Top 12 Board Games of 2018
When I started thinking about doing a Top Games list this year I almost instantly decided I would make it a top list of games I played this year, and not worry about them having been actually released this year. A lot of games are constantly coming out in this hobby, both board and video, and sometimes we can get swept up in the big, new, flashy release cycles. But I always wanted to showcase the games I ACTUALLY had the most fun playing in 2018, and in some cases, or in most cases in fact, that was playing games that came out in 2017 or before. So I started with the 63 different games I played in 2018, and then went from there!
As I discussed the list with my wife she then came up with a brilliant idea to extend the list to the Top 12 Board games played in 2018, to match the 12 days of Christmas, what with it being that time of year. So that's what we went with! I always thought the 12 Days of Christmas counted down to Christmas day, like a sort of short advent calendar when you don't want to give out too much chocolate, but apparently it actually starts on Christmas Day and runs through to January 5th, when some places in the world celebrate with 184 birds (if the song is anything to go by).
Starting tomorrow on Dec 25th and running through until the top game is revealed on Jan 5th, I'll be posting pictures of each game on Instagram, and updating this article with a nice written chunk on what made each game one of the best board or card gaming experiences of the year.
To kick things off today, here's a few honourable mentions of games that just missed the main list!
Firstly it's the immortal Love Letter. One of the first modern games I picked up it's a quick and easy to learn card game for 2 to 4 players, or even more with the new premium edition, and it can be taught to almost anyone in about 12 seconds. Each player starts with 1 of 16 cards in hand, and on your turn you draw a card, and then play one of the 2 cards. That's essentially it. There is some player elimination in a 3 or 4 player game, which is something I always try and avoid, but the rounds are so quick and the next one is starting before you've noticed someone has sat out at all. The version we play the most is the Adventure Time themed one, mostly because the crystals are cool, but there are plenty of other re-themes like Archer, Lord of the Rings, and Batman. This little thing has come with us on holiday, to work, and on our honeymoon, I've played it in a hotel bar, on a bench, a plane, and a train. It's such a cool little package.
Next, and narrowly missing out on the Top 12, is the 2 player abstract game Hive, and in particular it's shrunken down version, Hive Pocket. Hive is one of those games that people on the outside of the game looking in think is mega boring - "why are those two people staring so intently at some black and white shapes with bugs on with pained expressions on their faces" - but it's the intense and clever back and forth game play that makes it so addicting. I've never played just a single game of Hive, ever, it's always been at least 4 games, testing out strategies ("what if I start with the beetle instead of the ladybug...") and trying to outwit your opponent. It's also another great travelling game, as the pieces are amazingly sturdy, quite small, and doesn't take up a lot of space, in your bag or on any surface you find yourself wanting to play.
Finally I wanted to give a last honourable mention to not even a physical card game, but a digital one, and one I've probably played more of than any other game this year, wracking up a cool 164 hours played on it so far. The game is Slay the Spire from Mega Crit and it's a dungeon run style deck building card game, but on the the PC. You start each run with a bad deck of 12 cards and advance through a dungeon, fighting monsters, getting new cards to put in your deck and eventually either defeating the big bad bosses, or more often than not, just dying. The graphics may look simple but the interactions between the cards and the ingenuity of each run as you try and build the best deck full of combos and cards as you can from the ones offered is captivating. It's another one of those "oh go on, one more go" type of games, and even though it's still in Early Access and being worked on, it's definitely one of the best card games I've played in flippin' yonks.
Now, on to the list!
#12 - Potion Explosion
Designed by Stefano Castelli, Andrea Crespi, Lorenzo Silva
Artists: Giulia Ghigini
Published by CMON Games
FIRST UP! By virtue of being better than 51 games I played this year, and slightly not as good as 11 others, Potion Explosion lands at the number 12 spot and is the first game in my Top 12 Games played of 2018 list!
A game that I wanted to play for some time, since seeing a play-through of it on Watch It Played's YouTube channel, I finally picked it up this year and it did not disappoint. After opening the box for the first time and spending somewhere in the region of 47 hours punching the tiny holes out of each cardboard potion bottle and then building the awesome marble dropping box contraption, we were ready to play. In Potion Explosion each player is a student in a potions class, trying to grab coloured ingredient marbles from a track to match them to the potion bottles on their desk. This is done by taking a single marble from the track. BUT WAIT! If the two marbles that then clack together because of the one you pulled out are the same colour, they cause a chain reaction, and you can grab those as well. AND AGAIN! Clack, grab, clack, grab, smug face.
