2022 in Board GamingJanuary 2, 2023 https://blog.arranfrance.com/post/2022-in-board-gaming/
I played a lot of board games in 2022 here’s a round-up of some of my favourite board game memories and games from the year.
I played a lot of board games in 2022 here’s a round-up of some of my favourite board game memories and games from the year.
#A Year in A Few Stats
- I played 120 unique games across 565 different plays
- I played with 36 different people (excluding online/tournament plays)
- I clocked in roughly ~411 hours of game time across 17 different locations, roughly 50% of which were at home
- I bought/was gifted 57 new games (excluding standalone expansions)
- I completed three campaigns including one legacy game!
- I took part in four Netrunner tournaments
#My Top 10 Games
As of the end of 2022 here are my top ten board games. I regularly update my rankings and as you’ll see, this lists tends towards heavier games.
1960: The Making of the President is a game that replays the 1960 American presidential election between Nixon and JFK. It’s a heavy long duelling game with a constant tug of war between the Nixon and the JFK player. Cards double as events, which have an immediate powerful and specific effect, or can be simply used as points towards more generic actions. Players also need to be mindful of specific one-time stages of the game, The Debates and Election Day, which also use require cards to be set aside for. As such, 1960: The Making of the President is a constant challenge to balance your immediate tactical needs vs your long term strategic goals - whilst considering the moves of your opponent. Something about the combination of theme and mechanics really pushes this game into the upper echelons for me.
Cloudspire is a game that blends the genres of tower-defence and MOBA video games. Each round, players send out waves of units, which are unique to their faction, to attempt to storm their opponent’s keep. Prior to units being deployed, players can also spend currency to upgrade their faction or to build towers that automatically fire against enemy units in range. Play is conducted in “waves” which conclude when the last unit is destroyed, after which players receive more currency in order to purchase more units for the next wave.
Behind the simple premise, Cloudspire hides a huge amount of tactical depth. Each faction is asymmetric with their own upgrades, units, and towers. The arena the game is played from is constructed by the players in a turn by turn fashion but can also be altered during the game by players. Importantly, the amount of currency in the game always feels too small. You can never purchase every unit, every upgrade, or every tower - you have to be savvy and choose areas to compromise on, causing every game feeling tight. The game also feels like it rewards tactical ingenuity, it’s exciting when you throw everything against your opponent and fail, and then the next turn make subtle but important changes in order to finally break through their defences.
Guards of Atlantis II is another game that is inspired by MOBA video games. Whilst Cloudspire focuses on the movement of minions, Guards of Atlantis II focuses on the interplay between heroes. Each hero has a unique set of abilities represented by a hand of five unique cards. Players simultaneously, but independently, pick a card from their hand to be their action for the turn and then simultaneously reveal them. The actions are then resolved in initiative order. This repeats for four turns, before players regain all the cards in their hand.
Each turn becomes a decision as to which cards to play early, and which to save for later, and because every card can be used for either its main effect or for alternate effects such as defending against attacks and movement there is a delicate balancing act to the decision of what to play. Crucially though, the decision is only ever at most between one of five cards because the number of cards available decreases over the course of a round.
Guards of Atlantis II shines because of the simplicity of the rules as well as the depth and variety in the heroes. Despite only having a small pool of cards to differentiate the heroes, each hero feels unique and different, and although some heroes feel impactful - no individual hero feels especially powerful. It’s also incredibly satisfying to pull off a combo with a teammate or to lock down an enemy hero over multiple turns. Each turn also happens incredibly quickly for a game with such depth, due to the simultaneous play, which helps the game feel pacey.
Netrunner is an asymmetric card game set in a futuristic cyberpunk universe where corporations rule. One player plays as a corporation seeking to advance their agendas which are found in their hand and deck, and another plays a runner who seeks to get past the corporation defences and find and steal the corporate agendas.
Netrunner has a fantastic cat-and-mouse feel on both sides of the table. As a runner, you’re constantly trying to find and exploit weaknesses and as a corporation you’re constantly trying to find what you can get away with, as whilst you might be able to keep a runner out for now, you know a runner will be able to get in eventually. The game centres around psychology, more so than any 1v1 duelling style game I’ve played, as bluffing is a core part of the game. Has the corporation player got their agenda in their hand? Have they seen any agendas at all? Are they in the deck? Have they just played an agenda, or is that a trap?
Fantasy Realms is a simple game about building the best fantasy kingdom by combining seven cards together. Each card has a base value, but then also bonuses and penalities depending on the other suits or specific cards it’s combined with. For instance, horses get an extra +20 points when there’s a wizard card in your hand. Players either draw from the top of the deck or select a card that’s been discarded, and then must discard a card from their hand. The game ends when the discard pile is full, creating a sort of countdown before the game ends. Players can speed up the clock by drawing blindly from the deck, or slow the clock down by swapping a card from the discard.
