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Matt Montgomery
Now Boarding is a real-time cooperative game in which you pick up and deliver passengers.

Every year, hundreds — if not thousands — of board games are released. Many are fun, some are good and a few are excellent.

Here are 10 games from 2018 that broke new ground, introduced new concepts or simply made delightful experiences among family and friends.

'Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig'

Matt Montgomery
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game about cooperating with your neighbors as you try to build the best castle on the table.

2–7 players, 45–60 minutes

Putting aside the fairly unwieldy name, "Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig" is an elegant drafting game that will test your ability to cooperate with your neighbors. In it, you build a castle with the players sitting on either side of you, and your end-game score will be the worst of your two castles.

"Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig" combines two previously published games: "Between Two Cities," which is where the neighbor-building idea comes from, and "Castles of Mad King Ludwig," which is the source for the way the game scores.

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'Hardback'

1–5 players, 45–90 minutes

Matt Montgomery
Hardback

A word-building game cut from a different cloth than the classics, "Hardback" is an excellent game from Utah designers Jeff Beck and Tim Fowers. As a deck-building game, you start with just a handful of cards, each of which has a different letter on it.

Each turn, you start with five cards to build words from, and you can turn cards over to use them as any letter of your choosing. As you build words, you earn money to spend on new letters to add to your deck.

"Hardback" is a word game that doesn't necessarily reward loquaciousness. Even players who aren't as geared that way can find ways to be successful.

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'The Mind'

2–4 players, 15 minutes

One of the stranger games from 2018, "The Mind" is a cooperative game where players are forbidden from obvious communication while they play cards from their hand to ascending order.

With only a few mistakes allowed throughout eight-plus rounds, players have to figure out how to communicate without speaking, signing or otherwise indicating the cards they have in their hand.

It's a simple concept, but it's a difficult one to master. Every group will be different, and there's basically nothing you can do to help your fellow players figure the game out. It's a new experience every time.

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'Now Boarding'

2–5 players, 30–60 minutes

Matt Montgomery
Now Boarding is a real-time cooperative game in which you pick up and deliver passengers.

Another Tim Fowers-designed game, "Now Boarding" is a cooperative game in which players pick up passengers and deliver them to their destinations. But unlike most games with that pick-up-and-deliver idea, this is played entirely without players taking turns — it's done in real-time instead.

Each player takes on the role of an airline, and each airline can access hubs that provide shorter routes unavailable to the others. Rounds are divided into two phases. In the first phase, players communicate and plan what routes they'll take. In the second phase, players execute on their plans after seeing what new passengers arrive.

"Now Boarding" may have a theme that's based firmly in the real world — no dragons, mages or Hobbits here — but it's tense and exciting as players rush to make sure passengers get to their destinations. If too many passengers leave unhappy, everyone loses.

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'Pandemic: Fall of Rome'

Matt Montgomery
In Pandemic: Fall of Rome, players defend ancient Rome against marching hordes of barbarians.

1–5 players, 45–60 minutes

"Pandemic: Fall of Rome," a sequel to the now-classic cooperative board game "Pandemic," is a take on the decline of the Roman Empire as it falls to barbarian hordes. Players must work together to stop barbarians — think disease cubes in "Pandemic" — as they march toward Rome.

To win the game, everyone has to work together to defeat or form treaties with five different groups of enemies. If they can't do it in time, or if Rome falls, everyone loses together. It's a refreshing take on the "Pandemic" series, and it provides distinctive gameplay to differentiate it from its sibling games.

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'Railroad Ink'

1–6 players, 20–30 minutes

One of the biggest surprises of 2018 was the rise to prominence of "roll and write" games, which take a randomized element, usually several dice (hence the name, though sometimes cards are used). Think "Yahtzee," but with a bit more variety.

"Railroad Ink," one of the biggest successes in the genre, has players drawing railways and roads on a dry-erase map. Every player's turn is taken simultaneously after a set of four dice are rolled for the table, with each die featuring either a railway path, a road path or some combination of the two. You score points at the end of the game by connecting exits on your map to your network of routes, but you lose points if your networks don't go anywhere at all.

There are actually two versions of this game: Similar to the classic Pokémon games, it comes in "Blazing Red" and "Deep Blue" varieties. Each game offers the same gameplay, but each also includes two expansions. "Red" gives you lava and comets to deal with, while "Blue" provides rivers and lakes.

