You know that feeling when you decide you don’t like something, only for another person to come and change the way you think about it. They make you realise it was YOU who was wrong all along? Yeah, that’s the story of me and Takenoko, one of my rediscovered games of February 2021.
Takenoko was an early addition to my board game collection, but it was one I started to dislike because I thought the points scoring was disproportionate. Eating bamboo seemed a lot easier than planting bamboo, yet it was often worth the same or even more points. Whilst scanning various forums, I found out that some people have adapted the rules to the game so you get bonus points for completing sets of objectives in an attempt to avoid this from happening, but this still felt unsatisfactory. I don’t want to add my own interpretation to make a game more fun.
Because of lockdown, I’ve often resorted to playing against friends on Board Game Arena. One of my friends suggested a game of Takenoko, and even though in my head I was about to go on a RuPaul/H&M style rant, I simply agreed to it. It was during this game a realisation happened: I’d been playing the game wrong all along.
I had missed the rule that said if you grow bamboo in an area, it also grows in the surrounding irrigated areas of the same colour. That makes so much more sense, but how on earth did I miss that rule?! Just that one change made the game so much more enjoyable, and after I finished battling in the arena, I ran back downstairs and declared to the rest of my household that I had taught them poorly and we should give it another go. We did, and that one subtle change to how we play has made the game much more enjoyable, one of my favourite rediscovered games.
Near the top of the board game geek, ranking sits a number of two-player games that allow the salient features of the Cold War to be re-enacted. I’ve always wanted to try Twilight Struggle, but the commitment in time and its complexity has always deterred me. Quite a while ago I stumbled across Iron Curtain.
This is a tense, tug of war, area control game from the creators of 13 Days. It is a two-player battle of wits where the US and USSR are aiming to dominate. The world is represented by just 18 cards. These are laid out in turn. Each country has a natural allegiance to one superpower, but the players can move troops and exert influence over a continent or a region. As one superpower dominates a continent so the power struggle intensifies, with the victory point marker moving ever closer to an outright win.
In the beginning, players also select one card that will be their final flourish. This solitary move could break the stalemate. The key to Iron Curtain is to play the long game and not to try to race to the end of the influence track too quickly. Like the real Cold War – it is one of attrition but with just as much tension with the final outcome teetering on a knife-edge.
With just a handful of cards and a selection of red and blue influence cubes, I have enjoyed rewriting history with one of my children. It might not be an accurate version of events, but for 15 to 20 minutes it allows you to ponder what might have been.
Iron Curtain goes to show but you do not need fancy props to make a good game. Stripped away of any unnecessary baggage, Jolly Roger Games have distilled the essence of gaming into a small box. In this case, less is definitely more.
It’s not like I haven’t played Sagrada in ages. I have seen it in a different light. My two rediscovered games in February were huge events as far as board games go! I played Sagrada live on Instagram, broadcasting to viewers tuning-in around the World! This year so far I have started the live Board Game Beacon Component Quiz every Friday on my channel where viewers race against each other to guess the game based on a component I hold in front of the screen. This has generated a solid following, and got me thinking…
I played Sagrada over Zoom or Skype (I forget which) back in early December with Zatu’s very own Tom Harrod, Kirsty Hewitt and Callum Price. The experience was pretty smooth, and with the success of my Component Quiz, I thought about starting another show, where I would take-on an opponent at Sagrada in front of a live online audience.
I called the show “Sagrada Showdown” (under my Board Game Beacon Versus umbrella). I have played two “matches” in February, and gave them a kind of big night wrestling/boxing promotional buildup and feel. It’s great fun, and I get a lot of engagement in the comments as the game goes on.
In the first week, I lost to a lady in Devon. The following week I beat Zatu’s Tom Harrod in a fantastic game where we used the Sagrada Life expansion. Sagrada’s co-designer Adrian Adamescu was our “special guest referee”, and I am playing against him on my show on Monday, March 15th, which I am naturally very excited about!
I begin the show with a kind of Macho Man Randy Savage-style promo where I growl into the camera like a professional wrestler and then my opponent connects to the show and we play! You can find the show on Instagram under the hashtags #BoardGameBeaconVersus or #SagradaShowdown.
Last week we played Petrichor for the first time in over two years. It reminded me just how much I like this game. So much so that I immediately resolved to play it much more often. I hopped over to Zatu to buy the Honeybee expansion for one of my rediscovered games.
In this game of stunning artwork and beautifully tactile glass beads, players take on the role of clouds. Yes, that’s right, clouds. Clouds that must compete to collect up water droplets and rain them down on the fields below to gain points.
On their turn, players must play a card from their hand to influence the game in both the short and long term. The short term actions can be adding rain droplets to a cloud. This creates a new cloud, raining droplets on to the plant below or moving a cloud to a different location.
But players also get to vote on which actions they want to happen at the end of the round. These include doubling the number of water droplets in a cloud, turning clouds into thunder clouds or emptying clouds on to the plant tile they are on.
At its heart, Petrichor is a majority control game. Each tile of the modular board had a different plant on it. The player with the most droplets on the plant usually gets the most points. But each plant has its own special rules which means it is not always as easy as just having the most droplets on a plant.
And here is my favourite part of this game. You don’t just score when you have raindrops on a plant. You need to make scoring happen by triggering the harvest phase. This means you can potentially stop scoring from happening if it’s not in your best interest. You can make it score every round or just the once at the end of the game. This level of control over so many aspects of the game is enthralling. Petrichor needs to be getting more love.