Before introducing you to our nominations for Game of the Year, we should ask “what makes a game eligible?”. Is it artwork, or gameplay, or variety, the designer or publisher? It’s not just any of those, but a melange of all of them together. A mysterious combination that gives a game a flair it can call it’s own. Something that makes you want to play it time and time again.
Perhaps you’ve played all of the games on this list, or none. But regardless these titles have proven that they deserve their nomination, and a chance at winning the Diamond Climber award for Game of the Year!
Andrew Plassard: So much has already been said about Root. From the gorgeous artwork, to the clever asymmetric gameplay, to the interesting player interaction there is something in the game for everyone. Each player has to learn an entirely unique rule set and method to score points. Root has so much gameplay and every time you attempt to take over the forest it will be a different and unique experience. I absolutely adore Root and I think it is one of the most unique and interesting games that have come out in the last few years. Even if it doesn’t sound like something that would be up your alley, I hope you try it at least once.
Publisher(s): Leder Games
Designer(s): Cole Wehrle
Artist(s): Kyle Ferrin
Andy Matthews: When we interviewed Phil Walker-Harding back in 2017 we asked him why his games seem to have such a wide appeal. He responded that “most [his] designs end up being about providing some satisfying strategic experience with the absolute minimum barriers to entry – the feeling that with very few rules they can be making clever decisions, devising plans and interacting in interesting ways.” Read our review of Gizmos.
Gizmos is yet another chance for Phil to prove his design mastery. With only 4 possible actions on a turn, players build gizmos to their area, stacking action upon action, as they race to the finish. The production value is fantastic, the gameplay is tactical, clever, and Gizmos leaves you feeling like you accomplished something, even if you didn’t win.
Ganz Schön Clever
Andy Matthews: There’s not much more we could say about this one than we already have. We reviewed Ganz schon clever last last year, included it in our 2018 board game gift guide, nominated it for Best Filler Game, and now we’re nominating it for Game of the Year. Not too bad for a game that only has 6 dice and a scoring pad. Yes it’s a pure dice game, which means that it’s subject to the whims of luck. But the framework that designer Wolfgang Warsch provides gives players a feeling of control even when they don’t actually have it.
Andrew Plassard: The Mind is what you get if you combine a social experiment with a very simple game. The Mind forces players to work together without communication with a simple task of playing numbers in the right order. Each game of The Mind results in players staring each other down, trying to read each other’s mind. Players quickly get in tune with each other with the hope that you’ll work together well enough as a team. Though the rules are simple and The Mind may sound weird, it is an incredibly fun time to try and discern what is going on in your friends’ heads.
Publisher(s): Pandasaurus Games
Designer(s): Wolfgang Warsch
Artist(s): Oliver Freudenreich
Chronicles of Crime
Andrew Plassard: I’m the least fan of technology making its way into board games, but I do love Chronicles of Crime. The gameplay is what you would get if you take the detective nature of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and replace the tedious searching through books for clues with a simple Augmented Reality (AR), via an android or iOS app, system for reading clues. The app integration is simple and incredibly streamlined using a simple QR reader and the opportunities to scan since with AR make Chronicles of Crime one of the most exciting and immersive experiences of 2018.
KeyForge: Call of the Archon
David McMillan: The board game industry has exploded exponentially over the last 20 years with new and amazing games coming out on an almost daily basis. When I critically examine those games that consistently reel me in, I begin to realize that at their cores, most of these games just remix tried and true mechanics and present them in interesting and unique ways. It is very rare these days that I come across a game that makes me feel like I am witnessing the birth of something new. In the late 90’s and early 2000s, that game was The Settlers of Catan and then Dominion took the world by storm in 2008. Both of these were landmark games that did something unseen in gaming up until that point. And now we have KeyForge.
Not only has KeyForge broken new ground with its unique deck system, but it has also broken down dividing walls. For the longest time, there were board gamers and there were collectible card gamers and, with very few exceptions, never the twain should meet. KeyForge has changed all of that. Because of its low barrier to entry and its total lack of a pay-to-win structure, KeyForge has succeeded where no other card game has before. It has brought two disparate sets of gamers together to the gaming table. And that is why I think that KeyForge deserves to be nominated as Game of the Year.
