A varied smorgasbord of games, physical and virtual this month for me and the family. Here's what we've been playing. At home, we had a really good time with Sagrada, the thinky, beautiful and delightfully infuriating dice drafting puzzler. We have whiled away many hours to cries of ‘Aargh!’, ‘Why did you take that?’ and ‘Aaahh that works…..no it doesn’t!’ Quacks of Quedlinburg has come out for all the family too, with similar levels of pleasure and infuriation.
Particularly, when luck-pushed leads to comic explosions and a pair of five-year-olds shouting, “Bang!” Wildlands, Martin Wallace’s slick skirmisher, has re-emerged from the games cupboard with the arrival of the big box expansion, Wildlands: the Ancients. This offers a range of new playstyles around a new faction. Most notable is the one-two player co-op against one or more of the eponymous Ancients: beautiful uber-mini baddies with flocks of AI-controlled minion tokens. I am going to review it later this month, but certainly, we have had some good fun playing our first games with the new content.
Online I have been running some tabletop RPG session of Blades in the Dark over Roll20 with a group of friends halfway across the country. I had never played or run this before – but I had heard plenty of positive things. And the good press is with good cause, as this is a fabulously evocative and enjoyable setting with game mechanics which support the theme to a degree I have never seen before. Absolutely excellent!
Also, on Tabletopia, I have had a couple of games of the Martin Wallace classic, Struggle of Empires, which had a deluxe second ed. release over Kickstarter last year. What an epic this is – and what a contrast with Wildlands. A superb mixture of one dash Diplomacy, two dashes area-control wargame and a spritz of resource management/engine builder. It’s a meaty beast – the rules are reasonably straightforward but online it’s been four (fabulous) hours each time. Worth every minute!
One positive of the ongoing lockdown is that I have had a much greater amount of time to dedicate to gaming. Not only has it been a great way to pass the time, but it has meant I’ve been able to really get my teeth into all of the games I got for Christmas. So here's my "what we've been playing". One of these games was Wingspan. Having got to grips with it in late December, frankly, I can’t get enough of it. As February rolled around, however, I wanted more, and so decided to investigate its Oceania Expansion.
Wingspan: Oceania elevates the already stunning artwork of Wingspan even higher, bringing the vibrant and captivating birds of Oceania to life. If ever there was an expansion where you felt you were getting your money’s worth, this is it. Not only does it add a stack of new bird cards to the mix, but it has a new food group, new dice, and, most impressively, new player boards.
Continuing with the nature theme, two other games I’ve been getting into this month have been Root and Everdell. These games of woodland adventure couldn’t be more different. In Root, players battle for control of the woodland playing as one of four factions, all with the delightful artwork of Kyle Ferrin. Players work to meet different goals and so everything is kept delightfully fresh. Everdell, on the other hand, sees players draft cards and build their own city, trading twigs, resin, pebbles, and berries. It even comes with its own enormous tree!
All three of these are truly enjoyable games and I can’t wait to try them both out in larger groups when lockdown is lifted!
What a month February has been for us! We finally got some classics in Euphoria, Istanbul and Quadropolis into our collection, as well as getting our first play in for Portal of Heroes, Flip Ships, Star Scrappers Cave In, The Lost Tribe expansion to Unearth and Fruit Ninja. I have also been able to get a second game of Dark Souls in, which time-wise, is no mean feat!
Each of these games has brought a very different experience to our table and will be kept for different reasons. I play a regular mix of family, mid-weight and solo games, and I enjoy the variety. Out of all of these, at this early stage, Euphoria was my favourite game. But as I played that solo, Portal of Heroes was the most entertaining experience. My two young children loved that game. It’s a lot of fun to spot all the different characters from so many different stories they are familiar with. And the interaction of Snow White with Bilbo and Captain Hook is quite unique. How often will this ever happen!
It has been a very different experience, gaming in lockdown. I miss my friends and the social therapy of mates round a table. But games via video call have been good, and I still feel Railroad Inc is the best for this. It scales infinitely, only one person needs a copy of the game and it’s so simple to teach to people, even non-gamers. I played last night in fact with three non-gamers and we were off and away in under five minutes. One of them even managed to score in the high forties, which for game one I thought was pretty good. This was my 28th play of the game, and I would say most of these have been via video call. We are lucky in this hobby to have such a sociable, accessible, and affordable passion, that can still connect us in these crazy times.
I feel like this last month has been a bit mad, and I have barely found time for bigger games. Luckily for me though, our game collection has a lot of lighter and quicker games that all play in 30 minutes or less. One of these is Unmatched Jurassic Park which plays in 20 minutes for two players. I have been obsessively playing Unmatched this month. Unmatched is a game system where all the characters are able to be mixed and matched. This will allow for some obscure and epic battles between different heroes. So you can mix and match the characters and the maps from the different sets together.
Will Bruce Lee be able to annihilate Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men? Can Medusa stare down the Raptor pack to be victorious? During Unmatched you each pilot your own unique character deck to scheme, attack and defend villainous attacks in a duel to the death. I enjoy the different ways that each character plays, they are incredibly asymmetric in their playstyle which means it feels fresh. During your turn, you get to do two actions.
You can draw a card and if you like move one or all of your character pieces around the board. You may play a scheme card that can help with moving, attacking, or drawing cards. The final option is to attack your opponent. You play a card down as your attack. Then your opponent has an option to defend with a card if they wish. If the attack were higher than the defence then the defender takes damage. The card effects are resolved in order starting with the defender in case of a tie.
Unmatched as a game system has been a 2021 infiltrator into my Top 10 games of all time. It has earned its place indubitably.
After declaring Project: Elite as my game of the year for 2020, I realised that I’ve strayed too far from my Eurogame roots. Luckily, I had a copy of Barrage sitting unplayed on my shelf. So, I decided that would be a great place to get back into pushing cubes.
What a game! For those not in the know, Barrage is a worker placement game. You are playing as competing energy companies trying to generate the most power. It’s incredibly confrontational for a Eurogame as you will be potentially redirecting resources away from your opponents to use them up yourself. There are contracts to fight over as well as one of the best resource management puzzles that I’ve ever seen in a board game.
Basically, you spend your resources and place them on a wheel for a set number of turns. Once the wheel has completed its turn, you get your resources back. It’s a brilliant twist. I had a brilliant time with it, but I wouldn’t say I played well. I’m not entirely sure how to play well but it is a puzzle I will enjoy getting to grips with.
The other game that stands out for me this month is Gugong. Again, this has been sat on my shelf for a while as I’ve not had a chance to play it. But when fellow Zatu blogger, Tom Harrod, pointed out that it has a solo mode it was off the shelf and set up faster than you can say government corruption.
In this game, you will be exchanging gifts with various government representatives in order to take actions on the board. There are a lot of separate mini-systems in this game that seem fairly disconnected. But on a closer look, there are threads that tie them all together. It’s such a nice game. It gives you many opportunities to play that perfect gift to give you just enough bonuses to grab a few extra victory points.
The game is surprisingly light for a board with this many tracks on it but still has a surprising amount of depth to it. It’s a game that since I put it back on the shelf I’ve been thinking about when I can get it back off to play again. That’s got to be a good sign!