This is the second in our series of look backs at the Gumbo’s top board game experiences of the year. Next up is BJ’s list of the top ten games published in 2019. Check out the first entry, Bradly’s top ten, here, if you want to compare.
Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back to talk about the best games from 2019. I played almost 200 new and new to me games this year, but even those plays can’t scratch the surface of the two thousand or so games published last year. All we can do is all we can do, right?
But, it was another amazing year in gaming, with a great selection of games from every genre. But enough blather, let’s get on with the list of the best games of 2019!
10. ERA: Medieval Age, designed by Matt Leacock, published by eggertspiele
Era is a great example at how far game production has come along in the twelve years since I got back into the hobby. Matt Leacock’s roll and build follow up to Roll For The Galaxy would have been a number one game in years past just from a production standpoint alone.
But in fairness, it’s the gameplay that drew me in. The smooth combination of dice chucking, engine building, and players interaction, all in about fifty minutes, makes it a great entry for 2019. We had a great chat with Mike Young of eggertspiele on Gumbo Live earlier this season, but Bradly was not as impressed with the game as we were.
One more good thing: this system seems infinitely upgradable with new content (and the publisher already has a mini expansion available on its website). If you are worried about replayability, I am sure that won’t be a problem.
9. Freshwater Fly, designed by Brian Suhre, published by Bellwether Games
Brian Suhre is one of our favorite up-and-coming designers in the industry. Coldwater Crown made a big impression on everyone in the Gumbo back in 2018 (I think we have three or four copies among us), and Freshwater Fly was a very successful follow up. (Check out Brian’s thoughts on the development from Gumbo Live here.)
The combination of absolutely gorgeous art, very thematic use of the rondel mechanic, and an engaging solo game made this an easy pick for top ten of the year. Plus, it is nice when a publisher like Dennis Hoyle supports the game with great customer service and an amazing production. We did a deep dive Spice It Up segment on the blog if you want more information, but if you like thematic euros, Freshwater Fly should be right up your alley.
8. Wingspan, designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, published by Stonemaier Games
A common complaint among board game media content creaters is the lake of new themes in the board game hobby. No more vikings / fantasy / space / zombies / trading in the Mediterranean, they shout. And then along comes a tiny little game about building a nature preserve for birds. Is it any surprise that Wingspan took the entire board game world by storm?
Of course not! Add in absolutely gorgeous art from a trio of talented artists from around the world, an easy to teach engine building game that had great table presence, and the usual Stonemaier top notch production and it should be no surprise that Wingspan shot up the BGG rankings and eventually won most of the major board game prizes. Plus, the designer is thoughtful and charming and an easy person to interview, as you can see in our Gumbo Live! segment earlier this year.
Wingspan has been a big hit with many of the Acadiana area board gamers, and the new expansion from Europe should get fans juiced up again.
7. FunkoVerse, designed by Prospero Hall and published by Funko.
Color this one as my top “surprise game” for 2019 for sure. Other than Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire (which we affectionately call “Lunchspire” for the times that Dustin and I can infrequently play every three or four months or so), I don’t play a lot of miniature skirmish type games. And I don’t collect Funkos, either.
So, when I saw the announcement of a miniatures game based on Funko Pop figures, I was more than a little skeptical. Then, Carlos set us up with a meeting with Chris Rowlands, the director of game development on FunkoVerse at Gen Con. It was a great meeting and a great introduction to the system. Once I got home and taught my sons and friends how to play, I dove right in and have enjoyed every play. (Jambalaya has been enjoying his recent plays, too).
FunkoVerse has a couple of built in advantages: the IPs are well known, the system is easy to teach, all of the figures are balanced to be interchangeable, the production is top notch, and the included four game scenarios are all fun. Players taking turns moving their Funko Pop figures around a room, knocking each other over, scoring points, and using special powers to pull off cool moves. It’s a rip roaring good time in 45 minutes or less.
6. Ragusa, designed by Fabio Lopiano, published by Capstone Games and Braincrack Games.
For a few years recently, there have been complaints on BGG about the dearth of good euro games. 2019 saw the euro game comeback, with dozens and dozens of titles that could vie for top euro strategy game of the year. My problem in doing this ranking is that I have not played even a tenth of the euros that were on my list to try.
But one of the euros that I did get to play was Ragusa, a smart worker placement game themed to building up the ancient port city which is now known as Dubrovnik. Sure, we’ve seen building and trading in the Mediterranean before, and that’s essentially what Ragusa is, but there are a couple of unique twists that we discussed on Gumbo Live! with the guys from Hutchu Games.
My favorite twist is that this is a worker placement game where you never pick up your workers. That’s right, you are assigned a set number of workers, place them down on action spots in the game, and never get them back. But, as other players place their workers near yours, you get the same action, so knowing where to place your workers (and when) is a juicy decision worthy of the best strategy games out there.
5. Medium, designed by Danielle Deley, Lindsey Sherwood, and Nathan Thornton, and published by Stormchaser Games and Greater Than Games.
If I was ranking games from last year based on the sheer amount of fun I have had, Medium would probably be number one. Medium is a party game based on an improv game that is so easy to teach and delivers way more fun than the box promises, a welcome change from most releases.
In Medium, players take on partners to their left and right and attempt to mind meld with them over clue cards that are randomly dealt at the start of the game. One player plays a card with a word on it, and the other player plays a second card. The task? Both players must find the word that is the “medium” between the two — I.e., the word that is between them, or links them, or somehow connects the two together. Sounds simple? It is, and at the same time, it is so not simple at all.
