Winter is coming! It's getting colder, so that can only mean one thing...one big excuse to play more board games! Here're some of our writer's games of the month for October.
The Game Shelf - Reef
Reef is a game that we first tried at this year’s UK Games Expo in prototype form. We then watched with envy as visitors to conventions in the USA got the chance to buy the full production version, with its really tactile pieces that remind you of the bright colours of Duplo! Reef is the next game coming from the publishers of the extremely popular Azul. The only real similarity is that Reef is another family weight abstract game for 2-4 players, with great eye-catching components.
We’ve played Reef a bunch of times this month, with a few different groups of friends, as well as at home with just two players. Reef is an easy game to teach, with very simple mechanisms and only a couple of choices on every turn – either take a card or play a card to place two coral on your Reef and then score based on the scoring pattern on the bottom half of the card. However, behind the simple rules, is an abstract game that really makes you think. To win, you need to successfully weave together a chain of cards that all score you points and, even better if you can score a card multiple times.
Unlike Azul, I’m not sure Reef would suit everyone – I don’t think I could get my parents on board because it might not click in the first game, but for gamers and their friends or family with an appetite of puzzly and great looking games, we’d definitely highly recommend Reef.
Louis - Coimbra
Anyone who has seen my constant Facebook posts will likely be able to guess that my Game of the Month is Coimbra. I have been a big fan of Lorenzo il Magnifico, so a game by the same designers was already fated to a good thing. Coimbra has a lot of similar feels (fixed set of cards over a fixed number of rounds, fixed number of turns in the game, four “types” of cards, interlinked card benefits which build the game engine), but it replaces the card acquisition mechanism with a rather elegant dice draft and auction, which perfectly offsets the benefit of drafting a high value die with a corresponding cost.
Visually, Coimbra is striking, with a bold palette. At a glance, the board could be mistaken for a What’s Your Game? offering, but closer inspection reveals a very distinctive art style. The game also re-purposes the little tower pieces from Porta Nigra into dice holders, allowing players to identify which dice are theirs.
Coimbra isn’t strong on theme, like a lot of typical euros. It’s there, if you really want it, but since one of the types of income which you can earn in the game is Victory Points, that theme doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. But does it really matter, if the game is THIS enjoyable?
I first encountered Coimbra at UKGE this year, when I managed to play through the first two (of four) rounds, and knew it was a good game. Having played it several times over the past month, I can feel that it is starting to become a favourite, and may even pass Lorenzo in my rankings.
Andrew - Kemet
Kemet is probably the biggest casualty of collection growth for me. After a little over a year in the hobby after growing bored with Magic: The Gathering, my collection has swelled to around 50 games. While not as large as some collections, my growth as an enthusiast presents a problem: In a hobby where cult of the new reigns supreme, how does one keep the old ones in vogue? In a collection that now boasts Inis and Lords of Hellas, is there room for it anymore?
I luckily managed to get Kemet to the table with a bunch of my old Magic-playing friends a few weeks ago, and within the two-hour session we had, I immediately abashed all my concerns. There is no problem with having multiple games in the same genre so long as they are sufficiently different, and Kemet offers that in spades.
From fighting for temples, to breaching your opponent’s walls, to slaughtering your enemies in the open fields, Kemet brings a pure legality about it that some area control games don’t manage to convey effectively. You feel (rightfully) like a god, throwing legions of armed forces and mighty beasts onto your unsuspecting foes, all the while harnessing victory points for everything from buying tiles, to building up your pyramids, to just being the best in open warfare. It is a game both rewarding in theme and function, and it is sad to think that though I own it, the expansion content hasn’t seen the light of day yet.
Kemet is a game I love to get to the table for its shimmering desert landscape, its detailed, uniquely-sculpted miniatures between each faction’s army, and the wonderful tile-based tech tree system that fuels both combative and economic strategies. It has not gotten the respect is deserves from me so far but going forward it absolutely will.
John S - Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
I have had Lanterns: The Harvest Festival for a while. Yet no matter how many games I play, this game is still my favourite and always ends up on the table during a game’s night. The premise of the game is simple. Play one of three tiles in your hand to gain the colour card based on the corresponding colour that faces you, and gain extra colours based on any touching matching squares.
