I always look forward to comparing, ranking, and declaring my top games of the year. When I tune in to other content creators’ lists, I’m frequently fuming or cheering at their selections and omissions:
“How could you leave this MASTERPIECE completely off your list?!?”
“Thank you! THAT’s what I’m talking about! This gal just gets it!”
“Yeah, I played your favorite game of the year, and I seem to recall it being a HOT MESS!”
“Can confirm, this game is freaking LEGENDARY.”
But at the end of the day, these lists represent the unique experiences that people shared with a particular design, and they reflect one’s individual tastes and preferences within a medium that mixes art, entertainment, and narrative. Ultimately, these lists are a celebration of designers, illustrators, publishers, and countless others who had a vision, worked tirelessly to make it a reality, and succeeded at bring joy to others.
Despite my vain, passionate feelings on this subject, I fully acknowledge that my rankings are no more right than others. All I can offer is some insight into how this list might provide some unique benefits. So let’s talk about that for a moment.
Every hobby has it’s own subgroups of individuals and types. You have the casual dabblers—those who merely enjoy a simple, convenient sampling here and there. The hardcore campers—those who find their sweet spot, set up camp, and pay no mind to their wider surroundings because they are content with digging deeper and deeper into their cozy niche. Then there’s the hungry explorers—this is what I consider myself within the industry. We explorers set out to find the very best within each region, the cream of the crop. And there are very few categories that we don’t extract enjoyment from. We certainly stub plenty of toes and hit plenty of dead ends along the way, but the constant feeling of discovery within a world of creativity makes it all worth it.
I’m likely one of the more critical explorers in this hobby, as I’ll hold no punches against games that don’t land for me. Concerning tabletop games, my strongest biases are probably against sprawling, cumbersome cooperative designs and any game that heavily prioritizes tangible style over mechanical substance. You’re not gonna see these types of games on this list because they just don’t speak to me from a design perspective, so I didn’t even seek out an opportunity to play them. Anything that flaunts its components or theme so hard that I have difficulty seeing a clever and clean mechanical underbelly gives me enough reason to leave it alone while keeping an open ear out for them among the critics I follow.
I’m not surprised by many of the games that have ended up on other’s top 2020 lists. I’m much more surprised by the games that haven’t ended up on other’s 2020 lists! These are the unsung gems that I’ve set out to play and analyze to ensure that they’ve gotten the love and attention they deserve. This is why my list is debuting in March of 2021 rather than December of 2020. And this is why I’ll return at the end of this year to revisit 2020’s releases again, just like I did with my Best Games of 2019 list. Come December, we’ll be looking back at the Lovers, Keepers, Dumpers, Flingers, and Seekers of 2020 after an extra year of playtime. As for now, we’ll stick with my current top 15 board games of 2020.
Fair warning: you may find some of these selections to be upsetting. Several of my top 15 are either second editions, re-implementations, or basically re-printings. And for those of you who feel inclined to protest, I suggest you first direct your pitchforks and torches to popular reviewers Shut Up and Sit Down or No Pun Included, who hilariously and entirely selected games that existed before 2020 as their top games of 2020. I only jest, they’re a bunch of great folks who had great picks all-around.
I debated whether or not to include these remixed games among my rankings. Ultimately, I realized that without their 2020 versions, I may never have discovered these absolute bangers. If that excuse is not good enough for you, then you are welcome to simply cross those out on my list and shift everything else beneath them upwards.
Finally, let me just add one more hot take:. Anybody who claims that 2020 was a weak year for board game releases has simply spoken too soon… or they are a “hardcore camper” in the hobby who is unsatisfied with their particular genre of releases. This was one of the most excruciating lists I have ever had to rank. Pushing certain titles down the hierarchy had me writhing in pain. Leaving several of these gems outside of my top 15 feels like tossing my precious children out of the house, locking the door, and abandoning them to the desolate cold. I played at least 20 new firecrackers from last year, and at the end of this post I’ll be sharing even more remaining contenders. 2020 was unquestionably a killer year for board game releases.
