Games of the Month – November 2018

Games of the Month - Holding On

Winter is here! It's too cold to go outside, so stay in the warm and play some board games. Here're some of our writer's games of the month for November!

The Game Shelf - Roll Player

This month we finally added a copy of Roll Player to our collection, along with the Monsters and Minions Expansion. Roll Player is a game of dice drafting, dice placement and RPG character creation. Creating a character for a fantasy RPG couldn't be further from an appealing theme for Fi, but the game’s mechanisms were interesting enough to overcome theme alone. The theme was more appealing to Amy, and it’s certainly a unique one – you’re not playing an adventurer, but creating one!

If you speak to anyone who plays role-playing games you'll soon learn that they have five character ideas that they are sitting on waiting for the right opportunity. There is something fun about creating an adventurer, even if you never use them. It's this fun that Roll Player taps into. With the addition of Monsters and Minions, you actually are getting to use your adventurer too, which only helps bolster the theme.

There is a lot of variety in the box, with different Classes, Races, Traits and Alignments all presenting different challenges, and giving you an asymmetric game, compared to your opponent. This asymmetry also means that what is good for you at any given moment, is unlikely to match with what another player is going for, and so competitiveness and hate drafting is kept to a minimum, which is something that we really appreciate.

Roll Player really took us by surprise with its addictive qualities. It has simple dice drafting and placement mechanisms that appeal to both fans of the theme and people who aren't into RPGs. It’s definitely our pick for a perennial dice game in our collection.

Dawid - AuZtralia

AuZtralia, one of the newest games by Martin Wallace (Wildlands being the other one), is certainly one of his finest. Part train, part Cthulhu, part time management and resource collection. Though it appears at first glance like a mixture of game genres and ideas which should not work together, it’s exactly in this weirdness, unpredictability and the unknown where AuZtralia succeeds. It offers enough variety and novelty to deliver any board gaming playgroup dozens of exciting sessions.

Players will explore Western or Eastern parts of Australia, as the board itself is double-sided, while building railways and farms along the way. Any resources on the map are up for grabs, as long as players have built tracks leading to them. Armies will also be raised, in preparation for the inevitable awakening of the slumbering Old Ones. However, every of these actions cost time and its correct management is the heart of AuZtralia.

The Time Track serves both as a measure of time it takes players to perform an action and to indicate how long players have until the Old Ones wake up and begin ravaging the closest farms and railways. It’s a great system that makes every player think twice about which action to perform next in order to build up their network and military prowess to be able to outscore each other and endure emerging waves of chthonic monsters.

AuZtralia is an unexpected gem. It's a big game, with a lot of pieces and rules which work well together, and a theme which keeps things fresh and plausible. It is Martin Wallace’s great victory in proving that with great design, any idea can work. But do yourself a favour and remove kangaroos from the Old Ones’ tiles.

AuZtralia Board Game (Credit: SchiMil Games)

Tom G - Holding On

There has been plenty of news and buzz around this new entry from Hub Games. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr sees players taking on the role of nurses, working in a hospital that has just taken on the care of a man who has suffered a massive heart attack while on a plane to London, from Sydney.

You are quickly told that his condition is terminal and he is not going to survive for much longer. Unfortunately, there is little information on him so it is up to you to work together to not only keep Billy alive for as long as you can, but also provide palliative care, gaining his trust and learning more about his troubled past. You must then piece together this information to learn truly understand who Billy Kerr is!

I absolutely love this game! It handles a very delicate theme incredibly well, giving the players a fantastic story to play through, separated out into scenarios which each have an objective which must be completed to move on in the story.

The game itself, while incredibly story heavy, was still enjoyable to play, with one player taking the role of shift manager and allocating tasks to the other nurses, those nurses then deciding how best to assist Billy.

It takes all the good elements of a story-based game and combines it with fluid, easy to learn gameplay and mechanics and the result is a very touching, emotional game that is sure to absorb players in its delicate story while also giving them a rich experience! A great game that really stands out from the crowd and one that fully deserves my Game of the Month.

Laura - My Little Scythe

After not even a week since my return from PaxU, I experienced Choice Paralysis when deciding on what game to write about. I always came back to My Little Scythe.

This easy to learn, yet difficult to master, game gives the impression of being a bit rules-heavy at first. However, Hoby and Vienna Chou - the father/daughter duo who designed this incredible introduction to strategic gameplay - managed to work the majority of the mechanics into the theme so well that the rules feel intuitive. My eight-year-old niece (nicknamed J-Bean) picked up on the gameplay within the first two rounds and played almost seamlessly from there.

