I think I speak for just about everyone when I say ‘woah, 2020 was quite the challenge.’ The year of chaos, of accidentally muted (or unmuted) microphones, of social distancing, loneliness and a surge of appreciation for the small moments when you could see family and friends. The year of takeaways, a little too much junk food, and pyjamas. And the year when, huddled against the chaos of the world outside, I played some of the best board games of my life. Despite being composed primarily of paper and cardstock, board games were the life raft that took me through the storm of 2020. I realise I’m being melodramatic, but for what it’s worth, 2020 threw challenges at us, separated us from our families and even took our freedom, but what it gave this year, were really fantastic board games.
Making this list was hard for all the best reasons, I started with a list of about 20 incredible games all of which deserved their spot here, but I had to whittle that down to just five, the very best of the best. So without further ado, the five best games I played this year:
Chart a course into the unknown, but beware, here be monsters!
Though technically a 2019 game, this one was in such high demand that we had to wait until this year to get our hands on it. Cartographers, nominated for the Enthusiast’s Game of the Year, is one of those games that manages to perfectly balance a simple to learn ruleset with interesting strategic decisions and a variable point scoring system to ensure almost limitless replayability. Simply put, in Cartographers a card is flipped then each player draws the tetris-style shape on it somewhere on their map, rotating as they wish. But where to place each shape depends entirely on that round’s objectives, maybe you need to get diagonal lines that round, or maybe you need areas of green fields next to houses.
Fast playing and family friendly, but with enough depth to satisfy even the most seasoned gamer, Cartographers is a must for fans of games such as Patchwork, Trails of Tucana or Welcome To.
4: Tekhenu, Obelisk of the Sun
Travel back in time to Ancient Egypt where you will compete to win the favour of the gods, whilst always watching where the obelisk’s shadow will fall.
Okay, so I’ve got to be honest, with its rulebook exceeding 30 pages and an - at first - overwhelming amount of symbols covering its board, Tekhenu is not for the faint of heart. However, for those of you after a thinky, heavier game, this one won’t disappoint. The work of designers Daniele Tascini (T’zolkin, Teotihuacan) and David Turczi (Dice Settlers, Kitchen Rush) both well known for their ability to reinvent familiar game mechanics, Tekhenu has the core of a dice drafting game, with multiple paths to victory and a wide variety of strategies to follow.
Definitely one of our more challenging games, but give it the time and attention it needs and it will reward you with a plethora of interesting choices and plenty of opportunity for strategic planning.
3: The Crew
Gather your comrades and prepare to blast off!
I love a big elaborate production with fancy components, but The Crew proves that you can still be an absolutely amazing game with just a set of cards and a few cardboard tokens. The game that beat Cartographers to win the Enthusiast’s Game of the Year award, The Crew is an original game with its roots firmly grounded in the familiar. This game puts a spin on the trick-taking genre - think traditional card games like Hearts or Whist - by introducing a co-operative element. In The Crew, players take on the role of a spaceship’s crew, completing various missions with varying rules, each round players will need to ensure one of their crewmates wins a particular trick. Think this sounds easy? It would be, if you were allowed to freely discuss what cards you have in your hand. The Crew limits communication so you have to be strategic and use deduction to work out which cards are where and how you’ll ensure things go to plan.
A great family friendly game, playing best with 3-5 players. This is a must for fans of co-op games and more traditional card games alike. Each mission is so fast to complete (between about five and fifteen minutes) but it’s so addictive you’ll want to keep playing just one more mission.
2: Crossed Words
What’s a boy’s name and also a colour? Fred.
Crossed Words is a Scattergories style party game that rewards players clever wordplay. As long as your whole answer for each category matches one of the criteria, your other answer can be hidden inside it. I did not expect to love this game as much as I do, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve played this almost every single day since we got it, it’s that addictive.
You can play this competitively and try and score the most, or you can just have fun challenging yourself to try and come up with the most original answer. The punniest among you will absolutely love this game, but even if you don’t see yourself as clever with words, give this one a try, you might just surprise yourself.
1: Beyond the Sun
It’s all about that tech tree.
I’ve never played one like this before. Beyond the Sun is a space exploration game that centres around a huge technology tree, as you develop and climb it you earn better ways to produce resources or power your ships through the great unknown. There are plenty of games out there that use tech trees as a mechanism, but the way Beyond the Sun puts it front and centre is so original and exciting. Beyond the Sun surprised me by keeping me constantly engaged throughout the entire game. I can’t think of another game where other player’s turns were as interesting and exciting as this one, as you never know what new technologies they might invent.
Despite a big board and a scattering of symbols across cards and player boards, Beyond the Sun is a reasonably accessible game, everything in it manages to make sense. A great game for those of you looking to explore our more challenging games as well as fans of our more thinky medium-weight strategy games such as Wingspan or Everdell.
So that’s five amazing games that are new to the cafe this year, I’d say they’re available for rental and suggest you check them out, except I kinda want to keep them to myself...