Top 10 Board Games of All-Time | 2022 Edition

22 Dec 2022

Funny thing board gamers like to do, at the end of each year they rank every games they've ever played and check to see if how the games stand have changed across the years. Board games tend to remain favourites for years, so it didn't really make sense for people to do their favourite game released that year (which also differs based on language, availability). I'm joining in the fun this year, and thanks to the good folks at Pub Meeple for the ranking engine, my list for 2022:

10. Clans of Caledonia

Where else do you get to rep a Scottish clan, rear sheeps and make whisky in the highlands. It often gets referred to as "My first Terra Mystica" because of the similar hexagonal tiles ownership mechanism. However, the market is what shines in this game - you will never have enough time to produce all the goods you need, and other players are keen to sell their leftovers with the price of goods adjusted by demand. Plan well and you can enjoy combolicious turns when you fulfill on orders.

I've only played this online (news of reprint happening in 2023), and every game had a beautiful mix of brain burning plan ahead with sarcity driven players' interactions.

9. Scythe

Action selection, area control hybrid game. But at its core, it's an engine building game, the game allows you to invest in upgrades to do more on each action taken, but costing precious resources when improvements might only yield after several turns. Take control over hexagonal tiles indicating the resource that you could produce (including workers "Let's make some humans"), deploy mechs that give you powers and enlist recruits so you gain stuff when other people do stuff?

I still remember hating my first game. Holed up in my corner, I was focused on optimising my engine, and the end came before anything could happen. But it grew on me, I got the game on steam to play with AIs. Still painfully losing all my games.

8. Food Chain Magnate

Ohh a difficult one. This game has no training wheels and could let you spend 2 hours with nothing to show for.

Food chain magnate, you play as the CEO of a fictious fast food restaurant owner, operating in a world where food is in perfect competition. Decide who and when you will hire, and train your people to scale the corporate ladder. Put out advertisement to remind the homeowners in your neighbourhood that they got to eat, and hire zeplin pilots(?) to deliver soft drinks.

The achievements mechanism is unlike any other. Because of the first-players-get-all nature of the achievements, you have to react to what you think the other players are doing, and strategise to outmaneuver on these goals. Money is VP is money. Literally you spend victory points to invest for more, and you could end with none. It emulates market behaviour cleanly that it could have been made as a business school teaching tool.

7. Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Time waits for no man, the literal centrepiece in Tzolk'in is an ever turning wheel of time. Place your workers in one of six resource gears, and wait for time to do its thang. When you're ready to pull your worker from the gear, gain the resource indicated at the worker's location. Let your worker spend more time (and turns) on the resource gear and you get better rewards. But workers are limited and they cost a ton of corn to feed. Invest in technology to make your actions cheaper, and climb up the temple ladders for victory points.

Innovative worker placement elegantly implemented as spinning gears. I especially love the mechanism of investing for future rewards while balancing paying (feeding) your workers.

6. Terra Mystica

Land is tight in Terra Mystica, you play as a magical race to conquer land and build structures to grow your cities. Structures are your sources for resources and VPs, the joy of upgrading your resources overflow to neighbours who can then lose VPs to charge power. Power? You move purple discs around your 3 purple bowls in order to gain more resources. Also there are temple tracks to gain more resources and VPs.

Resource is tiiiiight and the wide decision space puts you right into the driver's seat. Money or spades? Upgrade now or later? Should you burn that power? A well executed plan feels buttery smooth and so satisfying when the reward combos come in. Fans go to Snellman's site for games and stats. Do also check out the well implemented AI.

5. Tigris & Euphrates

Tactical abstract area majority game. You lay tiles of 4 colours onto a board, vying for control over regions. Blue are river tiles that go onto rivers, red are temple tiles that double as combat tiles, black for wild and green required to obtain treasures. You lay tiles in strategic positions to prepare for combat, while each player keeps a hidden hand of tiles which they can use to bolster their military strength.

It's revenge the game, the joy comes from upstaging a player in a strong position when they don't expect it. And building your empire so well guarded it's impenetrable. Like similar tactical abstract games, you create situations of tradeoffs that your opponents have to make when advancing their objectives. Battling my green empire might weaken your hold on the black one. It's delicious, crunchy and a good afternoon of battle of wits.

