2018 was another fantastic year for wargamers! As a result, this year’s game of the year was even more difficult to select! I added 67 games to my collection this year which included some instant classics, oldies, and even a few magazine games.
Let’s build up the drama a bit for our 2018 Game of the Year…
The second runner-up is…
Battle Hymn Volume 1 from Compass Games.
This Eric Lee Smith game was the first volume in a promising new series. After a little difficulty unlearning some bad wargaming habits, I had a blast with this title. Civil War games were abundant in 2018. In fact, a number of incredible series released one or more titles. Herman Luttman’s Blind Swords series put out Longstreet Attacks and MMP released Roads to Gettysburg II and Atlanta is Ours.
Battle Hymn took the edge here because it takes what I like most about civil war series and boils it down to the essential elements. The freakish unpredictability of unit performance paired with bloody combat outcomes. As a result, the game just “felt” right to me. I was particularly a fan of the difficult choices players must make when splitting combat values between targets. Excellent way to represent lines of men in combat rather than isolated groups of men!
The next game in the series is already up for pre-order at Compass Games and my sincere hope is that you pick up both volumes!
The first-runner up from GMT Games is….
Skies Above the Reich
I had a hard time with this one, and while I may not love this game, I can honestly say it deserves high praise on every best-of list for 2018. Skies Above the Reich, is an incredible accomplishment.
The rulebook has it right when the designer proclaims that the game begins as you’re setting up the scenario. It does. That didn’t occur to me until my 3rd or 4th play and owes to the fact that I’m slow on the uptake and to the brilliance of this game’s design.
Skies Above the Reich is punishingly difficult. YES, you will lose cherished pilots due to bad rolls and to errant shots. And yes , you will struggle to get fighters where needed to take down escorts. The enemy escorts are efficient killing machines destined to make your flight “a bit choppy.”
One of the greatest feelings, especially with the optional rules, in all of gaming is taking down a bomber. Breaking the box formation and then picking off inbound bombers is rewarding in a way that few other solitaire air games ever achieve. This isn’t even touching upon the tension when a die roll means life or death as a pilot must bail out of their burning plane.
Skies Above the Reich makes solitaire gaming rewarding in a way that few solo games ever achieve. The topic doesn’t resonate as much with me, but even so, let me reassure you that this is a must-own game.
And…finally…the WargameHQ Game of the Year…
Boardgamegeek.com lists this game as a 2017 release, and that may technically be the truth. However, it was at the very end of 2017 and couldn’t be evaluated in the 2017 wargame of the year list. Instead, many gamers got this one in January of 2018. I feel very comfortable calling it a 2018 release.
Pendragon is a milestone game in the COIN series from GMT Games.
Morgane Gouyon-Rety is brilliant. Her ability to look at the prior COIN games and pull just the chrome needed while evolving it to perfect fit the topic and theme was remarkable. There are now eight games in the COIN series with two or three more on the way in 2019.
Pendragon sets an almost impossibly high bar for all subsequent games. Since I can’t talk about all the ways I love this game, please check out my review.
Tension and Self-Doubt
Instead, I’m going to focus on just one element of this game that sets it apart. In this case, I think the idea of mercenary units, Foederati in game terms, is a standout concept. The balance of recruiting mercenaries to your side who WILL eventually turn on you is staggeringly cool. This helps demonstrate the constant struggle that the Britons and Duq’s had to deal with as Danes and other invaders crossed the seas to ancient Britain.
This constant fear is something that the other games don’t necessarily create for players. There is a fear of guerilla uprisings, being wiped out by an incredible card coupled with the equivalent of a seek & destroy mission. Players may even face the fear of a partner faction suddenly overusing shared resources effectively clipping your strategy. The slow burn of Pendragon is somehow deeper and more subtle. It creates an inner turmoil about YOUR decisions and not just the decisions of others because you will make choices that come back to haunt you.
Pick up this game by crook or by hook and get it on the table ASAP!
I am regretful that I can’t include all the games I loved this year. There were many! So…as a consolation, I’m going to create a top 20 wargames of 2018 list for your enjoyment and debate!