Thursday, December 20, 2018

The 11 (again) Best New-To-Me Games of 2018

The 11 (again) Best New-To-Me Games of 2018 1 Spotlight Expansion and 19 honorable mentions
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This is the second year in a row that my list of new-to-me games and gotten shorter.  There are three main reasons for that.  1. As I've been playing games longer, I'm finding fewer older games that are new to me.  2) This year my game group played several games multiple times, meaning there was less time to add in new games.  3) And probably the biggest reason, I now have a toddler running round the house and demanding a ton of attention.  So the amount of gaming I've been doing has decreased, too.  This year I've played 91 new-to-me games so far, which is still a lot of new games.  Once again, this year my Top 10 is actually a Top 11.  I just couldn't narrow it down to just 10, so I figured I started a trend last year and I might as well continue it.  Also, this year I've continued with The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2018.

This main list only contains published games that I've played for the first time this year (although a couple I played previously in their prototype form).  So, without further ado, here are my Top 11 New-To-Me Games for 2018, including 19 runner-ups and 1 Spotlight Expansion, so that's 31 excellent games for 2018!

Also, check out my lists for 201720162015, and 2014.

Honorable Mentions in Alphabetical Order:

* Indicates I played first as a prototype and then a completed, published version in 2018.

Artifacts Inc. (2014) - Ryan Laukat makes some great games, with several appearing on this list in the past.  Artifacts Inc. is a great little game, and I think the only reason it didn't make the top list is that it's just a bit too long for its weight.  I do quite enjoy it though.

Can't Stop (1980) - This is an old Sid Sackson classic press-your-luck game that I've heard about for years, and finally got a chance to play this year.  It was definitely ahead of its time and has aged very well.  It can hold its own with any modern press-your-luck game.

Century: Spice Road (2017) - Century: Spice Road was a contender for the top list, and I really did enjoy it.  I'd love to play it more, but I think I like Splendor just a bit more.  I do want to try the sequel, Century: Eastern Wonders and the additional game that can be played with both combined.  A few from my game group have done that and loved it.

Death Wish * (2017) - I reviewed this back in 2016 and felt it was a fun, silly party game with a tad bit of strategy.  I felt the same way playing the published version and did a review update for Death Wish last month.

Deep Sea Adventure (2014) - I played this once with a group at Gen Con and quite liked the press-your-luck aspect combined with the player interaction.  This is a great press-your-luck game to play with larger groups.

End of the Trail (2018) - End of the Trail is an interesting game that blends several different mechanics in a unique game about the gold rush.  You use cards in your hand for multiple purposes, including bidding, auctions, movement, actions, and building a poker hand.  I felt these elements came together wonderfully, but my game group's opinion was divided.

Feudum (2018) - I think I'm really, really going to like Feudum once I have a couple of plays done to figure it out.  There's just so much going on in this game.  It's easily the heaviest game I own and I spent several hours just trying to get through the rules and then several more hours playing it at my Extra Life 24 Hour Game Marathon.  We didn't finish the game, but loved what we managed to get through.  I recently found a 'learn as you play' tutorial that I'm going to go through with my group sometime soon.  I'm also going to be working through the solo game soon, too, so hopefully I'll be able to tackle this beautiful beast of a game before long.

Fresco (2010) - Fresco met with mixed results in my family.  My wife and I liked it, but my sons were very quickly bored.  I definitely want to get this to the table more often though.

Lucidity: Six Sided Nightmares * (2018) - I reviewed this as a prototype and it made the number 2 spot on my Top Kickstarter Previews list last year.  The De-Lux version that you could get from Kickstarter is absolutely gorgeous and the gameplay is still fast and fun.  This just barely missed my top list this year.

Photosynthesis (2017) - I received Photosynthesis for my birthday this year and played it incorrectly the first time.  I enjoyed it, but felt it was missing something.  It turned out it was missing a player who could read the rules correctly!  The next play I realized what we had done wrong and the game was a lot better.

Potion Explosion w/ The Fifth Ingredient (2017) - Potion Explosion made it onto my list last year.  This year we added the Fifth Ingredient expansion (and the Fulminating Serum promos) and love what they add to the game.  The white Ghost Ectoplasm marbles and potions that go with them really add a new twist without adding complication.  I'm looking forward to seeing what the 6th Student expansion brings to the game next year.

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time (2017) - This is a very light cooperative game, but it's quite fun.  It's fairly random, with a lot of dice rolling for the AI side, but the puzzles it presents and the ways it makes players work together and plan is great.  I highly recommend this for families that enjoy cooperative games.

