For the first time, the Tabletop Games Blog is giving away an award: the Top Table Award for the best game released in 2019. As you know, a lot of new tabletop games were released this year, probably around 3,000 to 4,000, excluding expansions. That’s more games anyone will ever be able to play in a year, and I have probably only seen 20-30 of those. However, I still thought it’d be good to share with you my top 5 games that were published in 2019 and crown the winner.
The four armies have landed on the beach of the abandoned island and deposited their troops with intent. They are here to claim their stake and become the new rulers. Yet, battles are rare. The invaders mostly compete for majority, tolerating their opponents’ presence, while brave cohorts cross the seas to reach neighbouring islands in this tiny archipelago. Cities are built to establish a permanent presence, but it doesn’t take long until it is all over. In Eight-Minute Empire: Legends by Red Raven Games, you and up to three other players try to manoeuvre your armies over eight to eleven rounds to come out victorious.
You build track on either the London or Berlin underground maps to get passengers to travel along your routes in On the Underground London/Berlin by LudiCreations.
I guess it has become tradition now for boardgame blogs to suggest a number of games that people should play with their friends and family over the festive period. As I love tradition, I will do what everyone else is doing and give you a selection of games some of which may suit your taste and may also be a good match for whoever you choose to play with when you enjoy some time off over Christmas.
Exploriana by Triple Aces Games is set at the end of the 19th century where players go out on expeditions around the world to discover new animals, plants and artefacts.
Through five millennia you guide your civilization from the discovery of fire through vastly different eras to its ultimate end. You discover and develop different technologies, flex your military muscle, explore new lands and execute unexpected and sometimes devastating science experiments as your people advance from generation to generation. In Tapestry by Stonemaier Games, you write an alternative history that has echoes of mankind’s but turns out completely different, but hopefully for the better.
In Eight-Minute Empire: Legends by Red Raven Games you try and control areas on a map by playing cards for actions and as sets.
Here is another beautifully illustrated game by Ryan Laukat. You will immediately recognize it from his other games, such as Near and Far. You will also recognize a lot of the characters he created in his other games and which appear in Roam as well. Yet, this game from Red Raven Games is quite different from the others. There is no resource management, no movement and no storytelling. Instead, you get a lovely, light game that is very easy to explain and learn and relatively quick to play.
Feudal Japan is in turmoil. Warring clans are roaming the land to claim territories and gain influence and power, while vying for the favour of the spirits, the Kami, whose support will help cement the superiority over the enemies. As clans form alliances and recruit legendary monsters to bolster their armies’ ranks, everyone prepares for multiple battles which will change the face of Japan. Yet, territories are often held only fleetingly as alliances are betrayed and powers shift. It is up to you to use your cunning and strategic planning to come out the victor in Rising Sun by CMON.
Welcome to Arzium, where you and up to three other players use your adventurer cards to play token in specific patterns onto a shared map in order to control an area, which will add new and more powerful adventurers to your group. There is a lot of gentle player interaction in Roam by Red Raven Games.
In Tapestry by Stonemaier Games you grow your civilization from humble beginnings in ancient times into a prosperous people in the far future.
A handful of small trees stand at the edge of a clearing. The wind blows gently as the sun starts to rise in the east. You can almost see the trees reaching for the light, as they slowly convert the sunshine into sugars, which is used to grow and produce seeds. Each species will have different survival strategies, but all trees have a natural urge to disperse their seeds towards the middle of the clearing, where there is less competition and more fertile ground. However, it won’t be long until the many saplings have filled the available space and the fight for sunshine will become more and more intense. In the meantime, some trees will have grown old and will die, freeing up precious ground for seeds to settle and hopefully germinate. It is for you and up to three of your friends to look after your rootstock in Photosynthesis by Blue Orange Games.
In a future where mankind has resolved to abandon war and replace it with virtual battles, teams of nine elite fighters selected by their nations face each other in pairs to win a precious new energy source that promises to bring the world back from the ashes. You have the opportunity to lead one of these teams out onto the 3 by 3 grid, where you take turns with your opponent and carefully occupy key positions in the hope that you win battle after battle to become a hero of the Vector Wars.
Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games comes with a lot of wooden pieces, cardboard tokens, player boards and the modular game board. Fitting everything in the box, while keeping things organized, isn’t easy. It’s a very tight fit, if you separate all the different pieces into baggies or small plastic containers. However, the insert from Folded Space sorts everything neatly into separate boxes.
As witches fly overhead, giants stomp around the wastelands, swarmlings huddle in swamps, chaos magicians cause, well, chaos, halflings burrow the plains and engineers build their bridges from their mountains, you roll up your carpet and prepare to continue through the desert in your nomad way. As you consider the scene in front of you, something nags you. Engineers building bridges from mountains – that doesn’t sit right somehow. Yet, that’s not all. Suddenly the desert in front of you terraforms into a wasteland. Deserts aren’t much of a laugh and wastelands don’t seem much different, but terraforming in this fantasy setting seems completely out of place. You half expect a spaceship to land in front of you, when instead a giant places a dwelling in the newly created space. Not only that, they then proceed to convert the dwelling into a trading house. It is not clear what giants have to trade, but you consider it for a moment, before you decide to send one of your priests to advance on the cult track for air – because after all, everyone needs air to live. A moment later you realize that you’re in a giant game of Terra Mystica by Z-Man Games.
Strolling along the parterres, taking in the view of the stepped garden to one side and the water garden on the other, you relax and try to fully appreciate the immensity of this Wonder of the world. The whole arrangement is cleverly emphasized by carefully placed temples. The huge amount of work and dedication that has gone into this expansive and exquisitely manicured design, the countless shrubs, hedges and flowering plants, all add to the feeling that you are but a small creature in this giant world. Suddenly the zen-like peace is rudely interrupted by deafening noises, as you watch in disbelief as the water garden is bulldozed to the ground to make room for more parterres. Welcome to The Hanging Gardens by Hans im Glück, which are in constant change to score the gardener as many points as possible.
Economic simulation games set in 19th century Scotland are few and far between, but Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games is one of those rare games. Your role is to expand your influence in the Highlands, cut wood or mine ore for income, plant the land with wheat, as well as herd cows and sheep. You build factories that turn your milk and grain harvest into delicious cheese, bread and, of course, whiskey, all of which you will export and trade for imported sugar cane, cotton and tabacco. It is very much what you would expect from any other economic simulation game of the same ilk, yet Clans of Caledonia is exceptional because the theme and mechanisms fit like glove and hand, making for a really smooth gameplay
I know, Scythe by Stonemaier Games has been out since 2016 and has had a couple of expansions released as well, including promo packs with additional encounter cards. So chances are you have already heard plenty of reviews about this game and maybe own it yourself, but I still felt it’s worth reviewing, because I am sometimes surprised by how many people still don’t know Scythe.
Rise of Tribes by Breaking Games looks like your normal area control game with the usual random terrain made out of hexagonal tiles. The game is set in ancient, prehistoric times, and you move your tribe members around the terrain, collect resources, craft tools to upgrade your tribe’s abilities and generally do things that you will have seen before in other games. However, look closer and you will see that there are at least two interesting mechanisms in this game, which make it stand head and shoulders above the rest.
In my third review I look at another digital conversion by Digidiced that Asmodee Digital was kind enough to let me try out. It is another Lookout Spiele game by designer Uwe Rosenberg. In Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (I shorten this to just Agricola for the rest of this article) you are a 17th century farmer in central Europe. It is a very clever 2 player only worker placement game where you have to manage your resources, life stock and farmland. Of course, this game also has some clever little twists, which make the gameplay so interesting.