You also gain a coin for every patterned raft where the touching colours match, which can be used to help swap one of your colour cards for another colour. Scoring is easy, either trade in all seven different coloured cards, three sets of two colours or four cards of one colour for a corresponding, yet ever decreasing point value. The winner is the person with the highest overall total once all the tiles have been played. The best part though? It can be played in less than an hour.
Ben Shostak - Cahoots
Despite playing many great games, I’ve gone for the game that has had glowing reviews from every group that I’ve played it with.
Cahoots is a co-operative game where players have a hand of four cards and, without discussing it (too much), are trying to meet objectives by placing their cards on the four cards in the middle. Players take it in turns to play a card and simply have to put a card with the same colour or number on the ones in the middle.
There is a wide range of objectives such as: all cards must be higher than four; the sum of all cards must be 16; all cards must be orange or green. Unlike The Mind, you can say things like, “I can do this one,” and point to a pile but the limited amount you can say really does make the game interesting. You can be ready to complete an objective and then the player before you changes the one card you needed, making you unable to complete it!
The game, which only takes about 20 minutes to play, has a variety of difficulty levels and has so many cards that no two games will ever be the same. Which is lucky because every group I have played it with has played at least five games in a row, as even when you lose, it always feels like you were so close to victory!
This is a brilliant game that can be played by almost any age as the vocabulary used is all very simple and reminds me of another game I love – Fuse. However, it is far more relaxed (you only lose if a player can’t go – which is very rare – or the deck runs out), and has the bonus of more player interaction!
Simon L - SHCD: Thames Murder
Out of the games we played this month, SHCD: The Thames Murders and Other Cases would have to be the group we have enjoyed most. It is set over 10 cases and is true to the novels, specifically Holmes’ methods.
One reason for picking this as a choice is the replay-ability is low. Once you know the answer, you might not play again. To be honest, there are many other cases and plenty of literature and, especially when playing in other groups, you will forget at least some of the clues/paths/ideas/reveals. It is also interesting to see what else other groups consider, plus you get to see what they reveal, and then from those clues, what you would then do. There are further cases such as Jack the Ripper!
Ben G - Clank!
Clank! has long been a favourite of mine but has never appeared as my Game of the Month. However, the release of the First Expeditions Expansion was more than enough to justify putting it in the spotlight in October.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with this 2016 release from Renegade Game Studios and Direfwolf Digital, Clank! is billed as a deck-building adventure game. Paul Dennen’s clever design sees players compete with each other to loot treasure from the Dragon’s lair, using increasingly powerful cards to move around and fight monsters. But watch out! If you take too long in the dungeon, the dragon will catch you and you’ll never see the light of day again...
There’s a lot to love in this fun release. I’ve played it with two, three and four people and the vast majority of games feel tight and fun. The tension ramps up nicely as some cards force you to add Clank! cubes to the dragon’s bag that could count against you as damage later. That mechanic is a great way to balance more powerful cards, allowing a number of interesting designs to shine.
As much as I love it, Clank! does have flaws. The deck-building is not as deep as some other games in the genre and some games can feel like they end too quickly if one player rushes in and rushes out. I’ve never been bothered by these features but I know that some players are.
That said, the game’s expansions do a great job of ironing out the kinks and giving players more of what they love. I’m a big fan of the Mummy’s Curse and I love the direction that the publishers have gone with the Expeditions. Gold & Silk gives players two new boards to play with, each one bringing some great little rules twists and a new monster. The expansions keep the experience fresh and ensure that I’ll never get tired of trying my luck in the dungeon.
Nick W - Chronicles of Crime
My game of the month is Chronicles of Crime, which in a month where I played Robin Hood, Dinosaur Island, Coimbra, Glass Road and A Feast for Odin shows you how much of an impact the detective simulator had on me.
Despite an unassuming set-up, Chronicles weaves engrossing stories across its combination of tech and board game. I’ve seen some criticism that you are just scanning QR codes over and over again but this somewhat misses the point. When I’m interviewing a suspect about blood stains I’m not focusing on the process of scanning, I’m actively working through scenarios in my mind and trying to access motives and potential leads. All this is helped by an app that reads the QR codes quickly and with a near perfect success rate, meaning the tech rarely gets in the way of the immersion.
It’s definitely an experience that works best with 1-3 players rather than more, and after my first proper case I started employing a pen and paper to make notes so I could remember vital information without needing to re-scan elements. This is important for your score as every action you take costs time, just as it would in real life. Without spoiling anything in some cases you really feel the pressure of the ticking clock.
