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

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

Oh completely forgot about that one. I should remove Codenames and put that in.

@Nightgaunt Did you count yet or can I change my vote?

You’re good! You have until the end of next week.

  1. Spirit Island - No contest for me. This is the desert island game that I will never tire of playing, and can always find news ways to enjoy.
  2. Arkham Horror LCG - Incredible campaign creativity and satisfying character and team strategy discovery.
  3. Hallertau - A relaxing Uwe Rosenberg worker placement farming game with more limited board development compared to his other heavy games, but with a very large card combo decision space to compensate.
  4. Imperium: Legends/Classics - A lengthy, varied Civilization game in deckbuilder’s clothing.
  5. Obsession - I hesitate to put this on the list, because I only bought it at the tail end of last year on a whim, but it has quickly become one of my favorite games. A very straightforward Euro about restoring the position of a Downton Abbey-style family, it weaves its theme smartly into mechanics in a way that never lets things feel abstract.


  • Lost Ruins of Arnak - Worker placement with straightforward mechanics and satifying exponential combos in the final rounds. And good on the creators for releasing a free pandemic solitaire campaign that actually made me engage with the mechanics in new ways, improving my play of the base game.
  • Maracaibo - A bafflingly complex Euro with points coming out the wazoo. But very fun and beautifully produced. And special shout out to the creators for turning feedback about its pro-colonial and slavery-accepting themes into an anti-colonial, revolutionary expansion. My copy of Uprising just arrived today and I hope to try my first anti-empire game tomorrow.
  • Pendragon - The only COIN game released in the window that I’ve played, but mind-bending in requiring the dominant factions to cooperate and then slowly divorce over the course of the game.

I don’t know about five years, but these are the games I’ve most enjoyed in recent memory. I’m playing solo nearly 100% of the time. :)

  1. Dwellings of Eldervale - for some reason the mess of different things here really appeals to me, from the random hex map, the clever worker placement where removing them all from the board allows you fuel your tableau/engine building, the faction abilities, and the puzzle of the area control battles. A great solo mode, where you can see the moves the AI might choose for a given turn, and calculate/gamble accordingly. Never mind the great storage solution!
  2. Imperium Classics/Legends - an eye-opening evolution of the deck builder, cleverly integrated with an empire building theme. I really like how the different nations play ‘historically’, as you’d expect.
  3. Spirit Island - enough said already, the perfect crunchy puzzler with a nice ebb and flow.
  4. Pax Pamir 2nd Edition - I don’t know how much of this is the unique theme and immersive presentation, because it sure is a beautiful and relaxing game.
  5. Descent: Legends of the Dark - pretty much the perfect dungeon crawler for my tastes, with stripped down, elegant mechanics and great table presence. The first time I’ve appreciated what a well-designed app can do for a game, especially solo.

I’m really surprised I’m not seeing Gloomhaven show up on more lists! Is it because it seems to straddle the timeperiod and was voted for in the previous 5 year block?
Because from all the hype the game has received, I assumed that everyone here would be pretty up on it?

Personally I never bought it, it just looked too big and time consuming for my tastes, with too much time in setup/teardown.

I have played the much more manageable Jaws of the Lion, and the combat system is interesting enough but even in that I found the number of cards/skills you need to parse when controlling just two characters to be a bit overwhelming for me. The number of decisions seemed heavily weighted to the start of an encounter, diminishing as you go.

I’ve only played JotL, and only solo, so I didn’t feel I could include it. I enjoyed what I played though.

Gloomhaven is really, really good. Making decisions in the campaign, uncovering new locations, progressing and retiring characters are all fun mechanisms. The card play is really tight and at times punishing.

We have spent a few dozen hours playing it as a family and it’s a great experience.

We are also less than halfway through the campaign. It requires more space than our dining room table provides. It takes forever to set up and tear down (though a costly custom made insert can help a lot). You really need a while weekend or more playing it to make notable progress.

It’s so demanding it hasn’t hit the table in 2 years. I can’t put a game I can’t play in my top 5. But as a first game by its creator, it’s an incredible achievement. If I had a dedicated gaming room and we could play it any time we like, it would definitely be in my top 5.

I am honestly not that big a fan of the gameplay loop. It just isn’t very engaging to me to run out of cards and see a dungeon littered with loot. I get why folks like it – and I don’t hate it! – but there are about 4 or 5 fantasy themed games I like a lot more.

I think the folks on this forum are too snobby for Gloomhaven. ;)

Dice miner

5th spot might be taken by Ruins of Arnak. Too soon to say

Just had to think about Supercade Pinball … 5 slots is just not enough, I might revise my vote. Pinball is a really great solo game, and if someone posts a video playing, you can even play along and try to beat it…

It honestly feels like the exact opposite to me. :) If there’s loot and there’s monsters and swords and spells, I just sorta want to play something like Pathfinder ACG where I’m chucking dice at it all.

I’m super on board with Gloomhaven, but it’s been nearly two years since I had a chance to play it in a group. At this point, it’s been nearly 2 years since I’ve played much of anything, and it’s totally wiped my recollection of what’s been out in the last 5 years. Making this list, I realized how many were older than 5 years, despite being major games I played in the last 5.

  1. Gloomhaven (2017) - I have had so much fun with this one. I miss playing it weekly on Fridays, and digital just isn’t the same. I need Frosthaven to come in at the same time this pandemic gets over with.

  2. Unfathomable (2021) - Battlestar Galactica has been a staple of my game nights for years, and I think the remake does a great job of updating the rules. It feels a lot more active than BSG, and you’re not just waiting for your turn as much. I look forward to it getting continued support.

  3. A Feast for Odin:The Norewegians (2018) - Especially with the Norwegians. I don’t know how to play it well, and there’s enough gaps between times I play that I have to relearn it every time.

  4. Betrayal Legacy (2018) - I don’t particularly like Betrayal, because the Haunt always seems to be terribly balanced and up to luck. However, I love the progression here with different flavored haunts based on the year of the game, and the legacy aspect of the board changing. This is one Legacy game I can actually see playing after finishing the story part of the game.

Honorable Mentions for being too old:
Caverna (2013) - It’s a dwarf game, and it’s just my thing. I was a playtester for the expansion, but haven’t had a chance to play the finished product yet. I wish I had more opportunities to play it.

Hogwarts Battle (2016)- This is nice and light, and it’s a smooth way to introduce people to deckbuilders. That being said, it’s brutally punishing for four players after a few games. It’s a game my group would love to hate, just because the game is so malicious.

Secret Hitler (2016) - The secret here is that it supports a lot of players, quick to teach, and fun to yell at each other.