According to Board Game Geek’s game rating algorithm, 15 of the best games ever have been released since 2015. This is obviously nonsense and has a lot more to do with factors outside the algorithms control (time for an overhaul, me thinks). But it did get me thinking – which releases in the past five years have been genuinely important?
For me, a game can do one (or more) of several things to meet this criteria. But most importantly, in some way, it should move the hobby forward. I feel the games below have done that, so deserve a pat on the back. I’m not saying they all reinvented the wheel. Or are even things I want to play. While some simultaneously arrived with similar offerings. But these feel like they rose to the top in their particular pool.
But to get 10, I had to go well beyond the Top 15. In fact I had to burrow as far as the top 500 or so. They’re in order or their Board Game Geek rankings – nothing else. And while I’m sure I’ll get push back on a few, I think it’s a solid (if at times personal) list. And before people start throwing things, I’m not saying it’s exhaustive. Please feel free to point out the games I’ve missed in the comments below – or why I’m wrong/crazy etc for including certain games over others (just remember – 2015 cut-off).
Top 10 important board games
- Gloomhaven (BGG Rank: 1)
More than any other, Gloomhaven has crossed the boundary between a board game and traditional RPG experience. It has a rich, detailed world; evolving characters; and an ongoing story. But also complex card play, involving teamwork, strategy and tactics. Number one game evs? No. But still important.
- Azul (38)
Abstracts had been very much overlooked for years before a sudden resurgence in 2017 led by Azul (or arguably the reissue of Santorini the year before). It paved the way for a string of dedicated abstract games to make a real dent in the market, thanks to simple rules being backed by great game play and components.
- Root (46)
War games as a genre has a lot to offer the wider gaming community. Root took many of these ideas – asymmetric powers, changing alliances, area control, point-to-point movement – and added a cutesy woodland them. Without taking away any of the nastiness. Flawed, yes – but a massive crossover success.
- Codenames (62)
Word and quiz games were in a pretty sad place until Codenames came along in 2015 (Paperback had arrived in 2014, but was a minor release – and probably helped by Codenames since). Loads of great games have followed it, reopening these genres to genuine creative thinking.
- TIME Stories (73)
Finally, someone got travel right. A co-operative narrative game, where you rerun the game several times to ‘solve’ the puzzle. But it was one-and-done – play through, then sell it and buy the next adventure using the same base mechanics. A risky sales pitch for a publisher, but successful – and much copied since.
Those outside the Top 100
- Welcome to… (156)
Roll-and-write games have exploded in recent years, but aren’t often critically acclaimed. Welcome To… did away with dice, replacing them with cards – changing the dynamic just enough while limiting the luck. It’s now the highest ranked roll-and-write game on BGG, and for me deservedly so.
- Exit: The Game (179)
TIME Stories proved one-and-one games were viable – so what better territory to explore than the growing world of escape rooms? This time it was even riskier, as components had to be torn or folded – often losing any resale value. An even bigger risk, but again gamers bought into it because the game was good enough.
- The Grizzled (324)
Through simple co-operative card play The Grizzled conjured troubling feelings of the despair of trench warfare in players; evoking history much as Freedom: The Undergrounds Railroad did back in 2012. This was only amplified by the death of the game’s artist, Tignous, in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.
- The Mind (531)
Is it even a game? A topic for another day, perhaps – but its release was certainly a phenomenon. A co-operative game where you play numbered cards in order, simply guessing when to lay based on how long the pauses are between plays. Real tension, real theatre – with real-time deduction. Fascinating, if not for me.
- XCOM: The Board Game (569)
If anyone was going to release a game with genuine use of a phone app it was going to be Fantasy Flight – alongside a licence of some sort. While pretty badly flawed, this is certainly proof of concept: a tense, real time co-op game with asymmetric roles creating a real movie feel.
Many highly rated games of this period have been thoroughly enjoyable – but I didn’t feel they brought enough to the party to figure. Even if I like them more.
Others seemed they should be on the list. Pandemic Legacy, for example. But it was 2011’s Risk Legacy that introduced ‘legacy’ to the hobby. But however you view the list, I think these games are worth taking a look at.
And look at the themes here. There’s lots of exploration in the co-operative game field, while also reaching outside of traditional gaming into theatre – exploring emotions through tension, or timing, or asymmetry, or the imagination. And there are still so many avenues to explore. What do you want to see next? I just hope it’s more interesting games – rather than pretty rehashes of old ideas cashing in on this wave of new players.