Our team of experts play a wide range of games each month and we like to share them with you! Here're our writer's games of the month for June 2018.
Matt - Escape the Dark Castle
Picking a game of the month is always a hard choice to make for me. This month the game I have chosen is not actually a game I own but one that I played at my regular club night and subsequently borrowed.
Escape the Dark Castle is a 1-4 player, co-operative role-playing adventure story game. Players taken on the role of a prisoner who is trying to escape the depths of a dark and dangerous castle. The story is told through a series of large chapter cards, revealed and resolved by the players and form the story of the game. Only 15 of the chapter cards are used per game so there is a large amount of replay-ability in the story that's told. There are also six different playable characters, all with different strengths and weaknesses. The chapter cards could be monsters, traps or random encounters that all players must decide as a team how to handle. All the events are handled by simple dice rolling and character skill checks.
The gameplay is so simple. There is no turn order and all players decide who reveals the next chapter card. They then read the chapter text and decide how to deal with the event. Do you bribe the guards or attack them? Steal the delicious looking pie from the kitchen or ignore it? Who rests and who continues fighting when facing a monster?
Escape the Dark Castle tells a hauntingly, dark and immersive story. The game is hard and players need to tread carefully or they will fail to escape. I first played this at a club night and then asked to borrow it as I wanted more! The game was played often whilst I had it and each time a different story was told. It is easy to set up and easy to play yet offers such a great story. I would highly recommend Escape the Dark Castle for anyone that is wanting a "lite" RPG with easy game mechanics and a lot of replay-ability.
Luke - Santa Maria
Santa Maria, colonising in the 16th Century... and that's all you need to know about the theme for this medium complexity Euro game from Aporta Games. The theme is about as pasted on as you can get, but what lies beneath the thin veneer is a fairly good dice-drafting engine builder with some tile placement that kind of reminds me of how Isle of Skye worked.
You're building a colony on your personal board with various actions and resources that are activated by difference dice in a grid system. Each die triggers all locations in a row or column, allowing you to build up some great combos as the game progresses. On top of this you have a variety of ways to score points, even though you can't really ignore any path entirely without really doing well on something else. It's one of those great moments where you want to do everything, but you can't, a hallmark of a decent Euro with options.
I wished the artwork was more interesting, but component wise you're getting some decent sized tiles and plenty of dice and wooden resource tokens. What I can't stand however is that you don't get a score pad, instead you're stuck with these pink happiness victory point tokens that are fiddly as hell to manage during the game and at the end. Seriously publishers, SCORE PADS ARE ESSENTIAL - REALISE THIS!
But issues like that aside, the engine building aspect is solid. If you like creating cool combos, this is your game because setting up your rows and columns to gain the most benefit is half the fun and with variable scoring tiles, there is still a healthy amount of replay-ability. Head to Santa Maria and grab those dice!
Nick - Mini Rails
My game of the month is hands down Mini Rails. I was lucky enough to pick up one of the seven available at the UKGE this year. Mini Rails is quite straight forward to play, you’ll take two actions in each of the six rounds. The two actions you choose from are to build a rail, or take a share, which ever you take first you must take the other action second. So essentially you take each action six times. Sounds like it shouldn’t work, right? But these two actions cascade into a wonderful game of meaty decisions and agonising choices.
Turn order is randomly decided for the first round with players laying their colour pawn out in order and then reversing it for their second pawn. Underneath this player track is another track. On this will be placed a number of wooden disks equal to the pawns plus one. On your turn you will choose one of these disks and replace it with your pawn - dictating player order for the next round. You then choose to either take this disc as a share placing it at zero on your shares track (which goes from 10 to -10) or build it as a track for that colour company. This will either be on a hex with white dots or red dots - white increases share value for all owners, red decreases. The kicker is that only the colour of disks that are left over after each round will count for positive scoring.
Once you get your head around this scoring Mini Rails becomes an intriguing game of playing the odds, anticipating your opponents moves, and torpedoing their hopes. The game can be prone to some analysis paralysis due to the depth the two choices offer you, but will only six rounds I’ve yet to see a game go longer than 30 minutes - check it out!
