We are so nearly almost home on our Around the World Series. Just like how our American cousins do the whole of Europe in a week, I thought we could take a quick trip around our lovely continent. Just one game per country, which for some countries caused some tough decisions between our friendly band of bloggers.
I loved my Euro-trips when I was growing up, where we would hit a few key cities on a single trip. I lived right on the South Coast of England, and it was far quicker for us to hop on a ferry to France than it was for us to drive to any city in England. I grew up properly in the sticks, so that might explain why I love board games so much!
I love Europe, the countries are so close together and so well connected. But what makes it special is how diverse the food, culture and history is. You can get to a new country in a day and experience something completely different. The languages, delicious food, stunning art, and striking architecture mean every country feels so different. I still have so much of Europe left to explore too, but there are very few places I have visited that I don’t want to go back to.
Europe - Ticket to Ride Europe
So we cannot do a piece on interrailing without using the OG interrailing game; Ticket to Ride Europe. The Ticket to Ride series of games is for many their gateway game, the game that introduced them to hobby board games. It’s also a lightweight game that takes a bit of time (60 mins) and is satisfying to play regardless of how into games you are.
This is the slightly meatier big brother to the original Ticket to Ride US version. It is better than the original, absolutely no question. In general, the premise of the game is the same, you must place your trains by collecting sets of coloured train cards. Each route on the map you manage to complete with your trains will gain you points. Additional points will be given for completing the routes depicted on your train tickets.
This version has a map set in Europe, and includes our fair island. This means it includes both tunnels and ferries as well as the basic train routes. These add extra depth to the game, that in my mind make it much more replayable. Each player gets 3 station pieces that they can play which prevent some of the blocking that you do from being game-changing. This is probably needed as in general the Europe map is tighter than the US original one. It is a bit tougher to complete the longer routes.
There is also a bit of mitigation of the “danger draw” in the original. Drawing tickets closer to the end of the game can be dangerous as any uncompleted rail routes will cause you to lose points. You may only draw impossible high hitters and be forced to take one of them. In the Europe version, the longer tickets are blue backed and worth the most points, but can only be drawn at the start of the game, one each. The shorter tickets can be worth anything up to 13 points and are drawn throughout the game. This does mean even if you end up with an impossible route, it will not be worth as many negative points. This all helps to tighten the scoring and provide an overall tenser game than with the original.
If you haven’t already got a Ticket to Ride base game, then I advise choosing this one over the original. It is similar in length to the original, not the “lite” versions like TTR London or TTR New York. It still plays up to 5 unlike Nordic Countries, but it has much more about it than the original. Also it’s set in Europe, and Europe is great.
France - Orléans
By Tom Harrod
Orléans is a bag-building game set in medieval France. Coming from Reiner Stockhausen and Tasty Minstrel Games, this is like a deck-builder. In Orléans though, you don’t have cards. Instead, you have chunky cardboard chits that represent ‘Followers’. You draw them out of your own bag, and ‘spend’ them to get more chits.
The aim is to progress along a ‘Development’ track, past various thresholds. Plus, gaining Citizens and building Trading Stations around surrounding French towns. Why? Your end-game score includes Citizens and Trading Stations, multiplied by your ‘Development’ rating. Get Trading Stations by sending Followers to the likes of Le Mans to Châtellerault. Get Citizens by ‘thinning your bag’ of certain Follower types.
But how do you gain Followers? (Don’t panic; this isn’t a game about social media…!) You start
with four default, same-shape ‘Followers’ in your bag. (A farmer, a craftsman, and a merchant and a boatman.) There’s 18 rounds in the game, with 18 Events you’ll have to overcome. But first, you each draw four Followers from your bag. Guess which four you’ll pick in round one! Everyone, simultaneously, then picks where to place their Followers onto their player mat.
Different locations on your mat pay out rewards, if you trigger a specific quota of Followers there. The Castle, for example, wants a farmer, a boatman, and a merchant. If you meet these requirements, you get another Follower chit for your bag: a Knight. (Followers you sent to the Castle go back into your bag, too.) Then you move along the Knight Track. The further you progress along this track, the more Followers you can draw from your bag each turn. Boom!
Of course, you can send specified Followers to different locations on your mat. Many reward you with their respective type of Follower, as well progressing along their own Track. Some pay out goods, money, or all-important knowledge. Others offer extra tiles to expand your player mat, or efficient technology cogs.
There’s so much to juggle in Orléans, and that’s the base game, alone. I haven’t even mentioned its expansions…
By Rob Wright
If you ever go to Barcelona, you’ve got to go and see some Gaudi. If you only get the chance to see one Gaudi, it has to be La Sagrada Familia. It is the most joyous and organic representation of faith in architecture you will ever see. It is also unfinished, and has been for over a century.
