As reviewers, we spend countless hours playing and discussing games, continually evaluating and reevaluating for our coveted “Best of Year” lists. While these lists do serve as both a time capsule and cross-section of gaming trends, board gaming isn’t necessarily time sensitive. A game developed in 1990 can be just as fun and relevant as a game designed in 2020.
More and more games are being produced each year and the truth is there are only so many hours in the day. As much as we try to share as many games with the public as possible, it’s just not realistic to play everything (although we can still have aspirations). I do often get the opportunity to play fantastic games from years past and many would have easily made my Top 10 if they had met the criteria. So I thought I’d break all the rules and provide a Top 10 “New to Me” game list for 2020.
1. It’s a Wonderful World
Lucky Duck Games | Designed by Frédéric Guérard
1-5 Players | 30-60 Minutes
It is a wonderful world any day I get to play this gem from Lucky Duck Games. This classic engine builder is the whole package. While the theme is a bit painted on, the card illustrations instantly draw you into this utopian alternate universe filled with futuristic sky scrapers, insane technological advancements and monumental archeological discoveries. There is just enough luck to keep things interesting, but the card drafting and planning phases all provide a fun, creative challenge. This is a winner through and through and a serious contender for the all-time personal top 10.
2. For Sale
Designed by Stefan Dorra
3-6 Players | 30 Minutes
For Sale, where have you been all my life? As I played my first game I couldn’t help but chuckle with delight (and I’m not a chuckler by nature). I’m a fan of auction games in general, but I love the game’s simplicity. The decisions are so simple yet so complicated. When should you overspend for a property? What’s the right time to sell? For Sale does not get the notoriety it deserves – in my mind, this is truly a titan in the industry. It’s a family friendly game that’s so accessible yet so engaging. I’m always up for a game of For Sale.
3. Steampunk Rally
Roxley Games | Designed by Orin Bishop
2-8 Players | 45-60 Minutes
Surrounded by a hilariously, bizarre steampunk theme, this card drafting, dice rolling, racing adventure delivers a great time. Take on the roll of one of many historical inventors entered in a race for the ages through the Swiss Alps. Over the course of the race you’ll build and breakdown your racing machine as you attempt to create the most efficient racer. There is just the perfect combination of luck and strategy as you roll dice and attempt to build movement as you place them on your machine. Your racing machine grows and grows through out the game, defying the laws of physics all the while further cementing this one as true keeper.
4. Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein
Board&Dice | Designed by Dan Blanchett
2-4 Players | 90-180 Minutes
Would Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein be another case of style of substance? Heck no it’s not! I was delighted to find a tight game full of challenging decisions. While the art and components are dripping with theme, the game’s mechanics are super fun. Whether you’re trekking through the streets of Paris for body parts, upgrading your scientist’s skills and abilities or attempting to bring your monster to life in your laboratory, it all equates to a tremendously good time. If the game’s physical presentation wasn’t enough, Plaid Hat Games produced a free companion app that theatrically presents much of the game’s story while also offering cool atmospheric sounds to play in the background. Abomination is a real treat!
5. Flamme Rouge
Stronghold Games | Designed by Asger Harding Granerud
2-4 Players | 30-45 Minutes
I only had the pleasure of playing Flamme Rouge for the past week and it’s quickly climbing the ranks. The game’s simple mechanics and depth of strategy make this one a real crowd pleaser. The theme and illustrators really draw you in, giving the game a classic, retro, almost whimsical feel. I can already tell I’ll be in for some dog fights when everyone gets a little more experience with the strategy. I imagine Flamme Rouge is one my family will be playing for years to come… time to order the expansions!
6. Air, Land & Sea
Arcane Wonders | Designed by Jon Perry
2 Players | 15-30 Minutes
This military-themed, micro, card game brings the strategy. While simple in nature: take turns playing cards in one of the 3 theaters of war hoping to outscore your opponent, the tug-o-war nature of the game demands efficient management of your cards and careful timing to earn victory. There is also plenty of strategy in defeat. Knowing when to retreat might lose you the battle, but keep you alive to win the war. Air, Land & Sea is a great combination of high production quality, short game time and lots of strategy.
7. Hive Pocket
Asmodee | Designed by John Yianni
2 Players | 20 Minutes
Hive Pocket has a real easy, classic feel to it. This is one of those games that feels like it’s been around for 100 years. The components are great and the little insect tile pieces are super fun to play with. The rules for moving each different insect are just complex enough to keep the game interesting while still being a real challenge to master. One thing I like about Hive Pocket is you never feel like you’re losing to the game. There is absolutely zero luck involved. This is a two player game that is truly a match of wits. If you’re a fan of games like chess – I highly recommend Hive.
Good Games Publishing | Designed by Joel Finch
2-5 Players | 50-125 Minutes
I’m not sure what I expected when I received this big box, card drafting game along with it’s expansion. What I got was a game with lots of personality and tons of replay-ability. Unfair allows you to choose from a number of park decks, each with their own theme and personality to build your own amusement park. Combing different decks offer new experiences all with unique elements, components and strategies. Unfair does provide the opportunity to really stomp on your opponents, but it isn’t completely necessary to play that way. Good Games Publishing has published a new version of the game called Funfair that eliminates the take that element. Overall Unfair is a fun, color game with tons of personality and humor.
9. Dinosaur Island
Pandasaurus Games | Designed by Jonathan Gilmour, Brian Lewis
1-4 Players | 90-120 Minutes
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Dinosaur Island. I’m a huge Jurassic Park fan and kept hearing over and over how this really is Jurassic Park the board game. I think the main reason I waited so long to play Dinosaur Island was concern that it would ultimately disappoint. I’ve played a number of amusement park and fair games, so the park building aspect felt a little tired, but developing and storing your dinosaur DNA is a blast along with upgrading and maximizing your workers abilities. The solo game is just ok for me, but this has been a blast at 2 or more players. I see the division on this game, but for me it’s been a big hit.
10. Metro X
Gamewright | Designed by Hisashi Hayashi
1-6 Players | 20 Minutes
I had heard about this think-y flip and write for awhile but the opportunity to play it just hasn’t been there. When I saw it discounted online I picked it up out of impulse. My family does play a lot of flip/roll & write games so we’re definitely open to the idea of something new in this genre. This has turned into an instant favorite for both my wife and 2 young girls. It’s a really fun puzzle that offers new twists and turns with each game. I’m not sure how much replay-ability Metro X has it in, but it’s been a really pleasant surprise and one that you’ll see on our family table every week.