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What We’ve Been Playing – August 2018


Our writers play a variety of board games each month, ranging from brand-new releases and Kickstarters, to older games that they haven't used in a while. Here's what we've been playing through the month of August.

Ben G - 7 Wonders: Duel, Magic Maze and Mysterium

7 Wonders Duel is one of the games my wife and I most love to play, with and without the Pantheon expansion. It is a slick, competitive experience that captures the essence of 7 Wonders and transforms it into a head to head game that I think is even better than the original.

For those that aren’t familiar with it, 7 Wonders Duel involves drafting cards from a communal pool that you add to your city. These cards can be used and combined in different ways to score points at the end of the third round (there are also a couple of other win conditions that add a little more variety). Mechanically it’s simple, though there’s a fair bit of symbolism for first-time players to get their heads round. If you’re looking for a two-player game and haven’t tried 7 Wonders: Duel I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It’s excellent.

Unfortunately, I was less enamoured with my first experience of Magic Maze. I’d heard a lot about this light co-op game before playing. Perhaps the most notable feature is that players cannot speak to one another. They have to work together silently to move a group of pawns around a mall. To make things harder, the game is in real-time and players can only move the pawns in one direction each.

The premise is great. Magic Maze is certainly a unique game. To some extent, I don’t really know why I didn’t enjoy it. At the same time, I know that I didn’t love it. It wasn’t that it’s a light, casual game - there are plenty of those that I enjoy. I wonder if the combination of real time pressure and minimal strategy meant that there wasn’t time for me to settle in and learn to enjoy it fully. Plenty of people will love this game, but it’s not for me.

I’ll end with another co-operative game that I do like. Mysterium is a fun murder mystery game where one silent player - the ghost - gives the others clues to who murdered them, where they were murdered and what they were murdered with. The catch is that the ghost can only give clues in the form of abstract ‘vision’ cards.

The flavour of this game is fantastic and, having been both the ghost and a detective, I can say that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience all round. For players who like games like Dixit or for those who enjoy a good old murder mystery, Mysterium is a must-try. It’s a classic and deserves that status

Matt T - An Influx of New Games

The end of July consisted of an influx of new games for me. Some of which have hit the table over the past month more than others.

First Class is a fantastic card game with a vast amount of replay-ability. Players are attempting to score as many victory points as possible by building up a network of train cars, serving the passengers in these cars and building and moving your train along a rail network. The game consists of five different "modules" with only two being selected for each game. The modules are mixed with the base set to create the tableau of cards that can be selected through out the game. The game is pretty quick, around 20 mins per player, with multiple ways to score victory points and lots of variety with the different modules. First Class is a fun, fast playing game with lots of replay-ability and takes a lot of boxes for me.

Valley of the Kings is a deck builder set in Ancient Egypt with multi-use cards. Players take on the role of an Egyptian noble preparing their tomb. The cards can be used for their specific actions, used to purchase more cards from the pyramid of cards (which crumbles when cards are purchased) or score victory points in a set collection manner. However, what I like about Valley of the Kings is the slight twist on the traditional deck builder. Players will purchase canopic jars, statues, amulets and other treasures but none of the cards will score points until they are entombed. To entomb a card, players will remove it from their deck and place it in their tomb. It is only these cards that score points at the end of the game.

Victory points are awarded based on the number of unique cards in each category. There is a point in the game that players will have to decide that they have no longer have use for the action on the card and decide to entomb it. The problem is that only one card can be entombed per turn (other cards offer bonuses to increase this) and the actions on the cards are really good. It is quick, comes in a small box, doesn't take up a lot of table space and is perfect for travelling. Another game that hits the mark for me. Plus, there are two other expansions that add even more replay-ability.

Nick W - Kickstarters and Family Time

Kickstarter fulfilment season has begun with a number of backed projects arriving and plenty more to come. August saw plays of Brass, Mint Works and Bridges to Nowhere. Brass was fantastic and not as hard to learn as I had feared, but as deep and thinky as I hoped. Mint Works is admittedly light but it has gone down a storm with all the casual gamers I know. Bridges to Nowhere is an exquisite drafting game with a myriad of ways to score. It scales super well and despite the scoring seeming overwhelming at first it’s worth persevering with.

