Welcome to first impressions! This feature gives our bloggers a chance to share their initial opinions on games they have played for the first time this month. With so many games on the market, it would be impossible to play all of them. Hopefully this feature will give you an idea on which games have that killer hook!
Gavin H - Santa Monica
Imagine the sound of the ocean rolling in along a couple of miles of white sand. A seagull hovers on the warm coastal air. Up and down the boardwalk, tourists stroll between the shopping arcades, while locals hide away in the haunts only they know. You park up by the beach, remove your sunglasses and look out over sparkling blue to the horizon. You have arrived in Santa Monica.
Credit is due to artist Jeremy Nguyen; Santa Monica transported me and my friend to the shores of Santa Monica on our first play. The design lifts Josh Wood’s clean and breezy tile placing game from excellent to top tier. Little details like the shades and cameras on the meeples fill the game with life and vibrancy as you build your town and shepherd your tourists, locals and VIP to where they need to be.
I was utterly charmed upon first play. The gameplay is simple and casual: pick a tile, play it and carry out its effects. It saved its tension for the scoring (which was a dead heat, broken only by a sand dollar) and let us relax and enjoy mooching along the seafront in our flip-flops.
It might have helped that both my friend and I are not afraid of roleplay. We created little vignettes for the action as we played. The family of three who arrived in a foul mood after a horrendous journey and never got further than arguing in the car park. A meet-cute flying a kite. The sushi bar next to the aquarium. All made easier by the characterful art. Incidentally, Jeremy Nguyen informs me on Twitter that the sushi bar is actually a hipster tattoo parlour. In my Santa Monica, it’s now both. Tattushi!*
*Jeremy Nguyen came up with this, not me.
Kirsty H - Keyforge
Keyforge is a game I have been interested in for a while. It is a card game from Richard Garfield and Fantasy Flight Games with a similar feel to Magic the Gathering. The difference lies in the fact that each deck is unique, with the card combinations set by an algorithm. Each deck is pre-made and ready to play with as soon as you receive it.
As it was my first foray into Keyforge, I brought the Age of Ascension starter set. This comes with a play mat and some tokens as well as the cards. Then it was simply a case of checking the rules, shuffling the decks and starting to play. The aim of the game is to gather enough Aember to forge the three keys needed to unlock the vaults of the crucible. Some cards give you Aember. Other cards give you Aember as part of an action. There are also creatures to battle with your opponent.
Keyforge is definitely a game where it helps if you learn it at the same time as your opponent. I have no doubt that a skilled Keyforge player would have beaten me very quickly. Luckily, my husband is also a Keyforge novice so it didn’t matter if I didn’t quite make the best use of my turn. The cards are mostly straightforward to play, with clear directions in the text. I did have to remind myself to play cards to the flank though. On first impressions, this did seem a slightly strange rule but I am sure I will get used to it the more I play.
Overall, I found Keyforge to be an enjoyable game. I might have lost my first game, but am looking forward to getting it back to the table to exact revenge!
Northern Dice - Fantastic Factories
August was the month to game for us. I was off work and took full advantage of the wide selection of games available! (The virtual UKGE may have also informed some future purchases too!) Our most notable purchase and play this month was Fantastic Factories by Metafactory Games. It's a card-drafting, dice-rolling/allocation game for 1-5 players.
The game presents itself beautifully upon first impressions, with cartoony artwork and colourful illustrations. It's not a massive box, either - but don't let that deceive you on the game's content! Cracking it open reveals a wonderfully sensible insert, perfect for storing the five player boards, dice, and cards. The rules are written in an accessible form and are supported by lots of common sense examples and diagrams. It's undeniably one of the easiest rulebooks to access for a game of its weight!
Fantastic Factories is a wonderful game to learn, as it all makes sense within itself. Coupling in its common sense symbolisms and components, the game screams accessibility from the setup, ensuring players can see what's what. It genuinely only took us 15 minutes of learning before we were ready to play, and that's where the game really impressed! In Fantastic Factories, your aim is to produce goods by spending the two in-game resources, power and metal. You produce these by making more factories and allocating your dice (workers) to them. It's a race to create 12 produce or so many factories before end game scoring. Players then total their produce and victory points to determine the winner.
The game hits hard with its vibrant, attractive illustrations and sits on the table well too. Its table presence isn't overly spectacular, but the gameplay makes up for that tenfold. You roll some dice, produce some stuff, make stuff. And it's the most fun you'll have creating and managing a processing line! If you haven't already checked out Fantastic Factories, I really recommend you do! It's a cracking dice allocation game for families and friends alike!
Jonny F - Root (sort of!)
Root, despite its charming theme and renowned strategy - sitting firmly in BoardGameGeek’s coveted top 50 - wasn’t a game that I was ready to buy anytime soon. The highly asymmetric factions coupled with the cutthroat gameplay made it seem like a game that wouldn’t suit my group, but my intrigue got the better of me when I saw the digital version released on Steam recently.
Thanks to the wonders of AI opponents and some succinct tutorials, Root has been a pleasure to learn digitally. Playing a game against 1-3 AI factions is quick and easy, while there are different levels of difficulty and even challenge scenarios if you want to tweak things to your ability level. To me, the Steam port of Root served as an excellent entry point to a game that is quite often disparaged as difficult to learn.
While there are local and online multiplayer options, the ability to jump easily into a solo game (which you can save and return to later) really grabbed me. War games are far from my favourite genre and it’s unlikely that Root will receive nearly as many hours of play as some of my physical favourites, but this app has definitely given me an appreciation for Leder Games’ work.
Of course, if there’s one thing that needs to be highlighted about Root, it’s the gorgeous aesthetic. Kyle Ferrin did a stellar job illustrating the adorable-yet-aggressive woodland creatures for the physical game, and while a part of me misses the lovable screen-printed meeples, the Steam version’s use of 3D cel-shading for models and animations is equally delightful.
Without a doubt, this is a solid Steam title, a far cry from one of those lazy digital cash-grabs. However, I have many hours to go before I fully grasp Root’s tactical minutiae and strategy.
Nick W - Ride the Rails
For a long time I have been intrigued by Irish Gauge but never quite pulled the trigger on it. There was enough variance in the (largely positive) reviews for me to prioritise it over other games. Then Ride the Rails came out. Met with overwhelmingly positive reviews and often described as a 'mean' game, I had to have it. My 40th birthday provided the perfect excuse.
I played Ride the Rails with two more casual gamers - my mum and younger brother. Ride the Rails comes with surprisingly few components - well, lots of trains, but they are all packed into a single baggie! You don't own a particular colour on the map; rather you take 'shares' in a company which then allows you to place trains out on the board. You will be doing this every turn, so the map quickly becomes an intricate web of connected cities. This is handy because the other thing you do on your turn is Ride the Rails. This means taking a passenger from one city to another, giving monetary rewards to every player who owns shares in the lines you use.
Obviously, this means you want to have shares in the colours being used the most. However, someone cutting in on these colours can cut your income, but also give you an ally for building map-stretching routes. The rules come on a single sheet of A4. I managed to beat my sneaky mother by 4 points in that game I mentioned... Ride the Rails is exactly as described: brilliant and mean. A highly interactive game, with one sheet of rules that plays in less than an hour? Definitely check it out!