Brandon's Top 25 of 2017
Brandon Kempf
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So, you know how difficult it is sometimes to just pick a game for game night? You have the entire game group just saying, pick anything, we’ll play it and have a good time, but yet you sit there and you search and search for the perfect game? Well, that’s kind of what happened to me here. I was originally going to do a Top 10 Games of 2017, but my fear of commitment to 10 games, caused this to blossom into a Top 25 Games of 2017, which I think may be more interesting. This way we know where I stand on more games, not just my 10 favorites. You may notice some notable absences here, 7th Continent I do not own, Gloomhaven, not enough invested in it to give it a fair shake or even get a good feel for the game, Ethnos which is just bad, Pie Town which left us wanting less(?) & Nusfjord, which I have played twice, but I just don’t think it’s a good game(for me).

I think you are going to see a natural progression in plays as we get closer to number 1, these first few titles are going to have fewer plays. I think this is normal, at least for me. I really don’t feel comfortable ranking a game that I have only played once, too high on the list. Although there is one that I am tempted to move up, we'll see where it ends up staying.

We’ll try to revisit this list in 2018 at some point and we’ll see if anything has changed, but for now, here is my Top 25 Board Games of 2017.

This was previously published on www.wdyptw.com along with my BGG Blog. I am also posting it as a Geeklist as these are easier for me to look back on and edit this way, and this is something I want to do as the year progresses.

The second page of this list is going to be the games that fall off over time, I will try to update this fairly regularly if something needs to be added.

Also at some point, I am going to look back at the entirety of 2016 this way as well, and maybe 2015, it just depends on where the time goes.
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1. Board Game: Pulsar 2849 [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:221]
Brandon Kempf
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Another “ONE PLAY” caveat here. But this one I had a far more positive experience with. Looking at Pulsar 2849 on the table, this thing says space battles. But, what’s the one thing you don’t do in Pulsar 2849? Space Battles! This game is possibly the most Feld-y of games not by Feld to have ever Felded. This is a space themed, Dice Placement Space Exploration game, but in all honesty, it could have been set anywhere, and maybe should have been elsewhere, because once we started playing it and realized there was no “Pew Pew”, it lost a bit of its luster. This is really a point salad space game, and it works pretty well. There is little to no interaction amongst the players, really the only interaction is via denial, which can be fun, but it felt a bit of a let down. There are a lot of fun things to try in this one, and I actually have this one sitting on the table in hopes to get a play or two in this long holiday weekend, plus I’ll be bringing it to Geekway Mini. I want to see if it can overcome that deceptive theme and capture my attention, as I think Pulsar 2849 has some definite possibility.
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2. Board Game: Altiplano [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:283]
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Entered list at #18 on 1/11/18

Dropped to #22 on 1/16/18

So, in less than a week's time, I played Altiplano twice. Once at 2 player with Kerensa and once at 4 player with 3 others in our game group, one a seasoned vet, one a newer gamer and one a fan of faster streamlined games, so I was kind of curious how they would take it. It went over fantastically.

If you know Orléans, Altiplano is going to be instantly familiar to you, with a couple of major differences that set it apart for me. One, the fact that this acts as a true Bag Builder. Your tokens don't immediately go back into your bag, you have a cart which is essentially your discard, and the only time that you put those discards back into your bag is when you empty your bag, so you are always going to see every tile, there is no chance of it never getting pulled. Secondly, I like the added Movement Mechanism where you have to be specific places on the board to perform specific actions on your player board. That adds a bit more strategy to the game I think.

Drawbacks? There are a couple odd thematic disconnects, like how do I bang two fish together to get stone? And the game plays a bit longer than I expected it to. Right at 2 hours for us last night at 4 players, I'm not sure it'll hold up for me if it plays that long all the time. Bu then again, I remember Orleans playing longer for me than I thought it should.

