The Cardboard Hoard: My Favorite Games from 2018
I’ve managed to complete my annual favorite games list, and with only hours to spare before we roll into 2019 and another 5,000 new games get released!
But first, I always find it useful to look back and reflect on the previous year. So let me start with some great titles I missed in 2017, but have since been fortunate enough to play.
Here are five great games from 2017 that could have made my favorite games list, if I had a chance to play them before 2018: The dice placement Euro game Rajas of the Ganges from Inka and Marcus Brand, the Splendor follow up Majesty for the Realm from Marc Andre, the absolutely insane card-crafting trick-taking game Custom Heroes put out by AEG, the exceptional diceless push-your-luck/set collection game 10 Minute Heist: The Wizard's Tower published by Daily Magic Games, and one of my favorites from the Exit series, Exit: Dead Man on the Orient Express, also designed by Inka and Marcus Brand.
That fond look back at 2017 behind us, here are my favorite games of 2018 to date, arranged in descending order by personal preference, with a few honorable mentions at the end.
10. Architects of the West Kingdom
The latest from Garphill Games with art by The Mico. It’s a very interesting twist on worker placement where each player starts with twenty workers -- and has access to them all from the beginning. It features a lot more interaction than the space blocking of most worker placement games, and has a whole lot of game in a medium square box. My biggest knock on it, and why it falls at the end of the list, is that I still prefer Garphill Games Raiders of the North Sea to it.
9. Crystal Clans
While this slipped down the list after I played Guardians, it is still very deserving of praise. I love two-player tactical combat games, and this one has a few features I love -- the factions all playing very differently, the push and pull of the initiative track, and the stacking of units to add an interesting layer of depth to the otherwise simple and dice-free combat system.
8. Gorus Maximus
This is a neat twist on trick-taking with trump that can change mid-turn, and negative cards that can ruin tricks. It plays up to eight, both individually and in teams. I love the Kwanchai Moriya artwork, and the production value of the premium edition. It’s a perfect addition to my Quiver, and a great game for bring out at game conventions.
7. Just One
This is this year’s Codenames -- the deceptively simple party game that you can easily teach to a mixed group, with everyone enjoying themselves. To be honest, after learning how to play it, I was surprised this hadn’t been done before. It may not be my favorite game on this list, but I bet it sees a lot more plays than most due to the low barrier of entry.
This isn’t my favorite Bruno Cathala game. It’s not even my favorite Bruno Cathala game that is published by Blue Orange Games. But since that honor goes to Kingdomino, one of my all-time favorites, it really isn’t a fair comparison. Scarabya is a quick-playing, tetromino puzzle game that feels like a mix of Barenpark/Indian Summer and NMBR 9/Karuba. It also features an interesting solo mode that plays differently than the regular game -- which I may like even more than the multi-player mode. See my full review here.
5. Drop It
This one I could see being higher on the list, but I discovered it very late in the year at PAX Unplugged. That aside, it has quickly become a family favorite, as its mix of colorful tangrams and plinko-style gameplay is accessible and makes for enough uncertainty that anyone can win, but the ruleset leaves some room for strategy and interesting decisions.
4. Deckscape: Heist in Venice
A fresh new take -- after many entries in both the EXIT and Unlock series -- on escape style game series. One where you cannot get stuck on puzzles, as you just answer incorrectly, take a penalty, and move on. This one is the strongest of the three scenarios available so far. Of note, like the Unlock games, these are completely resettable and very portable as just a single deck of cards.
3. Fireball Island
No, it is not perfect. The box is flimsy, and the rules and the spaces on the board could be clearer. But for the table presence, the updated gameplay, the art and theme, the chaos of the marbles, and for the spectacle alone -- let alone the nostalgia, it makes the list. See my initial impression here.
Earlier in the year, I would have said Crystal Clans was a certainty to be near the top of my "best games" list, but then this two-player dueling game came out from the same publisher, Plaid Hat, and I like it even better. It's stream-lined and intuitive, and has neat little combotastic moments, as well as the usual nice mix of art and theme I've come to expect from Plaid Hat.
Yup, I have an eighteen card micro-game as my favorite game of the year. For sheer number of plays I've already gotten out of it, as well as amount of puzzly fun I've had, this is a no-brainer. Not to mention the portability. It makes no sense not to bring this on any vacation or trip I go on, especially as my favorite way to play is solo. See my full review here.
I really, really like this dungeon crawling design of Phil Walker-Harding’s, and the only reason it didn’t make my 2018 list is that it was originally released in 2011. Devir’s updated version, which was released in 2018, improves the art, graphic design, and makes some small tweaks to the gameplay. See my full review here.
Isaac Vega’s beautifully streamlined space-faring/mech-fighting area control game gets an honorable mention because I only had the pleasure of playing it once, earlier this year at Origins. And seriously, I couldn’t put three Plaid Hat titles in my top ten, right? People would think I was on their payroll or something. See my initial impression here.
Finally, here are my standard caveats for my favorite games lists:
My preferences don't make a game objectively good or bad, these are just my opinions based on my personal tastes.
I haven't played even a fraction of the games that were released this year, especially anything released at Essen or after, so this list is obviously nowhere near comprehensive.
I don’t put expansions on these lists, just new titles.