The board game hobby continued its upswing this year, fueled by a variety of outstanding publications that offer fascinating options for everyone, from families looking for a new shared hobby to veterans hoping to gain their strategic muscles play.
It was particularly difficult this year to limit to just ten individual releases, but several rose to the top by combining outstanding presentation, thoughtful design, and overall playability. The games on the final list offer a range of competitive and collaborative options, easier games for complex strategic issues, and a surprising selection of genres, attitudes, and themes. But they all share the quality of having a lot of fun when they sit on the table for the game night.
Check back tomorrow when we present some of the best tabletop role-playing games of the year in a second article. And as always, feel free to send me an email if you have additional thoughts on the games described here or just want some personalized recommendations.
Cthulhu: Death can die
Lovecraftian investigators defend themselves in this action / horror mash-up
The ubiquitous Cthulhu board game is a genre of its own at this point, but Death May Die turns the concept upside down in a number of ways by increasing the action and taking up the madness. The players are actively working to bring older gods into the world with the aim of destroying these abominations once and for all.
Each session is divided into two separate “acts” that focus on the before and after to draw this terrible being into our world. The different scenarios can be played independently and in no particular order. There’s an up-and-coming narrative here, but it’s not meant to go from a particular scenario to a specific subsequent scenario.
Each episode is surprisingly different from the others, and the fast-paced action vibe is an uproar. In addition, CMON’s longstanding reputation for astonishing miniatures with characters of your heroes and the terrible Lovecraftian monsters that blow your socks off is certainly intact.
Editor: Gale Force Nine
Lead your house to victory. The spice has to flow.
The 1979 Dune board game is a highly acclaimed classic of early themed strategy games. Gale Force Nine has revived the original with new art and some important rule developments, but the core of the predatory competition remains intact. Embody greats like Paul Atreides and Baron Harkonnen and their powers to control the spice mix, the most powerful resource there is. Intricate and unforgiving, but rich in subject matter, Dune is a game with great ups and downs.
Older competitive strategy games have a reputation for being a little meaner because they don’t have a better name. And Dune maintains this quality of the original. One bad choice can fuel you up for much of the game and plunge your faction. On the other hand, a good knowledge of the game and a correct interpretation of the skills of all other factions can pay off in many ways. You probably know without thinking about whether this is suitable for your group or for a large turnoff. In any case, this intimidating game has achieved its status as a classic – it can be a lot of fun.
The game’s revival comes at a great time before Denis Velleneuve’s big upcoming film is moderated. But apart from this wonderful fiction in novel or film formats, the Dune board game is an experience that every board player should try at some point – and this new version is the perfect chance.
Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
Help plants grow and wither in this pure strategy gem
You are a gardener and compete against the other players to transform a bone-dry desert into the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Carefully place tiles, collect precious gem resources, activate actions, and block your opponents’ efforts as you design your botanical wonder.
Ishtar is one of those elegant games where players are asked to assess different ways to win. Score well. Flowers score. Trees score. Even the way you upgrade during the game scores. Where will you use your efforts?
Along the way, the tiles and other components come into play to create an increasingly attractive presentation. The Ishtar offers first-class art and craftsmanship in all its components. So it’s a pleasure to see these gardens come to life on your table.
Perhaps the biggest success of the game is the way it feels so deep and receptive, even though the playing time is so limited. New players can be taught quickly and gameplay moves so quickly. Ishtar is an ideal choice for gamers who want a strategically differentiated experience that can be completed in less than an hour.
The Lord of the Rings: Traveling in Middle-earth
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
For a consistent team of fantasy fans ready for a big campaign
Tolkien’s vast fantasy world is brought to life in this epic cooperative board game. Much of the extensive rule and scenario management is shifted to a digital app, so you can focus on the battles and encounters that shape your group’s adventure. Fantasy Flight has some practice in perfecting the app assistant’s approach to designing board games. This shows Journeys in Middle-Earth with an excellent digital experience that always increases the fun at the table, but never detracts from the person. Commitment.