Making the marbles drop, and clack, and combo, and grabbing a whole handful at once is incredibly rewarding. More games should use marbles, they used to be played with all over the world and are super old (citation needed) but they are just so tactile and fun to roll about and play with a drop and lose. Once you complete a potion you put it to the side, grab a new one, and carry on. Completed potions can be drunk for their specific effect, and it's these combined with the marble dropping goodness which is where the big bucks can be won. Potions can do things like allow you to take 2 same coloured marbles that are next to each other, or 2 different coloured ones, or some from the bottom row, but crucially no chain reactions are caused from these effects and you still get your regular turn after. So by planning ahead you can use the powers to create an even crazier chain reaction and fill multiple potions at once.
It's great fun, and plays well with most groups and age ranges. There are no overly complicated rules, something which I guess I value quite highly based on the rest of the games on this list, and a lot of the learning and interactions are self-taught while playing and getting the potions. The fun-ness of just having marbles to play with cannot be overstated enough, it's such a simple thing but the game would be totally different and no way near as enjoyable if it was played with tokens or some other substitute. Also, they did a great job with the manual which is always worth pointing out, normally any attempt at humour is just awful and detracts from the rules but there are some actual, genuinely funny comments from the Professor character which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then to top it all off, the box insert is incredible, with a place for everything, including the fully built marble contraption and all the marbles and potions, and there's even a diagram in the rule book for how to slot it all back in. A couple of nice and simple touches, but ones that not enough games do, which make this stand out and earn it a place as one of the best games I played this year.
#11 - Kitchen Rush
Designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis and David Turczi
Artists: Gong Studios
Published by Artipia Games
The next game on my Top 12 this year is a game that actually came out this year, one of *checks list...* 5 of those that make the list. That's actually pretty surprising, I don't tend to buy straight into the newest, hottest games so to have 5 make the top 12 is a surprise. Maybe I really should have done a Top list of games that actually came out this year. Aaaand too late to turn back now...
Kitchen Rush is a worker-placement-real-time-co-op cooking game that plays 1-4 players, and is probably the best and only game in that genre to be honest. It turns the worker placement mechanic on it's head in an ingenious way, with the kitchen workers that players assign to different tasks being represented by sand-timers, bringing frenzied real-time madness to the fun. You assign a worker to one of the stations, such as ingredient shopping, taking customer orders, and cooking, and then you get to perform the action, moving the fun little ingredient pieces around. However, then the waiting game starts, as you can't move that sand timer again until it has run down it's clock, making planning ahead essential.
This though is where everything starts falling apart, because not only do you have 2 little kitchen workers to juggle, but so does everyone else and the game is played in real time. With limited spaces at each kitchen station on the board, if you aren't literally barking orders like a knock-off Gordon Ramsey then pretty much immediately someone will get in your way, or empty the pantry of all the ingredients for the recipe you are trying to make, and then you start to realize why the Scottish chef seems to swear so much.
When (if...) your kitchen of like minded individuals works out a system, everyone communicates, and things start to go well, dishes will be flying out the kitchen like a Michelin starred food truck in [insert trendy city]. This doesn't last though and it only takes a second for everything to back up and things to fall into disarray, and that's why the game is so much fun. It's fast, frantic, and you never feel completely in control at all, which is a great thing for any game.
It's a great time that gets everyone round the table talking, shouting, and laughing - it's basically the video game Overcooked (which we LOVED) in board game form. Definitely worth trying for its unique nature, and definitely worthy of a Top 12 spot on this list.
#10 - Mysterium
Designed by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko
Artists: Igor Burlakov, Xavier Collette, Oleksandr Nevskiy, Oleg Sidorenko
Published by Libellud
Next up in the Top 12 is Mysterium, the part-séance-part-Dixit, dream based murder investigation game. That sounds confusing, but it's really not. In Mysterium one player takes on the role of a murdered patron of an old hotel, the other players are all investigators who have come to solve the murder before the sun rises on a new day.
How do they do that? Well, obviously, the dead player has a selection of dream like pictures which they pass back into the living realm to try and give clues to the investigators as to the person, location, and murder weapon used. The dead player will be spending the game behind a big screen so the other players can't see what they are doing, and they are also unable to talk (what with being dead), and are only able to silently pass clues, raging internally when a really REALLY obvious clue is misinterpreted god dammit no it's nothing to do with the time of day on the card he is holding a sword it's a sword pick the sword, no, you mortal fools...