If you can’t get to Barcelona, you can still enjoy this unfinished masterpiece, in a way. Sagrada is a dice-drafting game where everyone is trying to complete their own stained-glass window. Just like the real thing, it will probably be incomplete. This is due to the strict rules of each window ‘design’ that you can choose from. As well as following the design, you also have to make sure that no colours or numbers are together. Tricky, especially when you glaze yourself into a corner.
In each round, each player gets to draft from a pool of dice, twice (back and forth). There are tools to help you change dice in the pool or move dice around, but these will cost you ‘favours’, and you have a limited amount of these. Every game has shared public scoring opportunities. For example rows and columns with different numbers and colours, points for pairs etc. Each player also has a secret private goal too. At the end of ten rounds, each player tots up their score (including minus points for missing panes). The highest score wins.
Sagrada is a game that is as abstract, elegant, opulent and beautiful as its namesake. You get a whole heap of multi-coloured dice (Roll for The Galaxy levels of diceage), gem-like ‘favours’ and recessed window frames. Very classy. It is also simple to play but infuriating to perfect. Gaudi would have approved.
Italy - Viticulture
By Jim Cohen
The beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany awaits any wannabe wine maker in this beautiful game. There are limited and simple decisions to be made. You will be invested deeply from the first move. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, settle back, and prepare to enter the world of competitive wine making!
Viticulture is a brilliant worker-placement game from Stonemaier games. It was designer Jamey Stegmaier’s first game and created a bit of a Kickstarter storm when it was first released back in 2013. It set the bar very high for production quality, smooth game play and all things good in modern board gaming.
Set in the Tuscan vineyards, Viticulture pits competing winemakers in a battle to grow vines, cultivate crops, make and sell wine. There are a few editions of this game and it does get confusing. The original game, Viticulture, was great, but is not stocked anywhere now. There were a few expansions and add-ons and Stonemaier made the Essential edition to replace the original. This is the one you should get. This combines the best bits of some of the first expansions. It is also fully compatible with the only expansion you need; Tuscany essential edition. If you have the original, then I would recommend the upgrade pack which can catch up to the Essential edition.
Tuscany Essential edition is amazing and for me, one of the best expansions ever made. It is available at a great price on Zatu right now.
Viticulture is in my top 10 games of all time. I love worker-placement games and this is one of the best for me. It works for all types of gamer, no matter your experience. It offers so much deeply engaging gameplay and a thoroughly rich experience. There is some luck with the cards you draw. But once you get used to the game, you will find a way to work with whatever the game throws at you. Saluti!
Austria - Grand Austria Hotel
In Grand Austria Hotel you play as a café owner, trying to turn your café into the greatest hotel in all of Austria and gain the favour of the emperor.
Grand Austria Hotel, is a two to four player dice rolling, resource collection, set collection game. You serve a variety of customers with a combination of coffee, cake, wine and strudel whilst preparing their hotel room. Once their room is prepared and their needs have been met your customers can enjoy a stay in your hotel.
A player can also hire staff members to help them run their hotel, offering unique bonuses or end game scoring opportunities. There are three randomly selected emperor tiles which act as scoring opportunities during the game. Three drawn politics cards offer big scoring opportunities.
There is plenty to think about in the game and some interesting decisions to be made. Hotel rooms to prepare, guests to satisfy, staff members to hire and the emperor to influence. All the while keeping an eye on the politics cards and trying to achieve the objectives.
The action selection mechanism using the die value and the number of dice of each value works really well and offers some variability to the actions that can be performed each round. This adds another layer on to the game which, for me, makes it stand out as a fantastic game.
There is minimal player interaction in this game. I can just imagine two competing hotels in Austria simply trying to do the best that they can with the resources they have.
I am always happy to get this to the table. With the variety in the emperor cards, politic cards, staff cards and guest cards, as well as the double sided hotel boards, the replayability factor is high. I can see this being in my collection for a long time and racking up a high number of plays.
That brings us halfway round a loop of Europe. As promised a wide spread of weight of game, mechanism and theme. As diverse as the countries themselves. In this article we went around in a loop South from France round to Austria, hitting Spain, and Italy. I cheated and went for a game that covers all of Europe. But it's my series so I can bend the rules! We will continue this loop back to the UK by looking at the Northern half of Europe in the final instalment.
Zatu Games Supporting NHS Test and Trace
Zatu Games is supporting the NHS COVID-19 App.
The free app is a vital part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England, and the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service.
Protect your loved ones. Download the app today.