Hello! It has been a big year for me, in regards to board gaming. So many games played and several genre of games explored. I become more aware on what kind of things I end up liking and what doesn’t click to me.
These are the games that are ‘new to me’ for this year; they were all released before 2018. Games that were remade this year with new shinier prettier editions are also included here, not in my Top 10 Games of 2018. Obviously, the list is subjective to my taste; what games worked for me, doesn’t work for someone else. However, I hope I can present what I felt about these games as I rank them to you.
So, let’s start with the ‘Almost Made It’s’. Ranking these games were difficult, every time I put something up, something goes down – but, hey, that’s the nature of the beast. Thus, something slips out of the Top 30. I will make a quick mention of them below, before we start with #30.
The ‘Almost Made It’s’
- Photosynthesis – a game about planting trees and competing for sunlight by blocking other trees from getting it. Mmmmm… gimme dat Vitamin D.
- Raise Your Goblets – a game about pouring poison or wine on your drink or someone else’s, switch them around, and then drink. I declare a toast for our longevity!
- Bye-Bye Black Sheep – a push-your-luck game about picking cards from someone else’s hand, trying to make sets to win the game, keep on going and hope you don’t pick the black sheep card. Who knows, you might get 3 bags full.
30. Watson & Holmes
Watson & Holmes is a game about a group of investigators solving case after case after case. However, these investigators are out for themselves. Oh yes, madam and sir. This is not a cooperative game, but a competitive one. The investigator who solves the case first, wins the game.
The game starts with a case. You choose one from the many cases in the box. Each case has a bunch of location cards, the introduction to the story, and the solution. Players then place their investigators on one of the location cards (which has information about the case on the underside), with carriage tokens alongside the investigator (or maybe none at all) as their bid. The carriage tokens are the currency of this game that turns out to be a combination of an auction and a whodunit game. Anyone that is knocked out by a higher bid can place their investigator on another card or bid higher on their previous location – this goes on until all players have a location card.
I was sceptic at this game at first. But as we play the first round of auction for the locations and start reading the location cards for information, I began to see the cleverness and charm of this game. The obvious locations to search are hotly contested with carriage tokens spent like crazy. People scribbling intensely on their notes as they hit a significant lead. Faces of anguish as they hit a red herring or with nothing. Watson and Holmes is a smart game where not only you trudge on to solve the case, but it is also a intense race against your friends on solving the case.
Lancaster is a game set in medieval England, each of you represents a noble house trying to suck up to the king. Each of you have a group of knights, with different strengths, and this is where Lancaster sets itself apart from other worker placement games.
You see, when you set out your knights throughout the kingdom, filled with action spots, each spot gives you bonuses such as upgrading your personal castle or recruiting new knights or upgrading them. “Great! First come, first serve.” you say; however, the strength of your knights matter. Your level 1 knight can get kicked out of a spot by an opposing knight of a higher strength. Yes. This is no longer a game where you passively block each other off by claiming a spot first – you need to fight for it, to hold it.
To make it more interesting: Players in the game can also vote for laws which benefit or hinder themselves or others. They can also send knights to France to fight in the king’s wars, where they can collectively win or lose battles, risking the lives of their knights. At first glance, for a game that seems like a generic solitary game, Lancaster surprised me with its strong player interaction that makes you jousts with other players, while you wrestle control over the game’s internal puzzle. Lancaster is an unassuming game that packed a gauntlet-covered punch.
28. Last Will
“Your uncle is dead. Hooray!” These are the first few words in the game’s manual. With that, I am expecting a funny game. And hey, it didn’t disappoint. Last Will is a game about your uncle giving away a portion of his money to you all – undeserving relatives – and the goal is to live life to the fullest by spending all of your uncle’s little allowance to you, and the first leecher to done so, will receive the rest of his vast fortunes.
Sounds easy, no? Well, not really. It turns out to be a somewhat difficult task. With limited actions on a turn, you try to maximise your actions by throwing vain parties, going on a dinner with a lady companion, manipulate the housing market to buy high and sell low, or perhaps go on a fancy holiday – why not?
