The final part of the Top 30 ‘New to Me’ of 2018. Let’s not waste another sentence.
Top 30 ‘New to Me’ games of 2018
10. Chicago Express
Chicago Express is a game of 5 railway companies trying to compete to reach Chicago. (Wait! Don’t leave! Trust me, it’s exciting!). However, none of the players controls these companies. Instead, you have shares on them, and you earn money when the companies divvy up the profits to everyone. The player with the most money wins.
Your turn is pretty simple. You either take one of the 3 actions: auction a share, expand network, or develop a tile. To auction a share, you simply pick one share from any available company, and players bid until everyone except the winner pass. To expand a network, you simply place 3 railways on the board for just one company. To develop, you place a house and you increase the city’s income.
I understand if you think the game sounds boring, from the theme, to the actions that you do, but boy this is a tense and funny game. The auction to fight over shares on rising companies is tense. Keeping your monopoly is tense. Building railways to block other people is funny. Auctioning shares to suck up money for your companies is painful and funny but a necessary thing. Player interaction is so baked into the game. You will see negotiations between people and cooperation between shareholders. Plots will form, to block other companies from reaching Chicago. This game packs that complexity with a simple set of rules. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome as it ends the game while you’re still having fun.
Monikers is a party game where you and every player pick a number of cards from their hand of cards. Picking the most funny, ridiculous, and mind-boggling choices, players then combine their selected cards into a joint deck that both teams will use. Each card as a title and a description.
The objective of the team is to guess the cards by saying the title. The game goes for 3 rounds. First round is to guess the card by describing it with as many words as possible (no gestures), without saying a word in the title. They will guess as many as they can for a minute. After a minute, pass the unscored deck to the opposing team, then rinse and repeat. The round keeps on going until the deck runs out. In the 2nd round, the teams will play the same deck again, but this time, they will describe it with only 1 word – again, they cannot use a word in the title. 3rd round, then you go through the same deck with charades.
Round 2 and 3 is where you hit the genius of the game. People will start to make in-jokes with cards in the deck. And you feel clever for guessing a card with just a word from your team-mate. Your charades will feel funny and smart to you, than classic charades, due to the in-jokes you all make. Monikers is, without a doubt, the best party game I have in my collection. It manage to be hilarious, clever, and weird.
08. Twilight Imperium 4th Edition
The big ol’ space game. Twilight Imperium 4 is a big box (as in, coffin box) sized space opera in space. It is a game of expanding your space realm, building ships and recruiting armies, which you use to expand again. You negotiate with your neighbours for trade, political favours, and alliances. It is a… Space. Opera. In. Space.
There’s so many things you can do in Twilight Imperium. Like it was a tabletop version of Civilization, but only in space. However, what set this game aside from other area-control games and war games out there is that Twilight Imperium is not solely a game of who has the largest empire. But which player can deftly fulfil the most public objectives. Each public objectives give 1 or 2 points for fulfilling it, and they could range from aggressive ones like having a set number of planets, or peaceful like spending X number of influence. The player who reach 10 or more points wins the game.
Twilight Imperium have entered my top 10 like a sledgehammer through a paper-thin wall through its sheer mass. And I’m not talking about how large this coffin box is, or how many miniatures, or how many pieces of cardboard in it. But rather, how wide the scale of this game is. How the game doesn’t just incentivises you to expand and attack, but also it is a game that incentivises you to be nice to your neighbours for trade and politics. Playing Twilight Imperium is a nice see-saw between war and peace, between friendship and rivalry. A see-saw that swings from one way to the other once your “friend” sees an opportunity, or how the galaxy readies their war machines once a new objective is revealed.
07. High Society
High Society is a fast-pace, high-stakes auction card game, where you are all members of France’s High Society. With loads of money in your bank account, you lavishly spend them on luxury to impress your other rich friends.
