As a newer voice in the board game community, I do my best to stay current and up with “the hotness” but it is difficult to get the newest games to the table immediately. Many of the hyped titles that I have been getting around to playing the past several months are releases from 2018 and 2017.
I have enough of them played (still just a fraction of the total releases each year) that I thought it would be good to look back on these recent years to examine my top picks. I am going to start with 2017 — and as I look at the list — just the games I’ve played (42 from 2017 as of today) — 2017 stands out as an Exceptional year in board gaming.
So, let’s get on to my top 10 games published in 2017 that I have played:
#10 – Magic Maze, Dude Games
This game mostly gets played by my oldest son and myself, but we have a blast. Real-time games can be hit-or-miss, but the pressure feels just right in this game. The two of us work well together when we play and we love the “heat is on” puzzle that we silently must work through.
#9 – Ex Libris, Renegade Game Studios
To start, I love the theme of Ex Libris — a fantasy-setting library. I’m definitely a nerd at heart and the core mechanism of properly organizing books is enjoyable. Add on some mild worker placement, variable player powers, and cool Meeples — I’m digging this game so far!
#8 – Century: Golem Edition, Plan B Games
First off, I absolutely adore the Golem artwork in this game. Every time I acquire enough jewels to add a Golem to my workforce, I make sure to stop and examine the artwork and design — I even try to tell a story regarding the Golems that come to work for me. Now, as for the game itself, it is a pretty simple game with quick turns. It seems like every play would start to feel the same after awhile, but I have found there is enough nuance to keep Century fresh each play. To win, you need to build the right card engine that can push you towards Golem acquisition faster than your opponents. But how you get to that engine will change from play-to-play, based on the market that becomes available and the choices of your competition.
I have developed a particular “rule” that I follow to try and give me an advantage, but it still requires focus and follow-through every play that is harder to accomplish than to plan.
#7 – Gloomhaven, Cephalofair Games
I feel a little weird having Gloomhaven down as far as 7 on this list. It is a marvelous production and I am very appreciative of the grand scope that is put into this game. Some of my favorite aspects of Gloomhaven are the in-between moments. Leveling up, dealing with city and road events, looking over the map, adding stickers for accomplishments…unfortunately, these things occur a little more slowly than I would like. The core of the game is in dungeon battles.
These battles are pretty interesting. The design of the different classes is very cool, the puzzle of how to best use cards is satisfying, and the game includes a strong variety of enemy characters. That said, my group has found that the battles start to feel repetitive after awhile. I know there are some unique scenarios in the game, so if we get to some of those, it may freshen up the experience a little more for us. So, with the downsides that each dungeon takes longer than we’d like (analysis paralysis is heavy!) and the pace of the game is more epic than we’re used to — Gloomhaven really is a wonderful creation by Isaac Childres.
#6 – Spirit Island, Greater Than Games
Let me start with the two main downsides I have with Spirit Island when it comes to ranking it: a) it is cooperative and I tend to prefer competitive games, b) the length of play which makes it harder to get to the table. That said, I can most definitely appreciate how great of a game this is. The theme is very unique and the different spirits you can play with are well-designed. The production of the game is outstanding as well. The thing, though, that I most appreciate about Spirit Island is the puzzle. You will definitely take long, analysis-paralysis-esque turns in this game, but you need to!! Every round, the game provides info on what is about to happen. You and your teammates then have to try and work through the best choices / moves to maximize your effectiveness as you take into account timing of actions by both your spirits and the settlers. The game is hard, but you will definitely feel a high sense of accomplishment upon victory. Spirit Island only being at #6 on my list speaks heavily to a) my own personal play preferences and b) the quality of games from 2017.
#5 – Outlive, La Boîte de Jeu
Outlive is the post-apocalyptic board game that I wanted to play, but didn’t know existed. The theme is dark, but a) is not bogged-down by zombies, and b) is offset by vibrant artwork.
The mechanisms of Outlive hit on many personal favorites. Variable player powers and the opportunity to unlock more powers + Item-crafting for additional powers. Worker placement (with its own unique rules). Resource management. On top of that, you can intimidate your opponents, go hunting for food, and be annoyed when you find an empty cupboard. All of these elements come together in a game that forces you to “do the best with what you got”, work through movement puzzles, and know that you can’t accomplish everything on a turn that you’d like to.
In the true nature of the theme, the game will leave everyone feeling that they “didn’t play very well” regardless of what position you finish in –> which in my opinion, makes a win feel surprising and more exciting!
#4 – 7th Continent, Serious Poulp
7th Continent is a relatively new acquisition for me and I am still in the early stages of game play, but I am excited to see what all happens on this seventh continent as I progress deeper into the world. I really like the save system that makes this an easy restart each time I sit down for another session. Furthermore, the exploration is highly enjoyable — wondering what will be uncovered at each card flip, hoping it is something useful…or at least not devastatingly harmful! I’m very excited to see what the future hours of gaming will unveil for me.
#3 – Downforce, Restoration Games
Are there better games that came out in 2017? Depending on your definition, I would say yes. But Downforce reaches the #3 spot on this list, because of the sheer JOY it brings. There are more brain-challenging games that could be considered, but sometimes the point of a board game is just to have fun! Downforce has provided that for my family and play groups every time.
The card system for racing is well-designed. The variable player powers give everyone just enough asymmetry….and make the auction phase more interesting as well.
But let’s get to the point, racing these colorful cars around the board is why we all show up for this one. And if you have just a little bit of ‘nasty’ in you, you will love those moments of using the tight spaces on the track to block someone else’s car(s) from moving.
With four tracks available currently and two more on the play, I expect Downforce to get played for a long time in my house.
#2 – Pulsar 2849, Czech Games Edition
Generally, I see space-themed board games and start to glaze over. The boards all look the same and the theme seems uninteresting to me — and for some reason, that leads me to believe the rules and game play are uninteresting as well. At game night, earlier this spring, Pulsar 2849 was the feature title, so I was able to give it a try. Man, was I impressed!! The dice-drafting mechanism at the beginning of each round and its impact on the tracks is great. Then, so many great choices when it comes time for action selection. I spent that night thinking about the game as I tried to go to sleep and woke up with it still on my mind.
I’m ashamed that I judged this book by its cover, but I’m glad that I was ‘forced’ into a situation to give it a play. If not for the next title, Pulsar would be my 2017 fave!
#1 – Charterstone, Stonemaier Games
But, Pulsar is not…because Charterstone exists. I know that people will have varying opinions/experiences with this game. For me, this was everything I wanted out of a competitive, campaign/legacy game. I love worker placement in general and it is at the heart of Charterstone. The early sessions were exciting as much of the core game reveal and construction occurred. Mid-way through the campaign, the game really starts to click for everyone and strategies are devised. Then, the back-half of the campaign wonderfully inserted small single-game rules tweaks to keep each game feeling fresh and like a new, strategic puzzle to figure out.
Furthermore, I love the mix of single-game victory goals along with the need to continue working a long-term plan to try and take the overall Campaign Title! I got to play the full twelve-game campaign with my family and best friends (full 6-player count) and loved all 20+ hours of it!
Last, the rules you are left with at the end of the campaign makes Charterstone a compelling game for one-time sessions after the legacy aspect is complete. I am confident Charterstone will continue to hit the table….and we may even buy a recharge pack to start another campaign and see what new directions we can take the series.
That’s my list! I would love to hear what other great games of 2017 you believe deserve to be highlighted.