The last decade has seen more board games designed and manufactured than any other point in history. From the smallest card game to the most densely packed box of Kickstarter excess, today’s tabletop world owes so much to the games that came before.
The entries in this list have been selected for reasons as diverse as the games themselves, but efforts were made to highlight innovation, popularity, and games that had a particularly strong impact on those that followed and the industry as a whole. Please join us as we explore The 100 Most Important Board Games of the 2010s, and why they matter in 2019.
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#100: Imperial Settlers (2014)
Imperial Settlers, a reimplementation of Ignacy Trzewiczek’s 51st State (2010), is a civilization and engine-building card game in which players control one of four factions to build their empire. The goofy and inviting artwork in Imperial Settlers has certainly helped the game’s appeal, in the very least to disguise how aggressive and interactive it can be for such a mechanically Euro game.
Since its release, there have been six Imperial Settlers expansions that add more cards, new factions, and changes to gameplay, as well as a standalone game, Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North (2019). The game has also received the roll and write treatment with Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write (2019). All signs point to no slowing down for the Imperial Settlers franchise.
Read our review of Imperial Settlers.
#99: A Few Acres of Snow (2011)
A Few Acres of Snow is a card-driven wargame for two players fighting for control of North America. One player leads the French empire, the other takes charge of the British. While A Few Acres of Snow is by its nature a wargame of area control and player conflict, the main gameplay mechanism is deck-building. Players must decide the direction in which they want to lead their empire— and their strategy— by adding cards to their deck.
When Martin Wallace combined the theme and elements of a wargame with the more euro-style mechanism of deck-building, he created a special crossover appeal that would make the game attractive to those outside the wargaming bubble. A Few Acres of Snow blurred the lines of what makes a traditional wargame, opening the door for games like Root (2018) to find their own audience in the years that would follow.
#98: Fireball Island (2018)
Fireball Island’s iconic moulded plastic board and marble-driven action made it a cult classic, with used copies of the 1986 original retailing for hundreds of dollars online. In 2018, the game would be brought back to life by Restoration Games, a studio specializing in updating and revitalizing games whose licenses have fallen by the wayside.
Almost more important than the gameplay is what Fireball Island stood for: the wonder of a childhood toy, lovingly recreated into something that would still be fun for the grown-ups who remembered it. This title would become the crown jewel for Restoration Games, which has continued their relentless pursuit of retro-chic with games like Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit (2019) and, soon, Return to Dark Tower (2020).
#97: Dungeon Petz (2011)
A heavy strategy game that contrasts cute theme with complex mechanisms, Dungeon Petz is best known as the sequel to Dungeon Lords (2009). While sequels were not unheard of in the board game industry— famous examples include Elfenland (1998) and Tikal II (2010)— Dungeon Petz was part of an early wave of board game sequels that would become increasingly more popular over the course of the decade. The success of Dungeon Petz and games like it would open the door for other well-known sequels, including Caverna (2012), Forbidden Desert (2013), Gaia Project (2017) and Altiplano (2017).
Read our review of Dungeon Petz.
#96: Innovation (2010)
In some ways, the name says it all: Innovation is a game that wasn’t afraid to try new things. Released in 2010, Innovation was Carl Chudyk’s second major success, proving that it was indeed possible to follow up the cult hit Glory to Rome (2005).
Innovation is a card game in which players must build a growing tableau of technologies as their civilizations mature. The game would help define what Chudyk has become known for: highly interactive decks packed full of powerful cards that can all be cleverly broken and exploited. Innovation would open the door for Chudyk’s equally experimental designs that would follow, including Impulse (2013), Red7 (2014), and Mottainai (2015).
#95: World of Yo-Ho (2016)
In the years since 2010, many games have begun to integrate apps as part of their play experience. Whether the app tracks your inventory, moderates your game, or checks your answers, one thing generally remains true: the focal point is not the phone, but the software behind the scenes.
The same can’t be said for World of Yo-Ho, which asks players to put their phones right on the board. Each device displays a different player’s ship, and is moved around the board like a pawn. World of Yo-Ho is at its heart a pick-up and deliver game, with exploration and combat mechanisms tying things together.
With its quiet Kickstarter, cutesy theme, and unabashed digital integration, World of Yo-Ho slipped by most people unnoticed. Still, the game’s choices would foreshadow the innovations to come, with titles like Chronicles of Crime (2018) and Beyond Humanity: Colonies (2020) blurring the line between video game and tabletop even further.
#94: Speak Out (2016)
Speak Out is not a great game. Or a good game. You could make the argument that Speak Out, designer uncredited, is not even a hygienic game. The premise: players insert a plastic mouthpiece into their mouth and struggle to articulate words and phrases around it. Their friends try to guess what they’re saying. It’s a party game, and a fairly unremarkable one. But what Speak Out represents is a broader strategic shift from the shareholders at game giant Hasbro.
See, one thing that Speak Out excels at is making money (or at least it did, before sales declined in 2019). It does this by creating viral moments: something that catches attention and, whether the game is worth playing or not, will look just appetizing enough on the shelf for people to buy a copy. This has become emblematic of Hasbro’s recent marketing strategy. As an example of the dragon the publisher is chasing: one of the largest successes for Hasbro this decade was Pie Face (1964), which was republished in the late 2010s to meet huge sales when videos of people getting a pie in the face began to go viral.
Hasbro has attempted to use their flagship brands to repeat these sales successes, with titles like Monopoly: Socialism (2019), Ms. Monopoly (2019) and Monopoly: Longest Game Ever (2019) all acting as deliberate attempts to stir controversy and garner the public eye. While these will individually be footnotes in tabletop history, the broader marketing strategy they represent may have impacts that are yet to be realized.
#93: Camel Up (2014)
Camel Up is a Spiel des Jahres-winning camel racing game for 2 to 8 players. In spite of winning the SdJ award in 2014, Camel Up is a fairly ordinary board game— high player count and cool components aside. So in some ways, it isn’t Camel Up’s game design that earns it a spot on this list, but the controversy the game stirred up after its release.
What probably began as an innocent graphic design choice turned into a heated debate amongst board gamers around the world: was the game’s title Camel Up or Camel Cup?
Regardless of all the evidence favouring the game title “Camel Up”— can you tell what side we’re on?— many remained unconvinced. It wasn’t until four years later, in 2018, when publisher eggertspiele released a stunning new version with shiny new cover art, that gamers finally agreed on the game’s title: Camel Up.
Find out why we love Camel Up.
#92: Burgle Bros. (2015)
A cooperative game by designer Tim Fowers, Burgle Bros. was an early entry in a wave of crime-themed board games that would dot the board game landscape in the late 2010’s. In Burgle Bros., players must move through the three floors of a tower, budgeting their stealth tokens carefully as they inch towards their escape helicopter.
Fowers would go on to find success with other quirky designs like Fugitive (2017) and Hardback (2018), a spin on his 2014 hit Paperback. The wave of crime games foreshadowed by Burgle Bros. would continue with titles such as Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game (2018), Chronicles of Crime (2018), Getaway Driver (2019) and Escape Plan (2019).
Read our review of Burgle Bros.
#91: Skull (2011)
Skull, originally published as Skulls & Roses, is the perfect bar game. A twist on Liar’s Dice (c. 1500s), Skull manages to use even fewer components than the original. The game could be played with a deck of 52, or with a handful of coasters at the local bar. But in spite of its extremely high potential for reverse engineering, Skull became one of the most popular party games of the early 2010s.
What’s really special about Skull is that it demonstrated two things about the board game world. One: art matters. With the right coat of paint, you’ll get a whole lot more eyes on your game than you otherwise might have. Two: designers matter. People are willing to support those who worked to create something, even if they could spend a little extra time and do it themselves. And much like Skull itself, that’s rather beautiful.
Find out how Skull compares to Cockroach Poker Royal.
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#90: Consentacle (2014)
Far and away the strangest choice on this list, Consentacle’s premise is pretty much what it sounds like: an alien entity and a human being try to navigate a shared sexual encounter. Fully cooperative, Consentacle tasks players with building card combinations through simultaneous play. In spite of the extraordinarily unusual theme, Consentacle manages to do something that has arguably never been accomplished before: it explores sexuality through play in a genuinely mature, thoughtful way.
Sexuality is not new to games. From the bizarre and gratuitous Kingdom Death: Monster (2015) to the thousands of poorly armoured minis, sex and games have an uncomfortable relationship that so often boils down to the male gaze. Consentacle’s rebellion against this trope may look like a quirky idea in isolation, but it’s not. Over the past few years, the RPG world has begun to embrace smart explorations of human sexuality. From Monsterhearts (2012) to Star Crossed (2019), sex is becoming an increasingly nuanced topic in narrative games. With contemporaries like Fog of Love (2017) exploring human relationships, it may be only a matter of time until Consentacle is joined by an uprising of sex-positive peers.
#89: Charterstone (2017)
Jamey Stegmaier, designer of Charterstone, had a lot to live up to after SeaFall (2016) failed to meet the high expectations created by Pandemic Legacy: Season 1’s (2015) success. Charterstone is a Legacy game of firsts: first major euro-style Legacy game and first Legacy game that could be played indefinitely after the campaign’s completion. Charterstone also featured a campaign that could be played through again by using the other side of its double-sided board and purchasing a recharge pack.
While Charterstone was met with mixed reviews from players because of its weak story and lack of huge, exciting changes like those in Pandemic Legacy, the game still succeeded in what it set out to do. It also disproved those wondering whether it was possible to design a successful Legacy game that wasn’t based on an existing board game IP. Thanks to Charterstone, Legacy games playable post-campaign have been on the rise; 2019 alone saw the release of Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, Aeon’s End: Legacy, and Machi Koro Legacy.
Read our review of Charterstone.
#88: Santorini (2016)
In some ways, Santorini predates the 2010s: originally envisioned as a pure abstract game, Santorini was in development as early as 1984 but never saw wide distribution. We’re lucky, then, that in 2016 publisher Roxley saw fit to revive the game for a broader audience. The updated game boasted a colourful art style and stylishly sculpted city pieces.
While the core gameplay didn’t change, the aesthetic update opened the door to a significant audience: Santorini’s 2016 release would net $700,000 (USD) in Kickstarter funding and would attract several industry awards.
Roxley would go on to publish Brass: Birmingham (2018) and republish Brass: Lancashire (originally 2007), with similar levels of care and acclaim. Santorini would become part of a larger effort to republish and revitalize out-of-print or out-of-love classics for a modern audience, with modern expectations of design and aesthetics. Other efforts on this front include those of Restoration Games, famous for Downforce (2017) and Fireball Island (2018).
#87: Escape: Curse of the Temple (2012)
Escape: Curse of the Temple may not have secured the Indiana Jones license, but this dice-chucking game of madcap adventures captures the spirit perfectly. In Escape, players have ten minutes to gather the gems and escape the cursed temple. The game is played in real-time, with players constantly rolling dice and coordinating their efforts to get the goods and get out.
Escape was not the first real-time game, but its high-profile success paved the way for those that would follow. With highlights including FUSE (2015), Kitchen Rush (2017) and Magic Maze (2017), real-time games began to shine in the latter half of the decade. Queen Games would go on to publish a whopping 16 expansions and modules for the game, as well as the standalone adventure Escape: Zombie City (2014).
