Our favourite board games from 2022

I’ve been playing a lot more board games recently, and a big reason for that is my regular board gaming group; let’s call them the Friday Nighters. Every week, we switch hosting duties, eat too many pretzels – incidentally, the perfect board gaming snack – and play a new game. I’m fortunate that two of the players have extensive collections of board games and are really knowledgeable. (A third player recently joined but most of his games are still in storage in a different city.) As a result I’ve added a number of games to my collection, but I’ve also been able to try out very different games that I would never have considered playing. There are plenty of games in my Top 30 I would probably never have played if it wasn’t for my board gaming group, so I’d like to thank the Friday Nighters for giving me the opportunity to expand my gaming horizons, allowing me to discover many, many fantastic games, and significantly improving my board gaming skills.

Let me preface this post by saying that there is no objective standard for great games. This list is just my opinion, and only reflects the games I played in 2022 rather than games released this year. Side note for stats fans: the weight rating for the games on my top 10 list range from 1.6 to 4.06, with Spirit Island being the most complicated. The aggregated user rating for the games range from 7 to 8.6 (spoiler: my top game for the year also has the highest rating from the games on this list). Please note we played at least 25 other games during the year that didn’t make it to the list, but I decided not to list them here because I don’t mean to imply that they are bad games.

So here are my 30 favourite board games for this year.

10. Argent: The Consortium (2015)

Pretty art and decent player aids makes a complex game fun and accessible. I still agree with my initial thoughts after playing this game: “Enjoyed this much more than expected. Came last, but I had immense fun. Would definitely play this again. Don’t neglect the influence tracks next time! The game is complex but the design of the components, character mats, and the player aids really helps to make this game a lot easier to grasp. Highly recommended with the right group.”

Technically speaking, this is a Euro-style worker-placement and engine-building game where you vie to become the new Chancellor at the Argent University of Magic. The twist is that the victory conditions are secret, so you need to spend part of the game trying to figure out as much as you can about those win conditions while also improving your own chances of winning.

This game is at number 10 on my list because other games here do the same good things it does, but just do them slightly better. Its theme is also less fun than some of the other games on this list. That said, I would still play this again in a heartbeat.

9. Ghost Stories (2008)

This is a classic cooperative game with a unique horror theme. It’s not difficult to learn, but very hard to win. You play Taoist warrior monks who need to work together to save the village from the evil Wu-Feng, the lord of hell who sends his legion of ghosts to torment the town. Throughout the game, ghosts appear to “haunt” village tiles (i.e. block players from using that tile’s special action), while players need to move around the village, exorcise haunted tiles, collect Tao tokens they can add to dice rolls, and try not to curse themselves too often.

I love horror games and cooperative games, as you’ll see from this list. Why isn’t this game higher up? Possibly because I’ve played this game before, and other games on this list were more recent discoveries for me. Perhaps its rating will increase next year once the shine has worn off the newer, shinier games.

Friday Nighters: Ghost Stories in play.

8. Spirit Island (2017)

Another horror co-op game. This is definitely the most complex game on my list, and I suspect that it won’t really grab you unless someone who knows the game well teaches you. The theme here is the definite highlight, just because it’s so much fun: you play island spirits trying to chase colonists off the island. Every spirit has its own powers and the game lets you decide how easy or complex you want it to be. We ended up playing this on my birthday, and it was enormous fun. My comment from the day: “An intensely fun game. We succeeded, but we were playing on a relatively easy difficulty. A1, would play again.” I rated this higher than Ghost Stories because this game just feels infinitely replayable. I can’t wait to play the next part of the story, if we ever get there.

Birthday session of Spirit Island.

7. Canvas (2021)

This art-themed game uses a unique mechanic in the form of transparent cards that have specific elements that you combine in sets of three to compose a painting. You score points based on the icons on the cards as determined by the scoring cards, so the game is as much about combining artistic elements in fun and evocative ways – and coming up with ridiculous, pretentious, or hilarious names for the resulting artworks – as it is about scoring points based on the icons that remain unobscured. It takes the idea of transparent cards from Gloom and its various expansions to create a much more relaxed, happier gaming experience, although one similarly focused on creativity. Most enjoyable. The names of the artworks can be very entertaining, too. I’d love to play this solo.

This could have been lower on my list, but something about the theme of this game really appeals. It’s also one of the games on this list that I probably loved more than anyone else who played it, and I’m nothing if not loyal.

Friday Nighters: Canvas in play.

6. Fabled Fruit (2016)

A silly fruit-themed card game that ramps up in complexity in a delightful, elegant, and well-executed progression. 100% would play again. I could easily spend a whole day playing this; I’d love to get through the whole deck. What a fun game. Great player interaction.

I can’t overstate how much I love the way the complexity increases over the course of a few games. The theme definitely fits the fast, interactive nature of the gameplay, but it’s also why I couldn’t justify putting this higher. Again, this list is highly subjective, and a few of the next games just absolutely hit every point I’m looking for in a game. Which brings us to…

Friday Nighters: Fabled Fruit in play.

