Most of my board gaming time this month has been spent trying to hide from my girlfriend (in a consensual, rulebook approved way, you must understand). That’s because the game that’s barely left my table in the last few weeks is Mind MGMT by Off The Page Games.
Mind MGMT is a hidden movement game, based on the comic series of the same name, and sees one of you play the role of the ‘Recruiter’. Your job is to secretly move around a map of Zanzibar, stopping at various ‘features’ to recruit people to your team. Enlist 12 recruits, or simply survive 10 turns without being caught, and you win the game.
Your opponent will be playing as ‘Rogue Agents’, ex-members of Mind MGMT who are now intent on bringing you down. Their job is simply to corner and catch you. So far, so classic hidden movement game.
Where this game sets itself apart is in the abilities that both players have -
The Recruiter can only move one step each turn, but they also have a team of ‘Immortals’ spread around the board who stop the Rogue Agents from being able to ask questions, help recruit people and just generally get in the way.
Meanwhile, the 4 Rogue Agents each have unique powers, allowing them one time (or sometimes permanent) abilities that can swing the game in their favour if used at just the right time.
And that’s before you involve the Shift System - a sort of campaign mode where the losing side unlocks new powers each game, allowing for even more variance and replayability.
This is a game of stories, of relief and triumph and feeling like you’ve dodged a bullet only to be caught in a trap you never saw coming. Simply brilliant.
I’ve been gaming again but keeping it tame. No megas, no heavies and no euros for me. It’s been party games, trivia and the cheekiest bit of dexterity… hence my game of the month: Kluster! This compact, lightweight and high competition game is centred around placing stones (magnets) so they don’t touch. Which, if you’ve got any understanding of basic physics, is no easy feat: magnets attract one another! The game is for 1-4 players and takes around 15 minutes to play.
As a concept, the game is ridiculously simple: place a magnet within a stringed area. The string dictates the playing field and players take turns to place their magnets within it so they don’t attract. Should any magnets collide during your turn, you pick them up and add them to your pool. You don’t, however, need to place a magnet on your turn. Instead you can alter the shape of the stringed area, making it smaller, larger or more obscure for the next person’s turn. This does mean you won’t have placed a magnet, but may clear up some space ready for your next turn!
Despite this game’s wildly simple concept, Kluster is a game I’ve found to be insanely competitive and tense. No end of turns are take with everyone’s face near the table, watching for the slightest twitch or fraction of movement between the stones. The uproar between players as someone places a stone in an unfathomably impossible place is wild. It produces far more tension than many heavies with ten times the components, and is so simple literally anyone could play it.
What’s more is the upset caused by players as they choose between string movement and stone placement. I’ve had games where players play “rope chicken” by moving it closer and closer to the stones: risking their inevitably collision with each touch. I can honestly say that, despite its incredibly lightweight and simple design, Kluster has quickly become one of my favourite ‘easy-teach’, low component yet high fun games.
Last year saw my husband and I double date with some friends to play through the Scythe Rise of Fenris campaign. This was our first campaign together and had an amazing time exploring the world and getting lost in the story of the game. We loved coming back to one game system and developing our skills within it. Well, roll into 2023 and going back to standard gaming days wasn't quite cutting it and so we recently decided to take on something else.
We loved Scythe but we were done with the antagonistic side of competitive campaigns for a while and so we’re looking to try our hands at a cooperative experience. Low and behold there on my shelf of unplayed games sat Viticulture World, the hot new expansion to the classic worker placement. We have played Viticulture and loved it and so it felt like the perfect progression. The game is pretty much the same in its bones but this time each scenario is based around a specific continent and its winery history.
As players you all run a winery together and have to collectively reach certain points on multiple tracks in order for you to pass that scenario. Although there is no real narrative throughout the game, by playing with the same group of people, the emergent narratives that are created are half the fun. And as you work through each continent the game gets harder and harder. Add in a selection of wines from that week’s continent, and a chocker block cheeseboard and this has been one of my favourite cooperative games in a while, and that’s with taking into consideration the hangover that follows!
Questionable cultural appropriation aside, I wanted this game for ages because as a teenager I played a lot of the Legend of the Five Rings card game. Not to mention the roleplaying game and the tabletop miniatures – all of which must have probably cost me about the average London house deposit. And this was before it had that weird legal thing about not using rings because apparently people might get confused between Shadowlands Oni devouring the hearts and souls of mankind and the Olympics. Or something.
In any case, Battle for Rokugan is absolutely BONKERS and I love it! Your turn consists of putting a little bit of cardboard on a map 5 times, watching your opponent do the same, and then turning them all over. Which sounds a bit like the board game equivalent of paint drying except that even though each bit of cardboard has very specific rules about where it can be placed and what it does, you can completely ignore those rules to psych out your opponent. It’s like a CIA double-bluff interrogation crossed with risk-style territory control and ‘Japanese’ style mythology. It looks fantastic; it plays fantastic; it’s completely nuts. This game is probably currently the absolute favourite on my shelf and if you can find a copy, get it.