Each year, reviewers put together their lists for the best games that have come out over the past twelve months, and while there’s definitely some variety on the lists, you often see the same titles again and again. Inevitably, some games rise to the top of the collective conscience and others fall off the radar. We wanted to try something a little different, so here are five of our favourites from the past year, that got pretty good reviews, but we thought could do with a little more attention. We haven’t seen them on too many lists for the best of the year, but any gamer will have a fun time with these sleepers from 2016.
Sea of Clouds
Théo Riviere’s simple pirate adventure through the clouds does some interesting things with push-your-luck and set collection mechanics. As players move from island to island in the sky they’ll come across loot to be divided up. They look at the first set of loot and decide to take it or move on. If they pass on it they have to add another card, making it more enticing for the next pirate who comes across the stash. However, there are some crappy cards in the deck, that can sour an entire share, if they end up there. Throughout the game, players collect Relics, acquire Objects and Rum, and hire Pirates to join their crew. There are a lot of different strategies to employ, and taking a share of loot you think will be valuable to someone else, is sometimes as helpful as taking a good share for yourself. Helping to complete the aesthetic is the marvelous art by Miguel Coimbra. It’s playful and colourful, and really makes you feel as if you’re flying through the clouds collecting treasure.
There’s something about a dwarven-themed mine adventure, with a push-your-luck element that really gets me excited, and Quartz was one of the best games to come out this year in that genre. Over five days, players will delve into the mines and collect precious stones, while trying to avoid the worthless, and unstable obsidian. The longer they stay in the mine, the more they’ll be rewarded with bravery bonuses, but the bigger risk they’ll run as well. That’s not to mention the cards that add a totally fun take-that mechanic to the game. Just when you think you’ve got a good run going someone’s going to come along and mess you up! Quartz is a light, fun game that is easy to learn and doesn’t overstay its welcome. As an added bonus, it will help identify which of your friends are jerks.
In our full review of Arcane Academy, I mentioned that it was a surprise of a game from Eric Lang and Kevin Wilson. Not that it was a bad thing at all, just not the result I would’ve expected from those two designers. Even more surprising, is the fact that I saw relatively little coverage for this fun, engaging puzzle of a game. To be fair, both Wilson and Lang had much bigger releases that may have overshadowed this on a bit. In Arcane Academy, the wars of the future are fought by powerful wizards. Players take on the role of students, training for eventual battles. They’ll learn new spells and collect items in exchange for shards and will. The really fun element is designing your personal boards with tiles that allow you to choose your actions. A good design can lead to huge combinations on your turn. School was never this fun in my day.
What an interesting idea for a game. It’s a deck builder that forces you to be constantly thinning out you deck, by isolating certain cards and leaving yourself with only that valuable Xenon in order to gain goals, money, then buy/install equipment. It’s always nice to see a game that takes a well-tested mechanic and tries to do something new with it. This game is one of the most thematically original ones we played all year. It’s an idea that should be a big hit with science nerds…like us. Xenon Profiteer flew under the radar, but it’s well worth checking out.
Pi Mal Pflaumen
It’s perhaps not that surprising that a trick taking game didn’t create a huge amount of buzz, but like some of the other games on this list, it’s the innovation of the mechanic that makes Pi Mal Pflaumen a real winner. Players compete over three different rounds, taking tricks, in an effort to collect certain cards. You may have played the best card in a round, but will choose to take the lower pear, because that’s what you need to complete a set. I love how the dog card will protect you from some of your thieving opponents and putting high scoring combinations together is immensely satisfying. The art is this game is pretty beautiful. It’s reminiscent of an old botany text book that tries, through illustration, to faithfully recreate flora. Great fun, quick to learn, and satisfies fans of trick taking games.