Top 15 Board Games of 2020
15. Beyond the Sun
The first thing I want to say about Beyond the Sun is that I’m honestly shocked that this game didn’t end up higher in my rankings. I agree with So Very Wrong About Games’ Mark Bigney in that this is one of the best new Euros of 2020. But full merits are given to this stellar design and the other 2020 releases that just barely squeezed past it on my personal rankings.
Beyond the Sun is a triumph thanks to its unflinching commitment to being extremely good at one particular thing: A Tech Tree. The possibilities branch ever outward in this space civilization game where the actions start out few and simple yet quickly multiply into many powerful options. The strategy of developing your technologies is well-balanced against the opportunities for controlling and colonizing the systems of space.
For anyone looking for the best Euro of 2020, Beyond the Sun is a strong contender.
Iwari is a breath of fresh air every time I play it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this gorgeous production is a visual and tactile pleasure. But there are plenty of games that can reach that bar these days. What sets Iwari apart from the pack is its simple, breezy gameplay mixed with insanely clever rules. I can easily recall these 3-2-1 rules from memory: Play up to 3 cards to place 2 pieces in 1 territory, then refill your hand back up to 3. Boom. That’s all there is to it. The only thing that functionally matters about each card is its color. Play some colors and draw some more.
I’m gonna toss out some phrases like candy on Halloween. If any of these mean anything to you, particularly if they fill your heart with childlike joy, then you’ll know that Iwari is must-try for you because it evokes strong feelings of the following:
- Cube Rails
- Knizian Elegance
- Dynamic Player Interaction
For the rest of you, Iwari compares quite similarly to the worldwide phenomenon known as Ticket to Ride. The key differences are that Iwari contains more depth and room for strategy, but feels entirely abstract. That’s quite easy to forgive because, again, this game is a real looker.
If you aren’t familiar with a publisher known as Oink Games, they are an extremely charming Japanese brand known for their tiny, rectangular boxes crammed with stylish components that make for quick, simple, and (usually) engaging games. Shut Up and Sit Down does a great job reviewing a whole heaping of their games, even ranking them into tiers from “Worst” to “Average” to “Best.”
The 3 Oink Games that made their top tier include A Fake Artist Goes to New York, Insider, and Startups. I can confirm that that all 3 of these titles have been hits at our table and keepers in our collection. Wait, I thought we were supposed to be talking about Durian! Why all this preamble?! Oh, that’s right. Because Durian is one of the latest offerings from Oink Games, and I’m here to formally nominate it to be ranked in the Top Tier list alongside the Big 3!
Durian is the type of game you can set down in front of your complexity-averse mother-in-law, get her fully engaged in the competition, and yet still have a blast playing yourself. That’s exactly what I did very recently when she flew out to help take care of our newborn. We had such a great time trying the game that we found ourselves back at it the very next night!
This game of deduction and bluffing sees players acting as clerks running the same store. Each person displays one inventory card toward everyone else and away from themselves. You can’t see the types or amounts of fruits on your own card, but you can see all the other cards. Thus, everybody has imperfect information about how much inventory is in this fruit store. One at a time, players take an order card from the deck and add it to the center, deciding which of the two options on the card to add as a customer order. The moment a player feels that the orders exceed the inventory, they can instead ring the bell, calling the grumpy gorilla manager to inspect the problem. Players lay all the inventory cards face up and determine whether the tattletale made the right call. If they did, then the previous player (in turn order) takes the blame for taking the last order! But if not, then the tattletale gets punished for their false alert! Whoever has the lowest sum of angry manager tokens at game end wins!
Durian just hits the SPOT as a filler game. It has the perfect amount of luck, drama, suspense, and mystery to make for tense, addictive rounds that end with a thrilling ring of a tiny bell. Even at 3-players, we’ve had so many memorable rounds. Despite us playing the game many times, I still haven’t won it a single time. Yet those moments of me being one decision away from sweet victory, confidently ringing the tiny bell, and watching it all crumble under the gleeful eyes of my mother-in-law as I discover that I was horrifyingly wrong about my own inventory card is a memory that holds a special place in my heart.
From the moment Leder Games announced Fort, I knew we were in for a treat. How can a game that is illustrated by the legendary Kyle Ferrin and all about being kids who build forts, make and steal friends, and collect toys and pizza not be pure delight?! Spoilers: It is pure delight.
