2023 was a weird year for board games. There’s been some fantastic new games released, but by and large the completely novel has been eclipsed by a series of reimplementations of older, staple games. The majority of these titles add enough new to the original or standalone releases merely based on those systems, that I think they warrant inclusion in my list of top 10 board games for 2023. Without further ado, I give you Board Game Squad’s top 10 board games of 2023…
10. That’s Not a Hat
It may not be a hat, but it is a party game.
It’s a rare occurrence that you’ll find me list a party game on one of my lists, but this one really clicked for me at Pax Unplugged. It’s like Memory on steroids—which kind of scared me off initially, but there’s something unique here. I’ve never felt my memory het “twisted” before, but that’s what playing this game feels like.
I definitely recommend it as a filler or if you want to play a game with a group that gravitates to the lighter side end of the spectrum.
Embark on a hilarious journey of memory and mischief with “That’s Not a Hat,” the card game where your powers of recall are as important as your poker face. In this whirlwind of fun, players flip cards, each depicting a bizarre object like a hat, a shovel, or even a garden gnome. Remember what’s on the cards as they get shuffled around the table, but here’s the twist: you might have to fake it!
Bluff your way through, trying to offload the card by confidently declaring it’s something it’s not. The catch? Get caught in your fib, and you’ll rack up penalty points. The goal is simple – end the game with the fewest points to be crowned the champion of this laugh-out-loud, brain-teasing bonanza. Perfect for game nights with friends or family, “That’s Not a Hat” promises to be an unforgettable experience filled with laughter and lighthearted trickery.
- High Quality Components – A rulebook and 110 cards with simple illustrations for maximum memorization chaos.
- Ideal for Families and Travel – Whether you’re playing at home or on the go, That’s Not A Hat’s simple rules and compact packaging make it easy to play anywhere at any time. Accommodating up to 8 players, bring That’s Not A Hat to your next gathering!
- Great Replay Value – One game takes only 15 minutes! With everyone around the table laughing, you’ll want to play again and again. A guaranteed hit at your next party or game night!
- Easy To Learn – Clear instructions mean you can start playing right away!
- A Wonderful Gift – The perfect size for stocking stuffers, Easter baskets, and every occasion!
Cuzco is a re-theme of Stefan Feld’s Bora Bora. I’m generally not a huge fan of Queen Games. I think their games are overpriced and quality only so-so. But, Stefan Feld is easily one of my favorite board game designers, if not my favorite, and the City Game series has been a great way to access his out-of-print classics. Cuzco is no exception.
Yes. In Bora Bora, you had 5 god abilities:
Blue: Ignore die value restriction during placement
White: Placed die has value of 6 for action
Red: Score Fish pts in expanded region
Green: double man/woman action
Yellow: replace a task requirement
In Cuzco, there appear to be 15 god abilities- 10 new abilities plus the 5 listed above.https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/3023327/article/41787290#41787290
Just played in real life. Game play seems more intuitive. Progress around villages subtly different to island areas. Specific God Cards are not a collection item, more of an additional ability to be used during the three phases. Bora Bora seems cramped when playing with player boards.https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/3023327/article/43006668#43006668
And again, Cuzco easily represent one of my favorite games I played that was released in 2023.
“Cuzco” is an enthralling board game where players assume the roles of Chasquis, the legendary messengers of the Inca Empire. Tasked with the crucial job of delivering messages across the vast and varied landscapes of the empire, players will navigate the intricate and extensive Inca road system to reach distant villages and fulfill their duties to the Sapa Inca.
Throughout the game, players will experience the vital aspects of Inca culture and society. They’ll use a quipu, an ancient system of knotted strings, for recording and conveying information, and a pututu, a conch shell trumpet, to signal other Chasquis. This authentic representation of Inca communication methods adds a layer of historical depth to the gameplay.
The game is strategically designed around the concept of a relay system. Each Chasqui covers a specific distance between two tambo, where they hand over their messages to the next runner. The distance between these points varies, challenging players to optimize their routes and strategies to ensure swift and efficient message delivery.
