(As usual this is not really my favourite nine games, but rather a kind of optimal games library of games I played in 2019. Horses for courses.)
Filler games9 of the 88 above-mentioned games were “roll and writes”/”flip and writes”/”random writes”, or what you might want to call them. Both of the games I ended up with as favourite filler games are.
First one out is the great little Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale. This has you discovering lands for a particularly picky queen, or something. The theme is as good a fit as it gets in the genre. What I particularly like in this game is the variable scoring goals and the Isle of Skye inspired way they come into play. You constantly have to balance the current goal with the ones on the horizon. Also, like in the Penny Papers series, here be monsters that other players will draw on your map. (Unless you play it as a solitaire.)
The last new game for me – on the year’s second last day – was Trails of Tucana – a fascinating take on the “flip and write” genre where you are… exploring jungles Ticket to Ride style by adding pieces of trail here and there on a map. The push your luck feeling of a roll and write is particularly strong with this one. Do you risk relying on getting more rare combinations of tiles or do you play it safe? (Like 2/3 of all the games on this list this one has an official solo mode, but I haven’t gotten to try it. Yet! (This game will hopefully find it’s way into my collection once it is back in stock here in France…))
Gateway gamesMy two picks for the Gateway games category have also not been added to the collection… yet. We have rented them a couple of time in my favourite board game rental place.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a super efficient push your luck bag builder from Wolfgang Warsch with a potion (explosion!) theme. Matt Lee( @leesmatt from @shut.up.and.sit.down)’s comparison to Mario Kart is quite accurate, methinks. In a good way! It has a strong element of rubber-banding, is rather luck based and really wacky, but it is a great romp of a game that works for humans of ages 6 and up. Can’t wait to play again!
I rediscovered one of my old favourite designer Reiner Knizia with The Quest for El Dorado. This game was released in 2017, but I completely missed it at release – possibly due to some disappointing Knizia-experiences of late… But! his take on deckbuilding, combining it with a fairly classic race game, is brilliantly elegant.
Ars Technica ( @arstechnica) called Wingspan a gateway-plus game and I think that is useful enough as a category to add it to my list… And Wingspan the logical “recipient” of my very first Gateway+ category… award. Before trying it for myself I was afraid that it couldn’t live up to the perfect storm of interwebb hypebuzz surrounding it. But, actually, it is really, really good. Not my favourite game in the whole wide world (That is, of course, Brass: Birmingham. (Yes, I’m one of those.) Currently.), but I really like it as a laid back tableau engine builder slash deep enough resource management game with a innovative theme(!) and beautiful artwork and components. Maybe my favourite Gateway+ game, though, come to think of it…
The second “Gateway+” game I want to highlight is a Shem Phillips co-design. I discovered no less than three games from him in 2019. Two from the North Sea series – Explorers and Raiders, and Architects of the West Kingdom from his “current” series with S J Macdonald. All are really good for different settings, but the latter is my preferred one so far. It has some very fascinating twists on worker placement mechanics, turning it into something more like worker investment – the more workers you have in a spot you want to go, the more benefits you get from going there. Until someone thinks you are getting too powerful and arrests all of them. I also like the axis of evil/good that locks you out from some of the actions on the board depending on where you are on it. This leads to some very interesting choices. I’m looking forward to try new designs from Shem and co – and revisit Architects!
Ian O’Toole is sailing (pun intended) up to be my favourite board game illustrator/artist, and his work on the new edition of Nemo’s War, my solo game discovery of the year, is really impressive. The gameplay itself is tense and sticks well enough to the theme of the Jules Verne classic. Lots of dice throwing and luck of the draw, but it works! I have only played the solitaire mode, but that seems to be the preferred player count. Certainly, for me, my preferred way experience this is with my son (who is a big fan of Jules Verne as well) as a co-pilot and strategy adviser…
Enthusiast gamesMy two favourite games of my favourite category of games this year, are older than all the others on this list...
