Ryan Hemming - Shards of Infinity
Isolation has certainly restricted what I can play - particularly as I only live with one other person. Fortunately, we’ve both become engrossed in Shards of Infinity. This is set in a unique universe, following the shattering of the Infinity Engine. Now, certain leaders have utilised some of the fragments that were thrown from the wreckage, forming factions to rise up against the others and rebuild what was lost.
Players buy cards from a common supply, and play cards of their own, with the ultimate goal of whittling down their opponents health. As your discard pile is shuffled and redrawn when your deck is empty, you need to carefully curate your arsenal to counter your enemy and compliment your other abilities. Everyone has 50 hit points and ‘mastery’ - the latter of which represents mastery over an infinity shard, which is used to make other cards more powerful. The ‘buying pool’ of cards contains four different factions, which tend to focus on a different aspect of the game: health gain, damage dealing, mastery gain or champions. Champions are cards that stay in play until destroyed, whereas most cards are played and then discarded.
Overall, it’s been a battle of wits between my housemate and I, as strategies have developed over the past few weeks. We’ve also now purchased the expansion, Relics of the Future, for additional cards and a more faction-focussed enhancement of the game.
With a price point of £13 at the time of writing, I have absolutely zero issue in recommending this game to people. It’s got enough depth to keep a seasoned gamer interesting, whilst being easy enough to pick up that it won’t scare newer players away. Stay safe!
Rob Wright - Shards of Infinity
I love this game! I got gateway’ed into deck builders via Ascension, so Mr Gary’s PvP was a must have. It’s got capacity for more players than Star Realms, a card evolution system that is fairer than Pokemon and is considerably cheaper than the likes of Legendary. It also comes in a fairly dinky little box… well, it did until the latest expansion, Shadows of Salvation, which throws co-operation into the mix as well… but you can read about that elsewhere.
To give you a quick overview, two to four players are pitted against each other in a battle to be the last overlord standing. Each represents a different faction – Undergrowth, Homodeus, Shade and Order - which correspond to four different factions in the deck that can be bought during the game. Each faction has its own speciality in the main – Undergrowth heal and combo, Shade damages and banishes, Homodeus have a lot of cards that sit in front of you (champions) and take one for the team and Order draw and power you up when you use all the factions at once. Each player starts with a set of pretty weak cards, mainly crystals for spending on the cards up for grabs and one blaster for doing the weakest pew-pew possible. The other two, the shard generator and the infinity shard start off pretty weak-sauce, but can get… a wee bit better. This is where Shards differs from your average deck builder, because it contains a neat little mechanic where you can power up your character and, in the process, power up your cards – what starts out as a piddling little damage-doer can evolve into a universe-and-game ending infinite damage-doer.
This is what’s great about Shards – you can go for buying up the best cards you can in the centre to do the most damage, or you can hang back, heal and shield yourself and come in at the end with a huge booyah. It looks good (with individual character cards), plays nice and escalates nicely. Give it a go!
Northern Dice - Gizmos
We love a dense, deep game with a tonne of moving parts. It's generally what we always end up choosing for a gaming session. From the depth of Skytear to asymmetry Cosmic Encounter with expansions, we like lots of moving parts in a game. However, our game of the month isn't overly deep or dense. In fact, it's incredibly accessible... to begin with. Through player choice it can get complicated, and quickly - but it will never hinder you. Gizmos is an engine building game for 2-4 players and it's one we love! Everyone starts out simple - you have a machine with a Gizmo in it that triggers when you do something specific. Over time however, you add more Gizmos to your machine, which do more things. And more Gizmos to do more things. And then a chain reaction of things!
Many engine builders run as deck builders, with cards spent as resources. Gizmos is unique as it includes the use of marbles as "Energy Spheres". These are housed in a plastic "Energy Dispenser" and are how players build new Gizmos. They're the resource. Six will appear on the run of the dispenser and players can choose one of those on their turn. Or they can choose to spend the spheres they already own to build a new Gizmo. They can also file a Gizmo away from the choices to store it to be built later on. These are all tremendously simple actions, no complications whatsoever. But each Gizmo has an effect to it and it triggers when specific action is taken. For example, a Gizmo might trigger when you pick a blue sphere from the run - it may let you then take a random sphere from inside the machine. But it slowly develops further...
Gizmos is simple initially, yes, but imagine a mid game machine: Building a blue Gizmo allows you to take two spheres, but choosing blue lets you pick more, and picking a red lets you file a Gizmo, and doing that... You get the idea. Now you might imagine this vast complexity would scare a newer player away. Possibly. But in all honesty, they won't see that level of complexity until the end of the game, and what's more is that they develop that complexity themselves. The rules sit there, plain as day for them to see, and they start where everyone else does. They then add parts and they're the ones to make it messy, and what's beautiful about that is only they'll know what triggers when and why. They become the mastermind of their own machine.
Something about Gizmos has made it our choice of game this month, and also our choice of engine builder. The quirky theme, lack of initial moving parts, and the marbles all just make it really approachable and fun. Gizmos gives you the feeling that you really know what you're doing, despite the incredibly complex machine you've built. It'll give you a great feeling when you trigger one gizmo and perplex the other players on how you've manage to collect eight spheres three new Gizmos. You'll be a genius in your own right!
Carl Yaxley - Elder Sign
My game of the month for April is Elder Sign, from Fantasy Flight Games. For the uninitiated, it's a one - eight player cooperative game inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. The objective is to seal away an Ancient One before it can awaken and, quite literally, unleash hell. An outcome I'm sure we can all agree is not ideal. To prevent civilisation slipping into a chaotic maelstrom of madness, players will need to acquire Elder Signs.
