As those of you who have been able to follow my lockdown gaming journey over the past few blog posts will know, I came into gaming HARD when the world turned upside down. I found solace in doing a tactile activity instead of mindlessly watching TV or playing on my phone. When there felt like there was nothing to look forward to, getting a little (or big) Zatu parcel put a wee smile on my face! That lovely orange tape-sealed box full of my chosen “fun boxes”.
Research Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Of course, a perk of lockdown was that I had SO MUCH more time on my hands. All that time I had spent socialising and commuting was now “free time”. This meant I had more time to game, and also meant I had more time to research new games too! I spent a lot of time on the Zatu website trying to choose what to buy next. There are thousands of games to choose from, and so much information to digest for each game. There was a huge modern game industry full of thousands of games I had never heard of. It felt a touch overwhelming.
I started by looking at the Bestsellers and Editor’s Choice lists. But I felt I was making a decision on price and one image only. The scientist in me was not happy with this level of research, and so this was when I turned to the blog. My greatest piece of advice for any newbie is to look for top 10 lists in the Countdowns category of the blog. I also like to read the monthly segments; "Game of the Month", and "What We've been Playing this Month". They both give you a whistle-stop tour of a load of games in under 300 words per game. This way I could broaden my horizons quickly, and then if something piqued my interest, I’d go on a deeper dive.
How I Built my Collection
The purpose of this article was to explain my early collection building during lockdown, so I promise to now get on with that. We found out quite early on that we like good-looking games. They say the first bite is with your eyes, and I reckon I definitely choose with my eyes first. If the game ain’t pretty, it ain’t for me!
We also generally play at 2, sometimes 4, and don’t have hours and hours available to play in long sessions. So for us, I was looking for nice looking games that play in an hour or less and that were not too complicated, I play to relax not to stress out.
Jai-purrrr, Higher Higher
First one that I found that really hit the bill was Jaipur. That title is a reference to the Pussycat Dolls absolute banger Jai-Ho (here's the link so it can get stuck in your head too)! and must be sung in our house whenever you are suggesting a game of Jaipur. It’s a 2 player specific game that plays within 30 min.
I have the second edition and the components feel nice. They pack away beautifully into the insert and the game plays quickly as a best of three. The game consists of a deck of custom cards, each of which display one of six resources or a camel. These cards have appealing artwork and a satisfying finish to them so they feel nice in hand. The rest of the components are large thick discs with a resource on one side and a coin bonus on the other. There are also 3 winner tokens, one side had a male character and the other a female which is a nice touch.
Jaipur is a set collection game, you collect resource cards and camels from the market and sell at the opportune time to get the most bang for your buck. The earlier you trade, the higher value you will get for your resource. But, when you trade sets of 3 or more of the same resource at a single time, you get an extra bonus for your trouble. So, it has an element of pushing your luck in it too.
Jaipur is a quick, relatively easy to pick up game that has just enough weight to make it great fun without feeling too taxing for a slightly fried brain. It is also great bang for your buck too, which I found is key when trying to build a collection. Better value means more games, quicker.
Another belter for gameplay and value is 7 Wonders: Duel. Set in the ancient world of the 7 Wonders, 7 Wonders: Duel is a two-player specific variant of the hugely popular 7 Wonders game and plays in half an hour. The game is a card drafting engine builder, played across 3 rounds, known as ages. You draft cards into your tableau which later will mean you can get more expensive better cards for cheaper. The cards are arranged in different patterns depending on the age you are in. Each card you choose will reveal another card that your opponent will now be able to take. It is a bit of a toss up on how much do you want that card even though that card underneath is great for your opponent?
What makes 7 Wonders: Duel so good in my book is that there are so many different ways to win. If you get the military pawn all the way to your opponent’s side, you win. On the condition that you get six unique science symbols in your tableau, you win. If neither of these things happen though, the person with the most victory points wins. So there are lots of different avenues you can go down with strategy. You need to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, or they could sneak a massive gain over you that is hard to reverse.
And the third great value game that I used to start my lockdown collection was a resource management mechanism game. Santo Domingo plays 2-5 players in 20-30 min. Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic (who knew?) and its “gamesake” is set in the port of Santo Domingo in the 16th Century.
Each player has a starting hand of 8 cards, each displaying a different character. These characters all fit in with the theme; a galleon, a governor, a trader, a beggar. Each character played gets you a different bonus. The value of this bonus almost always depends on what the other players do. This is where I think it really comes into its own, you need to guess what your opponents will play and then play cards from your own hand to maximise your victory points and goods loot for that round. Once you have played cards, they are left on the table face-down. You must select your cards for the next round from those remaining in your hand. The cards on the table may only be recovered when you play the beggar card. This makes guessing what opponents might do easier.
The footprint of this game is pretty small. The board is no bigger than an A4 sheet, and each player has two individual playing card scoring tracks . This and the small box size makes the game suitable for playing at pubs and cafes where table space is at a premium.
Capsule Collection Complete
With these three games, we managed to try out some new mechanisms for a reasonable price tag. The more different games that you play, the more you develop a taste for the ones that you like. These three coupled with our previously owned games such as Hive, Tokaido and Takenoko made up our lockdown capsule collection. A bit like those capsule wardrobes that keep popping up on Instagram!