These are the games that I really liked and have played for the first time in 2019.
I found this ranking to be much more interesting than the Top Games of 2019. Last year was rather tame for new releases.
And here are the Top 30 ‘New to Me’ 2019
30. Endeavor: Age of Sail
Endeavor: Age of Sail is a re-implementation of an older game called Endeavor. Endeavor is a straight-forward Euro game of establishing trade routes and conquering the regions of the world. It is a mash of engine-building, area-control, and action selection that meshes together nicely into an elegant design.
Each action you can do on your turn is simple. Every token you take from the board has straight forward consequences. The scoring is very focused on limited avenues. The new Exploits in this re-implementation adds depth that is lacking during the late game.
Hansa is a game by Michael Schacht (Coloretto, Web of Power). It has a fascinating theme of being merchants in the Baltic Sea. Oh how fun! However, all players share the same boat that allows them to do actions.
Even though the game is very tactical, it somehow allows you to execute long-term strategic plans, but not as straight forward as no-luck games. I like the interesting choices in it – “should I use these goods to build my presence here or to sell them for points?”. Plus, the game is lean and easy to explain with good player interaction.
28. Penguin Party
Penguin Party is a sleek card game by Reiner Knizia, where you guys try to build a pyramid of penguins (apparently, that’s what they do during their penguin parties).
When building a pyramid, a penguin has to be supported by 2 other penguins and the colour has to match with one of the two. Keep playing until you ran out of cards or you can’t play a card.
This is basically “Bottleneck: the Game”. The pyramid keeps getting tighter, cutting off your options to play your cards. It’s a funny game and even funnier when someone gets a lot of penalties for keeping a lot of cards.
This is the successor to an earlier game, Rapa Nui.
Bali is a commodity-speculation game where you try to figure out which of the 4 goods (rice, chilli, peanut, and bananas) will be the most valuable. The most scores 3 pts, 2 pts for 2nd, and 1 pt for 3rd. But to make them valuable, you have to give up your goods cards in the middle. Sacrifice points to get more points.
Great artwork with a theme that you don’t see very often. Interesting way of getting cards to your hand, as you will trigger production for the revealed card underneath the card you picked up.
The Bali: Village of Tani expansion adds little rules overhead, but adds tension. You need to build all of your houses onto the village or you will be disqualified. You build them by giving up your precious farmer cards and goods cards. The trade-off between building early and building late is really good (plus the tension of possibly getting disqualified) that I’m keeping this expansion as part of any game. Plus, it has Ganesh as a meeple!
Need to play Bali: Temple of Shiva expansion.
26. Fields of Green
This is my card-drafting engine building game of choice nowadays. It’s a card drafting game that comes with a spatial element on how you place your drafted cards. The way you set up your initial hand of cards yourself from the several types of decks is cute.
The constant pressure to keep your fields watered every harvest phase puts pressure on the player to make up for the lack of player interaction that would have put players at odds with each other.
25. Glass Road
Oh wow. A bucolic Rosenberg game with great player interaction. Amazing!
The game can be divided into 3 parts: the resource wheel, the card selection, and the tableau building. The game focuses mostly on the first and the second – which are the most interesting aspects of the game.
The resource wheel is just brilliant and avoids the tedious cube pushing admin that plagues the cube pushing Euro genre. The card selection is just delicious. You select 5 cards out of your entire deck of role cards, and you try to double guess what others are doing – as this allows you to piggyback on their card when they reveal it before you do.
This is a very unique game, and the fact that it’s only 4 rounds short makes the choices more weighted than it should be. A bit short, but it’s not a deal breaker, with the trade-off of having tighter decisions.
Calimala feels (and looks like) an old school game from the bygone era of the 90s and early 00’s. The rules are breezy: you place a token on a space and you take the two actions in between of that space. However, if another token is placed on top, then you can do your two actions again after the current player. Really interesting twist to action-selection.
The scoring varies every game, but it’s simply area-control that makes the game competitive. The varying order of which area is scored each game makes an interesting twist to the area-control scoring.
Taluva plays so similarly as Java/Cuzco, that I often call it “mini-Cuzco”. Not accurate, but, eh, I like the comparison. The game is a tile-laying game that allows you to build a 3D island by stacking these tiles on top of one another, which immediately charmed me.
The rules are cleaner and more elegant than Java/Cuzco. The goal is also very straight-forward – simply run out of 2 types of buildings. It culminates to a mixture of building, destroying, and rushing towards the finish line. But whether you win or lose, you all collectively build a really cool multi-layered island
22. The Quest for El Dorado
I’m not a deck-builder person, and this one is the only deck-builder I have. Knizia did his usual magic in this. It follows the Dominion-style where the market is open and every card is available to see. However, the game was made accessible by restricting it to a certain number of cards allowed to be purchase at a time.
