Check out the "Games of the Month" for August, chosen by members of our writing team. It may be hot outside, but we always find time to hit the tabletop.
Ryan H - Arboretum
I decided to give myself a treat this month. Hungry for some new additions, I grabbed four new games: Escape from Aliens from Outer Space, Goodcritters, Splendor and Arboretum. I've not had a chance to play Goodcritters yet, but one of the others has secured my Game of the Month.
Arboretum has you and your friends collecting different species of trees for your 'arboretum'. Points are earned by creating paths of ascending numbers (1-8) between trees of the same species. As long as the trees at the start and end of the path are of the same type, the points can still be yours. However, there is a tempting bonus if you think you can muster up several of the same.
It's a thoroughly thought-provoking hand management game that will have you and your mates agonising over each of your turns - and what a sweet agony it is. This deceivingly complex game sees you drawing two cards, picking one for your collection and discarding the other face-up. You can draw from either the deck or each players discard pile. So, do you really want to discard that oak that you have no intention of actually playing if it means Alex gets his grubby, tree-planting paws on it? Not at chance. Particularly as players will only score a particular species if they have a higher total number of them in their hand. That means that hoarding trees in your hand to deny your opponent of his perfect garden is a completely valid tactic. The trick is balancing your underhanded hoarding with protecting your own assets. You can't let Alex deny your cherry blossom again. You deserve to win eventually.
Although I've far from mastered the game, the mental wrestling I've had with an unnamed friend has been great fun. There is plenty of depth in this deck of cards. Unravelling the strategies is rewarding and securing a hefty score is almost as good as winning. It's important to find solace somewhere in your losses. Otherwise your morale will suffer. But not mine, no way. Anyway, it's cheap and it comes highly recommended from both myself and our reviewer. Give it a go.
Matthew T - Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North
I must admit I sometimes get sucked in to the new hotness and the cult of the new. This is what happened with my Game of the Month for August, Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. I have been a fan of Imperial Settlers for a while but never owned the game. However, when I found out that Portal Games were releasing a new game in the Imperial Settlers universe my interest was immediately high. I managed to grab a copy of Empires of the North and this has been my most played game of this month
Empires of the North takes a lot of the core gameplay from Imperial Settlers but changes and adds some new mechanisms to make this a different game. It is still a tableau building game with players taking on a different clan, all with a custom deck. Players will construct locations, take actions and go on expeditions to gain victory points.
Empires of the North is a fantastic game. The base box has six clans to play that all behave very differently and seem very well balanced. All games I have played have been very close resulting in only one or two points at the end. The new features such as the clan actions, expeditions, needing to harvest for resources, all work very well and are welcome additions. The gameplay flows very smoothly and turns are quick. I much prefer the way the end game is triggered by a player reaching 25 points rather than a fixed number of rounds.
I have had a lot of fun exploring the clan decks and seeing how they play and I am looking forward to seeing what Portal Games do in the future with additional content. Great game and highly recommend checking it out.
Rob W - Impulse
My game of the month this week also coincides with my realising that I have a favourite designer… or designers actually, because shortly after finding one, I found another. The game is Carl Chudyk’s Impulse; my favourite designer is Richard Garfield - just kidding… but you’re good too. I got it on the recommendation of a review (this review) and as soon as it arrive and I saw how elegant it was in its diddy little box, I had good feelings about it.
Playing it made me realise just how slick 4Xs could be if they tried. For those who may be unaware; 4X means Explore, Exploit, Exterminate and Expand. They are usually large scale galactic conquest games that take a 4Xing long time to play.
The card-based dynamic does a whole load of multi-tasking, acting as planets, actions, minerals, trade goods, modifiers and points for battle, while the impulse dynamic, a shared action queue, makes action fast and furious. Minerals allow you to rack up huge combos and the ‘first to 20’ dynamic makes the game quick. Yes, a quick 4X. I know. I KNOW! To be honest, games like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse have always terrified me due to their massive time commitment, so the idea of a galactic conquest game that can be played in UNDER AN HOUR fills me with real joy. It really is a pleasure to play, though I recommend looking up a YouTube play through as the instruction manual is the only real grit in the oyster. The rest is all pearl.
Honourable mention must go to Quacks of Quedelberg and its designer, Wolfgang Warsch, but I extolled his/their virtues last month. And yeah, he’s my other guy…
Louis N - Escape Plan
August has been a quieter month for me. My gaming this month has been dominated by Handycon. Other than that, many people have been away (including me) so August games have been fairly minimal. However, one game has stood out above the others. Strong in both theme and execution, Escape Plan is arguably designer Vital Lacerda’s lightest game. That’s not to say that it’s an obvious step on from Ticket to Ride… Escape Plan is still characteristically a Lacerda game, but it is an easier teach, and most of the options seem more accessible than they do in some of his other games.
Theme-wise, you are a criminal, trying to escape the city before the police have it on lock down. But as you are not the only arch criminal plotting their escape, you want to make sure that you are the one leaving with the most loot. Of course, because you have been planning for this day, you have bags of cash stashed around the city. So, the three days over which the game is set are spent racing around various hiding places, avoiding the three different types of police, collecting hidden cash deposits.
Three days. Ans in each day there are three actions. So… yes, there are only nine actions in the game. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? You ought to be able to plan your whole game from the start, right? But of course it doesn’t work like that… there are other criminals in the game who are after the same stashes, and they may throw information about your whereabouts to the police, making it harder for you to move about the city.
Escape Plan is good fun - tense, with unusual player interaction for a game of this style. I would heartily recommend it, as long as you are prepared to juggle the huge number of variables typical for a Lacerda game.
Liam B - High Society
My game of the month is one of the oldest games I have in my collection, first released in 1995, and that's High Society. This game from esteemed designer Reiner Knizia doesn't have an awful lot going on; each player has their own hand of money cards and there is a stack of larger 'status' cards in the middle which get auctioned off, and are worth points.
The reason I've been loving this game (and playing it more than any other game this month) is that it manages to distil everything which is perfect about auction games into a small, exciting and incredibly fast experience. I honestly don't feel the need to have any other auction games in my collection knowing that I own High Society.
In each round of this game you auction off one card from the centre deck, which will be worth between one and 10 points. Players takes turns bidding and can play money cards from their hand onto the table, but you can never pick them up to make change. Once all but one person has passed, they win the auction and everyone else can pick their money cards back up. The catch in this game which makes it constantly exciting is that right at the end of the game, whoever spent the most money is immediately eliminated. As the game goes on you're never really sure who that player is, and you're constantly worried that it might be you; and yet you're always tempted to bid for just one more card...
Also in the points deck are four green-backed cards, and these count as the clock for the game. When the fourth green card is flipped the game ends immediately. This helps ramp up the tension as its impossible to know exactly when the game will end. The production from Osprey Games also really helps elevate this game, as the artwork is gorgeous (probably my favourite art of any small card game). If you like auction games or quick, simple card games I definitely recommend High Society.