JJ's Top 20 Solo Games! -- 2019
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Here are my top 20 solo games for 2019! This year, I also went with some new criteria for a game being included:

trade The game had to have been played in 2019.

trade The game has to still be in the collection.

In addition to thoughts on the games, I've added information on play goals and/or a high score or anything else I track for each game.
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1. Board Game: Where Are They? [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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This was my 2018 list:

JJ's Top 20 Solo Games! -- 2018

And wow, half the games didn't make this year's list. What has left and why? Let's take a look...

trade #20 Orchard: A 9 card solitaire game I have to admit I kind of lost interest in this one, as I didn't enjoy having to inspect everything so carefully to figure out where to put a card.

trade #18 That's Pretty Clever After I finally managed to score 300, I kind of lost interest in this one. I suppose it is partly because I had a basic strategy I'd go for every time to try to increase my high score. Luckily, Twice As Clever is an even better game and one I haven't figured out at all yet. (However, it did not quite make my top 20 either.)

trade #17 Sylvion This is still a great game, but it became a little too easy after many plays.

trade #15 Ghost Stories This left the collection, as I found that I didn't want to play it much anymore.

trade #13 Lewis & Clark This game also left the collection. Though I still admire it and was working on winning with bigger and bigger head-starts for Mackenzie, I found that I rarely wanted to play it. I think maybe having to look at your hand and plan out a whole series of turns to use up all (or most) of the cards before camping was brain-burny in a way that was a little less enjoyable.

trade #11 Imperial Settlers I loved this game for a long time but was offered a great trade for it. Though it once got many plays, I found the solo a bit fiddly and did not pull it out often.

trade #10 American Megafauna This game has also left the collection. My pattern with Eklunds seems to be to acquire the game, play it a number of times, and then move it on. The official solo game was very swingy and seemed almost impossible to win (or even get close). However, there are new Eklunds in the collection and there is one on my list this year!

trade #8 Gaia Project I did not get this back to the table this year. I'm not looking forward to re-learning everything! But I know it will be worth it and I hope to manage it next year!

trade #4 Fields of Arle One of my favorite games ever, but it's no longer in the collection because after about 35 plays and hitting 140, I felt like I was pushing the limit on improving my high score. I do sometimes regret getting rid of it. Unfortunately, I never got to try the expansion.

trade #2 Roads & Boats Also no longer in the collection. It was too hard to get to the table. I do sort of regret not exploring this as much as it deserved. I would love a tiny version of this game with just enough components for 1-2 players!
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2. Board Game: Mr. Cabbagehead's Garden [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:3061]
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#20

Last year: #19 S

trade What I track: My high score (currently 111 in the PnP version). I'm also going through and trying to get each type of bonus in the game.

thumbsup Relaxing, fun game with truly glorious art.

thumbsup The scoring brackets are perfectly calibrated -- it's tough to get a blue ribbon!

thumbsup I really like the different ways to earn bonuses in this game, giving you different garden layouts to aim for.

thumbsdown The randomness surrounding which (if any) nosy neighbor steals from you frequently means there isn't much you can do to try to thwart them.

thumbsdown The highest scores are generally achieved when you get lucky and the neighbors don't steal any veggies. So when you do have veggies stolen, you continue to play with somewhat diminished excitement.

I love my PnP, but I need to try to find the published version!
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3. Board Game: Limes [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:1888]
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#19

Last year: #16 S

trade What I track: My high score (49 since I started tracking, though I know I've gotten 50+ a couple of times).

thumbsup Endlessly replayable and always a fun and thinky challenge.

thumbsup Plays very quickly.

thumbsup The Limes online implementation makes solo challenges so easy and fun to host or participate in.
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4. Board Game: Castellion [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1400]
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#18

Last year: #9 S

trade What I track: I was tracking victories through all the various modes of the game but have run out of new, harder ways to play!

thumbsup I love the building, destroying, moving, and shaping of the castle, using the special powers to build towards the formations you need.

thumbsup A relatively quick game that is very easy to setup, so it's easy to get to the table.

thumbsup Made so much more thematic sense after learning that you are building a SAND CASTLE!!! to withstand the waves.

thumbsdown I've now played the advanced game with both the Pantry and the hard version of the Menace and have no more things to try! I guess I wish this game had another expansion or two.
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5. Board Game: Bargain Basement Bathysphere [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
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#17

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: Just my progress through the campaign. I have 5 scenarios to go!

