A week or two ago many review sites were discussing their top games of 2017. So here is my own list. I have only included games that were actually published in 2017 – some of them I first played at Essen and may not have been available in the UK or the US last year.
1) Gaia Project: its predecessor Terra Mystica is one of my all-time top 10 games, so this was a mandatory purchase for me at Essen and, naturally, the game was bound to feature on this list. But I think Gaia Project improves on the earlier game in some key respects. Furthermore, it has a wonderful single-player mode thanks to the very well designed Automata.
2) Gloom of Kilforth: the first Kickstarter campaign for this game passed me by. When I backed the designer Tristan Hall’s second game – 1066, Tears to Many Mothers – in mid-2017 I looked into Gloom, but I wasn’t quite ready to back its second KS campaign, mainly because I’d heard that it was rather long as a multiplayer game. I finally took the plunge after meeting Tristan at Essen and getting an insight into his inspiration for Gloom; I was fortunate to be able to buy one of the few remaining retail copies. Since then, I’ve played Gloom several times as a solitaire game and not only have I enjoyed it immensely, but it has also inspired me to try other solitaire games. UPDATE: I’ve now played Gloom 3-player and it was another great experience. Yes, it is a long game, but it is full of narrative interest and doesn’t stint on the decision making either.
3) Lisboa: another essential Essen purchase because of the designer’s previous games. I bought Vinhos the first time I went to Essen in 2007, and enjoyed the heavy-weight game, but Vital Lacerda’s games have improved significantly since then. The Gallerist was not only a great game but was also aesthetically superb. Lisboa is even better in terms of component quality and graphic design. And it is possibly his heaviest game yet.
4) Democracy Under Siege: this was self-published via Gamecrafter back in 2016, but was republished at the end of 2017 by 4Dados. 2017 was a below average year for me in terms of new wargame publications with both Time of Crisis and 878 Vikings being disappointing. Mark Herman’s Pericles is promising, but I’ve only managed a single short game so far. So Democracy Under Siege, although not strictly a wargame, represents that genre in this list. I first tried a playtest version back in 2013 and really enjoyed it. A recent play of the new edition has confirmed what a good game it is.
5) Clans of Caledonia: I did not back this on Kickstarter because I found the theme rather dry and uninspiring. But I’m glad I picked up a retail copy at Essen. This game has elements of Terra Mystica, but it is a little lighter and quicker to play.
6) Charterstone: coming to the end of the campaign, my enjoyment is not quite as high as it was initially. But I still regard this as a great legacy experience for fans of mid-weight worker placement games.
7) Caverna: Cave vs Cave: thematically this is the little cousin of Caverna, but mechanically it is quite a different type of game. This is worker placement without using workers – instead, you select and take the tiles that enable you to take actions.
8) Bunny Kingdom: I’ve only played it once, but that was a very enjoyable game and theme is great fun.
9) Heaven & Ale: a single play at Essen was enough to confirm that this is my type of game.
10) Nusfjord: again, only a single play so far. This may not reach the heights of Uwe’s heavier games such as Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Feast for Odin, but it is very cleverly designed and I’m sure I will appreciate it more with subsequent plays.
Since writing this list, I’ve played several other games that were published in 2017. Among them, Pulsar 2849 would definitely enter my top 10. Photosynthesis probably would too.