The end of 2022 is almost here! Dang, that went by so quickly! In all honestly, this was the first year that it felt like life in general was returning to a somewhat new normal. I feel so fortunate that I got to travel and attend multiple game conventions, where I played a lot of games and hung out with some good people. Here are the top 10 games I played for the first time in 2022.
This Dune is a streamlined version of the 1979 game that many people grew up playing. I played this game for the first time this past Consimworld, and I had a great time. It’s definitely a convention game because it can run a little long, depending on how experienced the gamers are, but it’s a great implementation of all the different warring factions in the source material (for me, it’s just the 2021 movie — I’ve never read any of the books. Don’t take my nerd card away from me). There’s treachery, secrecy, negotiations, battles for spice, an always-moving storm and the most dangerous thing of all — the sandworm! I would definitely love to play this again at the next con I go to.
9. Project L
I love puzzles, and Project L is a Tetris-inspired board game that is also an engine builder. Pretty cool, right? It comes in a sleek little black box, with lots of plastic tetromino pieces and decks of thick-cardboard puzzle cards, in which you place those plastic pieces to complete a puzzle. When you complete a puzzle, you gain victory points and/or new puzzle pieces, enabling you to complete more challenging puzzles that require more pieces for more VPs. Placing all those colorful pieces to create a mosaic puzzle feels just so satisfying, as does the stack of puzzle cards you accumulate throughout the game. It’s a great short game, one that I’ve played a lot throughout the year.
Merv is a crunchy, city-building economic game, one that follows a trend in the past couple of years where the entire game comprises of very few actions — 12 to be exact in this game — but many things will happen as a result of that one action, making the game both brain-burnery and fulfilling. Players make their way around the board three times, and on each side, they take a turn, first by placing a building on a location in the row or column where you decide to place your meeple or activating a building in that row or column if there’s a building already there. Buildings will net resources, and then you can choose a site action (caravansary, palace or marketplace), gain a favor or deploy a soldier. If you move ahead on your turn farthest on a side, you’ll start as the last player on the next turn, unless you pay camels to bump ahead. The goal of the game is to gain favors with the palace, collect resources to fulfill contracts, move along the Silk Road to trade and build city walls to avoid the Mongol destruction that happens at the end of the second and third year, which is the last round of the game.
I never play solo games but was intrigued by Heading Forward. Based on designer John du Bois’ own experience, in this game you assume the identity of someone embarking on the long road to recovery following a traumatic brain injury. This solitaire card game mimics the choices one must make while rehabilitating, deciding which skills to relearn or which will atrophy based on non-usage, while under a deadline pressure before your medical insurance will run out. It’s a unique experience that offers a glimpse into rehab’s long and difficult process, and the uncertainty of recovery, the result of which could be uplifting or heartbreaking.
I got a chance to learn how to play Stonewall Uprising at SD Hist Con with the designer Taylor Shuss himself! Stonewall Uprising is 2-player asymmetrical deckbuilder in which one side plays as The Man and the other as Pride and they fight each other for or against civil rights. It is a notable moment in board game design when a game with this subject matter that’s near and dear to the designer can be published by a wargaming company. Taylor told me about all the research he did on the various historic people who helped the Pride movement get to where it is today. Each side starts with a basic deck of cards, and the game eases you into building your deck. It plays through the 1960s-1980s, which leads into the catastrophic losses the gay community faced with the AIDS epidemic. There are also rule twists that set this apart from a standard deckbuilder. When folding early, which will give your opponent some traction on one of the support tracks, but you’ll be able to draw more cards the following round.
Who knew betting on horses would be so fun? Long Shot: The Dice Game manages to capture the chaos and excitement of a day at the races — all in a compact roll-and-write package that plays 1 to 8 people. With each turn, the active player rolls two dice, one that pushes a specific horse and the other one by how many spaces along the race track. Players then take one action based on the horse die, and they can either take a concession, mark a helmet on a horse, mark a jersey on a horse, bet up to $3 on a horse that matches the horse die, or straight up purchase a horse. The helmets enable you to make bets on that horse after they pass a certain point on the track, and the jersey allows you to attach a second horse to a primary horse to move one spot after the primary horse moves. The concessions action allows you to get bonuses when you cross off a row or column. The game is fast-paced, and you’ll never know whose horse will cross the finish line! The person with the most money at the end of the game wins.
