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Meeple Like Us Top Ten Board Games, 2018 Edition

Every year (for at least two years) we have put together our top ten games and published them on Meeple Like Us. Here's how that list stands at the end of 2018 - a mix of the semi-new and the ancient, presented for your hopeful enjoyment.

This is a modified version of a post that first appeared on Meeple Like Us.  

You can read more of my writing over at the Meeple Like Us blog.  You can also find some information about my research interests and publications over at my personal homepage.

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Introduction

Welcome to the Meeple Like Us Top Ten Best Board Games 2018 Edition!  This is the second entry in a glorious tradition started all the way back in 2017 – at least, as far as we’re concerned.  Was anyone doing top ten lists before that?  I doubt it.  I’m pretty sure we’ve invented the format and I refuse to do any research that would suggest otherwise.

Still, do you remember 2018?  It was a year that followed two of the worst years that ever could be and somehowstill managed to maintain par.    There is a concept in statistics called ‘reverison to the mean‘ which is a fancy way of saying ‘performance trends towards the long term average’.    Imagine if the state of the world was just the new normal?  We can’t hope for better years, we can just hope to survive the next.

Merry Christmas!

We’re well into our third year of operation now and we’ve reviewed over one hundred and fifty games.   A buck and a half.   One point five hundos.   That’s a lot of games  and we’ve told you grand, sweeping stories about each of them.    Once you get to these lofty numbers, you can start to draw some serious, difficult conclusions.   The main one of these is ‘hey, did you know games are pretty good?’.   The average game reviewed on Meeple Like Us has a rating of 3.53 stars.   If you picked a game at random, the chances are you’d have a fun time with it.

Ah, but look at the dwindling sands of your life – look how they slip between your fingers.  Those old fingers.  You’re getting so old.  We’re all getting so old but it looks like you’re getting older faster than the rest of us somehow.  You can’t spend the last few days of your life on games that are merely good – you want the best.  Well, that’s what this post is about.   These games are not just the best, but the best of the best.   The bestest.  These games are so bestest that if you only had our picks in your game library you’d never want for joy for the rest of your life.  I guess that’s not saying much, looking at you.  Let’s say you had at least five weeks you’ve got left – they’d be full to the brim of enjoyment and happiness.

Note here that we’re doing this based on the fun of the games, not on their accessibility – we’ll provide a link to each accessibility teardown so you can make your own decision as to whether any of these games are likely to be appropriate for your needs.  You might also consider taking a look at our recommender.  Anything that scores a four and a half or higher would have been a candidate for inclusion in at least one of these lists.

This is, as tradition demands, a long post.   Not so much a series of mini-reviews but rather an extended sermon with Director’s Commentary.   Get yourself comfortable.   Make yourself a cup of tea.  Some biscuits would be nice.   Custard creams perhaps – not too fancy, but not too plain.   Respectable biscuits that you could bring out in mixed company without anyone getting funny ideas.   Perhaps put some Enya on Spotify to relax you.   Sail away, sail away, sail away.

If you don’t fancy reading the reasons for each review, and since this took us hours to write I will go to my deathbed cursing your name, you can click on the very last link to take you to the full table.   Where we have the same games at the same position from last year, the text will be identical to 2017.   The chat between Mrs Meeple and myself though will be as FRESH as a daisy.

Enjoy!

***

 

Number Ten on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

The Number 10 position in any Top Ten list is like the winner’s circle of the Hunger Games.   Every game on here had to fight its way through a charnel house of competition to end up on the podium.   Look at their eyes – they’ve seen things.   They’ve done things.   Look at their hands – still caked with powdered dice remnants from the battle.   Just don’t look behind them if you’ve got a delicate constitution.  There are disfigured meeples, broken pawns, and ripped carboard boxes as far as the eye can see.   Perhaps it’s more accurate to say ‘the survivor’s circle’ of the Hunger Games.  Nobody wins here except those of us who will go on to use these poor devils for our own twisted amusement.   Go us!

Michael Picks:  Once Upon a Time (stable at #10)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game (1993)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Light [1.39]
BGG Rank 1358 [6.45]
Player Count (recommended) 2-6 (3-6)
Buy it! Amazon Link

My word, this is a game that is a constant joy.  Forget Cards Against Humanity – if you want to know the bleak cruelty of the human soul you’ve got few better choices than Once Upon a Time.   Fairy tales are horrifying when you really pay attention, and as such they are a natural home for the darkness of the reality in which we exist.  Once Upon a Time gives you the perfect setup for exploring the most forbidden contours of your repressed psyche.   You’ll find yourself effortlessly telling tales of such grim depravity that all anyone can do is laugh.  It’s a game that is so simple that it’s genuinely unfair that it’s this good.   And yet, it is.  It is SO GOOD.

OOAT box

Pauline: You just like living in a fantasy land because your real life is so grim.  It’s a grim fairy tale.

Michael: Also inhabited by evil creatures and vicious trolls, although less so now that I’m not reading Reddit so often.

Pauline Picks:  Terraforming Mars (In with a bullet)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Terraforming Mars (2016)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [3.24]
BGG Rank 4 [8.39]
Player Count (recommended) 1-5 (1-4)
Buy it! Amazon Link

Terraforming Mars is absolutely full of interesting decisions – I’d say it was a meaty game if there were any cows on Mars.   It’s not one that overstays its welcome either – it drags on a little at the end but it’s pretty pacy.  It’s a half marathon rather than an ultra.  You spend so much time focused on the intricate engine you’re building on the Red Planet that by the time you come upon the end you don’t even realise how much time has passed.    All there is between you and the immensity of space is what scant living you can scrape out of the Martian soil and that’s more than enough to keep your attention.   There’s something very satisfying about the theme – it feels cathartic to build a place for us to live on Mars.  Given where we currently are with Brexit, it might be our best bet for surviving the coming decades and their inevitable water wars.

Terraforming Mars board

Michael:  What the hell is an ultra?  What the hell is a half marathon?  You do realise the demographic makeup of this blog’s readership, right?  We are not your people.  

