In celebration of the life of Rabbie Burns and Burns Night, a number of Zatu bloggers have looked north of the border and found games that tell of Scotland. Sit back, pour a wee dram of single malt, and read on to hear of their games inspired by a land of towering mountains, glittering lochs and dense forests.
Nathan Flies With Odin’s Ravens
At first, I thought Odin’s Ravens, by Osprey Games, does not immediately say “Scotland”. This is a game set more in a mythical land in, perhaps, Scandinavia, but hear me out. The more I looked at the landscape the more I could see the elements of Scotland. Who’s to say that Odin did not venture across the Norwegian sea to set foot in the land of the Thistle?
This is a race where two players travel across landscapes in the opposite direction aiming to be the first to return to Odin. Gamers advance their Raven to the next landscape by discarding a matching card from their hand. The landscape cards are like dominoes each containing two different lands; lochs, forests, mountains, rocky valleys, and fertile fields- everything Scotland has to offer. The game however introduces an element of trickery by enlisting Loki. His cards can provide shortcuts or methods to hinder your opponent. This maybe by adding cards to their route or switching landscapes to effect play. Loki's fun and power could derail your plans so his extra cards need to be played with care and thought.
The standard rules allow two players to complete most games in about 15 to 20 minutes. The length of the route can be lengthened or shortened depending on the time that is available. There is an element of luck where progress is dependent on the cards drawn into the hand.
Odin’s Ravens is an excellent two player game but sometimes others would like to play alongside. This is possible if the layout of the cards is altered and the distribution of the Loki cards is amended. For more information see the Zatu’ Game Changer blog. This feature shows how Odin’s Ravens can play well for three or four or even be adapted for solo games as well.
Craig Thinks The King is Dead
My suggestion for a Burns Night game sees the Scottish vying for control of medieval Britain.
In 2020, Peer Sylvester’s The King is Dead was given a rebrand by publishers Osprey Games. Your aim is to resolve conflicts between three rival factions: The English, Scottish and Welsh. During the game, you will be playing cards to try and tip the balance of power into your favour. At face value, it seems like a very simple game, but there is so much more to it than that.
Over the course of the game, you will be aiming to resolve power battles in eight British regions. You do this by playing a card, carrying out the action, and finally adding a follower from the map to your court. The problem is that you only have eight cards to play for the entire game. Do you pass and wait to see what other people will do first? Do you play more than one card on a region, meaning you need to pass elsewhere?
There is also the need to find a perfect balance to your court because the more followers you take from a specific faction, the weaker that faction’s power will be on the board, meaning they are less likely to have an overall majority. You then also have the added threat of instability. If a region is left unresolved, you add an instability disc. If this happens three times, it signifies a French invasion and brings a premature end to the game.
The King is Dead is a great two player game, but also works well as a team game at four players. Just remember if anyone asks:
Which region starts with two
Cubes that are coloured in blue?
That’s a Moray.
Hannah Hits The Streets Of Glasgow
I lived in Scotland during my time at University and I really think the Scots do January right. For the rest of the UK, the long month of January generally starts with a hangover and then straight back to work afterwards on the 2nd January. In Scotland however, Hogmanay is a much bigger celebration than just a NYE party. The 2nd is also a bank holiday, giving you that extra day to relax before the grind of work restarts. Then at the end of the month you also have Burns night where there is a huge Celidh with a bunch of dancing, traditional festivities and great food. This seems much better than just trudging through the month aimlessly. What board game is perfect for Burns Night was the query though. For me it has to be Glasgow.
Glasgow is a two-player heads up duel to get the most points from the communal city that you build up. This small box game is published by Lookout Games. It uses a Patchwork style movement to move around the contract and action tile rondel. You are trying to move around collecting resources to gain tiles for the central tableau. This will maximise your end game scoring ability. Resources can be traded using Contract tiles and landing on Architect tiles lets you buy a building from those available at that site. How you arrange this into the central tableau will determine how many points you can score for that factory or park or block of apartments. If you want to see my full thoughts on this game, then you read my full review here.
Tora Looks For Freedom On The Isle of Skye
As old Willy Wallace supposedly said; “They may take away our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!” *
What he didn’t know is that, in Isle of Skye, they can definitely take away your tiles! And by “they”, I mean your kilt wearing, shortbread eating, Clan-emies!
