My favorite board games of 2018

With the year coming to a close it’s fun to look back and reflect upon the the past twelve months gaming experiences. While I have not played as many games as I might of liked, a few games definitely stood out among those that I did.

Before I dive in a couple of caveats and background information. One thing to note is just the insane number of new board games that come out every year. A lot of folks don’t realize just how big the hobby is, coming from a background of the classics they played growing up. Things like Clue, Monopoly, maybe 10-15 big names everyone knows. In 2018 alone, over 1200 new board games were released. This is simply a glut of new games, and it would be impossible for even 10% of them to really get much attention or rise to the top. A lot of people are still discovering the hobby, and many times when they do they are playing the new classics that have risen to the top. Even those of us who metaphorically bleed cardboard are often content to play their favorites and maybe add a few expansions to games they know and love. My thoughts on this will probably make for another entire article, but it’s important to understand just how many games come out in a single year, and how impossible it is to play even a fraction of them!

That all being said, I am being a bit loose with my selections. Not all of these games came out in the calendar year 2018, but they are at least close, with the exceptions being 2017 games that I played this year. I am sure many of the actual games of 2018 will show up in my 2019 list, but wanted to point out this caveat before I dove in. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my games of 2018*.

The pieces look like candy…

Azul: One of my favorites from this year was the Spiel Des Jahres winning Azul. I have written about Spiel Des Jahres games in the past, and they are usually reliable to maximum simplicity with the most fun. Azul is no exception to this. You draft these beautiful candy-like tiles to build a mosaic on your player board.  There are less than 5 rules, with the only tricky part being scoring the tiles on your board. It is a very meditative game, with a little bit of meanness and schadenfreude for good measure as players can take too many tiles which will overflow and “break” scoring negative points. This is sure to be a classic for years to come.


Rediscovering the world.


Pandemic Legacy: Season 2: Who would have thought we’d live in a world where there were seasons for a board game, much less spoilers for a board game like an episode of Game of Thrones? I have written before about the awesomeness of legacy style games, and still argue that they are one of the most unique experiences out there. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 picks up where the last one left off and turns the whole game of Pandemic on its head. Players discover the world and fight to keep it supplied vs fighting off the classic four viruses from the original game. I can’t say much more, but trust me that there are some fun plot twists along the way, and I cannot wait for the finale in Season 3.


Bios Megafauna Second Edition: I wrote a lot about my love for Phil Eklund’s games, and even interviewed him while the Kickstarter campaign for this game was going on. Well the game lived up to expectations and then some. It’s certainly a bear to learn, and is very much a simulation style game, but the story that it tells is simply phenomenal. It’s amazing that Phil has fit a simulation of global temperatures, oxygen levels and plate tectonics into a game and also created something that is fun to play. In fact there is more game here than some of his previous titles, and while things can feel out of your control there are plenty of strategic decisions to be made. Sometimes Phil’s games have focused on science vs. gameplay balance, but I think this one strikes a nice middle ground. Plus there’s nothing better than hearing your friend curse as another meteor strike drives their species extinct.


Betrayal Legacy: Betrayal at House on the Hill was one of the ultimate story-telling games when it came out back in 2005, but I had never thought it would be so ripe for the legacy treatment. It turns out to be a perfect fit. There is a campaign of 13 games included in the box, but once you are done you are left with a customized completely unique version of Betrayal that can be played for years to come and still be a blast. My main concern with legacy games has been that they are one and done. You certainly get your money’s worth of entertainment out of Pandemic Legacy, but once you are done that game never comes back off the shelf. Betrayal Legacy seems like it will buck this trend and serve as a great stand-alone game when the campaign is over.


Worker placement with bite.

Architects of the West Kingdom: This one snuck up on me. I enjoyed its predecessor Raiders of the North Sea a game that made it from kickstarter beginnings all the way to a Kennerspiel Des Jahres nomination. Architects shows a similar pedigree of doing interesting things with the worker placement mechanism. In this game you place one worker at a time at various locations to do the action of that location (Mine ore, harvest lumber etc…) More workers makes the action more effective, and everyone is slowly building up in the action spaces that benefit their particular strategy. However, there is delightful player interaction here in that you can arrest other players workers, short circuiting their strategy. You can even send their workers off to jail to earn money. The game is like a typical dry euro game with a wonderful mean streak, tons of fun.


Admittedly I did not play as many games as I would have liked in 2018. I am hoping to play a wider variety of games in 2019, as I am much more invested in the hobby these days, but 2018 was still a delightful year for gaming and had many unique board game experiences. What were some of your favorite games of 2018?

Unearth: Rediscovering a hobby

Sometimes hobbies lie underground. It can be for years, months, however long. Passions come and go and what was fascinating one day may be much less interesting the next. My board game hobby had quite honestly gone into hibernation, if not this spring, then earlier in the fall. Personal reasons caused me to withdraw from a thing I loved, and so much cardboard on the wall, instead of inspiring the memories of great times with friends, instead felt more like dead weight.

So it is somewhat poetic that the game that brought me back was called Unearth. A game about digging up the technology of the ancients, it felt like a metaphor for my digging up of this old hobby. How often do we know what brings us joy, and then somehow forget? Even when that seems likes it would be the most important fact, something to write down, keep on a sticky note, etc… It’s often all too easy to lose ourselves along the way. 

The game itself is not destined to be game of the year. But it is beautiful, simple, and compelling. As I sat down with some friends I hadn’t seen in months and got into the familiar groove of learning a new game, something I’ve done hundreds of times, it dusted off the mirror and reminded me that just the act of discovering a game brings me joy.

Roll to claim the card, this 17 has reached it’s claim threshold and player green’s 8 will claim the card.

Each player has five dice of three different types, four-sided, six-sided and eight-sided which represent their archaeologists digging up the past. Players roll a die each turn and apply this die roll towards a ruin card which has a specified claim value. Once the total of all dice on the card equals or exceeds the claim value the player with the highest roll claims the card. If you roll a low result not all is lost since rolling a three or less earns players a resource which can also earn you points. The basic interaction is very simple, pick a die, pick a card, and roll, but this is surrounded by some nice and more far reaching decisions. The different resources players pick up are hexes that they use to build puzzle like environments that house the ancient buildings. But the game is pulling in two directions. Low rolls help you complete these structures, but high rolls go a lot further towards claiming the cards. The game also has a nice catch up mechanism, as when you don’t claim a card you draw a number of delver cards equal to the number of dice you had committed towards that card. These delver cards provide various game changing effects which can help you claim more resources or cards in the future and get back into the game, even after a string of bad luck.

The resources are used to build a sort of hexagonal puzzle to claim wonder tiles seen in the center of each hexagon.

I cannot say enough about the art of the game. It’s simply beautiful, and very unique. It definitely drew me in, and while it’s not what finally got me out of the house to try the hobby again, it’s certainly what made me sit down and stay for a game or two. And with a simple spark like that I am excited about the hobby again, ready to play the games that have lain dormant on the shelf, discover new ones, and of course, write about them here. A hobby that is dear to you is like a home that you can return to. Familiar and friendly, and able to unearth a simple joy that perhaps was forgotten.