2016 Gaming: Top 10 games I enjoyed

Let’s take a look back at the 2016 in gaming – the first list will go over the games I enjoyed most. I do not play enough games to only limit it to those released this year, so instead – I look back at the games that I had most fun with this year, regardless of when these were released.

This year was a weird one as my gaming patterns have really changed. First, as my 3-year old has really taken to gaming – about 25% of all the games I played was of the kid variety and a couple I enjoyed these so much a couple snuck in. Second – the top two on this list really stand much higher than the other 8. Just the way things worked out, but the other titles certainly deserve being there. I’m curious to see whether this front-loaded appreciation of games will stay in place or whether it will be more evenly spread in 2017.

Finally – for reference – here are the links to the lists from 2015 and 2014. A couple of favourites make quite a comeback this year! So without further ado – let’s dive right in!

10. Bang! (6 plays, no ranking in 2014/2015)

BANG! Just barely edged out the good old Patchwork for the #10 spot on this list as it was a late addition to my gaming library.

It occupies a very neat spot between social interaction and gaming mechanics, capturing a nice dynamic feel in a tidy 30-min playing slot.

At 4-7 player count it is also a great option for larger groups and so I think it will become quite a favourite with my work gaming people.

It makes no attempt at appearing to be a thinky / strategic offering but it did not stop me from enjoying it a great deal – in fact the randomness only adds to the Wild West feel and some of the showdowns that we had were quite epic.

9. Codenames + Codnames: Pictures (93 plays, #8 in 2015)

The popularity of Codenames and its simple genius design are undeniable. The reason why it only made it to the #9 spot is that by now I realize that it’s more of a brain teaser / team competition than a board game.

It does not necessarily make it a bad way to spend time but I often regret that it becomes the default option, preventing other games that I’d like to play from hitting the table.

This entry combines both Codenames and Codenames: Pictures, even though these offer pretty different experiences that are both great in their own right. If you think I’m being overly harsh to this #1 party game – I hope my review will persuade you otherwise.

8. Ticket to Ride: First Journey (18 plays, no ranking in 2014/15)

Remember those kids games I mention? The kiddie version of Ticket to Ride is one of them.

While I find the base game an enjoyable option – it never became a big hit for me mostly because I think it overstays its welcome.

This simplification is great for younger kids, encouraging spatial planning, counting and even learning a bit of geography (it certainly helped my son learn the city names).

I also like that it can be easily shifted in difficulty to adjust it for older/younger kid groups. I think it will also prepare Alan well for eventually trying the adult version (which is fitting given he shares a name with the designer)

7. Epic Spell Wars (6 plays, no ranking in 2014/15)

With an epic long title and a completely unnecessary but badass-looking cardboard Mt. Skullzfyre – the sheer ridiculousness of this spell-slinging game is obvious.

I have to say that appreciation for it has grown over this year – it’s really a game that feels better the more familiar your group becomes with it. Worked great for work lunch gaming.

The wizards’ duel is filled with lots of mayhem and chance but also encourages adopting your tactics to circumstances and creative combination of spell effects for maximum destruction.

A great fit for medium-sized groups who are not averse to conflict and need an activity demanding Iron Maiden as background music.

6. The Grizzled (13 plays, no ranking in 2014/15)

Shifting gears completely, we go from gonzo spell duels to poignantly hard-hitting cooperative game about a group of French soldiers surviving World War 1.

While the rules can be a bit wonky to grasp, the overall feel of this game is a wonderful achievement – sad, vulnerable, often crushing but sometimes triumphant – this is a great experience, made all the more special by the sad fate of its artist.

Emotions aside – the lack of clear sharing of information allows The Grizzled to avoid the alpha-gamer problem and it delivers a real challenge for experienced players all in a tight 30-min timeframe.

5. Space Hulk: Death Angel (22 plays, #9 in 2015, #3 in 2014)

The fact that FFG will no longer be making Warhammer games is a sad one. Games like this one demonstrated that they can ace the nail-biting tension and the feeling of an overwhelming challenge by unstoppable forces that the setting is known for.

Death Angel makes for a great solo or 2-player game and a surprisingly fun 6-player option (even though all strategy flies out of the window unless you want to subject yourself to a snail-like pace caused by over-analysis). I was surprised that I enjoyed this game more this year as I came back to it many times as a dependable (and highly transportable!) source of challenge in a well-realized world. I love that even defeats feel epic and exploring these dark corridors is never dull! The expansions really help you get more out of this one.  (read my review)

4. Eldritch Horror (7 plays, #4 in 2015, #1 in 2014)

With the 6 expansions now in existence – this game gained lots of weight. Even though I only own 3 of these – the setup time alone can be enough to dissuade some from trying this. The hearty 2+ hours duration is also far from breezy.

Despite that – every time I do get this game to the table – I am reminded how great it is. Its ability to reliably generate epic horror stories never ceases to amaze. The expansion content adding welcome novelty so the charms don’t wear thin.

It works especially nice if you manage to find like-minded individuals to seal away elder evils with. The game asks for a lot from players but rewards those patient enough handsomely. (my review)

3. My First Stone Age (39 plays, no ranking in 2014/15)

I am not being very original here, picking the 2016 Kinderspiel De Jahres winner as my #3. I am amazed at how well the euro-mechanics were translated into an extremely simple rule set and my son adores this game as you can easily surmise from the almost 40 plays.

The large chunky components deserve a special mention and the unexpected memory component worked out much better than I have anticipated. Appealing, quick and even offering educational opportunities here and there – this one brought lots of joy to our family’s gaming table in 2016.

Alan particularly enjoys teaching this game to others, reminding people that peeking under the unexplored tiles is highly unsportsmanlike 🙂

2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (16 plays, no ranking in 2014/15)

Now we’re getting to the heavy hitters. I consider Pandemic Legacy a triumph of originality and boldness in game design. While the consumable nature of this game is unfortunate – how many games in your collection have been played 12-24 times?

The story that develops throughout your efforts to save the world, the way the existing mechanics evolve and get more complex, the way you get attached to characters – there are so many amazing things about it.

It really gave me and my wife a memorable experience and I look forward to how this smash hit will influence the complexity and customization of stories that board games will be able to tell in 2017 and onward.I am also going to leave this link here :).

1. Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game (149 plays, #2 in 2015)

 Even the awesome originality of Pandemic: Legacy couldn’t omit the fact that I played  the LOTR LCG almost 150 times in a scope of a year. I am an avid Tolkien fan and the world that this game creates continues to awe.

A vast number of heroes and cards to pick from, creating innumerable combinations to discover. A constantly updated set of adventures to test your mettle against. A thriving community that is fun to share and interact with. A few of my friends who share the excitement for this game. Lots made LOTR LCG the game of the year for me, but the main reason remains that by some miraculous reason it also counts as a kid-friendly game for me. I’m still not sure how my 3-year old managed to grasp majority of the rules, but he did and now I have an enthusiastic partner to share in my adventures.

The fact that most weekend mornings start with an offer to play “The Gandalf Game” make the decision to place it atop this list an easy one.

And that wraps up this list. All of these games (different as they are) brought lots of joy to me over the year and I look forward to another year of fun engaging gaming! The 2016 summary series will continue with dedicated Top-5 lists for my wife and son soon!

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