For the past 7 years (has it really been that long?) I’ve been posting my Top 10 Games of the year. With the glut of new releases every year, this has been an increasingly harder and harder task. Not only are there so many good games coming out each year, but there are so many different types of games. So this year I wanted to try something different. Lately (ok, not that recently) my tastes have been trending more towards thematic games versus number crunchy euros. In order to do justice to the fans of the cube pushing genre of games, I’ve enlisted some help this year.
For the first time, resident BGQ reviewer and wooden cube addict Andrew Smith will be joining me in the Top 10 Board Games of 2019 list. I tried to find a reviewer on BGQ whose taste diverges somewhat drastically from my own. The Yin to my Yang if you will. So what follows are each of our Top 10s for the year (mine first, Andrew’s second). I hope you find something new to enjoy in this article.
And as always, before we get to the top 10, here are some games that just barely missed the cut, but were still otherwise excellent:
Tony: Middara, Zombidicde Invader, PARKS, QE, Shobu, and Star Wars: Outer Rim
Andrew: PARKS, Electropolis, Flick of Faith, Horrified, and Expedition to Newdale (which I just started the campaign of and will likely end up near the top of this list after I get more games played.)
Top 10 Board Games of 2019
10. Bushido (review)
Tony: A game I didn’t expect to love as much as I did, Bushido is a dueling game that has two players facing off in a samurai fight. While the game uses dice to drive its turns, the strategy is handled through a hand of five cards that are drafted at the start of the game (from a deck of 30+ cards) and your weapon choice. Bushido is easy to learn, has tight gameplay, and offers buckets of replay value.
10. Wingspan (review)
Andrew: Even if my heavy-euro loving heart isn’t necessarily the target audience for Wingspan, it somehow became one of my most played games of the year. Obviously it’s won more than a few accolades and deservingly so. It’s approachable, beautiful, and, most importantly, a lot of fun to play. Watching a few bird cards soon morph into an egg-laying, point-producing engine is the type of interaction I can get behind.
9. Lord of the Rings: Journeys into Middle Earth
Tony: Publisher Fantasy Flight Games did a great job of creating a cooperative adventure game set in this much-beloved fantasy universe. The card-driven gameplay in Journeys into Middle Earth feels fresh, and the integrated digital app does a nice job of not getting in the way, all the while helping to run the game so no player has to be the “game master”. I’m looking forward to seeing what this line has in store for us in the future.
9. Pax Pamir Second Edition
Andrew: Until this year I was pretty uninitiated with the Pax series of games. I’d heard mixed things and nothing about them really spoke to me. But then I saw the gorgeous production from Wehrlegig Games of this Pamir Second Edition. Everything about it really makes it stand out. And the gameplay lives up to the wonderful components. Players vie for control over the Afghan empire by playing cards into their tableau and controlling areas and influence. There are a ton of moving parts and it’s a bit hard to get to the table, but I could see this one rising as time goes on.
8. Cthulhu: Death May Die
Tony: After my first play, I wasn’t too sure about this game. But after a couple more goes, and wrapping my head around some of the strategies, I’ve really come to enjoy Cthulhu: Death May Die. Its unique sanity system means that players are constantly trekking towards insanity as the game progresses, but also embracing that madness to make their characters even more powerful. By the end, you are teetering on the edge of madness, but almost a strong as the great old ones themselves.
8. Watergate (review)
Andrew: When someone describes a game as a tug-of-war I normally fall immediately to sleep. Nothing about tug-of-war sounds exciting to me. Pulling on a rope? Whooooo! But the trick with Watergate is there are so many ropes. You have to balance fighting for initiative, momentum, and evidence. And each card you can play can pull on any of those things in different ways. It makes for interesting decisions in a quick-playing, two-player game.
7. Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon
Tony: This relatively recent release from publisher Awaken Realms is a campaign-style game that has players exploring the island of Avalon, trying to tackle the many challenges the game throws at them. The combat/diplomacy mechanics eschew dice for a wholly unique card and symbol system. Add in the excellent production values and the fact that the stories that the game presents are quite intriguing and you have a game that begs to make it to the table often. This game would actually be higher on the list, but I’ve only been able to play it a handful of times. I’m looking forward to delving more into its mysteries.
1-4 Players • Ages 14+ • 60-120 minutes
7. Letter Jam (review)
Andrew: Cooperative word-building party games are a dime a dozen these days, right? Well, maybe not. But that is the best way I can really describe Letter Jam as players will try to help each other deduce the word that they are given to start the game. But you’ll never get to look at your letters, just see how it is used to spell other words to hopefully infer what you’ve got. It is thinky, but still easy enough to play and teach that it isn’t completely out of place if you are trying to get non-gamers into it.
6. Claustrophobia 1643
Tony: I never had a chance to play the original Claustrophobia but had always heard good things about it. After playing Claustrophobia 1643, I was hooked. I really enjoyed the asymmetrical gameplay as the hordes of the dark attempt to swarm the few champions of light that are left alive. The game has some excellent production values, and the missions feel diverse and challenging. I also appreciate that the rules overhead is simple enough that we can just jump in and start playing, yet deep enough to keep the game interesting.
6. Masters of Renaissance: Lorzeno il Magnifico the Card Game
Andrew: At its heart, Masters of Renaissance is a pretty simple engine-building euro game. The key conceit is that to gather resources you’ll choose a row or column from a 3×4 display of marbles and push whatever leftover marble exists in, changing what is available to the next player. You can also only store a small number of resources without running your production, which lets you move some to a lockbox for later use. It’s a clever design and can be taught in played in 30-45 minutes.
