Our writing team return with their Games of the Month for January 2019. Were the games nominated brand-new releases from Santa, or classics from their collection?
Ben G - Jamaica
My first Game of the Month in 2019 is just coming into its 12th year of publication and still going strong: Jamaica. The pirate-themed romp from Game Works has stood the test of time, and why shouldn’t it? With the design pedigree of Sebastien Pauchon (Jaipur) and Bruno Cathala (Five Tribes) behind it, it’s no surprise to me that I enjoyed Jamaica so much.
Jamaica is a racing game. Players control pirate ships racing around the island, with the game ending when someone gets back to the start. The winner is the player with the most points, which are awarded for progress round the island, treasure collected, and coins earned.
The game’s central mechanism is straightforward. The turn player (‘the captain’) rolls two six-sided dice and assigns one to ‘day’ and the other to ‘night.’ Each player then chooses a card from their hand, each of which has a day and a night action. Players then resolve these actions to the degree allowed by the dice. They could move forward, move backwards or gain resources.
The game is a hilarious rollercoaster, with players constantly aware of what everyone else is doing. The greatest moments of tension come in good old ship-to-shop combat, when someone lands on someone else’s space. This is also resolve through dice rolls and the use of gunpowder and has the potential to change things significantly.
Despite all dice there’s a satisfying predictability to Jamaica. Depending on where you are in the turn order, you’ll be able to work out how much will have changed by the time you take your move.
I also love the flexible player count. Two to six is perfect and I’ve enjoyed the game at both lower and higher numbers.
Jamaica is silly, quick and fun for all the family. It looks great on the table and delivers constant excitement when you play. As we get into 2019, don’t just look ahead to new releases. Jamaica proves that there are some older gems out there that are still tremendous fun today.
Matt T - Flamme Rouge
My Game of the Month for January is Flamme Rouge. A fast-paced tactical cycling game. I received the game as a Christmas present, and this is the only racing game that I own. In Flamme Rouge players control a team of two cyclists: a Rouleur and a Sprinteur. Each of these cyclists is represented by a deck of cards.
On a player’s turn they choose one of their riders, draw four cards from their deck and choose one. Each of the cards has a numerical value which allows the rider to move that many spaces. The player then chooses their other rider and does the same. The cards which are not used are placed face-up at the bottom of the deck for later use. Once all players have selected their cards, they reveal them in turn order and move their riders the indicated number of spaces. The card is then discarded from the game. Players can use slipstream to move an additional space and the riders in front gain exhaustion cards (two movement) that go in to their deck. Players will race around the track trying to be the one to cross the finish line first.
Flamme Rouge is such a simple, yet tense game. The choice between which cards to use and how far to move is crucial, especially as you can only use each card once as it is discarded from your deck once played. Do you make a sprint for the lead and take the exhaustion cards, or hang back then make a sprint at the end? Playing the right cards at the right time to get the slipstream is great when it happens and can help you keep up with the pack without burning through your high-level cards. Simple rules, great gameplay and looks great with the track and the cyclist minis. Fantastic!
The Game Shelf - Charterstone
We started playing Charterstone over six months ago and it’s been a little bit of a struggle to get it back to the table. This is a surprise for a legacy game, after our experiences with Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Season 2, which were really addictive. I think Charterstone is different because it’s competitive and also because it almost evolves rather than having sudden changes of direction.
With that said, when we do bring Charterstone to the table, it’s a medium weight Euro, worker placement game that I really enjoy. This month we’ve been encouraged to play it on a number of occasions due to the arrival of a new legacy game in our house over Christmas – Rise of Queensdale. Not only that, but there are even more on the horizon, with announcements of Clank! Legacy, Terraforming Mars Legacy and the fact we’ve agreed to play through Aeon’s End Legacy!
We’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to play more Charterstone. Although the game hasn’t had any huge mechanical surprises, there have been some fun moments in the story and some interesting twists and components introduced to the legacy campaign. We’ve recently unlocked some surprising pieces, as well as some adorable ones, and it’s fun to start to appreciate the different ways that our campaign could’ve unfolded.
We still have about 50% of the game left to play and I’ve no doubt that there will still be some surprises in store as well as simply a very enjoyable, and beautiful looking game that plays in just 40-50 minutes.
Ryan H - Betrayal at House on Hill
My board game of the month is a game that I've had in my collection for over a year and was actually my introductory game to the hobby, Betrayal at House on the Hill.