The race being the main focus of the game distracts me from the deck-building aspect which is often about face-down gaming focusing on your own deck. Instead, I’m more concern with the map and the race, even as I browse the market and build up my deck.
21. Battle for Rokugan
An area-control game with no armies on the board. Battle for Rokugan is basically someone sitting down and try to cut down this convoluted mess called A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) and reduce it to what makes the game fun. And it worked! A very odd elegant beast coming from Fantasy Flight!
Placing tokens on the board is so simple but often full of tension and “ooohhh” from the players. You can strike anywhere and no place is safe. So no turtling, unless you intentionally invest on defence. The bluffing mechanic is so simply done and it’s so well done.
My main issue would be the random objectives, but didn’t stopped me from being amazed with it.
20. Battlelore 2nd Edition
Battlelore 2nd edition captured my heart. A two player miniatures games where fantasy armies clash and you roll dice. Very similar to Memoir ’44, but I prefer this for its theme and also its mechanics are more polished than M44.
The objective selector is far more interesting and isn’t fixed like the historical scenarios of Memoir 44 or the Command & Colours series, as each player can select their own objective and creates a map on their own side of the board.
The armies are bespoke as well, according to the wants of the players. But if you are unsure on how to design your army, worry not – there are templates that you can directly copy as it is, or just based on with your own minor adjustments.
This is one of my fave filler games. It’s a set collecting game where there are several suits of cards (or colours of cards). At the end of the game, you only score 3 colours as your positive points. The rest? They become negative points.
Fun push-your-luck game where you decide whether to draw a card and place it to one of the sets, or call it a day and pick up an existing set on the table.
I always always prefer the Advanced variant: collecting cards of the same colour will score you more points; however, as you reach a point, the score goes down as you collect more. Much more interesting this way.
18. Air, Land, & Sea
Excellent 2 player game of winning 2 areas out of 3. They are land, sea, and air. The deck is divided into those 3 areas and those cards can only be played on their areas. Easy to explain and learn.
The special abilities on the cards are very tasty but what I love about the game the most is that a player can withdraw. So it’s a game not just a question of which theatre to compete against, but also decide when to pull out. The earlier a player pulls out, the fewer points the opponent will get.
Really tricky hand management rules. But once you get past that, it is the best trading game I’ve played. The mechanics is better than Chinatown. Chinatown is too random at early game and too predictable in the late game.
Bohnanza is a pretty stripped down trading game, making it easy to show to people. The planting mechanic gives players an incentive to sell. The board state doesn’t devolve to a mess, so you can actually read what people want. And the cards have different values, which makes the trade more complex than a simple 1 for 1 value.
It is one of my top worker placement games. Everything is player-driven: the game’s duration is player-driven. The cost of every action is also player-driven. The buildings, the turn order, the provost – all of it. No luck. Just Caylus.
However, my biggest qualms with the game is the length of the game. While it’s not a very complicated game, it has a very long duration. For me, Caylus 1303 replaced this game, mostly because of the reduced duration of the game. However, the original is still a very well made game and I still hold it to high regard.
15. Tempel des Schreckens (aka Temple of Terror)
A social deduction game where each player don’t know who is their ally or enemy and both teams have to bluff and lie. Bluffing is now a form of defence against the opposing team. However, you want to be truthful too to gain the trust of your teammates.
The cards are randomised from the players hand, however, the player has control of the information. This is what I like about One Night Ultimate Werewolf in which the control of information is the key to winning. But Tempel des Schreckens is simple. Dead simple. So it is much easier to show to practically everyone.
14. Race for the Galaxy
Not as accessible as San Juan (Second Edition) or Fields of Green, but this card game is one of the best one out there. Race for the Galaxy is the benchmark – If I’m playing a card tableau game and I end up saying “I’d rather play Race”, then the game failed to impress me.
The simultaneous action selection made the game deeper and more subtle. The addition of goals from the first two expansions made the game more interesting. It is the engine building card game that ruined the genre for me. Thanks, Race for the Galaxy…
Another gem from Mac Gerdts. Like Concordia, a Euro game that allows symbiosis between players, but it is much stronger here than in Concordia. Excellent excellent Euro that packs in a full Euro experience in a 1.5 hour-ish game. Mac Gerdts shows how to create streamlined Euros that works really well with very good depth. The player interaction is amazing despite the game being non-confrontational.
Game of complete screwage. Domaine felt visceral as you cut through someone’s territory and splitting it off, or when you defect an enemy knight to your side. The arms race of putting as many knights than the others is always funny. Our group always have a laugh whenever we put this on the table. The game from the start gives you the idea that it is a mean game, and it delivers and it will stay mean until the end.
One of the best party games I’ve play. A party game weight but gives you so much interesting decisions.
If you’re the mob boss, how are you gonna distribute the wealth around? The question isn’t just: who are the loyal ones? But also, who are your consistent voters? Are they gonna stay loyal this round or will they get tired of you and desires a new boss?