Note: This is a free PnP so everyone should try it!

thumbsup Really fun and engaging. In fact, it's pretty addictive in its gameplay.

thumbsup Short, light game that is easy to get to the table.

thumbsup The campaign means things are always changing with each new play.

thumbsup You can control how difficult the game is by being more or less ambitious in where you explore and what creatures you see.

thumbsup (These next two are just for me...) I normally never mix food/drink and my games, but with this PnP, I can play while I drink tea/coffee!

thumbsup I get a strange satisfaction out of the fact that I can print the maps on the back of collected scratch paper.

thumbsdown After a while, the challenge isn't quite there and the new maps, while different, no longer feel so different.
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6. Board Game: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:173]
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#16

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: My high score (currently 70).

thumbsup The solo variant preserves the varying scoring conditions and tile-buying and tile-laying of the original game. So fun, despite the negatives below!

thumbsdown High scores will vary depending on the scoring tiles drawn as well as on the tiles drawn, so it's a bit hard to compare from one game to the next. (So, a solo challenge will be great, but I don't know if the general interest will be there. I suppose I should try one day!

thumbsdown Tile prices are assigned randomly rather than by a wily opponent.
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7. Board Game: Near and Far [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:132] [Average Rating:7.88 Unranked]
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#15

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I (will) track: My progress through the various map and character campaigns.

I've only gotten a few plays of this so far and have not started the actual campaign yet, so my opinion may change with more plays.

thumbsup The art!

thumbsup It's fun alternating between town actions and exploring on the map.

thumbsdown So far, I'm not loving the storybook as much as I was hoping to. But I'm optimistic I'll enjoy the stories more in the actual campaign.

thumbsdown I added Amber Mines to play the official solo/coop mode, but the game now feels quite bloated. There is so much here, but the different aspects of the game don't feel super distinct to me yet. I'm hoping this is just a first impression.

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8. Board Game: Patchwork [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:66]
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#14

Last year: #14 EW

trade What I track: I'm trying to win against each level of the automa. I've won at levels 1-3 and I have a tie at level 4. Getting that victory has been very difficult!

thumbsup My SGOYT haiku about this game says it all:

Tradeoffs everywhere
Spaces or buttons or time
Nearly filled the quilt


It's those tradeoffs! They are classic Uwe, but in a shorter game....

thumbsup The automa is really incredible! My opinion of the solo game has gone way up since I started playing with it. Although that isn't reflected in a higher ranking this year, that is only because of great new games discovered.
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9. Board Game: Caverna: Cave vs Cave [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:593]
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#13

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: My high score (currently 55). I've also managed to excavate and furnish the entire cave, but now I'm working on furnishing the extra cave tile in addition. (Note: this does not lead to high scores, but is a separate entertainment!)

thumbsup Tight Uwe game. You're always struggling to do just that tiny bit more!

thumbsup Variable setup.

thumbsdown Not a super thematic game. I feel like I'm manipulating different kinds of half-abstract resources, rather than building a cave for a dwarf family. This is in striking contrast to big Caverna, where I did feel like I was sowing, harvesting, breeding animals, building rooms, etc. (Sigh, I miss that game.)

thumbsdown Some of the actions and buildings seem to offer rather random sets of things to do/abilities. This is again in contrast to big Caverna, where the actions and buildings all seemed to tie in better to theme. (I have this complaint about Glass Road as well, though it's not as bad in that game.)
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10. Board Game: Greenland (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.37 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.37 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.37 Unranked]
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#12

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: I'm trying to win a game of the Daughter's Saga solo mode with each of the 10 daughters -- so far, I've only managed 4 of the 10 daughters.

thumbsup A fun game that really really tells a story as you play.

thumbsup Feels very thematic, and I really like the Greenland setting, with Greenland slowly freezing over.