Read our full review of KeyForge.
Publisher(s): Fantasy Flight Games
Designer(s): Richard Garfield
Andrew Plassard: Keyflower is an all-time classic game. Take away the tight auction and replace it with card drafting and you get Key Flow. Though the drafting is less punishing than the auction, it still maintains a lot of the engine building and planning of its bigger brother. I find that Keyflower plays really well at 2-4 players, but Key Flow scratches a similar itch at higher player counts.
Architects of the West Kingdom
David McMillan: When Shem Phillips released the second title in the North Sea trilogy, Raiders of the North Sea, into the world back in 2015, he unknowingly captured lightning in a bottle. From the graphic design to the gameplay itself, Raiders purrs along like a finely tuned machine. It has steadily risen through the ranks and now resides comfortably in the Top 100 games on Boardgamegeek. Architects of the West Kingdom, the first of a new trilogy of games, is gaining similar traction.
This seemingly standard worker placement game about collecting resources to build stuff is anything but. Shem Phillips reinvents this tried and true game mechanism. Each player begins the game with a huge pile of workers and each worker sent to a location will reap successfully bigger and better rewards based on how many other workers are already in that area. The twist comes in when the players begin capturing their opponents’ workforce and removing them from the board. Overextend yourself and you might wind up having to waste turns gathering up your workers again. Add in the morality track where the players are tasked with balancing doing good with doing evil (each has its own perks) and you’ve got a nail biting, analysis paralysis inducing contender for the Game of the Year crown. Shem Phillips has done it again. With this much bottled lightning he isn’t going to need light bulbs for much longer.
Publisher(s): Garphill Games
Designer(s): Shem Phillips
Artist(s): Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar
Jesse Fletcher: Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is a revision of an older game known for its 3D board and imposing Vul-Kar statue in the middle. Fireball Island lets players traipse across the island picking up treasures, collecting snapshots, and launching fireballs (marbles) at each other. Restoration Games has updated some of the outdated mechanics from the original game– roll and move, lose a turn, etc– but kept the zany fun factor.
While this game may not win any awards for its depth of strategy, it’s hard to deny the pleasing tactile sensation of dropping marbles into Vul-Kar and watching them cascade down the board, toppling bridges, ladders, and ideally, the other players. This is a fantastic family game that has a low barrier to entry and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Restoration Games hits it out of the park with this one, turning nostalgia into modern gaming reality.
Publisher(s): Restoration Games
Designer(s): Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson, Chuck Kennedy, Bruce Lund
Artist(s): Noah Adelman, Víctor Pérez Corbella, George Doutsiopoulos, David Kegg, Jason Taylor
Jesse Fletcher: Rising Sun is the latest highly anticipated mythology-based area control game from famed designer Eric Lang. After a highly successful Kickstarter, Rising Sun delivered on its hype by taking area control concepts and incorporating additional mechanics like blind betting and negotiation. Players take the role of rival Japanese clans, each with asymmetric powers, trying to gain control of different provinces around Japan. Throughout the course of the game, you will buy upgrades, gain legendary monsters, negotiate alliances and subsequently break those same alliances. Adopting a quasi role-selection/follow mechanic similar to Puerto Rico or Twilight Imperium, players strive to make the most efficient use of their finite actions and limited resources.
The unique combat system, which involves blind betting on various combat objectives with only the winner getting to perform them, adds another layer of strategic decision-making, as the winner’s bids are paid out to the loser. The incredible production value (evocative art, expertly crafted miniatures, etc) may lead one to believe that this game is simply a beat-em-up smash, thrash, and dash dudes-on-a-map game, but they would be sorely mistaken. Underneath this shiny Ameritrash veneer lies the heart of a tight Euro, where every choice you make has lasting implications and an early misstep might cost you in the end. Despite how it looks, there is a surprising level of depth, as well as an astounding level of variability with the asymmetric player powers, different sets of upgrades, and unique monsters. It’s no surprise that this game was a smash hit of 2018.
Read our review of Rising Sun.