WDYPTW: My 5 “Should Own” Games from 2018, A Conservative Approach
As the year draws to a close, I’m finding it cathartic to consider my game purchases since January and evaluate how positive an impact each game has made as an addition to my collection. This is not an annual ritual for me, but at the moment it seems necessary given a quandary in which I recently found myself situated. Yesterday, a question was posed in our Punchboard Media Slack group asking what 2018 release is a “must own” in our opinion. I was surprised to find that I was not able to really answer the question with conviction, and after a few moments of reflection, I realized that the games released in 2018 haven’t truly captivated my interest as had games released in years past.
Could I be in the minority here? Of course, others likely feel that there have been some great games released this year – or maybe they’re simply euphoric from their rides on this year’s many hype trains… If I scroll through the top 1,000 ranked games on BoardGameGeek at the time of this writing, there are only twenty-seven (27) games listed which were released in 2018. Of those twenty-seven games, almost 25% are either re-implementations or expansions to previously released games. Of the remaining twenty or so games, I can recall above-average media coverage and hype surrounding the release of at least 15 of those games, possibly responsible for their current ranking (or at least in part). Sifting through what remains, I’m sure games like Lords of Hellas, Western Legends, Stuffed Fables, and Gizmos will fade into the aether before we know it.
As for me, I’m not too easily won over by games with well-crafted miniatures, gimmicky components, or bright-colored, cartoonistic bits and pieces. Therefore, games like Rising Sun, Everdell, and Reef are a hard sell for me. I also find it a little difficult to be excited about card-driven games, so Thunderstone Quest and Keyforge are a pretty easy pass. And don’t even get me started on Teotihuacan… (*cough* Tzolk’in reskin *cough*)
Now, for readers who don’t know me, I’m currently a third-year medical student. As such, I do not have the luxury of frequent game time and have to be fairly selective in what I choose to play with the time that I have. So, when it comes to purchasing new games or choosing games at game night, I ask myself, “is the supposed nostalgia of Decrypto worth wasting my time over?” and “I already know I’m the best speller of any group. Can’t I find something more challenging to play than Hardback?”
When I boil it down to the essence of what drives me to play one game over another, I find that I’m mostly looking for a unique experience, emergent gameplay, and (for the love of all that is sacred) a challenging puzzle; you can see this at least somewhat reflected in my Top 5 game choices below. For me, very few games released this year serve to satisfy that desire or even come close to scratching my gaming itch. Let’s take Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, for example. Currently ranked #578 on BoardGameGeek, this is less of a game than a puzzle-solving, interactive experience. Id est, not for me. How about Coimbra (Ranked #424) – do you find yourself excited each round during the dice-drafting phase, or are you simply transfixed by the game’s unique artwork and turquoise color palette?
Maybe I’m too critical regarding the lackluster nature of this year’s releases. Or maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon shaking my fist at this new generation of board games. But hey, it’s not all my fault; I blame Vital Lacerda for not releasing a new game every year. Feel free to blame him, too, on my behalf. But let’s be honest – this year’s games had some pretty big shoes to fill from the great games released in 2017. Comparing 2018 titles to games from last year like Sagrada, Lisboa, Azul, Nemo’s War 2e, and Gloomhaven, it’s a little easier for me to reconcile my feelings of mediocrity relative to many of this year’s big releases.
Now that I’ve sufficiently expatiated my dissenting attitude toward many of this year’s games, let’s talk about my top 5 “should own” games from this year. I call them “should own” games because I don’t think it’s necessary to categorize these particular games as “must own.” They are games I’m very glad to have added to my collection and which I see getting played many times over the months and years to come, but I have to be honest and say that my collection would be perfectly complete if I hadn’t bought them, OR if I never even purchased a new game again. The five “games” that follow are instant favorites for me, and I’m happy to own them. If you find that your collection is somewhat lacking in a certain aspect, I think these are games that you should consider owning, but if you’re perfectly happy with the collection you have, just enjoy the rest of this article and laugh at the rest of us spending all of our money.