Back in March I cracked up and bought Railways of the World – some 14 years after it’s initial release. And wow!, what a game. What triggered this was actually the kickstarter campaign of Age of Steam. I’ve always wanted to try this classic, and the revised artwork from no other than Ian O’Toole made it very tempting… Reading about it, though, I realised that I wanted to start with something more forgiving, something lighter (so that I could play this with my kids (sooner)), and with a more manageable play-time (because, well, evenings are short here in France). I investigated Steam as well, but pulled the trigger on the 10th Anniversary edition of RotW. The game shot straight into my top 9 of all time at the time (the second Martin Wallace (co-)design on the list). It’s one of those games that despite a simple rule set the decision space is vast and open…
The Castles of Burgundy! My favourite discovery of 2019 was a game from 2011! It's one of those games that has been on my radar almost since release, and then, when the excellent appification released in February, my... yearning... was reignited. I held out for the Alea-anniversery edition with all the mini extensions and updated(?) artwork... I don't regret that, as I have been enjoying adding little by little the various new stuff to the game. Even the solo-mode has been entertaining. The graphical design of game itself is more ergonomic than the old version, methinks, so I don't mind the dark and oversaturated look... (I do think they overcompensated ever so slightly...)
Also, for reference here's my list from 2018.
Honorable mentions (sorted alphabetically)
- Altiplano – Orleans reimagined. Bagbuilding. Is coffee unbalanced? Played only once.
- Circle the Wagons – Tile laying wallet-game with a lot of variety in winning conditions. Interesting draft mechanics.
- Clank! – Finally got to play this modern classic. Deck-builder with a board.
- Escape: The Curse of the Temple – Real-time cooperative Indiana Jones themed exploration dice chucker.
- Explorers of the North Sea – Could be called “My First Shem Phillips Game”. Viking themed fairly light pick up and deliver exploration game.
- Fantasy Realms – A 3 to 6 players game – that might be best for 2 players – of combos upon combos.
- Farben – Colour association/memory game. Maybe my favourite “party game” discovery of the year.
- FUSE (Mission pas possible) – Another fun real-time coop game with dice, lots of dice.
- Gaia Project – Terra Mystica 2.0 in space. Played only once, but already I can see how this does indeed improve the classic albeit making it slightly less accessible…
- Hanamikoji – I cut, you chose card duel. With geishas. And scoring mechanics borrowed from Knizia’s good old Schotten-Totten.
- Irish Gauge – Streamlined bare-boned almost 18XX with stocks and tracklaying and great artwork from Ian O’Toole.
- It’s a Wonderful World – Straightforward drafting game with an interesting mechanism around the order of resource production that can lead to “Ganz Schön Clever”-moments of chaining bonuses. I also like the fact that there are many incentives to draft a card – no matter what strategies you choose, so “hate drafting” is often a more viable option than in similar games…
- Minecraft: Builders and Biomes – Great implementation of Minecraft as a (light) Euro game.
- Mini Rails – Another streamlined almost 18XX with stocks and tracklaying. A gateway filler with a bit of meat.
- Pairs – More a deck of cards with lots of potential… Favorite rule-set so far is “The Judge”.
- Patchwork Doodle – Roll and write implementation of Patchwork for (infinitively) more than 2 players.
- Piraten Kapern (Mille Sabords) – Pirate themed “roll the dice as long as you dare” with varied conditions each turn.
- Railroad Ink – Roll and write of building a network with rails and roads.
- Sagrada – Abstract, but beautiful, puzzly dice drafting game.
- Sprawlopolis – A collaborative tile-laying wallet-game of city building with the same winning condition variations as “Circle the Wagons”.
- Terramara – Worker placement game with a fascinating “send your workers to the future for better spots but loose them for a some rounds” mechanics. Played only once, but with more plays this might have gotten into the top 9, methinks…
- The Voyages of Marco Polo – A classic medium heavy Euro. The player powers seems rather unbalanced, but I have only played it once…
- Tussie Mussie – I cut, you chose inspired wallet game from Elizabeth Hargrave of Wingspan fame.
- Villagers – Draft refugees, put them to work in chains. Not those kinds. Production chains. Profit.
The games I look forward to play the most in 2020
- On Mars – Kickstarted it so it should be on it’s way. (Spoiler alert: it has arrived! After half a solo run it is too early to tell, but it is as fascinating as the rulebook and preview videos made it seem…)
- (Evolution) Oceans – Kickstarted it so it should be on it’s way.