Pauline:  Most people are aware a half marathon is 13.1 miles…

Michael:  No they aren’t…

Pauline:  … even if they haven’t done one themselves. 

Michael:  Which they haven’t…

Pauline: An ultra is anything longer than 26.2 miles… [editorial note:  The rest of this ten minute diatribe redacted for the convenience and comfort of the audience.  See Brechin Road Runners for more of Pauline’s many thoughts on running]

***

Number Nine on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

Let’s leave the grim survivors of #10 behind.   Those poor souls grasp onto their position on this list with only the fragile grips of the flimsiest fingertips.   Or is that the flimsiest grips of the most fragile fingertips?   Whatever – all it would take is a light breeze to sweep them off into the abyss that lies at the tail end of these charts.

That said, sometimes it’s better to be on the edge of things because it makes you just a little bit sharper.  Just a little bit hungrier.   A touch leaner.  Once you’re safely off of the precipice it’s easy to get fat and lazy.   Don’t get too comfortable, #9s.   Oblivion can take you too.  Ask some of the previous incumbents of this list.  Oh wait, you can’t – they’re dead.   Keep your head in the game.

Michael Picks:  Race for the Galaxy (in with a bullet at #9)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Race for the Galaxy (2007)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [2.98]
BGG Rank 48 [7.76]
Player Count 2-4
Buy it! Amazon Link

Oh my – I wasn’t quite generous enough with Race for the Galaxy in the review for it’s presence here to be predictable.    It’s a difficult game to recommend but it’s an easy game to love.   I wouldn’t want to sit down and play it with anyone new, but I’d happily start dealing out the cards to a fellow old-hand.   There is so much in Race for the Galaxy that is done well, but it’s hidden behind an unwelcoming facade of alien heiroglyphics and unforgiving mechanisms.    You need to be careful if you’re going to survive the challenges that Race for the Galaxy places in your way.  Miss your footing and you’ll be dragged screaming into the automated manufacturies of a forgotten alien planet and turned into a horrifying war-bot turned out for endless cosmic horror.

They don’t have a standardised warning label for that according to the ISO.

Race for the Galaxy cards

 

Pauline:  You keep inisting that I’ve played this before but I honestly don’t remember it.   It’s obvious from your writeup though that it’s pretty ridiculous you picked a game that is so impentrable and inaccessible for your list of best games of all time.   It’s full of stupid icons, weird rules, ridiculously small fonts, ugly graphics.    Doesn’t this make you a bit of a hypocrite?

Michael:  Oh, hardly.  This isn’t even in the top ten list of reasons why I’m a hypocrite.

Pauline:  But shouldn’t you be picking games that are at least a little bit accessible for your greatest games of all time?

Michael:  Well, really – who can really truly say whether a game is accessible or not?

Pauline:  That’s literally what this site is supposed to be for.

Pauline Picks:  Century: Spice Road & Century: Eastern Wonders (Down from #3)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Century: Spice Road (2017)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [1.76]
BGG Rank 210 [7.42]
Player Count 2-5
Buy it! Amazon Link

Century: Spice Road is a great engine builder.  It’s a bit like Splendor except it gives you a lot more to be thinking about and more parts from which you can put together a machine capable of hoovering up spice like an Arrakian harvester.   It has that thing that Lords of Waterdeep and Ticket to Ride have in abundance – there’s a lot of satisfaction in just building up the resources to get a thing and then claiming it.    It’s definitely a little bit algorithmic, but as the kid who thought it was a massive treat when we did algebra at school it is a game that may as well have been made directly for me.   There’s a small flaw in that the engine you build tends to stutter and splutter as cards are bought.  Even that’s got an upside – it means you don’t get a runaway leader because they can’t ever build up a head of speed.  A bit like dealing with the roadworks around the Aberdeen bypass really.

After playing it a lot, it did get kind of samey.   The Eastern Wonders sequel though can be integrated with the base game and it adds a lot of novelty.  It’s less algorthmic and the choices feel a bit more interesting because they’re tied up in a spatial context.   I’d say that the inclusion of Eastern Wonders is what keeps it on the list at all.   If there was an app version though, I’d probably end up playing the base game all the time like a multithreaded processor caught in a threshing loop.   My worry with playing it now is that it tends to bore others.  My threshold for boredon though is artificially high as a result of living with Michael.

Century Spice Road Bowls

Michael:   I’m very glad to see Century Spice Road falling down your list on its inevitable journey towards the nearest bin.  

Pauline:  It’s never going to go in the bin.   Don’t think you’re going to make any money at a bring and buy with this one any time soon.  I thought you liked it?

Michael:  I did, but never as much as you did.  Even then, repeated plays knocked the shine off of it for me.  I think in the end it was mostly a kind of trance-induced daze that broke me down.   It was just … ‘do you want to play Spice Road?’, ‘do you want to play Spice Road’ like a terrible DJ spinning warped vinyl albums on a broken turntable.    Throw in some ecstasy and it would have been like the world’s worst rave.  Now I get tense whenever I think about it.

Pauline:  Maybe we should get the Golem edition too?

Michael:  Only if I can command it to stave my head in.

***

Number Eight on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

Far be it from me to say that any game on this list is here purely on a whim – a privilege as easily revoked as it is granted.   I mean, it’s not like tastes change or better games come along.  It’s not that the inexorable passage of time is a forced march into the relentless chasm of entropy.    You should feel proud of being here, eights.   You’re here because of your accompishments.   I’m sure you have nothing to fear from the future.   This is your time to shine, and shine you do.  You shine like diamonds.  Perhaps though that’s because of the immense pressure you’re under.  Nines to the left of you.   Sevens to the right.  Here you are – stuck in the crucible with me.