Mysterium was released in 2015 so isn't particularly old, but having only played it for the first time this year I feel like I have been hearing about this one for many more years back than that. For those that have played it's sibling game Dixit, the concept here is very familiar. The artwork on the cards is of similar dream like states and by the same artists, and can be interchanged between Dixit, Dixit Odyssey, Mysterium, and the plethora of expansions for all of them, meaning if you want to, you might never see the same card twice.
The game is a blast to play, and it really is 2 very different games depending on whether you are the silent otherworldly clue giver or one of the hapless murder investigators. Do note though that the time to play the game on the box is no where near accurate. If you introduce it to a new group of players, as soon as the first game is over, someone else will instantly want to play as the Ghost, and then the next person after them. The art is consistently gorgeous across this game and the expansions (and Dixit!), and it is incredibly rewarding when a player spots the connection you are trying to make, and incredibly frustrating when they don't! Either way though, the feelings keep you enthralled, the game is engaging, deceptively clever, and definitely one of the 12 best gaming experiences I've had this year.
#9 - Dice Hospital
Designed by Stan Kordonskiy, Mike Nudd
Artists: Sebastián Koziner, Sabrina Miramon
Published by Alley Cat Games
The second game so far in my Top 12 games of the year that actually came out this year! And I don't even own it! And I've only played it once! Madness! But Dice Hospital left a great impression on me, and it's one I want to pick up in the new year as soon as I'm allowed to buy games again - December being a no go for purchases due to the impending gift switcheroo holidays.
Dice Hospital is a strategy-worker-placement dice game that tasks players with healing up their little dicey patients and booting them from the hospital with a clean bill of health in the search for victory points. Every turn a pool of newly sick and damaged people (dice) are rolled then sorted into little ambulances which make their way to a players hospital. Each turn a player can place their hospital workers on the limited spaces on their player board to perform MIRACLES and heal those dice. Once a die is increased from 6 to a mythical 7 - as the dice have 6 sides and there actually is no 7 - that patient is healed for good and the points are yours.
It would be simple if that was everything but alas, unless you have a pretty good plan in place then there are more dice coming into your hospital than actions you have to heal them. For every turn that you don't perform surgery on one of your dice chums it's number decreases, until it eventually falls from 1 to the mythical 0 and you lose them, and the points, for good. It's a balancing act that never really gets solved, leaving you with some tough strategy decisions. Who lives and who dies, is up to you. OK, they're just dice, but still.
The game has a very charming look, and definitely has a hint of the Theme Hospitals about it which makes it all the more appealing. In a year when Two Point Hospital came out as well I feel like the Hospital running sub genre of strategy has come back to board and video games, and it's been great.
There is a depth and strategy to what new rooms to take and when to add them to your hospital and which staff and experts to hire, and I felt like in the game I played we barely scratched the surface, and I wanted to play more almost right away. Hopefully this will be under the tree this year (Post Crimb edit: It was not) and if not I'll be picking up a copy of my own where I'm sure it'll be making this list again next year.
#8 - Trapwords
Designed by Jan Březina, Martin Hrabálek, Michal Požárek
Artists: Régis Torres
Published by Czech Games Edition
Number 8 today and this is a game that took me completely by surprise when we first played it. Published by Czech Games Edition who brought us the mainstream breakout party wonder that is Codenames, as well as some other lesser known games like Codenames Pictures, Codenames Marvel, and the newly release Codenames Harry Potter, Trapwords is another word based group party game but with a few twists.
The game pits 2 groups of players against each other in an effort to advance through the dungeon and defeat the big baddy at the end, fighting past curses and such along the way. How does one do this? Why with tricky word play of course! Each round a team is given a word, they must then secretly set a number of trapwords for it, things they think someone trying to explain the given word might say, and the word is then passed back to one member of the other team. Now that member has a set time to try and describe the word to their team so that they can guess what it is, however, if the describer says any of the trapwords set by the other team, then they fail and do not advance. This continues until one team gets to the end or you fail enough that the monster comes and gets you, where a team will win, or both win, or both lose, or something.
