The Top 5 board games of the last 5 years - 2022 Edition!

Almost exactly 5 years ago, @agapepilot organized a vote for the best games of the preceding 5 years. I stumbled across this yesterday, and it just seems silly not to hold another vote to glean what knowledge we can about the intervening half-decade.

A lot has happened in board games in that time! In fact, 2017 seems to me to have been a watershed moment for the board game market. In April of that year, Gloomhaven would have its second Kickstarter (the first one in 2015 resulted in 4000 copies going out into the world; the second–with ten times as many backers–is probably the one you bought into). Kingdom Death: Monster delivered version 1.5 that year as well. We also had the second major generation of Legacy games: Pandemic Legacy 2, Charterstone, and many others, often driven by Kickstarter as well. And that’s how millions of gamers learned way too much about resin casting of miniatures and container shipping routes from China!

Then COVID came along at the start of 2020 and devoured our game nights.

Luckily (?), digital board games had also exploded around 2017, with Asmodee/Fantasy Flight launching dozens of adaptations over the course of that year. Dominion Online scrabbled its way to a stable platform in 2017. Race for the Galaxy and its machine-learning-trained AI was a seminal release that year as well. Come 2020, these apps and services like BoardGameArena were probably where most gamers went for their fix. And sadly, probably still do.

So maybe, with all the good and ill, the period of 2017 to 2022 is not a bad stretch of time to assess. By which I mean, to vote in the unscientific and highly opinionated manner in which we always do on Qt3!

List your top 5 games, numbered. We’ll score by a weighted system: #1 picks will get 5 points, #2s will get 4, etc.

Commentary is welcome and appreciated. Tell us what the game means to you, why it was a hit for your gaming group (or your onanistic self, if it’s a solo game), and what makes it so dang great.

Digital and tabletop games both count. Sorry, purists, but this just reflects how board gaming happens in Pandemic-times. It’s going to be hard to know when some of these digital adaptations came out, so I say let’s keep the pick-policing to a minimum and let most submissions fly. Of course, for tabletop games, is your definitive source for release dates.

Deadline for voting will be February 4 at 11:59 PST. I’ll probably tabulate results over that weekend, so fiddle with your list-posts as much as you like until then.

@arrendek has graciously agreed to do the Quarterlies magic on the thread to compile the votes! That means following these rules:

[a] All in a single post, you must post your votes on separate lines, with a number next to the place in your list you are assigning it. Please put a period and a space between the number and the bolded title.

[b] Bold your choices.

[c] You can put other stuff in your list, including discussion/explanation (which is encouraged) but please do not bold anything other than the name of the game.

Let me know if there’s anything I didn’t account for!

It was a monster slug-a-thon (to borrow a phrase) between the top two contenders, but the winner of the Quarter To Three Best Board Game of the Last Five Years Award is…

The eldritch forces of the Arkham Horror Living Card Game tried their best to bring doom upon the seminal dungeon crawler campaign game, but let’s be honest–just look at the size of the boxes (nevermind price!) and you can tell who the heavyweight is here.

Hard to argue with either of these games as highly representative of the trends of the time, even though they both technically had their genesis just prior to the period in question. Games that tell long collaborative stories (especially with scads of expensive miniatures–pardon my editorializing) weren’t new in the last five years, but they did explode in recent years. They also provided rich solitaire experiences for us in lockdown.

That said, deep single-session Euro-inflected multiplayer games had a strong showing in the last five years and in the voting too: Spirit Island and Dune: Imperium brought an elegance to the midweight strategic genre without eroding replayability. And lighter games like Wingspan and Res Arcana no doubt stuck in voters’ minds for the reliability with which they could be called to the table.

Here’s the full Top Ten:

And here’s a link to the sheet with all the votes. Don’t miss the play-by-play tab to see how close Arkham Horror was to winning!

Thanks to @arrendek for the spreadsheet magic! And thanks to everyone for sharing their favorite games. I learned about several games thanks to this thread (and even snagged a used copy of Babylonia (Ranked #12) on my last trek to the game store, which wouldn’t have even been on my radar if it hadn’t come up here a couple times).

Here we go:

  1. Pax Pamir 2nd Edition (2019) - This is my favorite game of all time. I absolutely love how it puts you the shoes of a tribal leader, desperately navigating a shifting political and military landscape that’s defined by vastly more powerful entities. The gameplay creates plenty of room for both over-the-table diplomacy and on-the-board tactical masterstrokes. (While this is the second edition of an older game, so much has changed that I’m comfortable putting it on this list.)

