Though last year was an absolute nightmare for many of us, being stuck at home for long periods and needing to find ways of keeping ourselves entertained meant that conditions were ideal for playing tabletop games, as long as we had company – or an internet connection for playing remotely, which led to some excellently creative ways of getting together with friends and family.
Consequently, I played a lot more board games last year than I normally would have. And here’s just a few of my favourites! Note that these aren’t necessarily 2020 releases – just games that I ended up playing last year for the first time.
I absolutely adore everything about Horrified, Ravensburger’s superb co-operative board game starring the most famous and iconic Universal Monsters. Having been obsessed with their creepy and often-misunderstood creatures from an early age, the fact that they’re so well represented from a thematic and graphic design point of view brought me endless joy. The game is positively oozing with theme and every monster feels very different to play against. The gameplay – which sees players racing around the board performing tasks that are appropriate to each antagonist they’re up against – feels a little like Pandemic, but the way that the difficulty can scale or be varied for the number or experience level of players is a neat touch, with even solo players catered for. It’s an absolutely beautifully packaged game and the love for the classic creations it features is clear to see, with B-Movie imagery everywhere and little references to the lore even in the names of the NPC villagers that you’re often tasked with rescuing. Wonderful stuff.
As the name suggests, this Bob Ross board game is a delightfully laidback experience, with players competing to be the first to achieve maximum chill through clever mixing of paints and usage of different painting techniques. It’s a slight variation of the Ticket to Ride formula, with players taking colours and brush types instead of trains, completing paintings instead of routes. The components are top notch, with the little easel that paintings are displayed on being a particular highlight. I adored the quotes from Bob Ross himself that you uncover when revealing Chill cards and the gentle competitiveness of the game means that it lacks the sometimes frustratingly cutthroat competition that mars the vanilla Ticket to Ride game, where plans can be upended at late stages of the game through no fault of your own. It’s fast paced despite the chilled out nature and theme – though be warned that it may well be difficult to secure a copy these days, as it was released as a Target exclusive back in 2017. Well worth getting your hands on a copy if you can – I’m sure the great man himself would have approved.
This might be a controversial inclusion, as I don’t think it’s a particularly well-loved game – perhaps because it’s not an open-world, crafting-led experience that reflects the source material – but I really enjoyed the neat layers of gameplay that make up Builders & Biomes. It’s a very clever design and, even though the actual game may not feel like classic Minecraft, the components are excellent and the hefty wooden block cube is really satisfying to chip away at. The escalating scoring rounds reward careful planning, but there’s also viability in going for an aggressive strategy to take down terrifyingly threatening mobs of different types instead of building if you so choose. There’s a lot here to get your head around, but it’s easy to learn the basics and there’s an awful lot of replay value here.
Finally, I have to include Star Wars: Outer Rim – probably the best game that I played in 2020 overall. A very sandboxy, experience that casts players as one of the Star Wars universe’s shadier characters – from a selection of rogues, smugglers and bounty hunters, such as Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Jyn Erso or Boba Fett, among others – looking to be the most infamous ne’er do well in the galaxy. You’re able to pursue a number of different, equally viable strategies and changing course isn’t a problem, whenever you feel like it. Hunting targets, recruiting crew members, buying and selling both legal and illicit cargo, undertaking missions for a number of different factions – all that and more is here. Though there’s a lot of moving parts in terms of the game’s design, it’s relatively easy to learn due to the nicely thought out introductory rules and accompanying A-Z of every rule in the game, which allows for easy look up of vital terms when playing. Most importantly, the theme is beautifully interwoven with the game’s design and it really does have that unmistakable Star Wars atmosphere. Now, where’s The Mandalorian expansion to give it that final touch of perfection?
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