New Year, Old Year: 2016 Revisited
Accountability. It’s the ability to be honest that, yes, I just used the same intro line as last year. Because introductions are difficult.
Today we’re revisiting my selections for Best Week 2016, the forty games that stood head and shoulders above the rest by my reckoning, and discussing whether they’ve held up over the intervening year. Basically, this is my reality check. Speaking only for myself, these are the games that stuck around, as well as the ones that disappeared from my table. Or worse, my memory.
This is going to be a long one. So if you’d rather skip straight to a particular list, you can take a look at the best overlooked, adorable, iterative, educational, and unique games of yesteryesteryear.
Day One: Overlooked!
What I Got Right!
It was tempting to open with a joke. “Well, maybe these were overlooked for a reason! Hardy har!”
Except, hey, most of these are games that I still enjoy. Dragon Punch has a place of permanent residence in my travel backpack, which means it doesn’t appear every day, but its surface-less-ness means you’ll catch me playing on a flight, while waiting in a long line, or once the conversation has run thin at a restaurant. I recently played it while sitting around in a Hawaiian airport, for example. It’s fast and easy like that, and if my boarding pass gets called earlier than expected, it’s no big deal to quit half-finished.
Neolithic is similarly accessible, though it isn’t about to fit on an airplane tray table. It still remains one of my favorite games from John Clowdus, even if its expansion didn’t particularly thrill me. I keep a portion of my game shelves open for small titles like this, perfect as fillers or for those evenings when I want to play something breezy with Somerset.
Played less often but still ranking on my list of classics are Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space and Clockwork Wars. The former is one of the easiest stealth games to get onto the table, as simple as it is fast, incredibly thick with paranoia as you try to guess who’s who in the dark, and its dry-erase setup means that you can bounce between two or three maps in a single session without even bothering to fiddle with components. Meanwhile, Clockwork Wars remains one of the smartest underrecognized designs of all time, a blend of simultaneous action selection — which you write down on a notepad, just in case you wanted to feel old-fashioned — and really smart intersecting technologies and units. These are both games that I would recommend wholeheartedly to someone looking for lesser-known titles.
What I Got Wrong!
We’ll start with the unsurprising ones.
Mainframe was too simple. Or maybe it was just too dumb. Either way, it was basically a plus-version of that dots and boxes game that kids play in church when they’re supposed to be listening to the sermon, and when that’s the case, why not just bring a pencil to church? I still think it’s a cool idea, especially considering the hacking powers that manipulate how the game is played, but ah well, I’ve never returned to it.
Ferox and V-Wars were the year’s titles that went out of print and inflated in value until, when somebody asked what my price was, I hesitated for all of twenty seconds before responding with an amount. In Ferox’s case, the game was appropriately grisly and claustrophobic, but failed to keep my attention over other, smarter card games. V-Wars was smart, but for all its smartness was simply too underdeveloped, riddled with too many clarity issues, and similar to too many other traitor games to even remain in my memory. It’s a bad sign if I don’t even remember your game a year later. On the plus side, at least these lists occasionally catch me by surprise!
The last entry is more a note of regret, because Heir to the Pharaoh truly is an underappreciated gem. It’s rocking this impeccable aesthetic, gets players to construct a miniature Egypt that looks oh so nifty and matters in terms of spatial gameplay, and got totally panned by critics who I’m not convinced actually played the thing. Alas, two is my most overloaded player count. You’re competing with the likes of Summoner Wars, BattleCON, multiple Small Box Games per year, those little Button Shy wallet games, and every dueler that splashes onto the scene. Good or not, Heir to the Pharaoh just couldn’t keep up.
On the next page, cuteness.