If you’re one of the people receiving wealth, should you vote yes to receive the money? Vote no to stop the incumbent from staying as the boss? Or do you want to steal some more to pad your patronage money and hope that the vote will pass without you?
If you aren’t getting money from the boss, how are you gonna make money? Do you want to vote no to strike down the distribution or risk stealing money form others?
It’s ridiculous on how much double-thinking there is in the game, and how easy it is for everyone to join in and internalise the rules.
10. Ponzi Scheme
A game about running a ponzi scheme. It has the same intensity and fragility of High Society where the bankrupt player(s) cannot win when their ponzi scheme collapses.
The clandestine trading mechanic is just the cleverest mechanic I’ve seen so far in 2019. Clandestine trading is an offer you cannot refuse. The offer will be a price for a type of industry tile both players own. The choice of the receiving player will be to accept the money and sell it – or match the amount and buy the opponent’s tile. So you don’t want to push your price offer too high for an easy sell for the opponent, and you don’t want to offer too low for an easy buy. Since trading is not public, knowing the benchmark prices of the industry becomes crucial.
Easily one of my top economic games ever with its very approachable rule set and its tense mechanic of merging and acquisitions. The area-majority with the shares of the acquired company is just the magic that this game needs to make it a classic. Brilliant trade-off between short-term and long-term investments. Always a winner to anyone I showed it to.
08. Age of Assassins
One of the best drafting card game I have ever played. Simple, tight tough decisions, and hilarious as well. Good double-thinking with the face-down cards on the bottom row. This game needs to be available in the Western Market
07. Through the Desert
Another Knizia classic of just placing two camels on your turn. But the game is difficult by forcing you to choose between several priorities. It’s a game where you can only do 2 but you want to do 5.
The camels looks pasteley cute, and actually looks tasty. It’s my fave “tile-laying” filler today.
This is my most favourite game from Michael Schacht. This game is the successor of earlier iterations: Web of Power and China. A newer game from Kickstarter is funded and in the process of fulfilment by the time of writing called Iwari.
This game is pretty much my light area control game of choice. You play some cards to build houses or plant emissaries on the many regions of China. Once a region is completely filled with houses, then 1st place will score pts based on how many houses there are on the region. 2nd place scores every houses in the region that belongs to the 1st place player, 3rd scores 2nd place player, and so on.
What an interesting dynamic. It cuts away from the static 1st/2nd/3rd place scoring that you often see on area majority games like El Grande.
Han also gives you more avenues to score. Creating chains of houses, emissaries, and controlling port cities, gives Han a very good depth for its weight and let players make interesting decisions.
05. Irish Gauge
I am a fan of Cube Rail games, and I am glad to play Irish Gauge. Ian O’Toole’s art is just lovely and very functional. The shared incentives, bluffing, coattail-riding, opportunism, and temporary alliances are still there. It is very engaging and each game is different despite the static set up.
Cube Rail games mostly are about managing train companies that no player controls. They can obtain shares by putting them up for auctions, and these shares indicate their share of the company’s profits when a player calls for dividends.
Not as good as Chicago Express, but this one is still a winner to me.
04. War of the Ring: 2nd Edition
This isn’t just an area-control game with Lord of the Rings as its wafer thin theme. No. It’s Lord of the Rings: the Board Game. The theme is very immersive through and through. The game builds slowly until dramatic turns happen and I end up being so emotionally invested on my side.
I would be playing this much more often, but being a de-facto 2 player only game with 4 hour game duration stops me from doing it. But it’s a thematic game that really works for me, so I get to play it every time the opportunity allows.
03. The Estates
This game is a successor of an earlier game called Neue Heimat
Brutal auction game of building houses. Every auction round is tense and thinky. A game that is cruel but the game incentivises you to not to be too punishing to your opponents; otherwise, they will crash you in return resulting with good amount of minus points for you.
02. Bridges of Shangri-La
A hidden masterpiece from Leo Colovini. The goal is simple: have the most masters on the board. The three actions you can take in a turn are also simple: place a master, place 2 students, or send all students from one village to another.
And yet the game is a kaleidoscope of tactics and manoeuvres where you try to send as much students as you can and preferably they are sent by someone else. To position yourself in a way that you cannot be dislodged by other players, and to position yourself to kick out the opposing masters on neighbouring villages.
Player interaction baked at its core. Confrontational, but not enough to be very mean. Simply masterful.
01. Cthulhu Wars
One of my top 10 games of all time. The game is so asymmetric. The standard rules are very straight forward and learning it is very easy, which is what you want, really. The strategy is more interesting than what you would expected with you hear the rules explanation, since the depth is offloaded on the faction asymmetry.
The choice of which spell books to go for will shape how your game will be played on the early game and late game,and also how your opponents will play too with their choice of spells. The variability is excellent as a result.
The only flaws is the price tag (which is obvious), and the runaway leader if no one is balancing each other – which you will also find in other area control games.