I’m fresh off the heels of an article where I talked about my favorite board games that I played in 2019. In that article, I mentioned that it’s impossible to keep up with the ‘new hotness,’ and that we should spend time enjoying games that once enjoyed the spotlight.
However, that’s not to say that you can’t filter out the upcoming releases for the year to find the ones you’re most excited about. That’s exactly what I’m doing here!
When you look on BoardGameGeek at the scheduled releases for 2020, it can be really difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of what might interest you. Kickstarter has become a huge driver in board game sales, creating a market flooded with intricate miniatures and sprawling boards.
Lucky for you, I’ve taken the plunge into the list and found the top board games of 2020 that I’m most looking forward to.
First up is a game that might get overlooked if you were perusing the shelves of your FLGS. Project L is a puzzle-based engine-building game in a similar vein as geometry classics like Tetris. It involves some delightful little acrylic pieces that players fit into indented mats to complete patterns.
On your turn, you have a variety of actions available to you. What you might end up doing most frequently, however, is upgrading your existing pieces into other pieces that generally take up more real estate. The higher level pieces are more desirable for this reason.
Completing puzzles grants you extra actions and pieces, meaning that you can chain several puzzles together to score massive amounts of points in a single turn. It’s very much a lesson in solitaire, as there isn’t much player interaction, but even the losing players can find some victory in the puzzles that they managed to complete.
This game makes the list because it’s a lighter offering that will appeal to a large player base. It lacks complicated mechanics or rules, so it’s especially accessible to players who might be new to the hobby. If it plays as quickly as I imagine, it seems like this will be a hit at the dining room table.
Glory: A Game of Knights
Now let’s shift gears into one of the staple themes of board games: medieval times! This game, Glory: A Game of Knights, immediately makes me think of one of my most beloved movies: A Knight’s Tale. In this case, however, you start out as a knight instead of a squire, and you’re hoping to make a name for yourself in the cutthroat world of medieval tournaments.
As the game progresses, players will gain might, faith, followers, money, and better equipment to aid them in their future trials. According to the BGG page, there are ways to play with Player-vs-Player (PvP) combat and without, which is a nice option to have. That’s where the NPC Knight combat comes into play.
I’m intrigued by this game for a couple reasons. First, the theme looks excellent. In fact, the designers have participated in some medieval reenactments, so I’m expecting the game to be at least mildly historically accurate. Secondly, I’m itching to see how the combat works out, and seeing my knight progress from an unknown character to a major player in the tournament scene.
There has been some concern on the forums that this game might suffer from a ‘runaway leader’ problem, meaning that it’s difficult for players to gain ground on the player who is winning. It seems that there are a few catch-up mechanics to help alleviate this problem, but it’s definitely something I’ll be researching more thoroughly.
LANDER is a game that I was fortunate to preview at GenCon in 2019, and I’ve been following its development closely ever since. You can read my full write-up here, which will give you an in-depth dive into the finer points of the game.
Since I first played, the game has undergone a handful of significant changes based on feedback submitted by participants in their Play Before You Pledge campaign. There are a few UI improvements and typo fixes, but the one I’m most excited for is the addition of individual player trackers for resources. Handfuls of cards are nice, but they can be cumbersome to dish out each round.
The draw of LANDER is that it combines elements of many popular games while retaining its own unique identity. You’ll find negotiation mechanics reminiscent of Catan, territory placement, and economic planning. It really scratches a lot of itches.
LANDER goes live on Kickstarter on March 3, 2020.
I’m always down to try some unique concepts, and Dungeon Drop offers that in droves. In the game, players drop a collection of multi-colored cubes onto the table. This forms an abstract dungeon that players can loot and explore.
The concept reminds me of a Dungeons and Dragons prep article I read once. It was a creative way to quickly and randomly generate a map. You pick up a handful of dice, each one representing a different aspect of your map, like cities, tombs, dungeons, etc. You drop them on the table and boom, map done!
Applying this idea to a dungeon-crawler game sounds fun. There are quests, heroes specializing in specific abilities, and LOOT. Being able to have tangible loot to pile up and hoard is one of the biggest draws for me.
Perusing on BoardGameGeek, I see that there are already several expansions in the works for Dungeon Drop. For a game like this, on the fringe of novelty, expansion content is always welcome and needed to maintain interest and excitement.
And now for the second puzzle game to make my list, it’s the cat-themed abstract game, Calico! I’ve converted from a “cat person” to a dog-lover, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy the company of a furry, feline friend.
From what I can tell, the game is relatively simple. Players are sewing patches onto quilts to match colors, attract cats, and complete their personal scoring challenges. Your turn consists of placing a quilt tile and taking a new quilt tile from that market – that’s it. This qualifies it as a fantastic entry-level game, but the modular nature of the puzzle will bring in gamers seeking a crunchier experience as well.
In the case of Calico, I’m being drawn in by how simple the game is. At the same time, I really enjoy when developers and designers work mechanics into their games to increase replayability and ensure the game is different each time that you play. This game is primed for a mainstream market.
I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t include at least one cooperative game on my list for the year. For those following along at home, Endangered was one of the titles that I covered in my GenCon 2019 Preview. Although I didn’t get a chance to sit in for a demo, it has still earned a spot on this list.
Players must work together to save the endangered species of the world before they go extinct. The game rightfully draws a lot of comparisons to Pandemic, due to the similarities in player roles, impact deck, and the “spreading” board. In some early reviews, players have appreciated the theme of Endangered better; you naturally tend to have a deeper connection with saving animals like tigers and elephants than removing disease cubes.
As with most cooperative games, there’s a danger of one or two players taking over the game and directing the other players what to do. It’s something that you have to be aware of as a player, but it’s also very group-dependent.
One thing’s for sure: the box is bound to turn heads with the striking tiger emblazoned across the front.
Stonemaier Games Sand/Cape
My last game is a cop-out for two reasons. First, it’s actually TWO games. Secondly, I don’t have a title for either of them other than the codenames of Sand and Cape given by the publisher, Stonemaier Games.
Abram, how can you possibly be excited for a game that you know nothing about? Let alone two games that you know nothing about! It’s no secret that I follow the releases by Stonemaier Games with the fervor of an indoctrinated fanboy. Wingspan, Scythe, Viticulture, Tapestry – I’m always happy to bring any of them to the table.
That’s not to say that Stonemaier Games is above critique – it’s important to do your research before any game purchase to make sure that it’s something that you think you’ll enjoy. The biggest fans also tend to be the harshest critics; I just spend more time reflecting my enthusiasm than focusing on the issues.
Anyways, my interests have consistently aligned with the releases of Stonemaier Games, so I’m confident that at least one of them will be a game for me. I await with eager enthusiasm.
Looking Ahead to 2020
The board game industry continues to boom and it’s awesome to see excitement about the hobby with new people every day. Kids and adults can both find joy in such an awesome space.
Of course, there are a ton of games being released in 2020 that will be worth your time. If I tried to touch on all of them, I’d be here until 2021. All that to say, these are the top board games of 2020 that I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for.
And to you, I wish a happy new year of happy gaming!