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Game Of The Month September 2021

Meeple Land

Meeple Land - Tom Harrod

I’m a real sucker for tile-placement games. Part of the satisfaction comes when the game ends, and you can sit back and admire what you built. I’m the same way about jigsaws. Placing the last piece into a 1,000-piece puzzle, then running my hand over the finished vista. Oooh, I got the shivers, thinking about it…

Meeple Land by Blue Orange Games evokes those kinds of feels. Here you’re competing to build an awesome theme park. On your turn, you either buy a tile from the face-up display, pay for advertising, or pass out of the round. If you take the latter option, you draft from an array of coaches, full with excited meeples. They’ve come to visit your park! Certain meeples want to go on certain rides, which earns you money (for you to spend in the next round).

When you buy tiles, you need to pay attention to a couple of things. First of all, the ride itself; you’ll earn points for the number of unique attractions in your park. No one wants to visit a Meeple Land with six identical merry-go-rounds! Second: which meeples want to visit this ride? Which meeples are on the buses for the draft? And third: each tile has pathways on them. You need to place rides so at least one path leads back to the park entrance/exit.

(Did you ever play the classic PC game Roller Coaster Tycoon? You don’t want to ‘trap’ guests in your park because they can’t find the exit. Unless you’re *that person* who did that on purpose for the LOLZ. In which case you’re probably the same kind of person who played The Sims and locked them in a room or the swimming pool. Sadists, the bunch of you!)

Although saying this, not every path has to line up, Carcassonne-style. You can create the odd dead-end here and there. But careful about being too laissez-faire with this. Each dead-end costs you -2 points at the end of the game. I played this at a four-player count last month, and managed to win – in part due to my opponent having a pesky dead end!

Dune Imperium John Hunt

I was so excited about the upcoming cinema release. The first book is back off the shelf and have played both of the board games over the past month. Imperium is my game of the month not because it is necessarily the better, but it is the one I am most intrigued about and most keen to get to play again. I'm yet to acquire a copy.

I was really taken by the combination of different mechanics and the way they interrelate as well as the different routes to acquire VP. I liked very much that cards were used either to determine meeple placement or saved for buying from the market / fighting the turnly scrap on Arrakis. That certainly made for interesting choices about what to play when. I liked the puzzle of parsing the inter-relationship between the three key resources: spice, water and money.

I thought the division of the board was interesting. Particularly making choices about whether to place meeples with Houses for effects and influence or planet-side where there was spice and more opportunity to gear up for the turnly battle. Though I suspected that the combat might be a bit disappointing as it is rather abstracted and not the area control I like from the original. Not so – it’s another interesting cog that meshes well with the deck/hand management and worker placement.

I worry that the deckbuilding might be a bit flawed. I had a good time as I was able to gain a couple of cards which allowed for trashing, but cycling through the full deck afterwards they seem a bit few and far between. Likewise, I can see how the market could get locked up though we didn’t find that a major problem in our game. The deck management is certainly something I want to have more of a go with as I am intrigued. And as we played with two, we used the bot to make a third, and I was really impressed with how streamlined but effective that was. All of this was wrapped in a classy and evocative production. It's going to have me coming back for more. Spicy!

Passtally - Favouritefoe

What would you get if you threw NMBR9 and Tsuro into a game design blender and switched on the power? Amongst a lot of chopped up cardboard, I’m pretty sure you would find Passtally!

We took a risk on this colourful, under-the-radar, box. I didn’t know much about it, and I hadn’t actually heard of it until I saw it on a random BGG Geek List. But, boy are we glad that we did!

My husband is a huge NMBR9 fan. It could be his perfect puzzle. Spatial. Colourful. Mathematical. And incredibly addictive. Being able to visualise where polyominoes fit in whilst avoiding gaps is one of his superpowers. On the other hand, I really enjoy a game of Tsuro with Mini-meeple. Forming paths that weave and wind (not to mention epic loop-de-looping) is strangely relaxing. Simultaneously sending each other careening off the board makes it excellent fun at the same time!

And Passtally is essentially the love child between NMBR9 and Tsuro. It is a connections game where you score by stacking tiles on top of each other (a la NMBR9), and score even bigger the more tiles you “pass” through (why hello, Tsuro!).

Each turn, you can choose whether to pick and place tiles or move your markers to more advantageous locations. You’ll most likely want to do a bit of both in order to get your networks complete, and the points rolling in.

In truth, this game really shines for us because of the dastardly drafting and petty placing you can do. With one single move, you can destroy another player’s carefully constructed network. And, unless they have a saving strategy up their sleeve, they’ll be chasing their tail trying to gain back ground. You can also focus on your own connections (hoping that nobody else notices!), and build a point-tastic little network that keeps pumping out those passes each turn.

Don’t be fooled; the delicate pastel colouring of Passtally conceals a dark and strategic tile layer. And for that reason, it is definitely our game of the month!

Whistle Stop - Northern Dice

Pre-spooky-month, the month formerly known as September, has been a combination of nearly all seasons. Torrential rain, maelstrom wind and serious heatwave, a little bit of the whole year! And how better to tackle the whirlwind tour of weather than with a whirlwind tour of the countryside! Whistle Stop has been a real hit for us, but it shone throughout September! It’s for 2-5 players and takes about an hour to play.

