The Top 10 Board Games of 2022

2022 was one of the strongest years for board game releases. It’s right up there with 2012 and 2017 in my opinion. There have been so many quality titles that crafting this list has been a struggle. Games that were in consideration for my number one selection were pushed off unceremoniously as the year went on. It’s been wild and joyous and invigorating.

I will be posting a second list on Patreon comprised of my number 11 through 20 selections,

Now, the games.

10. The Mirroring of Mary King

Why it Matters – If nothing else, Jim Felli delivers arresting games. They also happen to be fulfilling. As I stated in my review, Mary King is an uncomfortable and challenging experience. It’s mechanically unique and serves an intriguing two player head-to-head design that feels like nothing else. It does so in service of capturing themes of identity and autonomy, displaying a wisdom that is unassailable.

Why it’s not Higher – Because The Mirroring of Mary King is uncomfortable, and because it’s strictly a two-player game, it’s a difficult one to engage. It hasn’t hit the table as often as I’d like. It’s also an untamed experience, prone to occasionally ending too early or producing game states which are insurmountable.

9. Cat in the Box

Why it Matters – This mind-bending trick taker walloped me. I didn’t expect to become so consumed by its contents. It urged me to return to my interests in quantum theory and informed my perspective. I think it’s brilliant and best in class. I also think it’s one of the most thematically proficient designs we’ve ever seen. You can read my full review here.

Why it’s not Higher – I struggle with this question as this very well could have been my game of the year. The trick taking genre is one I’ve grown in appreciation for over the years, but I’m not as absorbed with it as the industry seems to be in this moment. I also find this game to feel avant-garde, almost as if it wants to be scrutinized and discussed more than it wants to be played. It’s somewhat arthouse in that sense, despite the fact that it does play very well.

8. Long Shot: The Dice Game

Why it Matters – What a year for horse racing games. I adore Long Shot: The Dice Game and found it has brought a fresh perspective to the genre by integrating a roll & write foundation. This is, without a doubt, the best roll & write on the market as it utilizes those mechanisms to instill a snappy pace, yet it still retains the feel of a horse racing tabletop design. It’s brisk and engaging, offering a number of interesting decisions threaded into the drama. My full review can be found here.

Why it’s not Higher – That brisk pace disappears at higher player counts. The game is nearly simultaneous, except for when it’s not. In those moments, a slow player or two can grind the game to a halt. It’s lifeless and uninteresting when that happens, and you’d question how it’d even make a list such as this.

7. Cryptic Explorers

Why it Matters – This pushes all of my buttons. A macabre, heavy metal setting. One versus many dungeon crawler/skirmish. Indie.

I rarely agree to preview board games, but I made an exception for this one. And then, I reviewed it post-release as well with some updated thoughts. This is a tight design that’s economical yet rich in both theme and gameplay. Its setting is very unique, and the entire package comes together with the perfect amount of content. I could tinker with Cryptonaut squad builds all day.

I also am on record for being a vocal fan of the return to HeroQuest’s one board approach. Here, you get several boards each providing their own terrain and special rules. I’m fine if I never see a modular tile again.

Why it’s not Higher – This game can fizzle. It requires clever play on behalf of the Goddess player and just the right amount of pressure to maintain tempo. It’s also odd in that it works best at exactly three players. All of this results in it being a difficult game to pull off the shelf at times. Yeah, these are nitpicks.

6. Ready Set Bet

Two horse racing games in the year of our lord, 2022? I am here for it.

Why it Matters – This is pure fun. It’s perhaps best described as a party game. One player – or the official app – rolls dice and moves horses along a track. Everyone else is scrambling to place bets in real-time, reacting to the state of both the track and the betting mat. Interaction occurs due to players seizing betting spaces before their opponents. This creates a time pressure element with a frenetic tension that is wonderful.

Ready Set Bet is excellent due to its emotional undercurrent. When players are invested and everyone is shouting, it’s electric and hitting the exact mood that I seek in tabletop gaming. My full review can be read here.

