You thought you’d escaped it, didn’t you? You thought you’d slip quietly into 2018 without me shitting up your video game news with my board game opinions.
Well not on my watch. To kick off the tangentially-related-to-videogames content for the year, I’ll be doing a rundown of my top 5 games of 2017.
For the purposes of making this list not-annoying, I’ve only included games that are or will be readily accessible in SA.
Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition
Even though I’ve already done a review of this one, I couldn’t bring myself to leave off what is definitely my top game of the year.
Nothing I’ve played has had quite the same epic feel, or indeed, quite the same playing time – the box helper text pitches this one as taking between 4 and 8 hours.
It’s stacked with negotiation, politicking, trading, exploration and fierce space battles, and this sprawling beast of a game begs to be explored over multiple plays. It’s expensive, but if you have a group of friends you can play this with semi-regularly you’re going to get your money’s worth and then some.
I’m well aware that this site isn’t populated by hardcore board-game fans, and as such I’m trying not to stack this list with games that have hundred-page rule books and take half a day to play.
Flamme Rouge is one of those beautiful games that you can teach your parents in one night and play with all your friends on another – it’s fun, it’s accessible and it has some decent layers of strategy to it.
Ostensibly this is a game about bicycle racing, with players needing to manage their rider’s exhaustion, speed and slipstreaming through the mechanism of a cleverly simple deck of cards, which gets progressively more difficult to manage as the race goes on.
It has some great visual appeal as well, with a modular track that can be set up in different ways and colourful plastic cyclists navigating the hills and valleys. You don’t have to be a cycling fan to enjoy this, it’s a beautiful, smart game that works with any group and has great replayability.
Clans of Caledonia
Dipping our toe back into the medium-weight euros, Clans of Caledonia is, in my opinion, the finest one released this year.
This game packs a punch its small box would belie, and similarly manages to cram some engine-building, meaty decision making and asymmetrical player powers into a game that isn’t all that hard to teach.
The theme is a pleasant one of manufacturing cheese and whiskey and tending to your sheep in the Scottish highlands. This game doesn’t exactly break new ground or do much that’s overwhelmingly innovative or different, but it takes the best of euro-style, engine-building resource-management games and combines them into a tight package that really sings.
This one isn’t available locally just yet, but I’m expecting it to come in at an affordable price point due to the small package.
Oh boy, this is a goodie. Another game that you could teach to your parents in five minutes, Whitehall Mystery has one player take on the role of a copycat Jack the Ripper (or possibly, Jack himself?) while three investigators have to hunt him down.
This is done via a simple, elegant system. The map of the dodgy parts of London is covered with numbered circles connected by dotted lines. The Jack player will write down his moves behind a screen with these numbers, and the investigators will figure out his route by looking for clues, and ultimately make an arrest that wins them the game (or they’ll allow Jack to slip into the night, a hooker torso under each arm).
There’s something beautifully tense about listening to three of your friends discuss whether or not to make an arrest in the exact place you’re standing, or that feeling of smug relief as you slip past them and leave them chasing their tails.
The way the game works makes the Jack player reveal his location every now and then, which keeps the chase tense and exciting. The game plays in under an hour, is immensely fun, comes in a small box and is stupidly easy to teach. I highly recommend giving this a go if it sounds at all like the kind of thing you’d enjoy.
Last up on the list is a game that hasn’t yet landed on our shores, but should be here within a few weeks.
The first thing you’ll notice about this game is that it’s gorgeous. This is an abstract game (think chess or checkers, there’s no theme) where all the pieces are gorgeous patterned tiles in various colours. It jumps off the table in the best possible way.
Like Whitehall, part of this game’s appeal is that it’s supremely easy to teach, but conceals deeper layers of strategy. Also, unlike most abstracts, this game plays 2-4 players very well.
You’ll be trying to grab tiles of particular patterns and assemble them on your board in a specific way. This is done by drafting the tiles from a communal pool in the system, with some clever trickery which will allow you to screw other players out of the tiles they want, set yourself up for a brilliant turn and saddle some unlucky sap with a wheelbarrow of negative points – beautiful. It can get pretty mean, but it plays fast and players are never really left out of the game.
Keep an eye out for this one – it plays well with any group and is bloody gorgeous. In case you didn’t realise, this is the game in the header image.