The best board games of 2020, Our best new board game discoveries of the year

As we wrap up this rather interesting year, I thought it would be a good time to look back and list off some of our best board game discoveries of 2020.

These are some of the best board games of 2020 and previous years that we played for the first time this past year.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

These are the best games we found in 2020:

Before I dive into the list of games that Sean and I discovered in 2020, I need to point out that these games may or may not have been released in 2020. 

The goal of this list is to highlight the best games we played that were new to us. While many of these games are newly released either this year or last year, there are some older games on the list too. These are some classic games that we only just discovered this past year. 

While I would have liked to have done a best games released in 2020 list, with everything going on in the world this year and the lack of a physical game convention season, we just didn’t get to try enough of the games that were published this year. 

What were the best board games we played in 2020?

As usual, this list is in no particular order. This list is also a mash-up of games I discovered and games Sean discovered, with a surprisingly large number of games we both played together for the first time. While the majority of the games listed below are board games, we did also check out one new to us RPG this year. It’s at the end of the list. 

Codenames Duet – This variation of Codenames became a favourite date night game for Deanna and I. While it is an excellent two-player game, it’s important to note that it’s not a two-player only game. This is actually a cooperative team-based version of Codenames. We’ve had quite a bit of fun playing six players with the extended family.

For more information on why this game made the list check out my Codenames Duet Review.

The Fox in the Forest Series of Games – Many of our game recommendation lists this year have included both The Fox and the Forest and The Fox in the Forest Duet. Both of these games are two-player only trick-taking games. The original game is a competitive two-player trick-taking experience whereas Duet is a cooperative experience. 

Check out my review of The Fox in the Forest and my The Fox in the Forest Duet review for more information about these excellent games and why they made this list.

Medium – I doubt there are too many people out there who haven’t at least heard of Medium. There has been a lot of buzz around this one, starting with con season last year. At the beginning of 2020, we got to try this one out and what seemed like a silly idea turned out to be great fun as laughter filled the room immediately.

While it can be a bit group dependant, playing better when you have players with many shared experiences, this is a great party game for groups as small as two and as large as eight.

Check out my Medium review to find out why we really enjoy this game. 

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion – I’m still shocked that Cephalophair was able to get a version of Gloomhaven into Target, and I’m even more shocked at how well the placement worked.

Jaws of the Lion has become a much-needed entry point for Gloomhaven. It features a great onboarding system which is something that was missing from the original. If you are even considering playing Gloomhaven start here. The low price point makes it a great way to see if you enjoy the system before moving on to the bigger game. 

As I mention in my review and comparison of Jaws of the Lion to Gloomhaven, there’s also a lot here for long time fans of the original to enjoy.

Knot Dice – This custom set of dice were funded on Kickstarter and now that I’ve played with a set I actually regret not backing it. These are some seriously cool, really well made, dice along with a set of rather fun games and puzzles.

When things return to normal, I expect that Knot Dice will become a date night game for Deanna and I. They will be great for playing at pubs, cafes and other places where you don’t have much table space. Once you learn a few of the games, all you need are the dice.

Take a look at my Knot Dice review for more information on these Celtic knotwork patterned dice. 

Azul Summer Pavilion – This is the third game in the Azul series of games and is my personal favourite of the three. While this wasn’t a new one for me this year it was new for Sean. While he thinks it’s not quite as perfect as the original, he liked it way more than Stained Glass of Sintra. His complaint is how much more room the game takes, needing a central board in addition to the player boards and the markets, and a slightly longer teaching time.

For more information on why I think it’s the best of the series, check out my Azul Summer Pavilion review

Quodd Heroes – My kids love this very unique game from Canadian game designer Ryan Iiler. Quodd Heroes uses a unique system where your character piece is a die like cube. Each turn you tumble your character and then move based on what side is now showing as the top face. There’s a ton of content in this box, including a wide number of different ways to play the game: solo, one vs. many, cooperative and competitive.

Check out my Quodd Heroes review for more information on this very unique, modular, scenario-based game.

Clans of Caledonia – It really doesn’t feel like I’ve only been playing Clans of Caledonia for less than a year. I picked this up at a boxing day sale at the FLGS last year and didn’t get it to the table until January. While I have played my physical copy a number of times, I’ve mostly been playing this great Scottish themed engine building and economic game online through Board Game Arena.

As I note in my review of Clans of Caledonia this game features a ton of asymmetry, something I really enjoy in my tabletop games. 

Gorus Maximums – This is a high player count trick-taking game with a gory gladiatorial battle theme.  This is a rare card game that’s actually better the more people you have playing. It’s not often you find a trick-taking game that actually works well with eight players.

Another great aspect of this game is a system where the trump suit can change mid-hand and the unique scoring system. My only complaint about this game is the gory artwork which can be a turn off for some players and means I won’t be playing this one with my kids.

