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Barnes’ Best 2018 - Games of the Year (yawn)

MB Updated
Best Games of 2018

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.

There Will Be Games Best Games of 2018

Best Games of 2018
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Best Games of 2018
Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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xthexlo's Avatar
xthexlo replied the topic: #288950 31 Dec 2018 12:41
Nice list, and a pleasure to read. And the revamp of the site is amazing! Props to all on such a great user experience (and great content)!
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #288957 31 Dec 2018 15:13
Another good annual review Mr Barnes (yawn :P ), finding the essence of a game is getting to be a habit. Unfortunately most of them are types of games (from regular chatter ... and your precis of them) I would not be that interested in playing let alone buying.
Perhaps we need a Grammys sort of GotY where different categories get their own nominations and winners - and, please, no clever 'design/mechanic' but just a game that is fun to play.
Looking forward to the oncoming year on the site, as usual.
SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #288960 31 Dec 2018 16:34
I agree Root will be influential in the coming years, Unlike Barnes, I am looking forward to the hundreds of clones and spin-offs coming up. I expect most will be crap, but one will eventually better the concept of a battle royale between different games. In Root, I didn’t enjoy the rather dull factions as much as I enjoyed the interplay between players. Root works for me as a structure, and it’s level of asymmetry is a brilliant breakthrough. But as Mage Knight hit a home run with the concept of Dominion for me, I’ll wait for the slugger to step up to plate.

Yellow and Yangtze may be the game of the year which has the most staying power. Tigris and Euphrates soundly beats more recent Euros in efficient design, and another entry in this great design is very welcome. Time will tell if it’s an improvement, a more welcoming and accessible version of the classic, of both.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #288963 31 Dec 2018 17:24
Why Root isn't game of the year (for me).

Root hit like a ton of bricks, everyone was wanting to play it, so much so that the first game night after it arrived, I couldn't get in on the THREE games what were being played that evening. Next game night at a local store, I sat in and learned/played as the Eyrie. Nice faction but not one that fit my play style. Decided my next game I wanted to try something different.
Then something happened that has NEVER happened to me in all my years of board gaming. A new game was being set-up, I mentioned I wanted to try something different. The table stated that they did NOT want to "teach" a new faction. I've played TI3, Feast for Odin, Freaking splotter games and never have I came across a game that people did NOT want to play/teach the game, to share the game, to help someone enjoy the game. So, I politely bowed out and went on to play something else.
A second game night, a completely different group. "We don't want to play with a player inexperienced with a faction, it ruins it for everyone else."
So, chime in everyone. Would you hesitate to play Root with a new, inexperienced player or a player who wants to try a new faction? Does an new player "ruin" the experience? If so, how do you expect to share a game of the year with everyone, when you don't want to play it with anyone new?
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #288964 31 Dec 2018 17:45
Well, I guess I don’t have to give you too much shit for naming KS games. I had time to prepare for Root, so the edge has been dulled. Expected to see Spirit Island on here, glad it isn’t because I still can’t stand it.

I don’t think I could call any one game I played that was released this year as a GOTY. I was pretty underwhelmed with a ton of stuff and what I did like didn’t really rise above stuff that was already out that I’ve been enjoying.

I liked Root well enough, but it also falls into that same category as everything else. I’m not so sure it’s as enduring as you think it will be, but I will say this: I don’t think a game has drawn me in and illustrated its setting quite like it has. Without a single iota of flavor text, the game tells its background through GAMEPLAY. It’s the complete antithesis of FFG’s Terrinoth/Arkham/Android garbage. I think that is Roots greatest accomplishment and I think it wouldn’t haven’t have been the same in the hands of a big publisher. It’s a complete vision that was fully realized and executed _just right_. The games I’ve seen my friends do with publishers is more of a comittee affair, filled with people who think (and sometimes do) know better than you, and Root would have suffered for that.
SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #288965 31 Dec 2018 17:45
Root is not that complicated, but it seems that isn’t the issue as much as you playing with assholes. I’m happy to teach new games to anyone that’s interested, and I think that’s normal.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #288968 31 Dec 2018 18:31

SaMoKo wrote: Root is not that complicated, but it seems that isn’t the issue as much as you playing with assholes. I’m happy to teach new games to anyone that’s interested, and I think that’s normal.

The thing is, that is not typical of them as a group, at all. And, yea, I'm happy to teach new games, learn new games, play new games and this is literally the ONLY game I have ever had that happen and it basically happened twice.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #288973 31 Dec 2018 21:47
Wade, pull out Dune one night and tell them to all sod off when they come to play.