Radiant * (2018) - Here's another game that I reviewed before it hit Kickstarter.  It made the number 1 spot on my Top Kickstarter Previews list of 2016 and is still a solid blend of trick-taking, area control, and other elements of traditional card games.  Plus, I love the artwork!

Sagrada (2017) - Sagrada was very nearly on the Top 11 list, and then, while I was in the middle of typing up this list, I played a game that knocked Sagrada off.  Sagrada is a beautifully simple dice drafting game that is great for both new and experienced gamers.

Scythe w/ Wind Gambit (2017) - Scythe is still my favorite game, although there are a few that give it a run for its money (including this year's top game).  The Wind Gambit is the game's second of three expansions and adds a few new twists to the game.  It's not essential, but if you love Scythe, it adds just enough that you'll want to pick it up.

Tiny Epic Defenders Second Edition (2018) - I have quite enjoyed all of the Tiny Epic games and, although I think Tiny Epic Defenders is the weakest of the series, I really enjoy the simple cooperative aspect of the game.  It's one I enjoy playing solo and with my sons when we want a fast, light cooperative game.  The Second Edition tweaks some balance in the game and adds ITEMeeples and artifacts they can carry.  This isn't essential to the base game, but it does help with the theme immersion and does help with some of the mechanics in the Dark War expansion.

Tiny Epic Quest (2017) - I only played this solo earlier this year and really want to get it to the table as a multi-player game.  I like the shared press-your-luck aspect of the game and the drafting for movement and exploration mechanics.

Tiny Epic Zombies (2018) - I picked up Tiny Epic Zombies because sometimes you just want a zombie smashing good time without wanting the full Zombicide or Last Night on Earth.  The coop vs AI mode was a bit lackluster, but I really think the game will shine in the all vs one mode.

Trickerion: Legends of Illusion (2015) - Maybe I was just tired - I played this toward the end of my 24 hour game marathon for Extra Life, but, while I enjoyed Trickerion, I also found it more mechanical and less thematically immersive than I'd have liked.  Some elements felt unnecessarily restrictive, but there's no denying that it's a gorgeous game that does a lot very well.

And now for the Top 11 New-To-Me Games of 2018


First, a Spotlight Expansion:

Roll Player: Monsters & Minions(2018) - I'm not a huge fan of expansions.  Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of expansions, but I play so many different games that I rarely play a game often enough to get tired of the base game.  I wasn't tired of Roll Player either, but after playing the Monsters & Minions expansion last year for a review I fell in love!  The expansion adds very little overhead but tons of theme and some really great options to an already awesome game.  There are very few games that I care whether I play with an expansion or not, and more often it's that I prefer the game without the expansion.  I often play games with new players and expansions tend to add extra complication.  Monsters & Minions doesn't make Roll Player any more challenging to teach new players.  Its integration with the base game is seamless.  Roll Player is still a wonderful game without Monsters & Minions, but now that I have the expansion, I'll never play the game without it, even with new players.

And now for the Top 11 New-To-Me Games of 2018

(Really this time.)

11 - Megaland (2018) - While I do like heavier brain-burner games, I also really like fast, simple games that combine some press-your-luck with some strategy, too.  Megaland really hits the spot for a simple, family friendly press-your-luck game.  You'll get to go on quests, collect treasures, build buildings, and more, as long as you survive the monsters on your adventures.

10 - Science Ninjas: Valence Plus (2017) - This was a surprise hit this year.  We found the game last year at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair and my wife was really interested in it, so we ordered it.  It took a few months before we had a chance to sit and play this, but we were pleasantly surprised at the solid gameplay.  It's relatively simple hand management, set collection, and some crafting, but utilizes actual organic chemistry for molecule building and chemical reactions.  We really liked the blend of science and games and I'd be happy to play this with my game group as well as my family.

9 - Captain Sonar (2016) - Captain Sonar is a game that really plays best with exactly 8 players.  Unfortunately it's rare to have 8 people, although that's been happening more often with my game group.  The experience of Captain Sonar is unlike anything else out there though.  Think of Battleship, but played out in real time without turns and with two teams.  Each team of four players has a map of the waters their submarine is navigating and each person on the team has a very unique job to do to ensure that their submarine doesn't get destroyed by their opponent's torpedoes or mines.  It's truly a cooperative game that is impossible for a single player to quarterback.  Everyone is too focused on their own job to worry about what others are doing right or wrong.  This is a hectic blast of a game!

