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The Nerdz Garage Best Board Games of 2019 – From Time Travel to the Stock Market-  The Year ha

Updated: May 26, 2020

While we live in a world of short attention spans, the board game resurgence has sparked our appetite to get back at the tables often and for hours. The scheduled game night has risen to a priority and not just a time filler. We collect games, and we track our victories as well as our losses. The spirit of competition is alive and well at The Garage. Our top ten games played this year, some that are new and some that are new to us.

  1. Star Trek Catan

Let me preface that we have played other games that were versions of a game and then Star Trek or Star Wars-themed adaptions, and we were exceedingly disappointed. It was serendipitous that the blend of Catan and Star Trek was successful since the subsequent wait time, for the game to arrive,  felt like light-years.

The game’s artwork is engaging, Starship roads and Space Stations are delightful. The takeaway was that we needed to search out superior miniature tokens for our other Catan’s.

The most substantial change is the addition of the Crew cards. Every player gets a two-time use crew card. Then you have to discard it back into the Crew pool, to be picked up by another player. These crew cards each do something different, so it’s best to wrap your head around them before you start to play.

These Trekkers enjoyed the fun twists with the various stars from the original Star Trek series, as well as new pieces of acting as roads and settlements, and cities. The Nerdz at the Garage are obsessed, if you liked Catan and you like Star Trek, this is a must!

Who wouldn’t want to play with a tiny Enterprise Starship or Klingon Battle Cruiser?

  1. T.I.M.E. Stories

These Nerdz have been obsessed with Sci-Fi shows and have recently binged, Travelers (Netflix), and Life on Mars (B.B.C.). When I saw T.I.M.E. Stories’ playthroughs on the social media, it was evident that The Garage required some Time Travel games. The players become Agents from the T.I.M.E. Agency and are sent on missions to different places in time to fix the anomalies and return to base. Complete the task in time, or you will be recalled back to base, where you will have to start your mission over again. If you failed and sent back to complete your task, taking notes is crucial; we found out the hard way. These notes will assist in future missions.

What we enjoyed was the mechanism for collaboration. When a player gets to read the back of a card, they have to explain what they’ve just read to their teammates rather than just reading it verbatim. Once you advise the team on the next goal, the group works together to advance the mission. The artwork in T.I.M.E. Stories is stunning, and each expansion has an entirely contrasting look. Days after completing the first game, we found ourselves still talking about how we played and what strategies we would do different and use for the next mission. Mirroring how we converse after a binge-worthy show.

8. Viticulture

We were in St Louis for a fundraiser and had a serendipitous opportunity to learn Viticulture from the designer, Jamey Stegmaier. Our copy was still shrink-wrapped on the shelf at home, waiting for the time to get it on the table. When Jamey asked what we wanted to play, the choice was obvious, Viticulture. It takes me a few playthroughs to fully grasp a game, and I was trying my best to be competitive; however, I was thoroughly enjoying the company, and that enjoyment may have contributed to my severe loss. We have since played it a dozen times and moved on to the expansions. It is quick to learn, solid player interaction, and with the expansion, replayability. It is often what we teach when newbies come over.

Viticulture is a worker-placement game. It is played over a number of rounds until someone has scored at least 20 points. At the end of that round, the player with the most points wins. Each player has his own mat, which shows his vineyard.

Star Wars the Outer Rim
  1. Star Wars Outer Rim

The rulebook the rulebook the rulebook. Once you get past the rulebook and get through a play through, the game presents its nuances. The strategies wrapped in the delightful characters are well thought out.

The path to a victory is not set alone on your actions, other players may hold secret plans to attack you. The player interaction is limited but keep a close eye on the other bounty hunters! The negotiation element is a unique addition. Borrow money to trade a contract or bounty, but the deal may leave you broke at the end of the galaxy.

Bounties and jobs give replayability and deepen the story. These jobs are mini-stories with multiple encounters.

The gameplay is smart, with lots of options and adventure. Yes, we are huge Star Wars fans and thoroughly loved this game!

