Welcome to our top 50 games list for 2018, in which I list my personal top 50 games at this point in time. My choices are not limited to games from this calendar year, but instead, represent my current thoughts on the top 50 games to me. Next year, some of the games featured may move up and down as my opinions change and I get the chance to play more games or revisit old favourites.
10: 1960: The Making of the President
Previous Position: 39 (+29)
Designers: Christian Leonhard, Jason Matthews
Publisher: GMT Games
Plays: 2 players in ~90 minutes
This game, which sees players take on the roles of the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns in the 1960 US presidential election, has seen a meteoric rise in the rankings this year. Last year, after only playing it once or twice, I just saw it as a lighter, simpler Twilight Struggle. I questioned why, with most people, I would choose this over TS. Since then, I’ve played it a lot more and, although I still prefer Twilight Struggle, I see the value of 1960 far more clearly than I did. It’s actually quite different and offers a slightly different experience to Twilight Struggle. It is a little lighter, but it’s interesting in a very different way.
I love the back and forth of the game. The idea of taking the candidates and zipping them here and there across the US is a lot of fun. As with Twilight Struggle and Washington’s War, I really like the card-driven nature of the game. I’ve yet to lose with Nixon. Kennedy has given me mixed results, but Tricky Dick’s had my back.
Previous Position: 2 (-7)
Designer: Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, Eric Goldberg, Ken Rolston, Paul Murphy
Publisher: West End Games
Plays ~2-7ish players in however long you care to play for
Up until this year my preferred edition of Paranoia was 2nd. This is still the best edition that comes as a single book. The latest edition from Mongoose is bloody fantastic. I was doubtful about it, as it went to using entirely D6s and changed the game quite significantly. As with Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, I am delighted to be proven wrong. This is becoming a running theme…
Paranoia, in its current incarnation, is manic fun. The new approach to character creation sets the tone of the game from the very beginning, allowing players to really dick each other over from the get-go. The use of action cards for combat is also good, but took a bit of getting used to. I’m trying to keep up with releases for this edition and, so far, I have the complete set of what’s been released.
Previous Position: 9 (+1)
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Plays: 3-4 players in ~30 minutes
The big daddy of deck building games. This year has seen a lot of deck builders plummet down the list, but this game, the first of its kind, has actually crept further up. This should tell you how much I love this game. It’s just the best of its kind, and it’s a game I can play with lots of different people. It’s also great that my wife loves it, so it can make it onto the table quite often. I’ve not gone overboard with expansions, but I kind of wish I had. There’s still time…
The biggest thing that sets this game apart from many other deck builders is that you actually have to make decisions about what cards to play and what cards to buy. Games like the DC Comics Deck Building Game and Star Realms, although both fantastic, give you no reason to not just play all of your cards on every turn. Dominion only allows you to play one action card and make one purchase as standard. I’ve written about this before, at length, but it really does come down to the structure. I like Dominion’s structure and the decisions it forces the player to make.
Previous Position: New to the List!
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Plays: 1-5 players for ~90 to 115 minutes
I’m told it’s cool to hate on things that are massively hyped and popular. The thing is, usually when a game is massively hyped and popular, it’s because it’s good. Well, either it’s good or there are a lot of Kickstarter backers intent on lying to themselves to justify their Kickstarter pledges and not feel that they blew a lot of money on a crappy game with flashy pieces.
Thankfully, in the case of Scythe, it’s a genuinely fantastic game. Opening the box, you see your plastic character and mech miniatures and you might assume that Scythe is a war game. It’s not. it’s really, really not. It’s very much a resource management game. It’s also downright beautiful, both in terms of the design of the pieces and the artwork used. The board, in particular, is a thing of beauty. This also works really well on Tabletop Simulator, if you’re that way inclined.
6: Dresden Files RPG/FATE Core
Previous Position: 3 (-3)
Designer: Leonard Balsera, Jim Butcher, Genevieve Cogman, Robert Donoghue, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Ryan Macklin, Chad Underkoffler, Clark Valentine
Publisher: Evil Hat
Plays: Ideally 4-6 players over several evenings, preferably with food and drink
FATE rocks. It’s a great system and I continue to collect lots of the variants and supplements and whatnot that Evil Hat continues to put out. I love Evil Hat. They are one of my favourite games companies. They just put out great stuff.
The Dresden Files is one of my favourite book series. I suppose it should come as no surprise that an RPG from one of my favourite publishers, based on one of my favourite book series will end up being one of my favourite RPGs.
Dresden Files is one of the best implementations of the FATE system, although it does use the previous edition of the rules. That said, the core of the system is, for me, the aspect rules, and this game uses them just fine. The aspect system makes the game easy to run in a way that is directly personal to and inclusive of each individual player character.
The Dresden Files RPG books are also great objects in their own right. They are full-size A4 books (unlike most FATE books, which are A5) and are full of lovely artwork and lots of notes in the margins from the characters from the series. These production values make the books fun to slip through, even when you’re not playing or planning to play the game.
