Welcome to the 2018 Zatu Selections - our very own board game awards. It's time for the publishers to take to the stage as our team of writers select their Publisher of the Year 2018! Whether they released a number of great games, one or two excellent games, or simply upgraded and improved older games, these are the publishers which stood out from the crowd in 2018.
Louis N - Roxley Games
For me, publisher of the year would have to be Roxley Games, particularly for the production of Brass: Birmingham and Brass: Lancashire. Whilst their previous games have all been produced to a good standard, I think 2018 saw them really up their game. Their production of both versions of Martin Wallace's Brass revealed them as a publisher who knows how to take a really solid game design but give it a real touch of quality.
The role of the publisher, in the case of Brass, is a challenging one. Brass has been available for over a decade, so it already has a reputation as a solid game. However, Roxley, a publisher known mostly for a stable of lighter games such as Santorini and Super Motherload, has demonstrated an attention to detail in the production values of both 2018 versions of Brass.
Roxley games are remarkable in that they are all published in relatively shallow boxes (think of all the games which take up far too much shelf space). It is even more impressive that they have managed to fit either retail version of Brass into a similarly slim box. The quality of the components – nice thick, chunky tiles, and especially player boards, linen finish cards – has been surpassed by the beauty of the game boards. The artwork is thematic – dark and grubby – but retains an impressively high standard of usability. Functionality of the board has not been compromised in favour of theme.
And no discussion of the quality of the components of Brass would be complete without mentioning the clay chips which were included in the Kickstarter versions of the games, but could also be ordered as an optional extra. I have yet to see any chips which are more elegant, more beautiful, and more tactile. Well done, Roxley. You really nailed that one.
The Game Shelf - Plan B Games
Coming off the back of huge success with Azul and the Century Spice Road trilogy, Plan B Games had an amazing 2018! With their acquisition of Eggertspiele, they added some medium to heavy weight games into their catalogue and brought their amazing production quality to Camel Up – a family favourite and Spiel des Jahres winner.
This year, Plan B Games released Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, Coimbra, Blackout Hong Kong, Century: Eastern Wonders, Reef and the Camel Up reprint, which have all met with high praise. Coimbra has been our personal favourite – a medium weight Euro game in a beautifully colourful setting, with really interesting dice drafting mechanics. Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra did not live up to the original game for us, but many gamers have started to show a preference for the stained glass version over the original, with its slightly more complex mechanics.
Reef also really stood out to us, as a game that I think truly follows on from Azul, introducing slightly more complex ideas into a family weight game, with really tactile components that I can introduce to new people.
Right now, Plan B are my publisher to watch, with continued high quality releases. They’re one of the only publishers where I’m desperate to add all of their little expansions to my collection, so I’m waiting for the Coimbra cards and Reef fish to join our games on the shelves!
Tom G - Roxley Games
There was one clear choice for this award for me. Roxley Games have managed to take a great game and make it that little bit better, while also publishing an entirely new entry into the series and completely re-doing the whole artwork and theme of the original. Roxley Games have taken a Wallace classic and created not one, but two fantastic games that are incredibly well themed, beautifully designed and give players a really rewarding experience.
Both Brass Lancashire and Birmingham have been real success stories in 2018, with many great reviews for both! I have managed to play both games and they are fantastic, Roxley having done a great job! Therefore, I think they are deserving recipients of Publisher of the Year!
Nick W - Awaken Realms
Publisher of the Year is a difficult one to judge for me; should it be the most prolific, a new comer, the best customer service? Ultimately, I went with a publisher that I believe had a big year and that publisher is Awaken Realms. Currently running the story driven Tainted Grail on Kickstarter and gaining a name for themselves for stuffing their projects full of stretch goals and extras, Awaken Realms look like they’ll be having an equally big 2019.
My first experience with them was This War of Mine, a game that although not ultimately ‘for me’ I could appreciate the production level and attention to detail applied to the project. Their follow up, Lords of Hellas (hit retail in 2018 so it counts!), is widely regarded as one of the best area control games out there. In 2018 they also took The Edge Dawnfall back to Kickstarter for a hugely successful run. The war chest box is packed with so much content it’s scary and having it all in one massive box offers a true challenge to other skirmish games with a more collectable nature.
If all this wasn’t enough, they took on the world of Alien with their own version in Nemesis. Nemesis is a great game of tension and organic storytelling as you and your ship mates attempt to survive the intruder threat while trying to decide if you are all working towards the same goals or not. Awaken Realms have had a big year with a huge output while maintaining a very high level of component quality and gameplay richness.
Simon L - Garphill Games
Choosing one publisher that stands out, based on one calendar year can be tricky. There are publishers/companies that produce games that I like, relate to and at places like UKKGE and Essen are places I would go to first to check out their latest offerings. These include Z-Man Games, Asmodee, Days of Wonder, Stonemaier, Blue Orange, Czech Games Edition and some smaller publishers such as ITB (Sub Terra, Newspeak – which I played pre-release). Others produce games I tend to not love the majority of, such as Fantasy Flight Games (X-Wing and many fantasy games) and CMON ( Although I love Zombicide).
My pick for Publisher of the Year only produced one game that I can recall playing in 2018, a game I’ve funnily enough mentioned before. He, Shem Phillips, is a designer and owns the company he publishes through. Whilst a risk, he still has a lot to consider to get the final game out and by keeping the same artist, Mihajlo Dimitrievski, he has produced a brand. With the artist (I don’t know what style and direction Shem Phillips gives, if any) he has become something of an auteur.
Whilst the boxes sizes (from memory) have varied, the production quality he has used as remained (perhaps the risk of change is a factor and his success with his current output means he hasn’t needed to change).
Like any artist, there is a risk of being typecast in relation to only producing, say, worker placement games. He has mixed this up with Explorers of the North Sea and innovating the worker placement design in his 2018 release, Architects of the West Kingdom (as well as moving away from “North Sea” reference….however the Nordic look is still there (so there is a tangible link I mentioned earlier).
Whilst I have played Raiders of the North Sea (with expansions) I didn’t find it as compelling as some other worker placements (perhaps I’ve been spoilt and also played the cream of the crop), but having really liked the pickup and deliver element (have also enjoyed this mechanic in other games….and prefer its implementation than in Five Tribes) I was glad to see he (perhaps took his time to) produce a game that many, both UK and further afield (the USA in particular) have placed highly for 2018.