2022 has come and gone, which means it’s time again to celebrate the best new board games of the year!
As a publisher, I have a keen interest in staying up-to-date on what is hot, what is innovative, and what is best-in-class in the industry. Exploring and dissecting such designs and publications makes us a better publisher in turn. As a gamer, I simply enjoy discovering and playing in so many great tabletop sandboxes. So out of the hundreds of 2022 releases I’ve learned about and the dozens of new titles I’ve played, I’ve narrowed down my favorite of the bunch to 15 board games.
I’m not the type who shies away from including reimplemented designs on my list, but last year I decided that reimplementations must feature gameplay changes to qualify for my Top 15. This includes anything from slight balancing tweaks to additional content, but those also tend to come with a new coat of paint (in theme and/or art style). Regarding our own titles: rather than include Bitewing Games releases in the Top 15 (because I’m biased and these games are obviously among my favorite releases last year), I’m going to share what I love about each title after sharing my Top 15. Be sure to stick around, as I’ll also be awarding the Best Reskin, Best Game I Didn’t Love, Best Expansion, and Best New-to-me Game Released Before 2022.
And as always, please keep in mind that I’ve worked or collaborated with some of the industry creators (designers, artists, publishers) on my list, and thus any opinions I share are subject to personal biases. But for what it’s worth, I only seek collaborations with creators whose work I love, so it’s only predictable that more of their latest creations will align with my tastes. And at the end of the day, this is just one dude’s list of his favorite games he played last year, nothing more. So please feel free to take my opinions with as much salt as is necessary — no reader need put themself on a sodium diet.
Ultimately, my list is a celebration of excellence in game design, illustration, and publishing. The board games that made my Top 15 earned their place by bringing innovation, excellence, and (most importantly) enjoyment to our table and the industry. 2022 was another killer year for tabletop gaming; let’s explore 15 reasons why…
15. San Francisco
San Francisco is a sneakily interactive take-and-make game of giving your opponents bad drafting options (or at least luring them away from options that are best for you) as you compete to construct the best city district. While the conflict is perhaps not as spicy as many other Knizias, and enough of the game is steered by luck of the draw where card reveals can occasionally have bad timing for you and great timing for others, that doesn’t take away from the engaging decisions and uniquely chill experience that San Francisco offers.
Because the cards come out different every time, and the triggered bonuses can be situationally powerful, and the production is colorful and pleasant, and (most importantly) the player interaction is poignantly present, I don’t see myself growing tired of this one.
Skymines introduces just enough gameplay additions to the classic design, Mombasa, that it qualifies for my Top 15 games of the year. The most noticeable module is the second map, but there are also new objective and event cards to explore.
All in all, Skymines is a solid new version to a game that I already enjoyed playing. Those who were put off by Mombasa’s theme will finally have a version they can enjoy, while any who are simply looking for another worthwhile Eurogame will find much to sink their teeth into here. While Great Western Trail remains my favorite Alexander Pfister game, Skymines is not far behind.
Resist is a cleverly thematic deck deconstruction solo game of playing as the underground resistance in Spain nearly 100 years ago. This 30-minute challenge is compelling and unique enough that I’m happy to have backed and played it. But as a hobbyist who strongly prefers player interaction in my gaming, I would quickly lose interest in Resist if there was nothing more in the box to keep me coming back. Once I’ve seen all that a solitaire game has to offer, and especially once I feel like I’ve overcome the general challenge, then I typically lose the hunger to retread the same ground.
Fortunately, the designers have gone the extra mile by including 8 standalone scenarios in the box beyond the standard game. This ensures that I have several more interesting challenges with unique rulesets to come back to, and I’ve only scratched the surface of those.
12. Caesar: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes!
Caesar is a scrumptious 2-player hybrid of Blitzkrieg and Samurai where players take turns positioning their tiles on the borders of each region as they race to claim regions and trigger bonuses. It’s one that lives up to its name of being a snappy 20-minute war. I have to credit designers Paolo Mori and David Turczi for cramming another juicy strategy game into a bite-sized experience. Caesar is absolutely a keeper in my collection and a solid companion design to Blitzkrieg.
11. Ready Set Bet
Against all odds, Ready Set Bet manages to keep pace with the best racing horses of its genre and justify a place in my collection. I daresay it’s the top party game of 2022 thanks to its loud, real-time betting and streamlined racing. But make no mistake, it truly requires a party to shine. At any rate, I’m plenty happy to save this one for when 6-9 players are gathered for a riotous time of gambling, groans, and glee.
