Barnes on Games- Barnes' Best GOTY 2016

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MB Updated January 30, 2019
Barnes on Games- Barnes' Best GOTY 2016
There Will Be Games

Spoiler- It's Star Trek: Ascendancy

Here it is, the last column of a shitty year that benefitted absolutely no one except rich, white scumbags. THANKS A LOT 2016 for finding all new ways to take good things away from us. Anyway, one of the brighter parts of the year is that there were actually quite a lot of really good games released this year- I found myself doing my "huh, this is actually pretty good" affirmation through more games than usual it seems, but it could also be because I've gotten MUCH more selective about what I play and review, if that's even possible because I was already filtering out tons of junk. So over at Miniature Market we've done our GOTY post, and it has my "official" GOTY picks on it which will probably surprise no one. They are:

Star Trek Ascendancy- This is the one game that just completely blew me away this year, and it was one I wasn't even really sure I wanted to play. In fact, Charlie asked me to review it and I was like "yeah, sure, whatever". But then I got a review copy and I was like "no, we are reviewing this together because it's awesome". This is a magnificent piece of design work that gives you the big, hoary 4x game experience but with streamlining in the right places. More importantly, it captures the sense of adventure, exploration, negotiation and discovery that defines Trek. It's a near-perfect use of the license and it is by far the best Trek game to date. I haven't gotten to play this game nearly as much as I'd like due to the three player limit, but every game has been awesome and well worth telling some other friends at game night to take a hike. This is also GF9's best game to date.

Scythe- This is probably the controversial pick because it was "promised" to be a 4x game when in actuality it is an economic game with a fascinating theme about agrarian cultures being driven to fight using the tools at hand. The title is apt, as it's a farming tool that can also be used as a weapon. This is a beautiful game refined and designed to spec at an almost Kubrickian degree, full of interesting and interlocking mechanics and a unique setting. I have the expansion sitting right here but I have yet to even take a look at it because of the disaster that was the holidays this year, but I'm trying to get at least seven lined up for a game this weekend.


Zimby Mojo- Jim Felli delivers again with this year's "vanguard" pick. This is a wholly outsider game unlike anything else you have played. It's bizarre, violent, goofy and idiosyncratic and it is a great example of the difference between scrappy but singular game design genius and sloppy Kickstarter non-development. It's kind of a mess, it's too long, and it's not a game that you can just break out and play with anyone but there is not an alternative. Much like Shadows of Malice (which held this same spot last year), you either let Mr. Felli do his thing or you go somewhere else. But if you do get on board, you're going to have a fresh, fun experience that is well worth working through the barriers to entry.

Now, you might find yourself asking where some of my other favorites, specifically Gorechosen and Silver Tower, are. Well, I couldn't pick those because we are beholden to choose games that Miniature Market sells for obvious reasons. Regardless, I think that ST:A would have still taken the top prize but everything under that would be completely in flux with those two games in the mix because:

Gorechosen: This game is quite possibly the best design Games Workshop has ever come up with and it hits every single element that you've wanted from their board games for the past 30+ years. It's ridiculous, funny, capricious, violent and the whole thing just kind of explodes. It is totally heavy metal to the hilt. But it is also an incredibly well-written gladiatorial game that avoids a lot of the stumbling blocks you often seen in melee-focused, low model count skirmish. Nobody stands around trading blows. Everything is always moving and the weapon profiles make maneuver a critical element. The cardplay is fun, the miniatures are of course the best in the industry, and it is just a blast to play in the same way that games like Wiz-War and DungeonQuest were in the 1980s.

Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower: As I've stated repeatedly, this is the best dungeoncrawl game on the market and I do not care one lick if it is not a 1:1 remake of the original game. This is a leaner, cleaner game with an excellent dice-based activation mechanic, lots of detail, simple leveling and TONS of great narrative thanks to the scenario format. It's also the best-looking game of its type available, with a very Tzeentchy color palate and a more surrealist, almost deco take on the usual aesthetics. This is a game with birdmen and spider-goblin hybrids. This is also probably my most played game of 2016, having gone through the full campaign solo and also with a group that rotated between 2-4 players over the course of it. I look at this game and it makes me think about getting rid of the AD&D Adventure System set I have, and that speaks to its overall quality. I want more WHQ, and hopefully GW will deliver in 2017.

Now, in addition to all of the above...I allowed the Review Corner writers to select an overall Game of the Year. Most of them had Star Wars: Rebellion on their lists, so editorially that was what made sense. I gave it four stars, but that crap-ass fake-depth combat system kept it from top marks. Nonetheless, it's a decent "popular" pick for an overall GOTY. Even if it is wrong by my standards.

That's it- now let's all limp on through the rest of this accursed year and hope for a better one come Sunday.

There Will Be Games

Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes

Editor-in-Chief

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film. 

