As we're all stuck at home, we're really starting to miss our gaming buddies. With shelves of games we currently can't play, we're discussing which one we're rushing to first when lockdown is over. In the meantime, stay safe everyone and stay home!
I’ve pre-organised a game of Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar for when it’s safe to mingle again, post-coronavirus. Weight-wise, it’s a superb, head-crunch of a game! Tzolk’in is a worker placement design by Italian duo Daniele Tascini and Simone Luciani. It’s based on the actual 260-day Mesoamerican Tzolk’in calendar.
Tzolk’in – the game – features a series of gears, with interlocking teeth. The main gear rotates one notch at the end of each turn. This moves each outer gear one notch, too. It looks gimmicky, but everything falls into place.
The thing I love about Tzolk’in is the way it uses time itself, as a resource. On your turn, you either place or remove workers on the outer gears. The longer you leave workers on these gears, the stronger the action they’ll take when you remove them. But leave them on there too long, and you’re playing an inefficient waiting game…
The Palenque gear earns you corn. Corn ‘pays’ your workers to erm, work, as well as feeding them at regular intervals. Remove your worker from the Palenque gear early, and you might earn, say, four corn. Wait for three more turns though, and you could net nine corn. Yaxchilan, meanwhile, gains you wood, stone, gold or crystal skulls. Visit the Tikal gear to spend resources on beneficial buildings and point-scoring monuments. Or, spend them to progress up three point-scoring temples of worship. Or, you can spend resources to improve your tech tree – the Mayans were smart cookies, after all. Chichen Itza’s gear lures you in for a crystal skull collection-and-placement strategy, rewarding the patient player. It’s a tremendous balancing act.
It’s worth noting that I’ve never won a game of Tzolk’in. Yet I’m still desperate to play it! For me, that’s the sign of a fantastic game. I’m not eager to play Tzolk’in because I excel at it. I’m eager because it’s a marvellous challenge.
Isolation is hard, but staying safe is so, so important. I'm looking forward to a time when I can easily whoop someone at a tabletop game or two, but what me and my partner need more than anything is a solid cooperative game session. Our group thrives on them usually, and they quite often quell the tensions of betrayals and mishaps of competitive play. With that in mind, we don't mind being on the receiving end of a group whooping, so the first game we'll be playing when this is all over is Cthulhu Death May Die. It's a rock solid cooperative game with character options, nasties to fight, and episodic set ups. As with most our picks, it's Lovecraftian themed and is centred around saving the world without going mad. An age old favourite!
The game is set around the back end of an investigation: you know who-dunnit and what they're up to. Now you take action. During the course of the game, you'll have objectives to complete and nasties to fight. It's not easy, and inevitably a Lovecraftian elder god is going to rock up and give you a slap or two! You have to work together to manage the bad guys and beasts, all whilst completing the objectives. Nothing about any episode is easy, and managing the game can be an uphill struggle.
But you've got to be focused and discuss everything. Only as a team will you be able to punch the god so hard he goes back to the Nth dimension he crawled out of. Like most Lovecraftian themed games, its centre focus is sanity and how far people can be pushed. You'll constantly be trying to balance out the enemies, your health and energy, and your sanity. Sanity is what's going to make you stronger, but it also acts as a ticking clock, slowly counting down to your death. Get pushed too far and you'll snap, or worse, die.
The reason Cthulhu Death May Die is our game choice for first play is for two reasons. First, because it represents what a great gaming session is for us. Discussion, a goal, and a means to complete it. Even when your backs up against the wall and you've got monsters with 13 limbs attacking you, the game is always manageable with coordination. And it's the human element that makes it tricky... You'll manage your stats and issues your way. How others choose to do it is down to them. And with their own stats to manage, it may lead to your group's demise.
The second reason is the theme. Lovecraftian horror is not everyone's cup of tea - shocking I know! Who doesn't love the thought of an impossible task against unfathomable horrors!? It's maddening, but it's our choice. Luckily, Cthulhu Death May Die is lighter of the Lovecraftian theme. You don't have an investigation to solve, it's already done. There's more action than mystery, and more kicking than clue finding.
