Is it February already? January has been a time to double down on the staying indoors, keeping warm and playing those Christmas games. Here's what we've been up to including many trips and lots of new releases of course.
January was a good month for gaming! I kicked it off by learning something new: Riverboat, a Michael Kiesling game. I received it for Christmas and it was, up to that point, completely unknown to me. For a new game (2017) it has a surprisingly low profile, which is a shame. I was immediately struck by Riverboat and have been recommending it to other gamers since. It's a euro style farming game which relies on tile placement and action drafting to drive game play. The aim is to plant, harvest, and ship crops along the Mississippi. Players have a lot of scope to strategise and pick up points at various stages of a turn. It's a great game, so well worth a play!
My friends and I were excited by the release of Theros Beyond Death mid-month. We're big fans of Magic the Gathering and play regularly. Six of us headed over to Zatu's board game cafe for a pre-release event, which I managed to win! We're currently enjoying deck building with the new cards.
Other gaming highlights of the month were getting Terraforming Mars, Endeavour: Age of Sail, and Elder Sign to the table. I really enjoy all three and would like to get them all to the table more this year.
I've also started a Formula D championship with some friends from a local gaming centre. We've planned twelve races, making use of all the expansions we own between us. To make racing more strategic (and less luck based) we're using the advanced rules, and a few custom ones. The first race was on the Melbourne circuit. I started dead last but opted for soft tires, pushed hard and pitted early; my strategy ultimately paid off. I was able to pass most of the pack in the pits and finished in second place. I'm looking forward to our next race!
With a trip up to Edinburgh to visit gaming friends, I was able to dig into some new titles. The two of the most popular games were Diamant and Citadels.
Diamant is a push-your-luck game, with players venturing into treacherous caves to collect gems and runes before the various dangers chase them out. Bail early and you can collect additional runes on your way out. Stay too late and risk losing everything. Your loot is hidden in little cardboard chests, which is a fun addition, and the game art itself looks good. We all had a blast playing it and, with a few beverages in hand, this was a great way to pick up the mood.
Citadels sees players seeking to build the best city. Everyone around the table will draft a hidden character, such as a thief or warmonger, each with a valuable ability. These are varied and change each turn. Assassins can kill a player, causing them to skip their turn. Architects can build additional buildings. There are eight in total and can give a tactical edge when used correctly.
What makes this game particularly thoughtful are the few roles that target other players, such as the thief and assassin. With these, who always act first, players must name the role they are targeting. However, as roles are hidden, you'll need to put your prediction hat on to try to deduce who your target picked.
Will your friend with several religious structures have picked the priest to gain extra income? Or perhaps your friend seemed tired of going last, so picked the king to gain the first player token? Maybe they knew you'd expect them to pick their most beneficial role, so picked a more subtle character? This additional layer gave a cheap game even more bang for our buck, though there is a deluxe edition for gamers with more cash to spare.
I'd also like to make an honourable mention to Skull, which hit our table a lot. We used a normal pack of playing cards to play this excellent bluffing game, but Asmodee have produced a stunning iteration that is worth your attention. It uses beermat-like cards to play, with bold and beautiful illustrations. This is an ideal one to play with a boisterous group.
That's the gist of my short trip away. Now that exams are over and I'm securely in one location, I'm keen to get some heftier titles to the table. Let's see what fun February brings!
January is one of those funny months when all the busyness of Christmas is packed away, the days are cold, the nights are long, and the credit card bill is big. What better way to avoid spending too much than by getting to grips with the new games that arrived, courtesy of Santa. Father Christmas was good enough to read my wish list and was rather generous in providing the three games listed below.
Top of my wish list, and a game that took a number of games conventions by storm, was Five Tribes. Days of Wonder do not disappoint when it comes to component quality and artwork. Set in the times of the Tales of the Arabian Nights, players need to collect groups of tribes. The game play area is a composite of 30 randomly placed tiles, each with different functions and containing a number of coloured meeples. At the start of each round is a bidding phase to determine turn order.
This is a lovely little mechanic where players can choose to pay a large sum, just for the privilege of going first. Alternatively, one could choose to bid nothing, but risk being left with very few good moves. In turn, each player takes all the meeples from one tile and then redistributes them “mancala-style”, before finishing on another tile. They need to ensure their last meeple matches at least one other meeple on the last tile. Players aim to gain control of tiles (by collecting the last meeple) and then placing little wooden camels on as many tiles as possible.
