2017, a rather Tremendous Year for Light Strategy Games.

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Kingdomino

2017’s Game of the Year. A 15 minute kingdom building game that borrows ideas from dominoes (King-domino). Each round player’s auction off tiles to add to their kingdom using turn order for the next round i.e. if you take the best tile you will pick last next round. Try to connect land type to land type to make a big area, but they only score if they have crowns on them. More crowns, more points. Great price point, a real winner.

Queendomino

Take Kingdomino and add an extra land type, special buildings and a few more meatier decisions (and a Dragon). You can combine this with Kingdomino to play a 7×7 4-player game or a 6 player 5×5 game.

Photosythesis

Blue Orange have had a heck of a year as publishers of all the games on this list so far. Photosynthesis absolutely knocks it out of the park with production. By the end of the game you have a multi-colored 3D forest on the board that looks quite stunning. The game itself is a no luck abstract game that actually manages to incorporate the theme into the mechanics. During the game the sun will rotate around the board giving you sun points. Bigger trees get more points and they also shade out the trees behind them. You use these points to drop seeds and grow your trees to their full size and eventual death (which score you game winning points, but loses you sun points needed to grow more trees). Unique and beautiful and again at a price point way below what you would expect for the production levels. A strong contender for 2018 Spiel des Jahres.

Make way for my seed pods!

Sagrada

A game about building stained glass windows, where have you been all my life? So pretty, see through dice add an extra touch of class to the fabulous game. It’s a multiplayer puzzle where you draft dice to try and fill a window using placement rules on your personal window and in general. You can’t place like numbers or colours next to each other and certain colours and numbers on your board. There are some ways to manipulate your board using certain actions and every game will have different ways to score. Plays in about 30 mins and will have you cursing the new and old Gods when you don’t get the dice you need in the last turn or two.

Magic Maze

This game is CRAY CRAY. 15 minutes of pawn banging silent frustration. Up to 8 players can partake in this madness as well. You are trying to help a Wizard, Barbarian, Rogue and Elf steal some equipment from a mall and when they all have what they need make a mad dash for the exit. The tweak(s) is you don’t control one of them, but all of them only doing one or more actions (like moving North, exploring, taking an escaltor). You do this in silence and can only communicate by banging a large red pawn in front of someone to tell them they need to do something (not what it is however). This is all done in real time. When the sand timer runs out, you lose, get them all out safely, you win. There are 17 ‘missions’ of increasing complexity and difficulty to play through.

Bang, bang, bang, goes Mr. red pawn.

El Dorado

A deck building, race game from IBGC cult fave Dr. Reiner Knizia. Players draw cards from identical starting decks and then either play them to move accoss the board’s different land types or to purchase new improved cards to add to their deck. However, if your buying, you’re not moving and this is a race game. The board is modular and double sided, so you can make lots of different race terrains with varying levels of difficulty, plus 18 different types of card to have in your deck. A great game that takes two common ideas (races and deck building) and slaps them together to make a unique game.

Azul

We’ve had a game about making windows, how about one where you put tiles on a wall! Oof, steady on, I’m racing at top speed to excitementville. The components are awesome though. Bakelite tiles of different colors and patterns reprenting the azulejos you put on your wall look amazing and are incredibly tactile. The gameplay is simple but leads to very tricky tactical decisions about what to take. It is essentially an abstract game at heart and with 2 players is very cut-throat, less with 4. On your turn you either take all of one type of tile from the factory spots, putting the rest into the middle. Or take all of one type from the middle, in both caes placing them on one of your rows. If you fill a row you add one tile to your wall and your are trying to make connected rows and columns to score ‘Qwirkle’ style. You must take some tiles on your turn, however, and if you can’t place them, they become negative points. Trust me, it’s great, next year’s Game of the Year? It’ll be nominated at the very least.

Tiles, tiles, tiles.

Flamme Rouge

Bike racing games have been tried in the past, but they have over-complicated things to try and include all the nuances of the sport. This one did the opposite. It streamlined the game to the essential parts, drafting and cutting the wind plus hills and straights. Everyone takes two cyclists, their sprinter and rouleur. They play a card for each cyclist and move them that many spaces and throw the card out of the game. You all have the same decks, but the guys at the front will add exhaustion cards to their decks which will slow them down later in the race. Hills need to be times perfectly to do well and if you can make a breakaway with both your cyclists you can win from the front. It also has a modular board for different styles of race and if you play in teams of two (taking one cyclist each) you can play up to eight people. It’s a little pricey, but for the bike fans, a perfect, streamlined simulation of team bike racing.

You’ll have to paint them to look like this.

Century: Spice Road

Splendor 2.0 it was dubbed when first released. That’s understandable as there are many similarities between the two games, but this does stand apart as it’s own game. Like Splendor, you take stuff to then trade them in sets for point cards. This game has an intermediate step though. You can also take cards which you play to upgrade your stuff (in this case cubes representing spices) into better stuff. You usually end up with 4 or 5 of those cards which you combo into a little engine to get the spices needed to trade in for the contracts (point cards). Great components, with metal coins, huge cards and bowls to put the spices in.

Majesty for the Realm

Look at me, I’m a box cover from 1997.

Did someone mention Splendor? Well this is the next game by Marc Andre, the designer of Splendor. This one is nothing like it, except for the compact 30 minute time frame with tough choices. There are 7 character cards in the game and you draft them into your kingdom from a row of 5, where the first one is free, the second one costs you 1 meeple which you place on the first card, the third two, placing one meeple on the first and second etc…When placed they activate and give you money (points, which are like the chips in Splendor, huzzah) or more meeples, or attack other players, or defend against other players, or bring back cards from the hospital because they were attacked by other players. Holy moly is this game interactive. On almost every players turn, they will do something that helps or hinders the other players. The game ends when everyone has taken 12 cards. Players get money for the majorities in each type of cards and that is it. Great fun, quick and tough, tough choices. Highly recommended.

NMBR 9

A wonderful Tetris style puzzle game. You are placing numbers in front of you, trying to place them on top of each other to score points. A number 7 on the ground scores nothing. On the second level, 7, on the third, 14 and so on. Your pieces must always touch, can never overhang empty space when placed on top and can never be placed directly on top of just one tile (i.e. on the second level up they must be placed on to two or more tiles). The order the numbers come out is determined by a communal deck of cards, so everyone will place the same number at the same time. It’s ultimately multi-player solitaire, but really fun as you try to decide whether to put that number 9 on the second level early or use it as a base to build a large platform to place stuff later. Takes about 15 mins to play and playable by all ages.

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