The Best Board Games of 2018


Hi welcome to Actualol, I’m Jon Purkis. I’ve
played one hundred and twenty-five different
board games that were released last year in
2018. These are my fifteen favourites.
If you’d like to buy any of the games this
video, there are Amazon links in the description.
A small cut will go towards Actualol, and
the rest will go to Jeff Bezos’s divorce
lawyers.
Looking at Luxor, you’d be forgiven for
thinking you’d clicked on a video for the
Best Board Games of 1918. But this rhapsody
in beige is proof that board game beauty lies
within – which should be Queen Games company
motto.
Your adventurers are running into another
culture’s temple for a spot of finders keepers.
To steal an artifact, you need to get enough
adventurers to meet there and secure its retrieval.
But getting your adventurers where you want
is the real challenge of this game. You spend
a card to move one of them that number of
spaces. Great.
Except you can’t use all of your five cards,
you’re only allowed to play your first,
or your fifth, the outer sides of your hand.
You can’t move cards around in your hand,
their order is fixed. When you draw back up,
you place the new card in the middle.
It forces you to plan ahead, if you desperately
want to move that adventurer three spaces,
you’re going to have to move another adventurer
twice first, because you can’t access that
three until you play two cards on one side
of it.
You have to work with what you’re given,
and you feel a real sense of achievement when
you finally co-ordinate your adventurers to
pick up the artifact you wanted. Especially
if another player had two of their adventurers
there and was threatening to grab it before
you.
You can’t spend too long collecting your
sets of artifacts, because there’s a race
to get further into the temple. The game ends
when two adventurers have entered the tomb
of the pharaoh – and you get way more points
the further in your adventurers finish.
Every time your opponents inch further in,
it will raise your blood pressure. It’s
like you’re waiting at the gate in an airport,
your flight hasn’t even been called yet,
so why is “Jimmy two suitcases” moving
closer to the gate – you wanted to chill for
a bit, but maybe you should stand up too,
you don’t want to be at the back of the
queue.
It’s a subtle pressure, but it’s a nice
reminder that you’re competing against humans.
And it reminds me of Clank or Karuba, another
game from Rudiger Dorn.
My favourite board game conspiracy is that
Rudiger Dorn is a pseudonym of Reiner Knizia,
and you can see why. They both share that
ability to innovate and stand out in a room
filled with bigger, flashier boxes – and always
with lean designs.
Turns are quick and you can plan ahead while
your waiting. The setup, the rules, the gameplay
it’s just smooth. Much like Ticket To Ride,
Luxor is a game that I can sit back and enjoy.
It has been an exceptionally hard year for
board gamers who are triggered by the word
“Tetris”, and I won’t be helping matters
at all in this video.
Brikks is a roll and write game. You roll
two dice, which decide which tetris shape
everyone has to draw on their computer screen
this round.
All your favourites are there, there’s zig-zag,
L-shape, reverse L-shape, stubby-T and that
elusive, but oh so sexy long piece. Basically
all the Tetris shapes, because we’re playing
Tetris, remember.
With every new piece, you’ll draw it onto
your sheet into a spot where it fits nicely,
desperately trying to not leave gaps, because
you’ll score points for perfectly filled
in rows at the end of the game.
But how can you make it all fit in neatly
when the game keeps throwing the shapes you
don’t want at you? On your turn you do get
one opportunity to reroll the dice, hoping
for something better, which is always a fun
gamble.
And you can spend these energy points to rotate
your shape. The triangle die tells you which
rotation you’re given. But these energy
points allow you to move along the row to
a different option. It can be a lifesaver.
To get more energy points, you have to draw
a coloured shape over an energy dot of the
matching colour, which creates problems. Is
it worth ruining the perfect harmony of your
grid just to get energy points? Yes, probably,
but it can be a hard one for your perfectionist
brain to reconcile.
Yeah sex is cool, but have you ever finished
off four rows in Tetris with a long piece
and it makes that awesome noise? Well, Brikks
can give you the same nostalgia-gasm, and
will shower you with points if you pull it
off. Except you won’t, because Brikks is
brutally hard.
The first time I played Brikks, I got destroyed.
