It was another exciting year for tabletop games and the nerds who love them. This was a year (plus) for re-releases of classic titles (Necromunda, Blood Bowl, Escape from Colditz, Axis & Allies) and one that saw a growing trend in pirate, tropical, jungle games and settings. Crowdfunding, 3D printing, and CNC small-scale manufacturing all continued to have a significant and growing impact on the gaming industry, as did the expanding number of YouTube game- and dungeon crafting-related shows. Game component and miniature quality continued to rise and astound, and game design and play mechanics seem slicker and better than ever.
With all of that in mind, here is my 2017 guide to tabletop wargames, RPGs, card games, board games, and more. This is not necessarily a tops list or an exhaustive one. These are mainly games that I played or acquired this year and that I personally recommend. If you have others, add them in Comments. (Where available, Amazon Affiliate links are used to help support Boing Boing.)
D&D's Forgotten Realms setting, Baldur's Gate (immortalized in the late 90s video game of the same name), gets a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter mash-up with the hugely successful horror game, Betrayal at House on the Hill, in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. In this cooperative tile-building game, you and your party try to remain alive while making your way through the dark passageways of this iconic D&D city. Collect too many bad Omens along the way and a Haunt happens, turning one party member against the others. Highly thematic and effectively creepy. Probably my favorite board game of the year. Comes with 6 really nice pre-painted minis.
The hugely popular Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy series gets a worthy sequel in Pandemic Legacy Season 2. 2-4 players cooperate to try to beat the reaper and save humanity from a virulent plague while the game itself tries to eat you. Good times! As with other Legacy games, outcomes from one session carry over to the next and the game is physically altered.
The British classic from the early 70s (which, in its heyday, outsold Monopoly in the UK) is back with a really swanky, well-designed edition from Osprey Games. Co-designed by a British POW who actually escaped from the supposedly escape-proof Colditz Castle, the game has 1-5 players taking on the roles of POWs while one player plays the castle's German jailers. Colditz is medium-light in complexity and takes about 2 hours to complete.
The sweeping Milton Bradley/Avalon Hill wargame classic is back with a special edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Avalon Hill brand. This version (basically a slight tweak and fluff of the short-lived 2008 special edition) offers two scenarios, one for December 1941 and the 1942 scenario from the original A&A. Fight all of WWII on a huge 24" by 46" game board crawling with some 600 plastic miniatures. This edition adds Italian and Chinese forces (also found in the 2008 edition) and some of the rules have been streamlined.
A fun and surprisingly knuckle-biting Euro-style game of jungle survival. Be prepared to die, a lot, as you and your party struggle against the Amazon in search of the lost city of El Dorado. The game is for 1-5 players and takes 30-60 minutes to play. There are solo, cooperative, and head-to-head modes. The whole thing comes to damp, itchy, and poisonous life via the very Tintin-esque illustrations of comic artist Garen Ewing.
In this award-winning and hugely popular Euro game from Sweden, 1-5 players buy card-based resources in an attempt to create the necessary conditions for altering Mars' atmosphere and biosphere. The goal is to raise the temperature of the planet, generate an atmosphere, create oceans, and build cities. This is another game known for having a very playable and satisfying solo mode.
Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games. Jungle and pirate games and settings were all the rage this year. Fifth edition D&D got in on the fun with the release of this big, beautiful tome. Tomb of Annihilation allows you to take your party of adventurers (levels 1-11) to Chult, the tropical fallen kingdom in the Forgotten Realms setting. As with the Curse of Strahd sourcebook released last year, I am already starting to hear excited reports from people who have made the journey to Chult.
Dungeon Fantasy is a new boxed set compilation drawing from the Dungeon Fantasy RPG tomes that have been released over the years for the Steve Jackson Games' GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) rule set. This set works as a stand-alone fantasy adventure RPG, but is fully compatible with GURPS 5th ed. In the box you get 5 full-color rule- and sourcebooks, maps, dice, and cardboard miniatures. With its streamlined rules and shake n' bake approach to getting stuck right in, this is a great entrée game for anyone looking to dip their toe into fantasy RPGing.
Finally, the near impossible to find Empire of the Petal Throne, one of the ur-texts of RPGs, and the first world setting that TSR ever publishing, is back. This no-frills edition, which you can get in hardcover, softcover, and PDF formats, is the core Tékumel volume. All of the other iconic and coveted Tékumel books, including the Player's Handbook and the Tékumel Sourcebook, have also been re-released on DriveThruRPG by the Tékumel Foundation.
Tabletop Miniature Games
The late-80s tabletop classic (think Mad Max and Rollerball meet American football in Tolkien's Middle Earth) is back with a lovely new edition. This starter box includes Human and Orc teams with a growing number of additional teams available. This is one of Games Workshop's titles that has often been hailed as one of their highest achievements. With good reason. This game is ridiculous, goofy-good fun and is highly addictive.
