Dylan's Top 30 Games (2018 Edition)
After I even thought about doing my latest edition of my Top 25/30, I knew that my list would dramatically change, but not to the extent that actually happened. Twelve games that made my list last year did not make it this year. Most games dropped at least a spot or two. But the biggest factor in all this change is playing more games overall. I’ve nearly doubled the number of games I’ve played since the last list.
And with a person like myself, who is somewhat new to the hobby, of course my favorite games are going to change as much as they did. It was just hard to get a vision of what would and would not make the cut. But here it is! My Top 30 Games, the 2018 Edition.
30. Tales of the Arabian Nights - While I adore the fuzzy, but haunting environment of Stuffed Fables, there’s nothing like reading through the Book of Wonders in Tales of Arabian Nights. While really it feels like more of a roleplaying game where winning takes the back seat, growing your skills and picking your reaction to an individual or circumstance just clicks with me. I also love those moments when you are asked by the reader if you have a certain skill and you have to say no, realizing that you could have had so much better for your character.
29. Gloomhaven - I can really tell that my last list was plagued by the Cult of the New. Gloomhaven really is a genius design. I love the world, the art and the hand management gameplay. But if to not consider setup and tear down into my thoughts would be outright wrong of me. Of all the games on my list, this is the one that takes the longest to assemble. If you do not have a place to keep this game on the table, it will be a tedious experience of putting the board together each time you pull it off the shelf. But I would be lying if I didn’t have a soft spot for Dwayne “The Cragheart” Johnson.
28. Hansa Teutonica - As I described it in our last play, this is a great example of a pure engine builder. Each time a trade route is completed, you have the option to place your Kontor down to score points down the road or to better your engine. And that honestly is a tough decision, particularly if you can place a Kontor touching highly contested trade routes, that could be big points. One of the nice things about the game as well is that you can play different strategies and score points in so many ways without the game feeling like a point salad game. A nice medium-weight Euro for sure.
27. Whitehall Mystery - This is probably the first game I scored incorrectly on the review episode. After playing this the last time, I realize that the tension and weighing the options of where Jack could have rushed to is top notch. The talk between detectives makes the Jack player want to sweat, but has to throw on his or her poker face. I’ve only seen Jack be victorious once (thanks Scott), so that may throw the balance out of whack. But this game is head and shoulder above Letters from Whitechapel.
26. Tikal - Kramer and Kiesling do not disappoint very often in my eyes. But I sure am glad I imported the French edition of Tikal from Super Meeple. While the game might be abstracted using the action point allowance mechanism, the exploration through the jungle still is rewarding fun. And the way scoring works where the volcano is revealed and each player takes their own turn to score is a lot of fun for optimizing.
25. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong - Are you looking for a quick social deduction game with more than just lying? Then you should look at Deception (I’m sounding like Scott), where you not only have hidden roles, but also murder weapons and items that could be at the crime scene placed in front of you. It’s not as simple as “I saw this and know you are a lying.” It is relying on the clues the forensic scientist provides and fighting off the misguided claims the murderer keeps providing. If you can tell who is really is the murderer…
24. Polis: Fight for the Hegemony - The total opposite of Gloomhaven, this is the quickest game to get set up for play in comparison to the meat inside the box. This is a sink-or-swim look at the economic side of war in the Peloponnesian War. The combat is a unique take on battles, even if minor. But the shining point is how to optimize your resources to feed your cities, trade with countries and cut off your opponent from what they need. I love the look of the game, partially due to its small footprint.
23. Grand Austria Hotel - The game that I bought a dice tray for, it’s always fun to roll fourteen dice in a Eurogame. Luciani (along with Gigli) made a great point-salad game, giving you options for your hotel, such as opening rooms, feeding guests, hiring assistants and gain the emperor’s favor. This is a game I am really bad at, but I love the idea of taking an action and getting that number of the action based on the number of dice that rolled that number. Plus, the trash can component is great.
22. Mexica - Mirroring what I said last year, Mexica has such open options for movement that feels empowering. Do I use my movement to block a bridge? Do I hop from bridge to bridge and build a cheap temple? Do I ride down the canal around the isle to get to where I need? Do I teleport because of my opponent blocking me in? Or do I just settle for where I am, build the largest temple possible and claim the area for points? I love those decisions and building the island in a different manner each game.
