2018 was the year of the two-player card game. Look at my top three played games: Magic: the Gathering, KeyForge and Shards of Infinity, all with more than fifty plays.
When I look at my lists, it feels like I mostly played new games this year. I managed to do that in moderation, though: we’re far from 2016 record of 133 new games. Less than 10% of my plays were first plays of a new game.
My moderation in game acquisitions was something of a success. Sure, I spent about 1500 € for buying about 50 games, but I also sold almost hundred games from my collection, making over 1800 € – so my game purchase budget ended on black this year. That’s a huge step from being 1000 € on red in 2016.
My latest board game book, Löydä lautapelit (Discover Board Games), was published this year. It’s a look at modern board gaming, tracing a history from the 1950s to 2010s, looking at games from the perspective of their game mechanisms.
We awarded the Pelaajien valinta game award to Azul in the family game category, to 1918: Brother Against Brother in the gamer’s game category and the good deed award went to Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries for their excellent board game collections.
One of the highlights of the year was traveling to London and finally meeting Iain Cheyne, who’s been reading this blog pretty much from the very beginning.
Good new games (2017–2018)
KeyForge gets the Game of the Year from me. I had great expectations and the game lived up to them. KeyForge hits it home by being fast, explosive, exciting and different enough from other similar games.
The goal of the game is one example: everything else is a race to beat up your opponent, but in KeyForge, the goal is to collect æmber and forge keys, which shifts things. The sheer power of the common cards is another fine thing about the game.
I also really like the distribution model. It gets rid of deck-building (which is a fine thing to do, but for that, I already have Magic) and it gets rid of owning hundreds of cards you don’t actually use. Every card is part of a deck. Buying new decks is an exciting event. Sure, the decks can be duds, but even bad decks can be interesting to play.
Shards of Infinity was a hit earlier in the year. It was a no-brainer: I’ve liked Star Realms and my son was a big fan of Hero Realms, so giving Shards of Infinity a go was obvious. I really liked it, too, I think it does good things to the basic deck-builder format. The Mastery is an interesting element and the way the cards in general do less than in Hero Realms makes the game better. The Relics of the Future expansion is a must-have.
Azul reached me early in 2018 and yeah, like pretty much everybody else, I liked it. The challenge it provides is interesting and the game looks and feels good. I still like to play it and it still has a place in my collection. Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra changes the game in an interesting way, but I didn’t think it was worth buying. But I’d play that with pleasure, sure.
Agra is by Michael Keller, author of La Granja and Solarius Mission. That got me interested. The big box contains lavish components, with perhaps some usability issues, but the game is good. It’s kind of worker placement, but doesn’t really feel all that much like your usual worker placement games, because you can always displace other workers. Like in Keller’s other games, there’s plenty of room to be clever in this game.
Caverna: Cave vs Cave was something I wanted to try, because I like the other small two-player versions Uwe Rosenberg has done and this was recommended as a good family game. It sure is. I first tried this with Iain in London and then bought my own copy, and I’ve since played this both with my son and my wife. I’m looking forward to the Iron Age expansion, which seems interesting.
The Mind was a major splash in the scene in Finland as well, dividing opinions like few small card games have done. I’m strictly in the “love it” camp, I think it’s fabulous and always fun to play. The biggest enthusiasm has waned a bit, though, but it’s still a keeper.
Spirit Island was recommended to me when I did my top 100 list in 2017 and at that point I said “ok, I’ll give it a go if I come across it”, because at the time it really wasn’t available. Well, someone sold a copy on the Facebook marketplace, I got alerted and bought it.
Turned out my son really liked it and I found it very interesting as well – especially for a co-op. So, in the summer most of our longer game moments were spent blocking invaders. I also bought the Branch & Claw expansion and have backed the next expansion as well.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg won the Kennerspiel des Jahres. I got my copy when it was listed as a candidate. I had some Philibert credit to be used up and this seemed like a good idea. I haven’t really played this with gamers, but everyone in the family gaming circles has really liked this. No wonder, because this push-your-luck and bag-building game is a delight.
Root is one the major highlights in 2018. I backed it, got it and played it several times in quick succession in September – but I haven’t been able to make it hit the table since then. It’s not a good two-player game and I haven’t managed to get this played in my game group. Root is something I’m not sure of – I think it’s a fine design, but I’m still not sure if it’s a my kind of game. I need to play more to find out.
Just One is a simple party game, where everybody’s on the same team. One player tries to guess a word everyone else sees. The other players all write a one-word clue, but before the clues are shown to the guesser, the other players look at the clues and eliminate all duplicates. If you’re trying to give a clue for “wall”, would you use “China”, “Berlin”, or “Trump”? What will your teammates choose? It’s an interesting challenge.
