Gaming largely went on a “pause” for the past two years. There were fewer releases of new games. Conventions were less well-attended — or canceled. Game groups temporarily disbanded. But as the hobby continues its effort to reconnect, we here at the Opinionated Gamers wanted to highlight 10 great games from the past two years. These are games released in 2020, 2021, or 2022 that we’re big fans of.
Today’s article is part of our long-paused “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory. I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. In this case, I picked a timeline. We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.
For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 games that released in the past couple of years. That was a loose definition, though, and even some of the winners may have had localized or soft releases before that.
Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it. Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points. We all put our votes into a spreadsheet. We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.
We had 24 OG-ers vote, and 82 different games received votes.
To get on the list took a minimum of five writers rating the game decently well. That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.
Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze. Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.
Without further ado, here are 10 great games from the last two years!
Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List):
15 (Tie). Boonlake
15 (Tie). Paleo (1 Bronze)
13 (Tie). Sleeping Gods (1 Gold, 1 Silver)
13 (Tie). Cat in the Box (1 Gold, 2 Silver)
12. Anno 1800 (1 Gold, 1 Bronze)
11. Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion (1 Gold)
#9 (Tie) – Nidavellir
53 Points, 1 Gold
Designed by Serge Laget
#9 (Tie) – Hallertau
53 Points, 1 Bronze
Designed by Uwe Rosenberg
#8 – Free Ride
58 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Bronze
Designed by Friedemann Friese
#7 – Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
66 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
Designed by Rob Daviau and Matt Leacock
#6 – Dune Imperium
77 Points, 2 Gold, 1 Bronze
Designed by Paul Dennen
#5 – The Lost Ruins of Arnak
76 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
Designed by Mín and Elwin
#4 – The Crew Mission Deep Sea
77 Points, 2 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
Designed by Thomas Sing
#3 – My City
82 Points, 1 Gold, 2 Silver
Designed by Reiner Knizia
#2 – Ark Nova
90 Points, 1 Gold, 5 Bronze
Designed by Matthias Wigge
#1 – Beyond the Sun
147 Points, 2 Gold, 3 Silver
Designed by Dennis K. Chan
Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:
Chris Wray: I’m normally more in the mainstream of this group, but only 4 of 10 votes made the top 15. My remaining votes went to Bites, Iwari, Maglev Metro, Rococo Deluxe Edition, Silver Coin/Dagger, and Ultimate Werewolf Extreme.
Bites is one of the best family-friendly releases of recent years. It came out early in 2020, and my game group has been enjoying it thoroughly since then. A remake of Big Points (which I’ve never played), it has considerable replayability due to the different scoring mechanisms that can be incorporated.
Rococo: Deluxe Edition should probably be in my all-time Top 10 at this point. I’m a big fan of the designer, Mathias Cramer, who also did Glen More II (another Top 10 of mine). The gameplay is exceptional, the components are gorgeous, and all of the expansions are included.
Ultimate Werewolf Extreme is the other game in personal Top 10 that made its debut in the last couple of years. It is the definitive edition of Werewolf, and indeed, I think it is the definitive social deduction game. It is a bit unfortunate that it released when large group meetings weren’t possible. But I hope to get a few plays of it in at the upcoming Gathering of Friends.
Jeffrey Allers: Because I’m mostly concerned with prototypes these days (mine and those from other designers), and because of the pandemic, I have not had much opportunity to play new releases. However, one game stood out for me from the past couple of years.
Free Ride: Ever since being introduced to the crayon rails genre with Eurorails, I have been enamored with pick-up-and-deliver and route-building mechanics in games. They all seem to have their weaknesses, however, and two glaring ones with the Empire Builder series are their long playing time and lack of meaningful player interaction. Free Ride addresses these better than any game I have played previously (though there may be less interaction with lower player counts). Building track is simple, reducing the downtime required to calculate costs. The contracts are open to all players and constantly changing, adding tension to the race. And you get more points for unique cities visited, which encourages players to keep expanding and even pay to use opponents’ tracks (which then makes that track free for everyone else, thus the title). It’s not a perfect game, and it needs a component fix to make the game playable (Dan “GameboyGeek” King has an excellent solution that I use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilH5lBmu08E). But I really feel that this could be a crayon-rails-killer for me, as it scratches the same itch, fixes their problems, and doesn’t require 1 hour per person to play. In fact, given designer Friedemann Friese’s affinity for crayon rail games (his original Funkenschlag/Power Grid used crayons on an erasable board), I wonder if that was his goal all along?
