It’s that time of year once more, my friends!  Now that the cardboard dust of 2020 has settled, as we find ourselves in the calm before the storm of 2021 releases, I’ve been reflecting on all the tabletop games I’ve ever played.  Within this mountain of ever growing titles, fifty designs have risen to the top.  These are the board games that have proven their quality over hours of play across many tables surrounded by friends, family, and strangers.  These are the games that I love and want to play more than any others.  Indeed, these are my current Top 50 Board Games of All Time.

If you’re even remotely familiar with my last Top 50 Board Games of All Time list, you’ll soon notice a DRASTIC change in most of the games and their rankings.  This change not only represents the many new-to-me discoveries of the past year, it also symbolizes a significant shift in my gaming tastes and preferences across the nearly 700 plays since my last top 50 list was created.

The list of games that I love is getting to be a crowded place.  To offer you a bit of context, I used the Pub Meeple ranking engine to pit individual games head-to-head against each other over and over until my I died of a broken heart for declaring so many of my beloved board game children to be inferior to each other.  Each game left outside of my top 50 hurt to leave out until perhaps the 89th ranked game.  There are still many designs beyond that which I truly enjoy playing, yet this low on the list is where I’m finally content with leaving them out of my Greatest of All Time post.  Perhaps next year we’ll have to extend this list to my top 75 or top 100, but it’s the excellent games which don’t make the GOAT list that give weight and credibility to the ones that do.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and wrestle with the rankings of the greatest games to grace my tabletop…

50. Watergate

Best suited for everyone

Watergate won’t be the last tug-of-war style game on my list, nor will it be the last Capstone Game here, but it was one of the very first of both categories that I had the pleasure of discovering.  This endearing 2-player game is far more accessible than it sounds or appears.  Yet the way each session plays out is consistently tense and refreshing.  My favorite aspect is perhaps the difficult decisions one must make within the hand management, between deciding whether to dispose of a card to use it’s powerful ability or retain it for its useful pull on the tug-of-war track.  Thanks to the asymmetric decks and objectives of the Nixon Administration vs. the Press and the dynamic unfolding of the pin board conspiracy, I don’t see myself tiring of this excellent design.

49. Arboretum

Best suited for mean, thick-skinned folks

I wonder if us hobbyist gamers sometimes take small box card games for granted.  These are rarely the games that I intentionally schedule a game night for, yet a really good one can often pack a bigger punch and provide more thrills and amusement than a longer and larger “event” game.  Arboretum is the first of these such titles on my list, and it’s as sharp as they come.  There is nothing quite like writhing in my chair because my cards are either too important to play so soon or too precious to discard.  Arboretum is a game where my entire hand feels this way almost the entire time.  I still adore this beautiful little design about trees, yet it’s probably fallen a bit since last year because it’s almost too bitter of a brutality pill for others to swallow when an opponent denies them the scoring on a tree type they’ve spent all game building towards.  If your group has thick skin, then Arboretum is a collection essential.

48. Modern Art

Best suited for any group of four or five people

If you liken an art museum to a snooze fest, then you should come and let Modern Art teach you the exciting intricacies of art valuations.  Modern Art is where my love for auctioning games was born, as the bombastic bidding takes center-stage here.  It’s essentially Dr. Reiner Knizia flexing his auctioning design muscles for up to an hour of richly thematic fun.  The mix of four auction types and the mystery of which artists will have the most valuable pieces hits the spot like a piña colada on a hot summer day.

47. Blue Lagoon

Best suited for everyone

Blue Lagoon is a bit of an unexpected hit of a purchase, despite that being a common theme with Knizia Games in my collection.  On the surface, it appears to be a generic abstract game with shameless Moana-like art.  You combine those two off-putting things together and only a name like Reiner Knizia and a cheap price of $20-30 could warm my icy heart enough to give it a chance.  Yet now here it sits among my Top 50 Games of ALL TIME.  I freaking love this family-friendly strategy game.  I very recently shared how it’s one of Dr. Knizia’s best designs thanks to its agonizing decisions and passive-aggressive opportunities across two subtly distinct rounds of play.