5: Twilight Struggle
Previous Position: 4 (-1)
Designer: Ananda Gupta, Jason Matthews
Publisher: GMT Games
Plays: 2 players in ~180 minutes
Like 1960, Twilight Struggle is a card-driven game from GMT Games. The scope of Twilight Struggle is much wider than that of 1960, covering the entirety of the Cold War, allowing players to take on the roles of the US and USSR as they attempt to spread their influence around the world. They do this by letting historic events play out, directly spending resources to spread influence or launching coups in target countries. Scoring is presented as a tug-of-war between the two superpowers, which works well and contributes to the tone and feel of the game.
I’ve played a lot of this game over the years, and I’ve also picked up the PC edition in order to squeeze in yet more games, either against distant online opponents or against the computer. I’ll play this whenever I get the chance because I not only enjoy the game, but I really appreciate it, if that makes sense? Like, it’s fun, but I also love watching the game unfold.
4: Century: Golem Edition
Previous Position: New to the List!
Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher: Plan B Games
Plays: 2-5 players in ~30 to 45 minutes
An impulse purchase at a game store, this is probably the best value for money I’ve ever had from a board game. I gave Century: Spice Road a miss when it came out, thinking it looked a bit dry and would not really be for me. Mechanically, I was wrong, but I still think the dry visuals would have put me off or would have seen me not play the game quite as often as I’ve played this (more fantastical) edition. The artwork is superb, as I’ve previously written.
I freakin’ love this game. It’s so accessible and simple, but it makes my brain hurt when I try to plan ahead. The points is to make combinations of coloured gems which can then be used to buy Golems (points cards). Players generate gems, use cards to trade groups of specific colours for other groups of gems, upgrade their gems… There’s a lot of moving around gems towards purchasing your golems. I’m not describing it well, but it just clicked with me.
My only slight gripe is the five-player version. With that many players, it can become really hard to plan ahead with any effectiveness. It’s still a good game, but I prefer it with three or four players.
3: Terraforming Mars
Previous Position: New to the List!
Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
Plays: 1-5 players in ~120 minutes
I’ve played a lot of Terraforming Mars this year, but I’m going to start off with the negative points that I have. This game is ugly. The cards are just so inconsistent in their visual style. There are stock photos, some artwork, some awful rendered crap… Yuck! The game and expansions are also, for what’s in the box, a little overpriced at RRP. I’d probably want to see it reduced by a tenner.
With these slight grumbles out of the way, let me now gush about how good the game is. This is a fantastic resource management game where each player takes on the role of a corporation trying to exert control over Mars as they terraform it. You use the money that you generate to complete projects and trigger events. You generate energy and heat to raise the temperature to livable levels, use plants to create forests to raise the oxygen content of the Martian atmosphere, and you work to place oceans on the dry soil of the red planet.
This is a cutthroat game where you want your business to do as well as possible, usually at the expense of other corporations. The game starts off slow, but becomes incredibly competitive as it goes on. I love this game. I love that the projects cards you get can utterly change the direction you’d planned to go in. I tried the draft variant recently, and it adds a whole other aspect to the game.
I can gush about this forever but, suffice to say, it’s just an absolute gem of a game.
2: Star Wars: Rebellion
Previous Position: 1 (-1)
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Plays: 2-4 players in ~180 to 240 minutes
The king is dead! Long live the king! After 2 years at number 1, Star Wars: Rebellion has been dethroned. Honestly, I reckon it will slide a little further next year. I could really see Terraforming Mars inching up and taking over. Or there may be something else that comes along to surprise me. Who knows? Not me!
Rebellion remains an amazing two-player experience that is essentially “Star Wars in a box”. There’s a lot potential combat in the game but, like Scythe, it’s not really a war game, as such. It’s basically a game of hide-and-seek. The Rebels are doing the hiding and the Empire are the seekers. Combat along the way just acts as a speedbump. Both factions are a lot of fun, and this is great as they are also such different experiences. A game as the Empire is totally different to one as the Rebels, and asymmetry is something I’ve always really liked in games.
I’d call the expansion to this game pretty compulsory. Even if you don’t like the Rogue One characters (I like them a lot), you want it for the improved combat system.
1: Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition)
Previous Position: New to the List!
Designer: Jeremy Crawford, Mike Mearls, Bruce R. Cordell, Peter Lee, Robert J. Schwalb, Rodney Thompson, James Wyatt
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Plays: Ideally 4-6 over however long you want. Again, RPGs…
D&D is not necessarily my favourite game. It’s good, of course, and this edition is really good, but there’s a shelf of RPGs behind me as I type this that I’d rather play on any given day. Why, then, is D&D taking up my top slot this year, when it’s not even made the list, previously?
This has been the year of D&D for me. I have played an irregular Sunless Citadel campaign at the local games club, joined a new group that meets at a local hotel, taken part in an ongoing Curse of Strahd campaign at a friend’s house, and I’ve run a D&D group for children as an after-school activity. D&D has dominated this year.
The group I joined at the local hotel has been a big factor in why this is my top game of 2018. I’ve made new friends through this group, played in the longest campaign I’ve taken part in for any RPG, and just had a damn good time. I hope that this group continues for a long time.
D&D also resurrected by after-school tabletop gaming group. It had been dwindling as our older members moved on, but by focusing on both younger children and on RPGs specifically, we’ve tripled our previous attendance figures. Again, it’s also been fun and I’m really looking forward to running a Spelljammer game in the new year.
I’d love to branch out and play or run some other RPGs, but if 2019 sees me sticking to D&D instead, I’ll still be happy with that.