Let’s start with the usual caveat: I haven’t played every game published in 2019.
Not even close.
So I welcome and encourage you to chime in with your favorites to add to this lineup of the best new tabletop games I had the pleasure of playing this year.
And a special shout out to all of those who played them with me.
Era: Medieval Age
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Eggert Spiele/Plan B Games Europe
Giving three dimensions to some game mechanics used elsewhere, Era: Medieval Age is a roll-and-build with just a bit of take-that to keep it from being strictly solitaire. Players each have a peg board on which to construct a kingdom. Starting with the same elements and dice, players roll to acquire goods that can be turned into buildings. But workers have to be fed, sickness avoided, and walls constructed for maximum protection and, ultimately, maximum points. Brisk game play, clear directions, and multiple paths to possible victory make this one a frequent visitor to the table.
Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave
Publisher: Stonemeier Games
Beautiful design is just the starting point for this thematically original game that involves birds, eggs, and nests. Ornithological knowledge isn’t required, however. Just strategic smarts as you build rows of birds in different environments. The more birds in a row, the more actions are sparked. But secret goals (i.e. acquiring the most birds under a certain wingspan length) make the outcome questionable until the end game. Like Era, above, Wingspan also has the added benefit of a single-player mod.
Designers: Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich
I like to have at least one easy to learn card game in the mix. The inside joke of this one’s title refers to games in which, at the end game, you get a certain amount for this, a certain amount of points for that, bonus points for something else, etc. Only after tabulating do you know who won. In this brisk card game, it’s an actual salad that you are creating in order to score those points. Cards represent vegetables, but their flipsides have scoring rules for the veggies you’ve collected. You might acquire lots of onion and cabbage, for instance, and then face the dilemma of whether or not it’s worth taking a scoring card that gives you loads of points for the former but takes away points for the latter. On the culinary card game front, this one deserves a spot on the shelf next to Sushi Go!
Designer: Rob Daviau
Publisher: Calliope Games
This uniquely designed pirate game involves bidding on layers of crates. Your task is to cover up detrimental spaces and maximize your treasure over a series of rounds. But you only score what you can see from above.
Designers: Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Prospero Hall
The classic Universal Studios horror icons—Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, etc.—team up against your team in this cooperative game that’s a bit different every time you play it. Players share knowledge and resources as they race around a village acquiring weapons, destroying coffins, saving (or sacrificing) villagers, and at first avoiding—then attacking—the creatures. A variety of challenges—and a system for increasing the difficulty—add to the fun. And bonus points for having Wilbur and Chick (Abbott and Costello) among the villagers.