High Society is played with everybody starting with the same amount of money. You reveal the luxury deck of cards which contains fancy things like horseback-riding, jewels, or high cuisine eating. You reveal the top card for the round. A round is then about bidding for that card with the money that you still have. Highest bidder wins.
So now you’re thinking “Haha! I’ll just keep spending money to get all the points and win the game”. Well, hang on. When the game ends, the player with the least amount of money at the end is disqualified from the game. This secret sauce that makes the game tense for everyone have made High Society a classic for me. The choice of buying more things knowing that every purchase is a step towards bankruptcy. Players risking themselves, pushing how far they could go, knowing that the poorest pauper will lose it all.
Village is a game about your villager family who all live in the village and do village-y stuff, which earns you points. So far, so resource management. But these family member of yours are multi-generational.
Each action you do, you either have to pay the resource required to do the action or assign one of your family members to the role. You need to spend “time” resource to train your family member, and then the time require for them to make that item. Once the time tracker makes one revolution, then one of your family members die – one from the oldest generation. If there is still a space in the village’s chronicles, then your family member will take a space, according to their profession. The more relatives in the chronicles, the more points you score.
Village remained in my collection and became one of my top games simply because of its theme of multi-generational family and the stories the game makes for you as you play the game, while being an engaging resource management game too. Village doesn’t have story cards or legacy components, but it manages to make any player sad as they kill off their cart wright grandpa who made wagons for most of his life. Or instil horror when you have to kill your only oldest generation remaining who is the traveller, who will never ever completely explore the world. Village subtly manage to present you an economic puzzle with its gameplay that evokes its own way of storytelling. It’s all fun and games until everyone rushes to kill their entire family.
Ethnos is a game about collecting those elves, orcs, and dwarves like a bunch of Tolkienesque Pokemons. I explained it once as “Rummy on steroids”; the game is about making sets of the same races (all orcs, all trolls) or of the same coloured cards (there are 6 of them in total)
On your turn, it’s either you pick a card from a shop of face-up cards, or you make a set. To make a set, it can be of any number of cards (even a mighty set of 1) for as long as they have the same colour suit or from the same race. After making a set, you select a leader for your set (say, a Red Orc), you then put a token in the red area of the map and you activate the orc’s special ability. The player with the most tokens in an area, at the end of each round, scores 1st place points and then the next player scores 2nd and so on.
And that is where Ethnos shines. The fight between players for areas is funny and exciting. The diversity of races in Ethnos give each game a special blend; there are 12 races, and you select 6 of them when you start. Each races do something cool that it feels good whenever you make a set and choose which card you want as the leader of your set. And then, there’s the end of the round trigger. 3 dragon cards are mixed into the lower half of the deck. You have to reveal publicly if you pick up a dragon card. Once all 3 dragons are revealed, the game ends immediately. Every time we play Ethnos, the 3rd dragon will always make players groan or cheer. Perhaps the best part, of course, is that this game goes up to 6 players and yet the game whips through the rounds pretty fast.
Arboretum is a small card game about building a botanical garden – an Arboretum. The objective of the game is gain points by creating a beautiful path from the lowest value card to the highest value, on each suit. Example: path from 2 of Oak to 8 of Oak and then score your path from 3 of Magnolia to 6 of Magnolia so on and so forth.
On your turn, you have a hand of 7 cards and you simply pick up 2 cards – could be from the discard piles or from the deck, it’s your choice – and then you place 1 card from your hand to your ever growing arboretum, and discard one. The card you place in your arboretum has to be strictly adjacent to your existing park. The game ends with the player who picked the last card from the deck.
Arboretum is a simple card game with pretty illustrated trees, but make no mistake: Arboretum is mean. You do score on every suit of cards, but not everyone has the right to score! To gain the right to score on each suit, you need to have the most value of cards in your hand of that suit (e.g. to score the Maples, you need to have the most Maples in your hand). Arboretum is all about keeping the cards that you want to score your arboretum. Also you want to keep the cards that you don’t want your friends to have. But because you can only keep 7 cards every time, discarding is such a painful process. That Jacaranda tree path that you think will score you 15 points? Turns out, someone has the Jacarandas in their hand, denying you those points. It is agonising and without mercy. And that’s why I love it.
