This week the Opinionated Gamers are going to publish a series of articles ranking games in a few different ways based on data collected from many different contributors. Today’s topic is recent favorites, which we defined as any game learned since 2019. These are games with which we are collectively impressed and that are relatively new, but which we find ourselves especially eager to play more. Fourteen contributors voted on their favorite recent games to come up with today’s list, including Alan How, Brian Leet, Erik Arneson, Fraser McHarg, Joe Huber, Jonathan Franklin, Larry Levy, Lorna, Patrick Korner, Mark Jackson, Matt Carlson, RJ Garrison, Talia Rosen, and Tery Noseworthy.
It was a tight race with 73 different games receiving at least one vote and a few games narrowly missing the top of the charts. We’re publishing our Top 11 because… this one goes to eleven of course. But three games missed by a single point: It’s a Wonderful World, Marco Polo II, and Unmatched: Battle of Legends. I have not had the pleasure of playing any of those three games, but I’m sure their fans will proclaim their virtues below. Without further ado, the Opinionated Gamers Top 11 Recent Favorites:
(11) Exit: The Game
21 points from 3 voters, including 1 bronze medal from Erik Arneson
This prolific series from Inka and Markus Brand, published by Kosmos, got its start in 2016, but there are over 20 games now with more on the horizon. The highest ranked on BoardGameGeek is Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin at #229, which I had the pleasure of playing in 2017. I enjoyed the experience, much like I’ve enjoyed actual escape rooms, but my enjoyment derived mostly from my fellow players and watching the wheels spinning in their heads. I don’t get a lot of personal satisfaction from beating my head against these sorts of brain teasing puzzles, but good company can make these games pleasant experiences.
21 points from 2 voters, including 1 gold medal (Fraser McHarg) and 1 silver medal (RJ Garrison)
This 2016 game by Hisashi Hayashi, published by Okazu, has a couple of big OG fans that have recently discovered the game. Hayashi may ring some bells out there because he got his start with String Railway back in 2009, which turned a lot of heads. Hayashi is credited with 56 published designs, including Trains in 2012, Rolling Japan in 2014, and MetroX in 2018. Yokohama is his highest ranked game on BoardGameGeek at #103, but I for one am more interested in finding out more about one of his more recent releases – Goat ‘n’ Goat.
- Fraser: I have only played this face to face once or twice, but during our first lockdown I started playing with some interstate friends on Board Game Arena and really got into it. Actually I should ping them and start it up again, and also find the physical copy that Melissa says we have and play that too!
- RJ: I had an actual physical copy of the game after working with Tasty Minstrel Games at a convention which I eventually sold off. Daniel Hadlock had me giving away boxes of copies to all the convention volunteers that were manning the doors, etc.. I kept looking at the set up and tried watching a “how to play” video and decided that I was not likely to get the game to the table. The gazillion pieces were overwhelming and I’m not one that wants to take ½ a day setting a game up. Then the pandemic hit and my friend, Robert, hit me up on Board Game Arena and said he’d teach me. And, wow! What a game! It’s not as overwhelming as I originally thought, and BGA makes set up and clean up a breeze. It’s a bit like Istanbul (another game I love) but on steroids.
(9) Betrayal Legacy
21 points from 2 voters, including 1 gold medal (Erik Arneson) and 1 silver medal (Brian Leet)
This 2018 game has garnered a ton of praise since its release a few years ago. I’ll let Erik and Brian speak to its virtues because I’ve only played the original 2014 Betrayal at House on the Hill once many years ago and I rated it a 5, so it’s definitely “not for me.” That being said, I’ve been a huge fan of Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy, so I’d be happy to try Betrayal Legacy if a group of friends really wanted to do so. The original game seemed highly chaotic to me and felt like it overstayed its welcome with a duration that did not align with the game’s light weight, but perhaps the legacy version improves in some ways…
- Brian: Well Erik, I guess we know who the fun people are in this joint. This game definitely won’t convert those who dislike Betrayal at House on the Hill. For me, it elevates a game of chaos and opportunities to ham it up into a full blown event. It’s the sort of game that is best enjoyed by following all the little social rules. Chant when the game says to chant, whisper when it says to whisper, and secretly hope that you’ll get a chance to backstab your best friends. Legacy games with competitive play and strong story arc have dominated my favorites list for the past few years. I wasn’t able to single-handedly push the Clank version of such onto the list, but I’m delighted this one will get the attention. Choose a good beer, good snacks, three or four other folks you want to spend your afternoons and evenings with (when the time is right again) and go to it.
