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Ars Orbital HQ
The shopping table at Essen Spiel 2018

Around Ars, we wish every weekend could be Essen Spiel (or Gen Con, for our fellow cardboard enthusiasts in the states). Sometimes finding a local gaming group willing to move past old standbys (Catan, again?) or attracting new recruits to gather round a table without Monopoly or Scrabble can be an excruciating exercise. But at these massive gatherings of fans seeking the latest, greatest, and most experimental tabletop experiences in the world, all you do is look for an open seat and enjoy. Never a player shortage in sight.

Spiel wrapped up in Essen last weekend, which means the two big annual board gaming conferences have come and gone for 2018. We've played a ton of cool stuff. There's a brand-new edition of Arkham Horror, the big, messy granddaddy of all Cthulhu board games. The slick Blitzkrieg tries to condense the Second World War into 20 minutes (which might sound a touch ambitious but came out remarkably fun). And we may or may not have gotten our hands on a Glory to Rome reprint on top of it all.

So for this week's Orbital Transmission, we're reopening our notebooks and highlighting a few of the best things we've played so far in 2018. If your local gaming group feels like branching out beyond the usual fare this coming weekend, consider this the call to action.

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Orbital Transmission 11.07.2018
<em>Villainous</em>

Being bad (and officially licensed) gets fun in Villainous

Taking our favorite pop culture across mediums and translating it to the tabletop is a time-honored tradition, and 2018 was no exception. We enjoyed Fallout. We really enjoyed the minifigs of Star Wars: Legion. But shockingly Villainous—a widely available, Disney-themed card game—has been our favorite in this particular sub-category so far. "A unique feature of Villainous is just how... unique everything is. Each player has a unique player mat, unique win conditions, two unique decks of cards, and a unique plastic player pawn," reviewer Nate Anderson wrote. "With six villains—Prince John, the Queen of Hearts, Ursula, Jafar, Captain Hook, and Maleficent—in the box, there's lots to explore here."

Mind

The minimalism of Mind is either brilliant or baffling

When you open a fresh board game box, what do you expect inside? Would a deck of cards and a bare minimum ruleset—players cooperate to play cards from their hands in ascending order, 1-100, without talking—be enough? For some, the experience of playing Mind has been transformative, its minimalistic mystique making it one of the best gaming experiences of 2018. Others, well, see a dull game loved by a bunch of Kool-Aid drinkers. The best way to find out which group you relate to more is simply to play. Ars' own skeptical reviewer Charlie Theel soon found himself an unexpected fan: "The Mind is one of those games that can drive its hooks into the deeper recesses of your brain."

Scythe lays out a blueprint for all other cardboard-to-digital transitions

Tired of rerunning Monopoly or Chess when you're wanting a cardboard fix but stuck at your monitor? We loved the IRL version of Scythe—a complex German-style game that combines worker placement, area control, resource management, a little combat, and a point salad scoring—back when we reviewed the most hyped board game of 2016. Now it's been translated for the Steam crowd with a digital version, and things surprisingly hold up. Turns out that when you add a pretty manageable UI and automate a lot of the game's complex logistics for users, you might actually gain something as you lose the board and transport everything to digital. "Scythe: Digital Edition sets a new standard for porting complex Euro-style cardboard titles to the digital realm," said Ars reviewer Keith Law.

Root minifigs

Stiff competition for "Board Game of the Year, 2018 edition"

Each December, Ars puts together a list of our favorite board games from the year (prepare your wishlists, accordingly). The competition with just two months remaining looks fierce. The current Spiel des Jahres (a "game of the year" award doled out by German critics) winner, Azul, felt like an instant classic with its simple setup and tile-rific gameplay. Or, we adored the box-version of Istanbul, but we may have liked the stripped down, rubies-collecting race of its dice game even more. And nothing looks as slick as the woodland warfare of Root, which luckily plays just as beautifully. Weekends from here on out will involve rigorous playtesting of both titles new (Pathfinder!) and old.

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