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Games of the Month – January

Clans of Caledonia

Each month, members of the talented Zatu blogging team come together to share their games of the month. Each writer selects one game from the many that they have been playing, and shares a little bit of information about that game!

Let's find out which board games our writers enjoyed the most, as they fought back against those January blues.

Nick - Rising Sun

If you’ve read the 'Games played in January article' you will see that yet again I’ve managed to play some corkers. Yet one game managed to beat them all for my game of the month - Rising Sun. When Rising Sun was on Kickstarter I tried to ignore the buzz, I had Massive Darkness on the way and so didn’t need another bloated CMON pledge. Oh how wrong I was.

Rising Sun is an area control game with fights and all, but what it really interesting is the political nature. Each round starts with a tea ceremony where you make allies who will potentially benefit from your actions and vice versa. Of course you can break these partnerships causing much pain and laughter, and making you dishonourable.

Rising Sun needs a lot of tie breaking, usually tie breakers are clumsy and unsatisfactory but here it’s all about honour. The most honourable always wins the tie breaks. The honour track is in constant flux as players vie to control not only regions but the favour of the gods, some plays even seek to be dishonourable to power their monsters. Come on, this is a CMON game, there is going to be monsters!

My friend's Kickstarter pledge had me filled with envy just from the core boxes selection of Oni and dragons. Interestingly, just like Kemet, Rising Sun offsets it’s monsters and their abilities, which are very much tied to their position on the map, with power on-going through ability cards that make you think twice about purchasing a plastic pet to persecute other players with.

The battle system reminds me of the one in Cry Havoc, but yet again here it is a matter of area control as you blind bid coins on the four possible actions, with ties again being resolved by honour. It’s entirely likely you will throw one or two early battles to position yourself better for future clashes.

Rising Sun would be a good game without the negotiation elements, but including them makes it a top game for me.

Luke - Pulsar 2849

Typically, my tastes require my Euros to be rich in theme unless they're short games. Bone dry, point salad games don't often appeal to me, particularly when the likes of Feld or Knizia are involved. But as my 'Top 10 Exceptions to the Rule' list once showed, I do get surprised on occasion with a game that by all accounts should be one I dislike, but actually wins me over. Pulsar 2849 is one of those games and then some.

It tries to portray itself as a space game where you're harvesting power off pulsars and exploring planets. But let's be honest here, the theme is 100% pasted on, it could be changed to anything and you're basically doing actions to collect a bunch of points and cubes. But yet, so far I love this game and it all comes down to the simple fact that you have a ton of interesting options, almost a sandbox feel, which I really like.

Nothing feels punishing or restrictive, you've got the freedom to make your initial drafting of dice will limit which actions you can take so you're not overwhelmed with choice, but also affect your movement on two separate tracks that determine turn order and cube acquisition. That may sound dull and I agree, tracks aren't something I go "wow" for in Euro's, but the idea that taking high dice has a price to pay and vice versa is really clever. And once you've got your dice, everything you do in that round feels rewarding, but it's how much bang you can get for your buck that wins you the game.

Surprisingly not that difficult to learn, full of sandbox level options and a ton of replay value - it doesn't matter that Pulsar is dry, themeless and just a bunch of mechanics. It's a fun game and it's nice to finally have a game by Czech Game Editions I can put my stock behind since Dungeon Pets - which was a while ago!


AJ - Clans of Caledonia

In January, I was able to play many of the 2017 releases that I didn’t get the chance to last year. And with those handful of games, I think my top five for 2017 would have been very different!

As a player who enjoys moderate to heavy Euro-style games, this month’s top game for me was Clans of Caledonia. While when described it can sound quite similar to Terra Mystica, but it plays quite differently.

Each player starts as a clan with different player abilities they can use during the game. Clans are built across a hex style board, their pieces placed adjacent to their existing pieces or across rivers / lakes depending on the amount of shipping they own. Building next to other players allows for a bonus action and spreading the furthest across the board by game end can earn bonus points. Sounds all familiar, doesn’t it, but thankfully that’s where the comparison ends.

Clans of Caledonia is more of an economic game, seeing players building crops and livestock. This allows them to produce basic goods such as grain and milk, and then possibly on into processed foods, such as whiskey or cheese. These are all farmed to fulfill export orders that can be obtained throughout the game and works towards an end game scoring mechanism. Clans also comes with a great trading market allowing players to buy and sell goods they may not produce.

For those who enjoy building economic engines and competing against other players doing the same, this game is really a must. Add to it the building of settlements across Scotland, and in my books, you have a winner.

The Game Shelf - Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama

I’ve chosen Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama as our game of the month because it’s given me so much joy to introduce it to new gamers this month. Kokoro has a very simple system where all players draw segments of a route onto their player board with dry erase markers with the goal of connecting the flowers and worms back to the required sanctuary each round. The trick is that each round you need to score more points than the previous round so you need to play ahead effectively, to ultimately try and create one continuous line that connects everything on the board by the final round.

I’ve introduced this to two friends earlier this month, where I took the advice of Jon Purkis (Actualol on Youtube) and used it as a ‘sofa game’ – a game we played without even leaving the sofa. It went down really well and we played two games in quick succession.

However, my bigger success was bring Kokoro to my work board game group, who absolutely loved it. They were really impressed by how clever the game is and I really think it’s going to be the stepping stone I need to introduce some other non-party games to the group.

Ashley - Nightfall

OK, there are a load of deck-building games out there, some I like more than others, there are loads I’ve not played and I don’t really need more than one.  The one I have is Nightfall and that happened because I won it at a games convention. But don’t get me wrong, Nightfall is a rather underrated game which is rather neat and has some interesting and unique mechanics and is extremely interactive.

Nightfall is about creatures of the night be it vampires, werewolves, or others. Players build a deck of these creatures which they use to attack others and defend themselves. Creatures have an attack strength which is generally used to dish out wounds with the defender deciding whether to use his creatures to block and take the damage or allow it through. Wounds are central to the game, in that as players take wounds they get shuffled into their deck, which can have the very interesting effect of making their deck more powerful, because wounds can be discarded from hand to draw more cards from the deck, or for other beneficial effects.

The other innovative mechanic in Nightfall is chaining. Chaining is how creatures are brought into play. This is managed by coloured dots on the cards, and simply put, it is play a card, then play another card which has the required coloured dot, keep going, play more. Add to this, when a player has finished his chain, the next player can add to is, and so on. This makes the game extremely interactive as players try to balance when to play their cards, on an opponent’s chain, or to wait.

Of course, like any deck-builder there is far more to it, and Nightfall is not the simplest of games – it does take a bit of time to learn.  But it is fast, very interactive, has a good deal of strategy, and is a fun way to spend a bit of time.