We’ve actually, finally made it. The games of 2023 that I enjoyed, and that I think are worth playing. Thank you for your views and engagements this year, and let’s end this year off with a proper list of fantastic games.
As I talked about with Worldbreakers, two-player card games are tough to get right. This title really strikes a balance between deck building and deck construction, and it nails down asymmetrical play. By having each player be a side in the galaxy, players can only purchase certain cards in the shared market row. But, and what’s really genius here, you can either Bounty Hunt (aka Discard) a card only your enemy can purchase, or you can pay for neutral cards and simply not add them to your deck, ruining your synergies. It’s not wildly different from a game like Star Realms, but its few differences really help it shine in this crowded space.
The only thing I look for in a family-weight game is something that gets people invested. A simple-to-teach push-your-luck dice game is just that. It’s lively, it’s quick, it’s beautiful to look at and feel… The only people that I’ve seen not enjoy this game are those that are too riddled with math to stop and just scream at some dice with friends. It’s nice to have some variety and not play the exact same simple gambling games. It’s nice to have a tube that just says “CHICKEN!”.
I wrote about my past traumas, and how board gaming saved me from them. So when I saw Xoe Allred was releasing a title all about dinosaurs coping with their impending doom by playing some little games, I knew this was going to be an experience that would speak to me. Is this a great game? I’m not sure. However, this is an experience that helped me grow, helped me heal in ways I didn’t think possible. So for that, this game needs to be ranked and respected.
10.) Forest Shuffle
Every year there’s a card game that blows me away, and this year it was easily Forest Shuffle. It’s Wingspan meets Arboretum. It’s Everdell meets Ark Nova. And yet, it has end game scoring triggered similar to Pax Pamir. All of this, inside of a small card game that newbie hobbyists can enjoy. What an absolute jolt to the system this game was. I was expecting simple contract fulfillment. Heck, I was expecting Earth but smaller. Thank goodness this was actually a game. This is a game everyone should play at least once, and something I can see many people getting obsessed over for years to come.
I love this series, and it’s no surprise to me that Volume 11 is this high. The series overall is something I want to write more about in the future, but for now, I will wax in analogy. People call Cuba Libre, Volume 2 in this series, a knife fight in a phone booth. If that’s true, then this title is a knife fight in a clown car. Players are competing for incredibly high valued spaces, all within close proximity to one another. Nearly every turn a new player is in a strong position, but hardly does a player ever feel completely out. This game is confrontational, gripping, and, depending on your personality, demoralizing. Good luck.
8.) Legacy of Yu
This is one of best solo titles I’ve ever played, simply because, frankly, it plays like a multiplayer board game. For all of Shem Phillips strengths and weaknesses, he knows how to make an efficiency euro hurt your brain. Legacy of Yu takes those best components and strips it down to being made specifically for just one player, simply by making the timer of the game a piece controlled by you and only you, rather than by the table as a whole. What this game really excels at is ruining your day! When you unlock certain cards or abilities or secrets in this pseudo-legacy title, oftentimes you open up a resource sink or resource bonus, thus dynamically shifting the difficulty and shaking things up. At the end of the day, no matter how many bells and whistles there are, you’re playing a game that is 90% the same each time, so don’t be fooled there.
I wrote earlier this year how this title changed my perspective on solo gaming. It showed me that I can enjoy solo gaming. Unfortunately for it, all it really did was show me how much I like Hoplomachus: Victorum. Sure, Legacy of Yu is just below this at #8, but that truly does feel like a solo mode from a multiplayer euro, not a game made for solo purposes only. Regardless, Victorum takes dice chucking combat and turns it into a puzzle. Because I’m facing completely programmed, open information bots, I know exactly what’s coming at me. For those of you in the video game world, it’s like Slay the Spire in that way: knowing exactly what your enemy is going to do greatly changes the inputs you’re going to have. Outside the puzzly combat, the story and metanarratives that emerge are enticing, and it’s one of the nicest productions ever thanks to Chip Theory Games’ involvement. Check it out if you’re flush with cash.
