• Game Profile: Photosynthesis

    Author: Drew Lovell

    This week’s featured game Photosynthesis; designed by Hjalmar Hach w/ illustrations by Sabrina Miramon and published by Blue Orange Games.

    # of players: 2-4

    Length of game: 60 minutes

    Photosynthesis is an incredible area control game in which players are growing trees across the board to collect sunlight. It is hard to know where to start with this one because everything it does as a game it does very well. The art is astounding, it has a great table presence, it is fairly easy to teach and its strategy is deceivingly deep given how approachable the theme is.

    Players begin with two small trees on the edge of the board. At the start of each turn these trees will begin collecting sunlight which players can then spend towards growing existing trees or planting seeds to spread out further. As the game goes on trees will block one another from collecting sunlight by casting shadows across the board. Things start getting really interesting at this point because as the game goes on the sun itself rotates around the board and trees will now cast shadows at different angles. Eventually trees will meet the end of their lifespan which is when players score points by collapsing their trees to make room for new growth.

    Photosynthesis works really well as a cafe game, though the rules are slightly more front-loaded than with most gateway games. The player aids provide a lot of information in a way that is fairly easy to take in but there is a tricky element that involves seeds and trees being in the reserve (on the player aid) OR available for use (next to the player aid but not on the board itself). This is most often the part that trips players up as it isn’t particularly intuitive. The best part with the teach is similar to games like Evolution in that once players understand how to play one round they understand how to play the whole game and there isn’t much need to revisit the table to introduce additional rules. Lastly, area control games are often intimidating and many aren’t presented in ways that make players want to pull them off the shelf; however, that doesn’t apply at all to Photosynthesis and it can work really well as a game that expands the players’ boundaries.

    Bonus points for: Blue Orange has traditionally been a publisher of family / kids games and recently they’ve been branching out into strategy games as well. There’s something about their background with family games that has lent itself well to creating these super solid strategy games that are also easily approachable. Hats off to them for knocking it outta the park!

  • Kurt's top games

    Kurt's top games

    #5 Dinosaur Island

    You know that old guy from Jurassic Park with the white beard and that walking stick with the mosquito in the handle? This is basically a worker placement game where every player is just like him, running their own dinosaur based amusement park where people are almost certain to get eaten. You have to manage everything from which dinosaurs you research and create, to what side attractions get built in your park, and even the how much security you employ to prevent unwanted, carnivore-related casualties. This essentially gets played out like a big point-salad strategy game for those looking to be the best park manager in movie history, but I think there’s also plenty of fun to be had for those who just wanna play around with some dinos. Either way, there’s a lot going on in this one, and it definitely stands out as a game that you’ll want to play more than once.

    #4 The Game

    First thing that needs to be said here is how awful of a name this game has. It’s like they couldn’t come up with anything good and just went with the placeholder. But if you can manage to look past that, The Game is a really fun, light, cooperative game that will have you coming back over and over again. It’s also incredibly simple. The whole game is just a deck of 98 cards, numbered 2-99, that you play into 4 piles, 2 that count up from 1 and 2 that count down from 100. Each player manages a hand of 6 of these cards, and takes turns playing them to one of the 4 piles. Every turn each player has to play at least 2, and if they can’t the whole group loses. What makes this game really fun though is that no one is allowed to say anything about the numbers on the cards in their hands, but communication is still the only way to win. The Game will force you to say things like “is it okay if I tickle this pile a little?”, and then someone else to respond, “How much of a tickle? Like a little tickle or a noticeable tickle?” This one makes my list for being super accessible, while also being reliably fun even for board game enthusiasts. Truly a game night staple!