Joel Lewis (designer of Fluttering Souls) and I played a round or two on a recent Gumbo Live! with the Chat Krewe, so you can see the joy in our faces as we struggle with the clues. (By the way, “waffle” & “princess” were really hard!) If you like games with “high five” moments, Medium delivers this in spades, because there is no greater feeling when you connect with your partner especially on the first clue!
Some of my favorite moments this year: debating catfish versus redfish with the Gumbo Krewe, mind melding with Nick Kopp from Weird Giraffe Games (even though we weren’t partners!), and Jack and I debating what’s the best answer for “swamp athlete”! Best party game of the year, hands down.
4. Aquatica, designed by Ivan Tuzovsky, published by Cosmodrome Games.
The makers of SmartPhone, one of our favorite games from 2018, are back! We played Aquatica at BGG Con with the Board Boys Podcast guys, and I instantly fell in love with this game. Part engine builder and part Concordia deck builder, Aquatica feels familiar to anyone who has played those type of games, yet has a breezy style of play that will feel fresh and exciting.
In Aquatica, players are building out an underwater kingdom by drafting powerful sea creature cards and developing their manta rays. The mantas give special bonuses when used but are permanent in the player’s tableau (and are represented by cool little plastic manta meeples). Managing the special powers in your hand along with the mantas to score points is the goal, but the twist is that the scoring cards you buy have to be used up and saved in your treasure area. Just purchasing big point cards is not enough — you have to somehow work through the card to the end.
My favorite parts of Aquatica, of course, are getting new mantas, but I also really enjoy the “tucking” mechanic. When you buy cards for your engine, instead of giving a base engine power like most builders, the cards have multiple powers that are “used up” as you tuck the card further and further into your kingdom. The cards play off of each other, so if ever you are a fan of games that give you the ability to do five, ten, fifteen, or even eighteen back-to-back-to-back special powers, Aquatica is one of the games that does it best.
I realize that Aquatica was only available at Essen Spiel, and the reprint for North America is not coming for a few more months (we hope), so this may be a controversial pick.
3. Reavers of Midgard, designed by J.B. Howell, and published by Grey Fox Games.
Full disclosure: I demoed Reavers of Midgard at GEN CON to tons of happy gamers, and I have a review copy from Grey Fox Games. That being said, I get a lot of review copies, and Reavers was not only one of my most anticipated games (starting with an interview with Alex Goldsmith back in 2018, followed by a live play at BGG Fall 2018, and more demos at Dice Tower Con with a live play with I Heart Board Games) but one of my favorite games of the year.
What’s not to love? Reavers continues the Viking theme from Champions of Midgard, plus introduces a little more euro-goodness to the game mechanics. Sure, there is still a little bit of dice chucking combat, but this game is at heart managing your Vikings, upgrading your boats, and scoring points all over the board. It’s a Viking point salad! If given the choice, I’m playing Reavers over Champions any day, and if the Norse gods smile down upon us favorably, Grey Fox will give us some more content and expansions for Reavers.
If you want to see the amazing production of the Kickstarter edition, including the beautiful artwork by Yaroslev Radeckyi, check out Bradly’s unboxing and overview of the game play here. The only thing I regret is not getting that Game Toppers LLC mat with the Radeckyi art to play the game.
2. Watergate, designed by Matthias Cramer, and published by Capstone Games and Frosted Games.
Going in to BGG Con 2019, I was absolutely convinced that Watergate was my number one game of the year. I had a ton of plays since purchasing the game at Gen Con at the Capstone booth. It was one of the top games on my Most Anticipated games for Gen Con, and it did not disappoint in the least.
Watergate recreates the scandal that rocked the nation in the 1970s (and even features an interesting history of the characters and the scandal written by friend of the Gumbo, Phillip Millman). It is a tightrope match between two players, one as the Nixon administration, and the other as the journalists trying to uncover the secrets behind the coverup.
The tug of war between the two players, each with completely different decks and different win conditions, makes for a very dramatic and tense experience. Plus, the production of the game is absolutely first rate. Sure, this is a small box with a game that takes less than an hour, but there is nothing small about either the production or the game play.
This is definitely game of the year material, and would have been my choice, except for…
1. Detective: City of Angels, designed by Evan Derrick with art by Vincent Dutrait, and published by Van Ryder Games.
I’ve been hearing about this game from other media content creators and reviewers for a long time. I remember being fascinated when the gang from Blue Peg, Pink Peg described the game play. One versus all games are a lot of fun, if done well, and it seemed like the team from Van Ryder Games had a great concept.
What if we played as rival detectives in Los Angeles trying to get a promotion by solving a crime? What if one of the players played as “The Chisel”, all of the seedy characters and potential suspects, dribbling out information as we zoom around the board seeking clues and witnesses? What if The Chisel wasn’t just programmed — what if that player had real meaningful choices to make in terms of the information that was shared or even the veracity of the responses?
That’s Detective: City of Angels in a nutshell. Holy cow, the board game world has been granted back to back years with amazing story telling games with Detective in their title! I can’t say yet which one is my favorite, but City of Angels is pretty close to being one of the best games I have ever played.
We grabbed a copy at BGG con and played for hours on end. I think we logged over a dozen hours playing with three different groups, which is very unusual for me at a con. It was easily the best game of the con, and quickly took over best game of the year for me. Each play got better and better as the game ratcheted up in difficulty.
I will admit — Detective: City of Angels is not for everyone, but it is definitely a game built for me. I just wish I owned a copy, but I will.
So that’s a wrap up of my top ten favorites of 2019. I’ll be back with another listing my honorable mentions and with my favorites in each category. I do need to throw in a caveat. Die Crew (The Crew) would have made by top 10 if it were considered a 2019 release, but unlike Aquatica (which you could buy at BGG Con or Essen), the English version of The Crew is not yet available for a few months.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo