Looking back across the whole year, I feel that the overriding theme of 2017 has been the smaller publishers establishing themselves alongside larger names. Plan B Games, Renegade Studios and Space Cowboys have all become companies that whenever they release a new game, I know I want to check it out.
I've put together a list of my favourite games of 2017, based upon both my appreciation of what they set out to achieve and how much fun I had when playing them. I've only included games that I managed to play, so I can speak with personal experience on all of my choices, and I've used the publication date as listed on Board Game Geek as the easiest method of populating my shortlist (interesting side fact – Board Game Geek contains records of exactly 5000 items released in 2017), then looked through the top 500 or so and eventually managed to narrow it down to my top picks.
Honourable Mention: Legend of the Five Rings (Fantasy Flight Games)
The heavily strategic two-player gameplay coupled with the sheer amount of time and money that ideally needs to be invested into this game to get the most out of it won't make Legend of the Five Rings ideal for many people, but I couldn't do an article on my favourite games of the year without mentioning it. It's the game I think I've played the most this year, even beating out easier-to-the-table games such as Star Wars: Destiny, and I can't praise it highly enough.
10 – Catch The Moon (Asmodee)
Some games have a rule or mechanic that is so perfectly thematic, that teaching it is always the highlight of the rules explanation. Catch The Moon has such a rule. The basics of the game are very simple – roll the dice to determine in what manner you have to add a ladder to the stack slowly building up from a cloud. You place your chosen ladder with a single hand, but watch out! If you cause any ladder to fall off and hit the cloud or the table, the moon begins to cry, and you gain a teardrop token. Whoever made the moon cry least at the end of the game is the winner. This is a fabulous dexterity game with gorgeous components.
9 – Yamatai (Days of Wonder)
Days of Wonder typically release only one large box game a year, but they are always worth checking out. 2015 brought Five Tribes, 2016 brought Quadropolis, and 2017 brought us Yamatai. It pretty much gets a perfect score on the Days of Wonder Bingo Pad with fantastic art and components, a good, usable plastic insert, family friendly theme, clever mechanics and an accessible difficulty level to most players (although we felt that the rulebook could have been better translated). It's actually an abstract puzzle game, but you'd never know from the look of it on the table.
8 – Clank! In! Space! (Renegade Studios)
Clank! is one of the most enjoyable deck-builders that I've played in recent years, and with a companion app offering solo play and a dummy lieutenant to get in your way in multiplayer games, it became my top recommendation for fans of the genre. With Clank! In! Space!, Renegade Games have taken it up a notch, with a more varied board set up and more sci-fi puns than you can shake a supermarket own-brand laser-sword at. The app has also brought everything up a step, with a solo player campaign now supported, which I am yet to try, but itching to get to the table. Thematic, easy to teach, great fun and little downtime completes a perfect deck-building package.
7 – Century: Spice Road (Plan B Games)
This is the essence of resource management euro gaming distilled down into its purist form. Play cards to gain cubes, play other cards to upgrade those cubes into more valuable cubes and then trade those cubes in for points. There are multiple strategies that work equally well as you balance going for a larger number of small value cards or a smaller number of large ones. Family friendly theme and gameplay, easily learned and almost no downtime lead to a fantastic overall product of strategic efficiency. I'm looking forward to the other two planned games in the Century trilogy due out in the next few years. Plan B's gaming debut was just outstanding.
6 – Dice Forge (Libellud)
This was, for me, the biggest hit at this year's UK Games Expo. The customisable dice mechanic works really well, and there is always something good to do on your turn – the only problem is choosing which option to take! The decision to make everyone roll their dice on each players turn keeps you constantly engaged with the game, and makes play flow smoothly and speedily around the table. And the best bit is, that just as you feel you've got a hang of the cards and options available, you can start to swap them out and mix them up, giving a great amount of replayability to the box. Dice Forge is currently awaiting a reprint, but well worth checking out when it comes back stock.
5 – Unlock! (Space Cowboys)
Rarely does a game offer you as many opportunities to feel smart as the Unlock! series of games. The brief rules explanation and the tutorial level only begin to scratch the surface of what the game system is capable of delivering as you sit down for an hour to solve puzzles, spot hidden objects and search for the exit from your situation. The scenarios are varied in style and tone, and each offer a different take on the core mechanics. You can only really complete each scenario once, but in return they offer an experience like almost no other board game I've ever played.
4 – Codenames: Duet (Czech Games Edition)
Codenames was the smash hit of 2016, and it's not surprising that it was quickly followed by variants on the core system. While I could have predicted the Pictures edition and the (unfortunately US only) Marvel edition, I did not predict Codenames: Duet – a two player cooperative version. It takes the core mechanisms from Codenames and turns them into a race against time as you and a friend have only 9 turns to identify which 15 of the 25 words in front of you are your agents. This can be combined with regular Codenames to massively increase the variety of words, and is probably the best two player co-op puzzle game out there at the moment.
3 – Azul (Plan B Games)
Azul is the best abstract strategy game I have ever played, and probably is the best piece of game design I've seen this year, only beaten from the top spots by the legacy games I've played. Azul looks great, it's easy to learn the basics and it doesn't take long to get a grasp of some good strategies. By half-way through my first game, I was planning two or three moves ahead as well as tracking what other people were after to try and ensure my moves were always as close to optimal as possible.
2 – Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 (Z-Man Games)
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 will remain with me as one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had with board games. I was worried that when it came to season 2, there was just no way that they'd be able to live up to my expectations and yet still be able to surprise me. Would they manage to give me enough of the same and yet make it different enough to feel like a whole new experience? As of writing, I'm only about half way through Season 2, but so far – it seems like they've managed it.
1 – Charterstone (Stonemaier Games)
From the moment I started to set up Charterstone, I knew it was probably going to be in my top ten games of the year. After playing my first game, I knew it was going to be in the top two or three. By half way through the campaign, it has become possibly my favourite game of all time, and it feels like ti's only going to go up in my esteem from there. Charterstone is a competitive Legacy game where each player is contributing to the construction of a new village. The art is gorgeous; the gameplay competitive but never mean; the tone charming, welcoming and pure unbridled fun throughout.