Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Overthinking by the Yellow Meeple:- Top 10 Board Games of 2019

The more games we play, the harder we become to impress. I've played lots of good games in 2019, but fewer great ones. In some ways this is our own fault. Longer, medium weight euro games are more likely to find a place in our hearts, but during 2019 we've just not had a chance to try them. In fact we've not tried a single euro game that came out at Essen and games like Maracaibo and Crystal Palace are still on the 'want to try' list.

Strangely enough there's almost exactly the same number of 2019 releases cataloged on BoardGameGeek, as there were in 2018. It feels like we've played a lot of them - 133 unique games in total! From those 133, I've selected a top ten from the games we've played enough times for me to know I really love them. There's two on this list that I still don't own, so I guess we might be adding those to the collection in 2020, along with a van full of 2020 releases too!

     1. Moon Base is a game from Japanese publisher, Itten Games, that released quite quietly during 2019. We first saw it at the UK Games Expo and really hope that it picks up a following after also showing at Essen and some conventions in the USA. It's a game for two players only in which you are laying different coloured wooden rings out onto the board, which represents craters of the moon. In this abstract game you are trying to make sure that your opponents rings are covered up at the end of each round, whilst leaving your own rings open to score points. You can stack the right in an overlapping 'olympic ring' type fashion and will also gain points for having the highest point on the structure, as well as connecting together the longest line of rings in your colour. It's so simple and so clever as a puzzle and I love that I can play this with Amy, as well as with my Dad and really get into the tight back and forth. Moon Base is most certainly my favourite abstract game right now.

     2. Quirky Circuits is a fantastic cooperative programming game. It uses a story book format, common to many family releases from Plaid Hat Games, and each double page spread gives you rules to a new scenario. The book contains scenarios for four robots and each increases in complexity and difficulty as you work through the book. On a turn, players must all contribute to a line of action cards, playing cards from their hands, face down, without communicating. When you agree that the programmed line-up is complete you flip them over and execute the moves - finding out whether you've pulled off something amazing or crashed into walls, tables and other obstacles on the map. The game really relies on deducing what other players might be thinking and is great fun after each and every reveal. The adorable robots add the extra icing on the cake that makes Quirky Circuits that game that we go back to every time we need a short 20-minute game that's guaranteed to make us both smile.

     3. Res Arcana is a small card game from designer Tom Lehmann, of Race for the Galaxy fame. It's a very compact engine builder in which each player only has a deck of 10 cards to work with for the whole game, but the amount of combos packed into that very small card pool is really dense and interesting. On your turn you can spend resources to add cards from your hand to your tableau, but you can also activate the cards in your tableau to convert resources and ultimately collect enough to build monuments or places of power, which will contribute towards your race to be the first to 10 victory points. It's surprising how much variety of content has been built into this small base game, but even more excitingly, the expansion just released at the end of 2019 that I can't wait to try out.

     4. Letter Jam has been a real pleasure to discover this year. I love finding games that fill a party game niche, but provide a bit more of a mental challenge that keeps gamers and newcomers happy. Letter Jam is a lot more thinky than a typical party game, but it can keep a group of up to 6 people interested in a very intriguing word game. Your group will work together to each give clues that allow every player to deduce the letters of their word and ultimately unscramble the anagram. Letter Jam is up there alongside Decrypto as a game I'll always want to play when I have a larger group of people together.

     5. Aeons End Legacy is one of two legacy games we completed during 2019. We love the legacy format, but I would still rank our first legacy game - Pandemic Legacy Season 1, as our favourite. Aeons End Legacy was a big surprise for me because we really didn't enjoy the original game of Aeons End. However, the legacy aspect of this campaign was really well interwoven and kept us excited to play two or three games per sitting, finishing the game in just three or four sessions. Each character evolved into their own unique style of play during the game, and as the story evolved the characters developed too to alter their specialism to suit the different games we were encountering. While the story itself doesn't mean a lot to me, it also really appealed to others around the table and held the experience together.

