April has been an interesting month of games for me, with many new and strange games hitting my table. Party games from new designers. A lot of family friendly cooperative games. And I even had the chance to try Zatu Games first foray into publishing, coming too Kickstarter soon, Steel Colosseum, which is fantastic and well worth a look.
But my number one has to go to the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. A game that shipped to its Kickstarter backers recently, but available on Zatu now. And for anyone who is a fan of the original comics this game is based on, well, you are on for a treat! The story, art, and overall feel of Frank Millers 1986 classic drips out of every part of this beautifully constructed box.
If you are looking for a new solo experience, then I would highly recommend this. It is one of the best experiences I have had playing a game on my own, ever. If you like source material, then I would say this is well worth checking out too. But if you sit in the small niche in the ven diagram of loving solo board games and Batman comics from the 1980’s, you may well just explode with excitement like I did!
The game has four main missions, following the four books from the graphic novel. It is best played all the way through in a campaign, but each can be played multiple times separately, and at various degrees of difficulty. There is also a vs. mode which works well.
One of the main things of note mechanically about this is the way the game asks you to draw on the actual board itself! New roads can be built, notes for yourself, and the enemies spawning each round are all done this way. Overall, it is a masterpiece just like the comics it is based on one rightly sits as my game of the month.
My game of the month is an odd one as I am absolutely terrible at it, and it’s the sort of game that people think I won’t be terrible at because it involves words. I know lots of words. Some of them repeatable, but not the ones I use when playing this game. The game is Anomia.
Anomia is a term for when you forget the right word and this pretty much sums up this game. It’s like a cross between snap, any number of drinking games I could care to mention (please: drink responsibly) and complete social humiliation.
Players take it in turns to draw and turn over cards from one of the two decks provided. Most of the cards will have one symbol (like a flower) and a category on them (like ‘film star’). When you turn over a card that matches someone else’s, you have to give an example of the category on THEIR card and they have to give you an example of a category on YOURS. Easy? No. Not at all. Because all those lovely words in your head will invariably come out as ‘IEWAUG FEAW!’ whilst the other person calmly says ‘Cary Grant’.
Add to this the wildcards, cards that have two symbols on them. When they are played, those two symbols are now effectively the same, giving you even more opportunities to blurt out the names of obscure 90s ‘Art’ websites. Yeah, it happened. No, it wasn’t an MP. Yes, it might have been me.
Aside from total embarrassment, Anomia is a hod load of fun for anyone who can read and play snap – speaking is helpful too, but not always necessary/possible. If you’re looking for a game to complement both family events and/or responsible drinking, this might be your bag.
Just be careful what you say, yeah?
We’ve done something we don’t often do for our game of the month this month. Something possibly taboo for us. Frowned upon. Wrong. Yet it feels so right! We’ve chosen a war game. Well… it’s not really a war game, but a friend once described it as such and, now that the label’s associated, I can wholly see it! Our game of the month this month is Petrichor – a game of area control, majority influence and precipitation based battles for control!
“Now hold on a minute!” I hear you say as you as you adjust your board gaming spectacles and scroll through Zatu’s description… And I agree. Petrichor does not present as outright battles. It’s actually quite sweet visually and thematically. It doesn’t appear at all like a dudes on a map war game. The aim of the game is to earn the most points by contributing the most rain droplets to plants on the floor below your clouds. Grow plants, get points. Easy. Sometimes majority claims the most, sometimes it’s a bit more technical than that. But the intense player interaction in the game forces you to play more akin to a war general at a big table with maps and tanks than someone shuffling cardboard clouds over tiles.
Petrichor’s powerful boast of high interaction is inescapable. As you play cards to place clouds and droplets, you inevitably have to collide with others’. A cloud can hold any number of different coloured droplets, meaning the control element can be to the wire. When the waters break and it all comes down, players will see that tile as free real estate and aim to claim it quick. But the area control and influence doesn’t end there.
As you play cards you also vote for what weather you’d like resolving at the after the action phase. Being the major influence in a vote gains you big points too. For a game about controlling rain clouds and growing crops, it has a fair few moving parts that work in unison beautifully. It’s a tactician’s dream and a game I have loved going to war in.
Near & Far is like a spiritual sequel to Above & Below. It’s set in Arzium, the same world, but Near & Far offers a campaign mode, a standard arcade mode, and a character mode. Red Raven Games are so striking, due to Ryan Laukat’s charming, adorable (and often moustachioed) art.
Near & Far doesn’t have a board, per se, but rather, a ring-binder book. The double-page spread presents the scenario you play across, in delightful fashion. As your campaign progresses, you flip over a new page, discovering a new location to play.
The core context of Near & Far is that it’s a victory points contest, with the game having two halves. Part of it sees you in the ‘town’, where you visit buildings (worker placement-/action selection-style) to prep for your next journey. You can hire new party members – and some of them are animals such as boars, lizards, as well as humans! Once you think you’re ready to go off adventuring, you can leave the town, and start to travel ‘near or far’ away…
The strength of your crew dictates how far you can travel. This is a point-to-point system, with various fun things you’ll stumble across along they way. There are pesky bandits to overcome. Trading caravans to try and monopolise. You’ll look to set up camps at various sites (which earn you points).
But there are adventures to tackle too, where a split-choice narrative enters the fray. This is reminiscent of Above & Below, with you rolling dice to overcome mini-adventures. Considering there’s a whole book of these side-quests, there’s a lot of fun here! They correspond to the ringbinder page. Overcome adventures and you can pick up loot which helps you craft item cards. These not only provide you with permanent boosts, they’re also worth end-game points.
I only played the initial warm-up game for Near & Far. Glogo Caverns is a gentle introduction to how the game flows. It gave me more than enough of a taste of what’s to come, though. I had a blast in Laukat’s endearing world, and can’t wait to return to it…