- Mark: Here’s my take: Rob got a do-over on the creative but messy heap that was the original Betrayal at House on the Hill… and knocked it out of the park.
22 points from 3 voters, including 1 bronze medal from RJ Garrison
Cartographers was designed by Jordy Alan and published in 2019 by Thunderworks Games. This game really took the flip-and-write genre to a new level by adding greater complexity to the concept, including a more involved round structure and scoring system. Cartographers also gives players an opportunity to flex their art muscle by drawing various features and monsters, preferably with colored pencils, across an emerging wilderness landscape. I’m a huge fan of Cartographers, having played it 14 times now and eagerly looking forward to the Heroes sequel and various map packs later this year.
- RJ: There’s been a number of board games that use the puzzley aspect and types of pieces that Tetris has. Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to these types of games and Cartographers, for me, fits in this category. It’s short, it’s fun, and scratches the itch I have to play games with puzzles using Tetris pieces for points…And reading the above paragraph realized there’s a sequel coming out!
- Tery: I have only played this as an app so far, but I love it. The fact that the goals change every game keep it interesting and new, and I really enjoy the puzzle/Tetris aspect. I am excited to hear about the expansion.
22 points from 2 voters, including 2 gold medals (Larry Levy and Patrick Korner)
“Nations vie for hydroelectric dominance in a dystopia where water is power.” Larry and Patrick are going to have to tell you what’s so great about this 2019 release by Tommaso Battista and Simone Luciani because I had never heard of it until now. I see that Simone has a prolific career of making games that I don’t personally like, including Grand Austrian Hotel, Voyages of Marco Polo, and Tzolkin. This would explain why Barrage never hit my radar. If you like any of those three earlier designs though, then it sounds like Barrage is worth checking out.
- Larry: Well, folks, you’ll have to excuse Talia–I guess she doesn’t get out much. Between its very controversial Kickstarter campaign and its subsequent award-winning success story, Barrage has certainly been in the news, so that’s the only way I can figure her not having heard of it. Although even that doesn’t explain her irrational dislike for the amazingly brilliant Luciani, but I digress. Barrage is a very clever worker placement game in which the players build dams, conduits, and powerhouses to turn the power of flowing water into energy, off of which they make money. The game’s mechanisms are innovative and very refined, but the best thing about it is that it’s interactive in a way that Eurogames rarely are these days. It’s absolutely about getting in your opponents’ way and anticipating their moves against you and coming up with contingencies to thwart them. This level of interaction is a throwback to the earlier Euros of the 1990’s and is completely exhilarating. It’s my favorite game of the last 5 years, since another Luciani game (Marco Polo) appeared. It was an easy choice for my top spot in the poll.
- Liga: Probably one of the best games in the last years on the heavy strategy side. What I really like of this game is how it evolves in the turns, the wide range of opportunities and how every single play is different.
- Fraser: All I know about Barrage is that it is one of the very few games that interested me in the Essen 2019 previews. This is making me more interested…
(6) Just One
24 points from 4 voters, including 1 bronze medal from Matt Carlson
This 2018 party game by Repos won the Spiel des Jahres in 2019, among other awards, so it’s no surprise to see it showing up here on the list of OG recent favorites. Personally, I’d rather be playing Attribute, Dixit, Time’s Up, Resistance, or Coup, but I can see the appeal of Just One, and I have no objection to playing it. I wonder how many people voted for it because it’s inoffensive, and how many people really seek it out. I do like teaching the rules though because the answer to every question that you might get is simply the title of the game – just one!
