While a common topic, I think top 10 lists of yesteryear’s games are becoming increasingly relevant. The last five years in particular have seen a huge rise in releases, Which means the ease of finding classics from the archives is diminishing.
I was inspired to start this up after listening to the recent Game Pit podcast on the same topic. It was also my first full year back in the hobby, although I didn’t buy any 2009 games that year (only the Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium expansion). In fact I’ve only ever owned five of my Top 10 below and currently own only three – although two others are on my (actually very short) wish list!
But in terms of classics, 2009 wasn’t perhaps the best year to start. There are no genuine 2009 new release games in the BBG Top 100 of all time. Compare that to five Top 100 games from 2008, which also included top sellers such as Dixit, Ghost Stories and Formula D, and it’s a slightly duff year in comparison. But there are still quite a few gems I’d highly recommend getting in your wayback machine to check out.
My Top 10 board games of 2009
2-4 players, 90 mins
I picked this up in 2010, shortly after its release. It became my first Feld – and you know what they say about your first. Much like his other top titles, it blends euro game mechanisms with a ton of ways to score and a nice little chunk of push-your-luck: all in a sub two-hour package. A dull theme that blatantly doesn’t work gives it minus points, but there’s more than enough fun to be had to make up for it.
2-4 players, 30 mins
Back in 2011, a little tired of Carcassonne, I went looking for a similar game and found this beauty. I enjoy the visceral and visual elements of tile-laying, and while this is a family level title it has enough depth to keep more strategically minded gamers happy too. While each player builds their own tableau, there’s a subtle yet important (and brilliant) competitive element in the tile collection. Well deserving of a reprint.
2-4 players, 90 minutes
I’ve only played once ‘in real life’, but Egizia is a regular favourite of mine at online gaming website Yucata. It’s another worker placement euro game utilises an under-used mechanism. You take actions along a track, but once you take one you can’t go back to a previous one you passed by. It makes for loads of tough and interesting decisions, while the Nile in ancient Egypt is a compelling setting. Sadly though, currently out of print.
2-4 players, 60 minutes
Going one better than even Egizia, I haven’t even managed one real life play of Finca. And, once again, all my plays have been on Yucata. Annoyingly, I managed to miss its 2018 Kickstarter reprint and again missed its booth at Essen before they’d sold the last few copies. But why do I want it? It’s a sub-hour (check) euro game (check) using a clever rondel system (double check). It’s simple yet strategic, while also being tactical and competitive. Check check check etc etc. Want!
3-5 players, 90 mins
Endeavor is another 2009 game that enjoyed a successful Kickstarter in 2018 so should be relatively easy to find. (Now as Endeavor: Age of Sail). This was another 2011 purchase for me and an instant hit in our gaming group. It has a solid worker placement mechanism, but more area control conflict than your average euro. Plus, a clever scoring system and just enough ways to diversify to keep it interesting over time. I traded it away a few years ago (when it was highly sought after) but would happily play it any time.
6. Tales of the Arabian Nights
1-6 players, 120 minutes
Enough euros. Let’s turn to a long and frankly daft storytelling game. It will last hours, and you can be well out if contention long before the end. But in a game where you make arbitrary guesses at what’s going to happen before reading a section of text and suffering (usually) the consequences – who cares? You meet a beggar. Do you kill him, or give him some money? One may seem the right thing to do – but this game simply doesn’t work like that. Is it even a game? I’m not sure. But it is tremendously good fun with the right crowd.
7. Masters Gallery
2-5 players, 30 mins
This is one of the better games from outside master designer Reiner Knizia’s pomp years (around the turn of the century). That said, it is a small box take on one of his earlier classic, Modern Art. For me this stripped-down version of the classic auction game loses nothing of real worth from the original. It merging a slew of auction game styles into a single whole, with a sprinkle of his patented clever, mathsy scoring ideas holding it all together.
8. Verflixxt! Kompakt
2-4 players, 20 minutes
Making roll-and-move not stupid isn’t easy, but this clever little game does just that. Original big box game Verflixxt was a big hit in 2005, earning a Spiel de Jahrs nomination. But for me this improves on the formula in a box a fraction of the size. This version only goes to four players, rather than six, but the premise is the same. Roll a six-sided dice and move one of your pieces along a track, claiming or blocking the best tiles as you go. A great, lightweight family filler game.
9. Campaign Manager 2008
2 players, 60 minutes
2009 must’ve been a good year for Yucata development, as this is another of my favourites from that platform. I haven’t played it on the table and don’t have it on my wish list. But I have fond memories of some fantastic close matches online. A two-player game, here you take on the mantles of Obama and McCain. You play cards as you battle for influence – and seats – across the US. There’s theme for those who want it, but the underlying push-and-pull w-euro mechanics are what make it tick.
2 players, 30 minutes
Two players compete to collect sets of cards and be the first to market to buy the most expensive wares. Or is better to hold back and receive bonus points for collecting larger sets? This is another I once owned but traded away after having my fill of it. But at a good price, and being this accessible, I’d recommend it for any growing board game collection that needs a few portable two-player fillers. I still play on occasion, usually to teach it to someone at a convention. And often they head off to buy a copy.
What’s not on my list?
I wanted to cover what some will see as huge omissions: I haven’t properly played Chaos in the Old World, Hansa Tuetonica, Tobago, Maria, Imperial 2030, or At the Gates of Loyang. I’ve played Loyang online, where I didn’t think it worked well at all; while I’ve played (and really enjoyed) a single play of Imperial (released in 2006), but not its predecessor. The others are embarrassing holes in my knowledge I intend to rectify (particularly Hansa and Tobago).
Carson City, Cyclades, Homesteaders and Dungeon Lords would probably make up the rest of a Top 10 list of euro games from the year. Both Dobble and Magic Labyrinth are outstanding children’s game every family with young children should own. Small World is a solid gateway game, but I never warmed to it. While The Resistance is a well regarded social game – but I hate social games. Finally, a mention for Space Hulk 3rd Edition. This almost made the list, because its stupid and fun. But its a 3rd edition. That can’t really count, can it?