It’s not a roll and write you excel at,
it’s one you survive. If you win you didn’t
do well, you did better than everyone else.
I love these kind of punishing roll and write
games, because you feel like one day you’ll
push your luck and it WILL pay off. Until
then, I’ll settle for failing upwards.
Isn’t nature beautiful? Yes, but only when
it’s illustrated by Beth Sobel. Sunset Over
Water is a card game from the King of the
fillers, Dr. Finn. You play as competing painters,
getting up early to hike into the countryside
and smash out enough watercolours to fill
a commission. The player who sold the most
landscapes wins, and suffers the biggest millennial
burnout.
So quick get out there and commit it to canvas
before someone else does. Some rich prick
wants three landscapes of waterfalls to stick
in the toilets of his new wine bar.
These cards represent your plan for the day.
What time you’ll get up, which direction
you can hike in, and how many paintings you’ve
got in you. If you get up before everyone
else, you can shotgun those areas of natural
beauty so that anyone else planning to paint
them today has a wasted trip.
You’ve got to think about what everyone
else is likely to do. You can see what landscapes
they’ve already painted, you know what commissions
you’re competing over – so which direction
are they likely to head this round? And if
you can’t get up earlier than them, is it
worth pivoting to fulfill a different commission
instead?
I’ve got a lot of little card games and
Sunset Over Water feels different to all of
them, I love how this game has you concerned
about what everyone else is doing. And don’t
be fooled by the theme, it packs a lot of
depth into twenty minutes.
In Pikoko, your hand of cards are fanned out
as peacock feathers so that everyone can see
them except you. Your job is to look at everyone’s
assets or asses, and assess how many tricks
you think they’ll win.
It’s a betting game, and yet all the information
is in front of you. You can imagine how every
trick will play out, who will trump who and
when. You’ve got the Gray Sports Almanac
Marty, you know how these peacocks McFly.
Except there’s one page missing – your own.
Your cards are your blindspot. For all you
know, they could win all the tricks and spoil
your bets. You can get a sense about them
from what other players bet on you, but just
like real betting you ultimately have to go
on a hunch. And when that hunch pays off,
it feel incredible.
The excitement of gambling is in clinging
to a dream, and see it fall apart or succeed
in front of your eyes. Being able to blame
yourself for that failure just makes it all
the better. Pikoko is a trick-taking game
like no other, and that’s why I love it.
Co-operative games are great for making you
feel things. Robinson Crusoe makes you feel
the impossible odds of surviving on a deserted
island, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
makes you feel like a bunch of detectives
discussing a case, and Gloomhaven makes you
feel like you should move to a bigger house.
In Forbidden Sky I feel like I’m in a Chris
Pine movie – on top of a floating platform,
during an electrical storm, trying to connect
up a circuit, while getting blown around by
gusts of wind and trying to avoid getting
struck by lightning. Which is good, because
that’s what they were going for.
You’re moving around trying to place tiles
in the right to way build a real electrical
circuit. These wires and resistors connect
up to power the rocket. What better way to
give players the feeling of what they’re
doing in the game, than to make them actually
do it for real!
As Chris Pine would understand, connecting
up an electrical circuit is nothing to a rugged
engineer with an absent father complex. What
makes it tricky, is the constant threat of
death. Every turn, nature will have its say.
The wind will blow you across the platform,
making it hard to stick to what you were planning.
If it blows you off the edge, it pulls on
your safety rope – and if that happens one
too many times you’ll die.
Be careful about where you end your turn because
lightning strikes are a constant threat. If
you are stood on a wire that connects to a
lightning rod, you’ll be frazzled. I love
how all these rules just make sense.
I can take or leave the plastic toy – I’m
here for that feeling of desperation and importance
of teamwork that comes with a Matt Leacock
coop game. And the cinematic setting seals
the deal. And it’s closest I’ll ever get
to Chris Pine, outside of our fortnightly
Skype calls.
Pyramid of Pengqueen is hide and seek the
board game. On one side of this magnetic board,
four penguins are running around this maze
trying to collect certain items.
On the other side, the villainous Pengqueen
is walking the same corridors. She can’t
see where they’re hiding, but if she walks
onto the same spot, she will catch them with
her magnet.
