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Top 5 Games I Played at AireCon

AIRECON
AIRECON

AireCon has been running in the north of England for nearly a decade now. In that time it’s grown from a little gathering of friends in the founder’s front room to a sprawling, conference-centre dominating festival of gaming.

AireCon 2024 took over the Harrogate Convention Centre on 14-17th March, bringing with it (amongst many, many other things), a beautifully stocked game library, plentiful demos and ‘learn to plays’ and a friendly crowd of gamers. We barely fought over the games in the library at all… (although I have to admit to a light jog after my phone pinged to let me know a sought after game had been returned)!

The number of games I could have played over the weekend is nigh-on impossible to know. What I can do though is give you the top five games I played. So here we go (in no particular order).

1. Watergate - a political tug-of-war

It feels pretty dirty, desperately willing Richard Nixon to quash those pesky reporters, block their investigations and sabotage their evidence. But that’s where you find yourself if you end up on the ‘wrong’ side of the board in Watergate.

One player plays the two heroic Washington Times journalists Woodward and Bernstein - winning over informers, pinning together evidence (on an evocative pin-board like gameboard), while fighting over initiative (who gets the most cards) and momentum (who gets the most counters) with ‘Tricky Dicky’.

On the other side sits Nixon, trying to claw back evidence, and win over would-be informers.

The mechanic of Watergate is pretty simple - you have one tracker board, and each player takes it in turn to play cards that move one of two counters (the aforementioned Initiative and Momentum trackers) and/or pieces of evidence. Once the evidence is claimed, you use that to connect sources to Nixon. Get enough sources and you win, let Nixon get enough momentum and he survives your investigation.

The simple mechanic makes play slick and easy to grasp , but also has more than enough depth to keep you thinking strategically - and the cards and rule book also do a great job of sharing an important history lesson.

WATERGATE

2. Nusfjord - fish cod, eat cod, build stuff

Named after a small fishing village in Norway, Nusfjord is an intriguing Euro-game which is all about catching fish and feeding them to your elders. While also cutting down forests for resources. Thankfully the historic setting means you can over-fish and merrily deforest with minimal guilt!

You’ve got three workers - which of course is never enough - so you need to acquire the support of the village elders of Nusfjord (by feeding them a plate of cod, of course, elders love cod) and build engines through effective use of buildings and the aforementioned elders.

Over seven turns you build a fleet, fish, fish and fish again while chopping down and replanting forests to provide wood and then assuage guilt (or win you points) - while also indulging in some light trading of shares in your fishing company to boot.

Nusfjord is genuinely charming and just frustrating enough in the limits it places on you. As with most games of a certain size - and depth - your initial play may be a little slow and clunky as your consult the rules, but it doesn’t take long for it to flow beautifully.

3. Fjords - place tiles, then take tiles!

Sticking in Scandinavia and (and with fjords), Fjords is a genuine game of two halves.

You start off laying tiles to create a lovely landscape of mountains, plains and - of course - fjords. It all seems simple and light-hearted till you realise you need to also play longhouses to start laying claim to your terrain.

Eventually you run out of tiles. Or give up trying to rotate the few tiles you have left to try and find some spot they might fit. Then it’s all about throwing Vikings from your longhouses out across the plains to claim as much land as you can before your opponent does - and hopefully blocking them in the process!

4. Dog Park - a gorgeous Wingspan-light

Most attractive game of the AireCon weekend goes to Dog Park, an engine builder about perambulating with pooches.

You bid against opponents for the doggos you like best (or you may prefer to opt for the ones that might get you most points, or build your engine), you give them treats to get them on their leads, then you balance racing round the dog park as fast as possible while collecting treats and bonuses along the way. And then of course, treats and bonuses feed your engine, you purchase more pups, take them out, and repeat.

Each player ends with eight lovely dogs they call their own, a little pile of squeaky toys (the wooden counters don’t actually squeak of course), balls, treats and a heap of points depending on how well they’ve built their engines.

5. Cat Days - a very simple little card game with great ethos

Finally, onto the dogs’ mortal enemy… cats. Sold for just a fiver, with all proceeds supporting an animal rescue centre in north England, it’s very hard to criticise Cat Days.

The premise is very simple. Each player needs to fill their week (represented by seven cards, one for each day of the week) with cats. But cats being the finicky, picky creatures they are, they require certain specific conditions to deign you with their presence.

So while in Cat Days you’re looking to put a feline on each day, your opposing player is also trying to stop them. They might use a box to tempt a card over to their week (everyone knows cats love a box), they can use a laser pen to distract your pets, or even play a dastardly grumpy cat (worth zero points) on top of one of your cats to stop you scoring one of your creatures.

It’s so simple it can be taught in a few minutes and (almost) all the instructions can fit on one playing card ( there are some explanations online if you can’t agree on house rules). For five pounds to a good cause and about five minutes of your time, you can’t go wrong.