There’s a reason for my list being last – and one that was published in 2018 – and it’s that I struggled a bit with what should find its way into this post. It’s not that there were too many games. In a sense, there were too few.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think 2017 was a bad year for gaming. It was pretty good, actually, with many great games coming out. Enough to fill both Andrei’s and Kuba’s lists with games both brilliant and (in my opinion) simply solid enough to become keepers in sizable collections. Still, since my gaming habits begun to diverge from that of both Andrei and Kuba, I elected to go with a slightly different approach to my list: one that compartmentalizes and categorizes my gaming experiences. Here’s what I ended up with.
I love card games, so in the past I used to play a lot of them. While it seemed that picking just one to take the trophy for 2017 would be a difficult task, I went with Quests of Valeria by Daily Magic games in a blink of an eye.
Being pretty much a card version of Lords of Waterdeep, a game I really adore, Quests is fast playing, beautifully illustrated, fresh and immensely replayable. This is truly a game you want to play again right after you’ve finished counting points (or grab it and run to a new group of players to share the joy), and although for me it’s best with no more than three players, it’s still a game I’d probably really play anytime and with anyone.
Plus, Quests of Valeria is also the cleanest and most effective design I’ve ever seen, with just the player aid being able to explain you the whole game. Truly outstanding!
2017 was the year of the brilliant (but also a bit confusing) SuperHot, a game by Board&Dice which I now officially played to death – and won handily many a time (which I admit with pride, as it is a tricky one). While not hitting the mark as precisely as the winner, every solo gamer and deckbuilding fan should let SuperHot take them to task at least once.
I have three words for you: Gloom of Kilforth. Create a hero, go on a multi-layered quest, get loot, learn spells, slay monsters, make friends, get a title, and have loads and loads of fun while doing it all. Then sit down to do this again, seeing the story that unfolds very differently than the last time around. This game is a blast!
Okay, Gloom of Kilforth did sometimes make me want to bite off a piece of my table (bite a piece – not flip the whole thing – because I’m not a barbarian) when dice rolls with no luck mitigation would go medieval on my backside, so the game is not without its faults. Still, it’s an unbelievably awesome and truly epic adventure in a box – and a gripping labour of love.
Massive Darkness, a game that follows the CMON formula almost to the letter, including (but not limited to): shipping with a ridiculous number of minis (some of them barely useful), sporting a name that is silly even for a dungeon crawler, and having some elements crudely sewn into an already complete game as a community-requested afterthought (campaign mode, I’m looking at you). So, what made this one a contender? Simply put, it’s the amazing experience it can provide for a group of people looking for some old school dungeon crawling, with the simplicity and effectiveness of its core rules, and the sheer fun factor they provide.
Here’s where it gets ugly. It gets ugly figuratively, as competition was somewhat fierce for this trophy, and it gets literally ugly, as the game that won my personal Best Eurogame trophy is Gentes.
A work of game design art, both unbelievably innovative (I can’t really find a game that would be mechanically similar enough to say that it’s like Gentes only it does x and y differently), and unusually cruel, Gentes exhibits all the best features of a truly magnificent Eurogame: it uses random card draw only to make the game more replayable, while leaving the rest to players’ actions and decisions. It strongly favours the more experienced player, while being discreetly unforgiving in a way that does not discourage new players, while allowing the veterans to make clear assessments of their mistakes. And it allows for quite a few viable strategies, as long as you can execute them effectively. In short, Gentes is amazing, and if you’re not faint of heart, you should definitely play it as soon as you can.
I’m going to cheat and name two runners up: Heaven & Ale and Pulsar 2849. Both brilliant games, and both innovative enough to have other players run for the hills when you start explaining some of their core concepts (the dice median in Pulsar, and the pre-scoring resource exchange procedure in Heaven & Ale). However, once you survive the wave of fear and doubt, you’ll end up with gaming experiences that are as different from anything else as Gentes is, and almost as satisfying and replayable.
At least half of the games I’ve named thus far are (or can be) played competitively, but none of them are created to be as fiercely and furiously competitive as Warhammer Underwordls: Shadespire.
Played in under 40 minutes, this sharply focused game of tactical mayhem is a refreshing new take on miniature gaming, and Games Workshop’s cracking entry into the world of pro-tournament gaming. Shadespire’s clean and crisp design is unbelievably efficient, making for a game that can be explained in five minutes, and enjoyed for years to come – even without a single expansion. It’s a balancing act between tactical movement, hand management and pre-game deckbuilding, that works so furiously well, that if I was pushed against the wall to name the best game of 2017, I’d name Shadespire without hesitation.
There is none. The last new game so sharply tuned to be competitive was Star Wars: Destiny, but that one came out in 2016. So, all I can say now is that if you’ve not played Shadespire, go play it now. I’ll even be fine if you don’t read the rest of this post.
There are some games that are missing from this list – games I feel I should mention, as they came into the picture in 2017 somehow, but haven’t had a chance to leave a lasting mark yet.
Obviously, Gloomhaven is not here – and it seems that in 2017 it’s almost obligatory to put this monster on a list of best games. I have not, and not because I did not like it, but because I have not yet gotten to play it. Same goes for Monolith’s Conan, for Too Many Bones, and for 878 Vikings – all Kickstarters that landed at my place in the last weeks of 2017, and all of them still waiting to be played.
The above means that I am entering 2018 with a bit of homework – but also with some new games on the horizon – games I’m hoping to fall in love with. That is a great perspective to have FOR 2018 – and I hope yours is similar!
Happy New Year!