Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 19 January 2018

Amy's Top 10 Board Games of 2017

2017 was an incredible year for gaming, so many good games came out that it's been very hard to populate this list. I can't help but feel that I'm cutting out games that really were a vital part of my gaming landscape for the year. Being so spoiled for choice really is an amazing thing though, here's hoping 2018 follows suit and gives us another fantastic year!

2017 was the first year we started supporting games on Kickstarter, only 1 game a month, and I think it's testament to our selection process that 2 of those games have appeared on this list! Especially when only 4 of them have delivered so far! On top of that we had the wonderful experience of visiting UKGE, though again only for 1 day, making sure we do the whole event this year! Of course our wedding can't go without mention, while the day wasn't solely about board games, I can safely say that a large number of guests appreciated the chill out room run by the lovely people at Thirsty Meeples!

Without further ado, here are my top 10 board games released in 2017.

10. Otys
Otys is a game about diving into the ocean to dredge up relics of the past. The game is set in a post global warming water-world, with your divers swimming past cars and office buildings to collect useful scraps. I really enjoyed the diver mechanic in this game, every time you use a diver they have to surface for air, which then makes your column of divers all get pushed down deeper. Ultimately all you are doing is collecting cubes to match cards that tell you what cubes you need, but the way you go about doing that is so different that you have to appreciate it.

 9. Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama
I'm not against smaller games when they have their place, I struggled to decide on Kokoro and NMBR 9 for this space on this list as they both have the same function. Puzzle style games which are entirely fair, every player gets the same chances, but it's how you use them that counts. Kokoro ended up winning for me for several reasons. Firstly it's a smaller box, always handy for filler games, secondly it can take up to 8 players, and thirdly it has the charming art style inherited from Kodama. Kokoro is light, fun and strategic, it takes no more time playing with 8 players than with 2 and it's fascinating to see how different people approach the exact same problems.

8. Legendary: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Legendary series is well cemented into the board gaming world now, a fully expanded Legendary series is a pile of boxes to rival Ticket to Ride or Catan's libraries! I was surprised to see a Buffy version appearing, while the series was always popular, I feel that maybe the height of it's popularity was ~ a decade ago. For me the theme helps, the series was something I grew up with, but the game play is what kept me on the hook. Legendary Buffy takes everything great from Legendary Marvel and adds two great new systems. The light/dark track which keeps the game dynamic with the possibility of very quick swings from "things are fine" to "Oh crap", and the introduction of courage tokens, a token you can use as a +1 for those turns when your cards appeared in just slightly the wrong order.

7. T.I.M.E Stories: Estrella Drive
Fi immediately questioned my inclusion of Estella Drive on this list, she didn't include it because it's an expansion. But with an episodic game such as T.I.M.E. Stories I feel that the line blurs. The original T.I.M.E. Stories box was simply everything you needed to play the game, plus 1 story. Each expansion since is 1 story, exactly as much content as the original game. Estella Drive is everything I like Time Stories to be, you slowly unravel what is going on, find out what actions are needed and what are a waste of time, and then eventually have one run where you are almost superheroic levels of efficient. Estella Drive has been the best T.I.M.E. Stories game since the original for me. The story was far more grounded than many, with no obvious evil demons or zombies running around. The event you are playing through is evil, but oh-so human, which really drives it home, while the time mechanics were utilized incredibly well.

6. Kitchen Rush
Kitchen Rush is a real-time cooperative worker placement game where your workers are sand timers. If you know my love for Xcom then you'll know real-time cooperative is a favourite of mine, Flatline was my number 11 on this list by the way. Kitchen rush really captures the manic environment of a kitchen in full lunch rush, there are always more tasks to do than seem possible to do and if you aren't efficient then you will lose money and have to lay off your precious workers, giving you less to use in future rounds until you can afford to pay them! One thing I really appreciate about Kitchen Rush is that it's hard, it doesn't pull punches and even the easy game is difficult at first. while there are a lot of actions on the board they all make sense, of course you need to take an order for food before you cook it, then of course you need to gather then ingredients before taking them to the oven and adding spices. When theme and gameplay meet in harmony you know you have a great game.

