Best Art – For me, this year was a delightful year for art with woodland creatures and environs. Renegade Games had a 2-fer here with Atlas: Enchanted Lands and Fox in the Forest – both had beautiful, atmospheric representations of foxes and the like, as well as including some diversity where people were involved. For a non-card game, I have to say that Indian Summer’s look impressed me. From the forest floor player boards, the leafy polyominoes, to the little bonus tokens, and the wonderful creature tiles (hedgehogs and squirrels and foxes oh my), it was rich in its palette and on the table.
Best App / Support App – I’ve really been enjoying the Digidiced Cottage Garden app since it came out. It plays really nicely on the screen size of my phone as well as my tablet, and their app development is just getting stronger and stronger. Graphics look fabulous, and the gameplay is quick; I even enjoyed the tutorial (with Uwe!). Best support app goes to Board Game Stats, because it finally arrived on Android and I’ve been loving it. It looks great, it’s super functional, it has made logging plays a breeze for me – and I’m getting some fabulous insights into my playing habits along the way.
Meanest Game – Two plant-based games – ooh, foliage fury! Both Topiary and Photosynthesis look so tame – quirky bushes and a forest of gorgeous cardboard trees, how pleasant, right? Hmm, no. Cut throat, more like it! Topiary gets its meanness from stealing great scoring spots and placing tall (or short) trees optimally to get yourself points yet block your opponents visitors from seeing the good stuff – plus it’s sweet looking and plays rather quickly! Photosynthesis has you cultivating and crafting your little corner of a forest, but you’d stab anyone in the back for that nice bit of sunshine really. (Plus, the table presence alone is outstanding!)
Most Innovative – Co-operative games certainly aren’t something new, but it’s been really refreshing to see what Magic Maze does. First of all, the quirky theme is a delight – adventurers are at the mall trying to collect cool new equipment. But the idea of each player having a very specific move they can make, and it needs to be made just at the right time, yet nobody can verbally communicate for much of the game? Oh my sides just about split the first time I played. This truly tests a team of players – plus, you can keep it as simple as you’d like for regular play, but the more your group gets it to the table, the more you can ramp up the difficulty (and fun!).
Best Components – I have already proclaimed I’m super into Azul, and with this production quality it was a no brainer for me to choose as best components. Gorgeous stuff – haven’t been disappointed with any Plan B game so far, to be honest! And now Canada’s finally got their game stores stocked with Azul, I look forward to getting this to the table far more in 2018.
Best Card Game – I wasn’t sure if I should pick this title for this category, but it does lean a little more on the card play than rolling dice. Sentient is a fantastic juggling act of dice manipulation, set collection and majority winning all tied up in a candy coloured package. I love that this plays well at all player counts, and although mathy, can be a great game for gamers not well versed in heavy strategy.
Best Co-operative – I had not heard much about Deadline other than it being favourably compared to Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. I got the chance to play through a case when I was at SHUX back in October, and it was so much fun! It felt like a different sort of co-operative game for me – it had a little of the Grizzled in there and some Holmes for sure, but it really felt like we were working as a team of private eyes struggling to get clues and question suspects and witnesses to get to the end of the case. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and it was certainly the co-op game that stuck with me most seriously this year.
Best Theme – I’m a horror movie fan, and it seems like there’s been a sort of endless run on Lovecraft and Zombies when it comes to thematic board game releases in that genre this last while. I’d heard some buzz about The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 online, and even saw that Elijah Wood did a rules overview video for Mondo for the game. Curious, I tried it at BGGcon and have played it since and it really, really hit the button as far as theme went. Just the right amount of suspicion and team play, feeling like you were really doing your best to get the hell out of that snowy station alive. I can’t recommend this enough if you’ve dug games like Dead of Winter and Dark Moon!
Best 2-Player Game – I’m cheating here to pick two games because.. Well, because I can! Ha! This is my end of year wrap-up, dang it all. First of all, Codenames Duet – unsurprisingly, maybe, because Codenames is just the best! But the CGE team did a fabulou thing in properly developing a two player game of this that hits all the right Codenames buttons with a different feel for two players (plus, cooperative! Yay!). Next up is Fox in the Forest – not just because of that gorgeous art or easy gameplay, but because it was high up there on the list of games that really made me realize that I enjoy trick taking games. Plus, this does an amazing job at trick taking for 2! It’s got it all.