Elder Signs are rewarded for successfully completing tasks throughout the game, represented by Adventure cards. A player can attempt an Adventure each turn, by rolling dice. Each Adventure offers a different reward for successfully completing it. Players can gain allies, learn spells, and pick up various objects to aid them in the game. Be wary however, for the price of success is sometimes high. As is the cost of failing. Each investigator has stamina and sanity values which will both be affected during the game. If either is reduced to zero, it's game over for that investigator.
Further challenges will arise in the form of Mythos effects. At the start of every player’s turn, that player will reveal a Mythos card and apply the effect. Sometimes the effects are helpful, but mostly they're a hindrance. Monsters may appear, items could be lost, or the Ancient One could take a step closer to awakening.
Elder Sign is a challenge; a fun and sometimes frustrating challenge. I like to use Elder Sign as an entry point to lure players into its big brother, Arkham Horror. However, I've really enjoyed playing solo over recent weeks. The base game has a decent replay value on its own. The the expansions offer some variations to take you into the wider world Lovercraft created. It's become my go-to for a solo gaming experience. I highly recommend it!
Nick T - Bandido
With a family to entertain, we have been getting great value out of Bandido. A co-operative or solo game for1-4 players of all ages. Bandido is a simple, yet strangely addictive game. In the game players choose one of three cards in their hand, placing it down to create a sprawling map of tunnels. The aim is to block all these tunnels and stop Bandido from escaping before the draw deck runs out.
The simplicity makes it so accessible for all ages. My five year old can play and grasps the concept of trying to decrease the number of open tunnels wherever possible. My three boys can play without adult supervision too. As a so-called grown-up, I still enjoy the challenge of it, and it is a very real challenge. Some might say there is a bit of luck involved in what cards are drawn and they would be right. Generally though, it will be the strategy and placement of these cards that dictates whether you win or lose. You will win often, but lose more. Both victories and defeats leave you with a yearning to play again.
With an RRP around a tenner it is a steal… fortunately not the sort of steal that would make you a Bandido!
Kirsty Hewitt - Spirit Island
My game of the month is the co-operative game, Spirit Island. This is a rather heavy, complex co-operative game, which I lose at least as often as I win, but I enjoy the challenge!
In Spirit Island you play as the Spirits who inhabit a far off island which is beginning to be colonised by invaders. The Spirits want to remove the invaders from the island. There are two ways in which the Spirits attempt to remove the invaders - by destroying them and their settlements, or by increasing their fear to such a point that they flee the island. However, the Spirits lose if the island becomes too damaged (blighted) by the invaders, or if the invaders colonise too much of the island (the draw deck runs out).
Although the game does give you a helping hand, it is very clear which lands are going to build and ravage next, the game is still incredibly challenging. Just because you know what is going to happen does not always mean that you will be able to stop it!
In the base game there are eight different Spirits you can play with. Each Spirit has its own unique powers and abilities which means that the way you play the game changes dependent on which Spirit you choose. Some Spirits are good at defending the land from invaders, some are good at destroying the invaders, whilst others are good at creating fear. I have played Spirit Island quite a lot this month and enjoyed the challenge of getting to grips with the way each Spirit plays.
There is also the added complexity of two different phases for card actions. Some cards are fast actions which you can play and use before the invaders take their turn. However, some are slow actions, which you can only take after the invaders have had their turn. This means that you can be playing cards a turn in advance of when you would otherwise play them, in order for them to take effect.
Spirit Island is a game which scales really well from one to four players, as you simply add more boards to the Island the more people are playing. Whilst playing with two or more players (or running two or more Spirits if you are playing solo), enables some great synergy and combinations, it is also satisfying to beat the invaders solo with one Spirit.
Spirit Island is, in my opinion, a great game which I have enjoyed playing this month, and look forward to playing into May and beyond.
Tom Harrod – Formula D
My family – my current gaming group in lockdown – are not huge board gamers. Sad times, multiplied by infinity. They entertain the odd game here and there, bless them. I have to be careful though, not to overwhelm them with too many layers! But I’ve found a game that has layers of complexity to it, even it might not be an immediately obvious consideration. It’s Formula D, by Asmodee.
My folks love Formula D because roll-and-move is a familiar mechanism to casual gamers. Rolling dice to move might be unpopular with seasoned gamers due to too much luck taking precedence. Formula D, however, converts this into risk management; it’s push your luck. You’re in charge of your gearbox. The higher gear you’re in, the bigger die you get to roll, which equals how many spaces you can move around the track. You need to end so many turns of an F1 race within specific corners, so it’s deemed you’re driving safe. Or else, your car takes damage…
For beginners, you can give them 18 generic points of damage that they can take before their car conks out. Once they’re familiar with how the game works, you can up the ante. Add in the next layer of complexity: different damage to different sections of the car. Overshooting means damage to your tyres. Braking damages your, erm, brakes. Colliding with a car damages the bodywork. Slamming down multiple gears damages the gearbox, and so on.
The next layer of strategy is a two-lap race. Players opt at the end of the first lap to swing into the pits. This boosts their tyres back to ‘undamaged’. Yes, you might fall behind those that don’t visit their pit crew. Rest assured: you’ll have a bit more room to drive recklessly during the second lap, though!
We completed a two-lap race on the Singapore track for the first time, last month. It was great fun to see the variation in tactics, depending on how they drove in the first lap. Next time, I’ll introduce the asymmetrical drivers into the fray…