5. Clans of Caledonia
Clans of Caledonia I actually only played in early 2018, but it released in 2017 and it was so good that I had to put it on this list. We borrowed Clans of Caledonia from a friend, half way through the first round we both looked at each other and knew that we needed to have this game. Fortunately I actually found a copy the very next day, perks of working in a board game cafe! Clans of Caledonia is an engine-building/area control game in which you compete to fulfill export orders for your goods. Almost everything in the game requires money, but filling in export contracts doesn't make you much money, you'll have to carefully balance your income by selling tot he market with your end game goals in order to have a chance of winning. Clans of Caledonia is expertly designed, the gameplay is fast, has a fixed turn limit so you know how much you will gain from each investment over the entire game, and each clan has a unique way of supplementing their income, from aging whisky to churning butter!

4. Gloomhaven
Gloomhaven sets a new standard for dungeon crawls, you may not have as many fancy miniatures as other games, but the cardboard standees for monsters allows for a large amount of monster variation to be included in just the one (huge) box. The ongoing campaign allowing you to unlock new missions in a branching storyline is incredibly immersive. Having your characters have a personal objective, that they retire upon completing can be bittersweet, if not for the new class that it unlocks, just when you have to make a new character, ingenious! But most of all it's the streamlined card-based gameplay that drags you in. In so many dungeon crawlers you have to roll to see how much damage your attack does, then your target rolls to resist etc. In Gloomhaven you have an attack that does 4 damage, then you draw a card which may be -1 or +2, and that's it, attack done, move on to the next action. The way that cards get drained from your deck mean that you can't drag the game out, sooner or later your characters will be too exhausted to fight and you'll lose. If you in any way like dungeon crawls then you need to get your hands on this game, it may well be the only game you need with the sheer amount of content in the box!

3. Wasteland Express Delivery Service
New Vegas was my favourite game in the Fallout series. In Wasteland Express you play as a courier in a post nuclear war wasteland, hopefully you can see why the theme drew me in. The theme is brilliantly combined with an action-packed pick up and deliver game, where you'll be dodging bandits and nuclear fallout zones while trying to make an "honest" living as a postie. My favourite thing is how variable the playstyles can be, if you want to make an armoured-up murder wagon, go right ahead, while across the table your opponent has just managed to finish adding cargo pods to their 18-wheeler, next to them a player has a hot rod with 3 turbos fitted allowing them to dart around the board with what little cargo space they have left when they ripped out the rear seats. And all of this comes in a box with a built in insert to let you get a complex game to the table in no time flat!

2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 is a wonderful followup to Season 1. However where Season 1 felt like Pandemic with constant expansions being added, Season 2 is a completely different game. You'll still be moving cubes about to prevent disease, the gameplay is familiar enough, but as Season 2 evolves it becomes a very different beast. The campaign felt more story based that the original, but also the story was more in the players hands. I can't really say much more without starting to give spoilers, if you like cooperative games then you should really give the Pandemic Legacy series a try.

1. Azul
Azul is an abstract game about laying mosaic tiles, it is proof that abstract games can be made to be stunningly beautiful, as well as incredibly clever. Played with 3/4 players Azul is a solid game, but played 2 player you start to see exactly how well the game is crafted. Every action you make gives your opponent new opportunities, early in the game your choices seem so abundant, but as the game gets close to the end you soon find that you don't have anywhere you can place red tiles. Trust me when I say that your opponent is well aware of this fact and will go out of their way to make you drop as many as possible on the floor, losing you precious points. Azul is a skill based game, but it has enough randomness in it that you can't plan the entire game in your head, which helps it be an abstract game that Fi will actually play with me!

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