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First Impressions August 2021


As August comes to an end, our Zatu bloggers share with you some of their final first impressions of the season. From timeless classics to early Halloween night frights, see our latest gaming discoveries.

Word On The StreetFavouritefoe

Words. Spelling. Tiles. Teams. Sounds like my kind of party. And I am very pleased to report that my first impressions turned out to be exactly that! Not just my type, though, but also for the other members of my game mad family. Word on the Street (by CoiledSpring Games and Educational Insights) is a tug of war with words. Sounds like a strange mix, and certainly a novel take on the familiar, physical rope pull. But it plays how it is described. [Political leaders of this world take note; you can battle it out without the need for bashing, crashing catastrophes!].

Either as a two player or in teams, on the central board sits tiles from the alphabet (all the consonants except J, Q, X, and Z). This is cleverly designed as a road, with all the usual traffic gubbins colourfully dotted about the place. There is also a box of double-sided category cards (yellow for easy, blue for more challenging), as well as a sand timer. On each side of the letter tiles are two spaces. The object of the game is to capture letters, and whoever is the first to hold 8 tiles is the winner!

How you get the letters is the tuggy part. If you can think of an answer to your category within the time allotted and spelt using any of the letters, you get to slide those tiles one space towards you. If you use the same letter twice, you move it 2 spaces. Go crazy and spell “SauSageS”, and you’ll be able to scoop that “S” tile straight off the board with a 3-slide shimmy.

Don’t worry if you can’t think of an answer with 3 identical letters, however, as the moved tiles remain in place. Having said that, your opponents may then think of a word that will shift them back to the safety of the centre line. Or perhaps, even over to their side! With opportunities to challenge opponents' word selections, and the option of different ability categories, we found playing this with mini-meeple to be a dream. I did initially worry that the absence of vowels and other letters could confuse. But he has taken to this game like a D-U-C-K to W-A-T-E-R and is eagerly challenging me to mini spelling bees around the house! And whilst it sounds simple, we grown-ups also found the pressure to produce strategically strong word choices within the time frame very exciting indeed!

Trial Of The TemplesNathan Coombs

“Trial of the Temples - What fantastic value for money”

This was my first impression when this game by Emperor S4 games caught my eye as I was scouring the Zatu website. This publisher has form and having enjoyed Hanamikoji, I was certain to like Trial of the Temples.

This is a two to four person game where each player is trying to become the most experienced wizard. (Think of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). This is achieved by gaining experience (victory points) by commanding fire, water and sand spells. Mastery of these spells is through the acquisition of resources and spell cores, and this can only be through visiting the key temples, which are set around the central arena.

The board is modular, with twelve temple areas set up like a clock around the three scoring tracks. This game has so many little mechanics. Firstly, there is worker placement. You assign your rather cute “Mage Meeple” to one of the temples. This allows you to gather resources (crystals) with a view to making sets of different spells (set collection). You can then use these gems in combination to advance along the different scoring routes. With a little planning, the best wizards get a nice little engine builder going too. The game is very balanced at all player counts. No one can claim first-player supremacy as there are variable turn orders at work too.

There are just five rounds indicated by the movement of the sun around the arena. With each passing phase, some temples are shrouded in darkness and new spells might be available and player order changes each turn. There is heaps of replayability as each wizard has an individualised player board where some spells and gems can be used. The modular nature of the temple set-up and the movement of daylight around the arena means that every game is different.

As a family we have just started to scratch the surface of this game. Its artwork is good. The mechanisms at play are fun and at the current Zatu price is astonishingly good value for money. It is one I’m so pleased to have grabbed and a more detailed review is available to read here.

The King Is Dead 2nd EditionJoe Packham

The King is Dead! I mean it’s sad and all, I feel bad for the guy. But at the same time, this tragic event holds an opportunity. Specifically, an opportunity for a terrific game of subtle power plays and deceptively understated card play. The King is Dead saw a 2nd Edition release from Osprey Games this year and I’ve just got my greasy mitts on a copy. Time to share my first impressions.

