Boardgame publishers often have interesting starts in life. Getting that first game up and running is an amazing feat in and of itself, and when I set up these publisher highlights, I like to have a look into the backstory a little bit to find out some tasty nuggets of fact to throw in the fondue pot that is opinions.
The last of these I wrote (a top four on Osprey Games) found that they started as a military history publisher, which definitely influenced the games they published. Today’s publisher of choice is Kosmos and, boy is there history. Going back to the founding in 1822, Kosmos published fairy tales and then began to focus on science in 1903, eventually publishing a science magazine in 1912.
In 2013, Kosmos purchased Thames and Kosmos UK, formerly Science Shop who dealt in science kits for children, and two years later, they became the main distributor for the English versions of Kosmos games. There are hundreds of games published by Kosmos, some of which would surprise you, but we have narrowed it down to our top five! Here we go!
Wait For It… Luke Pickles
Before we get into it, I need to drop in a collective of honourable mentions. Kosmos publish a whole host of escape room style games, known as the Exit series. There are loads of games that fall under this banner and honestly, there is a theme there for you. Love Lord of the Rings? Here you go! These games are also pretty darn cheap, which I think is about right for these.
They are great puzzles, but they do have the downside of being single use only. But you know what? You would probably pay more for an actual escape room and everything is recyclable. If you don’t mind cycling these games through, they are an excellent way to spend an hour with your friends in the safety of your own home!
Lost Cities is a very clever set collection and hand management game. During the game, you’ll be playing out runs of ascending cards to one of several expeditions with the aim to score as many points as possible.
As soon as you play a card to one of these expeditions you immediately lose 20 points and every card you manage to play down to that run after that will claw you some points back until eventually, you get back into positive points. I’m going to finish this opening paragraph with a fairly bold statement. I think Lost Cities is a perfect game.
Honestly, I can think of no material changes you could make to Lost Cites and end up with a better game. For what it does, it is perfect. Playing cards down feels tense. You’ve got wager cards that boost your score for a particular expedition colour. If you’ve got a few of those in your starting hand you may be tempted to play them down to get some big points on the board.
Except, these wager cards are worth nothing on their own and if you’ve got a lot of wager cards in your hand then you have most likely not got many scoring cards. Also, by playing down wager cards you’re pretty much telling your opponent where you are going to be putting your attention so they can make it as hard as possible for you to score that colour.
You see, if you don’t fancy playing a card down to an expedition on your turn you can instead play it to the central board where it can be picked up by your opponent. The number of times I’ve held onto a hand of cards that my opponent would want for just long enough, so they become useless to them to then dump them all out onto the board and watch their face go to despair.
It’s priceless. Such a good game, it is definitely one that you should play and it wouldn’t be out of place in most collections.
I tended to play very few kid’s games. That was until I managed to ensnare my godson into the world of modern games through a winning combination of Dobble and Dragomino. Now he has realised that Auntie Hannah is actually the fun Auntie, he is desperate to try any and all of my board game suggestions. One of the real winners though has been watching him play Ubongo Junior.
During this family specific version of Ubongo, you collect gems when you are able to fit your animal Tetris pieces into the puzzle correctly.
There is an element of racing to finish your puzzle similar to the original Ubongo, Ubongo 3D and Ubongo Travel, but with the difficulty reduced to make it suitable from age 5 upwards. The fun has been injected by replacing the plain coloured pieces by fun animal cartoons. There is an element of fun associated with “find the giraffe piece and the elephant piece, ready three, two, one go!
Let’s win some gems”. You have to rush to be the first to place your pieces into the puzzle outline to gain yourself a bonus gem. There are two levels of difficulty, orange and green to allow for different aged kids to play together. Anyone who manages to complete their puzzle before the sand timer runs out is rewarded with a gem. In the end, the winner is the person who has the most gems. If you want a family orientated game which is easy to get to the table and that kids can play without adult intervention, then check this one out!
