Best New (To Me!) Games of 2019

For the last decade or so, I’ve intermittently published my Best New (to me!) Games list each year… and, when I missed a year or two, added the missing lists to the most recent post.

This year is no different – we’ll start with the lists (without extra comments) from 2017 and 2018… then proceed to the main event. (This is SUPPOSED to be a yearly post… but you can see just how well that’s been working.)

Best New (to me!) Games of 2017

  1. 51st State: Master Set
  2. Clank! In! Space!
  3. Flamme Rouge
  4. Android: Netrunner
  5. Jump Drive
  6. The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
  7. Adrenaline
  8. Rhino Hero: Super Battle
  9. Runebound (3rd edition)
  10. Clank! A Deckbuilding Adventure

Best New (to me!) Games of 2018

  1. Escape from 100 Million B.C.
  2. Gingerbread House
  3. Hit Z Road
  4. Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar
  5. Wasteland Express Delivery Service
  6. Star Wars: Rebellion
  7. NEOM
  8. The Quacks of Quedlinburg
  9. Dungeon Alliance
  10. Betrayal Legacy

Before we get properly started with 2019, we need to cover a few games that were excluded from the list for various reasons but still warrant attention being paid to them.

The Grey Area

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the following games – all of them had new versions and/or expansions this year, but they are not really new to me. So, they ended up here in The Gray Area.

Clank! Legacy

My boys and I managed to play through the entire Clank! Legacy saga from mid-December (when the copy arrived as my BGG Secret Santa gift) until right after Christmas. Each game runs slightly longer than a regular game of Clank! (due to adding in the legacy goodies) but we had fun each time… and there are still a few mysteries left to explore even with the campaign officially over.

Shards of Infinity

This ended up in the limbo of “I got it for Christmas the year before but most of the plays were this year”… so I just wanted to mention how much I enjoy this Star Realms-ish deckbuilder. I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on the newest (2nd) expansion, which will add cooperative play.

Note: I think Shards is better than Star Realms for multi-player battle to the death deck-building.

Unmatched: Battle of Legends

First off, I feel bad about putting this in the Grey Area… because it’s an amazing game system and I’m loving every minute of playing it. But – it’s a serious reworking of Star Wars: Epic Duels (which I’ve played a lot over the years) crossed with the time-warping sensibilities of Heroscape and the excellent map system from Tannhauser. If you like fast-moving card-based combat, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Plus: Bruce Lee as a playable character… and Buffy on the way sometime next year!

Expansions of Note

Sometimes, I’ve put expansions under #10 on a list as a group… this year, I decided to break them out. Expansions specific to a game on the list (see: Nemo’s War, Wildlands, Millennium Blades) will be dealt with under their entry.

Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry

Rivalry is actually two different expansion modules – both using customizable dice (the same type used in Rattlebones and Tom’s upcoming Dice Realms). The Orb module is our favorite – your Orb die is customized as the game goes on and has a direct impact on tactics and strategy. The Deal module did not work particularly well with 2 players… I see it being much more useful (though fiddly) with 4-5 players. (Note: the Deal dice are customizable dice… but they aren’t customized during the game. It’s just the best way to make this kind of dice for the module.)

As a huge fan of the Race for the Galaxy universe, I love the added stuff… and I’m particularly taken with the Orb mode (which makes for a slightly longer game and more chances to build an effective engine.)

Memoir ’44: New Flight Plan

The original Air expansion added a set of semi-complicated rules for planes… but what it actually did best was incorporate the expansion rules into the trove of excellent official scenarios AND start using the simple rule cards that make adding an oddball bit of WWII history (Hobart’s Funnies, frozen ponds, etc.) relatively painless.

What the new air expansion does is finally get air rules right. While I wish the planes were painted, the scenarios and the rules themselves are much, much better – and we’ve enjoyed our plays with the new expansion.

Suburbia Collector’s Edition

The production is ridiculously over-the-top… but that’s what I paid for. (Seriously, the larger tiles, better tile art, and wonderful trays are worth it.) But the CE also has new tiles… a new set (Nightlife) with some wonky mechanisms and a set of City Tiles that add famous landmarks to the C set of tiles. (And, for those who want them, the promo tiles previously released at Essen and other cons.) More ways to play? Count me in.