Akropolis was a total surprise for me. It’s a game that was introduced to me at the end of a game night when we had about 30 minutes left before calling it a night. What I thought would be a quick filler is an elegant, streamlined drafting tile-laying puzzle, a game that plays in under 30 minutes. On your turn, you choose a tile from the construction site; the first one costs zero, but if you want to get one farther down the line, it’ll cost you one stone each spot. You then place the tile into your city. The tiles themselves are one large shape made up of three hexes. When you place the tile into your city, it must border at least one edge of another city tile, or you can place it on another level as long as it covers three hexagon tiles underneath it. The three types of construction: quarries, plazas and districts. Quarries don’t score points but get you stone when they’re covered. There are five types of districts, which score differently and have their own placement rules. Lastly, the plazas are multipliers for these various districts. But a district won’t score any points until you get a matching plaza of the same color into your city. The result is tense drafting and an enjoyable city-building puzzle.
I am not the best at deduction games, but there’s something about Paint the Roses and its semi-cooperative deduction gameplay that makes this game so worthwhile. The theme is Alice in Wonderland, and you’re all trying to finish the Queen’s garden before she cuts off your head. On your turn, you choose one of the four tiles face up and place it in the garden next to other tiles. Each tile has a colored flower and a shrub behind it, one of the four symbols, a heart, clubs, spades or diamond. You and others then place cubes to determine if the placement satisfies the secret objective card in each of your hands. After each turn, you have to make a guess about someone’s objective, based on the cubes on the board. They can either be colors or shapes, or both, as objectives get harder. If you guess wrong, the Queen starts chasing you across the board — faster and faster as the game progresses — and you need to win before she gets to you. And because nobody exactly knows what everyone’s individual objective is, there’s no problem of one player taking over the game and making decisions for everyone.
2. Honey Buzz
Honey Buzz is an excellent worker-placement economic game, all packaged together in the cutest way possible: bees, flowers and whimsical animals. This game is delightful and crunchy, and you place your beeples on the board to collect various tiles to place into your hive. If there are already beeples at that action spot, you must place exactly one more beeple to take a tile. When those tiles create a pattern, all the symbols on the tiles activate, either producing nectar, coins or more beeples; selling items to the market or completing an order; or activating any other symbol in the pattern if you have a wild symbol. As various types of nectar are sold to the market, their price drops and multiple nectars drop too low, the market crashes, triggering the end of the game. There are also objectives that players can claim throughout the end or at the end of the game. Honey Buzz is a fantastic combination of economics, worker management and puzzle-laying. This game is definitely buzzworthy!
And here we are at No. 1: Twilight Inscription. I seriously have not stopped talking about this game since playing it for the first time. It’s the most epic of roll and writes, an ambitious project set in the world of the galactic classic Twilight Imperium. It feels so much more than a regular roll and write, while maintaining the feel and characters of the TI4, all in a game that’ll last about 2 hours. The game can also look intimidating upon first glance, but once you get started, the symbols are all easy to interpret and gameplay feel sintuitive. The hardest part of the game is deciding which direction to go and which boards to invest in. Each player has four boards: Navigation, Exploration, Warfare and Industry, and each round begins with an event. There are 25 event cards in the game. During an event, there are dice rolls preprinted on the event card, and each player can choose to cross off those symbols on one board of their choosing. Once everyone is done, the dice are rolled, and players must cross off those new symbols to the active board they’ve already chosen from the event card. This is how everyone’s game can branch off in different directions. Should I explore more systems, or should I invest in warfare? Or maybe it’s worth unlocking these technologies and collecting bonuses for later. So many choices! There are also bonuses for reaching Mecatol Rex first, naturally, and other game objectives scored at the end. Overall, Twilight Inscription just looks so slick, especially with the fancy orange shiny markers that really pop against the blue backdrop of each sheet. Plus, the big chonky dice feel good to roll.
And that’s my list for 2022. Thanks, friends, for making it all the way through this list. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, and here’s to bigger and better things in 2023! What are some of your favorite games you’ve played in the past year?