Last Will is a European-style game that managed to be funny and smart at the same time. It is a game of trying to be efficient on burning all of your money until you have none. Not only is it a game of puzzling out which is the best way to victory, it is also a game that is whimsical, funny, and debauched. A game that grips your imagination, as you throw extravagant parties and neglect your mansions – and, at the same time, keeps you sucked in as you ponder on its puzzle.
Agra is one of those heavy Euro beasts that roam the world of board gaming. It is a hard game to learn. It reminds me of an older game called ‘Archipelago’ – a game that is too smart and complicated for its own good – complexity for the sake of complexity, as they say. Yet, this game manage to win my attention. Yes. I feel enamoured with this over-complicated clockwork of a game. As I am writing this, I still want to play it again.
Agra is set in the ancient Mughal Empire, and the birthday of Emperor Akbar is drawing near; and we need to shower the Imperial Majesty with gifts to advance our standing. Starting with just basic goods, players can start constructing buildings which allows them to process these basic goods into processed goods, and these processed goods into more advanced process goods. Using these, you can give them as gifts to the emperor, or to fulfil contracts for one of the three guilds in the city of Agra, or to deliver these goods to visiting notables. All of these paths allows you to score points.
Agra is an overly-complicated machinery, which reminds me, again, of Brass or Archipelago. This makes it more difficult to show to new people. However, just like Brass, Agra becomes a very satisfying game after the steep climb atop of the rules mountain. Agra gives you so much freedom on how to fulfil the goals that’s given to you by the game. What is also fascinating is the design of the worker placement mechanic that disallows players from bee-lining into a single strategy throughout the game, forcing them to diverse themselves on separate paths.
Samurai is a tile-laying game from Reiner Knizia, set in medieval Japan. In this game, the whole country is littered with statues and we are here to clean them all up. There are three types of statues: buddhas, castles, and rice stalks. At the end of the game, if you’re the player with the most of one type, you get one point. If you gain a second one or all of them, then you win the game.
Each player has a “deck” of tiles they could use to play onto the board. Each tile shows one of the three statues. Using these tiles, you try to gain as many statues on the board as possible. To capture one or more statues, it has to be surrounded by player tiles, and whoever has the majority on the castle tiles, gain the castle statues – and then repeat the same process on the other two.
Samurai starts off with a clean map, with so much freedom. You can play a tile where ever you want. But as the game goes on, options are narrowing down gradually, everything becomes more difficult and every move are becoming more calculating and decisive. Samurai starts off as a soft-speaking tune that gradually keeps tuning up and up and up, like a crescendo.
25. Dead Last
A group of friends hid some money and decided that the last one alive gets all the money. Problem: nothing is stopping them from just killing one another to get the pot money for themselves. This is Dead Last – a social game about plotting with your friends to kill one of your friends, every single round. Here’s the kicker: you all have to do this publicly, so try not to get caught.
A round begins with everyone visible to one another. You have a hand of cards – cards that represents every other player – you use these cards to vote face-down on who to kill. Once everyone voted, you reveal at the same time. The player who is voted the most wins – if it’s a tie, tied players die. Now, to make it more bloodier, anyone who didn’t vote for the majority, also get eliminated too. However, if you think you’re getting voted, you can vote with the ‘Ambush’ card, if you’re correct, you can choose one of your attackers to died – if you’re wrong, you die.
So, there’s so many ways to die in this game. For me, that is a plus as it speeds up the game that has player elimination – an aspect of the game that can sour someone’s mood as they sit and watch for 20 minutes. Rounds go quick, and everyone has to be sly on telling everyone who to vote. The cunning ones will try to figure out if there are being hunted. Dead Last is a funny, clever, and dangerous game that condenses its mechanics into a simple ruleset.
24. Tigris & Euphrates
Tigris & Euphrates is a unique tile-laying game from Reiner Knizia. The game is about players taking control of kingdoms in the Mesopotamia. You score points by placing a coloured tile in a kingdom, where you have a leader of the same colour – e.g. placing a green tile in a kingdom with your green leader, gives you 1 green point. Each player has 4 leaders, because there are 4 colours, meaning you will have an array of 4 scores.