Unmatched: Bigfoot/Robin Hood and Bruce Lee

Part of the charm of the Unmatched system is the expandable nature… and the Bigfoot/Robin Hood expansion offers both a good 2 player stand-alone game and a great expansion to the base box.

Bruce Lee is probably over-priced… but for those folks who miss the Anakin Skywalker character from Epic Duels, Bruce is your guy.

Honorable Mention

One game that deserves a mention – but that didn’t quite make the top ten cut.

Die Crew (The Crew)

This is the cooperative trick-taking game that came out at Essen 2019 and is/was all the rage… with good reason. My three plays were all a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to playing again once it becomes easily available here in the U.S.

And with all of those detours finally taken care of… here’s the newest edition!

Best New (to me!) Games of 2019

#10: Call to Adventure

There are actually TWO “character creation” games that I own – 2016’s Roll Player (which is markedly improved by the addition of the Monsters & Minions expansion) and this one – Call to Adventure.

I’m working on a compare/contrast post for the OG… but until that happens, suffice it to say that we’ve had a great time building the backstory of classic fantasy characters with the beautifully illustrated game. The two-sided rune throwing system (instead of dice) works well… and there are ways to mess with the other players that don’t feel overpowered.

I will note that there are some holes in the rules (most of which have been answered on the BGG page) and that the solo/cooperative rules are especially difficult to figure out. (For solo play, I much prefer Roll Player with the expansion.) But that doesn’t diminish the fun we’ve had building our character histories with Call to Adventure.

Note: this is the only game on my list that was provided to me as a review copy by the publisher. It was also reviewed by Dale Yu here on the OG.

#9: Marvel Champions: The Card Game

While you can have some minor quibbles about the release of this newest cooperative LCG (Living Card Game) – some of the graphic choices are odd (why are the villain hitpoints in eeny teeny tiny font?) and it’s way more difficult to get the first few hero packs than it should be – but the game itself is a solid entry in the “defeat the supervillain together” genre. The fact that they get the Marvel characters “right” – each deck has a distinctive and appropriate feel that matches that hero – is a bonus.

While the game is similar to the Lord of the Rings LCG, it’s cleaner rules-wise and deck-building-wise. It also passes the “doesn’t feel like a knockoff of Legendary or Sentinels of the Multiverse” test – which, coming from a huge Sentinels fan, is a good thing.

We’re finding that the game is best with 2-3 players… while the rules are there for 4 player hero teams, the game drags a little bit at that number. (It also works well as a solo game.)

#8: Savage Worlds (The Last Parsec)

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve actively participated in role-playing games… my last real D&D campaign ended in high school. (I graduated in 1982 – you do the math.) So my younger son’s interest in RPGs led me to do research and poke around a bit – and we settled on Savage Worlds because of the emphasis on storytelling… and then on The Last Parsec because it gave us the widest canvas to tell a story in.

I’m amazed at the quality of the writing and creativity in these resource books – and I’m equally excited about all the updating work that was just done on the base “Savage Worlds” engine with the release of the new manual.

My son and his friends are entering Eris Beta IV in the next week or two… they have some wonderful surprises waiting for them!

#7: Star Wars: Outer Rim

Meanwhile, my older son and I fell in love with Fantasy Flight Games’ newest Star Wars entry, Outer Rim. This is the pick up & deliver game that Firefly: The Board Game wanted to be – steeped in the Star Wars lore & mythology while moving quickly enough to keep the action humming.

The first game ran long – but we are taking about 1:45 for 3-4 players now, which is perfect. It is a game that improves on your second play as you have some idea what kind of events and problems are out on the Rim… which means you make better plans and decisions. (Example: after one play, I was convinced that you would only want to bounty hunt in a 4 player game… but there are a number of ways to make bounty hunting easier, even with two players – however, you’re unlikely to figure them out on your first go at Outer Rim.)

And I can definitely see a Mandolorian-themed expansion for this one… I have spoken.

#6: Impact: Battle of Elements

I’ve heard folks talk for a long time about how much they loved the dice game Strike – which was difficult to find here in the U.S. Impact is the version that’s easier to get here and it appeared in my pile of birthday presents mid-year.

And promptly became the game that everyone asked me to bring and/or tell them how to find a copy. It’s a very simple dice game – but the trick is that you can throw dice into the arena to knock other dice around in the vague hope that you’ll get the roll you need.

The Elements variant is mildly amusing – but the base game works like a charm without it. (I fully acknowledge that those who have played both versions like Strike for its larger curved arena… but that’s not the copy I have.)

