Happy New Year!! 2020 is here and my sincerest hope is that God blesses you all this year. “Happy are those who keep his decrees and seek him with all their heart.” (Psalm 119:2)
From a board gaming standpoint, I am excited about all the great new games that will get released in 2020, but before I start looking ahead too much, I need to wrap up my Top 100 list — and I’m excited to do so, because this is the best part of the list –> My top 20 games.
If you’d like a refresher….in my first post, I discussed the methodology behind creating my top 100 list, plus I ran through games 100 through 61. In last week’s post, I moved on to games 60 through 21. Feel free to go back and check out those lists…OR…just move along to the top 20:
#20 – The Pursuit of Happiness (2015; Adrian Abela and David Chircop)
The Pursuit of Happiness is an excellent blend of two things I love in board gaming: worker placement and story-telling. While trying to play well and earn a lot of victory points, it is fun to get “in character” as I make decisions about projects to work on, activities to pursue, jobs to toil through, and relationships to navigate. This game has been a blast and in 2020, I will have some expansion content to add-on that should keep this game high on my list.
#19 – Race for the Galaxy (2007; Thomas Lehmann)
Multi-use cards are great. The engine-building feels great. And Race for the Galaxy moves fast. This game requires you to adapt quickly to what’s available and get an engine up-and-running. I love the challenge and have enjoyed my plays so far.
#18 – Great Western Trail (2016; Alexander Pfister)
Great Western Trail is a tough game, but so much fun. I really enjoyed the theme. Building and managing your cow deck is interesting — managing your train movement is exciting, but the best element of this game is the movement through the board. Deciding how far to move each turn…timing out your location stops…and where to place your buildings to either help your engine or create a distraction for your opponents.
#17 – Drop it (2018; Bernhard Lach and Uwe Rapp)
When I wrote my review for Drop it back in May of 2019, I made a prediction that the game would wind up in my top 20 games — and hey! I was right. Drop it is a simple game to teach and fun each and every play. I continue to get laughs from the crazy physics-defying actions the pieces will take — most of the time to the distress of the dropper. Excellent family game!
#16 – The Castles of Burgundy (2011; Stefan Feld)
Castles of Burgundy was the game that opened my eyes to the wonderful world of point salad games. I love that you are constantly scoring points in this game — and despite a lackluster theme, the mechanisms are so enjoyable. This was my first Feld game to play and I believe I may have started at the top of his portfolio.
#15 – Tapestry (2019; Jamey Stegmaier)
There has been a lot of backlash towards this game, but I feel like it was made for players like me. I really enjoy the variety of Tapestry and Tech cards. Building up my city with the various building models is cool — and I have really enjoyed the puzzle of trying to figure out which tracks to focus on each game. And the civilization cards keep each play fresh. In 2019, I fared poorly from a victory standpoint. As I keep playing in 2020, hopefully I can notch my first win.
#14 – Vindication (2018; Marc Neidlinger)
Of the games that didn’t get played by me until the three months leading up to my list creation, Vindication ranks the highest. And the boldest prediction I want to make as I think ahead to next year’s Top 100 games update (2020 edition) –> is that Vindication will move on up to my top 10. I absolutely love this game. Are all the cards perfectly balanced? No, but that’s part of the game. In real life, not everything that happens to us is equally good or bad — and that requires us to learn how to focus on what’s valuable, the things that are most beneficial. If you don’t like your companion, then head to an inn and find someone new. Use your Conviction to control your future. So many paths to take in this game, which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!! And there are plenty of modules in this game to keep it fresh and exciting each play.
And I haven’t dug into my Leaders & Alliances content yet — so I have that to look forward to in 2020.
#13 – 7 Wonders Duel (2015; Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathal)
I really enjoy 7 Wonders, so I was curious as to how they managed to package the game into a 2-player version — and I am highly impressed. This is such an excellent game. The drafting mechanism is brilliant and the military path to victory provides the perfect tension to offset a focus solely on point-creation. Duel immediately shot to my #13 position and my #3 overall 2-player game.
#12 – Santorini (2016; Gord!)
Speaking of 2-players games, the #2 title on my list is Santorini. Such a great, tactical strategy game. Gameplay is simple, but the game demands a high-level of concentration as both sides dance back-and-forth in a tug of war for position. Just like chess or checkers or Connect 4, it is possible to walk into a trap, so vigilance is a virtue for sure.
