There were lots of 2020 releases I wanted to play. But in these virusy times I’ve had trouble getting hold of them. The likes of Mariposas, Pan Am, Alma Mater and Castles of Tuscany and top the list. So hopefully more on those in 2021. But here are the 10 new-to-me games, new and old, that impressed me most when I learnt them in 2020.
I’ve split the list into on and offline plays, as it seemed appropriate for how the year went in terms of COVID-19 lockdowns. All the ‘online’ titles are of course board games that are available to buy for your gaming table. It’s just that I’ve happened to learn and play them online in 2020. If you want to do the same, I’ve included links to the online platforms below. They’re all free-to-play after a relatively pain-free sign up process.
Best new to me games 2020: Online
Bruxelles 1893 (2-5 players, 1-2 hours, 2013): A brilliant and surprisingly interactive euro game. You’re very much ploughing your own furrow via action selection. But every action taken has majority consequences that affect a variety of bonuses. It gives a relatively simple game an extra dimension that really makes it sing.
Kanban (2-4 players, 2 hours, 2014): This is another surprisingly interactive euro game. And in similar ways. You’re selecting actions in pretty standard euro fashion. But timing is everything, as others can benefit from your hard work. While your own scoring can help your opponents as much as it does you. Clever stuff. and strangely thematic.
Mandala* (2 players, 20 minutes, 2019): This is a fantastic little two-player abstract game. In essence it’s a simple set collection and hand management game. What makes it stand out, alongside the gorgeous production, is the scoring. As players collect cards, it affects how that player will score each colour. Adding a great tactical dynamic.
Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan** (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2019): The original Marco Polo was close to great, but was for me let down by some daft design decisions. This sequel fixes everything, while keeping the euro worker placement heart of the original. Crazy strong player powers, a tight economy and multiple paths to victory.
Nippon (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2015): I usually don’t like area majority games. But this has so many clever little euro mechanisms going on I can totally forgive that. The kind of game that even when someone else does something clever that screws you over, you have to admire how they did it.
Honourable mentions to lighter filler games Chakra, Marrakech and Bubblee Pop, which all had a hand in keeping me sane through our various lockdowns.
* Mandala was on Tabletop Simulator, but was removed by the online rights holder.
** Marco Polo II needs at least one of the players to be a paid member of BGA to start a game. This can be as cheap as €2 per month.
Best new to me games 2020: Real life
Links below go to my reviews. Hence the largely shorter write-ups here. I really need to get around to reviewing Brass too.
Brass: Birmingham (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2018): I love the original Brass and didn’t feel I needed a new version in my life. And then I got to play it. It’s the same route-building card management euro game. But with a few of the slightly rough edges smoothed down (with beer, no less). Proving you can improve on a classic.
Foothills (2 players, 1 hour, 2019): A two-player Snowdonia game. It has the spirit of the original, but with enough differences to make it an interesting standalone alternative.
Lost Ruins of Arnak (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2020): Exploration, deck building, resource management and luck. Nothing original, but it all comes together in a hugely satisfying way.
Nemo’s War (1 player, 1-2 hours, 2017): Possibly the best complex solo board game I’ve played. Thematic and thinky, with the luck tempered by mitigation and risk-taking choices.
Pharaon (1-5 players, 1 hour, 2019): A great abstract worker placement light euro. Complex scoring and a clever way to plan your moves for later rounds. Plus a great solo mode.
Honourable mention to Under Falling Skies, another brilliant (if much lighter) solo experience.
I did a Top 5 ‘new to me’ list as part of my 2019 retrospective – so what do I think of those games a year on? The definite hits are Tales of Glory and Dizzle. Both are comfortably part of my collection and have had regular plays in 2020. I still have fond memories of my play of The Gallerist. But I haven’t had a chance to play it again since. But still want to.
Both Just One and La Cour des Miracles are also still in my collection. And likely to stay there. However, Just One is very much a party game – and 2020 hasn’t exactly been a party year… While La Cour is definitely better with three or four. And once again, 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best year to get a few friends around the table.