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Top 10 Board Games of 2008

The best board games of the year

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2008 was a great year for board gamers, particularly if you enjoy cooperative games or race games. I happen to be a fan of both. The top three games on my list of the best board games published in 2008 are cooperative games (and the Merlin's Company expansion for Shadows Over Camelot, my #1 board game of 2005, is not even listed). As for race games, any one of about eight new games could have made my list, but I settled on one. This year's list of the best board games also includes two deep strategy games, a light strategy game, a dungeon-themed game, a sports game, and a simple dice game.

1. Pandemic

Pandemic
Image courtesy of Z-Man Games
For 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Matt Leacock, published by Z-Man Games and Pegasus Spiele.
Pandemic is an addictive board game in which all the players work together in an effort to eradicate four diseases from the world. Playing against the game system, they must travel the world to contain infections while developing the cures. I've played about 10 times, and every game has been packed with tension. This would be a great addition to any family game night. Pandemic was named Family Game of the Year by Games magazine. An expansion is scheduled to be published in 2009.

2. Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories
Image courtesy of Asmodee Editions
For 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Antoine Bauza, published by Asmodée Editions and Repos Production.
In this cooperative game, players move through a house using special powers to hunt ghosts. The 3x3 gameboard is randomly laid out to start the game, with a player board on each edge. Each player is a ghost hunter with a unique power. On each turn, you first reveal a ghost card and then put it in play (sometimes in front of yourself, sometimes in front of another player). You can then move a space and either take an action or attempt an exorcism. The ghosts also have special powers, and they are not easy to defeat. Ghost Stories' artwork deserves special mention; it is gorgeous.

3. Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica
Image courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games
For 3 to 6 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Corey Konieczka, published by Fantasy Flight Games.
Based on the Sci Fi Channel television series of the same name, Battlestar Galactica is the third cooperative game to make my best-of list for 2008. Each player takes the role of a character from the show (10 characters are available) as they work together to save humanity. Among the obstacles players will face are enemy ships, robot invaders, and dwindling resources. Further complicating things, greatly, is the fact that one or more characters in every game is secretly aligned with the enemy Cylons. As with most games published by Fantasy Flight, the components are excellent.

4. Lost Cities: The Board Game

Lost Cities: The Board Game
Image courtesy of Rio Grande Games
For 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Reiner Knizia, published by Rio Grande Games and Kosmos.
In 1999, the original Lost Cities (a two-player card game) was published. Since then, it may very well be the card game that I've played the most. In Lost Cities: The Board Game, players lead a team of four adventurers and a researcher as they try to discover lost civilizations. The danger for players is that any adventurer or researcher who does not progress far enough down a path will count as negative points at the end of the game. In Europe, Lost Cities: The Board Game was published as Keltis and won the 2008 Spiel des Jahres, Germany's award for Family Game of the Year.

5. Stone Age

Stone Age
Image courtesy of Rio Grande Games
For 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Bernd Brunnhofer and Michael Tummelhofer, published by Rio Grande Games and Hans im Glück.
An excellent middleweight strategy game set in prehistoric times, Stone Age challenges players to convert raw resources (gold, stone, brick, and wood) into victory points -- while making sure to feed their workers. There is a good amount of dice-rolling in the game, adding a random element. I found that it increased the excitement, but some players will be turned off by the role that chance plays in an otherwise strategic game. Stone Age was named Family Strategy Game of the Year by Games magazine.

6. Descent: The Road to Legend

Descent: The Road to Legend
Image courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games
For 2 to 5 players (best with 4 or 5), ages 12 and up. Designed by Kevin Wilson, published by Fantasy Flight Games.
This expansion for 2005's Descent: Journeys in the Dark adds campaign rules to the excellent dungeon exploration game. (I regret that the original was not on my list of the best board games of 2005. It would have been if I had played it that year.) In Descent, one player is the Overlord while the others are adventurers trying to overcome creatures and other obstacles to win a scenario. The Road to Legend turns it into an adventure that is played out over many sessions. Adventurers begin with fewer powers than in basic Descent, but they improve over time. For hardcore fans of Descent, The Road to Legend is a must-buy.

7. Pizza Box Baseball

Pizza Box Baseball
Image courtesy of On the Line Game Company
For 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Erik Smith and Scott Smith, published by On the Line Game Company.
A follow-up to the tremendously fun Pizza Box Football, Pizza Box Baseball is another fun sports game. Each player plays one card per at-bat, with the resulting combination determining the outcome. There are four levels of gameplay available, with each level adding new elements. For example, level two adds stealing and bunting; level three adds different results based on who is batting; and level four adds the ability to use different pitchers. This is a family friendly, fast-paced game that is packed with fun and excitement.

8. Kayak Chaos

Kayak Chaos
Image courtesy of SimplyFun
For 2 to 4 players (best with 3 or 4), ages 8 and up. Designed by Don Beyer, Mike Morgenstein, Ray Eifler and Steve Gross, published by SimplyFun.
This game does a great job of feeling like a quick race down a raging river, as players navigate the ever-changing set of eight river tiles. The gameplay in Kayak Chaos is controlled by cards which, when managed well, allow players to improve their own situation while making the river less friendly for their opponents. Other race games published in 2008 which could have made this list include Powerboats (racing speedboats), Leader 1 (bicycles), Snow Tails (dog sleds), Ice Flow (arctic explorers), and Fast Flowing Forest Fellers (log rollers).

9. Sushizock im Gockelwok

Sushizock im Gockelwok
Image courtesy of Zoch Verlag
For 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Reiner Knizia, published by Zoch Verlag.
Collecting sushi is good in this light dice game, but fish bones are bad. By the end of the game, you are likely to have some of both. The sushi tiles are worth 1 to 6 points, while the fish bone tiles are worth -1 to -4 points. At the start of the game, all 24 tiles (a dozen sushi and a dozen fish bones) are placed in the middle of the table, available to all players. As the tiles are claimed by rolling certain combinations of dice, it is possible to steal from each other as well as taking from the central supply. When the final tile is taken from the supply, the player with the highest score is the winner.

10. Le Havre

Le Havre
Image courtesy of Lookout Games
For 1 to 5 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published by Lookout Games.
This heavy strategy game is a follow-up of sorts to last year's Agricola (same designer, same publisher), which I ranked as the #3 board game of 2007. Although it did not strike me as strongly as Agricola did, Le Havre is nonetheless outstanding. Players have many choices on each turn, although ensuring that you have enough food for your workers is a constant concern. Basic goods (e.g., clay and iron) can be upgraded (e.g., to bricks and steel) in some of the available buildings, and making the most of the goods you acquire and produce is a key to success. In the end, victory in Le Havre goes to the player who amasses the largest fortune.

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