2018 was my first year on the TechRaptor Tabletop Team, so I’ve been highly invested in this year’s tabletop releases. There’s been some that I didn’t get to cover, as the market is doing incredibly well and stellar products are released every week. I’ve struggled to maintain any kind of roleplaying or wargaming campaign as I’ve been driving my testing group through review products. Picking the top five with tabletop editor Travis Williams was hard, but some products stood out, not just because of how great their mechanics are or how well produced components they have are, but because of how they impacted the market and drove change. Some releases couldn’t be included because they were technically released last year—Shadespire, for example. Although it has had constant releases in its first two seasons, it first appeared in 2017 and has been doing huge work for Games Workshop, standing out as an incredible game but also an incredible hybrid release. We’re seeing more and more games refusing to stick to a genre and grabbing elements from all around and making them work.
Here’s the list of nominees (and here’s the list of nominees for all categories):
- Blades in the Dark (Our Review)
- Dark Souls: The Card Game (Our Review)
- KeyForge (Our Preview)
- My Little Scythe (Our Review)
- Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team (Our Preview)
Here’s what you, the readers, chose and our list of winners for the Board Game of the Year Award for outstanding design in tabletop gaming.
Readers’ Choice – Blades in the Dark
We were pleasantly surprised to see that Blades in the Dark had won the readers’ vote. KeyForge has made some huge sales this year and Kill Team has a huge following. My Little Scythe and Dark Souls the Card Game also provided some stiff competition, but ultimately, the incredible setting and exemplary mechanics have won our reader’s hearts. The dark narrative of the setting is done incredibly well and as summarised in the book, “You’re in haunted Victorian-ear city, trapped inside a wall of lightning powered by demon blood.” Who wouldn’t want to take to those streets to see what mischief you can get up to? The system is fast-paced and appeals to a wide audience. The amount of community content available for Blades in the Dark speaks volumes to its popularity, and we look forward to exploring the setting more in our own games.
Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team
Is Kill Team an entry level product? The more detailed answer though is that yes, Kill Team itself is very much an Entry Level game; it’s just the Starter Set that requires a more experienced level of hobby knowledge. The fact that players are playing with a very small, select amount of miniatures keeps the overall cost very low, as well as being very appealing and a great lead-in to collecting Warhammer 40K full scale. As an example, a player playing a Space Marine Kill Team would be able to buy a few squads for individual miniatures and play with those before looking to create a full force for use in Warhammer 40K, and as the rules are clearly based on and overlap with the Warhammer 40K core rules, players shouldn’t be out of their depth going into 40K afterwards.
We first covered Kill Team in a preview article, and then followed up with a preview of the close confines combat release of Rouge Trader. Since then Kill Team Commanders has also been released, adding further depth to the Warhammer 40K skirmish game.
Kill Team is an interesting game, and while releases appear to have tailed off from the rampage of products in it’s first few months, there are rumours of more release in the future. They have still to release boxed sets for all the factions listed in the rules, and the rumoured Inquisitor expansion would be a sure-fire hit with fans.
I played in two Kill Team Campaigns during the first organised play season, with two different factions and while I had poor results in terms of wins, I had a blast playing it. What we like most about Kill Team is that it’s easy to collect several factions to play in order to try out different play-styles and tactics and the interesting narrative options that Rogue Trader and the Kill Zone expansions provide. The punchy streamlined rules and quick to set up and play games, mean that you can get a couple of games in over a night, or play a campaign over lunchtimes and branching out to full 40K games after isn’t a stretch.
Games Workshop includes the rules for all dedicated Kill Team units for Warhammer 40K and also produced the rules for the recent Blackstone Fortress characters in Kill Team. This level of inclusion across the systems means more value for your buy-in and that can only mean good things for the future of their products.
KeyForge Call of the Archons could be the next big thing in Collectible Card Games (CCGs) / Trading Card Games (TCGs). It’s an incredibly unique concept by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) and the game’s creator Richard Garfield. Richard Garfield created Magic the Gathering, the CCG that has inspired every modern CCG since. We’ve had a blast exploring the four decks we’ve started with and even though we aren’t feeling the two Unique decks, it’s been very interesting playing and learning the decks, seeing what synergies work and which don’t.
Since our preview, we’ve tried out around 30 decks for KeyForge, most of them interesting and fun. Working out synergies and card combinations in decks is where a lot of fun lies and it’s clear how popular KeyForge is. Watching the development and market for the Unique game concept is very intriguing and we can’t wait to see where it leads. When FFG launch the competitive organised play system for KeyForge, it will be very interesting to see what happens with the market and popularity of the game.
While we love playing KeyForge, it’s also an incredible experiment in a market that’s been dominated by a select few card games for years and in the age of digital card games, it’s great to see a new physical product doing well. KeyForge has had some newsworthy press in terms of its naming conventions and double-horsemen deck selling for huge figures on the secondary market. We love KeyForge—the mechanics are solid, the cards are interesting, and the different houses offer enjoyment as you explore how well they work together. It could go either way still for the market, but we hope that it does well, as we’d love to see where they take the concept next.