Whistle Stop is a route building game at its core, but it’s beautifully laced with tile placement and pick and deliver to tie both ends of the route together. Players take turns to move trains, lay tiles and interact with stations, gaining different resource cubes ready to deliver at the end of the board. Players use coal or whistle to move trains and travel across routes, collecting resources as they go and interacting with stations. Set up is random each time, with a selection of goal tiles being chosen in set-up. Also, there is a full row of stations that allow players to buy shares in companies, trade resources and gain more coal. End game scoring is calculated by an accumulation of shares earned, successful deliveries made and resources held at the end game. It’s wonderfully easy to pick up and engages throughout.

Why has Whistle Stop been such a smash hit for us? Its addictiveness. The amount of engagement the game forces on players is wild as you’ve got to be vigilant of where everyone’s trains are. Trains can’t cross paths and it can be a bunfight for those really coveted rarer resources. What’s more is the amount of choice players are given: you start with more than one train and aren’t obligated to use them all! Resources aren’t train specific so owning the right things for a hand-in for points is made even easier. If you haven’t yet checked this brilliant train game out, you really should! It is superb!

Pandemic Rising Tide - Fred Cronin

September marks the start of autumn and with it the arrival of some really quite miserable weather (well, where I live anyway). As the days get shorter and the rain gets heavier, it is hard to think of a more appropriate game than Pandemic: Rising Tide. In this edition, players must work together to hold back the encroaching seas and protect the Netherlands from devastating floods. Rising Tide uses the tried-and-tested Pandemic systems to give the game a familiar feel. This makes it incredibly accessible to new players and fans of the series. However, while there may be similar mechanics to the original, there are a lot of new features to make gameplay feel fresh.

First off, instead of curing diseases players are looking to collect cards and build the four main hydraulic structures across the Netherlands. These each come with a one-time perk such as removing water cubes from a certain region. To keep these regions safe in the meantime players must build dikes and pump water out of flooded areas to keep them from being decimated by the deluge from the North Sea. Rising Tide also comes with a set of population cubes. These can be added to the game as an extra level of difficulty as players must then fight to keep the people safe from the floods as well as protecting the land.

Overall, Pandemic: Rising Tide is a nice change from the classic Pandemic format. With its population cubes, it provides a way to change up the difficulty so you can really challenge yourself after you get used to the game. Despite a slightly fiddly set-up, Rising Tide’s gameplay is fantastic and it is a great addition to the series.

Concordia - Joe Packham

Often times my Game of the Month will be the new hotness. A game that’s fresh off the press and causing a stir at all the cons! But sometimes, juuuust sometimes, an older more mature number will grab my attention. That’s exactly what happened in September when I finally got my hands on the 2013 classic Concordia. I heard plenty of buzz around this game as it’s hugely popular and currently sits at 18 on the BGG top 100, but I’d never had the opportunity to play.

Concordia is a peaceful strategy game of economic diversification in the Roman Empire. Players take control of an up and coming dynasty hoping to become the next Crassus. By moving your colonists and building houses across the Mediterranean empire, you’ll speculate in various goods to make your fortune. Careful warehouse management is an essential skill. The main driving force of the game though is the deck of cards that you’ll use to power every action. Everyone starts with an identical deck but will add new powerful cards to their deck as the game goes on.

The question of which card shall I play and when is the crux of Concordia and it makes for a really juicy decision space. Especially considering how light and unobtrusive the ruleset is. The game offers a lovely weight of strategy. It's all in that personal choice range rather than a mess of mechanisms. This makes it a good game. What makes it a great game for me is the elegance of the scoring and how it integrates with the engine/deck building. You see each card will score in a particular parameter, multiple cards will multiply your score in that area. So on top of ‘how useful is this card’ you’re also asking ‘how will it affect my score’ and that’s just so elegant.  Concordia is a fantastic game!

Marvel Champions - Hannah Blacknell

For me, I always thought I would be steering away from collectible card games as I just didn’t want to devote the time to deck building, and also I have a “gotta have ‘em all” type personality so it likely would not be viable. However, when a possible trade for a duplicate gift came up I thought, why on Earth not!? And I got Marvel Champions. This is a card game where you cooperatively are trying to use Marvel heroes to vanquish the foe.

You draw a hand of cards and must decide how to use them, you can use the cards for their resources to pay for the cards you wish to put into play. Each card must be paid for in order to be played. This was not a game mechanic I was overly familiar with, but it was not a steep learning curve thankfully. The game is won by reducing the health of the villain to zero and lost by either everyone dying or the threat on the main scheme reaching its maximum value. You must attack the villain and his minions, heal yourself when required, and thwart the threat on the schemes to try and stay in the game whilst the game comes at you hard. It is a delightfully thinky game that I have really enjoyed this month!

When I first opened the box, I was a bit overwhelmed by the choice options and how to sort out all the cards. There were three villain options in the box, and five heroes in the base box as well as a number of modular expansions that raise the difficulty. What a lot of content in just one box! Luckily, however, the starter decks were shrink-wrapped separately so I just opened those bits that I needed to start with. This was a lot more manageable.

I played twice in a row, and well that was it, I was obsessed! The game was the perfect thing for me to play solo at lunchtime. As I work from home, I don’t get the usual canteen socialising. So I like to take a break by actively playing a game so I get away from my desk. You can check out my solo games to play over lunch feature here. Question is though, can I refrain from collecting everything for it? The box has space for at least a few expansions in it...