April has been an awesome month of gaming for me. I played 22 games across 39 sessions, with Fantasy Realms being my most played this month! Have you played this? It’s truly brilliant. The perfect filler game and works great in a two despite the recommendation on the box!
I have enjoyed discovering some old gems for the first time such as Survive: Escape from Atlantis which is a phenomenal family game. So simple to teach and play and has brought a lot of fun to the table this month.
But my game of the month for April has to go to Hadrian’s Wall, currently available for pre-order but I was able to get a chance to play this game a little early, and wow, it is stunning! If you like roll-and-writes or flip-and-writes but have always thought them a bit light, then this game is for you! It is Ganz Schon Clever on steroids!
Hadrian’s Wall works equally well solo or in a group. It has very quickly become my number one game in its field It is my go-to game when I want something quick “set-up” wise, or for when I am playing solo. It offers such incredibly satisfying options and in every game, I am excited to try different strategies to see how they fare. The game has a perfectly balanced build, that crescendos in the later rounds with combo opportunities flying at you left right and centre.
At first glance, this game will seem confusing, perhaps even intimidating. But it is simple to learn and has one of the best rule books on the market. After a game or two, you will look at the busy sheets very differently I promise. It all becomes clear in a beautiful mind sort of way. And on that, this game does a brilliant job at making you feel smart. Something that games don’t always to do me!
To me, the two most major things April signifies are Easter chocolate and my birthday. With the influx of board games from presents (and those I treat myself to, of course) there is a lot for me to get my teeth into. One of the biggest of these April games is Star Wars: Rebellion. This is by far one of the meatiest games I have ever had the pleasure of playing.
Coming in at an impressive ninth overall on Board Game Geek’s official ranking, Star Wars: Rebellion is the archetype for two-player games. The gameplay itself revolves around one player, the evil Galactic Empire, trying to find and annihilate the hidden base of their opponent, the Rebel Alliance. ‘Simple!’ I hear you cry. However, Rebellion is anything but, as there is an entire universe of planets that could house the elusive Rebel headquarters.
On their turn, players deploy leaders to systems to carry out tasks in the hope of slowing down their opponent. The Rebels can win by lasting a set number of rounds, and so they can use their cards to set back the oppressive empire and its myriad of ships and troops. Gameplay takes place across some of the best-known worlds from the Star Wars franchise, from Tatooine to Mandalore. Along with the massive board, players are bombarded with miniatures to control, there really is a whole galaxy of content. If you somehow want, even more, there’s even an expansion featuring the crew of Rogue One, bringing in new.
For a game of this size, I didn’t notice the time fly by as I was so wholly immersed in my mission. Star Wars: Rebellion really showed me what a two-player game can be. So, for this reason, it’s my game of the month!
Usually, I find the GOTM easy. There is often one game that I have played more of that month than anything else. This month though has been excellent for gaming for me. We have been allowed into people’s gardens. I've been able to take advantage of the fact we have gamer neighbours and get some higher player count games to the table too. This month I have played 41 different games with a total of 100 games played. It's the 30th and I have played 98. But we all know I’ll get a couple more in to push it over 100 before the end of the day!
So the game that has really shone and I have played over ten times this month is Star Realms. Star Realms is a pure deck builder, set in space. You are trying to thrash your opponent and bring their authority down to zero. If you fancy watching a video on how to play Star Realms, Thom the Punk Meeple has done a How to Play video on Zatu’s YouTube channel. Each player starts with the same “weak” starter deck. You use the trade (coins) on your cards in your hand to buy better and more powerful cards.
The cards you buy will get more powerful if you can pull off combo moves by synergising your cards. The cards come in four different coloured factions; red, blue, green and yellow and these each have different main abilities. The cards you buy are usually strengthened in their attack ability by having multiple cards of the same colour in your hand. I only got this game this month, and now don’t all come after me as I really have been an advocate for Hero Realms over Star Realms for a while.
Hero Realms is such a good game, you can check out my review of the first campaign expansion The Ruin of Thandar here. But a great person will also admit when they are wrong, and you know Star Realms has got a bit about it too. They are widely considered to be reskins of the same game by Wise Wizard Games (formerly White Wizard Games). But once you bring in the expansions, they are actually really deviating from each other in terms of the experience.
Every so often there’s a game that is so bonkers and brash, it will either be an utter disaster or a uniquely excellent experience. Unicorn Fever from Horrible Guild is firmly in the latter camp. At face value, this game shouldn’t work. An action selection euro smashed together with a straight-up gambling and race game. But sprinkle on a little bit of pixie dust and some cartoonishly proportioned unicorns and you have a spectacularly fun light to mid-weight game.
I was already massively and pleasantly surprised with Unicorn Fever just by opening the box. For the price point, the component quality and art and design are superb. The vibrant rainbow colour scheme pops and creates a real statement when set up on the table.
But Unicorn Fever is not just a pretty confection. The game is a simple to pick up thrilling multiplayer experience. In the first half of each round, you will select actions to place bets, gain powers and play cards to fix the race. Choosing the order you do things is key, as each time someone takes an action its power weakens. You need to get in early if you want the big impact, but you risk leaving something else open for your opponent.
Once all the actions are taken, it’s over to the race. Cards placed on the six unicorn racers are revealed, either boosting or hobbling their chances. The race is decided by flipping cards that ascribe a movement to each unicorn based on their odds placement. Unicorns that start the race with better odds tend to get more movement and those with worse odds get less.
Get your bets right and you could win big dollar and gain great glory. If you want a simple yet highly entertaining experience then definitely check out Unicorn Fever. It had us on the edge of our seat cheering and booing at family game night this month.
Alma Mater is a 2020 release from Eggertspiele. The brainchild of Acchitocca, the Italian board game designer supergroup that boast some big names in euro style game design. Fans of Coimbra (like me) will instantly recognise the art and graphic design here. Like Coimbra, Alma Mater is set during the burgeoning renaissance of 15th century Europe. Each player serves as a headmaster at an independent centre of learning! We’ll use our masters (workers), chancellors (asymmetric ability cards) and knowledge (unique “book” resources) to earn the highest reputation for our particular University. The brightest students and most illustrious professors are what we aim to bring to our campus!
No one said creating this pinnacle of higher learning was going to be easy! Which is good because it isn’t, this game is tight, seriously tight. At first I though it was considerably heavier than Coimbra. Now I don’t think that’s necessarily so. But the mechanics are less intuitive than that game and boy does it make you work harder to get what you want! If you approach Alma Mater without a strategy or plan of some form it will chew you up and spit you out.
Having said all that when you do nail down those synergies between student and professors, or use that chancellor ability at the perfect moment it feels so damn good. All the better for how hard it made you work for it. When you rig those book prices and force players to buy knowledge from your library, man it feels good to see that cash stacking up! Sure Alma Mater has a steep learning curve. But I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the game better last month. It’s been truly satisfying getting to grips with the strategies here and watching them pay off. For that reason Alma Mater is my Game Of The Month for April!