As players traverse the empire, they encounter various challenges and opportunities to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. The player who best manages these elements and successfully completes their tasks will earn the favor of the Sapa Inca. The ultimate goal is to be recognized as the most efficient and reliable messenger in the empire.
“Cuzco” not only offers an engaging gameplay experience but also provides a window into the fascinating world of the Inca Empire, its people, and their ingenious communication system. The player with the most points at the end of the game emerges as the winner, celebrated for their contribution to maintaining the empire’s connectivity and coherence.
8. Age of Innovation
Age of Innovation is a completely standalone board game based on Terra Mystica. I was pleasantly surprised by this one—I didn’t think that Gaia Project could be topped as a Terra Mystica spinoff, yet we have a game that is closer to Terra Mystica, missing Gaia Project’s amazing tech track, and is still in my opinion superior to the original. It adds some mechanisms that increase the depth of strategy closer to Gaia Project but maintains the simplicity of the cult track. It also has completely modular factions—you customize their powers.
Gaia Project has historically been in my top 10 board games of all time since its release, and I’m currently undecided if I prefer Gaia Project and Age of Innovation.
Age of Innovation represents a fantastic 2023 board game release and there’s absolutely room in your collection for it, Gaia Project, and Terra Mystica (I was less of a fan of Terra Nova).
“Age of Innovation” invites players into a vibrant and dynamic world where strategy, development, and creativity reign supreme. Set in the Terra Mystica universe, this standalone game offers an expansive and unique experience with its blend of diverse factions, varied terrains, and endless possibilities for city-building and advancement.
As a player, you take control of one of the distinct factions, each endowed with unique characteristics and abilities. Your primary objective is to transform the world’s terrain to match that of your homeland. This terraforming process lays the foundation for constructing your buildings, which are crucial in advancing your faction’s prosperity and influence.
Building and upgrading structures is at the heart of “Age of Innovation.” Erect schools to make strides in science, workshops and guilds to enhance your culture, and universities to foster innovation. Accumulate books to unlock groundbreaking innovations and construct your palace to gain powerful abilities that can turn the tide of the game.
The game mechanics revolve around strategic placement and proximity to other factions. While expanding your territory, you must navigate the delicate balance between growing your own empire and interacting with neighboring factions. These interactions can either limit your expansion or provide significant advantages, adding a layer of strategic depth and complexity to the game.
“Age of Innovation” boasts an impressive array of components, ensuring each game session is a fresh and engaging experience. With 7 double-layered planning displays, 12 factions, 17 palace abilities, 18 innovations, and numerous other variable elements, the game offers a nearly endless combination of gameplay scenarios. The high-quality wooden parts further enhance the tactile and visual appeal of the game.
Developed by the creators of the award-winning Terra Mystica, “Age of Innovation” expands upon the beloved gameplay elements of its predecessor while introducing new mechanics and strategies. It’s an ideal choice for fans of Terra Mystica and newcomers alike, offering a rich, replayable experience that challenges players to innovate and strategize their way to victory.
7. Darwin’s Journey
I previously mentioned that one of my favorite designers was Stefan Feld. Well, enter one of my other favorite board game designers, Simone Luciani.
You have a game in Darwin’s Journey that at first glance looks like Newton 2.0, and due to sharing the same designers, it definitely has some of the same DNA, but is a completely different game. It feels nothing like Newton 2.0 in my opinion.
if you like Luciani’s more point salad-y designs, than Darwin’s Journey is going to be a hit with you. There’s a plethora of waterfall combos and chain reactions in this game, with myriad of ways of scoring points. It’s fantastic.
“Darwin’s Journey” is a thought-provoking worker placement game that takes players on an immersive journey through the Galapagos Islands, retracing the steps of Charles Darwin and his groundbreaking discoveries that shaped the theory of evolution. This game blends historical exploration with strategic gameplay, offering a unique window into one of science’s most significant voyages of discovery.
In “Darwin’s Journey,” players are tasked with recalling the memories of Darwin’s adventures. Each player controls workers who represent researchers delving into various scientific disciplines. These disciplines are crucial for carrying out a range of actions within the game, such as exploring the diverse ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, navigating the vast oceans, and maintaining correspondence with the scientific community of the era.