Although, you have to come into Fort with the right mindset. Those who see that this is a “deck builder” and come rolling in with their truckload of associated expectations are either going to be pleasantly surprised or bitterly disappointed by this subversive design. Within Fort, you won’t find many of the popular ingredients that most deck builders contain like mega-combo turns or meticulously crafted player decks. What you will find is refreshing and rare deck building ingredients including significant player interaction.
Fort is less about calculating the entire trajectory of your strategy and more about rolling with the punches. This works extremely well because the game plays so quickly. There are also a good handful of icons to learn at the beginning, but they’re well designed and easily remembered thanks to the handy player aids. While this game contains surprisingly more rules than its appearance suggests, the act of playing Fort feels nimble, whimsical, and joyous.
Ever heard of a little game called Azul? You know, one of the top selling board games of the past several years? Well I would suggest that Renature deserves to be the next Azul, and that’s not just because they share the same father (designer Michael Kiesling). Consider this: both Azul and Renature are pretty games with chunky pieces. Both games serve up elegant rules above a platter of agonizing decisions with a hearty dollop of cutthroat nastiness on top. Only Renature is MORE. More elegant, more agonizing, and much, MUCH nastier. When the placement of a single domino and a single plant token can cause my wife to say in a burst of rage, “I’m never playing this game with you again,” that’s when you know you’ve found a rare treasure.
In fact, now that I reconsider it, Renature likely won’t reach the same heights as Azul simply because of how evil it allows its participants to be. Don’t get me wrong, I am in LOVE with the diabolical opportunities this game presents, but you’ll require some thick skin to get through this fiery furnace of fun, especially at 2-players.
You’re probably wondering if I’m even talking about the right design at this point. Yes, I am talking about the cute, cuddly game with colorful animal dominoes and cheery chunks of foliage and bright sunflower tokens. Speaking of dominoes, I’m gonna plant my flag right here and declare that this is the greatest domino game of all time. Come at me, Dominites!!!
10. Cosmic Frog
What a strange beast of a game, that Cosmic Frog. Across the entire list of my Top 15 Board Games of 2020, this one is likely the most polarizing. My personal experience with Cosmic Frog up to this point has been ripe with bad luck. Yet for those who can appreciate the bizarre, refreshing package that this game provides, those moments of horrible luck are part of its memorable charm.
That charm oozes from every inch of the production. Take one look at the psychedelic art or read a brief description of this whacky concept and you’ll get what I mean. Players control 2-mile-tall cosmic frogs that leap through the interstellar aether, consuming planetary shards that are stored in their gullets, before disgorging their gullets of valuable terrain into their inter-dimensional vaults. Simple enough, right? Only these frogs can hit each other so hard that they vacuum the shards out of each other’s gullets or even blast their victim into another dimension learning their vault unprotected.
This is the only game I’ve ever encountered that transforms turn order into a randomly shuffled deck. That’s right, on one end of the spectrum you can sometimes have multiple turns in a row, on the other end you might be waiting what feels like AGES for your next turn to show up. Designer Jim Felli fully embraces this chaos by asking players how far they wish to push their luck. By making player turns feel like unicorn sightings, players develop this insatiable hunger and greed to milk each turn for all its worth. The problem is that you only get one free action each turn; if you want to take a second action, you’ll have to spend precious Oomph, and less Oomph in your supply translates to a larger target on your back because Oomph gives frogs significant advantages when spent in combat.
The luck in Cosmic Frog is like a huge serving platter where players must decide how many expensive drinks in fragile glasses they are willing to carry at once. Successful deliveries can equate to huge gains, but a tilt of the platter can be disastrous. I’m the type who can’t resist using up all the precious platter real-estate, and thus I’ve landed myself in more than a few self-inflicted messes.
I think at this point you know whether this is game for you. And if it is for you, then boy are you in for a trip! So BUCKLE UP!!!
9. Scape Goat
Like Durian, this is another under-the-radar gem that I haven’t seen on ANY top games of 2020 lists. I can’t exactly blame anyone for judging this game by it’s cover, because one can’t help but assume that the goat puns are the only standout feature here. Let me be perfectly clear that such brash assumptions are entirely WRONG.