    #3 Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant

    Again, right off the bat, not a fan of the name. Even as someone who plays board games for living I’m forced to scoff a little at how nerdy this game sounds. But despite all that, I can’t help myself but to love this one. Each player takes control of an alien race, each with their own very distinct mechanics and play style, but at the center of all of it is a mechanic where you have machines that need to be powered by cubes and then put out other cubes in greater amounts. I’m sure that doesn’t make it sound any less nerdy, but what really sets this game apart is that in order to make your machines run, you have to be willing to make deals and trade with other alien races at the table. There isn’t much of a game here at all if you’re not willing to negotiate with the other players, and the designers did an excellent job setting up a system where the trading you can do feels meaningful, tense and creative without putting people at each other’s throats. There’s no real incentive to dick people over, so what you have here a really tight and rewarding game of commerce that won’t screw up any friendships when it’s over (I’m looking at you Settlers of Catan)

    #2 Scythe

    Scythe is a very unique engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920’s world… with robots! Each player plays a different European faction, each with their own unique abilities and progression system, and takes turns performing actions dictated by their unique action boards to produce resources, gain military might, gain the love of the common folk, and upgrade their engines. This is another point-salad game with a lot going on, but what really sets this one apart is how your engine gets upgraded. Every time you make an upgrade to one of your actions or build one of your powerful mechs, you do so by removing a piece from your board that literally uncovers a new advantage/ability and then use that piece to cover up something else on your board that has been working as a disadvantage. This adds a really fun layer of complexity to the strategy of the game that feels super rewarding and makes each faction and playthrough feel very diverse. Plus, though on the surface there is a lot of area control and combat in the game, military might is not always the key to victory. I won the very first game of this I played without winning a single military altercation, but instead by relying on my sneaky mobility and by winning the hearts of the masses. The plethora of meaningful decision making and interesting player interaction makes Scythe one of the better strategy games I’ve ever played!

    #1 Not Alone

    And finally, the game that stood out to me the most in 2017, is the tense game of space survival, Not Alone. Not Alone puts players in the role of astronauts, who crash land on an alien planet only to discover that they are now being hunted by a mysterious creature. This games just seems to check all of my boxes, it’s like the designer was specifically pandering to me. First of all it’s asymmetrical (I’m such a sucker for asymmetry), one player takes control of the creature (the hunter) who is trying to the assimilate everyone else who takes on the role of our unfortunate astronauts (the hunted). The creature does so by watching as the hunted manage a limited hand of cards that correspond to different locations on the planet, so that it can figure out where they might go next and hunt them down, draining their will to resist. What really brings this one to the top of my list is just how deep and immersive it manages to feel, while still being a remarkably light and accessible experience. It is balanced (and well I might add) to be played with 2-7 players and each game only takes about 30 minutes! Not Alone brilliantly captures the feeling of its theme by putting players into a grippingly tense scenario where you have to manage your resources well and get into each other’s heads. I love games that pull that off well, and this one absolutely nailed it.

  • List: Courtney's fave games of 2016

    List: Courtney's fave games of 2016

    This year had a significant lack of new game play for me. I honestly wasn't even able to come up with 10 games that stood out enough to make a list, so 9 it is! On that note as well, I've *thought* about games a lot less this year than previous years as well, so my list is going to be a bit less wordy that Kurt's or Drew's.

    9. Galactic Debate/Cosmocracy

    I'm horrible at improv,  and I hate debating, so local game developers Road to Infamy's latest offering should not be a game I liked, at all because it is both of those things. Boy was I wrong! This fun little party game tackles the debate aspect well by borrowing the "yes, and" rule from improv so everything your opponant says is true and you have to work with that. The time limit debates, and follow up questions also help keep it civil and lively. They lauched on Kickstarter last year and a larger publisher has since picked it up so look for it in stores under the name Cosmocracy after March!

    8. MoonQuake Escape

    The unique board and characters bring you in, the fun "stab 'em in the back" mechanics keep ya playing! We demoed this at GenCon and insta-bought it. There's just a lot of really cool stuff going on in this game, with the rotating board and trying to be the first to make it to the launch pad while trying to throw your opponants to the robo security guard.

    7. Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game

    I'm not a video gamer. I rage quit over really simple things, I rage quit Portal 2 when Drew tried to get me to play it. That said, Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game is a great adaptation of Portal The Video Game. It has a hex based board that is in constant flux, expendable test subjects and irreplacable cake pieces, what more could you want? It captures the spirit and humor of the video game, while being a totally fun and unique board game.

    6. Cat Tower

    You're stacking cute cats hoping you're not the one to knock the tower down. There isn't much to say about it except that really. Great for families, great as a drinking game or while waiting for people to show up, just any time you have time to stack some cats!