We should get another play of this in on Monday, where at least 3 of us have played it already, so we'll see if that speeds up the game any.
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3. Board Game: Rocky Road à la Mode [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:2712]
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The first of two Green Couch Games’ titles on this list, and probably the most wonderfully themed, at least to this ice cream fiend it is. Another wonderful set collection game with a fun theme, imagine that. This time you are ice cream truck drivers and you are trying to get the right type of tasty frozen treat to your customers. Fun thing about this one is that as you complete orders, you are going to be more known for certain types of frozen treats so you will always have some in your supply. It’s a neat mechanism that really builds the pace of the game as you go. Absolutely a wonderful game in that small Green Couch Games box from designer Joshua Mills.
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4. Board Game: Voodoo Prince [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:3001]
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Entered list at #20 on 1/16/18

This one really surprised me after playing it one time. It's a trick taking game by Knizia that is played over 5 rounds, each round has a different trump based on the randomized trump deck. The trick of this one is, you go out as soon as you take three trick. When you go out, you take points equal to the amount of tricks taken by the other players. So usually going out early isn't the best thing in the world, but hold on, there's another catch! If you are the last person to go out you get points equal to the number of tricks that you took, usually 1 or 2. So there is some balancing here and as soon as someone sees that you have 2 tricks, you are on the watch list to go out, you can bet someone is going to feed you another trick, unless you are a bit too late in the round where someone else wants it.

It's a simple premise and a unique(to me) take on trick taking games and in this year where I kind of re-discovered my love of card games, I'm kind of sad that I didn't get to play this one until 1/15/18
 
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5. Board Game: Stop Thief! [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:1688]
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I know, this is an OLD title. I think that enough was changed in this version to warrant calling this particular Stop Thief! a new title for 2017. It takes that wonderfully futuristic piece of plastic from the original and turns it into a wonderful app for you phone, no more being confused by sounds. It also gets rid of the roll and move with a hand of cards for each player that has specific amounts of movements on them and some special abilities. It really modernizes a classic family game with mechanisms that match the current trend in board gaming and gets the tech perfect. Restoration Games narrowly missed having 3 titles on this list, oops, I’m spoiling something for the future.
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6. Board Game: Dragon Castle [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:572]
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Have you ever asked a friend to pick up a $60 game and drag it halfway across the world for you just because you don’t know if you’ll be able to get it at home for quite awhile? If you answered yes, we’ll start having a support group next week. This was that game that I asked for from Essen 2017. I love the idea of this game and I love the look of this game, but the first couple plays, while very serviceable and enjoyable, they just didn’t inspire a lot of back to back plays. It’s a good game, don’t get me wrong, but with the setup taking almost as long as the game, it suffers a bit there. But ooh boy is it a beautiful game and it is good, I just hope it has some staying power.
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7. Board Game: Ladder 29 [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:4476]
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A climbing game, themed around FireFighters. Really, that’s all I need to say, right? This year has been a year for me in which I have rediscovered my fondness of card games. Thanks to a certain someone in our game group pushing them a bit. I’ve discovered old ones like Tichu and Sticheln and new ones like Claim, Fox in the Forest, Indulgence and this one from Green Couch Games and the Fleeples. I love the Hot Spot Cards in Ladder 29. They present a new challenge to try to overcome each and every round. Fantastic, inclusive art on the high quality cards make this one a possible classic card game in the making, which you have to feel is what they were going for, and they nailed it.
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8. Board Game: Queendomino [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:401] [Average Rating:7.33 Unranked]
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Oh boy, another 1 play game on the list, but not the highest. I wanted to put the absolutely wonderful Kingdomino on the list, but just because I first played it in 2017, doesn’t mean that it was actually published in 2017, which I found out. So I’m putting Queendomino on here both because I love KingDomino and because QueenDomino is pretty damn good on it’s own. I was honestly worried that QueenDomino would add things to the mix and make a great short game bogged down in completely superfluous actions and stretch the original out past it’s welcome time vs fun point, but it doesn’t, it works absolutely fantastic.I’m going out on a limb here, but could Blue Orange repeat their SDJ win with this one? We’ll see, but I almost bet it gets a nomination at least.
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9. Board Game: Rajas of the Ganges [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:181]
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And the last of the single plays shows up and I liked this one quite a bit more than the others which is how it made it all the way up to 15 on my list. At this point, I should probably just pick up everything that Markus and Inka Brand design, they always seem to have a very specific touch to them, the aging of family members in Village, the wonderful giant rondel of action selection of Murano and actually making an “escape room” game that worked for me, Exit. But yet I still hesitate for some reason. Rajas of the Ganges is good, even in spite of it’s troublesome lack of awareness, theme-wise, it’s really good. I love the two converging tracks that you are working on, trying to make more money and become more prestigious and converge those tracks before anyone else does. I’ve only played it 2 player so far, and I imagine that at 4 player the game can get a bit tighter and maybe a bit more interactive via denial, but we’ll have to see if that’s a good thing or bad thing. All in all, Rajas of the Ganges really seems like it is an absolutely rock solid Dice Rolling/Worker Placement game, even if the ability to manipulate dice to your needed face value is quite limited.
 
