I’m exhausted–emotionally, politically, pandemically, etc etc–which makes the task of trying to sum up 2020 in Tabletop almost too overwhelming. Making a Top Ten list, let alone crowning a GOTY, is ridiculously unfair. According to my BGG Stats Summary, I logged about a third as many plays and half the number of different games compared to 2019. My most-played game of 2020? Can’t Stop (on BGA), followed by Dominion (on dominion.games). Comfort food.
The list of 2020 games I haven’t even had a chance to play properly is ridiculous. Here are just the most egregious/outrageous examples:
Air Land & Sea
Endeavour: Age of Expansion
Unmatched: Cobble & Fog
In a 2020 unriddled by COVID, most if not all of these games would have been played many times and been written up here. (To be fair, Sean did do a piece on Cobble & Fog which you can read here.) How in the world can I, let alone the SdJ committee, choose the best games (or expansions) of the year when so many sit waiting to be played??
Even the list I have managed to duct-tape together below is based mainly on solo plays–which isn’t not valuable, given how much more solitaire play is going on out there. But it still feels like comparing apples and oranges. So take the following with all the salt your blood pressure can handle. In alphabetical order, there are the ten games of 2020 that made an impression on me. If you can’t already tell, I’m feeling pretty punchy–but then, you probably are as well.
Calico. Feels like a classic. Puzzly. Amazing replayability both multiplayer and solitaire. Plus: cats!
Dune: Imperium. A very late and recent arrival. Worker placement and deckbuilding with multi-use cards–lots of interesting decisions. I’ve only played it solitaire and enjoy its challenge that way but look forward to trying multiplayer. Will it satisfy fans of the old Dune? I’m not sure. I don’t think so–but it will hit the table a lot more often.
Mariposas. Is inevitably going to be compared to Wingspan, whose success has helped grow our hobby by proving that Tabletop can be more than MOPS (merchants, orcs, pharaohs, and starfighters). Luckily, Mariposas is a much more original design with more interesting decisions and tradeoffs. Unfortunately, I doubt it will outdo its predecessor in sales or attention–but it does prove Hargrave is not just a flash in the pan.
Ming Voyages. Came out of nowhere, turning up at one of my FLGS’s and I picked it up on the strength of its BGG recommendations and solo mode. It did not disappoint; it has one of the most elegant adaptive AI’s I’ve ever seen and the basic gameplay with its multi-use cards and asymmetric gameplay is a winner.
My City. Yes, I am a Reiner fanboy. Yes, I love Tetris. No, I haven’t finished the campaign because of bloody COVID. But I’m still putting it on the list because it’s a great evolving spatial puzzler and I can’t wait to see how it ends.
On Mars. Damn, Vital. How do you think up these things? One of the hardest games I have ever tried to learn–and I’ve learned Squad Leader. I think it’s because of how tightly he meshes together all the mechanisms. You can’t load them all into your brain-buffer separately, you have to swallow the thing whole and it hurts your head. But my god it works, thematically and mechanically. It’s a full, full meal and it’s definitely not for everyone but it is for me.
The Princess Bride Adventure Board Game. Licensed product continued to shine in 2020 even if everything else turned to shit. I had to choose between this and the also-excellent Back To The Future game from Prospero Hall but I chose this one because you get to say all the lines from the movie and it presented the bigger design challenge because of its linearity and I think Ryan Hall did a good job of making it work. My full review is here.
Steven Universe Beach-a-Palooza Card Battling Game. Not out yet but fuck it, I have to give designer Erica Bouyouris props for making a gamer’s game out of what could easily have been another piece of licenced trash. You don’t have to be a fan of the (excellent) series to enjoy this pass-drafting semi-co-op. Full preview is here. Look out for this in 2021.
And you know what? Here are two Raspberries for my biggest (Tabletop) disappointments for 2020:
Aliens: Another Glorious Day In The Corps. Dear Gale Force Nine: if your customers have to assemble the minis themselves, please say so on the box. Luckily, I knew ahead of time. Many did not. And let me tell you, these were not easy to put together–fuck you to all the Warhammer fanboys for claiming otherwise in the threads. The game itself is pretty damned good–but if you’re going to take the plunge my advice is to scavenge some bits from other games to play it out of the box while you take your time clipping sprues and gluing the sixteen eight-piece Alien pieces together (not to mention the tiny Marine heads). I’ll be reviewing this properly in the new year.
Undaunted: North Africa. Oh Trevor. Oh David. You made such a beautiful thing with Undaunted: Normandy. So elegant. So thematic. A sequel was natural–and props to you for wanting not to just repeat yourselves. Adding vehicles was a great idea. But you fucked too much with a winning formula. Changing scale from half-squads to the individual soldier level makes sense thematically–but making them so vulnerable to total elimination (because there’s no respawning once you’re out of cards) turns most of the scenarios into one-path-to-victory dice-chucking luckfests because victory always depends on killing specific soldiers before they can use their job-specific skills such as demolitions or taking control of objectives. The higher ratings on BGG are mainly from people who have only played a couple of times; they’re really rating Normandy. Please please revisit your design choices and make U:NA the game it should be.
Sorry to end the year on such a downer. May 2021 bless us each and every one.