The game is based on individual scenarios that together comprise a complete storyline that can be played from start to finish for weeks or months. One session naturally moves into the next and becomes a coherent story in which your heroes become more powerful with each quest. The game moves between a larger map of Middle-earth and a smaller tactical map, on which individual encounters often take place.
A particularly creative approach to skill checks does without dice and instead requires that you draw from a personal deck of cards. You change this deck during the game, but you also decide whether you want to use the ability on a card or its numerical value to determine your success with a particular company. It is still uncertain which card you draw, but you have some control by increasing the freedom of action as a player.
This new adventure from Lord of the Rings is big and beefy, but the app makes it much easier to use than many games of similar width and ambition. If the same group of players shows up in your house for weeks or your family loves fiction, this return to the world of Tolkien fits perfectly.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Put together some superheroes that join together regularly
Team up with your friends for this cooperative card game in which players take on the role of icons like Iron Man and Spider-Man to battle Ultron and Rhino in fierce, fast-paced battles. Compare your costume hero’s unique abilities with his alter ego’s special abilities to win the day.
The coolest aspect of the game is how different each character feels from the others, from Tony Stark’s need to equip his suit before starting as Iron Man, to Black Panther’s ability to use the power of Wakanda. This variation adds a ton of repetition value and encourages players to try the same scenarios multiple times to see how things change when another team of heroes tries.
Marvel Champions is the newest card game from Fantasy Flight, in which the traditional collection format of random stacks and boosters is abandoned and instead expansions with concrete card inclusions are the focus. You always know what you get with each new set, and everyone gets the same if they choose to upgrade. New heroes (like Captain America) and bad guys (like Green Goblin) are added after launch, turning Champions into an ongoing game worth exploring over time.
Publisher: Awaken Realms / Rebel
Seasoned science fiction warriors should be better prepared for a challenge
It’s certainly not a licensed game, but you can imagine it as well as the final board game that picks up on the alien movie concept. The players work as a semi-cooperative group, each with their own goals. They are desperately trying to escape a doomed ship and return to Earth, even when terrible aliens enter.
Nemesis is a bluntly challenging and often complicated game, but diving into its many dark corners brings big rewards. Players sneak around the ship, trying not to attract the attention of the deadly aliens. When they do so, limited ammunition and the risk of infection increase tension and anxiety, and there is even a chance that they’ll implant offspring that may burst out of your chest, just like in the movie that inspired the experience , And that doesn’t even affect the possibility that your other players will try to take you out too!
Remarkably detailed miniatures and other high-quality components make this game a game for connoisseurs in every respect, but not suitable for beginners. Nemesis is an outstanding success that is aimed directly at experienced hobbyists.
Editor’s Note: Nemesis was released in 2018 for its original crowdfunding supporters, but Rebel brought the game closer to a wider audience in 2019 and secured a place in these awards. It’s also noteworthy that Awaken Realms recently released another impressive project – Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon – and from what I’ve played about the game so far, it could easily get a place on this list. However, due to its late arrival in the last weeks of 2019 and the scope of its extensive campaign, it will receive more coverage and a comprehensive review from Game Informer in 2020 and will also be considered for inclusion on the list later this year.
Publisher: Keymaster Games
Hike through the United States National Parks in this festival of nature
This beautiful tribute to nature, created in artistic collaboration with the graphic masters from Fifty-Nine Parks, encourages players to explore the national parks, collect memories of the views they have visited, take photos and gain other experiences, that they did while hiking on scenic trails in the changing seasons of the year.
There is something inherently delightful about a competition that promises the most idyllic vacation – a concept that Parks shares with another great game from a few years ago, Tokaido, that described a trip through Japan. Here in parks, the concept is underlined by the colorful graphics and some particularly clever gameplay twists, such as: For example, weather patterns when hiking that affect available resources, or the ability to maintain a specific space by establishing a “camp”.