TKID is set upon this very sceptred isle that we call home. The game board sees Britain divided into 8 regions that provide the basis of the area control. Regions start with 4 cubes on them, in 3 colours. The cubes are followers, and the colours designate their faction. Players use the 8 cards in their hand to manipulate the position of these follower cubes through the game. They also collect a little pile of followers as the game goes on. When all players pass in turn the next region is resolved. Count up how many followers of each faction are in that region, the colour with the highest number gets control, marked by a control disc in that colour.

The colour with most control discs at games end is the primary faction and the player with the most followers of that faction wins. Unless, of course, the French invade! This happens if enough regions are tied for control, then the winning parameters shift to the player with the most sets of followers in all 3 colours. It’s a really quick game, with a super simple ruleset. But the depth of strategy is unbelievable. These subtle power shifts caused by well-timed card play can have a huge effect. With only 8 actions to spread over 8 regions choosing when to use each card is a seriously tough decision. This game seems to pack a powerful punch in a small and subtle package.

The Night CageNorthern Dice

Is it spookmas yet? How is it not October? Summer’s done so the next important event in my life is Halloween. Bring on autumn leaves, jumpers and spooky happenings! So, to get me in the mood for some horrors, frights and other paranormal happenings, I’ve turned to board games. Luckily! I recently received my Kickstarter copy of The Night Cage by Smirk and Dagger (available to pre-order right now!). It’s a cooperative, tile-laying game of survival for 1-5 players.

The Night Cage is a game set in a dark labyrinth. Players have only a candle to light their way and a goal to achieve; acquire a key and meet at a gate. The issue? The darkness isn’t kind. As you move through the labyrinth, the night devours unseen paths as the labyrinth twists and turns, aiming to create an inescapable maze. What’s worse is that the darkness isn’t the players’ danger… wax eaters linger in the deck of tiles ready to consume the light of those they see! Being attacked removes the player’s light source and reduces their vision to their tile alone. Relighting is possible, but that may risk other players losing possible keys, gates and time.

My first impression is that this game does lots of things excellently, and one thing perfectly. The mechanic of limited vision and light works well to emphasise the darkness and hidden dangers. Coupling that in with the removed tiles when they aren’t visible really adds to the claustrophobia. And that, along with some gorgeously created components and artwork, add up to what’s done perfectly. Theme. The game builds an incredible atmosphere of mystery and the risk of the abyss consuming your final flickers. It’s incredible and is only trumped by turning the lights out and playing by candlelight. Then you really feel like you’re trapped in the night.

Red RisingFavouritefoe

Last month was chock full of first impressions. This was mainly due to the fact that we house and cat sat for our super pal, Hannah for two whole weeks. Her game collection is gold standard, and we were incredibly lucky to have our pick.

And, as my eyes scanned the bulging shelves, they settled upon one of the most colourful boxes around; Red Rising by Stonemaier Games. Not living under a rock, I had heard a lot about this game. Based on the literary series by Pierce Brown, I had a feeling I was in for a treat. I didn’t know the back-story, but I was curious to jump in.

Having played it just long enough to talk to each other about how we felt, this was a double-nodder aka an instant hit with me and my game-mad husband. And not just because it looks stunning (although it absolutely does!). If you haven’t come across it yet, Red Rising is an asymmetric hand-management game set in a dystopian Mars 700 years in the future. You are a House seeking to rise to power, over and above five others. And you do this by amassing the most effective group of followers you can, each with their own powers and abilities. With 112 different ones grouped into 14 different colours, this is a thinky, strategic, and really enjoyable game.

Taking turns to lay cards that trigger actions, collecting new cards and/or collecting in-game bonuses, you will be looking to make the best combinations of characters and powers possible. Mainly because, when the end of game triggers fire off, you want to be riding high on the points rainbow!

Some cards reward big at end game, but others giving greater payouts if you can find the characters or colours they work best with as the rounds roll past. On that basis, Red Rising is a game full of trade-offs. You will never have or get everything you want. Giving something up to get something else is the order of play. Every turn is a gamble, as such, but that’s part of the fun of Red Rising. It’s also the hook that keeps me coming back. And, with a super simple, smooth solo mode and exceptionally reasonable price point, I don’t need any excuse to bring this hyper-colour hand management gem to the table.