Another way to score is to go to war against another kingdom. Now, this is where the high mountain gets an avalanche. The loser will lose all those coloured tiles from their kingdom and the winner will score based on how many tiles the loser lost – and that’s fine. Because you’re not suppose to feel attached to your kingdom when they fall. Ultimately, you want to gain the most points. To win, you look at the least amount out of your 4 scores, and that will be your final score. So you try to balance between all four.
Here is why the game is so dynamic and so vibrant. Kingdoms go to war against one another, or suffer a revolt headed by a leader from another player. Kingdoms rise and expand; and kingdoms fall and crumble. You win a war and get red points, but you move on to the other colours. You lose a war and get crestfallen, but you move on to gain points elsewhere. It is a never ending cycle of struggle from start to finish.
One of the most clever and tight 2 player games in existence. The goal of each player is to gain the favour of 4 out of 7 geishas or to attain enough favour that it amounts to 11 points. Each player has a hand of cards, which represents gifts. Each card is only appropriate to a specific geisha. To gain the favour of a geisha, you need to give more gifts to her than the opponent.
It is a very tricky head-to-head game as some actions are about creating a set of choices from your hand, and your opponent have first pick on your cards before you can have them. Yes. One of them is to shows 3 cards from your hand, they pick one, and you get the other 2. The other one is to show 2 sets of 2 cards, they pick one set, you get the other. This inevitably results with players being in complete contemplation or outright agony as they want to have a card, without risking giving it away.
It is a very mechanically tight game designed that every card will be played one way or the other, except for one card set aside from the start of the round to prevent card counting. Hanamikoji is all about controlling the ebb and flow of the game, since you cannot win the favour of every geisha, but you can mitigate it in a way that you will end up winning the right set of geishas for you to win the game.
22. The Witches
The Witches is a game based on Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series, set in the magical land of Lancre, where you play as trainee witches solving problems throughout the land. They range from simple ones like curing a bunch of sick pigs, to more complicated ones like a horde of elves. In fact, it is most important to stop the elves from overrunning Lancre, or everyone will lose. The game can be played either cooperatively or competitively.
What it so good about the Witches then, captivating me in a way that games like Eldritch Horror can’t? You see, the Witches handles risk-management better and it feels more satisfying. You still roll dice when trying to solve a problem; but if you fail, you can re-roll or you can abort. Yes, there’s dice rolling, but you make a decision, right there, if you want to continue – and it feels satisfying when you made the right call either way.
The charm of the game is that the theme and the storytelling is front and centre. The game mechanics are simple but, most importantly, not clumsy that it distracts you from the game. Thematic games (a.k.a. American-style games) make this mistake by making the games simple in strategy, but the rules are relatively more convoluted. Sure: The Witches is a simpler Thematic game, but its elegance means it allows you to focus more on its bucolic and charming but dangerous story.
21. The Cousins’ War
The Cousins’ War is also known as the War of the Roses or the English Civil War. Yes, that’s right. The Cousins’ War is a 2 player game where you fight as House Lancaster, symbolised by the red rose; or House York, symbolised by the white rose. The Cousins’ War is an area-control game where there are 3 regions, and a faction controls a region by having more cubes than the other side. The objective of the game is to try to control all 3 regions at the end of a round – or control 2 out of 3 regions at the end of the game.
In this game, players will spend their cards one by one to gain influence on the 3 regions of England, to remove your opponent’s influence on one of the regions, or to add soldiers into the selected battlefield. Once each player plays 4 cards from their hand, the battle begins. Battle happens with one side rolling 3 dice secretly and can claim anything they want (e.g. triple 4’s, or double 2’s), the other side either calls their bluff, or accept it and try to beat the roll. The loser loses a cube in the battlefield. Then, roles switch between the two. Rinse and repeat.
The Cousins’ War is not a very well-known game, but it manage to reach my Top 30 with its bluffing mechanism during combat. Its main phase of playing 4 cards before the battle gives you a difficult choice on whether you focus your strength on adding more troops in the battlefield or more influence in the regions. This head-to-head 2 player game feels tense and it all fits in a very small 11 cm x 9 cm box.
Top 30 ‘New to Me’ games of 2018
30 – 21 | 20 – 11 | 10 – 01