A standout feature of “Darwin’s Journey” is its innovative worker progression system. As the game progresses, each worker gains knowledge and expertise in specific fields, unlocking new capabilities and opportunities. This system not only mirrors Darwin’s own journey of learning and discovery but also adds depth and progression to the gameplay.
Players collect specimens from both land and sea during their explorations, contributing to the burgeoning field of biology. These specimens are then sent to museums, symbolizing the dissemination of new scientific knowledge and the advancement of human understanding.
The game is structured over five rounds, each offering players the chance to pursue both short-term objectives and long-term goals. Strategic planning, resource management, and a keen understanding of the evolving game board are key to success.
As players navigate through the game, they accumulate victory points through various achievements and contributions to science. At the end of the fifth round, the player with the most victory points is declared the winner, celebrated for their significant contributions to the scientific journey that mirrors Darwin’s own path of discovery and enlightenment.
“Darwin’s Journey” is not just a game, but an homage to the spirit of exploration and intellectual curiosity. It challenges players to think strategically while immersing them in a pivotal moment in scientific history, making it a captivating experience for both gaming enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
- EXPERIENCE EVOLUTION: Embark on an epic journey of scientific exploration, charting the path of evolution in this immersive board game.
6. Great Western Trail: New Zealand
Great Western Trail is easily one of my favorite games, and in the 3rd installment in the series of stand-a-line Great Western Trail games, New Zealand has earned the title of King.
Great Western Trail takes the best parts of the Rails to the North expansions, some elements seen in Argentina, and adds a whole lot more deck building to the game. It’s more complex than the original, so if that’s a turn off for you, then this may not be your kind of game. But if you love the original, and are curious about what a better albeit more complex version of the game may look like, then you’ve found your happy place in NZ.
“Great Western Trail: New Zealand” transports players to the scenic landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island at the turn of the 20th century, where they take on the role of runholders, the proprietors of sheep stations. This board game, a captivating blend of strategy and historical simulation, is the latest installment in the celebrated Great Western Trail series.
In this game, you’ll manage and grow your family-run sheep farm, facing the challenges of a new century. The key to success lies in acquiring and nurturing diverse and improved breeds of sheep, aiming to enhance the quality and value of your wool. Your decisions will not only shape the prosperity of your farm but also impact the lives of the laborers who depend on its success.
“Great Western Trail: New Zealand” stands out with its unique mechanisms that offer both long-term fans and newcomers an engaging and fresh gameplay experience. Renowned game designer Alexander Pfister has masterfully integrated familiar gameplay elements into the rich and dynamic setting of New Zealand, creating a game that is both recognizable and novel.
The game introduces new types of cards that are intuitively designed yet open up a myriad of strategic possibilities. Players will find the card management system accessible while providing deep strategic depth. The game’s dynamic nature is further enhanced by the inclusion of neutral buildings that change midway through the game, offering new opportunities and challenges.
A notable feature of “Great Western Trail: New Zealand” is the pathfinder track. Advancing on this track unlocks various benefits for players, including increased movement speed, bonuses, and valuable victory points. This aspect of the game encourages players to plan their moves carefully and adapt their strategies as the game progresses.
The game also introduces an innovative twist to the game’s ending mechanism, along with a new bonus tile market. These elements streamline the gameplay, reducing upkeep and keeping players focused on strategic decision-making.
“Great Western Trail: New Zealand” is more than just a game; it’s an epic conclusion to a beloved trilogy. Its combination of historical setting, strategic depth, and innovative mechanics make it a must-have addition to any board game collection. Players will be immersed in the challenges and triumphs of running a sheep station, navigating the changing landscapes and markets of New Zealand’s pastoral history.
- EPIC CONCLUSION: Join the trail one last time in the grand finale of a beloved trilogy! Experience the thrill of being a runholder as you traverse the vast fields of New Zealand, combining familiar gameplay with exciting new twists.
5. General Orders: World War II
General Orders: World War II represents my favorite game from Gen Con this year. You have yourself in an itty-bitty box, a 2-player only war game with some euro elements, plenty of battling, and worker placement. It’s relatively simple, but has a ton of depth.
