Rules of Play

A continuation, amalgamation, and expansion on the Corvid Games blog, my geeklist of plays, and whatever the hell else.
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Pick of the Litter 2016

Jack Bennett
United States
North Carolina
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Play. Always.
It's usually around this time each year that I've finally had a chance to play all the new games that I picked up in 2016. There's still a few I haven't had the chance to really dive into yet, but it'll be a while before those get proper playtime. So let's take a look at 2016.

I'll pick my favorite game of the year, but let's start with some runner-ups.

- Talon - I haven't had the opportunity to play this nearly as much as I would have liked, but the few games that I've played have all been really enjoyable. As a Federation Commander fan, it's incredible to play a game that can boil down so much of the logistics of playing and yet keep the same energy management choices and tactical decisions.

- 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis - Though no replacement for the amazing Twilight Struggle, it does give a taste of that game in a fraction of the time. But it's also a clever and engaging game in its own right. It's small, cheap, quick to set up, easy to play, and a tight cutthroat 2-player game.

- Star Wars: Rebellion - On the opposite end of the spectrum is this table-hog of a game. Though the combat is a bit meh, that's a small ding in an otherwise great way to play around in the Star Wars universe. A great example of creating theme through mechanics, the Rebels feel always about to lose, having to rely on guerrilla tactics, quick strikes, and mobility to win. While the Imperials dominate the board in a sea of grey, but constantly fight logistical issues and time. Add in the bluffing and mind-game elements and this is up there with War of the Ring as some of my favorite thematic games.

So, that could only leave one game as my pick of the 2016 litter:

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

AHLCG is something I haven't seen before, which is surprising in 2016.

Yes, it's an LCG, so you're going to be building decks and trying to perfect them. But there's an entire new layer to the deckbuilding choices when the XP system is added in. Deckbuilding is now a protracted affair over the course of a campaign, giving lots of options to not only how you build your first deck, but what your deck looks like at the end and how you get there on the way. Deckbuilding even informs the scenarios you play, as your perfect deck may require that you risk some XP to earn more on a side mission.

Any scenario can be played as a one-off, but the game shines when played through in the campaign mode. This tells a story over the course of many games. There are twists and turns, there are decisions to be made outside of a game. NPCs come and go. Cards are added and removed from your deck. Past successes bolster future attempts and past failures haunt later games.

The campaign design also means that failure is not the end. If you fail a scenario you suffer effects and then move on to the next. The story continues regardless. Which means that any deck, no matter how bad, can see it all the way through to the end. Failure is just a part of the story, it's not the end of the game.

They're pulling out all the stops on scenario and card design, too. Scenarios feel very different, from hunting a creature through a swamp to racing up a train to being hunted by an ever-growing creature through a museum. There are fun story beats that are exciting the first time through, yet scenarios can be played over and over because even with the story known the scenarios are still challenging and fun to play.

Card design is playing with the campaign system in fun ways. One card makes the game harder for you, but gives you XP for leveling up your deck. Is it worth it? One card takes resources to play and time to use that then just adds a keyword to your campaign sheet, with no idea what it may eventually lead to.

This couldn't not be my game of 2016. There are so many decks to build and investigators to try. There are so many scenarios to play and approaches to take. There are so many ways to expand a deck throughout a campaign. It plays well solo or with a group. The story is fun. The art is great. Even the flavor text is wonderful.

Since my overall game of 2016 is also a solo game, it stands to reason that my favorite solo game of 2016 is the same. There were a few other solo offerings this year worth mentioning.

- Silent Victory: U.S. Submarines in the Pacific, 1941-45 - This is a more robust version of The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43 where you're playing as a US sub commander and adding up the tonnage over multiple outings. It's got a nicer presentation, more play options, and a better rulebook. Like other games of this type, the decision space is low (though not absent), and the dice rolls are plentiful. If you're invested in the simulation and the narrative, this isn't an issue.

- Star Trek: Frontiers - A re-implementation of Mage Knight that does two things. First, it smooths over some of the more fiddly rules and streamlines the game without losing the strategic elements or wonderful puzzle of a Mage Knight turn. Though diehard fans of MK probably disagree, for a casual player almost nothing is lost and playability is gained. Parks should be commended for that. Second, it takes Mage Knight and allows me to play it with a better theme. Which is to say "any damn theme at all."

- ComancherĂ­a: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire - I still have to mention this even though I haven't played it. I've read through the rules, I've played with the components. Navajo Wars is one of my favorite games in the past few years, and nothing I've seen so far about this game has me think I'll like it any less. But I haven't played it yet so the best I can do is tell you that it's likely good.

I actually get to play games with my family and non-gamers. So I buy games to play with them as well.

By a long shot, the best game in 2016 for this aspect of my gaming life has got to be Sushi Go Party!. It's a drafting game, pick and pass, and what you pick you lay in sets in front of you. Each card type has a different scoring method. There, rules explanation done.

Being a drafting game, it plays in the same time (quick) no matter the players. The art is cute and welcoming. The scoring gives you some tough decisions on what to draft. The presentation is great, with everything very clearly spelled out on the cards and the tableau. If you get to regularly play games with 2+ people who like lighter fare, this is the way to go.

As far as expansions this year, only one on the list even seems worth mentioning: The Grizzled: At Your Orders!.

I'm a big fan of the Grizzled, so that'll help any expansion look better. But AYO does a few things I really enjoy.

For one, it makes the base game better. It adds a new way to end the game, streamlines a few rules, and gives a bonus to the person who bows out of the round first, which adds another strategic element to the already tough calculus of who should leave and when.

For two, it adds a new system to the base game, that of completing missions. My main gripe with the Grizzled was that most of the strategy was around figuring out how to play the game well, not actually implementing any decisions during the game. The play of the game itself is relatively simple, and implementing a good strategy is not hard. Figuring out that strategy in the first place is the tough part. This expansion adds missions to the game that give you decisions you have to make on the fly, and gives you strategy choices that you have to make mid-game. They're great.

Last, it adds solo. The solo is...fine? You can read detailed thoughts on it here. I would not pick up this game and expansion only for the solo, but if you have this to play multiplayer anyway, you can do worse.

Every litter has a runt; the weak game that gets released that we should all just let die. It was a tough call for me this year. My gut choice was One Deck Dungeon, but I realized that was more due to the difference between how much praise it gets and its actual quality. Objectively speaking the runt of 2016 (of the games I've played, obviously) was Encounters: Shadowrun.

You can read my thoughts on its problems here. Its rulebook sucks, its push-your-luck mechanic is not weighted properly, and it's too damn long. Do not play.

So there's more opinions about last year's gaming. There were some amazing releases last year. I hope all of you were able to find something you enjoy playing nearly as much as I've enjoyed AH:LCG. Let me know what it was!
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