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Games of the Month – March

March Games of the Month - Noria

Each month, our writers come together to share their games of the month. Each writer selects one game from the many that they have been playing, and shares a little bit of information about that game!

Let's find out which board games our team enjoyed the most during the month of March.

The Game Shelf - Noria

As reviewers, we play a large number of new games and it’s difficult to find a new favourite or top 10 game when we already have a select group of games that we love. This month, Noria really shone through for me. It has fantastic spinning wheel components which really make it stand out, but what I enjoy about it is the way that you select how to build up your engine and figure out how to optimise it for your strategy each game, as well as staying on your toes and keeping it flexible from turn to turn.

Noria looks great, has high component quality and offers something unique with its moving parts that are key to the mechanisms of the game. It's definitely a heavier game than it looks, but the choices aren't overwhelming and it plays at a good pace, at least with two experienced players. I really enjoy the spatial puzzle mixed with the engine building and have been enjoying Noria more with every play.

Given enough opportunity to hit the table I think Noria could be a top 10 or 20 game for me in the future.

Craig - Twilight Imperium 4th Edition

It has been a lean month on the gaming front for me personally, having only managed to get 15 games in across March. Numbers aside - what a way to sign off the month, playing my first game of Twilight Imperium 4. Having put off buying a copy late last year, I finally bit the bullet. Some may say it’s a lot to spend on a game you have ZERO experience in playing (including past editions), but I just couldn’t resist.  And you know what, I’m glad I did.

We settled down to our first game this past weekend at my old gaming group's, Greenwich & Blackheath Board Games and Beer Club, monthly weekend meetup. I hastily set the game up according to the advised six-player setup, since all of us (bar one) were new to the franchise. We’d all watched a few ‘how to play’ videos beforehand, and I’d provided some ‘cheat sheets’ to help with the nuances and FAQs. I knew that we would be there for the day, and fully expected that we may even run out of time, I even worried that the pace may slow should any one of us find they weren’t enjoying themselves.

I was impressed with just how gripping, intense and nerve-racking the game was, even when dragged out across 8.5 hours. I would often sit there with a grimace as one of my opponents managed to put a War Sun out on the board, whilst I struggled to expand beyond the first four or five tiles surrounding my homeworld. There were a few notable moments of pure joy, including when I somehow managed to fend off an opponents invading fleet of his Flagship and two Dreadnoughts, with just three Carriers. Who knew so many nine's and 10's in a crunch situation?!  Add to that a sneakily played “Direct Hit” action card, meaning they had to destroy their Flagship after it sustained damage.

The game came to a conclusion at the end of Round Eight, with multiple players all vying for victory. Scores were relatively close across the board – 10/9/8/8/8/5, and plenty of discussion was had as to possible strategies going forward, had the game not ended when it did.

I can certainly attest to the claim that this is one of the best gaming experiences money can buy, made all the better by the people playing it.  I had such a great time that I’ve already started planning for another six-player game in April, this time using other races and a randomised galactic board setup. I just need to find up to five other willing participants…

Nick - Crisis

My game of the month is Crisis. I was able to play a copy of the game at Airecon, and we immediately played again. Crisis is a worker placement game with engine building elements. Set in an economic crisis, you play business people trying to capitalise on the situation and make some cash. To do this you will manipulate resources, gain staff and businesses to assign those staff too. You can then sell the goods these businesses produce to the government or on the black market.

Scoring is interesting, each round an increasing point limit is set and players need to reach or surpass that target to stabilise the economy. This only happens if the players that pass the target are further past it, than the players who didn't make it are away. Event cards are drawn based on the economy so it impacts everyone.

To run your businesses you need the correct staff, and sometimes resources too. If you add extra staff then you can multiple the rewards you receive. It all comes together really well in a tight, smooth package, that provides tense rewarding gameplay.

The worker placement element of the game is your more typical blocking type, so when a space is taken that's it for the round, but there are always other options, even if they are slightly less efficient. Despite all the moving cogs, it's fairly easy learn and after one game that ended with the collapse of the economy we set-up and played again.

Unfortunately Crisis is an out of print game at the moment, but I literally just received notification that the reprint is now live on Kickstarter! Good timing or what?

Luke - Magic Maze

The latest entry on my "Finally I Got This One Played" list was at the recent Stab-Con convention in Southampton where I was shown Magic Maze. A family weight, real-time game where four coloured pawns in a shopping mall have to visit their respective stores, steal what they need and then get out before the timer runs out.

There are a few snags though. Firstly, each player is only allowed to move each pawn in one direction and/or activate one special function (portals, escalators, explore new tiles etc). Secondly, you're not allowed to talk. Yeah you heard me right. Instead, players have to deduce what it is they need to do with any of the pawns at any given time and if you're waiting on someone else you grab the giant red pawn (or as I like to call it, the Red Pawn of Judgement) and put it in front of another player.

Of course everyone is doing this at the same time, grabbing and moving frantically in semi-organised chaos. And if a player is oblivious to their immediate task, all you can do is grab the Red Pawn of Judgement and bash it hard in front of them repeatedly until they get the message.

There are ways you can flip the timer and the Maximum Security expansion adds in aspects like security guards, motion sensors, locked rooms etc to make it even more insane. But I found this to be a laugh-out-loud, stressful piece of fun that only lasts about 10 minutes per game. It claims 1-8 players but reports claim it's best with 4 exactly which is a bit of a negative, but all in all, I had great fun bashing the Red Pawn of Judgement at other players. Real-time fans should give this one a look.

Ben G - Takenoko + Chibis

My game of the month for March has to be Takenoko. This game, from renowned designer Antoine Bauza, is a few years old now - and certainly on the lighter side of strategy games - but I’ve had a blast playing it with multiple different people: gamers and non-gamers alike.

In Takenoko, players compete for the Emperor of Japan’s favour by tending to his bamboo garden and looking after his panda, which was a gift from the Chinese emperor. To do this, players race to complete objective cards, which might be cultivating a certain type of plot in the garden, growing some combination of bamboo shoots, or feeding the panda certain types of bamboo. Players choose from a fixed range of actions to do so, with a weather dice in there to shake things up a little, and the player with the most points at the end wins!

The base game has gone down very well with everyone I’ve taught it to - it’s a low-stress, adorable-looking game that’s easy to get the hang of. I also bought the Chibis Expansion to add another layer of complexity for when my wife and I play it two-player, and I have to say that the expansion adds a nice layer of depth that undoubtedly ups the game’s strategy and replay-ability. If you’re a fan of the game but haven’t played it with Chibis, I highly recommend you do so!

Whether or not you have the expansion, the base game of Takenoko is a great one to add to your collection if you want something a little more chilled that works really well with new gamers. And for the kind of game it is, with some really nice components (including an insanely cute panda mini) it’s excellent value for money. It’ll certainly be on the table pretty regularly in my house!