2020 started on such a fantastic note for us. December 31 we were standing on a beach in Encinitas California with my brother and his wife watching the sunset. Content. We started the year playing Dragonwood in the sun without a care in the world. And we didn’t have many cares in the world until… well you know the rest.
This list, if you are just joining us here, is awkward, at best. I mentioned previously that my “game buying” budget evaporated up early in the year and instead of spending the year hunting down my favourite releases we spent time exploring games we had here at the house. So this list reflects that. It is the 10 games I played in 2020, that I played for the first time, regardless of when they were published and that I have here on our shelves.
This list, if you are just joining us here, is awkward, at best. I mentioned in part 1 of this post that my “game buying” budget evaporated when the world locked down in March and instead of spending the year hunting down my favourite releases we spent time exploring games we already had here at the house. Luckily I am a bit of an obsessive nerd so we had plenty to explore. I tend to buy games on sale and save them in a box for presents and emergencies. 2020 counted as an emergency so we started going through games in that box and there were a few gems like Broom Service the Card Game which landed on the first half of this list. We also played through a lot of our “shelf of opportunity” and we did get the odd new game for the collection.
So this list reflects that. It is my “favorite” 10 games that I played in 2020 for the first time, regardless of when they were published, and that I have here on our shelves.
5. Lost Ruins of Arnak
To be honest, this game should probably not be on this list. I played it once as a solo game just to learn and then was able to play 1 game with 3 people just before the year ended. That is not really fair to all the other games I played in 2020. Good games that really entertained us deserve a spot on this list more than some hotshot new game that shows up just before the end of the year (I received it on the 28 of December) barely gets played at all and now it’s on your “favorites” list.
That’s why I am only putting it at number 5. I want to be fair to all the other games that got bumped. It probably could have breezed into number 1 with a few more plays since the memory of Clank! Legacy is so distant now.
The game is designed by a husband and wife team Elwen & Mín and it is their first published game. Their bio mentions that they have worked with and been friends with their publisher Czech Games Edition who have really been knocking it out of the proverbial park with their game productions for years now. Somehow CGE is able to produce games of such solid quality yet remain incredibly affordable. Lost Ruins is no exception. It is a big box, a beautiful production and stunningly affordable.
This is a short game that does a fantastic job of ramping up round after round. Each turn you can only do 1 “main” action but as you manoeuvre through the jungle you get more and more opportunities to string things together making each turn a bit longer and longer. Did I also mention that the game is beautiful?
The game itself is a fantastic collection of mechanics tied to together with a fun theme that has you chasing victory points through the jungle. It is a fast game of card and resource management that ties some interesting twists on deckbuilding into a game that never really feels like you are deckbuilding in the normal sense at all. After one real play, I don’t feel I can offer anything more solid than how much fun I had learning the game and then teaching the game. I loved how smoothly it runs. I love the small fresh twists they have and I love how much thought went into trying to theme every small concept. I slipped it into this list at 5 because it really deserved to be on the list. The fun I had in the one play put it at number 5 for the year for me.
4. Archaeology: The Card Game
Archaeology: The Card Game was released in 2007, the same year as Archaelogy (the board game). I have only played the card game and I had not played it before July 2020. We had it for about a year and I discovered it in a box in our game room like an old artifact. It obviously proved to be the superior game as it was revamped and rereleased in 2016 as Archaeology: The New Expedtion while the board version disapeared into the past. I can not compare the two but Archaeology: the Card Game is fantastic.
Archaeology is a card drafting, set collection game by Phil Walker-Harding who also brought us Sushi Go! which is a bit of an archytpe in the genre. Archaeology, which predates Sushi Go! by a few years should probably be way more popular than it is.
My favourite bit abour Archaeology is that my daughter, who was 7 at the time, absolutely loved it. She could not quite pronounce it correctly, and often got distracted collecting things for her own reasons instead of chasing points, but she absolutely loved it. There is a lot of math at the end for our little gamer and that makes it a great game for us too.
I also love that Archaeology the Card Game is a bit of an artifact in its own right. It shows a very distinct transition from the one generation or wave of gaming to the next. It is not “old” yet being from 2007 but it shows the quick transition the game industry made in production values. While Archaeology is showing its age with dated art and design not quite 10 years later The New Expedition is released and shows the huge step forward the industry took towards art and production. Atha Kanaani is the artist for the original (with a bit of Phil Walker-Harding effort as well) and is also the artist for the new edition and the new edition is fantastic looking. This is definitely a game I would not mind owning twice but while I would most likely play the New Expedition all the time I would want to hold on to the original as an artifact for my collection. Until I do get the New Expedition though we will be playing the original.
3. Santa Monica
If you have listened to almost any one of our podcasts then you will no doubt have heard me mention the game Cat Lady. It has been a family favourite for quite a while now and it comes up all the time. I have a small nod to it over here. Cat Lady is a fun card drafting game that has you collecting cats, gathering resources – cat food, cat toys, cat costumes – and doing your best to keep those cats happy and fed. It is light and fun. If you don’t like cats it is probably not going to win you over but if you do like cats it might be your next favourite filler game – it’s on the meaty-er side of the filler menu.
Santa Monica was actually published in 2020 so it is one of the few games on this whole list that really truly fits. Josh Wood‘s newest game features art by Jeremy Nguyen that still captures the same light vibe as Cat Lady (Josh did the Cat art himself) with its soft pastel color scheme and cartoony atmosphere. The game itself though is a big crunchy step up from Cat Lady. Santa Monica is still a card drafting set collection game but the mechanics are a big jump to the left from the simplicity of Cat Lady and while the puzzle won’t set your brain on fire you still might feel your jaw clench as you agonize through the choices.
I don’t want to sound shallow by saying that my favourite part of the game was the meeple because I really love the game part of the game too. But I love meeple and this game has a bunch of little wooden pals running all over your beachfront. There is also a food-truck meeple. A pink food-truck meeple. Amazing.
I have really, thoroughly enjoyed every play of Santa Monica and am fascinated by how well things work. The whole game seems to function on scarcity. You can always do something but everything you want to do comes down to a small agonizing decision because there just isn’t enough of anything.
Coimbra, designed by Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, was published in 2018 but did not make it to our table until 2020 after Steve (@green_meeple) contacted me to let me know he was buying some second-hand games off someone in a parking lot and that he could get me a copy of Coimbra if I was interested. I was, of course, very interested.
If you are unfamiliar with Coimbra, which is probably not possible at this point in time, it features stunning art by Chris Quilliams and a top-shelf production by eggertspiele that made it one of the most stunning games of 2018 for the look of it alone. Add to that a fun twist on dice drafting / placement that uses both the pips and the color of the dice as well as card drafting and crunchy fun as you chase victory points in 15th century Portugal.
I want to say the colors are my favorite part of Coimbra but that’s a bit ridiculous and makes it sound shallow, but the colors are stunning. So maybe its the lion meeple. Same problem. I love how with so much going on it never feels overwhelming. It’s a bit like Burgundy in that it always feels comfortable. Maybe the color palette helps with that.
I am a long way off playing Coimbra with our 8 year old daughter but I look forward to it one day. It is a game that feels like it will be on our shelves for a long time. It gives me a “comfort food” sort of vibe when I play it. The same vibe I get from Castles of Burgundy and Orléans. It actually even reminds me a bit of Orléans with the map that you are wandering about on.
1. Clank! Legacy
Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated is my most talked about game of the year. By that I mean I barely ever shut up about it. In 2020 the Everyday Meeple podcast became a weekly radio show for a few months on our local college radio station – CHMA – and it sort of felt like I talked about Clank! Legacy on every single episode. It was such a fun start to the year.
We got through 6 games before the world shut down and each game was a complete blast. There was so much excitement packed into each game. Clank! is not a complex game. It is light-hearted and lightweight. It is a deck-building dungeon delve race of a game that does not take itself seriously and is such a quick amusing adventure that it made a huge impression on our game group when it came out.
We have played 6 games of Clank! Legacy so far and I have slowly, slowly slipped into last place in the overall standings without a care in the world. I changed the way I played the game from figuring out how to get the most points to trying to unturn every rock and reveal every bit of story that I can in every game. When it is over I am going to want to read everything I missed. I will want to buy the whole thing new and start over from the beginning. I know it will be just as fun the second time.
Clank! Legacy takes the same game and teams up with the Penny Arcade creative team weaving the Acquisitions Incorporated world into the same lightweight gem of a board game. The humour and surprises that filled each game elevated an already fantastic game to another level. Clank! Legacy, though still the same game as the core Clank! game is at the same time, somehow, something else entirely. Something truly wonderful.
We are over halfway through, and I am certain that one of the things that has made 2020 feel longer than it should have, has been waiting to return to Clank! Legacy.
Some Runners up
We played a lot of games for the first time in 2020, but not a lot from 2020. We cleared a lot of the back log of our “shelf of opportunity” but we did not clear it up completely. Can you ever? A few other great game moments that just didn’t make the Top 10.
We finally got around to learning Wizards Wanted by Nick Hayes is a really fun stepping stone for families that introduces some economic systems and management to a fun adventure game that has such a fantastic table presence with fantastic art and fun minis.
We played Beeeees! by Marcus Ross & Cara Ryan which deserves a boat load of credit for being the first realtime game that our daughter really enjoyed. Like really enjoyed. I think I jokingly complain on one of our podcasts that we “finally played a game other that Beeees!” it also lead me down a bit of a rabbit hole chasing some history on the design duo. You should really check it out. Marcus and Cara won CAH Death Match It’s a fun watch.
So many fantastic games that would have made the list if they had not arrived so late in the year. In December we got Taverns of Teifenthal, Dragonrealms, Via Magica, El Dorado Cities of Gold, the Haunted Mansion (which has a bit in common with Archaeology) and so many more. If the year was just a bit longer the list would have been a bit different. So for what it is that’s my list. Maybe it has too many old games to be very relevant but not all of us can keep up with the swell and I am just happy playing games.