    5. Dingo's Dreams

    Another great little filler game, that is kind of like one of those 2d slide puzzles. You're trying to be the first to get your animal tiles to match the design in the middle of the table by sliding and shifting rows and columns. I did a full profile of it a few months back that you can find here.

    4. Scoville

    Scoville is a fun set collection game themed around hot pepper farming! Each round consists of a bid/auction phase, a planting phase and harvest phase. Ultimately you're trying to plant/harvest peppers to complete receipes for victory points.

    3. Fuji Flush

    Fuji Flush is a quick paced game of eliminating all the cards from your hand by playing the largest card and forcing other people to discard and draw. What makes it really interesting is you can either play the largest single card to do this, or temporarily team up with other players by playing the same number card they have out, which adds your cards together! We played a bunch of rounds of this on NYE and it was a great way to bring in 2017!

    2. Mystic Vale

    I love deckbuiling games, and anything that takes that core mechanic and adds a twist automatically has my attention. Mystic Vale does that with what they call "card crafting" where your start deck is essentially just a few cards with some power, but mostly empty cards, and you buy cards to create your own unique cards. Your deck will always be 20 cards, but what those cards do is totally unique each time. The amazing art is just an added bonus.

    1. Evolution: Climate

    Evolution is one of my top games, and Climate brings it to a whole new level. It's the second expansion to the Evolution system, but it *cannot* be played with the previous one, Flight, which I like. It can be too easy to get bogged down trying to play with ALL THE EXPANSIONS so this makes it easy to just focus on one way to play. With Climate there is a new tracker added and trait cards now have either suns or snowflakes, and based on the number that are played the tracker moves to change the climate, which can cause species to die out. You're no longer just fighting other species for survival, but the environment as well!

    I also wanted to give shoutouts to two prototypes that are hitting Kickstarter in early 2017 that were faves of mine.

    Pinball Showdown: I played this at GenCon and loved it! It's a great little card game that captures the spirit of pinball really well. They just launched their KS today [1/10] and are crushing their goal too! Can't wait for this one! 

    Shut Up Cat! The newest offering from local buds Argyle Games, a fun little memory based filler about trying to get a full nights sleep while being a cat owner. Keep an eye out for the KS coming this summer!

  • List: Drew's fave games of 2016

    List: Drew's fave games of 2016

    Each year we put out our lists of our personal favorite games which we played for the first time this year. The game didn’t necessarily have to be new, we just had to have played it for the first time in the last 365 days. 2016 was interesting for me compared to 2015. In the previous year I played an absolute TON of games which I’d never been introduced to previously, but this time around that number was much smaller [approx under 40 this year]. However, the quality of the games I played this year was dramatically higher, this really could have been a top 20 list and they would have all still been outstanding games.

    #10: Splendor

    It might be surprising that I’d never played this before and I don’t really have an excuse on why I hadn’t. I did some work demoing games for Fantasy Flight and in doing so finally got hooked on the gem collecting gloriousness that is Splendor. It is a quick and simple strategy game of collecting gems (poker chips) and cashing them out to expand your gem trading empire (cards). Despite its simplicity it is highly competitive and has enough going on that I’m almost always down for another round of it. This has become one of our mainstays for introducing people to modern board games.

    #9: Flip City

    Tasty Minstrel has quickly become one of my favorite publishers. They have a whole line of games that come in boxes that are a little bit larger than your wallet and each of them has a deceivingly “big” packed inside. Flip City combines push your luck elements with those of a deckbuilder. The catch is that all of the cards are double sided and you can only turn them over if you meet the right criteria. This has become my go to travel game, it plays up to four players but can also be played by yourself which along with the size of the box make it perfectly suited for this.

    #8: Mystic Vale

    This was my most anticipated game of Gencon. While it does make my list it wasn’t quite as spectacular as I had hoped. Mystic Vale is essentially a deck builder but rather than adding cards to your deck over the course of the game instead you sleeve plastic transparencies over your cards to alter what they do. It is an ingenious system and I’m looking forward to seeing how AEG iterates on it. Mystic Vale in many ways is the bigger box version of Flip City. The game does feel a bit like you are playing solitare at times, an issue many deckbuilders have, although its unique mechanic allows for it to be played more quickly and smoothly than counterparts.

