2020 was an… interesting… year boardgamewise, and in this post I’ll summarize some of my key findings, but first, some stats:
- I played 42… things… for the first time according to BG Stats. 8 of them were expansions, so 34 new games, then. (Down from 97/88 last year.)
- Interestingly, 8 of my top 10 most played games of 2019 was new-to-me games, whereas in 2020 it was the opposite – only 2 of them were new-to-me.
- Every year, since I started logging my board game plays semi-consistently back in 2013, more than half of all games played has been new-to-me. In 2020 it fell below one third. I seem to have been more keen to show my kids the classics than seeking out new games in these confined times… (Or, maybe even more importantly, I have hardly been to local board game cafés to test new games, I have hardly rented new games from our friendly board game rental store, I have hardly played games at friend’s places – new or old, and I didn’t go to Spiel in Essen, nor Octogônes… What a year…)
- On top of this, my H-index almost fell to 7 (From 8 in 2017, 2018, and 2019), but I got a last game of Wingspan in on the last day of the year to bring it back up to 8… Pfiu!
Anyway, enough numbers, here’s my list of noteworthy new-to-me games from 2020. (As usual this is not really my favourite nine games, but rather a kind of optimal games library of games I played in 2020. Horses for courses.)
First game on the list is On Tour – a game from 2019 (I kickstarted the 2020 re-edition with the European map, though). I love how this game can be explained in one minute, but is full of fascinating concepts and hard decisions… It is a roll-and-flip-and write – it uses both the chaotic radomness of dice as well as the orderly randomness of cards to dictate what you can do each round. The main game-play loop is basically an adaptation of the NP-hard travelling salesman problem from computer science in-fame – you try to optimize a rock and roll tour across the US, or, in the latest edition, Europe. Also, the components are great, it scales well, and is perfectly suited for web cam play. (More on this in this earlier blog post.)
Favourite mechanism: The natural way that the wild numbers appears – either by drawing 3 of the same region cards, or rolling a double. Such an elegant solution to a problem – choice, by adding something super valuable – a wild number.
The second filler game I want to highlight is another 2019 sortie, but really took off in 2020: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine – a mission based cooperative trick taking game with a space theme… (It should be a filler, but one of my very few board game evenings with friends at home, turned into a The Crew evening instead. It’s so easy to try the next level, or retry the one we just failed… One more round!)
Favourite mechanism: The book of missions that you can pick and chose from at whim marries perfectly the coop nature of this game.
Stepping into the gateway game part of this list we first find another well received kickstarter: Calico. This game looks cute and simple and can be explained in two and a half minute, but is really crunchy and thinky. (Not for the AP-prone, but for those there’s the excellent solo mode…)
Favourite mechanism: The bonus scoring tiles that you can try to solve using colour, pattern or, if you really want to push your luck and power of observation, both, leads to some really brain-burny moments.
Some years ago I was introduced to a tiny computer came called Triple Town, from Spry Fox. A fascinating match-3+ where you keep adding tiles to a grid while trying to not run out of space. The last tile you add adjacent to two or more similar tiles are replaced by an upgraded version of the tile, and the others removed to make room for more. This kind of spatial puzzle feels a lot like a spiritual predecessor to Tiny Towns (or Petites Bourgades as my copy is called). My favourite gateway weight game of 2020. Here you place resources on a grid trying to match patterns dictated by cards representing various buildings with a plethora of effects. The game flows really well with simultaneous play, you have quite many combinations of buildings to play with, and you have different play modes – there’s even a solo variant! (I’ve also invented an unofficial mode without monuments to play with the youngest of the household.)
Favourite mechanism: The spatial puzzle of replacing resources with buildings is really neat and leads to some really hard decisions and long term planning.
One of the game modes almost resemble bingo – you draw resource cards and announce it to all players that have to place that resource that round (that you can also play over webcam), which brings us to the next game on this list…
When I was introduced to Rise of Augustus at Essen back in 2013, it… fell a bit flat… The bingo mechanic felt too much like… well… Bingo! Ecos: First Continent revisits this, but, somehow, it works! Maybe it’s because the cards that you activate with the resources drawn from a bag combo better – forming potential cascading effects upon effects? Maybe it is what you can do when you get resources you don’t need or want? Maybe the interaction and the emerging gameplay – and game landscape – that results from whatever cards come into in play in each game is more interesting? Maybe the theme is more appealing? (…or maybe I should revisit Augustus?) Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed my sessions of Ecos. Simultaneous play makes the game zoom along.
Favourite mechanism: The solution to getting resources you don’t need – that you can use it to make progress on drafting or playing a new card – is really elegant to counter the random nature of the bingo mechanic.