  1. Above and Below

Above and Below is a new game for Nerdz Garage. Once it was on the table, it stayed. We are fans of “choose your own adventure,” and this has a unique take, and it is four games in one. There is board advancement, strategy, engine building, dice rolling role-playing, and choose your own adventure stories! The premise of Above and Below is that your village was forced to flee and relocate. After finding a suitable location on which you can rebuild, you discover a vast network of caves underneath filled with mystery. We’ll get to the caves and the mystery in a moment. First, you’ve got to acquire beds for your villagers. Beds are essential because your workers must rest when exhausted to continue the next turn. Now that the villagers have a place to rest their heads, you can to put down roots and rebuild your new village. Now is the time to gather resources and explore Above and Below. It is an engine-building game, and like most, it starts out slow, and the shifts to high by the end of the game.

Overall the game is beautiful and intriguing. Both are what attract the Nerdz to a game and keep it on the table. There is variety in the encounters, allowing for a new experience each game.

The gameplay is straight forward but has a depth of strategy that will appeal to seasoned gamers. Nerdz Garage highly recommends this game to anyone who enjoys the excitement of choosing your adventure or who enjoys the careful management of resources.

Tokaido Let's Go
  1. Tokaido

I came across Tokaido by pure chance. Walking through a game store and out of my peripheral was this beautiful box. I was drawn to the art, and the game was on the table that night. The stunning artwork is throughout the game and its components.

The game is straightforward and swift to learn. Tokaido has all of the players traveling the famous Tokaido road between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) and having encounters along the way. Each spot on the road you may acquire, money from working on a farm, or maybe a piece of a panorama. Essentially this is a set collection game with a few different sets to collect. These collection and encounters give points to move you up the track. We enjoyed the mechanics of the turns and how they were subdivided into four parts with a mandatory rest at an inn in-between. We enjoy both the original experience and then the more involved Crossroads game.

Tokaido is often played over morning coffee and always packed when we are on the road. There have been many a hotel lobby that the game has been played and invariably gets compliments from passersby.

  1. Scythe

The game Scythe was a gift from our friends Ben and Mariah, who bought the game while on their honeymoon in Ireland. They purchased it at a game store and donut shop where the commonality was to buy/bring a game, consume fabulous donuts, and play for hours. Why this has not been invented in the U.S., I don’t know because it sounds marvelous and I would live there. If it does, please let me know!!!!

There is scarcely a game that I do not delight in, however, when a game box weighs in at 8 pounds, and you lift the lid of Scythe, it can be simultaneously exciting and daunting. Scythe is a game with a lot of bits and bobs to understand and keep track of, but that gives ample opportunity to get your hands and develop a backstory. They offer immense information to draw from to build strategy and or role play. There are plenty of rules for players to discern and then figure out how to get all of them working together. Set in an alternative universe in Eastern Europe in the 1920s with mechs roaming the countryside. You farm goods, conquer regions, and try to win over the people and gain popularity. Players start with their own faction. These factions have their own faction leader, their own mechs, their own home base on the board and their own characteristics, or powers. Combined with a randomly drawn player board, every board is slightly different, you have unique starting conditions. This ability to weave together highly complex strategies that change each game makes the game replayability something to be commended! Scythe is a rare creation that we found had the perfect balance between depth, style and substance, and fun and challenge.

Scythe keeps you wanting to come back to try new faction and player mat combos.

We have started the expansion, Rise of the Fenris, and we are trying to relish it unhurriedly.

  1. City of Big Shoulders

The artwork is eye-catching and intriguing; the theme is sophisticated, so what else could we do but play City of the Big Shoulders by Parallel games. Set at the turn of the century, shortly after the second great Chicago Fire, City of the Big Shoulders is a euro-style, resource management and worker placement game with an 18xx-style economic engine. Take on the role of entrepreneur and investor as you build one of 15 historical companies, hiring workers, acquiring resources, and producing goods to line your pockets and become Chicago’s most significant resident.

When you start to set up and open the behemoth rulebook, you must overlook the urge to close the book and put the lovely box back on the shelf. I was having a dialogue in my head while da hubby was going over the rule. The conversation- “tell him you have too much to do to play” response “stick it out, just get a round in, and it will make sense.” After missing most of the setup instructions, I buckled up and dove headfirst into how to play.

