Outside my regular gaming groups, 2018 was a great year for me getting and out and going to events – as you’ll see below. I went to more cons in the year than before – and better still, there are plenty more I’d like to attend in the future but couldn’t squeeze into my schedule before.
In terms of the games I played, it was a good year for some of my firm favourites that Sarah has taken to – not surprising, as I probably played more with her than anyone else in 2018.
But that meant a lot of shorter, less demanding games – so my favourite medium weight euros sadly didn’t get much of a look in. But with at two games waiting to be reviewed that fit that category (Magnastorm and Prehistory), hopefully I can look forward to some more taxing gaming in the next couple of months. Anyway, strap in folks – it’s going to be a long post…
My 5 best gaming experiences of 2018
- Cologne: I love exploring charity and junk shops, poking around in musty corners hoping to find a gem – so you can imagine how much of a kid in a sweet shop I felt in secondhand game store Spielbrett in Cologne. The hobby simply isn’t big enough to support such a store in the UK, but here were literally thousands of games in precarious piles in a store that seemed to go on for ever.
- Eastbourne: I managed to make both the May and November LoBsterCon events this year and thoroughly enjoyed both. I ended up helping with quite a lot of the set up in May as some of the organisers had real life getting in the way – and I subsequently stepped up to be on the organising team by November. Didn’t stop me drinking too much though – I just got a nicer room! Happy days.
- Essen: It was another great year at the world’s finest (and biggest) board game convention in Germany. I spent quite a long time on the Drawlabs booth this year, as Witless Wizards was released, but the rest I largely spent wandering aimlessly around – which is what I like to do most at the con. I only had a few meetings, so it was largely a relaxed experience – perhaps my favourite yet.
- Airecon: While Essen and Eastbourne still sit proudly at the top of my gaming events tree, Airecon has flown straight into third place on that list and become an instant must-go event. In the middle of beautiful Harrogate, it was friendly, well organised, spacious and well lit; with great food and beer – so all your bases are well covered. Add some great friends and gaming, and it’s close to perfect.
- Other weekends away: This one’s a bit of a cop out, but I think it’s important to note just how many chances there are now to get away for gaming weekends – all of which were great fun: SorCon, ColCon, Tabletop Gaming Live, UKGE – plus a fun night away for my mate Keef’s 50th. And that’s not to mention so many other’s I’m yet to visit, such as MidCon and HandyCon. Maybe this year…
My top individual plays of 2018
January: A bunch of gaming friends always go away for New Year and this time they ended up near-ish to me, in Wisbech. I managed to get over there for a fun day of gaming, the highlight of which was my introduction to Junk Art. I came in third of five, but had so much fun – it was great to find a fun dexterity game that also had some properly gamery mechanics added to the scoring.
February: A tough month to call, which included SorCon and a trip to see Sean & Natalie in The Game Pit. A never-ending game of Fallout with Sean, a great mass game of PitchCar at SorCon (thanks Sheepy), and teaching Stone Age to Sarah in a board game cafe in Naples all stand out; but the level of smack talk and giggles teaching Downfall of Pompeii to Sean and Natalie just takes the prize.
March: Another busy month featuring AireCon and a visit from Karl & Ann. Lots of euro action including great plays of Pioneer Days, Yokohama and Concordia, but the standout was my hilarious introduction to Mini Rails. Ben taught it to Sean, Ronan, Ozzy and myself – and we preceded to end up with a total of two points between us (1,1,0,0,0). The game is probably broken but it was so much mean fun, who cares?
April: ColCon saw more good euro action with Caverna and Deus standing out, but my game of the month was teaching The Rose King to Sarah. It’s a real favourite of mine and I’ve played it a lot, so underestimated how easy it is to pick up – and really let my guard down, trying some obvious moves and getting found out, big time – 237-131. I really should know by now not to underestimate here!
May: I lost my voice through illness at the first LoBsterCon of the year, but still managed some fun plays including a silly game of drunk Eldritch Horror (“Magic!”). But the winner had to be my first (and potentially last) game of the truly epic War of the Ring. I really enjoyed it, I’m glad I played it, but boy – you thought the films and the books were long! This was about the same. But a truly memorable con game.
June: A lovely month, including a nice walking weekend with Sarah at Rutland Water and a visit from my Swedish friend Janne – which gave us the chance to play one of my old three-plus player favourites Manilla. I can’t remember if Sarah or Janne won but I was dead, dead last – but was laughing throughout. That weekend also saw my only play of Terra Mystica all year – must do better!
