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Games We Rediscovered In March 2021

Rurik Dawn Of Kiev Rediscovered Game

Spring cleaning? We’re wiping the dust off our games shelves and rediscovering our favourites of the past. Here are our bloggers rediscovered games for the month of March.

Rurik, Dawn Of Kiev - John Hunt

I played Rurik, Dawn of Kiev face to face in early 2020 at a pub game night and had a great time. So I was really excited to recently find it on Tabletopia and see if it was as good as I remembered… and it was!

Rurik blends a number of mechanics I am fond of: area control; auctions; action selection and economic management. It’s more euro than Ameritrash, but critically there is a player on player interaction and combat – which is high up my priority list.

For me, this shares a lot of common DNA with games like Scythe, Cyclades and in some ways Struggle of Empires; however, there are particular mechanical novelties that mean it stands on its own two feet. The action auction at the beginning of each turn is particularly strong: you place meeples numbered 1-5 on a grid of actions. The numbers indicate their power but also initiative order in the ensuing turn. So a low number of meeples will trigger earlier but are more likely to be bumped down to lower effect levels. This is a fantastic puzzle – a real brain burner that is highly interactive and encouraging both strategic thinking and tactical adjustment.

Be bold - don’t be chicken!

Other strengths include the VP system with tiered scoring conditions – particularly satisfying as once you hit a particular threshold it is locked in place. This encourages bold action, for example, a quick burst of territory acquisition will get you some end game points but then you don’t have to hold what you have taken.

There is plenty of additional spice (though not too much) through player asymmetry, the acquisition of special cards, individual emergent routes to extra VP and just the right amount of luck in the combat mechanics.

It pulls this all together in a cracking setting - c11th Rus - which as a history teacher is totally my bag and is comparably ‘Vikingy’ for those less familiar with Ukraine in the early Middle Ages. The Tabletopia realisation is very strong, and the physical art and production values are excellent. All in all, this is a damn fine game and well worth checking out.

Pandemic - Lauren Harrington

Naturally, the early days of Covid saw us obsessed with anything virus related, and as a result, the Pandemic collections were sold out everywhere. I’d played the game a few times years earlier but (when it was finally back in stock) ordered it, thinking that if we couldn’t beat Pandemic: Real Life, at least we could try to beat Pandemic: The Game. Playing the game definitely takes on a different meaning during a real-world Pandemic than before. Suddenly you see the resemblance between the ease of outbreaks spreading across life and game. However, after a while, we got sick of hearing nothing but pandemic on the news. We stopped playing it.

Recently, my flatmates and I thought we’d dust it off for old times sake. We played the standard tier difficulty. Not quite bold enough to play the heroic level yet. I must admit, as an expat New Zealander the irony was not lost on me that New Zealand does not appear on the Pandemic board like it’s not even affected by covid. If you’re not up to date with NZ, they’ve pretty much been covid free this whole last year. They're currently enjoying life like the rest of us used to!

I have yet to eradicate one of the viruses during any of the Pandemic games. But, we did get a great combination of characters and made the right decisions on damage control that allowed us to cure two viruses quickly. We were then hit with two epidemic cards back to back which caused mayhem. Yet we were smart enough to mitigate our risks and eventually cured the last 2 viruses.

Needless to say, we felt fairly triumphant and just big-headed enough to think for a moment we could do a better job of fighting the real thing. I’d really love to move to the Pandemic: Legacy games next, as I love the idea of playing games across multiple chapters and making permanent changes that you can’t reverse. Might wait until the real pandemic is over however before that!

Cutthroat Taverns - Andrew Walker

In competitive games, my kids have a tendency to form temporary alliances and hold vendettas. Something I find quite entertaining. Seeing them play like this recently reminded me of Cutthroat Caverns by Smirk and Dagger games. A game that requires teamwork to survive and treachery to win.

It is essentially a dungeon crawl that pits players against one another while being too difficult to survive alone. The few and simple mechanisms work superbly to create an atmosphere of distrust and scheming. It has a good pace and the challenge and consequence of threats constantly change to keep everyone on their toes, for as long as they survive.