10. Bear Raid
I wouldn’t call Bear Raid a game for everyone. It’s pure stocks and shorts to its core with a hearty dose of nasty interaction in a tense tactical experience. To me this feels like a cutthroat party game for thinky gamers. It’s for those who like to sprinkle a bit of dice drama into their brain burning puzzle (courtesy of Ryan Courtney). Despite its more niche appeal, even as I recently revisited the game nearly a year after my first play of it, I still find myself well within the target audience for this game and loving every minute of it.
I initially came into Ahoy excited but apprehensive. The concept of an asymmetric, swashbuckling pirate adventure was thrilling to me, but it certainly had some big shoes to fill as a Leder Games follow-up to the likes of Root and Oath. Thus far, I’ve been able to try both the Bluefin Squadron and Smugglers. In both cases, I had a grand old time.
The fact that I can essentially play 3 refreshingly different versions of Ahoy (based on my faction) with impactful crew specialization on top of that makes me eager to set sail once more.
8. Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
Speaking of great pirate games, I’m mightily impressed with what Paolo Mori and Stonemaier Games have managed to do with this 10-year-old design. They took a game I was lukewarm about and turned it into one that I love. Winds of Galecrest is one of the best reimplementations I’ve ever seen thanks to a condensed game time, improved tiebreaker system, premium production, and added variety. I’ll happily sit down for a play of this loot snatching, backstabbing, hand management game any time.
7. Splendor Duel
2022 saw a lot of promising 2-player releases, but I was absolutely not expecting Splendor Duel to be among the best. I suppose that once a game reaches the evergreen status of Splendor you expect any sequels or spin-offs to be straight cash grabs. But co-designer (and 2-player mastermind) Bruno Cathala had other plans for this one.
Splendor Duel follows a much more engaging arc than Splendor by starting as a classic engine builder but finishing as a mad scramble to cross the closest finish line. By providing multiple paths to victory, the competition becomes 3-dimensional and bitey.
6. Cat in the Box: Deluxe Edition
Just when you thought that no stone was left unturned in the land of trick taking, think again. Cat in the Box found a big old boulder, and with a push of its paw it rolled that thing right on its back to expose a juicy underbelly. All the cards in your hand and everyone else’s hands are always black. Shapeless. Formless. Suitless. A blank canvas of opportunity. Each card only takes on a suit once it is played from your hand and designated as a certain color — all at your whim. Just be careful not to back yourself into a paradoxical corner. Cat in the Box: Deluxe Edition is yet another standout winner in the crowded field of trick takers and cat-astic games.
5. Gang of Dice
I’ll be honest, I was not expecting Gang of Dice to be my favorite Knizia release of 2022 (excluding our own publications). And I definitely wasn’t expecting this one to end up so high on my list. But Gang of Dice has only gotten better with more plays and proven itself to be an absolute banger of a filler game.
If I had to give this design a nickname, it would be Ego Yahtzee. And I love a push-your-luck game that puts players’ egos front and center. Although it only supports 2-4 players, Gang of Dice has quickly cemented itself as my top Knizia dice game. Ever.
Every year tends to release at least one or two efficiency Euros which stand out and rise above the rest… Euros that aren’t forgettable, that feel refreshing and exciting, that reward repeated plays and respect the investment of the players. Carnegie is the clear winner in my book with a tight design and gorgeous production. It demands forward thinking, careful preparations, and competitive predictions from its players, and then it generously rewards such behavior.
3. Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Heat puts you into the driver’s seat of old-school, rickety race cars built to do one thing and one thing only: rocket you across the finish line first. Here, you’ll not only be pushing the pedal to the metal, but you’ll be pushing your car (and your luck) to its physical limits. It doesn’t matter if half the vehicle’s body is strewn out in scraps behind you and the engine is on the verge of erupting in flames. The only thing that matters is that sweet, sweet trophy at the end of it all.
Of all the tabletop games which evoke that racing feeling, very few of them are as pure as Heat: Pedal to the Metal. While I’ve yet to explore the enticing Championship module, I’ve seen enough to feel confident in nominating Heat for best of its class. Every cardboard pore within the contents of this box exudes fun — and that’s what gaming is all about.
2. John Company: Second Edition
As a mere essay on history, business, and social science, John Company: Second Edition is a fascinating creature. The fact that a board game can provide such an immersive, enlightening, and introspective experience is proof enough that this hobby is as much an art as it is a form of fun. But John Company manages to conjure two miracles in one by being both historically illuminating and thoroughly entertaining.
For a game where so much of the overall outcome is out of your hands, players have rarely had so much freedom to collaborate, cooperate, coerce, and conspire. And whatever happens with the company, however the final scores shake out, the real fun will always be the coalitions that were formed, the deals that were struck, the promises that were fulfilled, and the backs that were stabbed along the way.