“General Orders: World War II” brings an innovative twist to the wargame genre as the first worker-placement wargame, masterfully designed by the acclaimed duo David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin, known for their work on the Undaunted series. This two-player game transports participants to the pivotal battlefields of World War II, where strategic acumen and tactical foresight are key to victory.
In this game, players take on the roles of commanders of Axis or Allied forces, each vying for control over significant WWII battlefields. The game settings vary, offering intense combat scenarios in the rugged mountains of Italy or the strategically crucial islands of the Pacific. This varied landscape not only adds depth to the gameplay but also reflects the diverse challenges faced during the war.
The core of “General Orders: World War II” revolves around seizing and controlling strategic assets that provide commanders with special abilities, crucial for gaining an upper hand in the conflict. However, the game is not just about offense. Players must also balance their aggressive strategies with the essential tasks of securing supply lines, defending against aerial assaults and artillery barrages, and safeguarding their headquarters, which are vulnerable to enemy attacks.
What sets “General Orders: World War II” apart is its blend of traditional wargame tactics with the strategic decision-making typical of worker-placement games. This unique combination creates a dynamic and engaging gameplay experience, challenging players to think critically about each move.
Designed by a team with a proven track record of creating compelling and historically-themed games, “General Orders: World War II” promises an intense, tactical, and immersive experience. The game is compact and elegantly designed, making it both accessible for newcomers to the genre and deeply satisfying for veteran wargamers. It’s not just a game of battles; it’s a test of leadership, strategy, and the ability to outmaneuver your opponent in some of the most critical moments of the Second World War.
- From critically acclaimed design duo David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin
4. Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods
Simone Luciani made a 4x eurogame where you play as a pantheon of ancient gods vying for control of Gaia.
This one thus-far has been under-appreciated by the board game community. It’s designed by one of my favorite designers, but perhaps the oversized box, and lack of a current retail release has dampened the demand.
It’s also “more of a 3.5x game” as Ryan of Level Up Board Game Podcast said to me after our play. There wasn’t a whole lot of eXploration in the design.
However, if you want a great blend of 4x and eurogame, with a whole slew of different strategies to explore, than I highly recommend Anunnaki.
Introducing Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods, an enthralling board game that transports you to a bygone era, where your alien civilization is on the brink of extinction. In a quest for a new homeland, Gaia, the sacred realm of Atlantis, beckons as the promised land. Yet, this endeavor is far from solitary, for rival Houses from your civilization share the same ambition, and only one can reign supreme over Gaia!
Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods is a captivating 4x eurogame masterminded by the creative minds of Simone Luciani and Danilo Sabia. Set in a mesmerizing fusion of ancient mythology and science-fiction, each player assumes the role of a distinct House whose rulers are revered as gods by the Earth’s mortal inhabitants. As you immerse yourself in the game, you’ll construct bases, muster armies, take on the mantle of deities, embark on daring expeditions, advance your technology, negotiate lucrative trade pacts, vanquish local dominions, and engage in strategic warfare – all in a relentless bid to conquer Atlantis, replete with its treasured riches.
Throughout the game, various actions undertaken will yield immediate Victory Points, while the inclusion of randomized setup objectives promises substantial rewards at the game’s culmination, contingent on specific conditions. Ultimately, the player amassing the most Victory Points will claim the coveted title of the victor.
Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods distinguishes itself with its remarkable degree of player control, minimizing the influence of chance. At the heart of the game lies an innovative starred action-selection system, presenting players with intriguing dilemmas. You can opt to follow precise sequences, guiding your gods along predetermined paths on your starred player board, or you may choose to forego certain deities, allowing you the freedom to leap between different actions on your board, strategically selecting the best course of action at each turn.
Embrace the challenge of nurturing your alien civilization amidst the ancient human tribes and gods of Gaia. Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods accommodates 1 to 4 players and promises an immersive gaming experience lasting approximately 120 minutes.
The designer Dani Garcia is having quite a year between Barcelona and Arborea, he’s become a 2023 board game household name.
Barcelona is published by Board&Dice, a publishing company that consistently makes some of my favorite games.
