As we close out 2022 it’s time for me to share the top 10 board games I played for the first time this year. That doesn’t mean they were released this year, just that I didn’t play them until then. I hope maybe some of these will reinforce your love for some excellent games, or maybe there might be one or two that you’ll discover for the first time. Either way, thanks for joining me, and now…. on to the list!
10) Dungeons, Dice & Danger (Alea)
I think many roll-and-write games try to modify an already successful game’s mechanics so that it can be enjoyed in a different and usually more accessible way, while still retaining the prior game’s theme. I am constantly searching for a roll-and-write with just enough heft to feel like I am playing a game, but not so much heft as to get bogged down.
To date, my favorite roll and write is Fleet: The Dice Game, which made my 2021 top ten list. That game’s commercial fishing theme fills in the economic box on my roll-and-write genre list. (I don’t have such a list, but now I’ll probably be making one).
Dungeons, Dice & Danger, or DD&D for short, is that but for Dungeons and Dragons or a similar dungeon crawl type of experience. Even though it has no role-playing element, it does a really good job of simulating the exploration, monster fighting, and treasure aspects of a fantasy RPG. DD&D checks the box for the dungeon crawl roll-and-write I never knew I needed. One sheet, six dice and a pencil and you’re on your way to a fun 30-45 minutes.
I was not expecting to be wowed by this one, but if you asked me to play a roll-and-write at this moment, I’d probably suggest this one. Of note: It’s designed by Magic: The Gathering’s own Richard Garlfield. Check out Dungeons, Dice & Danger if you haven’t yet and my playthrough of Dungeons, Dice & Danger, below.
9) A War Of Whispers (Starling Games)
A War of Whispers’ epic look along with its mechanics: area control, deception, some negotiation, and even a little bit of gambling on other players’ actions, has most of the elements I love about tabletop gaming. It’s set in a kind of generic Game of Thrones world, with 5 factions trying to impose their dominance. Each player is assigned a secret, random order of how they want the factions to finish at the end of the game.
During the game, players manipulate the board by bidding for actions and moving cubes around on the map to influence the outcome. Sometimes players may have parallel interests whether they know it or not. And nothing is as satisfying as tricking your opponent into unknowingly helping you at their expense. War of Whispers is a unique beast that looks like a war game but plays a lot like a social deduction game. It’s definitely one of the best games I’ve played this year. Check out my review of A War of Whispers, below.
8) Brian Boru: High King of Ireland (Osprey Games)
This game and its sexy title uses trick-taking as the main mechanic. But it is so much more than that. Players are vying to score points in several areas of the board. These different battlefronts (fighting Viking invaders, courting spouses, and gaining religious influence) are all tied back to the trick-taking aspect.
Cards have a win reward, but also a losing reward. Sometimes it’s better to lose if that’s the reward you need. That’s a pretty unique twist on multi-use cards that works extremely well here. Trick-taking by itself doesn’t provide as much fun as it used to for me. (Sorry Rummy) But using it as a means to an end, kind of like deck building has become in recent years, is a great idea that I hope gets implemented more. Brian Boru is an excellent game and deserving of this list. Check out the gameplay of Brian Boru: High King of Ireland, below.
7) Space Empires 4X (GMT Games)
I love a good 4X game. It’s pretty well documented. Space Empires has been on my list to play for years, and 2022 was its time to shine for me. The space theme, the exploration, the economic build-up, and the tension when you finally confront your enemies (which will definitely happen) make this game a classic.
The only knocks against it are the old-school chits and the housekeeping aspects of the economic phase. But those should not be impediments to obtaining this game, as the benefits easily outweigh the detriments here. Also, if you want to eliminate these aspects completely, try it out on Board Game Arena. It does all the math and the interface is quickly intuitive. It reminds me of the old computer game 4Xs that got me into the genre back in the day. The nostalgia aspects only add to the experience here. This game is a classic for any 4X lover out there. Check out the gameplay or Space Empires 4X, below.
6) Civilization: New Dawn (with Terra Incognita Expansion) (Fantasy Flight Games)
I’ve been playing the computer version of Sid Meier’s Civilization since its first iteration. It’s an all-time masterpiece in gaming and probably my favorite computer game. How does this tabletop version measure up? Surprisingly well. It absolutely captures the essence of the original while streamlining the experience so that it fits within a two-hour timeframe.
