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First Impressions Gaming Of January 2021

Beez close up

Sarah Carpenter - Beez

I picked up Beez on a bit of a whim last month (well, we all deserve a treat at the moment, don’t we?). I was instantly drawn in by the bright, colourful box art and the stunning bees, sitting on their beehives. The game certainly has gorgeous components, but does it play well?

After just a couple of plays of Beez, I am not disappointed. The rules of the game are pretty simple – move your bee, collect nectar and store it in your honeycomb. The colours and positions of the nectar in your honeycomb will score you points according to the common and secret objective cards.

However, a game of Beez is not as straightforward as it sounds. Firstly, a bee can never fly forwards. There are five directions of flight around the six sides of the beehive. Also, the direction of flight determines how far the bee flies. For example, if you want to fly backwards, your bee must fly exactly three spaces.

Bees may collect the nectar on the edge of where they land. The tricky part is that the nectar must be stored in an empty chamber with a number that corresponds to how far the bee just flew. So even though you might easily be able to pick up nectar, you have to make sure you can place it somewhere that will be beneficial.

As soon as a player has stored 12 nectar the game ends. We kept forgetting to move our player markers after placing nectar, which was a little frustrating, although easily rectified. We also found that the game was over fairly quickly (both of our games took just 20 minutes). One of the rules for experts is that all nectar must be placed adjacent to previously-stored nectar, which will probably mean that players are not picking up nectar on every turn. I’m looking forward to playing this variant and also trying the game with more than two players when possible.

Favourite Foe -Rhino Hero: Super Battle

How many days until Christmas??? I never thought I would be that type of person. Brought up to believe that decorations should go up on Christmas Eve and be dragged down again on Boxing Day, festive fun seemed an oxymoron in my childhood home (or at least a guilty secret!)

But, fast forward to the first Christmas I spent with my (now) husband a decade ago, and my dormant sense of merriment was awoken. His family were (and still are) candy caned to their core. Yuletide joy, excitement, and fun spills out of them and it is contagious. Tension out, turkey in! Skip forwards again to the birth of our son and then, well, Xmas-a-no-no unequivocally became Noel-a go-go!

And yet, last year, with plans unexpectedly changing, I worried that the fun-infusion I now crave like sprinkle coated sugar cookies would be missing without our clan celebrating around the same table. I needn’t have. With a 5-year-old mini meeple, unlimited Zoom, and a huge stack of new board games to play, we were in holiday heaven!

One game which finally worked its way up to the top of the pile in the first week of this month was Rhino Hero: Super Battle from HABA. Building (literally!) upon the brilliantly simple tower of cards concept in Rhino Hero, this undeniably fun, dexterity game brings in three more superheroes, each of whom is now are competing to race to the top of a colourful skyscraper in this super-sized upgrade.

Now we love the original Rhino Hero; the fun which comes from building a huge tower and watching it fall down is simply, well, super. But add in the chance to duel it out, moving up and down the ever-increasing safety-be-demanded skyscraper as the die decide your fate, this little Rhino and his friendly foes have taken things up another level!

Not only that, but the addition of the cheeky spider monkeys who play fast and loose with balance really made Rhino Hero: Super Battle shine for us. Watching our son giggle and groan as cards wobbled, characters toppled, and monkeys tumbled makes this a definite keeper for us.

We had a blast and we can’t wait to play it with the rest of our clan who, from youngest cousin through to beloved nanny, will laugh out loud every shaky step of the way!

Kirsty Hewitt - Crown Of Emara

If you read my Christmas wishlist you may remember that this was one of the games I was hoping for from Santa.  Whilst Santa may not have obliged, I did have some Zatu vouchers to spend.  So I headed straight for Crown of Emara. Here are my first impressions.

Players are trying to prove to the current King of Emara that they will be suitable candidates to rule after him.  To do this they have to show they can care for the buildings and people of the Kingdom.  To show this the game has a very clever feature.  A dual score track.  During the game, you will be getting both building points and citizen points.  At the end of the game, a player only counts the lowest of his two scores.  Whichever player has the highest of these, wins.

The game takes place over six rounds each with three turns.  Every turn, take a card and play it in one of the round slots in front of you.  You then take the action on the card, move the number of spaces indicated by the slot and take that action.  Movement takes place over two rondels.  One in the countryside, which gives you resources.  The other is in the town and is where those resources are used for points.  Each turn is relatively simple but can lead to more in-depth, long term decisions.  You also have some bonus actions which are again ways to use resources to acquire points.

Crown of Emara is great for when you want a crunchy game but don’t have tonnes of time.  There is plenty of space for interesting strategic decisions but the rules don’t feel overwhelming.  Overall, a highly enjoyable game which I am looking forward to getting to the table again.

Rachel Page - Brass Birmingham

Lockdown has meant that our board game collection has grown at a dramatic rate. Anything that takes over an hour involves strategy and works for two people goes straight into our shopping basket. Brass Birmingham has been at the top of the Board Game Geek lists for a very long time and as I live in the West Midlands, it seemed like a good way to go.

First impressions. Immediately opening the box, you could tell that a lot of effort had gone into the design of the game. The board looked very similar to Ticket to Ride. The different West Midlands’ towns and cities were laid out with reasonable accuracy, each connected by various train tracks and canals. It is not often that Uttoxeter gets the recognition it deserves. Each of the characters has a full historical backstory explaining their part in the Industrial Revolution. A lot of thought had clearly got into the whole thing and the rule book was satisfyingly thick. Always a good sign.

The aim of the game is to build a network of locations and industries. There are a set number of actions you can do each turn which is detailed at length in the rulebook. We spent a very long time trying to work out what we were supposed to be doing and eventually decided to just get stuck in. As always, playing it helped us work it out.

You win the game by collecting the most victory points. These can be achieved by connecting locations, selling industries and using up resources. This sounds very simple, but it wasn’t until the end of the first game that we realised we had been scoring completely wrong. Brass Birmingham was fab and engaging. We just need to play it again now we know what we are doing.

Joe Packham - Alma Mater

Ok, so My first impressions of Alma Mater can be broken down into several stages. Primary first impressions: “Oh my days, a new game from the design team that brought us Coimbra. Same publisher, Eggertspiele, same art style and very similar graphic design. I need this in my life!”

Secondary first impressions: “That rulebook was kind of vague in places. Oh no there’s a dummy 3rd player in a 2 player game! Wow setting up those professors and students was a bear, all that shuffling and sorting. Man, this thing sounds NOTHING like Coimbra. Ooh, love these dual-layer boards. Aww, these ickle-wickle books are so cute, what an incredible component!
Tertiary and final post first play first impressions: Alma Mater is nothing like Coimbra! It’s heavier, less intuitive and not quite as elegant. The first rounds are achingly tight, making you wonder how on Earth you are going to score points. But, and this is gigantic but, I think potentially there’s more game in Alma Mater. In later rounds things really start coming together. Your professor cards and students begin to combo nicely. Suddenly you know what you're doing and how to get there, and I have to say, that is immensely satisfying!

The dummy 3rd player Ignotus is actually super easy to run and does an excellent job of imitating a 3 player game. I love that each player is linked to a certain coloured book, basically a resource. Everybody needs all the book colours in order to play well so this forces interaction between players. While you have the usual action blocking of most worker placement games, you also have this begrudgingly positive interaction of needing to buy books from your opponent. The scoring too is varied and interesting. First impressions overall are very good. Well worth the laborious set up!