It's a very smart system, and is sort of like the old classic game Taboo, but the trapwords that can't be said are set by your dumb/clever/annoying/howonearthdidyougetthat friends instead of by the game. This instantly opens the game up to in-jokes and attempted meta-gaming and gives it a very deep layer of tactics during the trap setting process than these quick party style games don't usually see. Do you go for the obvious traps? Do you set some random, tricky traps that a person might say if they were deliberately trying to avoid said obvious traps? But then there's a limit to the number of words set, so you can't cover all bases. Obvious? Tricky? So many interesting choices, and then the other team starts explaining and it's a completely different tangent to one you would ever have thought of and you just have to take your hats off to them.
Once everyone is up to speed after a word or two has been exchanged then it's quite a quick paced game, and unlike codenames and other similar genre games, there isn't really much downtime for players while they wait for someone to think of things, as the trapwords are set simultaneously (and secretly) and then when the other team are explaining/guessing you are judging them on the traps on your list, so all players are engaged. The only slight downside I can think of is the theme might put some of the more non-gamer family members off as it's very fantasy styled and dungeon monstery, but honestly the theme is almost entirely secondary to the gameplay and once you get going that should be what counts.
We had an absolute blast playing this, and this was definitely one of my gaming highlights of the year. It's also good to see CGE continuing to innovate in the space and publish another great, interesting, word based party game when they could easily have sat back on their laurels and just let codenames print them money. I look forward to playing it more in the future, and also look forward to what CGE come up with next!
#7 - Welcome To...
Designed by Benoit Turpin
Artists: Anne Heidsieck
Published by Blue Cocker Games
WELCOME TO YEAR OF THE ROLL AND WRITE! If there was any theme to this year in the board gaming world, it was that of the roll and write game. Multiple games, re-releases of older ones, translations of popular European games, dice games, card games, pens, pencils, dry erase boards, the genre has it all. Popularized by the old-as-bread classic Yahtzee, roll and write games have a player rolling dice and then writing on a bit of paper, and then repeating until the end. Hence the name. You roll and then you write.
Honourable mention to Qwinto which narrowly missed my list this year, and also to Ganz Schon Clever which was awesome but was disqualified because I only played (A LOT) of the app version and not the paper one. That leaves the top dog in the roll and write world and the highest one on my list (spoilers, the rest of the list has no more roll and writes) to be the one which doesn't even have any rolling!
In Welcome To... players take the role of architects in 1950s America, attempting to plan the best gosh darn neighbourhoods they can. Each turn 3 cards are turned over giving everyone - and I do mean everyone as the game has no max number of players - a choice of which to use. Houses must be placed sequentially, going from low to high and with no duplicates, otherwise the mailman will get lost and no one will get their Christmas cards. Each number taken will also have a power, allowing budding developers to add a pool to a house, or use fences to break their neighbourhoods down into smaller groups of houses, vital for scoring points at the end of the game.
I think the huge popularity of these games is just how simple they are to explain and to play. Welcome To has a theme that everyone understands, a street of houses, and gives players a limited decision pot each turn meaning it moves along quite quickly. The reminder cards are useful to help teach and keep new players involved and, as mentioned earlier, as everyone plays off the same 3 cards, you could literally play this with 174 people at once. It's become one of our go to favourites in a short space of time and (apologies in advance) I will gladly say to it, Welcome To... my collection (Again, sorry. That's two sorrys, that's how bad that pun was).
#6 - Keyforge
Designed by Richard Garfield
Artists: Not listed by FFG
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Of all the games on my Top list this year, this was one of the hardest to place, it's definitely top 12 material and a game I want to play and know more about, but I had trouble pinning down exactly where it should land for some time.
If you don't know about Keyforge, it's a card game published by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), but with an incredibly unique - literally - distribution model. With traditional Trading Card Games (TCGs) cards are sold in blind packs of 10-15 cards, you don't know what you're going to get, and there is an active trading and resell market for the best and rarest cards, this is typified in games like Magic and Pokemon. Then there is a newer model that was pioneered by FFG themselves known as the Living Card Game (LCG) where every pack you purchase once a month or so has an exact set of cards in it, meaning everyone is on the same playing field and there is no randomness. Then there is Keyforge.
Keyforge is a Unique Deck game, meaning every single deck sold, in the world, is completely unique. Each deck is £9 RRP, and contains 37 cards from the initial pool of 370, and contain cards from only 3 of the 7 available houses. This means even with this first set of cards there are 104 quadrillion possible combinations. Every deck is a complete set, with the name of the decks Archon (leader) on the bottom of every card, so there is no trading cards, no selling or buying individual cards, and no deck building whatsoever. We have reached ridiculous levels of complex in card game manufacturing processes apparently, but that means the game is so much simpler for the players. This brings the level of competitiveness for a card game for the very first time to an absolute level playing field, everyone starts with 1 deck, you play with it, you move on.