Like I mentioned on my instagram account back in December, It’s a Wonderful World is a weird one. First time I played it at @barnadelyon with some friends it didn’t make much of an impression. It was a fine streamlined drafting game ala 7 Wonders. Then, some time later I had a, seemingly, amazing idea for a board game design, so I sat down with my ideas notebook and sketched it out. A drafting game where you had better reasons for… “hate drafting”… Enter proper multi-use cards! After a while I realized that this game I was about to make looked more and more like a game I had played before. And it was. It was It’s a Wonderful World. So I bought it at my FLGS @trollune_la_boutique and played it again. And, lo and behold, it was great. Even the solo mode works great (a real boon in 2020)! In a drafting game! All in all, this has been the game I have spent the most time in in 2020. (I realize this is a bit of creative book-keeping, since I technically discovered the game in 2019, but, hey, I make the rules here. Also, I’ve enjoyed two of the three expansions released in 2020 (again as part of a kickstarter)…)
Favourite mechanism: One thing this adds to the mix is the resource cubes that, since they are produced in a certain order, lets you creatively combo events and create chains of card resolutions. So rewarding.
Maracaibo was just shy of ending up in the top 10 part of my super-objective-top-25-games-of-all-time that I created last December, at 11th place. And, as I pointed out, this is my second favourite Pfister rondel style game. Instead of herding cows you’re travelling around in the Caribbean during the age of pirates – with some tableau building and multi-use cards thrown in. Great stuff. This is also the first big box game from this designer in my collection with a solo mode. And a great one at that. It has been fun to explore the – thankfully, non destructive – campaign mode. (I haven’t played through the whole thing as I restarted it with my son after some solo exploration at first.)
Favourite mechanism: I really like the fact that the rondel “stops” for everyone if someone finishes a round. It leads to some really hard timing related decisions.
When I created my above mentioned list of favourite games, I put Paladins of the West Kingdom on the 21st place just below Viscounts from the same Kingdom. Having played it some more I realized it deserved one of the two enthusiast game slots on this list… (Just barely beating these very same Viscounts…)
Favourite mechanism: You can be competing for the same cards/positions on the map, even with very different strategies, since, for example, invaders can either be battled (if you go for military strength) or converted (if you go for faith).
Even though I’ve only gotten to play the solitaire variant, On Mars is my game of the year. (This reached the 8th place on my super-objective-top-25-games-of-all-time list.) “On Mars is quite possibly the heaviest of the games on my top 25. I’ve only been alone on Mars — playing the solitaire variant —, admittedly, since it arrived at my doorstep this… year, so it might float even higher or plummet like a stone next ranking around, but currently it hovers nicely here in the 8th spot. System within system — like the visual language of Guillermo del Toro turned into game design. Incredibly impressive! Bravo @vitallacerda!”
Favourite mechanism: The duality of what you can do on surface versus what you can do in orbit, along with the need for the shuttle to change between them, is really elegant and leads to oh so many complicated multilemmas…
So, there you have it. My “Ludoteca Ideale” of 2020… Now for some honourable mentions!
Honourable mentions (sorted alphabetically)
- Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – Agricola re-imagined as a quick small 2P game without the starvation. (This has been sitting on my shelf of shame since, well, ages.)
- Boomerang: Europe – A quick, simple draft-and-write from the ever so prolific Scott Almes.
- Coffee Roaster – A great solitaire bag builder with the best theme in my collection - coffee roasting. I have the second edition with fabulous components and art. (In the first draft of this post, this game was actually my solo game of the year. (It is the best pure solitaire game I played in 2020.))
- Draftosaurus – Draft dinosaur meeples to create a Jurassic park. (Not that one.)
- Dream Catcher – The third best new-to-me children game I played in 2020.
- Ghost Adventure – the second best new-to-me children game I played in 2020.
- Hokkaido – revisiting the tile laying landscape building card game of Honshu.
- La Isla – Another game that had been sitting on my shelf of shame for too long.
- Mini Express – A follow up to Mini Rails (among last year’s honourable mentions) that takes another stab at streamlining the 18xx genre into a gateway game. I’ve only played this one virtually on Tabletopia, but it worked really well. (One of two new-to-me games that I only got to play virtually.) I hope to get to play a physical version at some point.
- Oceans – A great tableau builder with a evolution theme, although it, so far, seems to fall a bit short of it’s older sister Evolution (especially with the Climate extension).
- Oriflamme – A quick bluffing game of murdering with a fascinating chose when you want to reveal card mechanism.
- Point Salad – Behind this humorous meta name is actually a great little card game with interesting card drafting mechanics.
- Q.E. – My favourite aucion game discovery in 2020. Super simple, but full of bluffing and double guessing – with a very clever ‘bid whatever you want’ mechanic. Great fun.
- The Quiet Year – A story generator perfect for solitary or duet play – using a regular deck of cards, some dice, a paper, pencils, a lookup table – and some imagination.
- Trek 12 – Another great roll and write. Co-authored by Bruno Cathala.
- Vintage – I got to test this in Cannes during FIJ. A great point salady set collection game from Bruno Faidutti with some very interesting drafting mechanics. The art direction is also very fitting.
- Viscounts of the West Kingdom – The game that was the closest to end up on the list above. I’ve only played it solitaire, though… (Maybe I’ll end up breaking my own rules next year around and add it to the 2021 list. Who knows!) This is a mix of so many mechanics that it made me think of the first time I met Great Western Trail – Even some of the mechanics overlap! Rondel movement, deck builder, (sliding) tableau builder, area control, resource management, set collection, etc – but, just like in GWT, they click! when you start playing.
- Welcome to New Las Vegas – Follow up to one of my most played games of all time “Welcome to…” is a slightly… heavier… affair (to the extent a random-write can be heavy), but, still, great fun.
- Zombie Kidz Evolution – The bezt new-to-me children game I played in 2020. A cooperative legacy game with ztickers and zombies – and an ever evolving rule zet. My most played game of 2020 – in number of playz.
The games I look forward the most to play in 2021
- Darwin’s Voyage – I have recently Kickstarted this – let’s hope it lives up to the hype…
- Expedition to Newdale – Pfister revisiting some mechanics of his excellent Oh My Goods (one of the games I have played the most solo), but with… components (and retaining a solitaire mode). (Spoiler alert! It’s great! My third favourite Pfister of all time?)
- Anno 1800 – Martin Wallace(!)’s take on the Anno video games series…
- Praga Caput Regni – Rondel perfection?
- Lost Ruins of Arnak – Deck builder and worker placement with a theme? Yes, please!
- Mariposas – this arrived in the house during the end of year festivities…
- Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun –
- My City – The latest city building, pentomino, bingo game from Dr Knizia.
- Whistle Mountain – Spiritual successor to a Whistle Stop – a “train game” I’ve always wanted to try.
- Hallertau – Uwe Rosenberg
- Tiny Epic Pirates – I think this Marauders-light (with, as the Zeitgeist dictates, a rondel front and center) from Scott Almes will appeal to people of all ages in this household. (So I kickstarted it a while back…)
- Under Falling Skies – Space invaders as a solitaire board game – soon to be released here in France.
- The Search for Planet X – Solitaire (that can be played coop…)
- The Castles of Tuscany – Stefan Feld revisiting the sauce of one of my favourite discoveries of 2019, but with a big enough twist to make it interesting…?
- Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 – I haven’t gotten to play any of the Pandemic Legacy games yet…
- Santa Monica
- …and! I almost forgot! The upcoming expansion for On Mars called: On Mars: Surviving Mars – The Cooperative Expansion for On Mars
From earlier years:
Crystal Palace, Pipeline, Hadara, Watergate, Parks, Cooper Island, Isle of Cats, Barrage, Cities Skylines, Spirit Island, Blackout, Underwater Cities, Gugong, Teotihuacan, Undaunted: Normandy
Shelf of shame/opportunity
- Bios: Origins
- The Gallerist
Also, for reference, here’s my list from 2019.
(Photos from my @do_meeples_dream Instagram account.)
All new-to-me games played 2020
|Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small||2012||343||7.35174||2.3504||13||30||2-2|
|Colors of Paris||2019||2523||6.95327||2.1591||10||60||2-4|
|Ecos: First Continent||2019||1006||7.15497||2.5957||14||75||2-6|
|Nine Tiles Panic||2019||2319||6.94972||1.25||7||20||2-5|
|Paladins of the West Kingdom||2019||65||8.00752||3.6977||12||120||1-4|
|The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine||2019||53||7.87742||1.9752||10||20||2-5|
|The Quiet Year||2013||4158||7.74056||1.4545||0||180||2-4|
|Trek 12: Himalaya||2020||1959||6.90469||1.44||8||30||1-50|
|Viscounts of the West Kingdom||2020||152||7.90356||3.4353||12||90||1-4|
|Welcome to New Las Vegas||2020||2190||6.82145||2.8889||10||35||1-50|
|Zombie Kidz Evolution||2018||487||7.69609||1.3717||7||15||2-4|
|Architects of the West Kingdom: Age of Artisans||2020||Not Ranked||8.11714||2.8627||12||80||1-6|
|It’s a Wonderful World: Corruption & Ascension||2020||Not Ranked||8.16596||2.625||14||45||1-7|
|It’s a Wonderful World: War or Peace||2020||Not Ranked||7.8582||2.1818||14||60||1-5|
|Star Realms: Scenarios||2018||Not Ranked||7.72217||1.6667||12||0||2-4|
|Terraforming Mars: Turmoil||2019||Not Ranked||7.54517||3.75||12||150||1-5|
|Terraforming Mars: Turmoil Promos||2019||Not Ranked||8.14666||3.5||12||120||1-5|
|Welcome To…: Easter Egg Hunt & Doomsday Thematic Neighborhoods||2019||Not Ranked||7.31895||1.9167||10||25||1-50|