5. Calico (2020)

2022 was the year I discovered solo board games, and Calico was the first game I completely fell in love with. I’ve played this a bunch of times, often on Sunday mornings with a cup of tea. You collect and place tiles, attempting to match patterns and colours based on the specific scoring conditions for your particular board, while trying to create the best possible quilt. The scoring tiles look like cats and you can also collect coloured buttons to score additional points.

It’s a gorgeous, cozy game with beautiful artwork from Beth Sobel that feels ideal for playing on a winter’s day, which is when I played most of my solo sessions. It’s a different experience when you play it with other people, but it’s still enjoyable. Still love playing this with friends or on a cold Sunday morning as a solo treat. My most played game of 2022.

If I played it so much, why didn’t it score higher? I go into more detail in the next entry, but like Fabled Fruit I liked this a lot better than the rest of my group.

Solo game of Calico.

4. Cascadia (2021)

Another excellent, relaxing game. Like Calico, it has beautiful Beth Sobel artwork, a challenging but relaxing solo mode, and a campaign/challenge mode that is immense fun. It’s the top-rated abstract game on BoardGameGeek for a reason. It’s also a great family game. The goal is to create the most harmonious ecosystem by combining different habitats and wildlife, set in the Pacific Northwest. Like Calico, each game uses different scoring conditions so it has a lot of replayability. Fantastic, fantastic game. Just thinking about playing this makes me smile.

I haven’t played this half as often as I’ve played Calico, but even though the two games share a lot of elements, Cascadia is even more relaxing. It’s also incredibly satisfying to see a completed map at the end of the game. It could have been even higher, honestly. Who doesn’t like making salmon happy?

Solo game of Cascadia.

3. The Bloody Inn (2015)

A delightfully dark horror-themed game. My favourite horror game from this year that isn’t cooperative, for sure. You play greedy, murderous villagers who run an inn trying to rob, murder, and bury guests before the gendarmes catch on. We actually played this with The Carnies expansion but it didn’t add significantly to the game (but that might have been because we didn’t play this aggressively enough). This is one of the few games we played more than once over the course of a year, and the second time we played more than one session on a single night. Great game if you liked the idea of Sweeny Todd but thought the movie was a boring mess.

For once, the fact that the game is competitive instead of cooperative doesn’t hurt it at all. The only reason it isn’t higher on this list? Well, because number 2 is hands-down my favourite horror game I played this year.

Friday Nighters: The Bloody Inn.

2. Horrified (2019)

I played this multiple times over the course of 2022, with the regular Friday Nighters and a group who had never played it before. Each time the game was super simple to teach and play. It has two outstanding features that lets you set an appropriate difficulty for the group you’re playing with: you can choose the number of monsters to determine your odds of winning, and each monster has a complexity score so you can choose to tell how hard it will be to teach. So it’s perfectly easy to play a game that’s more challenging without making it harder for new players to understand. It also has the best user experience design of any game I’ve ever played. The approach to designing the game components ensures that every component makes it perfectly obvious how to play. The setup instructions for each monster are simple and appear in multiple places, and the rest of the components follow the same approach: the rules for how to use each component is on the component so you seldom need to look up a rule in the (perfectly organised) rulebook. It’s the perfect choice for a Halloween game regardless of who’s playing.

The only reason keeping it off the top spot – apart from everything that makes number one so damn good – is that I’m not sure how often you could replay this. (I still want my own copy, though.)

Friday Nighters: Horrified!

1. Ark Nova (2021)

This game was one of the biggest hits of the year, for good reason. At the time I’m writing this, it’s rated as the 4th best board game overall and 4th best strategy game on BoardGameGeek. It was released near the end of 2021 but saw wider play in 2022, and it received a very positive review from the Dice Tower (linked below).

During the game, you use cards to acquire animals, place buildings and enclosures, activate sponsorships and associations. In addition to upgrading your zoo, you also contribute to conservation efforts, form partnerships with zoos across the world, and upgrade your cards to give yourself more and better options.

Friday Nighters: Ark Nova in play.

The game is fantastic. It’s absolutely, unquestionably my favourite game of the year. Considering how dense the information is, it’s impressive that the game never feels heavy. Turns are quick and fun, the complexity is not hard to teach or learn, and the components are stellar. The theme and the artwork really help with that, but the components are also really well designed; the cards need to convey a lot of information and they do so really efficiently and elegantly. The game flows easily and the manuals are really well organised.

When I logged our first playthrough, I posted the following note: “Very enjoyable game. Lost focus early on, but really great experience. Very thinky.” After I constructed this list, we played Power Grid which is a similarly thinky game, but Ark Nova knocked it out of the park. At the end of playing Power Grid I felt drained; despite losing Ark Nova I immediately wanted to play it again. I love complex games that make you look smart by making you feel like the game itself is easy, without minimizing the scope or significance of your decisions. As far as I’m concerned, this is the new gold standard in game design.

https://boardgamegeek.com/video/355711/ark-nova/4-squares-review-ark-nova

Friday Nighters: Ark Nova in play.

Honourable mentions

For interests’ sake, here are the other games that made it to the top 30.

Which board games have you managed to play this year? What are your favourites, whether solo, co-op, or competitive? Let us know in the comments, or let us know if there are any games you’d like to hear more about.

Happy gaming!

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