The art or Barcelona is absolutely gorgeous, just like the city for which the game is based.
Barcelona is heavy point salad based system, with one million and one ways to score points. It’s a game where you have to pay a close eye on how the game progresses and what the other players are doing in order to ensure victory.
An interesting thing about Barcelona, is that the end game points can me much higher than is typical of most eurogames (in the 300s), so that can take some getting used to, but I find that’s easily parsed by your second game.
Barcelona is a very good, dynamic board game and I highly recommend you check it out.
“Barcelona” is a beautifully crafted city-building board game set in the mid-19th century, a time of significant urban expansion and architectural innovation in the heart of Europe’s most densely populated city, Barcelona. Designed by Dani Garcia, this game immerses players in the role of builders working on the ambitious “Eixample” project, a real historical expansion of Barcelona initiated in 1860 following the designs of urban planning pioneer Ildefons Cerdà.
In this game, players are challenged to construct buildings to accommodate citizens eager to leave the cramped confines of the old city. But it’s not just about building homes; players also develop the city’s infrastructure by constructing streets, establishing tram lines, and providing essential public services. Additionally, players may choose to delve into the world of Modernisme, an emerging architectural and arts style gaining favor among the wealthy, adding another layer of depth to the gameplay.
“Barcelona” combines classic Euro-style city-building mechanics with modern gameplay twists, offering players numerous meaningful choices and strategies. The game progresses over a variable number of rounds, punctuated by three scoring phases before a final scoring phase. In each round, players take turns, each consisting of multiple actions: a building phase to add new structures to the main board and preparation for their subsequent turn.
The game stands out for its high-quality components and thematic art design by Aleksander Zawada (Illustrations) and Zuzanna Kołakowska (Graphic Design). These elements provide deep immersion in the culture and architectural ethos of the period, enhancing the overall gaming experience.
“Barcelona” is elegantly simple in its available actions yet offers a depth of strategy that makes it an “easy to learn, hard to master” gem. The game accommodates 1-4 players, with a playtime of 60-90 minutes, and is suitable for ages 14 and up. Players accumulate victory points through various in-game achievements and also score points at the end of the game from unlocked spaces on their player boards and from Modernisme project tiles they have acquired. The player with the most points at the end of the game emerges as the winner, having most effectively contributed to the expansion and beautification of 19th-century Barcelona.
2. The White Castle
Now, unlike Barcelona where there’s so many different things you can do on your turn, The White Castle represents a simpler but equally strategic game.
You get a mere 9 turns in the entire game, so every action matters.
The White Castle is probably the most elegant game of 2023 and I suspect will be a staple of collections for many years to come.
“The White Castle” is an evocative and strategically rich Eurogame set against the backdrop of the majestic Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s most iconic and imposing fortresses. In this game, players step into the roles of leaders of competing clans during the era of Daimio Sakai Tadakiyo, vying for influence and prestige within the bustling life of the castle and its surrounding areas.
The game is a captivating blend of resource management, worker placement, and dice placement mechanics, offering players a multifaceted experience of feudal Japanese life. Each player leads a clan, with the primary objective of amassing the most points through strategic manipulation of courtly influence, bold resource management, and timely placement of workers.
Set over three rounds, “The White Castle” immerses players in various activities integral to the castle’s daily operations. Clan members are dispatched to tend to the serene gardens and the pond where koi carp swim, a place of beauty and contemplation open to all. Some are assigned to defend the castle, standing guard on its walls, while others navigate the complex social hierarchy of the nobility, seeking to ascend in the court’s inner circles and gain favor with the Daimio.
The game board is a visual feast, depicting Himeji Castle in all its splendor, divided into several key zones. The heart of the castle houses the Room of the Thousand Carpets, a focal point for courtly intrigue and social advancement. The outer areas include the meticulously maintained gardens and pond, as well as the castle walls where warriors vigilantly patrol. Additionally, the game features the area of the three bridges, where players collect different types of dice used for actions, and each player’s personal domain, where resources and worker reserves are managed.
Throughout the game, players will engage in a delicate balance of advancing their clan’s status, defending the castle, and enjoying the tranquil beauty of its gardens. Each action and decision contributes to a player’s score, with various activities awarding points in diverse ways.