Fantasy Realms is great because of both how quickly it plays but how much it packs in to such a small window. The decision of what direction to take your hand in, which cards to ditch, and whether to try and slow down or accelerate the game is always enjoyable and because of how quick the game is if you get stuck with a dead hand the game doesn’t last longer than a few minutes.
Spirit Island is a cooperative game where you take on the persona of a spirit of an island being invaded by colonisers. As colonisers progress through the island you develop your powers and spread your influence driving the invaders back.
Spirit Island is the only cooperative game that has made this list and that’s because of an incredible theme, which permeates the game even down to the differing materials used for island versus invader components; the variability in the game, with different spirits to play as, islands cards, minor and major power cards, and events; as well as the ability to easily tweak the difficulty. Other cooperative games tend to feel stale and samey for me after a few plays but Spirit Island continues to offer something new every game.
Brass Birmingham is an economic game set in Birmingham during the industrial revolution. Players take on the roles of entrepreneurs trying to establish networks, build industries, and produce and sell goods. The game is played in two eras, the era of canals and the era of steam with only well-developed enough industries surviving into the rail era.
Brass has an incredible arc of the game. As players options dwindle down, focus narrows, and competition grows. The game’s multi-use cards provides and interesting puzzles and from game to game there are lots of differing options to victory and well as different optimal paths depending on the player count and also where the trading hubs are located. Brass stands out to me as being an incredibly well-designed and beautiful euro game.
Star Wars: Rebellion is a two-player asymmetric game where one player takes on the role of the Rebel Alliance who has a hidden base in a system somewhere on the board, and the other player takes on the role of the Galactic Empire trying to seek and destroy the Rebel base. Players start the turn by choosing to assign their leaders to mission cards that will allow them to expand their influence, develop new troops, or interact with their enemy in some way. Players then take turns either activating their mission cards or using their remaining leaders to move troops across the map. The Imperial player’s goal being to try and expand their reach across the map, the Rebel player’s goal being to try and slow the Imperial’s advance and to score enough objectives to win the game. At the end of each round, the Imperial player draws two cards where they know the Rebel player is not and the Rebel player gets a new objective they are able to score.
Star Wars: Rebellion is a fantastically thematic game of hide-and-seek. The Empire starts the game with military and a resource advantage and over the course of the game produces dozens of units each turn. Comparatively, the Rebels are spread thinly and are outgunned and outclassed by the Empires reach and firepower. Each turn it feels like the Rebels are trying to claw tooth and nail to gain a foothold and to score a point or two. Despite the Empires might, they are blind as to where the Rebels are hidden and are pressed for time to both find and destroy them, and have no idea about the secret objectives the Rebel player has making it difficult to stop them from scoring. The missions and the objectives also perfectly mirror various elements of the Star Wars story; capturing Rebels, destroying Death Stars, and training Jedi. The only criticism I had of the game was the poor combat however the only expansion for the game Rise of the Empire fixes the combat whilst adding a few extra elements.
Dwellings of Eldervale is an asymmetric game about fighting for domination in a fantasy world through placing workers. Dwellings of Eldervale is a game that at its core is about activating tiles with workers and then retrieving your workers and performing more actions in your tableau. The actions you take allow you to gain new workers, to permanently lose workers or “dwell” to score points, to buy cards to build up your tableau of actions you can trigger once your workers return, and more. As you develop your tableau and produce dwellings on the board you move up tracks associated with specific elements which impacts end game scoring. Players can also battle against each other or against the monstrous creatures that roam in Eldervale.
Dwellings of Eldervale is not a simple game, a tight game, or even a deeply thematic game, but it is a game with tons of replayability, it’s highly interactive, and it’s undeniably fun. The monsters are all uniquely terrifying and annoying, the cards you obtain from the shop can feel incredibly powerful, and each of the factions are unique and fresh to play as. Turns are quick, and each turn feels like there are options to do something big and impactful on the board.
Millennium Blades simulates the experience of collecting, playing, and trading a CCG or TCG. Players choose a character to play as, who has unique powers, and then play a real-time game where they receive cards, spend their money buying cards, and trade cards in order to build a small set of seven cards they take into a tournament. Players then play a turn based game where they play cards for their effect in order to score the highest number of points. This is then repeated three times to crown the ultimate King (or Queen) of Games.
Millennium Blades perfectly captures the experience, tone, and genre it simulates. It plays homage to games like Magic the Gathering, Pokémon, Hearthstone, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and includes all the broken combos and cards. This is a game that definitely is aimed at a niche audience and unlike any other game I’ve played it perfectly captures that feeling. Card games have been a huge part of my adolescent and adult life and every time I play the game I feel like my inner child is unleashed. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, and the game for me is pure adrenaline.