Michael Picks:  Innovation (Down from #7)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Innovation (2010)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [2.72]
BGG Rank 288 [7.24]
Player Count 2-4
Buy it! Amazon Link

Blimey, I have never encountered a game before that made such a powerfully positive first impression on me.   Innovation gives you a generous deck of cards and bids you to build an empire with them.  As it does it whispers gently in your ear that your civilization would be doing so much better if you could just destroy every other sign of progress you could see.  ‘Everything the light touches’, it promises in sweet, unguent tones, ‘could be your kingdom’.    Its design is so sharp that even the edges of the cards can draw blood.  It’s quick paced, incredibly clever, and as pointed as a barbecue fork.   It’s slipped down this chart a little bit, but that’s no real reflection on the game itself – I remain entranced by its energy.    The battleground of the Top Ten is treacherous and it’s easy for a game to lose its footing through no fault of its own.

Dogma demand

Pauline:  Innovation is ace.  It’s the best game ever.

Michael: Is that a spoiler for your #1 choice in this list?

Pauline:  Not quite… it’s a great design but it’s not necessarily the first choice I have when it comes to having fun of an evening.

Michael:  Ah, okay.  What is?

Pauline:   Probably something more like Telestrations?

Michael:  I can’t say that does my reputation as a sizzling lover a lot of good.

Pauline Picks:  Azul (In with a bullet)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Azul (2017)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [1.81]
BGG Rank 38 [7.96]
Player Count 2-4
Buy it! Amazon Link

Azul is one of the few new games that we’ve played over the past year that I’ve found really memorable.   It’s got the really satisfying hook of games like Sagrada, but there’s something about it that elevates it higher.  Probably because it’s got a good deal more bite.   It’s very bitey.  It’s basically a box full of sharpened teeth that you use to gnaw on the Opal Fruits you get as coloured playing pieces.

It’s also quite lovely to play with – those tiles just feel so thick and clunky and make really nice sounds when you lay them down.   One of the reasons I used to like Poker was the clickety-clack of the poker chips splashing down onto the pot.   People underestimate the value of sound design in board games and Azul has it in spades.

Azul tiles

Michael:  Is that why I always catch you chewing on the tiles?  Seriously, our copy of Azul is soggy all the way through.  

Pauline:  I haven’t eaten any of the tiles.  

Michael:  I’m pretty sure I saw you crunching on a few of those during one of your interminable marathon runs.

Pauline:  That was a Graze bar.

Michael:   Well, I just checked and there’s no longer any Graze bar in the box – so that all checks out.

***

Number Seven on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

The eights, nines and tens are on the edge even if they don’t know it.   At least you sevens can take a calming breath – you’re on the ledge just before the edge and that gives you at least a four minute warning before the emptiness of the void takes you.  Hear that cold wind howl?   That’s the sound of your own obsolescence as reflected at you from the chasm of irrelevance that surrounds you.

Wow, we’ve been taking a pretty bleak stance here on our top ten – not at all appropriate for a feature we publish at Christmas time.

Here, I’ll put on some festive music.   Enjoy it… while you can.

Michael Picks:  Concordia (Down from #3)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Concordia (2013)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [3.09]
BGG Rank 21 [8.09]
Player Count 2-5
Buy it! Amazon Link

Ooo, this one has undergone a fair slide.   It’s still in a strong position – being the #7 best game I’ve ever played becomes increasingly impressive the more time goes by.    My affection for Concordia though may have waned a little as I dally with more obviously enticing titles.  The frisson isn’t quite what it was.   It has become a game I am comfortable with rather than one for which I hunger.   I remarked in 2017 that it didn’t have a very exciting theme and wouldn’t win any awards for its aesthetics.   That’s as true as it ever was and the problem there is that other games just make more of an effort.   They slip into my shelves wearing the board-game equivalent of lingerie.  Concordia wanders in wearing fuzzy slippers and a ratty dressing gown.   The wrapping doesn’t change how much of a good time I’m going to have, but it does have an impact on the anticipation.   I haven’t yet tried its Salsa expansion, but I’m hoping that might well spice things up for 2019.

Wait, salt isn’t actually a spice is it?

That doesn’t bode well for the future.

Part of the Concordia map

Pauline:  I never thought Concordia would be so supplanted in your affections.  It’s the first game that you really ever fell in love with outside of Scrabble.

Michael:  My affections are fickle.   Who knows what will take my fancy from day to day?

Pauline:  From the sounds of it, some weird fantasies about games in lingerie? 

Michael:  You should see the stockings that Imperial Settlers wore to try and keep its place on the list.  You should hear the things it offered to do.  

Pauline:  I think I need to install a nanny cam in your study.  Something not quite right is clearly happening in there when you close the door.

Pauline Picks:  Innovation (Down from #6)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Innovation (2010)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [2.72]
BGG Rank 288 [7.24]
Player Count 2-4
Buy it! Amazon Link

I think you get an awful lot of game in a very small box with Innovation.  It’s amazing how tightly packed it is, and how many interesting decisions it puts in your way.  Unlike Michael, I haven’t played a lot of civilization games but when I did I always went for the most obvious and convenient win.  I don’t have the same fixed mindset of ‘science at all costs’.  He works away building the intellectual bedrock of a society run by philosopher kings, and that rarely works in his favour.   I’m happy to win Innovation in the most thuggish way the game will permit.   Michael is the textbook nerd, and I spend my time repeatedly kicking over his sandcastles until he literally goes nuclear.  The only reason it’s dropped down in this list is that it’s a bit more serious, and a bit more aggressive, than a lot of my favourites.   I’ve come to realise over the past few years that the fun isn’t in proving how much smarter I am than Michael, but rather in making sure everyone else around the table has the most fun they possibly can.   Innovation isn’t really that kind of game.

Innovation cards

 

Michael:  Wait, do you think you’re smarter than me just because you constantly beat me at games?

Pauline:  No, of course not.

Michael: Good.