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10. Board Game: Flip Ships [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:1373]
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Oh Renegade Games, you alone are going to end up responsible for about 20% of this list it seems and this is the first one on the list. It’s a dexterity/flipping game that really gives off the feeling of a cardboard Space Invaders where there are waves of aliens invading and you are flipping your ships to try to land on them or hit the Mothership in order to save the world. Such a simple premise, with such beautiful Kwanchai Moriya artwork to top it all off. Any game that can give off the feeling that this game does when you are down to your last ship and need just one more ship to hit that Mothership, needs to be in a Top 25.

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11. Board Game: Flatline [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:1421]
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Not to sound like a broken record, but here is Renegade Games again. This one had a soft release at Geekway to the West and I was one of the first 50 people to pick it up there. We played it a couple times with Adrian, Zach and Paul and had a wonderful time with it. But this one survived the long summer and the many games that were released in between and is still somewhat in rotation. It’s real time, and that’s normally a no go for me, but this is done right. The entire game isn’t real time, just that frantic one minute per round where you have to match up the right dice to the right areas to save patients that hopefully will provide even more benefit for you based on when you save everyone on that one section. It’s frantic fun and it is absolutely brutal and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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12. Board Game: Century: Spice Road [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:238] [Average Rating:7.38 Unranked]
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So, Plan B did a soft release of Century Spice Road at the Gathering of Friends, and it just so happens that I had a friend attending and he knew that I wanted it so we started playing this in April and had a fantastic time with it. It’s really such a simple concept, building your hand of cards which is your trading routes and you play those cards to trade the spices that you have for the spices you need to fulfill orders. Really simple, fun, thinky game that packs a whole lot of punch in such a short timespan. I am a bit worried about it’s longevity in the collection as this was a horrifically deep year for games of this weight and play in that same timeframe(as you will see in the next couple days) and Century Spice Road doesn’t get reached for nearly as often as it used to. But still, it’s an absolute gem of a game.
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13. Board Game: Ex Libris [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:616]
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This was my big Gen Con 2017 excitement. I’m sure there were other games out there that folks wanted more and garnered far more praise, but for me this was the one. Wonderful art and a fun theme centered around books. It’s premise is only hampered by the fact that unless you play this game often, you have to consult the rule book or pick up the locations nearly every round just to read them and figure out what they do. But still, even with that fiddliness and poor graphic design choices, this one manages to shine in that hour long Worker Placement time frame. The premise is simple, you are a collector of books and you are wanting to get the most valuable collection around, but you also have to take care to keep your shelves neatly balanced and organized or things may fall apart for you. Wonderful art, which makes complete sense since it is from artist turned designer Adam McIver who had some help from the wonderful Jacqui Davis on this one. Such a great production from Renegade games, which makes that weird 1st player marker even more befuddling.
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14. Board Game: NMBR 9 [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:772]
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A card and tile version of Tetris. That’s really all that this is, and it works wonderfully. In what seems to be a bit of a pattern, these puzzle-y type games have really hit me kind of hard this year and NMBR 9 was the most puzzle-y of the puzzles. It’s a simple enough game, you have tiles of numbers 0 thru 9 times two and you have cards for 0 thru 9 times two. On a turn someone draws a card and you place that tile on the table, the rest of the game goes the same, one card, matching tile. The tiles themselves are not whole and are shaped, much like Tetris pieces, and they fit in different ways. You are trying to get the puzzle built as high as you can. Only rules are, when you build on top of other tiles, a tile has to be on top of two different tiles below it and you can’t build over blank spots. Base level is worth nothing, next level up each tile is worth face value, next level 2 times face value and so on. After you place all 20 tiles, points are tallied up and the highest score wins. One of the first things I asked when playing NMBR 9 is what prevents me from doing the exact same thing that you do, or anyone else playing does. The reply, “Well, I wouldn’t play with you then”. That’s an old Sid Sackson quote, or so I’ve heard. Someone should have created this game ages ago, but they didn’t and Peter Wichmann did in 2017.
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15. Board Game: Werewords [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:819]
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I don’t think I’ve ever had a game get over 30 plays as fast as WereWords did. It hit here at the end of June, and by Mid-July we had these 32 plays in. Set in the One Night Ultimate Werewolf world, this 20 questions style game where you are trying to guess a word that only certain people will know. The brilliance of this is in the app that runs the game much like One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It lets you pick the word and it acts as the moderator through the game, letting the players concentrate on trying to figure out the word and trying to figure out which of the other players are werewolves because that’s what the Villagers want to do, you want to find the Werewolves who also know the word, but they don’t want to give it away. A wonderful twist on an old favorite with a new, modern twist.
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16. Board Game: Codenames: Duet [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:120] [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked]
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Take Codenames and twist it and contort it until you have a two player cooperative version, who would have thought that it would work? Some have just called it a variant of Codenames and I can see this, but honestly, Codenames Duet has become our go to Codenames, because it stands up so well on it’s own. It gets rid of some of the chaos of the original by shrinking down the player count, and gives it a more personal feel as it is you and your partner vs the game. Codenames Duet can be played with more people than 2 and it still plays as a wonderful cooperative experience.
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17. Board Game: The Palace of Mad King Ludwig [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:2048]
Brandon Kempf
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Entered list at #8 on 1/23/18