I know it looks like it’s targeted at kids,
but so is Haribo and don’t pretend like
you don’t enjoy that. The beauty of a kids
game is that, just like Haribo, it doesn’t
have many rules.
The treasure hunters, or Penguindiana Jones
– if you will. And you bloody better if you’re
letting Pengqueen slide. Those lot, are rolling
dice and picking a number to move.
The Queen knows how far they’ve moved, but
not in which direction. Until they pick up
an artifact and they have to reveal where
they are. The penguins have to be really careful
to collect their treasure when the Queen isn’t
within range to catch them.
But they’ll never be too careful, because
the hunters are racing against each other
to cross off their shopping list first to
win the game.
I love that Pyramid of Pengqueen boils down
the mind-games of a hidden movement game into
such a neat package. As the Queen, you know
where they just were, you know their last
two treasures are on this side of the map.
So did they take the obvious route? Or did
they take the long way round just to mess
with you?
Playing as the hunters is full of those heart-racing
moments of almost being caught as the Queen
walks past you. And that’s exactly what
I want from a hidden movement game.
After taking a few years off to make some
bad games, Reiner Knizia is back to remind
us why we love him – and to show Wolfgang
Warsch who really run things around here.
On a graph of complexity vs depth, Reiner
Knizia has always got you beat. This is where
the guy eats. And Blue Lagoon is right in
there.
You do one thing a turn. You place a cardboard
circle on this board. Next turn? Place a cardboard
circle on the board. Turn after that? Place
a cardboard circle on the board.
But why? Because you’re characters from
Moana who have decided you’re welcome to
settle these islands and you’re trying to
do it better than each other. You turn up
in boats and spread out, picking up local
produce, trying to make your mark on the islands,
and pissing each other off.
Blue Lagoon is deliciously confrontational.
One of the ways to score points is to create
a long trail connecting up as many islands
as possible. And if you do that, it will become
an impassable blockade for everyone else.
Which means you will do that, and everyone
will try to stop you.
There are many ways to score points, and ideally
you want to be doing them all at once. Picking
up coconuts, whilst getting the majority on
islands, whilst making a path that connects
to all the islands. You can only do one thing
a turn, and you want to do everything. So
you have to work out what’s most important
right now.
One of my favourite things about Blue Lagoon
is the stand-offs you have with other players.
You’ll be right next to the token you want.
Your rival is two spaces away. They know as
soon as they move a space closer, you’ll
take it. So you just stay there, taunting
them. And they wait, patiently, for a moment
later in the game when your attention will
be elsewhere and you won’t notice them edge
closer.
Only Reiner Knizia can make something so competitive
and frustrating with so little. Well, him
and his clone Rudiger Dorn.
2018 was the year of roll and write games,
and while Ganz Schon Clever got people excited
with combos, and Welcome To seduced strategists
with multiple paths to victory, Railroad Ink
did it best by sticking to the original intent
of roll and write games – to keep it simple.
You roll four dice and everyone must draw
those roads and railways on their map. You’re
trying to connect all your exits together
to achieve transport network nirvana, which
looks a lot like Spaghetti junction.
The joy for me of a great roll and write is
that communal feel. We were all given some
cheese and eggs – I made a passable omelette,
whereas Archibald whipped up a cheese souffle,
and Dave got salmonella poisoning.
Unlike other games that complicate the format.
In Railroad Ink, there’s no waiting for
other players, we’re all puzzling it out
at the same time. And sharing in the pain
that those dice deliver.
Railroad Ink is the new poster child of roll
and write games. You can pick it up in seconds,
it’s challenging and satisfying and it’s
beautiful enough to carry the genre.
I wake up with night terrors at the thought
of some poor individual braving the board
game hobby for the first time, and being scared
off for life by the Monopoly card in Catan,
or the farmer rule in Carcassonne, or the
artwork in Carcassonne. But if that person’s
only exposure to board games was Railroad
Ink, I would feel confident they’re starting
in the right place. And if they’re still
scared off – well screw them, you think I’ve
enjoyed every book I’ve read, mate? You’re
not better than us.