Cutthroat Caverns hasn’t been out of the cupboard since I last played with friends several years ago. Everyone enjoyed it then and I’m not sure why we haven't played it since. I suppose it might have had something to do with a feud that spilt out over several other games (some of which were meant to be cooperative!).

I was worried playing it with the kids could end in bickering, hurt feelings and sibling spite. But with a smidge of reckless abandon, I decided to embrace the spirit of the game. I took an early lead and held it with arrogance throughout, disrupting plans and openly trying to do away with my companions.

To my relief, the kids were not driven apart. Instead, they formed an unbreakable alliance against me. They worked hard to keep each other alive and interfere with my attacks. I watched with pride as my two little angels acted in concert to ruin me. Stabbing me in the back, twisting the knife and literally (in the game) throwing me to the wolves. Which is how my daughter snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. 

Gaming loss, parenting win. “Phew”, I thought, “no feuds!”. My kids both loved it and will definitely be playing again. And then I will have my revenge!

Scythe - Joe Packham

When I first played Scythe I was blown away by it! It was early on in my board gaming days, it was my friends' copy and it completely turned my preconceptions about the game on their head. I mean those mechs right? The hex grid. The menacing art of Jakub Rozalski! Scythe looks to the uninitiated like a mechs-on-a-map Ameritrash combat game... it isn’t! Although shot through with mech to mech combat, Scythe also has a crunchy Euro centre. After two games I knew I had to have it in my collection.

When the game did finally join my collection we played it mostly as a couple as opposed to the 5 player games I’d played initially. Here’s the interesting thing about Scythe, it changes dramatically depending on the player count! With 5 players alternate history 1920’s+ Europa really isn’t big enough for all of us, competition is fierce, that combat is regular. With 2 you can quite happily knock around that map without so much as a ‘how’d you do?’ Maybe this was a factor in our not getting it off the shelf for over a year.

All that changed last month though as it flew off the shelf and back into our hearts. Still 2 player but I can now more fully appreciate the multi-player solitaire style of gaming. The resource management, area control and action efficiency aspects of the game are allowed to shine through on their own merit. I love the way the bonuses double up on the expensive actions. For example, you want to upgrade? Great, not only will it make a top action more rewarding, but it’ll also make a bottom action cheaper! This top action/bottom action relationship is central to Scythe and the efficiency puzzle of working out how to achieve both as often as possible is so satisfying. Now we’ve rediscovered our appreciation for Scythe at 2 players I’m sure it’s going to get plenty more table time!

Kangawa - Craig Smith

For the second consecutive year, Mother’s Day risked being a non-event. Pubs are closed, and local parks and nature reserves would be busier than normal. Luckily, my family all currently live under one roof.  When asked what she wanted to do, my mum gave the holy trinity of responses: cooked breakfast, board games in the afternoon, and a takeaway in the evening.

The afternoon came around and her board games of choice were Red Cathedral, Azul, Sagrada, Codenames and Kanagawa. Kanagawa was an early purchase in the collection, and over time has been played less and less. As we hadn’t played it for a while, it was the game we started with.

There are some things that can’t be denied when talking about Kanagawa. The artwork is amongst some of the best you will find. It is visually stunning. The components are of exceptional quality, from the game mat to the paintbrush playing pieces. It is also a great gateway game to the hobby, both in terms of complexity and price.

The aim of the game is to make a piece of artwork using playing cards. You draft the cards from the central playing mat and can choose to place them in your painting or studio. The person who creates the most “harmonious” painting is the winner. Points are awarded for the length of the picture, the number of harmony points, longest season and the number of diplomas you collect as you’re going.

After we played it through once, we decided to play it again straight after. The box suggests a game lasts 45 minutes which we’ve always found quite generous. After we packed it away, Ma Smith said “if there’s enough time after dinner, we can play again tonight.”

You know what? We pushed dinnertime forward (sorry Codenames) and made sure there was enough time to play it again… twice.