#86: Istanbul (2014)
Istanbul feels like a game Rüdiger Dorn has been working on for years. Dating back to 2001’s Genoa (previously The Traders of Genoa) and Louis XIV (2005), Dorn has developed a unique way of having players move around a game board and interact with locations. With Istanbul he not only streamlined this movement, he focused the game around it and forced players to carefully plan out each move and action. In 2014, Istanbul won the Kennerspiel des Jahres award, a nod which finally celebrated Dorn’s innovative grid movement and proved to game designers everywhere that sometimes polishing your design ideas does pay off.
#85: Colt Express (2014)
Rootin’, tootin’ and shootin’: the playful action programming of Colt Express won the hearts of the board game community at its release in 2014. Playing on the chaotic uncertainty of trying to predict your opponents’ moves, Colt Express offered players the chance to rob a train and off a few of their friends at the same time. Taking place entirely on a fun three-dimensional train set (complete with distant cacti and tumbleweeds), Colt Express would go on to win the Spiel des Jahres prize in 2015.
#84: Catacombs (2010)
It’s been a strong decade for dexterity games. Before ICECOOL (2016), before Flick ‘Em Up (2015), even before Rampage (now Terror in Meeple City; 2013), Catacombs was showing the world that strategy and dexterity didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Styled after a classic fantasy dungeon crawl, Catacombs used a dizzying array of cards, character sheets, and tokens to track the brave heroes in their quest against the monsters of the dungeon. Crokinole (1876) may have set the stage for feats of flicking over a hundred years earlier, but Catacombs came out swinging in 2010 as a promise of the hybrid designs that would follow.
#83: Cthulhu Wars (2015)
Cthulhu Wars is best known for its minis. Intricately sculpted and up to a staggering 18cm (7in) tall, the minis of Cthulhu Wars could almost be better described as macros. Behind all this chrome and polish lies a surprisingly sophisticated area control game, with extremely asymmetric roles and interesting gameplay options, all in a 90 minute runtime.
The asymmetric fun of Cthulhu Wars likely took inspiration from the influential Chaos in the Old World (2009), carrying the torch of asymmetric elder gods into the 2010s. Looking forward, Cthulhu Wars can be contextualized in a wave of increasingly elaborate games that rose to prominence for their production value, including Kingdom Death: Monster (2015) and Mythic Battles: Pantheon (2017).
Read our review of Cthulhu Wars.
#82: Tragedy Looper (2011)
Tragedy Looper is Weird with a capital W. A time-travelling deduction game that predated T.I.M.E. Stories (2015) by four years, Tragedy Looper is made all the more strange by its structure as a one-vs-many game. An evil mastermind runs the show, trapping players in a loop of tragic events that they must work carefully to prevent happening. Part Letters from Whitechapel (2011), part Groundhog Day, Tragedy Looper offered a unique gameplay experience that remains novel to this day.
Released to English audiences in 2014, Tragedy Looper was a creation of first-time Japanese game designer BakaFire. The English edition imports the anime art style of the original, which is still a rare sight in the western market. More than just an oddity, Tragedy Looper showcases real innovation, and makes a compelling argument that the western world should be paying a lot more attention to what goes on outside its bubble of design sensibilities.
#81: Star Realms (2014)
Star Realms, a 2014 release from publisher White Wizard Games, is a two-player deck-building game of head-to-head space battles. The emphasis here is on “head-to-head”: Star Realms is a duel, pitting both players against each other as they hack away at their opponent’s health points. This was a new twist for the genre, which traditionally faced criticisms for being “multiplayer Solitaire”. Drawing from both Dominion (2008) and Magic: the Gathering (1993), Star Realms would be reimagined in a series of new expansions and themes including Cthulhu Realms (2015) and Hero Realms (2016).
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#80: Concordia (2013)
Concordia is a game of — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — trading and economic development in the Mediterranean. It’s also one of the top twenty games on BoardGameGeek, an honour it still holds over six years after its release. This is a particularly noteworthy achievement because BoardGameGeek ratings are known to skew towards heavier games, and Concordia’s rulebook is a slim four pages.
Prior to Concordia, designer Mac Gerdts was known for his rondel-based designs. The rondel, a relatively rare method of action selection, offers players a wheel of possible paths for their turn. Moving a marker clockwise gave players their options: spots closer to the marker would be cheaper, while farther slots had an additional cost. Gerdts’ designs became known for this mechanism, which was present in the majority of his games.
It’s ironic, then, that his most popular game does not contain the rondel at all. In a forum post from Gerdts a year before the game’s release, he characterizes Concordia’s card-driven action selection as a kind of rondel-surrogate. Players use cards to perform actions, and can then retrieve their discards with a separate turn. A player’s deck also determines their final scoring conditions. This system mirrored the deck-building trends of the time, and may have inspired a similar mechanism used in Mombasa two years later.
#79: 504 (2015)
If 504’s claims are to be believed, this article may need a new title: The 603 Most Important Board Games of the 2010s. Experimental to the core, 504 uses a series of nine modules to create 504 unique permutations (9*8*7), each playable as its own standalone game.
While ambitious, 504 received a mixed reception from the board game community. Lacking the tailored structure of intentional design, many games were criticized as feeling bland or imperfect. In spite of these failings, 504 remains a fascinating curiosity, and a brilliant attempt to create something truly unique. Its vision of modular design taken to the limit would serve as an interesting lesson to other designers looking to create a world for players to explore, and may yet serve as the jumping point for some future visionary.
#78: Concept (2013)
Much like a game of Whose Line is it Anyway?, Concept is a game where the points don’t matter. Nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres prize in 2014, Concept showcased real innovation in the long-established Pictionary (1985) style of “I show, you guess” games. In Concept, players gather around a board filled with icons. Using coloured markers, clue givers must indicate which icons correspond to a secret word or phrase.
Concept’s innovation was unique: while many games ask players to draw, act, or perform, Concept’s language-independent board of icons encouraged a new way to think about familiar ideas. Even more impressive is that Concept’s icon-centric design managed to avoid being branded as The Emoji Game.
Clever, quick, and accessible, Concept blurred the line between game and activity. Concept would become the first of many innovative “I show, you guess” games of the decade, including Spiel des Jahres-winning peers Codenames (2015) and Just One (2018).
#77: BattleCON: War of the Indines (2010)
BattleCON is, above all else, a loving tribute. Evoking the drama and excitement of fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros., BattleCON pits two players against each other in card-driven combat. The game is completely open information, with players managing a small hand of cards as they face off in simultaneous play. This intentional effort to eliminate randomness is just another element in a greater effort to emulate the original fighting game format.
In that regard, the game was successful: BattleCON fans have raved about the gameplay, characters and world that War of the Indines and its many sequels have created. In a fitting twist, BattleCON has since been adapted into a video game, available on Steam.
#76: Ascension: Deckbuilding Game (2010)
Much like a conga line is really started by the second person in it, a genre doesn’t really begin until there’s more than one game like it. Such was the case for Ascension: Deckbuilding Game. Just two years after Dominion’s 2008 release, Ascension would tweak the formula with a dynamic “market” of runes to buy and monsters to fight, wrapped in a fun fantasy theme. Ascension would go on to produce a whole series of expansions, sequels, promos and re-releases.
#75: Inis (2016)
Celtic clans battle to rule the island: this is the story of Inis, a 2016 game of card drafting and area control. With a unique cocktail of victory conditions, Inis was the spiritual successor to publisher Matagot’s earlier dudes-on-a-map hits Cyclades (2009) and Kemet (2012).
Inis also became famous for its cover art, which provoked a strong reaction (both positive and negative) from the board game community. The bold artistic choices of Inis were spearheaded by Jim Fitzpatrick, best known for his iconic Che Guevara piece. A 2018 reprint would replace the iconic cover, raising questions about the kind of art gamers were prepared to see. Nevertheless, Inis stands as a boldly experimental game, both in aesthetic and design. The game would receive a fifth-player expansion, Inis: Seasons of Inis, in 2019.
#74: Dominant Species (2010)
Dominant Species is a curious case: released by long-time wargame publisher GMT, it combines a system of area control and worker placement in a game of warfare in the natural world. The game would mark another mainstream success for GMT following their cult hit Twilight Struggle (2005).
The designer of Dominant Species, Chad Jensen, passed away in 2019. His legacy lives on through his role in creating and developing the series Combat Commander and Fighting Formations, two respected wargame systems that hold an important place in the community.
#73: Captain Sonar (2016)
Though it shares some DNA with Space Cadets (2012), Captain Sonar is a unique creature. At full build, two teams of four people face off. Each player is equipped with their own job in the submarine they pilot together. The game is played in real-time, with players calling out directions and desperately hunting their rival sub in a cat-and-mouse chase to take their opponents down.
Captain Sonar’s radical asymmetry and full commitment to its theme caused waves in the board game community, attracting a host of awards and nominations including a Golden Geek for Most Innovative Game of the Year. Raucous enough for a party game, but focused enough for real strategy, Captain Sonar’s boundary-breaking boldness has earned itself a place in board game history.
#72: Blood Rage (2015)
Designer Eric M. Lang has made a name for himself in the world of miniature-driven area control games. Shooting into the spotlight with his 2008 game Chaos in the Old World, Lang’s success would be cemented with Blood Rage. A tale of warring vikings, Blood Rage offered players a chance to jump back into Lang’s unique brand of aggressive gameplay in a richly thematic game world.
Blood Rage would peak at position 15 on BoardGameGeek’s best-of-all time list, and would garner a number of awards (including a recommendation from the Spiel des Jahres committee). The success of Blood Rage would lead to another Lang mega-hit, Rising Sun, in 2018.
Find out why we love Blood Rage.
#71: CO₂ (2012)
In CO₂, you are not a wizard, or a spaceship, or a merchant. You are not a detective, or a knight, or a god. No, in CO₂, you are something far more important: the barrier between hope and climate disaster. Players take on the role of energy company CEOs, working towards a greener world shaped by government policy. While the 2012 release of the game was competitive (with everyone losing if the carbon levels get too high), a 2018 re-release (CO₂: Second Chance) would see the game repackaged as a fully cooperative experience.
While CO₂ is not the only serious game on this list, it is one of the few that feels uncomfortably present-day. CO₂ finds good company in other games unafraid of keeping things heavy. These include Freedom: The Underground Railroad (2012), which tasks players with strengthening the Abolitionist Movement, and …and then we held hands (2015), a game about a failing relationship. While all of these games deal with serious themes, they are ultimately stories of hope. After all, you could end up saving the day… if you play your cards right.
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#70: High Frontier (2010)
It’s been described as a mad scientist’s game: the kind of thing you might get if you disassembled an astrophysics textbook and stitched it back together. High Frontier explores the world of rocket science extremely faithfully through play. This comes as no surprise— Phil Eklund, the game’s designer, is an aerospace engineer. With a massive living rulebook constantly under revision on Google Docs, High Frontier is an absolute beast to learn and teach. For Eklund’s fans, this is just another game in a long series of thoroughly researched and faithfully translated titles.
Outside of High Frontier, Eklund gained notoriety in the 2010s for his Pax series, including Porfiriana (2012), Pamir (2015), and Renaissance (2016). In 2020, Eklund is poised to release High Frontier 4 All, with the goal of opening the system to new modules, additions, and remixes from High Frontier’s active community.