Pauline:  Not when I can think it because I’m better with money, have more common sense, can drive out of a simple industrial estate in less than twenty minutes and without the help of Google Maps…

Michael: Wait…

Pauline: … am capable of wearing matching socks, can remember more than six names at a time, can use a washing machine without flooding the kitchen or shrinking my dresses…

Michael: Okay, but as long as it’s not because of our win ratio because I’m due a hot streak any day now.

***

Number Six on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2017 Edition!

Being number six in a top ten has to be a rough gig.   You’re not quite in the top half of the best games ever but still… seems a bit churlish to complain.   I mean, you’re still outstanding – but sort of a Tesco Value brand of outstanding.    You might look like a 1%er to the 99%ers, but to the 0.1%ers you just look like another scrub.     An understudy.

If I were in the top five, I’d probably be wary about accepting a drink from either of the games here.

Michael Picks:  Azul (In with a bullet at #6)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Azul (2017)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [1.81]
BGG Rank 38 [7.96]
Player Count 2-4
Buy it! Amazon Link

Azul is a refreshing game, but mainly because when I play it I’m constantly thinking about Starburst.   This is a game of laying down tiles in the palaces of blah blah blah nobody cares.    Honestly, don’t let its theming mislead you.  You might spend your time looking at the tiles, but really you’re mostly worried about the chisels.   The decisions you make in Azul are sharpened to a knife edge and as a result they always leave someone feeling like they’ve just been stabbed.    This is a game of margins – of inserting yourself into the decision space and widening the gap between you and your opponent.  Sometimes you do that by playing well.  More often you do it by making sure they play poorly – by ensuring that the only thing left on the buffet table for them come lunchtime is a shit sandwich that they don’t get to turn down.    Azul has weaponised loss aversion and turned it into a gameplay mechanism and the result is one of the tightest, nastiest, and best designed games I’ve ever played.

Azul board

Pauline:  Urgh. That is utterly digusting.   You’re not going to sell people on playing Azul by comparing it to a shit sandwich.

Michael:  Nono, I know the link goes to pret-a-manger but that’s only because their sandwiches are truly horrible.   I wouldn’t offer my worst enemy a sandwich from Pret.  I mean a sandwich that has been liberally filled with fresh sh…

Pauline:  PRET WASN’T THE PROBLEM WITH THE SIMILE!

Pauline Picks:  One Night Ultimate Werewolf (Up from #7)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name One Night Ultimate Werewolf(2014)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Light [1.41]
BGG Rank 292 [7.24]
Player Count (recommended) 3-10 (4-10)
Buy it! Amazon Link

This is the only app enabled game that has made my list.  I know lots of people don’t like digitally enabled boardgames but I think the app is something that makes One Night Ultimate Werewolf genuinely great.  It’s like having your own electronic referee.  Everyone gets to take part whereas in games like Ultimate Werewolf you need a moderator that doesn’t actually get to participate.    The app takes away the chore of bookkeeping and instead lets everyone focus on having fun.

You don’t need the app to enjoy ONUW though and there is plenty to like in the box.  I love all the different roles you get and how even being a goodie means you have an incentive to lie.  The swapping of cards during the night phases means that you can’t even know within a single game if you genuinely are who you say you are.  Like in real life, ONUW is all about the public you versus the secret you, and dealing with your own inner conflicts.   Like some of the other games we’ve talked about already though it might be just ‘okay’ if you play it with the wrong people.   That’s why you should always play it with the right people.   That’s my general advice for games – always play them with the right people.

It’s gone up a place this year because it’s super fun, super quick, and even if people don’t understand what they’re doing they’re still going to have a lot of fun in failing.   It’s gone over great with every group with whom I’ve played it – the reliability of the fun means it deserves a promotion up the chart.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf roles

Michael:  The problem with playing this with you is that you instantly vote to lynch me whether you think I’m a werewolf or not.

Pauline:  You’re  the one that always tries to lynch me!

Michael:   Only as a form of self defence because you’re going to try to get everyone to kill me.  This is why I always sleep with one eye open in real life.

Pauline: I’m trying to save people from themselves.  Otherwise they might be fooled by your facade that you’re a nice and trustworthy gentleman.

Michael:   Anyone that would fall for that deserves a sharp lesson in natural selection, let’s be honest.

***

Number Five on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

This is it – the real best board games of 2018.    The ones we talked about earlier?  They might be VIPs but you and I both know they’re not getting into the real VIP area where there’s a chocolate fountain and a cheese fountain.   Do you want chocolate cheese?  Cheesy chocolate?  You can have whatever you like, because you’re a winner.

Well, kind of.

There’s only one real winner in a list like this but you’re at least not a loser.

Well, kind of.

I guess any game that falls short of #1 is a loser.  So I guess you’re the fourth loser?

Congratulations!

Michael Picks:  Suburbia (Down from #4)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Suburbia (2012)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [2.77]
BGG Rank 101 [7.58]
Player Count 1-4
Buy it! Amazon Link

Suburbia was the earliest thing I reviewed for Meeple Like Us, and for good reason – it’s was the first time I had played a board game where I thought ‘You know, I have to talk about how clever this is’.   Suburbia is what got me thinking about board game accessibility, and about how game design, game aesthetics and game complexity intersect in fascinating and important ways.  Meeple Like Us in many respects would not have existed without this game.  It might look like a kind of pornography designed entirely for a chartered surveyor but this is a tight, funny game of decisions that lead to satisfying triumphs and equally satisfying catastrophes.  It gives you highs and lows in equal measure and with all the syncopated creativity of improvised Jazz.  Again, its slight slip down the rankings is more a reflection on the quality of other games I’ve played this year rather than any alienation of affection.

Suburbia tiles

Pauline: The thing about Suburbia is that you spend an awful lot of time staring at some of the ugliest game components we have in our gaming library.  It’s fun, but it just looks like someone butchered a clipart program from the nineties and then made us play with its corpse over the course of two hours.  It’s like playing with your food in a cemetery.  

Michael:  Funny, I never really get a necromancy vibe when I look at Suburbia.   It’s weird the way your mind works.

Pauline:   It’s probably something to do with the way you put the graveyard next to the canning factories.  Just what are you up to?

