Regardless of the way the rest of the year turned out, 2016 was a phenomenal year for board games. Hotly anticipated games finally hit tables and lived up to the hype, crowdfunding records were set, and the bar for component quality and gameplay continues to be set higher and higher. Regardless of your preferences, be they for cooperative games, war games, strategy games, Euro games or anything in between, 2016 saw the release of not just good games, but must-have games in nearly every genre.
While our 2015 award had a runaway winner, every game in the top five this year could easily be considered the game of the year. Even narrowing the list down to five games proved difficult as it meant cutting excellent games like Falling Sky, Valeria: Card Kingdoms, 51st State Master Set, New Bedford, and Healthy Heart Hospital among others. No matter how you look at it, 2016 was a great year to be a boardgamer.
Here’s the list of nominees (and here’s a list of all nominees for all categories):
- Mechs Vs Minions
- Millennium Blades
- Star Trek: Frontiers
Without further delay, here’s what you, the readers, chose and our list of winners for the Board Game of the Year Award for outstanding design in tabletop gaming.
Reader’s Choice – Scythe (Our Review)
There’s no surprise here. Scythe has been exceptionally well-received, and it currently sits in the #6 all-time spot on the BoardGameGeek rankings. Scythe plays well both as a solitaire game and as a multiplayer game, and with the recent release of the Invaders From Afar expansion, which increases the potential player count to 7 as well as further increasing the possible starting layout (and thus, replayability), the game looks to remain popular for years to come.
Mechs vs Minions (Our Review)
Mechs Vs. Minions is awesome, although there are enough rules ambiguities holding it back that it doesn’t quite make it to classic status. The value of the components, and the quality of those components, are best-in-class, and the deceptively simple, yet remarkably accessible and strategic gameplay make this a serious game of the year contender. At the retail price-point for this game, it’s impossible not to recommend unless you absolutely hate cooperative games. Everyone else should own a copy, because there is just so much here to like and so much fun to be had with the game.
To say that Mechs vs Minions took the boardgame world by surprise is an extreme understatement. Published by Riot Games, best known for the insanely popular PC game League of Legends, Mechs vs Minions might make the best first impression of any boardgame we’ve ever encountered. When you consider the size of the box, the quality and quantity of the miniatures (some fully painted), and the quality of the cardboard components, it’s hard to understand how the game can retail for only $75. There is more than just chrome in the box though. The gameplay is incredibly fun, easy to learn, and entertaining. If you are a fan of cooperative boardgames, Mechs vs Minions is a no-brainer.
Star Trek: Frontiers (Our Review)
Star Trek: Frontiers takes the awesome foundation from Mage Knight, replaces the fantasy theme with Star Trek, and changes things just enough to make the game feel both familiar and fresh. Theme is still secondary to the tight, strategically deep mechanics, yet most of the additions and changes fit in very well with the Star Trek veneer. Away Missions are a great new addition to the system and provide a very interesting challenge, especially when assaulting a Borg Cube that presents both space and terrestrial encounters. The game is a bit more forgiving than Mage Knight, especially in combat, which means that Star Trek: Frontiers should appeal to a wider audience, although it does lose a bit of tension in the process. While there are a few small hiccups in the art department, Star Trek: Frontiers really only loses a bit of luster when compared (inevitably) to its now Classic older sibling. This is a game built upon an outstanding system, with a fun theme that works well with those mechanics to provide an amazing end result. Like Mage Knight before it, Star Trek: Frontiers is best as a solitaire or 2 player game due to length of the game and the large downtime between turns when played with a full compliment of players. Star Trek: Frontiers gives a fun, satisfying sense of progression and exploration. It lays a wonderful, evolving puzzle out in front of you, gives you to tools to solve it, and then lets to tackle it as you see fit.
What do you get when you take a masterpiece, apply a new coat of Star-Trek paint and a few tweaks to it? Proof that the systems Vlaada Chvatil created for the now-classic Mage Knight hold up and can be made more accessible to a wider audience, Star Trek: Frontiers stands on the shoulders of giants, and it holds its own. If you’ve ever wanted to try out Mage Knight, but felt intimidated by its complexity, or turned off by the fantasy theme, then you should grab a copy of Star Trek: Frontiers as quickly as you can. If you are a veteran Mage Knight player who’s looking for a fresh spin on one of the best game systems ever created, then you too should be satisfied with this game, although expect a slightly more forgiving experience.
