As 2023 winds down, we’re gearing up to choose our favorite game of the year! Today, we’ve winnowed down the list of our GeekDad Approved selections to our top 10, and we’ll be getting together in early December to play through all the finalists together and pick a winner.
Our 10 Favorite Games of 2023
Our finalists for Game of the Year (in alphabetical order) are Challengers!, Earth, Eleven, Fit to Print, Heat: Pedal to the Metal, Not That Movie!, The Perfect Wave, Planet Unknown, Thunder Road: Vendetta, and Turing Machine. Each description below includes a link to our original review.
Challengers! simulates a capture-the-flag tournament, with players building their teams and swapping seats between matches. Hang onto the flag until your opponent runs out of cards or has benched too many of their cards to win the match and gain fans—the two players with the most fans will face off at the end to determine the ultimate winner. With a mix of simple rules but a wealth of ways to build your team, Challengers! has been a hit with a broad range of players, and really shines at higher player counts.
Develop your island by planning out terrain and flora to best match the needs of the various fauna and ecosystems. Using a “follow-the-leader” mechanic, everyone gets to play on every turn. With hundreds of cards to choose from, your island will be different every time, so you have to choose an approach based on what’s available, not on what has worked before. Earth is one of the heavier games on our list this year, and it requires a bit more contemplation and plotting to succeed.
Manage a European football (i.e., soccer) team to victory in this resource management game. Don’t worry if you aren’t a football, or even a sports, fan. The game is sure to appeal to fans of heavy strategic games with lots of decisions to be made every turn. From holding board meetings (with a pretty innovative voting mechanic) to hiring staff and players, gaining sponsors, and yes, winning (highly abstracted) matches, you’ll get to see if you can put together a championship team.
Fit to Print
Fit to Print is a fast-paced newsroom, where everyone is rushing to grab the right articles and photographs for the perfect front page layout. This real-time tile-laying game has excellent headlines and artwork to bring this animal city to life, and there are variants for playing with younger kids, or a turn-based option for those who don’t like the stress of the time limits.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a racing game featuring hand management where you play cards to move miniature racecars around one of four different tracks. As you set your speed each turn, this determines how many cards you must play from your hand. While you want to go as fast as you can, you need to watch your speed around tight turns as well as the heat you gain for pushing it to the edge. Players stay engaged right up until the checkered flag.
Not That Movie!
Match funny reviews to fractured movie titles in this cooperative party game, which will have you debating whether “Licorice of the Sierra Madre” or “Groundhog of Desire” is more likely to be a silent film. Get on the same wavelength as the other players for the highest score!
The Perfect Wave
Hang ten and catch the titular Perfect Wave in this game of drawing cards and playing them, face down, to create a winning combination, while topping them off with high-point tricks and moving your surfer out to sea so that they can ride the wave home and score the victory. It’s a lightweight game on its surface that offers plenty of deeper strategy and a bit of press-your-luck with gorgeous artwork to boot.
Planet Unknown takes polyomino games to new heights with a terraforming theme. Take tiles from the lazy S.U.S.A.N. turntable for your planet, and then advance on the various tracks to gain bonuses. Advanced players will enjoy a wide variety of unique planets and corporations, each with their own effects and abilities.
Thunder Road: Vendetta
Who would have thought that the post-apocalyptic wasteland could be so much fun? Thunder Road: Vendetta is a racing and car combat game where each player controls a team of 3 cars and a helicopter. You’re driving along an ever-changing hazard-filled landscape, trying to either be the first across the finish line… or the last team standing.
Turing Machine is a logic puzzle game that includes an actual Turing Machine, using punch cards to reveal the answer to questions that help you narrow down your answer. Be the first to use the various criteria to identify the 3-digit code to win.
How We Pick 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. We usually do include at least one heavier game for the strategy fans, and it’s fun to have a lighter party game, but that’s generally what we’re looking for.
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. As a result, our sweet spot covers a very large area. That said, we’re more likely to go with PG content than something that would be R-rated.
Fourth, in the past, a game we select as a finalist must have come out in those previous 12 months and be currently available in wide release. There are some really great games that you just can’t get your hands on, and we’d rather give you a list you can use, not just one that gives you FOMO.
It’s worth noting that 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.
In early December, we will be gathering (this year at Rob’s home) to play through these ten games, and then collectively decide on a winner, which will be announced in a follow-up post shortly thereafter.
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 2023
Here are all of our Approved games for the year:
Dungeons & Dragons: Onslaught
Fit to Print
Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Kinfire Chronicles: Night’s Fall
Not That Movie!
The Perfect Wave
Thunder Road: Vendetta
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 GeekDad 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 the 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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