I write these articles as slow as a game of Campaign for North Africa. So, let’s not mess around. There’s 20 more to go!
Top 30 ‘New to Me’ games of 2018
20. Gaia Project
Gaia Project is the successor to a popular and older game called ‘Terra Mystica’. but instead of setting it on a fantasy magical land where magic can terraform the world, Gaia Project makes you look up from the earth and towards the cosmos – set in a galaxy where alien factions terraform an entire world to make it habitable for themselves.
So similar this game is to its older cousin that many consider Gaia Project to be Terra Mystica 2.0; and here’s the thing: Terra Mystica is one of the best resource management games I’ve ever played, and I really like the improvements they have done to it. The best of all, I believe, is the improvement on the “cult track”. In Gaia Project it is now called the technology track, and the changes are solid. It made players more invested on the technology track as a result. Not only is it just a means for them to score, it is now a field where it improves their abilities to reach further and terraform more advance planets.
Playing Gaia Project really makes the gears in my head turn as I decide which one to pick among this array of delicious choices. While my calculating head thinks, I float through the vast darkness of space, searching for new planets to terraform and colonise. I am still on the fence on whether which one is better: Terra Mystica or Gaia Project? For now I’m leaning on the former, but that doesn’t mean the latter is diminished to my eyes – it remains one of the best games I’ve played this year.
19. Clans of Caledonia
Clans of Caledonia is a game set in Scotland, where Scottish clans do Scottish stuff (probably!) like raising cows and sheep, making cheese, or brewing whisky. Your clans then expand throughout the lush green fields by building farms and breweries, or through the forests and mountains to cut down trees or mine the earth.
With all these produce you create, you then fulfil export contracts. These contracts you choose and pick. What’s interesting is the price of gaining a contract: you receive money on Round 1, when you don’t have anything to start with, and these contracts gets pricier for you until Round 5, when you have your economy running at full speed. Any contracts you fulfil gives you any of the 4 exotic imported goods, and here’s the kicker – the more you all have of a certain exotic good, the fewer points it gives to you.
Just like Gaia Project, this game is clearly inspired by an older game called ‘Terra Mystica’. With impressions so far, I find myself wanting to play this more than either Terra Mystica or Gaia Project. The dynamic market system where you can buy low and sell high, and the random contracts mechanic that changes the goals and strategies of your play during the game itself and on your next game. More importantly, the clans feels very balance after playing this game. And it all packed into a small box – smaller than any complex games I’ve seen.
18. Mechs vs. Minions
Mechs vs Minions is a co-operative game that is based on the League of Legends universe, and good news is that this game didn’t rely at its video game cousin to stand out amongst the crowd. The game is about a team of up to 4 players trying to accomplish the mission objectives for a scenario while stemming the tide of minions swarming towards them.
The game is played by having a drafting round where a set of cards are displayed for everyone to see. One by one, in clockwise order, a player selects a card, and then place it on a “command line” that goes from left to right. So, let’s say, you picked up a move card that allows you to move 2 forward, and place it to slot #2. You, then, move 2 steps forward. Then, on the next round, you grab the card that allows you to shoot forward, and place it on slot #3. What happens then – following the command from left to right – is that you move 2 forward and then shoot. Rinse and repeat.
Yes. This command line keeps building up, as the game goes on. To make things more fun, every time a mech gets damaged by the minions, the player must take a damage card that messes up the command line. Mechs vs Minions is all about players using their creativity to control the chaos that the command line brings and work together to achieve the mission objectives. It is chaotic, smart, and funny. It is an excellently produced game that has a surprisingly low price tag for what you’re getting out of this big box.
Medici is an auction game about bidding for sets of cards and hope that you get the most valuable goods for your ship. Each player will try to fill up their ship, where they can only store 5 goods. You win by having the most points. Also, you bid with your points – points that will make you win.
A round starts with the first player playing face-up up to 3 cards max. Everybody, starting from the left of the dealer, bids for those cards once – yes, a 1 round auction. Highest bidder wins. The round ends when everybody filling their ships or if the small deck runs out. Players are then ranked by the value of their goods, say 1st place gets 40 points, 2nd is 30, and so on until the last player which will receive nothing.
Medici is your typical game from designer Reiner Knizia where the games are simple but complex. A simple one-round bidding for a set of cards becomes a difficult agonising decision of whether you want to pass or bid higher. If you want to bid higher, you end up ask yourself how high – because you only have one chance – and hope the following players won’t bid higher than you. A game where judging your friends can be more difficult than you think.
16. When I Dream
You are dreaming. You don’t know where you are. You’re trying to figure it all out. Someone said “coconut”, then another one said “sunny”. Confused, you continue to listen more. “Sands”. You’re close. You’re getting it now. You’re about to speak a word, and then someone interjects “volcano” – wait what?
When I Dream is a game where one player – the dreamer – is blindfolded with a blinker. The other players have secret identities where they could either be a fairy, someone who helps the dreamer to say the word correctly; or a boogeyman, who tries to make the dreamer say the wrong word. The dreamer will try to figure out the word that is at the top of the deck of cards, from the clues being given by everybody. If guessed correctly, the dreamer and the fairies gain a point. The boogeymen scores if it’s wrong.
The game makes everybody be the dreamer and changes the identities of everybody every round. This game sounds thin and without meat, but the timer pressures everybody on giving clues or guessing the word. Mistakes happen because of this, and they end up being funny. Once the round ends, people often talk about what happened and what they’ve done. This game easily got into #16 due to this. A hilarious set up with just a mere blinker and words.
