Once again, Token Opinion announces our holiday recommendations for 2020. As usual, most of these games were released in 2020. The title will contain links to both the BGG listing and developer/publisher sites. Did I miss a game?! Let me know in the comments.
In Chai you’ll be running the best tea house in town. You will accomplish this by selecting ingredients from a match-three style grid, then mixing up teas for your favorite customers. This game has impressed the heck out of me, with an interesting mixture of mechanisms that provide an excellent light-weight economic game that’s accessible to folks of all experience levels. This is bolstered by solid production and great artwork that really helps the player embrace the theme. All of this adds up to one of my most recommended games of the year, which is why Chai comes in at the top of my list in 2020.
The Crew is arguable THE big game of 2020, having taken the Kennerspiel des Jahres. It’s a fascinating premise; being essentially a highly modular, cooperative trick taking game. Players are given certain goals they have to meet each round; and while those goals are public information, your cards are not. Verbal communication is not allowed, making things a complicated mess. As goals stack up, so does the difficulty. Can you make it to Planet Nine?!
Cats are weird. They fill in strange places and make confusing shapes. Maybe that’s why they make such good fodder for a polyomino game. In The Isle of Cats, you’ll be drafting cards in order to explore the titular island, and rescue cats from the evil Lord Vesh by placing Tetris style pieces (cats) on your boat. Like all the other games on this list, the production value is top notch; and the idea of cats lazing about in dozens of different shapes is comically appropriate.
In my opinion, Gloomhaven is THE tabletop adventure to get. With an incredible amount of content, deep but approachable card based combat, and solid production value, it’s an easy winner. But frankly, many folks (including myself) wont even manage to make it past the halfway mark. The game is just too big. Jaws of the Lion answers that with a shorter, smaller introduction to the Gloomhaven world. Don’t expect a small game, however- with 25 scenarios in the box, there’s more than enough content here for most game groups.
This title caught my notice right out the gate with it’s peaceful art style, simple premise, and compelling design. There’s an exceptional marriage of theme and mechanics here- a tableau building game in which you’re populating your own piece of the Santa Monica Pier, in the hopes of attracting more tourists than your competitors. The pastel art style is of particular notice, really helping sell the theme. If you’re willing to give Santa Monica a chance, I think you’ll find something very special in this box.
I remain a little hesitant to add 4cade to the list this year, as I believe that it may be better as a solo game. That can be a huge plus for some, but may not work for all. Despite that, the is a really interesting roll and write game based on pinball. Turns are both exciting and chaotic, capturing the charm and nostalgia of the pinball machine- an impressive feat for a tabletop dice game.
This is actually an update of a game from 2011 called Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. What you’ll find in the box is an aggressive card driven, area control game, with hidden win conditions. The production value is phenomenal, with amazing art (seriously, the art in the game is on a whole new level), incredibly evocative miniatures, and three variants packed into the box. Personally, I like the original; but it’s quite difficult to find and the theme really fell flat for me. Nanty Narking moves to a Victorian era London; with literature influences, especially Dickens and Doyle. The game also received some minor re-balancing, in the hopes of making the title a little more accessible. Area control games like this aren’t for everyone, but if you’re so inclined, this is one of the best.
Another cat game on the list? Methinks I may like cats more than I let on… In Calico player are tasked with making the best quilt by selecting and placing tiles of various patterns and colors on their board. Three adjacent tiles of the same color will allow you to sew a button to your quilt, giving you the opportunity to earn extra points. By assembling enough tiles of the right pattern in the right shape, you will attract a cat to your quilt- earning more points. All this all adds up to a fascinating little puzzler with a lot of charm!
In We’re Doomed players face annihilation from an incoming asteroid. Each player will take on the role of a geopolitical entity (such as a democracy, totalitarian regime, or a technology company). Then players will have fifteen minutes to collect enough resources to build a rocket to save themselves… BUT! The fewer seats on the rocket, the easier it is to build, meaning that you don’t have to save everyone… In my opinion, this is the most interesting social deduction game to come out in recent memory, and the over-all package is pretty decent- especially considering the price. And the fifteen minute playtime means that player elimination doesn’t hurt feelings. This is another “it’s not for everyone” type game, but if the description carries any appeal, it’s definitely worth a look.
I think at this point, Azul has transcended the hobby game market into popular culture; heck, my mom asked me a couple of months ago if I’d ever heard of it. Azul: Summer Pavilions brings back that same set making gameplay, with friendlier, more strategic gameplay than the original. I really like these sorts of meditative games, and the clacky plastic tiles really add to the experience.
Kids are mean. Fort doubles down on this theme in a lightweight card game with an incredible amount of depth. This game is something like a deck-builder in which you’ll collect cards (friends) to build the best fort in town. The catch is that if you fail to use a card (don’t play with your friend) there is a chance the will be stolen away by another player. A lot of folks have expressed frustration with the theme, but personally I think it’s perfect. Silly premise or no, Fort is one of those games that requires repeated play to build a cohesive strategy. Games are quick and enjoyable, leaving room for that inevitable question: “Wanna play again?”
In my opinion this is far and away the best game of 2020. In Atlantis Rising the island of Atlantis is sinking, and as the last leaders of this once great civilization you are charged with building a portal to shepherd survivors off of the island. This is accomplished through an unlikely combination of worker placement and rolling dice to collect resources. The island is made up of six sinking peninsulas, each dedicated to a specific resource. The further out you go on a peninsula, the more likely you’ll succeed- If that section of the island doesn’t sink first. The original edition of Atlantis Rising was a decent stab at a cooperative eurogame. As such, it likely would have been enough for most gamers if Elf Creek had simply managed to put out a competent reprint. Instead, this is nothing short of an overhaul; transforming an already good game into something absolutely sublime.