Luckily I've had some days off in the last week, so I've played MORE games (overall goal for 2017!) and I have 3 to add to my list of favorite games of 2016
Carcassonne Amazonas is a great new take on the classic gateway game. I'm a horrible Carcassonne player, but with Amazonas there is the added boat race to help the scoring impaired folks like me. I mean I still lose, only now I'm not completely lapped on the scoring board. In Amazonas you aren't building roads and cities- it's river tribuatiries and native villages. There are also river tiles and the ability to move your boat downriver rather than laying a meeple onto your tiles. Scoring is done not only by counting tiles, but also fruits and animals on the tiles.
Kanagawa was a game I knew I would enjoy when I got around to playing it and I was 100% right! What lured me in was the gorgeousness of the game tiles, what won me over was the game play. You are students of the great master and are learning to make your own masterpiece. Each round is started by the decision to "stay in school" to see more cards or take what you need when it laid down on the mat (Iello scores extra pointer here for a bamboo mat that looks like sushi roller). Once you select the tiles you either add them to your paininting trying to go for diplomas in figures, trees, and buildings for points, or add the pain to your studio to give you more options of things to paint in the next round. It's a quick game that doesn't look strategy heavy, but early on you need to plan which diplomas you are aiming for and see what your fellow students are working on so you are not trying to draw (pun intended!) the same cards from the lessons.
Ulm may be my new favorite "worker placement" game. I love the mechanic of tile activation- you draw a tile and then you slide it into the full tableau, pushing out an inactive tile, thus the three including the one you added into the row are the 3 actions of your turn. Added difficulty is once a row is pushed it can't be pushed again until that extra tile is removed AND the spaces around the edges can be claimed so if you push a tile into an opponents space it becomes theirs. And that's just the action activation portion of the game. You are essentially buying influence over areas of medieval Ulm (known for at one time having the tallest cathedral in Europe), moving your prestige boat down the Danube, and getting favors from the nobles (in the form of cards with added bonuses). This game appears heavy, but I'd grade it medium. The hardest mechanism is the tile activation... and once you see it done it's easy to get. I'd say this is the next step for a new gamer after Catan.