Casual play and store tournaments have been incredibly streamlined then, with everyone able to play anywhere, for the cost of one deck, you can play an all day tournament, or play all weekend with your friends, trading decks and having a great time. The gameplay itself is very clever, as one would expect from Richard Garfield - creator of Magic the Gathering. Players take it in turns playing their cards, but there is no mana or resources to worry about, each turn you declare one of your 3 houses and then can play and activate any cards from only that house. It's so simple, and yet brings a lot of decision making to your turn before your turn has even begun. Sometimes you want to save some cards for multiple turns so you can have a big swing with one house some turns later, and sometimes you can activate creatures on the board but that means you can't play anything from your hand. Players are after Aember with which to forge a key (and thus the name of the game), forge 3 keys and you win.
The bit where I am still a little torn on this game is mostly from the fact I'm a ridiculous card game obsessed weirdo. My most played video games this year were Slay the Spire, Hearthstone, and Magic Arena (all digital card games), I have cases of Arkham Horror LCG (cards), Legend of the 5 rings (cards), even Marvel Legendary (more cards) and Pathfinder (even more cards...) fill my shelves, all organised and sleeved by the way, cause I'm some sort of cardboard loving loon. But on reflection the thing I like most about card games is playing them, the interactions, the turns, the way they're all very slightly different and interesting, and not necessarily the deck building aspects. So Keyforge should be perfect! But there is always that part of my brain that will see a few cards together in a deck and think "I should add more/remove these to make this deck better" and with other games I can, and with Keyforge, the answer to that question is: spend £9 and buy a different deck.
The trade off for no deck building then is accessibility and ease of play, and is that enough? Currently, I think so! I've played a number of decks against a number of other decks, and I've had a blast each time, the gameplay is clever, fast, and engaging, and my brain is slowly switching over to thinking about how I can make the deck I have work, instead of how I can change it. With the random elements to the decks there are cases where some decks will just be better than others, and apparently there will be a system in the app soon to track these, but even so, it's not been a problem yet. If I get steamrolled I just think, wow that deck is cool, and then we swap decks and play again, or open a new pack, or give them a handicap, or any other number of things, because - and this is the key bit - we just want to keep playing.
This is definitely one of the best games I've played this year, and very much deserves this place on the list, but how FFG handle the future sets and releases will see whether it jumps up to number 1 next year, or falls out entirely, because either is entirely possible, and that is what is so intriguing to me right now. I am so looking forward to playing and seeing more!
#5 - Azul
Designed by Michael Kiesling
Artists: Philippe Guérin, Chris Quilliams
Published by Plan B Games
Imagine I asked you to play a game with me, one that has players strategically placing rooftop tiles on a pre-set pattern that is the same every time, to fill a board representing a Portuguese roof. Doesn't sound too appealing. Now imagine that even that particularly thin theme is pretty much completely irrelevant and the game is an abstract. Sounds even more dull.
Now imagine everyone I've played it with from hardcore gamers to originally reticent family members all really enjoyed it, and wanted to play it again and again. The game is of course Azul, one of the bigger hits of the last year, and winner of this year's Spiel des Jahres, the most noteworthy game of the year award coming out of Germany.
Azul might be the hardest possible sell when trying to explain it's abstract, tile placing nature, but all that fades away when you go get the box. Everything about Azul's presentation is gorgeous. The box art is incredible and is one of the few games I choose to have facing outwards on my shelves in a display like way, and this aesthetic runs deeply through every element of the game. The tiles used to play are chunky and tactile in a way that not a lot of game pieces are these days, and the manual, board, factory coaster thingies, and essentially everything else just looks the part.
The game plays relatively quickly, with tiles divided into a number of 4 tile factory piles depending on the number of players. Each turn a player can choose a pile, and then has to place all the tiles of that pile of the same colour on their board, with the others moving into the middle to form their own pile. The idea of the game is to complete whole rows of same coloured tiles so you can make a permanent tile on the scoring side of your board. That is essentially it for the gameplay, with intricacies coming from the way scoring works and when to pick the right tiles for you and when to block other people popping up as natural extensions of the gameplay. When a game so devilishly smart and strategic can also be boiled down into as simple an action as 'pick a pile, place some tiles' you know you're on to a winner.
