Look Back! Best games of 2020

The last couple of years feels like the longest, boringest escalator in the world’s emptiest mall. Thank the cardboard gods that we’ve had board games to get us through the pandemic. The debate is raging among dozens of people all around the globe — which pandemic year produced the better games?

You’ve probably seen by now our list of the Top 12 games that we played thate were released in 2021. But what about the games we picked as the top twelve for 2020? Do they still hold up? Let’s revisit that list and see if anything has changed, especially because we were able to play more games from that year since the original list came out.

12. The Crew

The original crew made our list at number three, so this looks like a precipitous fall. But it really isn’t. The Crew just had the misfortune of having a younger sister born one year later, and now everyone in the family is ooohing and aaahhhhing over everything she does. She’s so cute! For good reason, too, because The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is one of my most favorite trick taking games that I own. (So, basically, I am asking you not to make me pick between which of my kids I love more.) I’ll keep The Crew on this list of best games of 2020, but if you were asking me which one you should buy first, I’d say get Mission Deep Sea. It feels like the more complete game.

11. MonsDRAWsity

I love a good party game. Luckily for me, I’ve discovered Eric Slauson’s games! Eric is an amazing designer adept at making easy to teach, very thematic, highly interactive group games. MonsDRAWsity should be on everyone’s list to play at every holiday family get together. It was our number eight game in 2020, so it might look like it took a dip, but the reality is that I love euro games and I was able to play a lot more of them since January 2021. I still love MonsDRAWsity, still play it with the family, and some of the experiences it creates are still imprinted in my mind. Get it, play it, and love it just like us.

10. Fort

Here’s where my tastes diverge a bit from the rest of the Krewe. I love Fort. I love how simple it is to teach relative to its complexity. I love how thematic the cards are, and how the art really sells the experience. I don’t love how the gameplay seems to devolve into just a few strategies (I mean, the deck is fairly small), but I’m okay with that because some of my other favorite games of all time like The Castles of Burgundy can suffer just a bit from that, too. I would still be playing this one as much as I did back in 2020 except that the rest of the Krewe thinks Fort is played out and meh. I’m happy to point out that they are spectacularly wrong, but I’ll knock it down a few pegs from 7 to 10 in recognition of the fact that I’m just not playing it anymore — even though I really want to.

9. Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers

All of you who are constantly voting this down below the original game need to re-evaluate your priorities. Name another euro game has been translated from a huge medium weight game into the perfect randowriter as effortlessly and successfully as this one? Rajas is one of my favorite roll-and-writes of all times, and I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. Caveat: I’ve only ever played this online, as I *still* don’t own a copy. I cannot imagine it would be less fun to play it live, because it is just so satisfying when you combo your way into these big three or four element turns. It’s cardboard combolicious. By the way, for all of you pedantic haters, yes, it technically fell three spots from six to nine but that’s only because I’ve played a ton more games from 2020. It’s a top ten game for me in 2020 and will stay that way. Dice charmers!

8. Whistle Mountain

I’ve only played Whistle Mountain one time at this past BGG Con, but oh man, did I love that experience. With so many good games from 2020 it is hard for me to justify putting it in the top six without more plays. I’ll give it a nod and let it join the list at number eight, recognizing that it has everything I love about a good euro: amazing production, simple streamlined gameplay, just a touch of interactivity amongst the players, and a strong narrative element. If I played this more, it would probably make my top six pretty easily, just for my two favorite parts in the game — the pressure to keep building above the flooding water line and the way that you can combo up resources and stuff with the right placement. So puzzly! (Not on list previously.)

7. Project L

I played this on a whim with Dave at BGG Con, and was really intrigued. Who doesn’t love a good engine builder, and this was one of the fastest I’ve ever played. I mean, get that engine going or you will be left behind! And then, I got a copy for my wife for Christmas, and we’ve played it non-stop between us and other family since then. The pieces have that satisfyingly tactile clacketiness that I love, the gameplay is so quick, and the puzzle of figuring out which puzzle pieces to focus on is worth the box price alone. Great game that needs to get more pub in the States. (Not on list previously.)

