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Game of the Month – April


Luke Pickles - Roll To The Top

April was a bit of a quiet month for me. Well relatively. 59 plays of 32 different games. Two games stand out for me. One of them, The King’s Dilemma, is a long term legacy game all about making political decisions as part of a council. It’s a hugely thematic game, full of choices and divergent paths. It’s a deep game, and has eaten up a good seven hours or so of my month as I’ve met up with the group I’m playing with and worked through every scenario.

But it’s not my game of the month. No, the game of the month for me is something I discovered on Board Game Arena – a light roll and write game, all about the number placement and clever dice choices. That game is Roll to the Top.

In Roll to the Top, players are given laminated boards with world landmarks on them (all the same), broken into a series of boxes. At the beginning of each round, the active player rolls six dice, but not your standard set of six siders. Oh no, you have a pretty much full RPG set of a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and a d20. You can write as many numbers into the boxes as you like but you can only go up to the next level when both boxes below have been filled. However, the numbers must be higher or the same as the ones below it, so you don’t want a 20 in the bottom row. There’s an extra d6 with other symbols on it, which can make you add or remove dice between rounds. Roll to the Top is very simple but it requires some element of tactics to remove the dice you need and to choose not to place certain numbers too low. This was a complete surprise of a game and I can’t wait to play it more.

Callum Price - Wyrmspan

I’ve managed a fair few games this month, most of which have been new to me! Oceanos, Star Wars Villainous, Blokus… but the one that sticks in my head as my game of the month HAS to be Wyrmspan by Stonemaier Games. It’s got the same gorgeous aesthetic but takes Wingspan to that next level without leaving its comfort zone. I’d almost describe it as Wingspan’s older, cooler sibling: similar in all the right ways to stop it feeling alien… but better in ways that appeal to the gamer in me!

First off, the main reason it’s my game of the month… dragons. Pretty easy sell in all honesty! The game holds its predecessors’ aesthetics and gorgeous artwork close to its core but has that whimsical and imaginative appeal I crave. That’s not to say real life birds aren’t cool… dragons are just cooler! What’s more is the stunning illustrations of both the dragons and cave cards. And that’s not even touching on the game’s general theme being absolutely nailed (reason two)! Most games of this kin have a background descriptor which is lovely, but doesn’t overly weigh into its mechanics. Whereas this makes you genuinely plan what you’ll do as if you were out trying to discover new species of dragons! Managing your resources, cards and reputation across the guild track help you focus in on a method for success and encourage you to do best meet the needs of the goal set out – both reactively and proactively in prior rounds.

The final reason this beauty is my game of the month is the main reason I enjoyed it so much. It is very much Wingspan’s next generation. Wingspan evolved. Better Wingspan. Mechanically it runs a similar feel: get resources, play dragons, utilise turns to meet end of round objectives… but it takes it to the next step through three key changes. You now use coins to track actions over cubes, and you can earn more coins to increase the number of actions in a round. Also, you no longer randomly generate resources available with a dice roll – immediately more control in players’ hands! And lastly, possibly my favourite part, there’s a guild track you go around as a bonus for particular actions/dragons. This opens up so much as the guild chosen in a game determines benefits available. Also, it grants bonuses for advancing around it each step, meaning you can properly forward plan how you’ll run a turn!

It’s fair to say Wyrmspan has made an impact on me, and it’s now on my UKGE shopping list – along with the deluxe upgrade pack. A definite winner if you’re a Wingspan-fan!

Sean Franks - Slay The Spire

My game of the month was oh so nearly going to be The White Castle for a good while. Then along came Slay The Spire The Board Game! Having already been enjoying the video game I was excited to see how it would make the transition to the tabletop, and it has not disappointed, turning out just as addictive as ever. If you've played the original then most of the familiar mechanics still remain, but some of the more computer based ones have been swapped out for more analogue versions. The game has also been scaled down to make the numbers easier to deal with, and whilst there is some randomness added with the addition of a dice rolled every turn, the game still retains the puzzling planning aspects of the original, spending the time working out how to take the optimal turn in inflicting pain and reducing damage. In fact, due to how some of the bigger enemy cards work, it could be possible to plan even farther ahead for what they will be doing on future turns, although none of that will help save you when you fail to draw any of the cards needed on your next turn. Most of the time this is due to my own poor card drafting through the early game, whoops. The replayability factor of the original roguelike also returns where, as long as you can manage to get past at least one boss, each run helps in unlocking more things for each character, giving them more options and combos to use in the quest to defeat the boss at the spire top.