46. Irish Gauge

Best suited for everyone

Well, it’s not the third Knizia game in a row on this list, but it is a Knizia-like design.  What does Knizia-like even mean, you ask?  And why is that a compliment?  Much like the work of Reiner Knizia, Amabel Holland’s Irish Gauge is a vast wealth of deep and compelling gameplay born out of extremely simple rules.  So simple, in fact, that the rules fit onto a single sheet of paper.  It’s hard not to be drawn in by Ian O’Toole’s face-melting box art and clean graphic design, yet it’s the pleasure of placing trains, auctioning shares, and calling for dividends that keeps me thoroughly engaged in this cube-rail classic.

45. The Quest for El Dorado

Best suited for everyone

Phew, well I don’t know about you, but I almost had a panic attack straying from Reiner Knizia for so long.  Look, I get that his style of game isn’t for everyone.  And I can assure you that we won’t break into the double digits of Knizia designs on this list… but we do get awfully close (and you should probably brace yourself for a couple more of them in about two minutes).  Anywayyyyy, let’s talk about one of the best deck-builders ever designed!  Despite the miniature cards and sprawling components, The Quest for El Dorado marries deck-building to racing on a game board with seemingly effortless ease.  The game is so polished and simple that it can be easy to dismiss the genius mechanisms and satisfying flow hidden within.  This is a title that I can put down in front of my eight-year-old niece and thoroughly enjoy playing or break out with my fellow hardcore hobbyists for a charmingly cutthroat contest.

44. Great Western Trail

Best suited for hobbyist gamers

Allow me to be vain for a moment (if putting together this massive ranked list about cardboard leisure isn’t vain enough already) and share that the main thing that keeps me from loving Great Western Trail even more is the uncomfortable box art containing three massive faces of scowling, staring, soul-less men.  It’s like Mount Rushmore got lost in the Twilight Zone and landed itself in a dystopian Wild West.  Thankfully, publisher Eggertspiele decided that five years of heebie-geebies was long enough, and they’ve finally invested in a redesigned and drastically improved art style for the second edition coming later this year.  Yet I’m not so vain as to dismiss the intricate complexity that launches this heavy Euro game to greatness.  The mechanisms interwoven together include deck building with a herd of cattle, traveling with a cowboy along an action rondel, progressing economic potential along a railroad track, constructing buildings along the trail to help yourself and hinder your opponents, developing an engine within your evolving player board, and so much more.

43. Through the Desert

Best suited for everyone

As promised, we’re back with another irresistible adventure from the bottomless well of brilliance that is Knizia Games.  This time, we have pastel camels sprawling across a dry desert in search of lush oases, private piles of sand, and thirst-quenching watering holes.  Believe it or not, I was mildly underwhelmed with this game after my first play of it.  It was only with more plays at varying player counts that I uncovered my adoration of Through the Desert.  Once again, you can hear more about why I love this design in my recent Top 10 Knizia Games post.

42. Lost Cities

Best suited for everyone

Speaking of which, Lost Cities is the last I’ll speak of Reiner’s work for at least a dozen games, so you better eat up while you can!  Remember back when we were talking about Arboretum and how that is a painful card game where you don’t want to play or discard any of your cards?  Lost Cities takes those same hand management woes and cranks them up to ten!  The 20-point penalty for committing to a color is perfectly calculated to make you hesitate with every card you decide to play.  I especially love that you can start out a color with handshake cards that raise the stakes by doubling, tripling, or quadrupling your score, whether they are positive or negative points!  The temptation to commit to a color late can become strong as that color appears in your hand or in the draw piles, and the threat of a premature game end can make the final turns tight as noose!  I still stand by my previous statement that this is the chips and salsa of 2-player card games.