1-4 Players • Ages 14+ • 30-45 minutes
5. Watergate (review)
Tony: Finally a game me and Andrew agree on! Normally, the theme of the game isn’t something I’d gravitate too. Games about politics? Bleh. But Watergate is different. It’s really more about the scandal then politics, and it’s card driven mechanics are incredibly engaging. Most cards have a really powerful action on them, but once used, they are removed from the game. So players must weigh the best time to use a card, versus trying to save it for a future turn. Difficult decisions and tight gameplay have turned Watergate into a game I’m always willing to play.
5. Shobu (review)
Andrew: Coming out of Origins I was set on telling anyone who would listen about Shobu. A two player abstract game, it is made up of four wooden boards and 32 rocks. From that, you have a highly tactical game where players will often be found sitting with their heads in their hands trying to figure out what to do next. Put alongside Chess, Backgammon, or Go, you’d be forgiven to think Shobu has existed for just as long. It looks ancient and the rules are almost too simple for the depth of gameplay that emerges.
Tony: A thematic game about trying to survive as aliens attack your spaceship? Sign me up! If the designers of Nemesis were trying to create “Alien: the board game” they succeded. The gameplay can either be semi-cooperative or full cooperative, depending on your group’s play style and I’ve found them both to be equally entertaining. As with most Awaken Realms products, the production values are excellent and there is a ton of gameplay in the core box. Each player is given a unique character and a secret mission (if playing semi-coop) that may have you working against the other players. Exploration, combat, and survival are all highlights of playing a game of Nemesis.
4. The Magnificent
Andrew: Released at Essen, The Magnificent was one of my most anticipated games. From the same team that brought us Santa Maria, but with a more interesting (and less problematic) theme. Luckily, the Magnificent did not disappoint. I played it three times at BGG Con alone. It’s an amalgamation of some of my favorite euro mechanisms: drafting, multi-use cards, and tile-laying. It all works well together and is one of my favorite medium-weight euros in recent memory. Although it’s not widely available in the US yet, it is coming. And you should be ready for it.
Tony: This worker placement game has players running their own dinosaur theme park. Players will be using their workers and money to breed dinosaurs, build attractions and hotels in their park, and play action cards that alter the game flow. Dinogenics is easy to learn, but offers quite a few paths to victory depending on what dinosaurs and buildings are available. After playing this one quite a bit, I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Controlled Chaos expansion.
1-5 Players • Ages 14+ • 90-120 minutes • Between Printings
3. Marvel Champions: The Card Game (review)
Andrew: I wanted to hate this game. I played it the first time fully expecting to never play Marvel Champions again. But after my first experience as Black Panther taking down Rhino, I was enamored. The key, for me anyway, is that my teammates (Captain Marvel and Iron Man, in this case) seemed to be doing something completely different than what I was doing. Everyone felt just a little bit different and in a way that made sense for the comic character. Now I’m just waiting for all the expansions to be released and trying to figure out the best storage solution. I’m 100% hooked.
2. Batman: Gotham City Chronicles (review)
Tony: At the start, Batman was a struggle to get to the table due to its overly dense rulebook that’s wasn’t very good as a learning tool (and its criminal lack of player aids). However once those hurdles were overcome, Batman: Gotham City Chronicles shined as an incredibly strategic game with a diverse amount of missions. Players will control a variety of heroes from Batman to Red Hood, and face off against a plethora of villains from Batman’s rogue’s gallery. This objective-based game is not your Zombicide style dice chucker, but more akin to The Legends of Andor where time is limited and you can’t just attack everything in sight. This has been one of my most played games of the year and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gotten it to the table already. It only missed the number one spot of the year by the slimmest of margins for me.
2. Pipeline (review)
Andrew: You know what really excites me in heavy euros? Efficiency! While there are a lot of things to consider in Pipeline, it often boils down to making the most of 18 turns you get in the game. You’ll have to do that while competing for resources in a fluctuating market with your opponents and trying to build a network of pipes to turn crude oil into something worth considerably more. And each game you’ll have different valuations to score at the end of the game, giving thousands (probably, I’m no mathematician) of combinations of scoring goals. While you can certainly learn the game and will do better over multiple plays, you’ll have to adapt to many different factors each time you play.
1. Marvel Champions: The Card Game (review)
Tony: Probably one of the newest games on my list, but one I’ve been incredibly excited to play every single time. I normally try and steer clear of Fantasy Flight’s LCG games, but like Andrew, this one hooked me from my very first play. It’s cooperative gameplay and minimal requirements for deck construction makes this very easy to get to the table. While the core set lineup of heroes and villains wasn’t the most exciting, Fantasy Flight is planning big support for this title with the first three expansions coming out this month. If you want to jump into the shoes of your favorite marvel superheroes and kick some butt with your friends, it doesn’t get much better than the Marvel Champions card game.
1. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Andrew: So someone says there is a cooperative trick taking game making waves at BGG Con. I kind of write it off because…that can’t work? It doesn’t even make sense. But the rumblings became louder. People whose opinions on games I trust are saying it’s really good. And I’m lucky enough to get to sit down and play a few hands. I ordered a copy from Germany before I got out of my seat. The Crew consists of 50 missions, most of which revolve around a player having to win the trick that includes a certain card. As the game progresses it becomes more difficult as you have to win more of them, or in a certain order. In most missions, once during the mission, you can reveal a card to your team and tell them if it is you highest, lowest, or only in that color. To know when to present this information is really integral—as well as just a deep understanding of trick taking. In hindsight it works so well I’m amazed it took so long for a co-op trick taking game to exist, but I’m glad it’s here!