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Games We Rediscovered In December 2020

How to Play Carcassonne

Carcassonne - Hannah Blacknell

The mighty Carcassonne, winner of many awards, and yet a shelf lurker for me. We never pick to play this game. I think we thought we didn’t like it. Well, we decided to play all of our collection in the month of December and so we had to play it. Turns out, the whole world ain’t wrong. Carcassonne is great. Since we had to read all the rules cover to cover, I would consider this rediscovering almost a ‘first impressions’ piece, even though we have each probably played this game more than 5 times previously.

Carcassonne is a tile-laying game where you start from a single tile and each turn you place out newly drawn tiles obeying the features on the tiles. Then place meeples to try and score points for completed features such as roads and cities. In the base game, there is not much more to it, there are at least a billion expansions for Carcassonne, many are deemed “essential” by gamers. We haven’t tried any, but perhaps after this play, we will look into them sooner rather than later. One thing for sure though, this box will come off our shelf a lot more often now.

We played absolute basic Carcassonne with the River mini-expansion that comes in the newer editions of the base game. It was much less complicated with just us two than it felt when we were playing with two others who are Carcassonne whizzes. I know that this is often touted as a great gateway game, and I don’t disagree although huge disparities inability can make this feel more imposing than perhaps it needs to be.

If you, like me, have neglected your copy of Carcassonne or haven’t played it since you “moved on” to more complicated games. Perhaps give the old award-winner another shot?

Cards Against Humanity - Dan Hilton

Cards Against Humanity is incredibly well known at this point. On the off chance that you are in the dark, it’s a simple game of using the phrases on your dealt cards to fill in the blank on a read-out card. The goal is simply making the current card reader laugh the most. Attending ‘teetotal’ house parties and ‘virtuous’ university parties at a consistent pace in my youth, meant that I quickly became accustomed to implanting genital related quips into innocently written remarks.

Cards Against Humanity certainly provided me and my friends with a healthy amount of entertainment, as it undoubtedly did for thousands of others.

The game dropped off my radar for many years until I stumbled upon the absolutely absurd amount of expansions that had been released over the years. I promptly picked up the UK edition V2, knowing my current group of friends would enjoy a bit of light-hearted gaming with a couple of drinks (purely non-alcoholic, honest, insert angel face emoji here).

But weeks turned into months and lockdowns turned into tiers, so the game began to be pushed further and further towards the back of my growing game collection. Until, for the first time ever on Christmas day, I heard those magical words from my family: “Got any games we can all play?”.

Before playing this game, I’ve never known my mum need to dash to the bathroom in an attempt to not pee herself from laughing so relentlessly. Never did I ever think my family would enjoy such a crude game, but we had such a great laugh playing that they have asked to play several times since. Rediscovering this game over the Christmas period was a welcomed surprise and seeing my family in such high spirits after a hard year was 110% worth it! We could all do with a few extra giggles in these times, maybe Cards Against Humanity can lift your spirits too?

Grand Austria Hotel - Matt Thomasson

With the sheer volume of games that are released every year, it is no wonder that older games sometimes don’t get as much love or playtime. I often look back at my “games played” list and pick a game to play that has not hit the table in a while. This month the game that I have rediscovered is Grand Austria Hotel (GAH).

GAH is a dice drafting, hand management and set collection game for two to four players designed by Simone Luciani and Virginio Gigli and published by Mayfair Games. In GAH you play as a hotelier serving guests and preparing rooms for them to stay in. Players will need to fulfil the wishes of their guests by serving them a combination of cake, wine, strudel and coffee before moving them into one of your freshly prepared hotel rooms.

Players can hire staff members to aid them in this endeavour which provides either one-off bonuses, once per round bonuses or scoring opportunities. In addition to looking after your guests' needs, players will also need to gain the favour of the emperor after specific rounds. All of this is driven by action selection/dice drafting.

Everything about this game just sings to me. The dice drafting/action selection, the guest selection, the end game scoring objectives, the emperor bonuses/penalties. It all flows so nicely and the design is simply brilliant. The rules are relatively straight forward when balanced with the complex choices that players need to make. It is one of those games that you can’t do everything despite desperately wanting to.

There are also some good opportunities for combos as when you fulfil the needs of a guest you often get a reward or bonus. At two players especially, GAH is a good length with a game lasting about an hour with experienced players. For the choices, you need to make the game length hits the spot for a mid-week crunchy euro.

GAH is such a good game which I think still holds up to today’s standards six years after its release.

7 Wonders Armada - Nathan Coombs

If the definition of games re-discovered are ones that need the dust blowing off them before you open the box, then I am ashamed to mention 7 Wonders Armada is one of them. 7 Wonders is a fantastic game, recently released as a second edition. However, there are some games that have a sweet spot for the player count. This Christmas, with the family back home, this game gave us chance to reacquaint ourselves with the Armada expansion.

Armada adds a new dimension to this amazing card-drafting and set-collection game. Every player has a unique ship exploration board which sits alongside the main player wonder. You have four ships. The game plays in the standard fashion but if a red, blue, yellow or green card is played, then this allows the player to advance one ship. Each coloured tract has bonus points, features and battle points.

No longer do you only battle your neighbour to the left or the right. Now you can build a naval empire to gain sea supremacy (and more victory points). Similarly, additional cards allow you to trade or fight with players two spaces away. This expansion opens up trade and conflict and changes the whole complexion of 7 Wonders. Rather than focusing on scientific or civic enhancement, players must keep an eye on how their neighbours are expanding.

You might become distracted by a naval arms race with someone on the opposite side of the table only to miss that someone else has opened up their trade routes Now you might find yourself paying extra taxes and becoming bankrupt and then not being able to buy the resources to expand your city.

This game expansion is not essential but when you have at least five like-minded gamers with a sense of adventure, 7 Wonders Armada elevates the base game beyond “gateway plus” to a much more “meaty” challenge.

 

The Castles of Burgundy - Ben Herbert

In a world where many board games start their lives via slick Kickstarter campaigns, aesthetics are everything. Today’s discerning board game lover expects high-quality components and good artwork. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be easy to lose sight of what is really important in board games. I am definitely guilty of shelving older, more beige games in favour of hot new ones.

Back in 2011 when Euro games were very beige, there was The Castles of Burgundy. It was not very pretty but it also didn’t break the bank, it had a depth of strategy without being complex, and it was one of the best games ever committed to (flimsy) Cardboard. Nine years later and the components and artwork have had a makeover and it is still excellent.

I dusted off my old copy recently. The premise is simple. Players are building up a dutchy consisting of zones that include farmland, mines, castles, rivers, and special buildings. Each turn players take two actions where they can select actions such as taking new tiles, placing those tile in their lands, trading, or gaining workers. Building up the different zones get points, special buildings get you extra actions, abilities, or end game scoring.

The options available to you each round are constricted by the dice you roll on your turn. But you won’t feel at the mercy of the dice, there are always options, you can often change the die value anyway, and if you do get stuck because of a bad roll then, it is almost certainly your fault for not keeping your options open.

The Castles of Burgundy is a Euro game that nine years after publication is still considered one of the best games around and it can be taught to new players in five minutes…. And there are sheep!