Tony and Andrew are back again to wrap up the year with our Top 10 Board Games of 2020. Last year, I brought Andrew on to help me with the Top 10 Board Games of 2019 list to help give a second perspective on games from the year. I found that this worked best as a dual list since we both have pretty divergent tastes. Andrew really loves medium-heavy euros, while I am much more of a thematic gamer. That being said, you’ll still see some overlaps in our lists. But let’s start out with a few notes:
Tony: 2020 was a weird year for a plethora of reasons. But for me, it was also notable for the lack of any standout game… a game that just grips me and doesn’t let go. Maybe it was the absence of conventions this year that stopped us from trying as many games as usual, but overall, there were a lot of great games, but few ones that I just couldn’t stop playing. That being said, there are a lot of titles I’ve enjoyed and I’ve done my best to rank these as best as I could. But I could easily see the top 5 shuffling with more playtime. A few Honorable Mentions that just missed the cut are Detective: Season One, One Small Step, and Project Elite (the new edition).
Andrew: I love making lists. This year has been quite different with fewer conventions to explore new games, but I’ve still found plenty of games that will long reside in the collection. A few disclaimers/honorable mentions: Rococo/Kanban EV are deluxe versions of existing games without significant changes. Kanban is still my favorite game ever and EV looks absolutely beautiful and Rococo would likely be in the top 3 of this list if it wasn’t a reprint. The Crew will be considered a 2020 release for the upcoming BGQ awards, but I had it in my favorite of 2019 list so I’m not including it here. Scout! is a small Japanese card game that is pretty difficult to come by. So, I’m not officially including it, but it’s awesome if you can track down a copy.
Top 10 Board Games of 2020
10. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game (review)
Tony: A surprise hit for me from Steamforged Games. Horizon Zero Dawn is based on the video game of the same name and can be played either competitively or cooperatively. Our group preferred the coop play as hunting down those mechs as a team was a lot more fun than trying to kill steal from your opponents. The only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is that it really needs an expansion to add some variety. The core game introduces the mechanics to you but lacks in replay value. I have high hopes for getting this one back to the table in 2021.
10. Furnace (review)
Andrew: From the designer of 2018’s Smartphone Inc., Furnace is another gem that takes a familiar game design element—namely, auctions—and gives you a new experience. And manages to do so in a game that can be taught and played in under 45 minutes. It’s getting a wider release next year from publisher Arcane Wonders and hopefully future expansion content too.
9. The Grand Carnival
Tony: I suspect this one will sneak up after more plays, but I only just got it to the table in early December. However, so far, it’s been really good. The Grand Carnival is a light tile placement game that has each player putting on a carnival using polyomino shaped tiles. This is one of those games where it’s really simple to learn, but there is a subtle complexity to it that will have you thinking hard on how to use your limited actions each round. I’m excited to get The Grand Carnival back to the table again.
9. Zombie Teenz Evolution
Andrew: If you were to ask my 7-year-old, this is number one. Not of the year, of his entire life. We enjoyed Zombie Kidz Evolution and Zombie Teenz follows a similar formula: simple cooperative mechanisms, legacy-style envelopes to unlock, and achievements to earn as you play. Honestly, there aren’t better gaming experiences I’ve had with my son than the Zombie Evolution series of games.
8. Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef
Tony: This worker placement game not only is pretty fun to play but has fantastic production values. Tidal Blades features a solid mix of dice rolling, worker placement, and resource management. You’ll be using your limited actions to go to various locations to face challenges and upgrade your hero. I wanted to rank it a bit higher, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the two-player rules. This one really needs three players to shine.
8. Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun
Andrew: The T-named series of heavy-ish euro games have been a bit all over the board for me. T’zolkin’s focus on advanced planning just didn’t work for me. I really enjoyed Teotihuacan, but after playing it multiple times it started to feel a bit stale. However, Tekhenu might end up being my favorite of the bunch. Obviously, it’s new and longevity is hard to gauge at this point, but I love that it is just a slight amount lighter than the others and still packs a lot of strategies to explore.
7. Unmatched Cobble and Fog (review)
Tony: While Unmatched isn’t new this year, the Cobble and Fog stand-alone expansion really made me love this game. It brought a new, diverse lineup of characters and really grew the system into something much more interesting than the core game was. Unmatched seems to be improving with every release and I’m eagerly awaiting a chance to try out the recently announced Marvel characters coming in 2021.
7. Expedition to Newdale (review)
Andrew: This was in my honorable mentions last year as we just started working through the campaign. I can now safely move it up into the actual list. While Alexander Pfister had plenty of releases in 2019 and 2020, Expedition to Newdale just blew me away. It takes the card play of Oh My Goods!, adds some worker placement on top of it, and a short campaign that is light on story but makes each of your plays take on a unique feel.
6. Blitz Bowl Season 2 (review)
Tony: This one came out of nowhere for me, as I had not even heard of it until it showed up at my door. Blitz Bowl Season 2 gives players a Blood Bowl experience that can be played in about 30 minutes. Coaches each control a team of players from one of the Blood Bowl factions (humans, dwarves, orcs, etc…). While there are only minis for 2 factions in the box, Game Workshop included cards for all the teams, so this one has a ton of replay value (if you are ok with proxying minis or buying extras). But the gameplay is fast, easy to learn, and has lots of ways for your team to score with the challenge cards.
6. On Mars
Andrew: Vital Lacerda has long been my favorite designer and Kanban and Gallerist are games that won’t ever leave my collection. While I don’t own all his games anymore I appreciate the heavy strategy games he creates that still feel true to their theme. On Mars is no different. I’ve only managed to play this twice so far—so take its ranking for what you will. If I had to guess, its rating would only go up from here as there are already more ideas of what to do next time floating around in my head.
5. Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps
Tony: This one is a recent release from Gale Force 9, but I’ve already played a half dozen games of it. Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps drops you in the shoes of the familiar squad of grunts from the second Aliens movie. You’ll control soldiers like Hudson, Hicks, and Vasquez (along with Ripley and Newt) as you complete missions inspired by the movie. This one could easily climb higher with more plays, but right now it’s sitting at five due to the minis needing to be assembled (they really should have been one mold minis) and a rulebook that desperately needs some TLC. But the gameplay itself almost feels like a more thematic zombicide, which is a plus for anyone that loves a good dice chucker.
5. Ride the Rails
Andrew: Cube rail games revolve around building train routes for various companies, owning their stock, and (hopefully) profiting. Capstone Games recently started reprinting some cube rail favorites in their “Iron Rails” series. Ride the Rails is the second in the series and quickly became one of my favorites in the genre. There is no auctioning or money to keep track of everyone can invest in one company every round. And those companies earn profits by transporting passengers around the map. It’s unique and full of lots of interactions between the players and the companies (and expansion maps change it dramatically!)
4. Marvel United (review)
Tony: Marvel United had the potential to be a crappy game leaning on is IP as a crutch, but designer Eric Lang and Andrea Chiarvesio created a fun and streamlined game here. Each player controls a familiar marvel hero as you must try and defeat either Red Skull, Taskmaster, or Ultron. The gameplay is simple, play a card to the timeline and use the icons showing on your card and the previous one. You’ll need to beat up thugs, rescue bystanders, and ultimately take down the villain. I was worried that the rules were going to be too simple, but they are spot-on for a game that’s easy to learn and quick to get to the table.
Andrew: More trains! Chooo choooooooo! If you have had more than a passing interest in 18XX games, 18Chesapeake is now my preferred place to start new players. It’s a full-capitalization game which makes it easier to learn the majority of other 18XX games (compared to 1846’s incremental cap). Chesapeake adds a train exporting rule to keep the game from stagnating with less aggressive players. Yet, a full table of experienced 18XX players can enjoy it just the same. If you are looking to dip a toe in you can try it online for free at 18XX.games.
3. Oceans (review)
Tony: In this spiritual follow up to Evolution, Oceans has you creating new lifeforms under the sea. The gameplay is simple to learn—play a card, eat fish, score points—but offers a wealth of replay value thanks to its large stack of “deep cards”. You’ll need to manage your species carefully, less they go extinct, but with lots of traits to adapt to, this one offers a good amount of flexibility to the players. And with a family set of rules for those desiring a lighter experience, Oceans is easy to get to the table often.
3. Dune: Imperium
Andrew: I don’t know much about Dune. I tried reading the book and fell asleep a lot. Never saw the original movie. I’m excited for the new movie because what a cast! However, my lack of Dune knowledge didn’t stop me from loving this board game. Designed by Paul Dennen (who you may be familiar with from Clank!) this is another take on mixing deckbuilding with other mechanisms. Before you reveal your hand and take a pretty standard deckbuilding turn, you can play a card to place a worker. Each card in Dune Imperium will only allow you to claim certain spots though. So, when buying cards not only do you have to consider the card’s ability but also what worker placement spots it can make available to you.
2. Lost Ruins of Arnak
Tony: Publisher Czech Games Edition did a great job with Lost Ruins of Arnak. This one not only looks fantastic but has some really engaging gameplay. Players will be channeling their inner Indiana Jones as they head out on expeditions into a lost civilization. Lost Ruins of Arnak combines worker placement, deck building, and resource management into a seamless experience that offers many paths to victory. In my review, I didn’t have very many bad things to say about Lost Ruins of Arnak, and it’s one I’ve gotten to the table quite often since it arrived.
2. Marvel United (review)
Andrew: When I backed this KS, I was this close to canceling at the last minute. And while we only got the base game in 2020, I can’t wait to get the rest of the content for Marvel United. The gameplay is decidedly simple—play a card and do the actions on that card and the actions of the card played before you. This allows the team of superheroes to work together and form a cohesive strategy to defeat whichever villain they happen to be dealing with. And each of the base game’s three villains feels very different. Ultron will have you running around like crazy dealing with drones while Taskmaster will be scheming and making big moves you must interrupt. I can’t wait to see how the KS content will continue with interesting villains and, hopefully, heroes that feel different as well.
1. Rallyman GT (review)
Tony: Rallyman GT is a racing game where players are… well racing. The gameplay uses a system of dice with a press your luck mechanic that helps keep the turns tense. This was a game where I played it once, and then immediately went out and bought all the expansions for it. There are now different cars you can drive and an unlimited way you can make the tracks. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played this one since I got it (probably would have been more had this not been the year that it was), but it’s a ton of fun with lots of strategic decision to make.
1. Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Andrew: Pandemic Legacy games have been my favorite experiences. Since they can only be played through once and then go into the trash, it’s hard to rank them against more traditional games. But getting 15-20 plays for your $50 or so investment is surely worth it. And Pandemic Legacy Season 0 may be my favorite yet. It’s set roughly during the Cold War before the events of the rest of the series. Rather than battling disease cubes, you’ll be dealing with Russian agents. I don’t want to say too much and spoil anything about it but suffice it to say that as the story progresses things continue to change. It certainly feels like a Pandemic game throughout—the turn structure is largely the same—but you’ll have new abilities and actions that change all your strategic options. Not to mention the story that feels true to the game and engaging throughout. It’s a masterpiece.