    #7: Great Dinosaur Rush

    Courtney had played this during 2015’s GenCon and couldn’t stop talking about it, so when it arrived at our doorstep I couldn’t wait to see what all the ruckus was about. You play as paleontologists collecting dinosaur bones so that you can later put them on display by laying them out on the table to build your very own dinosaur. It turns out that historically many early paleontologists were complete jerks to one another and this game brings that out in a rather light-hearted way by encouraging players to collect notoriety. Great Dino Rush hits all the right notes perfectly and delivers a tactile gameplay experience unlike anything else I’ve played.

    #6: Bomb Squad

    Robot Rally is a classic game which has a special place in my heart, in it players clumsily give orders to their droids that are competing to navigate an obstacle course. Bomb Squad takes that and turns it into a cooperative game where you and your cohorts must help a bomb defusal robot disarm bombs and rescue hostages… the catch is that the bombs are about to explode and you must frantically get the robot to them before time runs out. This all takes place in real time and there are typically eight minutes before the first bomb goes off. This game is intense but it is so satisfying when your team works well together and everything goes as planned.

    #5: Mafia De Cuba

    Something is afoot and your cappos are not all being honest with you. Someone has taken your diamonds and it is up to you to ferret out the thief and ensure that they sleep with the fishes. Mafia De Cuba is a social deduction game where one player, the mob boss, starts with a cigar box filled with diamonds and tokens. The box is passed around the group with each player secretly taking either a token or some diamonds. Taking diamonds makes you a thief and each type of token has a specific role assigned to it (FBI, Driver, Loyal Henchman). After the box makes a full circle it is up to the mob boss to conduct interrogations and make accusations.

    Bonus Points: This game is best played over pizza at Giordano’s.

    #4: Galactic Debate

    This game was designed by some Chicago locals and when I heard that it was a game which revolved around arguing I was a bit skeptical. I had a hard time seeing how it wouldn’t result in friends just getting frustrated with one another. That is so far from the case as this game very quickly takes a dive off the deep end into the realm of the absurd. Players alternate arguing the merits and dangers of making seashells the galactic currency or outlawing the use of brain melting devices on squid people. What really makes this game tick is that any argument a player makes is automatically considered to be undeniable fact, it becomes a game of “Yes, but...” Furthermore, all results flow over into future rounds. Yes… we might have all agreed that forcing Humans to fight to the death for entertainment was for the greater good but how does that impact the decision to build a force field around the Horsehead Nebula?

    Galactic Debate has resulted in some of my most memorable gaming moments of 2016. You need to play this game!

    Intermission: My top 3 were tough for me to rank, they were all very close and each blew me away for totally different reasons. If you’re looking to try something new I can’t recommend these enough.

    #3: Between Two Cities

    People kept telling me that I needed to play this game, that they had played it and instantly thought of me. The people had spoken, and they were right. This game is my jam! It is super easy to teach, it plays in under 30 minutes, it uses drafting as a mechanic, it involves placing tiles, it involves competing AND cooperating with others and to top it all off it takes the same amount of time to play regardless of how many people there are (plays up to 7). Everyone is working to build a bunch of cities, but rather than working on your own individual city, players work with those adjacent to them to collectively build the greatest city the world has ever seen. Between Two Cities was likely my most played game this year and I hadn’t even discovered it until June or July.

    #2: Pandemic Legacy

    I don’t really like Pandemic… there’s just something about it that feels dry to me or as if it is a “solved” game. When Pandemic Legacy became the latest craze I didn’t even consider giving it a chance, I knew I didn’t like Pandemic so why would I ever want to commit to essentially playing over and over again? Wow was I wrong. Towards the end of Summer we got a group going and I was hooked! This takes the base game of Pandemic and quickly escalates it to something entirely different and unrecognizable but strangely familiar. Your actions and the outcome of each time you play continue to permanently impact future sessions. It tells a story, it has a narrative, and every time we play I can’t wait to play it again. I’ll spoil the fun if I mention anything else, but if you’re at all like me and you wrote this one off because it couldn’t possibly be as good as everyone was saying, well then you should give it a chance because you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

    Special Note: for those unaware this game does of the hurdle of essentially requiring you to play with the same set of people from start to finish across multiple play sessions.

