2019 was another amazing year for gaming. With so many great games released this year, I genuinely had a tough time narrowing down this list. While it would be close to impossible to play every release from this year, I made an attempt to get some of the major ones on the table at least once.
This years list is going to start with a little bit of a cheat. I’m going to start by giving honorable mentions to 5 games that I had a blast playing this year (in no particular order). Major props to Museum, Tiny Towns, Bugs on Rugs, Horrified and It’s a Wonderful World. These are the games that just missed the top 10 and I struggled with not being able to also mention these games. Now that I’ve mildly cheated, here are my Top 10 games released in 2019. (All release windows are based on the U.S. retail release of the game)
When we first sat down with Shikoku in the Spring, the very concept of “try not to finish first” seemed so simple. Players are climbing the steps to a temple with the goal of finishing 2nd or next to last in Shikoku. In 2019, Grand Gamers Guild brought this game to the U.S. and it has been a huge hit for us. Up to 8 players use cards to move up the 33 steps to the temple. Along the way, you’re trying to read your opponents and count cards as you control your meeple.
Shikoku is such a fresh idea and is executed so well with its Asian inspired artwork. The concept is so simple that I often hear “That’s it?” after teaching the mechanics. It’s only after you play your first game when you realize how hard it is to come in 2nd place. The game is tense and every card you play has repercussions that can be felt by each player. Shikoku is sure to see many more years on our table because it’s such a unique experience.
#9 Silver & Gold
One of our most played games hit retail in November of this year. Silver & Gold is a flip-and-write game from designer Phil Walker-Harding (Sushi Go, Barenpark) that was originally released in Germany. Players are looking for treasure across different island cards that are drafted. During a round, players can use the polyomino shapes to fill the islands and score the points on the cards.
Silver & Gold allows players to use dry erase pens on the game cards and record scores on their player cards. The game is fast-paced and there’s plenty of tough decisions throughout the game. I think what I love most about Silver & Gold is that it’s a game that takes around 20 minutes to play and it’s rare that is goes back in the box after just one game. This was a game that has connected with every person in our house which is a huge deal with our family of 5.
#8 Fleet: The Dice Game
It’s not a secret that I love the roll-and-write format. 2019 has seen some excellent games in this genre, but one of the best is still Fleet: The Dice Game. This game hit retail at the very beginning of 2019 and has stayed been one of my favorite games since its release. The roll-and-write genre has received plenty of criticism for being too light or casual for more hardcore gamers. Fleet: The Dice Game puts this criticism to rest.
Players are drafting dice to purchase fishing vessels and acquire licenses that give them more perks. Every other round, players take their boats into the water to fish and gain even more victory points. Fleet: The Dice Game does an excellent job of allowing players to make combos with everything they do. While this game doesn’t get to the table as often as I would like, Fleet: The Dice Game has made a huge impression on me that I just can’t shake.
If there is one game that took the world by storm in 2019, it would have to be Wingspan from designer Elizabeth Hargrave. This game about birds is beautiful and it has a layer of polish that publisher Stonemaier Games is known for. Even friends who don’t game asked me about Wingspan because they saw it in Science Magazine or heard about it on NPR.
Wingspan is an engine building game that allows players to create combos as they add new birds to their habitat. The birds will have different qualities and require placement in different environments where they will thrive. The game has this incredible way of drawing you into something that you didn’t know you cared about. So much time and detail was spent on refining this game and there’s a reason why you’ll see Wingspan on a majority of Top 10 lists this year.
#6 The Grimm Masquerade
The Grimm Masquerade is one of our favorite family games of the year. This deduction game has so many layers to it that it continues to call us back for one more game. The artwork from Mr. Cuddington is stunning as they bring some of our favorite fairy tale characters to life.
The Grimm Masquerade was such a big surprise for us when we picked it up at Origins in June. My wife Erin isn’t a fan of deduction games and she left Origins singing the praises of this game after just one play. The Grimm Masquerade has modules that can be added and removed from the game based on the players preferences. The game rewards players for paying close attention to everyone at the table and doesn’t require you to lie in order to have an edge on other players. This is another game that is tough to put back in the box after just one game.