thumbsdown This solo mode might be a bit swingy, with success mostly dependent on when/whether the event cards take away your matriarchs, one way or another, and whether you have time to recover after such events. Some games are far more tense than others.

thumbsdown I'm not sure that the game feels very different with different daughters. Their different abilities seem relatively minor, compared to things like event cards.

thumbsdown In general, this seems like it might shine more in multiplayer than in solo.
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11. Board Game: Aerion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:2389]
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#11

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: I'm currently working on winning with each of the 6 expansions.

thumbsup Has the usual mix of strategy and luck found in all Oniverse games. In short, thinky, though light, and fun.

thumbsup A nice number of expansions. I've enjoyed all the ones I've tried so far.

thumbsup I'm not big on dice in general, but I mind them less here than in Nautilion.
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12. Board Game: Onirim (second edition) [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:537]
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#10

Last year: #12 N

trade What I track: I have won with all the expansions and with all combinations of 2 expansions. I have also won with all 7 expansions, which is my favorite way to play now. I'm currently trying to win with all 7 expansions + Mirrors.

thumbsup I like this game even more now than I did last year. The reason? Playing with all 7 expansions! This is an amazing way to play! I love how in each game, different expansions come to the fore or fade to the background. I'll also note that playing with all the expansions isn't as fiddly or rules-heavy as you might think -- with a hand of only five cards, you can quickly look up what each expansion brings to the game, if you need to, and pretty soon all the rules will be internalized!

thumbsup Really nice, relaxing game. You might not win right away, but if you play two or three times, there's surely a victory in there somewhere! (Note: this might not be true with Mirrors!)

thumbsup So variable. With 7 expansions, you will never run out of ways to play the game.

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13. Board Game: Pandemic: The Cure [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:309]
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#9

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: I'm currently trying to win with the hot zones expansion in Experimental Meds.

thumbsup A sleek and elegant design, where rules are straightforward.

thumbsup The dice-rolling is awesome, and I usually dislike dice: I love the way the player dice give you actions, and that you can reroll them as much as you want, but are always risking a biohazard when you reroll!

thumbsup The dice-rolling is awesome, part 2: I love the way you roll to try to cure diseases! I also love that there's no harm in trying, even if you only have 3 dice collected, but that you can collect more dice to improve your odds of hitting 13.

thumbsup The dice-rolling is awesome, part 3: I love the way the events work -- 3 event cards are always available to you, but you have to pay for them with rolled crosses on infection dice.

thumbsup Great 30-minute play time.

thumbsup With the expansion, the game feels pretty much indefinitely replayable.
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14. Board Game: Glass Road [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:235]
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#8

Last year: #7 S

trade What I track: My high score (currently 30.5).

thumbsup It has that Uwe game feel... wonderful decision-making and tight play.

thumbsup Short playtime of about 45 minutes! This is unique among the Uwes I own.

thumbsup Huge number of different buildings! No two games alike!

thumbsup The rondels are unique and very interesting to manage. Sometimes you need glass and bricks, sometimes you need some of the basic resources for whatever purpose, and triggering/preventing the automatic generation of glass and brick is something you always have to consider.

thumbsup Perfect game for solo challenges, and I have hosted over a dozen now! The conventional wisdom about this game used to be that the specific combination of buildings affects how high you can score and that it's therefore hard to compare scores from game to game. Solo challenges allow you to compare your score with other players who are playing with the same buildings.

thumbsup In the solo challenges, we are also testing the hypothesis of

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that in fact the building selection isn't that important if you play well. Our working hypothesis is that any combo of buildings will allow for scores close to 30. Most months, someone will score a 30.

thumbsdown It's a little less pretty and less satisfying in a tactile way than other Uwe games. There are no animeeples.

thumbsdown Some of the buildings seem a bit abstract, so you end up feeling like you're optimizing away rather than building a town (I think that is what you're building in this game?). When I hear the names of different Glass Road buildings, I can never remember what they do. Nor the names of the cards you play.

thumbsup Note: This game would definitely be a lot higher if I didn't have other Uwe games up there that this is being compared to!
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15. Board Game: Nemo's War (Second Edition) [Average Rating:8.04 Overall Rank:345]
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#7

