We continue our “Best of 2017″ series curated by the entire CCM-Entropy community and present some of our favorite selections as nominated by the diverse staff and team here at Entropy, as well as nominations from our readers.
This list brings together some of our favorite board games and card games published in 2017, as well as “new to us” games published in previous years. Games in this list belong to the “Easy Entry” category, perfect for family get-togethers, parties, or whenever you don’t feel like digesting a twenty-page rulebook.
Presented in no particular order. Blurbs by Byron Alexander Campbell (Tabletop Games Editor).
Best “Easy Entry” Games of 2017
Codenames Duet by Vlaada Chvátil & Scot Eaton
Before 2015, Czech designer Vlaada Chvátil was best known for big, genre-bursting game designs that found humor in their own complexity—games like Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, Dungeon Lords/Petz, Mage Knight, and Through the Ages. He’d done silly party games like Bunny Bunny Moose Moose and Pictomania, but they were oddities in his catalog. From now on, though, he’ll be known as the designer of Codenames. In this insanely popular party game, two competing “spymasters” study a grid of twenty-five words and try to give single-word clues to help their teammates find the hidden agents while avoiding assassins or agents of the other team. For instance, the clue “Newton 3” can be given to clue the words Mass, Force, and Scientist. Codenames Duet expands on the success of the original with a cooperative variant intended for two players taking turns as spymaster and guesser, although it can also be played in teams. It also adds a campaign mode that gradually increases the difficulty as the players retrieve their secret agents from cities across the globe. If you’d rather play spy-vs-spy than cooperatively, it’s a great time to pick up the original Codenames (see the Entropy review), released in 2015, or one of its many themed editions, from Disney to Marvel.
Magic Maze by Kasper Lapp
A mage, a warrior, an elf, and a dwarf walk into a shopping mall. This isn’t a scene from a Terry Pratchett novel; it’s the very weird premise of the equally weird cooperative game, Magic Maze. Playing against a sand timer and with a strict ban on verbal or visual communication, players must coordinate to get each hero to his or her favorite store, steal some equipment, and get out. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the players don’t control the heroes directly; instead, each player takes control of one direction of movement, so one player can move any hero to the right, someone else can move anyone down, et cetera. Actually, there is some communication involved: a big red pawn that you can anxiously slap down in front of a teammate to tell them to make that obvious move right now, please. Folding in arcane vortices, escalators, mall security, and a campaign book only escalates the craziness.
Tiny Epic Quest by Scott Almes
Let’s get this out of the way first: Tiny Epic Quest is gorgeous, with its faux-Zelda aesthetic and vibrant color palette. The homage to Zelda doesn’t end with the logo, however. In this game, players carry out adventures worthy of a Hero of Time—exploring temples, finding treasure, learning spells, and beating up goblins—all in about a half hour. The game is split into two phases: during the day, the heroes venture across the map using movement cards, and at night, they push their luck to explore temples, learn spells, or punch greenskins. The sandbox-style scoring means you can get points for doing just about anything, but the real fun of the game comes from claiming the temples’ unique treasures and clipping them onto your “Itemeeples” to unlock new abilities.
Best Indie and Small-Press Games
With the growing consolidation of board game publishing, something you have to look to small publishers to push boundaries.
Consentacle by Naomi Clark
This year more than any other has demonstrated the importance of clear, frank discussions concerning affirmative sexual consent. For this reason alone, Consentacle deserves a mention, even though it debuted (as an exhibition piece) in 2014 and won’t be officially released until January 2018. Further justification of its inclusion here: preorders are still open, and this may be the game’s only full print run. Consentacle is a two-player, cooperative card game about building intimacy, trust, and satisfaction in a human-alien romantic encounter, relying heavily on non-verbal communication. Reclaims themes and fantasies that are too often associated with sexual aggression, the stunning artwork from James Harvey (Mouth Baby, Masterplasty) gets bonus points for depicting both human and alien without explicit gender.
Untold: Adventures Await by John Fiorre & Rory O’Connor
Rory’s Story Cubes have appeared in the game aisle of your local retailer since 2010, despite being more of a creativity-inspiring tool (akin to the excellent Storyteller Cards) than a game proper. In fact, the cubes originated as “a creative problem solving tool for adults,” with suggested game-like activities tacked on later. Untold: Adventures Await is the first fully fleshed-out game system incorporating Rory’s Story Cubes. This is a collaborative storytelling game—think Once Upon a Time or Aye, Dark Overlord!—that borrows the structure and vocabulary of an hour-long television serial. The best part is that any old Cubes set you have lying around as a counter to writer’s block can be tossed into the mix—it’s fully compatible with the entire Cubes collection.
