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Saint David’s Day Board Games

saint david's day confident

DYDD GŴYL DEWI SANT HAPUS – HAPPY SAINT DAVID’S DAY

Celebrating the World of Welsh Board Gaming - SIARAD CYMRAEG?

Whenever I meet someone who finds out I am welsh, the first thing they usually ask is “do you speak welsh?” The answer is embarrassingly “not really”. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that I am incredibly patriotic. I love being welsh. I love being from wales. Just because I don’t live there doesn’t take away the connection I have with my home. However, in the world of board gaming, it is difficult to find welsh names and even rarer to find welsh-centric themes. Wales is often bundled together with UK versions of well loved games like Ticket to Ride UK for an example. And even there, it is England that has the spotlight and the rest of the UK is just there on the sides. But there are some out there. Rhys zap Gwyn’s Museum Rush is a fun heist game icy makes a fun edition to any family collection. Well in this list, I aim to shine a light on some Welsh designers and Welsh themes that should celebrate the home of the great red dragon on this Saint David’s Day.

Confident/Hyderus

Created by Llanelli born Cheri Price along with his partner Natalie Podd, Confident? Has become he most successful party game to come out of Wales. It has editions that sell all over the world and has recently come out in a welsh language version. The game, is a trivia game but with a twist. Instead of getting the answer right you will need to give a range that the answer is in. The smaller the range you can give the more points it will be worth. After all, ‘go small or go home’ as they say. Questions such as “what is the top speed of a Kangaroo” might stump you but you also have the power to steal and answer from someone else, or if you are feeling confident you can vote to double your points for that round. It is a fun take on the trivia and makes for a great family game, much like Wits and Wagers that can reward people, not for their specific knowledge but for a more general guess work. The white board style board and pens also make for fast gameplay so can play over and over again. As a first time design, it may not be complex but it really creates a fun and energetic gameplay. The company also strive towards being green and Confident was one of the first games in the world to be officially carbon neutral. Also, with welsh becoming the largest growing language learnt on Duolingo in the UK is great to see something like Confident getting a welsh language edition. But what makes it great is the fact that the Wales edition is filled with questions about Wales itself. So not only is it available to teach and spread the language love, it is education others about the country itself and so what better game to kick off our celebration of Dydd Dewi Sant.

ivor the engine

Ivor The Engine - Andy Broomhead

I’ll be honest, I originally bought Ivor The Engine as a bit of a joke present for my wife, needing something Ivor-y for our wedding anniversary.  But inside the 1970s cartoon art box, there’s a very good game. Ivor The Engine lovingly recreates the journeys and adventures on the Merioneth and Llantisilly railway, with new art by original Ivor artist Pete Firmin.  The nostalgia hits you hard even as you’re just unfolding the map board, seeing Grumbly Town, Dinwiddy’s Goldmine and Mrs. Porto’s house all represented.

The game itself is a pick-up and deliver game, where you’re placed in charge of your own wagon to collect little wooden sheep from areas around the board and completing job and event cards to collect bonus sheep.  The catch comes from the fact you can’t complete jobs at locations that still have sheep on the loose.  You end up relying on other players to hopefully round up some of those sheep (but score points at the same time) or hoping to fly under the radar by quietly getting your woolly friends into your pen to play your job cards.

This is a good game – it’s not flashy or complicated, but it’s certainly not so straightforward that you don’t have to plan and think ahead. Where it really hits the sweet spot is in how comforting it feels to slip back into that fictitious corner of Wales with Mr. Dinwiddy, Jones the driver, Dai, and even Idris the Dragon. We had a few family holidays in north Wales when I was young, and I remember the repeats of Ivor being on TV as I was growing up too.

Ivor The Engine brings all those memories together into a beautifully illustrated game with some wonderful components.  When we first played, and had counted our sheep to see who was victorious (spoiler – it wasn’t me), I remember us saying “actually, that was really good wasn’t it?”  I’d definitely recommend giving this a go if you get a chance!

Foothills - Favouritefoe

Ah, Wales. Known for its dragons, leeks, and wooden spoons. Okay, so I am probably not highlighting the very best of what its beautiful landscapes and places have to offer. But it’s also got another hidden gem; the board game designer, Tony Boydell.

If the name sounds familiar, then you may have played Snowdonia or Ivor the Engine. And whilst he doesn’t only design games set in Wales (Alubari and  Lux Aeterna being obvious examples), his affection for its traditions, culture, and uniqueness are undeniable. Other bloggers are covering his Welsh as wibli-wobli (and yes that really does mean jellyfish!) games, so that I can showcase Foothills; a fantastically tactical two player hand management card game set in…….not Wales! Someone’s got to break the rules on Saint David’s Day!