#69: Secret Hitler (2016)
Fascists, liberals, and the titular Secret Hitler. A social deduction game set in 1930s Germany, Secret Hitler is an unabashedly political game of bluffing and sacrifice. The game’s central mechanism, a team-based good-vs-evil story, shares a lot of DNA with predecessors Werewolf (1986) and The Resistance (2009).
In spite of its goofy title, Secret Hitler offers a surprisingly nuanced narrative of power through play: while the liberal players are trying to rout the fascists, passing fascist policies is rewarded in-game with new powers. Of course, it’s no surprise Secret Hitler is politically charged: the game’s co-designer, Max Temkin, was a lead developer of the equally infamous Cards Against Humanity (2011).
#68: Viticulture (2013)
Viticulture tells a story of wine-making families in the hills of Tuscany. A worker placement game, Viticulture’s gameplay is defined by its innovative two-part round structure, as well as its marriage of card play and action drafting (drawing parallels to 2007’s Agricola). The game would establish designer Jamey Stegmaier as a force in the board game community, rising to prominence in tandem with his other 2013 release Euphoria.
Two years later, Viticulture would be tweaked and republished with the Greatest Hits-style Viticulture: Essential Edition (2015), which pulled in parts of the Tuscany expansion (2014) and modified the card pools available in-game. Stegmaier would go on to design and publish some of the most influential games of the decade, including mega-hit Scythe in 2016.
Read our review of Viticulture.
#67: Friday (2011)
For many folks outside the board game community, the idea of playing a board game alone sounds crazy. But solo gaming has slowly been breaking out of its stigma. Today, more and more games are being released with rules and AI opponents that create an exciting solo experience.
Back in 2011, this was a little more unusual… but designer Friedemann Friese has never shied away from “unusual”. Friday is a one player deck-building game set in the world of Robinson Crusoe. The player weighs their decisions carefully, choosing their battles and deciding when it’s better to run. Friday culminates in a kind of boss battle, with the player pitting their carefully honed deck against a ship full of pirates in a last-ditch attempt to get Crusoe off the island and back home.
In the years since Friday, Friese hasn’t stopped innovating. From wild experiments like 504 (2015) to twists on the Legacy format in Fabled Fruit (2016), Friese’s oddball approach to game design is sure to yield more surprises and delights in the decades to come.
#66: Keyflower (2012)
A game of workers, auctions, and village building, Keyflower was the breakout hit in the long-running Key series from designer Richard Breese. Keyflower is well known for its unique worker placement mechanism, asking players to outbid each other to take actions and claim tiles. This spirit of innovation is not unusual for the Key series: 1998’s Keydom was one of the first worker placement games to ever be developed.
The series has continued to produce hits, including Key to the City: London (2016) and Keyper (2017). Keyflower has since been re-imagined as a card drafting game, Key Flow (2018), which received favourable reviews for its streamlined design.
#65: Brass: Birmingham (2018)
In 2007, designer Martin Wallace released Brass: a complex game of economics and network building that showcased Wallace’s expert understanding of industrial gameplay. Widely praised upon its release, Brass prompted comparisons to Wallace’s own Age of Steam (2002) and Friedemann Friese’s Power Grid (2004).
Eleven years later, Brass would be given a full aesthetic overhaul from publisher Roxley, who had seen success two years earlier with a similar facelift for Santorini (1984, 2016). The original Brass would be republished as Brass: Lancashire (2018), and a sequel would be developed with it, Brass: Birmingham (2018). Birmingham’s remixed design would go on to win that year’s Golden Geek Award, entering the top 5 board games of all time on BoardGameGeek.
Roxley’s zeal for finding new life in classic designs would mirror similar efforts happening across the board. With publisher Z-Man Games releasing updated versions of Reiner Knizia classics like Tigris & Euphrates (1997), Samurai (1998) and Through the Desert (1998), it’s heartening to see the industry celebrating its roots as it continues to move forward.
Read our comparison of Brass: Birmingham and Brass: Lancashire.
#64: Risk Legacy (2011)
According to Rob Daviau, designer of Risk Legacy, it all started with an off-hand comment about Clue: why do these people keep coming back to this mansion with no memories of the murders that came before? It was then that Daviau wondered: what would a board game look like if there were lasting consequences from gameplay? What would it look like if a game remembered?
From this simple idea came an entire new genre of games: the Legacy. From his position in-house at Hasbro, Daviau was able to pitch and develop a twist on the classic Americana game of world warfare: Risk (1959). Players would put stickers on the board, permanently changing locations. The game revealed new secrets during play, offering boxes to open in the process. Risk Legacy was not a perfect game, but it was a whole new way to play— and it caught on. Risk Legacy would go on to inspire games like Charterstone (2017), SeaFall (2016), and, of course, the titan that is Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015).
#63: Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure (2016)
Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure is famous for taking the deck-building genre to new thematic heights. Players take on the role of roguish adventurers stealing treasures from a dragon’s lair. Clank! offered players a full-sized board to explore and plunder: a fun twist on a mechanism that, by 2016, had firmly established itself in the collective imagination.
Clank! was met with a host of awards and solid sales figures for publisher Renegade Game Studios. The game’s success would result in a whole series, including sci-fi adaptation Clank! In! Space! (2017) and the campaign-style Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated (2019).
Read our review of Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure.
#62: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition (2016)
In the original Mansions of Madness (2011), players took on roles familiar to anyone who’s played a game of Dungeons & Dragons (1974): one person plays for the monsters, and everyone else bands together as the heroes (or in this case, perhaps victims). With dice, minis, and cards galore, Mansions of Madness was very much in the wheelhouse of publisher Fantasy Flight Games. But something very interesting would happen for the next edition, released just a few years later. Mansions of Madness: Second Edition did away with the Game Master entirely, transitioning to a fully cooperative experience. How did it do that? With an app.
This move may appear insignificant, but it marked a big change in the way that people thought about games: a major release, from a major publisher, had transitioned to app-only. While fans of the original expressed some concerns, the update would both streamline and amplify gameplay significantly: setup was cut down to virtually zero, items could be randomly seeded across the map, and scenarios would become customizable in a way that they weren’t before. Fans that initially objected found themselves charmed by the thematic integration and ease of access.
While it remains to be seen how far the industry will go to integrate analog and application, Mansions of Madness: Second Edition endures as one of the most prominent examples of how our world is growing ever more digital.
#61: A Feast for Odin (2016)
Uwe Rosenberg, designer of A Feast for Odin, has a long history in board games. From his family card games of the late nineties to the incredibly influential Agricola (2007), Rosenberg’s résumé is diverse. In 2014, Rosenberg would find a new fascination in designing Patchwork: Tetris-like shapes called “polyominoes”. These tiles would become a favourite riff of Rosenberg’s, appearing in games like Cottage Garden (2016) and Indian Summer (2017).
A Feast for Odin, then, is Rosenberg’s polyomino symphony. One of the most complex games to emerge from the polyomino craze of the mid-2010s, A Feast for Odin combines the worker placement of Agricola with an elaborate system of tile placement. The game featured a staggering 61 action spaces for workers, with a dizzying number of options for players to pursue. This was not unheard of for Rosenberg, who had designed the similarly vast two-player exclusive Fields of Arle two years earlier. Still, A Feast for Odin remains one of Rosenberg’s most elaborate designs. The game would see an expansion, The Norwegians, two years later.
Read our review of A Feast for Odin.
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#60: Coup (2012)
A sequel to the incredibly influential The Resistance (2009), Coup brought bluffing to the forefront in a vicious game of player elimination. Using its 15 minute playtime to its full advantage, Coup makes every interaction high-stakes: sometimes it only takes one mistake to be blasted out of the round. The success of Coup would lead to two major expansions, and further development of the Resistance universe with games like One Night Revolution (2015).
#59: KeyForge: Call of the Archons (2018)
With the magic of algorithms, Keyforge: Call of the Archons has done something curious indeed. Designer Richard Garfield calls it a “unique deck game,” or UDG: every single copy of Keyforge contains a one-of-a-kind set of cards. Each deck is stamped with its own randomly generated name. Players are expected to use their decks as-is: no custom deck-building allowed.
For a game from the creator of Magic: the Gathering (1993), this was certainly a surprise. Garfield emphasizes that “the most important thing [about a game without deck-building] is that the deck must be playable right out of the box— and you only need one deck to play”. This radical idea seems to go against the grain of the collectible and living card game markets, which can in the worst cases feel like pay-to-win experiences.
While Keyforge’s influence has yet to be fully realized, it’s already on the move. 2019 brought with it Keyforge: Age of Ascension, which introduced a new pool of 370 cards. This was followed by a third age, Keyforge: World’s Collide. 2020 is likely to bring with it more cards, and more interesting things to explore in The Crucible, the universe in which Keyforge is set.
Read our review of KeyForge: Call of the Archons.
#58: Forbidden Island (2010)
Forbidden Island’s famous tin box broke into that special category of board games: those popular enough to be sold at the average bookstore. An iteration on the Pandemic (2008) formula for a family audience, Forbidden Island made use of the familiar deck puzzle of shuffling a dangerous discard pile and placing it on top of the deck. The game spawned a whole Forbidden series, with both Forbidden Desert (2013) and Forbidden Sky (2018) seeing their own success.
The popularity of these Pandemic remixes likely helped to sell the idea of Pandemic as a candidate for a Legacy game, a development that would go on to radically impact the board game world in the latter half of the decade.
#57: Mystic Vale (2016)
Designer John D. Clair had a question: what if you took the build-it-yourself attitude of the deck-builder and applied it to individual cards? In Clair’s breakout hit Mystic Vale, players do exactly that. Using a deck of semi-transparent sheets, players upgrade individual cards by sliding new layers over the old. Publisher Alderac Entertainment Group refers to this system as “Card Crafting”.
Mystic Vale’s innovative spin on traditional deck-building offered a new, modular way of playing. Clair would re-use the system in both Custom Heroes (2017) and Edge of Darkness (2019). This component upgrade idea would also see use in dice games with removable die faces: Dice Forge (2017), as well as the earlier title Rattlebones (2014).
#56: Orléans (2014)
In Orléans, players assemble teams of farmers, merchants, knights and monks to earn glory and power in medieval France. The traditional European theme may not be much to write home about, but mechanically, Orléans was a trailblazer. Throughout the game, players draft new people (and by extension, actions) in the form of tokens, which they add to their drawstring bag.
This system of randomization (without shuffling!) would inspire a whole host of “bag builders,” including Orléans’ spiritual successor Altiplano (2017). While Orléans remains the most famous example of the genre, bag building can trace its roots back to a fan reimagining of Dominion (2008). This shuffle-free bag system would continue to inspire designers over the decade that followed, with games like The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2018) and Dice Settlers (2018) continuing to iterate on the theme.
#55: Eclipse (2011)
Battles, in space! Exploring new worlds, in space! Economic calculations… in space! A sci-fi take on the civilization genre, Eclipse was an example of a truly hybrid game of American and European design. Offering players exciting moments of dice rolling and a mathematical engine to back it up, the success of Eclipse would take early steps to blur the two labels which had once so starkly defined the schools of board game design.
At its peak of popularity, Eclipse reached the #5 slot on BoardGameGeek’s list of all-time best games. The game continues to see widespread play, and a second-edition Kickstarter was successfully funded in 2018.