Blue Lagoon is a Knizia game from Blue Orange. It’s a really simple and fast game: just plonk your tiles on the board and collect stuff and build connections. It’s over sooner than you notice and then it’s just a question of totaling up the scores. This is a real tropical point salad, with points raining in everywhere, and I just love this. It’s like Through the Desert on steroids. This is the best Knizia game in years.
Tokyo Highway is a really new release in Finnish, I got the Nordic edition from Asmodee just before Christmas. It was all very efficient: I got the game on Wednesday before Christmas, and on Thursday I had already played it with all different player counts. This is a lovely combination of a minimalist design, dexterity and spatial elements and abstract strategy. This game looks great on the table, is guaranteed to draw attention and is well worth a go.
Lowlands is as much an Uwe Rosenberg game you can get without Uwe as the designer. In essence this is souped up Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, but you only raise sheep and there’s a dike that protects your sheep from the flooding and you either have to work to fix the dike or face the consequences. This is an interesting game I’d like to enjoy, but the two-player game is slightly flat and I haven’t really had a chance to play this enough with more than two players.
1918: Brother Against Brother is an entry-level card-driven war game on the Finnish Civil War. It’s a fine design, well worth a look if you’re interested in the topic and looking for a simple war game. There’s very little that’s really innovative about this game, but the topic is rarely seen and the game play is really solid. The designer is now working on a similar style game on Winter War.
Good older games I haven’t played before
Raiders of the North Sea visited our collection for couple of weeks. I had heard good things about it and those turned out to be true: it’s a rather fine worker placement game (with a twist). However, after I had to return it, I haven’t played it again and don’t have a burning desire to own it – but I wouldn’t say no to it.
Klunker is by far the deal of the year. I hadn’t played this Uwe Rosenberg game before, so when a friend was selling his copy for three euros, I picked it up. Klunker turned out to be excellent. My son also really loved this.
I thought the game looked pretty ugly, but I just found out that Lookout released a new edition in 2005 and I’ll just take back everything I said about the original being ugly; the new edition is absolutely hideous. I might create a homemade version using the new edition rules and something pretty for the art.
Orléans was available in Ropecon and I managed to play it twice during the weekend. It’s pretty solid, I like deck-building and board games that contain a deck-building element, and Orléans is a fine example. It has left me with a feeling I should probably give Altiplano a go as well; I’ve heard complaints about it, but I think it might be fine as a two-player game.
Mottainai was bought from friends, who didn’t find it fun. I had passed the game before, but now thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did, because it’s fun! It’s quite the brainburner, but as a two-player game it’s easy enough to play and an interesting challenge. I do prefer this to Glory to Rome, but Innovation is still number one.
Here’s a list of games that we played at least five times. It’s interesting to see how the games change year after year.
Magic: The Gathering landed with a boom. I’ve played it back in the day, but I stopped playing in 1998 or so. My brother returned to the game and with force: he plays tournaments and has travelled abroad to play in a Grand Prix tournament. I decided we could give this a go with my son, because we’ve played lots of games inspired by Magic, so why not try the old warhorse itself?
I bought couple of preconstructed decks, we gave it a go and enjoyed it. Next step was getting bunch of junk cards from my brother, next I bought couple of boxes of junk commons (you can get a kilo of random commons for 5-7 €). I haven’t taken further steps into buying Magic yet; I was considering buying couple of preconstructed Commander decks to get us started with that format, but I haven’t done that yet, because…
KeyForge happened. My son is my main KeyForge opponent and we both prefer KeyForge to Magic.
Shards of Infinity was our top game before Magic.
The Mind has been a success with the kids. It’s clearly not a new Love Letter and hasn’t quite had the same staying power, but time will tell on that.
Fashion Show is still one of my daughter’s favourite games. Fortunately it plays really fast.
Fast Forward: Fear was one quick session where we rushed through the deck with two players, just to see what this was all about. And it was fine – nothing special, especially not with two players, but I can see how some people might really like something like this.
Connect Four was at my father’s summer cottage.
Spirit Island was something I pretty much only played with my son.
Love Letter still works. Just a dozen plays this year, though.
The Quacks of Quadlinburg was very much a family hit, both my kids liked it.
Da Vinci Code made a surprise appearance right before the end of the year. We were visiting my mother and she had this old game, I picked it up so we could play it as a filler – and we ended up playing it a lot, since both the kids loved it.
Speedy Words is a speed game, so this one’s for my daughter who loves speed games. In this one, you have to come up with a word in a category defined by one card and starting with a letter defined by another card. It’s fun, but gets pretty repetitive as the same answers always come up.
Hero Realms got ten plays this year, but then it was crushed by other games in the same genre. We gave it a go recently and it didn’t feel nearly as good as it did before. Shards of Infinity is just much better.
