2017 was an amazing year for tabletop gaming. Since I tend to gravitate toward family games, I decided to compile a list of some of the ones that stood out to me. Since there are seven entries on this list and three more to come in our Staff Picks list, I guess this can be considered part one of my “Top 10 Games of 2017.”
Stop Thief! is one of a trio of initial offerings from Restoration Games, a company devoted to reinvigorating older titles by updating them for modern audiences. Based on the 1979 classic of the same name, Stop Thief! builds upon its predecessor by smoothing out some of its rough, time-worn edges and seamlessly integrating a smartphone app. Despite a healthy dose of luck, this light deduction game is a lot of fun. I can’t wait for the upcoming cooperative variant!
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate could have easily been an uninspired, second-rate cash grab by Wizards of the Coast, but happily, it stands on its own. I consider Betrayal at House on the Hill to be the best-worst game ever made, and this D&D reworking is a faithful follow-up. Ironing out some of the woefully poor rules from the original, Baldur’s Gate includes some of the best Haunt scenarios yet, while maintaining the campy, B-movie spirit fans of House on the Hill love so much.
This three-dimensional abstract game compresses a metric ton of variability into an incredibly simple system. In Santorini, players try to maneuver their workers to reach the third level of a building. The turn structure consists of moving one worker and placing one building block; that’s it. However, with an entire deck of paradigm-shifting ability cards, every round plays differently, and players have to fundamentally change how they think about the game depending on which roles are in play. Also, my wife wins every time, so there’s that.
Century: Spice Road
The first entry in a forthcoming trilogy, Century: Spice Road feels like a modernization of Sid Sackson’s 1968 classic Bazaar. Though light on rules, this resource management game offers meaningful decisions without getting bogged down by analysis paralysis. Play moves along at a nice tempo, and the visual appeal and production quality are strong. Century: Spice Road excels in its simplicity, and provides an experience that will satisfy gamers and non-gamers alike.
Photosynthesis is a light (no pun intended) euro-abstract with a wholly original theme. Underneath its gorgeous box art and inviting table presence is a solid game system, in which players plant and grow trees in a forest. Each round, the sun shines on the board from a different angle, earning players light points that can be used to mature their trees. However, trees also cast shadows that may block others from receiving light. A simple game with a bit of depth, Photosynthesis is definitely worth a try.
(TIE) Unlock: The Formula, EXIT: The Pharaoh’s Tomb**, and EXIT: The Abandoned Cabin**
Escape room games are all the rage right now. I’ve played a bunch of them so far, and Unlock: The Formula, EXIT: The Abandoned Cabin, and EXIT: The Pharaoh’s Tomb all left an impression on me. These games are part of larger series, and though some of their sibling games are underwhelming, these three provide lots of clever challenges. The Unlock system is really clean and intuitive, and the included tutorial mini-scenario is a nice touch. The EXIT games take a different approach to the escape room genre, but they work well in their own right. Without spoiling anything, both of these EXIT titles have one particular puzzle that, whether you love it or hate it, you’ll remember for years to come.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
I hesitated about including this game on the list, firstly because I haven’t finished it, and secondly because it may too heavy to qualify as a family game. However, with several rounds under my belt, I can safely say that it belongs on my favorites list. It was important that this game differentiate itself from Season 1, and I think it really succeeded in doing so. It certainly feels like a Pandemic game, but it implements some new ideas that keep things fresh. Just like the first installment, players can expect a strong narrative full of twists and turns, some of which I have yet to discover myself!
*Technically, the Kickstarter version of Santorini came out at the very end of 2016, but it didn’t get widespread distribution until 2017, so I’m counting it as a 2017 release.
**The first three EXIT games came out in 2016 in Germany, but didn’t hit the US market until 2017.