Another Games Workshop classic returns, this one from the late 90s. Cyberpunky gangs fight each other over "archeo-tech" and other valuable loot in the industrial dungeons of a massive hive city in the far-future Warhammer 40,000 universe. Gorgeous new models with tons of customization options. This starter set contains two gangs, the all-female House Escher, and the genetically-enhanced beefcake of House Goliath. It's a kick-ass, empowered matriarchy vs. toxic masculinity. Place your bets!
A 30mm light-historical skirmish game that takes place in a 17th century Caribbean during the pirate heyday. Includes clever rules for ship-to-ship, ship-to-land, and land combat and uses a unique game mechanic employing standard playing cards for determining initiative. Amazingly high-quality, old-school pewter-cast miniatures and resin-cast ships, all done in a very garage-kit operation.
Working off of the phenomenal success of the Frostgrave skirmish wargame (my favorite game of the moment), creator Joseph McCullough and Osprey Games shine light in another corner of this compelling fantasy world with Ghost Archipelago, about a phantasmic tropical land with mysterious powers, lethal adversaries, and a whole new class of magic users and characters with special powers to explore it.
North Star Military Figures makes a wonderful line of multi-part plastic minis for Frostgrave. The multiple heads, torsos, weapons, and other gubbins allow you to make a vast array of custom characters. Most everything is interchangeable. With five different Frostgrave miniatures boxed sets, the combinations of characters you can make is nearly endless.
OGRE, the wargaming classic from the late 70s/early 80s (the one that began my obsession with tabletop wargaming), is back and it's more OGRE-ific than ever. This old-school map and counters game (here with added cardboard minis), features asymmetrical near-future warfare pitting puny humans and their tanks and hover-vehicles against a giant, crazed battleship-sized cybertank, the titular OGRE. For those that remember the 2012 Kickstarter campaign, where SJ Games raked in close to a million dollars, and produced a Designer's Edition of OGRE that was almost as huge and heavy as an OGRE itself, this is a more human-manageable version of that edition. An easy game to learn and play, but one with enough depth, re-playability, and thematic depth to keep you (OK, me) coming back again and again. Also, check out OGRE Objective 218, a card game set in the OGRE universe, with great art, that does an impressive job of capturing the feel of the tabletop game.
A lovely and simple Japanese tile-laying game designed by Hisashi Hayashi. You are a Samurai and master gardener trying to impress your shōgun by creating the most beautiful garden you can. The game is for 2-5 players and only takes around 15-20 minutes to play. This is one of those games that would make a great palate cleanser between larger games at a gaming night.
I was late to the party on Netrunner, Fantasy Flight Games' extremely immersive cyberpunk "living card game." I love Netrunner now and all of the expansion data packs and boxed expansion sets they've released for it. If you are also somewhat new to Netrunner, or want an excuse to get back into it, Terminal Directive is worth taking a look at. It is a unique narrative campaign system, with a murder mystery theme, within the Android Netrunner universe and the Netrunner card game. This immediately went on my Krampus gift list. (Also be on the lookout for the Android Netrunner: Revised Core Set, which will hopefully ship in time for Christmas.)
If there is one artist who has given the most color, shape, and atmosphere to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, it is John Blanche. His work has inspired the game's designers and miniature sculptures, the author's of the game's background, and it has graced the pages of the game's rulebooks, sourcebooks, and magazines. Now Blanche has created all new artwork for 52 conventional playing cards in a Dark Millennium-themed deck. At $12.50, these would make a great stocking stuffer for any fan of the 40K universe.
Gaming Tools, Supplies, and Misc.
Look on Thingiverse and you will find a number of painting handles for holding gaming minis while you paint them. There are a number of commercial holders, too, some of them quite expensive. Most gamers just glue or poster-putty-tack their minis onto a wine cork for painting. But for only $8, this Citadel holder is a cheap and easy-to-use solution. You'd spend that much on time, filament, and wear and tear on your 3D printer. The handle is designed to easily grab and release 25mm, 32mm, and 40mm round bases, as well as hold 60x35mm ovals.
These textured acrylic rolling pins are a game changer for any game hobbyists who make a lot of their own terrain. You can roll out stone walls, brick walls, cobblestones, industrial diamond plate, and other patterns with these pins. They are made to be rolled onto two-party epoxy putty (AKA green stuff), but you can also press these into foam material. No more carving individual stones in foam to create walls and streets!
Here's a unique and thoughtful gift that your gamer recipient doesn't even know she needs. Add these 3/16" stainless steel balls to any pot of hobby paint and you have a better way to keep your paints fully mixed. As a bonus, the pot makes a satisfying tick-tick-tick sound as you shake it, like rattle can spray paint.
In the last few years, there have been a number of books about the origins of D&D and bios of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. This meticulously researched and constructed history of the modern tabletop gaming impulse in general, and D&D in specific, is my favorite. This would make a great, thoughtful gift to any deep gaming geek on your holiday list.