It’s still January so I’m still allowed to do a retrospective look back at 2022. I think “best of” lists are mostly misleading because “best” is usually in the eye of the beholder, and your tastes may not agree with mine. What with living inside the continual onslaught of ongoing releases, it’s all too easy for good-but-unhyped games to get lost in the shuffle. So I will briefly run down an alphabetic list of ten games from 2022 that I enjoyed, admired, and would like to recommend to your attention:
- Eyelet is abstract gaming at its best: an inviting, tactile experience (who doesn’t love threading shoelaces?) combined with a simple (but not simplistic) twist on roll-and-move.
- First Empires is not Civilization nor does it pretend to be. Instead, it’s a colourful entry-level 4Xish game that scales well, offers plenty of room to manoeuver, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
- Heading Forward was already praised to the skies by Bailey D a couple of weeks ago and I have very little to add to her take except to say that, even if you’re not a fan of either solo games or deckbuilders I think you owe yourself a look.
- John Company, 2nd Edition has had a higher profile than most of the others on this list, but I still wanted to chime in because to me it represents the best of what Tabletop games can do to entertain, educate, and engage. Plus I haven’t heard enough praise for how well the game adapts its systems for solo and two-player play. But Lordy, it has a steep on-ramp and it’s a beast to teach.
- Sea Salt & Paper hasn’t grabbed as much attention as Scout (which apparently came out in 2019 but leapt into view this past year) but I believe deserves just as high a profile for how it meshes old-timey cardplay with more modern push-your-luck (not to mention beautiful origami-style artwork on the cards).
- Stonewall: Uprising tells the story of the modern queer movement using a mixture of deckbuilding, multiple tugs-of-war, and a crucial tempo/bluffing mechanic to produce an excellent story-telling machine.
- Turing Machine (speaking of machines) scratched my logic-puzzle-loving brain like nothing since Cryptid. And its ability to generate a squillion scenarios at varying degrees of difficulty and in both competitive and cooperative/solo modes using its web app makes it an ever-flowing wellspring.
- Twilight Inscription is, at least as of now, the last word in heavy roll-and-writes. Its theme is so much better integrated than Hadrian’s Wall or Rome & Roll, and it’s a game you can appreciate and enjoy even if (like me) you’ve never played Twilight Imperium.
- Welcome to the Moon came out very late in 2021 but I’m slapping it down here because it’s not just another one-off retheme of Welcome To…but rather a full-on choices-matter campaign with eight separate scenarios each of which could stand alone as a separate game. A stunning feat of design and not-bad storytelling.
- Zurmat is a game I’ve championed but not written in depth about yet. It’s a Euro-ish take on small-unit counter-insurgency tactics in Afghanistan designed by someone who’s been there. It manages to capture the complexity of conflict at small scale without getting lost in the weeds, and is infinitely replayable due to its modular board and varying win conditions. Definitely doesn’t outstay its welcome–in fact, it can end rather abruptly and leave you wanting more.
All in all I would say that some small publishers (Hollandspiele and Catastrophe Games) had amazing years, AAA Tabletop churned along with beautiful-but hollow product (Ark Nova, Encyclopedia, and Golem), and Kickstarter over-promised and under-delivered as usual (Stars of Akarios).
And yes, Undaunted Stalingrad is very good and anything that brings new faces into consim is a Good Thing but I have Thoughts which I will share if I can get myself together enough.
All the best to all of you for 2023.