Happy New Year and welcome to our annual top 10 games lists. This year we start with Just Bryan. If you want to make your own top 10 list try our Board Game Ranking Engine. And now, on with the list.
This year’s top 10 list arrives after a tumultuous shift in my gaming preferences and experiences. The second half of 2018 has been spent diving deep into the euro side of gaming; and while I’m no stranger to euro games, I’ve never pursued them with any kind of focus before. With this, plus the inevitable exposure to Gloomhaven (more on its effects later), there are going to be some additions to my list that would normally settle down a bit had these games been played upon release or had I had more time in the genre to refine my tastes. Preamble done, I’m going to skip honorable mentions this time and get straight onto the list.
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10. TROYES [ Last Year: – ]
I continue to pronounce this game’s name phonetically, thus furthering my reputation as a southern hick. But you don’t gotta say it right to appreciate the story it tells. Troyes is basically a kind of dice drafting game wrapped in a narrative surrounding the four-century struggle of rebuilding the famed city. While the dice drafting is, itself, strategic and provides some middleweight complexity, it’s the particular story told during a game that intrigues me the most. As the town grows you may find the local monks, who concern themselves with bettering the commoners’ infrastructure, joined by a group of templar knights who can be employed to quell the local marauders. The city may host a joust to boister the popularity of the local royalty or the town can be hit with an influx of wayfarers, making resources tight for the peasantry. The strong thematic tie-ins really draw at me and offer a promise for variety in repeated plays.
9. INIS [ Last Year: 14 (+5) ]
Inis has this spring effect where the longer I go without playing it, the more it pulls me toward its bounty. (Too dramatic?) That, I believe, is the main impetus behind its rise in this year’s ranking. Possibly my favorite drafting game of all time mixed with an intricate, 3-fold area control scheme causing you to navigate the dance between the militant and the diplomatic. Drafting cards allows you a peek at (and ideally predict) the plans of your opponents in their desire to manipulate the various forms of area control. The multi-faceted way to control the board-state allows flexibility and elbowroom to maintain pressure on your opponents while inching your way to a win. The suspense ramps up as you begin to stretch into more avenues of victory while trying to maintain your previous grip. Really fun, really thematic, really tense.
8. LORDS OF VEGAS [ Last Year: 2 (-6) ]
I thought Lords of Vegas might drop off my top 10 this year, but here it is going strong. Getting to teach this game and watching new players go from being polite business owners to making risky bets and funding cut-throat deals keeps this game fairly high on my list for potential game night fare. Even better is getting veteran opponents to the table who remember our last stint in Vegas, maybe not too quick to trust our arrangements but then again they’re just using my assets to weaken someone else at the table before they capitalize on the situation. I cannot think of an area control game that has been able to tie its mechanisms so intrinsically with its theme. If Inis is the careful dance of area control, Lords of Vegas is the risky, high stakes love affair any sane person would avoid in real life but makes for great drama in a board game.
7. DESCENT: JOURNEYS IN THE DARK (SECOND EDITION)
[ Last Year: 1 (-6) ]
I’ve raved about Descent 2.0 for years and this is the first it has not been my #1 game of all time. Still look forward to playing it as it’s the best analogue to my childhood experiences with Hero Quest. But something happened – and that something was… Gloomhaven. I couldn’t properly rank Gloomhaven this year as it hasn’t been played enough, but as a result to my exposure it has created a vacuum for other games to rise as Descent was finally knocked off its throne. Hey, #7 of all time ain’t bad and if you can’t separate dice chucking with dungeon crawling I think this is the best of its class. I feel I can throw Imperial Assault in here too as it’s a more refined Descent system. Both have app implementations and both do really well in immersing you into their respective worlds.
6. DEUS [ Last Year: 3 (-3) ]
I know Shuck loves this game for its engine building aspects – and they’re good… really good. Pulling off combo moves is extremely rewarding in this game; but for me, I really love Deus because when we’re done playing and looking at the board it just… feels… epic. During the game I’m caught up in production, area control, synergizing my cards, adjusting my plans to account for missed opportunities, then it’s over. It’s always a bit quiet after a game of Deus as we count up VP with a board full of wooden bits in the background. It takes some time to re-acclimate, coming back from a full blown civ-building exercise in a couple of hours. That’s what I love about Deus. I get all the feels of competing in a massive civilization undertaking compacted into a streamlined conglomeration of mechanics that should be fiddly when combined but instead turn out to be clean and purposeful.
