Another year is wrapping up so it is time for me to announce my game of the year nominees! A quick reminder here. This is one of the only times all year that I am 100% subjective with my choices. These are not the games that I think are the most innovative, brilliant mechanically or artistically, or anything like that…though they may be one or more of the aforementioned. These are simply the games that brought me the most joy throughout the year. Period. That is it.
An additional reminder, I do my year from November to November, this allows me to spend some time playing the games after I announce my nominees so I can make my announcement of the winner in December. What this means is that there may well be a game that technically was delivered in 2020, but that simply did not get to me in time to be considered last year. This also means that there are some games that have just started delivering recently that might be considered for next year rather than this one.
Now it reading is not your thing, that is understandable as I am not particularly good at it, but luckily you can check out the video announcement right below.
So let’s get to it. Below are the 6 nominees, listed in no particular order. Check it out, leave a comment about which one you think is the best.
Furnace is a lightning fast tableau building, bidding game. At its core this game seems so dry, it is a shocker that it does not spontaneously combust. However, it has an extremely clever bidding mechanic. Not only is the bidding exceedingly simple, but also you regularly find yourself hoping to lose the bid. Because losing the bid rewards you with actions, or resources. Every time I play I think I will be tired of it, yet it has yet to happen. This is a fantastic engine builder.
Dwellings of Eldervale is a true euro-ameristyle hybrid. It has crunchy resource management, worker placement and tableau building combined with combat that is a complete dice-fest with a fair share of gotcha style magic cards. The game plays far faster than any game its size should. The solo is a true delight, and the production on the game is possibly the best thing this side of Chip Theory Games. Also. The monster minis make scary noises at you. So it has that going for it too.
Nidavellir is a delightful set collection game where each player vies for the bravest dwarves in the kingdom to face and be char-broiled and devoured by Fafnir the Dragon. Where do you find these dwarves? Taverns of course. Luckily for you, there are only three taverns across the land, and assuming taverns are as strategically located as Starbucks are…it should be relatively easy to find all the dwarves you could want. At its core this is just a simple set collection and bidding game, however, what makes it magic is the way you upgrade the power of your bidding coins as the game progresses. Bid a coin worth zero, and you will likely draft last, but you will get to upgrade one of your unused coins. This creates an awesome decision space every single round of this deceptively strategy rich game. I will note that I play this game with the expansion Thingvellir.
Land vs Sea is an easy to learn, competitive tile laying game with amazing art, tongue in cheek humor, and delightful layers of complexity that can be added on. In the game players will place double sided hex tiles on the board to create either islands or seas, scoring points for the size of the feature. Additionally, you will score points for creating trade routes on the map, and for a bonus marks on the water and/or land portions of the tiles. Playable at 2-4 players, the game is possibly at its best with 3, with the addition of the cartographer, whom scores points by creating coral reefs and mountain ranges across the map. The biggest drawback is the goat playing the trumpet with its butt is not worth extra points.
Hadrian’s Wall is a flip and write game where you take on the part of a Roman general building this titular wall to keep the Picts at bay…Mondays am I right? Each round you will flip two cards which will reveal the resources you will start that round with, along with an endgame scoring condition. Choose which is which and start using those resources. However, as you spend the resources to fill in any of the bazzillion different boxes you will consistently earn new resources which you can then use elsewhere. This game has an incredible knack for making even the worst player…ie me…feel brilliant.
Merchants Cove was one of the first euros that really stuck with me. Up until I played it, I just assumed that they were dry, boring affairs that if given the option of playing one or sitting bare-assed on a hot grill…I would have to really think about which I would prefer. This game showed me that euros could be both mechanically tight worker placement, resource management games AND be wonderfully whimsical and fresh with each play. The core gameplay is wonderfully solid, yet where it shines is with the wonderfully asymmetric characters that you can play. I suspect that the game could be limited to just a one of the mini-games that allow the characters to generate resources, and it would be a lovely game, but the inclusion of so many makes it truly pop.