Scape Goat is the epitome of a sleeper hit. At the time of this writing, which is nearly three months into 2021, this game has a whopping total of 222 owners and 62 ratings and an overall rank of 7,930 on BoardGameGeek.com. For those of you not familiar with the stats, that’s a depressingly low number for one of the freshest designs in the entire party deduction genre.
The conventions of social deduction are flipped on their head here. From the get-go, everybody knows exactly who the Scape Goat of the round is because their individual cards reveal this person to them, except one player’s card is lying to them and that player could be YOU.
So do you think you’re the Scape Goat?! Why is she acting that way? Why did he take that card?!? You better run to the police before your traitorous gang throws you under the bus! But hold up, you’ll jeopardize everything if you aren’t actually the Scape Goat…
While your own teammates might scare you off within the game, don’t let the term “party” scare you off about this game. This one is meant to be played with only 3-6 people. And if you want experience the most paranoid-induced 5-20 minutes of your gaming career, then you’d be wise to pick up a copy of Scape Goat.
8. New York Zoo
We’re on a roll with the animal games here, so let’s continue with the excellent New York Zoo. What can I say about this delectable racing game featuring diverse polyomino enclosures and colorful animal breeding that hasn’t already been said? I’ve already spent paragraphs upon paragraphs gushing over this design in my feature article, Battle of the Polyominoes, where New York Zoo is a close runner up to the greatest family-weight polyomino game of all time (more on that later).
What lands New York Zoo so high on my Top Board Games of 2020? Satisfaction. The pleasure of moving an elephant around a rondel. The relief of claiming the perfect piece to fit your zoo. The amusement of breeding penguins and kangaroos and arctic foxes. The achievement of snatching a precious rollercoaster from the supply. The pride of timing your moves and your spaces perfectly while predicting your opponent’s decisions. And the ultimate satisfaction of completing your zoo first and becoming the winner.
7. Undaunted: North Africa
Undaunted: Normandy made my top 10 games of 2019, so it should come as little surprise that Undaunted: North Africa is keeping the hot streak going. Despite this Undaunted sequel retaining the same core system, we still haven’t grown tired of this stellar head-to-head deck builder. This fusion of deck building and tactical war commanding is a match made in heaven.
North Africa cleverly builds on its predecessor by polishing the rules, speeding up the playing time, increasing asymmetry, and smoothly implementing vehicles. Yet, for complete newcomers to Undaunted, I still might recommend Normandy first because it is a solid game that will provide you with at least a dozen worthwhile plays and make the jump to North Africa feel like an exciting evolution of the fun. But you really can’t go wrong with either game.
The Undaunted series will go down as one of the most played experiences in our entire collection thanks to its tense decisions interlaced with slick gameplay across many thrilling scenarios.
6. Tournament at Avalon
I’ve been enchanted by this trick-taking game ever since my first play of it. The extra large cards and the appropriately thematic art contribute to a highly satisfying card game with charmingly medieval brutality.
There is no winner of each trick in Tournament at Avalon. Rather there is merely a loser who plays the lowest card and takes the trick of played cards into their “wound” pile which will bring them that much closer to death. All of the other rules, powers, special cards round out this compelling entree for a fantastic feast of fun.
No other game makes me as excited to be in last place as this one. Last place means that I get to have a unique, overpowered ability for an entire round. Last place means that I’m the closest to activating my secondary power. Last place means that I can rally my fellow opponents around a common cause: bringing down the leader.
You can explore my full review of this riotous romp here.
5. Curious Cargo
Speaking of full reviews of stellar games, Curious Cargo earned one from me recently as well. One key takeaway from my review is that this 2-player puzzler isn’t for everyone. It’s best suited for those who love spatial analysis, crave dynamic player interaction, and feed on adaptive challenges.
I can’t get over how dense and indulgent this small box feels. The PVC material used for the six unique player boards, the screen printed wooden cargo tokens, the player forklifts, the long truck tiles, the double-sided conveyer tiles, the Kwanchai Moriya art… Mmm, mmm, MMMM. Of course these would all mean nothing if the game wasn’t also highly compelling and repayable challenge.