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'Reef'

Matt Montgomery
Reef is an abstract game with brilliant visuals.

2–4 players, 30–45 minutes

From the publisher that brought the 2017 hit game "Azul" to the masses comes "Reef," an abstract game in which players build a coral reef and attempt to match patterns to score points.

From the outside, it's a simple game with chunky tokens — it could almost be mistaken for a children's game, and players can learn the premise in just a few minutes. Beneath the surface is a game that requires surprisingly deep strategy to be successful.

"Reef" is perfect for younger players, who will be able to accomplish all the tasks without getting confused, and for more experienced players, who will find the strategy engaging.

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'The River'

Matt Montgomery
The River is a game for two to four people in which players build a riverside settlement.

2–4 players, 30–45 minutes

"The River" is a lightweight European board game in which players gather stone, wood and bricks as they build towns along the riverside.

One of the more prominent genres in modern board gaming is "worker placement," in which players perform an action on their turn by moving a player piece to a board, potentially blocking other players from performing that action.

"The River" is a game in the worker placement style that doesn't deviate too far from the norm, but it's a game that doesn't go too deep. Where many worker placement games can take two to three hours to complete, "The River" plays in under an hour. It also doesn't feel like the game has been gutted. Although the decision space is fairly limited, each turn has players making meaningful decisions.

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'Root'

2–4 players, 60–90 minutes

One of the biggest success stories in 2018 is "Root," an asymmetric game that pits two to six players against each other. Each faction has a different goal, and their turns are all structured differently.

For example, the Cats aim to retain control of a forest, while the insurgent Eyrie take over as much land as possible, the Alliance gain secret influence across the map and the Vagabond sells to both sides.

It's ultimately a deceptive game: "Root" is a tense war game set in a delightfully cartoonish world of cats, birds, mice and raccoons. With each player seeking a different goal, you're likely to have players itching for more, win or lose.

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'Welcome To … '

1–100 players, 25 minutes

One of the surprises in 2018 has been "Welcome To …," a game in which players build a neighborhood by drawing cards and writing on a personal board.

"Welcome To … " advertises itself as being suitable for up to 100 players at a time. In it, players draw cards with house numbers, then write those house numbers in their neighborhoods — but they have to do it without duplicating numbers or writing them in the wrong order.

In addition to writing the house numbers, players will have a chance to build pools, parks and fences to earn points from objective cards. The whole thing plays in under half an hour, so it could be a perfect family reunion game if you can pin everyone down.

Matt Montgomery
Welcome To... has players build a neighborhood in a game that bills itself as being for 1 to 100 players at a time.

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Honorable mentions

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  • "Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra," a game of building beautiful stained glass windows
  • "Betrayal Legacy," a campaign variant on the classic "Betrayal at House on the Hill"
  • "Carcassonne: Safari," a fresh spin on the classic German tile-placement game
  • "Cosmic Run: Regeneration," a push-your-luck space exploration game
  • "Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game," a deduction game with mysteries solved by real-world research
  • "Duelosaur Island," a two-player game of sequencing dinosaur genomes and building a theme park
  • "The Estates," a cutthroat auction game of city building
  • "Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar," a modern remake of the 1986 classic children's game
  • "Forbidden Sky," a cooperative game where players try to launch a rocket ship
  • "Keyforge: Call of the Archons," an innovative card game from the creator of "Magic: The Gathering"
  • "Haven," a two-player area control game
  • "Illusion," a social game of optical illusions
  • "Just One," a cooperative party game of finding mystery words
  • "Megaland," a press-your-luck game of fighting video game monsters and picking up coins
  • "Ravine," a quick-playing cooperative game of surviving a plane crash
  • "Rising Sun," a negotiation game set in feudal Japan with giant monsters
  • "Shadows: Amsterdam," a game of private investigators searching for clues with just abstract cards to guide them
  • "Stuffed Fables," a cooperative game perfect for kids
  • "Sunset Over Water," a set collection game with a relaxing plein-air theme
  • "Tiny Epic Zombies," a big zombie-fighting game in a tiny box
  • "Tokyo Jidohanbaiki," a small box with rules for over a dozen different games
  • "Treasure Island," a game of buried treasure with one player as Long John Silver and everyone else as treasure-seeking pirates
  • "Western Legends," a cowboy simulation inside a board game