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drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #241612 31 Dec 2016 11:41
Great stuff as always MB. You're directly responsible for my purchases of: Spartacus, Earth Reborn, Cthulhu Wars and Claustrophobia among others I'm too Saturday morning drunk to remember.
I guess I'll have to look into Silver Tower and Gorechosen.
Still, I own a hell of a lot of Heroquest and Dungeon Saga and those scratch a lot of itches.
And Wiz-War fun in the 80s?! Come on now. I have fun playing Wiz-War in 2016! Wiz-War is probably by favorite FFG reprint.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #241617 31 Dec 2016 12:21
It occurs to me that Felli is working in a very auteur kind of design space. He seems to be designing games that he wants to play, and the rest of us are along for the ride. That's a great quality, and it makes Shadows of Malice and Zimby Mojo really special games, but it does severely limit their appeal to the hobby at large. I think most gamers, not unreasonably, expect a game to be theirs to mold and shape, and both of Felli's games resist that. Great games, and I'm keeping them both for the long haul, but they really do force the player to approach them with a willingness to let the game do what it wants, rather than the other way around.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #241619 31 Dec 2016 13:42
Great post and choices! Thanks for your contributions here all year, Barnes.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #241626 31 Dec 2016 15:41
I feel bad now (possibly heretical) .... I've just posted that, after my initial gushing over it, I think Star Trek: Ascendancy may be slightly broken (or just not that good) in a couple of aspects. (How many weeks suspension have I just occurred).
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #241627 31 Dec 2016 16:46
0, shit like that is way more welcome here than a bunch of people posting "me too!" And shouting down dissent.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #241751 03 Jan 2017 18:56
That's right, we here at F:AT completely embrace your right to be wrong.
Columbob's Avatar
Columbob replied the topic: #241781 04 Jan 2017 10:19
Hey Mike, have you tried Mechs vs. Minions yet?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #241786 04 Jan 2017 10:50
An old friend of mine was in town for the holidays and he brought it over twice, but we wound up playing Doom and TMNT instead when I saw him. I'll get to it eventually!
Malloc's Avatar
Malloc replied the topic: #241877 05 Jan 2017 22:12
Barnes, Ascendency is a mess, some good ideas in there but the game play is not great. There are real issues, from the fact that it encourages turtling, to the fact that the races all essentially play the same (due to turtling culture) and that the space lanes are kind of worthless once everyone starts warping. This thing needed more testing. Also combat... it could have been better. I like the dice but its pretty easy to figure out who is winning a battle before it starts.

I want to like it, its has things that could have worked but it needs help
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #241885 06 Jan 2017 08:40
Interesting. I've only played four games but turtling has not been a thing for anyone besides the Fed. Whoever ends up with less culture typically cannot turtle at all. We've had 3 wins from Dominance and 1 from Culture.

The space lanes also matter because ships block people from warping through, so they create choke points.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #241889 06 Jan 2017 09:15
I still like the game but my disappointmants (still) are:
- Research broken as it can't be used (effectively) both for weapons/shields and advancements (unless you are well on your way to a supremacy win, then it doesn't matter).
- Hidden exploration with no initial player contact for maybe five turns can make a player a spectator if they get unlucky draws (i.e. three phenomenon and a planet eater out of eight system draws = just watching the other two).
- It's still just a production race.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #241891 06 Jan 2017 09:24
I very nearly bought Ascendancy a couple weeks ago, but I decided against it. I think the 3-player limit and length were my main issues, but I am curious how this turtling thing plays out for other people. I think for any sort of map-based game that's the toughest thing to push against.
Unicron's Avatar
Unicron replied the topic: #241902 06 Jan 2017 11:36

Southernman wrote: I still like the game but my disappointmants (still) are:
- Research broken as it can't be used (effectively) both for weapons/shields and advancements (unless you are well on your way to a supremacy win, then it doesn't matter).
- Hidden exploration with no initial player contact for maybe five turns can make a player a spectator if they get unlucky draws (i.e. three phenomenon and a planet eater out of eight system draws = just watching the other two).
- It's still just a production race.


I know that ten games isn't a ton, but on average, our games have first contact on turn 3. Two players are trying to make contact with the Romulans to get trade up ASAP. I don't think that shields and weapons are meant to be maxed, only to have the capacity for a few upgrades if they become the sole research priority. I think the terrible system draw can be crippling, but not as much as when you and your opponents are inexperienced. As for the production race, if that were the case, then I think the Federation should win every game, right?
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #241919 06 Jan 2017 18:14

Unicron wrote:

Southernman wrote: I still like the game but my disappointmants (still) are:
- Research broken as it can't be used (effectively) both for weapons/shields and advancements (unless you are well on your way to a supremacy win, then it doesn't matter).
- Hidden exploration with no initial player contact for maybe five turns can make a player a spectator if they get unlucky draws (i.e. three phenomenon and a planet eater out of eight system draws = just watching the other two).
- It's still just a production race.


I know that ten games isn't a ton, but on average, our games have first contact on turn 3. Two players are trying to make contact with the Romulans to get trade up ASAP. I don't think that shields and weapons are meant to be maxed, only to have the capacity for a few upgrades if they become the sole research priority. I think the terrible system draw can be crippling, but not as much as when you and your opponents are inexperienced. As for the production race, if that were the case, then I think the Federation should win every game, right?