41. New York Zoo

Best suited for everyone

2020 was a great year for board games releases, and New York Zoo is the first one on my Top 50 games list to prove it.  Between the giant tray of animal meeples, the piles of polyomino enclosures, the emerging zoos on player boards, the bounteous breeding bonuses, and the roaming elephant action token, I find myself submerged in a colorful pool of play.  The race to fill your zoo first remains a refreshing change of pace from the common trope of gaining points for anything and everything.  Uwe Rosenberg and polyomino games pair together just as well as chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream…. Am I getting hungry or something?

40. Mandala  

Best suited for everyone

I’ve never been let-down by a play of Mandala.  The moments of difficult decisions and clever plays are a gift that keeps on giving.  The pleasant production consisting of a cloth “board” and colorful cards are merely a disguise for the confrontational gameplay that lurks beneath.  Your turns are spent essentially bidding for first dibs on the sets of colors in each mandala while feeding those sets for lucrative points.  Once a mandala is complete, the highest bidder chooses the first color to add to their scoring river, and frequently it’s best to take the cards that would help your opponent more than they help you.  

39. Jaipur

Best suited for everyone

Jaipur falls into the same category of simple, all-time greats within the 2-player card game genre.  It’s another one that doesn’t contain an immediate hook or obvious wow-factor, but it’s addictive flow grows on you over time.  I could tell you more about how Jaipur perfectly balances incentives against risks or goods against camels, but I wouldn’t be able to do it better than Kyle who put out a very slick 6-minute review of the game last year.

38. Cosmic Frog

Best suited for hobbyist gamers who appreciate the weird and wacky

We’re onto another one of my top releases of 2020 with Cosmic Frog!  Something about this punishing experience is so irresistible… sort of like staring at a sunset, or staying up past bedtime to watch another episode of your favorite show, or drinking soda while eating spicy food.  The more that Cosmic Frog hurts me, the more I want to play it.  Yet I’m far too greedy of a gamer to play the game defensively, and my greed continues to burn me.  Why send my frog groveling back to its vault with only one or two shards when I can load his gullet to the brim with goodies?!?  Why take only one action on my turn when I can spend a little oomph to double my productivity?!?  Why, you ask?  So my merciless opponents can come in and gut-punch me to another dimension and steal away everything I ever held dear.

37. The Estates

Best suited for mean, thick-skinned folks

While we’re on the topic of merciless gut-punching, we might as well transition to another one of my favorite blood baths, The Estates.  This one feels sort of like a sandbox game, where on your turn you have the freedom to auction off almost any piece still on the table, except players spend more time throwing sand at each other than building their own sand castles.  You may be the owner of the red company, but if I win the bid for that red building block, then you better believe I’m going to stack it in the negative point row to sabotage your score.  And if you let me get away with purchasing the Mayor token, then I’ll gleefully add it to your incomplete row where your buildings will now score you double negative points.  In The Estates, cruelty knows no bounds.

36. Lords of Vegas

Best suited for those who can tolerate a hearty dose of luck with their strategery

You know, it’s quite convenient that these games all ended up next to each other on my rankings.  Starting back with Cosmic Frog, we’re currently in the thick of some of the more polarizing games on my list.  It’s likely you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em, and Lords of Vegas is no different.  This is the game many have pointed to as “What Monopoly Should Have Been.”  Growing casinos, hostile business takeovers, big pay-days, gambling to steal money from others, and player turns spent blowing all your cash on greedy expansion schemes.  As an area control game with a flair for dramatic Vegas-style gambling, you’d be hard-pressed to find another game quite like Lords of Vegas.