Now, if that’s all the game was, I would really enjoy it but only come back to it so often…there are plenty of other great, thematic games to play. What makes Santorini stand out is the large variety of Greek god and hero cards. Every game, you can take on a new persona, providing you a unique player power. Every play then becomes a puzzle of how to most effectively use your power, while figuring out how to counteract / deny / fortify against your opponent’s power. Quick play, but exceptionally fun. [Slipped from #3 spot a year ago, but still holding strong at #12]
#11 – Root (2018; Cole Wehrle)
The asymmetric nature of this game piqued my curiosity and now that I’ve played the game, I’m hooked. Each faction is so unique, but at the same time, very fun to play. And just getting good at running your faction is not enough, though…you have to learn how to offset whatever opposing factions are on the board during your gameplay — find that perfect balance of teamwork and straight opposition, while keeping your engine primed and running smoothly. Not easy to do, but very enjoyable in the process.
#10 – Century: Golem Edition (2017; Emerson Matsuuchi)
Century is a conversion game at its heart. Thus, the key to winning is how to quickly pull from the card market to create a small, but efficient hand of cards. In my last play, I got distracted by so many good cards that I spent too much time drafting and never established a tight conversion engine. That core concept is exciting to me and keeps me coming back to this game. On top of that, I absolutely love the artwork in the Golem Edition — and I’m excited that Eastern Wonders (the 2nd game in the Century trilogy) is getting a Golem Edition –> Eastern Mountains.
#9 – 7 Wonders (2010; Antoine Bauza)
A game that can scale smoothly from 3 players all the way up to 7 is rare, but 7 Wonders pulls it off. I enjoy the drafting mechanism in general and find that 7 Wonders does it just as well as any other title. For me, the Leaders expansion is a wonderful addition and one that I would prefer to play with anytime 7 Wonders rolls out for a game day. [#12 last year, 7 Wonders is one of only two games that actually moved up the list from 2018 to 2019]
#8 – Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure (2016; Paul Dennen)
Clank! rolls in as my #2 deck-building game. Clank! takes that mechanism — does it well — but then adds a fun theme, game board actions, and tension into the mix. I’ve never played a game of Clank!, in which the final turns of racing back out of the dungeon, haven’t been filled with excitement and angst. Can everyone get out and grab the final points or will a player, weighed down with gold and greed, lose consciousness before reaching daylight?
This is another game with plenty of opportunities for future exploration in 2020. I have only played the main board so far and have two expansion boards just waiting to get unveiled. [#5 on last year’s list, Clank! is holding strong, remaining in the top 10.]
#7 – Downforce (2017; Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, and Wolfgang Kramer)
Racing cars is just fun and when you can turn that into a strategic card game, all the better! The combination of a personal power + strategic usage of movement cards creates a very exciting race experience. I have the first expansion board, so four maps to play with currently. Each one is very fun and I’m excited for the Wild Ride expansion to get released in early 2020.
#6 – Carcassonne (2000; Klaus-Jurgen Wrede)
I’m a huge fan of tile-laying and at the moment, Carcassonne is easily my favorite. I’ve slowly been adding expansions / modules to my collection. Adding / dropping those from play to play keeps the game fresh. Carcassonne has become a family favorite and in fact, my first ever Broken Token acquisition was made to help organize this game. This one will be in the Crocker game library for quite some time.
#5 – Dice Masters (2014; Mike Elliott and Eric M. Lang)
At this point, Dice Masters is still my go-to-favorite Head-to-Head, PvP-style game. I especially love the Marvel-themed portion of this game and the variety of characters that have been brought to the game so far. Generally, I have a hard time digging deep into any “deck construction” style of game, but I have enjoyed the process in Dice Masters. It is very fun to try and put together teams with different synergies. Every March, for a few years now, my son and I create a large number of teams and have a tournament to see which team can reign supreme.
Games are quick — generally 30 minutes or less — and I appreciate the opportunity to try and grab a team, study each character’s abilities…and formulate a plan of attack. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a fun process in a great game. [Sitting high at #2 on my list last year, Dice Masters has slipped only a few spots, remaining in my top 5 games overall.]
#4 – Pulsar 2849 (2017; Vladimir Suchy)
Pulsar 2849 was one of the first big, crunchy, long euro games that I have played. It was the spotlight game for a game group I had just joined, so I watched Paul Grogan’s how-to-play video — I read the rulebook — and found myself very jazzed to try the game.
