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Board Game Of The Month – May


Shipwrights of the North Sea Redux: Hannah Blacknell

When Garphill Games comes out with a new title I always take a look. Their games tend to do very well in our house and despite the breadth of mechanics and themes covered, they always seem to be well enjoyed by us. However when they announced that they were redoing their widely regarded weakest title Shipwrights of the North Sea with a nod to my favourite game It's a Wonderful World, it was a run not a walk to check it out.

Boy, was I not disappointed. This redux version combines card drafting and multi use cards together with resource management for a tough yet smooth and satisfying game that gets those synapses firing. During the game you are building ships and worker placement spot buildings and managing your fleet of craftspeople, townsfolk and heroes in a way to maximise your end game points. You are moving up three tracks, building cards for points and gaining in game abilities and end of game points in a tough race to the end of the five round game. You have to calculate exactly how many workers you can use for worker placement spots and still be able to build what you need. Cards can be slated for use, or they can also be recycled for their recycle bonus resource which could be money, wool, wood, stone, gold or a worker. Depending on how your round is shaping up you might want to prioritise cards already in your hand and try to collect the materials needed. But as this is a drafting game you never quite know what is coming back around the table to you. So it's a risky business not taking that perfect card you need!

This games plays from 1-5 players and I think it may sing at all of them! At 1-2 players you need to manage a little the AI part of the game but that is just bumping a few tracks with a neutral player marker really. At these lower player counts, additional cards are added in after every draft of two cards too which means you always have something fresh included in the mix. At the end the market cards display the points that the AI will score, and she is a tough mistress to beat indeed. For scoring there is a handy app available for free download which will keep you right when totting up those totals! If you want something that plays in 30-45 mins, and is tantalising enough to tempt you into a second play straight away then you can't go wrong with Shipwrights of the North Sea Redux.

Arborea: Neil Parker

The stand out game for me this month has been this colourful gem, Arborea. In this worker placement game, thematically you are a patron spirit guiding your people to grow the land. During the game you will be placing workers on different tracks, each one providing two routes to choose from with your choice determining what resources and bonus effects you collect. There is an aspect of push your luck, but I think it is low, as often it is better to delay collecting resources or bonuses as you wait for you workers to travel further down a track for better rewards.

One of the things I like about Arborea, apart from its colourful game board, is that you don’t accumulate resources just for your benefit. Resources gained can be claimed by anyone if spare on their turn. On your turn you get the choice where possible to choose from using the resources to develop your land spaces or claiming victory points based on their value in a market space where value is based on their availability and inherent worth. Developing land is important because you will want to attract creatures to dwell and there are victory points to be had based on your choice, the land type and their position.

When I first looked at the game board, it was a bit of an overload with all the different spaces and options, but I felt more comfortable as the game played out. It’s a definite example of a game that is better appreciated after a few plays and I look forward to playing it again.

War of the Nine Realms - Roger BW

Two to four players take a faction each, and set out to win Ragnarök, the last battle of all. So why is this hex-based skirmish game different from the others?

For a start, it encourages attack. You can win by having the last leader standing; or by filling the Blood Cauldron from your defeated enemies. Every time you deal a wound, your counter ticks up; which means there’s no advantage in turtling, a problem in many games with multiple players, because your enemy A may win by doing enough damage to enemy B even though they never engaged with you.

The core rules are quite straightforward: so many actions per turn, which you spend to activate one of your figures to move and attack. Three sorts of tricky terrain (impassable mountains, slowing water, defensive woods). To attack, you roll your attack dice, count 12s as hits, and compare the remaining total to the enemy’s defence; each full multiple gets you another hit. Attack types are melee (1 hex), ranged (2-4), or indirect (5-6, doesn’t care about intervening figures or terrain).

But then it gets more involved. Every faction’s leader can bring its basic warriors back onto the board after they’re killed. Every type of figure has a special power, from drawing extra cards to reducing the defence value of nearby enemies. Cards can help in attack or defence, but you won’t get any back until your next turn. You can spend actions to change the terrain, opening your way or denying it to the enemy. You’ll want to save some actions for counterattacks, which you can do whenever an enemy attacks you even if that figure has already acted on your turn—but how many will you need?

And when you’ve played the “Heroic” side of a faction board, flip it over to the “Epic” side for even more powers—but lower physical stats, so you can mix Epic and Heroic factions in a single game.

There are four factions in this box: Norsemen, Æsir, Ice Jotnar (giants) and Dark Elves, each with their own powers and quirks. Play time once you’ve got the basics is about 15 minutes per player, more on a larger map or with Epic powers.

(Disclaimer: The publisher has paid me to demonstrate this game at conventions, and I hope they will again, but not to write this article.)

Furnace: Favouritefoe

Summer is fast approaching, or at least that’s what the calendar says. The weather outside would have us think differently. But, in the hope that the sun will suddenly appear, we have been concentrating on big feel games that play fast!

FURNACE by Hobby World Games is an engine building game set in the burgeoning industrial age of the 19th century. Coal, steel, and oil are all potential money pots, and getting rich is what this game is all about. But to get from dirty to dollars, you need to not only get the goods but also process them! And thankfully, with the simultaneous play in this game, our engines start cranking straight out the gate!

Phase 1 is a bidding war (which is tweaked perfectly for 2 players with the introduction of a super simple dummy player), where you are tying to gain buildings that will process your raw materials. But that presupposes you have coal, oil and steel to use. So winning might actually mean losing, because players who don’t place the highest bid are compensated with goods! And with each card in the bidding row being resolved in turn, with a bit of planning (and luck!) your compensations could be synergising like a boss!

Phase 2 is production and that is where we simultaneously decide how to run our engines. With one upgrade available each turn, the processing power of at least one of your buildings could be boosted. But you can only activate each one once, so order and timing is again crucial!

We love everything about this game. And the 2P mode works brilliantly. And that’s rare for an auction game! With just 4 rounds, it’s finger tinglingly tight, and it gets our synapses sizzling. And given the cold, damp weather we are experiencing, I’m glad that Furnace is so hot!

Sky Team: Lewis Ralston

This month, I had the absolute pleasure of joining Zatu at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham, and whilst I was there I made sure to soak in as much knowledge about board gaming as I could, and keep my eye on what people were buying. I’d already seen Sky Team mentioned by a few reviewers online so I had my eye on it, but when I saw it start to fly off the shelves (pun intended), I knew I had to grab a copy whilst I had the chance. I am so happy that I did! (I also got myself a copy of Heat and Tinderblox, both of which were brilliant contenders, but didn’t quite fly ahead (same pun intended)).

Sky Team is a co-operative, limited communication and dice rolling game for strictly two players. You and your co-pilot are attempting to safely land your plane at the airport. Each turn you will roll four dice, and place them around the control panel to try to; keep the plane level, clear your approach, deploy your landing gear and wing-flaps, apply the brakes AND control your speed. You have 7 rounds to do this. You overshoot or don’t reach the airport in time? You’ve crashed. Rotate the plane too far? Crashed. Forget to play a mandatory action? Crashed. Hit another plane? Crashed. Did I mention you can’t talk?

That’s right! There’s no communication during the round AT ALL, though you can discuss strategy between rounds as long as you aren’t mentioning dice values in any way.

It’s an absolute blast and one I’d definitely recommended to couples. I play most of my games with my fiancé at home, so having a reliable 2 player game that comes packed with enough modules to keep the game fresh, exciting and challenging? It’s a perfect game for our shelf.