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Games of the Month – July 2019

Games of the Month - Blackout Hong Kong

July was a hot month! You could say that it was too hot! It was much better to stay in the cooler (slightly) conditions and play board games. Here are our games of the month for July.

The Game Shelf - Blackout: Hong Kong

This month we discovered a new favourite game. We play hundreds of new games each year, so finding a game that even comes close to our top ten is a rare treat. Blackout: Hong Kong came out of nowhere. Granted, we like a lot of games from Eggertspiele and the designer, Alexander Pfister, is on our radar. However, we’ve barely scratched the surface with his games. Blackout: Hong Kong came out at Essen 2018, but finally made it to the UK in a second edition (better graphic design, but an unfortunate few misprints) in recent weeks.

By quick explanation, Blackout: Hong Kong is powered by deck-building and a resource rondel. Each turn is split into phases which are very handily laid out on your player board. Each round, the three dice rolled define which resources are available. Whilst the cards in your tableau will dictate which resources you get, unless you do some manipulation. You add to the columns of your tableau each turn and build out an engine that primarily gains resources, but also converts them into actions. Your goal is to cash resources into your objective cards, allowing you to claim cities on the board.

Blackout: Hong Kong is simply fantastic! It's full of depth but, for us, it isn't depth that slows down the game. It's a really interesting combination of deck building with all of the efficiency of resource management can some of the chain reactions of engine building. Blackout is fantastic value for a game of this weight and makes me want to give more love to some of the unplayed or once played Alexander Pfister games in our collection. I couldn't be much happier to have discovered Blackout: Hong Kong!

Will M - Wacky Races

One game easily stood out as my game of the month for July and that was Wacky Races from CMON. Based on the 1960's cartoon (which has been repeated numerous times down the years), this card-driven race game includes typically great miniatures and bold design. I played this game eight times in July - seven times with members of my family and one memorable time at my games group.

Prior to purchasing it, I had heard a few disparaging comments about this game, but the colourful minis kept drawing me in until I decided to make the acquisition. I wasn't expecting a realistic race car simulation or possibly even a decent game. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Each player (racer) discards terrain cards from their hand to move along the randomly generated track. Dick Dastardly and Muttley, who are controlled by the game, lay traps if they get ahead of the pack while each racer has a dashboard and set of special powers that can be used to gain benefits or scupper others during the race.

This game played as well with my seven and 11-year-old daughters as it did with a bunch of adults at my games group. The banter was flying around at games group as I was trawling behind in last place – “Hey Will, I thought this was meant to be your game – how come you’re so bad at it?!” – but they hadn’t reckoned on Professor Pat Pending’s rotor blade special power! A few lucky card draws later and I was gliding home in first place! Wacky Races is simple but also bags of fun, with the right amount of luck and tension, resulting in a fun racing romp. It makes for a nice gateway game with a theme and characters that will already be familiar to many.

Matt T - Dice Throne Season 2

Roxley have just announced the latest game in the Dice Throne universe, Dice Throne: Adventures. This Kickstarter prompted me to get Dice Throne Season 2 to the table and therefore it has earned the place of Game of the Month for me and is currently my most played game of 2019.

Dice Throne is a Yahtzee style dice rolling game but with so much more. In Season 2 there are eight different characters that you can play. Each character has a customer player board, with custom abilities that are triggered using your custom dice. You can upgrade your abilities and play cards using Combat Points. Cards can change your (or your opponents) dice roll to make sure you can trigger the ability that you want or to stop your opponent. There are status affects that can be placed on yourself to give you a special ability like adding extra damage or avoiding damage altogether. You can also place negative status affects on your opponent which forces them to reduce their attack or take damage. All these affects, cards and abilities are thematic tied in with the character and each character plays and feels different.

Dice Throne is a brilliant dice chucking, highly interactive game, where you are trying to reduce your opponent’s hit points to zero. You can play 1v1, in teams and king of the hill. The artwork and component quality is amazing and Roxley have knocked it out of the park. I have introduced this to a host of friends and they have quickly picked it up and put up a good fight, often requesting to play it again straight away.

I love how the different characters play and feel and pulling off an Ultimate provides some amazing moments. The abilities and status tokens vary from character to character. I have not found that one character is more powerful than the other and they all seem pretty balanced with games usually coming down to the last dice roll. Some characters are, however, easier to play than others based on their play style. I love the gameplay, artwork, components and the great moments, both high and low, that the game provides. Dice Throne Season 2 is my game of the month.