There’s no denying the influence that Snowdonia has on Foothills in terms of art or crunch, however. But it definitely holds its own as a standalone worker placement, hand management game. Tasked with building not just one railways line but 6 over the course of a game, you’re laying down action cards. Double sided action cards, I might add! And once you’ve used one of your 5 actions as part of a line on your turn, it gets flipped over. And that’s generally the ginger-step-child of the two actions on offer. And so at some point, you know you’re going to have to take the hit to flip it back to the prodigal son side! With bonuses and resources coming from canny use of your Surveyor, as well as trips to the pub to bank cards for end-game scoring, this is popty-ping point salad time (okay, I know that doesn’t actually translate to “microwave” but it is fun to say!). The dragon is in the detail; knowing what to do to score the most out of all the possible options available!

Snowdonia - Peter Bartlam

We’re not exactly snowed under when you consider the panopiy of Welsh-themed games. When you consider we could have had Settlers of Carmarthen, Caernarfossonne, Azrhyl or even Ticket to Rheidol but what we have got is Snowdonia by Tony Boydell. This quite literally is the peak of the Welsh wizard’s work and has more Welsh flavour than a leek pie followed by a plate of bara brith.

Emulating the plucky pioneers of 1894 your task is to complete a railway up to the top of Yr Wyddfa the highest point in Wales. In Victorian times this required a daunting degree of engineering expertise, imagination and ingenuity. Whereas you are faced with a skilful set of choices in the fields of worker placement and resource management.

The Welsh character of Snowdonia breaks through all over like slate in a Blaenau quarry. First, the board itself showing the mighty mountain flanked by Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn and the all important pub where the extra workers hang out with a second side showing a similarly splendid scene with Snowdon in glorious close-up. On this are placed the resources and the weather cards. These latter will present the changeable nature of Welsh weather albeit with rather less rain than I remember growing up on the northern flanks.

Then there are the station cards, all correctly depicted from Llanberis all the way through Clogwyn and on to the summit. You also have the seven small but stalwart steam trains, each lovingly drawn : L.A.D.A.S., Enid, Wyddfa, Snowdon, Moel Siabod, Padarn and Ralph (?).

These last two allow for further scenarios by swapping in new station and/or train cards. So we can have the Ffestiniog Railway or the Britannia Bridge to Anglesey and whisper it quietly on Saint David’s Day you can even represent other railways around the world. So an intelligent and flexible design giving a pleasing and engrossing game. Da Iawn Tony Fach!

Big Bazar - Max Davie

Adam Porter is a game designer and vlogger (his term) who lives in Cardiff. His YouTube Channel, Adam in Wales, is an excellent resource on game design. Although not welsh himself, his influence on the Cardiff game scene is huge and so gets an honoury title here. Although, he has a few big games under his belt such as the trick taking Pikoko or the black jack inspired Kompromat, I want to focus on his early design, 2017's Big Bazar, because it's an under-appreciated gem of a children's game.

Big Bazar takes the basic dynamic of 'snap' and elegantly layers a word game onto it. The game is based around a deck of charming illustrations of objects or animals, each with a coloured background.   Like in 'snap', players take it in turns to turn over cards from a personal deck, and when two cards match (in background), something needs to be said.

Exactly what needs to be said is determined by tokens. Each token determines what question needs to be answered about the two matching cards. This ranges from the first letter of either 'element' depicted, to the number of legs visible across both cards. It's fast, engaging and kids have a massive advantage. Their brains are just faster, less encumbered and distracted. This advantage increases as the game evolves. Initially, one token applies to any of the colours. As special colour cards are drawn, a new token is applied, so the 'question' depends on the background of the matching cards. Then, just as the middle-aged brain has caught up, bomb cards emerge which flip the (double-sided) tokens.

When I ran a games club at my local primary school, this was my go-to finisher. It takes rather less than the 15 minutes on the box if everyone knows how to play. Because it's about speed not strategy, it was usually won by someone who didn't win much else, and we all left the club energised. But on our last meeting before the pandemic, someone borrowed my copy, and in all the 'excitement' I have forgotten who has it.

So if you do see Big Bazar around, think about giving it a go. And if you see two copies...

Diolch Yn Fawr

So on this Saint David’s Day, grab a cuppa and a welsh cake and try something different and explore what this growing sector within the board game world has to offer.

Iechyd da!