#54: The Gallerist (2015)
If there’s one message brought forward by power duo Vital Lacerda and Ian O’Toole, it’s that just because your game is complicated doesn’t mean it has to be ugly. Nowhere is this exemplified more than The Gallerist, a 2015 release from Eagle-Gryphon Games that paired Lacerda’s design sensibilities with O’Toole’s gorgeous artwork. Stunning in both complexity and appearance, The Gallerist is such an elaborate piece that it feels like a cheap shorthand to call it worker placement— but much like Kanban (2014) before it, that central kernel of design makes up the backbone of the game.
The Lacerda-O’Toole duo has gone on to release a whole series of equally beautiful and intimidating games, including Lisboa (2017), CO₂: Second Chance (2018), and
Find out why we love The Gallerist.
Escape Plan (2019).
#53: Alchemists (2014)
Alchemists is an academic research simulator that just happens to be set in a fanciful world of potions and power. At once cluttered and brilliant, Alchemists combines a full worker placement game with an elaborate deduction puzzle. Oh, and did we mention the app?
Alchemists was an early adopter of app-driven tabletop play. Through clever use of randomization, Alchemists generated a new puzzle each game. Players mixed cocktails of ingredients in-app, hoping to learn enough about their composition to publish their findings. While use of the app was not mandatory, playing the game without it required a player to act as a full-time moderator, answering queries about experiments but otherwise disengaged from gameplay.
Five years later, Alchemists remains one of the most innovative uses of apps in-game. The years that followed would see a number of games adopting digital solutions, including Mansions of Madness: Second Edition (2016) and World of Yo-Ho (2016). As we become ever more connected with our digital lives, these games mark the beginning of a trend that is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
#52: Sentinels of the Multiverse (2011)
Sentinels of the Multiverse is one of the biggest superhero games in the business. A cooperative game, Sentinels of the Multiverse pits players against a card-driven AI. And unlike its contemporary Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (2012), Sentinels managed to garner a significant amount of attention without any licenses behind it. With a host of expansions and an impressive cult following, Sentinels of the Multiverse continues to deliver content almost a decade after its initial release.
Read our review of Sentinels of the Multiverse.
#51: Five Tribes (2014)
Five Tribes became famous for its innovative gameplay that drew from a centuries old source of inspiration: Mancala (700). Players picked up a handful of meeples, dropping a little breadcrumb trail behind as they moved their dwindling handful across the board. The game wove together an exciting puzzle shared by all players, a bidding war to fight for the right to solve it, and the beautiful and colourful art style that Days of Wonder has become known for.
But the game was not without controversy: in a world of growing awareness of cultural taboos and social progress, Five Tribes found itself criticized for its use of slaves as currency. Future editions, in keeping with the Tales of Arabian Nights theme, used carpet-flying Fakirs instead.
Read our review of Five Tribes.
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#50: Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (2012)
At first glance, Tzolk’in’s quirk may look like a gimmick: six gears lock together, spread across a board dotted with icons and tracks. But looks can be deceiving, as the gears of Tzolk’in serve two essential purposes. First, they act as a sort of clock: one revolution of the central gear is a full game. Second, they serve to outsource a key function of gameplay. If Tzolk’in were played on a traditional game board, players would have to inch forward dozens of small markers to mark their position on tracks. With the gears, a single turn of the central cog automatically updates all tokens to their new positions.
This innovative system garnered Tzolk’in significant praise, and helped fuel the success of more releases from its designers: both Grand Austria Hotel (2015) and Newton (2018) made a splash upon their release. With its unusual design, Tzolk’in showed that new components don’t have to be gimmicky. In the years that followed, the industry would go on to produce other fascinatingly mechanical productions like Potion Explosion (2015), Gizmos (2018), and Stonehenge and the Sun (2019).
Read our review of Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
#49: Vast: The Crystal Caverns (2016)
Vast is wild, from concept to execution. Masquerading as a fantasy dungeon crawl, Vast’s unbelievably asymmetric gameplay gives each player a role so different from any other player that they might as well be playing an entirely different game, outpacing even the famous Dune (1979). With characters from The Knight (exploring a dungeon) to The Goblins (using guerilla warfare) to The Cave (playing a drunken Carcassonne of murderous tile placement), Vast’s off-the-wall ideas would only meet their match with its spiritual successor, Root, two years later.
#48: Zombicide (2012)
Zombicide is a beat-’em-up game of zombie survival. One of the first wildly successful Kickstarters, Zombicide raised almost $800,000 (USD) during its 2012 campaign. The success of both Zombicide and its contemporaries would pave the way for an enormous market of Kickstarter games, and fundamentally change the distribution method for many publishers. Zombicide’s miniatures-focused marketing would also become a staple of crowdfunding, both for CMON’s core business model and the broader Kickstarter community.
Zombicide would see continued success in a whole plague of follow-ups: Zombicide: Black Plague (2015) and Zombicide: Green Horde (2018) played with the formula and helped keep a familiar franchise fresh. The series continues to iterate with more recent entries like Zombicide: Invaders (2019). More than anything, Zombicide’s lasting legacy was to propel publisher CMON into the limelight as the huge force in tabletop gaming it has since become.
#47: Freedom: The Underground Railroad (2012)
Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a cooperative game which focuses on the Abolitionist Movement, an area of history that designer Brian Mayer feels doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. While a game of this nature had the potential to go poorly, Freedom: The Underground Railroad was well-received because of how carefully and sensitively Mayer handled the topic.
Conscious choices were made by Mayer in the game’s design: groups of slaves were represented with unpainted cubes. Slave catchers were deliberately not portrayed by meeples, whose playful form would be too light for the historical context. These small acts of careful design manage to abstract the game to a degree which keeps it playable, but not so much that it takes away from the tense, thematic gameplay experience. In an effort to educate, Freedom: The Underground Railroad also has a guide available for purchase online explaining how to incorporate the game into a classroom setting, as well as historical notes on all the cards, the Abolitionist Movement and important events.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad opened the doors for designers to create serious games around sensitive, underrepresented themes without necessarily making light of them. If it were not for Freedom: The Underground Railroad, games like This War of Mine: The Board Game (2017) and Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (2018) might not exist.
#46: Terraforming Mars (2016)
With the success of the science-realism film The Martian (2015), an eager audience was primed for their own exploration of Mars. These fans would get their wish in the form of Terraforming Mars, a tableau-building and area control game set in the not-so-distant future. Combining challenging card play and the communal development of a Mars board, Terraforming Mars was lauded by the board game community. As of 2019, the game sits at the #3 best game on BoardGameGeek.
Interestingly, Terraforming Mars is neither the only high-profile terraforming game, nor the only successful Mars game: On Mars (2019), Terra Mystica (2012), and others would keep the game in good company. With five expansions since its 2016 release, Terraforming Mars has quickly built a whole franchise of astro-development.
Read our review of Terraforming Mars.
#45: Spirit Island (2017)
Mechanically, Spirit Island is best known for elevating cooperative games to a new level of asymmetry during a decade in which divergent starting conditions have become more and more popular. But this is not Spirit Island’s most impactful design choice.
In a world increasingly aware of the legacy of colonialism, many games have faced criticism for their victory condition of wash over and conquer this land. This dismantling of colonialism reaches all the way up to board game titan Catan (1995), which quietly removed the word “settlers” from its title in 2015. In this light, Spirit Island’s choice to position players as indigenous spirits defending against their island’s invaders is all the more pertinent. As the board game world reconsiders the cultural context of traditionally “safe” themes, it will be interesting to see how Spirit Island’s bold choice inspires designs in the future.
Read our review of Spirit Island.
#44: T.I.M.E. Stories (2015)
T.I.M.E. Stories calls itself a “decksploring” game, which is not far off: players use time travel to wade their way through a one-use deck of cards that makes up the adventure. Capitalizing on the 2012 re-release of the 1981 classic Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, T.I.M.E. Stories was an early experiment in what would become fairly common in board games: a deduction game that, once played, wouldn’t be playable again— at least, not for the same group.
T.I.M.E. Stories established a system of play that it would use to release a whole host of sequels. Each sequel constitutes its own adventure in the T.I.M.E. Stories world, incentivizing players to explore follow-ups at a lower cost than the original game.
#43: Disney Villainous (2018)
Have you ever wanted to be a Disney villain? Well, maybe not— but that’s exactly what you’re asked to do in Disney Villainous, a game of evil vs. evil set in the world of Disney. With each player acting as a different villain, Villainous offers a surprisingly sophisticated asymmetric design, with thematic objectives specific to each character. But how did the board game world end up with a genuinely good game with a major recognized license?
In 2017, design team Prospero Hall (formally an initiative of Forrest-Pruzan Creative) began quietly securing high-profile licenses. From Bob Ross: The Art of Chill (2017) to the Funkoverse Strategy Game (2019), the reach of Prospero Hall continues to grow. While they’re not all winners, it’s certainly refreshing to see the growth of thoughtful game design paired with a healthy dose of pop culture.
Read our review of Disney Villainous.
#42: Suburbia (2012)
Some folks use board games as a way to escape the real world. Adventure, horror, mystery, it’s all there for the taking. Others? Others may prefer to dive into something a little more mundane.
Suburbia is a game of city building and tile placement. Players take turns drafting buildings to add to their growing vision of suburban life. The game was a hit, entering the BoardGameGeek top 50 in October of 2014. Suburbia’s success helped to grow Bézier Games, the once-small studio responsible for its release. The game would later be re-imagined as Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2014), which acted as a somewhat wackier sequel to the original game (and would later be remixed again). Suburbia would also find a second life as Suburbia: Collector’s Edition (2019), which consolidated several expansions and updated the artwork for fans of the game.
#41: Lords of Waterdeep (2012)
Lords of Waterdeep was far from the first worker placement game. It was not the game which invented the genre, nor is it the most famous example. What it does represent is a certain watershed moment: with Lords of Waterdeep’s well-known setting, simple gameplay, and overwhelming popularity, it brought worker placement to a new level of public awareness and interest.
Based in the world of Dungeons & Dragons (1974), Lords of Waterdeep pares worker placement down to a level of accessibility that wouldn’t be surpassed until Mint Works (2017) five years later. While the game has occasionally been criticized for its mild gameplay juxtaposing its adventuring theme, its enduring popularity has garnered a number of game industry awards, a critically lauded expansion, an iOS release, and an appearance on Wil Wheaton’s “Tabletop.”
Read our review of Lords of Waterdeep.
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#40: Mechs vs. Minions (2016)
Mechs vs. Minions is a cooperative programming campaign game. It features ten missions in sealed, individual envelopes, giving the game a Legacy feel.
Riot Games did the seemingly impossible when they published Mechs vs. Minions. Here was a video game developer looking to publish a board game based on their popular MOBA game League of Legends, with a design team that didn’t originally include any prominent members of the board game industry. The game would really take shape when Riot reached out to Tom Vasel (of The Dice Tower) and Quentin Smith (of Shut Up and Sit Down), who provided direction that would help transform the game into the campaign it would become.
Now equipped with a strong manufacturing partner (Panda Games) and a diverse group of in-house developers, the team promised a high production value, awesome minis, and a fun gameplay experience, all for the relatively affordable price of $75 (USD). The result, to the surprise of many, was a huge success. Three years later, Mechs vs. Minions remains Riot Games’ only foray into the board game world… for now.
#39: Machi Koro (2012)
Machi Koro is a city-building game that uses Catan’s famous system of resource distribution: roll, gain, build. Best known for its cute and colourful minimal aesthetic, Machi Koro entered the collective imagination of board gamers when it debuted at the Spiel convention in Essen circa 2013.
