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What We’ve Been Playing December 2019


With all the festivities combined with the cold weather, it's arguable December is the ultimate month for board gaming. It's time to find out what games hit our tables last month.

Tom G - Party Game Classics

This month has been jam-packed with games, thanks to the festive season! Along with the new games gratefully received over Christmas, I have also tried to get some of my existing collection to the table as well. As we all know; variety is the spice of life!

I started the month off trying out Don’t Get Got at a Christmas party. For those unfamiliar with the game form Big Potato Games, each player has six challenges and must aim to complete them without anyone realising they are “playing the game”. For example, you have to convince someone that an object is voice-activated and get them to try. If they do it without suspecting it being part of the game, then you NAILED IT! If they catch on though, you FAILED IT! This was a great party game and ran seamlessly in the background of the party making this ideal for incorporating into any sort event.

It seems Big Potato Games have provided all the party games this month as we also tried out Head Hackers (a personal favourite) as well as Chameleon. Both have a similar word theme to them but have enough variety to stand them apart from each other. Head Hackers has one player guessing a word from three clues that were produced by the other member of their team. The other teams are also trying to guess what the three clue words are that were created.

Head Hackers is a neat twist on a word game. It is made even better by the flattering foil hat provided. Chameleon is all about trying to blend in. As one player becomes the Chameleon each round, without the other players knowing. A word is randomly selected from a grid. All the players apart from the Chameleon know what the word is. Players take turns saying a word related to the selected word. It is the Chameleon’s job to try and blend in. They say a related word without knowing what the original word is. If they get away with it, they win, but if they are caught, they are out!

While these games have been great, there has been one favourite this month. Selfish is a devilish little card game where players must be selfish to win. You are racing towards a spaceship, clutching on to the last remaining oxygen and a set of skills that are going to come in handy while racing the other players to the ship. Players take turns using cards to push other players back, steal oxygen and blast yourself forward, while trying to conserve your oxygen and navigate deep space. The first to the ship wins and all the other players will perish in the vastness of space.

Be prepared for ruthless moves and selfish actions galore with this game! For such a simple card game, I am amazed at the play value you get with this and its definitely been the most played game for me this month!

The final game we’ve been dedicating our time to this month is one I constantly rave about! Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth is an adventure, app-driven game, similar to that of Mansions of Madness. You and the other players form a band of heroes who embark on a campaign. Honing your skills and taking on hordes of orcs while gaining experience and lore. The app-driven aspect is key here and provides a gloriously rich experience, with a lot of theme paired with great gameplay.

If you want to know more detail, check out my review on the site. With more content set to be released in 2020, this game is just going to get better and to start a new campaign this month filled me with joy!

A hectic month in terms of gaming but a great one at that! I wish you all a Happy New Year and here’s to a great year of gaming in 2020!

Nathan - Everything But Monopoly

The Christmas holidays allowed plenty of opportunity to meet with family and friends and to play board games. At least board games can prevent any arguments about who wants to watch what and keeps the discussion away from politics. By playing co-operative games, these can be more inclusive and hopefully we were able to show friends that gaming mechanics have moved on from Monopoly. Similarly, there is nothing worse than trying to explain to new gamers the intricacies of a heavyweight, worker placement Euro-game after a big Christmas dinner. So instead, the three co-op games we’ve enjoyed this season have been Magic Maze, Pandemic: Rapid Response and Bank Attack.

Magic Maze is an award winner game by Sit Down games and is the recipient of numerous awards in the last few years. It is a family game for up to eight players. The game develops and becomes more challenging with each scenario becoming a race against the timer. The aim of Magic Maze is to direct four characters (a dwarf, elf, barbarian and wizard) through the maze of a shopping mall to specific locations and then out of certain exits – but all within a given time.

Why these cast-offs from the Lord of the Rings should choose to go shopping in the Boxing Day Sales is not explained! The mall grows in size and complexity during the game and every game and scenario are different. Each player receives a card showing them the direction of movement they can use. Every player may move any piece, but only using the action stated in front of them. The game should be played in complete silence. (This may be a blessing in some households at Christmas).

