Welcome to the Geeks Under Grace tabletop holiday guide for 2017. Christmas is one of my favorite times of year, so what better way to celebrate than with the gift of board games?
This year, Chris Hecox and I (Stephen Hall) will be recapping some of our favorite releases from 2017, in order of complexity.
In other words, if you are shopping for a fun family game, or for someone who doesn’t play many board games, stick towards the top of the list. If you are veteran gamer, or you have an odd relative with a basement lined with shelves packed full of board games you didn’t realize existed, check out the bottom half. Admittedly, most of the games on the list are on the simpler side, so almost all of our selections should be a hit for anyone looking to play excellent board games!
Without further ado, on the first day of Christmas, my wonderful family gave to me…
“One of the hottest games of the past year, and the winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award, Kingdomino is a lightning-fast family game. Building on the model of traditional dominoes games, it is incredibly simple, but rewards repeated plays. The game scales well, and is especially fun with two players.” – Stephen
“Zoo Ball is my most played game of 2017, and is also the winner of my unofficial ‘Most Criminally Underrated Game of the Year’ award. Hailing from a long line of excellent titles from Osprey Games, Zoo Ball pits 2 or 4 players against one another on a bumpy green mat. Imagine flicking discs with animal stickers, essentially playing a cross between soccer and curling, and you sort of have the right idea. Zoo Ball is consistently fun for everyone, and since games finish so quickly, you’ll never worry about downtime.” – Chris
Century: Spice Road
“The first in a trilogy of games, Century: Spice Road is the definition of elegance in game design. This lightweight Euro provides a great introduction to resource management, while offering enough decisions to keep experienced gamers engaged. If you enjoy games like Splendor, Dominion, or Bazaar, this one is a must-play.” – Stephen
“With a fresh theme, gorgeous art, and clever mechanics, what’s not to love? Sagrada takes a sudoku-style approach to dice placement, creating a puzzle that you’ll want to play again. And again. And again.” – Stephen
“Downforce takes Camel Up, adds some burnt rubber, forces players to buy-in, and tosses the camels onto the racetrack. It’s fast and furious and always fun. With two tracks, and the potential for expansions in the future, it would feel a travesty to neglect mentioning this one to you. All groups I’ve tested Downforce with have loved it, but this Christmas I’ll report back when I’ve played with the only group whose approval really matters: my wife’s family. Stay tuned… oh, and get this if you don’t already have it.” – Chris
“I’m noticeably skeptical about any new trends, be it weight loss systems, special coffee brewing methods, and especially anything ridiculous claims about fitting an escape room into a box. Well, now I’ve gone the opposite direction and tell everyone to ignore Unlock and buy Exit instead, and I’ve not even played an Unlock scenario. I’m going on my gut here, but few times can I recall such excitement and climatic moments of success in board gaming as I’ve had with the first three Exit: The Game scenarios. The Secret Lab was easily the weakest of the three, but The Abandoned Cabin and The Pharaoh’s Tomb were excellent. I’d love to see this series continue, and I look forward to the next three escape games from Markus and Inka Brand.” – Chris
“Based on the 1970’s classic of the same name, the 2017 version of Stop Thief! has been updated and modernized, while staying true to the spirit of the original. Using seamless app integration, this light deduction game will be hit for fans new and old.” – Stephen
“Another hot new title with an entirely unique theme, Photosynthesis is a Euro/abstract hybrid game about the life-cycle of trees in a forest. Featuring some of the most stunning artwork and presentation you’ll ever see, this gateway+ game really shines (get it?) with three players.” – Stephen
“Star Cartel is another big winner from Osprey Games. It’s got funkadelic art, super fast gameplay, and acts as the most exciting intro to stock speculation this side of the galaxy. I can’t recommend it to everyone, but for those interested and willing to invest a few games to figure it out, there is a lot of frantic fun to be had.” – Chris
“A reworking of one of my all-time favorite games, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate draws players into the fantastical Forgotten Realms of D&D. Packed with fifty all-new Haunt scenarios, much-needed rules clarifications, and dozens of new rooms and cards to explore, this game is strong successor to the original Betrayal at House on the Hill.” – Stephen
“It’s far from perfect, but in terms of accurately recreating the mechanics and gameplay of a video game, DOOM: The Board Game is as close as it gets. Where Dark Souls: The Board Game doesn’t get close to making the cut, this one is fast, frenetic fun fraught with all the brutal gunplay and slaughter that makes the video game counterpart so glorious. DOOM was my favorite FPS from 2016, and though the tabletop version has issues, it’s likely to score high on my top ten board games of 2017 (I know, I know, it was technically a 2016 release in the final week of 2016, but I’m counting it for 2017).” – Chris
“I’d be remiss to neglect mentioning the obvious impact Terraforming Mars has had on the industry in the last year. Consistently in discussion and still marking high on ratings on various forums, including Board Game Geek, Terraforming Mars has made an indelible mark. I’ll be picking up every expansion for this one, and I recommend most gamers at least give the base game a go. If engine-building and the satisfaction of seeing it at work is at all of interest, few games compete here. Sure, the artwork is inconsistent, but colonizing Mars with your buddies is always fun, especially if you do it better than they do. Get a copy and cling tightly to it. Play it so much you’ll need to replace the base game cards by the time the ninth expansion releases. Long live the Fryx brothers. This one’s a keeper.” – Chris
Thanks for checking out our 2017 holiday guide! Feel free to ask questions about any of these games, or get some personalized recommendations in the comments below. Merry Christmas!