The app also allows you to examine scenes through a gyroscopic picture or with the optional VR module. Both methods are good but the VR module adds more immersion, but can be a little trickier if you already wear glasses. Either way you’ll be spinning around on the spot shouting out what clues you see so your friends can pick them out of the evidence deck. Chronicles is the most seamless app integration I have seen and I can’t wait to see where they go with it in the future.
Tom G - Wildlands
After the heartache of realising I was not going to make it to Essen this year, I drowned my sorrows by buying a load more board games from my ever growing wishlist! One such game on that list was Wildlands, the brand new arena combat, strategy game from the renowned Martin Wallace.
In Wildlands, you take charge of one of the four factions available, each with a unique character with a particular set of skills (unfortunately Liam Neeson is not one of the characters). Using a deck of actions cards, you move your figures across the board, the aim being to pick up crystals and wipe out the opposition, each of these things gaining you a point and the first to five points wins.
Wallace is known for his games to be on the slightly heavier side, such as Brass and Age of Steam. This is not one of those games! He has moved away from this and created a game that plays so smoothly and so simply, so much so you will have new players at the table and ready to play quicker than most.
Don’t be fooled by this though, this game definitely delivers! A combination of smooth gameplay, mechanics, beautiful artwork and detailed miniatures make this game really stand out and perform! Strategy is vital in this game and players can utilise their characters and their locations to set up traps and ambushes or prepare to pick up a crystal at the very start of their turn. Everything in this game works seamlessly and that really shines through after playing it over the course of this month. Osprey Games who published the game have already teased some expansions to Wildlands as well, adding not just new factions but new mechanics to interrupt the players and add more to an already stand out game!
I am really looking forward to seeing what they have to offer. Needless to say, Wallace is onto a winner with Wildlands and it is definitely one that will be returning to my table month after month! If you want to find out more, go and check out Ben’s review on the site!
Will M - FUSE
Late October had me all in a spin with FUSE, Kane Klenko’s real-time game in-which you (and your mates) are rolling dice to frantically diffuse bombs which are set to blow your space ship up in 10 minutes. FUSE is not new to me and I have clocked up 22 plays of it since being introduced to it a year ago, but I gave it a run-out this month and lost. I then played again the next day with the same fate. The following day I got my eldest daughter on board and despite doing well we lost twice in a row!
I gave it a few days before attempting it again, and after finishing work on Friday October 26, I began the weekend with a game and managed to win with 10 seconds remaining – my 10-year-old daughter and her friend arrived home part-way through and watched on in awe! It inspired her and we played together again on the Sunday but lost, really badly!!
The funny thing about all of these plays was that they were all on the so-called “training” difficulty level, which gives you an idea of just how hard this game can scale to! But even when you lose you get a score, so you can sometimes feel fairly satisfied with a good loss (I sound so defeatist, but you have to look for the positives sometimes!).
One final thing I have to mention is the timer app, which features the female voice of the ship’s computer, who sarcastically taunts you throughout the 10 minutes with helpful nuggets like “Let’s hurry shall we?” and “After you’re through, the toilets need cleaning” – a nice touch! BOOM!!
Ryan H - 7 Wonders Duel
So, my new purchase for the month, which I have quickly warmed to, is 7 Wonders Duel. Not wanting my copy of Arkham Horror: The LCG to feel ostracised for being my only true two-player game, I decided to browse for a suitable game to accompany it. With warm reviews online, 7 Wonders Duel seemed to fit the bill nicely and I've not been disappointed.
Competing to build the best empire, two players each draft cards from the selection on the table, some of which are face down. By targeting different cards sets over the four phases/ages, you can aim for a:
- Military victory, forcing the victory token towards the enemy, without them pushing back with their own red military card drafting.
- Science victory, by collecting FIVE?? unique science icons found on green cards. Pairs of science symbols enables empire-wide enhancements to augment empire scoring.
- Civilian victory, decided after all three phases have passed. This is a total based on all of your cards, your wonders, your money and more.
With limited experience thus far, I'm hesitant to make any sweeping statements, but so far I'm really enjoying it. There's something very satisfying about the tactically starving your opponent of resources and watching them squirm. It's also nice to have a game that I can enjoy in bite-sized pieces, as opposed to the 3-4 hour ordeals that mostly populate my shelves.