“The White Castle” is more than just a board game; it’s an immersive journey into the heart of feudal Japan, offering players a chance to experience the intricate social, military, and cultural dynamics of the time. The player with the most points at the end of the match is declared the winner, having successfully navigated the complex web of strategies and risen to prominence in the shadow of the majestic White Castle.
- In The White Castle, players control one of these clans and want to score more points than the rest. To do so, they must amass influence in the court, manage resources boldly, and place their workers in the right place at the right time.
It was very close between Nucleum and The White Castle, but my favorite board game of 2023 is Nucleum.
Nucleum was co-designed by the great Simone Luciani (who also designed Darwin’s Journey on this list) and David Turczi.
It combined elements of my current favorite board game of all time, Barrage (designed by Luciani) and BoardGameGeek’s current #1 ranked game, Brass Birmingham, into an engrossing and beautiful eurogame that I find absolutely enamoring.
“Nucleum,” a heavy euro board game by renowned designers Dávid Turczi and Simone Luciani, plunges players into the heart of a 19th-century industrial and technological revolution in Saxony. This revolution is spurred by the groundbreaking invention of the Nucleum, an early nuclear reactor, by the ingenious Elsa von Frühlingfeld. The game combines intense strategy with a rich historical narrative, offering players a unique gaming experience.
In “Nucleum,” players step into the roles of ambitious industrialists in Saxony, riding the wave of economic prosperity and technological advancement brought about by the Nucleum. The game’s narrative begins with Elsa von Frühlingfeld’s remarkable invention using Uranium, which not only revolutionizes energy generation but also propels Saxony to become the epicenter of European science and engineering. As industrialists, players are at the forefront of this era, striving to build more Nucleums, import Uranium from Bohemia, and expand the network of railways and power lines to distribute this newfound energy source.
The game stands out for its perfect blend of classic strategic gameplay and modern design elements, a hallmark of the Board&Dice brand. Players engage in various game mechanics such as Action Retrieval, Connections Contracts, End Game Bonuses, Hand Management, Income, Market, Network, and Route Building. This diverse array of mechanics ensures a challenging and engaging experience for players, as they navigate the complexities of building and managing an industrial empire powered by early nuclear technology.
“Nucleum” is also notable for its high-quality components and thematic art, created by the talented Andreas Resch, known for his work on Great Western Trail, Mombasa, and Istanbul. The game’s visual appeal is further enhanced by illustrations from Piotr Sokołowski and graphic design by Zbigniew Umgelter, Andreas Resch, Zuza Kołakowska, and Paweł Niziołek, creating an immersive and visually stunning gaming experience.
Designed for 1-4 players, “Nucleum” offers a playtime ranging from 60 to 150 minutes and is suitable for ages 14 and up. The game includes options for solo play, adding to its versatility. “Nucleum” is more than just a board game; it’s a journey into a pivotal alternative historical era, where players grapple with the challenges and opportunities of the dawning nuclear age. The player who best manages their resources, expands their network, and efficiently operates their Nucleums will emerge victorious, symbolizing their dominance in this new industrial revolution.
There are two runners up that I were very close to making my top 10 list, and I think are worth mentioning. You are unlikely to be disappointed with the purchase of any of the games within my top 10, nor these additional two.
1. Zoo Vadis
Zoo Vadis is a reimplementation of Reiner Knizia’s Quo Vadis, but with far superior art, a whimsical zoo theme, and mechanical improvements such as asymmetric player powers.
If you’re looking a negotiation game that supports high player counts, look no further than Zoo Vadis.
“Zoo Vadis” is a whimsical and strategic board game where the roles are reversed, and animals run the zoo. This evolution of Reiner Knizia’s classic “Quo Vadis?” blends the sophisticated political gameplay of the original with a host of creative and engaging new features, making it an entirely distinct experience.
In this vibrant world, players represent different animal species, each vying to be elected as the Zoo Mascot, the most coveted position in the animal-run zoo. The journey to this prestigious title is a complex one, filled with strategic campaigning and alliances among the animals. Players must navigate through the zoo’s hierarchy, persuading their fellow animal voters to support their ascent to the Star Exhibit, the gateway to becoming the Zoo Mascot.
