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The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Ethnos

The Best In Tabletop 2017 – Ethnos

We’ve been lucky in 2017, with amazing games hitting store shelves and our tables. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just 10 games to spotlight on the list, and here is one of them.  Stay tuned to see the other games on this list and for the full list.

As far as board game publishers go, CMON (Cool Mini or Not Games) is one of the most recognized names in the business. Their regular Kickstarter campaigns earn millions of dollars and we’ve come to expect more than just phenomenal miniatures. Games like Arcadia Quest, The Grizzled, and Kaosball show the consistent quality and breadth of games that CMON publishes. However, if you look closely on all those boxes you’ll find something they all have in common: a little cowboy hat and the name Spaghetti Western Games. This lesser-known studio is behind all of these hits as well as one of my favorite 2017 games, Ethnos.

Ethnos trades CMON’s iconic miniatures for colorful plastic discs but doesn’t lose any of the tension or impact of some of their bigger games. It’s a game about dominance, but it’s also a game about measured control. There are multiple avenues to pursue for those who are feeling aggressive, but it isn’t always a winning strategy. In fact, pushing too hard or too fast can even help your opponents.

In Ethnos players are trying to control the eponymous continent across three ages. Each age features bloody conflict over the various provinces before the arrival of dragons reduces the continent to ash. From this fire, a new age is born but as struggle and strife are a few of the only constants in this world, each new age is marked by a new war. Turn after turn players will recruit mercenaries to their hand, hoping to play larger and larger warbands in the fight for control. Unfortunately, as any Game of Thrones fan knows, mercenaries are fickle and will leave you for a better offer as quickly as they joined.

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Mercenaries in Ethnos come via cards. Before the game a random set of fantasy races are chosen to populate the deck for this particular game. These are pretty classic fantasy creatures and they do about what you’d expect them to do. Minotaurs are aggressive, skeletons are good warriors but fall apart before the end of the age, and centaurs are fast and quick. These traits are represented via game-relevant mechanisms but they all work pretty well. To build your bands you’ll draw from a pool of face-up cards or off the top of the deck, similar to the beloved Ticket to Ride.

Once you’re ready to commit a band of mercenaries you’ll put together a set of cards. These sets are either all the same fantasy creature or all the same color. Either way, the card on top is your leader and determines both where you place your control token and which special ability you get to activate. What makes Ethos special is what happens next: All the cards you didn’t play are returned to the face-up pool where your jealous opponents can snag the cards you’d been hoarding. This is the only way the public pool is refilled.

Initial plays of Ethnos may devolve into constant top-decking as players horde cards in a push for large 6 or 7 card sets, but eventually, a deeper strategy emerges. There are a few ways to score points and while having the tallest stack of discs on a province may be a tantalizing goal, spending too long trying to build the large sets necessary to accomplish that will slow down your overall points. It is also a surefire way to dump your hand to the public row and give your opponents all the cards they need to build their own sets. As I said it’s a game of measure control; push when you need to push, play a small set when you need to ensure an opponent doesn’t get the Merfolk he’s fishing for.

This tension comes in a game that plays in under an hour and is easy to teach to people of all experience levels. When we wrote about Ethnos earlier this year we said it was, “elegant and elegant games are worth heaping praise on because they get played over and over”. This has held up, as Ethnos is a game that’s continued to hit my table over and over this year. While eventually, we’ve found various racial combinations that are more fun than others, it’s easy enough to ensure that a single game doesn’t have Wizards and Elves and Centaurs all together.

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Ethnos is only a touch more complicated than Ticket to Ride which makes it perfect for experienced gamers and new gamers alike. Where Ticket to Ride’s route-blocking is more passive interaction, grab Ethnos if you’re someone who doesn’t mind a little more direct fighting; to be sure though, this is not the kind of game to lead to any table-flipping moments over the holidays. It’s approachable, replayable, and a gem of a game.

What are the best games you’ve played in 2017? Tell us in the comments!

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Featured Image Credits: Rafael Cordero

In addition to Geek & Sundry, Raf Cordero writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. Chat with him on Twitter @captainraffi.

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