For more information on this trick-taking game check out my Gorus Maximus review

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set – This is a newly revised and updated version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game system. It’s a very engaging hand management and deck construction game that Deanna and I have really been enjoying playing through with just the two of us.  While I haven’t personally tried any of the older base sets, everything I’ve seen online seems to indicate that Paizo has done nothing but improve on the system with this new core set.

I share my thoughts on the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set in this review.

Chronicles of Crime 1400 – This was my first experience with the Chronicles of Crime system and I was extremely impressed. Chronicles of Crim does a fantastic job of integrating an app with board game elements to create a rather immersive investigation experience. 

This investigation game sold me on the entire concept of mystery games. I was also a big fan of the 1400 Paris setting, which to me is much more interesting than solving modern crimes.

Read more about the first game in the Millenium Series for Chronicles of Crime in my Chronicles of Crime 1400 review

The Crew – People have been telling us we need to play The Crew pretty much since the game came out. We gave it an honourable mention when talking about the best modern trick-taking games due to this but at the time hadn’t actually played it.

Well since then we have played a number of games of The Crew on Board Game Arena and we also received a physical copy from one of our awesome fans.

All of the hype was true. This is one of the best trick-taking games I’ve ever played and one of the best cooperative games I own, and thus one of the best games I played all year.

Orleans Trade & Intrigue – I am a big fan of Orleans, I still consider it one of the best games in my collection and this expansion took the original and only made it better. At least for the most part.

While we weren’t fans of the intrigue part of this expansion, everything else in the box is great. At this point, I don’t expect to ever play a game of Orleans without using most, if not all, of the rest of this Orleans expansion. If you want to know why we didn’t enjoy the intrigue aspect check out our Orleans Trade & Intrigue review.

Harry Potter House Cup Competition – This game is the biggest surprise on this list for me. I don’t know exactly what I expected from House Cup Competition but I wasn’t expecting a really solid entry-level worker placement game. This one is a small step below Lords of Waterdeep as far as complexity goes and thus a great gateway to more complicated strategy board games. While the iconography could use some work the gameplay makes up for it.

If you know a Harry Potter fan and want to expose them to hobby board gaming this is a great place to start.

Rallyman: GT – Sean is the one that discovered this racing game. He got invited to a game of Rallyman GT on BGA, and after a pretty poor first showing did some research, watched some how-to-play videos and figured out to play. It’s now one of his favourite games to play online.  During our 2020 Extra Life Live stream, he showed the game off to me. 

While I found that it’s not great with only two players, I did have a lot of fun checking this game out and I look forward to playing it more in the future.

Bastille – This Queen Games board game set during the French Revolution is a total hidden gem. Bastille combines worker placement with bidding in a unique way. I love the artwork and iconography of this game and constantly hold it up as a shining example of great graphic design.

For more information on why you should seek out this game, which has flown under pretty much everyone’s radar, check out my Bastille review.

Sanctum – This board game is Diablo in tabletop form. It features a lot of dice chucking, but this randomness is mitigated by collecting the right equipment while you play, and in this game, you collect a lot of equipment. Every beastie you kill drops another piece of gear. Can you upgrade your gear enough to take on the Demon Lord?

There are some interesting design choices made in Sanctum and it won’t be for everyone. To learn more, check out my Sanctum review

Quoridor – This abstract game is deceptively simple to learn. Players each have a single pawn and a set of ten walls. Each turn they either move one space or place a wall with the goal being to get to the opposite side of the board.

Despite basic rules, Quoridor is a real brain burner. To add an additional level of complexity try four players with everyone crossing paths with each other.

This is in no way a new game, being the oldest game on the list, but it’s one we only started playing regularly this year.

878 Vikings – This is the first game in the Birth of Europe series, a follow up to the popular Birth of America series of wargames from Academy Games. This Viking themed folk on a map game really impressed both Deanna and I.

878 Viking features some very interesting changes to the core “Birth Of” mechanics, including very unique unit placement rules that have wave after wave of Viking raiders invading England.  I’m really looking forward to trying this game at higher player counts, once we can gather and game in person again. 

EXIT: The Haunted Roller Coaster – This past year we played a handful of EXIT The Game escape room in a box style games, including EXIT: The House of Riddles and the two-part EXIT: Catacombs of Horror, but EXIT: The Haunted Roller Coaster stood out as the best of the bunch. This particular escape room game has a great mix of puzzle styles, theme, and whimsy, which we really enjoyed. If you haven’t played one of these EXIT games yet, this one is where we recommend you start.

You can read about why we enjoyed this particular puzzle-based game so much in my EXIT: The Haunted Roller Coaster review

Concept – While this one isn’t new to me (and anyone who’s not new to the blog has seen me recommend Concept a number of times), this year I got Sean to play Concept for the first time. This happened during our 2020 Extra Life live stream. 

I still love Concept and think it’s one of the best party games of all time. What I was surprised by is not only is the BGA implementation of Concept really well done, but the game also plays surprisingly well with just two players. 

