Welcome to 2022! This year, I’m going to be aiming to continue my publisher highlights, following the Big Potato and Stonemaier highlights last year. Some publishers need very little introduction. It might be because they have a particular style of game, or the artwork, or just the consistent quality of the games they’re putting out. Alderac Entertainment Group (or AEG) have had a huge amount of success recently and currently have 49 games listed to buy on Zatu (including expansions.) I have a lot of fun with their games, so much so I’ve playtested a few with their development team. So let’s dive into our top 5 of the Alderac games!
Something Alderac has done recently is put out a few games with Flatout Games – creating a variety of puzzle games such as Calico (more on this one later) and the upcoming Verdant. However, the best of the trio for me was Cascadia – a delightful little game about building terrain and placing animals in specific ways to score points. It has a similar feel to Gods Love Dinosaurs or Carcassonne, where you claim tiles and make decisions on where you place your tokens for scoring. However, the tile you pick up is paired with the animal and you can’t claim either one without the other. They don’t have to be placed together, and you can choose to spend a nature token to split up the choices.
The puzzle is great to play and is incredibly zen. The satisfaction you can get from getting very beautiful clusters of matching terrain is really up there. You get a bunch of different scoring options for the animals which makes it a very replayable game, something I love about most Alderac games. There’s even a solo mode, which lets you play this delightful game as much as you want. Not to mention, the artwork is beautiful and the theme is excellent. The animal tokens and powers are really well balanced and I can easily imagine an expansion coming out sometime soon.
Alderac publish brilliant games and are bringing out hit after hit. At the last count I had 6 Alderac games, and my collection shows no sign of stopping. According to their founder, John Zinser, they are a “big small publisher”. But with a bunch of amazing titles due in 2022, they may have to rename themselves a big big publisher!
My first Alderac game was Space Base by John D Clair, and it was indeed an instant hit for us. Why? Well, what’s better than rolling dice and getting something juicy on your turn? For me, it’s watching someone else roll dice and getting something juicy on their turn! Sometimes it’s something even more powerful or useful, and that is golden indeed! Downtime with added delights!
So, in Space Base, you’re a commodore of an intergalactic space base, and you want the best ships to earn the most VPs. With 12 basic ships in your starter fleet, each turn you roll two dice and decide how you want to allocate the numbers – split over two cards or doubled up on a higher ship. Each time you allocate a number, you’ll receive what that ship produces (income, coins, or straight up VPs). The higher the number, the more you’ll get (but the power the chances of getting it). You can then use your coins to upgrade your ships to better ones that produce more on subsequent goes. Better than that though, is the passive reward system. When you upgrade a ship, you turn the exiting card 180 degrees and slide it under the new card. Then, when your opponents roll the dice on their turn, if that number appears, you get the reward shown!
Space Base is also an engine builder that works well at 2 players. After a few turns, the game suddenly kicks into gear and the race is on for ship supremacy! With expansions and another due in 2022, this game is an asteroid belter!
Early in my board gaming career, Alderac made some very big impressions on me. My first experience of deckbuilding came from the brilliant but sadly out of print Trains. Deckbuilding is one of the core mechanisms in our hobby. So I guess it’s only fitting that today, my favourite deck-building game is also from Alderac. Thunderstone: Quest.
But to call Thunderstone: Quest just a deck builder is selling it short. Sure, it starts off like that. Each player starts off with an identical deck of basic cards. This represents your starting band of characters and their simple equipment. Over the course of the game, you will be supplementing and maybe whittling down some of these cards. Hone your personal deck into a powerful band of legendary heroes with all of their bejewelled and enchanted wares.
It’s a game of two very distinct halves. On one side of the play area, you have a village where you can go to buy these new cards. As well as equipment tokens that can be spent to give you advantages.
There you will find the dungeon. This dungeon has various rooms and beasties that need to be dealt with. As you defeat different enemies you can grab yourself extra treasures or even precious thunderstones. Once you’ve collected enough of these thunderstones, the final boss of the game appears. It is up to you and your merry band of murder-hobos to take them down.
It’s a great game with a great arc. The base game has so many cards and combinations that can be used that it always feels fresh. The expansion adds new co-operative modes. There is so much to see and do here, and as per usual with Alderac the production and artwork is stellar. Definitely worth a look in my opinion.
Alderac boasts a pretty remarkable roster but also a pretty, remarkable roster (it’s all in the punctuation, kids). One of the prettiest and most remarkable is the cute but brutal (or cutal) Tiny Towns. Tetris meets Sim City meets The Tufty Club.
The idea of the game (playable from 1 to 6) is to build a tiny town, natch, which you do by placing one of five different resources on a 4 x 4 grid. Place the correct resources in the correct pattern and you get to replace those resources with the appropriate building – cottages for housing, farm-type things for feeding, inns and pubs for inning and pubbing and so forth. I say ‘types’ because there are different types of farms and pubs and things that work in different ways, so there’s plenty of room for variety and strategy in this game. Once everyone’s grid is full of buildings and/or resources, then the game is over and you score the points.
“Doesn’t sound so brutal though – when does it get brutal?” Okay, calm down Killy McKillface. When it comes to placing resources, everyone takes it in turns to choose a resource. This means that there can be plenty of opportunity to hate draft the heck out of your fellow forest folk. You can really trash up someone’s town planning by dumping a whole load of stone on someone when all they want is brick. There’s also a touch of asymmetry involved as everyone gets a unique build that, when completed, can unlock different effects or points – my personal favourite is Grand Mausoleum of Rodina, which allows you to score from unfed cottages – TOWN OF THE DEAAAAAD! Now THAT’S pretty brutal.
Calico with its quilts and buttons and cats exudes an image of friendly, family accessibility. Surely a bit of lightweight fun awaits you, some relaxed tile placement best suited to a lazy Sunday afternoon?
Simply put, no. Just no. As under this welcoming, almost cutesy, exterior beats a crunchy challenge of almost terrifying intensity... albeit in an interesting, engaging, brain-stretching sort of way. Some will find that sort of thing relaxing. But for my money, this is a game that balances satisfaction with delightful anguish.
Rules are simple – draft a tile from the array and place it on your quilt board. In doing so you are working towards any and all of three scoring mechanisms: quilt design goals, button earning criteria, and cat attracting criteria. Different combinations of colour and/or shape will play to these different goals, and as the game progresses your choice of spaces dwindles. It’s then that the agonising decisions of how to get the most from tiles you really didn’t want in the first place starts to melt heads.
So this game is an emergent puzzle of optimising the sub-optimal and if that’s your jam then you will love it. It’s mostly a solo affair... except through the draft. There’s not enough benefit for active hate drafting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of occasions that the perfect tile is snatched from the array by one of your opponents.
Collective solo games often lose their sheen for me, but Calico moves along pretty quickly with a brisk playtime and gorgeous art and design. Calico is a very strong contender in this sort of game space. It shares DNA with games like Sagrada and Azul; outclassing the former but not quite the latter in my mind. It comes out time and again, and with simple rules but devilish difficulty it plays to a fairly wide audience. Definitely worth a play.