Here's what we've been playing during the month of February.
Jake V - Empires, Inis and Twilight Imperium 4th Edition
I have the pleasure of David Stephenson, the designer of Empires, being part of my regular game group, which necessarily means that he beats me at Empires every time we play - And boy did we play a lot of Empires this month! A game of pure strategy and negotiation between 2-10 European powers vying for land, resources, and people, Empires scales incredibly well with player count and is super simple to teach. It’s a regular favourite in our group and creates the kind of group deal-making, double-crossing and backstabbing most games only dream of.
Although he’d never played Inis, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my friend Mark more hyped up to play a board game in the whole time I’ve known him. The third in the “dudes stomp around a map” trilogy from Matagot, Inis adds some tweaks that make it much less focused on combat than Kemet or Cyclades, but jacks up the strategic depth without sacrificing simplicity. Mark’s hype was thoroughly justified and we both appreciated that there were other ways to win the game besides “occupy x number of spaces” a la Risk. In addition, the entire how-to-play fits on one reference card, and I do love a streamlined game.
Some people love their board games with tactile little miniatures (guilty!), some people like their board games to bring social people together round a table, and some people like their board games to have deep strategy. I can understand why people are put off Twilight Imperium as spending 6-8 hours locked in a military and political battle for the control of a fictional galaxy will not float everyone’s dreadnought. However, Twilight Imperium has the design and depth to create something truly special and this month, I had that experience.
With six players taking us a total of 12 hours (with regular breaks for gouda, red bull, spiced squash soup and hummus on toast) it was a board game session of epic proportions. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but I would not trade a minute of the epic story we created during those 12 hours for all the tea in China.
Louis N - Welcome To, Ganz Schön Clever and Coimbra
Another month, another gaming convention. February was dominated by City of Games, where I played a number of games. A lot of those were roll and write (or draw and write), but there were plenty of other games.
Welcome To… always seems to go down well. Players have a sheet of three streets of blank-numbered houses. Three pairs of cards are revealed, one of each pair is a number (ranging from one to 15), to be written on one of the houses in one of the streets. Houses should always be numbered in ascending order, within each street, although adjacent houses do not need to be numbered consecutively. The other card accompanying the door number is a feature – a pool, picket fence, garden and so on, which can be marked off as the house is scored. Different features are used or scored in different ways. Choosing the right pair combination is key to success in Welcome To…
Ganz Schön Clever has also seen a lot of plays in the past month. Each turn, players roll a set of six differently coloured dice. Each colour of die is scored on the player sheets in a different way. When a die is selected for scoring, all dice of a lower value are set aside for other players to choose from at the end of the turn. Again, the drafting process in the game is key to success.
Coimbra, a favourite of 2018, has seen several plays in the last month. February, however, saw the addition of the Royal Treatment mini-expansion. At first I thought this might prove to be a rather pointless addition of extra dice, with a shiny dice tray. However, the additional dice give a new way of managing resources (as well as giving another possible end game scoring stage). An interesting twist, though it has minimal impact on gameplay.
Joe R - Coup, Colt Express and Fast and Furious
One of the games that got me into the hobby is Coup. This is a really enjoyable bluffing game where you’re allowed to do any action that your two roles allow. All the roles are face-down and your opponents will have to decide if you really have the characters you claim to. A quick filler that only improves with repeated plays as you all get sucked into each other’s tells.
I have never had a bad time playing Colt Express. You are bandits trying to get as much loot as possible off a fancy train in the Wild West. This includes stealing off, shooting, and punching the other bandits while trying to stay out of the way of the impervious Marshall.
You spend the first half of each round programming your moves (sometimes face-down, so those other rascals can’t tell what you’re going to do). Then the second half is resolving the actions in the order played. One punch can completely change the outcome of another characters actions devolving into a knock on effect where no one does quite what they intended.
I’m a big fan of the loud and dumb action movies and even I didn’t expect much from Fast and Furious: Full Throttle. What you get is a racing game with quick turns and a tonne of replay-ability. The massive board is double-sided and allows for a huge number of races in either Downtown LA or the Nevada Desert.
A simple but tricky hand management system dictates movement. A dashboard tracks what gear you’re in and what upgrades your car has. There are even characters with different abilities to play as. They’ve done a great job of making each game a completely different experience.
Luke P - Claustrophobia 1643 and Treasure Island
Claustrophobia 1643, a recently delivered Kickstarter which is a reprint/deluxified version of an older version. The setting is 1643AD and the gates of hell are opening and all sorts of neatly demons flow through various portals into horrific catacombs. It’s the task of various nefarious penal warriors led by their righteous preacher to delve into the catacombs and deal with the threats.
The production by Monolith is absolutely stellar, from the organisation within the box to the vivid artwork and fantastic miniatures all displayed within a slick graphic design. Each turn the “good” guys roll a D6 for each available character and then allocate a dice to an available line for the corresponding number. As they take damage they’ll have to chose lines that are closed off and can’t be used in the normal sense. This line will then dictate how fast they move, how hard they fight and how well they defend. Each will then activate and move or attack in whichever order they wish.
There are loads of scenarios which also form an overarching story of played in order but it’s not necessary. The beasts perform similar actions but can also bring in their big baddies or boost the smaller minions. This will be available again in March via Kickstarter and delivered within 4-6 weeks once the Kickstarter finishes.
Treasure Island, the classic story of Long John Silver. He is jailed and interrogated as to where he buried the treasure. Each player can perform various actions to search for the treasure or gain info to narrow down their search. Each player will be literally drawing on the wipe clean board and marking where they have searched and also on a hidden board of their own as they gain nuggets of info. Eventually, Long John escapes from jail and rushes to dig up his treasure before the players find it or figure out where he is heading.
The game is absolutely fun but it certainly felt quite random and tricky to really have a good idea specifically where to search. I literally stumbled across the treasure by taking an action at the end of a turn for the sake of it, I was heading further across the map, the other players also admitted they really had no clue where to look. Maybe with some more plays this could really be a fun game and a feel a bit less random.
Andy P - Railroad Ink, Cryptid and Spirit Island
Railroad Ink has quickly found a position as one of the most played filler games in my collection. Eloquent and simple, it scratches all the itches that a filler game should: An easy teach with plenty of depth, as well as visually appealing with its eye-catching art form, that is… until you scribble all over your board in a slap-dash method, trying to fit three road corners in one round when you’ve barely built out any road up until now, covering most of your road exits with train tracks! I haven’t had a chance to play with any expansions yet, but I eagerly await trying them out.
Cryptid is a curious one for me. I managed three plays across the month, and twice I’ve managed to guess within one space of the actual winning space, which miffed me to no end. That being said, I love the intricacies of trying to throw people off of your clue (of which I’ve failed every time so far), but it keeps me yearning to develop better strategies and plans to try and outfox my opponents. I can see the appeal, and at a low price point it’s got plenty of replay-ability for the cost. For lovers of deduction games, it’s hard to go wrong with Cryptid.
Finally, Spirit Island got some much-needed table time two weeks running at my game group. I managed to introduce three new players to the experience, and generally it was well received despite a debilitating loss with only one blight between defeat and victory. My hope now is that I’ll be able to deep delve into more of the accessible content within the game now that I’ve taught a plethora of other players.
Adversaries, scenarios and the expansion content are all things I’d love a deeper dive with, as well as with the spirits who I enjoyed playing with the most (Keeper of the Forgotten Wilds is my personal favourite at the moment). Time will tell whether that comes to pass!