I think we can agree that 2020 has been an... interesting year thus far! With the Covid 19 pandemic bringing the world to its knees, commerce and industry have slowed to a snails pace. One sector though seems to have been only minimally effected by all the shutdowns, board game production! Despite all the doom and gloom the first six months of this year saw some incredible new games released. A silver lining to the dark cloud that was lockdown! So sit back and enjoy the ride as the Zatu blogging team take you through some of their new release highlights from first half 2020:
Joe Packham - On Mars
I knew it was something special as soon as I felt the size and heft of the box. Even in Martian gravity On Mars would weigh a ton! This beautiful behemoth was my first Vital Lacerda game and my first really heavy euro! Rated as 4.61 out of 5 on BGG for complexity On Mars is no ride in the park!
From its screen printed wooden components to its vacuum formed lidded insert this game screams delux in your face. It’s a real visual and tactile delight, but that’s a side issue. What the game is really about is melting... your... brain! There is so much going on, so many things to keep an eye on, so much to do before you can do what you originally wanted to do! Argh it’s gloriously tight and complex.
From that first move when you’re thinking where on Earth (or indeed on Mars) do I start, the game curves up in a very pleasant if hard won arc to a tremendous crescendo of colonisation. On Mars is not a relaxing game to play but it is perhaps the most engrossing board game experience I’ve had! As buildings begin to appear on the board your focus on that console display of the planet becomes all encompassing. Everything else kind of slips away as you become obsessed with tech trees and oxygen, shuttles and scientists, blueprints and rovers.
Each player contributes to the overall efforts of colonising Mars whilst also competing to do the most. This makes for an interesting mix of interaction, some of which is positive which is nice. I love the way On Mars taxes my brain whilst being an absolute delight to behold, for me that makes it the stand out game of first half 2020.
Tom Harrod – Rallyman GT
The first half of 2020 has seen the release of some stellar titles. The competition is fierce. I’m delighted that I got the chance to play Rallyman GT before the world went into global lockdown! Rallyman GT is a 2020 release, but it’s a Holy Grail Games reincarnation of its predecessor, Rallyman. It’s a racing game, with elements of push-your-luck and dice placement. It also has various modules, increasing in strategical depth.
Players control one car on a racetrack. You can build tracks yourself; they consist of large, gorgeous, Takenoko-sized hexes. The rulebook suggests some layouts (or you can go off-road and design your own). Straight out of the gate, this offers brilliant modular gameplay. Every time you play, the track can be unique. Rallyman GT offers so much replayable fun!
To progress, cars can accelerate up one gear, or decelerate down one gear. It’s achieved by placing up to six gear dice – one for gears 1-6 – on the track. For flexibility, there’s also dice to ‘coast’ (remain in the game gear) and brake dice (slam your foot down and drop multiple gears). Like Formula D, you’ve got to slow down around corners! Players place dice in the lanes they wish to advance. But then they have to roll them to see if their driving skills can handle it…
The catch is, the gear dice have ‘hazards’ on some faces. If a player rolls over a certain number of hazards across their dice, they’ll spin out of control. You can roll dice one at a time, and decide when to stop if hazards start to accumulate. Or you could risk it, drive ‘flat out’, and roll your dice all at once. The reward for the latter? Focus tokens. You can use these on later turns to guarantee safe passage – as in, you can spend them later on to guarantee a die’s result. This offers a wonderful pendulum of pushing your luck now, to gaining a mega turn later. Rallyman GT is a wonderful racing experience.
Luke Cahill - Cosmic Colonies
So 300 words for my favourite game released during the first half of 2020? For me one of them has to be Cosmic Colonies by Floodgate Games. Barenpark is a game I enjoy. The Isle of Cats looks cool, but personally I am not that into cats (unless it’s Exploding Kittens). I would say Cosmic Colonies is of a kindred spirit to those games but set in space. I love space themed games. This game gives me the chance to build a colony by placing Tetrisesque shaped habitat modules on asteroids hurtling through space. It’s fast paced and easy to learn. It requires puzzle logic along with resource and hand management. Player interaction is great. Scoring is simple. Replayability is high. Play time is relatively short.