Azul is one of those rare cases of games that is great for beginners, gamers, non-gamers, family members, and essentially anyone that is willing to give it even the smallest change. It's beautiful, clever, and has become an instant modern classic. Definitely deserving of a top spot on this list, and one we will be continuing to play for some time.
#4 - Lego
Designed by LEGO!
Published by IT'S LEGO!
You read correctly, one of the best table top games I played this year is not a game but a toy! A-ha! But this is my list and I can change the rules when I like, and I have, so there. To me, the definition of a good table top or board game is one that can be played on a table, or anywhere really, and be engaging, and a good use of time, and bring people together, and bring a smile to their faces, and most important of all, be fun! And this year for me Lego has ticked all of those boxes and more.
This is the first year in probably two decades that I've brought a proper set and sat down and built it, it was the Ultimate Collector Series Y-Wing and was a wedding gift *coughthatiboughtformyselfcough* and it was amazing. Throughout the whole thing I was constantly amazed at how it all went together, and how small pieces inside the ship later became important bits you could see through gaps or turned into completely different amazing elements. The whole build took a couple of days and was clever, and fun, and made me feel like a kid again, something that games always aspire to make their players feel.
My wife even kept asking me if she could help, she was as engaged with seeing it come together as I was, and so I rushed out and picked up ones we could then build and do together, being sucked in on those super cool Star Wars and Harry Potter licenses. We sat together at our kitchen table and over the course of 2 nights sat and built our Lego models like we were kids again, with smiles beaming on our faces, and it was so so much fun. Helping each other find pieces in our respective piles, asking for help with tricky bits, showing off every time we got to a milestone and our piles started to resemble the finished product, and yes, even sitting and playing with them when we were done, was something that very few games have gotten us to do and definitely one of the highlights of the year, gaming or no.
We've since picked up some more smaller models, some of the brickheadz line of Funko Pop looking characters that you get to build, and have had fun with those too. There is a simple, straightforward innocence to Lego that I think will never go away. This year I've build 2 big space ships (the second was another wedding gift, from someone other than us (thanks Chris!)), 2 smaller space ships, helped my wife build a quidditch set, we've built Dumbledore and Star Lord, Chewie and Hermionie, I've talked Lego with friends at work, and talked Lego advent calendars with others, it's just FUN!
So, not technically a game, but as one of the best tabletop experiences of the year I got to share with my wife and friends, I just had to include this on the list. I'll attempt to stick to the rules in the future. Up next, Fortnite!
#3 - X-Wing Miniatures Game
Designed by Jason Little
Artists (From BGG Listing for 1st edition): Matt Allsopp, Sacha Angel Diener, Jon Bosco, Matt Bradbury, Blake Henriksen, Jason Juta, Lucasfilm Ltd., Henning Ludvigsen, Jorge Maese, Dallas Mehlhoff, Scott Murphy, David A. Nash, Vlad Ricean, Matthew Starbuck, Nicholas Stohlman, Angela Sung
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
I wrote a longer piece about X-Wing 2.0 over hyar which goes into some of the changes to the game and what it all means, so I won't get too into the weeds on that stuff here.
X-Wing Miniatures is a great game. It's Intricate miniatures gaming that doesn't require a whole army's worth of models to be bought, or assembled, or painted, as it all comes done and ready, and the core set which has everything you need to start playing is only around £25. You can play with that for hours, or you can buy an extra ship or two to give yourself more options, or you can become a crazy person, buy absolutely everything and get so engrossed in it you start going to weekly meet-ups and large national tournaments.... No prizes for guessing where most players eventually end up.
At around the beginning of this year however I had almost completely stopped playing the game, after playing quire regularly for a few years, I would go to some bigger store events but had completely stopped playing it casual or with friends. There were some creeping issues with some of the upgrades in the game and it seemed like decisions they made on initial release were stifling some of the things they were able to do with new pilot and ship abilities. I had bought the ships for my faction to stay up to date but I hadn't even used a few of them, instead keeping them on the shelves with the rest of my slowly dust covering squadron. So when 2.0 was announced I was pretty stoked, they were promising to streamline the rules, make things more consistent, roll into the core rules things they had learnt from 14 previous waves of releases, and generally reset what needed to be done.
