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All Things New 2018 "It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play." -GKC

This morning, I read Matt Thrower's post about not making lists. It made me want to make a list. There will never be a year in which I will make a top ten list of that year's games. I have played 11 2018 games. If I made a top ten list, I'd have to pick ten of those eleven. That's silly. What I can do, and what I like to do, is make a list of the best new-to-me games, games from any year, which I played for the first time in 2018.


Top Ten New-to-Me Games Played in 2018
1. Shogi
2. Dungeon Crawl Classics
3. Root
4. KeyForge: Call of the Archons
5. Great Western Trail
6. Blood Rage
7. Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation
8. Transatlantic
9. Meow
10. Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-1861

Shogi is one of the greats. I've known about it for a long while. I've read about it. I had played children's introductory versions. I had messed around with digital versions. But I hadn't actually played it face-to-face (which is the only way that counts). It's up there with Go/Baduk and Chess as one of the games that I consider perfect. What is especially fun about it, though, compared to western chess is that I don't know the first thing about it. I get the basic rules, of course, but "good play" is something that I'll be exploring for the rest of my life.

Dungeon Crawl Classics takes everything that I love about role-playing and does it right. It emphasizes all of the right things, with rules that encourage wild role-playing and discourage min-maxing and power gaming. When I'm playing an RPG, I want wild stories. I'm not playing to win. I'm playing to laugh and to get that thrill of wonder at grand heroics writ large. DCC satisfies.

I really like player asymmetry. I really like direct player interaction. Root delivers the combination of asymmetry and direct player interaction better than any other game I know (Chaos in the Old World is the other game that I played this year which does this well, but that one didn't also charm me with its cuteness).

KeyForge is every bit as good a game as everyone is saying it is. What is a "good game"? Well, for starters, it has to be fun. Shogi is brain-burning fun. It activates that deep, slow center of thought. DCC is gut-busting fun, scratching the story itch. Root is the fun of playing the players as much as playing the game. KeyForge is the specific fun of the card game, in which you are at the mercy of the shuffle. It can be very swingy, in which you think you're about to make the greatest power move of all time, to be followed by your opponent undermining and destroying you the next turn. I was there at the beginning of Magic. I remember being 14 years old in '93 and opening starter decks and playing right out of the box with a mix of cards and lands that worked terribly together. I remember the thrill of slowly crafting that mess into something that works better. KeyForge gives that initial thrill of playing with what you're given, and also delivers that thrill of discovery in learning cards and how they work best together.

Great Western Trail doesn't have any of the dramatic swinginess of KeyForge. What it does have is the steady rhythm of the trail, that circle of satisfaction. Great Western Trail is, despite its somewhat complex interlocking systems, a very simple game, in which you move and take an action or two, do it again, do it again, deliver cows, do it again, do it again. I find the game very relaxing. I won't be telling stories about the wild times running cattle, but while playing I experience that peace that playing a well-constructed closed system can give.

Why do I love Blood Rage? It's probably the minis. There's a good game beneath the pretty, but really it's the joy of playing with toys. This is a satisfying "dudes on a map" game for grown boys. I enjoy the drafting, and think that there are serious decisions to be made, but mostly it's about fighting other vikings. I just spent too much money on the recent Kickstarter. I might regret it. I did only play Blood Rage once. Maybe its shine will wear off. So maybe this little boy infatuation won't last, but I also feel pretty confident that I can sell the KS exclusive content to make my money back (and a little more) if I no longer want it.

Meltwater is a game that I bought after reading the designer's notes on the Hollandspiele blog. It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the theme and the design. After playing the game, I was happy to find that the design is a complete success. It's rare that a game can meld theme and mechanisms so well. But each rule is in place to serve the theme. The claustrophobia of a shrinking world is truly felt. The gameplay is good, and it also allows for emergent storytelling. Those poor Swedish scientists.

Transatlantic might be my new favorite Gerdts game. It takes what is good about Concordia and layers on a wonderful racing theme with direct and indirect player confrontation. I do like some Euros in which everyone does their own thing on their own boards, but really I love the interaction, in which something I do affects you, and something you do affects me.

Meow is stupid. It's also a brilliant design. On your turn, draw a card and say, "meow." That's it. There's one other rule added to this that actually makes it a game, but mostly it's the silliness of meow-bluffing. This stupid game made me smile and laugh a lot. That's a successful game. This one, more than any of the others on the list, is very group-dependent (having little kids present is a definite plus), and shouldn't be played more than a couple of times in a session or it outwears its welcome. With those caveats, I highly recommend Meow as the light "experience/party game" that it is.

I played Fort Sumter five times in a row one day. I haven't played it since. I do really like it, but I'm not sure about it. It's an abstract historical game, if that seeming contradiction of a description can be used. The historical theme is there. It's not detailed, but playing the game will give someone a sense of the issues at stake that led up to the war. In play, though, what matters isn't the history, but matching colors and symbols, exerting influence on the board through mechanisms. I greatly enjoyed my play, but I don't know how often I'll get this played. I've been meaning to teach one of my older children how to play this one to see if I can get this one played at home.

That's it. So far this year, I've played 61 games that have been new to me. This list above represents what I think was the best of that bunch. It's only December 10th, so I know that this list is premature. There are still 20 days left in which I could play something new to me which completely blows me away. It's possible. If I am surprised by something, I'll update this post, but right now I'm thinking that that will be unlikely.
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