completed the top 20, I want to discuss a couple statistics before we close.  This is the first year I have aggressively tracked my plays of games, so I am able to see what I am playing most.  The following are some significant statistics.  I have updated these to reflect the year end results.

 

Total Number of Games Played (unique titles):            322

Total Number of Plays Across all Games:           2179

Total Number of People I Played With:               726

Total Number of Locations Where I Played:      36

 

My top-most played games for the year are as follows:

  • Sentinels of the Multiverse – 379 plays
  • Summoner Wars – 349 plays
  • Twilight Struggle – 93 plays
  • Unusual Suspects – 59 plays
  • Scythe – 52 plays  
  • Galaxy Trucker – 51 plays
  • Sushi Go! – 37 plays
  • Colt Express – 32 plays
  • Cthulhu Realms – 29 plays
  • Terraforming Mars – 27 plays

Bold titles in the list above are 2016 releases.  It is interesting that, of my top 10 most-played games, only 3 are from 2016.  The top three, as you can see, are significantly older.  If you go out as far as my top 100 most-played games list, though, the ratio of older releases to current releases evens out more significantly (approximately 55/45 in favor of older games).

Interestingly enough, Summoner Wars was just beaten out by Sentinels, though that is because I can (and often do) play Sentinels alone.

If we look just at 2016 games, my top 10 most-played list looks like this:

  • Unusual Suspects – 59 plays
  • Scythe – 52 plays
  • Terraforming Mars – 27 plays
  • Fabled Fruit – 26 plays
  • Beasts of Balance – 22 plays
  • Box of Rocks – 19 plays
  • Burgle Bros. – 17 plays
  • Insider – 17 plays
  • Quadropolis – 15 plays
  • Pandemic Iberia – 13 plays

Other than Box of Rocks and Fabled Fruit, the entries on my top 10 most-played 2016 games list are the same as my 2016 top 10 games list, though in a different order.  It’s good that I am frequently playing the games I enjoy!

Looking at play frequency as a whole, it looks like I played lots of games lots of times:

Number of Plays Games
50+ 6
20-49 11
10-19 18
5-9 36
2-4 110
1 141

I played 35 games more than 10 times during 2016.  I played 36 games at least 5 times (but not 10 times).

Unsurprisingly, more than 50% of my games were played with 2 players.

Anyway, enough looking back — go out there and play and you’ll be “board no longer”!

 

  • Welcome back!