Spoiler- It's Star Trek: Ascendancy
Here it is, the last column of a shitty year that benefitted absolutely no one except rich, white scumbags. THANKS A LOT 2016 for finding all new ways to take good things away from us. Anyway, one of the brighter parts of the year is that there were actually quite a lot of really good games released this year- I found myself doing my "huh, this is actually pretty good" affirmation through more games than usual it seems, but it could also be because I've gotten MUCH more selective about what I play and review, if that's even possible because I was already filtering out tons of junk. So over at Miniature Market we've done our GOTY post, and it has my "official" GOTY picks on it which will probably surprise no one. They are:
Star Trek Ascendancy- This is the one game that just completely blew me away this year, and it was one I wasn't even really sure I wanted to play. In fact, Charlie asked me to review it and I was like "yeah, sure, whatever". But then I got a review copy and I was like "no, we are reviewing this together because it's awesome". This is a magnificent piece of design work that gives you the big, hoary 4x game experience but with streamlining in the right places. More importantly, it captures the sense of adventure, exploration, negotiation and discovery that defines Trek. It's a near-perfect use of the license and it is by far the best Trek game to date. I haven't gotten to play this game nearly as much as I'd like due to the three player limit, but every game has been awesome and well worth telling some other friends at game night to take a hike. This is also GF9's best game to date.
Scythe- This is probably the controversial pick because it was "promised" to be a 4x game when in actuality it is an economic game with a fascinating theme about agrarian cultures being driven to fight using the tools at hand. The title is apt, as it's a farming tool that can also be used as a weapon. This is a beautiful game refined and designed to spec at an almost Kubrickian degree, full of interesting and interlocking mechanics and a unique setting. I have the expansion sitting right here but I have yet to even take a look at it because of the disaster that was the holidays this year, but I'm trying to get at least seven lined up for a game this weekend.
Zimby Mojo- Jim Felli delivers again with this year's "vanguard" pick. This is a wholly outsider game unlike anything else you have played. It's bizarre, violent, goofy and idiosyncratic and it is a great example of the difference between scrappy but singular game design genius and sloppy Kickstarter non-development. It's kind of a mess, it's too long, and it's not a game that you can just break out and play with anyone but there is not an alternative. Much like Shadows of Malice (which held this same spot last year), you either let Mr. Felli do his thing or you go somewhere else. But if you do get on board, you're going to have a fresh, fun experience that is well worth working through the barriers to entry.
Now, you might find yourself asking where some of my other favorites, specifically Gorechosen and Silver Tower, are. Well, I couldn't pick those because we are beholden to choose games that Miniature Market sells for obvious reasons. Regardless, I think that ST:A would have still taken the top prize but everything under that would be completely in flux with those two games in the mix because:
Gorechosen: This game is quite possibly the best design Games Workshop has ever come up with and it hits every single element that you've wanted from their board games for the past 30+ years. It's ridiculous, funny, capricious, violent and the whole thing just kind of explodes. It is totally heavy metal to the hilt. But it is also an incredibly well-written gladiatorial game that avoids a lot of the stumbling blocks you often seen in melee-focused, low model count skirmish. Nobody stands around trading blows. Everything is always moving and the weapon profiles make maneuver a critical element. The cardplay is fun, the miniatures are of course the best in the industry, and it is just a blast to play in the same way that games like Wiz-War and DungeonQuest were in the 1980s.
Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower: As I've stated repeatedly, this is the best dungeoncrawl game on the market and I do not care one lick if it is not a 1:1 remake of the original game. This is a leaner, cleaner game with an excellent dice-based activation mechanic, lots of detail, simple leveling and TONS of great narrative thanks to the scenario format. It's also the best-looking game of its type available, with a very Tzeentchy color palate and a more surrealist, almost deco take on the usual aesthetics. This is a game with birdmen and spider-goblin hybrids. This is also probably my most played game of 2016, having gone through the full campaign solo and also with a group that rotated between 2-4 players over the course of it. I look at this game and it makes me think about getting rid of the AD&D Adventure System set I have, and that speaks to its overall quality. I want more WHQ, and hopefully GW will deliver in 2017.
Now, in addition to all of the above...I allowed the Review Corner writers to select an overall Game of the Year. Most of them had Star Wars: Rebellion on their lists, so editorially that was what made sense. I gave it four stars, but that crap-ass fake-depth combat system kept it from top marks. Nonetheless, it's a decent "popular" pick for an overall GOTY. Even if it is wrong by my standards.
That's it- now let's all limp on through the rest of this accursed year and hope for a better one come Sunday.