Top 5 Games of (and I reviewed in) 2023 (Saturday Review)


Announcing the annual Top Table Award is always a pleasure and an honour at the same time. Choosing and deciding the order of the top 5 games I reviewed in 2023 is never easy. There usually isn’t much between the games and they are all great for their own reasons. So, irrespective of which one won the coveted award, all of the games are worth a closer look. Here goes…

Actually, not quite. Rather than launching straight into the top 5 games, listed in reverse order, as is now tradition, I wanted to point out some other superlatives from 2023 that you might be interested in.

Blog Stats

So let’s start with the most-viewed article from last year. Unsurprisingly, it will be an article from earlier in the year and the honour goes to my review of Mycelia by J. J. Neville from Split Stone Games. With over 2,640 views it leads the roster, closely followed by my thought piece Opening Gambit – where to begin in the modern hobby with some tips on where you might want to start with board games. That article reached 2,370 views in 2023.

Overall, the blog has received over 139,000 views and nearly 60,000 visitors. That’s an average of nearly 11,600 monthly views and 5,000 monthly visitors. As a daily average, that’s over 380 views and over 160 visitors. That’s pretty huge. I mean, that’s a good-sized room filled with people every day. Thank you so much to all of you.

Most of you seem to access the site from a search engine. That’s not a huge surprise and means I’m getting quite a lot of so-called “organic” traffic. The second-most views come in via the WordPress app, which is interesting. I guess it makes sense. The blog is a WordPress site, after all, so reading it via the app is probably a good way. Next, I get a good chunk of people visiting the site from Facebook and Twitter, which is to be expected.

When it comes to referrals from other board game websites, Beyond Solitaire and Cardboard Edison lead the table. I’m really chuffed that those two sites either link to me or people visit Tabletop Games Blog after visiting those sites. So a quick shout out to Liz Davidson and Chris and Suzanne Zinsli. Thank you so much!

Top 5 Games

Right then, now it’s time to reveal my favourite five games of 2023. As you will know by now, the list isn’t restricted to games released in 2023. Instead, the games were selected from those I reviewed and therefore played in 2023. I think that’s a good way to give games released towards the end of the year a good chance to get to the table and get a thorough appreciation. If you’re looking for a list of games published in 2023 only, you’re in the wrong place. Sorry.

So, here finally goes…

5. Next Station: London

Let’s start with a game that lost out on the coveted Spiel des Jahres award this year. The designer of this game, the wonderful Matthew Dunstan, was very gracious when he congratulated the winners at the ceremony in Berlin last year. So while this game didn’t get the Spiel des Jahres award, to me, Next Station: London is the best something-and-write game I played in 2023. It creates a lot of depth with very simple rules. It makes you think just hard enough to keep you focussed and engaged, without being so overwhelming that it creates analysis paralysis. It’s cleanly designed without any fancy extras or pointless bells and whistles. It is the perfect game for the whole family to while away half an hour or so while leaning into your inner child and drawing on a piece of paper with colouring pencils.

one of the player sheets in Next Station: London and a blue colouring pencil
one of the player sheets in Next Station: London

4. Taiwan Night Market

Seeing a publisher from East Asia release a game by an East Asian designer is very exciting. A game about a culture that is not familiar to me and that is made by someone who knows what they’re talking about, is still very rare in our very Western-centric hobby. So when Taiwan Night Market came to Kickstarter, I knew I had to support it and get myself a copy. As it turns out, the game really delivered. It is a mix of bidding and area control which is very accessible to a wide age range. The cute, comic-style illustrations are very attractive and the overall graphic design is very clean. The rules are pretty straightforward and the gameplay is pretty quick. As an economic simulation of sorts, this game really appealed to me. So it was wonderful when our neighbours enjoyed it too. It’s certainly a game that will stay in my collection. I think it appeals to players of all kinds. Whether you just want to build your own food chain or are a hardened gamer who is very competitive, there is something here for everyone.

different illustrations for the same stall type in Taiwan Night Market
varied illustrations for the same type of stall make Taiwan Night Market a pleasure to look at

3. Akropolis

I think 2023 was the year of visual puzzle and tile-laying games. I love the challenge of trying to select the right tile and find the perfect place and orientation for it to score a lot of points. Whether these are polyominoes, hexes, squares or some other shape, I just love these sorts of games. So when a game adds a third dimension into the mix, it’s absolutely amazing – and Akropolis is that game. Not only do you have to find the right piece, but you also have to select the right place and orientation and even keep an eye on going up into the third dimension. The higher you can stack your tiles, the higher the point potential. At the same time, you need to try and get cubes to give you a wider choice of tiles to take from the market. The game really offers everything, without becoming overwhelming. The rules overhead is really low, even though it can take a little while to get used to the way different districts score. It’s a really clean design and a lot of game to fit into about half an hour to an hour. I just love it.

some of the tiles, layered on top of each other, and three wooden cubes representing the stone resource in Akropolis
some of the tiles, layered on top of each other, and three wooden cubes representing the stone resource in Akropolis

2. Sea Salt & Paper

2023 wasn’t only the year of puzzly games, but card games also featured heavily for me. Set collection games are probably some of the simplest card games to learn, even though many aren’t easy to master. Sea Salt & Paper is no different. The rules are pretty light, even though you might take a little while to understand the bonus actions some cards give you. Yet, the game that emerges from these simple rules is much deeper than you’d think. Sure, there is a lot of luck, like there is in many card games, but there are also many decisions you have to make. You certainly can, to some degree at least, improve your chances, and as the game is played over several rounds, the luck should even out. Even if you do have a game that goes totally against you, it only takes about 30 minutes before you start another one. It’s the perfect family game, in my view.

some of the cards in Sea Salt & Paper, all in an origami style - in the picture: a mermaid, penguin and crab
some of the cards in Sea Salt & Paper, all in an origami style

1. Enemy Anemone (Top Table Award 2023)

Top Table Award by Tabletop Games Blog

OK, you have already seen which game has won the coveted Top Table Award for 2023. If you know me, you won’t be surprised. As a lover of trick-taking games who has been unable to share his passion with his family and friends, finally finding a game that is easy to learn and quick to play is amazing. It allowed me to teach some of the more complex concepts of trick-taking games to people who have never played these types of games before. Not only that, it meant I was able to bring another trick-taker to the table, which would have otherwise been harder to teach. Additionally, a friend of mine bought this game to teach his family. So this single game is really spreading a genre that I absolutely adore – and that is amazing.

Yes, it’s Enemy Anemone by Daniel Newman, who has done an outstanding job of creating a trick-taking game that twists things around in such a way as to create a really distilled representative of this genre. The gorgeous illustrations by Rob Turpin just add to the joy of playing the game. It isn’t only a pleasure to teach, but it’s also a huge pleasure to play. I’m so glad Daniel showed me the game and played it with me. It’s a real jewel and it has become my foundation trick-taking game, from which I can build up a giant monument of trick-taking games.

So, yes, Enemy Anemone truly deserves to win the Top Table Award. Congratulations!

a hand of cards in Enemy Anemone
a hand of cards in Enemy Anemone

So that’s it for another year. I hope my choice of top 5 games for 2023 was insightful and has given you inspiration to check out some of these games for yourself. Thank you again for reading this blog or listening to the audio versions of my articles. Here is to many more amazing games in 2024!

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Sound Effects: bbc.co.uk – © copyright 2024 BBC

Music: “Corporate Documentary” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Corporate Motivation” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Corporate Ambient” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Corporation” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

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