I've been back and forth on whether I want to include this on my best of 2017. On one hand it does have a published date of 2017, but on the other, a majority of folks won't get to play this one for another month or two in 2018. But I'm adding it anyway.

5 plays in and I am enjoying the heck out of this tile laying, palace building, competitive game where swans are a currency.

You are building the Palace, everyone is working on the same one, and as you build, there are the typical Mad King bonuses for completing rooms of certain types, there are public favor tiles and private favor tiles and even some player powers to unlock. But all this time as you are building the Palace the end is drawing closer and closer. You see, as you complete a room, you add moats, based on how many moat icons are visible on the board. When this moat closes around the Palace, the game is over and you score a bevy of points. It's fun, a lot of fun. The only drawback I can think of is that it is fiddly and there are tons of little cardboard chits everywhere. You use a little cardboard chit to mark your rooms, you use one to track how many rooms you build, your swans are little circular coins, so there is just cardboard everywhere. But it works, and it works wonderfully.

I am so damn thankful that Ted chose to go with tiles instead of cards.
 
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18. Board Game: Downforce [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:393]
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So the second Restoration Games title here is the wonderful auction, gambling and race title, Downforce. This one is not one of Kerensa’s favorites, I’ve yet to find a racing game that she likes, but Downforce is absolutely wonderful. From the auction where you buy your, cars to start the game, to the racing which is fast moving and really well done and then the gambling that happens three times a race. When a player passes a yellow line everyone gets to bet on who they think is going to win the race. Finish the race, winnings are added up, both for race finishes and for betting, subtract the amount you spent on your race team and the winner is the one with the most money. Races are tight and fast and while I know that some people complain that the track is prone to bottlenecking in some of the turns, that’s part of the joy of racing. You have to plan your attack well and just realize that others have some say in where you end up on the track due to everyone moving everyone else’s cars. The fantastic table presence really helps as well as it just looks like a fun racing game.
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19. Board Game: Topiary [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:2286]
Brandon Kempf
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Jefferson City
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The newest game on the list and if I am being completely honest here, possibly my biggest surprise, a wonderful, wonderful surprise. I have a review coming for this in the next couple weeks, but needless to say if you see it at #6, you know that I really liked it. It’s a simple premise, you have a 5x5 board of tiles facedown, except the one in the middle and you are placing visitors to this Topiary Garden around the outside, either in straight lines down the tiles or diagonally. The visitors at the end are going to score points based on how many Topiaries they can see from their viewpoint. The Topiaries vary in size from 1-5 and so in order to view them your meeple will try to arrange the tiles in ascending order. When you place one visitor, you pick up one tile in that row and look at it and replace it either with the one you just picked up or one of the three in your hand, face up to the board. Easy to teach, fun to play and it really enables the players to be as interactive with each other as they are comfortable with. You can really throw a wrench into a visitor’s view if you want to. Kudos to Renegade Games for picking up this wonderful little game that easily could have been missed, and kudos to Fever Games for originally publishing it. Danny Devine has designed a wonderful little game here that brings me back to one of my 2015 favorites, Arboretum.