Curious Cargo is all that and a bag of chips. It’s one that I just don’t see myself ever turning down a chance to play.
4. My City
Well, it’s time to make good on my promise from back when we were talking about New York Zoo. The design that has proven to be the greatest family-weight polyomino game of all time is Reiner Knizia’s My City. You don’t have to take my word for it! Go look for yourself! My City took down heavyweight champions Patchwork and Barenpark, for crying out loud!
Beyond being the GOAT (greatest of all time) in that category, I’m gonna throw down the other gauntlet and say that this is the best legacy game by a country mile. Legacy game fans may cry foul here, citing the lack of a heavy narrative to accompany this mechanical rollercoaster, but I’ve yet to see a legacy game as slick, streamlined, and focused as My City.
No other Legacy game that I’ve encountered fundamentally changes my entire strategic approach from one play to the next like My City. No other Legacy game I’ve encountered feels as gut-wrenching, tense, and personal as My City.
I named the city on my player board Wolverton, in honor of the gray wolf symbol on my board. We’ve been through soaring highs and crushing lows, Wolverton and I. We’ve seen eras come and go… times of prosperity and times of famine, times of opportunity and times of trouble. From the stickered trees to the cursed rocks, from the winding river to the sprawling buildings, there’s a familiar coziness to this game that I will desperately miss when we conclude our final episode that is now only a few plays away.
My only hope is that the good Dr. Knizia will give us a sequel to My City before too long…
We now enter the top 3 games of 2020 which, admittedly, all have existed in some form before last year. Since I’m making guilty admissions, I’ll also toss this one out for you to chew on: I’m not confident in how I ranked these games against each other. It feels like my opinion on how these should be ordered could change tomorrow… or in an hour… or right now—One second, let me just swap number 1 with number 3… Yeah that’s better… Hold on! Number 2 looks like it accidentally got pushed one lower than it should. We’ll just bump that one back up…. there we go! And then we’ll just tidy things up by rearranging 3 with 2 and 2 with 1… and voila! I now present to you my top 3 Board Games of 2020!
3. Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy
Every hobbyist gamer deserves a good war game in their collection. An old, reliable friend who will always be there for you when have large table, a few enthusiastic companions, and a wide chunk of free time that all need spending.
And no, I’m not talking about a war game like the previously mentioned Undaunted: North Africa. I’m talking about a wooly mammoth war game that rarely emerges from its spot on your shelf but always makes a splash when it does hit the table. I’m talking about the kind of game that often requires 2 or 3 tables, 4 or 5 hours, days or weeks of prior planning.
This is the type of game that I considered a “bucket list” experience. I figured, “Hey, if I ever get the chance to play somebody else’s copy of one of these mega-hits, then that sounds great! But there’s no way in heck I’m dropping 100 bucks or more on a game like that when I don’t even know if I’ll ever get to play it!”
At least that was my attitude until I met Eclipse: Second Dawn. The creators of Eclipse looked long and hard at what gamers love about this genre and what barriers are keeping everyone from enjoying it more. Eclipse Second Dawn, a reimplementation of the 2011 original, was their answer. And this game is one heck of an answer!
Within Eclipse, we have a sprawling, epic game that can be played in a very reasonable 2-3 hours (maybe 4+ for complete beginners). We have a stunning production that feels perfectly tailored to enhance and supplement the entire experience. And we have a whole cornucopia of engaging decisions and weighty consequences within this beautiful blend of Euro-like management and Sci-fi style conflict.
2. Sidereal Confluence: Remastered Edition
Sidereal Confluence is all about being a wildly unique alien who exchanges resources and ideas with other intergalactic beings in a quest to maximize your strengths and develop new technologies. In other words, it’s an epic simultaneous negotiation game featuring cubes, converters, and asymmetric factions.
While the original edition of Sidereal Confluence released in 2017, and I was fully aware of it before 2020, it was 2020’s Remastered Edition that finally convinced me to give this game a try. The Remastered Edition changes nothing about the core gameplay; rather, it aims to increase readability, clean up graphic design, improve the rulebook, provide a useful teaching guide, and modernize the overall look of the game. Call me vain, if you must, but this newer version is infinitely more attractive and approachable, and that’s precisely the push I needed to dive in to this negotiation romp.