Coimbra – It has taken far too long for me to get this popular Euro to the table. To be expected, we loved Coimbra right from the first play. People dig multi-use cards. Well, this game basically has multi-use dice. The dice you use not only determine your drafting order but also what type of citizens you get to draft and which of the four tracks in the game that you go up on.

This is one that I need to get to the table more in the new year.

Eclipse Second Dawn for the Galaxy – I backed the new edition of Eclipse on Kickstarter and while it took it’s time getting here this new updated version of Eclipse was worth the wait. Besides being amazing looking, with all new designs, miniatures and custom dice, the gameplay is just as good as ever. 

There are also a number of minor tweaks to the rules, technologies and other areas of the game, making the game tighter and more competitive. No longer will Sean Hamilton (not Sean from Hamilton) dominate the galaxy due to a lucky draw of a free dreadnaught. 

Imhotep – This is another game our followers will recognize from me talking about it all the time, that was new to Sean this past year. Imhotep was my biggest surprise of 2019, a game I paid no attention to until receiving a review copy from Kosmos. It only took one play to realize that this is an amazing gateway game with fantastic physicality.

I’ve had great success sharing Imhotep with gamers both experienced and new. Read my Imhotep: Builder of Egypt review for more information about this great game that I think belongs in almost everyone’s collection.

Nyctophobia – I felt I had to have Nyctophobia on my best of 2020 list simply due to how unique it is. There’s nothing else out there like this game and it was a joy to play and discover. For those who haven’t heard about Nyctophobia, this is a game where all but one player plays completely blind. While maybe not the best game ever made, it’s definitely a very cool experience.

I recently featured Nyctophobia in my 19 of the Best Horror Board Games list

Scobby Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion – This may just be the best game on the list. It is definitely the game that my family had the most fun playing together. We’ve never had a better time with all four of us at the table than we did with Scooby-Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion.

The big drawback with this particular escape room style game is that it’s a one and done and we can’t go back and recreate that fantastic experience. Find out why we loved playing the Mystery Inc. team in my Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion review.

The cover of Runaway HirelingsRunaway Hirelings – I’ve decided to finish off my best of 2020 list with the only RPG that Sean, Deanna and I played this year. Now I’m not just highlighting Runway Hirelings due to it being the only one we played, I actually had a lot of fun running this for Sean, Deanna and a couple of our Patreon patrons.

This indie RPG is a super light, high improv, take on the dungeon crawling genre with a rather cool twist. Instead of playing the heroes, you instead play their hirelings. The game starts right when the heroes take out the big baddie but die in the process. Can your group of hirelings escape the dungeon without the support of the heroes?

Best new game discoveries in 2020 honourable mentions:

Below I’ve got three games that I didn’t feel comfortable putting in the main list. One is because it’s an RPG that we didn’t actually sit down and play and the other two are games where I got to try a prototype but haven’t seen the finished product yet. 

The ALIEN RPG Starter Set – This RPG boxed set from Free League Publishing blew me away in many ways. First off, with the sheer amount of stuff you get in the box. It ends up being a great value, including many items you normally would have to buy separately. Next, the quality of everything in this RPG boxed set is all top-notch. 

However, the most impressive thing about the ALIEN RPG Starter Set is the rules themselves. There are some great changes to the Year Zero Engine here, which does a great job of recreating the tension and feel of an ALIEN movie. The only reason this starter set is not on the main list is due to the fact I haven’t actually played it yet, only read through everything while putting together my ALIEN RPG Starter Set review.

The prototype cover for Gorinto from Grand Gamers GuildGorinto – We received a preview copy of Gorinto before it launched on Kickstarter earlier this year. It has been the most fun we’ve had with a prototype thus far. Even though what we had to play with were prototype components, the gameplay really won us over. This is a very solid abstract strategy game that everyone we have shown it to has loved.

I look forward to getting a production copy early in the new year. So far the pre-production copies I’ve seen look amazing. 

Check out my Gorinto Preview to find out why you should be excited for this soon to be released abstract strategy game.

The box cover for Macaron.Macaron – The last game I want to talk about today is Macaron. This was another Kickstarter preview we got to check out this year that really impressed Deanna and I as well as Deanna’s mother (who actually asked to keep our prototype copy).

This trick-taking game with a twist was funded last month on Kickstarter and I look forward to seeing the full production copy. For more info on why I’m excited about this game check out my Macaron review

There you have some of the best games we discovered in 2020. What was the best new-to-you game that you played in 2020? Let us know in the comments!

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast is a 2023 Origins Awards finalist!

Got a gaming question?

Ask the Bellhop!

We’re here to answer your gaming and game night questions.

Hit the bell and send us a Q.

Ding the bell, Send us your questions!

Become a patron of the show and get behind the scenes updates, extra giveaway entries, bonus audio and more.

Looking for more gaming advice and reviews?

Sign up for our newsletter and don't miss a thing!

Looking For More Gaming Advice & Reviews?
Sign up for our Newsletter!

Looking For More
Gaming Advice & Reviews?
Sign up for our Newsletter!