35. Condottiere

Best suited for everyone

Kyle and I recently shared each of our Top 10 Family Games, and Condottiere was an easy one to add to this list.  It had proven it’s merit when I brought it on a vacation with relatives and they requested to play it multiple times over the many other games I had also brought and taught them that week.  Condottiere boils down to a card game of chicken where the last person to stay in gets to claim a territory if they committed the most troops, and the first person to control three adjacent territories or five total wins.  This game of chicken takes the form of an auction where you can commit troops from your hand to a battle, but that means you’ll have even less cards in the following round.  A major aspect of the strategy is to bluff your commitment and push others to spend too much for something that you don’t actually want, just so you can easily take a more important territory later.

34. Undaunted: Normandy & Undaunted: North Africa

Best suited for everyone

We’ve now arrived at my personal favorite deck-builder, the Undaunted series.  I’ve now played a combined total of 17 games of Undaunted (Normandy and North Africa) and we’re still going strong.  The many scenarios provided in these games help to keep each play fresh, and the asymmetry offered by each setup and faction make it doubly replayable.  The addicting loop of sacrificing a card to compete for initiative, deciding which actions to take with the remaining cards, and honing your deck in on the victory objective is as good as deck-building gets for me.  Just like in war, you’ll be sticking your neck out and taking big risks in hopes gaining the upper hand in this streamlined, 2-player, scenario-based war game.

33. Love Letter

Best suited for everyone

Love Letter might just be the best micro-game ever designed.  With only 16 cards and a handful of cubes, this design weaves together a tapestry of deception, deduction, drama, and delight.  Each player is holding one card in their hand, kept secret from everyone else.  On your turn, draw a second card into your hand and play one of them.  The goal is to be the last person standing or have the highest number when the deck runs out.  And the card actions and values are brilliantly crafted to where players can try to outfox each other with each quick round of play.

32. Treasure Island

Best suited for everyone

I adore how the pirate’s life comes alive in this island treasure hunt!  There is something so exhilarating about being Captain Long John Silver, marking the spot of your buried treasure on your private map, and then spending the entire game misleading the other mutinous pirates with vague, piecemeal information on your treasure’s whereabouts.  I also enjoy being one of those mutinous pirates, drawing on the large game board map, and scouring the island for the booty as I try to puzzle together the hints and clues before Long John escapes captivity and reunites with his treasure.  It’s been a while since I’ve played this wonderfully unique design, but that’s only because I’m waiting to receive my copy of the expansion which promises even more variety to the core experience.

31. Beyond the Sun

Best suited for hobbyist gamers

We’re back with yet another big 2020 release, and it’s really had an upswing in the rankings with my most recent plays of it.  In particular, Beyond the Sun was the very first game we played in our recent 2-part Board Game Birthday Marathon, and it ended up being the group favorite of the entire day.  We had a killer lineup of games that were played too, so that’s high praise indeed.  Beyond the Sun mixes tight resource management with branching worker placement actions on an evolving tech tree while providing a buttery smooth area control experience on the space exploration board.  The whole package comes together so beautifully that it’s all the more impressive to discover that this is designer Dennis K. Chan’s first published game.

30. Concordia

Best suited for everyone

As far as I’m concerned, Concordia deserves to be the real Catan of the board game industry.  It’s an accessible game all about getting your wooden settlements built onto the map, yet everything about Concordia is far more interesting and engaging than Catan.  You build up your hand of cards over time, and these not only serve as the action you take on your turn, but they also score you points at the end of the game according to how well you executed your game board strategy.  Concordia never fails to hit the spot, especially because you are not waiting for the dice to roll your numbers and trigger your resource production.  So maybe it’s time to give Catan the boot from your collection and introduce your friends to the REAL Catan which is the unbreakable Concordia.

29. Stephenson’s Rocket

 Best suited for Knizia fans and/or train game fans who plan on repeat plays

Like Beyond the Sun, Stephenson’s Rocket was another game we had the pleasure of enjoying at our recent gaming marathon.  While I can understand why it might be a bit polarizing due to the objective opacity and in-your-face nastiness, Stephenson’s Rocket is a game that really sings once you catch onto its crafty ways.  The opportunities for clever turns are subtle yet numerous in this design about extending rails, investing in industries, and bidding for control.  This game, in my opinion, is criminally underrated among Knizia’s designs and the board game industry itself.  To this day, I thank my lucky stars that I was able to discover it and snag myself a copy of Grail Game’s beautiful version.

