2019 proved to be the busiest board gaming year of my life. I made a number of new board game friends, and because of this had my tabletop horizons expanded. Since I have played so many great titles this year, I thought it would be fun to create an awards post, spotlighting those games that really made an impact. These aren’t necessarily games that were released this year, but games that I tried out for the first time.
Here are the ones that made that final pick:
Best Deduction Game: Cryptid
Cryptid is a competitive game of deduction that requires careful strategy to hunt down the whereabouts of a creature’s habitat before the other players locate it. In the game, you start with a clue as to where the habitat may or may not be. Players must try to deduce what everyone’s clues might be based on their actions, whilst trying not to give away their own clue. I love the simplicity of the board and player movement, and I have witnessed this game please even the most reluctant of tabletop gamers. I had an epic board game moment with this one earlier in the year when I deduced the location of the habitat within my first turn!
Best Card Game: Bloodborne
In the Bloodborne card game, players must work cooperatively to bring down monstrous enemies, whilst trying to get more points than everyone else in order to win the game. There is strategy in which weapons you pick to be in your hand, and whether you risk another round of combat or retreat to heal – it’s all in the timing! I love that you have to trust in the other players whilst still trying to put yourself first – it’s a really fun mechanic.
Now, we play this game with The Hunter’s Nightmare expansion, so I don’t remember all that much about the base game without that content, but what I do know is that this game is just an all-round awesome experience. We’re such fans that we recently backed the Kickstarter for the board game, which we’ll hopefully be seeing around the middle of next year – fingers crossed!
Best Party Game: Codenames
At its core, Codenames is a word association game, but the spy theme gives it a fun little twist. The words represent the codenames of secret agents, and players must work in small teams to try to communicate which of the names belong to their side. There are also penalties for guessing words wrong, giving it a fun competitive edge that’s great for creating a bit of banter among friends. I enjoyed this game so much that I bought several copies when it was in the sale to gift to other people; this is a really easy game to explain to non-experienced board gamers, and was a hit in my family home this Christmas.
Best Legacy Game: Gloomhaven
Gloomhaven is an epic of a game that sees a group of adventurers working together to complete dungeons for loot, experience and story progression. The game offers a vast fantasy map with a ridiculous number of locations to unlock, and the group must make decisions on which moral path to take and which NPCs to trust, making every game a totally unique experience.
This has been my first legacy board game experience, and I have been completely taken by the world-building elements, the character progression and the careful strategy required of the game’s combat system. I have just last week retired my first character (a Cragheart called Cronus), after 25-30 hours of gameplay, and I am looking forward to continuing our group’s quest with a fresh-faced Tinkerer.
Best Co-operative Experience: X-COM
X-COM is known throughout gaming communities as that really really hard game, so I guess I was expecting a pretty challenging tabletop experience from its board game adaptation. Boy, if only I had known! This is ridiculously hard to win, but it is the game’s co-operative elements that wins it a top spot on this year’s list. Although you can actually play this one solo, it works best with four players, with a person taking charge of each of the four roles in the bid to defend the world from an alien invasion. Race against the clock to make decisions, spend resources, combat alien enemies, achieve objectives – phew! – this has got to be one of the best team gaming experiences out there.
Best Theme in a Game: Arkham Horror, The Card Game
When Neil bought Arkham Horror, I was a little intimidated by it at first. The game has an all-encompassing Lovecraftian theme and a genuinely creepy storyline, with poor decisions in the early stages sometimes resulting in penalties to sanity and health in the later parts. During play, there is a timer system where the player must find clues to progress the story before bad events are triggered. This creates a very real sense of urgency that makes gameplay at times frantic. The Arkham Horror experience is hugely rewarding when things go “well”, and if it weren’t for the price of the subsequent expansions, I think we would be looking to invest in every addition to the game we could get our hands on. Dark and mysterious in its nature, we have enjoyed playing this game on stormy winter nights with atmospheric music to help set the scene…
Best Dice Game: Dice Forge
Dice Forge was a game I immediately went out and bought in January after a friend took me through just one playthrough. In the game you are competing in a tournament hosted by the gods, and you must win as many points as possible to be victorious. I was blown away by the concept of a deck-building game that was played by upgrading the faces of a dice, which pop out and can be replaced by more powerful options. The control you have over the distribution of dice faces means very little is actually down to chance, despite the constant rolling of the dice at the beginning of every player’s turn. Dice Forge has a lot of replayability, and I’m fairly sure it is one of our most-played titles of the year.
Best Competitive Game: Dice Hospital
Though Dice Hospital is a fairly new addition to our games library, we are completely hooked. Players must treat patients in their hospitals, with points awarded for the number discharged each round. And the patients are dice. And they arrive in ambulances. And they are treated in hospital by wooden meeples. We just can’t get enough of this game.
The game is a very family-friendly competitive experience, with no offensive moves – you just have to make sure you are playing more efficiently than everyone else. There are a lot of great competitive experiences that are about screwing over the other players – Villainous comes to mind as we have been playing that a lot recently – but the charm of Dice Hospital is not only in its aesthetic appeal but in that everyone comes away from it feeling like they’ve had a really great experience, as most of the fun comes from expanding your hospital and pushing up your victory points.
Game of the Year: Bloodborne
From the above, it took me no time at all to pick Bloodborne as 2019’s game of the year. The appeal isn’t just in its nod to a video game I enjoy, the game itself stands on its own as a great gaming experience. At just half an hour of playing time, this is a perfect choice for bringing out at social gatherings, or as a prelude to something longer. The theme is an amazing mashup of genres I enjoy, a combination of fantasy horror in a Victorian-esque, Lovecraftian setting. I think what really makes Bloodborne stand out though is that it is so easy to teach, easy to play, and is something that I have even been able to persuade some of my less board game-y friends to try out (with great success).
What do you think of the year’s selection? Would you agree with our picks?