4. Great Western Trail (2nd Edition)

Ah the cow game. Deck building, area space ownership game. You are a cowboy sending your cows to Kansas, passing through both neutral and stops owned by other players. You get to improve your hand of cows through using the cards at the stops (are you loaning your cows?) and get cash to buy more buildings, cows or employees.

I only started playing it this year, having played Maracaibo (from the same designer) before this. Hated my first play, it took so long and each turn felt inconseqeuntial. But I've come to realise that's the charm of this game. The decision space for each turn is small, especially good to AP-prone players, but understanding how each small action can contribute to the larger direction of your game. Make too many bad decisions and you can't catch up anymore. Play with experienced players and the turns fly by quickly when players skip the low value stops in the path.

3. Root

Root is a conflict simulator with cute animals. I wanted to venture out of the usual economic Euros and this came up so often. I was mesmerised by the faction design and the clever use of the simple deck of common cards that all factions play with. Mind blown each time I learned how to play a new faction, and you could easily imagine how the faction will affect the incentives of the game. However, difficult to bring to the table, learning curve for new players to onboard to the new factions is high.

2. Brass: Birmingham

Industrial revolution with a lot of trains. This is a classic Martin Wallace game. Innovative use of cards, iron and copper and a lot of trains. Brass gets to hit a sweet spot in crunchy Euros where the decision space is wide, but with enough constraints so each decision feel snappy. Cards determine what kind or where you can build, while connected cities determine how you can build them. Buttery smooth when played well. Satisfying.

1. Gaia Project

Terra Mystica in Space. The same delicious decision space from Terra Mystica, but it improved the VP heavy temple tracks to upgradeable technology tracks. Like TM, it's a game in which the answer to "what is the optimal move?" is "it depends". Depending on the situation on the board, the reward of each round and the randomly selected overall objectives of the game, you got to adjust your strategy. And I can't believe they even improved on the factions.

Some qualms, the plastic pieces are uglier than the wooden ones in Terra Mystica. And the faction design (as opposed to mechanism) pales compared to TM - the alien races feel boring and similar. Earlier on I shared that the factions improved, but the good factions still remain a small handful.

I understand why this is my number 1 game. The sense of agency you get over your fate in the game, the excitement of capturing a space before your opponent, the beautifully designed rounds that makes you feel like you've achieved all you can, but not more.

Games ranked 11 - 50

And the list from 11 to 50!

  1. Yokohama - Pick up and deliver with a clever worker placement/position mechanism.
  2. Trickerion: Legends of Illusion
  3. Barrage - This melts my brain
  4. Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition
  5. The Quacks of Quedlinburg - Probably the best push your luck game I've ever played.
  6. Spirit Island
  7. Concordia
  8. Pax Pamir: Second Edition
  9. Potion Explosion - Bejeweled but real
  10. La Granja
  11. Keyflower - Probably the best kind of bidding games
  12. Puerto Rico - Action selection classic
  13. Lost Ruins of Arnak
  14. Agricola
  15. Power Grid - I play this with my calendar app open
  16. Blood Rage
  17. The Search for Planet X
  18. Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure
  19. IKI
  20. Wingspan
  21. Sheepy Time
  22. The Quest for El Dorado - Good intro to deck building
  23. Undaunted: North Africa
  24. Carnegie
  25. Red Flag Over Paris
  26. Decrypto
  27. Hansa Teutonica
  28. Illumination
  29. Carcassone
  30. Mysterium
  31. The Castle of Burgundy
  32. For Sale
  33. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong - Social deduction game that I don't hate. And I can take on the forensic scientist (game master) role when I don't feel like lying
  34. Welcome To...
  35. Forbidden Island
  36. Lost Cities
  37. The King is Dead: Second Edition
  38. Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
  39. Fantasy Realms
  40. Dominion

Looking forward to

2022 has been a great year for releases, especially this month, when all the conventions are over. I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into the simplified versions of several games in my top 50 - Horizons of Spirit Island, Terra Nova and Wingspan Asia. The new game in the Undaunted series with Undaunted Staligard. And the new clank with Clank! Catacombs. Also to go through my unplayed games - Brian Boru, Auztralia and Wonderland's War.

Managed to log 187 plays this year and I miss a lot of the ones I play digitally. Looking forward to what 2023 brings!