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20. Board Game: Whistle Stop [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:859]
Brandon Kempf
United States
Jefferson City
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Around here we still love, Ticket to Ride and we still love Carcassonne as well. So when a game comes along that reminds us of both a bit, it really has an unfair advantage and also some may say, unfair expectations. Rarely does a game live up to them the way that Whistle Stop does. In reality, the only thing similar to Ticket to Ride here is the fact that it is trains and you are building train routes, and the only thing similar to Carcassonne is that you are laying tiles to build out the train network. Everything else kind of diverges away from those two. Whistle Stop is ultimately a race, it’s a race to get your trains across the map to the west in the most efficient way possible, while collecting resources and churning those resources into victory points. Along the way you will have some very rudimentary stock play, you have some really fun resource management, some fun player powers, if you pick them up, and ultimately a really good time. Personally, I love the color choices, but I can see how others might have some issues with them, but that’s about the only issue I can find at the moment.
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21. Board Game: Memoarrr! [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1544]
Brandon Kempf
United States
Jefferson City
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The silliest of the games on this list and I had a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that Memoarrr! ended up this high on the list, but I can’t deny the joy and downright competitiveness that this game has brought to the table. How a game, that is at its core “just a” simple little memory game, makes people so ultra competitive is absolutely boggling to watch. For more on how to play this one, check out my review, otherwise I will just ramble on about how much fun I’ve had and you won’t understand what they heck I am talking about. I don’t know about North American distribution on this one, but it is available via Amazon.de for a reasonable amount. Also, could this surprise us and be an SDJ nominee? I don’t know, I think it is almost too light for the SDJ but lacking the toy factor to get a Kinder nomination, so who knows. It deserves either one.
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22. Board Game: Sentient [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:958]
Brandon Kempf
United States
Jefferson City
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So, the fifth Renegade Games title on the list and my favorite one from 2017. At its essence, Sentient is really just a puzzle that you have to figure out each round, a puzzle that changes each round due to the dice. You have roll those dice at the beginning of each round and then you have cards that you will buy to place in your tableau that will adjust those dice to the left and right of that card, hopefully they will adjust in the way that you need. It really shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it’s pretty flawless from what I can tell in my handful of plays. There is the puzzle to solve, there is some area majority bonuses as well, all in all a really well done game from J. Alex Kevern and Renegade Games. I’ve gotten over the cost of this one, although when I first purchased it, that was a bitter pill for me to swallow. I still think that’s what is hurting this one, more so than game play, because it’s good, damn good.
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23. Board Game: Heaven & Ale [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:272]
Brandon Kempf
United States
Jefferson City
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#3

Entered list at #3 on 2/8/18

Talk about taking a list by storm, well, Heaven & Ale have done that here. In my memory, there hasn't been a game of this weight that has captured my attention quite like Heaven & Ale has. Three plays in three days, twice at 3 player and once at 2 player, with more planned this week.

