My main gaming partner is my wife so despite the UK still being in lockdown my gaming habits have not changed too much. I am very grateful and lucky in that respect.
I have got Viticulture back to the table after a long hiatus. I added in the Moor Visitors expansion and also swapped out the base game visitor cards with the Visits from the Rhine Valley. Two expansions that keep the core game of Viticulture fresh and interesting. I also had a few solo games against the very well implemented AI deck. Really good solo and multiplayer and one of those games that I always enjoy.
I have also been working through the solo scenarios of Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North using the new Roman Banners factions. The solo scenarios are great, quick and good fun to play. In addition the Roman Banners faction is a wonderful new faction to add to the game and probably my favourite one so far.
I managed to get an older (2009) Uwe Rosenberg game, At the Gates of Loyang, to the table. This is a brilliant card drafting, set collection, farming game. It hurts the brain but plays very well at two players with some interesting and tight choices to make. I really enjoy At the Gates of Loyang and glad I managed to get this to the table. One that will hopefully get more plays in the coming months.
Finally, another game that has been hitting my table a lot this month has been Aeon's End. This cooperative deck building game (that plays very well solo) has some interesting twists on the standard deck building mechanisms. No shuffling of the deck and variable turn order keep the game interesting and forces players to be dynamic. The amount of content in the core box with some of the expansions is immense offering a different game each time you play based on the breach mages, nemesis and market set up.
I finally landed myself a copy of Underwater Cities in April, so naturally I’ve been playing that. It’s a really clever worker placement game that doesn’t feel at all like a worker placement game! Your workers are cards in your hand, you use them to visit action spaces on the board. If the colour of the card matches the action spot you get to do both the board action and the action printed on the card. If not then you do the board action and discard the card unused. As you can imagine the combos are endless. It’s easy to learn but there’s so many brain burning decisions to make.
I’ve also dived into solo gaming through April as my gaming group becomes more and more a bearded geeky memory of better times. Nusfjord was my first foray into the world of Uwe Rosenberg. I love this game and I was mightily impressed by the solo mode. It takes less than 5 minutes to learn on top of the normal rules. It utilises 2 player colours for your workers and you use different colours on alternating rounds. At rounds end you’ll take back workers from the previous round leaving the actions you just took blocked. It’s a clever way of maintaining the action blocking mainstay interaction of Worker placement without giving you a clunky A.I to control.
I also enjoyed a one man expedition in Explorers of the North Sea. This game seemed to suffer in comparison to its innovative older brother Raiders of the North Sea. While Raiders is undoubtably a more popular game it would be a shame to write Explorers off completely. Benefiting from the same art and graphic design as Raiders, this is a solid tile laying pick up and deliver game with some of the cutest aniMeeples I’ve seen in a while! I am looking forward to playing this one multiplayer as solo does give you a lot of freedom to create the modular board any way you need. I think a little friendly competition will definitely enhance the experience.
In April I logged 32 plays – my highest of the year so far. Over the last year or so I have averaged somewhere in the late-20s to early-30s – roughly a game a day! I must say I thought that lockdown would result in my number of plays increasing, but it hasn’t seemed to have made a difference.
Azul topped the most-played chart, as it has in six of the last eight months – so that was no surprise! I played Noctiluca three times – this dice drafting game is a nice family-weight game that my wife seems to have worked-out, but I still can’t find a decent strategy. She kindly sat me down to let me know what I was doing wrong. I’m hoping I can improve with future plays after some sound advice!
I might also need to review my strategy for Barenpark, where my wife edged a win here too – when I first got this game we played without the objectives and I could “math-out” the whole thing to guarantee a win. But since adding the objectives (such as connecting rivers and collecting certain animal types) I haven’t been able to get the same grip I had before – that’s what I love about games – when you think you have something sorted, you can add a slight change and your previous strategy goes out of the window!
I started a Starcadia Quest campaign with my eldest daughter in April – we’re three scenarios in, with only the final scenario to play with things finely poised with my daughter slightly edging things so far with 6 “badges” to 5.