Even subtle touches such as trimming the alien names down from “KJASJAVIKALIMM” to “K-JAS” on the player shields is a wise change to avoid scaring off newcomers. Despite the thematic liberties that Tauceti Deichmann has taken to challenge our lingual abilities, his design is as rock solid as ever. The fresh makeover is a fitting production that matches the high quality of the design.
This is the ultimate negotiation game where almost anything goes as players desperately strive to acquire the resources and converters that will propel them to victory. Few things are as satisfying as turning a pile of useless resources in a cornucopia of opportunities via the art of negotiation. Just be prepared for a crowded table and lot of noise, as this game hosts up to 9 players, and things can get wild.
While it demands much in terms of time, space, and participants, this is an all-time favorite that will undoubtedly make it to my table for years to come.
1. Hansa Teutonica: Big Box
Hansa Teutonica is the type of German game design that wipes the floor with other Euros before gobbling them up with glee. It requires no decks of cards, no piles of money and resources, no desperately extravagant variable setups… It simply gives each player a small board with a bunch of cubes and a few discs and challenges them to use these “tradesmen” wisely upon the game board.
Each turn, participants have 5 options for spending their 2 actions (or more actions, if they develop their player board). Actions are as simple as placing a tradesmen on an open space along a route, moving your tradesmen already on the board to other spaces, paying extra cubes to bump another player’s tradesmen and take its place, establishing a trade route along a path that you completely control, and restocking your personal supply of tradesmen.
The layout of the game board and the development opportunities of the player boards are what make this simple premise exquisitely deep. The playing field is ripe with golden opportunities for those who can discern the strategic intentions of their opponents and exploit these to their benefit. Like a little point leech embedded in the fur of a beast, players can establish trading posts to profit off of the efforts of others. Yet decisions become more precarious and more tense as the three possible game-ending conditions threaten to cut the legs out from under your strategic grand finale.
Be warned, inexperienced players are more susceptible to strategic group-think, where one area or aspect is perceived as superior to the rest. An expert player can quickly make such assumptions look foolish by exploiting the blind spots. And herein lies another great secret of this unassuming classic: Hansa Teutonica is a living, breathing game that will grow with the experience and knowledge of the players surrounding it. When the group meta zooms in too closely on one strategy, that simply opens the door wider for one creative schemer to sneak off with the victory. Only those with an open mind and a courageous trigger finger will come to love and appreciate the deceptive depth that keeps the dynamics of Hansa brilliantly balanced.
The entire game looks and sounds like standard Euro fare, but make no mistake, Hansa Teutonica is leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. With its shared incentives and network building, it holds much in common with timeless train games. Through its elegant rules, brisk pace, and boundless depth, it resembles the legendary designs of Reiner Knizia. By its complex interactions and dynamic opportunities, it shames the vast majority of Euros releasing today.
Hansa Teutonica: Big Box is a fitting tribute to a modern classic and the perfect place for newcomers to jump into the fun. While it would have been nice to see something like an Ian O’Toole-caliber makeover to the visual presentation, this design and production is a well-oiled machine that has no problems producing one of the finest tabletop experiences in the entire industry.
Whether we’re awaiting a North American release or simply a re-print of these unavailable titles, these are the games that will almost certainly make an appearance in my Revisiting of the Best Games of 2020 (coming this December):
Economic Euros are a staple of tabletop gaming, yet there were very few new ones that successfully captured my heart in 2020. Last year’s Rococo Deluxe is one such game that is solid on all accounts, yet I couldn’t quite find the magic within that would earn it a long-term spot among my collection. For games like this, the elephants in the room will always be our all-time favorites: Brass: Birmingham, Great Western Trail, Concordia, A Feast for Odin, Pipeline, etc. These are the kind of greedy elephants that don’t like to share time at the table or space on the shelf with lesser animals (at least at my household zoo).
Yet within the the green shrubs of opportunity hides a promising beast, waiting to pounce on my unsuspecting collection when it is localized in North America. The blood of a greedy elephant courses through its veins, as it is a sibling to Brass Birmingham and child of Martin Wallace. This sneaky predator is known as Anno 1800, and its time has nearly come….
