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Games of the Month – December

Games of the Month - December

Each month, members of the talented Zatu blogging team come together to share their games of the month. Each writer selects one game from the many that they have been playing, and shares a little bit of information about that game!

Let's find out which board games our writers enjoyed the most over the festive month of December.

Nick - Barenpark

So game of the month, this is a tough one. It wasn’t a month of heavy gaming due to increased family presence, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t play any excellent games. So I’m going to crown one of the games that got the most plays, and that is Barenpark.

My family loved Barenpark, and it was constantly being played - even without me. The rules are so easy that one quick explanation was all it took. Barenpark could be described as a sort of four player Patchwork, in that you spend the game placing Tetris-shaped tiles onto your player board.

In Barenpark you are placing bear enclosures to score points. On your board are various icons which when you cover up let you select more tiles. As well as bear enclosures there are four green service tiles - toilets, restaurants, rivers and parks. Theses don’t score points but can help fill your park. As well as earning new tiles you can expand your park up to three more boards. Filling one of your boards earns you a statue, giving more points.

Statues and bear enclosures give more points to the first people who take them so there is a bit of a race element to the game, as you try to complete boards first. Once you have these basics down you can add in achievements for some extra depth. I’d recommend you doing this as soon as you can as they give everyone some direction in their park building.

Barenpark is a little themeless. Your park won’t make much sense and probably won’t have enough toilets, but this is an engaging and fun take on the tetris puzzle games. One that is great to play with newbies and oldies a like.

Rob W - Charterstone

Charterstone is one of those games with perfect pacing. Just when you think everyone is moving smoothly to their goals a new wrinkle appears, from (redacted for spoilers) to (redacted for spoilers), and there's... oh I see. I basically can't talk about this beyond saying it's very, very good, but we do have a full compliment of six.

Ashley - Commands and Colours: Ancients

It's winter, it's cold outside. Even here on the Aegean there are some days that are grey and wet. Not so many, but, it remains a good time to light a fire and drag out our huge stash of Commands and Colors: Ancients.

Commands and Colors: Ancients is not a complex game and, unlike many hexagon based war games, is quick to play and without all those fiddly counters, it’s a game which is accessible to both war gamers and non-war gamers.

Two players take on the role of ancient commanders, be it Hannibal, or Alexander, or Caesar, or for that matter many less well known and often less skilled generals. Play is swift, actions being driven by command cards of which better Generals tend to get more giving that player a greater choice of possible actions. Resolution of actions is by battle dice, which are marked with various symbols, generally speaking the more powerful units tend to roll more dice. These two, the action card and the battle dice, create a game that flows well, whilst faithfully recreating battles small and large, and most importantly provides for a good level of uncertainty / fog of war.  Victory is achieved through collecting banners which are gained through eliminating enemy units.

Given such battles are never symmetrical, and some are over in well under an hour of play, we tend to play once, swap sides, play again, and then tot up the combined scores.  It’s a very elegant war game, with many expansions introducing new units and new battles.  It is a game which rewards careful planning and strategy, without having the complex rules associated with many war games.

It is time to take on the role of Alexander and rout those Persians, for Hannibal to unleash elephants on Romans, or to test out the power of a Roman Legion against the heavier but less maneuverable Greek Phalanx.


Luke - Sid Meier's Civilization: A New Dawn

Civilization games are notorious for being huge, lengthy monsters of games. I love the theme of them and when I want a meaty game, this is the genre I usually turn to, but yeah it would be nice to have some more manageable games in this area. Well Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) achieved it with Sid Meier's Civilization: A New Dawn - abstracted to a point, this mid-weight Euro condenses a Civ feeling into barely two hours once you're familiar with the system. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it is possible to meet that time.

It looks gorgeous on the table, but the crux is all about that Focus Row - which is a micro-management mini-game of deciding when is the best time to activate your various tech cards. The higher the card in the row, the more powerful it is, but the less often you'll get to use it. It's a fabulous system and I want to see it in more games please!

You've got plenty of options on how you want to play, based on a selection of end-game goals you're trying to achieve. Build wonders, trade with city states or occupy them, send caravans to other players, go knock their stuff over, increase your tech, build cities, there's really quite a good variety - the only flaw being that FFG have been a little bit stingy on the amount of cards for each aspect. Every player is hoping for a future expansion to bolster all the card decks and assuming this game does well, we should expect one.

I still keep the original Sid Meier's Civilization from FFG for a more meaty affair as that's an excellent game, but when I need something much faster that still keeps me engaged, this is the one I now pull out. Just be aware that it's had to abstract some parts in order to achieve this.

The Game Shelf - Azul

Azul has definitely been a hit release for Plan B Games, with a lot of people excited to get their hands on a copy. It’s a quite basic abstract tile laying game, but the production quality really sets it apart with beautiful tiles and a high quality throughout all of the components.

The reason Azul is our game of the month is because of the diversity of the people we are playing it with. I was really excited when my Mum specifically requested that I bring Azul home over New Year, after she had played it once at our house. She encouraged my Dad to play and he had a runaway victory that meant that he was happy to play it on another two occasions over our visit. I love how accessible this game is and how new players can be very competitive in their first game.

I’m actually starting to enjoy Azul slightly less at two players as it can be very confrontational, but that doesn’t matter to me as I know that it will now be a classic with my family for a long time to come. In addition, all of our friends are very keen to play Azul too because it’s getting so much buzz on 2017 top 10 lists, so there’s a lot of opportunity to enjoy Azul with three or four players, as well as losing at home with Amy.