Fog of Love by Jacob Jaskov
Much like Consentacle, Fog of Love is a two-player game simulating a romantic relationship. Like Untold, it skirts the line between roleplaying game and board game. Billing itself as a “romantic comedy as a board game,” it is neither fully cooperative nor fully competitive—players have individual goals that may or may not align—but more about playing into your character’s personality to the best of your ability and indulging the comedy of errors, drama, or romance that ensues as you “face the challenge of making an unusual relationship work.” As with Consentacle, Fog of Love earns mad props for supporting any gender combination for its fictional couple.
These games from previous years only got better in 2017.
Cities of Splendor by Marc André
It’s a little surprising that Splendor, Marc André’s 2014 game of Renaissance gemstone speculation and chip collection, took three years to receive its first expansion. The game received many honors, including a Spiel des Jahres nomination and top honor at the Golden Geeks, and for good reason: its simplicity of play (each turn boils down to a binary choice: take some chips or cash them in to buy a card, increasing your economy) belies a satisfying tactical depth, and the weighted chips are just plain satisfying to handle. Equally surprising is that Splendor‘s first expansion is actually four expansions, none of which are compatible with each other. This approach actually works to Cities of Splendor‘s favor, however; by limiting interactions between the new mechanics, they ensure that each one is balanced on its own, providing a unique flavor that doesn’t overpower the magic of the original game. It may be due to the timing of this expansion that some members of the Entropy community discovered this gem of a game in 2017.
Spyfall 2 by Alexandr Ushan
Spyfall is the perfect premise for a party game. Each player receives a card listing a location and a specific role within that location—for example, the taster at a candy factory. They then go around the circle asking and answering simple questions, entirely in character. The twist is that not everybody receives an actual role; one character’s card just says “Spy,” and it’s the spy’s job to suss out the location before everybody else ferrets out the spy. If a player complains about being winded, are you at the stadium, the retirement home, or the coal mine? How do you let everyone else know you’re not the spy without revealing too much? How do you lie convincingly when you have no clue where you actually are? Spyfall 2, which can be played on its own or mixed with the original game, brings twenty new locations, an expanded player count, and the possibility of a second spy.
Discovered in 2017
Here are some gems from years past that the Entropy community started playing in 2017.
Sheriff of Nottingham by Sérgio Halaban & André Zatz
Sheriff of Nottingham dates back to the misty past of 2014, though the concept is older still, originating with the 1950s-era Contraband. It’s another perfect premise for a party game: one player, the titular, irascible sheriff, is in charge of inspecting all custom entering the city during a visit from Prince John. The others are merchants trying to make the most of the Prince’s visit by selling their most valuable wares. Of course, the most valuable goods—pepper, mead, really nice cheese—are exactly the kinds of illicit items the sheriff doesn’t want entering the city. Once they’ve chosen the items they want to sell, the merchants seal them in burlap sacks and declare their custom (not necessarily honestly). The sheriff may conduct a customs inspection if he feels the merchants are trying to pull a fast one, and illegal goods discovered this way are captured and fined, but if it turns out the merchant was above board, the sheriff must pay a small fee for delaying her business. It’s pure bluff, bluster, bribery, and silliness. Sheriff of Nottingham received an expansion, Merry Men, in 2017, which might explain how it snuck onto some players’ tables this year.
Captain Sonar by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier
Captain Sonar can best be summed up as Electronic Battleship but played in real time as a team game with the flashing lights and canned sounds replaced by defined roles, shouting, and dry-erase markers. As the captain, navigate crowded waterways in search of the enemy ship; as the first officer, charge up weapons and imaging systems; as the engineer, selectively break components until you’re first to surface for repairs; or as the radio operator, listen in on the other team’s headings and puzzle desperately over their actual location. Borrowing from the best of modern hidden movement games in a reimagining of the grandpappy of them all, Captain Sonar is a must-try, especially if you get a kick out of chaos. Although the game debuted in 2016, many new players discovered it this year via the Target-exclusive reimplementation, Sonar.
Secret Hitler by Mike Boxleiter, Tommy Maranges & Max Temkin
Cards Against Humanity is a masterful creation, really; beneath the veneer of shock-jockey gross-out humor is an expertly crafted blend of absurdism, satire, and cultural touchstones. And as a brand, it’s relentlessly political, from the Creative Commons principles on which it’s founded to the performance art protest pieces it regularly stages. (Remember the 2016 Holiday Hole? 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit? Or when they bought up the land around Trump’s border wall?) All of which is a long-winded introduction to Secret Hitler, the social deduction game that would never have raised $1.5M on Kickstarter were it not for the involvement of Cards Against Humanity co-creator Max Temkin. It’s basically like other hidden traitor games (Werewolf, Mafia), except it mimics the startling ease with which fascism comes to power. It released at the end of 2016 at just the right cultural moment to ensure that it would continue to sell copies until at least 2020.