This year has been strange for many reasons, but a couple of those have really affected the way we consume board games. We were never extremely social gamers, so this is not a story of only ever playing two-player games, because that’s all that we ever did! Instead, this year, our number of games played has barely changed, but we’ve been playing a specific subset of games a lot more — the games that we were able to play over Skype. We’ve had lots of plays of Tiny Towns, NMBR 9, Codenames and our collection of roll and write games, meaning that we’ve definitely played fewer unique titles this year.
The other big factor for us has been a lack of conventions. I get very excited for new convention releases, checking out the listing on Board Game Geek and making plans using the Tabletop Together Tool. This year, this obviously didn’t happen and so my finger was far less on the pulse in terms of hot new games. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve still played 85 new 2020 releases, but that’s quite a lot less than in previous years, so I’m going to stick to a top 5 games of 2020, rather than the usual top 10.
1. Calico is a fantastic tile laying game about making a quilt for cats to sleep on. Perhaps its my number one of 2020 because we got a kitten in November, but more likely, it just hits a sweet spot for me. I’m always saying how much I love puzzly tile laying games, and Calico is the kind that really gets your brain burning. To be honest I’m pretty bad at it and seem to fail to optimise my puzzle nine times out of ten, but still it makes me happy to play. The simple 6 colours and 6 patterns on the hexagonal tiles combine into a number of patterns you’re trying to optimise, whether that’s attracting cats, adding buttons to your quilt or trying to meet your quilt’s variable pattern criteria. Surely this sounds adorable just from its description, but add Beth Sobel artwork, a selection of cats that belong to real people involved with the games development and lovely production quality and I’ll play Calico over and over again.
2. Monumental is a Kickstarter campaign that we chose to go all in for, and we’re really glad we did. Monumental meshes together a very smart deck-building game with a dudes on a map game that manages to avoid the typical confrontation I don’t enjoy in that style of game. It’s somewhat of an unlikely candidate for one of my favourite games of the year, but for some reason it just clicks. There are two aspects of this game I like the most. One is how cards from your deck are laid out in a grid of 3×3 cards, from which you only activate a single row and column each turn, leaving you to identify the most lucrative combination every time. The other is the potential for combos. You might use some military to conquer a board space with a bonus tile, that then gives you some science which is enough for you to buy another card, and that’s a very short and simple example of a chain of combos that an occur here. We play at two-player and that’s certainly where I like it best due to the potential for downtime, but at two it’s a really fantastic experience, made even better with the Kickstarter minis and upgraded bits. Monumental is supposedly not coming to retail but you can still late pledge for the 2nd Kickstarter campaign.
3. Rossio came completely out of nowhere for us, after discovering it at a board game café. I’ve not heard many people talking about this, but I think it’s a great game for people who like Azul. Rossio is a tile laying game with a dash of engine building and economics. Each turn you’ll add up to four tiles to the central board, where you’re paving the city square, if you ever add a tile not matching an adjacent tile, your turn will end. The more tiles you place, the more money you can earn. To gain points in the game you buy pattern cards that are yours and yours alone. Each card has a lifespan of three turns, where you can score points for the number of times a particular pattern appears on the board. In Rossio, you’ll always be tight for money which really drives you to have an optimised strategy, but also be on your toes and able to take advantage of the patterns playing out on the board. It’s the second puzzly tile laying game on the list too!
4. Project Elite is a 2020 reprint, but we didn’t try out the original, so I think it totally qualifies for this list. Project Elite is a real-time cooperative game, which another category of board game that often goes down well with us. Each game lasts just 10 minutes, but it’s such a great 10-minutes of intense cooperation. You are trying to fend of alien invaders in a number of different styles of mission where aliens are trying to enter your base. There’s a whole heap of dice rolling for combat, so much so that luck is mostly outweighed by shear quantity of dice rolls. While this kind of dice rolling extravaganza might be my worst nightmare in a long game, with real-time, this is just pure fun. If you’ve had a stressful day at work, this could well be our perfect antidote!
5. Curious Cargo is a late addition to our games played in 2020, but, much like Calico and Rossio, it falls into that ‘puzzly tile laying’ category. It’s one of very few two-player only games that we have added to our collection, mostly because it falls into that perfect gap where it has no aggressive, combat-style player interaction, but still stays very interactive, plus it’s not an abstract strategy type of 2-player game. Instead, Curious Cargo has you laying our spaghetti-like pipelines to load and off-load goods onto trucks. Trucks move back and forth between your factory and your opponents, so you need to be really careful about placing them optimally to receive goods from your machines, but not to be able to be received by your opponent. It’s a very clever tug-of-war that constantly has your brain burning and is a really deep gaming experience with a short play time.
Of course, there’s a much longer list of 2020 releases I haven’t played, including a few I’m still excited to try out. Lost Ruins of Arnak, from CGE, was great when I tried it on Tabletop Simulator, but I’m yet to play the physical game. The same is true for The Search for Planet X, which I managed to play over Skype. Santa should be bringing us Pandemic Legacy Season 0, and I definitely want to try On Mars, My City, New York Zoo and Praga Caput Regni.
Do you have any 2020 recommendations to share? Let me know in the comments below.