The Game Shelf - Village Attacks
Village Attacks is a Kickstarter game from Grimlord Games. Although it’s not quite in the hands of backers yet, they were demoing the game at the UK Games Expo and we have been able to play with a pre-production copy.
Village Attacks is a co-operative, miniatures game for 1-5 players in which the players take on the roles of some classic fantasy monsters, defending the castle heart for incoming hordes of villagers. In various scenarios you will have different victory conditions, ranging from survival, to being killing machines, or mastering the use of traps to catch the villagers.
Miniature games are often not my thing, but overall I've been impressed by Village Attacks. It has enough tactical decisions and relies heavily on cooperative communication. A few scenarios were a little bit long and repetitive for me, especially those where the end felt like a forgone conclusion, but there were also some games where we pulled off a huge turnaround. Village Attacks probably won't make it into my favourite games any time soon, but I'd recommend that fans of cooperative games and scenario driven campaigns do take a look at the game.
On the other hand, Amy thinks it might become a top 10 game for her in the future. She really loves the unique theme of Village Attacks, which reminds her of the original Dungeon Keeper video game that she played when she was young! She also loves that it's a miniature game that's approachable enough to get me to play!
Tom - Mansion of Madness
I managed to pick Mansions of Madness up at the UKGE and after having played it at the show, I could not wait to get home and see what I had been missing out on.
I have to admit, I was apprehensive about getting this game at first. The horror element, while appealing to myself, does not always appeal to my partner. She hates horror films and since we tend to play games together the most, I didn’t know if this was the best game to get. How wrong I was!
Since our first play through of the first scenario, we have played this nearly three or four times a week, playing the different scenarios and trialling different characters each time. One would expect that this may become repetitive and predictable but quite the opposite. The game changes each time and although some features will remain the same, the game tries hard to change things up. The addition of the companion app gives the game an edge, meaning all players can get involved in the investigation, rather than having one as the “game master” like in the first edition. The app also adds to the theme, the music and sound effects complimenting the game well.
What is most surprising is how much my partner enjoyed it. She absolutely loves the game! She is eager to try the expansions (I will be doing reviews on Streets of Arkham soon) and see what more it has to offer.
I think the co-operative element, paired with the variety of monsters/scenarios and how you become engrossed within the game, makes Mansions one of my favourite games, not just of this month, but of all time.
Ben - Scythe
June 2018 may be the month that I discovered by new favourite game. I can’t claim that it’s an undiscovered gem - in fact, I’m almost hilariously late to the party - but Scythe might just be the game I didn’t know I was looking for until I finally played it.
Scythe is a game of moving around a map of Easter Europa, trying to get your faction to control territories so that it can produce resources and hit six achievement stars. Ultimately, it’s a euro-ish game of point scoring, but there’s a bit of well-designed combat in there as well.
Jamey Stegmaier’s masterpiece burst onto the gaming scene when it was released in 2016 and was incredibly well received. A couple of years on, it’s clear that Scythe rode the initial hype wave and continued to soar. It’s one of the highest rated games on BoardGameGeek and still attracts attention.
I was excited from the moment I first opened the box, saw the miniatures and started punching out cardboard tokens. I got even more excited as I unfolded the board and sat reading the rules. My excitement found some release as I played through a solo game against a cleverly designed card-controlled opponent. Then, after a week or so of the box sitting and calling to me, I got to break it out for my first ever full game.
We had five players (though I do have the Invaders from Afar expansion, so we could have had up to seven). I went through the rules. It’s a tough teach but my group got the hang of it enough to start playing. Then we played. The whole experience, including the setup, teach and tear down, was almost exactly three glorious hours.
My group loved it. It was everything that I hoped it would be. If you haven’t played it yet and you like heavier games, go for it. The price is worth it. If you can’t tell, I think this is a truly fantastic game. Yes, I’m late to the party, but there are people out there who haven’t played this game yet and they really should. Go for it.