Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The 16 best new (to me) games of 2016

Here is a list of the sixteen best games I tried for the first time in 2016. These games may not have come out in 2016 but rather this year was the first time I've played them so they were new to me. This list is in the order of when I discovered the games chronologically.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - This is the oldest game on the list. I'm not sure what took me so long to try this game. Maybe it's the fact that I hate the cover for showing an Aztec Sun Stone on what's supposed to be a game about the Mayan Calendar. Mixed themes aside this is an amazing worker placement game. It adds a resource to a game I've never seen before. Time. As in real time, not time counters. The longer you wait to remove a worker from the board the better the result. This was fascinating to me.

Keyflower - Here's another great worker placement game that does something a bit different. In this game you use your workers to bid on tiles, either to add them to your personal territory or to use the ability on the tile. The neat bit is that the meeple are coloured and once there is a bid on a tile all future bids need to be made using that colour. This adds a ton of strategy to the game. There's empire building, set collection, tile placement, pick up and deliver and even more to Keyflower. It's a heavier brain burner and I love it.

T.I.M.E. Stories - This is the most unique game on the list. It's not often a game comes out that is something completely new. T.I.M.E. Stories is one of those games. It's almost more of an experience than a game. It's a co-op puzzle game that reminds me most of games like Myst or 7th Guest on the PC. Players work together to solve a mystery in a which-way style of game. T.I.M.E, Stories really uses the time travel theme where you will need to take multiple runs to solve each mystery using the information you learned on earlier runs to guide you through the next one. The one issue with this game is that it can be played once. It's a one time experience. Personally I thought it was well worth it and look forward to purchasing some expansions and running through those.

Ashes Rise of the Phoenixborn - Magic the Gathering is still THE card game when it comes to battling wizards and I don't expect that to change any time soon. That said, I think Ashes is actually a better game. That's right a wizard battle, summon monsters and cast spells to beat up the other guy game that's better than Magic. Ashes has the added bonus (to me) of being non-collectible, Ashes uses dice to determine how much 'mana' you have each round and includes many rules that let you mitigate the randomness this causes. Spells when put into play stay in play and can be cast every round. Attacks can be made multiple times in one turn and with a mixed number of attackers. There are a number of other differences to Magic that I don't have time to get into here. I highly suggest checking it out.

Madeira - I have to thank the Heavy Cardboard podcast for this one. I love a good heavy game now and then. At local events we play a lot of shorter 1 hour games and it's very nice to sit down now and then with something longer and heavier. Madeira is just that, a nice heavy Euro that plays in about 2 - 2.5 hours. It's about the early Portuguese economy and the wood covered island of Madeira. A changing economy and randomized Crown Requests add to the replay value of this action selection and worker placement game. Unfortunately it looks like it may be out of print. Hopefully a new printing will be coming soon because if you like heavy Euro's this one is well worth checking out.

Above and Below - Yet another game that does something different. Above and Below combines a pretty standard action selection set collection game with an adventure game like Tales of The Arabian Knights or a Which Way book. In addition to collecting resources and building your city you can also send your workers to explore the dungeon below the city. There you have all kinds of adventures, find rare resources and expand the cave network allowing you to build better dungeon based buildings. I enjoyed the story elements of this game so much that I've even sat and 'run' the game like a GM in an RPG, doing all the reading from the adventure book while the other players enjoy the game.

Mombasa - This is another one I can thank Heavy Cardboard for. I first got to try it at Origins 2016 and was immediately taken by the very unique discard mechanic. Each round you play three action cards. At the end of the round each of these cards goes into it's own discard pile. Then at the start of the next round you only get to pick up one of those three piles. This adds a level of long term strategy to the game that I found fascinating. Along with this Mombasa is a very solid worker placement economic game where you are investing in up to four different companies while also trying to collect sets of resources for yourself. This one is another brain burner and not for everyone but if you like heavier games give it a shot.

Valeria Card Kingdoms - This was the best game I played this year at Origins 2016. It was also the first game I had to buy at the Con. I grabbed it right then and there, after doing the demo. I love this game. To me it's a mix of Splendor and Thunderstone Advance. I'm told by others that it owes a lot to Machi Koro and for many it's actually replaced Machi. Start with only two heroes. Roll dice to generate resources. Use those resources to hire more heroes or kill monsters in the dungeon. Eventually save up enough resources to buy kingdoms. Score points based on monsters killed, kingdoms collected and set collection based on what character you start with. I've played this game more than any other game in 2016, I can't get enough.

Onitama - For a very long time The Duke was our two player game. Any time my wife and I went anywhere together we brought it, from hotels and restaurants to coffee shops and even the beach. Onitama has become the new The Duke for us. I don't know if it will eventually replace The Duke, but right now it's coming out to all those places we used to bring The Duke. This game is brilliant. It looks great. It's so simple to teach and it's so damn tactical. The fact that you have perfect information every turn is what really makes this one. The game is chess-like, where you are moving pieces on a grid trying to capture the opponent's sensei (or get your sensei to the opponent's starting spot). The thing is that each game only uses five different possible moves, for the entire game. When you use one of your two moves, next turn it gets passed to your opponent for them to use.