Michael:  Hey, Soylent Incorporated is going to make us rich one of these days, just mark my words.

Pauline Picks:  Sheriff of Nottingham (Up from #9)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Sheriff of Nottingham (2014)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [1.66]
BGG Rank 264 [7.23]
Player Count 3-5
Buy it! Amazon Link

Sheriff of Nottingham is a lot like Once Upon a Time in that the fun it generates depends on the group around you but it has held its value the more I’ve played it with different groups.  In fact, it hasn’t just held its value – its value has accumulated like a wagonload of smuggled crossbows in the middle of the post-Brexit apocalypse.  I think this year mostly I’ve been interested in exploring lighter games since they work well for the kind of groups I tend to be playing with.  Sheriff of Nottingham works really well in that capacity.

Sheriff of Nottingham reminds me of a game from the eighties that I still have somewhere – that one is called Smuggle, which in turn is a rebranding of an earlier game called Contraband.  Sheriff of Nottingham is a much more elegant game though it shares a lot of similarities.

True story, my father once caught me lying in Smuggle and I burst into tears and offered him all my money to make him stop gloating.   In Smuggle you all draw from a shared deck and that means there’s a lot of leaked information.  Sheriff of Nottingham is a lot more interesting because you all get your own hand to manage, and even picking up and discarding can be part of your elaborate bluff.  You don’t need to worry too much about the lies other people have told – it’s all about keeping your own lies straight.   I didn’t enjoy Smuggle much thanks to that traumatic experience in my youth but I’ve gotten a lot better at social deduction since I was eight even if I still don’t know what my own tells are.   Sheriff of Nottingham is quick to learn and offers a wagonload of good natured fun.

Sheriff of Nottingham coins

Michael:  You might have been stockpiling crossbows, but I’ve been stockpiling honest, legal apples in preparation for a no-deal.  Apparently we’ll all have to ‘change what we eat‘ because fresh produce won’t be getting in from Europe.  At least that’ll make the game easier.  ‘I’m smuggling in five apples, Sheriff’.  ‘No you’re not because the only people that can afford to do that are the wealthy hard-line Parliamentarian Brexiteers that were the only ones to win in this whole sorry mess’

Pauline: Give a man an apple and he eats for a day.  Give a woman a crossbow and she eats for life.

Michael:  I’m not sure there’s all that much meat to be had on Jacob Rees-Mogg but I like where your head is at.

***

Number Four on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

You didn’t make the podium, fours.   That’s because you weren’t hungry enough.   You lost today.  That doesn’t mean you have to like it.    Never mind that though – I know this is a huge disappointment after all your hard work but we like you.  That’s all that matters since we’re the ones that write the list.   I guess what I’m saying is if we liked you more you might have done better in the rankings.   Just something to think about.   Just a wee thought to chew over in the dark of some cold night.

Michael Picks:  Hanamikoji (In with a bullet)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Hanamikoji (2013)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [1.74]
BGG Rank 246 [7.55]
Player Count 2
Buy it! Amazon Link

Hanamikoji is a game I love so much that merely being set in the same world is enough for me to buy a game sight unseen.   It’s the most immaculate game I own – not a milimetre of waste is to be found in its slim, svelte box.   It contains exactly the right number of cards.  It contains exactly the right number of options you have in a round.  It also contains exactly the right number of actions you get to take until the round is over.   Just four actions.  You only make four decisions in a round of Hanamikoji but you’ll be amazed at the difficulty of those decisions.  Hanamikoji is a game where both players feel at the end like you somehow managed to gang up on each other and it’s glorious.  It’s basically so good as a two player game that I almost never even think about Ol’ Favourite Jaipur any more.

Hanamikoji cards

Pauline: The art in Hanamikoji is undeniably beautiful, but I sometimes find it a frustrating game because there’s often no good choice to be had.    I like my games to be fun, and Hanamikoji feels a bit more like a collaborative exercise in psychic screaming.

Michael:  There’s no denying at the end of every game of this I feel like I’ve just been through a bout of extreme and non-consensual rage therapy.   It’s amazing how few decisions you make and how much you’ll come to regret each and every one.

Pauline:  I do like this but I’m not sure I’ve really sussed out how to win it.   I think you like it because it’s one of the few games that you actually know how to beat me at.

Michael:  Feeling bad about myself for picking badly from a set of impossible choices is pretty much the only real life-skill I have.  It’s nice to find a game that rewards it.  

Pauline Picks:  Concordia (Stable at #4)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Concordia (2013)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium [3.09]
BGG Rank 21 [8.09]
Player Count 2-5
Buy it! Amazon Link

Concordia is just beautiful.  I love how you don’t necessarily know who is in the lead.  I love the quality of the components and the different shape for the wheats and the wines and the silks.  It’s such an immersive and tactile approach to the physical elements of the game.  I really like the way that multiple people at the board benefit when you take your game actions – it’s really collegiate for a game that isn’t a cooperative title.  There are lots of different strategies, lots of different ways to win.  It’s a Goldilocks game – not too simple, not too complex, not too short, not too long – it’s just right.  Practically perfect in every way.

Goods

Michael: Ah, Concordia.   I’m glad one of us kept it in the upper echelons of our top ten list.  It deserves all the affection it gets.

Pauline:  It’s pretty sad you’re more concerned about the affection I have for Concordia than you are for the affection you give me.

Michael:  That’s not true.  You’re in the upper echelons on any number of my top ten lists.

Pauline: What lists?  What echelons?  I better be number one, buddy.

Michael:  I like to keep you at #2, because I figure that way you’ll just try harder.

***

Number Three on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

Thank God, we’re finally here at the real winners.  The medalists.  The games that made it to the podium.   Sure, at #3 it’s just third place and a bronze medal.  And yeah, you need to stand there while the winner gets its national anthem belted out in front of a cheering crowd.   You can’t just slink off to the showers to have a little cry.  You’ve got to keep those tears in.  Keep them all in.  Don’t let it show.  Look happy for the winner.

