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Top 10 Board Games of 2019

by GameStart Asia

Another year has rolled on by in the world of Tabletop and as we plan for 2020, let’s take a look at what we thought were the top 10 best games of 2019.*

*This list only contains games we have played and have hands-on experience with.

10. Brook City

A mysterious criminal element has taken root in Brook City. Known only as “The Syndicate,” this collection of ruthless murderers, clever thieves, corrupt politicians, and dirty cops has given rise to a new era of crime. The Brook City Police Department needs the best of the best to clean up the streets of this once peaceful metropolis. So here’s your gun and badge…get to work, officer.

A co-op game for 1 to 4 players drenched in 80’s theme. Can’t ask for more. The game sees you trying to solve a case while keeping a randomly selected crime boss at bay. This is done by using your cops individual decks. The game looks like an action-packed dungeon crawl type of game but it’s much more than that. It’s a puzzle. You need to team up and combo each other’s cards to make headway in this game. Try to do something on your own and you won’t get very far. You need to plan. Who teams up and goes where. What cards do you play? Will they only aid you or everybody? Good stuff for a Saturday night.

 9. Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

Queen Gimnax has ordered the reclamation of the northern lands. As a cartographer in her service, you are sent to map this territory, claiming it for the Kingdom of Nalos. Through official edicts, the queen announces which lands she prizes most, and you will increase your reputation by meeting her demands. But you are not alone in this wilderness. The Dragul contest your claims with their outposts, so you must draw your lines carefully to reduce their influence. Reclaim the greatest share of the queen’s desired lands and you will be declared the greatest cartographer in the kingdom.

This is a great ‘flip and write’ game. You play as Cartographers mapping out the northern lands for the Queen and this is done by drawing the shape on the card that was flipped onto your Cartographer sheet. You can then fill that shape in with whatever terrain type are shown on the card. Your aim is to have the highest score at the end of four seasons. Each season has different scoring. There are penalties for leaving empty spaces and also if an ambush card is drawn, you have to pass your sheet to the left and that player will draw the shape for you. This is where you can really mess up somebodies map. Quick and fun and also beautiful to look at.

 8. Tapestry

Create a civilization with the most storied history, starting at the beginning of humankind and reaching into the future. The paths you choose will vary greatly from real-world events or people — your civilization is unique!

A very interesting game that is easy to learn and play. A word of note though, even though this is a so-called ‘civilization’ game, its is not deep. Far from it. This is a breezy light game that is just really fun to play. Players take turns moving up 4 tracks. Science, Exploration, Science and Military. You need to pay resources to move and when they move to a space on a track, do what it says and rinse and repeat. Once no resources are left, you move your civilization into the next era. This will either give you an immediate boost or one that lasts the entire era. After 5 era’s, the player with the most points wins. While you are doing this, you are trying to build your capital city on your player board. There are 4 types of buildings you can use along with some wonderful looking Landmarks that are fully painted out of the box! Wow!

Take to the stars and become a living legend in Star Wars: Outer Rim, a game of bounty hunters, mercenaries, and smugglers for 1-4 players! In Outer Rim, you take on the role of an underworld denizen, setting out to make your mark on the galaxy. You’ll travel the outer rim in your personal ship, hire legendary Star Wars characters to join your crew, and try to become the most famous (or infamous) outlaw in the galaxy!

Forget the theme, this is a great game in its own right. A simple goal to win. The first to 10 fame points. You gain fame by completing personal goals, ship goals, jobs, bounties, and delivering cargo. While you do this you have to keep an eye on patrolling factions that could take it all away from you. Combat between other players is only allowed if a card you draw says so or if a bounty you are after is one of their crew members! It’s a lot of fun and can get pretty tense at certain points. This game definitely needs an expansion in 2020 though. The decks used in the game are lacking in quantity. But don’t let that put you off.

 6. Undaunted: Normandy

June, 1944: Through the D-Day landings, the Allies have seized a foothold on the beaches of Normandy. Now you must lead your troops forward as you push deeper into France and drive the German forces back. You will face intense resistance, machine gun fire, and mortar bombardment, but a great commander can turn the situation to their advantage!

A very interesting war game. It takes the mechanics of a standard war game and abstracts it down into something that is still tactical but is fun to play. It also adds deck building. This is amazing. Each player takes turns playing all their cards and then drawing back up. Troop movement, healing, fog of war and combat is initiated based on what cards you play. They can purchase better cards from their reserves to gain an advantage. Combat when it happens is resolved via a dice roll which might not suit some but it suits this game. The game is played over various missions from a campaign log and it all just…works.

 5. Maracaibo

Maracaibo, the new strategy game for 1-4 players by Alexander Pfister, is set in the Caribbean during the 17th century. The players try to increase their influence in three nations in four rounds. The players sail on a round course through the Caribbean. E.g., you have city tiles where you are able to perform various actions or deliver goods to. One special feature is an implemented quest mode over more and various tiles, which tells the player, who chase after it, a little story.

If you enjoyed Alexander Pfister’s previous games, Blackout: Hong Kong and The Great Western Trail, then this one will knock your socks off.  On your turn, you simply move your ship up to seven spaces around the Caribbean. If you end on a city, you can take a ‘Main’ action by delivering a good and/or taking the city action; if you end in a village, you can take several village actions such as taking coins and/or paying to put project cards into effect. Once that’s done, you re-draw up to your hand size of 4. It’s that ‘simple’. But it is very deep and the decision space is huge and rewarding. Another classic from Pfister and Capstone Games.

