During the last few weeks, I set myself a challenge – to dust off the board games I didn’t play too often, look at some new games and revisit a few old favourites. The plan was to play at least one game of a sequential letter of the alphabet over 26 days. I completed this at the end of April. This article is my reflections of those 26 days and summarises just one game for each letter of the alphabet. (Plus a 27th game for those beginning with a number.) Welcome to the Alphabet Soup of Board Games, Part 2.
Nathan's Alphabet Soup of Board Games
The first of today's alphabet soup board games isn't really a board game at all! Jenga, a family building game for players of all ages, arrived on the game scene about 30 years ago. Jenga has been re-created in a number of guises, including as Uno Stack or even as a giant game for the garden. In turn, each player must remove a wooden block of their choice from a tower of 54 bricks and place it on the top. With each turn, the tower becomes taller and more top heavy, with less support at the lower levels. Players will need nerves of steel and a steady hand as the tower sways. Jenga is best played on a sturdy floor (not a wobbly coffee table), preferably with something to protect the floor from the falling bricks. If playing garden Jenga, a builder’s hard hat for younger children might be wise. Jenga is the one game in my collection that perhaps needs a Health and Safety assessment before play.
Worker Placement, Hand Management
Key Flow is one of the board games that I wish we brought to the table more often. It has so many scoring possibilities. It is like a cross between Agricola and 7 Wonders (both excellent games in their own right), but Key Flow does not have the possible intensity of Uwe Rosenberg’s classic. The game is played over four seasons, with cards drafted to extend your village. One card is selected and the remainder cards passed to the next player. Up to six gamers can enjoy Key Flow. The other lovely mechanic is that you can place your workers in neighbouring villages (to the left or right) to gain resources. Any meeples working in your town will score you extra points later in the game. The “flow” element of the Key Flow comes later in the seasons, as you expand activity along the riverbank. Now you can build a dockside with boats to transport your goods and livestock. Key Flow covers a number of bases, is quite “thinky” and strategic. A typical game lasts about two hours for four players.
Next up in today's Alphabet Soup of board games is Ligretto, a frantic card-laying game. A box contains sufficient cards (160) for a four player game, but if you add extra boxes you’ll soon have a 12-person melee. Everyone plays at the same time, aiming to discard their deck by laying cards in colour and number sequence onto piles in the middle. Points are scored depending on the number of cards played, or lost if cards remain in front of a player at the end of that round. It is easy to get negative scores in Ligretto, so we have a house rule that you cannot go below zero. It stops the less experienced players from becoming demoralised. This is a portable card game that requires a sizable playing area, but works very well for large player counts. Most games take about 30 minutes, depending on the target score.
Magic Maze is a co-operative game like no-other. It plays well for up to eight, but the sweet spot is probably about five or six. In this game, players control four characters – a warrior, dwarf, wizard and an elf – and move them through a shopping centre (it’s a bizarre theme). As the area of the board expands, they need to reach defined points and then get to specific exits before time runs out. Every player can move every piece at any time! However, each player has only a limited repertoire of actions. The modular board develops as a top-down view of the mall. The game should be played in complete silence. This stops certain alpha males from dominating proceedings. The only way to communicate is by plonking a big red pawn in front a player as if to say, “DO SOMETHING NOW.” This raises the stakes even more as time runs out. With each successful completion of the tasks, the scenarios become more complex. Later in the campaign, there are CCTVs to disable, secret passages to use, and less time to complete the tasks. There is plenty of fun to be had in this frantic co-operative game for all ages.
Nusfjord is another worker-placement challenge by Uwe Rosenburg, set in a fishing village in northern Norway. Players take the role of owners of a fishing company in Nusfjord. Your role is to develop the harbour and the surrounding landscape. To succeed, you must enlarge your fleet, clear the forest, erect new buildings, and satisfy the local elders, all at the same time with competition from the other players. Nusfjord is in the style of Agricola and Ora et Labora, with three workers initially for each player. The plus point is that there is opportunity to share worker placement squares so no-one really misses out. Aside from getting fish (money) you can raise cash by releasing shares in your fishing company. This adds to the problem where your opponents can buy your shares and thus profit from your success. This is quite a strategic, heavier Euro game and every household should hold at least a few of these, especially for rainy days.
Odin’s Ravens by Osprey games is a two-player race. Ahead of your raven token lies a varied landscape of terrain. By playing certain cards from the hand, you can fly your piece to the end of the route. This is a there-and-back race. Your opponent flies the same route but in the opposite direction so you both have to deal with the same obstacles. Odin’s Ravens has Loki (trouble) cards that allow you to hinder your opponent.
Co-operative , Hand Management
Pandemic: In the Lab is another expansion of the popular Pandemic series by Z-Man Games. This still contains all of the same elements of the co-operative race against time for up to six players to cure diseases across the globe. It is a popular series (and one that is quite poignant at present). The ‘In the Lab’ expansion adds an extra dimension with an extra player board representing a laboratory. Rather than just eradicating diseases (and returning the coloured cubes to the supply) these need to be used by players to create the vaccines to aid disease cures. This often means allowing some cities to remain infected so that vaccine testing can be performed. There are solo variants as well as a team-play. In this mode, the teams need to fulfil certain goals, while working together to prevent outbreaks. Some might say that there are flaws in Pandemic, and it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Pandemic and its spin-offs are a great way to encourage more people into board games.
City Building, Set collection
Quadropolis is a city building game where up to four players take on the role of a town planner and aim to design and construct the best metropolis. This involves ensuring that housing needs are balanced against the need for shops, power generation, green spaces as well as public services. The game involves tile selection and placing out these city blocks onto your patch of ground. Your tile choices can be hampered by others who might select the optimal piece of real estate, so there is a reasonable amount of interaction between players. The final board is a pleasing birds-eye view of your city and, as with most Day of Wonder board games, the component quality is first rate. The game plays best with four, as this provides more pressure on choices and tile selection. Most games will take about 45 minutes.
And here's the final game in today's Alphabet Soup of board games. Room 25 (with season 2 expansion) sees 1-8 players work together to escape from a futuristic prison. The board is a modular board of tiles, each depicting a different room. The contents of the room are unknown, but players may take a peek before they enter. Some rooms are relatively benign, while others might contain traps, obstacles, or even kill the player. Working together, the players have a limited number of turns in order to find the key and then the exit (Room 25). The game has additional modes including a suspicion mode, where one or more players play as a secret guard in disguise, trying to thwart any escape plans. The game is suitable for teenagers or older players and with a solo variant is a popular game in our house.
Here endeth Part 2!
If you liked this article, why not check out Part 1, covering board games starting with the letters A to I? If you've already devoured Part 1 and are hungry for more, fear not! Part 3 is coming...