I played a bunch of games in 2019. I have some new favorites and new recommendations!
I love a good 2-player game, and I made it my mission a couple years ago to have a decent collection of such. I think my favorite is still 7 Wonders Duel, with Patchwork close behind.
Schotten Totten: Players try to claim stones by laying cards on their side of a wall. It’s a quick, easy game. The theming is loose for the game, but it’s fun. I like a good screw-your-neighbor game thrown into the mix.
The Fox in the Forest: Trick-taking game where cards have special powers. It’s fun and easy enough to learn. I have no idea why this is themed the way it is. You might not think a 2-player trick-taking game would be worth it, but this one is.
The Blood of an Englishman: This game has two roles with different ways of winning. It’s… okay. I’m not sure if I would enjoy it more if I played it more, but the two games I played weren’t great. I played one game as Jack and one as the giant.
Kingdomino Duel: We loved this so much. It’s balanced for two players and is different enough from Kingdomino to be a standalone game. I enjoy the original game, but this Duel version is great. The only downside is that it takes up paper, which limits you to 50 games. However, have I actually played 50 games of anything at home? This may turn out to be my favorite 2-player game after a bit of time.
Kodama Duo: This is a good follow-up to the original from a few years ago, but it’s probably not necessary for a collection. It follows pretty much all the same rules as the original game, just with a couple of modifiers.
New Games in 2019
I went to a board game convention where all the latest releases are available. I didn’t play as many this year as last year, but I still had a good time. Below is what I played.
Ab durch die Mauer: The mechanic of this game was one I hadn’t seen before, with characters sticking to magnets under the board. Players are ghosts, and they move around the board trying to dress themselves using a combination of walking and gliding through walls via magnets. It sounds like a ridiculous game, and to a certain extent, it is, but it’s also quite fun and charming.
Fast Sloths: Players are sloths and ride animals to collect leaves. Each animal moves differently (3 spaces and then throw the rider, move along the river, fly to anywhere, etc.), and players collect and spend cards to get the animals to carry them. It’s a cute game with perhaps not a terrible amount of replayability for adults, but I think it would be great with older grade school kids.
The Magnificent: Players are vying to put on the best show they can. It has a Tetris element to it, and players hire actors, build venues, and profit. It’s fun, but it’s kind of faded from my memory. It was a bit longer than I felt it needed to be.
Glen More II: Chronicles: This is a rondel with resource management. I hadn’t played the original game, so this was new to me. We only played with the boat race chronicle. Players build their province or domain, acquiring resources and such. The boat race had us racing around across other players’ provinces, trying to get back to our own first. I really enjoyed this game, and if I buy it, will buy this version rather than the base game.
Terramara: Players are clan leaders in northern Italy in the late Bronze Age. You try to improve your battle and culture while improving your settlement and feeding your people. We chose our clans somewhat randomly, as you do your first time, and I ended up being able to exploit my power best and dominate the game. It was a good game, but I don’t need to own it.
Azul: Summer Pavilion: I know, I know, another Azul? But this one is different enough from the original game and Sintra to be worth it. Players collect tiles to put in stars, but each round, a different color is wild. This wild element makes it just different enough to be a more exciting game than the original.
Maracaibo: I think this is the hot new game, and it was definitely one of my favorites. Players are sailing around the Caribbean in the time of pirates and mercenaries, collecting resources, allying with Spain, France, or England, and going on adventures. It’s a really fun game, even though we played it incorrectly by placing influence cubes back on their track instead of removing them from the game.
Trails of Tucana: Every player has the same board but with different starting and ending points written around the edges. You’re trying to connect points with the same letters and connect points to animals scattered in the middle of the board. It’s moderately fun.
Miyabi: Players are trying to create the best garden through tile placement. The restrictions of placement make the game both fun and challenging.
Deep Blue: Players are shipwreck divers vying for the best treasure. I’m not sure how I feel about this game. It was fun enough, but I’m not certain about the replayability. The point is to get in on a dive with the least risk, so sticking close to each other was often the best idea. I’d play it again, for sure, but I don’t know that I would buy it.
Bruxelles 1897: We played this game to completion, but I’m not sure why. Players are trying to have the best stuff to show at the World’s Fair, with architecture, art, and patrons. Each round has a variable number of turns, dependent on the number (and values) of cards in your hand. It felt slow and just wasn’t much fun.
Museum: This was a Kickstarter that finally shipped this year, and I played it when it arrived rather than at the convention. It’s so good! Players are curating museums according to secret goals, vying for certain types of items or certain cultures over others. You get to learn stuff about history, and there’s a natural tension between players that doesn’t come off as being mean-spirited if you take a move that someone else wanted.
