The best of 2017, part 1: My best new (and ‘new to me’) games

Below you’ll find the best of both new and new-to-me games, either owned or not, that I’ve had the pleasure of playing in the past year.

Below that are the kind of stats only proper game nerds will understand: amount of plays for the year, different games played etc. What can I say? Don’t judge – you’ll either understand or you won’t!

Overall I think 2017 was a better year for the kind of games I like best (middle weight euros and interesting two-player games) than the previous two – but so far I haven’t found a particular stand out title as good as Terraforming Mars or Codenames.

I’ve really enjoyed my gaming this year. It’s been fun bringing someone new into the hobby (hi Sarah!), while feeling able to connect to their family (in an abstract way) by recommending games for their children too. I’ve been to some great gaming events (see part 2) while still enjoying playing with my regular groups.

My 10 favourite games that were new (or new to me) in 2017

Outside of new releases I didn’t play many ‘new to me’ older games – and most I did play were either average or disappointing. I’ve still got quite a few classics to tick off my unplayed list, but generally I’ve done enough research to know its unlikely too many games will now come out of the history books to surprise me.

In no particular order:

  • The Sanctuary: Despite a few little missteps (understandable from a small publisher), I’ve really enjoyed my plays. The animal sanctuary theme is largely pasted on, but nicely implemented and original; while the mechanisms are mostly familiar – but with one great twist. Its worker placement, but the available actions change every turn – a lot – making it as tactical as it is strategic. It may be a little too long with four, but with two or three it has been a 2017 highlight.
  • Pulsar 2849: Using dice for actions was a definite euro theme this year and this is my pick of the bunch so far (just beating out Santa Maria – but of course I’d also highly recommend Pioneer Days!). It’s a point salad euro in pasted-on space but, like The Sanctuary, it has just enough – and in the right play time – to make it stand out in a large crowd. You nearly always want to take high-numbered dice, but they come with a potential penalty; while again there is just the right mix of tactics and strategy for my tastes. Publisher CGE does it again.
  • Codenames Duet: Codenames was pretty much the perfect party game for me (despite taking a little while to get going at the start), but the two-player variant was weak at best. Codenames Duet takes all the fun of the original word game and makes a couple of little tweaks that are just enough to make it into a brilliant two-player co-operative game. Yup – CGE does it again (again).
  • Adios Calavera: Sticking with two-player games, I’m still loving this little two-player abstract game that is part race game, part draughts game. It has a great twist on some simple traditional board game mechanisms and packs a whole bunch of game into a small box – then throws charming theme/artwork on top to compete the package. I really hope a bigger publisher picks up this one from Mucke Spiel to give it the level of mass circulation it deserves.
  • Azul (not owned): If you’re looking for an abstract game for more players (up to four) that plays fast but packs in a lot of tough (and often nasty) decisions, look no further than Azul. A contender for many ‘game of the year’ lists I’ve seen already, it’s easy to see why: simple rules but depth of gameplay, gorgeous components, and good across different player counts. And you can really screw over your neighbour. What’s not to like?
  • Oracle of Delphi: This one should have been on this list as a new release for 2016, but I’d put off playing it until this year. I’d been a little disappointed in the last few Stefan Feld games I’d played, but for me this was right back on form. While it still had a ‘point salad’ feel, with loads of similar yet slightly different things you had to do, these typical Feld traits were built into a kind of race game. It’s a great mould to put a puzzley euro game into and it worked terrifically well and becoming the highest new entry in my 2017 top 50 game list. While the ‘appeasing Greek gods’ theme is pretty thin I did like it, as well as the art style and components.
  • Kingdomino: This was a 2016 title that passed me by on its original release, but a slew of award nominations put it on my radar – and what a great lightweight family game it is too. Bringing old game ideas into the modern gaming age is a tried and tested formula and dominoes was die a makeover – and here it is done expertly by Bruno Cathala (and publisher Blue Orange). A super simple yet clever auction/bidding mechanic sits nicely on top of a basic placement puzzle and scoring system anyone can understand – while this year’s follow-up Queendomino looks to have added an extra layer for those wanting a bit more game.
  • The Climbers (not owned): While looking brilliant, for some reason I’ve never been drawn to this abstract blocks game. But it got a re-release at Essen this year and I happened to be with a fun group who wanted to play it so thought I may as well join in – and I’m glad I did. The chunky wooden blocks and pieces certainly draw the eye, but it’s the gameplay that keeps players coming back for more; putting the game just outside the top 50 abstracts on BGG. It’s simply pleasing on so many levels and one I’d suggest any gamer give a try.
  • Mansions of Madness – 2nd Edition (not owned): I was a big fan of RPGs in my youth and this takes all the best bits of those games while leaving most of the fiddly stuff out. Well, rather it has an app that does all the ‘games master’ work for you. You make the game board up with real pieces, move real figures and roll real dice – but the app gives you the outcomes, the story and the atmosphere – but most importantly the suspense. It means you can have genuine hidden info and no way to cheat by looking at what the outcome of an action might be. A brilliant board game RPG which shows exactly what board game app accessories are capable of.
  • Ilos: I’d had high hopes for this one and they’ve largely been realised. It has card-based action selection, a simple market engine, plus tile laying. Despite playing super fast (under an hour) there are tough decisions, player interaction, and a good mix of tactics and strategy – plus it all looks gorgeous. In a strong year for family games this one has still managed to stand out for me, and I’m looking forward to a lot more plays of it with a lot more groups in the coming year.

Expect reviews of The Sanctuary, Pulsar 2849 and Ilos soon, while I’m yet to play either Transatlantic or Agra which are both on my review shelves; and both possible game-of-the-year contenders for me. I’ll also be seeking out the likes of Lisboa, Wendake and Near & Far to get played as they all look like my kind of thing. Of the ‘not owned’ games above, Azul is the most likely to find its way into my collection.

Other ‘fascinating’ game play and collection stats

My collection has remained stable at 175 – and with a similar number of games on the ‘for sale’ pile as last year. I’m comfortable with the size of my collection and still have no problem selling games that simply aren’t getting played, so I can’t see this changing much.

There are a few older titles on my shelves that I also haven’t gotten to yet, to my shame. The most notable are De Vulgari Eloquntia (traded for), Shafausa (bargain bin buy), Round House (for review) and London Markets (a freebie from Queen) – all games I’ve got high expectations for.

Total plays were down for the third year running, this time to 386 (my first time below 400 plays in a year since 349 in 2011). This was down to a small but significant drop in plays with regular groups for various reasons – replaced with more regular plays with new partner Sarah.

The two are less related than you might think though and I hope my plays with other groups will rise back up to normal levels again in 2018 (Sarah and me tend to play on weekends, which only affects one group).

There were so many of my favourites that I didn’t get to play in 2017: Concordia, Twilight Struggle, Brass, Merchant of Venus and Copycat to name but a few. More than 50 games sit on my shelf unplayed for the year. I actually keep a list of unplayed games from 2015 – and there are still four games on that one! There’s a nice, simple New Year’s resolution waiting to happen…

Despite having around 50 less plays on the year, I actually played games on almost the same amount of different days (around 160); showing sessions were shorter rather than less regular. This feels a pretty accurate reflection on what has been a very busy year in so many ways. My ‘new to me’ games remained pretty stable at 78, just a couple down on 2016 – while the amount of different games played also remained pretty static (around 160). This was largely due to having taught Sarah a lot of games this year, while not having the usual repeat playing of some of my usual favourites.

More in part two…

SEE ALSO: Previous entries for 2012201320142015 and 2016.

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