- Liga: I’m certainly not a fan of party-games but Just One has proven to be truly something special. I have managed to put it on the table so many times both with usual players and with people that I never thought I would be able to convince to play a board game. It is simple, it is fun, it is addictive.
- Fraser: Much like Liga I am not a fan of party-games, but this is very good. Although I do feel I have played the perfect game of Just One so don’t necessarily need to play it again. Melissa was the person trying to work out the word from our clues and I was groaning and said “I have the perfect word for this but I can’t remember it”, Melissa looked at me and said “[redacted]”. It was indeed the word I was trying to think of! (remember she hadn’t seen anything at this stage). When we revealed our clues she saw mine and got the correct answer. I cannot say what [redacted] was, other than to ask if you have seen the non-cinematic release of The Martian.
- Tery: I don’t mind the occasional party game, and Just One stands out as one of the better ones for me. It’s easy to teach and easy to play, but still compelling. I’ve played it both with people I know well and people I don’t know at all, which changes your strategy for the words that you choose. I have also played it over Zoom, and it worked remarkably well. It works even if only one household owns the game, since all you really need is the deck of cards. The person who is guessing leaves the room, and the person with the game holds the card up to the camera (and closes their eyes if they are the one guessing). Everyone else just needs paper and a pen.
24 points from 4 voters, including 1 silver medal from Jonathan Franklin
This 2019 game designed by Benjamin Schwer and published by Hans im Gluck and Z-Man Games was a Meeples Choice Nominee and enjoyed by a number of different OG contributors in recent years. Personally, I give it a middling 6, but that may be related to my indifferent feelings towards 7 Wonders. This strikes me as basically 7 Wonders: The Board Game, and it would have sold like crazy if the publishers had teamed up with Repos to simply title it as such. Fluffy civ games seem to hold a lot of appeal as the holy grail of board gaming, ever since Martin Wallace proved the idea was so hard to get right back in 2006. I’ll defer to Jonathan to regale you with the joys of playing Hadara.
- Liga: I’m not sure what Hadara is for me. On the one hand, the design is brilliant, the mechanism works and the game is fun. On the other hand, the ways of scoring points are so many and intertwined that in the end it is not very clear which choices can be winning or not and therefore the strategic aspect is lost in a vague “I do something a lot anyway it gives me points”.
- Tery: I am a big fan of Hadara. I get the comparisons to 7 Wonders (which I am not a big fan of), but it has a totally different feel to me, which is perhaps why I like it so much more. I am more interested in the card choices and, based on early card selection, what path I am going to take. It also plays remarkably well at all player counts.
(4) Res Arcana
27 points from 5 voters, including 1 bronze medal from Jonathan Franklin
This 2019 release by Tom Lehmann and Sand Castle Games was a Kennerspiel des Jahres recommended game in 2020, which is phenomenal for Tom, who has been doing great work for years. Everyone seems to have a different favorite Lehmann game. Mine is definitely Roll for the Galaxy, which I’ve played 62 times! Others might prefer his clever Pandemic or Roll Through the Ages expansions, perhaps Phoenicia from 2007, To Court the King from 2006, or even Fast Food Franchise from 1992. Many gravitate toward the resource management and card interactions of Res Arcana, which has already seen its first of probably many expansions.
- Mark: Res Arcana is a tight, fast-moving puzzle that relies on your ability to create a resource engine while anticipating the moves and timing of other players. You work with what you’re given (an 8 card deck & a character with a special power)… and we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of interesting combos you can create even from the oddest of decks.
- Tery: As someone who likes resource management and card interaction I should like this game, but it falls short for me. I’ve had no interesting choices any of the times I’ve played and I’ve struggled to get an engine going at all. It just feels like too much work.