This game has everything from palaces to palm trees. There are even assassins that you can use to “remove” your opponents pieces. Most games take about 90 minutes and Five Tribes is probably best with three or four players. There could be a tendency for over analysis for some players, but with many different ways to score points during the game, the outcome is never certain until the final points are tallied.
I was recommended to get Odin’s Ravens by a colleague. This is a two player race game, produced by Osprey Games. This involves the drafting of cards, hand management and card placement. The aim is to be the quickest to fly your raven across varied terrain and return back home. The route is made from a series of cards, depicting a variety of landscapes. This ensures that every game is different, and by increasing (or decreasing) card numbers, the game might be extended depending on time available.
By careful use of Loki (trouble) cards, you can hinder your opponent or aid your raven on its journey. Typical games take about 15 minutes and this quick filler game has fantastic artwork with carved wooden ravens. It is relatively inexpensive and has instant replayability. This is one game that will continue to see plenty of action in the months ahead.
The third game that we have enjoyed in January is Escape from Colditz. For me this has been a trip back to my teenage years. I always remember being slightly jealous of my friend Ronald and having to go round to his house when I wanted to play the original. It has been reprinted with a few small tweaks. This classic game was really ahead of its time when originally published in 1973. It is a semi-cooperative, asymmetric game. One person takes the role of the German guards.
The rest are various Allied officers who need to collect equipment, overcome barriers and distract the guards with the aim of escape. The board is a huge, clear representation of Colditz castle. Places for tunnels or potential rope escape routes are marked. Movement is determined by dice rolling which is frustrating but adds to the tension, especially when you have two prisoners making a break for it in the staff car. Most games are quite long (about 90-120 minutes) when playing with four or five but this has been such a lot of fun playing this now that I have teenagers of my own.
January, a time to double down on the staying indoors, keeping warm and playing those Christmas games – if I can persuade anyone to leave their cosy indoors, of course.
Even though this was my ‘GOTM’ last month, I adore this game and am collaring anyone to play it: family, friends, passing strangers, arresting officers… Space Base (which is ace), now with added Shy Pluto expansion! If you didn’t catch my explanation last month, in summary: twelve ships, two dice; roll dice, activate ships; send ships off, flip ‘em up and activate them when it’s not your turn – big smiles all round! Seriously though, I have not found anyone who doesn’t like this game – even the duty sergeant enjoyed it, though I had to promise to stop bothering people.
As for the Shy Pluto expansion... it’s like a legacy game that doesn’t ruin the game. I’m only a couple of chapters into it, but it’s already elicited some ‘oooh, that’s good’ moments from it.
Continuing on a space theme, I’ve also been reacquainting myself and others with Carl Chudyk’s Impulse, a 4X that moves at a real pace and can be completed in an hour (with five people playing… and a slight misrule… we managed one and a half hours, which is pretty impressive I reckon). It’s all based around the cards (and some dinky rockets) which act as actions, minerals, trade goods, bombs, planets – read the review, it really is a neat little game.
Finally, and tinily, I’ve been playing Microbrew, a two-player worker placement/puzzle game that comes in a tiny tin – that alone makes it worth having, but it’s also a delightful little game that is part Homebrewer (though no tiny dice to throw) and part Tapper – brew beer to satisfy the thirsty patrons and make them loyal customers by making the perfect beer, which is done using a Columns/Puzzle Gem mechanic in your brewing vessel. It really is a lot of game in a little mint tin, and perfectly portable for spontaneous gaming moments. Now, duty sergeant, I’m sure you’ve got time for just a little game…
I was lucky enough to visit the London Toy Fair a couple weeks ago. This gave me the opportunity to play two games that are currently on Kickstarter, Tinderblox and Kittin. I know, I’m a lucky duck! These two are both dexterity games and they both come in teeny weeny little tins. There’s an impressive amount of wooden components and cards that spill out of those little tins though!
Kittin is a game of competitive cat stacking believe it or not. Players grab polyomino cat Meeples and race to stack them in the exact manner shown on a card. Hilarity often ensues.
With Tinderblox the aim is to build a convoluted campfire from coloured wooden blocks. Players assemble certain blocks with tweezers and then attempt to add these to the stack without knocking the whole thing down. It’s kind of like a mini anti-Jenga.
Both games are part of a single Kickstarter campaign by Alley Cat Games, and we enjoyed them enough to back it on day 1.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Extraordinary Adventures Pirates has been hitting the table plenty in the last month. This deck building offering from Forbidden Games sees you propel your ships along three separate tracks as you balance plundering, gathering treasure and racing to the finish line. the table presence is incredible with this one. The board is quite possibly my favourite game board of all time, just stunning!