    #1: Captain Sonar

    You are at sea aboard a combat-equipped submarine and just been alarmed that there is an enemy vessel lurking somewhere nearby, can you hunt it down without being detected? Are you the predator or are you the prey? Captain Sonar takes the outdated game Battleship and actually makes it fun. Best with two teams of four, each player takes on a specific role aboard their submarine. The Captain dictates the heading of their vessel for everyone to hear; meanwhile, the Sonar Operator listens carefully to try and track opposing team’s course. The Chief Engineer does their best to keep the ship from breaking down while keeping core systems online. Finally, the First Mate readies torpedoes, arms mines and sends out drones to locate the enemy sub before it is too late. The game has a turn-based mode but is best played in real-time. Anyone can play this game, it doesn’t have a ton of pieces, the rules are fairly simple and you don’t have to be a “gamer” to figure it out. Captain Sonar hits on the theme perfectly… Now I just need to convince Sean Connery to come over and play with me.

    Honorable Mentions: Grand Austria Hotel, Race For The Galaxy / Roll For The Galaxy, Halo: Ground Command, Star Wars Rebellion, Dead of Winter & Long Night. – These are all incredible games but they just barely didn’t make the cut they were all kind of tied for 10th. In most cases I just haven’t had the chance to play them enough.

  • Kurt's fave games of 2016

    Kurt's fave games of 2016

    When you hang out with Bonus Rounds you play a lot of really cool games. Now that 2016 is finally coming to a close I find myself looking back and reminiscing about all the wonderful stuff I played for the first time over the course of this last year, and am naturally forced to create a numbered list of my favorites. I wish I could put them all on this list (okay fine, there are a few I’m actually happy to snub), but alas, the list can only go to 10. As a side note, this is not a list of the best games of 2016 but rather a list of my favorite games that were new to me in 2016, so don’t get on my case about how some of these titles are not totally new.

    #10 T.I.M.E. Stories

    A cooperative game about time traveling detectives who need to correct faults in the timeline. Yes please. The basic mechanics of this game are very simple, there’s a board with a time track, some special dice, non-specific tokens and some player tokens. The base game comes with one scenario (1920’s French asylum), but each scenario is really its own unique game. These scenarios come in the form of a large deck of cards that creates the entire experience as it guides you through cycling through it. The game winds up playing like the old computer version of Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego, with the sequence of the deck forming different rooms that the players have to explore, finding items along the way and battling grotesque monsters. If you run out of time, and fail the mission, you can always go back and try again (you are time travelers after all), but even with unlimited time, solving the mystery is no picnic. Unfortunately, each scenario can really only be enjoyed once, but the experience is incredibly engaging and actually pretty challenging (at least the first scenario was, as that’s the one I’ve tried). Because of that I think this game struggles to find itself being worth the price for most casual gamers, but there really isn’t anything quite like it out there, and I’m really excited to see what they wind up doing with all this design space.  

    #9 Quadropolis

    Quadropolis is a minimalist strategy game from Days of Wonder that really managed to win me over. The game revolves around each player building their own cities in a grid in front of them made out of tiles that are purchased from a larger grid in the center. Each tile is a different district of a city, like apartment buildings, factories or parks, and each kind of building will score the player points in different ways at the end of the game. If that all sounds familiar it’s probably because that also describes like a thousand other games. What makes Quadropolis different is how the tiles are acquired. Each player has four workers numbered 1-4 that are each an arrow shaped piece of cardboard. Players take turns spending their workers to buy tiles out of the center, by placing their worker on the outside of the common grid with the arrow pointing towards the tile the want. When you place your worker, you take the tile that is the worker number of spaces in from you worker, and then have to place that tile in a space that is in that number row or column in your city. So for example if you place your #3 worker on the outside, you take the tile that is 3 spaces in from where you place it, and then have to build it in either the 3rd row or column in your own city. Because of this the game becomes very strategy heavy and very thinky (for the record I’m a big fan of thinky) while keeping the basic mechanics of the game incredibly simple. It also seemed to play really fast for having such deep strategy, which makes it an awesome pick for any game night.