27 points from 3 voters, including 1 silver medal (Fraser McHarg) and 1 bronze medal (Alan How)
I ordered this brilliant game immediately after seeing the Shut Up & Sit Down video review of their Top 5 Best New Card Games. After playing the game a couple times, I rated it a 9, which I’ve only given to 4.6% of the 1,794 games that I’ve tried. I adore Mandala, although it just missed getting a bronze medal from me in this poll. The design by Trevor Benjamin and Brett Gilbert is ingenious. The art by Klemens Franz is perfect. The publication by Lookout Games is wonderful. If you want a 20-minute, two-player card game that is as simple to learn as Knizia’s Lost Cities, but an order of magnitude more fascinating and engaging then check out Mandala.
- Fraser: Oooh, I don’t know about more fascinating and engaging than Lost Cities, but it is very good. Melissa grabbed this at Essen 2018 and when we broke it out after she got home we immediately played it again after our first play – a sign of a good game for us.
(2) Pax Pamir
28 points from 3 voters, including 1 gold medal (Talia Rosen) and 1 silver medal (Lorna)
Pax Pamir was originally published way back in 2015, but the 2nd edition came out in 2019 with significantly improved production quality to great acclaim. I’ve become an enormous fan of Pax Pamir. I enjoyed my first play, but I fell in love upon my second play, and I’ve now enjoyed 10 plays, with hopefully many more to come. The difficulty of making key decisions each turn is incredibly tense and challenging, but the underlying rules and structure are very straightforward. The shifting alliances are a joy to watch emerge over the course of the game, and the variable interests and abilities of the players that evolve as the cards are purchased and played is fascinating. If you’re interested in a 2-hour card-driven conflict game then it would be hard to find a better game than Pax Pamir.
- Brian: Per my powers of deduction, I’m the third voter for this delightfully challenging game. In Pax Pamir you are riding the tiger, trying to maintain control with too little influence, too few actions, and the perpetual sense that maybe you should have taken another strategy altogether. It is a game of constant vigilance, where you are alert to how your neighbor may threaten you, even as you feel obliged to ensure the road for those coming next is not too wide and flat. I have seen most games won by the player who changed loyalties once at the ideal time, but sometimes multiple loyalty changes are called for and effective, and I have even seen a player steadfastly loyal to one empire eke out a win. If you enjoy balancing on a knife’s edge for a couple hours, this is for you.
(1) The Crew
63 points from 9 voters, including 3 gold medals (Jonathan Franklin, Matt Carlson, and Tery Noseworthy) and 2 bronze medals (Fraser McHarg and Patrick Korner)
Well, that wasn’t close at all. The Crew blew away the competition with 63 points accumulated from the vast majority of voters and more gold medals than any other game. The Crew really is a sensation as a cooperative trick-taking game that’s hard not to play many times in a row. With the Kennerspiel des Jahres under its belt, I expect we’ll see lots of designers and publishers go to the well with cooperative trick-taking, much like we did with worker placement after 2005 and deckbuilding after 2008. While Was Sticht and Njet will always be my favorite trick-taking games, The Crew is a breath of fresh air in an industry that sure loves its sequels and expansions. I’ve played around 30 times, and I expect this to see play for years to come, especially at conventions where games that are easy to get into tend to be popular. So the Opinionated Gamers favorite recent game is undoubtedly and without question The Crew by a huge margin.
- Tery: I love this game. It feels somewhat unique to me as a co-op trick taker, and trying to complete the missions has an addictive quality that keeps me coming back. I am so glad that it is now up on BoardGame Arena so that I can play it during the pandemic.
