April was finally the month when we were allowed to do something other than work, walk or go to school. What a novel experience it has been. As well as shopping and socialising, we can also play face to face games with people other than the ones we’ve been in lockdown with for the past… I don’t know, how long is it now?
That doesn’t mean ‘hey, let’s book a table in the local pub’s car park and break out the Twilight Imperium’, but it does mean we can get out the smaller games for surreptitious one on ones, and they don’t get much smaller or more clandestine than Love Letters.
15 cards, very short rounds and plenty of interaction, it’s part guessing game, part hand manipulation and all very accessible fun. The idea of the game is to have the highest card in your hand once the deck has been exhausted or be the last bod standing. You only ever have one card in your hand, and in your turn you draw a card and play a card, which can have effects on other players like discarding their hand, comparing cards or guessing a player’s card, or sometimes effects on you, like losing the game! This is why rounds are usually decided by last bod standing as there are plenty of ways to get knocked out. The game ends when someone has won a certain number of rounds, depending on the number of players.
I had the joy of introducing it to a friend who I hadn’t seen in person since September and it really did make for a very pleasant evening sat outside a bar on an unseasonably balmy night. There are plenty of variations now, so you can pay your money and take your choice, but it really is a great little game that you should attain.
As with all board game collections, mine started small. A few carefully selected games would make it to the table regularly. But, as time went on, my board game collection grew. That meant that some of those favourites started to hit the table less often. It didn’t mean I liked them any less, simply that I now had more to choose from. My rediscovered game of the month is 7 Wonders Duel.
7 Wonders Duel was such a game. Looking through the early pages of the score pad, you can see a number of games played in a short period of time. In recent months it hadn’t hit the table at all. (Yes, I am one of those people who keeps previous scores.) But then, a look through our board game cupboard brought it back to my attention and then to the table. I was reminded what a great game it is. We played with the Pantheon expansion which adds more decisions and moving parts. The basic drafting premise remains though.
I really enjoy engine building in games. So I like the way that you build your engine and, almost immediately, get to see it in effect in 7 Wonders Duel. It can sometimes be frustrating if you don’t get the resource cards you need. However, there are often ways around this, or you can always just buy the missing resource. Also, I like set collection so I will often try to win via a scientific victory. I don’t achieve it very often, but when I do there is a real sense of achievement!
I am pleased I played 7 Wonders Duel again. It is a great 2 player game, which plays very smoothly, with plenty of interesting decisions. Playing the game again has also made me want to look into the Agora expansion for even more fun times!
How many sport-themed board games can you name? Well, off the top of my head I struggle to think of more than about five. Maybe sport and board games aren’t the crossover the world needs, but one game, in particular, brings the excitement of racing to the table.
My rediscovered game of the month is Flamme Rouge. Flamme Rouge is a cycling-themed game where you control two cyclists: a sprinter and a rouleur. The sprinter is capable of massive bursts of speed, whilst the rouleur tends to be more evenly paced. The person who gets one of their cyclists across the finish line first (or furthest across the line if more than one team manages it) wins.
I realise this might not sound like the most exciting game, but there are a couple of mechanics that keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s no point storming off too far in front as you risk collecting exhaustion cards. Whilst they might not have an immediate impact, they can seriously harm your chances of winning as the game progresses.
I’ve played this game so many times, and I’ve never once played a game that’s had an obvious winner. One time I played and was three spaces away from the finish, I drew four exhaustion cards and had to watch as everyone cycled past me (the emotional toll of this is probably why I’ve not played it for a while). The fact players choose their cards simultaneously means the game moves along at a great pace too. If you want to add more players or risk to the game, you can invest in Peleton or Meteo expansions. I would also recommend downloading the app, which adds more courses, as well as giving the option for a Tour de France style tournament.
Seeland - Lawrence Kelley
Well hello there! Fancy an eleven-year-old game about reclaiming the sodden earth of 17th century Holland? I imagine your scrolling finger is already twitching. Or perhaps your pupils are dilated in Euro anticipation. Seeland is an amazing ‘moisture reclamation’ game by Gunter Burkhardt and the probably more well-known Wolfgang Kramer.
I’m on a bit of a ‘rondel’ kick at the moment. A rondel is a circular track where you move your piece around the track to select your next action. So I decided to grab an oldie but goodie off my shelf this month in the form of Seeland. Seeland takes the rondel idea a step further with a kind of double rondel where how far you can move is determined by how far other players have previously moved. I won’t go into the gory details here, but it's one of the coolest board game mechanisms I’ve ever seen. And why are you spinning in these Dutch circles? To place windmills of course. And what are you clearing the flooded land for? Tulips of course. And a bit of cabbage and rapeseed for good measure.
Seeland is a tile-laying game where the aforementioned rondel mechanism is used to select windmill or crop tiles that you place on the board. Surrounded windmills score points based on the printed values of surrounding tiles. Seeland is a tight semi-tactical semi-strategic battle that’s criminally underrated. There are several in-built expansions/variants included in the game, adding depth and replayability. The game is pretty hard to get these days and certainly deserves a reprint in my opinion. If you like rondels, tactical tile-laying, simple rules with deep emergent gameplay, and trust the maestro of Euro-games Herr Kramer, then do yourself a favour and seek it out.
Inspired by fellow blogger, Hannah, and her inspiring Instagram hashtag #anothergameofftheshelf, April was the month where I committed to take a long-ignored game off the shelf and bring it back to the table.
But, with aspirations of overachievement, I didn’t pledge just one. I pledged two. Easy you might think. But with so many great games shimmering seductively on my shelves, giving love to a couple of old favourites has needed the additional pressure that comes from social shaming!
And so, humbly seeking forgiveness for relegating them from primetime gaming, I kicked off with Ticket To Ride India/Switzerland Map Collection (Volume 2). This is an expansion to Alan Moon’s renowned Ticket to Ride/Ticket to Ride Europe. It brings something a little bit different to the hand management legend that is TTR. It's also my rediscovered game of the month.
In fact, this map pack brings several new twists to the base game in the form of two new maps. Each with different scoring mechanisms which keep things fresh. This is done without requiring players to take on board a whole new ruleset.
In India, the journey is most definitely the destination. Points will stack up if you can use the short routes to revisit as many vibrant and colourful cities as you can. In Switzerland, however, bordering countries are journey endpoints. It's down to you to link them up. But, with fewer trains and restricted locomotive movements, overstretching yourself is a real risk. The negative points that come with not completing a route can be victory crushing!
In truth, we bought Ticket To Ride India/Switzerland Map Collection (Volume 2) very soon after getting the base game. Mainly because we didn’t know where to start. India looked like a fun challenge (which it is!). Having re-discovered a full expansion on the flip side which is a tenser, tighter experience for 2 players, we may well have come for India. But we are definitely staying for Switzerland!