Welcome to our top 50 games list for 2019, in which I list my personal top 50 games at this point in time. My choices are not limited to games from this calendar year, but instead, represent my current thoughts on the top 50 games to me. Next year, some of the games featured may move up and down as my opinions change and I get the chance to play more games or revisit old favourites.
This series will comprise 5 posts, each covering 10 games as we work down from number 50 to number 1. This is part 3 of 5. You can click here to revisit part 1 or here for part 2. Now, onwards for games 30 through 21!
Previous Position: 37 (+7)
Designers: Matt Anderson, Nathan Caroland, Justin Gibbs, Eric Johns, Mack Martin
Plays: 2 players in ~90 minutes
Malifaux has moved up the list a little this year following a plunge last year. It’s still not getting enough play, but I’ve still had a lot of fun when it when I’ve had the chance. I do still feel bad, as I have a lot of unpainted Malifaux Miniatures kicking around. I worry a little about the future of my Malifaux collection as I don’t see anyone up here picking it up, which is fine, but it does rather minimise the potential usefulness of these miniatures.
And this is a pity. The game is good. I like that I can wipe the enemy crew off the table and still lose the game. That’s how these games should be. Objectives should matter. Objectives should be the focus. I adore the card mechanisms at play in Malifaux and I continue to really love the miniatures. I’ve kept the image for this entry as the 2nd edition book as I’ve yet to get third edition to the table. A goal for this year?
Previous Position: New to the list
Designer: Alexandr Ushan
Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment
Plays: 3-8 players in ~15 minutes
Spyfall is a fun game. I like deduction games and I really like the setup of this one. usually in these games, there’s one person who has a piece of key information and everyone else needs to work it out. This game flips that around, with all but one player knowing the location in which the game is set with the remaining player, the spy, not knowing and having to as innocuous questions that will allow him to work out the location without giving away himself as the spy.
It’s a lot of fun and it’s really accessible. I think it plays better after a few games, once people get a hang of what the game’s about, how it works and how not to give yourself away immediately. There’s been a sequel and a DC-themed version, but I’ve only played the original, myself.
Previous Position: Returned to the list
Designer: Klaus Teuber
Publisher: Matyfair Games
Plays: 2-4 players in ~60 to 120 minutes
After appearing as number 33 on 2017’s list, Catan slipped off the 2018 edition. This year it makes a triumphant return. Many board game snobs deride Catan as being dated, but I still think it’s a reasonably simple and elegant design. The game is great for new players and can be incredibly cutthroat with more experienced ones. There are a lot of expansions to add either more players or more mechanisms to the game. I own two of these expansions, but I feel the same way about Catan as I do with Carcassonne, that the core game is really the best offering.
This is a game I can play with my parents, with my regular gaming group, with a group of kids. It’s flexible and accessible and I’m glad it’s back on the list this year. It does feel a bit dated I suppose, but nothing has really come along to displace it for me yet, at least not in a lasting way.
Previous Position: Returned to the list!
Designer: Klaus Zoch
Publisher: Zoch Verlag
Plays: 2-8 players in ~15 to 45 minutes
Bandu (aka Bausack) was not on last year’s list. It was on the 2017 list, making it in at number 45 before slipping off altogether for 2018. Simply put, the game is a lot of fun. I like auction games, so that aspect of it works well for me. What I don’t normally like are reflex games or games with other physical mechanisms. That said, I quite like building my tower, and it’s great when you can make a piece work that you were initially unsure of, or deviously bidding to add an awful piece to another player’s tower!
The instructions give several alternative sets of rules, adding further variety to the game. I can see myself playing a lot more of this in the coming year. I’ve come to like the physicality of the game and that tactile element it brings. This might represent a slight shift in my tastes.
Previous Position: 45 (+19)
Designer: John Yianni
Plays: 2 players in ~20 minutes
Hive is a great game that is really great. Greatly great. A solid 2-player game, this is a boardless abstract game, a bit like checkers, but with different pieces, each with varying abilities. The goal is to trap the enemy queen whilst keeping your own queen free. It’s so easy to be quickly overwhelmed if you take your eyes off your own queen and overextend. The different pieces mean there’s a lot to think about and a lot of options for each player.
