Tony and Andrew are back to wrap up the year with their Top 10 Board Games of 2020. Last year, I brought Andrew on board to give a second perspective on games from the year, and it turned out to be the perfect collaboration since our tastes diverge. Andrew loves medium-heavy euros, while I am more of a thematic gamer. Although there are some overlaps in our lists, let’s dive into our selections:
10. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game
A delightful surprise from Steamforged Games, Horizon Zero Dawn is a competitive or cooperative board game based on the popular video game. Our group preferred the cooperative mode because hunting down mechs as a team was more enjoyable than trying to outdo each other. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that it needs an expansion to add variety. The core game introduces the mechanics, but it lacks replay value. Nevertheless, I have high hopes for bringing this to the table in 2021.
Andrew discovered another gem from the designer of 2018’s Smartphone Inc. Furnace is a game that takes auctions, a familiar game design element, and provides a fresh experience. What’s remarkable is that it can be taught and played in under 45 minutes. It’s set to have a wider release next year, and hopefully, we’ll see some expansion content as well.
9. The Grand Carnival
I suspect this game will rise in the rankings after more plays, but I just recently got it to the table in early December. So far, it has been really good. The Grand Carnival is a light tile placement game where players create their own carnival using polyomino-shaped tiles. It’s easy to learn, but there is a subtle complexity that requires careful thinking about how to utilize limited actions each round. I’m excited to play The Grand Carnival again.
9. Zombie Teenz Evolution
According to my 7-year-old, this is the number one game, not just of the year, but of his entire life. We loved 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. Playing the Zombie Evolution series of games with my son has provided some of the best gaming experiences we’ve had together.
8. Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef
This worker placement game not only provides a fun experience but also boasts fantastic production values. Tidal Blades combines dice rolling, worker placement, and resource management. Players use their limited actions to face challenges and upgrade their heroes. Although I wanted to rank it higher, I wasn’t a huge fan of the two-player rules. It truly shines with three players.
8. Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun
The T-named series of heavy euro games have been a mixed bag for me. T’zolkin’s focus on advanced planning didn’t resonate, and while I enjoyed Teotihuacan initially, it started feeling stale after multiple plays. However, Tekhenu might just be my favorite of the bunch. It’s slightly lighter than the others but still offers plenty of strategic depth. Although it’s new and difficult to predict longevity, I’m excited to explore the diverse strategies it offers.
7. Unmatched Cobble and Fog
While Unmatched isn’t a new release this year, the Cobble and Fog stand-alone expansion enhanced the game significantly. It introduced a diverse lineup of characters and elevated the system to new heights. Unmatched seems to be improving with every release, and I can’t wait to try out the recently announced Marvel characters coming in 2021.
7. Expedition to Newdale
Expedition to Newdale was an honorable mention last year as we started working through the campaign. Now, I can confidently include it in the actual list. Alexander Pfister’s creation amazed me. It combines the card play of Oh My Goods! with worker placement, resulting in a short campaign that provides a unique gaming experience with each play.
6. Blitz Bowl Season 2
Blitz Bowl Season 2 caught me off guard as I hadn’t even heard of it until it arrived at my doorstep. This game offers a Blood Bowl experience in just 30 minutes. Coaches control a team of players from different factions, and while the box only includes minis for two factions, Game Workshop provided cards for all the teams, greatly increasing replay value. The gameplay is fast, easy to learn, and provides numerous ways for your team to score with challenge cards.
6. On Mars
As a fan of Vital Lacerda, Kanban and Gallerist are games that will always have a place in my collection. On Mars continues his tradition of heavy strategy games that stay true to their themes. Although I’ve only played it twice, I’m confident its rating will rise as there are already ideas floating around in my head for future plays.
5. Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps
A recent release from Gale Force 9, Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps has already hit the table six times for me. It immerses players in the shoes of the iconic squad from the second Aliens movie. You control soldiers like Hudson, Hicks, and Vasquez as you complete missions inspired by the movie. Although the miniatures need assembly (which should have been avoided), and the rulebook needs some polishing, the gameplay itself offers a thematic experience reminiscent of Zombicide.