  2. Cosmic Frog (2020) - Is Cosmic Frog the best goofy punch-fest in tabletop gaming? Quite possibly! Delightful, fast, and strange. The only downsides are the setup time (soooo many hex tiles), which can be obviated if everyone at the table pitches in, and the importance of having an aggressive group. If everyone focuses on peacefully harvesting tiles, it can be a snoozefest, but once the fireworks start they generally don’t stop.

  3. The Cost (2020) - The Cost is more illuminating and instructive than any “message” game I’ve played (you know, stuff like This War of Mine or Freedom: The Underground Railroad). It simply presents a reasonable facsimile of a capitalist system and invites players to engage with it as they see fit. The consequences of you actions, both financial and ethical, are coolly exposed, and it’s up to you what to do with that information, if anything. It’s not exactly fun - especially if you try to compete ethically, which is possible, but hard work - but it is brilliant.

  4. Aurelian: Restorer of the World (2020) - If pressed, I would probably acknowledge that Nemo’s War is a better solo-only game than Aurelian. But Aurelian is so buttery-smooth, so easy to set up and engage with, that I’ve played it many more times than any of my other solitaire games. It is my go-to solo game after a hard day at work, when I don’t have the time or disposition for something longer and more involved.

  5. Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy (2020) - I’m pretty sure I like Twilight Imperium more than Eclipse. But I like my friends more than any single game, some of those friends absolutely love Eclipse, and therefore some of my best gaming memories of recent years are from playing Eclipse with them.

Runners up

Everdell (2018) - I absolutely love the pacing of Everdell, how it effortlessly ramps up from “I can barely do anything” to “watch me do all the things.”

Kanban EV (2020) - This might have cracked my top five, except that some of the mechanisms I found less than intuitive. Still, it remarkably smooth and whimsical for a very heavy game about car manufacturing.

Obsession (2018) - Obsession does theme just about better than anyone else. Every turn, the event your family hosts tells a little story, as you wring money from nouveau-riche American heiress and dote on prestigious minor nobility.

Regicide (2020) - I am astounded at how Regicide creates an entirely new and terrific game out of an ordinary 52-card deck.

The Estates (2018) - I love games with negative player interaction, and there is very little in gaming more satisfying than hurting your opponents so much that you win the game with 0 points.

Nemo’s War 2nd edition (2017) - Another game that really does its theme justice. Nemo’s War understands that its titular character is not a nice fellow, just like in Jules Verne’s novel.

Spirit Island (2017) - I have mainly played Spirit Island as a solo game, two-handed so that I can explore how different spirits’ powers complement each other. Great setting, great gameplay.

  1. Ethnos
    An underrated game mainly not popular due to its Art & Graphic Design. I am really amazed that the publisher CMON didn’t do a better job on the graphical design. I actually had a bigger map printed and use Poker Chips rather than the ugly pieces it comes with. This is definitely a game that deserves a second printing maybe even a new theme.

  2. Dice Throne Adventures
    This game is a lot of fun and we have been playing it fairly often with one team member on the phone. He has his own copy and it works fairly well. The design team deserves a lot of credit for taking their Yahtzee/PVP game and creating a Co-Op Dungeon Crawl. The Graphic Design is well done and fun to look at. V arity in using different characters makes the game fun to replay.

  3. Dune Imperium
    I love Dune and this captures it essence. Good decisions each turn and it plays well with two or solo with the companion app. Paul Dennen is an excellent designer; some of you may remember his computer game Star Chamber a CCG that combined a boardgame element. I am certain that you know his Clank Boardgame series.

  4. Space Base
    Fun game to play and the best of its type in my opinion.
    (Machi Koro done right)

  5. Azul
    I added this game to the list since my wife (non-gamer) will actually play this with some gusto.

Here’s my list:

  1. High Frontier 3rd Edition - Released in 2017. To my mind this is still the definitive edition of High Frontier. The most fun I’ve had playing board games over the last 5 years have been the several PBeM and PBF games of HF3e on BGG and here. More than any other game, this game stirs the imagination, burns the brain, spins out stories, and doubles down on the science. A triumph.
  2. Arkham Horror: LCG - Released in late 2016. Other folks are including this game so I will as well. It proved to be too expensive for me to keep up with, and I don’t like deckbuilding, but netdecking the first couple of campaigns was some of the most atmospheric, immersive, and satisfying solo boardgaming I’ve ever done.
  3. 7th Continent - Released in 2017. An utterly unique experience. A survival-based open-world card-based board game. Extremely clever, super evocative, and probably the best solo experience ever.
  4. Dune: Imperium - Released in 2020. The low point total. The quick painless turns. The light deckbuilding. The super functional iconography. The surprisingly thematic gameplay. This game hits all the right notes. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything special, but it really is.
  5. Pax Pamir 2nd Edition - Released in 2019. I love Cole Wehrle games. I love the Pax model. This game about the conflict between the British, Russian and Durani empires in 19th century Afghanistan is beautiful, highly interactive (between players), and fun. My only beefs are that it’s hard for me to get 2 other people together who want to play with me, and the theme takes a little bit of work to draw out. But just a brilliant game.