The different elements combine to form an exciting game that can still work with a large number of players. Gorgeous components and accessible gameplay make this a worthwhile competition to enjoy the best idea America has ever had.
Unsurpassed: Battle of Legends
Publisher: Restoration Games
Duelists should take on this easy-to-learn but addicting struggle
Who would win in a fight between Medusa and King Arthur? How about Bigfoot and Sindbad? An update and reskinning of the lovingly remembered Star Wars: Epic Duels, this time the miniatures fighting are heroes from all over the world, and the subsequent entertaining battles are understandable and fun, whether in 1-on-1 duels or with the included 2-on-2 option.
Restoration Games has built a reputation for transforming older games, for which players have particularly good memories, into a modern design and aesthetic. This is certainly the case with Unmatched, which started with a first core game (including Sinbad, Medusa, Alice from Wonderland and King Arthur) and is already being expanded with characters like Robin Hood and Bigfoot.
Each character has a set of cards that gives their miniature figures completely different skills than anyone else in combat. At least in the initial phase, everything feels impeccably balanced. Each character has a sidekick character that adds some additional options, such as Alice’s Jabberwock or Arthur’s Merlin. The double-sided board improves replayability, and the way that individual environments change changes the way a fight could develop.
This game, cleverly balanced between different playable fighters, is simple enough to play with newbies, but clever enough to attract experienced players. Are you looking for a new gateway game to invite players to your hobby? This is a great choice.
Publisher: Palm Court
Word-loving partygoers can bring everyone to the table
This fascinating (and incredibly simple) new party game is about understanding where a word fits between two extremes. A player gives each a clue and a card that represents two extremes, such as hot and cold or round and pointed. Everyone else is discussing and trying to guess a hidden value where the key word is conceptually between the two extremes. As an added bonus, the whole thing can be played either in competitive teams or as a great collaborative experience.
It is clear that a lot of work has gone into the cards that show the two ends of the spectrum and the words that have been revealed on each card. Because in every round the concepts resonate with all types of players and lead to a lot of laughter.
Some board games contain content that is aimed specifically at adults. The wavelength divides the difference; Some of the concepts presented may be a bit cumbersome to play with small children in the family, but it never goes into an area with a full R rating.
With a clever core mechanic and a cool new niche in the party game area, it is fun, fun and a lot of fun when playing in a group.
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
For bird watchers with a competition stripe
Drag the best and most diverse bird species into your nature reserve in this breathtakingly illustrated and fascinating engine building game, in which you’ll produce elements as the game progresses, which in turn will fuel subsequent decisions and actions. While the focus on birds is probably not the first topic that catches your attention, don’t refuse what the game offers. This has been one of the smartest strategy games presented and designed for a long time, and even cynical players will likely admit after a first play through how beautiful it all turns out.
As an engine building game, Wingspan has the satisfactory quality of feeling like a snowball and gains speed as it rolls downhill. New birds that are played in a certain habitat on your player board improve this locale, but also offer additional bonus effects in subsequent rounds. As the game progresses, an attractive ecological theme emerges that shows how everything in nature relies on everything else in a delicate dance.
If you are looking for a change between fantasy wars and epic adventures, Wingspan is extremely repeatable thanks to its many ways to victory and complex in its strategic complexity. It’s perfect for bird lovers, but anyone with an eye for elegance and aesthetics will recognize this as one of the best of the year.
For more than many years, 2019 was flooded with some simply fantastic tabletop games. I could easily fill another full set of 10 easy-to-recommend games, and I’m happy to guide you to one of these options if you find something you don’t like here. Just drop me an email and I’ll help you find something that suits your friends and family. If you’re looking for more recommendations on the best in the tabletop gaming scene, just click the banner below to visit the Top of the Table hub, where we continuously offer new board, card, miniature, and role-playing games the year. Thanks for reading. We hope you will experience countless unforgettable gambling moments in 2020!