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. We’re now at part 4, covering numbers 20 through 11. You can click to visit part 1, part 2 or part 3. Let’s kick things off, shall we?
Previous Position: 8 (-12)
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Plays: 3-4 players in ~30 minutes
The big daddy of deck building games. I love this game. It’s just the best of its kind, and it’s a game I can play with lots of different people. It’s also great that my wife loves it, so it can make it onto the table quite often. I’ve not gone overboard with expansions, but I kind of wish I had. There’s still time…
The biggest thing that sets this game apart from many other deck builders is that you actually have to make decisions about what cards to play and what cards to buy. Games like the DC Comics Deck Building Game and Star Realms, although both fantastic, give you no reason to not just play all of your cards on every turn. Dominion only allows you to play one action card and make one purchase as standard. I’ve written about this before, at length, but it really does come down to the structure. I like Dominion’s structure and the decisions it forces the player to make.
Previous Position: 39 (+20)
Designers: Shimpei Sato
Publisher: Arcane Wonders
Plays: 2 players in ~15 to 20 minutes
The presentation of Onitama is sublime. The box is really unique and contains 10 simple, chunky pieces, a small stack of cards and a neoprene (mousepad-style) playmat. The space in the box is used perfectly and that makes me happy in my heart. The watercolour-style art of the mat, the simple design of the cards and miniatures and the simplicity of the instructions all add massively to this impression.
The actual game is a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed myself hugely on every occasion that this has made it to the table. I love the chess-like moves that the cards let you do and the circular passing of cards adds another strategic consideration. Sure, you might think, this move is good for me, but if I use it and pass the card on, can my opponent use it against me to good effect? Oh, this is goooooooood!
Previous Position: New to the list
Designer: François Gandon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Plays: 2-4 players in ~30 to 60 minutes
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Quadropolis. I wasn’t expecting a city simulator or anything as complicated as that, but nor did I expect the game to be quite as abstract as it is. It’s a tile-laying game where players are trying to put combinations of districts in specific patterns to maximise points. It’s a bit of a pasted-on theme, but the game is a lot of fun and the artwork is cute.
Like many of the games from Days of Wonder, it’s pretty accessible and I’ve played it with my friend, parents, and groups of kids. It’s always pretty well received, but most people do better on their second playthrough, once they fully understand the scoring system, which is really the only complicated bit of the game.
17: Eldritch Horror
Previous Position: 15 (-2)
Designer: Corey Konieczka, Nikki Valens
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 1-8 players in ~120 to 240 minutes
Eldritch Horror is an expansive game of cooperative awesomeness. Players work together to defeat an evil threat to the world. This is often, for me and my group, an exercise in utter, doomed futility, but that’s ok. I love how this works. I love that there are a lot of moving parts going on. I love how characters develop as the game goes on.
I particularly like playing this when there’s no time pressure and with a group that will really get into the spirit of the game. Just reading the mechanical implications of the cards does work, and it’s probably the fastest way to play. I prefer properly reading each card as, adding up all of the horrific events that these characters go through, you end up with quite a story developing in each game. Eldritch Horror is fun and it is difficult, and I love it.
16: Traveller (Mongoose 2nd ed.)
Previous Position: New to the list
Designer: Shawn Driscoll, Dale C. McCoy, Jr., Marc W. Miller, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Matthew Sprange
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Plays: I dunno, several (?) players in ~Yeah, this doesn’t work for RPGs minutes
This is one of the RPGs that I make more of an effort to collect. Partly because I really like the system and the production values of the books, and partly because the release schedule is quite forgiving. Mongoose isn’t flooding the market with a ton of crap for Traveller, so I’m able to keep up pretty easily, especially when I’m not collecting adventures.
Traveller definitely has one of the most interesting character creation processes that I’ve ever seen. I like that at the end of the whole thing you’ve got not only a sheet of stats and skills, but also a detailed backstory. It can throw up a few oddities, of course. I once rolled up a naval officer who had managed to lose a few limbs in his carrer and had spent a long time in prison. Good times!
I also had a really fun game of Traveller at Tabletop Scotland this year. Good GM, lovely group, fantastic game.
Previous Position: 7 (-8)
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Plays: 1-5 players for ~90 to 115 minutes
Scythe is a genuinely fantastic game. Opening the box, you see your plastic character and mech miniatures and you might assume that Scythe is a war game. It’s not. it’s really, really not. It’s very much a resource management game. It’s also downright beautiful, both in terms of the design of the pieces and the artwork used. The board, in particular, is a thing of beauty. This also works really well on Tabletop Simulator, if you’re that way inclined.
I’m still playing a fair bit of Scythe and am loving it every time. I’m at the point that I want to start mixing in some of the expansions and I hope they’ll add some fun extras to the game. It’s fallen down the list a little bit, but that’s because it’s shifted from being ‘the hotness’ to instead filling the role of a comfortable friend.
Previous Position: 31 (+17)
Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Plays: 2-5 players in ~30 to 45 minutes
This is the second year in a row that Carcassonne has moved up on the list. My initial response to this is surprise. That said, I’m really appreciating simpler games at the moment and a few of them have seen similar rises in the list. That’s nice, as Carcassonne continues to be a really cool, really simple game. It’s one that I love playing with kids and adults, with gamers and non-gamers.
There’s just something nice about taking a tile and playing a tile. There’s something rewarding about seeing the map grow with each turn, taking strange twists and turns. There’s something really special about this game. I actually have a few expansions in the German big box edition that I have, but these rarely see play as I just love the purity and simplicity of the original, core game.
Previous Position: 14 (+1)
Designer: Rikki Tahta
Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
Plays: 2-6 players in ~15 minutes
Coup is a masterclass in minimalism. Coup consists of a few cards, some coin tokens and some summary cards to help players keep track of what each card does. From these humble components comes a game that I adore. This is my go-to social game, and I even prefer it over The Resistance, which has actually slid off the list this year.
I really enjoy the cut and thrust of the bluffs and accusations that this game fosters. It feels more dynamic than The Resistance and you have a lot more individual power. You don’t get all frustrated by those fools who keep allowing the spy onto the team; if you doubt a player’s honesty, you can just call them on it. It works. It’s direct. It’s fantastic.
12: Among the Stars
Previous Position: 17(+5)
Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Publisher: Artipia Games
Plays: 2-4 players for ~30 minutes
A really great drafting game, Among the Stars sees each player building a space station with their drafted tiles. These stations are all about synergy, with different tiles interacting with one another in order to generate points. it sounds pretty simple, and it is. The drafting stage is an absolute joy, as you rummage through your options, working out what works best with what you’ve already got and considering your options for the future of your station.
Visually, this game is an absolute treat, with each room being lovingly depicted in fantastic, original artwork. I’ve played this game a lot and I’m still playing around with different synergies and options. I never feel like I’m just trying to recreate the same bases over and over, but rather adapting to a fresh design each time.
11: Kingdom Builder
Previous Position: New to the list
Publisher: Queen Games
Plays: 2-5 players in ~45 to 210 minutes
I bought this not long after it came because it’s a game from Donald X. Vaccarino. That had me really pumped for the game, It was going to be great! It was not. It was disappointing. It got put back on the shelf and it stayed there for a good, long while.
Then it came off the shelf and I decided to play a few games of it before deciding whether to keep it or get rid of it. I liked it. I really liked it. The game is, like many of those that have done well in my list this year, simple. I think the problem was, as I suggested above, my own expectations. I also think my tastes have changed. Between these two factors, I’m really loving this game, hence entering the list this high. Needless to say, I decided to keep it.