Pandemic is one of my favourite games of all
time. But even I can’t keep up the enthusiasm
for every new version of it. Pandemic: Fall
of Rome was able to break through my usual
cynicism, by bringing something fresh to a
classic.
Five barbarian tribes are marching on Rome,
and you’ll be working together to fight
them off and stop them from sacking the city.
It’s remarkable how well the original system
that once applied to spreading disease now
simulates the relentless invasion of troops,
done with such a simple twist that you wonder
why no-one thought of it before.
Instead of always placing cubes where the
cards tell you like in normal Pandemic, you
put them at the next furthest spot along that
tribes warpath. Each round they’ll march
closer and closer.
You have to recruit legions to fight them
off, and attack them by rolling dice. Getting
rid of cubes is no longer a foregone conclusion,
and I like that added suspense.
To win the game, you need to collect cards
to forge alliances with the tribes. Or, you
can simply wipe them off the map! It’s another
ingenious little twist that makes perfect
sense for the theme and presents you with
new decisions you never had in original Pandemic.
Just like in Pandemic Iberia, I love that
they’ve committed to the realistic slow
movement of the era – you can’t fly wherever
you want, and walking is as frustratingly
inefficient as getting stuck behind a group
of tourists trying to use the London underground.
I’m really impressed by how Paolo Mori and
Matt Leacock have managed to iterate on what
was already a flawless system, and still keep
it approachable, streamlined and just as fun.
Spring Meadow is a puzzle game where you’re
trying to fit Tetris-shapes onto your board.
It’s the fourth game in this style from Uwe
Rosenberg. And started with Patchwork, which
cynically exploited board gamers love of quilting.
Then came a trilogy of games. Mummy Bear’s
game Cottage Garden was too cold, Goldilocks
found it to lacked tension. Daddy Bear’s game
Indian Summer was too hot, it was over complicated
with blueberries and nuts. But baby bear’s
game Spring Meadow was just right, and Goldilocks
went to town on it.
With each game you could see the designer
trying out new approaches and then carrying
over the elements that worked to the next
game. Spring Meadow is the perfect medley
of all the good bits.
You’re trying to fill your board up, completing
rows with no gaps. That spatial puzzle, the
reason why we love these games, is at the
core. There’s no side mechanism of money or
tracks, you’re rewarded for a tidy board.
What’s even better is it adds puzzling on
top of puzzling, because you’re trying to
get these holes to line up to win rocks, which
will fill up your board even quicker.
It has all the delicious frustration you want
from this type of game and when you succeed
it will send you straight back to being two
years old as you push that square peg into
that square hole and you look up at your proud
parents and your dad says “yeah, but why
did it take him so long?”
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a
wonderful game of solving crimes with your
friends, but it was released before I was
born, which means it’s at least 19 years
old, well overdue for an update and, definitely
not going grey it’s just the lighting.
Chronicles of Crime brings us up to present
day London, where Baker St is nothing more
than a great song by Gerry Rafferty. And it
trades in reading on paper which is for old
people and squares, for reading on a mobile
app which is a temporary stop gap until brain-uploads
are ready.
At the start of a case, it puts you in the
crime scene by giving you a 3D virtual reality
room to look around. It’s up to you to spot
things of interest that could prove to be
useful evidence.
As you collect information, you lay it out
on the board, building your case. Then you
need to start talking to witnesses and suspects.
Every person connected to the case is represented
by a card – you have to scan their QR code
to talk to them.
The cleverest part of Chronicles of Crime
is that YOU lead the investigation. You decide
what to ask each person, by scanning what
you want to talk about.
It’s probably a good idea to ask them about
the victim, but maybe you’ll get creative
and ask them about the victim’s daughter’s
dog-toy on a wild hunch because you’re just
that much of a goddamn maverick. And maybe
they’ll say they don’t know nothing. And
maybe you’ll realise that this stinking
corruption goes right to the top, and even
Lucky Duck Games are hiding something.
Just like a real case, there is no right way
to solve it. You’ll get hundreds of tiny
fragments of the truth from different places
and the game won’t hold your hand in telling
you how to piece it together.
