Spoiler, it’s Root.
Here it is, what you've all been waiting for- another "Best of 2018" list with Root at the top. I'm not going to mince words or hold for the dramatic reveal here- Root was far and away the best, most impactful, most innovative, most compelling, and most fun game of 2018. Millions of words have been written about it, and I'm sure millions more will be in the future. As I said in my review, Root is the template for at least the next three years of game design and we are going to see an avalanche of Kickstarter garbage trying to emulate its success from its asymmetry to its fabulous artwork to its accessible wargaming concepts. It's a profoundly brilliant, wonderful game - instantly iconic, and one of those rare flashpoint titles that has everyone talking, playing, and on the same page.
So that's it folks, everybody file on out. Game of the Year 2018 - Root.
Now, if you are staying for the after-credits sequence, I do have some more to say about the games of 2018. Over the past couple of years, I've felt like these end-of-year wrap-ups are more and more pointless because let's face it, who can really play enough of the year's releases to pinpoint a "best"? I think I probably played fewer new releases this year than I have in 20 years- especially since all of us Miniature Market Review Corner folks lost our reviewing jobs to Spikey Bits (talk about an own goal). But here's the thing- I don't feel like I'm missing anything or missing out on something that was truly special or forward-thinking. Because ultimately, the wheat still separates from the chaff and the discerning eye cuts out a lot of crap before it hits the table.
So a lot of this year I've been completely indifferent to in terms of new games. There is just too much to care about anymore- it's exhausting and draining, and no longer fun. The new Kickstarters pop up and I just quite frankly do not give a shit. I see one every now and then that gets folks excited like Tainted Grail or the Batman thing or whatever and after the blip I go back to not giving a damn while everybody waits a year or two for their "investment" to pay out in a mediocre game. How'd that Harry Potter game work out for y'all?
But when I think about what my favorite new games of 2018 are, I'm finding that they are pretty much what you'd expect if you know me. Aside from Root, the ten best of 2018 are:
- Keyforge, Richard Garfield's best since Magic and a potentially very disruptive combination of smart design and killer marketing. Time will tell on this one, and I am already hearing rumblings of backlash...but it could be a significant game for at least a couple of years.
- The Mind, Wolfgang Warsch's bracingly simple, almost transcendent card game that made a bunch of idiots debate whether or not it was actually a game. The irony is that it's more of a game than many Kickstarters I played in 2018.
- Villainous, one of the most thoughtfully designed and intricate mass-market games ever made that leveraged Disney characters and settings to create the year's other great asymmetrical design. This game also featured the best graphic design of 2018- the game is just stunning.
- Warhammer 40k Kill Team, the best and most playable miniatures rules set that Games Workshop has published to date, accompanied by a thoughtfully packaged product line designed to maximize accessibility.
- Yellow & Yangtze is Reiner Kniza’s sequel to Tigris & Euphrates, one of the best games of all time, and this updated variation certainly didn't disappoint. I almost could slot Grail Games' other big Knizia release, Stephenson's Rocket here, but I wanted to keep it to new designs. This berth could also be shared with Blue Lagoon - another argument that we are living in the Reinerssance, as the Great Man is hitting a late-career stride and turning out games as good as anything he's ever done. He remains our greatest living designer.
- Grimm Forest is a lovely, charming family weight Eurogame with a wonderfully inclusive interpretation of the classic fairy tales. Had this been published 20 years ago, we'd regard it as a classic. This one is just a joy to play.
- Legacy of Dragonholt set a new standard for storytelling games thanks to Nikki Valens' intricate pathways through a compelling, well-written fantasy story. Also another great example of inclusion, tolerance, and socially progressive messaging in games.
- My Little Scythe turned out to be a far better game than anyone could have expected from a parody version of a immensely popular game- in fact, this brilliant family game is such a great reduction of its parent that I think it's a better game.
- Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles is something of a tentative, late entry as I've just had it for about two weeks...but I'm kind of blown away by it and I feel safe calling it one of the year's best. A little extra complexity over X-Wing and similar games (but not as much as Armada) buys you a level of detail and depth that is well worth the trade-off. Brilliantly implemented vector movement- possibly the best I've ever seen- and the ability to pull off amazing manuevers put this one ahead of the spaceship battle pack.
- Blitz Bowl takes a game that is rather unwieldly and inaccessible for casual players, the venerable GW classic Blood Bowl, and makes it playable without big investments in teams and committing to campaign play. It’s a super-smart distillation of a classic system with some rather daring design choices (thanks to James Hewitt, who has emerged as quite a talent) that prioritize fun and sporting excitement over some of the parent game’s frankly dated and cumbersome mechanisms.
And I would be completely remiss at this stage if I didn't call out our very own Peter C. Ruth II, Mark Thomas and Geoff Englestein- longtime members here that put out games that absolutely positively do not suck. Seal Team Flix from Ruth and Thomas is a very fun, very cool design that manages to juxtapose a Call of Duty-like shooter concept with a dungeoncrawling dexterity game. It's quite innovative and often thrilling. Englestein's Trade on the Tigris (designed with Ryan Sturm) I've not reviewed yet, but it is a very strong design that sort of takes the trading of Tresham's Civilization and makes that the focal point of the game. It's really unusual to see a game these days that encourages so much negotiation, direct interference, and outright lying. Very proud of these guys for turning out some high quality work this year.
Finally, the biggest gaming news of the year as far as I'm concerned is this site. Some of you may not realize it, but we are one of the longest-running, regularly published tabletop games sites on the internet. I think only BGG has us beat at this point. That is pretty damn awesome. But we went through some years where we weren't really reaching out and getting the readership that I think we deserve, and this year we started to turn that around by rebranding, getting in some new writers (thanks, Miniature Market!), and making a stronger effort to let people know that the good games writing is going on at this site.
I want to personally thank Shellie, Matt, all of our admins, and all of our writers for listening to me when I said "hey guys, let's change this up". And I want to thank all of YOU who have been here with us for believing in the site and understanding that it was time for us to grow up a little bit. Now we have an all new look and feel, and we've got a few new writers waiting to debut. 2019 is going to be big for ThereWillBe.Games and I'm very excited to see where we wind up this time next year.