Game of the month comes around quick, eh? So quick I've had little chance to play that many games... diverse ones anyway. We've been hitting some unloved games a fair bit and even managed to get two off of our shelf of shame! Which actually both then became contenders for the title! So what is the game of the month? Easy! Jaws of the Lion by Cephalofair!
Jaws of the Lion is lighter than Gloomhaven but could be our entry point. It's set in the same universe and will no doubt have key references we won't yet know. It oozes theme and boasts a robust rule book that isn’t convoluted but has enough depth to ensure you know what, where and why. If you’ve not yet dipped your toes into legacy games, or Gloomhaven for that matter, give this one a whirl. It’s ace!
This past month has been mostly taken up with playing extreme Unmatched battles. One of my favourite games of all time is Hero Realms, and Unmatched scratches all these itches; 20-minute gameplay, amazing 2 player, card-based battle ‘til the death.
Unmatched is published by Restoration Games, although Iello is taking on the European reprints. In this game, you play as a hero, depicted by a detailed miniature, and you are trying to kill your opponent's hero. The majority of the characters come with a sidekick which are shown by these chunky plastic screen printed tokens. You beat your foe by playing cards from your unique player deck. These can be attack cards (which your opponent may defend with a defence card), or by playing pesky scheme cards, which are so powerful. There is nothing your opponent can do to combat a scheme card either. This can be very exhilarating or frustrating depending if you are the aggressor or not.
I love asymmetric player powers, and this game system is for me one of the best implementations of accessible asymmetrical players. Each character has a different special ability, and these are thematic. For example, Alice can be big or small, Big Alice hits harder than small Alice. The Invisible Man can disappear into the fog and vanish totally from the board. The Raptors hunt most effectively in packs, so hit harder when they surround their prey.
The great thing about Unmatched is that you can mix and match all the sets. I have a few personal favourite mash-ups. One is Bigfoot playing against Jekyll and Hyde; both are big heavy-hitting characters that smash their opponents with meaty hits. Bigfoot is actually one of my favourite characters to play, that Jackalope is sneaky and hits you HARD. Jekyll and Hyde is my partner’s favourite so this combination is played frequently in our house.
My Game of the Month this month was an easy one for me! Air, Land and Sea recently received the “second edition” treatment and it was an instant hit as soon as it made its way to our table.
In Air, Land and Sea, you play as one of two factions, each with a hand of cards with varying strengths and different abilities. These are played into one of the three theatres of war in front of you; either air, land or sea. Each card has a specific theatre it can be played in but some abilities override this. The aim is to have the strongest force in each theatre by the end of the turn, or, force your opponent to retreat and conceded.
There are plenty of strategies involved in this small card game, and the ability to deny your opponent the full 6 points for victory by retreating early certainly makes the battles interesting and it isn’t a case of just going in with the big cards first! The abilities available are all nicely balanced so you won’t find anyone racing ahead because of one good card.
Having a war game that can essentially fit in your pocket is a massive bonus for me and I can see us taking this on trips and on holiday since it’s just a pack of cards and very easy to transport. If you fancy a quick, 2 player card game that gets you thinking and strategising, then this is a must-buy!
I am a big Bruno Cathala fan, but maybe due to its release just before COVID hit or its unassuming box art, Ishtar seemed to sail under the radar. Yet, I was more than happy to unwrap it on Christmas day, even though I’d not heard too much buzz about it. The game has some of my favourite mechanisms: drafting, tile placement, area control.
Still, given the times we are going through, it took me three months to get it to the table. By this point, I didn’t have much expectation for the game and it first it seemed pretty formulaic. Then, at some point halfway through the first game, it just clicked. Right around the point where the board really starts tightening up. As you try to expand your own flowerbeds and win control of fountains, the gaps in which you can place new tiles become smaller and smaller.
What made Ishtar a perfect game for our family game night was the meaningful choices it presents you with on your turn, without being overwhelmingly complex. Like the Azul games, it hides a ton of gameplay underneath its simple ruleset.
It was such a hit that we decided to play it again the following game night. A prestige only Blood Rage has otherwise achieved. After our first game we were all talking about what we did wrong and what we could have done differently. It was great to return to it two weeks later with a fresh strategy and it was clear w had all thought about it because the scores were much closer. Ishtar will definitely be staying in my collection and will be a nice alternative to Azul when I want an easy teach, but a lot of game.