#5: Millennium Blades

The Head OG himself, Doctor Yu, wrote a surprisingly glowing review of Millennium Blades back in the day… and I remember thinking “I’m not sure I’d ever find the right group to play that game.” Little did I know that my younger son would end up being EXACTLY the right group to enjoy the controlled chaos of this CCG collecting “simulation”.

Deckbuilding is done in real-time while tournaments are played out in turn order – and both parts of the game are a lot of fun. I’ve found great success at building high-value collections while my son favors powerful tournament decks.

We have enjoyed this with both 2 and 3 players… and long to get it to the table with more. We picked up some of the expansion sets and really like the extra variety they bring to the game. Note: we play 2 player with the regular rules rather than the 2 player variant in the rulebook.

Project for this spring – start trying the cooperative mode of the game!

#4: Res Arcana

I’m turning into a bit of Tom Lehmann fanboy… and games like Res Arcana are the reason. This is a tricky puzzle of a game with a slow to start/fast to finish scoring curve – and the “you only get 8 cards” gimmick actually enables you to make some pretty nifty plays.

The biggest issue I have with the game is how to teach it – it has enough moving parts and a wide variety of card types that I have used the provided “first game” hands – but I think the game actually works better when you know all the cards in your limited (8 card) personal deck. Braeden and I have decided to start using the drafting rules (now that we’ve seen most of the cards in play), but I’m afraid that will just confuse new players.

Dale just reviewed the expansion – which was already on my wishlist!

#3: Wildlands

If you told me at the start of the year that one of my three favorite games was going to be designed by Martin Wallace, I’d have laughed in your face. Sure, I really liked Hit Z Road and AuZtralia, but those always seemed like outliers compared to my general dislike for most (not all) of Martin’s designs.

But Wildlands is an asymmetrical romp of hand management, bluff, sniping, and fighting to the death – and I love it. Each team (there are six now with the two expansions) and map (there are 7 now with two expansions) adds a new twist to the game without ever overwhelming the basic system.

I always enjoy the tactical decisions and the surprises/twists of fate – though I will note that those who don’t like to see their plans evaporate due to the actions of others should avoid playing. For me, the short playing time (45 minutes) makes the occasional randomness an acceptable part of the fun.

Recommendations:

  • if you play with two players a good bit, you’ll want the 2nd map expansion (Fall of the Dark House) which contains two maps specifically for two players in addition to the big Dark House map
  • the two extra factions are interesting but less important than having both map packs
  • There is a cooperative expansion coming this year (which sounds like fun!)

#2: New Frontiers

Those who follow my blog (and my writing here on the OG) know that Race for the Galaxy competes with Memoir ’44 as my favorite game of all time… and for many years, I’ve sung the praises of Puerto Rico.

So, when New Frontiers appeared, I was hooked from my first play. I don’t think it fires Puerto Rico – but I do think that some of the fragility with new/inexperienced players is mitigated by the greater variety of planets and technologies.

It’s a big, splash-y table-eating game (when you have the full complement of five players) that plays in 90 minutes or less and consistently has me trying to figure out the best way to keep the point-creating engine humming – whether I’m shipping goods for victory points or raking in cash to settle high-value planets and develop technologies.

I think it is probably the easiest of the Race games to teach because everything in the game is visible.

#1: Nemo’s War (2nd edition)

The big transition this year in our home has been my oldest son leaving for college. Both boys enjoy playing games… but my oldest is almost as obsessive about it as I am and was a built-in game group for me all by himself.

That absence has left more time for solo gaming – and I’ve enjoyed putting Dungeon Alliance (especially with the Adventure Packs), Roll Player, Cartographers, and Friday through their paces as solitaire. The best new solo gaming experience this year, however, was my discovery of Nemo’s War.

Nemo’s War was designed as a solitaire game – everything from the unidirectional layout of the board to the theme of the game scream “low player count”. That said, there are variants in the rule book to play with more players… but I frankly have no interest in messing up what has been a delight as a solo game with extra people.

Nemo’s War reminds me a bit of old school wargames – ships have attack and defense values, there are a lot of dice rolls, and there is even a printed CRT on the board for the various actions. At the same time, it incorporates action expenditures, bag draws, ways to mitigate bad die rolls, etc. from the more modern game designs.

