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First Impressions October 2020

Wingspan Cards

Wingspan - Northern Dice

"What's new this month?" I hear you ask... Well, beside the sun disappearing and an unsettling amount of wind, not a grand deal. Except one thing, a little game I recently discovered. Pretty niche, really, by a small time publisher. Wingspan by Stonemaier Games. Very indie and off market.... Ok, for real though, this game blew up over a year ago, and it's taken me that long to buck up the courage to plunge into the hype. (Which may have been what deterred me.) If you're not aware, Wingspan is an award winning card drafting, engine building game for 1-5 players. You play across rounds and strive for end of round bonuses and score for birds you gather in your garden, also.

As a somewhat experienced gamer, it could easily be said that my own assumptions about the hype dying off to reveal a just "okay" game were short sighted. Surely if a game's good, it's good, right? And it was. As much as I hate overly enthusiastic hype, I'm going to eat several helpings of humble pie and admit full wrongness. Wingspan is excellent. Disregarding its glowing reviews and almost unanimously positive reception, we thought it was a superbly solid game with stunning art, theme and mechanics. Much of which is needed for any game to be a smash hit for us. But what makes this that oh so much more impressive? It's the ease of access and just how damn fun and quick it is to play.

Each player has a board with three tracks to place birds. Five birds can be placed here maximum. They also have eight action cubes to allocate. Tracks have progressively improving resource gains, but must be utilised from left to right on open spaces. You choose a track, allocate an action cube, take the action and activate associated birds. Each round you reduce your actions by one, and you have a secret goal to work towards for points, too. You're effectively building three separate engines to make best use of, based on the birds you add. It all just works!

Wingspan blew us away with its gorgeous illustrations and aesthetics. Your egg tokens are literally little eggs. They're sickeningly adorable. The only thing we could nitpick is the food tokens being cardboard, but even those are of great quality. As a component snob, however, I've taken to 3D printing my own food tokens. It doesn't enhance gameplay, but it makes the aesthetics that little bit more authentic to the theme. We're all the components just cardboard we'd have still been knocked back by this one. It's brilliant despite its overwhelmingly positive image in the community! If you've not yet experienced Wingspan, then you really need to. Ignore the hype, disregard the masses, and try it out for yourself! We did, and now we keep adding its expansions to the basket anytime we do an order. It genuinely is that good!

Doppelt So Clever - Hannah Blacknell

I have been having a bit of a frenzy of roll and write games recently. I'm loving Cat Cafe, Imperial Settlers Roll and Write and now Doppelt So Clever. I got this in a secret Santa style autumn game swap. This is by Wolfgang Warsch, and is the sequel to a game I haven’t actually played Ganz Schon Clever.

As roll and writes go, Doppelt so Clever is actually pretty complicated. I needed to read the instructions and watch a video to get it square in my head what each coloured die could do. The score pad is split into six areas, the round and bonus cross off area, and five coloured areas. There are six dice, but the white one acts as a wild for whatever colour you fancy.

You play 4-6 rounds in this game, the number depends on how many are playing. Each round consists of a chance for each player to be the active player. In your turn as the active player, you get to draft up to 3 dice and make marks on your sheet according to your draft. What I really love about Doppelt is that even when you are not the active player, you still get to draft a die and make a mark. So you are invested in everybody’s turn and so there is absolutely zero downtime. A big plus for me.

Each you make will get you points at the end, the win for each mark gets higher as the game progresses and the sheet gets filled up. Filling in some spaces will grant you an immediate bonus. Sometimes this can cause you to create a really satisfying cascade of bonuses. Orchestrating a cascade-like this really makes you feel clever - so I get the name now!

Escape From Colditz - Sarah Carpenter

My husband has been telling me how much he loved playing Escape From Colditz with his mates when he was a kid. To be honest, nothing about these childhood tales or indeed the game itself particularly appealed to me! However, last month we had the chance to play the 75th Anniversary Edition published by Osprey Games at our local board game cafe. My husband was keen to play the game to see if it lived up to his expectations, or if maybe it was a case of childhood nostalgia, which I feared it would be.

Now, after just one play, I have to put my hands up and say I was wrong! Sure, when he first started to explain the rules, including that you had to ‘roll and move’ and the game might last for 50 rounds, my heart sank a little. But not long into the rules explanation and definitely after we started playing, I was hooked! In the game, I was playing the Escape Officer while my husband played the Security Officer. My goal was to make sure that two POWs escape from Colditz, while the Guards try to thwart all escape plans.

In the game the Escape Officer plots various escape routes and gathers equipment to help along the way, trying to avoid searchlights and arrest. My first POW to escape used ropes to climb down a 60ft drop, a key to unlock a door, and a pass to move through an inspection point, all the while being chased by a Guard! The second managed to escape in the staff car! Others had equipment confiscated and were sent to solitary cells, so the Guards certainly made it a challenge.

Our first game was exciting, tense and utterly engaging. I am only basing my first impressions on this one, two-player game, but I cannot wait to play again. Maybe there is a lot to be said for childhood nostalgia after all.

Super Fantasy Brawl - Ryan Hemming

My "first" impression of the game is a bit naughty, as I've played the game at an expo. However, this is the first time I've had access to the full game, since it's been through an entire kickstarter campaign since then. This month, I received Super Fantasy Brawl and its expansion, Force of Nature.

For the uninformed, this is an arena-style brawler, with 6-8 fantastical characters using an array of powers to pummel the enemy and please the crowd. Played as either a 1v1 or 2v2, players control just a handful of characters to battle it out in a tactical deathmatch.

Each character a player controls comes equipped with its own deck of abilities, which are shuffled in with the cards of its allies. Five of these are drawn on a turn, with up to three of them used. Abilities range from dealing damage and healing, to improving mobility and shoving opponents around - or any combination thereof. Using these, players must annihilate one another, improving their own characters and forcing a respawn, or play to the objectives, which mimic the demands of the crowd.

The box for this is mighty large, but thankfully still fits snuggly into my Kallax. The reason for these bulky dimensions are a combination of the many gorgeous miniatures, in addition to the broad GameTrayz inserts that protect them. The plastic miniature count comes to eighteen. They are beautifully well sculpted, with plenty of detail, yet don't feel too fragile either. I personally can't wait to get these painted up and piled into a scuffle - a vibrant change against the grimdark Warhammer that I'm used to.

Moonrakers board

Moonrakers - Thom Newton

Behind the elegance of its minimalist box lies a very clever deck building and negotiation game. Moonrakers will have players competing to become the new leader of a collection of rag tag mercenaries. To do this you’ll need to earn prestige to demonstrate that you are worthy of the job. The main ways of earning prestige are to complete some personal secret objectives or to go out and complete tasks from the job board. And these are no walk in the park, especially early on in the game. This is where Moonrakers gets very clever.

You’ll have to form temporary alliances with your opponents in order to tackle these tasks. You’ll also need to negotiate the spoils as well as who has to roll the hazard dice which could see your prestige wiped out if you roll poorly without a way to handle the hazards. You can spend your cash on new crew to go into your deck. This will give you special abilities or perhaps some new modules for your ship. These will also give you special abilities. They might also allow you to add some new basic cards to your deck. It’s these cards that will let you complete the missions that will win you the game!

The card play is also quite clever as to start with you can only play one card a turn. But by playing down certain types of card, you can now play down more cards or even draw more cards into your hand. You can really set up a nice deck that will allow you to handle certain mission types with ease. That will have people keen to ally with you so you can start earning that prestige and take the captain’s chair of the Moonrakers.

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