The game sets itself apart with several key enhancements. For instance, the gameplay experience is enriched for three players through the introduction of neutral, bribable figures – the roaming peacocks – which adapt the board to various player counts. Additionally, the inclusion of a second game board allows for expanded player counts, accommodating 6-7 players for larger group dynamics.
Strategic depth is further amplified through the introduction of asymmetric animal abilities, providing each species with unique strengths and challenges. This feature ensures that each game session offers a new set of strategies and interactions. Moreover, the game introduces special laurel tokens, adding another layer of tactical considerations as players aim to collect these tokens to bolster their victory chances.
Visually, “Zoo Vadis” stands out with its lively and engaging zoo-themed artwork, crafted by the talented Kwanchai Moriya and Brigette Indelicato. This artistic touch immerses players in a colorful and dynamic zoo setting. Complementing the visual appeal are the high-quality game components, including chunky animal figures and functional player screens, which enhance the tactile and aesthetic experience of the game.
“Zoo Vadis” culminates when the Star Exhibit fills up. Victory is within reach only for those animals who have successfully navigated their way to this prestigious enclosure. The player who has collected the most laurels through their strategic maneuvers and alliances is crowned the winner, achieving the honor of becoming the Zoo Mascot.
Distinct from its predecessor in both gameplay and theme, “Zoo Vadis” offers a unique blend of strategy, negotiation, and lighthearted fun, set in a world where animals take the lead in running their own zoo.
2. ZhanGuo: The First Empire
Zhanguo: The First Empire is a re-release of WYG’s out-of-print ZhanGuo. They added superior art and added a water track to the game.
If you have never played the original, I highly recommend checking this out. And if you’re a fan of the OG, I think the art and additional track makes it worthy of purchasing. I personally got rid of my WYG edition copy and replaced it with this one.
“Zhanguo: The First Empire” is a historically themed strategy board game set in the pivotal era of 221 B.C., a time marked by the unification of the Warring States under the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi. The game immerses players in the ambitious endeavors of the Emperor, including his quest for the elixir of life and the construction of a monumental mausoleum guarded by the iconic terracotta army.
Players in “Zhanguo: First Empire” assume the roles of influential families vying to gain favor with the Emperor and secure a prestigious place for their lineage in the terracotta army. The game revolves around a clever card-based system where players strategically utilize six cards each round. These cards are key to advancing players’ agendas, offering either permanent support throughout the game or helping gain the Emperor’s approval for various actions.
The historical backdrop of Qin Shi Huangdi’s reign provides a rich and immersive setting for the game. Players engage in a delicate balance of building, expanding, and consolidating power, mirroring the complex dynamics of the early Chinese empire. The game demands strategic foresight, resource management, and tactical planning, as players navigate through the era’s political and military landscapes.
The objective of “Zhanguo: First Empire” is to contribute most effectively to the Emperor’s grand vision. Players accumulate Victory Points (VP) through their actions and decisions throughout the game. These points represent the players’ contributions to the Emperor’s cause, whether it be in the realm of governance, military endeavors, or the quest for immortality.
As the game reaches its conclusion, the player who has amassed the most Victory Points emerges victorious, having made the greatest impact in the service of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. “Zhanguo: First Empire” is not just a board game; it’s a journey into one of the most fascinating periods of Chinese history, offering players a chance to rewrite the narrative of the birth of a vast empire under the rule of its first Emperor.
- EARN A PLACE IN THE TERRACOTTA ARMY: By helping complete the Emperor’s plans, place your sculptures in the mausoleum, earning you points at the end of the game.
- SEARCH FOR THE ELIXIR: The farther you sail in your search for the Elixir of Life, the more experience your Alchemists gain and the greater your renown.
- MULTI-USE CARDS: Play cards throughout your regions to strengthen your influence and engine, or in the Emperor’s Court to complete projects and powerful actions.
- BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATIONS: Striking artwork immerses you into the setting of 200s BCE China, accented by bright graphic design for easy readability.
