It’s been a great year for board games. The modern day board game boom has gotten into full swing, and we’ve been right along with it playing games from all over the world, big and small. We’ve talked to some of best designers in the business and gotten small glimpses into the future. There have been so many fantastic games this year, and Cthulhu forbid we assume we’ve played them all. But we wanted to round up our favorite games to debut this year because it’s the end of the year and it’s what writers just do at this time of year. So here’s the official Fandomentals Top Ten Board Games for 2019 as decided by our tabletop gaming team.
#10. The Wolf
Publisher: Gray Matter Games
Trivia games are some of the oldest, most common, and most popular games on the market. It can be hard to find one that innovates the genre in any meaningful way. But The Game of Wolf from Gray Matter Games figured out the way to do just that, finding an incredibly novel way to add competition and fun to the genre. It was able to combine the cooperative fun of group trivia with the satisfied feeling of dominance that can come from “every player for themselves” trivia. Based on category alone, the “wolf” can choose their own team or go alone and try to score points on their own, but at the risk of losing more if they’ve overrated their own knowledge. Shifting groups means you never get stuck with a bad team for too long, and there’s a nice diversity of topics so nobody feels stupid or left out. If your friends and family like trivia, or you want to try a new party game, you might want to add The Game of Wolf to your pack.
Publisher: Thames & Kosmos
Two-player games are often a bit of a crapshoot, as some of them are incredibly dull renditions of other games or just chess with extra steps. But when they’re good, they’re great and offer a more streamlined and compact gaming experience for people who may not have a big group or couples who want games to play together. Imhotep: The Duel was our favorite two-player released year, thanks to its well-designed “mini” version of the original Imhotep. It keeps the essential core gameplay of its big brother, with each player managing building materials to erect the great monuments of Ancient Egypt. It shrinks the game down and streamlines quite a bit of it, turning it into a much faster-paced puzzler of a game that can stand on its own merits separate from its origins. It’s also a very nice little game that looks nice on the table, and is a great choice for people short on cash or shelf space. History fans and board game fans alike will find a lot of things to like in Imhotep: The Duel.
#8. We’re Doomed
Publisher: Breaking Games
Imagine if the war room scene in Dr. Strangelove was a board game, that’s We’re Doomed. Straddling the line between strategy and party game, it’s a loud and rambunctious game that can have a group of friends lobbing nukes and screaming across the table in just fifteen minutes. And that’s not an exagerration, as the game has a hard time limit that makes it as exciting and high-pressure as real-life negotiations. Every player represents a nation on a dying world, pooling their resources to build the escape rocket needed to continue their civilization among the stars. But there’s not a guarantee that everyone can get a seat, so each leader has to balance cooperation with competition in the race to survive. There’s all kinds of fun events that effect the game board, and plenty of strategies for players to use in the quest to survive. It also has a very cool retraux aesthetic similar to that of The Incredibles, and its ability for handle up to ten players makes it an extremely flexible addition to anyone’s game night library.
You can pickup We’re Doomed on the Breaking Games store, Amazon, or a game store near you.
The most recent release on this list, Ecos: First Continent was announced and teased at GenCon but officially launched at Essen to rave reviews. It’s an incredibly cool engine-builder that has all players take their turns simultaneously, making the strategy required to outwit other players much different than other strategy games. It honestly plays a little like Bingo. Players are all forces of nature (or Slartibartfast) working to build a new planet that fits their personal design and goals, laying out the land and sea, planting trees and raising mountains, and populating your new land with all kinds of different animals. It has the high production value you expect from AEG, especially the “elemental tokens” that form the core gameplay. It’s incredibly cool to see the board build in front of you as your world forms, and every player’s actions and choices have a physical impact on the table. It’s perfect for ecologists and nature lovers, but the deceptively simple gameplay and deep strategy will no doubt make it a popular addition to many a board game shelf.
Publisher: The op
It’s the perfect time of year for Die Hard, and also the perfect time for fans of “the best Christmas movie ever” to check out this incredibly thematic and well-designed tribute to the classic action movie. It’s an asymmetric 1 vs all, but unlike many games in that genre the hero is the one on their own. The other players take on the roles of Hans Gruber and his henchmen, battling McClane through Nakatomi Tower and three different, action-packed acts. Unlike many games from The op, Nakatomi Heist ops for a more evocative aesthetic, with lots of silhouettes and blurred pictures in lieu of recycled movie screenshots. It’s also done some really neat things with the board layout, as it physically flips and changes in between each act to reflect the changing situation and challenges facing McClane. Even if you’re not a…ahem…die hard fan of the film, it’s still a standout game on its own. But if you are a big fan of the movie, then what the heck are you waiting for!
Publisher: Big Potato Games
Probably our favorite party game to come out this year (which is incredibly stiff competition, mind), Blockbuster is more than just an amazing theme. It’s a fun movie game that relies on more than just trivia to get by. Instead, it aims for “anyone who has seen a movie,” which allows for people to invent their own quotes for films or act out the words of a title instead of scenes. It can be incredibly fun seeing someone try to imitate Mama Mia! without having seen it. It also means that your smug film school friend might actually lose for once.