Social Deduction Games
I started at a new company, and I play games at lunch with a group of people. We mostly play social deduction games.
Don’t Mess with Cthulu: The mechanisms in this game are unlike what I’ve encountered before. It’s a fun game where the good people (Investigators) are trying to find all the Elder Signs and the bad people (Cultists) are trying to unleash Cthulu. According to my statistics, the Cultists win 77% of the time (51 plays recorded). I end up being bad most of the time, so I enjoy it a lot.
The Resistance: Avalon: This is a really fun game. I also have statistics on this one. It’s more balanced than Cthulu. Out of 36 plays, the minions of Mordred have won 58% of the time. We play with Merlin, Percival, the Assassin, Mordred, and Morgana. We also play with a variant we call the Green Knight. We take the Josh Groban-looking servant of Arthur and make sure he’s in the deck. If someone gets him (the Green Knight), they are unknown to the bad guys, but they appear bad to Merlin and if they are Lady-ed. I like this variant, but we only play if we have 9 or 10 players. We toss in Oberon with 10 players, which is pretty much an impossible role to play.
BANG! The Dice Game: This moves more slowly than the other social deduction games we play, but it’s pretty fun and good with smaller large groups. Players roll dice to gain actions, unlike the card game.
Love Letter: The Hobbit: We play this when we have four people. The twist in this game from the original game doesn’t really come into play very much, so it isn’t a necessary addition to a game collection if you already have Love Letter.
Secret Hitler: This was a hit a couple years ago, and it’s still a good social deduction game. The Fascists have an advantage, because of the way that the cards in the deck are distributed. It’s really easy to lie as a Fascist, so players also get less info than they would in other games.
I also played a bunch of Azul, Magic Maze, Codenames: Pictures, and Sushi Go. Our copy of Barrage also came this year! Those are all such great games, but I think I’ve talked about them before.
Spyfall 2: This is a deduction game where you’re trying to find the spy, and the spy is trying to figure out where you are. You ask questions of each other, balancing the generic and the specific, to try to suss everything out. It can be pretty fun.
Planet: This is a beautiful and interesting game. You have a globe t hat you cover with magnetic tiles portraying different kinds of terrain. You’re trying to attract animals and get larger collections of landmasses. We liked this game a lot and played it a couple times.
Pathwise: This is my friend’s game that I hope will come out in 2020. You’re trying to rescue children trapped in a maze. It’s a cute theme, and the game is easy enough to understand. It’s fun and has variable lengths.
Reef: You’re trying to build a coral reef with shapes to make patterns. It’s fun enough, but it didn’t have enough interest for me to play multiple times. Gunkimono: This is a tile-laying game where you’re trying to dominate territory. It’s fun and clever, and you play the people as much as you play the board. This was a Mensa Select winner in 2019.
Viticulture: I think I played most of a game of this a few years ago, but I don’t remember. We played this with two players, and it was really fun. It’s a Stonemeier game (makers of Scythe). Players are building their wine cellars trough cultivating grapes, making wine, and fulfilling contracts. The rough part of these games is starting out, because it takes forever to get your economic engine built, but it’s fun when it gets going.
Arboretum: This is a card game where you’re trying to build sets of trees in paths. We played multiple rounds of it, though there was some confusion about the rules with whether numbers needed to be sequential.
Just One: This was a Spiel des Jahres winner for 2019, and I understand why. It’s brought a lot of laughter and fun as we’ve played it. The most memorable was where the word was “Alcatraz”, two people wrote “island” as the clue and were out, and the two remaining clues were “Rock” and “Connery”. She guessed “Sean”. We have teased her about it since.
Joking Hazard: This is a card game based on the webcomic Cyanide & Happiness. It’s an Apples to Apples style game (I guess Cards Against Humanity is more popular now), but with comic panels. I don’t really like that style of game much, but it was fun enough.
Medium: This is a game where players team up with the player on either side of them (one at a time) to figure out what word is in the “middle” of two other words. It’s probably best played when sober, which we were not. It can be funny, but it’s also just constantly mildly frustrating.
Near and Far: We started a campaign in 2018 and gave up on it in January of 2019. It just ended up being really unbalanced with most games resulting in a really lopsided victory. It’s a fun enough game when you’re winning though! I think we’ll go back to playing Above and Below, or maybe play through as characters rather than a campaign like this.
Games I Recommend
I mean, if you don’t have Avalon, make it happen. Kingdomino Duel and Just One are amazing games. I want to buy Planet and Maracaibo. I think Carl would be open to the first but not the second. And Museum is just a good solid game.
I’m going to another board game convention in a week, so I’ll post afterwards about what I played there!