There are enough random elements in the initial set-up so you’ll never play the same game twice. Personality cards offer a focal point so players aren’t overwhelmed at the beginning of the game. The potential strategies are simple and approachable enough for children and yet deep enough to keep even hobby gamers interested. There are multiple ways to victory, allowing options should any particular route become difficult and making it impossible to win through any heavy-handed min-maxing.

The components and board are incredibly well made, the box inserts are some of the best I’ve seen, and the artwork from Noah Adelman and Katie Khau is absolutely adorable. I think what sealed My Little Scythe as Game of the Month for me though is how it encourages competitive gameplay balanced with generosity. I felt thrilled when I watched J-Bean grin over getting the Friendship award (she ultimately won the game!), and confident in what she was learning as she played.

If you’re looking for a positive and fun game regardless of experience or age, be sure to check out My Little Scythe! After all, five out of five J-Bean smiles can’t be wrong!

My Little Scythe (Credit: Stonemaier Games)

Louis - Newton

My game of the month would have to be Newton. Having played it first in August, I've been itching for it to hit UK retail for quite some time. I've loved pretty much everything that has come out of the Cranio Creations stable in the past few years, and this in no exception to that.

It's a CMON published game without minis. I'm utterly indifferent to minis in games (unless they perform some kind of in-game function), but when CMON publish a non-minis game, I definitely consider it worth a closer look; they certainly seem to be getting hold of the right titles.

The theme is a bit superficial (something about academics, publishing books, reputation etc). I find that when explaining Newton, the language of the theme works well (playing action cards on your desk, placing books on your bookshelves, advancing students, visiting universities and so on) and makes sense. But it takes a lot of effort to make the mechanics fit the theme, and I don't think it understanding of the game at all. So… typical, dry Euro. No complaints from me!

A lot of the games from this team of designers have interlocking actions, whereby doing action A enables you to do action B more efficiently, but only if you have… well, you get the idea. Coimbra, my game of the month last month, is a prime example of that. And Newton is another fine example. Choosing what order to do actions is fundamental to the game, but it can lead to a lot of really tough decisions, since each round you are forced to take one of your action cards out of play. Hand management - and desk management - are key.

If you're a fan of a nice, solid Euro, with interesting actions, and aren't overly fussed about a strong theme, I'd recommend seeking Newton out.

Joe R - KeyForge

It couldn’t be anything but KeyForge. I began November being taught by people who’d been at the London pre-release and haven’t stopped playing. Attending a few tournaments (and losing , failing to stick to a self-imposed deck limit (twice), involving myself in the online community (occasionally regrettable but mostly ok).

It isn’t my game of the month because of the amount I’ve played it though. It’s because it’s still so much fun. When I arrange a quick couple of games in the pub at lunchtime I get excited about playing. After the Wednesday night RPG game I run I stay behind at the end to play a game of KeyForge.

I do feel guilty that my enthusiasm got friends into this game as a cheap buy-in. In theory you can spend £9 on one deck and have a good time. In practice, we have all bought 5-8 decks, play mats, token sets, deck boxes. I don’t know how much I’ve spent but it’s definitely over £100. So not such a cheap buy-in.

I used to play a lot of Star Realms, and before that a lot of Hearthstone, so I’m familiar with the itch to keep playing more and more games. What I’m not used to is how much fun it is. With other games it can feel like a compulsion an almost chore like chase to improve results. With KeyForge, I want to play it more because I want to have more fun.

KeyForge: Call of the Archons (Credit: Fantasy Flight Games)

Luke P - The Others

The world is in chaos and the apocalypse is upon you, few people survive and those that do fight an ever growing horde in the city of Haven. The gates of hell have opened up and demons and corruption flow forth commanded by the monstrous manifestations of the seven deadly sins.

In The Others, one player is The Sin and everyone else plays the heroes. You can choose from three styles of mission in which various objectives will need to be met for the heroes to make it to victory. The Sin have the simple objective of stopping the heroes.

As the game progresses so does the apocalypse and the environment becomes increasingly hostile. The heroes team is made of seven types; one leader, two bruisers, two shooters and two fixers. Depending on the player count there will be three/four heroes in play and as they die, and they will die, you bring new heroes in from the reserve.

Each hero can take two turns in a round, alternating between each hero. The Sin has a number of reaction tokens to use in between those turns, generally only three\four tokens. Both players have to choose very wisely what they do and when as inefficiency can be very punishing most of all for the heroes. If you lose sight of your objective as the heroes you can very quickly be overrun and wasting time fighting back a horde of demons.