The components are wooden and high quality. The board is compelling, and the city map underlain is a nice touch. The money did seem delicate and modest. We did follow the recommendation to use poker chips instead, and the feel of the poker chips was satisfying.

The city of Big Shoulders is a thoughtful, challenging game that moves swiftly. The historical and nostalgic background of the booming industrial metropolis was captivating. It is not for the faint of heart, but we found once we had a grasp of the rules, we were all in.

It is my favorite game of the Year and ranked top 3 for the collective Nerdz Garage.

*We suggest having a calculator handy.

  1. Castles of Mad King Ludwig

We love Castles of mad King Ludwig! It is the only other game that we take on the road when we travel.

The theme and historical events are what attracted us to the game. King Ludwig II of Bavaria and he was rumored to be a wee bit off in the head. Technically he was declared insane. He was known for having fascinating castles and palaces, with some rooms being inspired by the operas of Wagner. He even built a miniature Versailles as a tribute to Louis XIV. While his sanity has been questioned, his castles were intriguing and beautiful.

The game is well-designed, from the room pieces to the mechanics. The game has almost infinite replay value, and it is simple to teach. (taught it this week)

Each player is trying to build their own castle and score the most victory points. Each round, the player who is the master builder will draw cards that tell them what kinds of rooms they need to put out for sale. The master-builder sets all the prices of the rooms but then gets to buy a room last.

The simple mechanics keep the rounds quick. We do love the accomplishment of completing a castle in each game and take time to compare our bizarre castle.

The uncomplicated mechanics and a depth of strategy  keep us putting it back on the table.

  1. Wingspan

A Big Year is a personal challenge or an informal competition among birders who attempt to identify as many species as possible by sight or sound, within a single calendar year. All evidence for Wingspan, the board game had a big year.

When we first heard about Wingspan, we were excited because it is published by Stonemaier Games which is high on the playlist at The Garage for their diverse games (Scythe and Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig are house favorites) and then thrilled for the theme because we are longtime birders.

Wingspan is a card-driven, engine-building board game where players are bird enthusiasts, researchers, and collectors working to attract the optimum birds to their wildlife preserves. The strategy and mindful approach to these cards can swing a game in your favor. There are difficult choices to make in the declining turns, knowing that time is limited and moving swiftly.

In the pursuit of your personal and shared goals, players will work to attract the best birds to their habitats. Each bird can provide a particular action that bolsters a chain of combinations in the habitat they reside in.

Play begins, players are dealt a hand of five random bird cards, two random goal cards, and one of each food types. Before you start, you choose a goal and which birds to keep. Choose wisely because the birds offer bonuses that building early, and craftily will turn to points at the end.

There are three different habitats available for players to attract birds: forest, field, or wetlands, and each habitat allows players to focus on optimal areas of growth: gain food, lay eggs, or draw bird cards.

The winner of the game is the bird enthusiast with the most points after four rounds. We have repeatedly noted that we wanted another round but wanting more makes the game addicting.

The backbone of strategy is predominantly based on luck and timing due to initial draws and player actions. There can be a scarcity of resources and unlucky draws. Smart engine building begins from step one of this game.  Each of the four rounds offers alternative goals for end round bonuses plus the diminishing mechanism of leaving a cube on the goal board. The declining turn component lends to an unmistakable sense of urgency and difficult choices, knowing the end of the round is evident. I relished the declining turns and maximizing the potential turns towards the finish.

Unboxing Wingspan.

Opening a Stonemaier game is a gift that never disappoints. This one included a rulebook printed on linen that is sharp and accessible to follow. The storage in Wingspan is savvy, and the game pieces are charming. They added a dice tower that is a birdhouse! Top-notch inspired game pieces that you expect from Stonemaier games.

There are 170 unique bird cards, and it has to be noted, the time and effort put into each card. The illustrations are stunning and the factual information: what they consume, their habits, Wingspan and that their bonus actions are related to that individual bird.

Our house rules are when you play a bird, you announce the name, where it is from, and if you have seen IRL.

We loved the satisfying engine building, impressive game pieces, replayability (we are 55 games), and THE BIRD CARDS!

Nerdz Garage





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