Opinionated Gamer Comments
Talia Rosen: I launched the idea for this post with the mistaken hope and expectation that I would have played, or at least heard of, most of the top games. Whoops! As it turns out, two of my all-time recent favorites got no votes from anyone else! I gave my silver medal to the incomparable Q.E. and my bronze medal to the sublime Fox in the Forest Duet, neither of which receive a single other vote. While Q.E. originally came out in 2017, it got a nice new version and printing in 2019, which I had the great joy of discovering in December 2019 and playing several more times during the first quarter of 2020. I’ve long enjoyed auction games like Ra and Princes of Florence, but the twist in Q.E. is nothing short of brilliant. Fox in the Forest was a fun two-player trick-taking game in 2017, and I was initially skeptical of the 2020 cooperative sequel. After playing Fox in the Forest Duet, I fell for it as a true gem. Dare I say that I think Fox in the Forest Duet is the best cooperative trick-taking game (not The Crew)…
Joe Huber: If I were going to choose a game to award “best cooperative trick-taking game,” I’d still choose the even-older Familiar’s Trouble, but that’s just me. As a practical matter, neither 2019 nor 2020 were doing well for me in finding new games I enjoy – and that was before the Pandemic reduced the number of new games I played by nearly an order of magnitude. I still hope to find more games I really enjoy from the last couple of years, but based on the samples so far – and, of course, most of those have been the titles I’ve sought out because they looked interesting to me – I’m not very optimistic. And Talia, I agree that Q.E. is excellent – I just learned it before the period in question.
Matt Carlson: I was surprised by several of the winners, as I had both heard of them and played them (I’m often behind the times here at the OpG…) Ones I agree with include The Crew (my gold vote) and Just One (my bronze – it was a hit with all the groups I threw it at.) It wasn’t new to me but I do like Exit:the Game. While I don’t care for them, I was still surprised to see Betrayal Legacy and Yokohama as they have been around for a little while. Betrayal is fun in the right group, but its chaos means it is less of a game and more of an experience. The reviews of the legacy version seemed to confirm it would remain more of the same. Yokohama is a great game, but it is forever soured by my first play where I was crushed by someone who had played before. (It was one of those experiences where everything I tried to do was completed by someone else the turn before I finished it, etc…) My missing silver medal was to Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion as it enabled me to get the game to the table and play with my boys whereas the original game was a bit of a monster to jump into cold turkey. I have played Cartographers, but only digitally and I think the drawing aspect does add just a bit to the game.
Jonathan Franklin: The past few years before COVID-19 were quite good for games. I have enjoyed a mix of old and new throughout the past year. In retrospect, I think it has separated the wheat from the chaff and my three favorite games of 2019 are still standing tall on the podium. They were, in no order, Die Crew, Hadara, and Res Arcana. I would happily play any of these any time, but make no claim to be exceptional at any of them. Die Crew is like a pair of comfy Doc Martens. Yes, they are familiar, as I enjoy trick-taking games in particular, but the co-op nature and sequential structure make it special and different. This is perhaps why you don’t find Doc M. bedroom slippers.
Second is Hadara, which I think is special. I did not feel that way about Crown of Emara, but Hadara had a very nice flow that is not captured in the online versions I have played. I like the alternating phases of simultaneous play and then sequential picking. The former is like picking up your hand in any card game and having that high or low when you assess the goodies. The second half is when someone at a thrift store finds a game you wanted a minute before you get there and yet is parading around with it. At the same time, it is clearly not solitaire because you can tell what people are likely to go for and plan ahead. The one knock is the memory element. I am not sure how to handle that, but sometimes you take a card in the second phase, uncovering a gem for the next player that you might not have done if you had remembered what was in the stack. I have the expansions but am really not sure if it needs them, so the base game is better than fine. Due to the quality of this design, I look forward to Benjamin Schwer’s next design.
Res Arcana by Tom Lehmann is a gem that has taken off due to the BGA implementation. It deserves this acclaim as well as having the expansion added at some point. I find it clever, every card is overpowered in some situation, but it takes experience to see new ways forward. It is perhaps a bit less potato chippy (‘let’s play again’) than Race because it takes a bit longer, but it also has production chains, which are quite fun and satisfying. I tend not to like attacking games and Res Arcana is in that zone where if everyone knows you are a care bear, it can be hard to stop the leader and much of the game is stopping someone else from ending the race before you can. Three excellent games and I am excited they all made the list.
