January 23, 2019 5 min read

We’re almost a month into 2019, but it’s not too late to reflect on the year of games that’s been (we’re hoping). With much deliberation, even more arguing, no small amount of death threats, and a healthy dose of trials by combat, the Meeples Gurus have finally settled in on the definitive list of the best 5 games that came out in 2018 according to our collective opinion.

DISCLAIMER: in the interest of fairness and ensuring everyone had a chance to play them, we limited selections to those games that we have open in the café (sorry Rising Sun, Cerebria, Betrayal Legacy and the other excellent games we couldn’t include).

No. 5

Explorers of the North Sea

 

This tile-laying action selection game tasks up to 4 players as ambitious Viking captains to explore, pillage, and lay claim to the promising and untapped North Sea. There are multiple avenues to point scoring: claiming islands, collecting livestock, battling pirates, looting villages, establishing outposts, and losing warriors to the glories of battle. Each captain skews more towards one of these, but players must work on all roads to victory if they want to stand a chance of winning. This is one of two games designed by Shem Phillips on this list, a truly astounding games designer who’s just blown us away in 2018. Lovely components, excellent design, and a captivating theme all come together in this light strategy gem. (We know this originally released in 2016, but general release (the second edition) was 2018).

 

No. 4

Roll Player

 

Roll Player is a competent combination of crunchy and rewarding game design with enticing theme. It captures in board game form the character creation screen of an RPG video game. 1 to 4 players (5 with the expansion) are challenged to draft multi-coloured dice to meet stringent demands made by their fantasy characters race, class, background, and alignment over the course of roughly an hour. The higher (and better) dice the players drafts, however, the worse cards they will have access to from the market, creating a balance between taking the dice needed and the items, skills, or traits desired to score the most points. The theme, whilst admittedly sometimes abstracted from the game design, coupled with the difficult decisions and multi-layered strategy, makes this a must-try for any fans of fantasy worlds, dice games, or medium strategy.

 

No. 3

Just One

Just One is a game so ingenious in concept, simple in application, and endlessly fun that it’ll make you kick yourself for not having thought of it. The table of 3-7 players cooperate to describe a single shared mystery word to one of their friends by writing one word clues that link to it some way (words such as ‘captain’, ‘parrot’, ‘hook’ or ‘ship’ to describe ‘pirate’, for example). Before the guesser gets to see our clues, however, we first compare our words and any of them that are either identical or similar are wiped away before the guesser get to see them. Double-guessing, abstract clues, and hilarious coincidences abound in this cooperative party word game that has quickly become a firm staple at the cafe.

No. 2

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

It won the Kennerspiel des Jahres (the Oscars of strategy games), so we’re not alone in thinking this is superb, and is just one game of Wolfgang Warsch’s stellar 2018. As German potion-peddlers up to 4 players compete to make the most potion they can with bespoke ingredients and just a few bits volatile filler... The more potion you make the more money you have for new ingredients (with exciting abilities to assist future potion endeavours) and the more points you score. However, each new ingredient pulled from your bag could spell disaster and cause your potion to explode! Push your luck, craft the perfect bag of ingredients, and stew your way to victory.

 

No. 1

Architects of the West Kingdom

Architects (Shem Phillips’s second game) is a worker placement game for 1 to 5 players with a brilliant twist: whenever you place a worker you activate the space once for every worker of your colour you’ve already got there, so the more workers you have in one space the better, right? Not quite. One action is to collect all of the workers of one colour from one space, and those workers don’t necessarily have to be yours. Constructing buildings (you are architects after all) also costs you workers from your pool permanently, and certain actions in the game are locked from you if you aren’t pious or depraved enough. As a result, what could have been a run of the mill worker placement is transformed into a Medieval masterpiece of kidnap, construction, piety, and hard choices.

Honourable Mentions

With so many excellent games having come out in 2018, and because we arbitrarily decided to only have a top 5, here are 5 more games that almost made the cut.

 

The Mind

Not the first and not the last time that Wolfgang Warsch’s works appear in this article. The Mind is bizarre cooperative card game all about getting into the minds of your compatriots around the table without the luxury of communication in any form. We all draw a hand of cards and are tasked with playing them in ascending order without speaking, signing, or tapping out in morse code any information. Weird, unique, and utterly brilliant.

 

Pyramid of the Penqueen

This game pits up to four penguin explorers against each other in a race to gather their own set of 5 unique treasures first, these intrepid birds also competing against the Penqueen who is trying to rid her pyramid of the pesky thieves. Roll dice to dart around the ancient tomb whilst evading the blind Penqueen whose side of the magnetic board hides the location of her prey. It can be tense, it can be silly, it’s always great family fun.

 

Ganz Schön Clever

Wolfgang Warsch’s last entry in this article, but by no means his least. Players roll multi-coloured dice to spend them crossing off or filling in spaces of identically coloured areas on their player sheet in this much more strategic, much more rewarding, much more thoughtful, and much more German rendition of Yahtzee. Whilst there is no theme and it’s not the best looking game of the year, it’s easily one of the best ways to spend 30 minutes that came out in 2018.

 

Go Nuts for Doughnuts

Simple to learn and hilarious to play, Go Nuts for Doughnuts has become a new favourite at the cafe for the lighter end of light strategy category alongside the likes of Sushi Go. You need to get the most valuable doughnuts you possibly can (not all doughnuts are equal) by secretly laying claim to one doughnut among a fresh selection each round. We all unveil our picks and anyone who was alone in their choice gets the doughnut, whereas doughnuts multiple people chose are discarded instead. It’s silly, it’s fast, and can turn cutthroat.

 

Coimbra

As the head of a household in Portugal’s historic university town of Coimbra, you must accrue influence with the town’s different factions to triumph. Players draft dice, which they then place as workers to build up a tableau of citizens and participate in such noble pastimes as pilgrimage and funding voyages to the new world. It combines a few simple building blocks to make something very elegant and rewarding.

So that was our favourite picks of 2018, an excellent year for board games. The true testament to how great it was is the immense volume of fantastic games that didn’t make our list. Did we miss one of your favourites? Let us know!

Here’s hoping 2019 is even better.



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