Machi Koro’s story is an interesting one: the game was originally distributed by Japon Brand, a collective of independent designers from Japan. While American consumers would have to wait for Pandasaurus and IDW Games to pick the title up for broader distribution, Machi Koro’s popularity represented an important landmark: designs from outside the bubble of the western world were finally making their way in. Western consumers would later be treated to a number of interesting Japanese designs, including titles from publishers Oink Games and Saashi & Saashi.
Read our review of Machi Koro 5th Anniversary Edition.
#38: Azul (2017)
Tile placement: it’s not just a mechanism anymore. Azul is a very meta example of the genre, asking players to build beautiful mosaics of ceramic tiles. Players take turns drafting tiles and placing them into their player boards. The thick plastic tiles were widely praised by the board game community as an example of high production values in a game that could easily have just been cardboard.
Azul would go on to win a Spiel des Jahres award in 2018. The game was an early success from studio Plan B Games, which would later release Reef (2018) and Tuki (2019). Azul’s success resulted in spin-offs and sequels like Stained Glass of Sintra (2018) and Summer Pavilion (2019).
#37: The Mind (2018)
Few designers have risen to prominence quite so quickly as Wolfgang Warsch. Creator of The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2018), That’s Pretty Clever (2018), and Subtext (2019), Warsch has made a name for himself in the world of fresh-feeling family weight games. One of his more unusual designs is also one of the best-known: The Mind.
A cooperative card game, The Mind deals players a hand of cards (with values from 1-100) and asks them to play the next card in ascending order. The unique twist of The Mind is that players cannot speak. The resulting mind-game is so simple that it can be explained without words. This pared-down take on cooperation asks players (and designers) what it really means to communicate, and answers that question in its own fascinating way.
#36: Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (2014)
Coming in a little late on the zombies fanaticism of the 2000’s to 2010’s, Dead of Winter might have been forgotten if not for the unique twist it brought to the genre. Sure, you might die from zombies… but you’re just as likely to die from the cold.
Dead of Winter was the first in Plaid Hat’s series of Crossroads games: a curious new card-based mechanism that brought variable story elements into a genre that begged for organic theme. Between this innovation and its famous traitor mechanism, Dead of Winter made a big splash in what many people thought was an already well-worn genre.
#35: Century: Spice Road (2017)
A game of merchants and the spice trade: drawing heavy inspiration from the influential Splendor (2014), Century: Spice Road turned the simple engine-building formula into a card-driven game of creation and conversion. Century: Spice Road is a smart, fun game of resource management, but Century: Spice Road doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
In the years that followed its release, publisher Plan B Games would go on to release two sequels to Spice Road. Century: Eastern Wonders (2018) and Century: A New World (2019) kept the setting and weight of the original, but were very different games.
What is particularly interesting is that all three games in the series could combine into new games when played together. All three two-game mashups, as well as the full trio, worked as unique entries with their own rules. While it isn’t unheard of for standalone games to integrate with titles that preceded them, the Century series stands out for the diversity of its puzzle pieces and the strength of each game on its own.
#34: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game (2012)
The 2010s were a great year for fans of Star Wars and board games. With landmark titles like Star Wars: Imperial Assault (2014), Star Wars: Armada (2015) and Star Wars: Rebellion (2016), it was a land of plenty for fans of the series. But before these titles, in 2012, came the start of a miniatures game that would set the bar for those that followed: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.
X-Wing marked a major release of a huge license in a long-standing genre of geeky fun: miniatures. Drawing from contemporary board game sensibilities, X-Wing offered attractive, pre-painted models right out of the box. The message was clear: X-Wing was not just a painting project, but an active game with a focus on play. With fourteen waves and fifty-eight starships, X-Wing became an expansive property before being re-launched as a second edition in 2018. While Fantasy Flight hasn’t announced its plans for the series as we enter the 2020s, it’s a safe bet that fans will discover new gems in the years to come.
#33: Food Chain Magnate (2015)
Food Chain Magnate is a cutthroat game of 50s-era fast food franchises fighting over customers and profits, all in a race to grow their business and make a quick buck. Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that Food Chain Magnate is also the single largest success from a tiny Dutch game company that only ever wanted to make their niche economic games for a small cult of die-hard fans.
Splotter Spellen (popularly “Splotter”) opened their doors in 1997, making hand-crafted games they sold in VHS boxes. It was only two years later that they released Bus, arguably the first worker placement game. Their ludography includes sleeper hits like Roads & Boats (1999), Indonesia (2005), and The Great Zimbabwe (2012). Point is, Splotter has been innovating for a long time.
So when Food Chain Magnate breached BoardGameGeek’s top 25 games list in August of 2017, the level of interest in Splotter’s games had reached an all-time high. Six printings later, Food Chain Magnate continues to see widespread praise— amidst occasional warnings that it’s an unforgiving and calculating master. With an expansion set for release in 2019 (a rare choice for Splotter), Food Chain Magnate’s presence continues to be felt.
#32: Great Western Trail (2016)
Great Western Trail is a game of cow wrangling in the early American west. Notice we didn’t say “cowboys”: in Great Western Trail, high noon showdowns are set aside in favour of travel planning and cow management. But this is exactly the kind of economy-minded thinking that the game’s designer has made a name for himself with.
Great Western Trail is part of a series of successes for designer Alexander Pfister. Rising to prominence in 2015 with Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King (2015), Broom Service (2015) and Mombasa (2015), Pfister’s efforts were honoured with back-to-back Kennerspiel des Jahres award wins. The next year would see Great Western Trail enter the top ten of BoardGameGeek’s all-time best games. Pfister has continued his pace with titles like Blackout: Hong Kong (2018) and Expedition to Newdale (2019).
Read our review of Great Western Trail.
#31: Kingdom Death: Monster (2015)
Whether you love or hate its adults-only exploration of fantasy, violence and sexuality, Kingdom Death: Monster was a major development in campaign games. In 2016, Kingdom Death: Monster became the single highest-funded board game Kickstarter ever, offering astonishingly detailed miniatures and an elaborate campaign for players to explore. With an asking price of $250 (USD) for the base game alone, Kingdom Death: Monster took what could have been a niche game and propelled it to stunning levels of production. The success of Kingdom Death: Monster would open the door to other adults-only titles like CMON’s controversial HATE (2019).
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#30: Kingdomino (2016)
Bruno Cathala has a way of taking the mechanisms in traditional board games and using them to create a more modern, strategic game. He did it in 2014 with Five Tribes, and again in 2016 with Kingdomino.
In Kingdomino, players select non-traditional dominos featuring different terrains and add them to their kingdom. The bigger a section of terrain, the more points it could score… but only if the section also includes crowns. Kingdomino won the 2017 Spiel des Jahres prize for its achievements in accessible tile placement, appealing to light and heavy board gamers alike.
Kingdomino can be contextualized within the larger polyomino movement spearheaded by Uwe Rosenberg in games like Patchwork (2014) and Indian Summer (2017).
Read our review of Kingdomino.
#29: Mice and Mystics (2012)
Deep in the recesses of the castle they once called home, a group of knights-turned-mice must take back their fortress. Mice and Mystics is a campaign game: over a series of sessions, players explore chapters filled with different environments, held together by an overarching narrative. A dungeon-crawler at heart, players will fight their way through the campaign.
To speak of Mice and Mystics’ influence, look no further than BoardGameGeek’s top-rated game: Isaac Childres, designer of the massive Gloomhaven (2017), has cited Mice and Mystics as a major inspiration. Alongside Descent (2005), Mice and Mystics served as many people’s first experience with a campaign board game. With a family-friendly theme and a sizeable collection of expansions, the game has been enjoyed by a wide variety of people since its 2012 release. Mice and Mystics would also see follow-ups: standalone expansion Tail Feathers (2015), and spiritual successor Stuffed Fables (2018).
#28: Anomia (2010)
Mashups of speed and word games aren’t new — from Boggle (1972) to Bananagrams (2006), people have been racing to think of the right word for years. Still, Anomia’s quick-thinking match-and-duel gameplay was a break-out hit that continues to enjoy widespread popularity ten years later. Anomia’s take on trivia required a new level of focus and attention, commanding the same table engagement of its contemporary Ghost Blitz (2010). Anomia’s commercial success would lead to an expansion of the franchise, with games including Anomia: Party Edition (2013) and the Cards Against Humanity (2011)-inspired Anomia X (2017).
#27: King of Tokyo (2011)
Giant kaiju monsters and a set of big black dice to match: King of Tokyo is a dice-chucking free-for-all that captured the hearts of the board game world in the early 2010s. A mashup of Yahtzee’s (1956) system of dice rolling and a card-driven set of power-ups, the winning combo came as a surprise to some. More surprising still was that this creation came from Richard Garfield, father of the titanic Magic: the Gathering (1993).
With its success, King of Tokyo would spawn a series of expansions and a standalone sequel, King of New York (2014). Garfield’s foray into family-weight gaming would continue with Treasure Hunter (2015) and Bunny Kingdom (2017).
#26: Fog of Love (2017)
Fog of Love, a game for two players, is deemed a “romantic comedy” board game… but anyone who’s played it knows the game doesn’t typically end with happily ever after. Fog of Love focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters, each created and directed by one of the players. The game plays out their relationship as they try to achieve personal and collaborative goals, all while working towards their secret chosen Destiny. This is done through scenes, a series of tests and challenges. Scenes range from Sweet (romantic and sweet experiences) or Serious (important life events) to Drama (secrets, dramatic situations, and scenes of personal change). Unfortunately many scenes in the base game play into socially constructed roles and heteronormative culture, but Fog of Love’s expansions seem to be working towards a more inclusive experience.
Mechanically Fog of Love is a solid board game, but it’s when players immerse themselves in their character and jump into the role-playing side of things that it becomes something truly special. Fog of Love is such a thematic experience that players can sometimes find themselves unable to separate who they are from the characters they’ve created, causing arguments between real-life loved ones. Regardless, Fog of Love is an important step into bold new themes, and hopefully a preview of things to come.
#25: Android: Netrunner (2012)
Two players face off in a duel of cards, striving for victory in the globally popular lifestyle game designed by Richard Garfield. No, we’re not talking about Magic: The Gathering (1993)— though Android: Netrunner is equally beloved, albeit from a smaller group of people.
In some ways, Android: Netrunner threw traditional card duel rules out the window: players took on vastly different roles, with different mechanisms and objectives. The game pits a powerful, dystopian mega-corporation against a lone hacker. The cast of characters was diverse, with queer representation and an even split of male and female runners. The fixed expansion pack system offered a living card game (LCG) without players having to buy endless boosters to find the cards they wanted.
Android: Netrunner officially ended in 2018, joining other cancelled LCGs from publisher Fantasy Flight. While the future of the series remains unknown, the dedicated fan community continues to manage the game. Core sets still circulate in the board game world, offering an enticing and unique experience for those looking for an engaging medium for casual play.
#24: Mage Knight Board Game (2012)
Mage Knight is everything and the kitchen sink. A quest of fantasy combat and exploration based on the miniatures game of the same name, Mage Knight is almost exhausting to wrap your head around. Combining deck-building, hex movement, action management and squadron combat, Mage Knight is ruthlessly complicated and completely unashamed of that fact.
Mage Knight has been championed for its solo play, voted #1 by the People’s Choice Top 100 Solo Games five years straight. The game has seen three successful expansions in the years since its release, and continues to stand as one of the most complex puzzles on offer for those who choose to explore it.
#23: Smash Up (2012)
What happens when you pit a team of pirates and ninjas against a union of zombies and aliens? These are the questions asked by Smash Up, a card game with a zany theme and surprisingly mathematical gameplay. Smash Up became famous for its variance, each game starting with players combining two unique decks of cards. These merged decks formed the basis for player strategy, and games often consisted of trying to puzzle out how to best make the faction powers complement each other.
Smash Up was a highly successful franchise for publisher Alderac Entertainment Group, with over a dozen major expansions in the years since its release. The game would also appear on Wil Wheaton’s influential “Tabletop,” attracting over a million views in 2013.
#22: Above and Below (2015)
In film circles, an auteur is a filmmaker whose creative influence over a movie is so great that they are regarded as the author of the piece. Singular in direction and vision, the auteur is the driving force behind the whole production.
In the world of board games, we have Ryan Laukat.
At once the designer, artist, and publisher, Laukat is famous for his DIY attitude and full-project approach to game making. Nowhere is this spirit more apparent than in Laukat’s narrative-driven, build your own adventure game Above and Below, which tasked players with building a village and exploring the caverns beneath it. Above and Below would foreshadow the fusion of strategy gaming and narrative exploration to come from showstoppers like Gloomhaven (2017). Above and Below would be followed by sequel Near and Far (2017). Laukat seems poised to continue his streak of success, with his hotly-anticipated cooperative game Sleeping Gods due for release in 2020.
#21: Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game (2012)
Dominion, released in 2008, was just a little too early to make it onto this list. But its influence remains crystal clear: just four years before the release of Legendary, deck-building didn’t exist as a genre; now, here it was, shining brightly from the game’s title.
Legendary may not have been the first good superhero game, but it is unique in its widespread acclaim, big name license, and obvious love for its source material. These driving highlights of its conception made the game stand out as a huge example of officially licensed games getting it right. Legendary has since spawned a whole series of games from a seemingly endless parade of properties: Alien (2014), Firefly (2016), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2017), and X-Files (2018) have all gotten their turn to ride.
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#20: The Castles of Burgundy (2011)
While many of the entries on this list were pioneers of trends that followed, The Castles of Burgundy was in many ways an echo of what came before.
The most popular of designer Stefan Feld’s ludography, The Castles of Burgundy is a tile drafting game in which players build their princely estates. Today, the muted palette and pacific theme of Burgundy are a quiet reminder of how much board game art expectations have changed since its release. The design, in contrast, hasn’t aged a bit: with its clever dice manipulation and combos of layered actions, The Castles of Burgundy is emblematic of Feld’s design genius, and remains popular to this day.
Read our review of The Castles of Burgundy.
#19: Terra Mystica (2012)
Terra Mystica presents itself as a power struggle between fantasy races, but manages to get called an “abstract” game a lot anyway. Debuting at Essen in 2012, the game was brought to the Fair by a small new publisher (Feuerland Spiele). It was an instant hit, and was quickly picked up by Z-Man Games for global distribution. In Terra Mystica, players race to spread their civilization across the board, picking up points along the way for everything from digging to worshiping . At its core, Terra Mystica is a game of resource management and quiet optimization.
Terra Mystica’s success lead to an even more popular sequel, the sci-fi themed Gaia Project (2017). The game’s innovative resource distribution system also inspired the 2017 Kickstarter hit Clans of Caledonia, which has seen widespread praise in its own right. With 2019 bringing a second expansion for Terra Mystica, the future of the franchise looks bright.
Check out our Terra Mystica strategy guide.
#18: Root (2018)
Root is, in many ways, the spiritual successor to its publisher’s sleeper hit Vast (2016). An asymmetric game of woodland creatures and warfare, Root’s charming artwork and aggressive combat formed an unlikely pair that would delight board game audiences in 2018.
Root’s success served to bring radically asymmetric games to a mainstream focal point. The game’s accessible theme and rules eased players into a complex web of diverse objectives and mechanisms. Cole Wehrle, designer of Root, explains that this was an intentional choice: while he wanted to explore an interactive, conflict-focused strategy game, he deliberately chose a setting outside the real world in hopes of increasing accessibility.
This vision was realized: on release, Root spread like wildfire. With impressive sales and a host of industry awards (including several wins in our own Diamond Climber Awards), the game managed to garner both critical and commercial success. The series has gone on to produce three expansions, with a full tabletop roleplaying game in the same universe currently in production.
#17: SeaFall (2016)
Contrasting with many games on this list, SeaFall is nominated not for its success but its failure. Granted, that statement is a little cruel: SeaFall was not a total miss. But for many fans of Rob Daviau’s bombastic debuts that created the Legacy genre, Risk Legacy (2011) and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015), SeaFall fell disappointingly short.
The first entirely new property in a Legacy format, Seafall was the hotly-anticipated third release from Daviau. SeaFall was bold, introducing daring surprises and twists in a competitive game format. But it also faced complaints of balance concerns and poorly aligned incentives. Ultimately, SeaFall’s downfall was likely in the huge hype that formed before its release: the game amounted to an interesting experiment, but not the messiah of Legacy gaming it was anticipated to be. When all the chips had fallen, SeaFall’s critical failure may have slowed the development of the genre. If the father of Legacy games could miss the mark, other designers and publishers would have to ensure that their products were worth the long development cycles and high production costs associated with the genre.
#16: Hanabi (2010)
In 2010, the idea of a fully cooperative game was still relatively new. With early leaders like Pandemic (2008), Ghost Stories (2008) and the ahead-of-its-time Lord of the Rings (2000) blazing a trail, the formula of a cooperative game had started to form: a central board. A dangerous threat. A communal conversation to optimize the next move. Hanabi would glance at this formula, and throw it away.
Hanabi is a cooperative card game with a central twist: you can see your friends’ hands, but not your own. Players are tasked with working together to play the right cards (at the right time), carefully using a series of hints under strict communication rules. The randomized deck of cards meant that Hanabi offered a new and exciting puzzle each time. Hanabi does have credit to give: its deductive system has a lot of shared DNA with Code 777 (1985), a competitive Alex Randolph game from decades before. But Hanabi came at exactly the right time to change the path of cooperative games forever.
Small, cheap, and whip-smart, Hanabi garnered a laundry list of awards (including the prestigious Spiel des Jahres). Its design would inspire a number of like-minded cooperative card games including The Game (2015), The Mind (2018), and Letter Jam (2019).
#15: Alien Frontiers (2010)
In 2010, Clever Mojo games launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new game called Alien Frontiers, billed as a “Retro-Future Sci Fi Board Game”. It was backed by 228 people and raised a very modest $14,885 (USD). The campaign page was all text, with no stretch goals. Released today, this dice placement game may have been a tiny blip on the radar… but in 2010, it marked one of the earliest forays of board games into the Kickstarter world, which would radically change the way games got to customers. Alien Frontiers has since spawned over 20 expansions. The humble origins of Alien Frontiers would eventually lead to tabletop games making up the single largest sector of the crowd-funding giant, and left an indisputable mark in the process.
#14: Wingspan (2019)
Nearing the end of the decade, Wingspan’s success seemingly came from nowhere. Here was a game by a first-time designer, Elizabeth Hargrave, featuring a nontraditional theme: birds. Wingspan is a card-driven, engine-building board game in which players act as bird enthusiasts who attract different species of birds to their wildlife preserve. It’s Wingspan’s approachable theme, high production value, and stunning components and artwork that have charmed board gamers, families, and even non-gamers.
In less than a year after its release, Wingspan won the Kennerspiel des Jahres award, had its first expansion released, and has risen to #30 on BoardGameGeek. Wingspan and its designer Elizabeth Hargrave have also received critical acclaim outside of the hobby (even being featured in The New York Times). As a woman designing board games in a male-dominated hobby, Hargrave has used her platform and recent success to support diversity within the gaming community and work towards making it more inclusive.
#13: Splendor (2014)
A masterclass of lean design, Splendor has built a whole-game experience on a deck of cards and a stack of poker chips. Splendor is an engine-builder: as players move through the game, they become gradually more and more powerful based on the decisions they made before. The game’s central innovation is its scale: traditionally, engine building was an elaborate affair taking a couple hours and a table full of components. Splendor condenses this arc into a tense game of forty minutes.
Splendor’s high sales and widespread success has opened the door for other accessible engine-builders like Gizmos (2018) and Century: Spice Road (2017). It also helped launch the tabletop career of its then-freshman designer Marc André, who has since penned sleeper hits Barony (2015) and Majesty: For the Realm (2017).
Find out why we love Splendor.
#12: Exit: The Abandoned Cabin (2016)
Inspired by the meteoric rise of escape rooms, Exit: The Abandoned Cabin was one of the first games to adapt the popular pastime into a tabletop-friendly format. The innovative approach to game design led by the Exit series introduced one-use puzzle games that were destroyed during play. Subtle and clever, Exit’s novel take on everything from its narrative to its components opened the door for many successors that have tried their hand at duplicating Exit’s success. The Exit series continued to produce critically acclaimed releases in the following years, and shows little sign of stopping as we enter the 2020s.
#11: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (2012)
Agricola: All Creatures Big & Small (popularly “ACBAS”) is a two-player adaptation of worker placement pioneer Agricola (2007). While the original game accomodated two players, ACBAS pared down the moving parts significantly for its small-box reimagining. This redesign would set a trend for games that would follow: titles like 7 Wonders (2010), Codenames (2015), and Dinosaur Island (2017) would all see successful two-player re-releases notably different from their original game.
ACBAS remains one of the most successful games in the world of two-player adaptations, with a big box reprint including all its expansions released in 2018. ACBAS would also inspire an adaptation of Agricola’s sister game Caverna: The Cave Farmers (2013) in the form of Caverna: Cave vs. Cave (2017).
Read our review of Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small.
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#10: That’s Pretty Clever (2018)
Often referred to by its original German title Ganz schön clever, this game is more than it appears at first glance. With only a handful of dice and a pad of paper, That’s Pretty Clever bears the flag for one of the hottest board game trends of the 2010s: the roll and write.
What is a roll and write game? Pretty much what it sounds like: each turn, players roll dice and record the results on their sheets. If this sounds like Yahtzee (1956), you’re not far off. We’re seeing an increasing number of roll and writes each year, with many existing franchises opting to explore roll and write adaptations: The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game (2017), La Granja: No Siesta (2016), and Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama (2017) have all gotten in on the fun. Some so-called “roll and writes” skip the dice entirely, relying on cards or tokens to provide randomly-generated options for players to choose from: Welcome To… (2018) is one popular example.
But even in a sea of roll and writes, That’s Pretty Clever has been successful on its own merits. Nominated for the coveted Kennerspiel des Jahres prize in 2018, the game has gone on to produce a sequel, appropriately titled Twice as Clever (2019). As the decade draws to a close, the roll and write trend continues to evolve. Whether it represents a flash of trendy game design or a lasting impact on how we interact with (and use up) our games— that remains to be seen.
Read our review of That’s Pretty Clever (Ganz schön clever).
