So 2023 was…a year. Another year, another orbit around the sun. We haven’t destroyed ourselves yet, but we’re trying darn hard, dagnabit!
And there were boardgames! New ones! Reboots! Reissues! Good ones! Bad ones! Interesting ones!
You know my feelings, readers: end-of-year best-of lists are shite–totally subjective, context-dependent, and inevitably incomplete. So as usual, I will list a dozen 2023 titles which I think had new things to say and to which I hope to return next year and beyond.
The list is in alphabetical order, because why make things worse for myself by ranking them??
PART THE ONE: FAVES
Bot Factory, Vital Lacerda. I like Kanban but I’m not always in the mood to completely melt my brain. Bot Factory, like several other recent releases (Terra Nova, The British Way, etc.) is aimed at people who aspire to play heavier games but want to dip their toes instead of submerging full-on–or people like me who want their vodka watered down a bit. I’m 100% in favour and think Bot Factory achieves its aims admirably.
Couture, Yusuke Sato. Allplay Games are hitting it out of the park these days with their small-box games. Couture is just one of several excellent games they released this year, but I picked it because it has a neat twist on bidding games and also it’s a game I can play with non-gamers who’d go for the theme. And the upgraded bits are fab-u-lous!
General Orders: WW2, Trevor Benjamin & David Thompson. These guys continue to lead the way in entry-level Euro-ized consims. A little bit Chess, a tiny bit Agricola, and a dose of Memoir ‘44 make this abstract better than it has any right to be.
Legacy of Yu, Shem Phillips. How he managed to put this together while also working on the South Tigris trilogy, I have no idea. Does the man ever sleep? LoY combines familiar Phillipian tropes and iconography with a pretty decent branching narrative structure to produce a challenging solo experience which is infinitely replayable. Absolutely a most for solo players who love Euros.
Mr President, Gene Billingsley. I went into this game extensively when it came out this past summer, so go there if you want my many thoughts. Suffice to say I still think about it and, as America descends into its next Presidential election cycle hell-drama, I wish every candidate was required to stream a play of it live so people could see how they would really govern.
Rising Waters, Scout Blum. One of the entrants to the inaugural 2021 Zenobia Awards, Rising Waters can safely claim to be the only boardgame about the 1927 Mississippi River Flood. But aside from the unique theme, this co-op has some things to say about class and race in the American South during the Jazz Age. As such it’s not for everyone, but the way players must work together to handle the unpredictable flooding makes its gameplay worth a look.
Sail, Akiyama Koryo, Korzu Yusei. Another Allplay gem, this two-player co-op trick-taking game puts Fox in the Forest Duet in the shade for me because of its visual-spatial element, with players working together to cross the ocean avoiding obstacles and deadly kraken attacks in a mere five rounds of play. The base game comes with a tutorial and five scenarios; the must-have expansion has six more. Brutally difficult, demands practically playing open-handed–which in theory makes it playable solitaire.
Sky Team, Luc Rémond. Oh look, another two-player co-op. I admit, was curious but skeptical: the theme had promise but I could see soooo many ways it could go wrong in practice. Turns out Rémond knew what they were doing. It’s no sim, but it definitely conveys the feeling of tension and teamwork involved in landing a place. And with so many runways and module choices, play never gets stale.
Vive L’Empereur, Hermann Luttman. TIL that the guy behind my favorite solitaire wargame of the year (and there were several in contention: shout-out to Halls of Hegra and Skies Above Britain) is also the mastermind behind classic tower-defence game Dawn of the Zeds. The guy is hard to pin down! Viv L’Empereur’s theme is hardly original–battle of Waterloo–but by using a classic chit-pull initiative system Luttman has produced the cleanest and most elegant old-fashioned hex-and-counter solo wargame I can think of.
Worldbreakers: Advent of the Khanate, Elli Amir. I am suuuuuper happy this game is getting major-channel attention (see NPI, SU&SD) because I lurve its elegant, streamlined play, its excellent single-player campaign, and the way it weaves anti-colonialism and diverse representation into its lore–and if that’s a turn-off to you, then sorreeee (#notsorry). Oh, and I was lucky enough to get to interview Elli about how the game came to be (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
Zoo Vadis, Reiner Knizia (+ others). I could have backed this. But please–a retheme of this classical (ie Republican Rome) negotiation game with cutesy animals?? Why not just reissue it as is? I am getting a bit saturated with all the cutesy animal-themed games; it feels like an easy way to insert asymmetric “racial characteristics” into a game without having to deal with the emotional labour of our flawed history. And then I played someone else’s copy…and dammit it works, because player powers become part of the trading ecosystem–they’re fungible! Plus they’ve solved the board-scaling problem at smaller player-counts. And you can still play using the old rules. So now I have to get rid of my beloved old copy, boo-effing-hoo.
And that, loyal readers, is my hot and spicy take on my personal faves of 2023 as of time of writing. In the last week or so of 2023, a few hot titles (The Fox Experiment, Weimar, Daybreak) have dropped, but those spicy takes will have to wait for 2024. A Merry Krimble to you all. Stay tuned next week for our contest winners and some big news.
David is the Managing Editor of the DWP. He learned chess at the age of five and has been playing tabletop games ever since. His collection currently consists of about 600 games, which take up way too much space. His game "Odd Lots" won the inaugural TABS Game Design Contest in 2008. He is currently Managing Editor of The Daily Worker Placement.
All in all he's pretty smug about his knowledge of games and game