Board games give us a chance to enter into a story for a few hours. A wooden table becomes a battle ground of mental wits. Some games make you fight and claw for every single resource, while others give you all the tools and see how you use them. Our bloggers share with you their favourite powerful games!
When it comes to powerful games, Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion reigns supreme. Not only is it a superb introduction to the Gloomhaven family of games, but Jaws of the Lion also brings four new character classes, and every single one makes you feel like you’re ready to take on the world. I’ll admit, I am a firm believer in the benefit of a tank when it comes to choosing a character class, you only need look at my favourite Pokémon and you’ll find a host of heavy hitters.
Out of the game’s four playable characters, the Hatchet and Demolitionist provide the classic muscle I’m used to. With their impressive melee attacks, the Hatchet’s imposing design, and the Demolitionist’s ability to raze any obstacle to the ground without a second thought, who wouldn’t feel powerful? If you’re playing with these two, there’s nothing that can stand in your way.
It must be said, however, that it’s not only sheer strength I love, and Jaws of the Lion has it covered. The Voidwarden and the Red Guard allow players to manipulate monsters, moving them into traps or into spaces where other payers can land some solid hits. Playing the long game and setting up an indomitable elite Stone Golem to fall all in one turn brings both a feeling of power and smugness you just don’t get with other games. The Voidwarden brings another exciting ability to force monsters to attack themselves. Staring down a unit of well-ordered enemies, only to drive them on one another would make anyone feel powerful.
No matter what mood I’m in, all four of Jaws of the Lion’s character classes have exciting abilities that make me feel invincible whenever I play.
Area control, empire building, player elimination. These are powerful games mechanics. Seeing the board covered in your own meeples whilst your opponents make room for total domination at your hand is an ego-exercise in omnipotence.
But, power doesn’t always present itself like Winston Churchill demolishing a pre-battle double sausage bacon bap. True power can also come from the absence of action; the discipline to hold back and wait.
Because of this, a game that makes me feel powerful is Lost Cities the Card Game. First published in 1999, this is a veteran of KOSMOS’s fantastic two-player range, and it has withstood the test of time for good reason.
This game is all about hand management. It is about knowing when to lay a card down and when to hold back. It is about maximising your chances whilst leading your opponent into a false sense of security, hoping they will take the bait.
The theme is essentially irrelevant – it could be anything – but it doesn’t matter because the gameplay is so sharp and fast and unforgiving. With five “expeditions” (or six depending on the edition), players are effectively seeking to make runs of numbers in ascending order. Each expedition has a “cost” assigned to it and will only score at the end of the game if the sum total of the card in that run exceeds the price. Multiplier bonus points can be secured if you add “handshake” cards at the beginning of any run. But, be warned. Those point pinatas have seriously bad surprises in store if you can’t pay for your expedition.
Impossible to hate-draft, the power in Lost Cities comes from two sources. Firstly, deducing what your opponent has and what you need to lay down. Secondly, having the discipline to bide your time, lengthen your own runs, and frustrate their best efforts.
As each turn requires players to either add a card from their own hand to one of their own expeditions or to discard it into a communal pool, decisions about whether it is best to hold a card in the hope of using it yourself (simultaneously denying your opponent) or to discard it (thereby blocking your own chances of amassing more valuable runs) are brain burningly tense.
I don’t know what Caesar felt like when he sat upon his chariot but, when it comes to a game of Lost Cities, I came, I saw, I conquered. Definitely a powerful game!
Powerful games, feeling powerless or powerful can be the difference in a single card flip. A single revealed token. One small surprise. And whether you're the surprise or the surpriser is based on which side of the table you sit. So which game makes me feel powerful? Cosmic Encounter. It's got the right combination of grand reveals, literally holding all the cards, and big plays needed to really feel like you're the one in control.
The basis is simple; your species wants to rule the cosmos, so does everyone else's. Each alien has a unique power and is initially secret. You need to be the first player to have five foreign colonies by defeating foes when taking them on one of their planets, or by negotiating to gain colonies. Combat is resolved by placing spaceship tokens against the opposer and a hidden card face down. You can even ask for allies!
Where the powerfulness comes is in several instances. The first big power play you can throw out there is your alien reveal. Because each is unique, it's the crunch moment when you flip to reveal your big bad powers! These range from the minor, to the astounding: loser wins, triple scores, ships being worth four each. Nothing short of domination is sure to occur, and the plethora of choice means you can never be sure of what everyone is.