I’ve never seen a group of gamers break the social contract like that.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #288980 01 Jan 2019 07:50

WadeMonnig wrote: Why Root isn't game of the year (for me).
Would you hesitate to play Root with a new, inexperienced player or a player who wants to try a new faction? Does an new player "ruin" the experience?

No and hell no. I'll teach Root to newbies all day if you let me. I love seeing what different players bring to the interactions and how they interpret their factions' strengths.

Refusing to teach factions in Root is like refusing to teach Cosmic because there's too many aliens. That's the whole point.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #288988 01 Jan 2019 13:04
Wade, I've seen this too. The idea is that people can't really grasp the game until they have played each faction (twice). I have encountered groups who are therefore playing the game together 4 (or 8) times, switching off factions. They don't want to play with new players while going through the process. Once they have gone through it, they only want to play with other people who have done so as well, as someone who is playing a faction new to them "brings down the level of play." I expect that eventually they will get to a place where they will welcome new players to the table.

This may sound snotty, but from what I have seen these groups are people who mostly play Euros, and the whole asymmetry thing really kind of throws them. They not only have trouble learning the game, but also don't quite know how to approach teaching it. The AT people who I have encountered playing Root are way more relaxed about it. They have experience playing and teaching asymmetrical games and variable player power games, and trust that others do as well and that they will catch on quickly.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #288992 01 Jan 2019 14:26
^boy, what a post uba. I agree with all of it.

I think what's also so challenging is that it's a short game and ends very quickly once the table tilts. My reaction is great, let's play again, but I could see a euro mindset that says "I need players of exactly the same skill level so the game doesn't end ignominiously."
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #288995 01 Jan 2019 15:30
Thanks for the nod, Michael. We just got put on Tom Vasel’s “Best Themes of 2018” but he said he didn’t like the gameplay because the rules are too complex and like ASL. That indicates to me that he means he didn’t want to assemble it and never played it.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #289003 01 Jan 2019 19:29
Vasel really compared STF to ASL ? What a fucking tool.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #289005 01 Jan 2019 20:04

Msample wrote: Vasel really compared STF to ASL ? What a fucking tool.

Yeah that’s a bizarre comparison. Do you have a link?

Just found it, and yeah, he said that. Really strange drive-by shooting on his part.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #289007 01 Jan 2019 20:21
I've never played ASL or even seen its manual. Just how long is its manual?
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #289009 01 Jan 2019 20:26
I use it to get the cat carrier down from the top shelf in the garage.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #289013 01 Jan 2019 21:58
Publishers pay that guy $2k to “review” a game and he can’t even accurately make an ASL comparison. Sad. So much for standing in front of a wall of games as a signifier of authority.
SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #289015 01 Jan 2019 22:27
If we raise enough money, we can probably get Vassal l to declare it the greatest dexterity game since Russian roulette
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #289016 01 Jan 2019 22:31
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #289018 01 Jan 2019 23:09
ASL has a binder manual of hundreds of pages labelled with subsection letters and numbers. It's intense.

The core of the game isn't supposed to be super complicated, lots of fans of it on this site, but it is a go-to bafflingly complex wargame example.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #289019 01 Jan 2019 23:11

Michael Barnes wrote: Publishers pay that guy $2k to “review” a game and he can’t even accurately make an ASL comparison. Sad. So much for standing in front of a wall of games as a signifier of authority.

SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #289021 02 Jan 2019 00:49
I looked at what’s involved in ASL, then I looked to Combat Commander and never looked back.

Seal Team Flix is not for me :(
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #289082 02 Jan 2019 13:00
All I know is that it's clear he never actually played it. I have no idea why he'd make that comparison. That's like saying Chinese Checkers is like Go but with less pieces, or that Agricola is like Advanced Civilization because they're both about historical farm production.

Just weird.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #289083 02 Jan 2019 13:38
I want an article fleshing out Uba's thoughts on asymmetry in the gameur world. That's some insightful shit.

My mind kind of boggles at someone not wanting to teach a game at a game night. What... what's the point of game night? If you have three friends duking it out with factions week over week, take that shit to your house, man. Part of the deal on game night is getting people to play games, not telling them to fuck off because they might suck.
cdennett's Avatar
cdennett replied the topic: #289111 02 Jan 2019 17:56

Msample wrote: Vasel really compared STF to ASL ? What a fucking tool.

He avoids reviewing dexterity games ever since the "Crokinole" incident...