Brandon Kempf – Three Games: 2019 Game of the Year

I have a lot of games. A lot of games that are on my shelves, or on my table being played, that I have told myself that I want to review at some point. For one reason or another, this doesn’t always happen. My goal here on The Opinionated Gamers is that I want to get about one review out per week, but I’d like to write about more games. So I’m taking a page out of Patrick Brennan’s playbook, and we’re going to start writing about games in threes, in snapshot form. This should be a good way for readers to get to know me and my gaming tastes a bit better, and also another way for me to talk about games that I maybe don’t really want to dedicate two thousand words to. Welcome to Three Games.

I always fancy myself a bit more important than I really am. I think we all do in a way. In order to further that belief in myself, I am going to go ahead and nominate my Three Games for the year 2019 that I think should be up for Game of the Year — for games published in 2019. First though, a couple honorable mentions that are worth mentioning:

  • Ragusa, absolutely a joy to play and I question the legitimacy of the so called first player advantage, which may be there, but I think it can be overcome.
  • Hadara, I really wanted to include Hadara in the nominations, but I think that even though it is an absolutely wonderful game, it comes up just a bit short of the three that follow.


Hats was kind of a surprise to me, but a surprise that I should have seen coming. I was keenly aware of just how much Hats would fit into my gaming preferences, I just have learned to be a bit more skeptical of first impressions. It’s a very reminiscent design style, it feels very much like something that Dr. Knizia could have created. There is something very satisfying about draw and discard games that work well, Arboretum is another that comes to mind. There is always that sense of dread that you have to get rid of something, because chances are, that something is going to help another person at the table, you just hope that it doesn’t help too much. Very few times in Hats do you feel like you have a throw away turn. Every time you are up in turn order, what you do is going to matter, sometimes that may not be immediately obvious, but in the long run, you’ll see. Thundergryph Games has a really high quality title on its hands here from designer Gabriele Bubolo. Plus, the art by Paolo Voto really make Hats stand out.

My full review on Opinionated Gamers –

Azul Summer Pavilion

We’ll file the newest Azul title under the “Not Really a Surprise” heading for me. It’s no secret that I absolutely adore the Azul line of games from Next Move. Simple to teach, elegant in play and beautiful on the table to boot, these abstracts have been a favorite of mine over the last two years or so. Summer Pavilion has bucked the trend of games progressively getting worse as the design gets further and further from the original. Summer Pavilion is wonderful. It’s a smarter and more involved game than its predecessors. That isn’t to say that it isn’t family friendly, it certainly is, it’s just that the family needs to have played the previous games a bit to fully understand it. Summer Pavilion takes the familiar drafting of Azul and it stacks on top of that the timing that you have to master in Sintra and makes a wholly different game that still manages to feel familiar and comforting. The addition of the bonus actions as a reward for careful planning and the wild tiles that are available each round makes you think, and strategize, just enough that you know that you are working a bit harder than you did previously, and it feels worth it. I’m getting used to getting a new Azul title from Next Move and Michael Kiesling every November, let’s hope they don’t let me down next November.

My full review on Opinionated Gamers –

Die Crew: Reist gemeinsam zum 9. Planeten

I love playing trick taking games, after all I grew up on Spades, Pitch & Euchre. As a family now though, we just don’t play that many of them. I think that a lot of that stems from the varying degrees of experience that we all have with them. So what can help bridge that experience gap and get us to play a trick taking game? A cooperative trick taking game. To make the game cooperative, Die Crew is about completing missions. These missions may be as simple as having one person take a trick containing a specific card. As you gain more experience though, the missions become more difficult, adding timing to the list of things to do. You may have to take this card in a trick before you take this card, and so on. While this would seem to be a super simple premise, it’s made more difficult by limiting the amount of communication that can happen between your fellow players. Each hand you may place one card face up in front of you and place a satellite token on it. Where you place that token on the card will tell your fellow mission runners whether that card is the highest or lowest card of that suit, or if it is the only one of that suit that you have in hand. It’s really a genius way to play a trick taking game. As a family we are getting ready to start Mission five, and it took us all of five hands to get that far, yup, we failed Mission three. There are times when the game will present you with an impossible task, and you’ll fail and just reset and try again. After all, each mission is only one hand. Other times the game will present you with a seemingly impossible mission, and then against all odds, it’ll all come together perfectly and you rejoice, but don’t rejoice for too long, the next Mission is just a shuffle away.

The Opinionated Gamers review of Die Crew should be live on December 24th, 2019, be sure to check back then for more robust thoughts from Eric Edens.

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Mark Jackson: Die Crew is quite enjoyable… but I’m not sure I need yet another version of Azul. At this point, I’d choose Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Res Arcana, and Marvel Champions as my Game of the Year nominees. (Note: Christmas will bring new contenders into the house that might edge out one of these.)

Jonathan F.: I have three clear leaders for GotY 2019, Res Arcana, Hadara, and Die Crew.  I would happily play them all over and over again. At the same time, I have not played the new Azul and Hats felt more like a stock manipulation game in the vein of Quandary.

Joe Huber: For me, 2019 was a very down year for new games.  Currently, I have only one 2019 game in my collection – Parks.  While a number of other 2019 releases have been enjoyable enough to make me willing to play them again, none of them has stuck.  (Note: I do have a copy of Caravan, of course; I just don’t consider games I designed to be “in my collection”.) So, by default – Parks is – for now – my game of 2019.

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7 Responses to Brandon Kempf – Three Games: 2019 Game of the Year

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    I’ll supply the gap that Joe’s comments point to. My three favorite 2019 games so far:

    Res Arcana

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      I really enjoyed Res Arcana, even more so than I have enjoyed Race for the Galaxy, but we won’t talk too much about that around here. Caravan seems very much a style of game that I will enjoy, I am looking forward to playing it at some time in the near future.

      • huzonfirst says:

        I’ve only managed to play Res Arcana once, but I liked it quite a bit, certainly more than I’ve ever liked Race. So don’t worry, Brandon, you’re not alone. :-)

        It’s way too early for me to pick my top three games of 2019, as there are still a bunch of Essen games I have to try, including my most anticipated design, Maracaibo. But as I said in my review of the game, I’ll be absolutely shocked if Barrage isn’t on that list. That’s how much me and my group love it, production issues and all.

  2. Pingback: Brandon Kempf – Three Games: 2019 Game of the Year – Herman Watts

  3. Martin Griffiths says:

    I’m going to say The Crew, Babylonia and Pax Pamir 2nd edition. Hats is great too though! And in a similar Knizian stock-manipulating vein, I’d recommend checking out Mandala.

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