Third Place – Blades in the Dark
From the Review:
Every so often a roleplaying game is released that is so incredible, so inspiring, that it feels like it actually changes roleplaying for me. Blades in the Dark is a simple, very well produced narrative driven system. The setting is dark and edgy and the book is full of detail and ideas. Playing Blades in the Dark will actually improve your roleplaying or Games Master skills as it brings your attention back to why we play games, and shows you that creating amazing stories with your friends is far more important that anything else.
I’ve played Blades in the Dark several times since my review, and it gets better and better. The system is very easy to get into and the setting is incredibly easy to enjoy. If the setting isn’t for you, Scum and Villainy takes Blades in the Dark to a Sci-Fi setting, and Evil Hat Productions publish and encourage hacks to represent other settings.
I’ve read that some roleplaying groups don’t like the streamlined action and feel it takes away from character/NPC interactions and the depth that makes roleplaying games so enjoyable. Sure, it’s a facet of Blades in the Dark to put fast-paced action first. I’ve roleplayed a five-course fish-dinner in real time before, but that’s not the game Blades in the Dark is. Blades in the Dark is fast-paced, cutthroat, hardcore action at breakneck speed. Plan, execute, escape, and enjoy the spoils, but only briefly; if you don’t take the next job, another crew will.
Second Place – My Little Scythe
From the Review:
My Little Scythe is a triumph. Hoby Chao and his daughter Vienna took the incredible foundation of Scythe and tuned and tweaked it into a game that is the perfect fit for families that are looking for a game that truly is fun for the whole family. The core mechanics of Scythe remain in My Little Scythe, but the game hums at its own pace with its own intricacies and balance. This game isn’t simply ‘Scythe for kids’ although it will directly appeal to kids, and there is enough of Scythe left to keep it interesting for adults. Instead, My Little Scythe is a brilliant iteration of one of the best games ever made designed specifically to be playable by an audience whose normal game choices are oversimplified, boring or both. Kudos to Jamey Stegmaier for recognizing the potential in My Little Scythe and creating such a wonderful product, and kudos to Hoby and Vienna Chao for having the drive, determination and creativity to take the base mechanisms of Scythe and design a game that accomplishes what it set out to do without feeling derivative.
My Little Scythe is still in steady rotation at my tabletop, and for good reason. There is no other game in my collection that I can play with my kids and they can still remain competitive with me even when I’m playing my hardest. I love board games because they are inherently social in nature, and I really love My Little Scythe because it lets me take part in my favorite hobby with my absolute most favorite people in the world. If you have kids and even a passing interest in board gaming, then you should snag a copy of My Little Scythe at your earliest convenience. It truly is something special.
First Place – Dark Souls: The Card Game
From the Review:
The Dark Souls Card Game is very well-designed. Someone will have to sit down with the rules and decks for a few moments, possibly play a solo game, but that’s all it takes, and you’ll understand everything you need to teach other players very quickly. The randomness of the decks ensures variety in games and coupled with the difficulty, there’s a lot of hours of entertainment in the box. The optional rules to modify and create your own decks from each classes starter deck gives me hope that we’ll see expansions with new bosses, character classes, and treasure. It must be noted that this isn’t just for Dark Souls fans, but playing it may make you a Dark Souls fan.
The Dark Souls Card Game is frustrating, at times unbelievably frustrating, but when the bosses’ attack smashes your character, forcing you to draw past your last card and visit the bonfire for the last time, ending the game, you’ll sigh and take a moment, then look at your crew. It’s 04:00, you have work in a few hours, but slowly, one by one, everyone nods, so you clear the boards and shuffle the decks. This time you’ll do it. This time you’ll win for sure.
When I reviewed Dark Souls: The Card Game, it was while I was researching for the Video to Tabletop series of articles we were producing. I covered Dark Souls: The Board Game and the Card Game was an offshoot from Steamforged Games’ Kickstarter. Even though I enjoyed the Board Game, the Card Game had something else. It was my favorite tabletop release in a long time. I tested it with 1, 2, 3, and 4 players, and each time I had a great experience.
The randomized card decks do very well in keeping everything fresh, and just when I thought the ride might be getting old, SFG release Dark Souls: The Card Game‘s first expansion, Forgotten Paths, and I was back. It adds enough variety in enemies, bosses, and new characters to choose that it’s still as interesting and challenging as it was at first, and being a card game, it’s incredibly portable.
I truly hope that SFG maintains the momentum on expansion releases for it, as I think it has the capacity to push the boundaries of adventure card games. Dark Souls: The Card Game is a challenge, but it’s fun and an incredible co-op adventure. So pull up a chair at my gaming table. Shuffle the decks and prepare to die.
We at the TechRaptor Tabletop Team have had an incredible year. We’ve played some incredible games and met some amazing people. We hope that the industry continues to grow and develop, both in terms of products and attitudes. Inclusivity made some steps this year, but it’s not enough. The tabletop needs to be a safe and open environment for all, because having more people play means more growth for the industry, which means better games will be produced for us to enjoy, which can only benefit us all long term.
We look forward to seeing you in 2019. Thank you for all your support in 2018.
What would your pick be for our Board Game of the Year Award? What do you think we got right? What did we get wrong? Let us know in the comments below!