Board games have really taken off in recent years, and with a myriad of new stuff out there, it’s sometimes a challenge to sort out to gold from the dross (or the Catan from the Monopoly, in this case). Let’s take a very quick look at games that came out this year (or at least became widely distributed this year), to help you choose what games you’ll be playing in 2018. Let’s open up with the latest addition to the excellent Pandemic series. In case you’ve missed it, Pandemic is a co-op game where you team up to wipe diseases of the planet before they destroy life as we know it. Though the game has plenty of expansions, the most recent (and exciting) is the Pandemic Legacy series. Legacy games are games where your choices in the game effect subsequent games (and components are added or removed permanently as a consequence of your action). Last year, Pandemic Season One told the story of a devastating plague. This year’s box, Season Two, is the biggest yet and tells a more post-apocalyptic tale. Seriously good fun for your gaming table.
If you want your co-op games with a bit more of a competitive element, take a look at Captain Sonar. This 4 to 8 player game splits people into two teams. It’s basically live-action battleships, with each team listening to the other team’s commands in order to work out where they are. It’s a frantic game of submarine combat and it’s rather good and now fairly easy to get your hands on.
For those who prefer staying in the water (but not in a submarine), there’s Top Deck’s Shark Island. This is basically Jaws the co-op game, with the shark trying to drive people away and the players trying to find a huge sea monster. Fun, quick and clever.
For those of you after something perhaps a little less epic, Century Spice Road is one of our favourites of the year. This game lets you adopt the role of a 15th Century spice trader. The ‘puzzle’ of the game is working out how to build the best trade route. You do this by picking up select cards and adding them to your hand, to build a mechanism where you can get lots of one spice and then trade that for lots of another spice, which you then use to build a Cathedral or curry favour with the royal court. The person who gets the most ‘stuff’ first, wins. It’s a similar to Splendour, but more elegant and makes the part of your brain that likes doing puzzles very happy.
For those who like their game with a bit more action, the excellent V-Commandos is worth a look. This French game is set during World War Two. You all take the role of some sort of specialist and work together to complete the mission. At times you feel like you’re planning a heist as each of you as a special skill. Blow it and you’ll have to fight your way out and the game turns from a strategy co-op to mad dash and fights for survival. For those who like their action a little less realistic and bit silly, then it’s worth grabbing Fan Hunter Urban Warfare. This highly cartoony skirmish game is set in a world where no-fun is allowed, and the resistance is run by geeks. Cosplayers with working lightsabres go up against armed security forces. It’s very Spanish and it’s designed by Devir, the same people who gave us the highest historical and political Barcelona. For those who have little ones and want a game to entertain the little ones, the game we loved this year was WooHoo. It’s a very simple game. The box comes with a ‘built it yourself’ elephant slide board and the bottom of the box is a sandpit. It’s a move and roll game about kids fighting over a fun-slide (the game says they’re gnomes, but we all know better). It’s from Brain Games, the same people who delighted our last game with penguin flicking game Ice Cool. Similarly, child-friendly is Kingdomino. It’s dominos but with a kingdom building twist. You’re trying to get your lands (dominos) in the right pattern to get you the most gold. But so is everyone else. Simple to learn, hard to master, it’s one of those games that fits all ages and temperaments. It was Game of the Year at Essen and it’s easy to see why.
Those looking to lure the family into more complex board games were well catered for this year, though we were especially impressed by Ticket to Ride First Journeys, as take on the classic board game aimed squarely at families. We also loved Ticket to Ride France/Wild West. The French board turned the game on its head by making half the board free of colour restrictions. Just get enough train cards of the same type and build your railways. The result is a mad and messy dash that turns the game on its head. The Wild West board features city areas and getting control of those gives enough points to give a player a clear win. It also reintroduces Alvin the Alien as sort of wildcard who dispenses bonus points.
Talking about things connected to space, we’ve rather enjoyed the recently released Mantic game, Star Saga, a shooty-kill in space dungeon crawler. It’s aimed at those of us who thought the movie Alien was a documentary and scratches that itch that 80s game Space Crusade left behind.
Staying with space games, the big conversation for much of 2017 was about Terraforming Mars. This involved game was a bit marmite for many. The complicated board game that puts you in charge of an organisation trying to turn Mars into an Earth-like habitat. It’s a game where you get to drop nuclear bombs on things or blow up moons. Some love the epic scope, others find it too long, but it was certainly the hottest game for much of the year.
That crown was stolen by the Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. L5R (as it’s called by the fans) made a big splash in the 90s and then waned as these things often do. Gaming juggernaut Fantasy Flight Games has since nabbed the license and they’ve done what they always do; take a fun thing and make it better. Legend of The Five Rings is best described as ‘A Game of Thrones’ with more interesting politics, Samurai instead of knights and a really awesome magic system. The monsters beyond the wall are more interesting and the story is more epic. Back in the day, the results of the card game tournaments informed much of the game’s releases and storyline, and FFG has brought this idea back by creating an absolutely absorbing two-player card game about power, politics, violence, and magic. If dice games are your thing, then it may be worth taking a look at quick-fire ‘push your luck’ game Imps: Devilish Duels, a quick and easy game of fighting monsters. Each player has to fight a series of elemental challenges (Earth, Fire, Water & Air) using their dice scores in different ways to defeat each other. It’s very easy to play, fits in the pocket and is horribly addictive. If you like you dice games with more stress, take a look at FUSE. This is a dice rolling co-op where you have to fit the right dice rolls onto the right cards. Each card represents a ‘bomb’ component. Get them all and you defuse the bomb. Fail to do this in ten minutes and you all lose. Comes with an app which is basically a timer featuring a sarcastic ‘AI’ voice. For those looking at more sedate experience, then consider Sagrada. The theme of the game is that you’re building stained-glass cathedral windows, so you have translucent coloured dice. Draw cards, get the right dice combos and score points. The rules make it a randomised Sudoku puzzle, played at speed. If Sagrada’s theme appeals, also consider colour matching game Azul, a tile drafting/colour matching game from the same people who gave us Century Spice Road. Like that game, it’s a brain-pleasing puzzle played competitively.
And those were the games that we had fun with in 2017. If you disagree or have other suggestions, catch us on Facebook or Twitter and let us know your personal favourites.