Calvin's Top 5 Board Games of 2019
by Calvin Wong
The first four games will be listed in alphabetical order, followed finally by my selection for Game of the Year. BUT FIRST:
Honorable Mentions: Magnate, Kung fu, & Geometric Art
These games are here because they are not yet available in wide release.
One of the best economic games I've played, an amazing dice drafter that captures the feel of kung fu combat, and the funniest art game I've played! I've written about Magnate here, Kung Fu here, and Geometric Art here if you'd like to know more - but keep them on your radar, they are all truly excellent.
Honorable Mention 2: Trapwords
If you've played Taboo, you know Trapwords. Let's say I'm trying to get my team to guess the word 'Carrot.' It would obviously be too easy to say 'orange vegetable' - that's why the other team has set a number of hidden Trapwords. Have they trapped orange? surely they have. But what about ground? What if they trapped 'coleslaw?' AGHHHHGHGHGHGHGHDFJASDASDASJD.
The only reason this is not in my top 5 - it's an absolutely hilarious party game, probably my favorite of all time - is it technically came out in 2018. My yearly calendar is Essen-Essen; but hey this way I get to shove another game onto this list!
Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter
This retheme and streamline of last year's incredible tactical combat game Wildlands lets you shout I AM THE LAW! as many times as you feel is necessary while gunning down perps and taking cover from hostiles. The sleek card-based combat system returns in this 2000 AD edition of Wildlands, which both acts as an expansion and a standalone game.
Helter Skelter adds just a touch more complexity to Wildland's card management system, forcing you to choose whether burning actions to snipe your opponent is worth the possibility that they'll close the distance and shove your teeth in. Whether at a chess-like 2 players or chaotic, well, Helter Skelter of multiplayer, one of my all time favorite tactical combat games.
'Splendor in space but faster' is how I describe this combo building board game about sending colonists to the moon of Jupiter so they can launch into outer space. This effort from indie publisher Sorry We Are French takes a Korean design, slaps some breathtaking space art on top, and lets you push meeples and draft cards to your heart's content.
If you love Splendor type stuff and want the tension ramped up a couple of G's, get ready to launch with Ganymede. Superb game.
SANCTUM ROCKS. Make monsters explode into piles of loot, get strong, learn skills, and fight the demon lord of terror!!!! Adrenaline designer Filip Neduk - whose specialty is apparently translating video game genres into cardboard - has catapulted what should be a simple engine builder into something transformatively fun.
My full review.
Undaunted is a deck builder - yes, a deck builder - that masterfully evokes the terrifying nature of infantry combat. Each card represents a soldier, with each hit removing them from the game for good - choose carefully when and how many cards you replenish vs using your leadership bonuses to push for a decisive strike - and then howl with futility as your dice refuse to land true.
At its heart a simple area control card game, Undaunted nevertheless forces some incredibly deep decisions on you, each with potentially significant consequences. Each movement, each decision to attack, each card to add or remove - all introduce a significant tension into an easy-to-learn system. A stunning game.
Game of the Year - Unmatched: Battle of Legends
My favorite thing to tell people about Unmatched - apart from the fact that it has a Jurassic Park T-Rex vs Laura Dern expansion coming next year - is that I can set it up in 20 seconds and teach it in 2 minutes.
The jaw-dropping art speaks for itself, and the rules - incredibly simple for how much depth they produce - are light enough to bolt on characters from every corner of myth and legend. Bruce Lee vs Bigfoot. Alice in Wonderland vs Sherlock Holmes. King Arthur vs the Raptors from Jurassic Park.
Each character and their sidekicks feels unique, filled with personality and verve - from Medusa's slow encroaching style punctuated by the terror of her Stone Gaze - vs Alice's hit-and-run balance between being Big and Small.
I love this game. I love this game. Everyone I introduce it to cannot play just one round. ALL of the expansions are standalone, so if the core set holds no interest to you, just splash out for the sets you do want.
Again: it sets up in 20 seconds and teaches in 2 minutes, while producing a stunning tactical framework that will hook you again and again and again. Game of the Year.