You know the drill: If you are searching for the definitive best of 2020 boardgame guide, look further. This isn’t it. This is my list of the best and most notable games that I personally played in 2020. It is most assuredly incomplete, possibly inaccurate, but I hope it can provide you with some insights on a few great games.
Best Co-operative Game
(From the Guy who doesn't like Co-Ops):
The Crew: Search for Planet Nine
I really enjoy some trick taking games but I generally loath co-ops. So, I was somewhat torn about picking up The Crew: Search for Planet Nine. I will be the first to admit, I was wrong about being hesitant about buying it. It is literally a co-operative game that avoids practically every single pitfall of Co-op games. It's nigh impossible to “Alpha Gamer” The Crew since all communication is done via an innovative token/card system that limits you to one single burst of information to the other players once per round. In fact, the whole game is a simple set of cards, a smaller set of objective cards, some tokens and a book of 50 missions. I currently have 4 separate games of The Crew running, ranging from a couple of 3-player games (by far the easiest) to the challenging 5-player version. Best of all, they have all been equally exciting, even though I have done various missions a number of times. It's small, it's low priced and it gives you a flashback to those mythical card games of old when your grandparents could communicate exactly what they wanted the other to bid or do with a simple look.
Best Card Game:
Tournament at Avalon
Let's assume you played The Crew and have decided that “You know what, I really dig trick taking games!” Oh, we have such sights to show you. Step into the Arthurian trick taking game that will pat you on the back for making a brilliant play and then, the next turn, stab you in the back for trying the exact same play. You can find my review Here.
Best COVID-induced 2-player Experience:
Of course it wouldn't be my best of... list without me including a game that is a few years old. This year, I dug deep to give Cyclades, a game released in 2009, the “Best COVID-induced 2-player Experience.” In a quarantine-induced funk, my daughter was going though my game collection looking for something to play when she inquired “Does Cyclades play two-players?” My eyes lit up “Yes, yes it does but I have never actually tried it.” This lead to some of the best two-player gaming experiences over the next few weeks. The adjustments for two-players are simple: Three metropolises instead of two, you get two bidding markers instead of one and the board adjusts in size so the number of islands is super tight. We had one game that was cut short by a required run to the grocery store where we debated for literally the next two hours on who would have won. Two hours...about a game that takes about a hour...and we were both insisting that we would have been the one that LOST. And, if giving a 11-year old game an award is 2020 doesn't sit well with you, rest easy knowing that it did make me go out and purchase the Cyclades: Monuments expansion and that only came out four years ago! You can find an extensive article on Cyclades (and Inis and Kemet) here...and you'll be happy to know that I was finally able to actually win a game of Cyclades.
Game of the Year:
Around October of this year, I was thinking to myself “Maybe I'm just been in a bad mood for the last (looks at watch) six months. I haven't played anything new that has really thrilled me.” And then Cosmic Frog arrived and, after a burst of plays, I looked at the over 3,000 words of notes that I had excitedly (digitally) scribbled of the things I wanted to talk about. I managed to bring it down to a reasonable level for my review which you can find here.
I generally know when a game is going to be in my wheelhouse but Cosmic Frog didn't really tick those obvious boxes. But, as soon as I saw it, I was interested and it just clicked for me when I got it to the table. Things like creating the landscape/shard before each game that could be a detriment ends up being one of it's strengths. The amazing art is self evident, the gameplay ebbs and flows along with the player strategy and it is just a joy to play. For all the things 2020 took away from us, I'm glad it did give us Cosmic Frog.