15. Castles of Mad King Ludwig
You are one of the architects of Bavaria; and the eccentric king wants you to build a castle – castles that you’ll find to be very weird and very charming. This is Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Every player has their own castle for the king, and – I’m gonna tell you now – interior architectural designing is everything.
Yes. Everything. Placing a bedroom next to a bowling alley sounds fun, but not really ideal, if you wanna sleep nicely, and this gives you penalty points. And placing some rooms connected to each other will give you bonus points. Awesome. So, the game is all about making those combos that will skyrocket you up the scoring track.
However, what is magical about Castles of Mad King Ludwig, aside from the beautiful and whimsical castles you all end up building, is the purchasing system in this game. Every turn, one player becomes the master builder and arranges the tiles available to the available price slots. Players who purchase rooms will pay the master builder. You might put the highly desired ones at a high price, and the ones no one wants (and, ideally, something you want) to the cheaper side. But, then, you also learn not to put them up too high. Otherwise, no one will buy them! Ah, now you see the magic of this game, dear apprentice.
Kingdomino is a game of kingdoms and dominoes. The goal is to build a kingdom using dominoes that is made up of different types of terrains, such as golden fields, light green meadows, dark green forests, blue water, grey wastelands, or dark mines. You construct your kingdom with these dominoes until it becomes a wonderfully beautiful 5×5 grid.
Players, on their turn, place their monarch-meeple on a set of dominoes to pick. Not only you’re selecting the tiles you want to get, you are also setting your turn order on the next turn. Meaning, if you select the most valuable domino, you go last next turn. When you select a domino, you place it on your kingdom on the condition that one of the terrains has to be adjacent to an existing terrain in your kingdom. Your starting tile – which is a castle – counts as any terrain.
At first, I looked at Kingdomino and thought “Wait. That’s it?”. But playing it for the first time made me realised that Kingdomino is a small game that has a big heart. That simplicity does not compromise fun nor complexity. Within this 5×5 grid, you will find decisions, predictions, joy, defeat, and satisfaction. Finishing a game of Kingdomino always leave me with a fuzzy feeling of “Look what I’ve done! I’ve built a beach front here… a massive forest at the back…”
Seasons is a game set in the magical forest of Argos, where sorcerers from all the land battle for 3 years to be the arch-mage of the kingdom. Seasons is a game of card-drafting and dice-drafting, where players create powerful combos using the cards and dice they select.
At the start of the game, players will have a hand of cards; they select one to keep and then pass the hand to the next player. This continues until everyone has 9 cards. Then, they place 3 cards on each year to be used on those respective years. Each round, players will roll the season dices (a different set of dice is used depending on which season they are currently on), and they pick one for each player. The dices gives elemental tokens which can be used to pay for the cards when a player activates a card.
Seasons is phenomenal on how it presents itself as a game where you build yourself up by playing cards in front of you (similar to Terraforming Mars, Everdell, or Race for the Galaxy). The art is very striking and beautiful with its smorgasbord of colours and illustrations. Along with its art, the card effects pack a kick, that every card you play feels significant. Despite the random dice rolls and the random card draws, Seasons is, strangely, very strategic. A game where the best player always win by pulling off the most impressive card combination.
12. Ghost Stories
Ghost Stories is a co-operative game about 4 Taoist monks trying to defend their village against Wu-Feng and his army of ghouls and demons, for their village holds the buried body of the evil spirit and he wants it back. It’s up to you to defend the village and defeat Wu-Feng to win the game.
On your turn, you pick up a monster card from the deck and place it on the board. Yes. Every turn, a monster appears. The active player then moves, then has the choice of either fighting the monsters at the edge of the map or activate a village tile (each village tile gives you different abilities).
This game does not let up. From the start, the pressure is already on, with hordes of ghosts and demons threatening the village. It is unlike Pandemic where it is possible to cure at least one of the diseases and your team got the game under control. Not so much here, even when Wu-Feng finally shows up at the end of the game (you put his card at the bottom of the pile), your team all gather together to beat Wu-Feng before time runs out.
Babel is set in the ancient bronze age, where the Persians, Hittites, Assyrians, Medes, and Sumerians inhabit the fertile crescent of the Middle East. Players play head-to-head to build temples, which scores as points, and to destroy the other player’s temples. Unlike a lot of 2 player games I have played, this one is very confrontational from start to finish.
On their turn, players take a bunch of cards to their hands. They can use those cards to move their avatar to another place. Other actions they can do with their cards is to play them on the board to build temples and add in new tribes on where their avatar currently resides. They can also steal or destroy the opposing temple in front of them. You win by building up to 15 points worth of temples, before the opponent builds at least 10 points. If the opponent does have more than 10 points, the game continues on a sudden death phase until someone reaches 20 points and win OR one will drop below 10 and lose.
Oh man, oh man. Babel is an aggressive 2 player game where temples on both sides are built, then burnt by the other side, only for them to rebuild again from the ashes, followed by a swift revenge. Even when your level 5 temple you worked so hard to build can be destroyed by your opponent, you will rebuild and continue fighting because you can do the same to them. Yes: despite all of that fire and blood, it is a very tactical and satisfying game. The game ends with a triumph is so sweet when you have finally outlasted your friend.
Top 30 ‘New to Me’ games of 2018