This game surprised me in that it is not what it seems at first glance. It appears to be a heroes vs monsters game like Zombicide of Level 7 Omega Protocol but it is actually more like a puzzle with a bunch of combat dice rolling thrown in the mix. A fabulous game the I urge people to pick up as it may just surprise you as it did me.

Simon L - Architects of the West Kingdom

In November I had the chance to play the latest game in the series of Shem Phillips designed games. I loved the pickup and deliver of Explorers of the North Sea, with the same fantastic artwork style by artist, Mihajlo Dimitrievski also published by Garphill Games. Whilst the worker placement, Raiders of the North Sea, was seen in higher regard by many (a focus has been on expansion on this game), the success since Kickstarter for Architects of the West Kingdom has been stellar.

Reaching top 10 game of the year by many critics, I loved the premise of “a one round game”. You place your (Viking) workers and take what you place. However, you only have 20 so at some point you need to recall them. Your turn consists of one action; place.one worker. With no workers you can return a worker. Thankfully, one space allows you to return works from one location.

The aim is to collect resources/people/being at locations to score points. The most points wins.

A game that looks similar, is compared to frequently and, in fact, was played on the table next to us, was Stone Age. Unlike Stone Age, the lack of dice (luck)/calculations was welcome. Turns were quick and the fun element is you can choose a location which sends people at that spot to your jail.  You can send “sell” them. Sending them to jail reduces options for others and you can counter this by recalling them from jail (preventing that person getting money, on their next turn).

Whilst the strategy I went for led me to have a third of the winning score, I’m aware now that being high on one track isn’t as balanced as others, despite having an efficient engine. So, realising there is an imbalance (when all know) means competition can focus on certain spots (Stone Age is very balanced, but you need to mitigate others from dominating one thing).

Artitects of the West Kingdom (Credit: Garphill Games)

Ryan H - Tiny Epic Galaxies

With a busy friend group, it can be difficult sometimes to find time to meet up at someone's abode and pour four hours into a meaty, board-based experience. To remedy this, I decided to purchase Tiny Epic Galaxies, which is my game of the month.

With such a widely esteemed game, my expectations were possibly unfairly high before I played this. Thankfully, I have not been disappointed.

Each player commandeers a budding empire in a pint-sized mission of galactic conquest. With the aid of custom dice rolling, you need to rely on wits and surprisingly little luck to maximise the order of your actions and hone your expansion efforts.

Sporting a 4 x 18 x 12cm size, this one of my most portable games, with social deduction games, such as Spyfall, in the same sort of region. None of my other small box pleasures have anywhere close to the depth of this mini monster, however. In fact, Tiny Epic Galaxies rivals many of my big box games in terms of sheer brain power needed to optimise turns and outplay your opponents.

Thanks to its portability, modest table footprint and 45 minute playtime, I've been able to bring this with me on my studies on a daily basis and spontaneous lunchtime skirmishes have been a frequent occurrence. As a result of filling this neglected niche, I'd wouldn't be surprised if this already one of my most played games.

If you haven't heard of this game before, you'd be doing yourself a disservice in ignoring it much longer. Have a look and a ponder. This could be your new best friend.

Sarah P - Professor Evil & the Citadel of Time

My game of the month is the fantastic Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time! My fiancé picked this one up and I must admit, I had never heard of it before and the title/front of the box certainly did not lure me in! However, I was intrigued as soon as he started to explain the game and set up the board. The artwork is beautiful, and the rules explanation was pretty quick and straightforward.

Players work together to rescue famous treasures from Professor Evil’s mansion. They must rescue four treasures before the Professor stashes four away forever! At the start of the game, players choose their characters, who all come with their own special ability and deck of action cards (I can see us playing this game many more times and playing all of the different characters). Then the mansion is set-up with closed doors, switch tiles and treasures.

On each turn, players draw two cards from their deck and choose just one that they may use on their turn. They may also take up to three regular actions – move, unlock a door, flip a switch and rescue a treasure. The treasures are all protected by traps, and in order to rescue the treasures players must switch off the appropriate switches and be in the same room as the treasure tiles.

At the end of each turn, players must roll dice for the Professor’s turn. If he moves through rooms, he locks doors, turns switches on and boots you out of his mansion if he finds you! He may also give you less time to rescue treasures!

This game is very tense and a lot of fun. We played two games last month, winning our first game, but losing our second when we increased the difficulty. So I am excited to play this again and cannot wait to show it to friends and family!