This, as it turns out, was a huge improvement that got me back into the game in a serious way, playing regularly, and attempting to build ship and upgrade combos when I wasn't playing. I'm one of very few who feel like they should have stripped the game back even further, but it is admirable that they wanted every released ship to be able to be used straight away in the new rule set, that just meant a bit of a huge dump of pilot and upgrade abilities on day 1. It was a fun process to work through in the end though, and I have no played with everything I own, and tried out fun and interesting lists instead of just going for what was obviously the best as mandated by the internets.
Moving cool Star Wars ships around a board, navigating them around enemies, firing recognisable weapons, and murdering Skywalkers, is all still incredibly satisfying for even a casual fan of the series. It looks great on a table, and in every game you have one or two actual movie like moments, where a plan comes together, or a gambit fails spectacularly and you are blasted out the sky. I would recommend it to almost anyone, and the fact you can demo the game in almost any store, as the community is very welcoming to new players, helps greatly and will help keep the game relevant. I'm looking forward into 2019 to playing a full league against the players at our store, seeing what new and interesting ships Fantasy Flight release, and generally having a good time playing a good game with good people.
#2 - Arkham Horror The Card Game
Designed by Nate French, Matthew Newman
Artists: Christopher Hosch, Marcin Jakubowski, Ignacio Bazán Lazcano, Henning Ludvigsen, Mercedes Opheim, Zoe Robinson, Evan Simonet
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
As already alluded to earlier in the article, I am a self confessed card game nut so it's no surprise that one of my favourite games played this year, and probably one of my favourite games of all time, is a card based game. But it's not just the cards that make Arkham Horror LCG such a great game. In fact it has more in common with adventure games, or scenario based story games, that it does your typical Magic style collectible card game. Firstly the game is a Living Card Game, meaning there are no blind booster packs or anything of the sort. The core set contains enough cards for 2 players to get started, and a nice 3 scenario campaign, subsequent campaigns are spread across a deluxe box and multiple individual scenario packs so you can buy as much or as little as you want before getting started. Crucially, everything is a set number of specific cards, so you always know what you're paying for and what you're getting, no randomness at all.
One of the other things that sets it apart is that Arkham Horror LCG is a cooperative or solo game, where your team of investigators battle it out against the game to overcome each scenario, either with combat prowess or with their wits and guile. Players start a new campaign with a deck of cards per investigator, made up of low level items and abilities, and this is the only major deck building in the game. Then after each scenario you can upgrade cards with experience you gained, or even find new items in the game to add to your deck. This means you aren't fully building and creating a deck every time, just tweaking it as you go to improve areas you think need it, and gets you playing quicker each time, and more attached to each individual investigator in the party and their abilities and decks.
Having a good balanced team of fighty and smarty people will help you succeed but it also means that there are multiple ways to end each scenario, whether you fight your way out, learn some information or find some secret to advance, or straight up run away. It's those decisions and the wider campaign structure that give Arkham Horror LCG such a great story telling presence to it, because unlike in other games (especially video games), in Arkham if you lose a scenario (which can happen in multiple ways!) then you read one of the bad endings, write down your physical and mental trauma, and then move on to the next chapter, always progressing. This makes the game so much more interesting to play, nothing is worse than banging your head against one puzzle in a game for hours, of having to re-do a boss battle again and again. Here, you might have some key items stolen, or have one of the allies that you made in an earlier scenario kidnapped (removing them from your deck) and then you progress, to further learn the dark secrets of Arkham as you slowly descend into madness. Heck even if you win things can follow you from mission to mission, I upset a gang in a speakeasy casino in one scenario and then multiple scenarios later they caught up to me, getting added to the Encounter Deck to cause me some hurt while I was trying to save a village from ghouls. It's cool that these things can happen, and also cool that they don't always happen, not everyone will have the same journey through each Campaign due to the choices they make and which scenarios they win and lose.
The whole game oozes theme, from the incredible card art, to the way abilities work, all of the flavour text, and the campaign writing for all of the in-between scenario story. You really get a sense of the world, and the horrors within, and even though each scenario is built from subsets of encounter cards, they are all put together cleverly for the mission at hand. Each game starts with a layout of location cards on the table with art and flavour text on each, players can then move between them, flipping them to their revealed side as you play, oftentimes getting new art, or awful horrific surprises on the other side. I can't remember ever reading every piece of flavour text in a game before, but it really sets the scene as you play Arkham and combined with the art really draws you in to it's dark world.