21. The Fox in the Forest - Trick taking is not an appealing genre to my game group. I still have a soft spot for it, still sitting as one of my favorite pure card games. The managing of good and bad cards is unlike most in the genre, where a losing three tricks in a row might just be your best plays. Change the trump suit up once or twice and you’ve only won a single trick, netting you 6 points and your opponent 0 for the hand. Genius.
20. Castell - This is one of the more unique Euros in my collection. The turn structure on Castell is very simple: move your figure, hire some workers, train the available skill and take an optional extra action. That is the gist of a turn on the main board. What makes this game different is while that is going on in each players stack of castellers. To meet the goals of local performances and festivals, your towers must have certain size people, use various skills or match a certain shape. And that is a puzzle in itself, on top of trying to outscore other towers. An AP-inducing game that I really enjoy.
19. Pax Renaissance - Maybe one that I rated so highly because of how different it was when I played it or the ambition of the design, I still have a strong respect for this compact game. The historical cards draw you in to the theme. The alternate win conditions are all unique and adaptable to the circumstances of the game and players. The layout of the board and the miniature chess pieces all look cluttered, but still clean at the same time. While I haven’t played it as recent or as often as Nick or Scott, I still like this entry in the Pax serices.
18. Inis - Spoiling how much I like this ‘Dudes on a Map’ game, Inis such an interesting puzzle for the type of game it is. It’s one of the few games I’ve seen where both players may be put in a situation where combat ending could benefit both. And combat is really rewarding, because you either lose your units or you lose your cards, which are how you do everything in the game. And with the same cards in play each round, you know exactly what your options are and how you can do a bit of hate drafting to stop the opposing win conditions from being met.
17. Rhino Hero: Super Battle - The opposite of AP-inducing, Rhino Hero: Super Battle is like a next-step kids game… which is why I’ve not played this with any children. Fans of the original Rhino Hero are going to enjoy the decisions, the feeling of ‘take that’ when your hero is nearly trapped between two walls and the back to back combats when I hero takes a loss (except when it happens to you). A huge step up from the original, I’m very happy to see as the No. 1 Children’s game. And Batguin. Never forget Batguin.
16. Century: Golem Edition - Another simple card game, Century: Golem Edition (and Spice Road, to be honest) is such a good introduction to engine building. This card gets me these gems to let me play these cards to let me get these gems to let me fulfill a demand. It uses Concordia’s mechanic of picking all my cards back up, which is a rewarding way to deal with hand management. Could I be blinded by the art and components? Am I swayed by trading chunky gems among each both? Both are probably yes, but I still really enjoy it as a whole.
15. Codenames Duet - This has all the fun of Codenames without the competing teams. And that is actually a huge plus, because then both players are giving the clues and you can’t give safe clues because the other team is slacking. Codenames Duet is a difficult game for how simple the rules are and how quick turns could potentially be. But in all reality, it almost becomes a mental battle of How can I give the best clue to best optimize my turn and eliminate words without it being relatable to the spy? I love that feeling.
14. The Great Zimbabwe - Man, this is such a good logistics game. It does so by posing great questions. Which god and/or specialist should I take? What craftsman should I use? How much will I price my goods? Where can I place my craftsmen to best obtain cows? Where should I place my monuments? Should I pay more to go first in turn order? I adore those questions. What keeps this game from ranking any higher is the heavy importance on turn order, which
13. YINSH - Ah, YINSH. Why did I wait so long to play you? A clean look on the board. Smart plays and blocks. Quick movement of your rings. The hard decision after you get five in a row. I did you wrong by not getting you played until recent. Your spot high above most games in the abstract category is well deserved.
12. Memoir 44 - Light games have a certain appeal to me, and even after playing some of the more complex wargames like Hannibal and Washington’s War, I still prefer the smooth Commands and Colors system. While simplistic compared to other games, the way you use cards to dictate movement still offers some tough decisions. The number of scenarios in the box provides tons of variability, and that is without expansions or fan-made content. Even for a dice chucker, I feel like the game is fair, and extremely fun. I can’t wait to get through more scenarios and play more games in the C&C series.
11. The Voyages of Marco Polo - This game has almost fully replaced Lords of Waterdeep for me, which settled in the lower teens on last year’s list. While Waterdeep is much simpler, what sets Voyages of Marco Polo above it is the variable player powers. When I initial got the game, I was worried that the dices worker placement would be a something I would dislike. But really, you can work with what you roll. And when picking a player power, you can pick someone who doesn’t care in the slightest what you roll. Some may not even roll the dice. It has two different ways to score points, making it fun as different players attempt the different strategies. Luciani and Tascini have designed a fantastic game.