Larry Levy: My voting didn’t match the group’s too closely, but I guess that isn’t too surprising; outside of The Crew, there really wasn’t any consensus. Games in the top 11 that I voted for were Barrage, Res Arcana, The Crew, and Hadara, although only Barrage made my top 5. My other top votes went to Marco Polo II (which missed making the list by just one vote), Carnegie, Paladins of the West Kingdom, and Maracaibo; Res Arcana was my sixth favorite. The only games in the list that I’ve tried and have negative feelings toward are Mandala (lacking in control) and Cartographers (not for those with poor spatial reasoning!). I haven’t played Pax Pamir and even though the Pax games don’t really suit me, Pamir does seem like it might be the best of the bunch. Betrayal Legacy, the other game I haven’t tried, also isn’t my kind of title. The other games in the list are all good designs, with Res Arcana starting to become a genuine favorite, as I’ve gotten the chance to play it some more, thanks to BGA’s fine online implementation. The Crew’s utter dominance of the voting is a bit surprising, but given that it’s a recent KdJ winner that’s also a trick-taker (we do love our trick taking games here at OG), perhaps it’s not too shocking. I think it’s a fine choice, as it appeals to many different kinds of gamers.
Mark Jackson: The absence of Unmatched is criminal. ‘Nuff said.
OK, maybe not enough. It’s a Wonderful World is, well, wonderful… but the resource manipulation involved puts AP-prone players into molasses mode and thus needs to be avoided with those kind of folks. I’m guessing that Lost Ruins of Arnak & CloudAge (two other games I listed) are too new to register on this list.
Other games I suggested: New Frontiers (more Tom Lehmann!), Wildlands (Martin Wallace that I actually like!), Silver & Gold (family fun!), Taverns of Tiefenthal (my sons call it “Quacks of Q. for gamers”), and Marvel Champions (the most accessible of FFG’s Living Card Games).
And my “gold” pick was Nemo’s War, which was unlikely to show up due to being designed as a solo game. If you have any interest in solo gaming, you need to check it out.
Fraser McHarg: I am pleasantly surprised that I had actually played and/or heard of quite a few games on this list. Most of our gaming time has been with Terraforming Mars, so new-to-us games sometimes have a problem sneaking in.
Brandon Kempf: I didn’t vote in this Top 11, not sure why as I usually like doing lists like this, but for some reason I was having trouble coming up with games that I really enjoyed from that time frame. While The Crew probably falls in the most played category over that time frame, I am not really sure that it’s my favorite, I enjoy playing The Crew, but I’m never the one to initiate the play session. In fact, if I want to play a trick taking game I will 9 times out of 10 reach for Nokosu Dice. I loved the first 10 plays or so of The Crew, but sort of felt as if it were just repetitive after a bit, even with the changing “goals”. Betrayal Legacy was probably my least favorite game of the last couple years. Of the top 11, I have only not played Pax Pamir, no desire, and Barrage, very little desire. Looking back I’d probably have pushed for games like Letter Jam, Hats, Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion or maybe even things like First Class, Santiago, or a myriad of other older titles that were learned over the last couple years. Or I could have just put Cube Rails down as that seems to be my latest obsession, having started cutting my teeth on the offerings of Capstone with Irish Gauge & Ride the Rails, and I am anxiously awaiting Iberian Gauge.
Tery Noseworthy: Some of my favorites didn’t make the cut. One of them is It’s a Wonderful World, which is a great engine builder using cards. Another is Crystal Palace, a good worker placement game that balances luck of die rolls that are used for actions, with strategy and planning involved in how you use them. Sometimes it is hard to pick my favorites, since sometimes that varies depending on my mood or who I am playing with, and voting on these is always hard. Reading everyone’s “also ran” choices always leads me to remember games I would have included.
Methodology: Each voter picked up to 11 games, giving 11 points to their top choice (gold medal), followed by 10 points to their second choice (silver medal), 9 points to their third choice (bronze medal), 8 points to their fourth choice, and so on. Voters were allowed to select any 11 games that they wanted (which resulted in 73 different games getting votes). The points from all 14 voters were added together to come up with the ranking above.