That said, the theme throughout is solid and lends itself beautifully to the objectives and setting. Cultists do naughty things, your ragtag bunch of investigators sort them out. A god turns up, and you punch him. All whilst holding its own in mystery and events. We'll definitely be having a big session of many games when this all blows over, but this will be our first choice.
I’m lucky enough to have a house full of people, so I am still playing plenty of games. My eldest son (12) is perfectly capable of a heavier game, so I have even got a battle of X-Wing in. Firm family favourites have been played like King of Tokyo, Takenoko and Azul. As well as some staple quick-playing games like Bandido. Once my youngest son is in bed we have been enjoying Quacks of Quedlinburg, Wingspan and more.
I’m not trying to brag or rub it in however, I know how fortunate I am!
Like everyone, I am still missing socialising. Just before lockdown I was lucky enough to receive Scrawl in the post. Scrawl is an adult party game from Big Potato Games. I think it will be amusing after a couple of drinks with friends. Having looked at the things you are meant to draw I can testify that this is not a game to play with children. So it sits unplayed on the side taunting me. I am itching to play it not just because it looks like a hilarious game to play, but because it will also mean we will have friends round, drinking and having fun again. Just like the good ol’ days!
So, I’m sure I’m not alone in turning to my shelf of colourful cardboard, wood and plastic in these troubled times of isolation. The thing is, although I am lucky enough to have a fair selection of solo and two player games to choose from to play with my long suffering other half, I can’t help but look at all the games that I can’t play or that don’t work as well with two and want to play them. The one game I keep looking at is Xia: Legends of a Drift System. I find this game fascinating and I also hold this game responsible for my obsession with metal coins.
For those not in the know. Xia is a sandbox space game where each player will start off with a small, pre-painted ship, it’s floorplan, some cash to buy some upgrades and a dream to be space famous. You can go about being a trader, you can go complete missions, you can become a feared pirate or a law enforcement hero. With the two expansions bolted on you also get relics and a proper economy board which works surprisingly well.
Xia is all about spotting opportunity and then exploiting that opportunity. If a bunch of planets rich in relics happen to be discovered very close to another planet that wants to buy them, you need to get in quick to make sure you get a piece of the astronomical pie. But all resources are finite you need to spot when a resource shortage might give you a chance to make a less profitable trading route worthwhile.
Or maybe you’ll tool up your ship with guns and try and destroy the traders and take the goods for yourself. Of course this will net you a bounty on your head which means eventually you’ll be worth more dead than alive and the crosshairs may shift to your ship instead.
It’s a captivating game to play as each player can really make their ship their own. The map is different every time meaning the game evolves differently in every playthrough. And although this game can be played with two, or even solo it truly shines when you have more players are not only competing for opportunities but also creating them for each other. This is going to be the first game off of the shelf as soon as I can get my friends together.
It’s a great game that is not only easy to enjoy but also allows you to enjoy your friends, which is something I think we would all appreciate right now.
I had to be quite reserved with my game collection, since I moved to my partner’s place before the lockdown and could only take a limited selection of games with me. One I regretfully had to leave behind was Lifeform but I am eager to crack it open as soon as I get back to my collection!
Lifeform is a beautiful tribute to the original film, Alien. The game is designed and created by Mark Chaplin and has references and Easter eggs from the film woven within its core. The game is one vs all, with one player taking on the role of an alien while the other players become the crew of the doomed space mining vessel, the Valley Forge. Unfortunately for the crew, their tracker is not as accurate as they would like, meaning as well as the alien ping, there is also a sensor ghost. It is up to them to try and work out which blip is the real alien. There is no hiding from the oncoming threat, with the alien stalking and hunting its prey with little remorse, with various vicious abilities making it the ultimate killing machine.
The crew must make their way through the ship, collecting objectives and weapons to defend themselves on their race to the escape shuttle. Don’t think that you’re safe though once you reach the shuttle, because you may just find you have a hitchhiker with you, one that certainly won’t want you leaving!
This game is epic and one that I thoroughly enjoyed playing before the lockdown. I have really missed it and want to try out the solo mode as well. Fingers crossed the lockdown is lifted soon because I cannot wait to diver straight back in and fight my way through the Valley Forge!