Last year: #6 S

trade What I track: I'm trying to get a win at the "Success" level with each of the motives. I've managed Explore, Science, and Anti-Imperialism so far. With the new expansion, I have three motives to go!

thumbsup Love the thematic tie-in with Jules Verne and the adventure of sailing the Nautilus around, collecting treasures, going on adventures, finding wonders, and fighting the occasional ship!

thumbsup Maybe the prettiest game ever! And the board is so well-designed.

thumbsdownthumbsup Weirdly, I don't mind the dice. What I've noticed myself minding more, in terms of being the victim of luck, is where the finale card shows up -- sometimes I just need a couple more turns to try to rack up points!

thumbsdown The play time... close to 3 hours to set up, play, and put away. I wish I could leave it set up and play one act a day.

thumbsup I added the mini-expansions this year, and they've brought nice new variety into the game. The expansions do seem quite expensive for the components provided though.

thumbsup This game gets a boost for being so different from every other game in my collection.
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16. Board Game: Renegade [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:1282]
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#6

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: I'm trying to beat each SMC with one of each color renegade. I've just finished with Spider and am moving up to Viking! Since Viking is supposed to be much harder, I'll probably try to win with all the different renegades.

thumbsup Really love the way the three countermeasure cards (copper, silver, gold) organize the play, setting up goals for each cycle.

thumbsup Really like the way the hack shack works -- many of the cards seem quite powerful, and they're not super expensive and go right into your hand. It's very exciting to trade out your cards and feel your hand and deck get stronger.

thumbsup Great, relatively short playtime.

thumbsup Great level of thinkiness. Very puzzly and engrossing.

thumbsup This game provides regular eureka! moments that are thrilling and fun. Not many games do this!!

thumbsup I like the diversity of SMCs.

thumbsdown The theme is very abstract. This abstraction also made the rulebook hard to get through. It took quite a few plays to feel confident about the rules and even the sequence of events in a round.

thumbsup However, the game does get more immersive as you master the rules.

thumbsdown The standees are a bit disappointing -- you can barely see the renegades. Better standees or minis would help with the immersion! In addition, although the bigger dice are nice, the smaller infection dice are a bit disappointing.

Eventually, I'd love to get the expansions for this. Hopefully they'll be available again before long.
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17. Board Game: Cerebria: The Inside World [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:902]
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#5

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: Um, right now I'm working on just getting a victory, any victory!, against Ego.

Only a handful of plays so far, so this one may move up or down over time.

thumbsup I really enjoy pursuing the different aspirations in the game.

thumbsup My only thumbs-up for a mechanic -- I really really love the Absorb action, which involves taking willpower from one segment of the origin and then scoring fragments based on the aspirations and the fortresses on the board.

thumbsup Unique point-scoring mechanism involving adding fragments to the origin is very fun.

thumbsup Art, components, and (yay!) pre-painted minis.

thumbsdown Long setup time and long playtime make it hard to get to the table. Also, I really do wish the game were smaller.

thumbsdown The Ego is very fiddly and rules-intensive to run.
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18. Board Game: Terraforming Mars [Average Rating:8.41 Overall Rank:3]
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#4

Last year: #3 S

trade What I track: I've won the base game with all the base game corps and Venus Next with all the base and Venus corps. I'm currently working on winning with the BGG user-created corps. After that, I'll add Prelude and try to win with all the base, Venus, and Prelude corps.

thumbsup Love all the different cards and the many different ways to engine-build.

thumbsup Feels thematic.

thumbsup So variable, with so many corporations and so many cards.

thumbsup I like the win condition of completing terraforming in 14 generations...

thumbsdown ...but it might be getting a bit too easy, so that wins become anticlimactic. This is especially true with Venus Next.

thumbsdown Why isn't this higher? I think putting things on the map is a little disappointing. It doesn't generally require much or any thought. That and the fact that these days, the decisions in the game no longer seem very tough to make.

thumbsup So easy to get to the table and still compellingly playable after all this time.

thumbsup Looking forward to adding in Prelude soon, both for new variety and a bigger challenge.
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19. Board Game: Spirit Island [Average Rating:8.33 Overall Rank:14]
J J
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#3

