Hey, it’s starting to feel like things are getting back to normal. At least a little bit. 2022 was a very good year for board games, with several top-tier releases taking up substantial time at my table. Not only that, but I was able to game at a much more regular cadence than in the previous two years. I won’t say things are back to normal, but they are about as close as we’ve been in three years, and as a result, I played a lot of amazing games in 2022.
So for the first time in a couple of years, I present to you my top 10 games of 2022.
Tiletum feels like a return to form for the “T” games, and while we’ve grown a bit tired of the T-oriented schtick of games that are ridiculously hard to pronounce, any time Tascini and Luciani team up, you know the game is going to be good. The combination of tight movement mechanics and meaningful decisions at every step and the way the pair lean into their use of dice placement mechanics to generally good effect make for an engaging, accessible mid-weight euro that will hit the table plenty in years to come.
I’ll be honest. I had Lacrimosa much higher on this list a few weeks ago. It’s not that I no longer like it. Far from it. The dual-use cards and the way the game approaches a rarely implemented theme, both visually and mechanically, make for an engaging, fun puzzle of an experience each time I’ve played it. But there are cracks there as well. The map movement is a bit lacking, and the luck of the draw can impact strategy late game, even with the way the decks are seeded, making it a better game at 3 and 4 than 1 and 2. All that said, Lacrimosa is a beautiful production, a fun game to share with others, and one that will stay on my shelf for years.
8. Twilight Inscription
We were not alone in making fun of Twilight Inscription when it was first announced last summer. But we were quite vocal about it. A roll and write based on one of the most beloved board games of all time? Sure, why not. Twilight Imperium? Okay, now you’re pushing things. How do you boil down an epic 6-8 hour 4X experience into a 1-2 hour roll and write (oh, and it’s a 1-2 hour roll and write)? Apparently, you take big swings, and for the most part, those swings paid off. Twilight Inscription is engaging, decision-rich, and provides a strong baseline for everything I love about both the board game and roll and writes. I will likely shy away from playing with larger groups, but alone or with two, it’s been a whole lot of fun.
7. Cat in the Box Deluxe Edition
I notoriously hated trick-taking games for years, mostly because the first few I played when I entered the hobby were not very good. It turns out that when they are done well, they can be engaging, challenging, and socially fulfilling in ways few other games can pull off. Cat in the Box takes all of those things and turns them up a notch. While the game won’t have the staying power of the very best trick-takers that can be played thousands of times without a dip in fun, the clever way it integrates a board-based mechanic and the self-bidding style mechanisms of the paradox system is brilliant and turns your brain inside out.
6. Ark Nova
I wasn’t sure if I’d include this on the list because it came out almost a full year and a half ago (in Europe), and so many people played it early and often, but we only got our copies in February last year (like everyone else), and it truly is a 2022 release in our eyes. We liked it a lot, and I’ve returned to it many times over the last year, mostly in solo play, because full tables playing this game can take hours and hours, but I also found myself returning to Terraforming Mars a bunch of times in 2022, so it hasn’t risen the ranks as much or as fully as it has for others. As a tableau builder, puzzler, and engaging game experience, it’s among the best of the year, though.
Now, I get to break my rule from above because I got to play Atiwa in 2022 (at PAX Unplugged), and my copy arrived just a week or so into 2023, so I’m counting it! Uwe Rosenberg’s games rarely do anything to fundamentally alter the original formula he’s been playing with from Agricola 15 years ago. But that’s not a bad thing, and with Atiwa, he does some interesting new things, mainly with the theme and the way the player must not just harness nature but work in tandem with it to succeed. I like the new trend towards fewer resource types and streamlining of the worker placement elements in Rosenberg’s games, and this one, while not as lean as Nusfjord, finds a great balance that has been fun to play.
I first played this game early in 2021 on Board Game Arena, and most of my plays still sit on the digital platform rather than at the table, but the cardboard version made its way into collections in 2022, so regardless of the long, drawn-out process that Kickstarter and digital releases have on hype, it remains one of the best games of the year. Xavier Georges finds a way to balance the flow of traditional “grow and expand” euro mechanics and the thematic necessities of a game about Andrew Carnegie in a fun, engaging, heavier euro.
If Alexander Pfister had just rethemed Mombasa and called it a day, I likely still would have included Skymines on my list for the year. Those mechanics are among my favorite in a board game, and the theme made Mombasa difficult, if not impossible, to get to the table, so giving me a version that isn’t so problematic is a big win. But on top of updating the theme to address these issues, Skymines also adds new mechanics, advanced ways to approach the game, and a solo mode, all of which elevate the game further for those who have already played and new players alike. A wonderful game, an all-time favorite, and well worth tracking down.
2. The Guild of Merchant Explorers
I love my big, heavy games, but I don’t get to play them all that often, so it’s the lighter fare with the puzzly element that tends to stick the hardest. Games like Sprawlopolis and Cascadia hit my table over and over again and rise high up on my top ten lists because they are so accessible but have such emergent depth. In 2022, that game was The Guild of Merchant Explorers. The game marries flip and write mechanics with a growing game space and variability to create a truly unique experience with interesting decision spaces in a category of games that can often feel generic and samey. A truly amazing game.
1. War of the Ring: The Card Game
This should come as no surprise. War of the Ring: The Card Game was an unequivocal buy for both Chris and me and was our 2022 Game of the Year. For me especially, this was not a guarantee. War of the Ring is my all-time favorite board game, one that I will play with anyone, anytime, regardless of the time it requires, and a card game version of that, while enticing, was not guaranteed to be a winning formula. Thankfully it was. By working with Ian Brody, whose Quartermaster General series seamlessly integrates card play into a broader complex two-player system, Ares Games was able to craft a tight, engaging, carefully balanced card-driven version of War of the Ring. Mechanically, it is wholly unique, but thematically, it feels very similar, and that’s as big of a win as you can have.