- Calico – Supposed to arrive towards the end of the year…
- Maracaibo - Pfister’s latest seems to be a mix of things I like from Mombasa, Great Western Trail and Oh My Goods, so this will be interesting to try…
- Cooper Island - ode.
- Cities Skylines – I love city-building games – and the video game that this is based on, and the fact that this one is coop intrigues me. Also, Rahdo put it on his top 10 games of 2019.
- Isle of Cats – Rahdo put this game on my radar. A “heavier” tetronomino puzzler – with cats!
- Paladins of the West Kingdom – This seems one step up in… meatiness… from Architects in the same series so/and it seems really promising, but is it too much of a multiplayer solitaire? (Can there be such a thing?) (Spoiler alert: I tried it and it was great!)
- Crystal Palace – This year’s Diamant d’Or winner (Ahead of “On Mars”…)
From earlier years:
- Spirit Island
- Underwater Cities
- Bios: Origins – Currently on my shelf of shame/opportunity…
- The Gallerist – On it’s way along with On Mars… (Spoiler alert: it has arrived!)
All new games played 2019
|Architects of the West Kingdom||2018||80||7.86344||2.756|
|Betrayal at House on the Hill||2004||486||7.0717||2.3753|
|Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale||2019||506||7.68741||1.9538|
|Circle the Wagons||2017||1429||7.22675||1.7419|
|Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure||2016||58||7.80761||2.2079|
|Escape: The Curse of the Temple||2012||495||7.013||1.484|
|Explorers of the North Sea||2016||1022||7.36927||2.2364|
|Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar||2018||990||7.0628||1.5185|
|Four Against Darkness||2016||1920||7.62121||2.2667|
|It’s a Wonderful World||2019||956||7.86184||2.2051|
|Karuba: The Card Game||2017||3956||6.45052||1.3|
|Minecraft: Builders & Biomes||2019||4213||7.21047||1.9091|
|Nemo’s War (Second Edition)||2017||334||8.03606||3.0268|
|One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows||2017||1153||7.30699||2.3667|
|Penny Papers Adventures: The Valley of Wiraqocha||2018||4293||6.61668||2.0|
|Raiders of the North Sea||2015||85||7.80445||2.5207|
|Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition||2018||536||7.31297||1.5128|
|Railways of the World||2005||112||7.68925||3.024|
|Star Realms: Colony Wars||2015||159||7.88317||1.9221|
|The Castles of Burgundy||2011||15||8.12749||3.0019|
|The Quacks of Quedlinburg||2018||101||7.75699||1.982|
|The Quest for El Dorado||2017||207||7.56766||1.967|
|The Voyages of Marco Polo||2015||45||7.92482||3.1962|
|Trails of Tucana||2019||2977||7.4123||1.3846|
|Twice As Clever||2019||502||7.55714||2.3333|
|Unlock! A Noside Story||2018||1882||7.17309||2.4545|
|Unlock! Fifth Avenue||2017||3232||6.92944||1.625|
|Unlock! Squeek & Sausage||2017||840||7.25066||2.2105|
|Unlock! The House on the Hill||2017||1264||7.11037||1.9286|
|Unlock! The Nautilus’ Traps||2017||3896||5.98335||2.8|
|Unlock! Tombstone Express||2018||2320||6.8492||2.2|
|Valley of the Vikings||2019||5151||6.7136||1.3|
|7 Wonders: Armada||2018||None||8.12675||2.7368|
|Explorers of the North Sea: Rocks of Ruin||2018||None||7.85958||2.6667|
|Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant||2018||None||8.23375||2.3333|
|Railways of Europe||2008||None||8.09576||2.9434|
|Star Realms: Crisis – Events||2014||None||7.12103||1.9149|
|The 7th Continent: The Icy Maze||2017||None||8.37284||2.5|
|The Castles of Burgundy: 10th Expansion – Solo||2018||None||8.12293||3.0|
|Viticulture: Visit from the Rhine Valley||2018||None||8.28023||2.9091|
|Wingspan: European Expansion||2019||None||8.56351||2.2105|
BTW, the code I used to generate these stats (and more) is on my github account. (A huge thanks to the creators of the boardgamegeek2 python module that I leverage extensively.)