We can’t just ignore the theme, however, as it trades on insane amounts of nostalgia in a great way. Looking for all the world like the chunky plastic VHS cases of yore, even the board folds up into a fake video tape to complete the illusion. Folded out, however, you get a very neat little parking lot complete with the iconic Blockbuster sign. It’s great for families, especially if you’re traveling a lot over the holidays.
You can pick up Blockbuster: The Game at Target
Publisher: Leder Games
Perhaps the biggest and most complex game on this list, Vast: The Mysterious Manor is yet another masterpiece from the fine folks at Leder Games. A sequel to the first game, Vast: The Crystal Caverns, The Mysterious Manor drops some of the high fantasy dungeon-crawling in favor of a good-old fashioned haunted house story. Asymmetric as always, players can play as a paladin looking to vanquish evil, a team of hilarious skeletons looking to vanquish The Paladin, a giant spider hell-bent on evil, a Warlock who likes to mess with stuff, or a giant evil house trying to keep them all there forever. Yes, you get to play as the haunted house (I know I hammer that home a lot but it’s just such a cool concept). It’s an incredibly beautiful game, with sturdy and detailed minis and the amazing as always artwork from Kyle Ferrin that is at once atmospheric and fun all at once. It’s not for the faint of heart, however, but once you get the rules down it’s got a lot of depth and strategy that will keep you coming back for more again and again. The Haunted Hallways expansion is also worth picking up, as it adds in the Fighter from Crystal Caverns as an alternate paladin and a very sneaky Shadow Paladin as an alternate for the Giant Spider. Oh, and it is cross-compatible with both Crystal Caverns and Fearsome Foes, so fans of those games can mash things up as much as they like.
You can pick up both Vast:The Mysterious Manor and it’s expansion on the Leder Games store. And be sure to keep an eye out for Dan’s review coming soon!
Another game we featured on our Halloween list, Horrified was a standout at GenCon and something we’ve already played the snot out of since we got it. It’s a loving tribute to the Universal Monsters, the classic horror icons of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s (luckily without any Russel Crowe involved). Players work together to protect villagers and defeat the monsters, who each have their own unique win conditions, like smashing Dracula’s coffins or teaching Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein how to be human. There’s little references to the movies all over the place, and it’s incredibly rewarding for horror fans who love the classics to look for them all. It’s pretty easy to learn as well, but it’s not exactly easy. It requires smart strategy and proper collaboration to over come just two monsters, let alone more than that (or even the full seven, which is damn near impossible). If you’re a fan of games like Pandemic or Arkham Horror: Final Hour, or just like the Universal Monsters, then walk slowly, arms outstretched, to the store to pick up a copy.
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Really, what can we even say about this game that hasn’t already been said. Every year, there’s a game that explodes out of the gate and becomes the it game of the season, selling out everywhere and resting on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But it’s not undeserving, and in fact may be one of the rare games to really live up to the hype. Elizabeth Hargrave has designed a bonafide masterpiece and modern-day classic with lots of innovative and cool mechanics, fun gameplay, and a theme that works way better than people expect at first blush. Players all work as a bird enthusiast hoping to create a sanctuary that fits their needs and desires, and they have to attract and hatch the right birds with the right powers (yes, the birds have powers, it rules) in order to have the best sanctuary of the bunch. The newly released European Expansion adds in lots of new birds and play options to deepen it even further. The art is straight from the Audobon Guide and is impressionistic and eye-catching as you’d expect. The components are all well made and durable, and include a set of lovely wooden dice and a dice tower shaped like a birdhouse with which to role them. Even if you can’t tell a swallow from a goose from a pelican, this engine-builder is something you’ll want to add to your nest as soon as you can.
Publisher: Keymaster Games
Honestly, we think the top two of our list are gonna be duking it out for “Game of the Year” on a lot of sites and around a lot of dinner tables. And while the line delineating between the two is thin to nonexistent, we still decided to put our stamp on Keymaster’s tribute to America’s national parks system. Collaborating with the Fifty-Nine Parks art series, PARKS’s star is the diverse and breathtaking art depicting the natural beauty of each park. That art is supported by incredible wooden pieces and a cozy woodland look that fits the theme perfectly. Everything about the game is thematic, from the way canteens are treated to the need for all hikers to have a buddy. It might take a hot second to learn, but once you get it it’s easy to pick up and play just about anytime. There’s enough strategy to make it fun, and its competetive in a way that will drive the game, but it also can be fairly relaxing too. An experience, perhaps, as much as a board game. Any hiker, scout, or camper will love the way the game captures the joy of the great outdoors, but we think it deserves a spot on every game shelf.
That’s our list! What do you think? Any you’d rank higher? Maybe lower? What games didn’t we mention that you wish we did? Sound off in the comments, and stay tuned for more end-of-year retrospectives from all your favorite fandoms!
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