Last highlight of the month was finally removing Cosmic Encounter from my shelf of shame. It took pride of place at our last game night, we played it at the five player count and boy, was it a riot! The asymmetrical factions are brilliant, giving each game a fresh twist. This classic thrives on player interactions and is a brilliant way to warm everyone up on game night. I’m very much looking forward to Cosmic Encounter Duel coming out later in the year.
Beneath the colourful exterior of Town Center lurks a fiendish, three-dimensional, economic puzzle.
Players will first draft cubes and then place those cubes on a 3x3 grid. Each coloured cube represents an area of your town: green for Residential, blue for Commerce and so on.
Placement of these cubes is important. Parking and Commercial areas will generate income. Residential areas score points; however, they need Offices where people can work. Offices, themselves, need investment. And, of course, everyone needs Power.
But, take care where you build. The Town Center can take on a life of its own, Commercial and Residential districts growing in all directions. Be careful they don’t spill into the suburbs! Those are the domain of negative points.
Many games prove simpler than they first appear. Despite its toddler’s toy box appearance, Town Center can reduce grown adults to gibbering wrecks by placing two red blocks next to a green one.
At the other block building extreme this month was Men at Work. A dexterity game about building sites and construction workers.
Each turn a card will tell you what to place on your evolving and increasingly unstable building. All you must do is place it.
It turns out this is much more difficult to do than it appears. Not due to any complex placement rules. No, it’s just that your 10-year-old has placed the red stick at a 70° angle. How are you supposed to balance a worker and two bricks on that?
Place the highest item on the site to gain an Employee award. Knock anything down and you lose a Safety Certificate. Lose too many certificates and you are out of the game. The first to a set number of awards or, more likely, the last person with a remaining Safety Certificate, wins.
Men at Work is a game that seems simple, is simple, has wonderfully solid wooden components and is undeniably one of the most fun family games I have ever played.
Is it February already? What sorcery is this!? Well January may have passed us by in the blink of an eye, but we've still managed to get some gaming done. Between Kickstarter arrivals and some long awaited wish-list acquisitions, we have two prominent plays. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 and Men at Work. Very different but still both very well received!
Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is a cooperative legacy game for 1-4 players that runs over a sequence of sessions. We're Legacy game addicts. There's no two ways about that - three down and this is our fourth! What's more is how frequently we play them to get them nailed. It's usually at least one session per week, and the Pandemic Legacy games have scope to have 24 games! But that's on the basis that you lose a game in a month and get another go with it. Here's the only spoiler we'll give, you'll lose a lot.
Pandemic Legacy Season 2 takes place after the original. You don't need the background of the first, or to have even played it, but if you're avid storytellers you'll want it! It runs a chronology of a particular ending of its predecessor, and plays differently enough to keep it interesting but themed. It's definitely a Pandemic game, but it's not how you'd imagine it to be!
You won't be fighting a disease on a world map as you'd expect it, and you'll love the games progression. The better you do, the faster you unlock things. Too many losses and the game will throw you a bone and unlock it for you, but it'll feel like pity. There's no better feeling that snatching victory from the claws of defeat... But you that feeling will be hard to achieve. The games rock hard, the perfect choice for your next cooperative heavy game!
Men at Work is a competitive dexterity game for 2-5 players. It plays in about 40 minutes dependent on how good your fine motor skills are! This is one my partner received for her birthday and has been to our table a fair few times in a short period of time.
The game is oriented around players building a... building? It usually looks like fallen down scaffolding, but that's part of the aesthetic, I think. Anyway, you take turns to place beams or workers on specific locations doing specific things. As example, you may need to add a black or orange beam touching the same colour. Or adding a worker to a orange or white beam whilst holding two bricks. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. You draw a card to determine the complications, and the reverse of the next cards tells you what to place.
It's a well executed system and it makes sure play is never repetitive. What's more is that there's an air of cooperation to it. You're all working on the same building yard after all! If someone drops something, they lose a health and safety certificate. Lose three and you're out! But that's not all, the next player then needs to remove the fallen debris before taking their turn. If they knock something else, they too lose a certificate.
Men at Work can be complicated further using the crane prop as an obstacle to build around (or even utilise). Or, you can go mad and use the skyscraper set up by building on the box's insert itself! The game can be won before everything is wrecked however! After so many rounds, a forewoman card is drawn and this indicates points can be attained. If you place a piece that is the new highest point, you earn a point. Dependent on how many players there are, who ever achieves so many points wins! We fell in love this one quickly due to its ease of access and dexterity skill base. It's similar to Tokyo Highway but with a scoring system that's easier to track for newbies!