1. Undaunted Stalingrad
Where every version of Undaunted before now was made up of a collection of standalone skirmishes, Stalingrad weaves each battle session into a larger war. The outcome of one battle branches into the next scenario. The casualties suffered in one day are permanently felt throughout the rest of the campaign. The experience gained in one fight results in stronger and more valuable soldiers. The buildings destroyed remain as rubble on the map. And your hardened platoon acquires fresh recruits, specialized units, and shiny new toys to take on the enemy. The stakes feel higher than ever in Undaunted: Stalingrad thanks to these permanent campaign effects.
What we’re left with, then, is a version of Undaunted that improves upon the core system in basically every way. Designers David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin, as well as publisher Osprey Games, have refined their craft and unleashed their ambition to the point that Stalingrad fully merits every inch of its larger box size and every penny of its higher price point. This is unquestionably a definitive World War 2 game and arguably one of the greatest 2-player tabletop experiences ever crafted.
Soda Smugglers – My favorite large group filler (5-8 players)
Soda Smugglers has been a major crowd pleaser with the groups I’ve introduced it to.
Reiner has crafted a concept that sounds too simple to be interesting, but the rules of play are merely a framework around which memorable and hilarious player interactions are built. There is something endlessly satisfying about reading your opponents’ minds, calling their bluffs, and watching each other triumph deviously or fail miserably.
We always play with the event cards. I like how they keep travelers on their toes and add another psychological layer to the Border Guard’s analysis.
Pumafiosi – My favorite weird trick-taker
A short game about patiently playing the long game while taking big risks at opportune moments. Not unlike the social dynamics of gangs and mafias, opponents must execute strategic king-making as they cooperate to bring down the biggest threats.
Pumafiosi hits the spot for me because it is unlike anything else I’ve played. Avoiding a round victory or deciding who takes it can be just as important as winning it for yourself. And winning a trick doesn’t simply award you with points, rather, it forces you to make another decision… to weigh risk against ambition, aspiration against aggression, payoffs against paybacks. The game also features my favorite art of Paul Halkyon’s that makes for a gorgeous presentation.
This one is best played over three games with the optional item tokens included, where the subtle dynamics of the design can really shine.
Hot Lead – My favorite small group filler (3-5 players)
Even after dozens of plays, I’m amazed at the range of dramatic possibilities that Hot Lead provides, especially when played with both of the optional variants (back alley cards and promotion stars).
Knizia’s design strikes a perfect balance between clever auctioning and tense push-your-luck to make for one of the most addicting fillers in my collection.
Best Reskin – Nightmare Productions
This classic Knizia design has taken many forms over the years, and last year publisher Trick or Treat Studios brought it back as a charming horror movie-making extravaganza, Nightmare Productions. Those who enjoy a good auction game (from the master auction designer himself) will find a theme that is guaranteed to delight gamers and non-gamers alike. I for one am happy to finally be able craft the horror movie of my dreams starring Dracula on a haunted space station.
Best Game I Didn’t Love – Guards of Atlantis II
Although I spend many mornings and evenings with my true passion — publishing and playing board games — essentially cheating on my day job of Dentistry, that doesn’t mean I love all great games. While I can appreciate the love, care, and passion that went into Guards of Atlantis II, and I understand why fans rave about it, I’ve learned that it isn’t my type of game. I just can’t savor the sporadicly occasionally payoff of a good attack or a well-coordinated combo in this carefully crafted multiplayer battle experience when it is surrounded by so much movement tedium.
Best Expansion – Quest for El Dorado: Dangers & Muisca
Dangers & Muisca is the perfect expansion to one of my favorite Knizia games. It cleverly blends unique ideas and fresh variety without losing the purity of the deck-building race experience. In other words, it’s Reiner Knizia doing what he does best — riffing on the brilliant formula while keeping it smooth and streamlined.
Best New to Me Game Released before 2022 – Municipium
Municipium is one of those unicorn Knizias for me. Not because the game is thrilling and agonizing — he has plenty of those. Rather, it’s a unicorn Knizia because the game is thrilling, agonizing, and entirely overlooked by the industry (likely due to a sub-par production and weak marketing effort). It’s only been owned by roughly 1600 BGG users and rated by half that many. Even worse, it took this Knizia super-fan years to stumble across the design. And, like any old rock in the path, I would have simply stumbled over it and kept walking without a second thought if a fellow Kniziaphile (thanks Scott) hadn’t forced it onto my radar.
After enjoying many plays in 2022, here’s my take: Municipium is freaking phenomenal. It’s the legendary Reiner Knizia’s response to the masterpiece that is El Grande by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich. Yet it isn’t just El Grande with a twist… it’s El Grande completely turned on its head. Where El Grande shines as a purely strategic and carefully methodical competition at 4-5 players, Municipium sings as a cleverly chaotic risk-management romp at 2-4 players.
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Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the upcoming Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share classy board games with a bite.