This has been an interesting year in many ways. From consolidation of the industry into a small number of much larger hobby gaming companies, to the resurgence of some brands and companies, there has been a lot of jockeying and movement as the industry continues to grow.
And to be honest, it looks like that kind of year. For the explosive innovation of 2015, there was a lot of refinement and 2.0 releases in 2016 – games that took what their predecessors did and made it better. I love that – I think it’s a sign of evolution in a hobby (as long as we don’t see it every year and as long as innovation is still happening).
At the same time, there’s the very real issue of price and scope. All but one game on our list cost at least $50 and three managed to ding the $100 price point (with several more up and around that number). This is becoming more and more the norm, and it’s hard to know if this level of pricing is sustainable in the long term.
For now, though, we can enjoy some darn good games that hit our tables a whole heck of a lot in 2016.
There are several games that hit just a little too late this year to get the kind of plays needed for consideration on this list, but that are really good thus far. Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, First Class, Arkham Horror: The Card Game – all fantastic games that could use a deeper dive and may very well end up on a flashback episode for this year in the not too distant future.
10 – Great Western Trail
Alexander Pfister’s newest game hit US shores just a few weeks ago and is still getting into rotation in a lot of game groups, but it’s already one of the best games of the year. The careful combination of mechanics – from deck building to victory point management and map control all work together seamlessly for an enjoyable experience that, while a bit long, really drives home how great of a designer Pfister has become.
Great Western Trail is a game that I will be playing a lot in the new year, and that I can easily see making its way onto awards lists later in the year. If you haven’t yet, track this one down.
9 – Via Nebula
Martin Wallace brings something unique to the table in his cartoony and fun fueled Via Nebula. While the price point makes it tough to move this game, the gameplay earns it a place on our best of the year list and a game that if you can find it or a friend owns, you should absolutely give a play.
Whether you’re a huge Martin Wallace fan or are just intrigued by the artwork and whimsical feel of this game, it’s a fun one – give it a try.
8 – Quadropolis
Ticket to Ride level city building and tile laying in a Days of Wonder package? Sign me up. I snagged this one as soon as it released and have been playing it ever since. The elegant management of the tile display and the fact that this takes only a few minutes to teach and has no language reliance, makes it a perfect one for both game groups and families.
There are so many fun decisions to make this in game and it remains so straightforward and simple to both learn and teach. It’s well worth giving this one a go.
7 – Mare Nostrum: Empire
This epic game of empire building in the world of ancient Rome is beautiful to look at and exciting to play. With numerous options for your empire, so many interesting decisions to make on the board and exceptional graphic and artwork design, this is a game that war players, area control board gamers, and every one in between owe it to themselves to play.
And if you’re at a con in the near future, check out the super sized map and components – not at all practical but so cool.
6 – Mechs vs. Minions
This was the big surprise release of the year and boy was it worth it. Coming from Riot Games, the multimillion dollar video game company that had never released a board game before, Mechs vs Minions benefited strongly from big fans of board games getting a limitless budget to put together a love letter to the hobby.
It’s massive, it’s beautiful, it’s chockful of fantastic gameplay (with programming!) and it costs half what any other company would have had to charge.
5 – Star Wars Rebellion
Just a couple of years ago, we couldn’t have imagined Fantasy Flight releasing an honest to goodness Star Wars board game. Dice. Cards. Miniatures. All of the above.
But no board games, and now we have two in two years – with Rebellion quite literally giving you the reins to rebuild and run through the original trilogy in a two player board game. This is epic on the scale of War of the Ring and the best Star Wars experience currently out there.
4 – A Feast for Odin
Uwe Rosenberg has been making bigger and bigger boxes for his games in an attempt to dominate the top shelves of all heavy euro players. A Feast for Odin earns that spot with a crazy but ultimately extremely satisfying combination of mechanisms – from occupation cards making a comeback to the integration of dice for key actions on the worker placement board (which has 60+ spaces!) and the puzzle-like placement rules for your pieces.
This game has the sandbox feel of Fields of Arle, the puzzle-like nature of Caverna, and the variability and replayability of Agricola all jammed together in one brilliant euro that’s absolutely worth getting if you’re an Uwe fan.
3 – The Castles of Burgundy: Card Game
Stefan Feld had another banner year, with three major releases – all scratching a different itch. From the Viking-themed reprint of The Speicherstadt we’d all been waiting for to the race-style pick up and deliver mechanics of Oracle of Delphi (no points in a Feld!) he remains at the top of his game.
But it’s this small box card game – a reimplementation of The Castles of Burgundy – that takes the top spot from us. It’s smaller, quicker, and more accessible, and it’s utterly addictive. From the streamlined set collection mechanisms to the great solo options out of the box, this game has hit the table a lot for all of us this year.
2 – Terraforming Mars
We didn’t know this game existed until about two weeks before Gen Con, but as soon as we read about it, we knew we had to have copies, zipping to the Stronghold booth at opening. It’s been hard to find for a lot of people since, and Terraforming Mars remains the most sought after and exciting game of the year.
From the nearly 300 unique cards offering near infinite engine building opportunities to the shared goals that force players to work together while trying to mitigate growth as they build their own machinery and cities – it’s such a good game. Poor quality components and some issues with the box and insert hold it back a little, especially when combined with a fairly high price point, but for gameplay alone, this one deserves a spot near the top of the list.
1 – Scythe
A little over a year ago, we were talking about our Number one game in the future tense. The largest Kickstarter launch of all time for a straight board game and one of the hottest and most hyped games of all time – and YET, the demand managed to outstrip the game even more when it finally released. Scythe may not be the best board game of all time, but it’s definitely the best of 2016.
From its beautiful, evocative artwork, to a combination of euro and combat-based mechanics that will draw in players from both camps, to the fact that it already released an expansion just 5 months after launch – this behemoth from Stonemaier Games will be around for a long time to come.
What about you? What games topped your list for 2016? Do you disagree with any of our selections? Feel like we left something off that deserved a spot on this list? Let us know in the comments below – especially if there’s one we haven’t played yet that you feel we should.