03. Flamme Rouge
Flamme Rouge is basically a Tour de France: the game. Each player has a team of two cyclists racing their way to the finish line. To win, a player only need to have one of their team to be the first to cross the finish line.
To play, each cyclist has a deck of cards, each card shows the number of how fast that cyclist will move through the racing track. You pick 4 from the deck and choose one; the rest are discarded. The chosen card will be then remove from the game after using it. This means, that those high cards you’re playing are gone – never to be seen again when you’re near the finish line, and your rivals are catching up on you. Then, slipstream is applied on every rider that is one space away from a rider on the front – they get to move forward one space, and then, the rider at the front of the pack gets an exhaustion card. The round starts all over again.
Now, from the slipstream and exhaustion mechanics, you’d think that being first is bad. Well, you’re damn right. This is a game is a race and a paradox. You want to be first because you have to be first to win, but you’ll get exhausted if you blaze through. You don’t want to be at the back because you might lag behind and accumulate exhaustion! So the perfect place is to be safely within the pack. But you need to breakout fast because everyone will be doing the same when the finish line is close. It’s a simple game where you’re second guessing everyone and you want to play your cards right. This game goes up to 4 (or 6 with the Peloton expansion) and the best part? I can teach this game to anybody.
Kemet is a game set in fantasy ancient Egypt where you raised armies and titanic creatures to reign supreme over the old kingdom of Egypt. Basically, it’s like the Scorpion King: the Game, except with less ‘the Rock’ and more fighting. To win the game, you need to earn and hold 8 victory points.
A game of Kemet starts out with all of you starting with nothing. But the game gradually becomes more asymmetric as the game progress, whenever players buy more power tiles. And this is where the game truly resides: the power tiles. The power tiles are abilities you can buy and are yours permanently. Whether it increases your attack or defence, your economy, or letting you summon creatures that will fight with your armies. The concept of power tiles is like the game handing you a menu for the food festival from heaven. The choices are so wide and always interesting – always amaze newcomers when they read up every power tiles.
Kemet is my go-to area-control game if you want a game where you fight with your friends. It is unapologetically fierce and aggressive, since the only way to win points on battles is to attack; yet it doesn’t let players get stomped too badly at the start of the game, effectively eliminating them. The choices are always interesting, letting you be creative on the combos you build during the game. The players’ actions are quick and the battles are fast enough that other players don’t want to mummify themselves out of boredom. Indeed, the game can easily last for around 2 hours.
Keyflower is a resource management game about settling in the New World, building up your settlement with building tiles which will then sprawl all over your village. This game is relatively quick compare to other games, as it only has 4 rounds – one for every season.
In Keyflower, players have a group of workers of different colours: red, blue, and yellow. When a player bids for a tile on an auction or use that tile for the first time, that tile will be “colour-locked” for that round. Meaning if you want to outbid or use that tile, then you have to use the same colour. Winning bids will then have those tiles in their village, expanding it. And in the following rounds, that player can use their workers to use that tile, but other players can use it too, but their workers will go to you.
Keyflower gives you interesting choices. Should you spend your workers on the auction to gain more tiles? Or should you spend them to work on your village or on someone else’s village? Which colour should you use? Or when? Timing is crucial here, as you might find yourself locked out of a tile because your friends placed a yellow worker and all you have are blue workers. However, Keyflower is somewhat more tactical than strategic, even with the Winter tiles being given to you at the start of the game. Still, it makes the game a very engaging one with its strong interaction between players. It has an amazing flexibility that scales well from 2 players to 6, and the variety of choices it offers to you. It was a hard choice but I am glad Keyflower became one of my faves from 2018.
Top 30 ‘New to Me’ games of 2018