2013 is just about in the books and before we move on to the new year, I though it’d be a good idea to take a look back at the best board games of 2013. With the rise in popularity of Kickstarter, more games then ever have been appearing on your tabletop. And when you add in games from existing publishers, there is a lot of competition for your gaming dollars. With many great games on the horizon for 2014, lets take one last look back at some of the best games from this past year.
Unfortunately, games can also be a little slow to make their way across the pond and we haven’t had a chance to try many of the Essen 2013 new game releases. So with that in mind, we’ve split this into two lists. The first half will be our Top 10 Games from 2013, only including games that we’ve actually played. The second section will be the games we’re most looking forward to trying out from this year’s new releases. We hope by mid 2014 we’ll have had a chance to play many of the games in the second list and can then make some final choices for the best board games of 2013.
Top 10 Games of 2013
10. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (review)
Pathfinder was an interesting game. A cooperative card game that has taken elements from traditional roleplaying games and formed them into a card game experience. The thing about Pathfinder is that the game itself isn’t all that exciting. Draw a card, roll a die is the basis of most turns. What makes Pathfinder special is the game outside the game. Pathfinder is meant to be played as a campaign, meaning players build their deck and level up their characters between games and as they progress. It’s the “donkey with the carrot” approach that has sucked in many RPGers over the years. In that respect, it’s brilliant. As a campaign style game, it’s one of the best.
9. Forbidden Desert (review)
Published by Gamewright, Forbidden Desert is a follow up to the popular Forbidden Island. While I enjoyed Forbidden Island, I always found it a bit too simple for my tastes. Gamewright has taken that to heart with their follow up title. Forbidden Desert has ratcheted up both the complexity and the difficulty. Forbidden Desert is a great cooperative experience that can be a little unforgiving as well. With some fantastic components to go with it, there is a lot to love with this game.
8. Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends
Debuting in Essen this year, Tash-Kalar is an abstract strategy game where players are trying to outmaneuver their opponents in an ancient arena. I say abstract because this game really isn’t what you would expect. You are not using minis to fight to the death in this arena. Instead, players will place symbols on a grid during the game to try and form patterns. These patterns will let them summon “creatures” into the arena to give then a boost versus their opponent. Tash-Kalar can be highly tactical and also is a real brain burner.
7. Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Academy Games is somewhat unique in that all of their games are also educational. With Freedom: The Underground Railroad, they are taking on the very sensitive topic of America’s history with slavery. In this cooperative game, players are conductors on the underground railroad and must try and help the slaves escape to the freedom of Canada. I think Academy Games did a great job with a very delicate subject matter that had the potential to go horribly wrong. Instead, they made a game that is both very to play fun and quite educational. Freedom also does a great job challenging the player, expect to lose quite a few times.
I’ve only recently gotten my hands on Euphoria, from Stonemaier Games, but I’m pretty sure they have another hit on their hands. I think, given time, this game could even rise higher on this list. Players are low level managers in a dystopian society and are trying to size control for themselves. This worker placement game uses some unique mechanics where players must keep their workers both happy and also dumb. If their workers realize that their life really sucks, they will run away (possibly to join a circus, I haven’t decided yet) and the players must gather a new recruit. As what seems to be the standard for Stonemaier Games, the components in Euphoria are nothing short of outstanding for a euro game.
5. Relic Runners (review)
It has been a while since Days of Wonder released a completely new title, but this year they did so with Relic Runners. Players take on the role of an archeologist traveling through the jungle looking for ancient treasures. Days of Wonder has a history of making games that are both high quality and very accessible. I’m happy to say that Relic Runners fits the bill on both accounts. With a quick playing time and great looking pieces, I’ve gotten Relic Runners to the table quite a few times this year. Relic Runners also makes a nice gateway game for people who aren’t yet into board gaming.
To some, there is no better game designer than Stefan Feld. Personally, I’m not his biggest fan. I think his games can be good, but sometimes a little dry. With that in mind, Amerigo ended up being a surprise hit for me this year. Players are helping Amerigo Vespucci on his journey to discover the new world. They must explore islands, secure trade routes and build settlements. The thing that will probably catch people’s eye the most with Amerigo is the large cube tower that comes with the game. Players toss a handful of cubes in this tower each round and whatever comes out, determines which actions may be taken. It’s a really cool concept.
I first was able to try Rampage at GenCon 2013 and instantly fell in love. There is just something really fun about pretending to be a big monster destroying a city. Honestly, this was the game I wanted King of Tokyo to be. In this dexterity game, players will be dropping their wooden monsters onto built up towers, trying to knock the meeples off so they can eat them. Rampage is wild, unique and a whole lot of fun.