I love unravelling the mysteries. It has all
the joy of watching a whodunit movie at home,
speculating on the killer, but you get your
recognition for having said you thought it
was that guy all along instantly, instead
of having to write to the TV company.
It’s a refreshingly different approach to
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and
the app means they can keep releasing cases
for it. I’m very excited to try their upcoming
expansions Noir and Welcome To Redview, that
introduce new elements to the game.
Western Legends is a sandbox board game, inspired
by a sandbox video game, inspired by the original
sandbox experience – The Wild West.
It’s called a sandbox game because you have
the freedom to do whatever you want. The possibilities
are limitless, just like playing in a sandbox
as a kid – you could build a sandcastle, or
let the sand sift through your hands, or…
In Western Legends you play as a famous western,
l- luminary, trying to make a name for yourself.
It’s completely up to you how you do that.
You’ve got three actions, a pocketful of
gumption and a sense of what’s wrong and
right.
You could head to the saloon to play some
poker. Then go and buy yourself a horse with
your winnings. Or you could prospect for gold,
rustle cattle or rob the bank. Whatever you
do, you’ll want to get the right gear – like
this Ten Gallon Hat that makes your poker
victories all the sweeter.
And, are you a good guy or a bad guy? If you
go around robbing your fellow players then
your reputation as an outlaw will get you
points every round – until you embarrass yourself
by being caught.
If you’d rather, you can play marshal, arresting
the outlaw players and winning praise that
way. Or do a bit of both. Play the cool, mysterious
outlaw in your 20s, then clean up your act
when you settle down and have kids. You sellout.
Compared to other sandbox games like Merchants
and Marauders, Western Legends is easy to
wrap your head around – with most actions
coming down to these poker cards. If you challenge
someone to a duel – whoever plays the highest
card wins.
I love the stories that you can tell in this
game. I really enjoy games where you control
one character, and go on a journey with it.
Sure, there’s some downtime on other people’s
turns, but because the world is so engaging
it’s fun watching everything happen. Oh
look, Mark just got 4 gold nuggets – I guess
I know who I’m robbing on my turn!
I slogged through Red Dead Redemption 2 last
year, to reach a linear ending I saw coming
a mile off. I had a lot more fun playing cowboys
with friends at a table, like real adults.
I can’t wait for the Ante Up expansion which
promises to turn this sandbox into a beach.
If you got to the end of 2018 and felt like
you’d achieved nothing – well, compared
to Wolfgang Warsch – you didn’t. In one
year, he not only won the Kennerspiel De Jahres
but had a second game nominated for it, and
a third game nominated for the Spiel De Jahres.
He released five great games including Brikks
which was earlier on in this list. The Quacks
of Quedlingburg, Fuji and Ganz Schon Clever
aren’t on this list, but I had fun with
all of them.
His masterpiece is in applying rules to a
deck of cards numbered 1 to 100. It’s called
The Mind, and it’s a phenomenon that, just
like Marmite, you either love, or you don’t
understand because Marmite is brilliant and
you’re an idiot.
You’re each dealt a hand of numbered cards,
and you all have to intuitively play your
cards in order. Without talking.
You’ve got nothing to go on. Let’s say
you’ve got number 12. How do you know that
no-one else has a lower number? You don’t.
And yet, somehow, you do. You wait a moment,
and no-one else has played anything and you
play it down. No-one reacts. That’s a good
thing.
If someone does a mistake, plays a card higher
than someone else’s, your team loses a life.
It creates an atmosphere I’ve never felt
in another game. There’s this zen focus,
like you’re all holding your breath until
the round ends. No-one’s checking their
phone or getting distracted. Because you know
that one false move could cost you the game.
It’s a real bonding experience too – you’re
looking in each other’s eyes, noticing their
small movements and as the rounds go on, learning
their rhythm. If you play with the same group,
you will get better, like a band starting
to gel.
That silent tension is so intense, that you’ll
erupt with laughter at someone’s facial
expression – and you’ll feel like you won
the world cup when you conquer a tough round.
I spent an entire evening at a convention,
surrounded by hundreds of games I could be
playing instead playing this ten pound gem
over and over again with the same people.
And it might just be a coincidence but we’re
now all living on a commune together sharing
a bed. This game, it does things.
