Welcome to Part 2 of our Game of the Month feature. Our bloggers let you know the best games they have played this month!
John Hunt - Unmatched Legends Volume 1
Oh my word – what a great game! Do I like the thematic concept – hell no: a messy hodgepodge of random IP scrambled together, with the rationale seeming to be that simply it probably didn’t cost the publisher anything. Does it matter? No?
Well, actually better than that. The art, design and production values are so stellar that they actually make this mad conflation click! Rather than cheap and lazy, it comes across as sumptuous and crafted – like Alice, Medusa, King Arthur and Sinbad were in fact always meant to be in an arena together… with their expansion buddy, Bruce Lee. Can’t believe I am writing that.
Really, I think I have yet to open and play a board game with art, design and production values all as high as these – it is truly beautiful. Cards in particular, but board, minis, sidekick tokens and tracker dials too. And under all of this it plays fantastically too.
It’s quick – turn and game time, both - and the mechanics are perfectly straightforward. But it comes with satisfying strategic depth fundamentally linked to the character asymmetry. This is derived from hero and sidekick stats and the individualised decks which have just the right amount of variation around a common core. Alice is all about managing whether you are big or small and using the Jabberwocky to dart in for some really big hits when the chance arises. Medusa and her harpies wear down the opponent, rob them of cards and then at the critical moment deliver devastating damage with her stone gaze. Bruce is all about mobility – he has no sidekick but can generate extra actions, so turns can feel like a martial arts combo, somewhere between Way of the Dragon and Streetfighter. All different, and actually all offering some tactical variation and choice under the strategic thrust of the character. And the relatively small common core of cards (albeit with character specific art – no corners cut here) is really important too, because it gives just the right amount of common ground and familiarity to help pick up a new character quickly.
Worth saying too that while they might be unmatched they aren’t unbalanced. I have had plenty of plays and while at first I thought the core box might have stronger and weaker choices it’s all about how you play them. I think I have seen all – or almost all - combos play out with every permutation of victory.
So, this blend of clean mechanical simplicity, and underlying strategic and tactical bite opens it to a wide audience. Can it be a family head to head? Sure. Would it be a tasty filler for experienced gamers? Absolutely. Does the crazy theming offer something for everyone? Yup.
Could this end up being expensive? Well, yes it could if you go and buy it all. BUT… Each individual purchase is sensibly priced, and the more expensive choices are particularly good value. Bruce was expensive in comparison but the actual price point was so low I didn’t give it any thought. You don’t need anything other than the core box and you will probably make some discerning choices if you do expand. I am not interested in dinosaurs, nor is my daughter, though I have a mate with (rather stereotypically a couple of t(w)een boys) who has made a beeline for these. Also, if you buy more, you will need to want play with the new characters. What I mean by this is you are not buying an expensive expansion to get one or two cards to deck build with. I see that as a strength vs some minis games with deck building, as with this you will be forced to get your money’s worth in just the right way.
If you had pitched this to me blind and asked me if I would buy it, let alone would it be my game of the month, there is no way I would have said yes. But it has style and substance in spades. I can see it hitting the table again and again and I can’t wait to play the 2 v 2 version, as I am a huge fan of team based competitive play. Great work and I can wait to add some gothic villains into the mix…maybe alongside Buffy.
Joe Packham - Everdell
One star of a game definitely stole my attention for much of May. The Everdell expansions Bellfaire and Spirecrest hit my doorstep after a slight Covid related fulfilment delay. Which successfully reignited my passion for this incredibly beautiful and elegant tableau building game. Social distancing being the necessary party pooper it was, I was practically strong armed into finally using the solo mode. Oh my word! Why did I wait so long!?
The Everdell AI comes in the form of a nasty little rat called Rugwort! What’s not nasty however Is the ease and simplicity of working your AI opponent while simultaneously building your own city. It’s as simple as rolling a D8 every time you play a card. Alright there’s a bit of action blocking and wotnot but honestly it’s so hassle free. That’s not to say it’s easy to beat though! Rugwort has 3 difficulty levels or “years” to try your hand against and you’d better bring your A game because that rat is chal-leng-ing! I really enjoyed diving into Everdell solo because it forced me to focus on a part of the game I often neglect in multiplayer, events! Both basic and special events are majorly important in solo mode because if you don’t achieve them your rival rodent will score big.
I must admit whilst I have unboxed it (and it looks incredible) I haven’t yet played Spirecrest. The Bellfaire expansion though pleasantly surprised me. Bellfaire has several gameplay modules that can be added separately or as a whole. It also adds unique player powers for all of the different critters and has tons of solo play variants in the rule book. Along with the nifty little player boards I was surprised how much I enjoyed everything Bellfaire added to what was already one of my favourite games.
Will Moffat – Masmorra
While I did play Azul a whopping 15 times in May, the battle for game of the month was a two-way duel between the newly released Pandemic: Hot Zone North America and CMON’s Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia. While Pandemic: Hot Zone North America was a very interesting cut-down version of Matt Leacock’s classic, my plays of this were all solo. I enjoyed my three plays of Masmorra with my middle child, my 8-year-old daughter, and this elevated the game into a beautiful bonding experience.
Masmorra is a chibi/cartoon dungeon crawl game where the dungeon is built as you go along from randomly drawn tiles, akin to Betrayal at House on the Hill, and the majority of the monsters you face are randomly determined by the roll of colourfully illustrated dice, which also serve as the monsters themselves.
Masmorra presents numerous ways to play, including a couple of competitive variants, but all of our plays in May were cooperative as we delved together to discover what the Masmorra (Portuguese for “Dungeon”) had to offer. We lost our first two attempts in early May – in the first I attempted to achieve too much too soon and my character got impaled on a spike! In our second attempt a few days later we got all the way to the final battle against the evil warlock Malaphyas but his toxic miasma shed us of our special treasure items and we were thus ill-equipped to face him… and I got knocked down again!
Our final play of the month technically took place on 1st June, but we set the game up on 31st May so I’ll count it as May 😉 In this attempt, we finally found the magic formula and took Malaphyas down! Great times!
Thom Newton - Traintopia
I’ve found myself strangely charmed by Traintopia. When I first saw it with its tiles and meeples, I thought that this was going to be a train themed reskin of Carcassonne. I am quite happy to have been proved wrong on that one, this game is definitely its own thing. Traintopia is hot off the press from Board & Dice and sees the players building their own little rail networks.
You put your network together by drafting tiles and adding them to your own little empire. These tiles will depict train tracks, stations, scenery and a few other things. You can also draft commuters, tourists to score your routres immediately and a few other bits and bobs that boost your end game scoring. Commuters and tourists will score you points depending on how much you like the route they are placed on. These scoring meeples can be scarce, sometimes only two between the players each round. This makes drafting these early in the round essential, otherwise you may end up with plenty of your routes going unscored.
Some tiles will have a money token on them. These give the players a little wiggle room and space to breathe. Money tokens can be traded for special high scoring track tiles or allow you to change the colour of a scoring meeple that you have just drawn. It gives you just enough agency to allow yourself an extra option if you needed it. Or you can leave them on the board and score points for them.
The components are nice and colourful, and it looks great on the table. There is a decent amount of replayabilty to be found too. This is a nice light game that still offers some interesting choices and although it is fine on its own, I really hope they make an expansion so I can have more of it.