Dice Hate Me Game of the Year Awards 2016
Happy New Year, dear readers! Welcome to 2017, and it’s hard to believe it’s already here! It was a crazy year for the boardgame industry, as well as for Dice Hate Me Games/Greater Than Games. We finally saw the delivery of New Bedford after a lot of hard work, and were blessed with the funding of a very personal project in Fate of the Elder Gods. Count in Lazer Ryderz, the second round of Meta Rabbit games, and development on exciting projects like Legends of Sleepy Hollow, and we’ve been incredibly lucky.
Of course, before we look forward to everything in store for 2017, it’s time on Dice Hate Me to look back at some of the best and brightest board games from 2016. As mentioned, this was an interesting year in the industry with lots of new ideas, quite a few mergers and acquisitions, and some risk-taking in design. As usual, it was a difficult decision in each category! To clarify the process of selection, the Game of the Year Award is open only to those games that were published and distributed for retail openly in North America in 2016, and no Dice Hate Me Games titles are eligible. But, in order to honor those games that graced the gaming table for the first time this year but were published before 2016, I am continuing to announce the Dice Hate Me Discovery of the Year Award – including an out-of-print title that I’ve hunted down for over 5 years. It was worth it.
2016 Dice Hate Me Game of the Year
It should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with past DHM Game of the Year picks that I truly love an underdog; moreso than that, I hold in high regards any game that can surprise me with how good they turn out to be despite initial impressions. With that said, no game surprised me more this year than Tavarua. Certainly, surfing is an intriguing theme that made my proverbial ears perk when I first heard of it on Kickstarter, but not enough that I took the initiative to back it. I will readily admit that I was so wrong not to do so. Tavarua’s unique theme is only the fascinating outer skin to a very deep and satisfying card, dice, and press-your-luck game. Like a couple of former Games of the Year – most notably Gravwell and Fleet – Tavarua isn’t the biggest or most intricate game you might put on the table, but the fun and interaction after doing so elevates it to greatness. Every time I play Tavarua, I am fascinated by the fun of balancing on the razor edge of either greatness or extreme fail while trying to ride and showboat on my surfboard to shore for that perfect score. What truly makes Tavarua great, though, is that you won’t win if you just seek the perfect ride; you have to carefully evaluate the total time for the competition and prove your worth on both long and short boards to truly bring home the championship trophy. In the end, bringing this well-made and enriching title home for your gaming group will always be the ultimate trophy.
Tavarua is a game for 2-6 surf jockeys, ages 13 and up, from Cody Miller, for Far Off Games.
If ever there was a front-runner for Game of the Year on many lists by the end of August, it was Terraforming Mars. Rarely have I seen a game receive so much hype before it was released, nor seen it on so many gaming tables wherever I turned for the last half of 2016 after GenCon. Some might have grown tired of the constant accolades and truly wondered if it deserved it. I’m here to say, definitively, that it deserves every little bit. Despite the heavy Euro pedigree that one might expect from a game such as this, Terraforming Mars wraps what could be a huge Euro beast in a comfy, thematic blanket, fostering a soothing, immersive gaming experience that is completely accessible by most any gamer. And, because of the unpredictable card play, set-up, and variable player powers, rarely have I found a game that tells a wholly different story each time you get it to the table. It’s quite often more than a game – like its subject matter, it’s an exciting exploration into the thrilling unknown.
Terraforming Mars is a game for 1-5 planet barons, ages 12 and up, from Jacob Fryxelius, for Stronghold Games.
Star Trek: Ascendancy
Speaking of exploring the Great Unknown, one of the greatest sci-fi properties to ever give fandom that experience is Star Trek. Because of my father, I’ve been a Trekker since before I could barely spell my own name, so obviously this kind of game was on my scanners long before it was published. But, with great excitement also comes great expectations, and because of Gale Force Nine’s constant respect and admiration for its licensed properties those expectations are surely met. Ascendancy is certainly a bit odd in that it requires exactly three players for the optimal experience, but it all makes sense in the gameplay. The Federation constantly seeks diplomacy with minimal military force, the Romulans want nothing but to undermine the other factions through careful calculation and deceit, and the Klingons want to bring honor to the Empire through military might. Yet, despite the strategies for each faction that might seem obvious at first lies a complex and intricate system of checks and balances that requires each player to be aware of what the others might need to succeed in deep space. Ultimately, it’s another amazing release from the GF9 wonder team that will leave each player – Trekker or not – yearning to explore time and time again.
Star Trek: Ascendancy is a game for 3 trekkers, ages 14 and up, from Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart, for Gale Force Nine.
Great Western Trail (another fantastic title from the Stronghold Games/Eggertspiele collaboration that just missed the top 3 because of Terraforming Mars), Mansions of Madness (wherein Fantasy Flight Games redeems themselves greatly from the previous debacle that was The Freezer Incident), and Mechs vs. Minions (a huge surprise from Riot Games that is way overproduced – in a good way – and way more fun that it has any right to be).
2016 Dice Hate Me Discovery of the Year
Mention the term Grail Game to most hardcore gamers and they’ll throw out titles like Fireball Island, the deluxe War of the Ring, or HeroQuest, but for me the past few years it’s been a quiet little bluffing, racing, and dexterity dice game from veteran designers Antoine Bauza and Bruno Faidutti. I had looked high and low for the curiously out-of-print Pony Express for almost 5 years before I tracked it down at Parker, Banner, Kent, and Wayne in Cornelius, NC. I had never played Pony Express, yet somehow I knew it was going to be something special, and, indeed, it was – and it continues to be for each and every gamer that rolls the dice and tries as best they can to race to Sacramento, dodging gunfights and unruly poker games along the way.
One of the reasons I always wait to announce my Games and Discoveries until the very end of the year is that I inevitably come across a game that surprises me near the zero hour. So it was with Booty, which I played on New Year’s Eve. At its heart, Booty is all about the divvy mechanic – a rare, but awesome, bit of gameplay where you divide a particular stash among multiple players, hoping to entice them with riches they might like, all the while hoping upon hope that you get the best stuff that’s left over for yourself. The game is full of the usual pirate-based collection trope – rum, conscription flags, Caribbean island dominance, gold, and the like – but none of it feels stale because of the constant second-guessing as to who might take what, and how best to justify giving your opponents just what they might want while keeping your own intentions secret. You know, like a pirate boss.
I can imagine more than a few of you Dear Readers out there might shake your head and think I’m far too late to the party on this other pirate-themed game – and you wouldn’t be wrong. When it was released in 2012 it made the short list for many enthusiasts’ Best of the Year lists, yet somehow it remained elusive to me. Embracing the mantra of “better late than ever” I made it a point to play Libertalia in 2016, and it was just as good as everyone claimed. I so love a good simultaneous role/action selection game, and Libertalia wraps that hearty mechanic around a fantastic production and an ever-shifting game state that keeps you second-guessing about your competitor pirates. This is one title that made my A-Team shelves only halfway through the first play, and I’m more than happy that it has come down off that shelf several times since its inception.
Celestia (a true hidden gem of a press-your-luck game with easy rules and fantastic production value), Mission: Red Planet (a classic role selection and deduction game with some shiny new parts in the latest editions), and Port Royal (another fantastic press-your-luck, drafting and set collection game from the amazing design mind of Alexander Pfister).
- The State of Games, Ep. 121: The One About the Best Games of 2016
- Dice Hate Me Game of the Year Awards 2015
- The 2016 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
- Dice Hate Me Game of the Year Awards 2012
- Dice Hate Me Game of the Year Awards 2013