As we approach the end of the decade, and await the arrival of the roaring ‘20s, I look back on the decade of gaming with wonder. In the late summer of 2010 Snakes & Lattes first opened its doors, and during my tenure there, I have learned many new games. Since I began tracking the “new to me” games in 2013, I have added over 700 new games (and the year isn’t over yet!) to my list.
How do I boil that down into the ten best of the decade? The majority of those were games that I played once, and will never play again (some were prototypes that died in development, some were just not for me, and some were pure trash). Some of the game I’ve been exposed to since 2010 predate the decade, so I can cross them off the list, too. That leaves me with maybe 50-100 titles that came out this decade and I want to play over and over.
How do I boil the short list down into the ten best of the decade? Since 2005 or so I have been tracking every game I play in my BoardGameGeek.com account, so I looked at the numbers. Many games on my short list have gotten dozens of plays, some even over 100. But number of plays doesn’t tell the whole story. With the online play function in its app, Star Realms was easy to rack up hundreds of plays. Similarly, with its short play time, Happy Salmon got over 100 plays in short order, often getting six plays or more in a single session. Conversely, some games I love are ones I, for whatever reason, don’t own, so their play count isn’t as high, or I own them, but they are beasts for table space and time, so they just don’t get played as often. And games I love from 2019 or 2019 haven’t had the same length of time to accrue more plays, as a game I fell in love with back in 2010.
Number of plays has helped guide the pruning of my short list, but I have had to consider other factors in compiling the Game Guru’s 10 Favourite Games of the Tens. I have divided my list into eight categories: Co-op/Team Games, Two-Player Games, Reflex Games, Stacking Games, Party Games, Social Deduction Games, Light Strategy, and Strategy. Some of the games on my short list belong to multiple categories, so for variety each title will only win the title for one category
Designed by Naotaka Shimamoto & Yoshiaki Tomioka, and published by Itten Games, Tokyo Highway is a game for 2-4 civil engineers. Players are building intricately overlapping roadways in an effort to get all their allotted cars on the road.
Other contenders: Menara, Verti-Go, Rhino Hero
Designed by Ken Gruhl, & Quentin Weir, and published by Northstar Games, Happy Salmon is a card shedding game of speed and hilarity. It is dumb, and stupid, and stupidly dumb, and it has no right to be as much fun as it is. I introduced my family to it a couple of Giftmases ago, and they love it. Finger Guns at High Noon was a close second in this category.
Other Contenders: Shrimp, Retro Loonacy, Ghost Blitz, 5-Second Rule, Anomia, Finger Guns at High Noon
Published by Hasbro, and designed by the team of James D’Aloisio, Austin Rucker, Craig Van Ness, don’t let the Risk name fool you. This game has nothing to do with Risk, aside from plastic pieces and 6-sided dice. It should have been called “the Battle of Endor” because it depicts the events leading up to the climax of Return of the Jedi. Each player is waging a battle on three fronts simultaneously: the epic space battle around the new Death Star, the mission on Endor to sabotage the shield generator, and the struggle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. If you’re a Star Wars fan who likes light but tense head-to-head battles, this game is for you.
Other Contenders: Star Wars Rebellion, the Duke, Patchwork, Raptor
Repos Productions knocked it out of the park with last year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Just One, by Ludovic Roudy, & Bruno Sautter. This is a co-operative word guessing party game, and everyone I introduce it to loves it.
Other Contenders: Finger Guns at High Noon, Codenames, Banned Words, Concept
From Zoch Verlag, and designer Oliver Richtberg, Menara is basically a co-op version of the Spiel des Jahres winning Villa Paletti. Players work together to build an intricate temple out of coloured pillars and oddly shaped tiles. It plays well with anywhere from one to four players, and creates delightfully tense moments like any good stacking game does.
Other Contenders: Jaws, Good Cop/Bad Cop, Codenames, Just One, Cahoots, Banned Words
Designed by. Brian Henk, Clayton Skancke, and published by Overworld Games, Good Cop/Bad Cop is an excellent entry in an already strong field. While it may be more complicated to explain than the older game the Resistance, it is more fun, and has elements like equipment, and team switching, that the Resistance lacks. It’s also substantially less complex than Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, which was another social deduction darling of the decade.
Other Contenders: Coup, Skull, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, A Fake Artist Goes to New York
While Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Rebellion (by Corey Konieczka) and Hasbro’s Lords of Waterdeep (by Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson) are definitely different levels of complexity and strategy, I put them both in Strategy because with a play time of an hour or so, Waterdeep was “too much game” to go in the Light Strategy class. Rebellion is a head-to-head battle of wits and strategy between the Empire and the Rebellion. The Empire is combing the galaxy to find the rebel base and eliminate all the troops on it before the Rebel Alliance can muster enough support among the population to survive the Empire’s oppression. It’s a big box with a ton of plastic ships and troops, and I love pushing another Star Destroyer or Mon Calamari cruiser into service. Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. I love it for its intuitive rules and approachability. It’s great for introducing new gamers to the possibilities offered by more sophisticated games.
Other Contenders: The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire, Innis, Dinosaur Island, Raiders of the North Sea, Colours of Paris
This was perhaps the toughest of my self-imposed categories to decide on the winners. I love all the contenders for their own reasons, and even as I type this, I am thinking about changing which games are my favourites. Rüdiger Dorn’s Las Vegas, from Ravensberger Games, has recently been reprinted as Las Vegas Royale, which has added mini games and variability, but I prefer the simple elegance of the original. Fortunately, the new version can be played as the classic version if you like. Las Vegas may be the best use of dice I’ve ever seen in a game. Jaws (also from Ravensberger), by the design team at Prospero Hall is on my list for a variety of reasons. It is based on one of my all time favourite movies, and it is a 1 vs Many game, which is one of my all time favourite mechanisms. While there may be “better” games in this category (Azul won the Spiel des Jahres, after all), Jaws just hits a bunch of my buttons.
Other Contenders: Azul, Rock Paper Wizard, Welcome To…, Flamme Rouge, Battle Sheep, Arcane Academy, Century: Spice Road
While the point of this list is to highlight my ten favourite games from the last decade, I think that anyone looking to create a moderately sized game collection from scratch could do a lot worse than getting my favourites and the list of contenders. Whether you were to acquire just my official favourites for a small, tight collection, or you were to splurge on all forty, you’d have an excellent decade of gaming ahead of you.