Welcome to the 2018 Zatu Selections - our very own board game awards. The main event has arrived and it's time to reveal the winners in the Board Game of the Year 2018 category. These are the stand-out games which can only be described as fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable.
Nick - Coimbra
Wow this was a tough choice! There have been a number of worthy winners for my pick of Game of the Year! Ultimately I came down on the game out of my favourites that had been played the most, and that my nosy friends was the wonderful Coimbra. It’s no surprise really given the games that the designers have on their CVs. Grand Austria Hotel and Lorenzo il Magnifico are two of my all-time favourite games, and while Coimbra is similarly lacking in any real theme to speak of, the game is so smooth and fun that I don’t notice.
Combining unique dice drafting, where the colour and the number of the dice both matter, balancing your income needs with the cards you need to buy and obtaining end game scoring opportunities at the right time. Dice are your primary way of gaining cards, but their colour also dictates which tracks you will earn income from. If you take all green dice, you’ll score a ton of points but be out of pocket next round. I think that it is these income tracks that really add to the level of enjoyment as you are always getting something. Unlike Grand Austria and Lorenzo there are no penalties for not achieving certain thresholds during the game.
Coimbra is a game that has me thinking all the way through. There is always something you can do that is helpful, it’s just that somethings will be more helpful to you than others. If I want to introduce someone to a medium weight game that looks great and plays brilliant, while giving them a good time, then for me there is no other choice.
Simon L - Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon took the title for me as the best game of 2018. There were several titles I would consider for best game, having played 82 different releases from 2018, however Blue Lagoon has something that I think will keep it at the forefront in 2019 as well, and that is replay-ability.
A key metric for winning Spiel des Jahres, I think Blue Lagoon will get another nomination and potentially victory for Dr Reiner Knezia in 2019. It works well with any number of players (2-4) and the innovative "play the game twice, in one game" is rather cool. You place out Polynesian seafarers and you can play them to move between islands and/or collect items/resources. You also place out huts. This dictates where you start from when you play a second time.
Victory is given to the player with the total points (higher than others) and points can be obtained numerous ways: Islands you are on, size of your "chain" of Polynesians (think Through the Desert) and combinations of resources. The game plays fast, under one hour, is easy to teach and pick up (under three minutes), open and many options, ability to disrupt opponents and chance to change your strategy (within the game, both first and second halves) and when you play a whole game again. As per games also previously winning game of the year (yes, confident it will be up there), it’s also reasonable in price, in size and in table space. Friendly for any age.
Ben G - KeyForge
There aren’t many games that come along and try something completely new. There are even fewer games that are successful in doing so. KeyForge, from Fantasy Flight Games and legendary game designer Richard Garfield, is breaking the mould in a hugely impressive way and that’s why it’s my game of 2018.
KeyForge is a unique card game. Every 37-card deck is one of a kind, with 12 cards from three different factions and a unique Archon card to give the deck its identity. There are over 420,000 decks registered on the companion app and the number keeps growing. The fact that every one of these decks is unique and playable makes the numbers even more impressive. But a concept alone wouldn’t be enough to make KeyForge my game of the year. The whole package is everything I’m looking for.
The gameplay is full of tension with meaningful decisions every turn. While combat exists, it’s not the focal point. Instead, players are racing to collect Aember, which adds an interesting twist on the duelling system. Sure, some decks are better than others which can lead to mismatches, but there’s a handicap mechanism to make things a little more even. All in all, it’s rare that I’ve felt hopeless in games. There are so many interactions and decisions that player skill is a key part of the game and good play can give you a chance of winning.
On top of the concept and the gameplay, I love the art. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but each faction is distinct and flavourful, with spins on common fantasy and science fiction themes. I can see myself playing KeyForge for years to come. I’ve loved every game I’ve played in the short time since it was released, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next from Garfield and Fantasy Flight.
Ben S - Chronicles of Crime
Do you enjoy mysteries? Have you ever watched a TV show and thought you could’ve done a better job at solving the crime? Do you enjoy working with others to solve a problem? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you will absolutely love Chronicles of Crime. Not only is it oozing with theme but the technology used also elevates the game above all other detective games out there.
With the use of QR Codes and a VR headset, your task is to search rooms for clues, go to various locations and ask a whole host of individuals what they know about potential suspects. The real genius of the game, and what makes it so realistic, is that you never know whether the characters are telling the truth or spinning lies. This can lead to incredible moments where you suddenly realise the lies that have been told.
If that wasn’t cool enough already, further depth comes through actually having to figure out motives behind the criminals' actions. The artwork is stunning and the fact that the characters can be used as different people in future missions means the game can last for ever and even have the chance to get better! The app works seamlessly, and it all makes for an amazing night of entertainment. Why watch a detective show when you can live it!
Andy P - Architects of the West Kingdom
Architects of the West Kingdom was a game I managed to acquire on a whim not too long ago, but I have no reservations about the game after just a few plays. I’ve managed to get it to the table with three different groups now and I can’t say that I’m interested in stopping. Architects is a lighter form of worker placement game that doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table, but it does adapt generic conventions in a way that feels fresh.
Ideas such as multiple paths to victory and the exploitation of the virtue track contribute to a wonderful package that exudes theme in every nook and cranny. Even the re-implementation of the crew mechanics of Raiders of the North Sea has added flourishes to it, such as the inclusion of skills needed to build specific building types ensuring players explore the deck, not to mention the stack of building plans in which no plan is repeated, leading to new and unique strategic avenues with every play. All of this, and the designer has managed to fill it in a box smaller than a lot of lighter games on the market right now, absolutely stuffed with content and only as large as is necessary.
With the next game in the series on the horizon, I am chomping at the bit to see some form of expansion content for this over the coming years, and I honestly think it can battle it out with Viticulture, Champions of Midgard and Everdell for shelf space in my collection, at least for the foreseeable future.