Before I get to the meat and potatoes, I’ll just mention three games that did not make the list for one reason or another.
The first near miss to the list is a game that I so very much wanted to love. Bright-eyed at the impeccably designed Kickstarter page back in November 2016, having only backed two other projects previously, I went all-in on Feudum, expansions and all. Despite the game having been created by a first-time designer, I was reassured by the professional How-To-Play video and unique artwork. My anticipation of this game was only heightened by the fact that it arrived a full five months behind schedule. By the time the game arrived on my doorstep… let’s be real… I was practically foaming at the mouth. I spent hours poring over the rulebook, watching YouTube videos, and moving pieces around on the board to make sure I was ready for my first play. I was so antsy to play this game that I even created a PnP version of the solo expansion so that I could play at least once before playing with my wife. Now, having played numerous games at various player counts, I’m still unable to really say that I’ve enjoyed my plays of this game. Although I can’t readily suggest this game to others, I just can’t in good conscience say that it’s one that I’m not willing to play going forward. I’m half-convinced that my sunk-cost bias is preventing me from dismissing this one altogether, but I do really like what it was at least trying to do. Ugh. I digress…
The next two games that didn’t make the list are ones that I simply haven’t actually acquired yet.
I took a brief hiatus from Kickstarter browsing late last year and completely missed out on backing Root by Leder Games. Having recently gotten a chance to play this one, I’m certain I’ll be backing the reprint early next year. Even if I had picked it up during this calendar year, however, I’m still not sure if it would have made this list given how infrequently I’m likely to have the optimal player count for a full game. Still, I’m very impressed by this game and find myself itching to discover all that this game has to offer.
Another game that would have had a fair shot at making this list is one for which I recently backed the second printing. Welcome To… by Deep Water Games seems like a game that is right up my alley. I had the chance to purchase a copy back at Origins in June, but by the time I wizened up to the idea, it had been sold out for several hours. I should be receiving my reprint copy along with the numerous new expansions in March. Will it have the staying power I think it will? Time will tell.
Now the moment you’ve been waiting for – the whole reason you clicked this article and scrolled past the blathering twaddle above to read…
My Top 5 “Should Own” Games of 2018
5. Graphic Novel Adventures series – This is a new line of choose-your-own-adventure graphic novels published by Van Ryder games. I received a preview copy of the first of the series, Captive, earlier this year. I was impressed by the incredible amount of agency that I could have as a solitaire player while going through the adventure contained in this book. Not only was it great for me to play on my own time whenever I had a free moment, but it was a welcome surprise that each time I played the game, it felt like a different experience based on the choices I would make. I backed the Kickstarter project for the first five games in the series, including Captive, Tears of a Goddess, Loup Garou, Your Town, and Sherlock Holmes: Four Investigations. From what I understand there are more books coming down the pipeline in the future, including the recently funded The Crusoe Crew cooperative iteration. Since acquiring my books a few months ago, I’ve revisited Captive and started working my way through Tears of a Goddess little by little. Granted, I’m not churning through these stories at breakneck speed, but I am enjoying them each time I pick them up. They offer interesting decisions, unique experiences, and engaging storylines. I may or may not finish all five books by this time next year, and that’s okay. They leave such a small footprint in my gaming collection, and I enjoy what they offer enough to know that they’ll be bringing me new experiences for many years to come.
4. Tramways Engineer’s Workbook – Another solo experience. Tramways Engineer’s Workbook is the first of Alban Viard’s one-player puzzle iterations of his big box board games. It’s essentially a 49-“episode”-long puzzle book where the player (or players) work through mechanisms similar to those presented in his 2016 title, Tramways. From what I understand, Alban will be deconstructing all of his games and releasing similar workbooks based on each game’s mechanisms over the coming years. He’s currently working on volume two of the Tramway’s Engineer’s Workbook; the Clinic Doctor’s Workbook and Small City Major’s Workbook are “in the queue,” as he says. Well, whatever he’s doing, I hope he hurries it up, because I’m very much amused by this one. Each puzzle that I work on, I certainly do not solve on the first try, and that’s what makes me keep wanting to play. Each puzzle makes me rethink the strategies for success that I thought I’d perfected on the preceding pages. And since the puzzles become successively more difficult, I have almost endless opportunities to feel clever while accomplishing something challenging. On a whim, I picked up a few extra copies to give out as gifts to some of my non-gaming relatives, and so far, they’ve gone over very well with my brother and father. If you like puzzles, a little bit of math, and drawing lines with dry-erase marker, consider picking up a copy for yourself.