    #8 Grand Austria Hotel

    Grand Austria Hotel makes it onto my list for just being an incredibly solid european strategy game. In it, each player runs a cafe and hotel. You spend your turns attracting customers, serving them what they desire, and then putting them up in your hotel for the evening. You have to manage and hire staff (that give you special bonuses), keep track of your cash flow and prepare for visits from the emperor. What stands out about this one is how dice are used as a mechanic. At the beginning of each round a handful of dice are rolled and then sorted out by number in a common pool. On your turn you take two dice from this pool and take the actions that corresponds to their numbers. Not only that but the action changes depending on how many dice are in the pool when you take it. This adds a lot of depth to how you plan out your actions, both because of how competitive it can get among players to take dice and because you never know at the beginning of each round whether or not the action you need will even be available. There’s a lot going on with this game, but it all manages to feel very put together and satisfying.

    #7 Bloodborne: The Card Game

    “A card game based off of a popular video game,” you say, “well that sounds like a pile of hot garbage!” In general I’d tend to agree with you, but for me Bloodborne pulls off not only capturing the feeling of the video game incredibly well but also manages to be a very fun, tight card game that even those unfamiliar with the franchise can get into. It’s a game of collecting blood, the player with the most will be the winner. Of course there’s no better way to gather this blood than by hacking and slashing disgusting monsters and taking theirs. You gotta stay in the fight to collect that blood, but if you hang around too long there’s a good chance these monsters will kill you, taking away all the precious blood you’ve been collecting. You can always head back to the base to bank the blood you have on you, heal yourself and even get some new weapons in the process, but timing this well can be a challenge. The system for taking damage has a chance to snowball too, so even the weakest of creatures can one-shot a player, making it feel just as lethal as its video game counterpart. The designers did a great job making Bloodborne way more than just a gimmick.

    #6 Bomb Squad

    I, like most people I assume, have been a fan of the hidden information cooperative card game Hanabi for some time now. Bomb Squad is a game that takes that experience to a whole new level. Everyone has a hand of cards that they hold facing outwards, so that everyone but them can see what they have. Each of the cards has a different action that you need to use to program your bomb defusing robot such as moving, turning, saving hostages and actually diffusing the bomb. Players go around the circle giving clues to other players about what is in their hands, playing cards down to program the robot’s sequence, discarding cards to charge the robot’s battery and finally executing the sequence. Oh, and like most good games centered around diffusing bombs, it’s very rigidly timed of course. As you can imagine the robot’s programming can very easily go awry, and with the clock baring down on you it takes a group with nerves of steel to pull off this daring rescue. I’ve always been a fan of timed cooperative games, and this one really brought it together for me.

    #5 Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

    This is a game that feels exactly like if someone came along and said, “Carcassonne is an alright game, but I bet we can do a lot better.” Mission accomplished. Isle of Skye takes the basic tile-laying, landscape-building mechanic made famous by Carcassonne and adds a whole lot of depth to it. Each player has their own kingdom that their building instead of a collective one, but acquiring the tiles you need to build it isn’t as simple as just randomly drawing them. There’s a whole purchasing system where players set prices on the tiles draw so that other players can buy them, but if nobody is interested in the price you set then you’ll be the one fronting the bill. Also, some of the main criteria for how points are earned get randomized every single game, so there is never just one winning strategy. This one feels incredibly well put together, and will frankly replace any desire I have to play Carcassonne ever again.

    #4 Welcome to the Dungeon

    If for no other reason, this one makes it onto my list for just the raw number of times I’ve played this one over the last year. It’s a fast, small-box game that makes it into my bag every single time I go out to a game night. In essence, Welcome to the Dungeon is a dungeon crawling game of chicken. There are 4 different brave heroes in the game, each with their own starting HP and unique set of gear. Players take turns either by passing and sitting out the rest of the round, or raising the stakes by either adding another monster to the dungeon or taking away a piece of the hero’s gear. Eventually, all players but one will have passed, and that player will now be forced to go in as the hero and fight all the monsters with with what’s left of their gear. If they survive they get a victory seal, get 2 and they win. If they perish, then they will lose a life, lose 2 and they’re out of the game. Each of the different hero’s has a very different itemset they take with them, so changing them up between rounds makes the game very interesting all the way through. Plus, the whole game revolves very heavily around figuring out just how ballsy everyone else is at the table and whether or not they’re looking to sabotage the dungeon for other players, so you never know how a round if this game will unfold. It’s truly a game that I am always excited to play.

