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First Impressions Gaming April 2021

Whistle Mountain

Whistle Mountain - Matt Thomasson

April was a slower gaming month for me due to two family birthdays and a house move. It has been rather hectic but I did manage to play, for the first time, Whistle Mountain from designers Scott Caputo and Luke Laurie. Both of these are designers that I like a lot. I was very excited to get Whistle Mountain to the table.

Whistle Mountain is a two to four player tile placement/worker placement game. In Whistle Mountain you will be placing down blimps, airships and hot air balloons to gain resources and activate machines. Alternatively, you can “recall” your workers and build scaffolding pieces, construct machines and move your workers from the barracks to the scaffolding, and around the scaffolding, to rescue them from the ever-rising water levels. Any workers that are caught on the scaffolding when the water rises are swept away into the whirlpool and score negative points if they are still there at the end of the game.

As the water level rises machines will become waterlogged and become redundant. Players can gain upgrades and special abilities as well as cards to give them bonuses/resources or additional actions.

There is a lot going on in Whistle Mountain and the above explanation is a very brief overview. But suffice to say this game is excellent. There are so many tense and interesting choices to make on your turn. Where you place your airships will determine what resources you gain and which machines you activate. Do you spend time gaining upgrades/abilities and cards to further your game or concentrate on building scaffolding and machines? When a machine is built it is available to everyone to activate. But when you place them, the timing is an interesting element to the game.

There is so much to like about this game. There is a ton of replayability with the different machines, abilities, upgrades and starting tiles, the board will grow and evolve differently each game as the polyomino scaffolding and machines are placed and the game flows very nicely. I can’t wait to get this back to the table and I am itching to play it with more players.

Tomb Of Annihilation - Andrew Walker

My family love Dungeons and Dragons but scheduling games is a big challenge, especially when playing with people on the other side of the world. Because we can't play as often as we'd like my kids and I decided to try a D&D board game. Tomb of Annihilation is a cooperative fantasy dungeon crawl played over several sessions with evolving card decks and character advancement.

Buying this felt like a gamble. While it can be played solo, I really wanted to play this with my kids. I was apprehensive at having to read a lot of rules and expected long set-up and play times and complicated turns. These would put my kids off and make this a large and expensive shelf ornament. 

I'm happy to report this was not my experience. Although there's a lot of reading material, the core rules are surprisingly concise and don't rely on any experience of the D&D system. There are uniquely set up and take down rules for each module. These account for most of the reading but are split into small manageable chunks for each session. Turn actions are simple and streamline; capturing the essence of D&D in an efficient and simple way.

I was really impressed at how well the game created a feeling of urgency. It felt like a life and death race against time from the start, which is exactly what the story in the game is about. The mechanics encourage fast exploration, resulting in challenging combat situations as more and more enemies appear. With success at stake, it's often a balance between tackling threats or pressing ahead with an increasing number of foes at your back. 

This was a highly engaging experience. The exploration is exciting and the combat fast and satisfying. There's plenty of variety created by evolving, randomised maps, choices of abilities and a range of monsters with unique effects. 

Tomb of Annihilation is mechanically mostly combat and exploration. But success relies on players working together, using their strengths and supporting one another to stay alive. This creates a lot of social interaction between players and even when it didn't work out we felt like a united team, one for all and all for one! 

We came away from our first game eager to play again and excited to see what lies ahead for our team of adventurers.

Magic Maze - Rachel Page

I am not supposed to be buying any new games, however, I slipped. But it is a sign of self-control that I only bought two. People are always talking about Magic Maze and Isle of Cats, so in a moment of weakness, I bought both.

We grabbed for Magic Maze first. Co-operative games tend to go down well in my house as it means our competitive spirit is targeted at the game rather than each other. Turns out Magic Maze is not the calming, team-spirited game we were expecting! It is frantic and incredibly stressful. You really have to work together to achieve anything, but you aren’t allowed to speak. No words. No gestures. And no signalling. Nothing.

There are a lot of rules to keep track of, but the people at Sit Down! have thought of that. You start with a mini-campaign that builds in each of the rules gradually. Each round of the game takes barely any time at all, so you are never going to play it just once. We pretty much played it constantly for a week. Quick, simple and thoroughly addictive, Magic Maze is definitely going to become one of our go-to games.

Despite not being cooperative, Isle of Cats ended up being a lot less competitive than Magic Maze. From the moment you first open the box, you can tell that a lot of thought went into this game. Your mission is to rescue as many cats from their sinking island as possible. The little cat components are adorable and effectively work as a puzzle on your boat-shaped player mat. Be careful to fill all your rooms; I forgot and ended up losing by a whopping 60 points.

It was definitely worth breaking my no-shopping policy for these games. I will inevitably be buying the expansions...

Tiny Epic Pirates - Thom Newton

I’ve been playing the Tiny Epic games all the way back since kingdoms. I really like the concept, games that are smaller in scope and physical size that can be thrown into your bag and even play over a lunch break. The latest game in the series is Tiny Epic Pirates, a swashbuckling adventure of pick up and deliver with dice combat!

All your actions are on your captain’s wheel rondel. You can move as far along this rondel as you like but you need to place one of your deckhands on each space you skip. And you can’t move them again until you come all the way around the wheel again, that’s a long time to have them doing nothing when they could be making your ship faster or more effective in combat. So, skipping spots is a weighty decision.

The aim of the game is to bury three treasure chests of booty. On your turn, you can go exploring, plunder towns, fight other players or hire more crew. I’ve really enjoyed focusing on the crew as they can get you bonus actions in certain situations. I find these little bonuses are what makes the difference in getting you the win in a Tiny Epic game.

The board is modular, so there is some replayability there. There is a big deck of crew cards as well, there are a lot of different combinations to be found, I’m sure. The wooden components are all nice, but it’s the little ships that most people are drawn to. They act as a little visual reminder of what cargo each player or trader is holding. Also, metal coins. I love metal coins in a game so I’m a very happy camper indeed. I’ve only had a couple of games so far but I have enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to trying out the expansion module in the near future.