The end of 2020 is nigh (hip, hip, hooray!), so it’s time to look back on our top picks in the tabletop world! We’ve narrowed down titles from our GeekDad Approved selections for 2020 and soon we’ll choose the one that will receive our Game of the Year award. In the meantime, please have a look at our list of nominees and learn more about our process for selection.
Our 10 Favorite Games of 2020
Our finalists for Game of the Year (in alphabetical order) are Abandon All Artichokes, Back to the Future: Back in Time, Calico, Forgotten Waters, Isle of Cats, Marvel United, Pan Am, Santa Monica, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, and Unmatched. Each description below includes a link to our original review.
Abandon All Artichokes
Designed by Emma Larkins, published by Gamewright, with illustrations by Bonnie Pang.
Abandon All Artichokes is a family-friendly game that is not only a great introduction to deck-building games for those who are new to it, but also includes a lot of direct player interaction and “deck-wrecking,” which aren’t always seen in the genre. Be the first to rid your hand of your starting artichokes while collecting other adorable veggies. Read our full review here.
Back to the Future: Back in Time
Designed by Prospero Hall and published by Funko Games.
Back to the Future is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, so the market has been practically flooded with merchandise, but while a lot of it is cool, none of it is quite as fun as Back to the Future: Back in Time. This fully cooperative game has players taking on the roles of Marty, Doc, Jennifer, and Einstein (yes, really) as they try to bring George and Lorraine together, avoid Biff, and get the DeLorean (probably my single favorite game component of the year) to the right spot for those 1.21 gigawatts of power. Read our full review here.
Designed by Kevin Russ and published by Flatout Games and AEG, with illustrations by Beth Sobel.
Cozy up to this delightfully brain-burning game about quilting and cats! Calico is an easy-to-learn game that involves filling out your quilt with colorful tiles so that you can add buttons and attract cats—but deciding exactly where to put each tile gets more and more difficult as you go. Read our full review here.
Designed by Mr. Bistro, J. Arthur Ellis, and Isaac Vega, published by Plaid Hat Games, and illustrated by Anton Fadeev and Nadezhda Tikhomirova.
Forgotten Waters is a cooperative game where players take on the roles of individual pirates on the same ship. Each player is given a role such as first mate, boatswain, cooper, gunner, and so forth. There are five different scenarios, each based on a different captain for your ship. The scenarios and story are contained within a free, downloadable app. As the ship sails across the map, the crew chooses tasks at different locations until they complete their objectives. While they must work together, players are also competing to become the best pirate and meet their individual goals. Read our full review here.
Isle of Cats
Designed by Frank West, published by The City of Games, with illustrations by Dragolisco and Frank West.
The Warlord Vesh is on his way, and you’re tasked with rescuing as many cats from the island as you can before he arrives. You’ll do this through a combination of card drafting and polyomino placement, as you attempt to fit as many cats onto your boat as you can. This whimsical game is full of amazing components, equally matched by the quality of the gameplay. In addition to the standard 2-4 player game, there are well-developed rulesets for playing solo or with younger players. Read our full review here.
Designed by Andrea Chiarvesia and Eric Lang, published by CMON Limited and Spin Master Games, with illustrations by Édouard Guiton.
What do you do when a supervillain shows up in the city, ready to enact his plans for world domination? You assemble a group of superheroes to stop him! In this family-friendly cooperative game, players will take on the roles of different heroes in the Marvel Universe, and work together to defeat the villain’s threats and henchmen before confronting the villain in final battle. The game is easy to learn and teach, and comes with some of the best miniatures you’ll ever see in a board game. Read our full review here.
Designed by Prospero Hall, published by Funko Games.
Relive the Golden Age of Air Travel while you compete to build the routes Pan Am most wants to buy from you. A unique auction mechanic combines with worker placement to create interesting strategy, while the gorgeous design and cool plastic airplanes keep you engaged between turns. Read our full review here.
Designed by Josh Wood and published by AEG, with illustrations by Jeremy Nguyen.
Some people enjoy handing out at the beach, but I’d rather stay indoors and build a beach and boardwalk instead. Draft cards and play them while moving VIPs, locals, and tourists to the prime locations to build the best beachfront possible. Read our full review here.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Designed by Thomas Sing and published by Thames & Kosmos, with illustrations by Marco Armbruster.
Trick-taking games have been making a comeback, and The Crew is a superb example. It uses classic trick-taking rules, but turns it into a cooperative game about journeying into space to search for a mysterious planet. Each mission consists of various tasks, directing players to win certain tricks, and they get progressively more difficult as you work your way through the campaign. Read our full review here.
Unmatched: Cobble & Fog
Designed by Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, and Chris Leder. Art by Andrew Thompson. Published by Mondo Games and Restoration Games.
