What We’ve Been Playing – December 2018

What We've Been Playing - Photosynthesis

Christmas is a time for family, food, drink and playing many, many board games! Our writers had a busy festive period, and here's what we've been playing during the month of December.

Luke P - Kingdomino: Age of Giants

I was already a fan of the fun and simple game that is Kingdomino, it clearly won Spiel des Jahres for a reason. It’s very accessible to many ages and a perfect family weight game. Each turn the players are choosing from a revealed set of tiles of which to add to their kingdom next. The tiles are made up of different land types or water. Some tiles have a crown or two on them. At the end of a game you will multiply a joining section by the amount of crowns contained within adjoining squares of the same type.

Kingdomino: Age of Giants adds a couple of really nice features. The giants have come to your lands. When you choose a tile that contains a giant then you will have to place a giant figure over one of your crowns, reducing your overall score. Don’t worry though, later on if you manage to grab a tile with the giants footprints on it then you can pass one of your Giants over to another player who will have to cover up one of their crowns and will have to pass it on if they can later.

The other addition is the quests. At the start of a game there will be two random quests drawn as another route to victory points, these are open for everyone. They can be things like five points for all water tiles surrounding your home space, or five points for each water tile in the corner of your kingdom. These quests are really good at giving you an additional focus and also further chance for combinations. I think they turn a fun simple game into a fantastic (still light) game with a really nice level of choice.

Also, the expansion adds a very nicely designed tile dispenser to the game which makes selecting new tiles each turn a much nicer experience and just caps off an already stellar production. I think Age of Giants is a must add to Kingdomino. I need to get Queendomino and see if that’s the case too.

The Game Shelf - Christmas Gaming

Christmas is traditionally a time for get-togethers with families and friends and also the one time each year when most people game together. When we get invited over at Christmas time, you can be sure we’ll be bringing a sack full of games and these are the ones we played the most this Christmas season!

  • ICE COOL 2 has been a big hit for us at two players, but also made an outing at my office Christmas party. It extends the original ICE COOL to an eight-player game, making it a super fun dexterity game for larger groups. With a smaller group you can also have fun trying to perform tricks with the penguins – something that adults and kids can really appreciate!
  • Illusion was a favourite with both mine and Amy’s parents. It’s a game that’s super easy to teach and one where everyone is on the same playing field. The game uses cards with artwork in four colours; red, yellow, blue and green. Each round, you have to place the cards in order of their amount of a single colour. On your turn you can either add a card or accuse the line-up of having a mistake and based on whether you’re right, there will be a scoring. It’s also really portable and will definitely be a family favourite for years to come.
  • Ticket to Ride: New York is the first board game gift that I’ve ever given to my parents. They both seem to enjoy Ticket to Ride, but I could never imagine them playing it without us present. Ticket to Ride: New York is much shorter, and it's easier to learn and to remember the rules. I’m still not sure if they’ll play without us, but we had a great time playing it over Christmas!

Matt T - Steam Time and Age of Sail

December was a manic month, the run up to Christmas is always a busy one. But then comes the holidays, a time to spend with family and friends and, of course, some new board games.

Steam Time is a worker placement game set in a steam punk universe where players are gathering crystals to power their steam driven airships to fly through time and space, visiting long lost civilisations, discovering technologies and meeting famous inventors. This is a fantastic game with high component quality and great gameplay. But it is a game that I do not see talked about or played often. It is very much an underrated game in my opinion, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and looking forward to it hitting the table in the future. I have added this to my 10x10 challenge for the year.

From an underrated game to a game that is getting a lot of hype and buzz. Endeavor: Age of sail is the Second Edition of the 2009 game Endeavor. It's a game about earning glory for your empire set in Europe and the Mediterranean. Players will establish shipping routes, occupy cities, construct buildings, expand their industry, culture, finance and influence all in an effort to score the most points.

This game is gorgeous; the board, the components, and the game trays all look beautiful. If I were to do a top 10 list of 2018 games this would be very high up there. The gameplay is smooth and elegant,whilst  the decisions are tough and interesting. The double-sided boards for different player counts means the game scales well. The bot player used in a two-player game is easy and simple. The addition of the exploits, variable starting buildings and upgraded components all make for a fantastic package. This is another game that I have added to my 10x10 challenge. I am keen to get this to the table again and try it with more players.

Other honoury mentions include Clank! In Space, Altiplano, Crisis and Santa Maria - all of which are fantastic games and will hopefully be hitting the table a lot in the coming year.

Simon L - 10x10 Challenge

December wrapped up my first year logging plays. The reason came about having heard of the “10x10” challenge. 10 games played 10 times in a year, a concept to motivate gamers to play the same game more than once, or a handful of times. With 5,000+ board games created in the USA alone, rushing to play the next one (fearing the game you hear about isn’t seen again again) means you miss out what the feel of it can be. That is strategy and sociability. Whilst chatting is fine, it breaks concentration when learning a game.

I decided to set myself a challenge, nothing specific but 10x of each. As not specific, I changed focus, logging 365 board game plays.Whilst I don’t game daily, I thought it was possible. In fact, I started the year playing daily until January 17. Fairly burnt out, I cut back on the daily brutal variant (the harder one is a different game daily).

