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 Part 3 of Nathan's Alphabet Soup of Board Games.
Nathan's Alphabet Soup of Board Games
In its basic form, Star Realms is a two-player deck building game set in space. By playing cards from your hand, you can inflict damage on the opponent or acquire new spaceships and weapons to enhance your fleet. The problem is that, as the deck enlarges, these newer, more efficient craft are diluted by the existing stock. Therefore, it is wise to streamline the deck, try to recycle the low value cards and acquire valuable craft. There are four factions, each with their own strengths and abilities. By concentrating on one or two of these sub-groups, the player unlocks additional powers and abilities, strengthening their hand. The beauty of Star Realmss is that you can play almost anywhere. There are numerous expansion decks available too, meaning 3-4 can play in an epic tussle of galactic power. If you have never tried deck building games before, this could be the one that gets you started.
Art and Drawing
Telestrations is a family drawing game, a cross between Pictionary and Chinese whispers. It exposes some people’s inability to draw even the most basic household objects, leading to hilarity at the end of each round. Telestrations plays best with at least six players, though the standard box contains whiteboard booklets and pens for eight. Everyone plays at the same time, so there is no waiting around. Everyone gets a card with a word or phrase that they must draw on the first page of their booklet. They then pass their “artwork” to the player on their left, and receive a masterpiece from a player to their right. They then write down the word/phrase they think is depicted and pass the booklet to the next player. Each player draws a new picture of the word they have received, but blind to the previous sketches. Once the whole group has written and drawn all of the words, it’s hilarious to see how a picture of an elephant might metamorphose into a map of the world for example. Telestrations is suitable for all ages and works well across the generations.
U is for Upwords
Words and Language
Upwords is a word game for 2-4 players. It's akin to Scrabble, in that players place letter tiles onto a grid to form words. The “up” element allows players to extend the grid by playing on top of existing words. One player might place the word CAT horizontally on the board. The next player could play PIG coming vertically down from the T of CAT, changing that word to CAP. There are no fancy triple word scores here, just the ability to score highly with increasing stacks of tiles. It requires a different approach to Scrabble. To do well at Upwords and to keep the game moving, it is better to play shorter, simpler words which can be altered more easily. This also makes the game accessible to younger gamers too. It’s a good introduction to word-based board games for the whole family.
Card Drafting, Hand management, Engine Builder
Villagers, a building game for 2-5 players, is set just after the great plague. As the founding father of your village, you must recruit workers and rebuild your hamlet to prosperity. In each turn, you draft new villagers. This allows you to bring in new skills, but you'll need to attract more basic-skilled craftsmen first. For example, you cannot employ a cooper to make barrels unless you have a lumberjack to provide wood. In this regard, it's like the card game, Oh My Goods. It plays quickly, usually lasting 45 minutes. The challenge is whether to develop a specialist village producing high-value goods like jewellery, or employ tradesmen with diverse skills that other players will need, like the blacksmith. Every game brings new challenges and the outcome depends on the availability of new villagers and how you manage the initial cards dealt.
W is for What’s Rubbish?
It is important to have board games that are suited to all ages. What’s Rubbish is a well-made game of quality from Orchard Games. Players need to move around the town collecting rubbish and recycling as many items as possible to fill their bins. It is a game for youngsters aged 4 and older and teaches counting, matching and even route planning, as well as part of the bigger social picture such as the importance of the environment and recycling. Children can never be too young to enjoy board games, and those that have a “message” and make learning fun are always popular in our house.
X is for Xianghi
Xianghi is Chinese Chess. It is an ancient game that has many parallels with the chess you might know. It is played on the grid lines of a 9x9 board, rather than on the squares. There is a river that crosses the middle of the board, separating both sides. The pieces have some similarities, but there is the addition of elephants and cannons. The aim is to entrap the opponent’s emperor. He is locked into his palace with his two guards. He can only move a few squares. The cannons can fire over the top of other pieces or foot soldiers to inflict damage from afar. The challenge was to learn the different character names in my version of the game (I don’t have a fancy jade Chinese set with carved elephants yet) but, once mastered, this is an intriguing battle of wits that is steeped in history.
Roll and Write
Yahtzee is one of the original dice rolling games. It was invented in the 1940s and I remember playing this as a child. Players roll up to five dice to make groups and sets of numbers. The dice may be rolled up to three times in a turn and the game consists of thirteen rounds. Once a category has been used it cannot be used again. Points are scored depending on the value of the dice or certain dice combinations. The highest scores are reserved for those who manage to roll a “Yahtzee” (five of a kind). There can be some “down time” and waiting between turns so we often play this game where ever player has their own set of five dice to move the gameplay on.
Z is for Zenteeko
Zenteeko is a deceptively simple, abstract game. 2-3 players play on a 5 x 5 grid. Each player has four markers. The object is to get your four markers into a row of four (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) or a 2x2 square. Play begins by placing your tokens in turn, then players can slide one token in any direction. There is no jumping and the game hinges on whether you can predict where the other player might be trying to succeed, and if you can block them in time. Some games only take two minutes, but once players get to grips with the game, other bouts can last 20 minutes or so before someone makes a mistake. This is such a simple game that a child (5 or older) could grasp it. It is unusual to find an abstract game that works for more than 2 players too.
Hand management, Set Collection
It is unusual to find a game that plays well for six or seven players. Most large participant board games are party games or otherwise can suffer from an excruciating wait between turns while all the other players have their goes. In 7 Wonders, everyone has an action to choose a card at the same time and pass on the remaining cards. Trade of resources between adjacent players allows you to become economically stronger as you aim to build your city. Other players might look to military might or scientific prowess to gain victory. There is plenty of variability and replayability in 7 Wonders and every decision is determined by your own strategy and the cards in your hand. With very little down time between turns, 7 Wonders is ideal for game nights with the whole family.