10. Glory to Rome - Here’s hoping one day this game will come back to the masses again. I’ve got to play it this year for the first time and I’m pretty blown away by what it does. Similar to Race for the Galaxy, a player picks an action and the others can follow it. But instead of being simultaneous, the active player picks an action on a card and the others must play the same card or draw up to the hand limit. Really cool mix of how you are managing your cards, resources and buildings. Really fun, even though the art of my cards is considered quite bad.
9. Twilight Struggle - The other game I maybe under-scored, Twilight Struggle really has so much to offer. It seems as if every game I’ve gotten to play, both on the board or through the app, the state of the world is different due to how the cards come up. In one game, I’m beefing up South America to prevent a US run at points. The next game I’m attempting to coup Thailand and net big points in Asia. I love the card play and how subtle the theme shines through the cards. It’s fun to get a win as Mother Russia.
8. A Fake Artist Goes to New York - Who would have thought this little game would climb into the Top 10? My favorite Social Deduction game, this game has some laugh out loud moments, a fun drawing mechanism and freedom to make it as light or dark as the audience would like. Once the artists begin their discussion, accusations are thrown around while still trying to be as oblivious as possible. It’s always a blast to look at the “artwork” and think, That’s not even close to what we were supposed to draw…
7. Azul - My highest-rated family game, this game is a clean design and beautiful production. What I love about Azul is seeing the tiles place out on the coasters and mentally think out how I can get the best bang for my buck. I scan the player boards and take note of what each player needs and how I can manipulate the coasters to score big. I love that process. Love it, love it, love it.
6. Race for the Galaxy - When I first heard of the game before I met the co-hosts, I had heard things like “very difficult to learn” or “terrible iconography.” I’m not sure if I believe either. The iconography, while prevalent, makes sense after a game of it. And the simultaneous action selection is fantastic at all counts. With two players, you’re picking two roles, and at three and four you are selecting one in hopes others with be selecting the others you need. One of the games that makes the players think on your feet.
5. Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition - This is a game with filled to the brim with story without any storytelling mechanics. What I mean by it is that in the times I’ve played Fury of Dracula, it has standout moments that were totally unique in each game. The combat is my favorite in any board game to date. I love simultaneous card revealing, and when you one-up your opponent by playing that Ace up your sleeve. While the play time is long and the you can struggle to travel from one side of the board to the other. But it is still an epic game in scope.
4. Millennium Blades - Ahhhhh does this game have a special place for me. The art is full of parodies in anime form. It gives me that oh-so addicting feeling of opening packs of trading cards. It’s my favorite negotiation game, all while being under a strict time limit to prep for the tournaments and to assemble a collection to trade in for points. As for the tournaments, they might feel a tiny bit underwhelming compared to a TCG match. But from a mechanics standpoint, it is like an extreme tableau builder you spent 20 minutes preparing for. So much to love about this game.
3. Tigris and Euphrates - What makes T&E (as well as Yellow and Yangtze) so good is the buildup of the civilizations. The board begins with basically nothing but a few initial tiles. Players begin making very similar moves to start, but each player drifts in their own directions, cultivating their respective kingdoms. Then those kingdoms either get to close for each other or the other player(s) might want the rights to score in that kingdom. I really like the different combats and balancing your scores.
2. Food Chain Magnate - This clean design fought hard for the No. 1 spot. As you acquire more cards and produce more food, your restaurant feels like an actual business that is competing for dollars. The bracket layout to play cards is such a fun way to do hand management and (in a way) deckbuilding. The routes for victory are ever-changing based on the demand, board layout and what you can do with your cards. I love playing it at different counts. Such a perfect design.
1. Gaia Project - In the year leading up to this list, part of me assumed that the Terra Mystica system would be topped. More plays of FCM had swayed me to enjoy it with Marianne. I had downloaded the T&E app and played it for the majority of the plane ride to Idaho and back. But this last play of Gaia Project with my soon-to-be wife really put it back on top. I adore every decision you can make. I love the different races. The amount of variability in set up is through the roof. Personally, I think the game looks beautiful. This is a game that I will be able to play infinitely, particularly because it’s Marianne’s favorite game as well.