The turn of the year is always a convenient break in time between the moments that make up the tumultuous pace of our lives. It grants us a convenient excuse to look back on the most recent chapter of our stories and decide how we feel about certain aspects of it and examine the moments from the passing year that will become our most cherished memories. As gamers our thoughts naturally turn to the experiences our hobby has brought us and with the gaming renaissance still in full swing, it’s easy to find a score of new games to fill your highlight reel for the year. 2016 has been no exception to this, with new releases conquering ranking lists on every review site and forum available. While the releases this year have been many in number and varied in design, who can yet say if these games will stand the test of time and breed even more memories in years to come? Instead of taking part in the top ten list building that inevitably sings the praises of the new, I would instead like to take a moment to share 3 of the games published in prior years that created some of my best gaming moments of 2016 and did in fact hold value for me well after the smell of new cardboard wore off.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd Ed.) (2012)
Descent is hardly a new game and hardly new to me, but this year was a renaissance year for the venerable game, both for me personally and for gaming as a whole. The “Road to Legend” app ratcheted up the team and story elements of Descent up in a big way and undeniably opened up the game to a whole subset of players who might have been turned off by the now common one vs. many “overlord” format. I have enjoyed a game or 2 of cooperative Descent since the advent of the app, but this year was all about 1 on1 adventure for me. When my girlfriend said she was tired of my nagging about playing dungeon crawls, she followed up by telling me she had set up a play date for a friend of mine and I. Since then I have played no fewer than 20 individual Descent scenarios this year and finally finished the core set campaign after 4 long years of starting and restarting. Rediscovering how much I enjoy the game was absolutely a highlight of my year and playing it as an overlord against 3 heroes under a single player added an edge of competition that combating a team sometimes lacks.
Big Book of Madness (2015)
The genre of deckbuilding games is one that has lived its life in dog years an aged more rapidly and less gracefully than many other core designs. The explosion of such a simple type of game design was akin to the CCG bubble of the 90’s and these days it takes some interesting mechanics for a deckbuilder to catch my attention. Big Book of Madness is a lovely co-op experience tied to very basic deckbuilding frame with some interesting new mechanics bolted on for good measure. I especially appreciated how it punished players for playing like a standard deckbuilder and drawing as many cards as possible in a turn. This one found its way to my 2016 roster when I was asked to teach it at our local gaming convention in January. It’s not a game that redefined the industry, but its a very solid entry with a fun theme and it came along at a time my girlfriend was just entering the world of tabletop gaming. As a cooperative game the interaction levels are high, but players have their own decks and can easily avoid “quarterbacking” (which I am guilty of) which helped it become a date night favorite at my house this spring and a game we both bonded over.
Cthulhu Wars (2015)
My first foray into Kickstarting board games began with a bit of madness induced by the whispers of dark gods. Those whispers were all the more potent because the elder beings in question were plastic miniatures of immense size that positively wriggle with detail. The last of Cthulhu Wars’ vast swarm of extra content made its way to my collection in 2015, but this year saw a resurgence in play for me. This game is a centerpiece in my collection and I was extremely happy to see it be in the top 20 most frequent games I got to the table this year. What makes this game special to me is the size of it all, and yes I literally mean the so called miniatures. The gameplay is fantastic and would fit a smaller game, but the extravagant scale of this game makes the experience a grand one. Every time my group sat down to play we walked away with a story of immense beings of unimaginable power wreaking havoc on the table/earth and everything about the art and design of the game lent itself to that story. This year was the year Cthulhu Wars rose from the depths of my collection and saw massive play, proving that that which is dead cannot die and in strange aeons (and 2016 was strange) even weighty games might see play.
2016 was defined by the people I played with more than the games. I began a new relationship in 2015 and by January of 2016 she was fully engaged in her gaming indoctrination; I reconnected with several close friends over the gaming table; I even began my first attempts at bringing tabletop adventures to the world of my 8 year old daughter. 2016 was a year full of great new designs, but these 3 games found a fresh audience or renewed vigor this year in my house because of their ability to create experiences that I could share with the people whose company I enjoy.
-John L.S. Foster