The constant rotation of your available actions provides so many strategic choices that players will always stay engaged, even when it’s not their turn. The Terra Incognita expansion adds the exploration “X” to the mix and also reduces some of the abstractness of combat by adding army components that move around the board. I think the expansion takes the core game to the next level and really is a must-have. A great game, especially if you are a 4X lover. Check out my playthrough of Civilization: New Dawn, below.
5) SpaceCorp 2025-2300 A.D. (GMT Games)
This game caught me by surprise. I kept seeing it at my friendly local game store and finally decided to look a bit closer. I love space themes and when I saw that this one looked like a 4X game without the combat x, I figured I would pick it up. Good move, me.
I have played the first two of the game’s three boards, Mariners and Planeteers, at two players and solo. Both worked well, but the solo mode may be the most fun I’ve had in a solo gaming experience. Somehow, there is just enough tension to make it feel like you are racing other human opponents, even though all you do is flip over a single card for the A.I.’s turn. This lets the player spend almost the entire game focusing on their own turns as opposed to fiddling with the game. Check out my solo playthrough of SpaceCorp 2025-2300 AD, below.
4) Brass: Birmingham (Roxley Games)
Brass: Birmingham, an economic euro game, has gotten plenty of hype recently, and while that’s not always an indicator of an actual good game, in this case, it definitely is. As with many of the games I tend to enjoy, the mechanisms here are pretty simple (play two cards and draw two cards). But compared to the mechanic simplicity, the level of strategy required to excel at the game is as high as it gets.
Every decision feels like it could be the difference between winning and losing, and it probably is. I’ve played it a couple of times now and I really enjoyed it. It’s absolutely a brain burner and not something I would expect to play often because it can be physically exhausting. But I do hope to build up my mental stamina so it gets played more. For sure, it’s a must-have for my collection and it’s easily in this year’s top ten.
3) Wallenstein (Queen Games)
Wallenstein is a new-to-me older game that combines action programming with area control. Everyone has the same 10 actions and everyone takes the same action at the same time, but the province where the action is performed is simultaneously revealed. That’s the main decision space of the game. But every decision seems way more important than it should be and that’s where the game shines for me.
To quote the philosopher, Michael Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Battles are resolved with a cube tower where combatants drop their respective cubes in, and whoever has the most to come out of the bottom of the tower wins. Sounds deterministic and unexciting to you? Well, because of the tower’s design, oftentimes cubes get stuck in the nooks and crannies of the tower and get dislodged in future combats.
This uncertainty in probabilities somehow makes a huge difference in the outcomes and that uncertainty influences players’ decisions on when and if to attack an opponent. It’s actually very cool and quite exciting. Come for the cube tower, stay for an excellent game. Score one for the oldtimers. This game rocks. Check out my Wallenstein playthrough, below.
2) First Rat (Pegasus Spiele)
I’ve played First Rat as much as any other game this year and it is always a hit, no matter the group. There are very few mechanics, but the choices are interesting to make because you want to be as efficient as possible in maximizing scoring opportunities. It’s a race, but finishing too fast might leave you behind on points when the game ends.
Also, I love the theme in the game. We are rats in a junkyard trying to collect resources to build a rocket and launch our Ratronauts to the cheese moon. That’s a little bit deeper than it appears on the surface because while it requires faith to pursue, it is an impossible task. Woah. First Rat is a great game that deserves a lot of acclaim and one I hope stays in our rotation in the future. You should definitely check this one out. It’s a gem. Check out my review of First Rat, below.
1) Obsession (Kayenta Games)
Obsession is clearly a labor of love from designer Dan Hallagan. Think of it as Downton Abbey, the board game. You are the head of a Victorian England house trying to bring your family’s prestige and wealth back to prominence after a rough patch. To do this you’ll put on events, inviting all the who’s who of society.
You’ll want to renovate your beat-up estate and manage the staff, all with the goal of impressing your guests. Organize, party, and court your family’s way to a comeback. While each individual mechanic here is solid (but nothing special in and of itself) they all come together to fit the theme so well that the overall experience feels like something special. It’s tabletop magic. The Upstairs, Downstairs expansion adds some extra staff, rooms, and other goodies, so even if you can master the core game, there’s plenty more to keep you interested. Great stuff, and my game of the year. Check out my short on Obsession, below.
Well, there you have it. There are my top 10 of 2022. I hope you have a wonderful end to 2022, and here’s to all of us in 2023. Check out my Youtube page, FeniRob, and stay safe, Happy Holidays, and keep nerding on!
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