Why are we doing this to you?  This is a cruel punishment to inflict on a wonderful game – to add the pantomime of good sporting behaviour to the sting of a vicious loss.

You’re good games.   Don’t let this break you.

Michael Picks:  Lords of Waterdeep (with the Scoundrels of Skullport Expansion – still at #3)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Lords of Waterdeep (2012)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [2.48]
BGG Rank 53 [7.77]
Player Count 2-5
Buy it! Amazon Link

To be fair, Lords of Waterdeep making it this far on the list should genuinely trigger a doping scandal – it gets here purely on the strength of its expansion.   Lords of Waterdeep by itself is a great game, but it takes Scoundrels of Skullport to turn it into something genuinely wonderful.   I’m not a great lover of the theme, but that’s for the best – if they reskinned this for Game of Thrones and made it Lords of Kings Landing I’d probably never see the sun ever again.  All the intrigue and conspiracy and Machiavellian plotting you could ever want is to be found in this box, and after hundreds of plays (in real life and on the excellent app) I’m still nowhere near tired of it.

Five adventurers per token

Pauline: I’m quite surprised this is so high up your list given that it gets so little play.   I’m not sure that you’ve even really tried to get a group of people ot play it.  I think it’s always just me.

Michael:  You have no idea how many completed games I have of it on the app.  Seriously, if you look at my phone you can see traces of corruption burnt into the screen.

Pauline:  But that’s not the same as playing it with real people.

Michael:  It’s better.  if I could replace all human contact with a cold, disspassionate algorithm I’d never again have to look up from a computer screen.

Pauline Picks:  Telestrations (In with a bullet)

Review and teardown to come

Game Details
Name Telestrations (2009)
Complexity Light [1.09]
BGG Rank 229 [7.41]
Player Count (recommended) 4-8 (5-8+)

Telestrations is absolutely amazing – so much fun for so little setup.  When Michael was running his game nights at RGU, it was easily the game that got the most play.   We literally wore out a full set of pens and are a good way through the next pack.  The genius of the design is that you don’t need to be able to draw – in fact, that’s a drawback if anything.   The worse you are at the game, the better – that’s why you might end up with a clue like ‘ghost’ and end up with someone drawing a Ku Klux Shrimp.  Those hilarious misunderstandings lead to a game that’s massive amounts of fun.  It’s also an amazing ice-breaker – I’ve used it with my students at Dundee and Angus college and it’s gone down incredibly well.

Telestrations ghost house

 

Michael:   I dunno – I have a review of this in the buffer that is somewhat lukewarm in its praise.  Yet it’s impossible to deny that it generated so much laughter during the RGU game sessions that I worried people might just be sniffing the pens.

Pauline:  You’re maybe just too much of an elitist to have included it on your list.   Maybe you just don’t like fun.  Why are you so down on games that are just pure fun?

Michael:   It’s maybe just bitterness.  I had to spend so much time hosting at the game nights that I didn’t really get a chance to play anything much.   Plus, the sound of enjoyment and laughter cuts through me like a dentist drill.

Pauline:  You haven’t been to a dentist in over a decade, how would you know what a dentist’s drill sounds like?

Michael:  I have my own.

Pauline:  …

Michael:  There’s a reason we got the basement sound-proofed.   I’m learning a new trade.

***

Number Two on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

You might feel sorry for our bronze medalist, kept standing on the podium as part of a cruel practical joke.   Spare a thought for these poor buggers… so close to the gold that they can probably smell the chocolate underneath the foil.   Second amongst winners, but first amongst losers.    They have greatness in their cardboard and they know it.  Maybe what they really lacked was the hunger – the raw will to win that all real champions need.   Seriously, if you don’t find the stronger boxes in your collection trying to eat the weaker ones in the night can you even really believe in evolution?

However, maybe we have a different story here – both games are former champions.  Maybe they’re just too old.  Too tired.  Too bruised to hold on to the most cherished award in the gaming world (we assume).   They’re old hands though.  Maybe they lost this battle, but the constant war for our affection never ends.   Be on your guard, #1 – nobody is ever truly down and out.

Michael Picks:  Scrabble (Down from #2)

No review, but ten out of ten.  Seriously.

Game Details
Name Scrabble (1948)
Complexity Medium Light [2.11]
BGG Rank 1585 [6.28]
Player Count 2-4

At the two year mark of Meeple Like Us, I still thought that no game could ever dislodge Scrabble from its position as my favourite game of all time.   And to be honest, there are times that the position of #1 and #2 is decided only by a mental coin-flip.   It’s still that close.   Ahead of many excellent games I have played over the course of this project it is still Scrabble that represents, to me, an apotheosis of board game design.   It is a terrible word game, don’t get me wrong.   That’s because fundamentally it’s not a word game.  Scrabble, you see, is a war game.   Scrabble is about area control and area denial.  Your letters aren’t for words – they’re weapons.  They’re the munitions you’ll leverage to stop your opponent from being able to make words of their own.   You don’t want to show off your vocabulary here – that’s how you end up getting stomped.  You want to play the most miserly words you can so as to keep the good multipliers out of an opponent’s reach.   If you can’t take a tile, you need to burn it so nobody else can have it.  It’s hard to find people that will play Scrabble with me these days, but make no mistake – this is the closest thing I can think of to a perfect game.  Those that would do it down simply aren’t playing it to its full potential.   This isn’t a game that shows itself off in its best light with clever wordplay.  The only book you need to have read to excel in Scrabble is the Art of War.

scrabble board

Used under the CC-BY 2.0 licence. Available from www.flickr.com/people/[email protected]

Pauline: If you like it so much, why did you refuse to play it the last time someone offered?

Michael:  They were good, nice people.  They wouldn’t have enjoyed it.  I’d happily play with people like me.   They say war is politics conducted by other means.   Scrabble is that, but in word-game form.