I also played another new-to-me game, in Sunset Over Water – this game, in which you play artists who try to wake up early to paint the prettiest landscapes is a beautifully illustrated grid movement and set collection affair, and went down well with my wife and eldest daughter. I expect to see more play of this one as lockdown continues…
A surprising amount of games given current conditions. With some friends and my usual game group we have played online versions of Secret Hitler – a great social deduction game which works pretty well with a Discord chat running – and Wavelength, which has to be the best party game of the last 12 months. Plenty of laughs both of triumph when you nail exactly right where ‘Boris Johnson’ fits on the Good/Evil spectrum and amused horror when ‘a necklace of your baby’s teeth’ turns out to be much less weird than you thought on the Normal/Weird spectrum. I miss the fabulous dial though, and it’s definitely going to join my collection when we get out.
On Tabletopia, Everdell has had a couple of plays. I love that such a cutesy theme is layered over simple turns and devilish economic management strategy. Worker placement seems a bit ‘solo puzzle’ for me sometimes, though this one won me over, and again is likely to join my collection. It will sit alongside Raiders of the North Sea – which has also had a couple of Tabletopia plays, and melds simple mechanics with more crunchy thinking, a great theme and design and an unusual dose of gotcha. Both of these have made for enjoyable evenings, but better in the flesh.
Face to face there have been games with the family aplenty. Magic Maze has arrived as a birthday present; I didn’t enjoy it the first time I played it with my regular group, but at home my opinion has changed and it has been an absolute scream as we bumble the heroes around the maze in near silence, punctuated only by the rapping of the ‘big red pawn of prompting’.
Quite the opposite of this collaborative fun has been family Unmatched Battles, Volume 1. Early days for this, but first impressions are hugely positive. Slick card play, elegant tactical choices based on interesting and balanced asymmetry, and a gorgeous design. It’s so lovely it’s one of the few games I have sleeved. More Star Realms with the a growing number of oh so tempting and inexpensive expansions. A bit of Lords of Vegas, which is still going to be first out when we get back to normal. All in all quite a busy games schedule and plenty of fun to be had in otherwise difficult circumstances.
With the weather being so good of late, most of the April games have been quite short, family games rather that heavy Euro-style epics. These smaller games are more likely to make it to the table and with plenty of replayability mean that they will keep coming back.
Hanamikoji is a small, compact game. This 2-player gem is no lightweight and takes about 20 minutes. Its theme is set in Japan where you are trying to catch the attention of the Geisha, beautiful women who would entertain with dance, music and poetry. The game involves hand management, some bluffing and trying to predict your opponents Geisha choices. Hanamikoji introduces seven Geisha, and play is like a “tug-of-war” where each Geisha might be drawn to one player or the other depending on the gifts (cards) they receive. For such a small game with relatively few cards, there is plenty to consider. The artwork quality is superb. There is little luck or chance and Hanamikoji has been a nice two-player contest after an evening working in the garden.
Tsuro has received a number of “outings” this month. It’s a quick game a tile-laying game played out in the confines of a 6x6 grid. Each tile has a series of curved and straight paths. Players lay tiles and move their tokens along the path and stopping at empty squares. The object is to avoid bumping into others and to stay in play for as long as possible. With small player counts (two or three) there is little player interaction but with six or more, soon space becomes a premium. Every action can influence other’s pieces. Tsuro is a quick, simple strategy game. There is some luck but the final board has a wonderful aesthetic quality about it.
Ruthless, is a deck-builder and hand-management game for two to four players. You are aiming to put together the meanest, group of pirates. Your deck starts with a few useless, powder monkeys and some coins. Over five or six rounds you buy new crew and find treasure. As with other deck-buildering games, there are factions and crew members have numerical values too. Here is where Ruthless parallels a poker game. You build your deck, hoping to lay down valuable groups of cards. (A full house beats a pair of twos). The player with the strongest hand wins that round and gains more victory points. Most games take about 50 minutes to complete. There are plenty of chances to scupper your opponent’s deck, steal their crew and make mischief. All good fun.