Gaming ‘best of’ 2018, part 1: Best new games & gaming stats

And so ends my 10th full year back into hobby games: nearly 4,000 plays of around 750 different games; more than 350 blog posts here, including almost 150 full length reviews; and four published games I’ve designed or co-designed (with another to come in 2019). It’s been quite the ride – but did 2018 stand out?

2018 felt like a solid if unremarkable year in gaming. No original 2018 releases have made it into the BGG Top 100 yet, with the biggest of the bunch (including KeyForge and Decrypto – see below) currently around the 250 mark. It felt a bit like a watershed year, with the industry holding its breath to see what happens next – rather than trying to make it happen. Hopefully 2019 will see the big players taking some risks, and more importantly taking their time, to release a smaller number of hopefully outstanding titles.

Due largely to circumstances outside my control, my formerly regular Sunday group was largely non-existent again this year due to understandable work and relationship commitments – but it’s looking like things should improve in 2019. Luckily I’ve managed to game with Sarah quite a lot at weekends, while local friends Chris and Jonathan have ably helped me play review games midweek (thanks all!).

This has meant a real lack of four-player gaming, which I’ve only really managed at cons – but luckily I managed to get to quite a few during the year (more on those later). Review commitments meant it was another year leaning more towards new games, but Sarah kept me honest with her picks of her favourites so there was a good smattering of old favourites too. If only I could retire, I’d have time for both!

My 10 favourite games that were new (or new to me) in 2018

I had a lot of fun times playing new-to-me games this year, but without many of them joining (or threatening to join) my collection.

That said, games on my review shelf I’m yet to get to include The Estates, Prehistory and Magnastorm – all games I’m really excited to try and that I have high hopes for – while my first play of light tile-layer Fertility was fun (review coming soon).

But it made this Top 10 pretty easy to create, especially as I had easy opportunities to include both my honourable mentions on the list. They’re in no particular order, except that the first five I own and the rest I don’t – but I may well do one day.

  • Orbital (2018): I liked the look of this light civ builder, but didn’t think it would have such a positive impact. Everyone I’ve played it with has really enjoyed it, I think largely due to the fact the mechanisms get out of the way and let you build as effectively – and competitively – as possible: ye the buying mechanism is really robust and just original enough to stand out.
  • Yokohama (2016): I was introduced to this fantastic Japanese worker placement euro game by friends Keef and Claire. It has sadly flown largely under the radar despite a US release by Tasty Minstrel (I guess a similar fate to our own Pioneer Days), but is well worth checking out if you like a really thinky, chunky euro with a movement system akin to Istanbul – but with added complexity.
  • Crown of Emara (2018): Another Essen 2018 release, this one is a classic one-hour German euro game: cards with actions, an action selection rondel and a small amount of resource management. But what makes it stand out is how much thought it packs into just 18 quick actions, while there’s a high level of replayability despite a relatively small number of components.
  • Gnomopolis (2018): The third and final Essen 2018 release review game that has made it onto my shelves so far. It’s a puzzley bag-builder but plays super-fast, giving the game a real race feel. There’s very little player interaction, but you can build a little engine fast and there’s a surprising amount of different strategies to get your head around. A real surprise hit for me.
  • Kupferkessel Co (2001): I discovered this after a bit of research into designer Günter Burkhardt, who designed Maori and Ulm (two Sarah favourites). This is a two-player game with a similar grid mechanism to Maori, which sounded great – and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I found it second hand in Germany, where I also picked up Balloon Cup (2003) – another sub 30-minute two-player game which has gone down even better with Sarah.
  • Junk Art (2016): I do like a good balancing game and this is the best one I’ve played to date. The big box is full of quality wooden pieces, while a pile of simple rules cards make every game different. If I played this kind of game more often Junk Art would definitely be in my collection; but it will make it in regardless if I see it at a bargain price.
  • Pitch Car (1995): Hard to believe I only played this old classic flicking/racing game for the first time this year, but it didn’t disappoint. With a big group it’s hilarious fun, especially in a con setting: flicking games are a great leveller anyway, while the mayhem of having so many cars on the track at once just ramps up the silly fun of it all. I now need this and Tumblin’ Dice in my collection!
  • Fallout (2017): While this has all the problems you expect to find with a Fantasy Flight game (do they really play-test these things outside of three or four employees?), it has enough Fallout flavour to keep fans of the computer game’s world – and Ameritrash games – happy for hours. I wouldn’t buy it but hope to play it some more in the future (here’s looking at you, Sean!).
  • Decrypto (2018): I do also like a good word game, and we seem to have been treated to several in the last couple of years. While Decrypto doesn’t quite fire Codenames for me, it’s great for 4-6 players and is less stressful for the clue giver. Similarly Trapwords (2018) is a lot of fun and, while basically a slightly more gamery version of Taboo, is different (and better) enough to be worthy of attention.
  • Mini Rails (2017): While innocuous looking, 45-minute 3-5-player train game is actually a super mean stock market/route building game of ever shifting alliances. I went in with no expectations and was laughing throughout, as we all pretty much ended on zero points as we gleefully stabbed each other in the back. If I played four-plus player games more often, this would be a definite purchase.

Looking back at last year’s list, it was only really Pulsar 2849 that quickly fell off a cliff for me (and out of my collection). I haven’t picked up, or played, Climbers or Mansions of Madness – but would still like to; while Oracle of Delphi, Azul (now owned) and Adios Calavera have all become favourites.

Game play and collection stats

I’ve reduced my collection to 158 games (from 175 this time last year), which I expect to stabilise at more like 150 once I’ve gone through the last of my Essen review copies. I’m very much working a one in, one out policy now and intend to keep it that way.

I only have three unplayed games on my ‘shelf of hope’ (a phrase brilliantly coined by the Cubelove podcast: why should it be a shelf of shame? Let’s stay positive about these untried games people!): Exit: Forgotten Island, Shafausa and Mythos Tales. Hopefully they’ll all hit the table in 2019. Off the list since last year was De Vulgari Eloquentia (one play, looking forward to more) – and less positively Roundhouse and London Markets, both of which were decidedly average and are now in pastures new.

My total of games played for 2018 was 404 – up slightly from 386 in 2017. It’s nice to be back above 400 plays for the year, but it still felt like a low total: especially with the amount of extra games I’ve got in from playing with Sarah. Again, I hope to up the numbers some more in 2019.

Unfortunately the fantastic BGG Extended Stats website (from the awesome Friendless) is undergoing a big overhaul, so I can’t geek out on quite as many stats as I usually do. But I can say I’ve played more than 170 different games in this calendar year – my highest ever. Also unfortunately, I’ve played quite a lot of forgettable crap in the name of research, but on the plus side I have played more than half the games in my collection this year too – another high.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2, which will include my best gaming events and individual plays of 2018, as well as my list of most-played games and a look forward to 2019 – but until then, Happy New Year!

SEE ALSO: Entries for 2012201320142015, 2016 and 2017.

2 thoughts on “Gaming ‘best of’ 2018, part 1: Best new games & gaming stats

  1. Congrats on getting to play published games so many times! I’m a bit envious! :-p

    Regarding the ‘shelf of hope’ tag, I like Mark Cooke’s name – ‘pile of potential’. That keeps both the positive outlook and alliteration.

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