Pauline:   Maybe if you thought of the game as more like a conversation you wouldn’t feel the need to cite Carl von Clausewitz.

Michael:   No bastard ever won a game of Scrabble by dying for his country.  He won it by making some other bastard die for his.

Pauline:   These aren’t the kind of things people are supposed say about board games.  This is more like what they say about a fight club.

Michael:   The first rule of Scrabble Club is – stick them with the pointy end.

Pauline Picks:  Jaipur (Down from #1)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Jaipur (2009)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [1.52]
BGG Rank 113 [7.52]
Player Count 2
Buy it! Amazon Link

Long before Michael got obsessed with boardgames, I tried to get him into card games.  If only I’d been able to convey my enthusiasm for those in a way that could set a fire going in his black little heart.  If only I’d managed to get him as enthused about hearts and rummy as he gets about Concordia and Lords of Waterdeep.  It would have been so much cheaper, and so much more minimalist.  Buying a hundred new games would have been as simple as picking up a new pack of cards.

Jaipur reminds me of the best card games I played with my grandparents as a child, but it’s got a whole load of extra sparkle.  It’s fast, it’s furious.  There’s a little bit of luck, but not too much.  Just like Concordia, it’s a Goldilocks game.  It’s so quick.  It’s so elegant.   It’s surprisingly deep for such an easy, breezy game.

I think that it has things in common with the engine builders that I am so keen on because it is basically a game of minimax and I am all about optimisation.   It’s all about finding the right time to make a trade – where you haven’t left it too long but also haven’t gotten jitters before the big score comes along.  I’ve bought Jaipur for my mother.  I’ve bought it as a wedding present.  I’ve played through the app campaign on both my phone and tablet and we’re pretty far on in the project of wearing out the physical cards.  I just never get tired of this game.

Having said that, there are a few factors that knocked it off of the top spot in my affections.  It’s a two player only game that plays very quickly so you soon develop an understanding of how your common opponents are going to act.  It can occasionally become a little samey as a result, and you need time away before you remember why you liked it so much.  Make no mistake though, as my #2 game of all time I still love it to pieces.

Spice tokens

Michael: It’s a little sad that each of the small-box, two-player quick card games on one of our lists isn’t on the other.   It means you don’t always get what you want from me, and vice-versa.

Pauline:  Do you think that’s a reflection on the state of our relationship?

Michael:  If that were true I’d want to spend my time hanging out with pretty geishas and you’d be happiest in a bazaar selling exotic spices and making so much money you could choke God with your pocket-change.

Pauline:  So that’s a yes, then.

***

Number One on the Meeple Like Us Ten Top Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

Here you are, the only game that matters.  The only game in town.  The only game anyone needs to play, except you know even the #1 game of all time is likely to grow stale after a while.  Still… this is a remarkable achievement made only more remarkable when you look at the competition.  We’ve made fun of all the losers throughout this post – by calling them losers for example – but seriously every one is a fantastic game we’d be happy to play in all kinds of circumstances.    The environment of modern tabletop gaming is so competitive now that merely being exceptional is no guarantor of success.   While lists like this are mainly just a bit of idle frivolity, they also serve as an important way to reward the games that have stayed around beyond their moment in the sun.   Each and every game on this list would have been a credible #1 in another leg of the trousers of time.   If this list had been done on a different day, who knows what might have changed.

We put games in order here, but that order is arbitrary.   Well done to every game that made it onto the list because there were a dozen equally credible candidates that didn’t make the cut.

This one though?  This one is special.

Michael Picks:  Chinatown (In with a bullet)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Chinatown (1999)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [2.30]
BGG Rank 376 [7.25]
Player Count (recommended) 3-5 (4-5)
Buy it! Amazon Link

When I was introduced to Chinatown at the UKGE 2018by Duncan Cowan of Tabletop Scotland, I was interested but no more than that.  ‘Oh, I’ve heard it’s good – I’m in’.

What happened next was one of the purest, most intense gaming sessions of my life.   I came away from it saying ‘That’s definitely a good game, thanks for showing it to us’ but I thought that would be it.

I kept thinking about it.   Whenever my thoughts would drift I’d find them making their way back to the crooked streets and exotic sights of Chinatown.    It was (and is) out of print though and online retailers were selling it at prices that suggest they’d be pretty killer Chinatown players in their own rights.    I’d say I put it out of my mind, but I didn’t because I even took the step of leaving my kennel and venturing out into the world of physical retail looking for a copy.  I failed.

David Wright though, also of Tabletop Scotland, sent me a Facebook message and said ‘Hey, I found a copy and I bought it for you’.   I thought he’d maybe encountered some magical traveling shop during his tour of the Scottish gaming community but it turns out he found it in my own FLGS.

I’m glad he did.   The term ‘in with a bullet’ has never been more appropriate for a charts commentary because Chinatown has basically pulled off a coup here.   I’d say that coup was bloodless but I suspect that at some point the arguments it spawns will end up being resolved with actual gunplay.   Bloodless – as of the time of writing.

Chinatown is a truly amazing game and I hope it comes into print again soon so I can devote my free time to encouraging people to pick it up.

Chinatown year wheel

Pauline:  It’s weird that we put these lists together without conferring and we both ended up with the same new game at the top of our lists.   It’s unusual that we’re ever really so in sync.

Michael: I’m surprised too.  I never expected this to happen.   I had to change my mind on a lot of things to clear the way for Chinatown and you know how much I don’t like changing my mind.

Pauline:  You genuinely do get stuck in your ways.  I was expecting to see your top ten list for this year looking identical to last.

Michael:   It was for the first few drafts.  It takes bloody hours and hours to write a post like this.   I’m forty years old.   Any acturial table will tell you I could die at literally any minute.   I’d say I had better things to do with my life if the evidence of this entire site wasn’t going to so thoroughly refute it.  