The Mind feels so different, so transformative
that I’ll be chasing down all of Wolfgang
Warsch upcoming games – and I’m particularly
excited about Wavelength, a party game he’s
making with the guys behind Monikers that
also has you trying to read each other’s
mind.
We’ll never really know why they finally
released a big box expansion for the Game
of Thrones board game in the year that the
billion dollar TV series it’s based on comes
to an end. But I’m delighted they did.
The original game has a special place in my
heart because it was one of the first modern
games I fell in love with. Some of my favourite
moments in board gaming are the diplomatic
talks I had during this game that took place
in another room. If a game can create that
and make it feel meaningful, it’s special.
It’s so much more than a dudes on a map
game. The game is happening above the table,
in the promises you make to each other, and
as you try to read your friend’s face – has
he reneged on our deal? Yeah, he has – better
attack him this round just to show him. Oh
wait, he didn’t and now you’ve pissed
off your only ally? Well now you’re really
screwed.
Where there were problems, the Mother of Dragons
expansion fixes them. The new vassal system
makes it a more interesting game at all player
counts by bringing the non-playing houses
to life. You can control them and get them
to do your bidding.
That coupled with the new Arryns and Targaryen
factions means that unless you play with eight
players every time, it will feel different.
The Lannisters aren’t destined to be the
weakest house anymore.
The Targaryens introduce more thematic flavour,
and they’re own unique win condition – they’re
trying to conquer parts of Westeros to win
loyalty. And they’re helped by three dragons,
which get stronger as the rounds go on.
I love that they’ve given players more options
– you can now use power tokens to bribe or
repay other houses, which makes the negotiation
richer. I can use it to persuade someone to
attack someone else, or not attack me.
Or you can save your power tokens to get a
loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos, which
has some incredible abilities to destroy castles,
assassinate units or add new supply barrels.
But you will have to repay a power token every
round for it.
Mother of Dragons takes a game I love and
makes me love it even more. For now, before
the final season pulls a Lost and sullies
my memory of the franchise forever.
Before I talk about my number one – if my
videos have helped you find games you love,
please keep Actualol going by becoming a Patron
of the channel, which gives you the right
to say things like this:
“Why did he change his background? I liked
the wonky triangles.”
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a
wonderful game of solving crimes with your
friends, but it was released before I was
born – and if you’ve skipped ahead in the
video just to find out what my number one
pick is, you’re not going to get this joke.
Though you won’t be able to tell from the
title, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
is actually board game where you play a detective
solving modern crimes. And boy if that doesn’t
ticks more boxes for me than that woman I
saw working at the box ticking factory.
Halfway through a case of Detective, and your
table is covered in notes, you’re deep in
a discussion about suspects motives and you’re
halfway through that bottle of whiskey you
only brought as a prop.
Crime solving games are pure escapism for
me. This isn’t an abstracted experience.
We are going through evidence, reading interrogation
transcripts, choosing what leads to follow
– everything a normal detective would face.
And this game takes you further in – it’s
deeper and richer than any other crime solving
game out there.
Its unique salivating point is that it blends
fiction with fact. As detectives, you will
turn to the real-life Internet to research
details for your case. Rather than bringing
us into its world, it brings the case into
ours. It’s a revolution, and I can’t get
enough of it.
Detective’s best moments, those heated debates
and decisions based on a hunch – they rely
on our understanding of the real world and
of people. More game designers should realise
that they are not George RR Martin – it’s
nigh on impossible to build a world from scratch
that your players will invest in. So help
our imagination by using things we already
know – drawing upon the most extensive lore
there is.
What I love about Detective is how it immerses
you from all sides. You get evidence from
so many different angles – photos, DNA matches,
interviews, court reports, Google Maps – and
with an ever present threat of running out
of time or resources.
Detective is my favourite game of 2018. I
can’t wait to try the upcoming LA Stories
expansion.
Those are my favourite games of 2018. If you
want to buy any of them, there are links in the
description below. And if you want to learn
more about them, I’ve put links to my full
reviews. If you’d like me to make more videos
like this, please consider supporting on Patreon.
I’m Jon Purkis, thanks for watching.

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