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First Impressions Gaming of February 2021

fallout shelter feature

Odin’s Ravens - Favourite Foe

Is it a board game? Is it a book? Neither actually. It is a fast action, racing two-player card game!

If my initial impression of Odin’s Ravens seems a little confused then please do forgive me for that.

You see, at first glance, this game looked like a book. It opened like a book. But it most definitely turned out not to be a book. In truth, once inside, it barely even has a rule book. But simplicity does not mean that this game is lacking in clever gameplay.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love books. As a lawyer and day-dream writer, I eat, sleep, repeat books. But when I hungrily go to a new board game box, the steady double-handed lid lift is taken for granted. To find cardboard still connected on one side, folio-style, was a surprise, to say the least!

But it was a good surprise. For inside nestled a card game unlike any other, I have on my shelf. Comprising long slender domino-style cards and a deck of mischievous Loki powers capable of causing chaos down the racing line, I discovered very quickly that this is a game all about pace. And whilst the wooden raven meeples may not look particularly fast (they remind me more of contented hens than ominous winged prophets), the need to incorporate both flight and fight is essential if victory is to be secured.

Having played several times over the past few weeks, no set up has been the same. This is good because it means that this game has great replayability. It forces players to remain flexible in terms of strategy and tactics. The double-edged sword that is Loki’s powers is also a very clever element. This is because an advantage lorded over your opponent as they travel down along the racing track one way can easily become a disadvantage on your own path to victory as you move along the same section later in the game.

A clever two-player filler game, Odin’s Ravens has nested comfortably on my shelf, and I am looking forward to getting it back to the table very soon!

Persona 5 Strikers - Dan Hilton

If like me, you have been patiently awaiting the western arrival of Persona 5 Strikers since it first sneaked its first tease all the way back in December 2018, you will not be disappointed. My days and weeks are all blending with being an essential worker. So, I had completely forgotten about pre-ordering this little beauty from Zatu. When I got home on the 23rd of Feb and was greeted by a little parcel with my name on it, my heart did one of those slightly worrying backflips of joy and excitement.

Never have I come across a game sequel that completely changes the gameplay mechanics before. There are certain game franchises that do this between game releases, but never have they been a direct sequel to each other in terms of story and characters. P5S is a direct sequel to P5, not P5R which has an extended story and more characters. I know, it is confusing, but quite often the things we love are not things we can ever hope to truly understand. The turn-based JRPG fighting style reminiscent of the classic Final Fantasy games in P5/P5R has been replaced by hack-and-slash gritty goodness of more westernised titles like Devil May Cry. And I love it.

Sinking hundreds of hours into P5 and P5R respectively was great fun. Saying that, if P5S was simply more of the same, I think I would end up mentally exhausted. So, the change in mechanics is a fresh taste in a buffet of desserts you have overindulged in. Each of the different playable characters having a unique feel and fighting style is welcomed too.

If you played P5 or P5R then you will delight in getting the Phantom Thieves back together to wallop some bad guys and right some wrongs. The game looks anime frantic as expected, plays great, and has a very intriguingly mysterious storyline. Everything you could hope for from a Persona game. I am only approximately ten hours into the game. Already I am hoping they are planning a Persona 5 Strikers Royal Edition to feed my growing Persona addiction. If you also suffer from this addiction, then P5R is definitely the fix you need!

Stuffed Fables - Kirsty Hewitt

A short while ago I found the adventure mode on Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth.  I enjoyed the narrative of the game.  This made me want to look into other games with a narrative to them.

After some searching, I found Stuffed Fables.  In the game, you take on the role of brave stuffies who are protecting their little girl from evil creatures who come out at night.  You start off having a choice of four characters but can unlock more in later chapters.  In the box, you get some very detailed miniatures, which look amazing. Instead of a board, you have a spiral-bound book.

Each double-page of the book has one map page and one text page.  The text page sets the scene and then leads the stuffies through their adventure when they reach certain parts of the map page or specific events happen.  I don’t want to spoil what happens.  But it is safe to say whilst the story might start off in the bedroom, with the stuffies protecting their girl.  It isn’t long before they are headed off on their own wild adventure.

If you want a hard, dark, dungeon crawl, this game is not it.  But I enjoy the fresh perspective.  Some of the themes might seem a little childish at first.  But the story is engaging.  You find yourself caring about the characters and the little girl they are protecting. The dice do add an element of luck but this can be mitigated to a degree.  The stories can run on for a few hours if you play them all in one sitting.  This may be too long for some, but I enjoyed the escapism of the narrative.  All in all, this is great fun, and I am really looking forward to playing more chapters.

