Check out all of the biggest stories and games from the first half of 2019
The first half of 2019 is in the books, which makes for a nice time to sit back and take stock of what the year has brought so far. This will be a loosely formatted rambling of thoughts, we’ll be sure to mention as many of our favorite games as possible from 2019, along with the biggest stories and anything else that pops into our heads.
A Hodgepodge of Releases
Taking stock of the full list of games released, there is a ton of variety. We saw some digital originals, length adventure style games, deck builders, engine builders, strategic card duels, and one stone cold classic Euro thrown in as well. The headline here is that there was no dominant storyline in the first half of the year. If you follow the space, there’s a really great chance you found a new game to love over the past six months, but there was also the potential that you didn’t find many, depending on your tastes. I’d say deck building had the biggest half year overall, with Shards of Infinity and Mystic Vale being two of the highest profile releases, but you could make the case for adventure games with Legends of Andor and Zombicide. Overall, the first half of 2019 had more breadth than depth.
Playdek, Inc. Returns
Playdek was one of the early heavy hitters in the digital board game space, but their output stalled a few years ago. Some of their titles got swallowed up under the Asmodee Digital publishing title and many of them got left behind in the iOS app-ocalypse. They did surface to bring Lords of Waterdeep to Android in 2017, but had otherwise been relatively quiet until 2019. The fun began with the release of Fort Sumter, Playdek’s first new game in some time. It was well made and enjoyable, as you’d expect from Playdek. More exciting news came at the tail end of June when it was announced that Fluxx would be returning from the app-ocalypse not only on iOS but also hitting Android for the first time. The more strong developers the digital board game space has, the better, so we are excited to see Playdek re-entering the ring and look forward to their future projects.
THE Big Announcment
Dire Wolf Digital set the niche digital tabletop world on fire in January when they announced a ridiculous, unprecedented list of games they would be porting to digital. Raiders of the North Sea, Mage Knight, Root, Sagrada, Yellow & Yangtze, and Wings of Glory were simultaneously announced as being in the pipeline. Not only that, but the game to be released first, Raiders of the North Sea, was to hit Switch as well as your phones, tablets, and PC! The excitement didn’t last very long, however, as Raiders of the North Sea was announced to be a Q1 release. It’s now officially Q3 and it is nowhere to be found. The company did post some pictures of it on social media in late March and apparently had a demo at PAX East, so it does exist in some form, but they have been silent on the matter for a few months now, so you can’t help but wonder what’s going on. Hopefully they are working through some issues and will be back on track soon, the whole digital tabletop world is waiting!
We have been invited to beta tests in the past, but it wasn’t something we really kept on top of for some reason. Most of them require you to ask to be allowed in some form, and having enough on our plate already, we didn’t really take the chance to try to play many betas. That changed in 2019 and now we are drowning in betas. We have no less than six games thoroughly beta tested at the moment, waiting for release so we can check out those finishing touches and post reviews. In fact, between the time we wrote the first draft of this post and hit "publish", one of those betas actually released! It was Santorini. It’s been fun getting the chance to play these games early, but it’s been tough not being able to share many of the details with the world!
My favorite app of 2019 has been Castles of Burgundy, hands down. This is a case of an A+ game getting an A- implementation. It isn’t perfect, but it is very good and the game is so good that I can overlook the small issues I have with the app. Beyond that, Shards of Infinity is pretty close to the inverse of that, a B+ or A- game which got an A+ implementation. Temple Gates Games does great work, they are unparalleled in many regards, and Shards is no exception. The app is snappy, the AI is great, everything looks great and just works. The game is a strong base of an attacking deck builder, but needs some expansions to start fleshing things out a bit more, and those haven’t arrived yet.
Elsewhere, Zombicide and Legends of Andor both provided a lot of fun in their adventure scenarios. In a weird twist of genre expectations, it was the zombie slasher which had some light RPG character progression elements while the fantasy game reset you with each new quest, but both were a lot of fun and provide many hours of questing on your mobile devices.
Mystic Vale is a well made port of a decent game, but fell a bit short on the feature list (notably, no asynchronous play) and game depth (new expansions have been rolling out, however, to help) to really hit home for us. Twice as Clever is a really great sequel to the original, it is a dice-rolling, point-chaser’s dream. The app is limited to solo, but does present that mode very well.
Evolution might be the most polished app release we’ve seen, it is simply loaded with features and content. The only missing feature is asynchronous play, which is certainly a big one, but there is still a lot to like about the app. I think the effort on the app was amazing, but the underlying game is just okay. It’s an engine builder but, as I will paraphrase a recent analysis I read elsewhere, plays out like a game of rock-paper-scissors. You are either a carnivore, a defensive herbivore, or a food grabbing machine of a herbivore. Whichever one you pick leaves you vulnerable to one of the other two while giving you the advantage over the other. It’s not that this is a bad system, it is just one that ended up feeling a bit same-y over time. The best news, perhaps, to come out of this is that North Star Digital now exists and has proven they can make really great implementations, it you look at their catalog of games, you might get excited about any future releases they might produce.
On the digital original side, we reviewed Mythical, Solar Settlers, and Feud. Mythical is a Dominion clone, hoping to capitalize on the lack of a good way to play that game on mobile devices. It is decent, but odd art choices and some lack of playtesting on some of the card combos held it back. Solar Settlers is a really clever mash up of Euro mechanics into a quick playing solo game. It’s tough to explain briefly, but it is fun and tough. Feud is a new take on chess which shines in its simplicity, and is also a lot of fun. Tournament of Dragons is a reskin of For Sale, so not quite original, but it was given a gorgeous new retheme and a snappy app.
Tides of Time and Assembly are the only two we haven’t mentioned yet. Tides of Time received the vs-AI only treatment with the dreaded “we’ll add online is the demand exists” line. It’s actually pretty well made, but the shelf life on a card drafting game only against AI is pretty short. Assembly is a really fun little puzzle game produced by a small developer and given a digital port as an exercise in learning how to program, which is a great story. The best part is, it’s really well made! It’s solo only and not the prettiest app to look at, but it all works really well and lets you play a fun puzzle game.
July is going to start out fast with Aeon’s End likely hitting full Steam release, Fluxx, and Lorenzo il Magnifico releasing on Steam before the end of the month. Three wildly different games, all worth your attention for varying reasons. Santorini got things started with an early July release.
Aeon’s End is a co-op deck builder that I like to describe as a mix of Sentinels of the Multiverse (you are constantly putting out fires and working together) and Legendary (deck building, but also putting out fires). It twists deck building in some very interesting ways. Lorenzo is from the design team which has produced some highly regarded games such as Grand Austria Hotel. I’m always very intrigued in getting a straight up heavy Euro in digital form.
Beyond that, we can hope to see Raiders of the North Sea at some point this year, no guarantees of course. Terraforming Mars mobile is currently in beta testing, which will obviously be a huge release when it happens. There’s always a surprise release or two in the mix as well, maybe one of those games that has been sitting on our Upcoming Games list for months/years will be dropped? I promise you there is a company out there working on a port that isn’t anywhere close to our being on our radar.
We have hit one of our periodic lulls in content lately. Early summer was a drought period for new apps, so our content slowed down a bit. Don't fret, we'll be on top of all of these upcoming releases this month and beyond. We also have some other features and off-topic ramblings in the pipeline, so you should be hearing more from us soon, whether you want to or not!