5. CONCORDIA [ Last Year: – ]
Oh Concordia. Like the prickly pear you’ve kept me from your sweet fruit by the burs and trappings of your exterior. But no more. Concordia hit the table about midway through 2018 and ever since I just can’t get enough. It’s the same feeling I had about Carcassonne back in 2007 when I was reintroduced into hobby gaming. And after owning and culling hundreds of board games, getting somewhat exhausted as a collector and plateauing as a gamer, a whole new vista opened and Concordia served as a gatekeeper. Trading in the Mediterranean is one of those cliche phrases we throw around and that’s really the theme here. Gameplay rewards efficient planning but just about everything you do on your turn will give you something, if not as much as you’d like. The crux of the system is in the scoring as each card you have at the end of the game scores a different aspect of your mercantile infrastructure and drafting the right card (or many times just more cards) is key to staying competitive. I will say that the near complete obfuscation of everyone’s score during the game is much more enjoyable than playing online where scores are tracked for all to see during play. Having played both ways, seeing your plans successful often grants more gratification in this game than endgame metrics, and having an ever-present tally in front of you tends to detract from the experience.
4. SCYTHE [ Last Year: 12 (+8) ]
I hope I’m playing Scythe the rest of my life. It’s the game I see myself playing as an old guy with a bunch of old men like the retired fellas that’d hang around the cotton gin playing dominos while their wives were at bridge night. Scythe is another game that rewards efficient planning of turns and resources; but instead of the peaceful commerce of Concordia, we’re sure to give and take fire as we vye to control area production to create stable empires for our factions. As an objective based scoring system, your in-game achievements translate to points which, in turn, are multiplied based on the popularity of your regime. Most of these achievements come in the form of completing an aspect of your empire and the variety of goals offered create some nice space to experiment and adjust. The base game is enough to serve as a long-term mainstay but the expansions have drawn me to play more frequently. Especially the Winds Gambit which provides for me the one-off variants that keep the game fresh without the time commitment needed to really get the most from Rise of Fenris. Don’t get me wrong though, I totally plan on sinking into the Fenris as soon as the kids are older and my time allowance for gaming grows. Aside from Descent, this is the one game I got everything for and continue to break it out with a sense of pride.
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3. ECLIPSE [ Last Year: 10 (+7) ]
Well I said Eclipse deserved a higher spot last year, and here it is. More exposure to the game has only increased my desire to spend time with it. Eclipse is a 4x experience that brings the genre into manageable mechanics that don’t bog down into cumbersome sequences while maintaining a meaty level of complexity. Most of the gameplay is intuitive and the economy is such that a quick look gives you enough info on your current situation. The game offers both symmetrical and asymmetrical options as well as crafting to customize your fleet. The ratio between a game’s epicness and low barrier to entry couldn’t be more pronounced. Super excited for the 2nd edition to be fulfilled in 2019.
2. STAR WARS REBELLION [ Last Year: 7 (+5) ]
Rebellion keeps rising for me every year and maybe that’s more because of the theme and my love of Star Wars than the actual game mechanics. I enjoy Star Wars a little too much and Star Wars: Rebellion lets me play in the story of the original trilogy better than any other board game. Sharing this with a friend that loves Star Wars is one of the best ways to spend an evening gaming.
1. GREAT WESTERN TRAIL [ Last Year: 6 (+5) ]
Originally, this was a great western surprise to me. I played this game back in early 2017 out of obligation to our efforts in chasing some hotness while reviewing and writing articles for the website. Otherwise it would have never been on my radar. Ever since, I have been expanding more and more into heavy euro gaming and Great Western Trail served as a new litmus that prompted me to play more games that I’d never considered my jam. Despite the intricate cause/effect web on which each action depends, the complexity to this game is pared down every turn with a few simple decisions. Usually you can only select one out of two to three spaces on your turn and when you arrive your turn consists of one to two things. And while some actions seem more rewarding than others, it’s rare you’re not doing something on your turn to move you toward more points. I suspect Great Western Trail will not hold it’s #1 spot for long as I have already played a few games that could easily surpass it with a few more plays. But for now, I’m glad it gets its day in the spotlight.
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