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

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

It’s hard to make a top 5 list. But I think I’d have to go with:

  1. Vindication (2018)
    There is no contest for either myself or my wife on this one. Vindication has been one of our favourite thematic euros since its release. We have the next expansions and the big box storage solution incoming. If you asked me what game I’d like to play at any one time, Vindication always comes to mind. It’s so good.

  2. 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon (2016)
    Again, this would likely be a joint choice for my wife and I. Not sure whether listing the expansion counts. But we never play without it. It adds depth to the game and is a must play for us.

  3. Outlive (2017)
    Post apocalyptic fallout shelter management and resource scrounging euro. I don’t play it near as often as I’d like. But I love it every time I do. I’ve only played the Underwater expansion from 2018 a couple of times. So I’m less sure about whether I consider it a must have. But it’s more Outlive on a bigger map.

  4. Mechs vs. Minions (2016)
    When Riot Games made its first board game, they went big and lavish! Not only that, but the action programming game tells a fun story as you progress through the chapters. It’s been a big hit with everyone who has played it with us. And the Yordle and minion minis are superb.

  5. Sleeping Gods (2021)
    This would likely be higher if we had revisited it after our first campaign. But we just haven’t had another 20 hours and the table space to travel back to that world. We have only seen a sliver of what there was too see and really loved the story. There is likely enough materials for another 2 or 3 playthroughs at least. We’d love to do so.

Honourable mentions:

  • Red Rising (2021): A bit too messy to be in the top 5. But we love the theme and enjoy the hand management gameplay.
  • The Lost Expedition (2017): This one is an honourable mention by my wife. She loves dying on her way to the lost city.
  • Betrayal Legacy (2018): I haven’t played many Legacy games, but I love the way this one handles the ever growing haunted mansion and what happens to the families tied to it.
  • Unsettled (2021): I don’t have space for 2 Orange Nebula games on my list. But this beautiful puzzle of a game telling the story of lost astronauts on really strange planets is awesome. I get to play on a new planet this weekend and am looking forward to it!
  • Gloomhaven (2017): We have played it so much as a family. We have found it hard to bring it back to the table this past year. But I’d like to complete the story some day.
  • In the Hall of the Mountain King (2019): Polyomino troll mountain digging meets cascading resource management. It’s got a fun theme and the gameplay is really good too.

I tend to dislike top lists. Unless I’m writing them in a very particular style, I find it hard to avoid a sort of internal metagaming. I don’t mentally sort games into favorites unless it’s by some personal heuristic. Messaging, relevance, impact, genre, etc.

That said, after playing around 700 titles over the past five years, I do have a few thoughts. These are the games I would list today. Listed tomorrow, a different litter would come to mind.

  1. Root. When Cole showed me the game that would be Root, I knew it was something special. It’s tempting to pick something else from his oeuvre. I personally prefer John Company’s second edition for its grittiness, and I’ll never turn down a play of Pax Pamir or Oath. In the latter case, I hope that Oath informs game design going forward. I know Cole is still tinkering with the possibilities there, and a few other designers have mentioned how it’s expanded their conception of what a game might accomplish. But Root succeeds on so many fronts that anything else would be a false choice. I’m slightly tapped out on writing about it, since I published my third piece in a series on Root and Foucauldian politics earlier this week — but the fact that it bears that sort of scrutiny is one of the reasons I love it.

  2. Sidereal Confluence. Negotiation and trading games are hard to get right for a host of reasons, especially when you introduce asymmetry. Sidereal Confluence is brashly asymmetrical, yet it’s restrained enough that a good teacher can get a full group of nine players going within fifteen minutes. TauCeti has done marvelous work on this thing — his story of its development is a decade-long sequence in paring away extranous material — and it’s one of the few “loud” games that also feels like it inhabits an actual setting. Some of my favorite gaming memories have arisen from fully staffed plays of this.

  3. Spirit Island. I’ve been playing the third edition of Bloc by Bloc lately, and while it’s a very good game that speaks an interesting political message, my hang-up is that I wish I were playing Spirit Island. To be fair, that’s the case for a whole range of cooperative and solitaire games. Even some of my favorites, venerable titles like Dawn of the Zeds, Nemo’s War, and Darkest Night, could learn a few lessons from this one. And that’s before we even dip into the possibility of a post-colonial design space that Spirit Island wholeheartedly paves the way for.