#9: Patchwork (2014)
Don’t be fooled by its cozy quilt-making theme: Patchwork’s landslide success was the driving force of a major design craze. “Polyominoes” — those cute little Tetris pieces — were a relatively unusual feature in board games prior to their central role in Patchwork. A lightweight departure for its big-game designer Uwe Rosenberg, Patchwork’s cute theme and clever drafting system would set Rosenberg on a tile placement tear that would include Cottage Garden (2016) and Indian Summer (2017), as well as larger games like A Feast for Odin (2016).
#8: Codenames (2015)
If your non-gamer friends have heard of anything on this list… well, it’s probably Cards Against Humanity (2011). But gently prodded for a second example, their eyes may light up: “Oh, that spy game you showed us! Code Words!” Well, close enough— which is exactly what you’re looking for in Vlaada Chvátil’s wildly successful game of words, Codenames.
The innovative design of Codenames managed to do a very difficult thing: this team-based guessing game blended strategy and casual accessibility to make a hit that took both the casual and hobby markets by storm. Codenames needs little introduction, thanks to its ubiquity. Part word game, part guessing game, Codenames targeted a corner of design that had been left to stagnate since the days of Scrabble (1948).
Since its release, Codenames has gotten the full Monopoly treatment: going beyond the traditional remixes of Codenames: Duet (2017; two players) and Codenames: Deep Undercover (2016; a “dirty” version), Codenames has been reimagined in an increasing number of different fan flavours from Marvel to Harry Potter. There’s even a giant sized version of Codenames designed for larger groups. With 2019’s Codenames: The Simpsons on the horizon, the surprise hit franchise shows no signs of slowing down.
#7: 7 Wonders (2010)
Card drafting, at its heart, is a pretty simple concept: presented with a handful of cards, players must choose one to keep and pass the rest of the hand along. Passed a new hand, players now select again (passing the rest), until the cards have all been distributed. Fair and intuitive, card drafting has become an increasingly popular way of mediating luck and granting players agency. Part of the driving force behind the rise of card drafting in games is 7 Wonders, which looked at the mechanism and said, “Well, what if that was the whole game?”
It’s hard to believe that, at the time of writing this, 7 Wonders was released only nine years ago. The game has become famous for its quick runtime and broad player count, and arguably infamous for its vast array of icons. 7 Wonders has inspired dozens of copycats, including the wildly successful Sushi Go! (2013). The game was also developed into a two-player sequel, 7 Wonders Duel (2015), which has surpassed its predecessor on the BoardGameGeek charts at #17 of all-time.
Read our review of 7 Wonders .
#6: Love Letter (2012)
Iconic for its velvet bag and tiny deck of cards, Love Letter reignited public interest in the microgame: designs that do so much with so little. Only a year after Love Letter’s release, microgame publisher Button Shy would release their first game. It seems to be no coincidence, either, that Chris Handy (famous for his three letter games the size of a stick of gum — GEM (2015), SHH (2015), ORC (2017), and many more) would go on to publish his first microgame three years later.
Love Letter’s charming story of the quest to win the princess’s affection captured the hearts and attention of many gamers — but more than that, the simple central mechanism has been redeveloped for all kinds of licensed themes, including Batman (2015) and Adventure Time (2015). Love Letter’s impact on the tabletop scene continues to be felt: in a world where big empty boxes are so often used to justify big empty price tags, we need innovators like Love Letter to fight back… one token at a time.
Read our review of Love Letter.
#5: Exploding Kittens (2015)
Cats, cards, cartoonists, and gross-out humour. Love it or hate it, Exploding Kittens was the highest-funded game ever released on Kickstarter at the close of its campaign in 2015, and the fourth-highest funded Kickstarter across all categories. The game had exploded— if you’ll excuse the pun.
More than anything, Exploding Kittens represented an unusual entrant to the board game world: Matthew Inman, creator of the popular webcomic The Oatmeal. With this project, Inman and his two co-creators brought in a crowd of people not just within the hobby gaming world, but from a mainstream audience of casual consumers. Kickstarter was not just a place for miniatures and basement-dwellers; it had become a site where there was real money to be made, from a broad group of crowd-funding investors. The success of Exploding Kittens would also lead to more webcomic-fuelled Kickstarters, including 2016’s Joking Hazard.
As of 2019, an average of seven tabletop games are funded every day on Kickstarter. Would this have been possible without Exploding Kittens? Well, sure, maybe. But it certainly made it more appetizing to try.
#4: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015)
After the success of Risk Legacy (2011), publisher Z-Man Games reached out to designer Rob Daviau with an idea: what if we took the same premise— a game with real consequences and story that carry over from play to play— and applied it to the Pandemic series? Daviau says he was immediately intrigued, but was unsure at first how to adapt the Legacy format to a cooperative game. He was, by his own measure, completely unprepared for the level of popularity and acclaim that would follow.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 follows the story of the four diseases that could end the world. Just like the original Pandemic (2008), players have to work together to stop them. The game is linear in its progression, but gives players no shortage of secret boxes, story prompts, and advent calendar-style doors to discover new rules and surprises. After the campaign, most players get rid of their completed game.
Reaching the top-ranked game of all time on BoardGameGeek, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 stands as one of the most successful and disruptive releases of the 2010s. In the months following its release, excitement grew about the future of the newly minted genre. On some level, these changes have come to a head: from single-use escape room games to a growing collection of campaign-focused designs, the Legacy games have indeed left a legacy behind, including the 2017 sequel Pandemic Legacy: Season 2. But with the critical challenges faced by Daviau’s spiritual successor SeaFall (2016), it remains to be seen if Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 was a glimpse of the future of board games, or a single shining example of a challenging type of game to get right.
#3: Gloomhaven (2017)
Gloomhaven is massive: in scope, and in popularity. An enormous undertaking from designer Isaac Childres, Gloomhaven’s brilliant combination of card-driven combat and a vast overarching narrative have earned it the honour of being BoardGameGeek’s best-ranked game of all time.
With a box the size of a small microwave, Gloomhaven has brought to board games the Skyrim (2011) style of role-playing: most folks will never explore every nook and cranny the game has to offer, but everyone will get a chance to direct their own path through the game’s huge campaign. With an estimated 100 hours of gameplay, 95 unique missions, and 17 character classes, you have to marvel at the sheer magnitude of Childres’ accomplishment.
What else can we say? Gloomhaven is going to be the yardstick against which campaign games are judged for a long time. With a full sequel (Frosthaven) announced for 2021 and a digital adaptation in early access, it’s clear that Gloomhaven is here to stay.
Read our review of Gloomhaven.
#2: Cards Against Humanity (2011)
It’s hard to overstate the impact of Cards Against Humanity. The adults-only take on Apples to Apples spread like wildfire after its formal release in May 2011, becoming the top selling game on Amazon within a month. Cards Against Humanity was arguably the first “adult” game not to come across as cheesy. It inspired countless spinoffs, ripoffs, remixes, and reimaginings. Without Cards Against Humanity, games like Telestrations After Dark (2015) and Codenames: Deep Undercover (2016) wouldn’t exist. Without Cards Against Humanity, thousands of people may never have revisited the world of board games, annexing the whole hobby as a leftover from childhood. But that’s not all the game has done.
Farther reaching than Cards Against Humanity’s design is its politics. From the beginning, Cards Against Humanity made a statement about what kind of jokes you can tell… but that statement has changed over time. As criticisms spread about the game’s content, its creators pruned their deck to reflect a “punching up” ethos. Cards that were used to levy jokes at marginalized groups were thinned out in favour of cards mocking their oppressors— though many groups still disagree with the game’s content.
Even outside of the game itself, Cards Against Humanity as a company has made many forays into American politics, from billboard advertisements to Black Friday commentary. Love it or hate it, Cards Against Humanity’s influence became a part of the national dialogue— a very big ripple from what began as a small card game.
#1: Scythe (2016)
In a mech-riding vision of 1920s Eastern Europe, five factions fight over an unclaimed patch of land surrounding a mysterious factory. This is the colourful world of Scythe, a 2016 Kickstarter game designed and published by Jamey Stegmaier. In Scythe, players race to gather resources and upgrade their factions, each hoping to gain enough points through their objectives to win them the game. With stunning artwork and beautiful miniatures, Scythe raised over $1.8 million (USD) during its Kickstarter campaign. (Interestingly, this would mark the final Kickstarter for the Stonemaier Games, who transitioned away from crowdfunding in 2016.)
Today, there are nearly 300,000 copies of Scythe in circulation, in over a dozen languages. In the years since its release, Scythe has seen three expansions, a standalone children’s game called My Little Scythe, and an elaborate digital release. With one final expansion, a modular board, Stegmaier has said that the Scythe saga will end; he and his company will be pursuing other projects.
But Scythe’s legacy will live on. A high water mark for care in design, worldbuilding, and sheer production value, Scythe has demonstrated the kind of game that’s possible with enough support and dedication— and, intentionally or not, has set expectations for the games to come. Stonemaier Games would go on to publish Wingspan in 2019, which would leave its own avian footprint in the board game world.
So, what do you think? Are there games we overlooked that you feel changed the face of board gaming in the last ten years? Well, probably! We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I’ll pull back the curtain for a minute: this project has been the biggest undertaking I’ve ever done in the hobby, and I can really only hope that all the research, sorting, and writing was enough to make a couple people smile, nod their head, or even just think for a minute. If you liked this piece, you can find more information about me in my author page below. Kudos to Ashley Gariepy for her contributions to the piece, to the whole writing team for their stellar late-game edits, and to Andy Matthews for taking a chance on my secret (and stupidly ambitious) idea. Thanks everyone.
With nary a mention of any of GMT Games’ COIN series, this list is a complete farcical disaster.
That series created an entirely new crossover category of wargames that have bridged the divide between Eurogamers, wargamers, and the professional military, appeared in The Washington Post, and many are on their 4th and 5th printings.
A Distant Plain
Fire in the Lake
Liberty or Death
have all turned wargaming into a multi-player sport where the war isn’t necessarily the only way to win, and captured thousands of fans along the way. They’ve been many of GMT’s best sellers and they’ve created a whole new category of wargames in a table genre long considered to be stale and over-wrought with complexity.
Wargamers are used to the rest of the world ignoring what they’re doing (hell, they were crowdsourcing print runs back in the mid-1990s, when Kickstarter’s founders were still in high school) but if you’re going to run a site claiming to talk about board games, maybe try not to ignore a significant and smart segment of it.
“A complete farcical disaster” seems a bit strong don’t you think? We’ve made no secret about our focus on light to heavy weight board games. In fact the author is discussing this very lack of wargames on Reddit.
Editor’s note: FWIW we have an article about war games from a board gamers perspective, that has been very well received. I’d love to cover more wargames on Meeple Mountain because I recognize they’re an important part of the hobby. However finding people to contribute those pieces has been challenging. Perhaps you can offer some recommendations?
Probably some hyperbole on my part, but it’s amazing (and frustrating) that an entire segment of the tabletop hobby that full of some of the smartest and most innovative designers consistently gets short shrift from the rest of the tabletop world.
And no offense, but if I knew some guys looking to do more writing about wargames, I’d snatch them up to write for us over at the Armchair Dragoons! 😀
Thanks for following up. Yes, wargaming is all the things you mentioned, but it’s also a niche within a niche which makes it really tough to write about and engage in. Your average board gamer likely isn’t even aware of wargames, much less having the chance to play them. Tabletop gaming in general is growing in popularity and I think that’s going to increase exposure to wargaming by association; especially with the success of titles like Root and it’s connection to COIN.
