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2020 EOY Favorites : Leticia

notebook background with text "leticia’s favorite games of 2020* played for the first time this year, not just new!"

Every year we like to highlight our favorite games of the past year. Unlike a lot of year end lists though, we like to talk about not just new games, but games that are “new to me” for the year. So much of the board game hobby can focus on the “cult of new” that older games that are also fantastic and get overlooked after they’re new.

Arkham Horror (Third Edition)

This is my favorite find of 2020. I played it once, and then immediately had to buy a copy. It’s a cooperative game with a similar feel to Pandemic, i.e. you are working together with a group of diverse characters to save the world, but in Arkham Horror you’re saving it from being destroyed by old gods trying to break back into our world, as opposed to eradicating a global pandemic. (So a nice break from reality.) Arkham Horror also has a stronger story element to it than Pandemic, and I’m always a sucker for a good story-driven game. Practically, what this looks like is that your successes and failures change the story as you go, shifting your goals and focuses, which also means that there’s no basic “you win/lose when…” Not only is this completely scenario based, but it changes within scenarios themselves according to your rolls, monster spawnings, and random token drawings. Another aspect that I really appreciate is that each character’s powers not only add to the story, but actually have a significant impact on game play, offering a chance to strategize if you so desire while choosing your characters. My one caution with Arkham Horror is that every time I’ve played it, it’s taken us about 4 hours. But if you’re looking to while away some hours, why not do so in a Lovecraftian story? (Bonus: If you’re quarantining alone, Arkham Horror has a solo mode.)

 

Unlock!

This is a game I recommended and watched get played a lot in the before times (when Bonus Round was a board game cafe), but I didn’t get around to actually playing it myself until this year. For me, it’s been a nice solo activity for when my brain just can’t handle any more Netflix and needs a little stimulation. Since these games are basically app-driven escape rooms in a box, they’re only one-time plays, but each story is entertainment for about an hour, give or take, depending on how well you’re doing/how willing you are to ask for hints. (My best time so far is 40 minutes, but they usually take me about 75 because I’m not great at them.) They also make great re-gifts since you don’t have to alter the cards as you play. My favorite box so far is the Timeless Adventures, but I’d recommend starting with either the Mystery or Escape Adventures to get familiar with how the game designers think and hide clues. But whichever set you start with, may your games be filled with luck, keen eyesight, and cleverness.

 

5 Minute Dungeon (or 5 Minute Marvel)

This game. The weekend that my friends introduced me to 5 Minute Dungeon, we spent literal hours playing it and trying to win. Turns out 3 player mode is the hardest to beat. (Do I have any proof of this outside of our experience? No. Do I 100% believe it? Yes.) Now, I haven’t played 5 Minute Marvel, but I do know that the basic game mechanics between the two are similar enough that I feel confident recommending either version. I am personally just a little more inclined towards 5 Minute Dungeon because my nerdiness lies slightly more in the D&D realm than in Marvel. But whichever universe you choose to go with, this is the perfect game for those friends with short attention spans, or if you just want something fast-paced and easy to play. The concept for the game is that you have just 5 real-time minutes to work together and defeat a deck of monsters/villains by playing cards with matching symbols from your hero decks. It’s stressful, it’s fun, it’s addicting, and if you’re in need of something new to shake-up your game nights, it’s a great choice.

Kids on Bikes

Kids on Bikes is a little different than the other games on my list because it’s not a board game, but an RPG (role playing game). Through it, you and your group of friends get to become a motley crew of children, adults, or teens, and go on an adventure in the style of ‘E.T.’ or ‘Stranger Things.’ Though I’ve been a huge D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) nerd since college, I haven’t really explored other systems, and am glad I was finally able to give this one a shot. I love the simplicity of its rules and character creation, which make it a great choice for both those looking to start playing RPGs, and for veteran gamers who just want a change of pace. The simple structure also makes it a great choice for a one-off game, though longer campaigns are definitely possible. I also really appreciate the emphasis Kids on Bikes places on collaborative story-telling. Where most RPGs leave world creation and overall plot to the person running the game, this one provides questions so that the players can work together to create the world their characters inhabit, and encourages them to be just as responsible for the story-line as the GM (game master). And in my experience, this leads to some truly wonderfully silly adventures (including fighting giant chicken gods and investigating alien meteor dust that causes superpowers), that I would never have come up with on my own. So if you need some laughs in these less than ideal times, or just want to stretch your creative muscles, might I suggest a foray into the world of Kids on Bikes?

 

Architects of the West Kingdom

Alright, cards on the table: I’m cheating a bit with this game. Technically I played it for the first time a year or two ago, but after my first play-through I was sadly underwhelmed. It wasn’t until I gave it a second chance this summer that I feel like I really discovered it, and realized how clever it is. The goal of the game is to become the most renowned architect of the West Kingdom (shocker), but there are plenty of interesting ways to achieve that status. For example, one of my favorite mechanics is the morality tracker, which adds consequences (and benefits) to your actions. With it, you can choose to build at the Cathedral and increase your morality for extra points at the end of the game, or you can let your morality drop and get goods for cheap or money fast. But if you rise too high, you won’t be able to visit the Black Market for discounted goods, and if you fall too low, you’ll lose points at the end of the game. I’ve seen people win playing with either strategy. Architects also puts a clever twist on your typical worker placement game, in that the more workers you have at a location, the more goods you receive from them, creating some interesting long-term strategy. I also appreciate that while you’re mostly doing your own thing, there’s just enough player interaction to keep everyone engaged, and since you can only take one action at a time (as long as those you are playing with are fairly decisive), turns move rather quickly. All around, it’s a solid medium-weight strategy game that has more than earned its place on my shelf.

 

Most of these games can be purchased at the cafe or online for pickup. At Bonus Round, there’s a game for everyone, and we’ll help you find it!

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