July: Just 20 plays, and all in St Ives. I really enjoyed teaching games of Race for the Galaxy and The Manhattan Project with Chris, but the standout was a nip-and-tuck game of Entdecker with Sarah that she just won 8-6. She took a risk on the ‘?’ tiles at every opportunity while I shied away from them, and they worked out for her more times than not. Sure, the game is a little wonky and dated but I still really enjoy it.
August: Another exclusively St Ives plays month – I pretty much hibernate in the summer! Another visit from Karl & Ann saw fun games of Puerto Rico and Yokohama, amongst others, while I enjoyed a close two-player game of Acquire with Chris – but the highlight was Sarah’s first win at Oracle of Delphi – a game which has become one of my favourite Feld games due to its subtle yet vital player interaction.
September: I enjoyed first plays of KeyForge and Race to New Found Land at Tabletop Live, and great games of Uptown and Delphi at Keef’s 50th birthday do, while it was fun exploring Terraforming Mars: Prelude with various groups – but the highlight was a fantastically tense play of Basari: The Card Game with Chris and Jonathan. It’s amazing what a simply simultaneous card flip can do to the atmosphere of a game.
October: As usual it was all about Essen, with several new contenders enjoyed including Gnomopolis, 5 Colors, Trapwords and The Great City of Rome. I really enjoyed some teaching games of Witless wizards too, but the highlight was a four-player first play of Orbital with Nathan, Terry and Adam. I was a distant third, but it was great to see it be such an instant hit (Nathan and Terry bought it the next day).
November: My biggest month for plays of the year, with 55 (including 18 at LoBsterCon). Small card games Fool and Modern Art were surprise highlights, but a truly epic drunk Eldritch Horror was the obvious winner. After many hours of play we engineered a situation where, if all seven of us completed our tasks, we could win the game in the final round. The first five of us did it – only for Ronan to blow it all with us so close to the win. We found out afterwards we’d have lost anyway but hey – it was still an epic attempt.
December: The year ended with a nice walking trip in the New Forest (including tight fun games of Red7 and Uptown) after a Christmas Day giggle with Snakes and Ladders (it’s amazing how kids can make even the worst game a good giggle). I also greatly enjoyed learning Fertility, Kupferkessel Co and Balloon Cup with Sarah, but the highlight was exploring KeyForge properly with Chris. I’m not sure how long the novelty will last, but for now its great fun exploring this clever little game.
My most played games in 2018
The fact my unpublished prototypes plays was only at 24 for the year tells its own story. Otherwise it was:
- Adios Calavera (19 plays)
- Codenames Duet (15)
- Ticket to Ride (15)
- Race for the Galaxy (8)
- 5 Colors & Thurn & Taxis (7)
The first three on the list would comfortably slot into Sarah’s Top 10 games (that will be a blog post soon!), as would Thurn & Taxis. Race is my favourite – although I’m yet to try and inflict it on Sarah! Thankfully I know plenty of other people who love it. I really enjoy 5 Colors, but I can’t see it hanging around on this list next year.
I didn’t include Witless Wizards (15) and Pioneer Days (8) – but of course you should go and buy them immediately! While it has been unbearably frustrating seeing Witless Wizards face the same distribution nightmares Pioneer Days had last year, it has at least been nice to see the latter creep ever closer to the top 1,500 games on Board Game Geek. But we’re left wondering ‘what if’ in terms of its botched release. Hence my lack of game design enthusiasm this year.
Just below these were five games on six plays. Maori and Terraforming Mars are Sarah/me favourites respectively, while Gnomopolis and Kingdomino were both review copies and hits. Discover: Lands Unknown needed six plays to do an honest and complete review, but it has now gone on to a hopefully happier home.
Outside of review copies (I make sure to play every board and card game I review at least 4-5 times) there were five plays each for Yokohama (one of my favourite euros for years) Patchwork (a game we’ve both enjoyed) and Uptown (another Top 10 contender for Sarah) – and four plays each for Africana, Azul, Ingenious and Oracle of Delphi. All last year’s Top 5 had at least five plays this year.
How is 2019 shaping up?
I’m excited for the launch of Europe Divided, another game I’ve worked on with my good friend David Thompson. It is very much his baby, him being an expert on the post-Cold War goings on in Eastern Europe, but I’m proud of what I managed to offer in terms of helping polish the euro-style mechanisms that make this card-driven war game tick. It’s being published by Phalanx, who have been great to work with – expect a designer diary here soon.
Otherwise, I’m hoping for more of the same: good gaming friends locally, some great trips to cons around the UK and beyond, as well as some weekends with gamer friends anywhere I can find them. Fancy a game night? You know where to find me…
For more of this nonsense check out Part 1 – which includes links to previous years.