#Honourable Mentions New in 2022
Here are a few standout gems from the games I’ve played in 2022.
I’ve spent a lot of time playing Marvel Champions in 2022 and it does a lot right. Players choose heroes from the Marvel franchise and team up to battle an iconic Marvel villain. Villains attempt to progress their schemes until ultimately they are victorious. To stop them, players attempt to thwart villains schemes, defeat their thugs, all whilst trying to stay alive. Heroes have two forms, a hero form and an alter-ego form. In a hero form, they can attack enemies and importantly attempt to whittle down the villain’s health to 0! However, in hero form heroes get attacked by the villain. In alter-ego form, heroes can heal up but the villain schemes instead of attacking pushing them closer to victory.
Marvel Champions nails the card-play which is always fun and exciting and heroes all feel very distinct and capture something of their character. It’s also surprisingly easy to build a deck or to throw together an encounter to play against. The game is expensive though, and the rules are poorly explained in the book and there are lots of small details that are easy to forget. Encounter tuning is tricky too, and it’s easy to end up in a situation with an unoptimised deck where you’re mostly treading water or making slow progress. I also feel like a number of significant characters that I’d want to play against like Loki are nemesis cards rather than full-blown villains. Despite all the drawbacks, Marvel Champions is still one of my most played games in 2022 both in terms of individual plays and time played. The amount of variety available through expansions and the near infinite replayability is a huge draw when combined with the Marvel theme.
No Thanks! is a truly excellent light game. Players draw cards with points values from a deck and then pay in turn to avoid being the one to take it. The aim of the game is to be the one with the least points accumulated at the end. Three wrinkles make the bidding interesting. The first is that cards in a run only count for the value of the lowest card in the run; which makes some cards more desirable than others as they bridge the gap between two big value cards and others effectively risk-free to take as a player already owns a neighbouring card. The second wrinkle is that when a player takes a card they also take all the bidding tokens spent on the card so far giving them more opportunities to reject cards in the future. The third wrinkle is that cards are randomly removed from the deck at the beginning of the game, so no player can guarantee which cards will or won’t come up for bidding.
No Thanks! takes an incredibly simple rule set that encourages bluffing and brinksmanship and packages it in small quick to play frame. It creates genuinely laugh out loud moments when a player manages to connect every single one of their cards after starting the game with two high value cards or when a player runs out of bidding chips at the most inopportune moment. It’s the perfect game for small social gatherings and has been an absolute stand out game for me in 2022.
#Dinosaur Island: Rawr ’n Write
Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is an interesting roll and write spin on Pandsauras Games’ popular line of dinosaur games. Players take turns drafting dice and then placing the dice for actions in order to build dinosaur paddocks, attractions, and hire specialists. After two rounds of drafting and performing actions players then “run” their park, visiting buildings, generating excitement, and gaining more resources.
Rawr ’n Write is a challenging up front teach due to the fact it combines different game phases, a lot of iconography, and the unique dice but the payoff is definitely worth it. The last few turns are incredibly satisfying to try and squeeze as much as possible into your park and the running the park sections become increasingly rewarding as you find yourself stacking resource on top of resource. Rawr ’n Write has a special place in my collection because it delivers the experience and complexity of a medium weight euro in a small box that takes no more than 5 minutes to set up.
#Marvel Dice Throne
Marvel Dice Throne is a Dice Throne based game where you duel against opponents using popular Marvel heroes. Players take turns rolling character specific dice attempting to create combos to unleash abilities on their opponents.
It’s not a game with a lot of complexity or depth but Marvel Dice Throne is easy to pick up and play and requires very little setup. This has been a game that’s easy to pull out and get a game going in a few minutes.
Paper Dungeons was a surprising hit this year. Players advance through a shared dungeon collecting gems, fighting monsters, and battling bosses in order to obtain the most points at the end of the game.
A large percentage of players who have played this game with me have expressed interest in buying their own copies or have immediately wanted to play again. This is despite a difficult and long teach that requires you to understand everything upfront. There’s something super satisfying about the old-school feel of the game and progressing through a dungeon on your own sheet. There isn’t quite enough variability in the game for me, it feels like it can be quite samey each time, but I don’t play it frequently enough for it to put me off of the game yet.
#Long Shot: The Dice Game
Long Shot: The Dice Game is a betting game. Each round one person rolls the dice to select a horse, the horse moves, and then every person takes a simple action on their sheet using that horse. For example betting on the horse, attaching the horse to another horse so when it moves the other horse moves, etc. The game is simple, fun, and doesn’t take itself very seriously but has yet to fail to deliver a good time. Each game comes down to the wire and there’s a special raucous party atmosphere that comes with the game.