The only method of communication is using a big red pawn that is slapped this down in front of another player as if to say “Do something, now!”. For a co-op game played in silence this game certainly raises people’s blood pressure. This is a hilarious game and as you progress, each challenge becomes more difficult. Most scenarios can be completed within 15-20 minutes so this game does not require the huge time commitment, nor does it have complicated rules. Sometimes keeping it light and fun is what’s needed at this time of year.

Pandemic: Rapid Response is a quick, co-operative game for 2-4 players. It is produced by Z-Man games. The scene is set in a futuristic aircraft. You, and up to three other players, are workers, responding to crises around the world. Your tasks include creating emergency supplies and then flying to the needy city. As if that’s not enough, all of this needs to be completed within a certain time otherwise all is lost. Aside from being a co-operative game involving familiar cities, this is not in the standard Pandemic genre.

Each player has a set of dice that are rolled and these determine the actions available. Tasks involve creating vaccines or food parcels etc and then flying these to various cities as quickly as possible. As each player controls their own character and actions this game avoids the alpha-player syndrome that can beset some co-op games. It is a fresh, fast-paced adventure with plenty of tension and no down-time between each turns. It was fun teaching this to some novice-gamers during the holidays.

The final co-op game that has had plenty of game time is Bank Attack by Megableu. This is an electronic push-button game for up to four players who attempt to break into a safe filled with twelve gold bars. The Hacker, Money Man, Lookout and Explosives Expert must work together following the instructions without any delay. They are provided with eight tools that need to be swapped and used quickly and at just the correct moment. This is a tense little game that comes complete with a series of levels of increasing pressure.

Make no mistakes and the safe will open. Any false moves are punished with a loud siren. A typical game will take only 10 minutes but there is a sense of challenge if you fail, so this game will be often played many times over just to try to “beat the machine”. The packaging states it is suitable for children age seven years and older. Certainly the first few levels are child’s play but we have yet to crack the most difficult level.

These three co-operative games are a lot of fun. Sometimes just being together, playing games and laughing out loud is just what is needed at Christmas.

Nick T - Bank Attack, Jungle Speed and Tsuro

Well you can tell it’s been Christmas! Not only are all my games surprisingly light and family friendly but they were all delivered on 25th December. This shows how many games were played in between Christmas and New Year– is that time period called Betwixtmas? Anyway I’ve got distracted…

Bank Attack is a four player family-friendly co-operative electronic game by Ideal. Although many turn their noses up at mass-market games, this one is surprisingly good fun. The different levels of play range from the “we can do this even with the five year old playing” to the “are we ever going to crack the safe even without the kids!” It plays well at three and four players but two players isn’t the sweet spot. Who knew passing playing pieces to people and hitting a button occasionally could be so stressful, yet so fun!

We had many highly competitive games of Jungle Speed over the festive period too. Seating up to ten and playing between 10-15 minutes Jungle Speed really is a great party game for all ages. It is easy to explain the rules and can be described as an adrenaline-infused snap.

Tsuro was an amazing hit with grown-ups and kids alike. Having read lots about it I knew they would like it, but to the outside world this does not look like a game that would appeal to the kids. Let me tell you it does! I have come downstairs from my slumber to see all my boys playing this together. At this point I’m a bit disappointed I haven’t been playing too, but quickly remember I was grateful for the lie-in! This tile placement game is easy to teach anyone and the gameplay has enough strategy to keep more seasoned players interested too. Oh and it seats up to eight players and still keeps you all engaged. I recommend it!

We had lots of fun with all the new arrivals but the reason the above three were most played was down to their quick play times and their family inclusivity. They are easy to explain and okay for the kids to play without adult supervision too. For this reason I can see many of them getting to the table when my boys have friends round because the rules can actually be articulated by them. This is a stark contrast to hearing my eldest son try and tell a friend how to play Small World, one of his favourite games… it’s painful!

Anyway, I hope y’all have a fantastic 2020 with lots of board games played!

Will - The Month Of Many Games

December was my second most prolific month of 2019, in which I clocked-up 35 plays (two plays behind May). Admittedly ten of those plays were of family favourite, Azul, where my wife and I would duke it out at any opportunity!

