Number 1: Orleans.
My favorite game (as of right now) is Orleans. At its heart, Orleans is a pool-building game: you create a pool of followers in a bag and every round, you are limited in your actions based on what you draw from the bag. Similar to Core Worlds, though, you can set up some of your followers on one turn to prepare for using them on a subsequent turn. Because of this, the random draw does not feel restrictive at all. You have full control over what ends up in your bag and you can use that to really strategize.
This game has a lot of mechanisms that fit together seamlessly. Your score at the end is based on the goods that you have collected or produced, your knowledge, and then either your trading posts or the citizens you’ve influenced. I really like that both paths have equal weight and I have seen people win by both focusing solely on the trade board and by ignoring the board completely.
The game is fairly quick with only two players, is a reasonable length with three or four, but it really drags with five. Five players probably shouldn’t be an option.
The first expansion added a cooperative mode that is challenging and fun. We have not beaten the invaders yet, but I know we can if we plan well enough. Even though most of the mechanisms are the same, it feels like a different experience built on the same structure, which I like quite a bit. Depending on my mood, I would happily play Orleans both cooperatively and competitively.
Thanks for reading through my top 20 games! This was a lot of fun to put together, and I hope that I get to see other people’s lists as the year pulls to a close.