Continuing the Kickstarter theme I got a few games in of Weta Workshop’s GKR Heavy Hitters. I’m glad to say there is a game behind the great components. It’s certainly a luxury purchase but at least you’ll have a lot of fun with it. A few prototypes came through my letterbox too, Heroes of Tenefyr is a promising co-op deck building game with a great design. Lockup is a worker placement game set in a prison in the Roll Player Universe. There are some really interesting twists on the genre.

Family games also played a part with Ticket to Ride: New York and My Little Scythe being well received on every play. TTR: New York is basically the same game in a lot less time, but the quickness of play makes your ticket strategy more of a pressing need. My Little Scythe has to be one of the best family version board games I’ve played. In streamlining Scythe, it keeps just the right elements to create a quick and engaging game that challenges younger children just enough while remaining interesting for adults. In fact I reckon in an adult group this would be a vicious knife fight!

The Game Shelf - Travelling with Games

Let me preface this list of games from our travels during August, with the fact that we travelled by car, and are not afraid to fill it up with board games. For the long bank holiday weekend we went on a road trip, first to Manchester to visit my parents, then across to York, then to Scarborough to visit our fellow Zatu reviewer, Nick Welford. We started with about 10 games in the car and came home with about 20, including exciting purchases from game stores in Manchester and York, like Terraforming Mars: Prelude and a new game in the EXIT series. Here’s a few of the highlights from our trip;

  • Calimala – We’ve been waiting for a three-player opportunity to try Calimala for some time – Nick was our victim but with a Stronghold Games reprint coming up, we were confident this would be a strong euro game. Calimala revolves around a really interesting worker placement mechanism that allows you to take actions on your player board, or to ship goods by boat or wagon to the different locations on the board. The worker placement zone is a grid where each space allows you to take two actions. You can place a worker on top of someone else's, but you'll get the two actions and so will all the tokens underneath you. In addition, this worker stacking triggers the scoring for each location on the board, which is by an area control mechanism. Calimala is a really unique euro game and one we really enjoyed discovering and figuring out. It's really simple and innovative at the same time and we can't wait to play again!
  • Orleans Invasion – We played Orleans over the weekend to remind ourselves of the rules and had another great two player game, however the co-operative expansion blew the base game out of the water when we tried it later that week! We are big fans of co-operative games so were really hoping that this wasn’t a ‘tacked-on’ expansion, and we were pleased to find that it was a really close game and actually made Orleans flow faster and feel even more of a joy to play. We're excited to explore the Duel scenario that is also included in the box and will be trying to cram all of the new content into the base game box very soon!
  • Azul – It wouldn’t be a trip to my parents without playing a game of Azul. It’s definitely my Mum’s favourite game and probably one of Amy’s favourites too. Amy wins every time, but everyone enjoys trying to beat her in this beautiful tile laying game. If you haven’t played it yet then now’s the time to get a copy whilst it is in stock! For me, Azul is definitely a modern classic and will always be a staple of our collection.

John A - Busy Summer Holiday

What with it being school holidays, I’ve had quite a good month for getting games to the table, on my own, with my kids and with my regular gaming group. It’s given me the chance to dig out some games I haven’t played for a while too.

The Mint Delivery Kickstarter came this month and having been a fan of the simplicity and portability of Mint Works, I have been looking forward to it. It is a straightforward pick up and deliver game and we have enjoyed playing as a family. It plays reasonably quickly with four and can be learnt in minutes. I have yet to play the solo variant which changes things. With two players, however, the game went on longer than I would expect from a simple filler.

With my group, we dug out Legendary Alien after not playing it for a couple of years. I had mainly played it solo, but we had all forgotten what an excellent co-op game it was. For me it is still my favourite deck builder and the theme is so strong. Having played through all the films in one night. The next time we met, we played with the expansion. I played as the Alien Queen against the others and it was a fantastic experience- it had the feel of Fury of Dracula and Battlestar Galactica with the one versus many gameplay. I had my own mat and deck of cards and it really added to the experience. It is an amazingly generous expansion with an extra 400 cards and comes highly recommended.