And it is chockful of theme – you (in the role of Nemo) are attempting to accomplish your objective… sinking ships, finding hidden wonders, influencing uprisings in nations across the globe. And your objective varies from game to game – the basic game comes with four different objectives and two more are added in the Bold & Caring expansion card set. Objectives determine the setup of the event deck, some special rules, and the way you score Nemo’s victory at the end of the game.

Each objective demands different play styles and trade-offs, which I find endlessly fascinating. So far, I’ve proven to be the most successful at exploration – while all-out war with the nations does not seem to be my forte. I must also note that I play on the lowest difficulty setting – I cannot imagine cranking this up to the highest level… I’d be fish food in a few turns.

The game runs about 90 minutes now that I’ve internalized the rules and the order of play – it isn’t unusual for me to play a couple of times in a night if I’m stuck in a hotel on a business trip. And I’m always eager to play it again.

Looking Ahead

I’m pretty sure you’ll see Oh My Goods! on this list next year, thanks to me playing Expedition to Newdale back in November… Oh My Goods! is highly portable and the expansions add a solo mode.

Also likely is Tom Lehmann’s Dice Realms… combining customizable dice with engine building sounds right in my wheelhouse.

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 44 as he did at age 14
This entry was posted in Best Of, Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Best New (To Me!) Games of 2019

  1. Matt says:

    Good to see Res Arcana, Wildlands and New Frontiers so high on your list.

    While Res Arcana finally seems to be getting the attention it deserves in the hobby mainstream (after garnering so many ‘best of 2019’ mentions) Wildlands and New Frontiers both seem to have been left by the wayside unfortunately.

    I really like how elegant Wildlands is, you just have to compare it with something similar like Adrenalin to see how inspired Martin Wallace’s idea to have hand management of multi-use cards drive at free for all arena game. All the factions feel different and require varying strategies to win and it does nail the team arena combat feel – impressive for something that can be played in an hour or less.

    With New Frontiers, I only have two plays thus far, so early days yet. Do you play with or without the Goals?

    • Matt:
      I don’t use the goals when teaching the game… but I do like them. I don’t think they are necessary to enjoy the game, but once everyone at the table has a couple of plays under their belts, it adds some interesting twists.

      • Matt says:

        Good to hear that the game is still enjoyable without them, i’ll probably end up using the goals in any game besides with newbies – I don’t play RftG with the goals so having them in New Frontiers will further differentiate how each game plays.

  2. Pingback: Best New (To Me!) Games of 2019 – Herman Watts

  3. will sargent says:

    great list. great taste, all the way to nemo, friday and oh my goods. bravo!

  4. Jacob Lee says:

    I just completed a trade to acquire New Frontiers so I’m happy to see it made this list. However, I consider Marvel Champions my worst purchase ever. But if I enjoy New Frontiers I might let go some of the hard feelings about Marvel Champions because that was what I used to trade for it.

    • Jacob:
      I’m glad you could turn a “mistake” into something you really want & enjoy. I think that the Marvel Champions base box – although more complete than most LCG base boxes – is still just the opening curtain of a much larger game. My review (without saying it) was affected by the playing with the first two hero packs and the first villain pack.

  5. Ian Moore says:

    I think one of the other things that helps New Frontiers deal with new players better than PR is that the production and shipping roles aren’t as punishing without limited boats, and turn order changes so a newbie player isn’t constantly feeding optimal plays to the person on their left. Having all the technologies out and visible improves a bit on Race, because even if you got all the cards you need for an engine, you can get screwed out of the 6 Dev you need. Here you can too, but at least it’s always available, even if someone beats you to it, which you can usually see coming.

    Your comments on Wildlands makes me more interested in the Rocketmen kickstarter, because my feelings about Brass and other MW games makes me hesitant even though it sounds like it’s right up my alley.

    • Ian:

      Agree with all your comments on New Frontiers.

      Wallace games have traditionally been – for me – just OK (Tyrus, Mordred), interesting but hard to get to the table (Toledo, Tyrus), boring (Steel Driver, Moa), or irritating in ways that made me want to hurt the person who brought them (Volldampf, Perikles). So imagine my surprise when 3 games I’ve really enjoyed over the past couple of years are Martin Wallace designs: Hit Z Road, AuZtralia, and Wildlands.

      Rocketmen intrigues me… but I’m focusing my KS energies (and wallet) on Return to Dark Tower right now.

Leave a Reply to Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s