An estimated 4,000 board games were released in 2018. I, uh, you know didn’t play all of them obviously. But, by the grace of Odin, I was able to play a healthy many. So here our my 7 favorite board games from 2018, reflecting the games that are likely to stay in my collection for years to come.
1 The River
You won’t find The River on many year-end lists, as the general consensus is that it’s been a commercial flop. But I enjoy it, although the reason why might sound like faint praise.
Expectations were high for the game. Published by Days of Wonder–a company that only releases one game a year and is known for huge hits–The River had a high bar to clear. Alas, it didn’t. It’s a fine game, but not the smashing success that it needed to be to meet expectations.
But I enjoy it because I’ve already been able to introduce several people to the hobby by taking them on a journey down The River. While it’s not the tight-tuned strategy game that long time board gamers demand, The River is easy to teach and has an agreeable theme that is good for casual or new players. That’s something that is always high on my list.
2 Zombicide: Green Horde
Zombicide: Green Horde is just more of the big, dumb fun that started with Zombicide years ago and about $20 million dollars worth of Kickstarter funds later. But while Zombicide: Green Horde will feel familiar to old school Zombicide fans, it also brought some fresh elements to 2018.
Green Horde has the same modular board system as the original Zombicide and all the sequels. The overall premise is the same as well: a few survivors are thrust into a scenario against a zombie horde.
But Green Horde takes the re-theming of Zombicide: Black Plague and dials it up. It’s now set in a medieval fantasy setting, rather than present day. So, survivors are wizards and stuff. And the zombies? Well, they are a Green Horde of orcs.
Did we need another sequel to Zombicide? Heck no. But it’s a load of fun and one I’ve enjoyed breaking out for various buddies, who have all enjoyed it immensely. And isn’t that what we want from board games?
3 Rise of Tribes
Rise of Tribes is a civ-style board game from Breaking Games. It is set in ancient prehistoric times, among a new land with plentiful lakes, mountains, forests, and an occasional volcano. Players control a tribal faction in those prehistoric times that is looking to grow, move, gather, and lead their people in order to develop their civilization.
There is a lot of game packed into the really slick mechanic that is rolling two dice, then placing them on the event board. A die is placed on the left, which slides the dice that are already present to the right.
Civ-style games have a reputation for being boorish, overly complicated, and soooooooo loooooong. Rise of Tribes is streamlined and elegant. It’s a civ game that plays in under an hour, which may be the greatest invention outside of bronze or the wheel.
This is a game that just slid under the wire for 2018 and it wouldn’t have made my list except that I must’ve been thinking about growing vegetables in Iceland over the winter break.
The Reykholt board game is designed by Use Rosenberg, the famed creator of Agricola and Caverna, among many others. But whereas those other Rosenberg games can trend a little heavier, Reykholt is a mid-weight game.
It’s good fun, despite a theme that entails growing vegetables in Iceland. Who knew tomatoes, lettuce, or carrots could provide 45-60 minutes of entertainment for 1-4 players? But it certainly does.
It’s also a lovely game. The little wooden vegetables are sharp. The cards have just enough flavor on them to make you maybe, just maybe, wonder if becoming a farmer on Iceland might be for you. But the included cardboard vegetable crates are the real delight. I nearby began a petition that all board games should have kitschy little details like that.
5 Pioneer Days
A board game has about 8 pages worth a rulebook before my narcolepsy and/or attention deficit kicks in. To be clear, I like heavier games with 30 page rulebooks, but there better be a ton of payoff if I’m investing a ton of time. The 2-4 player Pioneer Days from Tasty Minstrel Games has an 8-page rulebook exactly. What’s more, it delivers more than 8 pages worth of game!
If you’ve ever died of dysentery while playing the old Oregon Trail video game, then you get the basic idea of Pioneer Days. Players are leading a wagon train out west and it takes you four weeks to get to your homestead. Along the way you’ll interact with townsfolk, drive cattle, and gather equipment. But watch out because disasters like storms, famine, raids, and disease can strike!
Each player gets a pioneer and some staring resources like cattle, medicine, wood, and silver. Then colored dice are rolled and players take turns selecting which die that want in order to take the action on the that die. The last die remaining will trigger a disaster.
Pioneer Days is a wonderful light-to-mid-weight game with a well implemented theme. It has well made components and beautiful artwork.
I first played Pioneer Days when I had friends in town. We picked it up quickly and enjoyed our turns even more as time went on. Each of us walked away from the table having enjoyed our experience. And isn’t that what you ask for in a board game?
6 Architects of the West Kingdom
My wife and I love worker placement games. But there is a common mechanism to worker placement games. Most start you with just a few workers, but clever strategy might allow you to “unlock” a couple more that allow to broader actions.
Architects of the West Kingdom flips this in its head. You start out with about a million workers. You are drunk with power, giddy with options, and flush with opportunity. Alas, as the game wears on, your pool of workers dwindles. And to compensate, you might need to start busting a few out of jail!
It’s a great game that is designed by Shem Phillips, who I love. And it’s illustrated by The Mico, who I also love. So, I was predetermined to enjoy Architects of the West Kingdom. But despite my pent-up enthusiasm for the game, I was still delighted by the gameplay.
Architects is a great game and easily made my best board games of 2018 list.
Everdell is a tableau building and worker placement board game from Starling Games that also won the Nerds on Earth’s Nerdie Award for game of the year. It is set within the charming valley of Everdell, beneath the branches of a towering tree, where little forest critters are thriving. 1-4 players will lead a group of critters tasked with expanding into new territories. There are buildings to construct, characters to meet, and events to host.
It is a stunningly beautiful game, with exceptional component quality. I have an 8- and a 10-year-old daughter in my house, who go absolutely ga-ga over the game, and I admit that I am quite smitten myself.
It’s a simple game, yet has an amount of depth far beyond what a little critter would suggest. It is an exciting game, but I’d also tack on words like whimsy, mirth, and charm.
A Kickstarter recently concluded with an expansion. They already built a tree for Everdell. I can’t wait to see what the expansion will bring.