Martin L - Arkham Horror
This is a neat tie in for the month of Halloween – we’ve fallen in love with a game of creeping dread and nameless horror, Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It is a two-player game of investigation and conflict within the atmospheric HP Lovecraft Cthulhu universe.
As the name suggests, it’s a card game. The only components that aren’t cards are a bag full of round tokens to track clues, health, sanity and so on as well as ‘The Chaos Bag’ (this is used to resolve skill checks and combat). Apart from that, your character, the settings, monsters and NPCs, skills and equipment, as well as plot events all turn up on various cards.
The play feels a lot like a role-playing game, with the cards taking the role of the GM. You start the game with a character and a hand of cards. Your character has varying stats and a handful of unique abilities. Each character has a hand of cards that represent items, skills, allies or events that the character can call on. Some of the cards in your hand can be activated and used repeatedly, others are one shots. Most of the cards can also be used to augment a skill check and then discarded.
The players take the role of investigators caught up in some creepy affair – people going missing, strange rumours, that sort of thing. One of the main actions is ‘investigation’ - actually collecting round ‘clue’ tokens. These push the narrative on by allowing the reveal of the next chapter. But watch out! If the investigators take too long, the growing doom advances the evil agenda and Bad Stuff Happens! Which does not at mention all the ghouls and beasties and things that go ‘Gaaargh!’ in the night.
The flavour text is rich, evocative and tantalising. The art is disturbing and atmospheric. The narratives are strange and take pleasing twists which don’t pull their punches.
Matt T - Barenpark
There has been an influx of polyomino games recently. Patchwork, Barenpark, Indian Summer, Spring Meadow and many more, and although I haven’t played them all Barenpark is my game of the month for October. I can’t say which is the best (having not played them all), but I know that I really enjoy Barenpark and it has created some good gaming experiences.
Barenpark is a polyomino tile-laying game where players are trying to completely fill four sections of their bear park and score the most points. Each section contains several icons (Wheelbarrow, Cement Mixer, Digger or Construction Crew) and is made up of a 4x4 grid of squares. All players start off with one section (out of the four) and a starting tile.
On a player’s turn they place the tile on one of their sections following a simple set of rules (i.e. has to touch another tile, cannot overhang or overlap). Depending on what is covered up when laying the tile will determine which tiles are picked from the general supply to be used on the next round. If more than one icon is covered up the player will get to take multiple tiles from the board.
The key is to be as effective as possible in laying and collecting tiles to maximise your point scoring potential. When a player completes a section, they take the top bear statue from the stack and add it in to their park. These statues range in points, with the highest on top, so it is a race to complete these to get the higher value statues.
There is also an “Expert” variant where optional objectives are added. The first to complete the objective gains the most points. The game calls it “Expert” but it does not really add any extra complexity to the game and, in my opinion, the game should be played with these additional objectives as it just adds something else to work towards in the game.
I have managed to get Barenpark to the table a fair bit recently playing it with my parents, work colleagues and game group. It has gone down well with everyone that I have introduced it to. It has a simple rule set, is quick (30-40mins), simple scoring and looks good on the table. As the game develops the game becomes a puzzle in trying to get the best tiles for the space remaining without leaving holes/gaps that are not easy to fill. At the end of the game players can lean back and look on with satisfaction at the lovely park they have created for their bears.
Barenpark is a great game and is worth checking out if you are in the market for a polyomino tile laying game.
Jonathan T - SHCD: Thames Murders
As the nights grow longer and the days dimmer, there’s a certain thrill about murder. Or more accurately, solving them.
My friends and I have been playing a lot of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective this month. I’m not sure if it’s the bracing wind or the frost covered sloes – but we’ve liked nothing more than to settle down by a fire and test our wits against the game’s host of villains and thieves.
Armed with nothing but pen and paper, you must traverse London in search of facts and clues, interviewing victims and suspects as you piece together the wonderful narrative the game’s designers have produced. At the end of it all you’ll be faced with lots of questions. Answer them correctly and you’ll win. Answer them poorly ... and you won’t.
As a group you’ll often be pulled in different directions as the threads of the case unfurl before you. You might want to visit a pub the murder victim often frequented, hoping that it might crack the case wide open. Your partner, however, insists that the best way to catch the murderer is to interview the arms dealer who might have supplied the ammunition that did the deed.
The fact of the matter is that they’re both valid leads – each with their own merit and reward. But with every additional location you visit more points are deducted from your score at the end – with the overall tally being matched against no other than Sherlock himself.