Third Place – Talon (Our Review)
Talon is an amazing game. The system that Jim Krohn has created fits the theme wonderfully and is so solid that it has huge growth potential, both in the Talon universe and beyond. The disparate parts of its streamlined mechanics mesh together nearly flawlessly while avoiding a lot of clunk that can drag other, similar games down. Don’t confuse streamlined with simple though, there is so much depth, and so many strategic layers to the game, and it offers up so many different ways to play, that it’s hard to imagine that anyone who has even a passing interest in tactical skirmish games, especially those set in space, would dislike Talon. Talon is a must buy.
If you like spaceship versus spaceship combat look no further. Talon is tight, intuitive, and strategic, and provides a huge amount of fun in both one-off skirmish play and in intense, multi-session campaign play. The tactical depth in the game is wonderfully crunchy, and the asymmetric factions feel and play differently enough that the game’s replayability is already extremely high. The fact that there is an expansion coming that adds a whopping 1000 scenarios and 130 new ships to the game means that Talon will continue to see steady table-time throughout 2017.
Second Place – Millennium Blades (Our Review)
Millennium Blades is one of the best games I’ve played this year, and has rapidly moved onto my “personal favorites” list. It sets out to simulate every aspect of collecting and playing a CCG, and nails it square on the head. Everyone who has ever enjoyed ripping open packs of cards, building a deck and then testing their creation against their friends, or in tournaments, should find something to love in Millennium Blades. The game is quite complex, and the sheer volume of information that players have to parse each round can be overwhelming to new players, so it certainly isn’t the most immediately accessible game, but the people who put in the time to learn it well enough to not only play, but to form effective strategies, are going to find an absolutely brilliant Frankenstein’s Monster of a game with incredible depth, and enormous replayability.
Both former CCG players and lovers of complex board games alike are going to want to take a close look at Millennium Blades. It truly is a unique experience in board gaming, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do nearly flawlessly. This game really is fascinating, and there is nothing else out, that I am aware of, that even comes close to providing this type of experience in a single board game. Millennium Blades truly captures the essence of what makes collectible card games so much fun to buy, sell, trade, and play while still feeling wholly unique.
Millennium Blades truly is a brilliant, demanding, glorious monster. This is by far the most unique game on the list, and my personal favorite. Tense from the very first second of play through final scoring, Millennium Blades abstracts and recreates the feeling of being a competitive Collectible Card Game player. The game is complex, but it is incredibly satisfying, scratching multiple itches that I’ve had since I quit playing Magic: The Gathering. If you are the type of CCG player who equally enjoys the entire gamut of experiences that CCG’s offer, from collecting and trading cards, to building decks, to seeing how those decks stack up to other players, Millennium Blades is sure to appeal to you. The replayability in this box is off the charts, and only looks to increase exponentially as more new content is released this year.
Winner – Scythe (Our Review)
Scythe is an amazing game that presents tons of options to players and leaves it to them to blaze their own trail to victory. The game combines bits and pieces of various genres and, thankfully, merges them all into a game that feels familiar, yet entirely unique at the same time. It takes a few plays to figure out exactly what all of the options mean and how they impact the game overall, and it takes time to figure out how to combine it all successfully, but once players have a grasp of what they need to do to be successful, Scythe is a blast to play. Each game of Scythe that I’ve played has been more fun than the last, and the variable setup, as well as the different routes that can be taken to victory, mean that this is a game with serious legs. Scythe is a game for players who really like to play the games in their collection multiple times. If you like to dig into your games and play them over and over again, you should get a copy of Scythe as soon as you can.
Scythe is the one game on this list that I feel we scored incorrectly. The game is a classic and should have received a 10 rating. At the time of writing the review I had played the game a number of times, and I felt confident in my review. Since the review, the game has continued to see heavy rotation on my game table, and I like it more and more with each successive play. Every type of player that I’ve played it with loves the game, from people who like directly competitive dudes-on-a-map style games (Scythe looks like this type of game, but isn’t really) to hard Euro game players, to people who really enjoy resource management, adventure, and strategy games. Scythe is deep, interesting, and satisfying, and the randomized, asymmetric player layouts each game make it immensely replayable. Scythe is meaty and fun, and an easy recommendation to anyone who wants a board game to really sink their teeth in to.
What did we miss? What did we get wrong? What did we get right?