Remember when you were a kid, and you’d sit around with your friends and discuss which of your favorite fictional heroes would win in a fight? With the Unmatched series, you can find out for yourself! Unmatched: Cobble & Fog allows you to take Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll, and the Invisible Man, and pit them against each other in this asymmetric miniature skirmish game. Battle on the streets of Soho, or in Baskerville Manor. And Cobble & Fog is fully compatible with other Unmatched sets, so you can mix and match characters and maps. Read our full review here.
How We Picked Our Finalists
The GeekDad Game of the Year is an award given annually to the game we have enjoyed the most in the previous year. Qualification is dependent on a number of factors: First (and probably the biggest filter), the game must have been reviewed on our site in the previous 12 months. Additionally, we must have recognized the quality of the game in the review and noted the game as a “GeekDad Approved” game, worthy of our big, shiny metal thumbs-up.
Second, the game must be accessible to most families—a bit of a nebulous identification to be sure, but roughly a game should be one that most families would be likely to play on a weekend afternoon. This would typically rule out very heavy strategy games and very light fare. (That’s not to say we’re not heavily enamored with some of those games, we just have to be more selective as we narrow games down.) For this reason, generally, games are going to adhere to an 80-minutes-or-less rule, though we do make exceptions. And we have an admittedly light game on the list this year too, but it’s one that was just so loved by multiple GeekDads that it simply had to make the list.
Third, we also keep an eye on content, and games that have themes, language, or art that we deem inappropriate aren’t going to make the cut. The family game category, as you traditionally think about it, is a good place to start, but it’s not absolute. We recognize that families might consist of adult children or older teenagers, as well as very young children. Resultantly, our sweet spot covers a very large area.
Fourth, a game we select as a finalist must have come out in those previous 12 months and be currently available in wide release. There’s no sense in us celebrating a game that not many (or no one) can get their hands on. (Occasionally we put a GeekDad Approved seal on a game we enjoyed even though it wasn’t published in the 12-month window—these do not have the year designation on them, and are not eligible for Game of the Year.)
Fifth and finally, we love games that have fresh takes on old mechanics, offer great components, or otherwise have a special something that will get everyone to the table. As we narrow down our list of GeekDad Approved games to just 10 finalists, we try to include a mix of genres, game weight, game length, and themes, though it’s always hard to fit everything!
Our selection process gathers steam in mid-November. It is then that we begin our judging, winnowing down our list of Approved games to just ten finalists, which is, honestly, the hardest part of this process. Everyone who writes for GeekDad has the opportunity to vote in this process; our only prerequisite is that they have played the games they provide input on.
This year is of course one that presents unique challenges. In the past, a select few GeekDads have traveled and gotten together in person to play all ten finalists, narrow down the list, play a select few again, and then make a decision. But of course, traveling and hanging out with non-family members simply isn’t the responsible thing to do this year, so instead, we will be playing our finalists on Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, or possibly over Zoom. It’s not ideal, but that’s 2020.
The timetable might seem a bit odd–a 12-month calendar keyed off November, but there is reasoning behind it. By considering games released between last November of the previous year and the first ten months of the current year, we feel as though we capture most games released during the year. Further, by narrowing our field and making a selection by mid-December, it allows our readers to consider and make a purchasing decision on a game they can have for the holidays and enjoy all of the next year.
Our Approved Games for 2020
Chances are that one of your favorites isn’t on that list. Tell us which one and why! And make sure to check back in sometime in December to find out which one we’ve chosen as our 2020 Game of the Year!
Abandon All Artichokes
Back to the Future: Back in Time
Clank! Adventuring Party
Dale of Merchants Collection
Isle of Cats
King of Tokyo: Dark Edition
My Little Scythe: Pie in the Sky
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
The Search for Planet X
Tiny Epic Dinosaurs
The Fine Print
We realize that we can’t get to every game that is released each year. For that, we apologize. There are only a handful of us and we have day jobs. But we are trying hard to review as many games as we can.
To be completely transparent, when we identify a game as Approved, the publisher is notified and we provide a logo noting the Approved designation that they are free to use without any obligation. However, for any game that we select as a Finalist or as the winner of our Game of the Year, we request a small fee for use of that logo and designation; again, there is no obligation to participate, nor do we consider the likelihood of a publisher paying when we narrow down our list.
We ask for this fee since we believe the award provides a benefit to the publishers who decide to use it, but also to offset administrative costs of running a big website and travel costs involved with a number of us getting together to play the Finalists games and make a decision on the overall winner. We’re bloggers. Financially, it’s a losing proposition—in a big way. We’re just trying to offset that a little.
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