In March 2020 I picked up Deep Sea Adventure from the Oink Games stall at AireCon, a games convention in Harrogate. Then, the world as we knew it kinda ended, the UK went into lockdown and I was stuck unable able to play it or most of my other games. This super small blue box just sat there, still in its shrink wrap, waiting for its time to shine. July 2021 and I finally got to play. It was worth the wait.
Deep Sea adventure is a pocket-sized, light yet tense push your luck game of diving deep into the ocean in search of treasures. The deeper a player goes the higher the value of treasure they will find. But as soon as someone grabs an item of treasure then the air supply to ALL players starts to be depleted. The more treasure you have the more chance you have of winning the game. But not only does it eat into your air supply but it also makes you move more slowly.
The game reminds me of the prisoner’s dilemma. The best option is to all agree to hold off until you all get to the most valuable treasure, but in reality, someone always breaks first, grabs what they can and heads back to the safety of the submarine leaving everyone else with a decision on whether to press on or not.
Deep Sea Adventure is the kind of game you can score no points in (just like I did) and as such, it’s for players who can take the game as the bit of fun it is, and not get too hung up on the fact that your opponent almost has more control over whether you will actually do well as you do.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to play recently with some friends at the UK Games Expo and was blown away by everything about this wonderful game.
Every component in the game is beautifully crafted and set up on the table, it looks stunning. From the weighty first player token, the transparent track tiles and the beautifully made Train miniatures, everything in this game is high class and justifies the cost of the game.
The premise of the game is to build tracks and stations to pick up, transport and drop off different workers and robots to their place of work. Each worker or robot that you drop off can be added to your player board and used to increase the efficiency of your subsequent moves. This is an engine builder at heart and offers a constant quandary of tantalising decisions.
One of the interesting options to you on your turn is to move a previously placed robot into a new spot. Early on in the game, you will want the option to build stations and perhaps increase your efficiency in building tracks. But later into the game, this may become less or a priority and you can move your robots from one space into another to increase another part of your game instead.
The colour of the robots determines where they can be placed on your player mat. The scarcity of some colours during the game can make the appearance of a much sort after robot of a particular type, illicit a frantic race to go and collect them.
There is so much that makes this game fun! The set-up for the board is multi-side too so you can operate in Manhattan or Berlin. And with the many different ways to optimise your engine, the replayability in this game is huge.
Highly recommend it, and well worth a look if you get the chance.
Anno 1800, by Kosmos Games, is my Game of the Month and it’s an easy pick this time around! It’s based on a computer game by Ubisoft – which I haven’t played, but it’s easy to see where the implementations lie. Designer Martin Wallace is the brainbox behind Anno. Seeing as I loved Brass, I came into Anno with high hopes… And it did not let me down.
At its core, Anno 1800 is a resource conversion game. Each player controls an island, full of starter-level industries, a few citizens to man the factories, and a small fleet. Using action selection, you decide what you want to achieve on your turn. If you send available citizens to work in your industries, you can fulfil the ‘blueprints’ needed to build better industries. You can then place or overbuild these tiles on top of your initial factories. It’s like tile tableau-building.
You can’t visit other players’ islands, but you can trade with them to take advantage of their tableaus. It’s a friendly trade – you get the resource they provide, and they earn gold from the bank. The trick is you only have limited trade tokens to activate this, so you have to use them with care. Or you can build more ships, which gain you access to more precious trading opportunities…
One of the key ways to score points is by completing ‘Population Cards’. These are like contracts – you have one for every citizen on your island. Each citizen has their own dreams, whether that’s sausage and beer, or soap and overalls! Send workers to the corresponding factories, and you can complete their Population Card. Tougher cards earn you more points and in-game rewards (but you’d already figured that one out, right?).
Rewards come in the shape of extra trade or exploration tokens, extra citizens for your island, and more. The game ends once one player’s depleted their hand of contracts. This is easier said than done though. Every time you earn new citizens, they too provide you with a new Population Card of their own…
Root has intrigued me since it’s release. It’s a game of contradictions. It’s populated by cute woodland animals but the gameplay is extremely cut-throat. The feel is that of a war game but the mechanics are very euro-style. Everyone is aiming to accrue victory points but the way they do that is entirely asymmetrical. It’s one that I’ve never been confident enough to buy so I was stoked to get the chance to play a friends copy this month.
I knew that Root had asymmetrical factions but I thought in practice they’d feel like the abilities in Marco Polo or Clans of Caledonia. Nope! The different factions in this game don’t just have unique abilities, they play the game in completely different ways. Each role has its own singular set of mechanics that interact with basic actions like moving, building and battling. The effect is that playing a different faction is like playing a different game. Despite that they all seem remarkably well balanced. The scoring is tight and gets even tighter as any leader attracts the attention of the other players. It’s another indicator of how clever the design is that all these players doing wildly different things use a shared deck of dual-use cards.
The shared deck is made of 4 suits, bunny, fox, mouse and bird. With 3 suits matching clearing symbols on the board and the fourth, bird, being a wild suit. The cards you use determine where on the board you can do the action. Root is so elegant and simple, and yet the interactions and scope of mechanics across all factions is complex. Another of those inherent contradictions. Here’s another, I loved Root, thoroughly enjoyed playing it and recognised the talent that went into its design and execution. But I wouldn’t add it to my collection because the aggressive war game style interaction and higher optimum player count make it less than ideal for my normal gaming with my wife.
How quickly is this year going? July has come and gone in a blur and it is time for another Game of the Month. I have got a decent number of games played this month such as Lions of Lydia, Quetzal, Dinner in Paris, Last Bastion, Marvel Champions (of course) and many games of Just One. But my stand out game of the Month has to be Imperium: Classics.
Imperium: Classics is a one to four player civilisation card game. In the box, there are eight different civilisations that you can play. You start off as a Barbarian state with some basic cards and as you empty your deck you add better and stronger cards to your deck. Eventually, you will become a civilised nation and, hopefully, rise to dominance.
Imperium is a heavy game that requires a lot of time investment. There is a range of keywords to learn but the investment is worth it. The game is so rich and deep with thematic connections to the nation you are playing. There are tributary, uncivilised, civilised, region, unrest and game cards each working in a different way and providing different actions, bonuses and abilities. Some nations are more aggressive than others and each nation feels thematic and plays out in a very different way. Many of the nations have slightly different tweaks to the rules and the variety is very high.
I have only played this solo so far but the solo mode is very good. Each nation in either its barbarian or civilised state has a table that is followed depending on the card drawn. It works very well and feels intelligent and behaves like you are playing against another player.
Imperium: Classics is a very deep, rewarding game that I have been having a great time learning and playing this past month. I have played with or against most of the civilisations now and can’t wait to dig further and deeper into this game and this is why it is highly deserving of my Game of the Month.