Jason’s Top Ten Games of 2019

Welcome to my Top Ten Games for 2019! You’ve gotten some list from lots of different angles over on the main Board Gamers Anonymous podcast, and there are many lists of popular board games for all ages, but I’m here to provide a lighter, more thematic take on my favorite games of the year.

10 – Edge of Darkness

I really disliked Mystic Vale. It felt like a single mechanisms blown up into its own game. As I would later find out, that’s exactly what it was! The card crafting mechanism was always meant for this game, which is a fuller, more robust, engine building card game with lands to influence and enemies to defeat. It has a very satisfying solo mode, as well. If this thing wasn’t a billion dollars to purchase, it would be even higher on this list, most definitely.

Photo Credit – BGG user askifsta

*9 – Comanauts

*I’m using Comanauts as a potential stand in for it’s follow-up, Aftermath, which I might like more but have not played yet.

When I play the storybook games from Plaid Hat, I don’t expect a tight, nuts and bolts mechanical experience. Stuffed Fables, the first game in this series, had questionable integration of dice rolling that is somewhat mitigated in Comanauts but not quite solved (hoping Aftermath did it better). However, I was really gripped by the journey here. The overall story felt disjointed because of going on random missions through someone’s memories. But I found that to be a good thing, because it gave a real sense of wandering around in this person’s mind, trying to gain a foothold and figuring out how to help him the best. Can’t wait to play this one with my kids, when they get older.

Photo Credit – BGG user flyinghair

8 – U-Boot: The Board Game

I’d say this is one of the most thematic games of the year. It’s also one of the most thematic games I have ever played. This cooperative submarine simulator does a LOT to put players right into a WWII-era combat submarine. It has asymmetric roles (captain, navigator, etc.) that provide lots of room for cooperation, as well as a slick, app-based system for various missions. The game is so thematic, it makes bad mechanisms good – no other game can get away with movement via protractor! Some rule fiddliness in its earliest incarnations stopped this game from being an all-time classic for me. Hopefully, they have been addressed in further editions. Still, my plays of this game have really stuck with me.

Photo Credit – BGG user bwort110

7 – Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

In the general roll n write category, Fleet: The Dice Game probably edges this one in terms of pure, crunchy, combo-licious game play. However, Cartographers has proven far, far more accessible and easier to get to the table. I love the simplicity of drawing cards and fitting Tetris-style pieces into your personal grid. I also LOVE when a monster comes out and I get a chance to draw monsters on someone else’s personal grid. It’s very whimsical and fun. Also, I’ve played this with all sorts of people in psychotherapy, including a kid on the Autism spectrum who really liked it. This one is sticking around for me, for sure.

Photo Credit – BGG user Kart002

6 – Call to Adventure

If you didn’t notice that my lists tend to towards thematic, imaginative experience, this one will leave no doubt. One of the worst, most cutting insults a gamer can say about a game is: “it feels more like an activity than an actual game.” Translation: it might be fun to play, but there is no real challenge here. This probably applies to Call to Adventure, especially in the cooperative mode. However, I don’t really care! It’s still so much fun. It’s a nice, gamer-y way to frame the origin story of a character. It also gives a great tactile feel with the rune stone dice. If they can improve the cooperative and solo modes, then I’m in for whatever expansions Brotherwise wants to release for it.

Photo Credit – BGG user monkyky

5 – Horrified

Like with Cartographers, I like this game partially because of the game itself, and also because of it’s accessibility. Horrified is not as tight a mechanical experience as a game like Pandemic. However, the theme integration more than makes up for it. Underpowered characters run way from monsters at the beginning, but then turn things around after discovering the monster’s weakness. Also, like with Cartographers, I’ve had great success with this game in a therapy setting, helping people confront and overcome fears in a safe, playful space. I hope they release more monsters for this one.

Photo Credit – BGG user Major Sholto

4 – Tainted Grail

Hoo, boy, am I looking forward to finally diving into this one. I cheaped out and took all the KS shipping at once, meaning I won’t get my game until next year. I’ve only briefly played a friend’s copy and seen videos. However, from the little bit that I’ve played, I can already tell this might be an all time game for me. It seems to marry exploration, questing, card play, combat, and lore in amazing ways – all of the things I want in gaming. Hopefully, a full play of this will deliver on all of that, which would catapult this to the top of this list.

Photo credit – BGG user Chrino

My top three games are tough for me as a reviewer. From an objective perspective, I can see the flaws and the difficulties, and where folks might (maybe vehemently) disagree. However, they all deliver great core experiences that hit directly in the bullseye of things I want as a gamer. So, to the top they go!

3 – Mageling

I have always wanted a quick dice game with simple yet deep decisions, but also with the vaguest nod towards a theme and not just a points-fest. I love the way the standee progresses through the land, gaining power in the form of a tableau cards that combo off one another. At over 40 plays, it’s easily my most played game of the year.

Photo Credit – BGG User JosephB (also happens to be the designer)

2 – Brook City

As with Mageling, I can see where some folks have difficulty with this one. I also have one big gripe – too many enemies and other game elements to track, especially towards endgame. I love Sentinels of the Multiverse, so if I say I didn’t love the tracking, that’s saying something! However, everything else hits me right in my gamer bullseye – terrific theme integration, tons of variety, and best of all, an outstanding movement puzzle that challenges you, through your hand management, to affect as much of the board as humanely possible in order to win. Outstanding game that I will play for a long, long time.

Photo Credit – BGG user TheByteknight

1 – Quirky Circuits

Hose me down! I LOVE this game. Without apology, Quirky Circuits puts together elements from some very divisive, niche games like The Mind and Space Alert. However, with the right group, this cooperative, hidden information game can deliver about as satisfying a game experience as I can think of. And it’s soooo cute! Writing about it, I just want to get it back to the table right now. If only I could get a group that would be willing to finish the book…

Photo Credit: BGG User kalchio

Here are some more games that I really liked from 2019, but which didn’t make the top ten. I’ll put these in alphabetical order.

  • Adventure Games: The Dungeon and Monochrome, Inc. – These are some very, very cool takes on the Choose Your Own Adventure model of games.
  • Aerion – The latest Oniverse game, this time with a Yahtzee twist. Probably my second favorite Oniverse game at this point.
  • Cloudspire – A battle game with a tower defense/ MOBA motif. I really liked the solo mode, but felt done with it after a few plays.
  • Cthulhu: Death May Die – A really quick and punchy, scenario-based romp through the Cthulhu-verse that’s really easy to learn and play. I didn’t think the bosses offered enough variety, but the different scenarios help make up for that.
  • Lifeform – The other, non-Nemesis attempt to recreate the movie Alien. Very cool Ameri-thrashy adventure.
  • Marvel Champions: The Living Card Game – It probably won’t replace Sentinels of the Multiverse for me, which it would need to in order for me to really get into it. I’m looking forward to some story-based play before I render final judgement.
  • Monopoly: Socialism – Just kidding!
  • Periodic: A Game of Elements – Takes the Periodic Table of Elements – which, by the way, looks like a game board all on its own – and makes an abstract, smart, family weight board game out of it.

Happy decade, everybody!

  • I'm a psychotherapist by trade, practicing in CT. I play games to restore my life balance. I like thematic games with lots of narrative and story, usually cooperative but I love good thematic strategy games as well. As a game evangelist, I also like card games and anything else I can easily tote with me.

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