It’s the end of the year (almost) and that means its time for a Table Top 5 list! Is it self indulgent? Yes! Is it a good way to find out about games we haven’t covered? Of course!

There have been some good and some bad games release this year and in the interests of fairness we’re gonna do the Top 5 Gems and the Top 5 Garbage.

Starting off with the “just made it”, the games that clawed their way onto the podium or just failed to escape the bin.

Gem # 5 – Beat That

Growing up watching American Pie and other American college films I developed a very specific idea of what college would be like. Turns out college isn’t really like that in the UK. Especially if you’re on a game development course. So imagine my joy at finally getting to live those college fantasies with Beat That.

Well, the party game fantasies at least. Beat That doesn’t provide the other stuff…

Beat That has you bet on your ability co complete ridiculous tasks involving red plastic cups, ping pong balls, chopsticks, cards, and your own physical prowess. From quick stacking cups while planking, to masterfully throwing cards, the challenges are amazingly fun and hilarious to watch.

If you’re looking for something to centre a game night around, Beat That is a fantastic choice. For more information, check out our review.

Spread of tasks and components for Beat That.

Garbage #5 – Forests of Adrimon

Forests of Adrimmon is an RPG masquerading as a board game and it takes the worst parts of both it’s aliases. The top offenders are its jumbled rulebook, the need for the player to be constantly tracking ever changing numbers, vaguely written mechanics, and a travel system that puts Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to shame.

Each round sees you roll to not get lost, to not starve, and to see if you find treasure or not. Then you get to deal with the event cards and have the displeasure of trying to make sense of its combat system. Which is a damn shame as the concept is great. A boardgame with the depth of an RPG and a tonne of replayability sounds great on paper. But I’ve spent hours puzzling over Forests of Adrimmon and I still don’t get how to work it.

Ok Boomer me all you like, this is just too darn complex for a boardgame. Though I will give it kudos for it’s “living cards” which we’ll be looking at in another article.

In play shot of Forests of Adrimon showing most of the components.

Gem #4 – Paranormal Detectives

Hands up if you’ve ever watched Ghost Hunters. If you haven’t, shame on you, those brave souls are out there hunting ghosts for your entertainment! This is your chance to see the sort of difficulties they face.

Paranormal Detectives is a social game where one player plays the mute ghost and everyone else plays a paranormal detective. The twist is that the detectives can ask any non-yes or no question they like but they have to play a card from their hand that determines the method the ghost uses to respond. “Where were you when you were killed?” played with the magic mirror lets the ghost answer with a very short charade. Or you could ask them to use the ouija board to spell out the first 5 letters, make shapes using the hangman’s ropes, arrange tarot cards, you get the idea.

The difficulty of trying to work out what the ghost is trying to convey and correctly guess the who, where, why, how, and murder weapon is wonderful. Watching the other detectives create a story in their head and ask leading questions that take them further down their own strange path is fantastic and thematic.

Also there’s a free app with more story cards for after you’ve played through all the cards included. Which is always a welcome addition.

Cover art for Paranormal Detectives

Garbage #4 – Physical Elements

Remember marbles? Crazy Bones? Remember just about any game that needed you to flick something to play? They all had something in common, rounded edges. There’s a reason for that as you can find in our review.

Physical Elements is an interesting premise. Each player takes a bunch of pieces that represent their chosen element. The shapes of which lend themselves to certain types of play. Fire is very offensive with not much ability to defend. Earth is very rigid and can be linked together to make walls and shields. You then take it in turns to try knock each other out of the arena.

As a concept, it’s alright. A skill based game about tactical positioning and flicking sounds like it could be fun. The huge issue with it is that even with the flimsy rubber thimbles, they hurt to flick. Just look at them, some of them are practically shurikens. A good idea let down by its design. Either they didn’t test these or they’ve got fingers of stone.

Components for Physical Elements.

Gem #3 – Star Crossed

In my Exploring Emotions Through Solo RPGs article, I talked alot about opening up and experiencing a deep connection through solo play. Star Crossed proves that with the right partner, you can explore emotions together in a beautiful way.

The premise is that you both take on characters that, for some reason or another, can’t be together even though they both want to. As you play, you both work together to tell this story of their love and how it develops. How, you ask? Through that age old romantic medium of Jenga. Seriously, it works brilliantly.

Star Crossed encourages you to tell the type of romance story you like or to go wild and see what happens. Winter and Spring, seperated by the needs of the world. Kirk and evil Kirk, at odds with their need to captain and their need for love.

The experience is tense and heart wrenching and brings with it all the best feelings of a good romance film.

Cover art for Star Crossed showing a victorian man and alien playing Jenga.

