#20 Camel Up (Second Edition) 

Recommended for: Everyone

This is honestly one of the best party games on the market. The production is on point… pop-up tree, dice pyramid, plastic coins, stackable camels, and all. The game scales so well from three to eight players. The rules are accessible and easy enough to teach anybody, and the gameplay is clever and wacky enough to engage everybody. Some of the most exciting and hilarious moments in our whole experience of gaming have occurred within the race track of Camel Up.

The unpredictability of the camel dice was key to me figuring out a similarly unpredictable mechanism for the wind in my hot air balloon design. Camel Up may seem like a game of pure luck on the surface, but it’s true cleverness lies in the probabilities, predictions, and against-all-odds moments.

#19  Modern Art

Recommended for: Everyone

This game is great fun, but the optimal strategy can be really tricky to wrap your head around for newcomers to the auction genre. You have to take into account not only the potential value of an art piece compared to its cost, but also the auctioneer’s earnings compared to the buyer’s potential earnings. The theme is amusingly fitting to the gameplay where nobody really knows the exact value of a painting; but if an artist becomes more popular, then the value of their work increases! The included large auctioneer’s mallet is exactly what we need to make a great game a riotous time.

Between Modern Art and QE, I’m hungry to design an auction game of my own. The key to success will be in putting a clever new spin on the mechanism (as QE does) or in perfectly linking the mechanisms to the theme (as Modern Art does).

#18 Five Tribes

Recommended for: Gamers

An absolute classic of a gamer’s game. One of Cathala’s finest. Five Tribes takes the fun of mancala and propels it to golden horizons with thinky gameplay and tense opportunities.

#17  Azul: Summer Pavilion

Recommended for: Everyone

I’m clumping all three Azuls into this ranking, although Summer Pavilion is probably my favorite of the three.  

The Azul series is hands down the best abstract gateway/family game. The drafting is elegant and tense and the scoring is satisfying.

Summer Pavilion is a more forgiving and strategic version of Azul. The nasty punishments are minimized while the strategic placement of tiles is maximized. The differences are prominent enough to merit owning multiple Azuls, especially if you are a big fan.

For a tasty cutthroat game that can be introduced to anyone, I recommend vanilla Azul. For the most unique of the 3, I would probably suggest Stained Glass. For the most gamer friendly version, I recommend Summer Pavilion.

#16  Love Letter

Recommended for: Everyone

For such a small game, Love Letter packs a massive punch! We love this 4-player game for how addictive and simple it is. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop.  

From a designer standpoint, I feel as though it is an even greater feat to craft such a solid game from so few pieces (16 cards, to be exact) than to make a solid big box game.

Break out Love Letter as a game night appetizer and it might end up being your full course meal!

#15 Scythe

Recommended for: Gamers

Scythe was my #1 favorite game for much of 2019. The tactical engine building combined with the rapid pace turns and area control tension provide for a satisfying game every time. Multiple plays (even with the same faction) reveal many different strategies and play styles that one must implement when adapting to your opponents strengths/weaknesses, positioning, and strategies. Striking art, gorgeous production, tense interaction, satisfying progression, elegant gameplay. A true classic in every sense of the word. Add in The Rise of Fenris expansion for even more juicy goodness.

#14  Arboretum

Recommended for: Everyone

Arboretum may be as close to perfect as a card game can get. There are so many cards that you want to play but you need to keep, that you want to keep but you must discard, that you want to snatch up but you mustn’t stretch yourself too thin. For a game about pleasant trees, this one is as cutthroat as it gets.

It is games like Arboretum that have shaped my personal design preferences toward streamlined, tense, interactive experiences that I hope to capture and share with others.

#13 El Grande Big Box

Recommended for: Everyone

El Grande is the Grand Daddy of area control games, and its buttery smooth gameplay hasn’t aged a day. It is an intense game that I can get almost any group fully invested in. We haven’t even touched the included expansions yet as the base game continues to satisfy. Area Control games have quickly become one of my absolute favorite mechanisms, and El Grande is the epitome of why.

#12  Mysterium

Recommended for: Everyone

Imagine playing a version of Clue where everyone is on the same team, the murdered person is the ghost, and the investigators are psychics who can communicate with that ghost by receiving visions or dreams from it. Enter the wonderful world of Mysterium.

We haven’t had a dud round of Mysterium yet. Every game has brought memorable moments and engaging experiences. The ending almost always comes down to the wire for a supremely satisfying conclusion. My favorite way to play is definitely as the ghost because the pressure and tension are at their highest within that role.

#11  Concordia Venus

Recommended for: Everyone

It still shocks me how short and simple the rule book is for this game. If elegance is a living being, then Concordia birthed it. Your deck of cards are used to their full potential in an impressive Eurotastic way. If you haven’t played this one before, you have no excuse not to.

I’m excited to see my design partner, Kyle, explore Concordia’s core hand-management mechanism in his blossoming family game design, Three Ring Circus. Concordia is the only game I’m very familiar with that has this satisfying hand-builder idea of adding multi-purpose cards into your hand and periodically up-taking your entire discard back into your hand to play again.

Final Page: Top 10 Games!

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