Best Week 2016, Overlooked!

Wee Aquinas realizes that

Like the slow release of a long-held breath, Best Week 2016 has begun. For the vast majority of the internet, this is old news, to be expected, and all’s well now that it has arrived. For the rest of you, the first-timers and late-goers, we welcome you to the most objective, least biased, most correct of any Best List in the history of this year. Five days, 40 games, only the best.

Today we celebrate the games you probably didn’t play — only worse, you probably didn’t even hear about them. These are the short geniuses in a tall crowd, the unsung heroes in a battle of choirs, the board games with insufficiently-staffed public relations departments.

#8. Android: Mainframe

cultural appropriation, maybe, probably

Dots & Boxes II: The Dotty Emboxening

The thing about Mainframe is that it’s just Dots & Boxes with some magical hacker powers spackled over the cracks. But the thing about that is that pretty much everybody loves Dots & Boxes, at least in comparison to sitting through whatever thing your parents made you attend with them. Mainframe taps into that familiarity: big boxes good, little boxes less good, and there’s nothing wrong with magical hacker powers. It’s the sort of game that looks like thrift-store material — and maybe is, when you get right down to it — but plays surprisingly well while hitting the odd nostalgic note. Review.

#7. Ferox

It's not a machine, but, well, I'm not about to disparage anything you make buddy.

Did you do that all by yourself?

Some games are just too sticky for their own good, especially when that stickiness is actual human guts. Ferox strives to capture both the gruesome immediacy and the drawn-out death rattles of the cannibal horror genre, and largely succeeds by pitching its action as a seesaw where players swap their motivation to cause carnage. Review.

#6. V-Wars

Still hanging out, though this time in Asia! How anticlimactic! Oh, one's a vampire.

“Beloved Child Stars: Where Are They Today?”

Somewhere between the success of Pandemic Legacy and the critical sigh that was SeaFall, Rob Daviau decided to cram every last one of his leftover gameplay notes from Pandemic into the ruby-tinged V-Wars. Where traitors and vampires had previously defied the shoehorn’s call, they at last found a home. And a surprisingly good one when you got right down to it. Massing soldiers to fire live rounds into crowds of vampire protesters, only to realize you’d gone too far, caused a massacre, and helped your enemy’s public image — it was all surprisingly clever and subtle for Yet Another Traitor Game. Perhaps too subtle, since almost nobody played the thing. Review.

#5. Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space

Real genuine portrait. I'm never entering another

Left: me.

Being the published version of a five-year-old game that anybody could print and play in the comfort of their home office certainly didn’t help Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space crash onto the scene with meteoric import, and that’s a big squishy shame. This is one of the best stealth games of all time, portraying its infested space stations as scratching noises and distant yowls, followed by a panicked sprint for the escape pod and probable dismemberment and incorporation into a dehumanizing hive mind. This is the game that made me afraid of the dark again. Now with felt-tipped pens and dry-erase notebooks. Review.

#4. Dragon Punch

And I have. Most stalls have that little foot-window specifically so you can reveal your Dragon Punch hand. TrueFacts.

I can play on the divan, I can play it on the can.

The beauty of Dragon Punch isn’t that it comes in a corny plastic wallet, the sort of thing you might have toted around in middle school. No, scratch that: the beauty of Dragon Punch is that it comes in a corny plastic wallet. No, really. This is a game that’s all about being played anywhere you desire. On the bus? Sure. Recess? Guess so. Lunch break? Why not. Roller coaster? Give it a shot. Even better, the game itself is a perfectly wonderful brawler that outperforms the paper-rock-scissors formula it riffs on. Which makes it all the more tragic that it seems to be getting played nowhere at all. Review.

#3. Neolithic

There's even an expansion. It's equivalently pretty.

Prettiest Game of the Year #451.

I’d say that John Clowdus’s designs aren’t noted for their imagery, but that’s not actually true. Neolithic is perhaps the ugliest title from Small Box Games in a while. It looks like somebody just learned about the cell color-shading toolbar in Excel. But behind that boxy exterior lurks a terrifically playable jaunt into village management, hunting, heredity, and the dawn of culture. Review.

#2. Heir to the Pharaoh

Just kidding. Nile sunrises are redder than our cold steel mountain sunrises.

Light of the sun dawning over the Nile, not included.

Speaking of culture and prettiness, Heir to the Pharaoh sports both, its miniature Nile slowly peppered with monuments, temples, and a big honking pyramid. Every little piece of this puzzle matters, whether on the board or off it, and there’s enough understated trickery to appeal to anybody willing to make an effort past that first fumbling attempt. If this were a list of the Best Games of 2016 That Were Misunderstood by Critics, this would have ranked at number one. Review.

#1. Clockwork Wars

I'd crack a joke, but it would undermine my honesty.

More innovative than it looks. Honestly.

The coolest thing about Clockwork Wars is that it knows exactly how to pull off a twist ending. By making orders simultaneous, putting research right out on the board where it can be captured by anybody with enough gumption, and splitting its attention between armies, logistics, income, heroes, and spies — and somehow making them all feel crucial without relying too much on any one sector — this is the sort of game that never plays out how you expected. A stodgy points-counter where you know who’s going to win many turns before the final count, this is most decidedly not. Instead, you’ll have daring thrusts, cautious feints, and a constant barrage of moves you didn’t see coming, but could have if you’d been just a little bit more attentive. Review.

And that’s it! Tomorrow we’ll be talking about the best adorable games of 2016. In the meantime, feel free to let me know how wrong I was in the comments section. Everybody loves that.

Posted on December 26, 2016, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Good list! 1, 5, and 6 got my attention enough to read the more in-depth reviews. Not sure I had heard of any of these when they were first published.

    • Then I consider this list a success! I was afraid I’d get a bunch of know-it-alls in here, bragging about how none of these are obscure games because they happen to have heard of them.

  2. I have to brag, I knew about every single one of these games. From here, of course, but knowing is knowing.

  3. This list makes me so happy. V-Wars, Neolithic, and Clockwork Wars were all surprises from earlier this year, and I think the only one I discovered on my own was Neolithic. I’ll be checking out Heir to the Pharaoh soon, and might consider Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space too. We’ll see.

  4. Thanks for putting Alf Seegert’s Heir to the Pharoah on my radar. I’ll be seeking that out now.

  1. Pingback: Best Week 2016, Indexed! | SPACE-BIFF!

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