There are some parts of the game I can't talk about yet, but I know that they are coming and I'm excited to get there, with the options for daily runs that mimic online, trying to accomplish victory with a set selection of positive or negative effects. Or even the unlockable ascension levels where every run brings a new hinderance to be conquered in order to unlock the next level, if you truly wish to conquer all. However, in order for me to get there I need to work on my turn planning, my latest run saw a bad play from me leave the boss on 1HP and in turn I was defeated. I'd already spent most of the first Act this run planning ahead for the second Act, only to lose and have it taken away, but that's part of what draws me back to the game as now I need another run to try again!

Matt Thomasson - Lowlands

It has been a quiet month of gaming to be honest. Life has been busy and sometimes gaming has to take a back seat. However, I did have a few game nights in April with some older game titles hitting the table and one of these I want to mention as my game of the month.
It is a game from 2018, which seems like it was only yesterday, but 6 years has gone by quickly. It is a game about sheep, sheep farming and building a dike. Lowlands is my game of the month. In Lowlands you will be building up your own "farm" board, with pastures, sheep and various buildings. You will also be contributing to the building of the communal dike, or not, depending on your strategy.

Lowlands really impressed me. I have only had a few plays of it so far, but the push and pull of cooperatively building the dike and focusing on your own engine to score points is an interesting aspect of this game. There are many ways to score points from breeding sheep and selling them at the market, to building the dike to reduce the risk of flooding, or to actively work towards letting the waters floor by not building the dike. The game is played over several rounds in which you will be selecting actions to perform (such as constructing buildings, drawings cards, selling sheep etc). The actions themselves are fairly straightforward, but the strategy and your overall gameplay offers interesting decisions to be made.

When contributing to the dike you pay a set number of resources and move along the dike track. This will grant you bonuses as well as money at the end of the round depending on your relative position to the other players. However, the more you build up the dike the lower the points you gain at end game from the dike track. If the floor waters do breach you gain dike tokens which are worth negative points at the end of the game. It is a very fine balance and can lead to some bluffing about your strategy.

I think there is still more to explore in this game that I have not grasped with my first few plays, but I am keen to table Lowlands again very soon. Really enjoyed my plays so far.

Tom Harrod – Roll Player

I’m a huge fan of dice-drafting games. I don’t know what it is about those shiny click-clacks that gets me so excited. The chance and opportunity to make your own luck, I suppose! Go figure, then, that I’m also a Dungeons & Dragons player. So when you hear that there’s a dice-drafting game about making a D&D character: ooooh, boy. Did I get excited! Roll Player is not a ‘new’ game, in the grander scheme of things (published by Thunderworks Games in 2016). But is new to me, and that’s what’s important, right? Some gamers are all about the ‘Cult of the New’, and the trending Hotness. It’s impossible to keep up with every new release. Just because a game came out more than a year ago, doesn’t make it obsolete. Older games are still fantastic games.

In Roll Player, your aim is to draft 18 six-sided dice across six stats to build your character. (Three in each for Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.) In standard D&D, higher numbers are better. But here you don’t want sixes in all slots. The design nudges you away from that in clever ways, blending mechanisms and theme to create a cool puzzle.

Depending on your class, you’ll score points if the totals of the three dice are specific sums. The Background of your character rewards you with points if specific colour dice are sitting in exact locations. Depending on which stat block you place a die, this lets you manipulate other dice on your board (helping mitigate bad choices earlier on). You can also earn coins, which you can then spend on cards. These are either Armour or Weapons (which score points in a set collection manner). Or they’re Traits or Skills, which are passive abilities or further ways to score points or break the rules.

The marvellous thing about Roll Player is there's layers beyond the game itself. It’s about the stories you make and tell during it. Your character comes to life in such a vivid way as they gain their own sense of personality. I challenge any D&D fan to play Roll Player and not want to create a new playable character based on the one they just made!