The premise is that a team of intrepid explorers are searching through a haunted house and experience a slew of spooky encounters before a ‘Haunt’ is triggered. This is where one of 50 horror tropes is selected, based on which item activated the haunt and where it was discovered, and one player becomes a traitor that commands these terrors. The two teams, of heroes versus traitor, have their own objectives and players will typically battle it out for the win.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a game that you can't take too seriously. With players exploring a ‘procedurally generated’ house, gathering items and altering their stats, it's potluck what the game state will be when the ‘Haunt’ triggers. Subsequently, game balance is the chief complaint you'll hear from the gaming community.
If you approach Betrayal expecting a balanced, competitive experience, you've unboxed the wrong game - but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. After sinking our teeth in some intense experiences, such as Scythe, my gaming group were keen for something a bit more laid back. Knowing that the game can devolve into virtually anything is very freeing. None of us began Betrayal with a well-planned strategy or high hopes of winning, we just wanted a good time. And, with a can in one hand and a fist full of dice in the other, I can confirm that a good time was had.
What's more: we were relaxed, refreshed and ready for more of our heavyweight titles. It's this role as a tactical reload that has made Betrayal my game of the month.
Nick W - Pulsar 2849
In a month that Wingspan arrived on my doorstep it was going to take a great game to oust it for Game of the Month. Wingspan was on track to sweep the month easily until I played Pulsar 2849. The one thing going against Stonemaier’s bird friendly game was its relative lightness, when I’m leaning more and more into the more meaty gaming experiences. Don’t get me wrong, Wingspan is an excellent game and there is nothing wrong with its level of complexity, but sometimes I want my mind melted.
Pulsar does just this, with a myriad of options, places to use your selected dice and points to score. Coming from the same designer of one of my favourite games of 2018, Underwater Cities, I shouldn’t really have been surprised. Each round you will draft two dice to use and potentially also use a third bonus die. The normal dice are placed on a track according to their face value and the median point on that track is then worked out. Which side of the median you take a dice from moves your counter on one of two other tracks - turn order or engineering. Select a high die and you will be moved lower on one of your choice, select a low die and you get moved higher.
This choice is affected by loads of variables, not just what number you want. As the game progresses, you’ll find more ways of using any value of dice usefully, but it still is a big decision. You will then use your two dice to claim tech, move around space discovering planets and pulsars and generally trying to generate a good point scoring engine. It’s one of those gems where it feels like all options are good, but they might not all be the best, and I love it.
Tom G - The Quacks of Quedlinburg
My game of the month this month has been an absolute joy to play! The Quacks of Quedlinburg, bag-building, push-your-luck game, designed by Wolfgang Warsch was released last year and was awarded the prestigious Spiel des Jahres: Kennerspiel award!
The ludicrously-named game has players taking on the role of an alchemist, creating potions to sell at a nine-day festival, while also using different ingredients to improve the quality of the potion and the selling price. Each day you will draw ingredients (blindly) from your bag and place them into your cauldron, while keeping an eye on the cherry bombs, as these can blow you cauldron and end in disaster. At the end of each day, you will be able to sell your potion and buy one or two additional ingredients to add to your bag, boosting your chances of making a better quality potion.
There is a real sense of achievement when you manage to chain these ingredient combinations together and this is one of the reasons why I love this game so much! Such a simplistic mechanic produces a resounding result and every time I have played this, the excitement from the possibility of pulling out one of the new ingredients is both weird but rather appealing! The simplicity also makes this an incredibly accessible game, and this, paired with the artwork, creates a game that will delight all ages!
Joe R - Cockroach Poker
At the end of last year I picked up Cockroach Poker, thinking it would be a fun Christmas game. I didn’t manage to get it to the table until January, but I've had a hard time playing any other fillers this month.
All the fun and bluffing of poker with none of the knowledge requirements. On your turn you slide a creature card to another player. You must look your friend in the eye and tell them what creature card you’re giving them while you do this. Importantly, you can lie when you do this.
That player can say if they think you’re being truthful or dishonest. Get called out correctly and you get the card in front of you. If they’re wrong, they get the card in front of them. The first person with four cards of the same creature in front of them loses; there are no winners in Cockroach Poker.
The other option is to take a peek at the card and pass it on. Telling the next person in the chain what the card it. The best part is they can contradict what someone has already said. They can’t pass it to someone who’s already seen it.
This is where the beauty of the game shines through. As lies travel around the table. Everyone attempting to bluff a spider all the way to the player with three spiders in front of them.
Cockroach Poker is an absolute blast every time I’ve played it. Teach the game to a group and you’ll find it hard to move on to another game afterwards. Everyone will beg for one more go once they get the hang of it.