AuZtralia – I backed this on Kickstarter and I honestly could not tell you why I did. It features mechanics that I’m not particularly fond of (route building, time track) and a theme that at the time, I was burnt out on (Cthulhu and the Old Ones). Yet for some reason, this was one of the few games of 2018 I backed and I’m super glad I did. The only negative I have of the game is that the set-up, though randomized, can swing a game regarding its difficulty fairly easily. I like that the game isn’t strictly a military game and it always leaves you wanting another turn (or two) when it finally winds down. I am always left feeling like I don’t have enough time to make perfect decisions and while that isn’t for everyone, it really strikes the right chord for me.
While I think AuZtralia shines as a two-player game, it might be my favorite solo game I own now as it offers a different challenge with each play and can be played relatively quickly for the depth offered.
Carthage – I wrote a review of Carthage so I won’t bore you with rehashing what is already been stated. This is a lightweight deck-building game that has direct player interaction coupled with a fun theme. We can play this game quickly and the ability to make free-for-all’s and team-based games varies the strategy up enough that it almost guarantees a good time each and every time it hits the table.
The Estates – Besides abstract games, auction/negotiation games are my favorite to play. Chinatown sits at the top of all the games I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit down and enjoy and The Estates ticks off a similar checklist. The game has a closed economy with simple rules and plays fast. It solves one of the biggest issues with negotiation games by forcing players to work in step to develop a street (or else they lose points). The game can get mean due to the bidding and placement but I wouldn’t say it’s particularly vindictive. The Estates is new to me as I just learned about it at PAX Unplugged 2018 but I’m already greatly enjoying it.
The Mind – Another game that I wrote a review for, The Mind is a novelty that will eventually wear off but damn if it wasn’t a talking point for roughly three straight months in our gaming group and people still ask to play it. Simple to teach, hard to master. Can’t ask much more from a lightweight game where all you are doing is placing numbers in sequential order without talking. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not it’s a game or a social experiment but either way, it’s a good look for the hobby.
Railroad Ink – I didn’t want to rank any of the games in this list as I wasn’t sure where everything would fall in order and since rankings are subjective, what I deem the best and worst will greatly differ from someone else’s viewpoint, including my spouse. However, if I were to rank games that I’ve played that were released in 2018, Railroad Ink would be the game to beat. Quick, portable, challenging. Railroad Ink has it all. We have the Blazing Red version, which introduces volcanoes and meteors whereas the other version has lakes and rivers for a more tranquil experience. I’m hard pressed to think of any other game in our collection that plays as quick as this game does, with as many people that it can fit, and with the level of depth and strategy offered. 2018 saw the release of many great Roll and Write games and I think Railroad Ink is not only the best of them, but also holds its own against any game released in 2018.
On the flip side, my significant other hates this game and repeated play throughs have not made it any better. While this is a group game and you are competing against one another, you’re essentially ‘playing’ the game by yourself and then comparing after seven rounds. The decision-making is random due to the dice rolls and can be frustrating as you are left with terrible choices instead of even passable ones. The theme doesn’t make any sense as highways turn into railways and the boards, while portable, are a touch too small for some people to draw in/on.
Reef – Abstract games are my jam and while Reef did not live up to the expectations I had for it (largely in part to the high standards created by Azul and Sagrada), this is still a light game that’s enjoyable. The high production quality certainly helps sell the game as well as the innovative stacking ability of the pieces. I like Reef but don’t love it. There are better abstract games out there but I sadly didn’t play many that were 2018 releases.
Root – The game of 2018. Root this and Root that. After my first playthrough of the asymmetrical area control game with cute woodland critters, I was under the impression that this game was all sizzle and no steak. A second play got me to appreciate the game a little more and a third run through makes me want to play again. I don’t know if I have this game ranked as highly as others but with more plays, this could creep from the bottom ten of 2018 closer to the top. It has a lot of variety for players and the ability to learn and master different races is fun but I do wonder if when I start hitting ten and more plays if the strategy will disappear and the game will lose its luster. I just cannot tell yet.
Sailing Towards Osiris – I played the prototype years ago and was fortunate to trade for a Kickstarter copy earlier this year and the game was a hit with my group. The theme is relatively unique, the components are amazing, and the mechanics offer enough of a challenge to reward thoughtful planning but not punish players who don’t think two steps ahead. I think what really endears me to Sailing Towards Osiris is the fact that there is always something to do on your turn. There are plenty of times where your first through fifth options are taken but you can still make some heady plays and I’ve never felt at a disadvantage. It feels like a game that sits comfortably in that middle weight category (akin to a Viticulture) and really invests the players in the turns of one another. I honestly don’t know why this game isn’t mentioned more.
Terraforming Mars: Prelude – An expansion to one of the more revered games in the hobby, Prelude is the best addition to the base game yet. Another game that got the review treatment here, Prelude is perfect for adding some variety to the base game and is a great way to help new players jump-start their engine building. By giving players starting bumps, it can drastically change the way players employ strategy on their turns. The inclusion of Prelude takes maybe three minutes and is essentially an addition to set-up. The only negative I have regarding Prelude (now that we have even more plays under our belt), is that it almost makes drafting a requirement for Terraforming Mars. Most people only play with drafting but sometimes you want a quick in-and-out game and drafting isn’t feasible and including Prelude might not matter much as you can’t get your hands on the cards that will truly benefit you.
Tiny Epic Zombies – The Tiny Epic series is designed to offer the feeling of a large game in a pint-sized box and nowhere does it feel more true than with Tiny Epic Zombies. The production values alone rival any big box game. The gameplay is great for players that want a cooperative (or semi-cooperative/competitive) setting that compares to zombie-themed contemporaries like Zombicide but play in a fraction of the time.
Western Legends – I admittedly only have one play of this under my belt but I really like what I saw. I’ve been clamoring for a sandbox style board game since playing Merchants and Marauders and being let down by the lack of choices (that would result in winning). At first glance, Western Legends appears to be a game that lets you do whatever it is that you want and that path could lead to winning. Repeated plays will really let me know if that’s the case or not but the mechanics (particularly the use of poker) are thematic and put just enough power in a players hand to dictate what they can choose to do. I may also be slightly biased as I love the western theme. I have a feeling that repeated plays will make me realize this is more Merchants and Marauders than I think it is now but I can’t say for certain.