The second is negotiation. You negotiate by playing a negotiate conflict card. This is done on scout's honour alone, so you won't know if either combatant was being truthful until the reveal. There's no better feeling than seeing someone crushed under your boot as you betray them to within an inch of their being! Sure, there'll be a vendetta... but it'll be worth it! That final feeling of power is in the artefact cards. These special cards alter the state of play ever so slightly and can often be played whenever. Watching someone else's deal get quashed, or plaguing someone's ships gives a real sense of power. A true iron fist grip on the flow of that round.
If you're in need of exerting that power trip you've built up inside you, Cosmic Encounter is the place to go. Of course, don't forget the tables turn easily. You're not the only one vying for power here, the cosmos is the prize!
When we were invited to write about games that made us feel powerful, I couldn’t understand why it was cooperative games such as Pandemic that came to mind first. Pandemic is my favourite game, but does it make me feel powerful? Well yes, actually it does.
You see, in cooperative games, you have two types of players: drivers and passengers. Drivers are the ones that come up with options, solutions, and basically tell everyone what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Passengers are happy to just go along with whatever they’re told to do and are just taken along for the ride.
I’m very much a driver when it comes to Pandemic. I will make suggestions, question other peoples’ choices and generally play devil’s advocate. Whilst cooperative games need drivers, they can start to suck the enjoyment out of games like a big fun vacuum. I would talk over people, argue and generally be the king of all mood hoovers. I knew that if I wanted other people to enjoy board games as much as I do, I needed to let other drivers take the wheel.
So when I think of feeling powerful, I don’t think of being malevolent like in a game of Monopoly or Chinatown, because every time you negotiate an opponent into a corner, you’re just as likely to have it done to you. Power is being able to say to somebody “where do you think we should put the research centre?” rather than immediately thinking your idea is the best one. It’s being able to say “there’s not a lot we could have done with those epidemics, we were just unlucky” rather than blaming bad choices on individuals. The feeling of power comes from the empowerment of others, and there really isn’t a better feeling than that.
While being able to bulldoze anything that crosses your path is definitely one type of powerful, I quite like it when you start off weak and get more powerful as a game progresses. That feeling really lends itself perfectly to deck building games and one of my favourites for this is Thunderstone Quest.
In this game, you’ve got two main sections of play. A village where you can go and buy new equipment and heroes, and a dungeon where you can go in and fight monsters for treasures, rare weapons and spells. The first time you go to this dungeon you may well get kicked back out on your behind on the first turn that you are there. These monsters do not play nice.
Once you’ve trained up your team of warriors, not only will you be making short work of the various goblins and ghoulies that were stopping you in your tracks not long ago. You will also be able to camp out there between turns, ready to do it all again. You can level up your warriors so they can use more powerful weapons or just get better support equipment to help you regroup. Either way, you become a much more able band of questers by the end of the game.
I always like this kind of progression as it feels like you have really come along way from that helpless whelp you were on turn one. Also, if you’re playing with the expansion you get these cool prestige class boards which allow you to level up as you complete various feats. Levelling up grants you more powerful skills and abilities that can really keep your band of adventurers at the top of their game. They’re themed to different fantasy roles and there are dozens of different classes you can play as. That gives you a lot of replayability, to say nothing of all of the different combinations of heroes, equipment and spells you can find in the village. This may well be my most replayable game I own.
Nick Welford - A War of Whispers
There are some great games that make you feel like an unstoppable force. Kemet lets you custom build your powers, Dwellings of Eldervale lets you stomp through dungeons and the land, and Bushido gives you the opportunity to one-hit kill the other player. All fine and well, but we all know the real power lies behind the throne. Given that, my choice is A War of Whispers.
In A War of Whispers, you play the sneaky advisors that whisper in the ears of the leaders of 5 warring nations. Not just one nation but potentially all of them. Why do you engage in such a dangerous yet exciting deception? Well, each player has a randomly decided order that they need the nations to finish in. You manipulate them to achieve your own ends. The trick is the other players have their own secret objectives too, and they may or may not line up with yours.
You are free to spread your plans in whatever fashion you like, build up the red kingdom to be an unstoppable military force, and then whisper in the ear of the yellow kingdom to attack the red, even though they will lose. You don't care - you want red to win. But then another player might move all of reds armies to another part of the board just as a yellow attack...
The cherry on the cake is that most games of Whispers take less than an hour! I'm not sure I own anything quite like it, which gives the thrill of planning and deception in such a short playtime - that's power.