My Game of the month for August has to be Pendulum! I played My City, Pictures and Architects of the West Kingdom all for the first time this month and loved all three of them. I have also had some brilliant games of Decrypto with friends that created huge laughs and brilliant moments of gaming nirvana, non gamers starting to love games! But receiving, unpacking, learning and playing a new Stonemaier game for me is a hard thing to top.
Pendulum has polarised the gaming community due to its “real-time” mechanic, coupled with the high profile nature of Jamey Stegmaier, the publisher behind this game. There has been some “Twitter outrage” over tiny things, simply it seems to me, as people have heard of him and think he is part of a massive corporation. People seem to enjoy knocking down anyone who does well or becomes too big which is a shame, and also strange with Stonemaier, as they are a two-person company who have published ten games in eight years. They are hardly a big corporate machine!
Either way, the game itself is brilliant! And I mention the above as enjoying this game was even more satisfying when looking at all the unjustified criticism of the game I saw on-line. Often from people who had multiple rules wrong, which suggested to me, the “opinion” was coming perhaps somewhat prematurely.
This game needs two to three games to learn it fully. It has three mechanisms to simplify the game for early play-thorughs. But as such, you don’t get the full experience until game three at the earliest. Having now tried at multiple player counts and with the advanced player mats, cards and rules I can safely say this is a good game and not at all frantic. Not great, but certainly good, maybe even very good. But going through the experience of playing multiple times and engaging with all the chat surrounding the games release, elevates this to be my game of the month for sure.
It’s nice to wade through the hype, judge for yourself, and discover at the end of all the hyperbole and vitriol, is just some nice plastic, cardboard and sand timers that creates a fun, certainly not chaotic, gaming experience.
Many two player gamers will be familiar with the original version of Patchwork by Uwe Rosenberg. In that tile-laying puzzle game players try to fill their board with tetromino pieces while balancing button income with progressing slowly around the board. It’s a very good game and many people’s go-to two player option.
Patchwork Doodlewas released last year and is again by Rosenberg. It is most akin to a roll and write game whereby players roll dice to accomplish tasks on their own bit of paper. Except in Patchwork Doodle there is only one dice and it dictates what card out of the ones on display you will collectively use in your own Patchwork. You draw the outline of whatever shape is on the card and, if other people take their time or you all agree, you spend far too long colouring in the shape. You play over three rounds scoring points along the way.
This aspect of making your patchwork custom and bespoke has proven massively successful in our house. We all like to draw and be creative. Even my youngest son Max understands the concept of the game. He may need assistance in making sure the shape he has drawn is correct but on his first play he successfully filled his 9 x 9 grid. As a little anecdote I was super chuffed that I filled my grid for the first time in the very same game. Having my five year old do the same rather rained on my parade.
It is quite a solitary experience but it does play to over 6 players and creates a very calm and pleasant ambience. It also works socially distanced, at 2 metres one player takes on dice rolling for all. It would also work over a video call – as long as everyone has a player sheet.
It is a lovely gaming experience to play with family or friends of all ages. With a touch of creativity that children really seem to enjoy. It has consistently entertained us and friends over the last month. Everyone we have introduced it to, has gone on to buy their own copy they have enjoyed it so much. For all these reasons, Patchwork Doodle is my game of the month for August.
My Game of the Month is beautiful in both aesthetics and mechanisms. In the Hall of the Mountain King sees rival troll clans returning to their ancestral home, the depths of a gargantuan mountain. It’s a Euro-style strategy game. That might surprise a few people. These trolls are not aggressive ‘baddies’; there’s no dice-rolling battles here. In fact, these trolls prefer to keep out of each others’ way – this is an efficiency race from Burnt Island Games. Mountain King offers a wonderful drip-down resource management feature. You use this to build networks with a pick-up-and-deliver goal.
Wooden silhouetted statues lay scattered throughout the mountain’s chasm. You dig tunnels (ahem, place polyomino tiles) leading out of your gateway. Hoover up goodies you find along the way. Spend runes to cast rule-breaking spells. If you discover a statue: hooray! You score ever-increasing points the closer you can haul statues to the heart of the mountain. If you get a pedestal, you’ve struck troll gold. (Trolld? Groll? Sound like legit troll utterances to me.) Statues that make it to matching-colour pedestals score double. Meandering tunnels not your thing? Build a tight, condensed network instead and convert it into a Great Hall, fit for a king under the mountain.
All this is possible by hiring trolls to enter your trollsmoot. You start with four simple trolls at the base of your hierarchy. These goons provide minimal, basic resources. Once you hire a troll card, it sits on top of two others, like you’re building a pyramid. And, once hired, it provides an instant reward: everything stated on its card. Plus, it triggers the two troll cards beneath it. Once you start building this trollsmoot pyramid to its apex, it’ll trigger 10 trolls worth of goods. It’s like its raining resources!
The trollsmoot provides a delightful sensation of possibility and strategical potential. Your production capabilities rise and fall in gratifying bell curves. Mountain King is awesome. Oh, and I’m yet to win a game of it…
This game started hitting the table at the tail end of the month for me, but it has already become my firm favourite. Fantastic Factories is a dice placement engine builder game. During the game you’ll be rolling dice and placing them in different slots in your main factory, or onto the cards that you can buy from the market. These cards might produce goods that help you win the game or resources that help you buy more buildings. You can also buy contractors for a single turn boost. They may get you some more dice or even extra resources.
The artwork is clear and bright, and the component quality is excellent. The cards are really self-explanatory too. You can quickly take a quick look at the market and see which buildings and contractors might fit into your plans. Provided you have the cards to pay for them that is. You see, each of the buildings will belong to one of four different tool types. To build a building, you will need to discard another card that has a matching tool type.
I enjoy this sort of mechanic as it causes you to really consider how you are going to progress with your strategies. Every card you play will have you discarding one other possible strategy, I like that.
Eventually you will get your finely tuned factory running at full speed. And when it all comes together, and you have your cards granting you extra dice to produce more resources which can be used to build more buildings that produce more goods. It is a great feeling. And with this game clocking in at under an hour and also having a solid solo mode. It hasn’t been off of my table month these past few weeks.
This month has been crazy for me with moving house, but the upside of this is that we have got far more games to the table whilst we were waiting for the internet to work! So choosing a GOTM was a bit harder as I actually had more to choose from than usual. This month I have had an absolute ball playing Abyss.
Abyss is an engine builder at heart, plays with 2 to 4 players and lasts between 30 and 60 mins. Abyss has an obscure theme; underwater politics. On your turn you can pick up one of the groups of ally cards from the council, recruit lords into your engine, you can explore the deep which gives your opponents the option to buy up the best stuff before you can nab it. This adds a load of player interaction, but so far we haven't seen a lot of hate drafting happening, which I like. Also, only having one action available per turn, and being able to buy cards even on others turns means that the game turns pass quickly. It's a deep, immersive (ooh puns) game that really delivers bang for buck.
My reasons for loving this game? Well, it fits in that sweet spot for me of working well at two players, and lasting less than an hour. It's got easily some of the best artwork out there, kind of dark and moody but with some bright colours to distinguish between the different factions. Components look great and feel it too. And the final but very important reason, it doesn't cause us action paralysis! Game play moves smoothly and quickly, and it keeps you involved in other people's turns as you can buy cards from them. I love that.