5. Ride the Rails
Cube rail games focus on building train routes, owning stock, and hopefully profiting. Capstone Games reprinted some cube rail favorites in their “Iron Rails” series, and Ride the Rails quickly became one of my favorites in the genre. There’s no auctioning or money to keep track of; instead, each player can invest in one company every round. Companies earn profits by transporting passengers around the map. This unique mechanic leads to plenty of interaction between players and companies, while expansion maps bring dramatic changes to the game.
4. Marvel United
Marvel United had the potential to rely solely on its IP as a crutch, but designers Eric Lang and Andrea Chiarvesio managed to create a fun and streamlined game. Each player controls a familiar Marvel hero, working together to defeat villains like Red Skull, Taskmaster, or Ultron. The gameplay is simple yet strategic, with players using cards to take actions. I was initially concerned that the rules would be too simplistic, but they strike the perfect balance, making it easy to learn and quick to play.
More trains! Choo-choo! For those interested in 18XX games, 18Chesapeake is an excellent starting point for new players. It features full-capitalization, making it easier to learn other 18XX games compared to the incremental capitalization in 1846. Additionally, Chesapeake introduces a train exporting rule to prevent the game from stagnating with less aggressive players. Even experienced 18XX players can enjoy it. If you’re curious, you can try it online for free at 18XX.games.
Created as the spiritual follow-up to Evolution, Oceans invites players to create new lifeforms beneath the sea. Although the gameplay is simple—play a card, eat fish, and score points—it offers a wealth of replay value with its extensive stack of “deep cards”. Players must carefully manage their species to prevent extinction, but with a wide range of traits to adapt to, flexibility is key. Oceans also offers a family set of rules for a lighter experience, making it accessible for regular play.
3. Dune: Imperium
Despite my limited knowledge of Dune, which includes a failed attempt at reading the book and never watching the movies, Dune: Imperium captivated me. Designed by Paul Dennen (known for Clank!), this game combines deckbuilding with worker placement. Before revealing your hand and taking a deckbuilding turn, you can play a card to place a worker. Each card provides access to specific worker placement spots, adding strategic depth to your choices.
2. Lost Ruins of Arnak
Publisher Czech Games Edition did a fantastic job with Lost Ruins of Arnak. It not only looks impressive but also offers engaging gameplay. Players embark on expeditions into a lost civilization, combining worker placement, deck building, and resource management into a seamless experience with multiple paths to victory. In my review, I had very few criticisms, and it has hit the table frequently since its arrival.
2. Marvel United
When I backed this Kickstarter campaign, I almost canceled at the last minute. However, even with just the base game released in 2020, I’m eager to get the rest of the content for Marvel United. The gameplay is refreshingly simple: play a card and carry out its actions, along with the actions of the previously played card. This allows the team of superheroes to work together, creating a cohesive strategy to defeat the villain they’re facing. Each of the base game’s three villains offers unique challenges, ensuring a varied experience. I can’t wait to see how the Kickstarter content will introduce interesting villains and hopefully more diverse heroes.
1. Rallyman GT
Rallyman GT tops my list as the best racing game of the year. It captures the essence of high-speed racing, using a dice system combined with a “press your luck” mechanic that keeps each turn thrilling. After playing it once, I immediately bought all the expansions. With different cars to drive and unlimited track possibilities, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played this game. It’s a ton of fun with strategic decisions at every turn.
1. Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Pandemic Legacy games have provided me with some of the most memorable gaming experiences. Although they can only be played through once, the investment of around $50 yields 15-20 plays, making it worthwhile. For me, Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 is a masterpiece. Set during the Cold War, before the events of the rest of the series, the game replaces disease cubes with Russian agents. I won’t spoil any details, but the story unfolds gradually, keeping players engaged. The game mechanics remain true to the Pandemic series, but new abilities and actions add fresh strategic options. It’s an exceptional game that deserves the top spot.
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Disclaimer: The above list represents personal preferences and may not necessarily reflect everyone’s taste.