The game feels good, too. I love the feel of the heavy pieces as the clink together as they are placed on the table. I like the bad that comes with it, too. This sees a lot of play, which is reflecting in its meteoric rise from 45th place last year to 26th in 2019.
25: Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
Previous Position: 22 (-3)
Designer: Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Plays: 2-3 players (2-5 in standard Ticket to Ride) in ~30 to 60 minutes
The ultimate example of a solid gateway game, Ticket to Ride continues to make me happy in my heart. We’ve picked up so much of it! The original game, Europe, Rails and Sails, Germany, UK, and Nordic. I also picked up most of the other maps at this year’s bring and buy at Tabletop Scotland. Nordic is my favourite map, so I’ve used that as my example edition for this entry.
I love that I can break this out with any group and it just works. I love that This is a game my wife will play, my gamer friends will play and my parents will play. I love that it’s just so beautifully produced. I will, at some point, pick up more of the maps, but I don’t even really need them. I’d be happy playing the original version over and over and over again. The maps are just gravy.
24: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar
Previous Position: 16 (-8)
Publisher: Games Workshop
Plays: 2+ players in ~40 to 180 minutes
I like being proven wrong. I was one of the many people who were pissed off when Warhammer was shelved by Games Workshop in favour of this new game, Age of Sigmar. Round bases? Golden-armoured warriors? 4 pages of rules? How could this ever work?
It does, though.
I’m not going to rehash all of the arguments for and against AoS – I’ve already made my peace with it. It was a botched launch and GW did well to come back from that. The game now has a number of original armies and is in its second edition. The game is quick and easy and is just a pleasure to play. It might lack depth in comparison to classic Warhammer, but it’s so much easier to take the table and is just pure fun. I’ve played this a lot and I really enjoy it.
23: Discworld: Ankh Morpork
Previous Position: 47 (+24)
Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Plays: 2-4 players in ~60 minutes
A decent area control game that does not involve combat. This makes it quite unique in my collection and it still makes it onto the table. The Discworld theming helps the game considerably for me and it will definitely help Pratchett fans to buy into the game, but I don’t think that a knowledge of the setting would be compulsory for really enjoying the game. Prior knowledge will just help you get all of the references and recognise the characters and groups represented on the game’s cards. It’s moved quite significantly up the list this year, largely because I don’t really have any other light area control games that I often play.
It’s now out of print because of licensing changes with the Pratchett estate, but has been re-released without the Discworld license under the name, Nanty Narking. I suppose the core game is pretty much the same, but for me the license is pretty central to the experience of the game. I won’t be picking it up anyway as I already have the original.
Previous Position: 29 (+7)
Designer: Paul Dennen
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Plays: 1-4 players in ~30 to 60 minutes
Clank remains a great game. Like Paperback, it’s a union of two genres that I really like. This time, those are the deck builder and the dungeon crawl. It works really well, with the engine you build with your deck coming to represent your hero and his or her capabilities. Focus and optimise your deck for a focused and optimised hero. Fill it with random nonsense and get… well… not that.
The game can get a tad repetitive. I loved the deck building, but the dungeon crawl gets a little stale if overplayed. Maybe it’s just that it’s the same 2 maps, over and over. There are expansions with new maps, but I’ve not picked any of these up. That said, still a great game!
21: Dead of Winter
Previous Position: 12 (-9)
Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Isaac Vega
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Plays: 2-5 players in ~45 to 210 minutes
Dead of Winter is a great semi-cooperative game where players work together to meet a shared objective whilst also trying to fulfil an individual, secret objective. The Crossroads cards, for which this series of games is named, is an event deck that triggers each turn if and when specific pre-requisites are met. The Crossroad cards take a game that would already be great and add a random element that really works well to up the ante and create truly tense situations. Some of the cards really screw you over, too!
I love working with others and planning out how to meet the shared objective in this game. I do try to meet my shared objective, but I always try to keep a handle on the shared one. Maybe this is why I lose so often… Dead of Winter is tense, fun and occasionally manic. It can present truly difficult decisions, but also hilarious situations. This is a game that really develops a narrative in a natural, unforced way.
This year, I’m hoping to get Gen 7, the next game in the Crossroads series, onto the table, having picked up in a sale a month or two ago.