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What We’ve Been Playing – April

What We've Been Playing - Nusfjord

Each month members of the Zatu Games writing team share details on the board games they have been playing, sharing both positive and negative thoughts on those games. Here are the games that our team have been playing during the month of April.

The Game Shelf - New Favourites

When you play as many games as we do and have a game collection which is slightly out of control in terms of its size relative to your shelf space, it can often become difficult to find new favourite games. Don’t get me wrong, we play a lot of good games, but a game has to be really special to break into the ‘favourites’ category. It has to show me something I haven’t seen before, or really be the perfect combination of mechanisms designed for me. This month, I’ve been super fortunate to ‘find a new favourite’ on more than one occasion and I can’t wait to play more of these games!

First, there was Bruges, an older Stefan Feld title that is out of print and very hard to find (a typical situation for a game I fall in love with). The way I approached Bruges was to build an engine that really worked. It’s probably not categorised as an engine building game, but I managed to use one of my favourite mechanisms, combined with the very interesting use of multi-use cards and their corresponding coloured actions, to succeed in the game. It’s not quite as jam-packed with ideas as many Stefan Feld games and I enjoyed that it felt a little more streamlined and played in 45-60 minutes. Now I just need to find myself a copy!

The next game in the engine building theme is Alien Artifacts. Alien Artifacts calls itself a 4X card game, with the 4 Xs being Expand, Explore, Exterminate and Exploit. It’s a term more often associated with big, long, epic games and I’d really say that Alien Artifacts is only 4X in theme. Fortunately, I wasn’t really looking for a 4X game and I’m really glad that I found this awesome engine building card game. So far we’ve explored lots of interesting paths to victory and found lots of really satisfying card combos and I want to dig into it some more.

Finally, I’d like to mention Sentient from Renegade Game Studios, which really hits on the type of puzzle games we enjoy. In Sentient you are drafting cards in order to best suit the dice you roll into your tableau. Cards both manipulate the dice values and score points based on the relationship of the two dice either side of the card, e.g the card might need both dice to be equal. There is some maths and some logic puzzle, as well as set collection for the end of the game, which can’t be forgotten. It’s a very simple game, but one that gives us a lot of satisfaction when we play.

Ashley - Nusfjord

I picked up Nusfjord on the off chance, it’s a worker placement game by Uwe Rosenberg so I was pretty confident it would be well designed, contain some tough decisions, and be fun. So, what did I find? Nusfjord has none of the pressure of Agricola and the need to feed a family or take a massive negative hit, and equally none of the pressure to fill the board or collect all the things, so it is a lot more relaxed and easy going.

Nusfjord is about running a fishing company in a small village in Norway. It is a victory point game, to win players need to build fishing ships and various buildings in the village because these are where the victory points come from. Needless to say it is not quite this simple, as I said, it’s about managing a fishing company so it’s important to be profitable, the economy of the company needs to be established and resources need to be move to the right places.

There are three core resources:

  • Fish – Obtained by fishing and the larger the fleet owned by the company the more fish are caught.
  • Wood – Harvested from the land, used to build ships and buildings and importantly the forests need to be managed, cut and planted.
  • Money – Used to help finance the company.

Of course, it is not this simple. The buildings convey benefits, each building giving different ones and to make the game more varied there are three entirely separate decks of buildings which can be used. There are also village elders who need to be fed and in return give added benefits.

Each player has three worker tokens which can be placed on the board to do certain things such as manage the forest, build ships, enlist elders, and so on - all of which are geared towards managing the economy of the fishing company and hopefully collecting victory points.  Where to place the workers in important, especially since in most instances once a place is taken it cannot be used again until the next turn, ultimately this is where the big decisions need to be made, and of course there are competing priorities both within the company and between companies.

The game ends after seven rounds so it’s fairly short in duration and it appears to play well with any number of players from two to five and there is a solo option. It’s thematic, well designed, thought provoking and on the whole the components (money aside) are of good quality.  It is a solid economic engine worker placement game by a designer who really knows his craft, one well worth giving consideration to adding to any collection.

Simon - Maximum Apocalypse, Oh My Goods! & Star Realms

Wow do I love Maximum Apocalypse! I really enjoy thematic games that tell a story but find that most have such a large footprint and long play time that they are impractical to play more regularly (think Eldritch Horror), so this was a great buy!.

It has a modular map that you are encouraged to set-up however you want, which is great to adapt to whatever table space you have, and playtime is reasonable, not taking up a whole evening’s play, and it plays multi-player and solo just as well.

The concept is that you are a band of apocalypse survivors, scavenging to survive and complete scenarios in one of four potential end-of-the-world scenarios - zombies, robots, aliens and mutants, which are all depicted in a comic book art style which really sets the tone.

There’s even a Cthulhu apocalypse expansion on Kickstarter at the moment, so count me in!

  • Oh My Goods - I really like Alexander Pfister’s game design, especially his use of multi-function cards, done in a way that is very easy to get to grips with. This a is great multiplayer game, but I have recently added in the Longsdale in Revolt expansion (that supports solo play) and it makes a great game even better. This game is hard! But it’s one of those games with ‘aha!’ moments, when you suddenly realise how to make your engine even more efficient - highly recommended!
  • Star Realms - This space combat deck builder has always been a favourite as a filler game because it plays quickly and is so simple to play.

Matthew T - A Mixture of New and Old

April has seen me play a lot of new games as well as existing games that were already in my collection. Some of these have been quick easy filler games and some more meaty games.

I had my first ever play of Clank! A game that I have been wanting to play for a long time. The group loved it so much that we immediately played a second game with the more complex board. A great deck-building game with the added suspense of delving in to a dungeon to grab an artefact and get out before being attacked by the dragon. In my first game I grabbed an artefact quick and made a mad dash to the surface. The tactic did not pay off and I had a pretty low score. I really enjoyed this game and I can’t wait to play this again, or its space variant, Clank! In Space.

