What we played… at our annual board games retreat
Ok, so here’s the deal. Four of us, in two cars, packed with games and food, hire a large self-catering cottage somewhere nice and quiet for a week’s board gaming. We’ve done this now for four years and it’s a great opportunity to relax and unwind as well as play some great games. It’s also an opportunity to cook some great meals too as we share cooking duties - I typically tend to cook for the two of us who are vegetarian/vegan so that’s a veg stew one day, veg curry another and a roast vegetable platter on yet another day.
So, typically, we look to play a good range of games. Each of us has two formal picks; our names go into a cup twice. We pick out a name and that person decides what game they want to play. Usually, these picks will be for epic games and have included in the past the likes of Twilight Imperium 4 and Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization. But picks also combine old favourites as well as the latest in hot games.
Interspersed among the big games will be fillers and lighter games as time allows and we’re quite relaxed as to what to play in this situation. Something we also take the opportunity to do is to explore the local area by doing short walks and visiting places of interest, so in the past this has included the likes of Caernarfon and Harlech castles, Scarborough castle and Whitby Abbey. This year, we paid a visit to the Royal Navy Air Fleet Museum and Lytes Cary Manor as well as a trip to Weymouth.
But, on to the games we played…!
A round of something simple to get the holiday started. Cockroach Poker is a fine easy filler, based on players holding a collection of cards depicting eight different types of bug, with each player attempting to pass cards to another stating what the card depicts. Recipients must decide whether the statement is true or not or pass the card on, if possible, making another statement as to what the card depicts. Eventually a player will have to guess. If correct, the player passing the card keeps the card face up and if wrong, the recipient keeps it. Once a player has a set of four of any one bug type, they lose, and everyone else wins.
Next up, we played a game of Arboretum. A nice game designed around playing cards depicting one of eight different species of tree. When the draw deck has finished, players score according to the layout of their arboretum, based on what cards they have of any given type in ascending order of cards, with a numerical value of one to eight. As a twist, cards left in your hard are totalled for each species and compared with other players. The player with the highest score can score for any of that species in their arboretum, allowing for opponents to prevent you from scoring for your own trees.
Finally, to wrap up the evening, we played Res Arcana, using both expansions. In this game you take on the role of mages accumulating resources to build places of power, monuments and artifacts, to either score victory points, accumulate more resources, carry out other effects and reach the victory score of 13 points. There is a lot of replayability in this game, with all the combinations available each time you play and the game has a great fantasy theme to the game too.
We played The Thing which is set in a polar base with a crew knowing that one among them has been infected by an alien. During the game, the non-infected crew being generally suspicious of everyone, nevertheless try to work together to repair the base helicopter and snowcat to provide a means of escape, try and identify who the alien is, send out an SOS for a rescue helicopter, keep the boiler and generator fuelled up as well as several other options for action.
The infected player may attempt to infect others to increase the alien population. In addition, there are dogs on site who if encountered, may pass on an infection too. One of the key features is a phase where all the crew return to the recreation room and if desired, players may decide to accuse others. If at least one player wants to accuse then everyone gets the opportunity to simultaneously point their finger in accusations towards another. Anyone getting a vote moves their player marker up the Suspicion track one space for each vote, which is important as when the rescue helicopter arrives there is an opportunity for the player with the least suspicion to get on board first and then have the right to decide if anyone else joins them. As the game progresses, and the paranoia builds, the alien may become exposed or reveal themselves to carry out more overt sabotage activities. Alternatively, the alien may try to remain covert, even helping the crew, seeking an opportunity to escape.
Next, we played Quacks of Quedlinburg. In this game, players are buying ingredients to add to their cauldron to produce the most impressive brew. There is, however, a push-your-luck mechanic, whereby players have to choose whether to add an ingredient avoiding adding more than seven white ingredients, which will cause the brew to explode, limiting the gain for players to either victory points or gold rather than both.
There isn’t a lot of player interaction, but players should observe what opposing players are doing as this could impact on your strategy. It’s a colourful game and easy to pick up and play.
In Age of Conan the strategy board game, players take control over one of the four kingdoms in an age of high adventure, moving armies and emissaries to gain control over other provinces in pursuit of various objectives to gain victory points.