 4. Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein

Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a competitive game of strategic monster building for 2-4 players, inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic novel of gothic horror. In the game, the creature demands your help to accomplish what his own creator would not: to bring to life an abomination like itself, a companion to end its miserable solitude. Through worker placement and careful management of decomposing resources, you’ll gather materials from the cemeteries and morgues around the city, conduct valuable research at the Academy of Science, hire less-than-reputable associates, and toil away in your lab — all in an effort to assemble a new monster and bring it to life.

This is a meaty euro worker placement with a lot going on. It has resource management and a little bit of storytelling with various decisions to be made after reading through short story passages. Players need to collect body parts, bone and blood from various spaces on the board. Each body has a decay value and they will rot away once it goes past value 4. There are many other spaces to go such as the Church, Docks, University and Market. Once all players have placed all the meeples, you can work on the body in your lab by discarding various body parts. The exact number and type are determined by the body part. Once you have built it, you need to make it flesh and make it come alive. This is done by buying batteries and throwing the switch. i.e roll some dice and hope for the best. Will the body parts come to life or will you damage them and have to start all over.

This is one of the best worker placements games in a long time. A word of warning though. It’s long and the theme is very dark.

 3. Hellboy

Hellboy: The Board Game is a co-operative experience in which players face off against some of the comic’s most famous foes. Up to four people take control of iconic BPRD members, such as Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Roger the Homunculus, then explore gothic locations and uncover ancient artefacts.

An amazing dungeon crawl game with some unique mechanics. Choose a case, build the map and off you go. Explore the locations to find clues to solve the mystery all while battling various monsters and maybe you just might make it to the boss battle. Hellboy does some great things. Each player has 3 actions but they can be done in any order. Player 1 could do 2, then Player 2 does 1 and then Player 3 could do all 3 etc. This brings a great tactical element to the game as you can plan your attack. All tests in the game are done via dice and this is another great thing. You have melee, combat, search and defence tests. Each character has different strengths in these categories and will roll different coloured dice based on their ability. If you are great at shooting, you will roll red dice which has a lot of success on them, if you are poor, its yellow dice with not many successes. These dice can be upgraded and even downgraded based on what is happening in the game. It’s a fantastic system. The miniatures a superb and plentiful. Add in the 2 big expansion boxes and you have a mass of content to play through. There is even a random case generator that will basically keep the game fresh for years to come.

 2. Wingspan

Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game from Stonemaier Games.

You are bird enthusiasts—researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors—seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Each bird extends a chain of powerful combinations in one of your habitats (actions). These habitats focus on several key aspects of growth:

  • Gain food tokens via custom dice in a birdfeeder dice tower
  • Lay eggs using egg miniatures in a variety of colors
  • Draw from hundreds of unique bird cards and play them

The winner is the player with the most points after 4 rounds.

Sounds simple right? It is and so very addictive. Most of the birds have powers which will activate when you take one of the above actions. Build the best engine to trigger some crazy combos. The artwork is amazing and the game components too. Nothing really much to say about this one other that is it a brilliant piece of design.

 1. Cthulu: Death May Die

In Cthulhu: Death May Die, inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, you and your fellow players represent investigators in the 1920s who instead of trying to stop the coming of Elder Gods, want to summon those otherworldly beings so that you can put a stop to them permanently. You start the game insane, and while your long-term goal is to shoot Cthulhu in the face, so to speak, at some point during the game you’ll probably fail to mitigate your dice rolls properly and your insanity will cause you to do something terrible — or maybe advantageous. Hard to know for sure.

Who would have thought this would have been our game of the year? Well, it deserves it. It looks like a dungeon crawl but it’s not. It’s a boss battle from the get-go. The game has 6 episodes which will play differently depending on the Elder One you use. If you have the expansions, the number of episodes increases to 15.  With 5 Elder Ones available that’s 75 very unique ways to play. There are a ton of investigators too that all come with highly detailed miniatures.

So what do you do on your turn, well its the usual take 3 actions. You can move, fight, rest and trade. After this, it’s time to draw a mythos card which can spawn and move enemies or do other nasty stuff to you. You then check to see if an enemy is in your space. If it is,  you defend against it. If the space is free of monsters, then you can investigate the room by drawing a card and claiming the reward.

Your character has 3 tracks to keep an eye on. Health, stress and sanity. If you run out of health you die. If you run out stress then nothing happens. It just means you cannot use stress anymore to re-roll poor dice rolls. This is important as you can most of your sanity by dice rolls… Health and stress can be healed by resting. Sanity, on the other hand, can never be healed and when you max sanity out you also die. However, sanity is a double-edged sword. You need to increase your sanity to upgrade your character skills. Once you reach certain points on the sanity track, you can upgrade one of your abilities and then your sanity card will activate. Investigators have 3 skill tracks, one unique to them and 2 more drawn randomly from a pool created for the game.

Each episode you must disrupt the ritual which will then spawn the Elder One to the board. You can then whack him until he’s dead. If he is summoned to the board before you disrupt the ritual, you cannot hurt him but he can hurt you. You need to disrupt the ritual!

With each episode being vastly different and using different components, it feels like you are playing a different game each time.

We cannot get enough of this game! Look out for our full review soon!

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