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Top 5 Matthew Dunstan Games

matthew dunstan elysium

This month, we’re picking up after an interview done by one of my colleagues earlier this month with designer Matthew Dunstan. The Australian had a lot to talk about in the interview and I highly recommend you going and reading it after you’re done here because how could I improve on his own words? Off the back of that, we’re starting with one of Matthew’s biggest hits.

ElysiumLuke Pickles

I love me some mythologies. In particular, I’m a big fan of the Greek myths and that’s what originally brought my eye to Elysium, the game all about transferring the families of the gods to the Ancient Greek version of heaven. In the game, you and your opponents are drafting members of five godly families (selected from eight at the beginning) from the Agora (market) into your domain.

You choose a card (or quest, but more on that in a second) and discard one of your four coloured columns. These cards have their own powers which can trigger at different times, a number from 1 to three and at least one colour circle in the top right. These circles show the colour of the column you need to have in order to draft the card. And that’s key. You just need to have the column, not pay it as cost. This makes a difference because you also need to draft a quest card, which changes the player order, dictates the money you’ll receive in the next phase and how many cards you can transfer to your Elysium. In the Writing the Legend phase, you pay a gold cost to transfer cards across into Elysium and assigning them into sets of either like families or like numbers. All this is to say, it’s a set collection game, but with a clever open hand and resource management thrown in. Chef’s kiss.

The Guild Of Merchant ExplorersTom Harrod

When is a roll-and-write game not a roll-and-write? Genres are expanding and merging. Exciting board game hybrids are emerging all the time. Matthew Dunstan (and co-designer Brett J. Gilbert) are in on the act too, with their recent smash hit from AEG. The Guild Of Merchant Explorers (or GoME, for short) is a flip-and-place network-building game.
GoME sees you venturing out into the four corners of the kingdom of Tigomé. The Queen demands you update the maps of old. Creating new villages, once you’ve ensured the land is safe. Building and reconnecting new trade routes. Discovering mysterious towers and investigating ancient ruins. The more you explore, the more money you’ll earn. The richest merchant wins at the end!

Over the course of four Eras, terrain cards get flipped. In a simultaneous fashion, players place their Explorers onto their maps in the corresponding terrains. You expand out from your capital city, aiming to fill in the map. Once you complete an entire region, you get to place a Village down in that region. At the end of the Era, all Explorers (ahem, the cubes) return to the capital. But the Villages remain. In the next Era, once the cards get flipped, you can explore adjacent to either your capital again… or from your Village(s). This reminds me a lot of Brass: Birmingham/Lancashire. As in, when Level 2 Buildings remain across the Canal/Rail Eras as a launch pad for the second half of the game. (And you all know how phenomenal Brass is, right?)

There’s plenty of ways to earn money in GoME, but which will prove the most profitable? Should you chase the public goals? Should you aim for the far-flung towers in the corners of the maps? Should you try to loot all the ruined wrecks? Or try to build as many Villages as possible? With four different maps, providing four different challenges, there’s exciting variety-galore. Plus the fact players get to pick and choose fancy exploration cards as their own private actions? You’re guaranteed awesome modular navigation with every play.

PyramidsPanto Pete

Pyramids is an excellent tile-placement game, nicely themed on building an appropriate and magnificent necropolis of pyramid, obelisk and tomb for your departed King. Players take it in turns to draw tiles and place them on their edifices to score points based on their colours and conjunctions. Once placed stones cannot be moved. Fair enough they weigh up to 200 tons!

The stones are depicted on construction cards each showing 2 or 3 stones laid out in pairs per player at the start of each round. You must use one to build on your pyramid and you may add to your obelisk, tomb or both. After 10 turns everyone will thus have completed their pyramid and the game ends.

The way you get your construction cards is the key mechanic of the game. Everyone gets 1 card at the start and takes 1 pair each round controlled by God cards. These ascend from 1-5. The higher the number the more you can build: Pyramid only, Pyramid and Obelisk or Tomb, or all 3 but the lowest God card will pick their Construction pair first. So, do you really want a particular card or do you want to build a lot? You chose and it’s a tight and difficult decision every round.

The final scoring gives you points for the longest conjoined groups in a colour in your pyramid. The obelisk and tombs have their own different scoring systems. You also get a glyph bonus if a card in your edifice has the appropriate picture on it. In my pictured example, I’d get a bonus for that long-pointed pic which is apparently a pyramid according to the manual! A rather obvious mistake that should have been caught before printing but doesn’t distract from an excellent game.

Next Station LondonFavouriteFoe

Matthew Dunstan is my golden boy right now. Every box his name graces seems to hit my sweet spot! And Next Station London is a prime example of what I love about Matthew’s designs.
It’s a light, fun, budget friendly and colourful flip and write from Coiledspring and Blue Orange Games. A sprinkling of crunch, portable, and playable in under 20 minutes – perfect!

In the game, you’re re-designing a 4-line underground system in London. You score points based on (a) how many stations you connect into in your busiest district, (b) how many colour based line interchanges you establish, (c) how many districts you reach, and (d) how many tourist sites you pass through. You also get bonus points every time you cross the River Thames. Plus, if you add in the two advanced variant expansions, there are two extra scoring objectives as well as line based, one-of bonus “pencil” powers during the game!

The rules are super simple. Every round you flip over cards from the stack of station (pink) and street (blue) cards. Everyone simultaneously extends their current-coloured line via symbols shown on the flipped cards. You can only connect to a new station from either end of your active line using the prescribed paths. Lines of different colour cannot cross although they can share stations if there is a spare connection. But you must not get into a knot! If you can't access that symbol (or you don't want to), you must pass. The current round ends when the last of the 5 pink station cards is revealed. You then score that line before picking up the next pencil and beginning a new line.

I fell for this portable multiplayer solitaire game from Matthew Dunstan after my first play. It has just enough crunch for when you need a gaming hit but not one that will hurt! It’s also super quick to the table and packs away in its delightfully satisfying magnetic box in seconds. With its bold simple styling, it is eye catching and engaging. The solo plays exactly the same on a beat your own score basis, and it has fast become one of my go-to games when I need an instant hit! Only problem is I now want Matthew to bring out expansion maps for every capital city!

Village RailsNeil Proctor

Village Rails, published by Osprey Games, is a collaboration between Matthew Dunstan & Brett J Gilbert. These two excellent designers have worked together on some of my favourite games and this one has been ‘green signalled’ right into that list.

During the twelve turns you are laying new tracks to build a tableau of train lines connecting villages with specific goals in the hopes of having the most points at the end of the game. After each line is completed you will be awarded points for signals, barns, farms, halt stops, and any trips planned for that line. You then have an opportunity to earn money by resolving a terminus card.

The main interaction between players is drafting and, just like village life, it can be quite cutthroat if a card which perfectly fits in more than one persons tableau appears in the market. Money is used as a way of drafting cards from higher up the market as well as purchasing trips. Money left on cards is then available to be taken when drafting that card.

At the end of the game all players would have completed their 3x4 grid and would have scored for all seven lines. Finally, points are awarded for lines with sidings (a very good way of scoring big and can be overlooked) as well as one point per £3 left in your reserve.

This Matthew Dunstan game sits perfectly in the small length but thinky category. It is definitely not a filler game that you can throw on the table and play on autopilot. You need to be engaged on every turns to maximise your tableau.

That concludes our list of Top Matthew Dunstan games. Is there any we missed? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames.