This month, we've been playing games for all sorts of occasions. We've encouraged family members to try designer board games, spent a weekend in a cabin with no electricity, and of course, had our Valentine's board game date nights! Here's what we've been playing.
During February, I managed to play the game that has sat gathering dust in my collection the longest. 20th Century by Vladimír Suchý, the designer behind such classics as Pulsar 2849 and Underwater Cities. This was a lot of fun. The game has some really interesting bidding mechanics. But I have to say, going back and playing a game that is over 10 years old has really shown me how far this hobby has come.
From an old relic to something shiny and new, I’ve also been playing Kabuto Sumo. This game reminds me of the 2 penny pusher machines I used to play at the seaside as a child. The game has you trying to push your opponents out of a wrestling ring by pushing in little wooden disks. The different wrestlers each have their own unique powers, sometimes with unique pieces to keep everything fresh and interesting. It’s silly, fun, and it involves a lot of luck, and a game only takes 15 minutes!
The biggest game we've been playing this last month was probably Empires of the Void II. This is a sort of 4x light game. You move your empire between planets trying to gain favour and form alliances. All while building up your forces and researching new tech. There are some story elements in there too and they get revealed as the game progresses. And, obviously, as this is a Red Raven game, it is beautiful. Of the games I’ve played this last month, Empires of the Void II is the one that has been on my mind the most. It is the one I’m hoping to get back to the table the soonest.
Ark Nova is something of a current hotness. It's nearly impossible to get hold of, so, of course, I tracked it down. Having played both solo and multiplayer, it is easy to see the comparisons to Terraforming Mars. The cards with their ‘tags’ definitely evoke the flavours of making Mars habitable. But there is far more going on in your zoo management and conservation efforts than a simple reskin.
The action selection mechanism is brilliant. You all have the same 5 actions represented by cards in a row. But where the card is in the row affects the strength of this action, with the card moving to slot 1 and the rest sliding up. This makes planning and efficiency key and I’m loving exploring this.
The surprise of the month for me was Set & Match. A dexterity tennis game that looks too simple to be fun. However, this version of tennis is simple to learn but highly enjoyable and true to the sport version. My friend and I played out a tense back and forth that saw him turn the match around after being two sets down! There was rallies, aces, and cross-court passes, and we were both utterly drawn into the contest.
The last game to mention is one I’ve been wanting to play for ages. Cryo sees you battle to get your humans settled into underground caverns on a planet you crash-landed on. Time is of the essence as you work the crash sites to gain resources, move cryo chambers out of harm's way, and make the right choices on how to use your cards. Cards can give you a permanent upgrade, transport cryo pods, or be used for end game scoring. Choices are impactful and you always want to do more. I think a lot have missed out on this one and would love it!
This month, I had the distinct pleasure of introducing my sister to the world of board gaming.
As a family, we’ve always loved party-style games (Articulate, Pictionary etc…). In recent months, I’ve been slowly introducing new mechanics and ideas (Doodle Dash, Crash Octopus, 6 Nimmt). This month I finally took the ‘designer game’ plunge.
We started with The Quest For El Dorado, which didn’t go down well. The racing aspect is universal but, when combined with deck building, it can be very frustrating to spend a few turns standing still due to a bad hand.
I probably didn’t explain the benefit of buying/removing cards from your deck that well either, so it was a runaway victory for me (that I felt very bad about).
Next, we played Railroad Ink and, thankfully, it saved the day. My sister instantly clicked with the puzzle and I got to watch in real-time as she went from “this is fun” to “I JUST NEED A STRAIGHT ROAD!” Success!
I followed this up with MicroMacro: Crime City, which was another hit. My partner and I had played the first few cases so I acted as a sort of GM while my sister solved them. There’s something wonderful about a game that gets you up from the table and talking, especially when you can shout with joy about finding a dead body.
Finally, we've been playing Azul: Summer Pavilion, which was hands down the favourite (so much so that we played it multiple times). It’s hard not to love such a wonderful production. Combined with the simple ruleset, combo opportunities, and interactive drafting, it’s an all-around winner.
Here’s a question about game choice. One of my sons and I decided to stay in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere recently. With limited space and a relatively small table area for game playing. Also, being February, the sun sets early. So, we had a fairly long and dark evening ahead [with no electricity and limited lighting].
Two games ended up being the perfect way to spend these hours together. Star Realms and Mantis Falls. The former needs little introduction. In my opinion, Star Realms is the best deck builder game around. Surpassing the purity of the original set of cards would be a difficult task.
Both players start with a small hand of ten cards. These represent your spacecraft. You can use them to inflict damage on your opponent or purchase a more valuable craft. As your draw deck grows with newer, more suitable spaceships, it becomes more unwieldy. These super-ships appear less frequently. The skill here is to acquire only what you need. Try to keep your deck lean and efficient, but still be able to upgrade and attack. I drew first blood by ensuring I utilised defensive base cards wisely, thwarting my son’s attack.
Mantis Falls is a game I have been looking forward to playing for many months. This was a fulfilled Kickstarter that arrived before Christmas. At its core, it is a social deduction game for two! Players are trying to escape from a small, Midwest, US town [Mantis Falls] because they have witnessed a crime. However, one player may [or may not] be an assassin, hired to stop the escapees.
Players take turns to advance along a road during the night. With each step, new events and misfortunes may occur. The actual event details and possible consequences are hidden from the other player, but both need to cooperate to overcome this problem. Failure to do so might lead to injuries- or worse. If you are the assassin you want the other player to have slow progress. However, hinder too much and the other player might suspect your true colours. Therefore you need to help - but not too much. There is the possibility that both players are innocent and both need to escape together.
Like life, it helps to cooperate - but sometimes having a degree of scepticism can mean self-preservation. This is a clever game. It is rare to find social deduction games for two. Saboteur 2 (with base game) is another that springs to mind. There is a tension for the hour or so of play. Mantis Falls should be coming to retail in the coming months, so watch this space for a full review!
For the record, the innocent witness [me] died of their injuries a few turns short of safety.
“What We've Been Playing” is an increasingly convoluted question. Last year, it was relatively simple – I had maybe one or two games I’d played that month and was excited to talk about. Something I’d rediscovered or something new. This year is different. Last month, I mentioned I was playing through my collection (which keeps growing, for some reason…) and at the end of January, we’d played 11 of 108. This month, we ticked off another 28 to that list (and also found two more in the total pile that Board Game Geek hadn’t registered…)
A couple of contributing factors – firstly our regularly scheduled stream game (on Twitch as EatCritSurvive if you’re interested) kept us playing a fair few classics like Love Letter, Terra Mystica, Dungeon Mayhem with both Baldur’s Gate and Monster Madness expansions, Tokaido, Carcassonne, Sushi Go Party, Forbidden Desert, Cartographers and Explorers of the North Sea. Of those, only Terra Mystica and Explorers aren’t in my collection and were completely new to me. Then we had the four dedicated game days (yes, there’s more!) one for a birthday, one for Valentine’s Day and two just because. “Just Because” Day One saw Dobble, Munchkin, Montmartre, and Rustling Leaves hit the table. At the birthday party, we tackled Rock Paper Wizard, Galaxy Trucker, Mysterium, Sagrada, and Tsuro, all great fun at a higher player count. Valentines Day was the signal to have a two-player showdown. With 7 Wonders Duel, Tacocat Spelled Backwards, and Codenames: Duet – where the pesky assassin caught us (me) every time. Finally, on “Just Because” Day Two, we played Disney Villainous, with characters from the Evil Comes Prepared and Wicked to the Core expansions, Anomia, Muffin Time, Sparkle*Kitty Nights, and got completely destroyed in Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks.