2020 has been a lot. Saying it’s been a tough year would be an understatement for some folks. For those of us who got by ok, there were still stressors that you couldn’t avoid. Despite the chaos, it was nice to be able to escape into a board game every now and then. So here my favourite “game getaways” that I enjoyed throughout this tumultuous year.
1. The King’s Dilemma
No game has ever got a group together so rapidly and regularly than this one. We picked our houses, settled into who we were by picking fancy house names like Franne and Shippesworth. We read our house’s history and even looked up pictures online of moustachioed men and Renaissance-era paintings that we thought best resembled our councilmen. Then we let the story of Ankist unfold over 15 games or so. This might be the most fun I’ve ever had playing a game. There are a lot of narrative-driven games on this list and King’s Dilemma might well be the king of the narrative game! More storytelling than game mechanics but enough to keep us coming back to it night after night.
2. Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated
To be honest, this game may have given King’s Dilemma a run for its money if we had finished the campaign. Our group had settled into a weekly meet up for this one and every game introduced new mechanics that improved on the original Clank! without overcomplicating anything. Again, the narrative was top-notch, not to mention laugh out loud funny. Completing contracts as the titular mercenary group never got old and the game literally has a treasure trove full of surprises to keep things fresh and exciting. I’m really hoping 2021 allows us to get this back to the table to see what happens to Acquisitions Inc.
3. T.I.M.E. Stories
4. The Quiet Year
5. Great Western Trail
The first “Euro-style” game on the list and it’s a goody. This point salad, worker placement, deck building, hand management mash-up of a game has more than a few moving parts, but once you figure out how to load up your cows and ship em’ across the country, you’ll be having a blast. This one has bumped Orleans and Wingspan aside for now as the go-to game for my wife and me.
6. Dark Venture
I bought this game second hand on a whim because I loved the art style and the promise of a card-based, procedurally generated RPG experience. I was not expecting it to be so immersive and unique every time played. The game presents a Mansions of Madness or Descent style experience of exploring a map and accomplishing tasks, all the while fighting enemies and encountering interesting NPC’s. What sets it apart is the 80’s “old school RPG” art style and the giant stack of cards that almost guarantees that no two plays will be the same. And, while there is some admin upkeep that slows this game a bit, this was the surprise hit of the year for me!
7. Santa Monica
This game just hit me in all the right ways and blew me away in so many ways. It has fantastic art (that always reminds me of one of my favourite cartoons, Bob’s Burgers), a satisfying tableau-building mechanic that culminates in your own unique waterfront walkway, adorable meeple that populate your tableau, and easy rules that make the game so dang approachable. This game is a home run or some other surfing analogy more befitting of Santa Monica’s beautiful beaches.
8. The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth
It’s obvious from how much I played games like Descent and Gloomhaven this year, that I love a good dungeon crawl. I especially like it the way the folks at Fantasy Flight serve ‘em’ up. Although we only got to play one session of this game, I thoroughly enjoyed it. First of all, I’m a big LotR fan, but setting that aside, this game has put away the dice and opted for a card system that I prefer to the random chucking of Descent and Mansions of Madness. I also love how you are exploring an “overworld” map so that it feels like a proper journey. My only gripe with this one (and it is true for all FF games) is the money pit that the publisher places in front of you if you want to expand the game beyond the base campaign. Nonetheless, I am eager to get back to exploring Middle Earth and finding out what else awaits our heroes.
9. Shards of Infinity
I had this game for over a year before I actually gave it a go. What finally prompted me was the release of an expansion that made the game cooperative, which meant I could play it two-handed by myself. Acquiring this expansion was partly spurred on due to my infatuation with the video game Slay the Spire and the fact that I wanted more deck-building in my life and “Shards” fit the mold perfectly. The Shadow of Salvation expansion includes a “Battle Book” that provides a little narrative, presents you with a “choose your own adventure” decision and then pits you against a series of unique bosses with their own rules and challenges. It is quite excellent. I plan to replay it to fight the bosses I missed on my first go around and I would really like to try it cooperatively.
10. Paladins of the West Kingdom and Anachrony
Both of these are brilliant games with fantastic solo AI’s that I really love when I break them out and dig into them. However, the setup time and the brain-burning complexity of these games kept them on the shelf more than I would have expected. If 2021 mellows out a bit, I expect these games to climb the ranks as I might feel more prepared to mentally tackle them. Who knows, I might even be able to convince others to try them with me.
From left to right: Horrified, Space Base, Baseball Highlights: 2045 – Spring Training,
Sew Fun, Coimbra, Squire for Hire, DEUS
These games all left amazing first impressions but I feel like I need to play them all a little more to see where they stack up against my favourites. I truly believe any of these honourable mentions could well make my top ten in the future and are all highly recommended!