I managed 365 games though. 509 different games, 1857 logged plays. 29 games plays 10x. 82 games played released in 2018.

So, what did I play the most? Cobra Paw (185) and Dobble (176). Both party games, fast, replayable, portable, easy to break out at parties. Similarly, Codenames (37) has high engagement; (the other two require engagement, but it’s part of the game, they’re speed games), the engagement comes to ensure you consider every word (to avoid the Assassin card and losing the game).

Azul (35) was popular due to its attractiveness and people wanting to play it having read about it (my plays would be more if I didn’t play it so much in Q4 of 2017, being lucky to get a copy then).  Rory’s Story Cubes (72 plays) has a solo element. Fantastic Gymnastic (64) is tough to perfect so you need to keep practising like a good gymnast and the 5-10 minute wonder One Night Ultimate Werewolf (48).

Ryan H - Captain Sonar & KeyForge

This month, my board gaming highlights have arisen from Captain Sonar and KeyForge - the latter of which I am confident will be mentioned again in this article.

Captain Sonar, a beautiful distortion of the classic ‘Battleships’, pits two teams of up to four against one another for survival. Players have different roles on a submarine, including captain, first mate, engineer and radio operator, who must navigate, manage abilities, maintain systems and listen for enemy movements, respectively.

Although I’ve played this previously, this is the first time I have engaged in its real-time variant. Everything was happening at once. It was chaos. I loved it and you will to. Just remember to pack an inhaler because it’s a rather frantic ordeal and we wouldn’t want to be liable for any subsequent health complications.

KeyForge is one of 2018’s big hitters. For the uninitiated, however, this is a competitive card game with a twist. There are no booster packs to be bought - only entirely unique decks, with unique names, card backs and compositions. There is no deck-building, no mixing and matching cards. What you buy is what you play with. I could easily exhaust my word count praising the other qualities that make this a stand-out game, but our review is the best place to look.

Thanks to its low barrier to entry - the cost of a single deck and whatever tokens we have from other games - KeyForge has swept across our gaming group like a really enjoyable plague. I own three decks myself and I haven’t been so enthralled by a card game since my teenage years of ‘Yu-Gi-Oh’. For the two of you that haven’t already, dip your toes in this beautifully illustrated pool. You know you want to.

Alex S - Green Horde, KeyForge & Cave Troll

Seasonal festivities roll around and an annual tradition of heading down the local ‘spoons for a cup of coffee and a game of cards has begun with my group. With KeyForge now reaching worrying levels of engagement it’s become a weekly meet-up to analyse our decks, talk about how much we really shouldn’t have spent on buying new decks (because one day I will get one horseman let alone four) and realising that this silly £10 card game has become one of the only games anyone wants to play anymore.

In the family I’ve had great delight introducing my three-year-old son to some of the games that feature miniatures. Whilst I have no expectations on teaching him the actual rules he is enjoying moving the zombie masses across the board in Zombicide: Green Horde. We even managed to play a pseudo game of territory control with Cave Troll. I would set-up the deck, get him to draw a card and then place the matching figure on the board. Playing this back and forth until all spaces were covered then counting the gold pieces at the end. A simplified version but he managed to get the hang of it.

Now the countdown begins to a whole new year of games to look forward to. For Christmas good old Saint Nick bestowed upon me Century: Eastern Wonders which is absolutely fantastic and I have also been blessed with Cities Of Splendor. Seeing as the base game is a hit with my friends I’m looking forward to how this spices up our games in the future. Happy New Year!

Richard V - Photosynthesis & Spirit Island

Photosynthesis is a beautiful, action point allocation game. Players place their seedlings and trees around a board hoping to catch sunlight to gather energy. The players use this energy to grow their trees or plant new seeds, potentially increasing their income until the fully grown trees are cashed in for victory points. Just as in real life, all the trees are in direct competition for light, and each tree can block the sun’s rays from granting energy to the other trees. Each turn the sun moves a step around the board, allowing different trees to gather energy and cast shadows. You need to be smart about both the size and position of your trees to hinder your opponent, gather the most energy, and cash in the most points.

On my first play through of this game I was impressed by its simplicity whilst holding a unique and creative mechanical system. It was fun for the whole family over Christmas and playing with four people left a very crowded and competitive woodland.

Spirit Island is another good-looking game, though much more complex. The players are working together as spirits to defend their island from invaders and blight, in a similar fashion to Pandemic. These invaders attack the different areas of the island each turn, specified by a small deck of cards. Meanwhile, the spirits use their powers to protect the island and scare the invaders into fleeing - and if they play certain types of powers, can activate their spirit’s unique inert powers for additional effects.

The game presents an interesting problem and gives each character unique abilities to deal with them, and allows players to combo off each others abilities. The game includes additional scenarios, enemies and a variety of spirits to keep the game fresh, which all work very well. My only qualm with the game is that it feels like it ends a little suddenly on each play and so winning is not as satisfying as I would have hoped, but each time I thoroughly enjoy the journey getting there.