Tom Harrod – Crown of Emara

There is always a moment I cherish during the first time I play a good new Euro board game. That moment is the point when the penny drops. It’s when I realise I’m resting my forehead against my palm, and I’m frowning. This, my friends, is the Board Game Headache™. Don’t be alarmed. The Board Game Headache™ is your friend. I felt it dancing its merry jig when I played Crown of Emara, last month.

Designer Benjamin Schwer and Pegasus Spiele have conjured up a real beauty here. The aim is to please the king, scoring Citizen Points and Accommodation Points. You score the lowest of these two totals, and your Accommodation begins with a meaty head-start. Everyone’s playing catch-up from the off. Up to four players allocate three action cards per turn to three slots on their player boards. These have dual purposes. They represent an action (such as getting a resource, getting a discount off items), as well as their slot position being how many spaces you can move. You see, there are two four-quadrant rondels in Crown of Emara. You have a meeple on each, and you can only move one of them each turn. The quadrants also represent actions the player partakes upon landing there. Getting both actions complementing each other can be combo-tastic.

Crown of Emara is a resource management efficiency race. You need everything to convert it to better stuff. The sooner you cash in your bread, the more points it nets, because its value permanently drops. Requests get higher in quantity, rewarding the early birds. But everything is appealing and there’s almost always a great option. Yes, your card allocation can be what becomes the architect of your own failure… However, like many great Euros, it rewards players that can plan ahead. Believe us: it’s so satisfying when it works. A Board Game Headache™ is like meeting The One on a first date. When you find it, you never want to let it go.

Crown of Emara - Games of the Month (Credit: Pegasus Spiele)

Louis N - Blackout: Hong Kong

One game seems to have stood out this month. The first time I played Blackout: Hong Kong was almost a year ago. A friend had an early copy from his trip to Spiele. I have to say, I wasn’t overly enamoured with it… it felt like a rehash of Mombasa. However, after a month or so, I decided to give it a second chance, and pre-ordered it… and waited… and waited…

It finally arrived sometime in late May, and the reasons for the delay were apparent. There had been graphical overhauls to the game, fixing many of the concerns which had been flagged in the initial print run. Although there are a few misprints. That said, I made minor adjustments on the misprinted cards, and the game was fully playable. And somehow, I enjoyed it a LOT more than I did that first time.

It’s a game about the near future, in which a crisis in Hong Kong has resulted in a power outage… Chaos ensues. Players represent vigilante groups trying to recover control in areas where the government has failed.

Blackout: Hong Kong combines hand and deck management, resource management and a non-confrontational form of area control into a game. As with all of Pfister’s games (particularly the heavier ones) it feels reasonably accessible on first play. However, it also feels like it would be more rewarding to play a second time. The comparison to Mombasa is an obvious one. The deck and hand management is similar, though not identical. And both feature a type of area control. But all of the elements of Blackout feel integrated, unlike the book track in Mombasa, which can feel bolted on.

This may not be the best Pfister game for many people (Great Western Trail has that crown). However, I think it may be the one that I enjoy the most.

Ryan H - Underwater Cities

After consorting with the team as to which game to purchase, I was encouraged to take a look at Underwater Cities. This competitive strategy game sees you erecting domed cities beneath the waves. Stretching across the oceans, these are connected by sophisticated tunnels and supported by your (hopefully) well-planned structures. Resources, like kelp and steelplast, must be carefully managed to feed your cities and expand further, optimising each of your turns as you go.

Gameplay is pretty simple. Play one of the three coloured cards from your hand to one of the action slots on the board. If the colour of your card matches the colour of the slot, you can perform both the action of the slot and the action of the card. Your colours don’t match? No card action for you. That’s the gist. Different cards may be instant use for some short-term gratification, whereas others may join your ever-growing tableau, augmenting your future actions and increasing your supply of resources.

Truth be told, there isn't very much player interaction. This extends only to the one-player limit per action slot, but that’s okay. I have plenty enough to agonise over without having to panic about my neighbours scooping up piles of my hard-earned kelp. The strategy in this game is entirely engrossing and I never felt more player interaction was needed for my enjoyment - I have plenty of games for that.

My only gripe would be the quality of some of the components. I’m primarily referring to the player boards, which are more like player papers really. The other components, like the cards and tokens are fine, though the artwork repeats itself quite often.

However, this stuff isn't enough to distract me from the solid gameplay and I can't wait to get it to my table again.