Mage Knight is an adventure game. Your knight searches the lands for powerful magic, artefacts, followers, and grows in power as they battle orcs and prepare to storm the cities. Mage Knight is a heavy game and isn’t an easy game to delve into but even after three or so hours of play I’ve begun to wish the games were longer and let me develop my knight more. There’s no other game in my collection that gives such freedom and such a sense of adventure.
#Lords of Hellas
Lords of Hellas is a weird Greek mecha war game. Players control a heroic Greek figure like Achilles or Helen of Troy, and seek to win by either controlling regions of the board, controlling temples, or slaying monsters. Players gain artefacts, additional powers, and strength in their basic attributes over time making them stronger as they vie for victory conditions.
Lords of Hellas is a game that thrives off its table presence as much as the strength of its mechanics. At its core though Lords of Hellas is a sound wargame with an excellent drafting system and multiple paths to victory. It’s a game that practically dragged itself back to the table after my first play and is one of the games that’s frequently requested to be played again. It’s a shame it’s such a pain to store.
Gizmos is an engine building game. There are four basic actions: grab a resource from the dispenser, add a card to your engine, file a card into the archives for later, search for a card. Cards either have a small passive benefit (such as increasing the number of resources you can hold) or have a trigger and an effect - such as when you grab a red resource from the dispenser, choose another resource! These can be chained together allowing you to perform multiple actions per turn.
There’s a joy that emerges when your engine starts to take shape and a simple action compounds. The game is also incredibly easy to teach, and takes no more than 20 minutes. The day it arrived I think we played it three times back to back.
There were a few games that didn’t quite shine this year.
3000 Scoundrels key premise is combining different aspects of characters to produce a “unique” scoundrel for each time you play the game. This aspect it mostly nails, as a lot of combinations are fun and memorable and the art is fantastic. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay itself is most only OK. It centres around searching face-down tiles to find the most valuable “safes” but it’s mostly a game of luck and the end of the game feels stale as you know you’re competing for low value safes. The engine building aspects never really take off and whilst the action selection is neat, it’s not nearly strong enough to warrant the bluffing mechanics that come with it. It ultimately didn’t feel like a strong game.
Marvel United is a simple co-op game where Marvel characters fight against a villain who has unique mechanics. Ultimately, this game had a good run in my collection, but its simplicity made it feel a bit too easy and samey despite the large amount of content that comes with the game. The heroes themselves don’t really stand out and the villains never really feel like they get a chance to shine, and the arc of the game is nearly always the same. The only challenging villain was The Green Goblin, everyone else (including Thanos) felt relatively easy.
Quest is an iteration on The Resistance: Avalon which attempts to add more strategic mechanisms to the game and remove a lot of the deliberation. Unfortunately it’s mired by a strange decision to include two versions of the game: a Director’s Cut version (which is considered superior) and an original version. Combined with a poor rulebook the game is made needlessly more complex.
Sprawlopolis is a hit game of city building but unfortunately fell rather flat with me. This is considered a fantastic short solo game, but I found the game scoring frustrating and the game far too thinky for a casual game session. I actually prefer the game at two in either a versus mode using the Interstate expansion or at two as a collaborative city building game.
Sleeping Gods is an exploration focused storybook campaign game where you explore the wandering sea on a boat. With high praise from nearly all reviewers I was keen to experience the game, but it fell rather flat. It felt like the game was mostly resource management and a constant struggle to stay afloat rather than focus on finding the various totems. The story at times also felt rather paper thin and more like a series of events and less like a narrative. There’s certainly something here, and I’m keen to try and explore more, but my first impressions were not fantastic.
Destinies is another popular game adventure game that missed the mark for me. The game’s premise is that players compete as characters in the same scenario to be the first to achieve their destiny. Unfortunately, in this game the competitive element isn’t meaningful enough to matter other than it prevents other people from completing their own story. The stories don’t really overlap enough to feel like you’re doing anything other than playing in the sandbox and it feels like a lot of progression comes down to stumbling across the right NPC rather than any kind of meaningful deduction.
One of the highlights of the year for me was the three campaign style games that I played. Imperial Assault is one of my favourite games and I got to play one of the small box expansion, the Imperial Assault: Bespin Gambit campaign.
I also got to play my first truly legacy game The King's Dilemma which whilst not always deeply enjoyable was definitely memorable!
Finally, Joel and I played through one of the expansions for Marvel Champions, Marvel Champions: The Rise of Red Skull which was a fantastic challenge, and much easier to schedule with just 2 players!
This year I got to go to the UK Board Game Expo, I really loved the experience and I’m excited to go back next year armed with all the knowledge from my first visit. I’d also love to go to Airecon which is a convention more focused on playing games and less on purchasing.
I’m also really keen to get my shelf of shame down to 0 games from 41 and to see how many games in the Top 100 on BGG I can play, I’ve currently played 27 and I’d love to get somewhere around 50 by the end of 2023.