March has come and gone in the blink of an eye. Looking back at my games played I managed a total of 44 games. I am going to talk about one game in particular. A game that was released last year (2021) that I am a little late to the party in playing. Too many games, not enough time.
So, enough of the prelude and let me introduce my game of the month which is Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition. Or Terraforming Mars: the card game. Now I will say that I have only played the parent game a few times on Steam. I found it ok, but a bit long and it just didn’t hit the spot for me.
Ares Expedition pulls on a few gameplay elements that I really enjoy. Simultaneous action selection, engine building, card combos and tableau building. I like these mechanisms in my games and I like them in Ares Expedition as well. The fact that only the actions selected by the players will be performed is exciting and often tense as you are trying to think what your opponents will select to maximise your turns.
Players will be selecting actions to build various coloured cards, to gain income (money, plants, heat), gain new cards and perform actions on previously built cards. The main goal is to raise the temperature (spending heat) and oxygen (spending plants) levels of Mars and flip ocean tiles (spending money) in the centreboard.
The meat of the game is in the cardplay. You can create some nice combinations of actions which I very much enjoy exploring and exploiting. The multiplayer game can still go on a bit long for what it is but the solo game is very quick and is the main way that I have been playing. The card deck is huge and there is always something new to see in the game.
For me personally, Ares Expedition is a fantastic solo game packed full of choices, paths to victory and interesting card play. The AI is easy to control and just involves flipping an action card and the player performing that action. Five cycles through the AIs action deck and you are done.
Pandemic was one of the first board games I played. It was also my first experience of cooperative board games I had. A few months ago, I tried Pandemic: Fall of Rome. I was curious how a game could have similar mechanics but a very different theme. It just worked and made me think I should try other members of the Pandemic family. Earlier this month I picked up a copy of Pandemic: Iberia. I have to say it might be my favourite of the three.
Four diseases wreak havoc on the map (this time of 19th century Iberia). Your job is to work together and research the four diseases. Unlike Pandemic, diseases can be researched, but can never be cured. This means the game can still spring some very ugly surprises on you. Pandemic: Iberia also makes thematic sense.
There’s no flying between research centres, instead, you travel by rail or boat. Finally, each part of the map it divided into smaller regions, to which you can add purified water to. Purified water is useful for stopping the disease from spreading and breaking out. The winning and losing conditions are the same as Pandemic, meaning that if you’ve played the original, Iberia is easy to understand.
The biggest difference is the artwork. Pandemic has a very cold feel to it. Pandemic: Iberia feels warm and welcoming. You can also adapt the game. One version makes the diseases act in different ways. The other sees the cubes representing patients rushing to a hospital rather than a disease.
My partner has just invested in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, also from the Pandemic Family. Who knows, maybe that will be my April game of the month!
My Game of the Month is a bit of a beast: it’s Bitoku by Devir Games, but I love it! 1-4 players compete to succeed in a Great Spirit and become guardians of a fantastical forest. ‘Bitoku’ as a word comes from Japanese culture; there are elements of folklore, manga and anime fused throughout the artwork. The board is a riot of lush greens.
I call Bitoku a ‘beast’ for a couple of reasons (but both are in an endearing sense). One: it’s a table hog. A large mainboard, sizeable player mats, plus space needed for a card tableau and delightful resources… It’s got a large ‘footprint’. Myself, I love diving into a game like this. So many possibilities and strategies to explore! Medium-heavy Euros are my jam. My happy place.
The game’s weight and point-salad nature are tied into reason two. Every person I’ve shown the board to has commented, “It looks busy.” By this, they mean it seems to have too much going on for them to digest in one brief glance. I can’t deny that; Bitoku’s board has little wasted space. It uses iconography. There are stacks of chits placed on the bottom third, which you’re looking to buy.
However, like any kind of Euro-style game, once you’ve played a round or two, everything clicks into place. The iconography is logical. The psychedelic juxtaposition of purple splashes in among the forest greens is what makes folks blink in surprise at the ‘busyness’. But when boiled down, choices on your turn are rather simple.
