This year has been a weird one. Somehow it’s halfway over and yet, there hasn’t been a lot that’s come across our collective radars when it comes to favorite games released this year. We were prepping to do our annual list of “The Best Board Games of 2023… So Far,” but we struggled to come up with stand-out titles. Convention season is starting to kick into gear, so I’m sure that’ll change by the end of the year. But for now, we settled on something not so new. Whether that was an older release played for the first time or one that’s stood the twin tests of collection culls and time, here’s our Quest List for 2023 so far: the year of discovering old favorites.
2023: the year of discovering old favorites
The Castles of Burgundy
Chosen by Jason
I think there’s probably a false assumption out there that if you review board games, you’ve played everything, or at least close to it. Lemme clear that up: we haven’t. Busy lives and all that. I’ve been thankful to have access to digital board games, which is where I was first asked to learn and play The Castles of Burgundy. I’m not gonna lie: it wasn’t my first pick. It’s ugly and looks drier than the desert where Chris lives. But I gave it the old college try, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, I kind of liked it. So much so, I’ve played it 12 times, just this year. For perspective, there are only nine games out of the 275 or so I’ve played that break ten plays. There are so many reasons this game shouldn’t have clicked for me, but it did in a satisfying way. I love the combos that you can pull off and that I don’t have to plan three turns ahead to win. Although I am probably the slowest player on staff when we play online. I don’t plan on buying the overly extravagant Awaken Realms copy coming soon. I’ll probably stick with digital for now. But that’s enough for me.
Azul: Queen’s Garden
Chosen by Michelle
While Azul will always have a special place in my heart, I wanted something more out of it than I got over the years. Cue Azul: Queen’s Garden, which seems to be one of the more divisive installments in the series because of its complexity. In my opinion, the tension and timing involved in placing tiles or garden expansions provide a satisfying, less linear puzzle to mull over than its predecessors. The game offers interesting in-game and end-game scoring opportunities, rewarding players that can manage to create patterns in their garden to qualify for all scoring. As would be expected from an Azul game, the components and art do not disappoint, and while Queen’s Garden offers tiles less worthy of forbidden snack status, they still have that same glossy feel. I find myself playing more games at two players these days, so my focus has been on getting games to the table that aren’t just about hate drafting to victory. Queen’s Garden fits the bill.
Chosen by Tony
I debated a lot about what to choose. Imperial Assault with the new Imperial Commander 2 App? Marvel Champions, which I own everything for? I finally settled on Battletech. About a year or so ago, I picked up the Battletech video game on a whim during a random Steam sale. I had never played this game of fighting mechs, but figured for $5, it was worth a shot. I was immediately hooked on the gameplay and the lore. 70+ hours later, I had beaten the game, ans then beaten it again with some mods. Wanting more, I gave the actual tabletop game a try. And you know what, despite its age, it’s pretty awesome. One thing I love about Battletech is just how flexible the system is. We started with the Beginner’s Box to learn the basics, and quickly graduated into the full game. I loved that you can add and leave out rules as you see fit, making the game as complex or simple as your group prefers. Classic Battletech can be super rules-heavy if you go full in (hope you like lots of tables!), but for those looking for a quicker, more easy to learn experience, Battletech Alpha Strike gives players a taste of the mech-v-mech combat with a much more streamlined ruleset.
Chosen by Brandon
Bus sat stationary on my shelf for way too long. Not only was it hard to track down (thankfully a potential reprint is on the horizon), but the unassuming title and cover art were not initially appealing to my group. Public transportation is never the most exciting prospect when you could be sailing the high seas in a far off land, or could pretty much any other thematic transportation-related game. But there’s a reason the demand for Bus remains high. It’s brilliant. How can one of the early (first?) worker placement games keep us captivated after so many years? By implementing a tight worker economy with a constantly evolving board state determined by every single action you (and others) take. Finally getting Bus to the table this year has added a mainstay to the game-night rotation. It is easy to teach and plays in an hour, so there’s nothing like teaching it to new players and then getting to the time-manipulation mechanism complete with infinity stones. With the threat of stopping time always in play, Bus cements itself as a brutal and wild ride on your mission to deliver passengers to their next stop.
3-5 Players • Ages 12+ • 120 minutes
Chosen by Dylan
I never expected to be interested in a card game as a 30-year old, but after being introduced to Netrunner, I now also own the System Gateway that NISEI published in 2021 (a fan continuation of the series after it stopped production in 2018.) Compared to famous TCGs like Magic: The Gathering or YUGIOH, it puts the two opponents in two very different positions. One acts as a corporation seeking to achieve agendas; the other is a runner working to steal those agendas for themselves. Agendas score points and the first to seven points wins. What makes this game such a discovery to me is how different it is from the usual customizable card games. Bluffing is a key item for the corporation player, who is building servers with firewalls and debuffs to the hacker, who may be attempting to hack into nothing. Deck construction has its own wrinkles, limiting the build to only a select number of different colors, rather than the main ability attached to the deck. The two players are doing totally different things, based on the role they are playing, not just from different deck builds. After a few games of it, I will continue to support Null Sigel Games (NISEI) for the direction the game has gone.