  4. Babylonia. Reiner Knizia has been around since the stone age of modern game design. A few of his games are obvious classics, like Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, and Modern Art. But while I’ve been an appreciator of the good Doctor for many years, Babylonia is the first of his titles that I’ve fallen in love with. It’s an elegant game. Only a few rules, but boundless permutations. Wide-open decisions spaces that contract to essential watersheds. If this had been designed five hundred years ago, I like to think it would be one of those musty classics that’s popular despite everybody grousing about it.

  5. Sol: The Last Days of a Star. When I write about board games, there are particular angles I try to promote that go missing in the usual theme vs. mechanics discourse. One of those angles is that settings and systems don’t need to compete. Sol is one of my favorite illustrations of that idea. As a work of science fiction it has a simple message straight out of a Hugo nominee (although probably not a Hugo winner). It’s about entropy, even an illustration of the mass-thrust problem on a grand scale. To survive, you must deplete what keeps your civilization alive. Love it.

As for runners-up… well, I’ve named a few. I would probably add Gloomhaven, Time of Crisis, Pericles, Leaving Earth, Nemo’s War (2nd Ed), Haven, John Company, Pax Pamir (2nd Ed), Seal Team FLIX, The Mind, Endeavor: Age of Sail, Air, Land, & Sea, Pax Transhumanity, Vindication, Era: Medieval Age, Men at Work, The Cost, Scape Goat, The Field of the Cloth of Gold, Dune: Imperium, Under Falling Skies, Oceans, Beyond the Sun, Bios: Origins, Santa Monica, Versailles 1919, Fort, Mind MGMT, Sheepy Time, Sleeping Gods, Nicaea, Illumination, Pax Viking, Radlands, Summoner Wars (2nd Ed), Riftforce, Paleo, Unsettled, Bullet, Brian Boru, Oath, Faiyum, and Magnate: The First City, barring any omissions, of which there are undoubtedly several that slip the memory.

It’s great to see Babylonia on a couple of people’s lists, because I played it for the first time last night! That’s not enough exposure for me to put it on my list, but it sure is nifty. Everyone at the table was eager to give it another go.

[I’ve edited my list in my post upthread above to add rankings and some comments]

Fascinated by a guy who uses Thomas Aquinas (unless I’m mistaken) as his avatar and also discourses on Foucault!

I haven’t heard much discussion of Babylonia, so it’s cool to see it on a few lists. I guess I need to check it out. When it comes to Dr. RK’s recent output, my gut says that Whale Riders might be more my style (head-to-head no-luck super-thinky games stress me out), but I haven’t played either one, so I’ll keep an open mind.

I’m sorry, is this… a game where you play asbestos-peddlers?? Incredible.

Good eye! I teach Christian history, so Aquinas has been my avatar for years. Writing about Foucault and Root is more recent, but it’s a fun angle.

The Cost was my favorite game of 2020 as well, and it’s a perfect example of a game that makes a moral point without moralizing. Honestly, on another day it might make this list. Hefty Euro-style game, complete with currency exchange and route placement. Also, lots of dead workers.

  1. Star Wars: Destiny. I hate CCGs in general due to the amount of money you need to spend, but this game came along at a time when my financial situation was at its peak, and offered Star Wars…and dice! Fantastically designed (small 30-card decks, ways to mitigate bad dice rolls, minimal downtime, etc), I only dropped it as I found keeping up with the meta required too much time-investment outside of actually playing (I wanted a hobby, not a job), but it was amazing during the first few sets.
  2. Wingspan. Probably the first ‘adult’ boardgame my kids graduated to where they could genuinely compete without needing a ton of hand-holding. Got a lot of plays over a 2-3 year span.
  3. Brass: Birmingham. This is a recent addition for me but it scratches all the right itches!
  4. KeyForge. A CCG where you don’t have to spend much money, and cards have no cost to play. Tons of interesting decisions, and I love that it’s a racing game rather than a battle to reduce the opponent to 0 HP (so you can win even with very few creatures on the board). The only downside is that some deck matchups are a bit uneven, but when you find a couple of decks that are reasonably evenly matched (there’s a handicap system which makes that more likely) it really does deliver.
  5. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine. Such a great coop system for a bunch of trick-taking newbies. We played multiple games of it every night during a particular family holiday - so much pre/post-game discussion!

Honourable Mentions:

  • Arkham Horror: The Card Game
  • The Quest for El Dorado
  • Unmatched
  • Terraforming Mars
  • Calico
  • Decrypto