     6. Ecos: First Continent 
is a game that we only just added to the collection after playing our first few games at conventions and board game cafes. I would describe it as a game of building your own bingo card. Symbols are drawn, one at a time from a bag and all player mark off symbols on the card in their personal tableau. When you complete a card, you shout "Ecos" and activate the power of the card.Card powers might combo to allow you to add symbols to other cards, or allow you to add elements to the central board, made up on terrain tiles and animal tokens. Points are also scored by triggering card abilities that will often reward different configurations of terrain or animals in the central board. The game is such a clean design that really makes an interesting game out of a very simple bingo engine. I can't wait to try more of the pre-built decks and maybe even build some of my own as we become more familiar with different strategies in the game.

     7. Rail Pass is a game that we got a chance to play a bunch of times at SHUX - Shut Up & Sit Down's board game convention in Vancouver, Canada. We really loved it and then realised that it was sold out when we came home - it's currently on my list of 'must buy' games. Rail Pass is a real-time cooperative game, with a literal pick up and deliver component. In 10 minutes you'll be loading goods cubes onto trains and passing them to the other players, with the ultimate goal of getting the right coloured cubes to the correct station. There's a number of rules and limitations which are enough to confuse you, as well as getting your arms tied up in knots. It's a whole lot of fun and the only game in which I've ever wanted to make the mandatory sound effects - "Toot-Toot".

     8. Rush M.D. is a sequel to Kitchen Rush - one of my favourite games. Rush M.D. is perhaps an even more exciting real-time game. You are working together to help patients in a hospital, either treating them as in patients, or undertaking diagnosis and surgery in the wards. Rush M.D. combines silly mini games, dexterity elements and really intense cooperation into four rounds of just four minutes each. It's chaotic, challenging and fun, plus it has a theme that should be really compelling to a broad range of people. Rush M.D. is a lot of fun and slightly easier than Kitchen Rush, which many people found a little hard. For us it's a little easy, but we're going to try and keep increasing the difficulty and we're hoping for expansions to challenge us further.

     9. The Mind Extreme is a fantastic development on Wolfgang Warsch's hit game, The Mind. The Mind Extreme adds two fantastic twists to The Mind that I think make it an even better game.Firstly, instead of cards numbered 1 to 100, there are two sets numbered 1 to 50 - one set in red and one in white. White cards are played in ascending order and red cards in descending order. This adds an element of fun in stale-mate situations - you can be in a deadlock when it's actually two people's turns to play. However, the best bit is the levels that require you to play cards face down. These rounds play at lightning speed and feel like a true test of group think and intuition - it's fascinating how often you actually get the cards in the right order!

     10. Point Salad is the second game on this list that we don't own, yet we've played it a whole bunch of times. It's the kind of game that we expect to become a 'cafe game' for us. Once that we find in board game cafes, board game conventions, or in friend's collections. Point Salad is a perfect game to slot in between longer games in these settings. It's a simple set collection game, where each card is either a vegetable or a scoring objective. You need to draft cards with the right balance of vegetables to score points and high scoring objectives that work for the vegetables you have collected. It's really very simple but elegant and addictive to try and get some of the very high scores available.

It's worth mentioning a few near misses. I'm 100% sure Amy would have Marvel Champions close to the top of her list of best games of the year. She's playing it with a group at work though and so I've barely played. We also haven't opened Clank Legacy yet, since it only arrived in the last couple of weeks, and I've very high expectations that it will be a big favourite for me. I also loved a couple of great roll and writes this year, that didn't quite have enough impact to hit the list - Cartographers and Silver & Gold.

Looking back at my list from 2018, it seems like I made some pretty good judgments, although one game is at risk of leaving the collection. Otherwise the order might have changed,but I still love all of the games. With an extra year and some additional games played, Endeavor: Age of Sail and Underwater Cities would likely make a revisited list, as well as Blackout:Hong Kong - it's definitely true that it takes us longer to get around to the euro games!

I'm very certain there are still some great games from 2019 that we're yet to discover - feel free to recommend some in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Gamix Labs is a game development studio with a strong focus on the core values of quality and transparency. We love making new games, but we also want to provide you with the best possible game development services that you deserve.