I have to think about what to choose for number 5:

  • Brass: Birmingham
  • Bios: Megafauna 2nd edition
  • Azul
  • something else

If you want to enforce vote formatting exactly like in the Quarterlies I can script this for you, FYI. @Nightgaunt

I have only played 45 games released in the past 5 years, and not rated a single one of them higher than 8 on BGG. Oops. I blame COVID for my lack of range. Here’s my top 5 anyway.

  1. Wingpsan
  2. Undaunted Normandy
  3. Empires of the Void II
  4. Reigns: the Council
  5. Marvel Champions: the Card Game

1. Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon - hands down the best narrative adventure campaign game I’ve played and that is a genre that is extensively my sweet spot.
2. Etherfields - okay, so we haven’t completed the main campaign on this one yet, and I think overall the gameplay’s a bit less compelling here, but for my money Awaken Realms are two for two on narrative adventure campaign games. And it’s a very close second - the weird, dream logic game world and parade of unique, memorable and spooky Dreams is excellent and probably my favorite theme in my collection.
3. Gloomhaven - The best dungeon crawler I’ve ever played, with the most interesting tactical puzzles and class design, and a ridiculously generous package.
4. Too Many Bones - I checked, and the base game came out in 2017. I didn’t actually pick it up until the Splice and Dice kickstarter and didn’t actually get to play my physical copy until late 2020, but it’s got incredible production values, variety and character designs and delivers much of the progression satisfaction of a campaign game in a single night (albeit a long night. But not nearly as long as Mage Knight, the other game that nails that feeling for me.)
5. Spirit Island - incredibly interactive, nuanced, rewarding exercise in divine power fantasy, asymmetric character design, and careful planning and maneuvering. And they just keep building on it.

Runners Up:
Hexplore It: incredibly thematic, varied, and rewarding fantasy exploration and adventure games, each one packaging a cool new version of the basic systems. Was originally on the list until I realized Gloomhaven and Spirit Island made the year cutoff.
Dice Throne: I don’t really like dice games, or other Yahtzee variants, but somehow Dice Throne manages to deliver consistently exciting and tactical feeling duels between remarkably well balanced asymmetric characters…and then Adventures goes and makes it work in a coop campaign dungeon crawl. Likewise used to be on the list.
Sentinels of the Multiverse remains one of my favorite games, and Definitive Edition looks to be better, but a revamp =! a post 2017 game IMO. Similarly, Darkest Night got a 2018 second edition, but it’s not a 2018 game.
Middara - my second favorite dungeon crawler, also ridiculously generous and with a surprisingly interesting world and story. But also we’re barely into chapter 2 of act one. Too early to put on a list (though, to be fair, that’s taken us literally months). Same with things like Final Girl, Waste Knights, Cloudspire, Bullet <3, Warp’s Edge, Under Falling Skies, the other Awaken Realms games I own, 7th Continent and The Crew.
Champions of Hara: really dig it, just doesn’t quite make it to top 5. Same with Street Masters.

The order here doesn’t mean much, and I’m sure I’ll have forgotten plenty of games.

  1. Res Arcana - I just love this design, an engine builder where you know exactly what you’re going to get from the start, but not when you’re going to get it (or if someone else will be able to thwart your initial plan). Plays quick too.

  2. Dune Imperium - Remarkably effective blend of different gameplay styles, and the theme helps.

  3. Wingspan - I’ve only ever played this digitally, but it’s a great adaptation and brings out the theme really well

  4. Vindication - Surprisingly thematic euro, with incredibly high/smart production values

  5. Undaunted: Normandy - Takes the Memoir '44 template and does it better. You could say it obsoletes it.

Hon. Ment. goes to Imperial Struggle, which I think is fantastic, but haven’t played enough to really judge.

Hmm. Arkham Horror LCG officially was released in November/December of 2016, but just the core set. The first proper adventure cycle that wasn’t mostly a tutorial for it arrived in January/February of 2017.

Looks like only two people mentioned it in the previous vote. The ever-forward looking Charmtrap had it on his list at #5, and McMaster had it as an honorable mention and something to watch.

I might be stupid and put it on my list, since its release dates kind of fall through the cracks here.