If you haven’t played it before, Isle of Skye is a territory-building, tile-placement game with a brilliant auction bidding mechanism. Being a predominantly solo and two-player gamer, I find auction style games often miss the mark at lower player counts. The tension that makes the point of bidding fun and exciting is frequently lacking.
But Alexander Pfister (of Great Western Trail and Boon Lake fame – to name but a few) and Andreas Pellikan cracked it in this clan vs clan gem. The purpose of the game is to build the most point profitable kingdom. Each round, you are laying out three tiles, in the hope of achieving specific objectives (which come round more than once but only in a specific order). But you won’t always get the pick of the tiles you have in front of you.
You must secretly trash one and set the price for the remaining two tiles. Beware, however, as your opponents might just be willing to pay a princely sum for what you’ve got. Should you price them out of the market, however, you have to buy them back yourself at the very lofty price you offered them. Success in Isle of Skye comes down to savvy money management and a keen eye for feature spotting. Sheep, farms, roads, barrels, tile patterns; they’re all worth something at some point. The fun is picking the right tiles at the right time for the right price.
We love Isle of Skye. With lots of different scoring objectives, each game is different. And that moment when your opponents’ screen goes back and you see just what they have to offer (and whether you can afford it!) never fails to excite us! Play it this Burns Night.
Callum Joins The Clans of Caledonia
Burns Night is, as I learned in recent years, nothing to do with burning. It’s actually the celebration of the world-famous Scottish Poet, Robert Burns. A night for reciting poems, eating the traditional haggis and tatties and enjoying the finest of Scotch Whisky. And of course, enjoying a cheeky board game or two! For us that’ll be something fitting the theme appropriately – Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games.
Clans of Caledonia is an economic, network and route building game for one to four players. The aim of the game is to have amassed the most victory points by the end of the game by fulfilling export contracts, achieving round goals, obtaining money and building routes. In terms of weight, it’s seen to be on the heavier side however we’d argue it’s not as intimidating as you might anticipate. Rounds are run progressively with scope for players to move simultaneously outside of the market phase.
It’s a beautiful game that gives lots of options to players, enabling them to cash in on the riches of the highlands. My favourite element of this stunner is the slight asymmetry given by playing as a unique clan, alongside the modular board set up. Neither break the game or revolutionise the play. However, both ensure each game is unique and that players have to adjust, making for a truly dynamic experience every time.
More than anything, this game truly represents the gorgeous spectacle of the Scottish Highlands. There is no game in any collection that holds as beautiful an aesthetic as Clans of Caledonia. Custom meeple for every produce and resource, a gorgeously illustrated game all round and a table presence that demands a second glance all bolster its gorgeous theme. And in terms of theme, the game is held during the peak of the industrial revolution. Scotland was moving from the green highland trading between clans to meeting the demands of the wider world, mass producing the finest of products and showing the world what real whisky was.
So, when you’re digging into your haggis and sipping your whiskey this Burns night, round it off with some Clans too.
John Has Territorial Disputes In Schotten Totten
With a German name and some very caricatured clansmen as the art theme, this tweaked re-skin of Reiner Knizia classic Battle Lines certainly has questionable Scottish heritage. Schotten Totten is not the most quintessential expression of the Scottish nation in board game form. Does that matter? Not it the slightest… because it’s excellent.
This is a simple, two-player, head to head card game which centres on hand management and tactical set building. You are warring clans fighting for control over nine border stones which mark the boundary between your ancestral lands… or some such guff. In essence there is a line of nine, very pretty, stone tokens laid out between you left to right. In your turn you are going to place a card in front of one of these stones and then draw a card from the top of the deck to return your hand to six cards. You are building three-card tricks in front of each stone. These are styled as cut-down poker hands, and the cards are numbered one through nine in six colours. To win you need to have a better trick than your opponent in front of any 5 stones or 3 stones in a row.
This sounds like an easy game to play, because it is. But my, is it tactically crunchy!
Working out what you might be able to build as your hopeful tricks and where they might go is a real game of educated guesswork. You always must lay a card, so there is only so much you can pre-build in your hand. And as you feel your way towards some tricks by tentatively placing a card in front of a stone or two, you are watch what your neighbour is playing and adjusting accordingly. It rattles along with plenty of moaning and groaning, and is done in 10 minutes, ready for another game and another and another. It has a deck of tactics cards which can be used for a more varied experience too.
All in all, there is plenty with Schotten Totten to keep you cursing as you quaff a dram and pit your wits against your chosen clan enemy on Burn’s Night.