Joe Huber: The difficulty I had, in coming up with games for this exercise, is that there simply aren’t 10 games I thought were good enough to include released during this time. This is, for me, not a new phenomenon; I find that the release of new games that are of interest to me tends to ebb and flow over time; while it can (and has) gone from a trickle to a flood very quickly, the flood tends to eventually lead to a few dry years. This, I fear, is one of those periods – for me. One of the nice things to realize is that a dry period for me is not a dry period for everyone; another is that when I’ve seen these before, they’ve always come to an end. And, to be fair, I have been playing fewer new-to-me games due to the pandemic, so it’s possible (if not particularly likely) that my opinion of 2020 and 2021 will improve over time.
Michael Weston: Thanks mainly to Boardgamearena and yucata.de, gaming did still happen during the pandemic. Of this list, hat was my first exposure to Nidavellir (got bored with it very quickly), Lost Ruins of Arnak (happy to play, happy to not buy), The Crew Deep Sea (better than its predecessor while keeping to its strengths), and Beyond the Sun (which was very quickly added to the shelf and enjoyed several times since). Dune:Imperium is also a favorite from this list. My favorite 2022 game is easily Cat in a Box, which I’ve already pre-ordered. My honorable mention would be Maglev Metro, which I was lukewarm on first play, but 2 subsequent plays have each improved my opinion of it.
Talia: The best 3 games of the past couple years are Oath, Fox in the Forest Duet, and Nanga Parbat… so I find this list quite suspect. As it turns out, those 3 games received zero votes from anyone else, so I find myself adrift in my latest gaming passions. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play Oath 18 times over the course of last year, including 10 plays during a small week-long convention. While Oath is a tough game to explain, it is truly a beautifully engaging adventure in a box where the winner is very much secondary to the story that emerges from the gorgeous cards and the evolving map. I can easily play several times back-to-back! Fox in the Forest Duet is a fantastic two-player cooperative trick-taking game where you work together to collect gems while using all of the various card abilities to avoid getting lost in the forest. Nanga Parbat is a quick, tense, clever competitive two-player game of collecting lovely animal meeples with unique and tricky abilities. Both are the height of 30-minute two-player gaming in the past few years!
Brandon K: My top game was just played for the first time by me last month, Ark Nova. By far I prefer it to the likes of Beyond the Sun, which I felt was kind of dull. Originally I had another game as my number one, which was a surprise to me, but we’ve played Descent Legends of the Dark more than we’ve played any other game probably over the last 5 years, if not in number of plays, but in hours spent playing, painting and thinking about. In fact, we have another scenario to run this evening. It’s a perfect blend of board game and board game app. I agree with Chris, Bites is fantastic and is overlooked here and probably most everywhere. Otherwise, I only have a couple surprises that do not appear on other lists. Forgotten Waters is a wonderful experience from Plaid Hat Games, another game that beautifully blends board games with an app, looking forward to more pirate-y ways and even starting our campaign in Familiar Tales, which uses the same kind of app to facilitate the game. Ride the Rails is another on my list that seems only I enjoyed enough to give it points. So my top three were, Ark Nova. Followed by Descent Legends of the Dark and Nidavellir. Also, I am honestly surprised that this group did not manage to somehow add Princes of Florence to this list even though it clearly doesn’t belong.
Past Articles in the 10 Great Series:
10 Great Worker Placement Games
10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia
The Crew and My City would definitely be in mine, along with So Clover and Brian Boru.