If it counts it definitely goes on my list. I even looked through my BGG posts to see if I’d started playing it in 2017, but nope, December 2016.

I would make the argument that in December of 2016, people had learned to play Arkham LCG…but the key elements that make Arkham LCG really great showed up in January of 2017 with the first adventure cycle.

Just would seem a bit of a shame that a game that is at the very least very impactful and for some easily one of the best games we played in the last five years misses out on 10 years of surveying over a 6-week span of time technicality.

It’s not clear if this counts, based on the timing, but it’s the only boardgame I’ve really played in the last five years. Yes, I’m a boardgaming dilettante. But, you know, life circumstances and all that.

  1. Gloomhaven

Oh, sure! Thank you, arrendek! I’ll add formatting notes to the OP. @AWS260, @Ginger_Yellow you’ll want to be sure you do bolded titles, and only for your top 5 numbered entries.

Wish I could find a copy of this!

I’ve heard good things about this! Had never looked at the components before. It is kind of a weird design, isn’t it? Have to say I’m not a fan of the name either, but everything else about it (including the playtime) sounds appealing!

Big fan of Space Base, and my kids like it too. I’m afraid I haven’t played in awhile because we stopped playing in the middle of the first expansion’s campaign and now it’s just kind of awkward to either keep going or start over. Bad reason, but it’s true!

I recognize it’s a tidier and also a bit deeper design than Machi Koro, but I still love the colorful quaintness of Machi Koro a little more, god help me.

This game both intrigues and terrifies me.

I’m not inclined to be a stickler! And anyway, it’s a LIVING card game, right? So all those expansions are just… like… new organs… on a… growing game-fetus… that was born in 2016!

Totally counts, I think!

  1. Arkham Horror LCG
  2. Aeon’s End especially Legacy onwards
  3. Marvel Champions
  4. My City
  5. The Quest for El Dorado

Edit: I switched My City and Codenames.

@Nightgaunt I noticed Aeon’s End came out in 2016. That might only be the KS though. If this is an issue I would change my response to Aeon’s End Legacy.

This is a fun idea!

  1. Babylonia 2019

This is Reiner Knizia’s best game. It’s a combination of great parts from Through the Desert, Tigris and Euphrates, and Samurai, but with super powers added (something far too rare in Knizia’s games). It plays in about 60 minutes at all player counts, and is a fantastic but very different experience at 2, 3 and 4 players.

Babylonia is a tile placement “surrounding” game where you get points when parts of the board are totally surrounded. All the different elements of the game score differently which concocts a soup of math that drastically changes what strategies are valuable based on how people are playing. For example, one super power benefits rushing city scoring. If someone is using that power, cities are going to be worth way less points since they will score before players can set up their scoring chains. If no one takes that power, however, cities are likely to be the highest scoring element of the game. In this way, how to play well shifts pretty radically from one session to the next. It’s a fascinating game to play 3 times in a row to see how much this game shifts.

  1. Res Arcana 2019

In Res Arcana, you are dealt 8 cards at the beginning of the game which make your deck. You look at these cards, come up with a plan, then shuffle and draw 3 of them. You won’t get any other cards for the whole game. You’re goal is to use those cards to generate and convert elements (fire, water, death, life) to create 10 victory points before everyone else.

Res Arcana can be taught in 10 minutes and then played in an hour at 4 players (30 minutes at 2). Each play feels like a unique puzzle as you work out how to use the random cards you’re given plus the victory point goals in the middle to make something work. It’s mostly solitaire, but with some key moments of timing your opponent you can completely shut down their core strategy. This focus on your own board makes the experience relaxing, and the quick play time keeps the sting of randomness down.

It’s got a similar depth-to-playtime ratio to Race for the Galaxy, but is so much easier to teach. I’ve also found the inclusion of attack cards like Dragons makes it more palatable to my rambunctious board game friends who need to hurt someone at the table to feel they’re really involved.

  1. Rangers of Shadowdeep 2018

Is this cheating? It’s listed on BGG so I’m calling it a board game.

Rangers of Shadowdeep is the first “miniatures” game I’ve played. It’s a co-operative game where you and some friends build bands of Rangers to go do fantasy heroics stuff. It’s got a mission set in the back of the book that you can play through in any order, leveling up along the way. It’s not really a campaign game in the traditional storytelling sense, but does have progression and suggested level bands for missions.

Gameplay is super simple. Each turn you move all your rangers and then attack with them, rolling a d20 and doing some quick math to determine damage. It plays very fast. We’ll get through a dramatic drawn-out fight in about an hour. The pacing is a big part of what I’m loving about this game, it just zips by with no tough decisions and lots of exciting dramatic moments.