3. Sprawlopolis – The last solo game, I promise. Well, technically this one can play up to four players, if that’s your bag. Really though, this game just sings as a solitaire experience. With their signature 18-card design, Button Shy has created a real keeper with this one. The game’s mechanisms and player turns are dead simple, yet each time I play, I feel a quiet satisfaction and twinge of pride at what I’ve accomplished by the end of the game. That’s not to say that I always win – quite the contrary, actually. At this point, I’m pretty sure the game and I are tied, 50/50. I love that I can carry this game in my pocket, pick it up and play in 10-15 minutes, and still feel like I’ve created something unique… even if I scored way too many negative points for my roads. Each game, three cards are chosen at random, and they provide the scoring parameters of that specific play. In this way, each game feels unique, offering a new challenge from the previous time it was played. Not only that, but also the three mini-expansions (*, *, *) that were included in my copy of the game offer added complexity and new opportunities to make gameplay feel that much more exciting. I received an achievements logging card with the game when I backed the Kickstarter for it, and I look forward to spending many hours trying to “[double] my scoring goal,” “[make] a symmetrical shaped city,” and more.
2. The Estates – While technically a reprint of the 2007 game Neue Heimat, there are some slight changes to the game that make this a unique title for 2018. And yeah, I may be a little biased because I paid extra to have my name put in the game – I mean, who wouldn’t be? But I truly am glad to have picked this game up, and I see myself bringing this one out again and again as a nice 45-minute finish to a raucous game night. I hadn’t realized how much I really enjoy bidding/auction games until I got to actually play this one. I mean, yeah, I’ve always liked playing games like Medici and Modern Art, but The Estates is such a pure yet dastardly take on the mechanism that I just keep coming back to again and again. I love that I’ve had games where everyone is intently invested in the outcome of each auction, and yet other games wherein one person chooses not to acquire a single company certificate and still finishes a mere five checks from winning the game. What other games might lack in emergent gameplay, this one makes up for in spades. I’m certain that I will be playing this game quite often over the coming years, and I look forward to the unique experiences that each play is sure to offer.
1. Brass: Birmingham (& Brass: Lancashire) – Brass: Birmingham is the spiritual successor to Martin Wallace’s 2007 classic, Brass (Now dubbed Brass: Lancashire in the new Roxley edition). I gotta say, Roxley knocked it out of the park with the production of both Birmingham and Lancashire. From the beautiful linen cards to the custom insert and clay poker chips, these games are true works of art in game format. But all that aside, the Brass game system is an engine that hums like a freshly oiled V8 in a ’55 Corvette. Each time I play one of these games, I love that feeling of tension in the last few turns in the canal era, and then again in the rail era. I long for that feeling of satisfaction when I perfectly plan out my moves a full four turns in advance – as long as my opponents don’t steal my precious beer or use that port I’ve had my eye on for the past few turns… Don’t get me wrong - I’m terrible at this game. I doubt if I’ll ever win, really. If I’m being honest, I’m not even sure that the anticipation of winning is what drives me to play Brass. I mostly just enjoy the game for its incredibly smooth mechanisms and the way it makes me adapt to ever-changing game states. Whether it’s Birmingham or Lancashire that I decide to bring out on any given night, I know that I’ll be glad that I did. This game continues to cement itself in my collection, and I may never tire of exploring all of its intricacies and strategies. I am a little worried that they’ll try and pump out more and more versions of this game system, though… I’ll use my next action to take a loan, please.
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