Find out which 2018 board game apps stand out as the best of the best.
We covered some of the big storylines of digital board gaming in 2018 so now let’s take a look at the best of the best from 2018. Compared to 2017, 2018 offered a lot more hidden gems you might not have known you needed, but were thoroughly enjoyable.
Some ground rules for our list. 1) Each game could only “win” one category (see “Honorable Mentions” to see what other categories a game excels in). 2) No Steam games, iOS and Android only and 3) That’s pretty much it.
Without further ado, the 2018 Pixelated Cardboard Best Games of 2018:
Reader's Choice Game of the Year: One Deck Dungeon
The readers have spoken! We ran a poll (full results available here) and the readers chose One Deck Dungeon as their favorite game of the year. Not to spoil it, but this game will also show up on our list below! One Deck Dungeon is a fantastic dice placement dungeon crawler with a lot of depth to keep you coming back. The heroes progress as you play them, unlocking more powerful abilities for use in future games. The game presents a fantastic balance of luck, skill, and difficult decision making.
Honorable Mention: Istanbul, Onitama, Meteorfall
Best Non-Port: Meteorfall
Meteorfall is a great roguelike adventure card game that boils down every action to a swipe left or right. It’s incredibly simple premise disguises the depth and fun of the game in which you must quest through a handful of locations, defeating (or fleeing) monsters you encounter on your way to a final boss showdown. It’s simple and addicting. The thing that really puts this terrific concept over the top, in our book, is the level of support the app has gotten since its initial release. It isn’t a particularly expensive app, but the developer, Slothwerks, has supported it with major free updates which significantly change and add to the game. To buy once and receive that level of ongoing content is really amazing to see.
Honorable Mention: Antihero
Best Update: Lords of Waterdeep (Push Notifications)
Lords of Waterdeep was finally released on Android last year. It was the same decent port iOS had, and the game is a classic. The one thing that really bugged me was lack of system notifications. A few days/weeks later, Playdek updates the app to provide working notification, hooray! Within a day or two of that, however, my phone updated Android versions which introduced significant changes in the way notifications are done. This promptly broke Waterdeep’s system notifications. All hope was lost as Playdek is notoriously expected not to update their apps, but a seemingly innocuous “Updates Pending” message earlier this year had Lords of Waterdeep listed. Could it be? Yes! System notifications had finally arrived (again), and they actually worked! Android owns some of the blame on this, but regardless, we are glad we can play this game and get a ding whenever it’s our turn in asynchronous games. [To be honest, Star Realms adding Arena mode was the much bigger, better update, but we had to find some way to complain about broken notifications in this write-up]
Honorable Mention: Star Realms (Arena)
Best Visuals: Roll For It!
Roll For It! is an incredibly simple game that doesn’t necessarily cry out for a digital adaptation, but we received one this year and it took us by surprise. The attention to the visual, and physical, experience Thunderbox Games gave this app is incredible. The dice look as amazing as digital dice possibly could. The thing that sets the app over the top, however, is the ridiculously fun “shake to roll” control feature. You will find yourself shaking your phone to roll these gorgeous digital dice and realize there’s a lot of fun to be had in shaking your phone uncontrollably. It’s refreshing to see a company who takes time to scratch out every ounce of fun possible from such a simple game, Thunderbox has a great history here and Roll For It! keeps that going.
Honorable Mention: King & Assassins, Onitama
Best Quick Game: Onitama
Onitama is a fantastic take on classic chess. Rather than each piece having their own dedicated moves, moves are determined by cards, and only five cards are used in any given game. This, combined with the very small board, presents players with a minimal amount of information to ponder over to try to trick their opponent into a false move which will open up the win. The experience of successfully baiting an online opponent into using the card I need to pull of my winning move is among the digital board gaming highlights of 2018.
Honorable Mention: Ganz Schon Clever, Cat Lady
Most Surprising Game: Hardback
Hardback is a word game, deck building combo that is the spiritual prequel, but mechanical sequel, to Paperback. Like traditional deck builders, players use their initial hand to purchase better cards, and score points, to build up a stronger deck to buy better cards and score more points. Fairly standard stuff. In Hardback the cards are letters and you use them to spell words, pairing matching genres to activate additional card abilities. The solo mode in this game works well because the AI is very strong and there are a handful of variants you can toggle on or off which keep things fresh. The variants are meaningful, not just small tweaks on the base game, truly adding a lot of variety to the base game. The game breezes by rather quickly, although you can ramp up the required winning score to extend things, and provides a great way to spend ten minutes or so. The game always offers quality online play. We consider Hardback a surprise because it was new in the physical game world this year and the Paperback app was already out there and great. It was a great surprise when the Hardback app hit app stores so quickly after physical release and so quickly after the Paperback app.
