Our Favorite Games of 2017
It’s February! What better time for a list of our favorite games of 2017?! The Board Game Barrage tanks got together, argued for hours, and came up with a selection that’s more or less representative of us as a group. It was a good year for games, so it’s criminal how many greats we had to leave off just by necessity, but they live on in our collections and in our hearts. Let’s get right to it:
10. Meeple Circus
You’ll never guess what game used to be in this spot … and you’ll never know. But, once you play Meeple Circus, a cutesy mess of stacking meeples and embarrassing your friends, you’ll understand why we had to include it here. Dexterity games often get a bad rap from a certain type of board gamer. You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy! But I defy you to find one person who has played Meeple Circus and wasn’t crying laughing at their friend’s uncontrollable tremor as they sing along to Entrance of the Gladiators. Yeah, that’s what “the circus song” is actually called. Who knew?
You see, while Meeple Circus is mostly about assembling wobbly towers of tiny people, it’s really all about that final round where you’ll also have to perform one of a set of ridiculous challenges. Alone. While everyone watches. Think you can assemble your circus with one hand? Or no thumbs? Or while inventing the dark and twisted backstories of your performers? It’s all fun and games until you knock your entire show to the floor ten seconds before the music ends. I actually think tightrope walking might be less stressful. – Neilan
9. Spirit Island
It’s gotta be hard to break out of Pandemic’s shadow. It doesn’t help that, ten years on, Pandemic is still alive and kicking in Legacy form. But where does that leave the non-legacy, non-campaign co-operative game? In a lot of ways, I see Spirit Island as the answer to that question, and one of the best evolutions of the genre that Pandemic popularized. The gist of this game of anti-colonialism is that you, the players, are living spirits of the Dahan nation. To chase away invaders, you’re blessed with insane elemental power, spooky fear mongering, and the best fictional names ever committed to writing. Excuse me, Sharp Fangs Behind the Leaves, have you met my friend, Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares?
As colonists spread and build and ravage your island, it’s up to you to drive them back, often fighting alongside the natives. But unlike Pandemic, you’re rarely cursing your bad luck – gods and spirits don’t play dice, after all. You’re always a turn ahead, so plan, coordinate, and fight back with one of the most satisfying power curves in any co-op game. Each spirit handles very differently, so there’s a lot of replayability, not to mention different map setups, enemy play styles, and two decks of card abilities. I guarantee you’ll keep coming back, or my name isn’t Shadows Flicker Like Flame. – Neilan
8. Battle For Rokugan
Battle For Rokugan is a smoother than smooth area-control game in the vein of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Set in Feudal Japan in the Legend of the Five Rings universe, each player deploys hidden orders to the board, raising the tension turn by turn as you watch your opponents point their order tokens into your homeland. But it could be a bluff! They are, after all, trying to get you to waste your resources.
The game distills down much longer area-control games, and allows you to quickly play through something that feels heavier. The whole thing takes less than 2 hours, meaning you just might… run it back immediately. – Kalen
CrossTalk has two teams trying to guess the same word, but each time your leader gives a clue, the other team gets to guess first. This leads to a hilarious game of chicken as you try to help your team without helping the other team. Before each round, the leaders give their team a hidden clue that serves as context for the rest of the round. CrossTalk is a party game for both strategy gamers and your family members who have tried simpler games and came away unfazed.
It’s a truly great party game in that it seems to have unlimited replayability, because like the best board games, you aren’t just playing a game—you are playing your opponents. – Kalen
6. Sol: Last Days of a Star
Sol: Last Days of a Star, a indie sci-fi game from 2017, will have you dreaming of movies like Interstellar and Sunshine. You play as an alien race slowly orbiting around the sun awaiting its explosion and your species death. The game combines a very simple ruleset, with abstract puzzly gameplay. Your mothership can spawn tiny ships, which you arrange into formations to create structures to help you score points and make new types of units.
What really makes the game is that every turn your mothership slowly rotates around the sun, meaning you have to plan to utilize the other player’s structures, as you will likely only be back in this quadrant of space one more time. You must always look ahead around the curve to see what your opponents have been creating, and how you could best take advantage of their buildings. The game feels unlike anything else, which in and of itself is enough to land on a best of 2017 list. – Kalen
5. Guards of Atlantis
Even if you’ve never played a MOBA, or don’t know what MOBA means, chances are you know someone who could tell you. After all, video games like League of Legends and Dota 2 remain among the most played in the online scene – and finally, there’s a board game that does the genre justice. To summarize: Pick a hero. Pick a team. Kill the enemy team’s minions, before the enemy team kills yours. Don’t die. DON’T DIE. OH GOD YOU DIED YOU FEEDER LEARN TO PLAY YOUR HERO. Sorry. Bad habit.
