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First Impressions Gaming Of December 2020

Wingspan Cards

Wingspan - Lauren Harrington

While Wingspan didn’t feature on my Christmas wishlist, purely due to how long my list is, it has certainly been a game I’ve been eager to purchase for a while now, along with fellow Stonemaier game, Viticulture. I was delighted on Christmas morning when upon opening a gift, I found Wingspan inside. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to open and get playing.

I always love opening new board games and checking out all the components before the game setup, and this was no exception. The quality of the pieces is excellent and the artwork is absolutely beautiful. I especially love the multi-coloured 3D eggs that have been differentiated from the food tokens. I must say this took a few watches of different youtube videos to get the game fully set up and understand the gameplay, but once we got there then we were just able to sit and enjoy our first game!

Wingspan is completed in 4 rounds in which you have as many turns as you have action tokens, which reduce by one each round. Your overall aim is to collect as many points by the end of the game through collecting a bird, placing a bird in one of your habitats, laying eggs, or collecting food tokens, and aligning these actions with your personal goals as well as each round’s goals. We played our first game on the less competitive mode while we familiarised ourselves with the game mechanics and worked out our strategies.

It took us the first 2 rounds before we really got comfortable balancing each rounds’ goals along with our personal goals and the overall game strategy.

I love that this has a solo mode. I’ve not yet experienced any solo board games so I’m really eager to try this out. While I always prefer the social aspect of playing board games in a small or large group, it’s not always the case that people are available to play games when you want, and sometimes it’s just nice to do a solo activity that doesn’t involve looking at a screen, so if this is a hit some more solo games are sure to be added to my list.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale - Tora Leslie

I have zero sense of direction; I literally get lost walking down my own driveway. My husband watches me and, as I pause pretending to drink in the beauty of nature, a light tapping emanates from the kitchen window and a helpful point sets me back on the right path!

On that basis, a game about being a master map-maker for a needy queen wasn’t on my radar. However, I love roll and write games and Cartographers appeared to have more meat on the bones than your average flip and fill. Plus, the sheer weight of popular opinion about it meant that I was going to put on my big girl pants and head out into the Northern Lands at some point, internal compass be damned!

And, having navigated my first game this week, I can safely say that I am obsessed with Queen Gimnax and her demand that the Kingdom of Nalos increases its prime real estate! I can also unequivocally state that nobody in the history of this game could have scored fewer reputation stars on their first foray; I failed to secure the royal objectives, ignored the relevant seasons, let the Dragul monsters run rampant across my board, and collected fewer coins than a kid with Teflon coated teeth! But do you know what? I had a great time and it was precise because of the mighty mapping misfire that I am now trying to work out just how often I can sneak it onto our table!

Very clever in the way it scores, Cartographers makes you think about what will get you stars now but also what you are going to need to succeed in later seasons. And whilst you would think forewarning advantageous, it just makes your decisions and the balance you must strike that much more devilishly difficult! Combine this strategic crunch with a swirl of direct player interaction (yup, in a roll and write game!) and Cartographers rises to a level of intensity higher than so many of its playable peers.

Solo or multiplayer, this game shines. And for those who, like me, are now worrying more about the Queen’s portfolio than the UK housing market, you are going to be hard pushed to tire of this highly repayable roll and write (or, spoiler alert, the fantastic compatible sequel coming next year!)

Village Green - Gavin Hudson

At first glance, Village Green seems like a simple card draft/set collection card game with a light and friendly theme. But this glossy, bucolic exterior is a front, for what can be a tricky and mean game. In the game, 2-5 players are competing to design award-winning village greens. To do this they must draw and place cards into their playing area to meet the demands of award cards which they also draw and place.

However, strict placement rules regarding different colours and types of flowers make this harder than it first seems. Couple this with a little bit of hate drafting and the country idyll can soon tip over to handbags at dawn on the village green.

Like other Sylvester designs, Village Green gets better on a repeat play. The variety of award cards and how they interact with the green cards in your grid is a puzzle that takes a couple of plays to get used to. you can easily be drawn into trying to achieve all the points conditions on offer and end up achieving very little.

The artwork is beautiful and building your green is an aesthetically pleasing and satisfying experience and the names of the different awards add humour and character. The yellow colour on the cards makes the flowers in those sets difficult to read quickly from distance, which does present a problem in gameplay as matching flowers is important for placement and victory points.

That minor quibble aside, Village green is a solid light to medium card game with a perfectly realised theme. There is also a solo mode to boot, which will no doubt come in handy when I want something quick to play, but challenging in the coming months of lockdown.

Wingspan Oceania - Northern Dice

Through the blur of the festive period, we have somehow stumbled in January in one piece. Festivities done, and decorations disposed of. It's back to reality! Even though December has come and gone, but we have fond memories of a short stint where we were hitting a certain something a lot. A lot, a lot. It wasn't the festive bubbles (this year), but it was equally as exciting! The Wingspan Oceania expansion! It hits hard and fast with new tactics that subtly, but effectively, give you a whole host of more options.

The game interestingly adds far more than its previous expansion but is of the same calibre. The European expansions adds what the game originally needed to give it the extra layer. This expansion adds brand new things for you to get your teeth into. Pollen tokens, new scoring criteria with a bit of bite, and end game abilities for birds. And new player boards, too! Let's start with the more obvious addition: Pollen.

Pollen tokens sit as a wild food source which doesn't roll over from round to round but is kept in a score pool when used for actions. This enables players an end game bonus for the most / second most usage. Pollen forces more tactical plays when used as the main focus for a player, as not using it means you'll lose it.

Then my personal favourite addition. End game bird abilities. Don't get me wrong, the round end bird abilities from the European expansion are superb - but they can fall a little bit contextual. If you can use them, you will. But it rarely feels proactively set up. End game abilities on the other hand are excellent. If you know you can't hit that round end goal, or you won't score well on it, you can instead do actions to feed a game end bird ability. These are appropriately powerful for how long a play they can be to make use of, and the points you can amass with a few early ones is astounding!

Wingspan Oceania added what Wingspan needed as an expansion, more tactical approaches and more control for players. We loved Wingspan as a core game, and more so with its European expansion... but we doubt we'll ever remove the Oceania one. It's superb. (And it adds bird with funny names, so what's not to love!?)

Cloudage - Thom Newton

If you’re in the habit of reading some of the Zatu blogger profiles you may well know that my favourite designer is Alexander Pfister. So, this month excitement hit fever pitch when a copy of Cloudage was dropped on my doorstep.

Cloudage is a game set in a world after an ecological disaster. The players control vast airships which can move from city to city picking up resources and fighting pirates. The game has elements of deck building and hand management. You can also upgrade your airship to be better at different tasks.

There are two ways to play Cloudage. You can choose one of the three included scenarios and play that or there is a campaign game.  This takes you through the story of the environmental disaster and how mankind goes on to deal with it.

The game is a lot simpler than I was first expecting. Pfister is known for some very complex euro games such as Great Western Trail, Maracaibo and Mombasa. This is definitely much simpler than those. Each turn will have players moving their airship across the map to another city. They can then gather resources and potentially upgrade their ship or research some new technology.

There is a definite sense of progression in Cloudage. Early on in the game, you can’t move far and even the simplest raiders can defeat you. Towards the end of the game, you can traverse the map with ease and rumble with the best of them.

One thing I will mention though is that I was a bit disappointed with the solo game. The changes make it very difficult to upgrade your airship or get new cards which really stifles what I think is one of the best aspects of Cloudage.