Heaven & Ale is both familiar in ways and wholly unfamiliar in others. It takes bits and pieces of other games and makes them into one fantastic whole masterpiece. It really is a beautiful balancing act of a game.

The end game scoring mechanism while completely ludicrous and slightly non-intuitive at first, works, and it makes for some interesting end games. By our second play it was second nature and you wonder how you ever lived life without scoring a game like this.

The game is layered in strategy and tactics and finding that right balance in building your Monastery's Garden. You have to make money to build the best available, but you also have to improve your ingredients by growing them in the light and getting them the best plots in the Garden. All the while your monks will tend to the garden and help your Brewmaster increase his knowledge and expertise in beer making.

So damn good. I have not said this in a long time, but this has all the potential in the world to be a game that hits the top 5 of all time for me, we just have to see what kind of legs it has. It's not an easily expandable game, so it's all in the box, and let's see where it ends up.

Hands down, right now, I will go out on a limb and say that this SHOULD win the Kennerspiel Award this year, and I've heard good things from the committee members, but is it still too heavy? Michael Kiesling, who is already a legendary designer, has had the best year for a designer in recent memory with this, Reworld, Riverboat and Azul.
 
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24. Board Game: Azul [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:39] [Average Rating:7.90 Unranked]
Brandon Kempf
United States
Jefferson City
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If you listen to the podcast, and if you follow me on Twitter, Reddit or Board Game Geek, you know how I feel about Azul. Which is why I am surprised that it sits at number 2 instead of number 1. Michael Kiesling has so many wonderful designs out there for us to play, it was weird for me to see most everyone falling in love with one of his designs for the first time, and I’m hopeful that Heaven & Ale will elicit the same feelings. In this, the year of the puzzle game 2017, this was the epitome of that puzzle. A wonderfully interactive set collecting, tile laying puzzle. The game would have been fantastic with cardboard, but Plan B knocked this one out of the park with the production, with those tiles that may look like Starbursts, but in reality are a wonderful abstraction of actual tiles. I absolutely love this game, even if I do only win it 25% of the time. Of note, we do play with the Joker Tiles about every other play, and we have still never played with the “free for all” side of the player boards, we’ve felt no need to even try those yet. This will be nominated for SDJ if the distrubution is out there and I believe that it is, given the fact that Plan B owns Eggertspiele now.
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25. Board Game: Majesty: For the Realm [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:748]
Brandon Kempf
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Which brings us to this, the surprise number one game for 2017. I’ve got a full review for this coming, and I wanted to have that full review up before Z-Man finally got it here in the US, but honestly, I’ve been having too much fun playing it, to write about it. This is Marc André’s follow up to Splendor, we’re going to forget about Barony here. I liked Splendor for about 10 plays, after that, I grew very tired of it. So I didn’t go into this expecting world shattering fun, but honestly, Majesty hasn’t been too far off. In all, this is a simple card drafting/set collection game where each card you bring into your Realm, activates the power of the building that they work in to make money, and the object of the game is to be the Realm with the most coins at the end. You draft cards(workers) from the public offer by paying for them in that Smallworld/Century Spice Road/Firenze method where you pay something to each card to the right of the card that you want. It works wonderfully and Majesty plays like a well oiled machine. To give a bit more variability, each card in your realm has an A side and a B side. The sides offer different powers and different ways to get more money, they even suggest that it’s possible to mix and match the A & B sides, but we haven’t even tried it that way. I think part of the joy I’ve had with Majesty is trying to combat what some perceive as a soldier strategy, which while powerful, it most certainly can be overcome and how each game plays will also differ based on how the cards come out. Not every card is in every game, especially in the lower player counts where you only use 6 or 14 of the first era cards. Every game plays just a bit different. The only flaw we can think of is that the game for some reason didn’t come with any 5 denomination chips, you have 1s, 2s, 10s, 50s & 100s. So you will constantly be making change, which, now that I mention it, may be part of the fun as well. This could be, and I stress could be, a wonderful expanding game, as evidenced by the extra space in the box and some playtesters reporting on some buildings that they played that were not included in the base game.
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