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Game of the Month – February 2024

GAME OF THE MONTH
marvel gotm

Marvel Age of Heroes by Dan Street Phillips:

This month I was looking to dust off a box that had been sitting on my shelf for a little too long and get back to playing things I had already bought rather than to keep chasing the rainbow of new games. At the same time I was sitting, watching the exciting new trailer for X-Men 97, the revival of the classic 90s series that I was obsessed with as a kid. So looking back at my shelf, there, glowing with 90s neon, was Marvel Age of Heroes. As a revamping and reskinning of Lords of Waterdeep, it only came out last year and landed with a bit of a flop. However, getting it back to the table again I am really enjoying it!

At its heart it’s a basic worker placement game, sending your chosen X-Men to train in the first phase only to go ahead and fight (pay resources) classic villains in the second. It comes with three different games/missions that alter the play style a little with each but there are some issues with game length. Due to the multiple villains you are meant to draw at the beginning, it can take a long time to unlock the final baddie as you are all driving for points rather than end game. It can also take a few rounds for the shared engine to grow enough to make it interesting. However, with two small house rules we have found that the games run a lot more smoothly and quickly, and we are really enjoying jumping on the X-Jet and punching sentinels in their big metal heads!

Kutna Hora: The City of Silver by Sophie Jones:

I’ve been trying to reduce the number of board games I have. Mainly because I am running out of storage space. However, I couldn’t resist Kutna Hora: The City of Silver. This game is developed by CGE Games which have made some of my favourite titles. From this alone, I knew I would probably enjoy it.

Kutna Hora is all about building up the city whilst navigating a dynamic economy. As you go through the game, prices of items will change which will affect how much you can build, mine and earn. This means you are juggling a lot of factors as your try to gain the most victory points. However, players can easily get in your way which makes following one strategy impossible. It’s a game which keeps you on your toes and forces you to adapt.

The version I own also came with metal coins. A lot of the games I own are Euro’s and include currency, but Kutna Hora opened my eyes to metal coins and how they can elevate the gaming experience. I don’t think I will play another game again without using these coins or purchasing more metal currency. It just feels great to spend.

Money aside, Kutna Hora’s gameplay is fun but there’s a lot to learn. Upon first opening the box I was a bit overwhelmed by the rulebook. But after a few video tutorials and practice goes, the game flows fluidly and is quick when playing with 2. However, if you want to experience the game at it’s best, you do want to try and get a full party of 4 to the table. At it’s max player count, this game turns into something new entirely as space is limited, and the market fluctuates. It becomes harder and more intense.

Kutna Hora offers a great economic gameplay experience whilst also dropping you into the city’s historic past. It’s definitely a game I’ve made room for on the shelf.

KUTNA HORA

Takenoko by Steven Gibney:

I’m a big fan of any game that involves animals. For me that makes Takenoko a standout game, made more impressive by its adorable artwork and great gameplay.

Players act as members of the Japanese Imperial court, charged with caring for a giant panda that roams the royal bamboo garden. They are also responsible for caring for the garden, created as players turn over and place land tiles. At the start of their turn players use a die to determine the weather in the royal garden. Then they can choose two actions to take, allowing players to place garden tiles, add irrigation systems, move the gardener or panda, or draw an objective card. Players must use these actions to achieve the objectives shown on their cards, this includes growing a certain number or colour of bamboo, getting the panda to eat specific types of bamboo, or placing garden tiles in unique patterns. These objectives allow players to collect victory points which will help them win the game.

As I’ve said I’m a big fan of the cute-artwork genre of board games. Takenoko stands out in that popular category thanks to outstanding design and genuinely fun and engaging gameplay. The high-quality components are beautifully designed, from the adorable miniature panda and gardener to the intricate garden tiles. The game also packs a surprising amount of strategic depth, allowing players to choose a strategy that works for them. This might mean focusing on their own gameplay or attempting to sabotage other players. This can add a sense of irony to the game where the oddly calming visuals are frequently at odds with the ruthlessly enjoyable gameplay.

TAKENOKO

Imperium Horizons by Graham Silvanus:

Love was in the air, as Imperium Horizons arrived on my doorstep on the 14th February. Thanks to its arrival coinciding with a week off work, by the 25th February, I’d played it 35 times. If that’s not a reason for it to be my game of the month, I’m not sure what is!

Yes, Imperium Horizons, the follow up to my favourite games of all time, Imperium Classics and Imperium Legends, was finally in my hands and I was not going to waste a moment before exploring what it has to offer.

The 14 new civilisations are diverse, interesting and tactically nuanced enough to challenge even the most die-hard of Imperium devotees. The trade routes module is excellent and encourages positive interaction between players, adding an additional layer to the strategic card play.

Imperium has always shined as a solo game and Imperium Horizons has handy reference cards for all the bots. I have discovered this month that the new bots also provide a tough challenge! Their scores are always very competitive and it feels great when I secure a hard-fought victory.

My favourite of the new civilisations has been the Polynesians. Players have to manage them over two different states; Isle Bound and Voyaging and learning how to utilise this very different play style has been a whole lot of fun. I am yet to win with them, but my scores are improving.

Imperium Horizons is the best version to date of my favourite game. It rewards repeated plays and experience and the variety contained within the game keeps it feeling fresh every time. Learning how to utilise each civilisation and extract as many points as you can out of each play is a delight. It is a masterpiece of game design and could easily be my game of the month every month in 2024 and beyond.

IMPERIUM

Hallertau by Neil Parker

A favoured game for me must be replayable and it has to have layers and depth. In Hallertau, the options in play drive me to wanting to play more. Each game I’ve played has been very different.

In Hallertau, you play a chief of a small village. Workers are sent to carry out tasks such as collecting resources or sowing new crops to harvest at a later point. With the resources, you can trade them in for abilities and expand your village – one of the key aspects of the game as this expands your worker bases and can grant you victory points after a certain point.

The components are good quality, you have nice chunky wooden resources and good card stock, and this increases the replayability as Hallertau is a nice game to play from a tactile perspective. I’ll be honest, it’s not a game I’ve done well at but like other games of this type, I’m drawn in by the varied strategic and tactical play. The game is long enough to feel I can develop my game but quick enough to allow multiple game in a day should you be so inclined.

To be successful in Hallertau, you can’t ignore the development of the community centre. When I’ve got stuck in the game it will invariably be because I’ve missed gathering sufficient resources to develop the crafts necessary to allow the village to expand.

Hallertau is a classic worker placement and resource management game. Each action is limited based on your workers available and the choices your opponents make and this does tend to lend itself well to sabotaging other players efforts by selecting actions they want to make it more expensive; so the level of player interaction is just another reason this game is worth the praise.

HALLERTAU