I’m pretty sure that my top 10 games of 2020 were ones I have yet to play. I am not sure if you noticed at all but the past year was a bit, well, awkward at best. For me, it included losing my day job as a graphic designer which meant my game budget evaporated as I moved to freelancing full time and penny-pinching. All the games I was excited about buying in 2020 stayed on their shelves in the store. Well most of them. We had a good Christmas
Surprisingly, statistics wise, I did not play that many fewer games. I played with fewer people, never really getting into online playing though I did buy Tabletop Simulator and several offers from Instagram friends to play a game online. I have a mild case of “crippling social anxiety” that tends to rear its head at times and does not notice a difference between face to face and digital. Ah well. The vast majority of my plays this year were with my wonderful family. Our daughter turned 7 just before 2020 kicked off and her reading skills caught fire so our gaming choices really expanded just in the knick of time.
Most of our games were light and breezy like Llama and Blink but we tackled some bigger games like Wizards Wanted and Above and Below too.
So what are the parameters here exactly? These aren’t the best games published in 2020. They may not even be my favourite games since then it would work more like a top 10 of everything. Hmm. So. Here is a list of my top 10 games that I played for the first time in 2020. These are my favourites of the games I played this year that I had not played before this year. Oh, and that I have on my shelf at home. That seems just about right. A mess of a list for a mess of a year.
10. Blink “The world’s fastest game!”
My wife and her friends love playing Dutch Blitz. It brings out the absolute worst in them. They start cursing and swearing at each other and it can get pretty heated. We have the two sets (blue and green) so you can play with 8 players. This is a real-time death race of a card game. Blink is not that game but it is a family-friendly nod to Dutch Blitz. Not as much adrenaline and since the blood pressure stays lower so does the language rating.
Blink is mostly a two-player game but has rules for 3 and 4 players that work really well, which has been perfect for our three-person family during these troubled times.
The game has 60 cards and no turns. When you start playing you need to play your cards out matching either the shape color or count onto one of the discard piles.
All play is simultaneous and the game only lasts a few minutes. This was the most played game for us in all of 2020 racking up about 50 plays that I counted, way more than that though, I simply stopped keeping track. They play so fast you’ll play so many times in an hour. Our 7 year old absolutely loved it and we always had a great time.
My favourite thing about Blink is that it is really adjustable. You can easily fine-tune the game so that it is exciting all the time by just dealing more cards to the player who is winning until you find a perfect balance.
Blink was designed by Reinhard Staupe, who has quite a few credits to his name and was first published in 1995. It gained a Spiel des Jahres recommendation in 1996 and is currently still in print with Mattel Games.
9. Ticket to Ride – Stay At Home
Here is one that was designed and “published” not just in 2020 but specifically for 2020. Days of Wonder and Ticket to Ride designer Alan R. Moon put out this version of Ticket to Ride as a fantastic distraction to the global lockdown that started in March 2020. They released this version as a print and play game that used any train cards you had from one of the other TTR games and the trains.
You simply downloaded the PDF files and printed out the new board and cards. This version had you playing as a family and racing around your home trying to get from the bedroom to the bathroom, or from the couch to the kitchen. It was whimsical and fun adding a couple of small twists and playing in a short time. It was a perfect little game to distract us for a while.
With TTR Stay at Home I really loved that it was a perfect step up for our daughter from TTR First Journey to a bigger version of the game that introduced how the big games worked with scoring but still played quickly and had short (yet sometimes tricky) routes.
If you have not had a chance to check it out yet, it is still available and still worth playing if you love the TTR games. Especially if you have younger players. The link to the files are through this page here: Ticket To Ride: Stay at Home
We went a little over board printing the cards and board for our version but you really don’t have to, it would still be fun on plain paper.
8. Broom Service the Card Game
Broom Service is a 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres winning pick up and deliver game by Andreas Pelikan, Alexander Pfister about witches and druids zipping about the countryside gathering herbs and delivering potions to towers like fantasy pizza drivers. It is a reimplementation of a 2008 Andreas Pelikan game called Witch’s Brew that also won numerous awards.
Both games work off a fantastic mechanic that has players choosing an action from a set of cards. Each card has a “good” action and a “better” action. These actions are referred to as Cowardly or Brave and you must announce your choice by proclaiming whether you will be a Brave Witch or a Cowardly one. If two players take the same Brave action the earlier player loses out. That is a terrible explanation of a really fun mechanic that has a bit of a poker vibe to it. I have never played Witch’s Brew but as I understand it, Witch’s Brew was a card game that played in a very similar fashion to Broom Service and Broom Service added in a board and the pick-up and deliver mechanics among some other things. They are very similar.
The Card Game, however, streamlines everything down to a very simple set collection game that seems to be way more fun than it has any right to be. There are a huge pile of cards – the more player the more cards get added in. With 3 players your hand is 17 cards. Each card represents a type/color of potion and offers a choice similar to the actions in the full-size games. You can either get the Cowardly – 1 potion – or the Brave – 3 potions, 2 of the cards color and one Brave potion. Throughout the game, which is very short, you are simply trying to collect as many potions you can in whichever colors will score you the most points. Points are scored the same for each color set. More potions equal more points. There are a few bonus cards that score points for collecting certain color sets as well.
Besides the phenomenal art by Vincent Dutrait and the quickness of the game my favorite thing about Broom Service the Card Game is the tiny decisions that have you quickly agonizing about if you can get away with the “better” action or not. It is small and light but is built of these tiny moments that make it a joy.
Broom Service the Card Game is a pale shadow of its bigger sibling. It shares the art and theme and has a very similar vibe but it is really paired down to the barest minimum. However, it really works. This is a quick light game that we really enjoy. As a parent, I was excited to play this with our daughter hoping that it would help us move up to Broom Service – which it did, and we have – but what I found out I liked even more than that was the math.
Broom Service the Card Game has a lot of math at the end as you tally your points. Nothing complicated at all though. You just add your cards check your little chart then add your points together. It is enough math to get the little brains fired up working though and that just adds to the fun for me.
Horrified feels like it shouldn’t qualify for the list because we first played it on January 17 2020, which feels like a decade ago now. Doesn’t it? That wasn’t even a year ago yet. Crazy.
Horrified is a stunningly beautiful game. The artwork and graphic design in this game puts it in my top 10 for art alone. The game itself is so incredibly accessible and it has a great little setup for tuning the difficulty level and for replayability. The game play is very basic which makes it a superb game to play with kids and as light game. It plays smoothly and quickly. If you crank up the difficulty you can be done in no time 😐 (Ha) For me, it is a perfect introduction game to co-op gaming. Start here to get your family ready to play Pandemic.
One of my favorite things about Horrified is how the whole production comes together in a way that gives the game a timeless vibe. With the colors and graphic design giving a feeling that goes a bit past nostalgia even. It feels like the game has been around for a long time. Like I can almost remember playing it when I was young.
Thematically, the game may not be for everyone as some people do not enjoy monsters but even this is handled in such a family-friendly fashion. Rarely are you destroying monsters. You bring the invisible man to justice turning him over to the police, you run the Swamp Thing out of town, and you teach Frankensteins Monster and his Bride about humanity so that they fall in love and run away together. I think you do have to destroy Dracula though.
Each monster has it’s own unique mini-game of sorts that you have to deal with and some are a bit trickier than others but none are complex or difficult. The difficulty comes from how many monsters you choose to face in a game. Adding monsters makes the game more difficult as you have more objectives to try and accomplish. It works really well.
Prospero Hall has become a bit of a game design monster in their own right with so many new designs coming out for Ravensburger and Disney with so many nostalgic IPs it is getting hard to keep track. Horrified came out fairly early and hopefully set the bar high enough that the hits keep coming.
We have an episode of our podcast about Co-op games and we talk about Horrified a bit. Check it out.
Fantastiqa, the Rucksack Edition, is something special. It is a game designed by Alf Seegert from 2012 and published Eagle-Gryphon Games. Alf Seegert is a known collaborator of Ryan Laukets if that gives you any idea on the level of charm or creativity that may be present in this delightful box of cardboard fantasy. I think some of Ryan’s first art for the board game world was for Alf Seegret games and I know for a fact that there are some writing credits you will stumble on throughout Above and Below. As you read from the adventure book you will see Alf’s name popping up from time to time.
So what’s this Fantastiqa game someone asks. Well, it is a delightful romp of a deck-building game that has some great twists on the genre and has a whimsical “battle system” that runs a little like rock paper scissors spatula wand dog something something something. It is an adventure that has you fulfilling ridiculous quests and conquering ferocious bunnies. It is a bit of an effort to get through the rules and ready to play but once it clicks it is easy to teach and easy to learn.
If I had to pick a favorite thing about Fantastiqa, and I am making myself do that it would seem, then I would say it is the sense of whimsy. It is a breath of fresh air. It is silly and fun and has a giant squirrel meeple. It might be a gryphon or something but that’s not how we see it.
I think Fantastiqa is one of the best introduction to deck builders for young players. There is very little reading, an awful lot of silliness and a really great little game. You can tune the length by adjusting the win conditions or offset the difficulty by having different win conditions for more advanced players and younger or less advanced players. We had a really great time learning and playing this one.
Some Great Moments
While they do not count at all to go on the list because they just have not been published at all (yet) some of my favorite moments over the past year have been playing our daughters game designs. She designed a game for my birthday that she put a lot of work into theming it around all the things I like. While it was more play than game, we played it through twice. It was a lot of fun.
Her designs are getting more playable all the time. She has some really creative ideas for themes – one game was about “how you feel about bees” and another was about driving around in our van and trying to break the other player’s van’s windows.
One of the things I love the most watching her develop her games is that she will work on a new iteration and we will replay and she will do it again. 3 is usually about her top but she gets some good refinement in her designs sometimes. Every new game has been a highlight for 2020 for me.