I’ve always found the open question of, “Do you have a Christmas wishlist?” quite a tricky one. Obviously it’s going to involve board games – that isn’t the tricky part, at all. Rather, it’s the part when I check my wishlist on BoardGameGeek when my shoulders slump – I’ve logged close to 800 games that interest me, in varying degrees. How can I pick just two or three?
Shelf life versus table time
Ultimately, the most important thing for me is that my games actually, y’know, get played. I’ll admit to having a collective habit – in that I get a kick out of seeing my games sitting pretty there, on my shelves. All of the Pegasus Spiel games have to sit together, with the Days of Wonder titles at the other end. Meanwhile, of course I’m going to line my Stefan Feld games all in a row. It’s my own mini-library, and I’ll confess I smile every time I wander over to it, seeing everything catalogued in (to my mind, at least!) a logical order.
But as cool as these games look on my shelves, I don’t want them to just sit dormant. Instead, I want them on the table. I want to enjoy playing them. I want to enjoy seeing other people enjoying playing them, too. Therefore, the games that made my Christmas shortlist that I’ve posted to the jolly, well-padded man in red and white are ones I can all-but guarantee will get played this December…
A Family Co-op: The Lost Expedition
As of writing, I’m yet to introduce my family to the wonders of co-operative gaming. Elder Sign sits on my shelf – there are elements of King of Tokyo or Yahtzee to this dice-driven co-op – but I don’t think my folks have got an iota of passion about H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Fair enough. Theme can be a turn-off for gamers and non-gamers alike, even if the rules of Elder Sign aren’t too intimidating (unlike the unpronounceable monster names – try saying Nyarlathotep out loud after your third or fourth glass of vino).
Instead, I’m really interested in The Lost Expedition by Osprey Games. Designer Peer Sylvester became fascinated with cartographer-slash-explorer Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett’s ambitious – albeit ill-fated – trip into the Brazilian rainforest to find the lost city of ‘Z’, circa 1925. Tragically, Fawcett and his team of fellow adventurers disappeared and we’ll never know if they did locate that hidden jungle city.
The Lost Expedition is a hand management, card-driven co-op. All players are working together to make it through the jungle to reach ‘Z’ before you go through the deck, or you too fall foul of the brutal conditions of the Amazon. Players have a hand of event cards that they must play one at a time into a public, shared timeline of sorts.
Each card has a different event on it of some variety, such as, say, encountering a crocodile, poisonous arachnids or a native tribe. Once all of the players have added the designated number of cards to the timeline, the intrepid explorers have to face and overcome the hazards before them. Perhaps you could shoot the croc to gain two precious food tokens, but if you’re out of bullets, tough luck: you’ll have to add even more hazard cards into the timeline. You can’t directly state what you have in your hand, but you can drop hints as to what order you should all try and play cards, which might be best achievable for you all to tackle them.
One of the first things that grabbed me about The Lost Expedition was the fabulous artwork on the cards. It’s like something straight out of Hergé’s Tintin comics – wonderful colours and strong lines, certainly homage to the ligne claire style. The cards feature all the perils and scrapes you’d expect to find in the plucky Belgian journalist’s adventures, too. Despite the harrowing, still-unknown fate of Fawcett and his team, The Lost Expedition is one I want to go on this Christmas.
Something ‘pub table’-sized: Ulm
On Thursdays, I’m fortunate to have a weekly games night in a village pub. We attract a great crowd of between 12-18 people, and we’re all in the bracket of what I’d class as seasoned board gamers. We’re constantly introducing each other to new Euro-style games or quick, filler card games, but we are restricted by one factor in particular: table size.
We don’t have the luxury of space, which rules out table-hogs like Scythe or Great Western Trail (both of which have big boards, as well as individual player mats). Therefore, I’ve asked Old Saint Nick for a Euro-style game that I know will fit on the tables at The Bennet Arms: Ulm, by HUCH! & Friends.
Ulm is all about gaining prosperity and influence in a thriving medieval German town – no, wait, wait! Come back! As well as tried-and-tested mechanics such as set collection and area control, the one thing that really intrigues me about Ulm is the 3x3 ‘market square’ grid. This determines which three actions you can take on your turn. To me, it has a touch of the classic children’s game Labyrinth about it – and I’ll explain why.
On your turn you draw a square token, representing one of five different actions. You then have to slide this token into the 3x3 grid – up, down, left or right – thus pushing one of the nine current tokens out. Then, you get to do all three actions of the tokens in the row in which you inserted your current token. Of course, depending on your choice, you are then potentially setting up the next player to benefit from whatever state you leave the market square!
And, like all great Euros, you want to do absolutely everything - you need to progress along the canal, boosting your prestige points. You want to collect noble tokens (that are pushed out of the grid), so you can use them to acquire ‘contract’ cards for bonus actions or end-game set collection points. You also want to earn cash, because you’ll need cash to place out seals among the town to control neighbourhood areas. But you can only insert your presence in a neighbourhood providing you’ve progressed along the canal that far…
Expanding my collection, literally: Formula D: Circuits 3 – Singapore and The Docks
For some reason, I haven’t acquired many expansions in my current collection of games. I think that when I began playing board games I was insistent on getting a variety of different genres and mechanics. However, I’ve been gaming long enough now to know what I like – and what my friends and family like, too.
To those that have not played, Formula D might sound like a simplistic roll-and-move game, but, happily, it has layers of complexity you can add to make the game harder or easier. There are individual car points that slowly deteriorate during the race – such as specifically your brakes if you have to slam your foot down, for example – or a bog-standard 18 hit points. You can add in weather conditions, asymmetrical driver powers, or multiple laps with pit lane vehicle repair strategies.
It’s a game that I enjoy with my parents – and in a few years time, it’s one I know I’ll enjoy with my young niece and nephew. I can’t wait for the day when all three generations of the family sit down to make enthusiastic vrmmmm and screeeeeech sound effects together.
The base game of Formula D comes with a double-sided board, with a Monte Carlo racetrack and an ‘Illegal Street Race’ track, the latter offering different kinds of obstacles to overcome. Eventually though, if played enough times, these circuits can become a tad stale. That’s why I’m hoping to get one of the expansion tracks – another double-sided board, with two new routes for everyone to race around.
Fingers crossed I find Circuits 3: Singapore / The Docks under the Christmas tree this year. It’s the latter of those two that excites me the most, screaming around the docks. The cool thing about this racetrack is that halfway around the track splits, meaning drivers have a choice to go one of two directions, and cars have to cross each other's paths in haphazard conditions. This could cause (again, fingers crossed) some spectacular collisions. After all, no Formula D race is complete without drivers having to wince as they roll the D20 ‘Danger Die’!
What board games have found their way onto your Christmas wish-list this year? Tried-and-tested classics, or hot new 2018 releases? This seems like an opportune moment for me to apologise to the 797-ish games that didn’t quite make my own wish-list this year…