It can be tempting, in the current modern board game climate, to eulogise the current trending ‘Hotness’. But behind every hot new thing lies a predecessor, an inspiration, a muse. The Pillars of the Earth is one such game.
The Pillars of the Earth is a Euro-style worker placement game, based on Ken Follett’s novel. In my eyes, it is one of the forefathers of the worker placement genre, alongside Caylus. Pillars first came out in 2006 – yes, that long ago! – but yet it still holds its own in today’s market.
Kosmos knew they were onto a winner when they adapted Follett’s novel. (So much so there’s a trilogy of games – Worlds Without End, and A Column Of Fire.) Here players aim to contribute towards building a grand cathedral in Kingsbridge. Boy, this ticks so many boxes. Designed by Michael Reineck. Art by Michael Menzel. Simple, yet devilish mechanisms…
Players use their workforce to acquire raw goods. They’ll aim to spend those goods to convert them into points. You gain cards for engine-building, via clever placement of your Master Builders. These Builders get drawn blind from a drawstring bag for turn order. “Wait! That’s not fair,” you might holler. And if that were the long and short of it, you’d be right…
But the brilliant thing about Pillars is this: you might get drawn first out of the bag. But there’s a price – a big one. You have to pay a whopping cost to place the worker. And like any Euro, money is tight. The later you get drawn out of the bag, the cheaper it is to place your Master Builder. This creates a marvellous see-saw of emotions.
Do you pay the cost to place it in the location you want to visit? Can you afford to place it that early on in the round?
For me, Pillars of the Earth is one of the quintessential next-step, or ‘gateway-plus’ games. To read more about it, check out my full review.
The Crew has been much vaunted since launch – a co-operative trick-taking game with an underlying campaign style space mission theme. In each game you are presented with a varying number of task cards, which you draft based on your hand; then you must deliver them – winning the trick that contains the tasked card… in silence.
Or almost in silence, as you are presented with some limited communication offers and the possibility to trigger an emergency signal and all pass a card to the left or right. And let’s be honest, you’re never going to play in total silence anyway. You just might not discuss the game whilst you play.
To add additional crunch – as if you needed it – the missions get harder, and tasks start to be demanded in a particular order through numbering or prioritising or both. And in some rounds, comms might be out or the emergency signal malfunctioning.
The result is a lot of games packed into a small box with straightforward rules which makes this accessible to a wide audience. Each hand plays pretty quickly – albeit with an enjoyable degree of moaning, eye-rolling and light agonising. And I do mean light agonising – analysis paralysis is short-lived as a failed hand is easily replayed and one hand after another makes for an enjoyable series.
The campaign nature of the game works far better than it should and offers a degree of theme that should feel pasted-on, but somehow doesn’t.
All in all, the Crew is a real winner – art, design and production all come together into a smashing, in-expensive, engaging and highly accessible experience. I have played this with my gaming group, my kids, my parents and some non-gaming friends. It’s everything I wish Hanabi were when you play it physically (and almost as good as Hanabi when you play it online).
And more recently, if you love the original, space version you can then go out and buy the new undersea version, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea.
One of the latest hits by Kosmos is a game about a loveable scamp we all know about from childhood. Yes, the green clad fox that we… sorry? He WASN’T a fox? Alright then… the green clad hero of Nottingham, Robin Hood, has popped up in a fully cooperative, choose your own adventure game. A lovely touch to the game is a book that tells you the story as you go along and make your choices.
But what happens on the board is a surprise as you play, with an advent calendar style window system that flips over to reveal the potential obstacle. You also have a very clever system of deciding turn order, placing disks into a bag that also contains cubes used for combat. You can’t get the two muddled if you tried! One of the best features is that the opening adventure is spent teaching you the rules, so you don’t waste any time between set up and gameplay.
I had not tried a story driven game before this one but I’m incredibly excited to sit back down and play it again. The movement figures make for a great physical space puzzle and the option to not run to save strength is always tempting unless you’re being chased. I highly recommend giving The Adventures of Robin Hood a go!