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Two yellow pawns in the foreground, with gray, delicately sculpted plastic miniatures in the background. From City of the Great Machine. Photo: Crowd Games

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The best board games of 2023 so far

Board games are off to a slow start, but these 5 titles have already pulled ahead

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The first half of 2023 has been a little sluggish for board games. Many of the most significant releases won’t be available until the latter half of the year, during convention season. Yet, there are still new releases worth paying attention to. Though it’s only June, several titles have arrived with a fury, establishing their place among other recent stellar board game releases.

This list is not ranked. Instead, titles are offered in alphabetical order. All are currently in stock and available for sale.

City of the Great Machine

CrowD Games’ City of the Great Machine has been a surprise. One player controls a steampunk mechanized AI whose grip on the floating sky city has tightened. The rest of the group opposes the technocratic authority by inciting dissent and sowing destruction. The goal is to foment three riots before the clock strikes midnight and the machine has squeezed the last sparks of life from the city.

This is a marvelous hidden movement game. Players plot their paths on the map using hidden cards, while the Great Machine attempts to deduce their plans. Location powers and special abilities are triggered during a dramatic reveal each round. There is latitude for creative solutions as you can move sections of the cities around and reconfigure the map layout. Furthermore, it’s a flexible design that includes an alternate rule set for the game itself to control the Great Machine, allowing for solitaire or cooperative play. It’s an underrated design worthy of greater attention.

Dark Venture: Battle of the Ancients

A wooded forest, with bridges and other medieval bits, covered with red and yellow dice. In the background a series of three comic-like books in bright, primary colors. Photo: Gilded Skull Games

Dark Venture: Battle of the Ancients is a zany, heavy-metal skirmish game where players control hordes of alien creatures battling in a post-apocalyptic fantasy hellscape. It’s an indie title that promises more than its small stature, offering competitive, solitaire, and cooperative modes of play. You can command armies and clash head-to-head in dozens of scenarios, or you can take on any faction with a simple AI system running your foes.

This is a thrilling tactical endeavor where you spend limited actions to scurry about the map and pursue faction-specific objectives such as destroying enemies or gathering enough resources to build an overlord. Each of the different warbands is unique, with asymmetric play being a significant component. This is a relatively simple core design with a load of features piled atop. There’s nothing quite like it on the market today.


A shallow depth of field focuses on a hand of cards that are largely unreadable. The front one sayw Eathquake Fissure. The larger game board in the background is illegible, but largely green. Photo: James Paul Correia Photography/Inside Up Games

The tableau-building genre — where players organize tiles, tokens, or, as here, cards on the table — has been revitalized in recent years. Hits like Terraforming Mars and Ark Nova have helped tableau-building games become more mainstream, and now Inside Up Games’ Earth is poised to take things to the next level. It’s a whole world better that its competition.

Players seek to build a self-sustaining engine of flora and fauna. The game has an open-world feel, supporting several different areas of exploration and allowing you to shape the environment however you’d like. The rule set is simple, but the interactions between the various cards and abilities are rich and satisfying. It’s also much less demanding than its peers, clocking in at roughly an hour for experienced players.


The Frosthaven box by itself sitting on a coffee table.
Frosthaven is so big they hired a submarine engineer to fit it inside the box. No, really.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Frosthaven is the highly anticipated sequel to acclaimed dungeon-crawler Gloomhaven. This follow-up is a cooperative RPG board game identical to its predecessor in spirit. However, it’s even larger than that previous monstrosity. The players control a band of adventurers diving into the tunnels beneath a frozen countryside to the north of Gloomhaven proper. New encounters, creatures, and characters will all be discovered.

The most interesting new feature is an element of base-building. In between adventures, the group manages resources and develops an isolated outpost. Your home is barely hanging on in the harsh elements, so you will have to work to manage survival and ultimately thrive. The classic mechanism of sophisticated card-based combat provides the same engaging gameplay we’ve come to love from the original. Frosthaven is something to behold.

Votes for Women

Tory Brown’s Votes for Women is a stunning product. It includes replica voting registration cards, newspaper articles, and personal letters of historical significance. All of this sets the tone for a card-driven area-control game focused on the struggle of the women’s suffrage movement in America. As a set of systems, it’s similar to a historical wargame; as an experience, it’s a sobering retelling of moral achievement.

There is something particularly nasty about playing the opposition in this game. You utilize cards to sow dissent for the proposed 19th Amendment and rally states against your opponent. Thankfully, the game includes an automated system to control this side of the conflict, allowing one or two players to lead the suffragist movement and fight for women’s rights. This is a compelling release that compares to genre greats like Twilight Struggle, wielding intriguing mechanisms alongside a significant historical moment to produce a splendid educational experience.


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