Best Light/Filler Game – Usually when I have any sort of garden going on, I’ll grow stuff that is practical – that is, stuff I can eat. Most of my container gardens of the last 10 years have been herbs. So when I saw the theme and the gorgeous art by Beth Sobel, I had to look further into Herbaceous. What I found was a light card game that looked gorgeous, was accessible and – most importantly – fun to play. Set collection and slight push your luck drew me in to back this on Kickstarter, and it’s always a great day when I can introduce it to folks at game day.
Industry Story of the Year – Although my pick for app was not from them, Asmodee Digital have been killing it this year with their releases, big announcements (LOTR LCG game!) and working on do-overs of other apps. They’ve also taken over Playdek apps, which is appreciated because I didn’t want to lose Lords of Waterdeep or Ascension! But honestly – Carcassonne for Android, Jaipur, Potion Explosion, Mysterium … the list goes on, and they’re always on constant rotation for me. The other big “story” was the clash of PAX Unplugged and BGGcon. The tabletop offshoot of the massively popular PAX conventions ended up being on in Philadelphia the same weekend as Texas’ BGGcon (just due to venue availability, no ill will). It was interesting for me being at BGGcon to see the shift of the way the exhibitor hall was staffed due to publishers needing to be in different places at the same time – but there were still many attendees at BGGcon, and it sounds like PAX Unplugged was a great weekend. We’ll see what happens next year when they’ve got some distance from each other.
Best Party Game – I have not had as much fun with any party game this year as I’ve had with Word Slam. From two teams of two up to two teams of… a lot, at conventions, it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve loved Concept since it came out, and while there’s still some fun stuff you can do with that, I feel like i’ll always be reaching for Word Slam when the time comes for some ridiculous charade-esque frantic guessing and clue giving.
Best Kids/Family Game – I don’t usually get a chance to play kids games or often even more family-oriented titles, so it was great for me to get to try Haunt the House and Purrlock Holmes this year! Bonus: both from Toronto design teams! Yay! Haunt lets you act as a ghost spooking ghost hunters for their goodies, and Purrlock is a light deduction game that’s sort of like a less stressful Hanabi. I always think that, if a game’s family weight but I’d like to own it, that’s a good sign – cos, let’s be real – I don’t play games with kids really ever!
Best Gateway Game – I was going to throw down Majesty – For the Realm here (from Splendor’s designer) because it’s a dang solid gateway game, but I need to play it a little more. Let’s call that one an honourable mention. For me, Century Spice Road was the most enjoyable light strategy game this year. Sure, it’s been called the Splendor-killer, but I honestly think it’s got its own thing going on. It plays more like a strategy game that’s super accessible than something more simple like Splendor to me, and I can find a place for both at my table. Not to mention that gorgeous Century Golem special edition with the crystals and the beautiful somewhat-fairytale art! Heck yeah. Interested to see the next Century game coming in 2018 – hopefully it’ll hit this category!
Best Reissue/Reprint – For me, this has been a fantastic year of refreshes of older games! Usually I’m not super fussed, but it seems like publishers knew how to press all my buttons this time around. Of course, Restoration Games were obviously right on brand with this whole category thing, but I especially (and surprisingly!) loved Downforce – it was a delight to discover a sort of racing game that is quick and fun and a hit refresh of Kramer’s older game, Top Race. I also was delighted by CMON’s do-over of Modern Art, in big obvious love with Kokoro, and was amazed at what a breath of fresh air Bezier Games put into New York Slice (nee Piece o’ Cake). In all of these cases, it’s been a polish up and shine for older titles, so it was a rich year for the comeback!
Best Game – Much like Sean, I had a hard time really focusing in on one single game I kept coming back to and couldn’t stop thinking about. So, here’s two: Bärenpark and Sagrada. The former didn’t really stand out in any one category for me, but is enormously fun every single time I play – the puzzle of it, the striving for achievements and all of the cute dang bears just bring it up to the cream of the crop. The latter could have gone for best components or best gateway game, but it is overall such an elegant design that I’ve enjoyed playing so much that it deserves to be elevated to this category. I’ve played both these last few months and have enjoyed them just as much as the first time I tried them and know I have little to no complaints about either. And i’m certainly looking forward to seeing what’s coming from the designers of both titles in 2018. (As a nod to my growing love of roll & writes, as well as my fave game ever – I’ve really loved playing the Castles of Burgundy dice game. It’s so great! Look out for me writing about that soon.)