I didn't get to play as much of it this year as I would have hoped (broke my hand, shuffling became hard!) but I am looking forward to finishing off my current campaign, after which I will be breaking the decks down and instantly starting the next one up right away. I've played primarily solo but have also run through the core set with friends and both ways of playing are fun and engaging. It also allows me to do one of the things I love most which is organising and sleeving all the cards to a crazy degree.
It's definitely some of the most involved gaming I've had this year, and I can easily say its one of my favourites of all time.
#1 - Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Designed by Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock
Artists: Chris Quilliams
Published by Z-Man Games
[Mild spoilers for first game in second half of text, and in some pics]
So after all of that we have arrived at my number 1 game that I played in 2018, and there is very little surprise here. Pandemic Legacy was an absolute smash hit when it came out in 2015, and stormed to the top of the BoardGameGeek Charts to be the number 1 game of all time until it was recently deposed by Gloomhaven. It was so successful and popular it spawned a sequel shortly after, and Legacy seems to be the buzz word attached to a lot of games these days, and playing through this for the first time, it is easy to see why.
Most people will have played Pandemic, and while it's a great gateway game to the wider hobby of board gaming, it's not one that is played for too long before gamers want to move on to bigger and more complicated things. However, it has a simplistic and efficient set of rules that make it perfect for tweaking and configuring, and it's here that Pandemic Legacy shines. In Pandemic players take on the role of specialists that move around a world map trying to prevent 4 diseases from destroying humanity, by clearing little coloured cubes off of the map. Each specialist has a different player power and using them effectively and working as a team with the other players to battle the diseases made the original game a lot of peoples first cooperative gaming experience. You win or you lose, like with most games, then you reset it back to start to play again or pack it away.
Aaaand that's where Pandemic Legacy becomes it's own separate beast, the Legacy in the name not something that is just for show. In Pandemic Legacy each game played forms part of a wider campaign and story, with each game representing a month players will play through a whole year as disease killing super scientists or quarantining soldiers. As our first proper Legacy game, it was an amazing feeling unboxing the game and seeing so many closed boxes with numbers and letters on them, sealed dossiers and sticker sheets that would be used throughout the campaign, only using and opening things when relevant to your place in the story. Even the rule book has whole paragraphs missing and steps in the set-up cleared out ready for stickers to be added later in the campaign when new rules were unlocked.
The game truly evolves with each play, and becomes 100% entirely unique to each group playing it, and takes a massive step away from the original base Pandemic even from the very first game, where one of the diseases you usually fight morphs into a super disease that is then impossible to clear. I won't spoil further but continual mutations of the diseases and changes in the story means the objectives for each month change, making everything new each play, and forcing you to think of the right characters to use for any given situation. As you play there will be disease outbreaks in cities which you will then permanently mark on the board with stickers, creating your own personal world map of scars and ruins, as well as adding new starting locations, military bases, road blocks, and other infrastructure as you play, it really does become your own personal board. This also has the huge benefit of making you connected to the board and how you play, we had an amazing situation early on where patient zero for a new viral strain was found in Atlanta, head of the CDC, which resulted in our starting Research Station being destroyed and exiling us to start in another continent for the rest of the campaign. That patient zero could have appeared anywhere, but it was just so thematic coming from the Centre of Disease Control.
When the game came out I knew I had to play it, as I was a fan of Pandemic and also a fan of campaign and RPG style games which this was apparently the perfect mesh of. Then it started to get so incredibly hyped up that I just couldn't believe it could actually be as good as it was being made out. The best board game ever? A new edition of a simple gateway game? Surely not? But after playing that first game I was instantly sold, and every time the game asked me to rip an objective card in half, or scratch off a panel to reveal a secret, or add a new sticker to the board, it felt great! This was our world, and we were slowly shaping it as we fought off the diseases, lost cities to riots, and turned Europe in to a no-go zone after accidentally letting it get out of hand 2 games in a row. It's a rare thing that a game can feel so universally loved, and also so intimately personal, and it's telling that the 2 best games I played this year both share this common theme. If there's one takeaway I can give anyone still reading it's this, believe the hype, get a group together who can play regularly, and buy this game, you won't be disappointed.
So there we have it, one of the best games ever made was the best game I played this year. SHOCKING I know. Looking forward to playing many more games next year, and seeing if Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is as good as the first or if something else will break into the list!
Have a good 2019!