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Game Of The Month May 2021

Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium - Rob Wright

I have been mocking this game since I heard about it and all that is involved, but I have to say that I will now have to eat my words – Twilight Imperium really is that good and is my game of the month.

In case you aren’t familiar with TI, it’s a biggy. The base set requires 3 to 6 players to take their choice from 17 races and vie against each other to rule the galaxy. It’s a mix of your classic 4X (expand, exploit, explore and exterminate) but involves a whole lot more – shady over and under the table dealing, setting up fragile alliances, cutting trade deals, arguing in the senate and, yes, occasionally wading in with a fleet of dreadnoughts to bring ‘democracy’ to the outer reaches of the galaxy.

This isn’t just Risk! In! Space! Though, because it’s all about reaching 10 victory points first, and these can be won from public and secret objectives, which could range from having certain types of technology to knocking out an opponent’s flagship. It is these objectives that really set this game apart and make fighting the last possible option.

Yes, it takes 10 plus hours to play; yes, it needs a small ballroom and multiple dining tables to set up; yes, it requires you to read up about the races and the strategies before you even pick up a card. I will, however, say this: never have 10 plus hours gone by so quickly, as it is the most engaging board game experience I have had… well, probably ever. The first five hours went by in the blink of an eye and the next… well, that’s when things really got interesting. Playing Twilight Imperium is an investment, no doubt, but one that pays dividends. Especially if you are the Emirates of Hacan…

Western Legends - Jim Cohen

With 59 logged plays over 34 different games, with 18 being new to me, it’s fair to say that May has been an awesome gaming month! It’s hard to pick just one from this mighty list so I have narrowed it down to a top three, but in an order so not to break the rules!

In the third spot comes a modern classic I cannot believe I hadn’t played until now. Lords of Waterdeep is a Dungeons and Dragons inspired worker placement game that is so simple to learn and play but was such a fun experience to have. It is one of those games that when you start, you question if you will ever be able to achieve anything of significance. But come the end, as more powerful building locations appear on the board, your turns will become more powerful and you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve.

Second has to be Santa Monica. A delicious point salad tableau builder, that despite me achieving potentially the lowest score in the history of this game, I enjoyed the experience immensely. It looks stunning, plays very simply, but like all great point salads, offers a lot of enticing options.

Coming top of the pile this month is Western Legends. A phenomenal sandbox-style game that packs a lot more punch than first meets the eye. For a game that is mainly about moving a miniature to a new point of the board and doing the action that place on the board allows, this game is so absorbing in its theme. It is beautifully rich in its gameplay and incredibly rewarding in the player interaction and scoring.  This is a game that will offer something new each time. With multiple expansions and add-ons brings longevity beyond many other games. A modern classic in the making.

Red Rising - Northern Dice

It’s oh so hot… the sun is blazing down on us. We can bask in the knowledge of being one step closer to summer! But you know what else is hot? Our game of the month! For us, it is none other than the hard-hitting, hand managing, card synergising Red Rising by Stonemaier Games. This is a game we thought we’d like but didn’t realise we’d love. A shocker for sure, but a hit nonetheless.

In Red Rising, you’ll hold a hand of cards and play them to trigger effects, and then a collect card which will (hopefully) benefit you later. Cards synergise and score better based on what’s on your hand generally, so having a complimentary repertoire of cards will allow you to net big points! The premise for victory is simple, end the game with a higher score than your opponent through cards in hand and progress along the three other tracks.

Straight forward, right? Well, each colour of card has a certain play effect when “deployed” and a scoring effect for end game. The deploy effects often allow you to manipulate card placements, positioning or give bonuses along one of the three other scoring elements. Whereas scoring effects work based on what you’ve got in hand. There’s a lot to understand in terms of what cards do, but the premise always stays the same. Collect cards that work well together.

I genuinely think this game is awesome. I love its “hedge your bets” feel – knowing you could do better. You might have a good hand of cards, but one of them could be swapped for something higher scoring… Do you risk playing it to get something new? Or does one of your cards have a superb play effect you can’t resist exploiting? It’ll really push you to run for a perfect hand. But, all cards played can be taken by other players.

That hard-hitting monolith of a card is now free for another to nab and use later. Still want to risk it? Balancing out that risk versus reward element is very tricky but works well in-game as there’s never a definite loss moment. The game provides a lot to consider and encourages you to really think about how the cards available might work best when in hand. And the solo mode!! It’s different to the competitive experience but still a tonne of fun. I’d genuinely recommend this one if you need a solid hand management card game! Superb stuff.

Photosynthesis - Tom Harrod

The sun has had its hat on (hip-hip-hip hooray) and then some this past month, huh? Somewhat convenient, then, that of late I’ve been loving Photosynthesis. The aim of the game? Use sunlight to grow trees! This is an abstract strategy, area control game by Hjalmar Hach and Blue Orange Games.

Each player has a series of trees in their own colour, along with seeds. The board comprises of a forest: a series of large hexagons. At the start of each round, the sun ‘shines’ in a particular direction. (This rotates around the board, so the direction of the sunlight moves on a regular basis.) If you have trees on the board, and they have line of sight access to the sunlight, they earn Light Points. The bigger the tree, the more Light Points they earn. But the bigger the tree, the longer the shadow it casts behind it. Any trees engulfed by that shadow can’t absorb any precious sunlight this turn. It’s a clever form of theme dovetailing with mechanisms.

You spend Light Points to ‘buy’ trees off your player mat and into your accessible supply. Or, you can spend Light Points to grow one of your trees one size – providing you have one available in your supply. You can also spend Light Points to scatter a seed from one of your trees to a free spot on the board.

The aim is to grow your trees to their largest size, and then remove them from the board. You earn points depending on which section of the forest you grew your tree. The closer to the centre, the more valuable the points, so it becomes a case to trying to battle it out for those spots. My parents are keen gardeners, so the theme was an easy sell to them at our family games night. Next: introducing them to the Photosynthesis expansion: Under The Moonlight…