28. Dogs of War

Best suited for any group of 4-5 players

Thus begins the reign of Paolo Mori on my top 50 games of all time list.  The man has landed himself not one, not two, but three spots among my top 30Dogs of War is the first that I have the privilege of acclaiming today.  While you could call this a worker placement game, I don’t really think of it as such.  Rather, I tend to think of it as a political tug-of-war strategy game.  Players act as Dogs of War who influence the battles that are taking place between noble houses.  The victor of each battle will be determined by whichever house receives the most support from players, and the players on the winning team will gain significant benefits.  The incentives to support a particular house on a particular round are many, and the challenge is to choose your allies wisely so that you benefit from the various battle outcomes more than any opponent.

27. Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes

Best suited for everyone

For those of you who are unable to track down a copy of the out-of-print Dogs of War—or perhaps even more difficult is the challenge of gathering 4-5 players around one table—then Mr. Mori has just the solution: a new 2-player, 20 minute version of this game known as Blitzkrieg.  And what a heck of a 20 minutes this design is.  Those who dismiss Blitzkrieg for its generic look or plain production are simply missing out on one of the best new 2-player games in the industry.  The back and forth that occurs between two opponents as they attempt to conquer each theatre of war is a blast from start to finish.  Unlike most war games, there are no cards or dice involved here.  You simply select one of three tile options that are hidden behind your shield to play out almost anywhere onto the board.  The tile you choose and the spot you place it on may haunt you long after this 20 minute romp is over. 

26. The Mind

Best suited for everyone

I have to imagine that those who scoff at the simplicity of The Mind just haven’t uncovered the magic within.  The Mind captures the organic satisfaction of acting on gut-feelings and having those feelings confirmed by others without even word spoken between them.  It’s a cooperative game where the group must find an equilibrium, a rhythm, and a tempo together as they play numerical cards from their hands in ascending order without saying anything.  While it starts out laughably basic in round one, the difficulty quickly ramps up as more cards are dealt each round and the group loses more lives.  Some of the best board and card game designs on this planet attain such greatness because they trim away the fiddly supplemental rules and maintain a laser focus on what makes them special.  The Mind is one such design that remains a joy to play with the right people who are willing to invest in its unusual concept.

Continue on to the next post for the final 25 of my Top 50 Board Games of All Time!

Article written by Nick Murray. If you found yourself nodding in agreement to some of his favorite games, then keep an eye out for three upcoming games that he loved enough to publish! Nick’s first published design, Social Grooming, which will debut in a Kickstarter bundle alongside two games—Soda Smugglers and Pumafiosi—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.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. José Miguel Costa

    It pains me a little to see Concordia classified as a Catan type game; it is much more than that – a fabulous game. Anyway I’m also a fan of Knizia’s games, which is the true successor of the great Sid Sackson. I’m amazed that I am not seeing any of his games in this list (like Acquire, , Bazaar or Black Monday). Anyway there are many games in your list that I don’t know and that I am willing to try. Thank you for the post and waiting for the top 25…
    José Miguel Costa, Lisbon, Portugal

    1. Nick Murray


      I agree that Concordia is much more than Catan. What I meant is that it deserves to be as popular and successful as Catan due its elegance and the similarities in its core concept of building a network of settlements on a map by acquiring resources.

      I haven’t played any Sid Sackson games besides Acquire, which was one I tried a long time ago. Based on their popularity, it seems his games haven’t aged as well as Knizia’s classics. But I’m a fan of Chinatown and Lords of Vegas which were both influenced by Mr. Sackson’s Acquire, so he’s had a great influence on the industry.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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