I taught a four-player game of Bunny Kingdom at my local gaming group which went down well. I purchased this on a bit of a whim when it was in an Easter Sale and I was not disappointed. The two-player card drafting variant is nice and the standard four-player mechanic also works well. The board did look a little crowded at the higher player count but this just made the game more interesting. This game works well at two-player and four-player, and has made a permanent home in my collection.

I recently acquired a copy of the highly sought after and hyped Azul. I was not disappointed. After our first play my wife immediately wanted to play again, something that does not happen often.  This is an abstract tile placement game which looks lovely on the table. I have notched up over 10 plays of this game in just over three weeks with two-players and four-players. It is a very simple game to teach and play and has been enjoyed by everyone that has played it. I played this with my parents who immediately asked where they could purchase a copy from. A brilliant addition to my collection that I can see hitting the table often with gamers and non-gamers.

Other noteworthy games that I have enjoyed playing were Grand Austria Hotel (my game of the month for April), Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, La Granja, La Granja: No Siesta, Clans of Caledonia and Roll Through the Ages.

Ben G - 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon and Great Group Games

Though not strictly a game in its own right, the Pantheon Expansion for 7 Wonders Duel deserves a mention because, in my opinion, it does everything that a small expansion should. I bought the expansion after months of playing Duel head to head with my wife, thinking that it would be a nice way to freshen up one of our favourite two-player games for a relatively low price.

Not only did Pantheon freshen up the game, it improved it to the extent that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to playing with just the base game. Pantheon is perfect in that it adds new content and new mechanics in such a way that the essence of the game feels fundamentally unchanged. My wife and I enjoyed it immensely, and would recommend it to any fan of 7 Wonders: Duel.

On the other end of the player-count spectrum, I found myself in a board game cafe with six other people, many of whom weren’t gamers, on two separate occasions in April. Seven is a tricky number for board games, but three games came to the fore: Mysterium, Codenames and Robo Rally. All three are completely different, but all of them proved to be incredibly engaging for these mixed-experience groups.

I’ve since bought Codenames for myself as a great party game, but I would also recommend both Mysterium and Robo Rally. The former is a co-operative mystery game which is very accessible, though ideally you need one player - the one in the role of the murdered ghost - to be fairly capable, as ours was.

The latter is a hilarious robot racing/derby game from the legendary Richard Garfield. While this one was a little harder for everyone to pick up, when we got going it turned into over an hour of chaotic fun, with very little down time for everyone involved and a close, exciting finish. While you might not think of it as a party game, I would certainly recommend it for these situations.

Nick - Pandemic, Grimm Forest & Grand Austria Hotel

The life of a board game YouTuber is never dull, in the month of April I got to finally finish Pandemic Legacy Season 1! But I don’t want to talk about that! The first game I want to talk about is The Grimm Forest, a game I am highly conflicted about.

On the one level it is a gorgeous game with tremendous production quality, on the other I’m not sure the gameplay deserves the level of components and the price increase this inevitably brings. The game is a simple affair of choosing a location which has resources on it. If you go there on your own you get all the resources, if others go there too you must share. You use these resources to build houses and the first to three wins. Add to this some power cards and cards that mess with other people and that’s about the sum of it. So a simple enough game, but not one I’m in a hurry to play again.

Grand Austria Hotel has been on my wishlist for a while and I’m so glad I picked it up. This game sets you up in your own little hotel. You must attract potential customers to your cafe, feed them and then get them a room. The dice drafting is clever and it works great as a two-player game.

I also got to play the beast that is Lisboa, which almost made my game of the month. It’s a brilliant game, that is on one level quite simple - your go consists of placing a card and taking actions, but those actions are both awesome and terrifying! I love it, but I won’t own it until I have people who will regularly put the time into it with me!

Luke - Minutes to Midnight & Altiplano

Minutes to Midnight is the sequel to the popular Manhattan Project from Minion Games. Set some years after, the world is on the brink of going nuts with nukes in that classic Doomsday Clock setting from the old days. You're constructing buildings, bombers, subs and manufacturing nukes for world control or testing purposes (don't worry you don't actually nuke anybody in this game!)

On top of the great art and solid production quality, what sets this line of games from others (don't forget Energy Empire as well) is the fluid worker placement system it uses. There are no rounds. Players will place workers and then at their own discretion, retrieve them from the field. In this game you don't activate any places on the boards until you take them back and so there's a great timing aspect to how you plan your turns. You want that important spot, well you either wait for the other player to shift his workers or find an alternative and bide your time. It can lead to some "stop-start" downtime issues sometimes, so again, avoid the dreaded five-player count (seriously publishers stop putting five-player options in games, they generally suck!).

But like the rest of this series, this is a solid hit. It's refreshing to have a worker placement game that feels different in gameplay style then the rest of the bloated genre. If that's not enough, have some variable scoring, player powers and special workers as well.

Orleans was not a massive hit with me. I don't dislike it, but I don't find it that interesting either and so called it overrated. Medieval generic theme with a "join the dots" map mechanic? Meh.

Altiplano, from the same designer, is essentially the same style of game but with some tweaks here and there on theme and movement mechanics. However it's also better as a result then its predecessor. 

You're still bag building with a selection of tokens and trying to develop an efficient engine to gain resources, buy cards, score points, typical Euro fare, but I felt I had more options on each turn with just a little bit of forward planning required. You can "park" tokens for future use and there are multiple routes to pursue.

All in all, I found Altiplano to be the preferred game of the two. It's multiplayer solitaire central and therefore is best kept at a low player count, but overall I found it fun and engaging at three players without getting bored. Worth a look in if bag building is your thing.