2. Viticulture (review)
Viticulture was my surprise hit of the year. To be honest, when I first heard about this game, it didn’t really grab my attention. I thought, winemaking…yeah ok. But after at least a dozen plays, I’ve really fallen in love with this game. The complexity is just about right to not be too easy, yet not so difficult that I need to reread the instructions between plays. In this game, players are running their own pre-modern tuscan farm. The game is highly thematic, competitive and very well made. My only regret is not being able to get ahold of the Aboriculture expansion provided to the original kickstarter backers. On the plus side, they are planning on rereleasing it (I believe) in their upcoming Tuscany expansion due out this spring. Viticulture is also between printings, so if you are looking to get your hands on this one in the near future, be prepared to spend a pretty penny.
1. Sails of Glory
Published by Ares Games, I originally found out about Sails of Glory from their well run Kickstarter campaign this year. Arriving in backers hands as we speak, Sails of Glory just barely made the cut for 2013. Finally getting this game in my hands, the ships look nothing short of amazing. They even rival Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures for the sheer awesomeness of the minis. I’ve always been a fan of wooden sailing ships and high seas games. One of the great things about Sails of Glory is that there are a number of different play modes to suit all preferences. You have basic play for those looking to just jump in and have some fun. There is the standard play that gets a bit more complex and even advanced play for those that want to get down into the nitty gritty. Rum rations for the crew? Yeah, they have rules for that. Finally, there is even solo game play for when you can’t find another combatant. All-in-all I’m loving Sails of Glory, Ares Games really hit a home run with this one.
Top 10 Games of 2013 I’m Most Looking Forward to Trying
Selling out quickly at GenCon 2013, Firefly was an instant buy for anyone who loved the TV show. One of the best things about this game is that it doesn’t seem to be a cheap, licensed tie-in, but rather a full game set in “the verse”. Other than the really long play time, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Firefly and I’m looking forward to checking it out.
9. Francis Drake
In Francis Drake, players take on the role of an Elizabethan captain getting ready to make voyages to the new world in search of riches. This game combines elements of worker placement, auction and set collection into an intriguing eurogame. I’m looking forward to checking this one out, although the 3 player minimum might make it a bit harder to get to the table.
8. Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy
Holding the record for the longest game title on this list, Legacy is worker placement game where players are trying to build out their family’s wealth and standing. Legacy seems to be highly strategic and I like the idea of creating a family tree during the course of the game.
7. Space Cadets: Dice Duel
I’m a huge fan of real time games, with Space Alert being easily one of my favorites. I was a little disappointed in Space Cadets, as the mini game collection didn’t really seem to fit in well with the overall game. Dice Duel seems to have taken to the concept to another level though, with this time each player is part of a spaceship team seeking to destroy the other players’ ship. Cooperation, team work and real time dice rolling all piqued my interest on this one.
This game got a lot of attention in Essen 2013 and has quickly become highly sought after and very hard to find. Patchistory is a civ building game with some unique mechanics. Players will be building out their civilization, but also be patching other cards that have previously been played. The concept really intrigues me and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this one as soon as it’s available.
5. Glass Road
Being a glass blower myself, Glass Road immediately jumped on my radar when I heard about it. In Glass Road, players are managing their own glass shop by utilizing hand management and tile placement actions. Players will be using specialist cards to carry out their actions during the game and if they can play a unique one, then they will get an extra bonus. Glass Road seems like a very interesting game that I hope to try soon.
Another civ building game, but this one is seems to be a bit deeper than Patchistory. Players control a nation from a humble beginnings all the way up until World War 1. Civilization: The Board Game is one of my favorite empire building board games and I’m really curious to see how Nations compares to it.
3. Eldritch Horror
I really enjoyed Arkham Horror a while ago but eventually the game just fell out of my rotation and never got played. The poorly written rulebook combined with some bloated rules made this a hard one to get to the table. A couple of years ago, Fantasy Flight Games released a spin off game called Elder Sign that added some new life to the franchise. Elder Sign was a light, filler game that was actually a lot of fun to play. Eldritch Horror seems to straddle the fence between these two games and create a happy medium. Players once again take on the role of a globe trotting adventurer seeking to hold back the forces of the ancient ones. I’m curious as to how well this one plays and if it runs smoother than Arkham Horror.
2. Steam Park
Steam Park has a lot of great things going for it. First, it’s a real time dice game in which players build a theme park in 3D. That alone got my interest. But what really sold me was that the artwork was done by the same person that created the cards for Dixit. If you’ve never played, the artwork in Dixit is so serene, it’s hard not to just get lost viewing it. Steam Park looks like an absolute blast to play and will be an insta-buy for me.
1. Caverna: The Cave of Farmers
Probably the most hyped game to come out of Essen 2013, Caverna was billed as a replacement for the incredibly popular game Agricola. I’ve heard rumors that people are getting rid of their copies of Agricola after playing Caverna because it’s just that much better. Designer Uwe Rosenberg has seemingly built on the foundations of Agricola into a great worker placement game. Did he succeed? I look forward to finding out.
There you have it. Our best board games of 2013. There is already many games that we are enjoying and quite a few more that are on our list to try out. I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings. Think we missed one? Let us know your favorite games from 2013 in the comments below.