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What We’ve Been Playing January 2022

What We've Been Playing Feature
What We've Been Playing Feature

January marks a fresh start to the year. You want to kick it off with the best start possible and keep yourself motivated to stick to new goals. So, how did we kickstart our year? By playing board games, obviously. Here's what we've been playing:

Luke Pickles

When this feature came up to take a part of, I had to think hard about what I’d write. Because of, let’s say, “current events,” I spent the back end of December away from people. So when I finally got out in early January, I went on a gaming spree. And boy did that continue all through the month. See, whilst we were isolating, my partner and I sorted our collection of about 108 games. A number of which we hadn’t opened yet. So we decided it was time to play our collection. In January, so far (the 24th as I write this), we have played 11 of our games - plus another five that our friends and family either owned or played online with us.

We failed to save the world (twice) in Pandemic The Cure, sought out some spies in Codenames, worshipped the gods on Olympus, drew some delightful maps in Cartographers and Cartographers Heroes, escaped a sinking Forbidden Island, pretended to be Greg Davies in Taskmaster, pretended to be simian marketing executives in Gorilla Marketing, built a whole bunch of stuff in Santorini, The Red Cathedral, and Architects of the West Kingdom, and found out that Gods Love Dinosaurs (and so do I.) A few of these games were new to me, and I loved revisiting those that I had played before. A five-player game of Architects went surprisingly quickly, and an albeit confusing start of Gorilla Marketing turned out to be a profanity-filled laugh fest.

After a month of solid gaming, I think I will slow down, take a breath, put my feet up… yeah, no, I’m not doing that. Onto the next month!

With Christmas not long behind us, like many, I’ve played a lot of Just One over the holidays. A simple cooperative word game that’s immediately accessible and goes down well with infrequent gamers. For an especially festive twist, the first word we had to guess while demoing the game was – magically – “Christmas”.

The last time I wrote in a What We've Been Playing I’d just discovered several wonderful Roll ‘n Writes. This time, I’ve more to add on all of them… Railroad Ink Challenge (Yellow and Green) are the second duo of releases for the relaxing railroad game. When a game feels near flawless from the first, I’m often wary of what an expansion could add. Fortunately, these suspicions are often ill-founded. Railroad Ink Challenge smashes through them like a runaway train.

Different die faces during the base game make for more difficult decisions and dilemmas.

They compensate for this with the basic board – which adds a scattering of symbols for buildings conferring bonuses; these deliver points or permit repeated use of dice or specials. A trio of challenges provides even more point-scoring opportunities in a game that should please anyone who enjoyed the original Railroad Ink.

Launching around Christmas was the expandalone treat Cartographers: Heroes. This very much mimics the map-making moreishness of the original, but adds more monsters and goals, mighty heroes, and can combine with the original game or enjoyed on its own merits.

Finally, in a taste of Roll ‘n Writes to come, I’ve just learned that Welcome To The Moon is no mere map pack/mini-expansion of Welcome To Your Perfect Home, but an eight-map campaign version of the mainline game…

I might already know what I’ll be writing about next time.

January is a bleak old month and so I need to take joy where I can. I have been playing my top ten games for much of this month. Which has been very enjoyable, the stand out for me has been It’s A Wonderful World. I had the pleasure of introducing some friends to this game this month and they also loved it. Which was not surprising, but heartwarming all the same.

In It’s A Wonderful World you are drafting cards to either construct for their ongoing ability, endgame scoring, or recycling for a one time bonus. Each decision is key as the quicker you can get your engine up and running, the higher your scoring ability will be. But you want to ensure that you maximise on the points as well as build an empire to last. The game lasts 4 short rounds, which means you will need to math out your final card choices to ensure you don’t end up with a half-built card at the end.

I recently got the War or Peace campaign expansion and we played through this in one weekend. This adds small changes to the game to shake up the way you play a bit. But at its core it is still the fabulous base game, which is exactly what I love.

Craig Smith

January always brings new gaming resolutions. My aim this year is to play one thousand games (not all different ones of course). I’ve gotten off to a strong start and have played some real gems along the way. The first of these is Meadow. What a gorgeous set collection game it is too. You play as an explorer trying to observe the most impressive collection of nature you can. You do this by placing tokens in the main playing board, or around the campfire to collect bonuses. The artwork of the game is stunning. There’s also been an expansion announced which has an otter on the box. I’m sold on it already. I have also continued to find time for solo playing. One game that takes very little time to set up is A Gentle Rain. The game promotes itself as a relaxing, meditative experience. The aim is to place lake tiles so that all eight lilies bloom. It works, too. There is a point-scoring mechanic, but I’ve never really paid any attention to my score. It is just a calming and soothing experience.

I’ve also been playing a lot of competitive tile placement games. One of the biggest surprises for me has been NMBR 9. Each player is trying to make a tower of tiles shaped like the numbers 0-9. Numbers placed on the bottom level are worth nothing. Multiply each number on the level above by one, the next level by two and so on. All players take their turns at the same time, meaning that each person has the same opportunities. Trying to make the tiles fit perfectly is so frustrating too. It’s almost the complete opposite of A Gentle Rain in terms of relaxation, but doesn’t stop it from being great fun!

My Christmas games have had plenty more playtime over the last month. Furnace has continued to delight with its fast-paced blend of auction mechanics and engine building. It had a road test against It’s a Wonderful World, which has drafting as the counterpoint to engine building, and I can’t decide which I prefer, but there is room for both in my collection. Drafting and engine building were common themes, as I have also enjoyed a number of plays of Res Arcana with both expansions included. I was a staunch fan of Lux et Tenebrae, but Perlae Imperii has been a real grower. At first I was unsure of the increased VP cap at 13 and the role of the pearls, but I have been really won over by the integrated nature of the design and the additional tactical nuances it brings. Res is the best of the bunch as I love the minimalist draft of 8 cards and the puzzle of doing the best you can within constrained parameters.

At the heavier end of the spectrum I had my first play of Brass Birmingham, and while really crunchy Euros have become less my thing, I was hugely impressed. Too often Euros can become multiplayer solitaire events. Not Brass, as the range of interaction on the board, some directly hostile and some far more balanced, makes for a really engaging experience. I definitely want another play, as this was very much a learning game.

And then, finally, some lighter activity. Schotten Totten has come back out and I am reunited with the lightning-quick tactical agony of this Reiner Knizia masterpiece. Alongside an old favourite, I was also introduced to No Thanks! which is a vicious game of brinksmanship framed in the simplest of rules – a sure-fire family winner which will definitely be hitting the table when Christmas rolls around again.