Let's be honest: 2016 wasn't the best year for many people. For whatever reason, it simply seemed to be a year - at least around our home towns - that saw a lot of bad things happen. Whether it was bad world news, celebrity deaths, or personal hardship, there is a good chance that you spent a good bit of the year looking for some escapism.
Fortunately, 2016 did not lack in good games that you could jump into and forget about reality for a while. Whether you love to immerse yourself in digital worlds, or get sucked into intense moments around a table, there were many great new additions to the hobby. While we have just uploaded our fourth Podcast episode to talk about it in depth (you can find it at the very bottom, or look on Itunes to subscribe to our channel), we also know that lists are a time-honored tradition on gaming sites, and so we thought now was a good as time as any to chime in.
Here at Sprites and Dice, we have a staff with wildly varying opinions and tastes in games. We hope that you agree with at least one of us that our choices are sound, and we also hope that this list gives you some indication of games that should be kept on your shelf as we start off the year 2017. Enjoy!
Board Game: Blood Rage
There were so many great board games released this year, but Blood Rage made it to my friends at the start of the year, and it still comes out to the table now. It's proof that game design has taken leaps and bounds forward, taking the exhausting problems out of the original Risk and making something new and exciting out of the fun parts of a territory control game. With card drafting mechanics, massive 4-player combats, and lasting only three turns long, this is a game that should set a gold standard moving forward.
Video Game: XCOM 2
|A turn-based game that still gets your heart racing with every sniper shot|
There were many, many amazing video games that came out this year, but I cannot express enough how well crafted XCOM 2 came out ahead of them all. The first game in the series, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was famous for taking a dead franchise and making it feel full and fun and relevant to modern gaming. Then, somehow XCOM 2 came along and perfected a game that many thought was already flawless. It not only built on the original by Firaxis, but improved on it, turning some concepts on their head while honoring others. It's a game that reminds you that playing hard games can be fun, and how games are at their best when they get us emotionally invested in them.
Board Game: Joking Hazard
While not a board game per se, it’s been my go-to game ever since I got my copy from the Kickstarter campaign. Mad Libs created the fill-in-the-blank genre, Apples to Apples turned it into a board game, Cards Against Humanity made it massively popular, and now Joking Hazard is the next step. Creating hilariously inappropriate comics with my friends (and total strangers) has easily been one of the best parts of this year.
Video Game: Pokémon Go
Despite its rocky start, Pokémon Go has been a massive and influential force in modern gaming. It built on the Augmented Reality genre that Ingress first brought into the public eye. Pokémon Go makes use of rapidly advancing mobile technology to allow players to live out their dreams of being a Pokémon trainer in real life - sort of. Pokémon Go has gotten thousands of gamers (often a reclusive and sedentary species) out of their homes, exploring the world, and meeting others who are doing the same. It fills a niche that not many other games can, being as much a real-life social experience as a game, and that is precisely why - in spite of the numerous problems it’s had finding its stride - I am naming Pokémon Go as my video game of the year.
Board Game: Secret Hitler
Despite all of the exciting new mechanics we got from games like Inis and Blood Rage, my favorite game of the year is one you can bring to the bar on a Friday night only to leave with your sides hurting from laughing so hard. Secret Hitler evokes the same excitement and paranoia that childhood games of Mafia and Werewolf did while offering just enough depth to make the game fun no matter who is winning. While needing five players at minimum is a bit of a hassle, I don’t regret a single time I’ve gotten the opportunity to play this year.
Video Game: Overwatch
Let’s be real, there are few games I sunk as much time into this year as I did into Overwatch. Before this game came out, I was pretty much over the idea of multiplayer shooters as a whole. But with Overwatch’s charming design, lovable characters, and a focus on teamwork over points, I couldn’t help but get sucked right in. This game wins not only for having a cast diverse in their social backgrounds, but in their playstyles as well. There is a character for every type of player out there, and with more content on the way in 2017 things are only looking up.
Honorable mentions: Firewatch, Hyper Light Drifter, Thumper
Board Game: Inis
My board game collection’s grown to the point that I only add a couple games to it each year. At this point I have a game that suits most any group, any theme, and any style of play. If I’m going to purchase a board game, then, it has to stand out in some new way or bring something to my collection that the others don’t. Inis was released towards the tail end of 2016 and like Blood Rage, it is a great little wargame. It’s got all the elements that make a tabletop wargame amazing, filling your turns with interesting decisions and forcing players into direct conflict right from the start. To boot, the card drafting mechanic that is Inis’s action system is sleek, easy to teach, hard to master, and adds an extra layer of intrigue and fun to slap your friends around with. Wrap it all up in beautifully illustrated, Celtic-inspired artwork and you have Inis. Equally a pleasure to play as it is to gaze at upon your dining room table.
Video Game: Pokémon Sun/Moon
An honorable mention goes to Overwatch, the PC game that more or less dominates my leisure time when I sit at my computer. However, the top spot for 2016 goes to Pokémon: Sun/Moon (for those interested, I bought Moon). In terms of game time density, I think I’ve easily spent more time on this Pokémon title than any in prior years. Like clockwork I beat the story of each Pokémon game in about 40 hours on the dot, even taking my time to savor the journey. I beat Moon in 32 hours, and in a little over a week I’ve doubled my clocked playtime catching legendaries and breeding for competitive fights. For the changes to its story, stronger characters, innovative take on classic pokemon, and all the little “quality of life” improvements to existing pokemon systems, Pokémon: Sun/Moon edges into my top video game pick of the year. I’m going to be playing this one for a long time to come.
Board Game: Evolution: Climate
Sporting a tight gameplay package that conveys theme and fluff with an easy-to-learn yet deeply engaging mechanics, Evolution is a real charmer. It's new standalone remake, Evolution: Climate, builds on what was already there. Attractive to new players, changing enough for die hard board game robots, it comes with the cutest first player token ever made.
Video Game: Tyranny
The grey storytelling hooks you into a world of nuance that I haven't seen the likes of in a long time. Older rpgs like Fable broke ground by letting you be evil, but the dichotomy between good and evil was always exclusive and binary. Tyranny explores the degrees of evil, allowing you to choose between bad and worse. Do you sacrifice the individual for the safety of the group? Whose agendas well you pursue at the expense of others? Who will you subjugate, and who will you trust to join you unbroken? My biggest complaint is that the game feels short, but I can't think of any other game that asks questions similar to Tyranny’s navel-gazing account of war, occupation, and the pursuit of power.
There you have it: our list of favorite games, both in written and audio form. Have a different game you think is better? Let us know here in the comments! We would love to hear what games you found worth going through 2016.