Guards of Atlantis employs a simultaneous card selection mechanic that makes your fate entirely your own – there’s no luck in play. And with eight different heroes to choose from (two more in an expansion), each of which feels very unique … well, it’ll take a lot of plays to master. If you’re willing to make an event of it, you’ll get a team vs team experience with pushes, pulls, and agonizingly close calls. All the drama and tension you might expect from the video game genre is reproduced faithfully. Make sure to play with abusive teammates who threaten to quit halfway, for maximum authenticity. – Neilan
The first thing that strikes you when you see Azul on the table is the beauty of it. You may not be familiar with the Portuguese azulejos these glimmering, gorgeous, heavy tiles are meant to evoke (we certainly weren’t) but that knowledge isn’t necessary to appreciate the satisfaction that the look and the heft of the pieces communicate. But in a time when amazing game production is nearing the norm, it is the stunning mechanics of Azul that set it apart.
You’ll likely hear the wonderful clinking of the tiles in your hand as you shuffle them absentmindedly, debating yet another devilishly difficult decision this angelic appearing game has placed at your feet. As with all the very best abstract games, the rules are simple but the strategy is deep… and it is this marriage of visual and mechanical beauty that makes Azul an instant classic. – Mark
3. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31
The social deduction genre is a crowded one in the board game world. Classics like The Resistance, Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica have spawned hundreds of imitators and resulted in a saturated and often mediocre field. All this makes the emergence of the fantastic The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 all the more wonderful and surprising. It does the “I’d really like to help guys, but I honestly don’t have anything for this mission!” thing that Battlestar Galactica pioneered and did so well but streamlines it in a way that games like Dark Moon tried, but never seemed to get quite right.
Most importantly, it provided us with more pulse pounding, stand-up-from-the-table-screaming-in-disbelief moments than any game in 2017. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 reminds us why we love social deduction games so much and proves there may be more thrills and laughs to be mined from the genre yet. – Mark
Twenty years ago, my brothers and I played a dungeon crawling game at a friend’s, an experience that led us to a board game store on a mission to track it down. What we found instead was an entire hobby. A lifestyle, even. In all the intervening time, I never did get my own copy of HeroQuest, but it probably could never have lived up to the idea I’d built up in my head. Nostalgia can be a cruel thing.
Gloomhaven plays like the best version of my half-imagined memory of HeroQuest. I never took to tabletop roleplaying like DnD, and Gloomhaven isn’t trying to be that, but now I understand the thrill of gathering with friends around a table to return to a familiar place, to explore (to slay, mostly) a world that exists almost entirely inside our own heads. It’s a game of deep interlocking card-driven systems, where placement and timing matters. The intricate design slowly reveals itself to the player as they encounter new enemies and mold their hero, all while cleverly sidestepping the dice chucking that typifies the genre.
Oh, did I mention that there are almost a hundred scenarios? Seventeen classes? More cardboard than a box factory? Did I mention that all this was written and designed by one guy? Gloomhaven is an incredible achievement, and for my money, the de facto dungeon crawling experience in a box. If you can justify the time to devote to its massive campaign, you’ll uncover a rich world absolutely worth exploring. – Neilan
1. Sideral Confluence: Trading and Negotiating in the Elysian Quadrant
At first blush, Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiating in the Elysian Quadrant seems to undertake a task as unwieldy as its mouthful of a title. Specifically, striving to take a medium weight Euro with all the cube pushing, resource converting and engine building you’d expect, and then making one of its central mechanics pure negotiation. And while the title might leave something to be desired, there is little but brilliance in the way the design meshes these two seemingly unrelated gaming styles together. The Euro half stands firmly on its own, providing all the puzzles, resource management and cool, unique alien race specific powers you could ever want.
The magic, however, is in the way the titular trading and negotiating is woven in. It permeates the game. You’ll be dealing early and often, but somehow in such a way that all that negotiating feels fun and encouraged and beneficial to all parties involved. Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiating in the Elysian Quadrant takes two well worn game styles, the Euro and the Negotiator and combines them into something fresh and amazing… and Board Game Barrage’s Game of the Year, though maybe not the title of the year. – Mark