Garbage #3 – Surviving One Month In

Explore a hex based city that’s been overrun by zombies. Scavenge through buildings for resources and survivors. Lose practically every fight and struggle to scavenge at all because of the unbalanced combat.

Surviving One Month In takes number three because I was excited for it. I love rebuilding from the wreckage of the old. It was my favourite part of Fallout 4! However there isn’t much rebuilding and the competitive element comes down to luck and size. In all the games we played, there would undoubtedly be one player who got several bad rolls at the start and ended up a fraction of the size.

The worst part is that it feels like there’s a working game in there somewhere, it’s just hidden behind bad design and awkward rules. Maybe there’s some homebrewing that could save it. I would say there’s nothing worse than wasted potential but as this is only number three, that would be a lie.

In situ shot of Surviving One Month In.

Gem #2 – Western Legends

There’s a concept in game development called “emergent narrative” and its where the player creates their own story by interpreting the effects of the mechanics. Rimworld and Dwarf Fortress are great examples of it. In Western Legends case, our emergent narrative involved me repeatedly robbing another player and spending his money at the cabaret because of our long standing grudge.

There’s a lot to unpack in Western Legends. Essentially you play as one of several real life Western legends like Annie Oakley, Jesse James, Doc Holiday and go round becoming a legend. Prospect in the mines, rustle cattle, fight bandits, rob each other, play poker, duel, be a marshall or get on the wrong side of the law. There’s a lot to do and as you do it, you create a story. This might be the simple story of a miner who kept to themselves until one day they got robbed by that dastardly Y.B Rowdy and swore revenge for the rest of the game. Or it might be the tale of Annie Oakley, gambling god and cabaret regular.

Western Legends quickly became our group favourite and stayed there for nearly the entire year.

Picture of Western Legends box and componenets set up for play.

Garbage #2 – Cucumber Sandwich

Pushing in where it doesn’t belong, ruining the flow and generally being an unpleasant experience once again. Cucumber Sandwich is one of those games that I’m starting to blame Cards Against Humanity for.

The whole premise is to grow your cucumber to twelve inches before the other players. Your cucumber is your penis (get it? cause like they’re both phallic?). The designer’s really hope you get the joke but don’t worry if you don’t cause some cards just have straight up dicks on them.

The gameplay itself is unimaginative with players playing cards to add length, or steal length, or block a player from stealing and that’s about it.

I said in my original review of Cucumber Sandwich that I find dick jokes funny. Several months on and that game has still left that genre of humour ruined for me.

Assumedly hilarious cards for Cucumber Sandwich featuring penises playing basketball.

Gem #1 – 20 Second Showdown

A tug-of-war over a 20 second timer as two teams compete to perform ridiculous tasks as quickly as possible, 20 Second Showdown is insanely fun. We’ve had furniture break and side’s split with this game as the desire to not let your team down gets really intense. I’m fairly certain if a card said “leap out the window” I would.

What makes 20 Second Showdown so immensely fun is it’s tennis rally pace. With such little time to work with, you need to act and think fast. And as the challenges run the gamut from physical to tongue-twister to brain teaser to just plain silly, it feels full on.

The only negative is that you need five players. Two a side with one playing as the referee. Which is difficult to organise, especially if all your friends work strange shifts. Refereeing is great if, like me, you tend to freeze up when asked to quickly name three classic films or hum any tune. Plus, being the referee sort of makes you feel like the host of a living room gameshow.

Check out our review for more information.

Spread of tasks for 20 Second Showdown.

And the real reason you all read through this saga of a Top 5 (or just skipped to the end), the Worst Game of 2019:

Garbage #1 – Le Neckbeard

Urggghghghghghghhhhhhhhhh.

You have to collect waifus. Just, just let that sink in for a moment. You collect waifus by using your Skills, Ego, Intellect, Appearance, and Sustenance while battling the constant responsibilities and avoiding the card stealing Chads.

Le Neckbeard takes worst game for a few reasons. The main one being that it is godawfully boring. Responsibility cards prevent you from trying to get waifu cards but even when you do get the right combination of cards to get rid of them, the next player just smacks one down in front of you again. This could be framed as clever satire but then it wouldn’t just boring but pretentious as well.

The other reason it just sits wrong. Who is this meant to appeal to? There’s a high chance that the people who get all of the jokes and references are somewhere on the neck-beard spectrum themselves. And if they aren’t, the vast majority of ‘jokes’ are going to go right over their heads. It reeks of a superiority complex from the design team.

Le Neckbeard gets the worst game of the year award and while it’s not the worst game out there, it’s the most despicably petty one I’ve had the misfortune of reviewing.

Le Neckbeard cover art "A casual game for casuals"

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