Honorable Mention: Indian Summer, Among the Stars
Best Solo Game: Ganz Schon Clever
I don’t follow physical board games terribly closely. I get whiffs of the latest hotness from my Twitter feed, Reddit, and the occasional research trip to BGG, but my group has never been one to keep up with the latest and greatest in the board game world. However, if my Twitter feed is to be believed, roll-and-write games are having a bit of a moment in the board game world. I was so out of the loop that Clever didn’t even register with me when the app was released. Sure, we update our comprehensive database with links, but I was deep in playing another game for review at the time so I didn’t purchase Clever immediately. Over the next few days, however, that darn Twitter feed kept having mentions of Clever pop up. People posting screenshots of high scores and some weird stuff about foxes. Finally, I gave in and grabbed the app. What a disappointment that I didn’t download it sooner. Clever is a point-chaser’s dream come true as you can, and likely will, spend dozens and dozens of plays trying to beat your high score. Clever wraps tough decisions in an ingenious game, and can be played in just a few minutes, you will be glued to your device trying to get a better high score.
Honorable Mention: One Deck Dungeon, Morels
Best Online Game: Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye had kind of a rough start in app form. If you read our initial review, do yourself a favor and read it again now. Some early bugs really got in the way of the game, but thankfully Digidiced did an amazing job of fixing those issues and the game, as it currently stands, is a very good port. We all make mistakes, it happens, we’re just glad Digidiced took the time to fix them, kudos to them for that. Isle of Skye is one of the best asynchronous games out there because the game is suited perfectly for the format. Many games have way too many interactions needed during a game. Some get away with it by having a lightning fast server connection and game loading time (see Race for the Galaxy) while others, quite frankly, don’t get away with it at all (see Stockpile). Isle of Skye avoids the problem altogether by having relatively few actions required by players and making each action have meaningful depth. Anytime you open up an async game of Isle of Skye you are going to have to make some important decisions. And, better yet, you won’t have to open the app all that often compared to other games. This is a great combination that leads to async games finishing in unexpectedly quick times, without sacrificing anything from the really fun underlying game.
Honorable Mention: Istanbul, Onitama, Hardback
Developer of the Year: Handelabra Games
We swear this isn’t going to be a placeholder for “developer who made our favorite game of the year” (whoops, spoiler), but Handelabra gets the call here anyway, as Czech Games Edition did last year. First, they made One Deck Dungeon following a successful Kickstarter in which they hit their time estimate goals with impressive accuracy. Next, they backed that up with loads of extra content, including an expansion that is roughly the same size as the base game itself. In their final One Deck Dungeon-related moment of the year, they sent out a detailed survey to gauge interest in a phone version of the game, which is currently tablet and Steam only. We don’t know if ODD will see phones, but it’s commendable that they are doing their due diligence there, not to mention their unwillingness to simply cram the tablet version onto phone screens. These folks want the best possible experience for users and that shows in their work. They also continued their support of the excellent Sentinels of the Multiverse app with two new expansions. To top everything off, they ran the Aeon’s End Kickstarter last month and announced their next title after Aeon’s End would be Spirit Island which has been widely praised as one of the best, most unique co-ops in recent history. That’s a lot going on in one year and the best part is, we expect a carbon copy of it in 2019. Aeon’s End will come out, and it’s going to be great, and work on Spirit Island will be full steam ahead. Handelabra Games love the work they are doing and the games they are porting, and it shows more and more with each new release.
Honorable Mention: Digidiced, Slothwerks
Game of the Year: One Deck Dungeon
This is one of the most immersive, agonizing, light game experiences we’ve come across. That’s a weird sentence, but bare with us. Immersive; you are dungeon crawling and leveling up your hero throughout, there’s a real sense of progression as you, um, progress through the dungeon and gain skills and generally improve your hero. Agonizing; fight or flight, which loot do you take, stay or descend? So many tough, tough choices that are absolutely vital to winning. Light; it’s a dice placement game and once you get the basic mechanics down the game breezes by in what feels like just a few minutes. Well, sometimes it actually is a few minutes as you meet a very quick death, but usually it’s closer to 20. Most of that is a testament to the game itself, but the important part is that Handelabra gave the great game an amazing implementation to match. An already deep game at launch was given a few smaller content updates before dropping Forest of Shadows as the last content for the game. All this expansion does is roughly double the total amount of content in the game, no big deal. The only gripe here is that the game isn’t on phones, which could really be a dealbreaker for some people, but I find myself grabbing the tablet a lot more frequently since One Deck Dungeon game out which is a true testament to the quality of this game and its digital implementation.
Honorable Mention: Ganz Schon Clever, Hardback