I won’t apologize for the contents of this list (well, except for Speak Out…?), but I will promise that we’ll do our best to increase our coverage of every aspect of gaming, and not just the middle.
As someone who board games weekly, goes to 3 conventions a year, and is involved in the development side of things.
I have played about 50 games on this list, and was aware of about 90 of them.
I have never heard of any of the games you’ve listed.
You may need to accept that your hobby is separate and distinct from the one being discussed here
“The 100 Most Important **Board** Games of the 2010s”
Pretty sure that the COIN games are played on a board.
They’re good games Brant.
Although it’s not my favorite, I am surprised you didn’t include the game that introduced modern board gaming to America… Settlers of Catan. It’s what I and many others started with and you should give nods to the game that brought modern gaming to the states.
Ben, we cannot understate the importance of Catan to the hobby, and in fact we previously called it out as one of 6 games that changed board gaming forever. That said it was originally published in 1995, well outside the 10 year window of this piece. We did include a few mentions of it in this article however, proving that it’s presence still ripples throughout the gaming world.
guess i need to add a boardgame section to my budget now. fun read!
I think that’s a splendid idea Abigail!
Missing the COIN series is is huge. I kept waiting for it, assuming the author was bumping it closer and closer to number one, until it became obvious it wasn’t going to be there at all.
It’s not just about including a token wargame: If the list aspires to represent innovation and impact in the world of tabletop gaming it’s a real oversight, for all the reasons Brant mentions.
My thoughts exactly.
Thanks for including us! But Smash Up has had a lot more than 9 expansions, with more coming. 🙂
Hey Todd, thanks for the comment. I checked the website and I count 15. I’ll update the piece for accuracy.
Sure, there are no COIN games on this list, but there’s one which was directly inspired by the series and introduced the idea of an assymetrical ‘Eurowargame’ to a much broader audience, namely – Root. Sure, it is not a COIN game per se (and its description should refer to the series in my opinion), but I’d argue that it rightfully features here instead of that series.
That the author specifically seeks to track “importance” is its own best argument for including the acknowledged progenitor.
It’s an oversight by any measure, and a glaring one. I did enjoy the rest of the list.
about 3 comments below this (as of this writing), Chris Braun said
“Blood Rage begat Rising Sun, as the author mentions in the article, which is why Blood Rage is there and Sun isn’t. One led to the other and they are similar in many ways, so there only needs to be one of them on the list.”
So that standard gets applied to Blood Rage/Rising Sun, but not COIN/Root?
Fun stuff…I can see that you’ve put a lot of thought into this list. I’m interested to hear why a game like Mysterium would be left off? I know that it’s popularity has waned a little, but I would think for it’s updated approach to the “Clue experience”, or giving more context to the “Dixit experience,” or for several other reasons, it could have found a spot. Maybe in place of one of the Vast/Root series games…Inclusion of both seems a bit superfluous.
Where is Rising Sun? You mention it in the Blood Rage entry, but leave it off the list.
Love Letter in the top 10???? I recently played it and found it to be tedious and one dimensional. The ‘story’ has nothing to do with the actual gameplay and comes down to a memory game of remembering who has the highest number card. With the number of swap hands cards, and only ever having a choice of two cards to play, it doesn’t even leave any room for limited strategy.
Blood Rage begat Rising Sun, as the author mentions in the article, which is why Blood Rage is there and Sun isn’t. One led to the other and they are similar in many ways, so there only needs to be one of them on the list.
And Love Letter, love it or hate it, was a massively popular series of games, selling incredible amounts of copies. That you don’t like it doesn’t preclude its importance to the revitalization of the micro-game concept.
Excellent read. I’m glad that lists like this exist, to see a different perspective on the influence games have had on other games as well as the gaming culture: it’s more than just a ‘these are fun games’ list. And it’s always nice to see games you own pop up on the list.
Overall, a pretty good list (not a wargamer, so I can’t speak to some of the other comments about omissions). I can’t argue with the importance of many of the top games on the list, even if I’m not a fan of a couple of them.
Lots of games that are on my shelves or that I’ve played and even more that I need to check out! Thanks to the author for all the hard work!
Excellent list! I’ve always loved playing board games, but have only gotten heavily into it in the past 14 months. Almost every game I own it want to own is in this list, including Scythe. I was surprised that Scythe made the top spot though. I was expecting a game like Gloomhaven, Pandemic legacy, or Seven wonders.
I guess Scythe got the top spot because it was a combination of things. Great art, high quality, great theming, and high popularity. I’m still wondering why it is the most important, other games have sold many copies and have many expansions (Terraforming Mars comes to mind). I would have expected the most important game to be more of a pioneer.
What a fantastic list… Well written… I enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot…
Awww, my favorite game “Eldritch Horror” didn’t make it 🙁
My only question is where is twilight Imperium? Was it not included as it is the 4th edition? Confused as that game is certainly one of the best out there? Thanks, great article
There was a discussion about this very thing on Reddit:
Long and short is that the Ti4 wasn’t different enough from Ti3 to warrant inclusion.
Thanks so much for the kind words Hunter.
Any chance of getting checklist style doc for a comparison of games played/owned/wish list etc?
Excellent list! Very much enjoyed the read. Not going to complain about which games are not on the list because it is your list. Mine would be different as would anyone else who would make such a list. What I liked most of all was that you recognized the importance of some games that weren’t popular or were controversial (Exploding Kittens, SeaFall, Cards Against Humanity). I particularly enjoyed your comments on SeaFall, a game I happen to rank highly on my list of all-time favorites. I agree that it is flawed, but a much better game than many have said, being a victim of Daviau’s previous successes. Had that one come out first, things may have been different.
Here’s an important game that didn’t make the list.
Super Dungeon Explore (2011)
– SDE was the first board game made by CMON, and it remained one of their top sellers until they split with Soda Pop Miniatures. As such, it represents CMON’s move away from a producer boutique miniatures (and Dark Age) to board games.
It was also how they learned to always have pre-assembled miniatures, and it is the first CMON game to be infinitely expandable by swapping out monster groups (something that is huge in most big box Kickstarter games now).
– It represented a big crossover point for a lot of tabletop wargamers who started playing board games, which has been a driving force in board games this decade.
– SDE was also at the very beginning of the current wave of Dungeon Crawlers, which is a genre that has since thrived. Its’ own mechanical contributions were in updating the genre into the more current meta.
– It also represented a massive departure from the two traditional styles of miniatures sculpting with chibi miniatures.
For people who haven’t followed miniatures very closely, this has been HUGE. Prior to this decade, gaming miniatures offered a fairly narrow set of styles which could mostly be played together without any trouble. After the way SDE has changed things, there are many varied styles for sculpting in gaming miniatures.
Games like Stuffed Fables, Myth, Masque of the Red Death, Middara, My Little Scythe, Mice and Mystics, The Faceless, etc. have all benefited from this move.
If you don’t think that diversifying miniatures art was a significant change, imagine that every board game used realistic Renaissance art, then sudently the impressionist movement happened, immediately followed by an exploration of every possible style in between.
– In addition, it was at the forefront of the move toward digital sculpting in board games, something that has become the industry standard.
“SDE was also at the very beginning of the current wave of Dungeon Crawlers”
Forgive my ignorance, but it seems like Descent would’ve kicked that off back in 2005 or so. What distinctions would there be btw SDE and that one? It’s not my normal schtick, so I’m not up to date on the current state of those games, but I played a bunch of Descent back in grad school and have a lot of friends that still play it today.
Oh my god, I never realized that there are this many types of board games.
The one I played before was Terraforming Mars and it was Awesome.
Thanks for sharing this list of board games, I should try them one by one.
I’m curious to know more about how Scythe became your #1 most important game. The description covers its popularity and beauty, but didn’t (to me) explain how its impact on the game world or beyond was bigger than, say, Gloomhaven or Cards Against Humanity. The descriptions for many other games on the list covered that importance angle well, per the intent of the article.
I’m an infrequent gamer, having heard of many on this list but played only a few, so I am genuinely interested to know more about Scythe’s significance. I really enjoyed the list overall, and thank you for pulling it together!
Really nice list – opened my eyes up to some games I hadn’t heard of or considered seriously before. I began as a wargamer back in the early 70’s and I just presumed you weren’t including wargames in your list as I do understand the argument for the COIN series of games and their influence on other game genres.
An impressive list and a fun read. Great work!
I enjoyed this article quite a bit. Thanks so much for a beautiful look at one of my hobbies over the last 10 years. I have just discovered this site via this article (thanks to it being linked in the Daily Illuminator over at Steve Jackson Games).
I just read the About Meeple Mountain site; you guys got started as a game group in in 2014 and have grown substantially. I would like to add ‘congratulations’ to this post as well, it seems you are doing quite well. Here is to many wonderful years of success in the future!
Checking your menu, I see some role playing game articles as well… I mean, damn! It seems you guys have created a website that hits all of my hobby buttons! I think I will be coming here a lot! I am an avid fan of RPGs, and I even published on this past year, so this is wonderful to see.
So… all that out of the way — I want to ask a question: Would you consider thinking back in time, and writing a similar article for the 2000-2009 timeframe?
I figure this is a period that is worth exploring. One could make an argument for the decades prior, but the year 2000 makes a nice point to start from, given the three zeroes. 🙂 I would really like to know what you guys think of the first decade of the 2000s.
Thanks for reading. See you guys around here later!
What a lovely comment, thank you!
To be clear, Meeple Mountain started “sort of” as an offshoot of monthly events I ran at my office. We’ve split into two distinct areas of influence; both under the name Meeple Mountain. It works quite well since I can contact publishers on behalf of both the website and events.
I’m in the process of writing our 2019 retrospective, and one of the goals I’m setting for the site is to also start publishing regular wargame related content. So we’ll have that as well!
I love the notion of covering 2000-2009, and I’ll pitch that to the team. It’s a good idea, but this one was a lot of work, made possible because Kurt was active in board gaming during that period. I think an earlier decade would be tough. But it’s certainly a great idea.
Thanks for finding us, and hanging with us!
You are most welcome. I hope to spend some time this weekend browsing the various offerings on your website, so I will most certainly be hanging with you. I realize an article about the 200-2009 period would be a lot of work — I truly do. That said, I sincerely hope it is something you can delve into.
I notice ‘Myth’ the now-dead boardgame is not on this list. No idea what happened to it. At the time this was a real hit. Is it on this list and i missed it twice? If so, please accept my apologies.
All the best / great list / well done.
Hey Tim, thanks for the kind words. Myth wasn’t ever on this list that I’m aware of.
How is Zombicide not in the top 10? You talk about why it was important but it’s fairly low ranking indicates a lack of understanding of the impact it has had on Kickstarter games. I’m gobsmacked that it’s in the late 40s on this list.
I’m just really glad that Gloomhaven is not #1. That game really needs to be dethroned. So overrated. Typical dungeon crawler. The top-bottom card-based mechanic for both moving and combat is very droll and never made sense to me. Then the cardboard standees of the enemies…at least make minis!!! Oh, and a backroom deal was struck between BGG and the Gloomhaven developer(s). Some of the big-wigs at BGG and those at Cephalofair/Isaac Childres “know” each other rather well, and that’s why Gloomhaven was consistently at #1. Pretty shady and disgusting if you ask me.
Scythe deserves to be NO.1, I think it’s a work of art rather than a board game that covers most Slavic cultures and landscapes.