Board Game Gumbo Way Too Early Top Games of 2020 PART ONE

Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here. We are off this week celebrating post-Christmas holidays, so there is no Gumbo Live! Tonight.

Instead, we are back with another edition of the “Way Too Early Top Games of X Year” post.  (For part two, games six through one, click here.)

2020 was a dumpster fire, a hellish whirlwind of politics, hurricanes, power outages, wildfires, losing Regis Philbin and, oh yeah, a pandemic.

But at least we got to play some great games.

Unfortunately, like most years, publishers found a way to ship out more good to great games than we could possibly play in one calendar year. Compound the lack of time and money resources with a pandemic, preventing us from playing games with our usual game groups, and add a dash of convention cancellations, and let’s face it, no list we confect in December will ever be really complete or accurate.

But that’s never stopped us before! We love lists here, so let’s list away! Here are the top games we’ve played so far in 2020, starting today with numbers twelve through seven:

12. Calico

I played a well made prototype with Kevin Russ, the designer, and my buddy Jeremy the Game Geek Ninja way back at Gen Con 2019.

After playing, I immediately wanted to play it again. I went on the Kickstarter app on my phone and backed it shortly thereafter! We even invited the team from Flatout Games to come on Gumbo Live! and chat about the game.

I was hoping that the combination of puzzly nature, quick teach and playing time, and the beautiful Beth Sobel art would result in a game that my wife and I could share around the table, and I was right. SneauxBunny loved Calico as much as I had hoped. Making this list reminds me that we need to get it back to the table, and have a couples game night soon to introduce it to our friends. Someday.

For fans of tile laying puzzle games or any of the Uwe Rosenberg tile games, minus the polynomials.

11. Viscounts of the West Kingdom

I snuck this one on the list for a reason. I have only played it once, with Alex Goldsmith of the Dukes of Dice and Joe from Stonemaier on Tabletopia while on a laptop on vacation in Alabama, with no mouse to boot. That was not the perfect way to play the game, but I still have such good memories of enjoying the unique twist on the rondel mechanic that I want to include it to remind myself to get a copy from my FLGS and play it more.

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This is the fourth of the Garphill Games designs that I have played, and just based on that one play, I remember enjoying it more than the others (although Paladins is pretty tight). Yes, dear reader, my opinion could change a lot once we play it more, but this was definitely in my top dozen play experiences during the year, so I had to include it here.

For fans of medium weight euros who love The Mico’s art style.

10. Lost Ruins of Arnak

In a normal year, one play of a game — online at that — would not be enough to even consider putting that game in the top ten. (See Viscounts, infra). But when you combine Jumanji thrills and Raiders of the Lost Ark chills and deck building and worker placement all into one game, I am going to stand up and take note.

This may be colored by the fact that I played online at one of the cons with Alex Goldsmith of the Dukes of Dice Podcast, and we had a good teacher who patiently explained some of the rules he missed teaching us the first time.

It is also affected by the fact that I love the idea of worker placement connecting with deck building, especially where the deck building had some unique “why didn’t anyone think of that before” elements. But mostly it is for the fact that I want to play this again, and any game that does that usually means it has some staying power in the collection.  (Dan Patriss of the Geek All Stars had a lot of good things to say on Gumbo Live! as did Jeremy Howard of Man v Meeple if you are curious.)

For fans of deck building who like the spatial aspect of Clank! but want worker placement instead of dungeon exploration and racing.

9. Meeple Land

Shocker, shocker, shocker – I put a tile laying game in my top ten! Okay, that is really no surprise since tile laying is one of my favorite board game mechanics. Throw in the theme, building out a theme park complete with wacky but beautiful amusement park staples, and I was intrigued right away. Blue Orange generally makes games that are attractive, fairly easy to teach, and replayable and Meeple Land fires on all three cylinders with ease.

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What held Meeple Land back a little is greed. By that I mean that I loved the way that the attractions interacted with the different vendor stalls so much that I really wanted more of everything. More stalls! More attractions! More buses! I get that this is geared toward the family gamer, and I love that aspect of it, but I almost wish that there was an expansion or a module that amped it up even more. In any case, this just beats out Steam Park in my mind for amusement park board games, although I do like the 3D nature of the Steam Park rides better.

For fans of New York 1901 and Steam Park.

8. MonsDRAWsity

I’ll bet if we had gone through a successful convention season, especially BGG and Southern Board Game Fest, this game would have been even higher. Every time I’ve introduced it to new players, it has been a big hit. What if Men in Black and your favorite police procedural criminal sketch artist had a meet cute, skipped the complications ensuing, and went straight to baby making? That would be MonsDRAWsity (and it would also be a weird rom-com).null

Players quickly view cute and horrible creature cards, and then have two minutes to describe what they saw from memory to the sketch artists. Whoever does the best describing and the most accurate drawing wins. Plus, you don’t need to be an accomplished artist at all to win. (Check out our full review here.)

Eric Slauson is a designer to keep an eye out for. MonsDRAWsity would make the top ten just for the epic appearance on Gumbo Live! when we all played with Jeremy Howard!

For fans of party games who have no drawing skills but do have a lot of imagination.

7. Fort

Designer Grant Rodiek’s boutique card game, SPQF, got the Kyle Ferrin art treatment, and Leder Games tuned up the game a bit. What came out after that spit and polish is a shined up, multi-use card, deck-share-building card game that sings right out of the box. The production for such a tiny little box is over the top, so it is a joy to even put it out on the table.  (Check out Nick from 90 Second Nerd’s full review here.)

Some have complained about the theme, but to me it shines through and we discussed this with Patrick Leder of Leder Games back on Gumbo Live! Players have a stable of friends that they are enlisting to help build the biggest fort in the neighborhood. They can recruit even more friends to come over, or entice their neighbor’s less-than-close friends to come over, maybe with some homemade pecan praline that your mom is a whiz at making around Christmas Time. (Or fruits and nuts if you are a healthier family than we were growing up.)

The cards you recruit can be used in different ways, either making powerful actions or powering up the other cards in your hand. But whatever cards you don’t play represent friends you have neglected. That decision, which friends to hang out with in the battlements and which to leave outside the fort, is so juicy and delicious that it hurts your teeth sometimes. But that’s what makes the game fun.

I would say “For fans of Glory to Rome”, but I’ve never played it. So I’ll say “For fans of people who like Glory to Rome” instead.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

All right, board gamers, that’s a look at the first six entries in our top twelve games of 2020.  Ready for more? Here’s the second part, with games six through number one! 

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

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