Afrikan tähti is still interesting.
Dragon Castle visited our collection earlier in the year. It’s fine, but the tiles didn’t feel correct to me – they’re not mahjong tiles – and the game play wasn’t all that interesting. My son liked it, but not enough.
Dawn of Peacemakers arrived couple of months late and we were able to get on with our campaign. It has been a string of losses recently, but we’re soldiering on. I think we still have five scenarios left. Looking forward to seeing what Sami has cooked up for those, but once the campaign is done, I think we’re done with the game. But it has been a good ride.
Villa Paletti is still a solid classic in the stacking game genre.
Klunker is one of my son’s favourites.
Discover: Lands Unknown was another campaign game with my son; I’ll get back to this later.
Azul worked well as a family game, my daughter has actually requested this.
Da ist der Wurm drin got on this list mostly because I wanted to add this to my 50 × 50 list.
Who Did It? or The Poop Game is a silly game where you have to pass the blame for a turd on the floor to someone else’s pet. It’s a mixture of memory and speed: you have to be fast, but you also have to remember which cards have already been played. Sometimes slower players win, if faster players can’t keep track of the cards.
The Mysteries of Peking is another steady classic. It’s certain we visit the grandparents at least five times a year so that this gets played.
Jishaku is a magnetic filler where you have to place magnetic stones on a foam board so that they don’t touch. It’s a quick filler and when we visited some friends who have it, we played the required games so it made it to this list.
Games I’ve kept on enjoying
Magic: the Gathering made a big comeback, as described above.
The Colonists got exactly two plays during the year, but those were very good plays. In January we played our first three-era game and in June our first full four-era game. The four-era game is where The Colonists shines and since it took us less than three hours, it’s going to be four eras in the future as well. The Colonists is a game I probably won’t play more than couple of times per year, but it’s always good.
Dawn of Peacemakers made a bit of a splash last year with the preview copy. This year brought the actual production copies and we restarted the campaign and have played slightly over half of it. Looking forward to finishing the campaign in 2019.
Nusfjord has reached ten plays and for a good reason: it’s fast (less than 30 minutes with two players), interesting and variable, thanks to the buildings. I think Nusfjord makes it easily to Uwe Rosenberg’s top five. I’m very much looking forward to the Plaice Deck expansion, that’s one of my few guaranteed purchases in 2019.
A Feast for Odin is getting closer to ten plays, I’ve enjoyed this one too. I’ve mostly played two-player games, but I wouldn’t mind playing more multi-player games as well. This is another game where the expansion is heavily on my to-buy list.
Escape rooms featured big this year. We’ve played a bunch of Deckscapes, Exits, Unlocks, the second Escape the Room and the first Escape Room: The Game scenario. Currently I’d order these different escape room games in this order, from best to worst: Exit, Unlock, Escape Room, Escape the Room, Deckscape. All are worth playing.
We also visited several real-life escape rooms, with good success. Couple of rooms were close, but we escaped every one in the end. The best was Päiväkerho by Hämmennys in Kuopio: it was a really well-done room with a cool childish theme, and we escaped the room in such a good time that the room operator was just amazed. As far as I can tell, our time is still the record.
The not-so-good, the disappointing and the plain bad
WordPress: The Card Game was a Kickstarter game I backed for marketing purposes. With a bigger pledge, we had our WordPress plugin Relevanssi included in the game. You can imagine how I was disappointed to see the name spelled wrong on the card.
The game itself screams unprofessional editing in many respects. It’s clearly done by someone who hasn’t done lots of board games. The designer is a professional, Rustan Håkansson (Nations), though. The game is fine; not very interesting, but it’s not for gamers, it’s for WordPress professionals.
Not really sure how good marketing the game was, in the end, since I don’t know what kind of distribution the game had outside the Kickstarter campaign, but hopefully the game will be seen by WordPress professionals.
My Little Scythe has been praised a lot. After trying the original Scythe this year (not bad, but nothing particularly interesting), I decided to give this one a go. I actually ended up getting this twice: once as a review copy from Stegmaier Games and I also bought it, as I didn’t expect to get the review copy.
The game is clearly well done, but it just didn’t click for us. Nobody in my family liked this game, so after giving this few gos I sold the game off.
Bunny Kingdom also got some praise from people I listen to. I gave it a go with the kids at the board game cafe and since they liked it – especially my daughter – I bought my own copy. The excitement wore off quickly though, and as the two-player game doesn’t really shine and in the end, Bunny Kingdom is just a drafting game (and I don’t like drafting games), I ended up selling the game.
Discover: Lands Unknown was one of the most interesting new games this year, thanks to the Unique Game mechanisms. The first reaction to the game was enthusiastic and we really liked the initial discovery steps.