Pauline Picks:  Chinatown (In with a bullet)

Review | Teardown ]

Game Details
Name Chinatown (1999)
Accessibility Report Meeple Like Us
Complexity Medium Light [2.30]
BGG Rank 376 [7.25]
Player Count (recommended) 3-5 (4-5)
Buy it! Amazon Link

I’m used to the residential housing market, so a game about trading property is always going to be something in which I’m interested.  Chinatown isn’t about renting or leasing houses, but is instead about building a property empire so lucrative that you can literally destroy your best friends using the money you’ve got in your back pocket.   Chinatown is most interesting in the way that it approaches trade as a completely open game – you can trade anything for anything and I’ve seen those trades include ‘walking home from Perth if you don’t agree’ or ‘It’s easy to get a new wife’ as qualifiers.   I love the cut and thrust of negotiation that comes from a game that doesn’t try to regulate the free market.  If you end up stabbed in a car-park at the end of Chinatown, that’s just how Capitalism works.   I like to think Chinatown is helping me develop genuinely useful knife skills.  Did I say knife-skills?  I meant life-skills.

Haha.

It’s really an amazing game.

Chinatown tiles

Michael:  I really wasn’t expecting you to pick Chinatown for #1.   You seemed a little bit pissed off when I said in the last game that we were going to split up if you didn’t accept my offer of two laundry tiles for a factory.  

Pauline:  No – really, all that threat did was sweeten the deals that other people were offering.

Michael:  That’s only because you weren’t factoring in that I was actually your only transport home at the end of the evening.

Pauline:  A girl with a full laundry to her name will have all kinds of gentlemen offering to drive her home.  

***

Conclusion to the Meeple Like Us Top Ten Best Board Games 2018 Edition!

So, let’s talk about what didn’t make it.   There are a number of games that didn’t survive the year as far as our lists go, and some of them are maybe a little surprising.

Mrs Meeple’s Fatalities

I still love Splendor (#2 last year), but it’s quite algorithmic and I think I’ve pretty much cracked it.   I’ve played it so much on the app that really I think I’ve broken it for myself.   It’s so quick to start up a game and crush the AI that the cost of setting up and tearing down in real life seems hard to pay.  Six minutes for a game versus the time it takes to get a real person to play a real game.    It’s just a victim of its own app’s success really.

Pandemic Legacy (#5 last year) has slipped off mainly because it’s gone horribly, horribly wrong for us.    Also it’s the time needed to play when we also need to fit in a schedule of new games.   The problem with a legacy game is that it requires a commitment that we’re just not always in a position to make.  It’s a really interesting design but we’ve got other things to be doing.  Our combined incompetence has led to a state of affairs that isn’t so much a board-game as it is a humanitarian crisis in a box.   There’s enough bad stuff happening in the world already without our ineptitude making it worse.

Michael is adamant that Scoundrels of Skullport is needed to make Lords of Waterdeep (#8 last year) the game it should be, and to be honest I’m not convinced.  The corruption mechanism combined with the overt nastiness of the increased skullduggery means it’s a lot meaner of a game that it was in its base box.   Plus the D&D theme makes it a bit of a hard sell – usually the only person that will play it with me is Michael and as a result of his time-served on the app he just completely dominates me every single time.

I still really like New York Slice (#10 last year) but really it hasn’t aged particularly well over the 2018.   I think it works better as a novelty game for new groups than it does as a reliable favourite – it’s a cool theme and a neat presentation but for whatever reason we don’t seem to find reasons to play.  Perhaps its strong showing last year was a kind of Stockholm Syndrome – it threw us a rope during a hectic and unpleasant UKGE 2017 and it gained some extra points as a result of being a saviour at a rough time.

Mr Meeple’s Fatalities

One of the things making a list like this does is focus the mind.   What does it even mean to be one of the bestgames ever?  It’s not as simple as picking our highest rated games – we’ve got more of those than we have spaces in the list.  So – what merits a place here?

For me, I used basically two criteria:

  1. Have I played it since last year?
  2. Would I rather play it over all the other games I own in this niche?

Five Tribes (#5 last year) and Imperial Settlers (#6 last year) both ran afoul of the first criterion.   The simple fact is I haven’t played them this year, and that doesn’t really seem like a thing that would be true of one of the best games ever.  Sure, I have a site to run and that requires a constant stream of novelty… but why didn’t I really make the effort to find opportunities to play?  I did for all the others.   I still stand by the statement that these are top tier games well worthy of attention… but somehow I managed to make peace with a year where I didn’t play them even once.

Jaipur (#8 last year) was a victim of the second criterion for me.   It’s a small box, two-player game that can fill an idle half hour with a lot of fun.   In all circumstances where I could play Jaipur though, I’d probably rather be playing Hanamikoji.   Since Mrs Meeple likes Jaipur more, we end up playing both but it’s obvious to me where my heart truly lies.

Blood Bowl (#9 last year) on the other hand was just a victim of its own comparative inconvenience.  I have played it several times this year, and I still hold that it’s a spectacularly fun game.  However, I don’t really enjoy playing it on the tabletop as much as I do in its digital incarnation.   When I think of the setup and teardown time I somehow find myself just clicking on its entry in my Steam library.   It’s great as a tabletop game once you iron out all the little peculiarities but it’ll never achieve the ‘pick up and play’ flexibility of a video game no matter how much I internalise all its byzantine rulings.   If it ever comes to Switch I think I might disappear and never be seen again.

That Table in Full

Here’s the full rundown, with Amazon affiliate links to take you to each game should you be interested in picking it up.

Position Michael Pauline
10 Once Upon a Time Terraforming Mars  
9 Race for the Galaxy  Century Spice Road (With Eastern Wonders) 
8 Innovation  Azul 
7 Concordia  Innovation 
6 Azul  One Night Ultimate Werewolf 
5 Suburbia  Sheriff of Nottingham 
4 Hanamikoji  Concordia 
3 Lords of Waterdeep * Telestrations 
2 Scrabble  Jaipur 
1 Chinatown  Chinatown 


* But only if you are also using the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion.  Otherwise it probably wouldn’t be on here.

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