8 - Palm Island (2018) - I picked up Palm Island because I wanted a solo game I could play easily when I'm out of the house.  Palm Island seemed perfect for those times when I'm sitting, waiting for my kids to get out of whatever activity they're in, or while waiting at the doctor's office, or any other time I have a few minutes to myself.  You know what?  It is perfect for those times, and more!  Even though I just got the game in August, it's my second most played game of 2018 and my most played game since August, by far.

7 - Rise of Tribes (2018) - I'm about halfway through writing up a review of Rise of Tribes, so I won't spoil much here, but suffice to say that I really enjoyed it.  The components are outstanding and there's both a depth and simplicity to the gameplay that I really like. 

6 - Flip Ships * (2017) - I first saw Flip Ships as a prototype at Protospiel Milwaukee in 2016 and was enthralled.  The game is essentially Space Invaders with cards and discs that you flip at the alien invaders.  The game is really brutal, but for as difficult as it is, most of my games have come down to a very close shootout.  The game only plays up to 4 players, but we even did an 8-player game as teams and had an absolute blast.  This is one of the best dexterity games I've ever played.

5 - Tyler Sigman's Crows (2018/2010) - This was originally published in 2010 as just Crows, but this year a new, updated version came out.  It has new artwork, an updated theme, and a few small extras, but it's very much the same game.  A friend picked it up at Gen Con and I first played it toward the end of my 24 hour game marathon for Extra Life.  I was exhausted, so I got trounced, but I absolutely loved the game.  I like abstract strategy games that have a unique theme to fit the mechanics (like Bullfrogs from Thunderworks Games / Renegade Games).  Crows really feels thematic for what is essentially an abstract strategy game.  On top of that, the components are incredible, especially if you happen to get the metal coins.  

4 - Azul (2017) - Azul won the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year award) for 2018 and it definitely is worthy of the award.  Simple mechanics and a great puzzle combine with some indirect player interaction to create a wonderful game.  Beautiful components give it great table presence, too.  Someday I want to play this with Starburst candies instead of the tiles it comes with though.  Someone please make that happen.

3 - Cursed Court * (2017) - Cursed Court is another game I first played at a Protospiel (Madison 2016) and loved immediately.  Part deduction, part bidding, and a bit of bluffing make this a very fun game.  The components are top notch, too (just don't step on the crowns).  I do wish the coins stacked easier, but they work fine.  It would also be nice if the character names were printed on the game board, but that's not essential to the gameplay.  This is a game that I bring to almost every game night, just in case I have the chance to play.

2 - GoodCritters (2018) - I don't think any other game elicited more laughs around the game table than GoodCritters.  This isn't a perfect game - players later in the turn order have a smaller chance of being the Boss, especially in higher player count games, but the game is just so much fun on so many levels.  It only takes a few seconds before everyone is talking with horrible Italian mafia accents, making wild accusations, empty threats, and exaggerated boasts.  There's no real strategy other than social manipulation, and the goal is more to have a great time than it is to win.  With the right group of people, GoodCritters is a hilariously good time.

1 - Great Western Trail (2016) - I was already in the middle of writing up this list when I played Great Western Trail.  I almost didn't want to play it because I was pretty sure it was going to make it onto this list, forcing me to rearrange things I had already thought long and hard about.  I totally didn't expect it to immediately jump straight to the top of the list, unquestionably.  I can't say enough wonderful things about Great Western Trail.  I've never played anything else like it.  It blends all sorts of mechanics into something completely new.  There are tastes of deckbuilding, hand management, worker placement, racing, programming, crafting, engine building, action selection, and more, but it couldn't be described as any of those solely.  What's most incredible though, is how smoothly the entire game plays.  There's so much going on, but everything fits together seamlessly.  Turns fly by for the most part and there are dozens of different paths to victory.  Great Western Trail looks complicated at first (it's a very busy board with a lot of stuff going on), but after a turn or two everything clicks and the game just chugs along.  My hat's off to Alexander Pfister for designing an absolutely amazing game.

Well, that's it for my list of Top 11 New-To-Me Games of 2018.  I know there are a ton more great games out there and I hope to someday be able to play them all.  I have quite a few unplayed games on my shelf that I just know will be in this list someday.  So I guess all I want for Christmas is more time.  Have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year, and play some great games with your family and friends!

How many of these games would make your top 10 list?  Are there any you feel strongly that should have been moved in its position?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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