Last year: NEW! goldencamel

trade What I track: Just trying to win at the basic level with each of the Spirits. After that, I'll use the handy chart in the rulebook to increase difficulty.

thumbsup Love looking at my cards and plotting what to do.

thumbsup Feels thematic.

thumbsup The spirits actually do feel so different to play! This is more true in this game than in any other game that I've played.

thumbsup The game is still relatively new to me, so who knows if this will fade over time, but right now I just want to play this and play this and play this!

thumbsup One neat thing about this game is that it seems to appeal to such a wide variety of gamers.
Luke
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recently wrote that it was second only to KD:M and Magic for him, and for me it's also only behind a few games (see below...!), but ones that are so different from Luke's favorites!

thumbsdown This is less a thumbs down than a "why isn't it higher?" Well, one thing is that my favorite games generally involve building something cool (often, for example, a farm ), so it may be hard for Spirit Island to go higher...

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20. Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:265]
J J
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#2

Last year: #5 N

trade What I track: My high score (currently 18.9, just this month!).

thumbsup Feels like an Uwe game. It's very tight, and you're building something cool.

thumbsup Endlessly variable.

thumbsup So brain-burny.

thumbsup The vegimeeples are awesome. I love the tactile experience of this game.

thumbsup Inspired to keep trying to score higher! Because it's a beat-your-own-score, the game is tight from beginning to end. You can't just relax ever! I've broken 18 a couple of times. 19 seems impossible!

thumbsdown Doesn't feel quite as thematic as most Uwe games.
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21. Board Game: A Feast for Odin [Average Rating:8.18 Overall Rank:24]
J J
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#1

Last year: #1 EW

trade What I track: My high score (currently 137). Now that the recent series of solo challenges seems to have ended, I'm planning to go back to the first series and try all those challenges -- 16 scenarios in all!

My favorite solo game! And yet, being an Uwe connoisseur, I know it's not perfect. Here are some thumbs:

thumbsup The usual Uwe feel. To me, this means: Very thinky. Each move matters. You know that actions can't be wasted and you feel constantly that your supply of them is far too limited. There are an overwhelming number of things you can do. You know that there are better moves and worse moves, but the differences between them are very subtle. For example, when you are able, towards the end of the game, to "math out" a couple of different options, it quite often turns out that they result in the exact same number of victory points. Then you might "math out" a couple more options and, if you're lucky, find one that will allow you to squeak through with one extra point. Except that the whole game is like this, like you have to figure out all the small better-ways-to-do-things. At the same time, everything plays so smoothly... Everything just feels like it works the way it is supposed to. Often, there is a nice arc to the game, you are able to do more and more.

thumbsup A huge game. Many, many different strategies are possible. There are definitely entire paths and tons of action spaces I haven't explored yet.

thumbsup Compared to my previous favorite Uwe, Fields of Arle, there is much more variability through the cards. The cards are also great in helping to give you a direction if you have little idea what to do (see above about the Uwe feel). Hoping this one has more (endless?) replayability.

thumbsdown Not quite as thematically appealing as other Uwe games. The pieces (rectangles and polyominoes) and boards (grids covered with -1's) are not as charming as little farms and fences and dogs and pigs and sheep. For thematic appeal, I'd say Caverna > Fields of Arle > Feast for Odin > Ora et Labora = Loyang > Glass Road. No wooden animeeples in the game.

thumbsdown The square-covering bonus-seeking income-seeking aspect of the game requires a lot of detail-oriented work so that sometimes you feel like it is more of a jigsaw puzzle than ideal.
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22. Board Game: Future [Average Rating:5.67 Unranked]
J J
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My unplayed games, good candidates for next year's list!

C Nusfjord
C Bios Megafauna 2
C 7th Continent
C Wingspan
C Underwater Cities

... and on order!

C Sleeping Gods
C Obsession

I'm not planning to buy any games next year (I know, I know...), so I have a pretty good chance of getting through this entire list, as well as getting Gaia Project back to the table for real. (But if I have a wishlist item, it's probably Trickerion: Collector's Edition. That and Sprawlopolis. Plus I might need a Spirit Island expansion. shake)
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