The end of 2017 is coming fast, and we’ve had a lot of fun around the tabletop this year. So, before we enter whatever 2018 has in store for us, let’s look back at my personal favorites.
I would like to be clear; these are the games I enjoyed the most that were released in 2017, not necessarily those I played the most. I’ll have something to say at the end about what occupied me.
We’ve all played games where we roll dice, but what about ones where the dice change? That’s what Asmodee brought us with Dice Forge, a game where heroes build their dice through ordeals to win a seat among the gods.
What’s great about this game is how smoothly it flows despite its many complexities. Dice Forge includes resource acquisition, limited actions, card activation, dice upgrades, etc., and yet the rules are simple and the games fast.
I appreciated the quality of the materials, which hold up quite well despite continually attaching and removing them. The artwork was also a lot of fun and gave a high fantasy feel to the experience.
I give Dice Forge a sweet 4 divine blessings out of 5.
For those unfamiliar, Monsterhearts puts players in the role of teenagers who also happen to be creatures of the night. This game is like Sunnydale or Forks, except with more intersectionality and less ignorance or anti-feminism.
The new edition of 2012’s hit RPG, Monsterhearts 2 streamlines the original and adds some new approaches. Alder includes sections on handling sensitive issues as well as asexuality, an important topic given the role (thematically and mechanically) of sexuality in the game.
What I love about Monsterhearts is its ability to explore teenage identity, social norms, peer pressure, and conflict through the lens of the supernatural. As usual, the Powered by the Apocalypse engine helps a lot, as themes like this work best in a story-driven semi-cooperative game.
I give Monsterhearts 2 a tangled 5 strings out of 5.
A strategy game of tree placement, players attempt to outgrow each other through carefully planting seeds. Also, the sun continually moves meaning choice areas may become covered in the shade later, and everyone must choose precisely where and what they’ll grow.
Photosynthesis is excellent not only for its educational aspect but also for its simplicity, with games perfect for pre-teens and often taking under an hour. I love the modest design and components, too, which makes set-up and play relaxed.
I give Photosynthesis a sunny 4 light points out of 5.
The award-winning Magpie Games most recent addition to their amazing products, Bluebeard’s Bride takes roleplaying to a new level. Based on the French folktale, this game breaks from most RPGs by having the group play a single character in a single setting.
Players take the role of different aspects of a new bride’s psyche, as she explores the haunting residence of her husband. Together, they guide her as she explores each room, interacting with servants, discovering secrets, facing psychological or physical challenges, until everyone sees where the story leads… and the fate of the bride.
Part horror, part mystery, and part progressive introspection, Bluebeard’s Bride brings together the best (and darkest) of media like Crimson Peak and American Horror Story. Magpie again masterfully uses the PbtA engine to take cooperative storytelling to new heights.
I give Bluebeard’s Bride a creepy 5 keys out of 5.
The latest craze among tabletop gamers is co-operative survival games, including hits like Dead of Winter and Robinson Crusoe. Awaken Realms continues the tradition with their board game translation of the video game of the same name.
Players work together as civilians in a modern war-torn city, trying to survive by gathering resources, fortifying their building, and defending against soldiers, bandits, and thieves. Players win by making it to the end of the war, but the epilogue takes your actions into account and questions, “Did you really win?”
This War of Mine is beautifully made, in mechanics, design, and experience, creating a dark tale that unfolds over an hour or two. The allegories are blatant, providing a new perspective on everything from Bosnia to Syria, and can leave players with a haunted feel after each game.
I give This War of Mine a tattered 4.5 scripts out of 5.
The above games were those that reached shelves in 2017. They’re not necessarily the games I played the most, which may have come out previous years, so I have two honorable mentions.
First, a salute to all things Star Wars from Fantasy Flight Games. I’ve already written about Rebellion and Imperial Assault, but I also want to emphasize X-Wing. These are all favorites that I play at any opportunity, and FFG continues to enhance with expansions.
Second, Magpie Games’ Urban Shadows dominated my roleplaying this year, and I am in love with the PbtA system. Although the game came out two years ago, it remains a robust system that feels like World of Darkness done right.
Remember, these are just my preferences for this year, and there are plenty of other great games out there. Whatever your choice, from dice to card, competitive to cooperative, board to roleplaying, just remember to keep playing and have fun.
And I know I’m not alone in being excited for what 2018 has in store for us!