The components and cards are well thought out, high quality, durable and thematic. Asymmetrical player mats flip over to create an “Advanced” play option. Resource tokens are colourful and detailed representing Water, Minerals, Organics and Power. Workers all have unique abilities and double up as turn order deciders. Can you tell I am a fan? With some games the retail vs Kickstarter edition divide is huge. This game however is cracking even as retail. Well worth a purchase and play...not saying I wouldn’t love to get my hands on the Kickstarter content!
Cosmic Colonies is one I would include with my gaming group as a warm up to the likes of Star Trek Ascendancy or have it in a themed night with games like Space Base and Scorpius Freighter. Equally I can play it with my wife and kids for some fun family time. In my humble opinion, this is why Cosmic Colonies is one of the best games from the first half of 2020... so watch this space for the pre-order on Zatu!
Tom G - Metro X
2020 certainly has been a weird, challenging and scary time thus far and has impacted many things, including that of board game releases! Although impacted, it hasn’t stopped new games being released and one such release has really stolen my heart; Metro X! Now before you say anything, I am well aware that Metro X was in fact released back in 2018 in Japan, however, it wasn’t until this year that we saw an edition readily available outside of Japan! Gamewright published a new edition of Hisashi Hayashi’s flip and write game and has introduced a vast amount of people to this delightful game.
In Metro X, players have a map of intertwined metro lines, each connected with various stations with many stations sharing a line meaning planning and strategy are key in this game. You must aim to finish lines off to score points and limit the amount of empty stations at the end of the game since these count for negative points.
This is one of the easier roll/flip and write games I have played but while easy to understand, it has an immense amount of depth and strategy. You have to really consider your placement of the various crosses you put on the stations since you can easily block yourself off. If you do you’ll be desperately hunting for a “skip” card to allow you to jump over previously crossed-off stations. You also need to remember you have limited windows on some trains (just two in some cases) so crossing station off along that line using the other lines around it is necessary to ensure you can complete it.
Needless to say, this game gets you thinking. Both my partner and I have thoroughly enjoyed it and it is certainly one of our top 2020 games so far! The 86 plays so far certainly endorse this fact!
Nathan Coombs - Open Ocean
Open Ocean is the first game by Joel Bodkin of Featherstone games and released as a Kickstarter earlier in the year. A print and play version was made available at Easter. It rapidly achieved its target and all of the planned stretch goals with a plan for production and formal release later this year.
This is a colourful family game that has a strong marine biology and educational element. In the first edition there are sufficient resources and cards for a two to four player game, with a solo variant too. There is nothing to stop you printing additional cards to increase player count as this will not detract from the game. The aim is to build a diverse coral reef, attracting as many different types of fish as possible. This eye-catching game will appeal to children with well known fish such as clown fish, tang and dory making an appearance.
It is a competitive game as you aim to create the highest scoring combination of creatures. As you build your reef you gain additional points as smaller fish form shoals which then attracts bigger fish. This gives the opportunity to bring in fish from the “ocean”, a shared pool of cards in the centre of the table. However, as in the Finding Nemo film, there are some extra characters that arrive. Sharks might visit to steal fish and if there are too many, then a feeding frenzy occurs. All players lose their biggest fish – unless you have an anemone to give some protection.
This is a quick game, played over three rounds of five turns. The artwork is gorgeous. There are extra bonuses and hidden/ private goals available. Your final set of fish is a colourful snapshot of a how a reef could look. Although this game appeals to children there is plenty of planning so this game can be as strategic as any military campaign. I would be amazed if in the next year Open Ocean isn’t taken up by a mainstram games company and made widely available to the public.
Plenty more instore!
Well there we have it, a few of our highlights but by no means an exhaustive list. If you want to check out some more of the latest hotness search Zatu’s New Releases category. With tons of games coming out every month there’s something for everyone!