Unfortunately the discovery part wore off quickly and the gameplay after that was really bland. We played the first four scenarios of the five-scenario campaign and then gave the game away. I could’ve borrowed another copy to compare the different scenarios, but in the end we just didn’t want to.
Two Rooms and a Boom was familiar from Shut Up & Sit Down videos and when I noticed there were games running nonstop in Ropecon, I decided to give it a go. The game was well managed: new players were taught while the games were running, so you could jump in in the next game.
I played for few rounds, and decided this was not a game for me. I’m introverted enough that jumping into a game with dozen strangers was difficult. I mostly watched from the sides, and Two Rooms and a Boom is a boring game unless you’re actively taking part in the game.
I could give this another go with players I know better, but with random strangers – no thanks.
John Company was one of the biggest disappointments this year. I got it, because Cole Wehrle was interesting last year and the game looked really good. However, the rules turned out to be too much work and the game just not worth the effort. I played it once, with somewhat botched rules, and just decided that parsing the rules was not worth it.
The same goes somewhat with Pax Renaissance, which I managed to play couple of times. I then decided to focus on Pax Pamir, which is easier to play (I have high hopes for the Pamir second edition). From now on: I’m just going to say no to Sierra Madre games.
Where are they now
Mechs vs Minions left the collection. I had played the whole campaign, so I felt very little reason to get back to the game, especially since it’s so big and so much better with full four players.
Yokohama got the boot as well: it isn’t a brilliant two-player game and just didn’t see much play. A shame, because it’s good, but then again, I sold my Deluxified edition to someone in my game group who wanted to upgrade his regular edition, and the game still remains in my game group.
Glass Road is a rare thing: an Uwe Rosenberg game that has left my collection. It just isn’t a good enough two-player game, and getting to play it with more players is unlikely to happen. Besides, while Nusfjord is in many respects quite unlike Glass Road, it still fills a niche similar enough much better than Glass Road.
Santorini was quickly played to 50 plays last year, in just few months, but I’ve played it exactly three times after that, and haven’t played it in more than a year. It’s a cool game, but I guess we just prefer the card games when we play two-player games (and Santorini is rather strictly a two-player game). Few abstract strategy games manage to hold my interest.
Star Wars: Rebellion left my collection. We played it couple of times, but in the end, it wasn’t our cup of tea. The actual game play is fine, but the battles are boring, and if we have four hours to spare, there are plenty of other games we’d rather play.
Dominion was my biggest single sale in 2018. I sold my Dominion collection (all expansions up to Guilds) for 180 euros. More space in my cupboards! While Dominion was and still is a good game, it’s also a big, heavy game that didn’t see much play, now that there are new, more agile deck-builders. I just find Shards of Infinity so much more exciting. I still own my copy of Trains for scratching the Dominion-style deck-building itch.
Fives and dimes
- Magic: The Gathering (88)
- KeyForge (59)
- Shards of Infinity (55)
- The Mind (50)
- Fashion Show (31)
- Fast Forward: Fear (24)
- Connect Four (18)
- Azul (17)
- The Quacks of Quedlinburg (15)
- Spirit Island (14)
- Love Letter (12)
- Blue Lagoon (12)
- Da Vinci Code (10)
- Hero Realms (10)
- Speedy Words (10)
- Afrikan tähti (8)
- Dawn of Peacemakers (7)
- Dragon Castle (7)
- Villa Paletti (6)
- Root (6)
- Klunker (6)
- Discover: Lands Unknown (6)
- Exit: The Game (6)
- Bonk (5)
- Caverna: Cave vs Cave (5)
- Da ist der Wurm drin (5)
- Ganz schön Clever (5)
- Jishaku (5)
- Lowlands (5)
- Ticket to Ride: New York (5)
- Happy Salmon (5)
- Who Did It? (5)
- Dragon Dance (5)
- Mysteries of Old Peking (5)
- Raiders of the North Sea (5)
- Battle Line (Schotten-Totten) (17/18)
- San Juan (15/15)
- Attika (14/16)
- Dominion (11/11)
- Carcassonne (14/18)
- Ta Yü (13/16)
- Memory (10/10)
- Innovation (9/9)
- Samarkand: Routes to Riches (9/9)
- Age of Steam (12/16)
- Tarock (10/12)
- Oregon (8/8)
- King of Tokyo (8/8)
- Villa Paletti (12/17)
- Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation* (12/17)
- Einfach Genial (11/15)
- 18XX (10/13)
- Animal Upon Animal* (9/11)
- Schildkrötenrennen* (8/9)
- Da ist der Wurm drin (7/7)
Games marked with an * didn’t get played this year.
My H-index for this year is 11 (10 last year). My total H-index is 43, up three points from last year.