I finally got Aerion and Nusfjord off my “Shelf of Opportunity” and gave them a run-out - two very different games but both extremely fun. Nusfjord uses worker placement and resource management to simulate fishing and forestry competition in a 1950s fishing village, while Aerion is a dreamlike solo game where you must construct surreal flying machines using Yahtzee-style dice rolling and deck management.

My final Games Group of the year was purposefully shaped as a social occasion where we played Codenames, Decrypto and I had my first experience of the Resistance. Both times I was on the smaller team of evil Imperial Spies. And after coming so close in the first game I managed to completely fool enough people in the second game into securing victory. The post-game revelation surprised quite a few people and I learnt I’m quickly becoming an accomplished liar - something I hope to use to good effect in the future! Mwahahaha!!…

The best gaming session over the Christmas period was on the 27th, where we visited my parents’ and I played Azul, Lanterns and a huge 8-player game of Dixit, where a team consisting of my brother and my 2.5-year-old son pipped me and my Dad to victory.

I also enjoyed possibly of my favourite plays of all-time on the 14th - with my whole family out for the afternoon I retreated to my studio in the garden and played a solo game of Raiders of the North Sea with an X-Files DVD on the TV in the background while the sun setted in a clear sky outside - bliss!

Ryan - Twilight Imperium and Just One

Starting the month rather intensely, I kicked December off with an epic session of Twilight Imperium (3rd Ed). For the uninitiated, this is massive 4X game. Each player controls a galactic empire vying for control of a map. This was a full six player match, with only myself having played before. Previously, I had played a single game; three players for seven hours. I’m glad my initial foray into the title was mild compared to the monster I took on most recently. This time we wrestled with the game for 11 hours, not including set up.

It was generally well received. The diplomatic intrigue was great fun and the stories that unravelled were thrilling. That said, eleven hours on any single game is taxing. With a game like TI3, which demands a notable amount of cerebral output, an extended game can be downright exhausting. I’m glad we did it, even if I only came second, but it may be several months before TI3 sees the table again.

This year I received the acclaimed Just One as a Reddit Secret Santa gift and my family were keen to get involved. The game has everyone giving single word clues to a player who must guess the word they’re hinting at. If two people write the same clue, both of them can’t be shown to the guessing player.

We exceeded the player count, so paired up some couples, but the result was three generations of engaging, cooperative guessing. Everybody picked up the rules very quickly and our clues were on point.My only criticism might be that, at a full player count, seven clues can make the game quite easy. Maybe we were just particularly good. Regardless, it made for some wholesome, family fun and helped make Christmas Eve even more memorable.

Matt - A Rather Mixed Bag

Christmas holidays have come to an end. But over this festive period, I have manged to get a mixed bag of games to the table.

Just One has been a big hit with a wide audience. A relatively simple cooperative word game. The simple premise of the game means that it is very accessible to non-gamers and families. It was an ideal game to play after a meal or when you don’t want anything too complicated. Just One has hit the table with multiple groups often playing it back to back.

I managed to get a number of “heavier” games to the table as well. Two standouts are Vindication and Coloma.

Vindication is a fantastic sandbox RPG where you play as wretched human being that has been washed up on an island. Players can explore the island to reveal new locations, move around the island, fight monsters, gain companions, traits and relics. The use of the companions can create interesting engines and monsters can score you some big points.

The feel of adventure is strong and your options are varied. I love the theme of Vindication and how you have many paths to victory. The victory conditions change from game to game and you have the option to vindicate yourself if you meet certain requirements. There is so much to do in the game and you can choose how you want to play out your story each game.

Coloma is set in the town of Coloma in during the California Gold Rush. Players will prospect for gold, build buildings, recruit workers, explore the rivers and build bridges. You also need to defend the town from outlaws. Coloma has a very interesting simultaneous action selection where if the majority of players take an action then it goes bust and is less effective. Careful planning and reading of your opponents is essential to get the most out of your action selection. A fantastic euro game with interesting mechanisms that feels like it has another game hidden behind the main game with the opponent reading.

Other games played include Everdell, Small Islands, Chronicles of Crime, Colt Express and Marvel Champions.