I played some other smaller games too! Dungeon Busters was a Kickstarter that I had forgotten about and plays in about 10 minutes. It is a semi co-op and card-based. It is simple, fast and the kids enjoyed it!

Hit Z Road is a Martin Wallace zombie game and is a nice little dice-chucker. It plays reasonably well as a solo experience but it comes alive as a multiplayer experience. The best thing about it for me is the art and packaging, as it is themed as a homemade post-apocalyptic board game.

Teen Titans Go Deckbuilder is part of the Cryptozoic system and a two-player game, but can be combined with others from the series. My 10-year-old son absolutely loves it and fans of the series will love it. We will be attempting a crossover with Streetfighter at some stage.

The last game of the month was Big Trouble in Little China, which we played with a group of us. It is a beautiful co-op experience and we had a great time. It involves moving, fighting, resolving quests and lots of dice rolling. The artwork is very thematic and the minis are nice and it is a lavish package. We made a few mistakes when we started and should have gone straight for the main quests, which left us in a tricky position during the last phase. It made all of us go back to the film and we decided that it was a keeper.

Tom G - The Game, Mysterium and Love Letter

Moving house is a big task and unfortunately, much to my disappointment, does not leave much time to play any sizeable board games. That aside, it definitely hasn’t stopped me playing and here are a few games I managed to fit in around our move!

Love Letter has probably been my most played game this month. Also my game of the month, this fantastic little card game is dead simple to play, but has so much replay value and will keep you entertained for hours, especially with the elegant artwork on each of the cards. A must have for those who don’t already own this game.

Another game that I have been playing a fair amount is “The Game”. If you read my review, you will know this game has caused me great anguish as it seems almost impossible to complete. All you have to do is play cards down on four different piles, two in ascending order, two descending, and you have to try an clear all the cards numbered two to 99. Sounds simple!? Think again. This game will have you playing again and again and we have yet to complete it!

Mysterium is a game that I have wanted to get my hands on for a while. I finally managed to play this at the end of August and it’s a really interesting concept that makes for a great game. One player plays as the ghost, while all the other players are psychics, taking part in a séance, trying to investigate who was responsible for the murder of said ghost. The ghost must pass “dreams” to the psychics, these being incredibly obscure images. With this information in hand, take turns selecting the elements (person, location and weapon; something very Cluedo-esque) to try and piece together suspects. Then the group must decide on which of the suspects is the true killer and allow the ghost to finally have its justice. A brilliantly themed game with good gameplay and beautiful artwork!

Finally, Formula D has been a popular go to this month. Having recently acquired it after many recommendations from friends and fellow board gamers, I can see what the hype is all about. The game is very simple to understand and uses some really nice mechanics to produce a really enjoyable game. Being able to switch gears, avoid wearing down your car and ensuring you don’t collide with the other drivers all adds to the enjoyment of the game! I will be producing a How to Play article for Formula D soon, so look out for that!

Simon L - 61 Games!!

I played 61 different games in August. I tried out Magic: The Gathering - After all the hype and the millions “addicted” to it, I wasn’t dragged into it. It felt a little repetitive.

I finally got to play Carson City, a tile placement game, which I felt wasn’t easy to get into, it’s rather like Caylus, which is more linear (even if you do this in reverse order!). I also managed to find time for Meeple Circus, and as others have experienced, the app does drain more than two-thirds of the battery! Another app-driven game I played was XCOM, where we would lose on the intro game! It’s true what I heard, it comes down to the luck of the dice, but it’s well scripted.

Joining a new gaming group, I tried out a Kickstarter, only available in the States, OrganATTACK, where you have spleens, kidneys and other organs which you infect/disease rivals organs to try and be the last body remaining, quite fun.

I tried out Scythe: The Wind Gambit, having tried other expansions, we didn’t take to this one.  The airships, as impressive as they look, we didn’t use once. The extra win condition, didn’t change much, we all went for the extra star the Wind Gambit option gave us.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium, with Venus Next and four promos was also played. A great expansion (not much love at all for Prelude), game felt faster, although took four plus hours with five  experienced players.  Terraforming Venus was carried out (in part) but only when people had cards to use rather than deliberately play).