1812: The Invasion of Canada - I am not a big war gamer. I like a few of them, mostly block games, but not a lot. I'm definitely not a chit based, Squad Leader style gamer. 1812: The Invasion of Canada is my kind of wargame. It has a lot of Euro game elements. It's a card driven cubes on a map game. It reminds me a little bit of the Richard Borg Command & Color system, a little bit, not a lot. The one downfall to this game is that it really does play best with exactly five players, and that's not always easy to come by. Players split into two teams: Two American forces and Three British (The British, Canadians and Natives). Each round turn order is completely random. On a player's turn they play one card. That will let them activate a number of armies. Armies are all the cubes in one area. You can only activate an area with your cubes. Combat is dice based with quite a bit of tactics due to retreats and "command decisions". Victory is determined by owning key spots in enemy territory one the truce is called which has to be done by one of the two sides playing all of it's truce cards.

Food Chain Magnate - This was the surprise hit for me. Quite a few heavy game fans suggested Food Chain Magnate and while it sounded good, I didn't expect it to be that good. It's one of the best and heaviest games I've played in a long time. Even I admit it doesn't look like much but, the gameplay more than makes up for the lackluster graphics. This is a heavy, brain burning, unforgiving, economic game. You start your empire with just you the CEO of a new food chain. Each round you will build your corporate structure and activate each of your employees (that aren't on vacation). They will do all kinds of things like make food, pick up drinks, hire more people, train existing staff, earn you money or launch marketing campaigns. Marketing campaigns are huge and determine what is in demand each round. After marketing campaigns are run the people go out to eat. You get paid for every household eating at one of your places but they will only visit you if you not only have exactly what they want but have it at the best value (based on price and distance). 

Between Two Cities - This is proof that I don't just like heavy games. Between Two Cities is my current favourite filler game. What I really love about this one is that it's a very good game with quite a bit of depth for such a short game and it plays up to 7 players. The neat bit here is that you are building two cities at once, in a team with the players on your left and right. At the end of the game though the only one that scores you points is the one worth the least points. The actual gameplay is tile drafting and tile placement that's mostly about set collection. While drafting you cannot talk to your fellow builders but once you see what tiles everyone has picked you then work with both of them to try to build the best cities you can.

IceCool - When I first heard about this one it didn't sound like something for me. It was huge at GenCon and every podcast and reviewer was going on about IceCool. A flicking dexterity game with penguins? I already have PitchCar, do I need another flicking game? Well it ends up that yes, I did. IceCool is fantastic. Don't get me wrong, it's uber light, there's not a lot to it, but it's just so much fun. It's the way the penguins are weighted that makes this one so much fun. You can pull off really cool curved shots and even make the penguins jump. 

Star Wars Rebellion - Many people are calling this one "the original Star Wars Trilogy in a box" and I'm inclined to agree. This is Star Wars on an epic scale. A small band of Rebels is striking out from a hidden base and the evil Galactic Empire is trying to find them. This is a huge game with a huge board that takes a long time to play. Designed for only two players it can be played with three or four in an interesting team based variant. Gameplay is a mix of worker placement and dudes on a map where players use Heroes to complete missions or move units on the board. What really makes this game is how well it sticks to the Star Wars theme. Rebels can move their base, they can build shield generators on Hoth (or any other planet), they can steal the plans and blow up the Death Star. The Empire can capture the heroes, they can build a second (or even third) Death Star, and they can blow up systems. If it's in the Star Wars trilogy it's probably represented here somewhere. 

Orleans - There was a ton of buzz about this game last year and for very good reasons. I personally didn't get to try this amazing game until 2016 but after only one play I fell in love. I've played more games of this in the last couple months after discovering it than any other game. I can't remember the last WGR event I didn't bring it out to and it's been played every time. A worker placement bag builder, Orleans is just a very solid medium weight Euro. It's almost Feld-like in the variety of viable strategies. Engine building, set collection, bag building, it's all here and expertly balanced. I am looking forward to adding expansions to my copy soon.

Thunder Alley - If you had told me at any time in the past, that I would be putting a NASCAR based game on a best of list I would have assumed you were making a joke. I am not a NASCAR fan. I'm not even a racing fan. It's a sport that I care pretty much nothing about. Yet I really enjoyed Thunder Alley. This is by far the best racing game I've played. I used to think Formula D was the pinnacle of racing games. No longer. Not even close. Formula D is a push your luck dice game, where as this is a real game. Instead of just racing one car you race an entire team. Actions are card based, determining how far and what type of movement you will use each turn. It's the movement system that's brilliant. Using drafting, leader and chase movement you often end up moving an entire pack of cars at once, not just the one vehicle you activated. Added to this is a very well done "component wear system" combined with a brilliantly simple pit system that constantly has you weighing your options. I never though I would like a race game this much, especially one about tuning left over and over :D

So there you have it. The best new (to me) games of 2016. There are so many more games I was tempted to have on this list. When I first sat down to work on it I had thirty-five amazing games on it. It took quite a bit of thinking to get that list down to sixteen. What were your top games of 2016?


  1. Great article. I've played a few on this list and I agree they are really fun games. I'll be scoping out the others for sure.

  2. Are there any you think I missed? I know there were more than double these that I considered for this list.

  3. Thanks for this. It's a great list and a few I haven't tried that will have to make the to do list. Have you tried Scythe yet? It stole 2016 for me.

    1. I did try it and wasn't impressed. I was expecting way better. Wasn't even close to making this list.