6. Nidavellir

And now we get to the big six, my truly favorite game experiences of 2020. First up is a game that was not on my list back then despite Jeremy Howard campaigning for me to play and rate it — Nidavellir. It truly only missed the last list because I had not played it yet. We got Nidavellir and bought the expansion right away (Thingavellir) because we flat out played this game almost every game session for about a month. (And I’ve got a game going right as we speak with the Board Boys Podcast guys at Board Game Arena.) I can tell you right away my favorite part about it — debating with your buds as to which strategy is the best, questions like which color should I be hitting? How much should I upgrade my coins? What’s the best bidding strategy? What expansion pieces are the best? That after-the-game chat is why I love board gaming so much and Nidavellir’s gameplay encourages Monday morning quarterback with sheer abandon. (Not on list previously.)

5. Oceans

Oceans dropped a bit from number two to number five, again only because of lack of playing with the Gumbo krewe. First, I’m probably the biggest fan of it in the group, so that means it is not going to hit the table. Second, a LOT of games have come out since Oceans made its early 2020 debut, and I’ve played some great euros that are still being played month in, month out. I still love Oceans, and its combination of combotastic play, super interactive nature of the cards, and the awesome power creep from the Deep cards — all of this combines to make this a game that should really get more playing time all over.

4. Dune: Imperium

Here’s another game that would have probably made my list in January 2021 had I played it. Dune: Imperium has one element that I love (deckbuilding) and one that I am not such a fan of (area majority / control). And the deckbuilding is not even the strongest component of the game, in my opinion. So, why is it so high on the list? Because it creates an immersive experience that seems to drive everything else forward. Right from the start, every part of the board is important, every card in your hand is critical, and every turn seems to be the turning point in the game. That’s really hard to do in a game but Dune: Imperium succeeds. Is it thematic to the movie / book? Maybe, maybe not, but what it does do is recreate a slice of the book / movie for cardboard fans to enjoy. (Not on list previously.)

3. Viscounts of the West Kingdom.

2020 will geaux down as the year deckbuilders grew up, with lots of original twists on the game. Viscounts definitely has a unique twist. There are cards to grab all over the board, and they can really help you build up an engine. It’s hard for me to say which of the West Kingdom games are my favorite, but Viscounts is a strong contender. First, it is gorgeous on the table, and the artwork from The Mico while very familiar to the universe seems to have a very appropriate and modern effect on the theme. Second, there so far does not seem to be any especially strong winning strategy, and if there is one, I’m having fun trying to discover it. Finally, the energy that the center piece and moving meeples brings to the game experience is strong. Love watching the center castle fill up with meeples. Why has it risen so far from eleven to three? Simple explanation, friends. Back then, I had only played it once on a slow laptop using Tabletopia, but since then, I’ve played it a half-dozen times on line AND in person. It is so much better in person, and actually much better online once you have played it in person.

2. Lost Ruins of Arnak

Anyone that follows me on social media knows the last two. I talk about both all the time, and I always have at least one game of each going online. Lost Ruins of Arnak is my kind of game — it’s got that Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, I love the two different cards you can purchase for your deck, I love how it doesn’t look like a deck builder but really is once you get to know it, and I love love love love figuring out the primary puzzle of how to get more resources and bounce up the temple track. I have played this at least a dozen times, and I’m still exploring the strategy. It’s a must have for any serious euro gamer.

1. Beyond the Sun.

Beyond The Sun is the Beyond The Sun of 2020 games, and by that I mean, it truly is the best game euro or otherwise that came out in 2020. Love building civs with a tech tree? That’s one of the two main focuses in this game and it is done WELL. Love exploring space and interacting with other players as you try to dominate the planetary systems? Got that, too. I’ve yet to find the optimal strategy. Everytime I think I’ve solved it, some one does something else to counteract and I have to rethink my plan again for the next game. It’s not just a top twelve game for 2020, it would make my top ten games of all time if I redid the list.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at 2020. A couple of games fell off the list; that’s not because I did not enjoy them in 2020, but I just haven’t had the itch to get them back to the table. A game that makes my top twelve list should be one that I want to keep playing two years out, and Caretos and High Rise and Meeple Land are all three games I would happily play anytime but just haven’t had the right group. On the other hand, Castles of Tuscany and Calico have been replaced a bit — there’s been a bunch of euros since then that I would play over Tuscany, and Cascadia in my mind fires Calico a bit from our gamenights. Cascadia is easier to teach, doesn’t hurt my brain as much, and has just as cool a theme. Win / win!

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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