Chosen by Spencer (and Andy)
Ra is the latest game from up-and-coming designer, Reiner Knizia. It’s a set-collection-via-auction game with some push-your-luck built in. Most turns are spent deciding if you want to add a random tile from the giant bag to the auction block or start an auction. It’s a game of trying to get as much as possible for your bidding tokens, but oftentimes, you’ll need to overspend just to prevent someone else from getting that tile they need to get 5, 10, 15+ more points. Furthermore, each auction is a chance to upgrade (or downgrade) your bidding tiles for next round. As your pull tiles from the bag, Ra tiles are regularly coming out, forcing an auction and bringing the round closer to an end. A potential nightmare scenario is ending up with an unspent bidding token for the round. Do you settle for a couple of mediocre tiles or push your luck and hope for juicier options, knowing the round could end with just one more Ra tile pull, leaving you with nothing to show for your leftover bidding tokens? On the other hand, if you spend all of your tokens too soon, other players are left to run the auctions on their own and can get some amazing tile sets for cheap. It’s addictive to call for auctions and control the pacing of the game, while denying the players with higher bidding tokens any more points. This game can be taught to pretty much anyone and plays rather quickly. These days, if we’re not filling time with trick-taking games, Ra is coming back out, and we’re banging that chunky Ra figure with high enthusiasm.
Cthulhu Death May Die
Chosen by James
CMON gets a lot of flak for their games being too light and too focused on miniatures. This game uses a mix-and-match mechanic that expands replay value with every expansion. Honestly, I could’ve easily gone with Marvel United here and those first two sentences wouldn’t change. But Death May Die’s brilliance is its simplicity: any episode and greater Old One can be mashed together for a different experience. The gameplay forsakes realism for cinematic action, as you can always shoot into adjacent spaces, even if they’re upstairs, but this simplified combat system keeps the game flowing. I love managing my insanity to trigger in a beneficial way while also powering up abilities, knowing full well that this could backfire and take me out of the game. The tone of the game is also far lighter than the imagery, with funny character quips, episode flavor text, and exploration card b-plots all making Death May Die feel more like a comedy than a horror film. While I’m looking forward to the new content, what I have now is fantastic and a joy every time I play it.
Chosen by Chris
One of my favorite things about board games is finding a game from a few years ago that checks all the right boxes for your current tastes and instantly becomes a new favorite. As such, I could have written about Cthulhu: Death May Die, which I’ve played a lot of over the last few months, but James has taken care of that. I also considered Marvel Champions, which I became so enamored of over the last six months that I’ve fallen deep into a living-card-game rabbit hole for the first time in my gaming career. But ultimately I’m going with the least exciting pick in history: Wingspan. This one isn’t new to me, nor is it something I’ve warmed to over time. But I’ve taught the game to new players a lot over the last year or so and each time I do, it’s an enormous hit. I’m also left thinking “I really should play this game more often” after every play, which really speaks to how much a game truly appeals to you.
Chosen by Brian W.
Both of my kids love video games and when they play most board games, both love to gang up on me when they have the chance. My kids are teens now (ages 13 & 17) and I brought out Adrenaline this spring for them to try, because this one checks both boxes for them. As expected, they love this first-person shooter, battle royale, and yes “Operation: Get Dad” is still the primary strategy. There was some downtime in our first few games figure out weapon effects, because the iconography on the cards is not the most intuitive, but it’s gotten smoother after multiple plays. Both kids really didn’t have much issue with the learning rules or mastering the gameplay. I was happily surprised at just how much fun they both had with each game. Plus, there’s been great table talk during and after each game (especially from my son recalling my many deaths). We haven’t tried the Team Play DLC expansion yet but that’s our next step this summer.
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar
Chosen by George
All the buzz lately has been about the new edition of Warhammer 40K, but something nefarious has been brewing in the Mortal Realms. I am a huge player of Age of Sigmar and haven’t stopped playing since I started back in 2018. There have been some massive hype amongst players lately, as we gear up for a year of matched play in the frozen realm of beast. This area of the realm focuses on wild magic with some high-risk, high-reward mechanics for wizards. On top of a new season of matched play, our next narrative event has started! In the 4 Dawnbringer books (starting with Harbingers), we get to see the story of two crusades that set out to stake claims in the hostile lands of the realm of life and fire. Speculation is that this is leading us up to the release of the 4th edition next Summer. On top of all of this, the revamped Cities of Sigmar army is getting released soon with all new models and rules, perfect to bring to the table for the Dawnbringer crusades.
Star Trek: Attack Wing
Chosen by Marcus
It is hard to believe, but August 2023 marks the ten-year anniversary of the Flight Path off-shoot of X-Wing. It is my most-played game, though much of that was in the early years from 2013-2017. Nevertheless, I’ve kept coming back to it, as expansions have slowly continued to trickle out over the years. Of the games using a variant of this system, I thought that the D&D version had the most depth, but there’s an ease of play in the Star Trek version that makes it easy to get people to pick up and play. Despite my countless plays, there is always something drawing me back to it. What has had me playing it recently was the cooperative campaign variant (called Star Trek: Alliance) which got one expansion earlier this spring and a second this month. WizKids has, as you’d expect, been given a hard time by the fans of the game over the years, but they’ve supported it and continue to put new products out, even ten years into the franchise. All this content leads to a game with a wide variety. The potential games are virtually limitless, at least in one lifetime. Sadly though, I’m still waiting on anything from the new Star Trek shows, but hope springs eternal!