The biggest stories of 2018
We take a look at the biggest stories of 2018 in the digital board game world.
Last year we rounded up 2017 with a list of our favorite games. Don’t worry, we’re still going to do that for 2018, but we wanted to add something a little more this time around, so welcome to our 2018 Year in Review! We will discuss a few of the big headlines from the year and take a brief look at what we expect from 2019. (Links on game names will take you to our reviews).
A Note on Steam
Steam played a bigger role in digital board games in 2018 than it has in the past, at least in terms of AAA, BGG-approved ports. Scythe, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and Terraforming Mars were three of the biggest name ports of 2018 and they all hit Steam first (and thus far, exclusively). As of the time of this writing Terraforming Mars hadn’t been released on mobile, but the developer did say that would come this year. Those are two of the top ten BGG games and one of the most beloved solo games tied to one of the most beloved IPs of all time. We’ve been skeptical of the Steam-first trend around here. The higher prices that Steam can command give developers sound reason to keep the game Steam-exclusive for a while, if not just skip the mobile port completely. We certainly hope developers are maximizing their profits to ensure that more ports can be made, but we hope mobile doesn’t fall further down the priority list going forward. We are certainly hoping to be proven wrong in 2019 and see all of the aforementioned games hit iOS and Android, but one thing is clear; Steam was the place to go for the biggest name ports of 2018.
Lack of Big Names
With all due respect to the games that were released, there was a lack of heat behind the titles which saw mobile release in 2018. Istanbul and Love Letter were probably the two biggest names to hit mobile, but Love Letter’s fit as a digital game was questionable (turns out, it does really well, but I’m sure there are still skeptics). Istanbul is a nice medium weight route optimization game, it’s quite fun and does sit in the BGG top 100 (at 90), but it doesn’t move the needle quite as much as either the titles that his Steam or the bigger names to hit mobile in 2017 (think Through the Ages, Race for the Galaxy, etc…). Aside from those, we mostly got a lot of low-key ports. Many of these are great games, of course, so the great benefit of this was shining a light on some of them. One Deck Dungeon is the dice placement, dungeon crawler you never knew you needed, Among the Stars successfully pulls of “7 Wonders in space, with tile placement”, Hardback proves to be the deck-building word game you want, Onitama is a great take on chess, Isle of Skye blends a few classic euro mechanics, and Cat Lady is the cutest, quickest set collection game on your phone. While we all want the biggest and best games on our phones, sometimes it is nice to discover new favorites you might have overlooked otherwise, and digital ports have always been great for that.
A Couple of Great Non-Ports
The year started out with a couple of really great non-ports. Antihero had been out on Steam, but hit mobile at the beginning of 2018 (or maybe late 2017? Either way, I’m counting it). The game is an extremely streamlined take on 4x, packing a lot of decisions into a short head-to-head battle. It’s an impressive game design feat that you can do so much in such a small space and in a relatively short game time. Meteorfall hit our devices shortly after and provided a great roguelike experience. The card game has you taking on various decks of opponents, building up your own card powers over time. The most impressive part of Meteorfall is the depth. It is a good idea that was made great by adding variety. There were four different heros to choose from to start, each with their own cards and style, but a slew of free updates have expanded the game considerably since the initial launch. What first appeared to be a nice, light card game with some hints of deck building and a fun “swipe left/right’ control mechanic, has morphed into a beast of a game that will keep players busy for a long, long time.
Year of the Solo Digital Game
Without giving away any specific spoilers for our upcoming year-end list, we’ll just say that the games we found ourselves most glued to were solo games. Mainly One Deck Dungeon and Clever. Not that there weren’t quality multiplayer games released in 2018, it’s just that most of them didn’t find a way to crack our regular rotation over existing games. Solo games were an entirely different story as Clever became a goto quick playing point chaser and One Deck Dungeon is among our favorite “longer” plays, clocking in at around 25 minutes a game. The two games hit different ends of the spectrum but they share a common thread of packing really tough decisions into every step of the game, and also dice. Which dice to use, and where to use them is the crux of Clever while One Deck Dungeon forces difficult fight-or-flee decisions along with agonizing choices about what loot to walk away with after a successful battle. Given both are dice placement games, maybe 2018 was the year of dice placement?
Cat Lady came in later in the year and turned out to be one of the most addicting apps out there. The game plays so quickly that it’s really tough to resist “one more play.” The game offers strong AI and a bunch of achievements to chase which kept us coming back again and again and again. Morels also throws its name in this hat. The game does have great online play, but the AI in this two player card game is so strong that you’ll have your hands full trying to win offline games.
If you prefer your digital board gaming in the form of offline play, say on long plane rides, then 2018 was a great year for your phone or tablet.
What's In Store for 2019?
Hopefully 2019 is the year we thought 2018 was going to be. If those top shelf Steam titles hit iOS and Android, that will go a long way to making that dream come true. Additionally, Digidiced has announced a Castles of Burgundy port, one of the modern classics is definitely highly anticipated as is Temple Gates' forthcoming Shards of Infinity (who are also working on a Roll for the Galaxy port).
Handelabra is working on Aeon’s End following their successful Kickstarter which, on the surface, shares a lot with their current wheelhouse of Sentinels of the Multiverse and One Deck Dungeon. Perhaps more interestingly (or not, depending on taste), they will also be working on Spirit Island which may sneak in a late 2019 release. These titles seem destined for an tablet-only release if Handelabra’s history tells us anything. North Star Digital is hard at work on Evolution, a game which went through a Kickstarter late last year and has been slowly rolled out to backers via beta, the game will see full release in 2019. Acram Digital went through a bit of a mess with some Steam snafus earlier this year, but thankfully that has all been resolved and their great catalog of games is available on mobile and PC at this point. One would assume they have something new in the works for 2019, we look forward to hearing about what that will be.
Five Tribes, Gloomhaven, Legends of Andor, Munchkin, Mystic Vale (which has hit Steam Early Access), Viticulture, and Zombicide have also been announced, some are definitely headed to Steam first, others are unknown. As always, keep checking our Upcoming Game Database page to keep up with the latest news on ports in the works.
Non-ports should continue to pop up and surprise as well, as the past two years have had some really good straight-to-digital games which share many similarities with physical board games. And, of course, some of the smaller companies will be working on some great titles as they always are. We’re excited to see what 2019 holds.