We are aggressive players so 1st contact does not come quickly, we are too busy exploring to get all the resource nodes to be able to attack or defend attacks.
I had two games in a row where I was basically out of the game by turn four/five - one wasn't as bad as the other and I was squirrelling away ships hoping to make a backdoor attack on the guy smashing over the other guy but he won before i had enough ships just to match one of his fleets.
Not sure where you are going with your Fed/production comment.
RabidWookie's Avatar
RabidWookie replied the topic: #241925 07 Jan 2017 00:24
Was it really necessary to start a Game of the Year piece with silly political hyperbole?
RabidWookie's Avatar
RabidWookie replied the topic: #241927 07 Jan 2017 00:25
On topic, Ascendancy is broken and overly long for such a defensive game. Gorechosen and Silver Tower are brilliant, and I'd have probably picked Silver Tower as GOTY.
scissors's Avatar
scissors replied the topic: #241930 07 Jan 2017 03:39

RabidWookie wrote: Was it really necessary to start a Game of the Year piece with silly political hyperbole?


What's silly about it? And who says it's hyperbole? A majority of Americans and much of the free world considers the election of a longtime conman and liar a downright catastrophe for the US and for the rest of us. Even if Michael only alluded to it indirectly, per the FAT unspoken rule to generally stay away from politics, I am glad he has an opinion that goes beyond just board games.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #241933 07 Jan 2017 08:39

RabidWookie wrote: On topic, Ascendancy is broken and overly long for such a defensive game. Gorechosen and Silver Tower are brilliant, and I'd have probably picked Silver Tower as GOTY.


I'm sure GW fan-boi games were excluded - actually they probably got gamers who played other games as well as GW to vote :-)
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #241934 07 Jan 2017 08:42

scissors wrote:

RabidWookie wrote: Was it really necessary to start a Game of the Year piece with silly political hyperbole?


What's silly about it? And who says it's hyperbole? A majority of Americans and much of the free world considers the election of a longtime conman and liar a downright catastrophe for the US and for the rest of us. Even if Michael only alluded to it indirectly, per the FAT unspoken rule to generally stay away from politics, I am glad he has an opinion that goes beyond just board games.


Yes but this is the exact reason why we have separate forums for spitting your own flavour of vitriolic creed at everyone else ... most of the site is about discussing games (except for Black Barney who is allowed to post about anything, and usually not games) and probably all of us like it that way.
scissors's Avatar
scissors replied the topic: #241947 07 Jan 2017 13:43
my own flavour of Vitriolic creed? you are kidding, right? since I barely ever come here anymore, for any reason, for that reason i should perhaps have kept it myself. this just happened to catch my eye, you self styled spokesman for what's right or wrong at FAT.
RabidWookie's Avatar
RabidWookie replied the topic: #241951 07 Jan 2017 14:09

scissors wrote:

RabidWookie wrote: Was it really necessary to start a Game of the Year piece with silly political hyperbole?


What's silly about it? And who says it's hyperbole? A majority of Americans and much of the free world considers the election of a longtime conman and liar a downright catastrophe for the US and for the rest of us. Even if Michael only alluded to it indirectly, per the FAT unspoken rule to generally stay away from politics, I am glad he has an opinion that goes beyond just board games.


Both candidates were crooked liars and plenty of people had good reasons (and bad reasons) for voting for either of them. To pretend otherwise is to engage in childish hyperbole. I couldn't in good conscience support either of them.

As far as gaming, 2016 was a pretty big let-down compared to the wonders 2015 delivered. My highlights for the year were pretty much relegated to Games Workshop working it's way back into my life after a 25 year hiatus and discovering older games for the first time, like Puzzle Strike.
RabidWookie's Avatar
RabidWookie replied the topic: #241952 07 Jan 2017 14:16

scissors wrote: my own flavour of Vitriolic creed? you are kidding, right? since I barely ever come here anymore, for any reason, for that reason i should perhaps have kept it myself. this just happened to catch my eye, you self styled spokesman for what's right or wrong at FAT.


Wait, you're criticizing someone for supposedly speaking for the majority of a niche message board, after you just tried to speak for the majority of Americans and the world regarding your angry politics?
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #241956 07 Jan 2017 14:27
Please continue this discussion in the RSP forum.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #241980 07 Jan 2017 18:52

scissors wrote: my own flavour of Vitriolic creed? you are kidding, right? since I barely ever come here anymore, for any reason, for that reason i should perhaps have kept it myself. this just happened to catch my eye, you self styled spokesman for what's right or wrong at FAT.


Nope, the moderators are (I just know stuff) and they just told you to fuck off to another forum ....... told ya so, na na na

(PS My 'your own flavour' comment was the same as the 'royal we', meaning everyone).
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #241997 08 Jan 2017 10:01
Look, we're brought here by a common interest, so let's throw out the political talk and focus on something we can all agree on:

Miniatures games are dumb toys for little babys.