#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)
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.