I've gotta come clean about something- I don't like board games.
That may be a little extreme. It's probably more fair to say that I do like board games, and I'm just very, very picky.
3 player minimum? That's inconvenient.
You have to play multiple times with the same group? That's not gonna happen.
Too many cubes? Why do you need so many cubes!
The board is nothing but a bunch of symbols and arrows? What.
I suppose my pickiness comes from a want for accessibility, and equal strategy and narrative.
I just want games to be strategically interesting but not too complex, but complex enough to make me feel like my choices matter, but also have those choices feel at home in part of an overarching story, but also be easy to explain to people who don't play many games, but also not be too easy because I want replay value, but only if the story is interesting to play through multiple times, and only if the choices you make don't become stale, so long as those interesting choices still feel strategically satisfying.
Is that so much to ask?
Quite often, it is. (Who knew?)
And that’s usually due to me being completely unreasonable in my expectations, and forgetting the the core experience of the board gaming hobby is, and always should be, time well spent with friends.
While this does go against my penchant for single player games, many of my favourites can (and should), be played with more than one person.
With that in mind, I wanted to share with you a list of my personal recommendations of games I played in the last year.
All of these games have done for me what games should: Given me great times and great memories with friends. While not all of them are new, they're all games I think everyone should try. Be sure to share with us your best 2018 gaming memories!
Lucidity: Six Sided Nightmares (Renegade Game Studios)
When you fall into dream, you can draw power from the nightmares that live there, and bring them back with you when you awake.
Lucidity is an evocative push-your-luck game with lots and lots of dice. And they're cool, custom dice, and you're gonna roll all of them a whole bunch. The strategy here is really just knowing when to quit- which is hard, because dice rolling can be addictive, especially if you're trying to catch up to someone who just had a lucky run.
The thing I really like about Lucidity is that you're not “out” when you push too hard. A lot of push-your-luck games use that mechanic as a means to eliminate players, which is rarely fun unless the game has a quick turn around.
In Lucidity, if you push your luck too hard, you get consumed by the power of dream and become a nightmare. You get a cool, alternate player mat, a list of fun abilities, and some special powers. And there are a bunch of different ones based on the type of nightmare that consumed you.
You then actively work against the other players. You can still win- but the strategy is far more aggressive.
Lucidity is a great filler game which is super easy to teach and had me and my friends laughing at both the dumb luck, and the (at times intentional), descent into nightmarehood.
Grimslingers (Greenbrier Games)
Set in the Weird West, Grimslingers sits nicely somewhere between a roleplaying game and a card game. Each player has a character, a class, a little animatronic companion, and an array of spells and items at their disposal.
Players work together moving across the map, having strange encounters, and pursuing an enemy across the unknown desert.
Grimslingers offers a linear story, but with enough alternative paths to take that each time you play, the journey will be different. Combine that with the wealth of options for your character, and what you have is a rewarding and evocative experience.
The smaller, competitive mode sees players in one-off magical duels with one another, playing a game of what is essentially a very advanced version of rock, paper, scissors. While that doesn't sound super amazing, the games are short enough that you'll play several of them in one sitting, and feels reminiscent of games like Love Letter and Coup.
It's also worth noting that you can play as a Cat and a Dachshund. So it's pretty amazing, really.
Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn (Plaid Hat Games)
Designed by Isaac Vega, Ashes puts each player in control of one of the legendary “Phoenixborn”- people capable of manipulating magic- often to try and kill each other.
Ashes is a tableau-building card game where you're trying to kill your opponent faster than they can kill you. Each Phoenixborn has their own special abilities and deck-building restrictions that keep the game interesting, and every battle a challenge.
While almost every other game (I actually can't think of any!), will have players draw cards from their deck randomly, one of the more contentious mechanics in Ashes is the fact that players choose their opening hand of five cards.
I wasn't sure about this mechanic when I first started playing, but I found myself really enjoying it as the games went on. Because every Phoenixborn (and essentially, every deck), has it's own unique plays, strengths and weaknesses, playing the same matchup a few times will have you re-thinking exactly what cards are best to start the game with.
Ashes doesn't have any sideboard rule, so putting a one-off “silver bullet” card in your deck is a more viable strategy than in most games, because you can make sure you have it early.
There are lots of reasons to try Ashes -not least of which is the beautiful art by Fernanda Suarez-, it's simple to learn, quick to play and doesn't require you to buy random booster packs.
Also, you roll lots of dice.
If you want a filler game that doesn't involve rolling dice at all, then Quoridor might be the best one on the market.
A small wooden board, two pawns, and ten walls per player. Players just have to get their pawn to the opposite side of the board. During your turn, you can move your pawn one space, or you can put down one of your walls, sealing off a route for your opponent.
The game is extremely simple and elegant in its design. What begins as a very basic “oh, I see what I have to do” quickly becomes an “oh... wait” as your size up your opponent, try and guess their next move, and out-think them while you build a corridor (*glances directly at the camera*), to make your opponent's route as inefficient as possible.
The depth of strategy to this game is alarming, and the speed at which the game plays means you can easily fit four, five, even six games into a half hour sitting, giving you plenty of opportunities to hone your skills.
The game is for either two or four players, and I can't imagine me ever going camping again without a copy of Quoridor in my back pack.
A Song of Ice and Fire Tabletop Miniatures Game (Cool Mini Or Not)
As the now legendary Game of Thrones draws to a close in 2019, it's time to start reenacting the War of the Five Kings on your kitchen table!
ASOIAFTMG (...sure), feels like the best way to introduce miniature wargaming to someone who has only played board games, and publisher CMON has done a great job of bridging the two hobbies.
With the core box, which boasts a startling number of high quality, single-mould miniatures befitting the company, players will pit the Lannisters against the Starks in a variety of game modes (which wargamers will recognise as scenarios, or missions), in fast, streamlined gameplay.
One of the best things about the game is the mechanics involved in building a deck of tactics which give you alternate actions (or reactions to your opponent), during your turn. Each House has it's own deck, and the themes of the factions really come to life.
Unlike a lot of wargames, ASOIAFTMG has alternating activations, so players go back and forth using one unit at a time. One of the actions a player can take is to have one of their non-combat units (such as Tyrion Lannister or Sansa Stark), claim a political role which provides a one-off benefit, and will effect what happens on the battlefield.
The game plays very nicely, introducing new elements with each game mode, and the use of the non-combat units really hammers home the overall theme of the books that it's based on.
Whether you're an old-school wargamer, or just someone obsessed with the plights of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, you really should give this one a try.
Just like my list of roleplaying games from last week, this is by no means definitive- I played a lot of games this year, but these are the ones I recommend you try! They're available from your local Good Games store, too!