Admittedly we’ve only managed to beat Sherlock once in our esteemed careers as detectives. Since then we’ve been chasing our former selves hoping we might relive our glory days. Thankfully there’s a whole other host of murders to attend to as these finish, with Jack the Ripper (the expansion) rearing his devilish head from Hell.
Dawid - Champions of Midgard
Knowing that the next instalment in the series will come to Kickstarter at the beginning of November, I decided to refresh my memory on Champions of Midgard. Taking control of a Viking clan vying for the most glory and favour of the gods by defeating mythological Norse monsters is a lot of fun, plays quick and has easy to teach rules.
At its core is worker placement and dice rolling. In the first phase, players place their workers from a limited pool on a field of their choice, effectively blocking other players from being able to use it in the same round. And, once all resources have been collected, players then battle with monsters using dice – one die, one Viking warrior.
Dice have a combination of blank, hit, double hit, and defence symbols on them, whereas each monster has defence and attack value. Match the monster’s defence value with the number of hits and it’s defeated. If you didn’t roll any defence symbols, the monster has also killed some of your warriors – equal to the number of his attack. The player with most glory points at the end of the game becomes a Jarl and a new champion of Midgard!
The game plays best with a full player count of four, when the map feels extremely tight and players have to think carefully about which place to go for first, and usually the end scores are equally close. This will appeal to anyone who likes Viking theme, rolling dice and difficult choices, and if you don’t like the luck element of dice the Valhalla Expansion fixes the issue. I highly recommend it!
James H - Wildlands
I somehow completely missed the build-up for Wildlands, Martin Wallace’s left-field tactical skirmish game. Jumping on the hype train with both feet I bought it hoping it would offer a similar experience to Adrenaline, but streamlined. Swayed by some gloriously fresh fantasy character art and board design I was anticipating a good game, but what I got was great. Players win by collecting five randomly dispersed crystals of your colour and or killing opposition team members.
Games can swing to favour one or the other as well as combinations of both. Featuring inventive card-play that rewards players for learning each of the four factions decks with minimal rules or complexities. I was perfectly happy to use one faction again and again in opening games just to dive into what seems to work best with them. Traditionally with asymmetrical characters or teams I want to race through each option to see what they have on offer.
In Wildlands I wanted to stick with my band of strange characters that have enough balance of tank aggression protecting the weaker half of my team. I’ve become mildly attached in just a few short games, which is made all the easier by some fantastic work on the character mini’s.
It’s not perfect; the location cards have the same font for ‘6’ and ‘9’, which at a quick glance could cause confusion. Initially the sheer chaos of the starting placement and fast paced moves, mixed with cards controlling movement and attack options can lead to difficulty in long term planning but in all honesty it’s not that kind of game. Matches last less than an hour, sometimes less than 45 minutes, which can lead to multiple games in a session rather than one prolonged game. Best of all there are expansions to come…
Tom H - Pillars of the Earth
I ticked off a ‘grail game’ for me last month – The Pillars of the Earth. Based on the Ken Follett novel about construction of an awe-inspiring cathedral in medieval England, Pillars is seen by many as ‘The’ classic worker placement game.
And it didn’t let me down – but at one point, I had a terrible, sinking feeling when I thought it had. All of your workers start the round in a drawstring bag and are then revealed, one at a time. This is how turn order is determined. At first I thought this was a bit feeble, far too luck-driven for my liking. “This is awful!” I frowned, internally. “I might never be the first player!” But wait… There’s a twist. An excellent, head-scratching twist.
True, the first worker drawn out of the bag has the entire board at their disposal – they can claim any space. But they have to pay seven coins to do so, or they’ll have to pass. If they pass, they’ll get to place this worker for free – but later on in the round, likely after all of the juicy spots on the board have already been blocked. The next worker drawn can pay six coins to place, or they too can pass. The next worker drawn can pay five, and so on and so forth, until one person opts to pay one coin. Then turn order flips back to whoever passed first, and, as mentioned above, they then get to place for free.
It’s agonising how tight money becomes here. In fact, you might not want to get drawn out first. Deciding when to pay and when to pass becomes a real gamble, and a fascinating one, at that. You really want that upgrade card, but you can see Anne eyeing it up, too. But for seven coins? Can you afford it? Can you afford not to?
Now I want to try out World Without End and A Column of Fire…