You either play an action card from your hand (so hand management/deck-building). Or you can place one of your three dice out into a vacant spot in the forest, worker-placement style. These trigger a corresponding action, in accordance with the pip value. Or you can move one of your dice across the river to a new location. The things you’re aiming to achieve are various building or set collection goals. They all dovetail together with a delicious sense of synchronicity.
Bitoku is a mental investment; I will admit. You’ve got to want to learn the rules for this one. But the payout is worth the time. I can’t wait to play it again…
This month, I finally took the plunge and bought Eclipse: Second Dawn For The Galaxy. I’ve never played a 4X game before and I’ve been eyeing it up for a long time. And yes, I know everyone loves Twilight Imperium, but I don’t really want to spend 8 hours playing 1 game.
Anyway - after a lot of punching and a lot of rule reading, me and my partner settled in to play our first game and I’ve got to say - it was absolutely worth the wait. I already know I love this game and I can’t wait to play it with more people.
For those who don’t know (which included me until I just looked it up), the mechanic 4X stands for -
- eXplore - Spread out across the map and discover new territories
- eXpand - Expand your empire by taking over the places you discover
- eXploit - Use those territories to gain resources, points or improve your units
- eXterminate - Fight other players and take control of their territories
Eclipse does all of the above (with an incredibly streamlined ruleset) but also throws in an amazing tech tree system and ships that you can upgrade as many times as you want. You’re free to design not only your units but also your race as a whole, meaning each game you can try a completely new approach.
Combine that with a hubris-inducing economy system (you can take as many actions as you want but you have to pay for them at the end of the round) and it’s easy to see how this game is the definition of ‘highly replayable’.
It’s also worth mentioning the production, which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Game Trayz, cloth bags, unique ship models for each race - the list goes on. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough.
I set myself a board gaming challenge this year; to play 10 games 10 times each. Doesn’t sound too tricky. But family life, work, and the preferences of my mainboard gaming partner in crime often mean changes to the schedule!
Nevertheless, the first game I added to the challenge was It’s a Wonderful World after playing for the first time in January. It was an instant hit. Not just with me, but also with my husband. We HAD to have it. February’s birthday gift was sorted, it arrived and we immediately cracked the seal and played. But then things got busy and we didn’t get another chance until this month. Boy, have we made up for a lost time!
The 10-play target was smashed in the first week! Why? Because we think it is ace! It’s a Wonderful World from La Boite de Jeu, is a hand management, engine building, drafting game where you are trying to create the best empire. Each card represents a building that needs specific resources to be built. Once completed, they produce ongoing resources and/or end game points.
But the cards themselves also represent the very resources you need in order to build. So, each round, you must choose between constructing cards and recycling them for their immediate production values. After all, if you can’t build up quickly, your engine won’t be banging out a burgeoning empire!
The wonderful twist in this game is that your hand of cards is chosen by way of close drafting aka pick and pass. So, you know whatever you don’t take that round is potentially going to produce either points or resources for someone else. And as you can see their empires developing in front of you, the tension between taking what you want and blocking someone else is quite frankly out of this world!
We are playing this game every chance we get as it plays as brilliantly with 2 as it does up to 5 players (the solo is also really excellent and so challenging!). And, what’s more, we now have the expansion to add into the game play, and we can’t wait to get cracking!
For me there was one game that stood head and shoulders above the rest, and it was a different kind of game for me. This was a “one-and-done” event more than just a game. We played Detective Season One by Portal Games. This is an investigative type game where you take up the role of a police detective investigating three different cases to solve the crimes.
Each case starts with an introduction to what is found at the crime scene so you can hit the ground running with a basic understanding of the situation> However it is up to you as players to cooperatively decide how you wish to proceed with the crime-solving. Do you want to investigate the crime scene more, or do you want to get back to the police station and get some more information about your suspects and victims?
As you speak to new witnesses, you will uncover more evidence and will be able to research these people more thoroughly to piece together the blow-by-blow of what happened. New information and files are given to you in partnership with the free app that you also use to answer the end of case questionnaire.
The difficulty comes in deciding what to do, you have to spend time to travel to places and also to interrogate suspects and interview witnesses. You simply won’t be able to do everything you want to so will have to call on your powers of deduction to surmise things. This game for us was an absolute blast and although I am sad it is over, the idea it is called Season 1 suggests to me that they have more up their sleeve. Watch this space!