- QUALITY COMPONENTS: Enjoy a luxurious experience with wooden resources, heat transfer details on pieces, and even the unique shapes of tokens.
3. Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque
Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque is a reprinting of the classic eurogame Bruxelles 1893, equipped with new art that is equally as beautiful as the original, a rule change that removes the last semblance of randomness of the game, and a whole new expansion entitled “Belle Epoque” to change up the gameplay a ton. Aside from the expansion, the game may not be entirely new, but with renewed access to a game that is climbing into my top 10 games of all time, and the included expansion, it’s easy for me to include it in my top 10 games of 2023.
“Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque” immerses players in the artistic fervor of late 19th century Brussels, now enriched with the stunning Belle Époque expansion. Presented in a beautifully redesigned big box, this edition not only honors the essence of the original game but elevates it with enhanced mechanics, visuals, and gameplay.
In this intricate worker placement and bidding game, you assume the role of an Art Nouveau architect. Your mission: to craft a magnificent architectural masterpiece and create awe-inspiring works of art. The game ingeniously blends strategic planning with a hint of unpredictability. Navigate the modular action board where access to actions varies each turn, balancing cost-incurring tasks like acquiring premium materials and constructing your personal building, against free but riskier moves that may cost you a worker.
The Belle Époque expansion introduces fresh elements to this rich tapestry: encounter new Public Figures, create dazzling White Works of Art, navigate through Blocker Tiles, strive towards End Game Goals, and explore Special Actions with an exciting new material.
Experience the thrill of the art exhibition rounds, where your creations can be sold for profit and prestige. As the game spans five rounds, players accumulate points through their architectural achievements, bonus cards, completion of their works, and remaining funds.
Strategize, outbid, and outbuild your opponents in this elegant contest of minds. “Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque” is not just a game, but a journey through history, art, and the magic of the Belle Époque. Perfect for gamers who relish depth, strategy, and a touch of historical charm, it promises a captivating and intellectually rewarding experience. The most visionary architect with the highest score after five rounds claims victory in this celebration of art and architecture.
- Expansion included! Belle Epoque greatly expands the strategic possibilities without increasing the length of the game.
- This new version of Bruxelle 1893 has been redesigned mechanically, graphically and ergonomically.
- The modular board makes this worker placement board game ever changing and unique.
- Winner of the As d’Or in 2014.
Games from 2023 That I Didn’t Get to Play
There were a number of titles that I think have some great potential, but I unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to play them. Should I get the opportunity to play them, and the usurp a position from the top ten above, I will update this post.
- Apiary – I’m generally not a big fan of Stonemaier games, but I’ve heard good things about this one.
- Horseless Carriage – Who doesn’t enjoy a good Splotter?
- Arborea – Same designer of Barcelona.
- Voidfall – 4x Turczi game.
- Scarface 1920
- Kutná Hora: The City of Silver – Czhech Games Edition game about a Czech city.
- Scholars of the South Tigris – Garphill Games doesn’t usually miss.
- Evacuation – The latest from Vladimír Suchý.
- Rats of Wistar – Another Luciani game I didn’t get to try at a convention and has yet to be released in North America as of this posrt.
- Daybreak – The Pandemic guy made a game about the environment.
- Pirates of Maracaibo – Maracaibo the card game.
- Hegemony: Lead Your Class to Victory – Heavy economic game from Kickstarter
Games That Got Hyped That Didn’t Make the Cut
There were a number of games that folks may be surprised didn’t make the list. They just weren’t for me, or don’t have staying power in my board game collection.
- Earth – A fine engine building game. There are other games I’d rather play.
- Plata Nubo – The La Granja guys teamed up with Uwe Rosenburg. The downtime between turns killed it for me.
- La Famiglia – A really fun game, but the requirement for 4-players, the length of game, and the need for multiple plays to grok some strategies killed it for me.
- Last Light – Dice Tower’s made a 4x game that although was beautifully produced, fell flat for me in terms of gameplay. I just didn’t find it all that fun.
Paul Shapiro is Founder and Editor of Board Game Squad. He enjoys all types of games and experiences, but has a particular penchant for medium to heavy eurogames.