But really, the big reason I love this so much is preparing each mission with my wife. This game has been a huge creative outlet during the pandemic for us. Every month or two we’ll pick a mission to play. It lists all the enemies, so then we’ll sort through all our board game minis to find appropriate stand ins for the foes. Then we’ll break down who’s painting which enemy. Next is the terrain (my favorite part)! How can we make this mission look like it’s in a forest? What are we going to put down to represent the river? My wife works in theater and as such is way more skilled than me here right now, but I’m learning. I never realized how much I was craving this sort of creative outlet till we started playing this game. And it’s just icing on the cake that after we make everything, we get to play through a dramatic fight!

  1. Marvel Champions 2019

Feels weird how much I like this game. I don’t like crafting decks in games. I’m also not particularly a big fan of the Marvel universe (though I love the Black Panther movie!). But I’ve got Marvel Champions on subscription, getting something new every month to play and experiment with.

A big strength of Marvel Champions is that it’s not a campaign game. Every mission is released as standalone (some are released in packs with campaign rules that I’ve always ignored). Anytime I want to play I get to choose which mission and hero combo I want to try this time. And now, as Marvel movies are coming out, I actually know who these characters are. The decks do a fantastic job telling the heroes stories.

Even with limited knowledge of these characters, I’ve learned a lot about them before watching a related movie. Recently I started reading the Ms Marvel comics because I love her character in this game, and it felt like reading a comic about my board game character. Transmedia, man. It’s a powerful thing.

  1. Carpe Diem 2018

It’s probably overkill to call this my favorite Feld game, but it is the one I most want to play at the moment. In this astonishingly ugly Euro game (that makes Hansa Teutonica look beautiful), you’re building a Roman… uh… estate, I think. Heck I don’t even know what you’re doing in this game.

Anyway the core here is you’re drafting tiles from a rondel with buildings on them. Most buildings require two or more tiles to finish. What this means is it is incredibly obvious what each player at the table needs to make progress on the game, and you can see clearly on the rondel what they want to go for. This makes the drafting super tight and super punishing. A player taking just a single tile you needed first could literally halve your endgame points (known from experience). This all plays into a simple scoring system where what scores changes each game and each round, which makes it even easier to screw over your opponents. This is a very mean Euro game when you start to get the hang of it, but it’s also really satisfying to cut out your opponents strategy from under them.

I’m not sure how many recent boardgames I’ve actually played, and haven’t played anything in anyone else’s lists except for Gloomhaven, which I don’t like very much, so, I’ll just go with three boardgames I bought in that timespan that I know I like!

  1. HEXplore It: Forests of Adrimon
  2. HEXplore It: Sands of Shurax
  3. HEXplore It: Valley of the Dead King

It might be wiser to consolidate these into a single entry from a strategic perspective (I want my game to win!), but each feels pretty distinct to me and all are separately playable, or playable in various combinations in some pretty wild and cool ways.

I’d type longer thoughts, but it’s lunchtime, oops!

  1. Spirit Island - A cooperative game that solves the alpha gamer issue by being so thinky and asymmetrical that you have more than enough handling your own decisions. My faviourite board game of all time.
  2. Gloomhaven - Another thinky cooperative game. Interesting decisions all the time. So many scenarios where we just barely made it.
  3. Nemesis - Alien the board game. Amazing atmosphere. The only back-stabbing game I enjoy.
  4. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine - A cooperative trick-taking game. Very clever. A great success with everyone I’ve tried to play it with, both young and old.
  5. Roll Player Adventures - The game I’m enjoying the most at the moment. Scenario-based adventure game with great writing and good mechanics.
  1. Dune: Imperium Best time when I played it here on the forum
  2. A Feast For Odin The pleasure of resource conversion
  3. Rocketmen Elegant deck builder with a purpose for deck building other than VP (launching rockets into space)
  4. Spirit Island Maybe the best game on my list
  5. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion running out of juice in a dungeon is FUN

I missed out on Maracaibo, Arnak and many more …
Some runners up: Cities: Skylines, Anno 1800, Res Arcana (only played twice), Planet Apocalypse (not enough plays yet), Aeon’s End (played the most basic boss yet), Tainted Grail (need time for it), Descent: Legend (not started yet), Journeys in Middle Earth (needed to paint the minis first), Bloodborne

  1. Arkham Horror LCG Especially the Dunwich Legacy and The Path to Carcosa, but I do find myself really enjoying the Circle Undone, which I’ve only partially finished.

  2. Final Girl

  3. 7th Continent

  4. Sleeping Gods

  5. Too Many Bones