It is an understatement to say that 2020 was a strange year in the boardgaming world. For me it turned a mostly analog hobby into a mostly digital one. Being that I live alone and am not a solo gamer, physically picking up a boardgame and playing it did not happen so much. Apps, boardgame websites and online game nights filled the void but did not allow me to experience most of the great games that came out in 2020. So, rather than come up with my top 10 games of 2020 (I’m not even sure I played 10 games that were released this year), I am going to talk about the 10 games from 2020 I really want to play.
There were plenty of IP games that appealed to me, including another Back to the Future game, but this one rose to the top. (As a big Scooby Doo fan I do want to try Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion and Betrayal at Mystery Mansion.) Back to the Future: Back in Time appealed to me because it comes from Prospero Hall and is compared favourably to Horrified, which is also from Prospero Hall. Horrified worked really well with a wide variety of gamers and I hope Back to the Future: Back in Time will as well.
After enjoying the base game I jumped on the Kickstarter expansion for the co-operative deduction game by Lucky Duck. As the expansions being based in both the past (1400, 1900) and future (2400) appealed to my history and sci-fi nerdiness.CoC: 1400 has been popping up on many top 10 lists, with a few reviewers saying that it’s better than the original, so my hype has only exploded. Now that I finally have the physical copies (note the stories are not ready for 1900 and 2400 expansions), I am trying to figure out a way to play this via Zoom with my game group rather than wait for the pandemic to end.
Had it not been for the rave reviews and its placement on many top 10 lists, I’m not sure I would be very hyped for this game. I’ve never played Manhattan Empire, designer Luke Laurie’s best known game before Eldervale, and my experiences with publisher Breaking Games (Unstable Unicorns-ugh; Joking Hazard-meh; Rise of Tribes-interesting) were mixed, so the pedigree behind the game did not excite me. The components and graphic design look very good and a solid medium to medium-heavy worker-placement game interests me. I hope this game lives up to the hype it is receiving.
This is a game I know I would own had this been a normal year. The only reason I don’t is that by the time it became available it was clear it would not hit the table for the foreseeable future. When in-person gaming restarts, I will be all on board for this semi-co-op, campaign game by Plaid Hat Games. Any concerns I might have had pre-release have been alleviated by its near universal praise by the gaming community.
Had I made a most anticipated games of 2020 there would likely be plenty of crossover with this list, but I can say one thing for sure Fort would not have been on that list. Leder Games is a well-respected publisher and Root is a beloved game by many, just not me. Admittedly I’ve only played it once, but when I was told that the factions are so different that you essentially need to learn the game four times, I was turned off from coming back to it. So when Fort, which seemed along the same vein, was announced I did not have any interest. Sure the art is cute, but I was not looking for a game I would need to play 20 times before I knew what I was doing (which it feels as if Root is). Then the reviews came out and, well I may have been wrong to prejudge Fort. Everything about Fort, from the theme, components to art, looks wonderful, so hopefully when I get to play it I am as captivated by it as everyone else seems to be.
A good chunk of my gaming time is spent playing party games with my friends who are more casual gamers, so I am always looking for something new to introduce them to. This year Hues and Cues is the one that I am most excited to put on the table. After watching a couple live plays by Tom Vasel on The Dice Tower, it seemed clear that Hues and Cues by designer Scott Brady from publisher The Op, would work well with most people, even if some adult beverages are involved. It seems that it could both work as a competitive game and if it were treated more like fun group activity, along the lines of Concept.
To say I was totally on board with Mariposas might be a slight under exaggeration. I love AEG’s recent lineup of games and Elizabeth Hargrave’s Wingspan is one of my favourite games ever. The theme of migrating monarch butterflies is interesting and unique. So if it’s not already clear I own Mariposas and it’s been of the few additions to my wall of shame in 2020. That said, I know it will get played ASAP once I can get my game group together.
In a year with what seems as if polynomial (Tetris-style) games took over the boardgame industry, it would be wrong to not at least include one of them on the list. Project L is appealing for so many reasons. The stark box cover with a large blue L on a black background instantly grabs your attention and the chunky colourful polynomial pieces are just begging to be played with. I don’t even know much about the game play, but Project L has been getting praise from many reviewers so I am very intrigued. Even if I had never heard of the game if I was at a game event and someone put up that box and laid out those pieces I would be sucked in as if a tractor beam had taken a hold of me.
AEG has been hitting it out of the park the past few years, so much so I could probably make a top 10 list of AEG games I am dying to play. I already have one AEG game on this list (Mariposas), Santa Monica is my second and Calico could have easily been the third. The gorgeous pastel art that invokes summer at the beach is especially appealing as a dreary Canadian winter starts to set in. But I need more than pretty art, so the fact Josh Wood of Cat Lady fame designed Santa Monica makes this a must play. While quick light-medium games do not appeal to everyone, I am a fan of them and Wood has shown he can craft an interesting fun experience in that genre with Cat Lady so I am confident he can do it again. I have also seen Santa Monica appear on many end of the year top 10 lists. And lastly it gives me a great excuse to crank a certain tune from the band Everclear.
Recently I have soured on the Unlock games, preferring Exit Games to them. A few Unlock games have gone south because our group did not see a tiny number on a card; not sure if it’s our bad eyesight or a poor printing job. Then I watched a live play of one of three scenarios on Boardgames with Niramas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsdO1Xrm7hU) and within a few minutes I was all on board. Once I realized each of the three scenarios is tied to actual events from the first three Star Wars movies I had to go out and buy it. Having plenty of Star Wars nerds in my life means this will get played very soon.
While I am remiss about the gaming experiences that were foiled by the pandemic, making this list got me very excited for the future. It was very hard to keep this list to 10 games, as there were so many interesting options from 2020. What did I miss, what games should I be rushing to get to the table?