    #3 Raiders of the North Sea

    Raiders of the North Sea is a unique worker placement game that puts you in the shoes of a Viking captain. You spend your turns gathering provisions and silver, hiring crew and then setting off to sea to raid unsuspecting strongholds. Players earn points by fighting valiantly (even dying) in glorious combat, collecting plunder and making sacrifices to the gods. First off, they pull off the theme incredibly well. Everything you do in this game feels meaningful and and really Vikingy (if that’s a word). Secondly, the worker placement mechanic in this is very unique. You always start and end your turn with a worker, meaning that you take two actions on most turns, the one where you place your worker and one where you acquire a worker. On top of that, once players start going on raids you start acquiring different colored workers that have different bonuses and are required to do certain tasks. This all adds a super interesting strategy onto the game that really makes it stand out from the crowd. Overall, Raiders of the North Sea feels so put together that I would highly recommend it both for veterans of the worker-placement genre, and those looking for a good intro.

    #2 Mafia De Cuba

    Again, going just by sheer volume of play time, this one definitely makes it high on my list. I’ve played this game easily 100 times since picking it up. Mafia de Cuba is a social deduction game where one player plays a mob boss hosting a dinner for his faithful gang. Unfortunately there are some not-so-faithful thieves at the table who will inevitably steal some of the boss’ precious diamonds, and it will then be the godfather’s sole mission to get them back. The way the game plays is that whoever plays the mob boss will start with a cigar box full of role chips and 15 diamonds. The box then gets passed around the table, everyone has to take something, and then the mob boss holds an investigation to figure out who stole diamonds. The role chips people can take instead of diamonds might make them loyal to the boss, loyal only to the person to their right, or even an FBI agent looking to get accused. What makes this game work so well is that everyone’s motivation can wind up being so complex, in part because everyone is actually choosing what they will be. Most social deduction games randomly assign roles, but allowing choice reduces the level of anxiety that can go along with these types of games and makes it feel like you’re really playing the other people at the table, not just circumstance. I’ve played a lot of good social deduction games in my time, but I think this one is my all time favorite.

    #1 Star Wars: Rebellion

    And finally, the game that I cannot manage to shut up about this year, is Star Wars: Rebellion. When this game first came out I thought to myself, “great, another star wars game from Fantasy Flight. How forgettable!” Now I love me some Fantasy Flight, don’t get me wrong, but the whole Star Wars things has been beaten into the ground since the original trilogy came out and the other stuff by them in this canon has never quite left me hungry for more. But let me tell you, Rebellion knocks it right out of the park. It’s basically the original trilogy from a macro perspective that takes place on a big star maps of all the planets from the universe. 1-2 players take control of the empire, a militarily dominant force looking to conquer as much territory as possible to ultimately find and destroy the secret rebel base. The other 1-2 players play as the rebellion, looking to evade the empire, accomplish strategic missions and run out the clock so the rebellion can spread beyond the empire's ability to control. Although the whole thing really plays out on a large scale, with tons of cool minis and even a few death stars (that’s right, death stars plural), all the actions taken over the course of the game are done with heroes from the movies, that can change up a little from game to game, and that really puts you right into some of the best moments of the original trilogy. Outside of absolutely nailing the theme, this is an incredibly well done strategy game of epic proportions that would likely make it high on my list even if it was skinned differently. It's certainly a big box game, but well worth the price, and I know I’m gonna be playing this one for years to come.

    I would like to conclude with some honorable mention for some games that couldn’t find their way onto this list, mostly because I only played the prototypes. One has to go out to the game Galactic Debate, which was made by a few cool guys I know from Road to Infamy Games. It’s a really fun, improv-based game of alien political debate that I’m certain is gonna be accompanying some late night drunkenness for a while. They had a kickstarter for it that ended earlier this year and it should be available to buy on their website in March. The other one goes out to the game Shut Up, Cat! that’s getting published by another really cool guy I know at Argyle Games. It’s a dice based memory game where each player is competing to be the first to get a full-night's sleep despite the intrusion of their house cat. It’s a super fun little game with a great theme and I eagerly anticipate the launch of the kickstarter that should be coming some time in 2017.