#5 Paladins of the West Kingdom
In 2018 I missed the hype train on Architects of the West Kingdom, a game that Bob said was his favorite game of the year. I couldn’t let 2019 go by without playing Paladins of the West Kingdom, the next game in the series from Garphill Games. It’s rare that I have time for some of the heavier games that take almost two hours to play, but Paladins is one that is worth every minute.
Players are building their kingdom and focusing on areas of influence, faith and strength as their stable of 12 paladins help the city. Will you fortify your city walls and convert the outsiders or will you slaughter your enemies and commission monks to assist your city? The amount of options in this game can be overwhelming but also satisfying as you earn more workers during the 7 rounds of play. Paladins of the West Kingdom may not get as many plays as Architects does in our house but this is one incredibly well made gem in our hobby.
#4 Unmatched: Battle of Legends
Mistakes were made, I can admit this. I didn’t check out Unmatched: Battle of Legends at Origins this year while I visited the Restoration Games booth. That was my bad. When we got the opportunity to review the game at the end of the Summer, I was shocked by how much fun we had.
Unmatched is a new game from Restoration Games that has its roots in the Star Wars Epic Duels from 2002. This 2-4 players game uses decks of cards that are tied to specific fighters and allies. During the match, players use their unique abilities to attack the other fighters on the battlefield. The double-sided boards allow for more replay-ability and new obstacles. Unmatched: Battle of Legends (Vol. 1) is just the beginning of a game system that I can’t wait to add on to.
Our family loves to enjoy nature and PARKS is a game that is dripping with this theme. This Keymaster Games release from designer Henry Audubon has some of the most beautiful illustrations and components of any game released in 2019. Players are hiking trails over the course of 4 seasons with the goal of collecting points as they visit 45 beautifully illustrated parks.
You’ll collect resources, purchase gear and compete to have the most points in a game that is relaxing yet has a tension that’s incredibly enjoyable. It’s tough not to fall in love with every aspect of PARKS from the game design to the game insert that makes you smile every time you open the box. Whether I’m playing a 2-player or 5-player game, PARKS plays remarkably smooth and the trail is different each time because of the variable setup of the trail tiles. PARKS is a game that will have a place on our shelf for years to come.
Civilization games have always intrigued me but have rarely made it onto our family game shelf. A big reason why is because civ-building games normally come with long play times and inaccessible rules for newer players. This is not the case with Hadara from Z-Man Games.
In Hadara, players are building their empire over the course of 3 epochs. The game has a unique drafting mechanic where players will have two opportunities to draft cards that can be used to further their civilization. Players can focus on military strength, economic advancement, arts and agriculture. Hadara was a stand-out when we saw it at Origins this Summer and it has stayed at the top of our list for the past 6 months. The mechanics are so fluid and the game has enough depth to engage new and seasoned gamers. Each time I play Hadara, my immediate reaction is “Do we have time for another play?”
#1 Colors of Paris
Colors of Paris is not only my #1 release of 2019, but I think it’s one of the most underrated titles of the past year. In Colors of Paris, players are artists who are involved in a painting competition in 18th Century France. What makes this game so good are the actions that are available on the rondel in the middle of the table. This dial is changing round after round, modifying the number and types of actions that are available to the players.
Players have to focus on 3 primary areas to improve their paint production, paint mixing skills and speed as they work to paint 2 canvases that can be drafted from four cardboard easels. What makes Colors of Paris my top game of 2019? That’s easy!
This is one of the best painting games available in our hobby. It straddles that line of being simple enough to jump into as a new gamer but heavy enough that you don’t get bored. The double layered worker placement board adds so much tension from round to round as you fight your opponents for the action that you need. Colors of Paris scales well between 2 and 4 players by blocking off specific placement areas on the board. The recessed player boards and wooden meeples are such a great touch that makes this feel like a premium experience. Colors of Paris is the fun and competitive art themed game that I’ve been looking for all these years.
This list only covers some of the incredible games released in 2019. I would love to know what games made the top of you list in the comments below.