Once playing, I was really impressed by the dice-drafting mechanism — which at this point, still feels unique to Pulsar. The color palette is outstanding — and the many paths towards point-accumulation are so exciting. This game laid a foundation for a growing love of euro-style games and thus has vaulted all the way to my #4 games overall.
#3 – Space Base (2018; John D. Clair)
Ignoring games that take less than 20 minutes to play, Space Base has been my most played game of 2019. Two weeks ago, you may recall that Machi Koro came in at #77 on my list. A year ago, it was ranked #9. At the end of 2018, I had heard Space Base described as a “Machi Koro-killer” and if you look at my plays list for 2019, that has stood true for me. I really enjoy the tableau-building of these games and that everyone has the potential to benefit from every person’s rolls.
Where Space Base improves the concept: a) full tableau to start — in Machi Koro, you spend several rounds building up a tableau that can start triggering various dice rolls — in Space Base, you start out with a card that can trigger any roll from 1 to 12, b) Space Base increases your potential for benefitting on other players’ rolls. In Machi Koro, certain card types don’t trigger, and c) income generation — with Machi Koro, I’ve played in some games that have lasted too long before someone can finally achieve all their goals — Space Base gives you the ability to increase your income. Between a growing tableau of space ships and higher levels of income, play will get to a point where you know someone is going to hit 40 points and win in the next few rounds. This helps give Space Base a better defined time of play.
Also, my wife and I played through the Emergence of Shy Pluto expansion during the fall. We highly enjoyed that playthrough and the unique concepts that were introduced to the game. We will be keeping those modifications as a permanent addition to how we play Space Base, going forward.
#2 – Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (2012; Devin Low)
Last year, Legendary took the #1 spot on my games list. It had one game slip past it on my 2019 list, but essentially remains one of my all-time favorite games.
My oldest son and I started playing Legendary in 2016 and I have logged in 80 total plays these past four years (including a couple just last month). Thus far, Legendary is easily my favorite cooperative game. We own most (not quite all) of the expansions, which creates enormous opportunities for matching up different Mastermind, Scheme, and Hero combinations. Together, my son and I have worked through a decent portion of a fan-made campaign for the game — from a solo play perspective, I have recently started creating some more thematic combinations, pulling from my knowledge of the comics, helping me really dig into the character battles and the scheme that is trying to be thwarted.
One of the things I most appreciate about this cooperative game is that the system (and the Mastermind/Scheme designs) provide a really strong Doom vs. Hope arc. I’ve played some games where it feels like the more rounds you play, the more doomed you become on your way to an inevitable beat-down. Win quick or die. In Legendary, the middle portion of the game tends to create a sense of Doom and Despair…we’re not hopeless yet, but this is starting to look bad….and then your deck(s) finally start coming together, allowing for some impactful hands — Hope starts to reignite. Then, it feels like a race. You start to know that you CAN win, but will you be able to grab a victory before the Mastermind or the Scheme pulls off its’ final trick? When evil wins, it hurts…and you take time to analyze the “what-ifs”. If only I had done this…or recruited this…or dropped this Hero for another Hero — as you start to plan your vengeance. And when you are victorious — oh it feels so good!
#1 – Charterstone (2017; Jamey Stegmaier)
Last year, my game group was only three plays into our Charterstone campaign when I made my Top 100 list — and that was enough to propel this Stonemaier title to the #4 spot on my list. Since then, the remaining nine games of the campaign (12 total) have been completed and I absolutely loved getting to play this game. First off, the worker placement in Charterstone is very fun. Add to that, your character with his/her personas, fun side-characters that come in and out from game to game that develop their own ‘personality.’ Each time you play, its the same game, but just enough twists to a) keep things exciting and b) force you to keep coming up with new strategies and not just stick with a single formula.
Along with that, I must admit that I loved getting to play this game every month with my wife, two oldest kids, and my best friend couple. In 2020, it will be interesting to see if we manage to get in some plays with our “final version” of the game to see how non-campaign play feels. Also, I picked up a recharge pack, so could there be another campaign runthrough starting in 2020? The answer to those questions may determine whether Charterstone can stay at the top or start to dwindle from atrophy.
Well, there you have it my board game buddies. If you’ve been following along, I hope you learned about some games that you’d like to give a try.
If so, which games stick out as interesting? Or, what game would show up as your #1 overall?