There is a game clock, featuring Conan as he travels the lands on his adventures, which the players can engage with and after completion of four adventures the game will end. If you are fortunate, and Crom is listening, maybe you’ll get to crown Conan which will enhance your chance of victory, but just be warned, if you mess it up Conan will mock you for the attempt and then eliminate you.
In Doppelt so Clever, an elegant little game, players take it in turns to be the active player and roll a set of six dice, usually choosing just three dice, and the other passive players, select a die to score. It really is a clever game with the dice chosen and the values shown effecting a player’s scoring sheet. There are a variety of ways to score, giving you choice but the game can frustrate you as your choices over time diminish.
Hallertau was up next and this is one of those nice medium weight worker placement games. You are choosing what actions to take, competing with other players, to collect crops, cultivate fields and improve your community centre whilst also focusing on accumulating victory points through achieving objectives gained via card drawing and other advancements on the board.
It’s one of those games that seems heavy but once you start play it will become a lot easier. Having said that, it does still have depth as after we ended the game we pondered what other strategies you could have used.
Dead Reckoning was played after a practice session the night before. This is an interesting game of pirates and collecting money. Each player has a galleon and explores the ocean, visiting islands and gaining control through influence, collecting income and building defences, attacking other ships for booty and achieving objectives for victory points.
It’s a fairly easy game to pick up and the game does reward players who take on an attacking strategy, plus you get to bring out your pirate voice, yarrr! Be warned though as we found the endgame conditions crept up on us quite quickly.
Paladins of the West Kingdom was played first. This was probably one of the most anticipated and favoured games we played all retreat and is an excellent worker placement game. Each player has a hand of paladins, each granting an ability plus additional workers and a bonus in one of three key areas, namely faith, strength and influence.
The game cleverly encourages you build up in these areas as well as to gain cards, seek bonuses and ultimately collect victory points. I look back at a game with a lot more to offer and therefore I’m looking forward to future plays.
Then we played Mosaic. This has a civilisation feel to it, but it is essentially a modern area control game. You collect resources and build cities and towns to expand control in the various regions around the Mediterranean. You also get to build wonders and a military presence which helps give that civilisation and dudes on a map experience.
We agreed at the start that rather than play a long game like Through the Ages: A new Story of Civilization, which was going to be my next choice, we would try and play three medium-length games. Up first was Istanbul using the coffee expansion and alternative replacement locations from the Big Box, the Kebab Shop and Pegasus Depot. In this game, players play merchants collecting goods to sell and eventually collect rubies with six rubies being the target to win.
I like this game for its simplicity on the one hand yet also for it scope for differing play strategies. The game can roll toward a conclusion rapidly if you are not watching your opponents, and this is a game where player interaction can have an impact.
And another Thing, yes on request we agreed to play this again. Unlike the first game, where I was the alien and decided to help the crew repair the base and call in the rescue helicopter, only to climb on-board as the one with least suspicion and wave goodbye to the others, the second game was in stark contrast. One of the humans grabbed a test kit and successfully identified the alien on turn one! We still had to escape though.
Finally, to wrap up our retreat, we played the much-anticipated Ark Nova; which was a bit of a brain-burner. It gave the impression of a game that isn’t kind to new players if competing against someone experienced unless the experienced player is careful to guide the others. It was a bit of a steep learning curve going through those early few turns, but learning together we picked up the understanding and could start to see the strategies to use. In this game, you play the owner of a zoo. You build your enclosures, develop income generators, sponsor projects and in the main bring in various animals, birds and reptiles to add prestige and reputation and boost your income.
We found it difficult to get going, and I was last for a few turns, but then we all got going. I was able to set up a few chain reactions and eventually found myself ahead and winning. The game has a lot of depth and I made mistakes throughout the game, so plenty of food for thought for future play.
There is a lot to take in, but as is so often the way, the best way is to pick up and play, through a kinesthetic learning approach, to learn together, to test and see how things work out in practice. There is a lot of depth to this game and another I’m looking forward to playing again soon.
So, there you have it. On some retreats we’ve played a few more games, but we always try to focus on the big ones regardless and so improve the overall experience. Hopefully, this may inspire you to try a board game retreat yourself.