Of course, it just as easily might leap from the bushes and land on its face, embarrassing itself at my table. We shall see!
If I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase, “This game is a Splendor killer,” I would have….. 5 dollars, probably. Nidavellir is the latest title to add to this imaginary wealth. And despite my increasing numbness towards anything Splendor-like, Nidavellir in particular has pinched me back to a sense of intrigue with two simple words: constrained bidding. What the heck is exciting about that, you ask? Consider this… Three absolute bangers in my collection contain this same mechanism of bidding for something using the limited options in your hand: namely Ra, High Society, and For Sale. So with the early positive buzz this one has received, I’m definitely planning to check this light weight, accessible game out.
I’ve got a hunch that Kyoto will be surprise banger of a game. It sees players representing selfish countries that have come together to negotiate unselfish topics, specifically climate change. I get the impression of mix between Q.E.’s amusing theme and Chinatown’s engaging gameplay. It’s also coming at us from the hot new publisher, Deep Print Games, who recently busted open the industry’s Saloon doors with the fantastic Renature. I could be wrong, but Kyoto is at least one to keep on the radar.
The Search for Planet X
My household enjoys a good deduction game including the popular Cryptid and more recent Loot of Lima. The Search for Planet X appears to be among the best of the bunch, and it’s one I’m looking forward to trying whenever it decides to show up in stores again. This game keeps things running smooth with a handy app, freeing up players to focus in on the space riddle at the table in a hunt for Planet X.
Switch & Signal
I’ve already talked about this highly accessible cooperative train game in my most anticipated board games of 2021 list, and now I’m back double dipping on this title in my remaining candidates for the top games of 2020. So is this game a 2020 release, or a 2021 release?…. The answer is yes…. probably. Kosmos seems to be dragging their feet getting it to North America, but like the little engine that could, I think they’ll eventually come around.
Even after hearing the Shut Up & Sit Down Podcast’s lukewarm reaction to Sumatra, I can’t help but try it for myself. This light set-collection game intrigues me with it’s characteristically Knizian elegance. The game is a simple as either move ahead one space or hang behind and draft another tile, but players set the pace of the movement by forcing others to keep up with the pack in this chill game about touring an island.
Fort – Kyle Ferrin
Not only does the theme of Fort snuggly fit Grant Rodiek’s design. It also perfectly matches Kyle Ferrin’s art style. Kyle does a masterful job evoking all of the weird, wacky wonder of being a kid. I’ll let his art do the talking:
Best Art Runner-Up: Cosmic Frog
Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy – Lautapelit.fi
Just to be clear, the best production does not equal the most expensive game. Our pick for 2019’s best production was the $35 Wavelength thanks to the way its production felt essential to the experience. Yet in this year’s case, the best production of 2020 is, in fact, the most expensive game on this post: Eclipse Second Dawn.
Without the Game Trayz in this box that serve to organize, enhance, and streamline the Eclipse experience, this game would be significantly more cumbersome. As it is, Eclipse’s production serves to carry it over the barrier of “event game of the month” into a much more approachable “feature game of the night” by reducing playtime, simplifying setup, and deluxifying the experience. This game both looks and feels freaking phenomenal.
Best Production Runner-Up: Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
Root: The Underworld Expansion – Leder Games
The Underworld Expansion to Root offers even more of that asymmetric good stuff! The new board is gorgeous and shakes things up nicely while the new factions are delightfully unique and solid additions. The moles are a tasty tableau builder while the crows are slimy sneaksters.
Our plays have been very well balanced and competitive between the new and old factions. No complaints here! This one is absolutely worth the purchase if you are a fan of base Root.
Best Expansion Runner-Up: Downforce: Wild Ride
This concludes our Top 15 Board Games of 2020! What were your favorite new releases from last year? Share with us in the comments below!
Article written by Nick Murray. Keep an eye out for his first published design, Social Grooming, which will debut in a Kickstarter bundle alongside two games from critically acclaimed designer, Reiner Knizia! Don’t miss out on this killer filler bundle coming in 2021! Subscribe to the Bitewing Games monthly newsletter to stay in touch.