Ginkgopolis - Joe Packham

First published in 2012, Ginkgopolis came onto my radar a couple of years ago. It seemed to be extremely popular amongst a fairly small group of gamers but out of print and practically impossible to get hold of at the time. When Pearl games announced a new edition I jumped on the pre-order. Finally, I could see for myself what all the fuss was about!

Ginkgopolis is an abstract city building game with a mix of card drafting, tile laying and area majority scoring. It’s a pretty unique game but by no means complicated. So it was quite a surprise when after reading through the rulebook I just could not wrap my head around what I was trying to achieve in the game! I think a large part of the problem was the strange terminology of the game, urbanisation and exploitation, along with a strangely structured rulebook. Anyway, determined to give it a chance we just started playing hoping it would make sense as the game progressed.

I’m happy to report that’s exactly what happened and oh my, I get it now. What a game! It’s such a simple concept and the gameplay is so fast-paced. Players simultaneously and secretly select an action and then resolve in turn order, snappily collecting resources or expanding the city outwards or upwards. Hands of cards are passed to the next player and it begins again. As the rounds progressed the simple beauty of Gink began to shine through. That beauty is in the brutally competitive area control that drives the game and the rapidly shifting board of ever-changing tiles. One big move can change everything and there’s all to play for right up to the last move. After a rocky start, we found our feet with Gink, first impressions are this game could be very special indeed!

Fallout Shelter - Andrew Walker

In Fallout Shelter, players represent officers in charge of an underground fallout shelter and its inhabitants. The aim is to generate happiness in order to win over the vault dwellers and be elected as Overseer. 

Released by Fantasy Flight Games in February 2020 this game hasn't gained much attention. I'm a big fan of the fallout series but wasn't quick to give this a try because a board game based on an app just didn't sound appealing. (Something I recognise as a double standard since most of the games I own in-app form is based on board games). But the completionist in me eventually won.

Opening the iconic lunchbox style tin my hesitations vanished. The production quality is amazing. The resource cubes actually look irradiated. The cheerful and playful artwork is straight from the app with transparent overlays for the rooms giving it a 3D feel. And each of the vault boy miniatures, for purely aesthetic reasons, represents a different S.P.E.C.I.A.L stat. Fantastic!

In lockdown fellow players are hard to come by. but in contrast to the source material, Bethesda Fallout RPGs this one is for the whole family! Despite a pretty poor charisma score, a bribe of a few Nuke Colas persuaded the kids to play.

Struggling to maintain as much happiness as possible while locked away from the hostile world outside, and battling to suppress rampant mutations is a somewhat depressing reflection of current reality. But Fallout Shelter is anything but depressing. It's a slick, quick cheerful game that's easy to learn.

Although not aimed at kids mine were quick to grasp it and the content was suitable for my ten-year-old. While there is a strategy, the choices aren't overwhelming. Competing for resources provides good player interaction and the artwork keeps everything light-hearted.

For me, the highlight was seeing my plans come together over several turns and adapting to threats and other players' actions. Defeating invading Deathclaws was also worthy of cheer. My kids enjoyed this one too and are keen to play again soon.

I'd recommend Fallout Shelter! Especially to those who enjoy the app, wants an introduction to worker placement games, or is looking for a gateway game to get video gamers around the table. 

A War of Whispers (2nd Edition) - Tom Gorner

The “Shut Up and Sit Down Effect” can have a massive impact on a game. Once a video of theirs drops, and they give a game a glowing review, you can rest assured that the game will sell out everywhere within hours. A War of Whispers experienced just that!

Having been able to play this game for the first time this month, I can see why this was the case. A War of Whispers is essentially Game of Thrones, played out in around an hour. You are a spy, intent on influencing the decisions of 5 different empires, all at war with each other. Whilst you don’t directly control these empires, you influence their power and control of different regions and incite battles across these regions.

You have varying loyalty with these empires and this can be switched throughout the game however, once switched, all other players can see where your loyalties lie. The game is split into 4 rounds and in each round, you place agents and take actions in a clockwise order around the board. One feature I did really like is the ability to take multiple actions with just one agent, if the space to the left of that agent is free. This can certainly bolster a player’s turn and allow them to strategise far more, early on in the game.

I loved playing this game! It encourages deep strategy and having varying loyalties keeps things secretive and fresh throughout the game. You have the option to turn armies against each other to influence your loyalty later in the game. You can also get a sense of where the other players loyalties might lie. Then you can begin to strategise against them.

The idea that you simply influence the empires, rather than directly control them is what I think makes this game so interesting. You must craft a strategy early on but must also be prepared to switch loyalties later in the game. All to avoid losing valuable points due to your lack of allegiance. You could double bluff everyone, influencing empires, simply to send it crashing down at the end of the game and switching your loyalty in the final turn. The strategies are endless and A War of Whispers lets you play all of these out in a fantastic way.