I have played card games all my life. My grandparents taught my Skip-Bo and Hand & Foot Canasta from a young age. As I got older, I spent hundreds of hours playing Euchre with kids after school, or at the fairground. Since then, my love of card games has never really gone away. The Barracks Emperors is kind of a trick-taking game meddled with a war game. Each trick is played simultaneously, and each card you add to the board affects up to three other tricks as well, and often for the benefit of your opponent. While it’s completely abstracted away, this game is one of the few that makes me feel like an army general, planning large scale attacks and deciding where I need to accept defeat. Trick-taking fans should check it out and not be intimidated by the art or vocabulary.
Robin Hegedűs and Mindclash Games are a dream couple. Trickerion and Anachrony have special places in my heart for their meaty-yet-traditional interpretations of euro design, and Septima holds true to those additions as well. By taking most of the confrontation into the card play, it removes the frustration felt by some of having your “perfect turn” ruined: at least here you know your perfect turn is ruined from the start instead of half-way through! The actions are simple, and the rules give players flexibility on complexity in meaningful ways. While my first game took two hours to get halfway (for the “Full Game” minus expansions), the second half only took an hour. The game after that, the whole experience took 80 minutes. I truly believe that with time, this could be one of the meatiest efficiency euros in its time frame, which is absolutely something that should be rewarded.
This is publisher GMT’s first COIN Multipack. This is really four mini-COIN titles in one. Each map is fresh, not only in its design, but in its mechanisms. These maps are a collection of popular COIN mechanisms from the series’ previous 11 volumes, with a few new ones mixed in for good measure. This is both an excellent jumping off point for newcomers into the series, as well as a refined experience for two veterans to duke it out in hyper-focused theaters of “war”. This game needs to be unpacked in more than an intro paragraph, so I’ll leave you with this: If you have ever wanted to try a COIN title, or any modern wargame, this is 100% where you should start. Simple rules, infinite depth, and using one of the best wargaming systems ever designed.
3.) 3 Ring Circus
I alluded to my love of this title when I awarded Devir my publisher of the year. Build a simple tableau, with simple actions, all while staring your opponents in the face and ruining their day. It’s fantastic! One of the juiciest parts of the game comes when preparing to send your circus to the Main City. Each one has a specific level of performer required to even show up and try to perform there. If you do not have that performer, do not waste your time showing up. These performers are drafted from a public tableau. What can happen often is the following question: do I draft a card I don’t need, sacrificing my own benefits, in order to prevent an opponent from scoring that Main City? This type of behavior does not feel allowed in many games today, and I thank 3 Ring Circus for letting me play in this space again. It will not be for everyone, but thank goodness Devir released some alternatives for you to play this year.
2.) Zoo Vadis
It may seem like I justified this game being included in my list so it could be up here, but actually the opposite is true. I didn’t want to give what others could call a reprint my #2 slot, but here we are. Zoo Vadis is the simplest, purest negotiation game out there. Its purity and simplicity has led me to play this game with people I cannot get to play games with otherwise, which makes for a really special experience. But, with the added player powers, I can play a competitive, sneaky game with people that are much more engrossed in the hobby and still have an amazing time. Outside of that, I have to call out the top-tier production here. This game could be played with beige paperclips and trash (aka the first edition) and still have some shine to it, but the production here helps sell the game to new players, something I’m eternally grateful for. Turns out this Knizia guy knows a thing or two about designing games, huh?
TUBE GAME GOOD. Wow am I infatuated with this game. I wrote earlier this year about how this game showed me how modern abstract games can be amazing. And this game keeps delivering on that promise. Every single time I play, I think I’ve gotten better at it, and every time I STILL lose. This game turns hate-drafting and turns it into an artform, and for some fantastic reason, I’ve never seen anyone “rage” out to this title. It’s just short enough to forever compel players to play just one more game, just play to best 3-out-of-5 instead of 2-out-of-3. Buy this game. I have never seen anyone regret playing this.
And now I’m off to go play Lacuna again. Thank you all so much for letting me self-indulge this year, for letting me go off on all of these titles. Again this is the most effort I’ve put into end-of-year shenanigans, so I appreciate any comments or shares of my content.
I’ll see you all in my next adventure.