Why it’s not Higher – This game requires the group bring the noise. If the table is not into it, then the experience will be dull and tedious. There’s a extremely stark contrast between great and poor plays of Ready Set Bet.

5. Return to Dark Tower

Why it Matters – Return to Dark Tower was my game of the year for several months. It blew my hair back and shook my spine. It’s the pinnacle of Restoration Games’ potential and one of the best adventure games on the market. It also is a sterling example of how to integrate an electronic app in a tabletop design without it suffocating the physical activity. Splendid game.

I wrote about this at Polygon.

Why it’s not Higher – As mentioned earlier, 2022 was a ridiculous year. At one point, it seemed like I was playing fantastic, revelatory releases week after week. Return to Dark Tower also suffers in that its price tag is ugly. Because there are so many exemplar games that cost a fraction of this box, it’s difficult to commit to a recommendation here.

4. Aeon Trespass: Odyssey

Why it Matters – This is the closest cardboard embodiment of an epic that I’ve come across. It’s massive in both physical size and scope, offering hundreds of hours of campaign play for hundreds of dollars. I fell into this one and I still haven’t climbed out of the hole.

It’s complex, but it’s also unequivocally compelling. The marriage of overseas map exploration with Kingdom Death: Monster-esque boss battles forms a compelling framework that hosts unparalleled narrative. The setting is wild and I found every moment of this game full of surprise and wonder.

I wrote many words about this game.

Why it’s not Higher – Aeon Trespass is too much. Most people will never complete it. I may never complete it having only worked through one of the three campaigns included in the core box. It’s also unavailable now until it’s reprinted.

There are moments in this game where it almost becomes fatiguing. You have to pace yourself and be prepared for the long haul. There’s no sampling of Aeon Trepass: Odyssey, you’re either here for the epic poem or you’re not.

3. Undaunted: Stalingrad

Why it Matters – We are at a point in this list where every single title is game of the year worthy. Undaunted: Stalingrad is one of the most interesting wargames I’ve ever played. This is primarily because of its campaign format and how it handles permanent casualties with force turnover. It elicits an emotional response to troop loss, placing the burden of command heavily atop the player’s shoulders.

It also was my first experience with the Undaunted system. It lived up to all of the praise it’s received and reinforced the point that I should have played these games sooner. That’s fine, however, as I jumped into the system with, as far as I can tell, its best iteration. I am looking forward to Battle of Britain and seeing how this framework evolves.

My full of review of Undaunted: Stalingrad can be found here.

Why it’s not Higher – The campaign format is somewhat limiting. It’s also a huge box and quite costly. Finally, there is the possibility of the campaign turning lopsided and softening the stakes from the experience.

2. Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Why it Matters – I’m a huge fan of racing games. Flamme Rouge previously held the top spot in my estimation. That’s no longer the case.

This is such a dynamic and lean game. It builds upon the foundations of Flamme Rouge with an entirely new body and tweaked engine. The core system of adding heat to your deck in order to perform more dangerous maneuvers is sound and compelling, but that’s not all the game has to offer. It includes a full-fledged expansion-worth of content to explore. From multi-race circuits to deckbuilding, the additional options are meaningful and elevate the design to something truly special. This is the best racing game ever designed.

My full review is at IGN.

Why it’s not Higher – I can’t offer anything satisfactory here. I wish I could award Heat my not-so-coveted game of the year title as well.

1. John Company 2nd Edition

Why it Matters – If you read my previous commentary on this game, this selection is no surprise. I remain an unashamed Cole Wehrle fan. His games have dominated my top 10 lists for the past few years, and those selections still hold up. Oath is singular. Pax Pamir is still revelatory. and John Company may be his best work.

This type of historical sandbox touches on elements of simulation, negotiation, and even a faint sense of roleplaying. There’s an engrossing totality here that is remarkable. I think about John Company often. It’s the type of design that would be justified as someone’s favorite game.

Can Wehrle do it again in 2023 with Arcs?

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