What We’ve Been Playing – July 2019

What We've Been Playing - Coimbra

July was hot. Really hot! In fact, it was too hot to go outdoors for long. This means that there was plenty of gaming time available. Here's what we've been playing in the last few weeks.

Andy P - Tiny Towns, Mystic Vale & Space Base

I only picked up Tiny Towns at UKGE, but it's impressed every time it's seen table time. It's already received more plays than perennial favourites Arboretum and Sushi Go. Tiny Towns is part spatial puzzle, part ruing your opponents while they force resources on you. Who need to choose wood five times in a row anyway? It's already seated itself just outside my top 10 most played games, and I can see it being in my top five by the end of the year.

Mystic Vale is a quaint card-builder with many avenues to victory, and it continues to impress me. Having tried several of the expansions, my favourite aspect is the Leader cards. These add a little variety to your standard deck offering, while giving you a game plan and strategy. Sometimes, this ends up giving you the best score you’ve ever recorded. Other times, you’re at -86 points at the end of the game because you neglected to flip your leader in time. Not a game for everyone, but for those it is for it continues to spark joy.

Space Base was a left-field choice for me as I rarely enjoy sci-fi games. It could be re-themed and keep its engaging mechanics intact, but it doesn’t need to. The interplay between card selection and luck mitigation gives you plenty of things to aim for. It's simple in principle, but the cards you buy can have a huge effect on the outcome. Space Base beats the pants off of Machi Koro for me, and I can’t see me wanting to play it over this ever again. With story-based expansions in the pipeline, expect Space Base to stick around for a long time.

Rob Wright - Escape the Dark Castle, Quacks & More

July, a month for going outside and enjoying the sun… oh, it’s raining heavily again. Games anyone?

Sometimes it’s fun not to fight together but to fight together, and what better way to co-operate than to be a bunch of desperate prisoners escaping the clutches of a dark, brooding overlord? Escape the Dark Castle is a beautifully designed homage to Ian Livingston and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series that pits a group of players against a series of encounters (battles, traps, dodgy cooks), culminating in defeating (or not defeating) the lord (or lady) of the titular castle. It’s quick, it’s fun, it’s really good looking (the black and white art is gorgeous) and is ultimately satisfying if you are victorious. Good stuff.

This one is a bit of a cheat. However, since playing it once, all I’ve been thinking about is playing it! That counts, right? Quacks of Quedlinburg is not a game I would have come across by myself (not enough spaceships), but I am mightily glad it was introduced to me. Part deck/bag builder, part push-your-luck, this game is all about making potions at a potion competition and not blowing up your cauldron – suffice to say, I blew up my cauldron a lot – and is huge amounts of cuss-filled fun. It’s a family game, too. Allegedly.

Finally, a double whammy for two games that everyone will have known about except me – Coup and Love Letter. The first is a game of lying and misdirection - I don’t usually go for that, but this is quick and dirty and… regardless of what anyone else tells you, I AM THE DUKE! The second… a masterclass in streamlined gaming – be the player holding the highest card but don’t get knocked out or ‘guessed’. All in just 16 cards? Inspired.

Northern Dice - Sub Terra & House of Danger

Time flies when you're cooking alive in 30+ heat. We've played plenty of games this month, some old and some new! But our two top picks this month have been Sub Terra by ITB and House of Danger by Prospero Hall. We've kept it spooky and we've got more than three months until Halloween!

Sub Terra is one of our all-time favourites. It's got the true wow factor for us! Tile laying and exploration. No two games will ever be the same, the decisions you make change your chances of survival, and you can see when your fate was sealed! We'll be honest, it's not a game we often win at - but we love it! The concept is that you, and your fellow cavers, have fallen into a hole whilst climbing. Now you need to find an escape before your flashlights die, or worse! Lots can go wrong whilst caving. But in Sub Terra it just does go wrong, and there are some real nasties hunting you down as you hunt for the exit.

This game is incredibly heavy in theme and the feel of claustrophobia will set in quickly. Communication is key and is a requirement for success, but is entirely optional. Should you choose to go rogue you can easily get lost, make a mess and risk life and death for individual glory... But that's really not going to happen! The game never feels too heavy and flows really well through play. There is little down time for players as being aware of what everyone is doing and where they're going can determine your own risk. Great fun regardless of player count!

House of Danger holds the same spooky feel as Sub Terra but plays much differently. Do you remember those 'choose your own adventure books'? Well, this game is that with a little more bang for your buck! It's fully co-operative as you all control one investigator and decide his course of action. The game is played over five chapters and follows the plot of having strange nightmares... So you naturally seek out where your nightmare is set. You're almost aiming to acquire a Darwin Award at this point! Nonetheless! The game is oriented around your exploration of an old mansion and what it is that haunts you so.

It's amazing how much fun this game is. It isn't legacy but needs resetting to be played a second time. There will be finite solutions and replay ability to this one, but only should you play it sequentially too often! We've not yet tired of it and have found lots of humour in the odd happenings. You never know what's going to happen next and quite often your curiosity if what gets you killed!

Dean M - Quacks, Grand Austria, Metro & Dragon Castle

I finally had the opportunity to play Wolfgang Warsch’s 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Quacks of Quedlinburg. It’s not often that I play a game and feel like the hype is completely justified. Despite this, Quacks exceeded my expectations with its beautiful design. The game always offers unfortunate players plenty of consolation prizes to help catch up. There are elements of luck, of course, but there is enough strategic and tactical moments to create a fantastic game experience. It’s great having another push-your-luck game in my collection to rival Port Royal.

This month also included my first play of Grand Austria Hotel. I was extremely impressed by how intricate the design and theme incorporation was. There is a lot of resource management that, while tricky to perfectly organise, is never overbearing. Manoeuvring your actions around the available dice also incentivises improvisation and planning ahead. Each guest and staff card also has abilities relevant to their profession, which is a pleasant touch. All players were well into the flow of the game after a few rounds, and I’m excited to play it again. Overall, the game is a fantastic balance of theme and strategy, and is set to become an all-time favourite.

Two other games I played this month are Metro Second Edition and Dragon Castle. I discussed the former in my in-depth review if you’re interested in learning more. As for Dragon Castle, I quite enjoyed its modern approach on Mahjong. The game is perhaps more straight-forward than Azul or Sagrada, but its aesthetic value truly excels. The tiles are notably hefty and have elegant patterns engraved on them. I’m looking forward to trying the game with some of the more complex spirit and dragon cards.

Throne of Games - Brass Lancashire, Takenoko & 7 Wonders

Brass Lancashire, I just don't get sick of this game. This revamp of the classic economic strategy heavyweight, set in the industrial revolution, is exactly what I want out of this type of game. As players expand their empire and move through the eras of the game their strategy can become reliant on what actions their opponents take and how they adjust to the changing situation. I want to build cotton but for that I need the correct location in my network. I also need coal and Iron. I can get Iron, but there is no canal network to the coal mine and demand is high, so it's going to cost me. Shall I build my own port to sell the cotton or rely on other people to save time and cash? Gah! It's a brain burner, and I spend a lot of time losing. But I love it.

You like cute Pandas, right? And completing challenges, yes? Fancy something to add some variety to your family game nights? Takenoko could be a good choice for you. Players complete private objective cards in order to win points. The objective cards will influence how you play the game and even how you shape the board. Create the modular board with hexagonal landscape tiles to complete one type of objective. Supply the land with water and send the gardener there to grow bamboo to complete another type of objective. Send the panda in to eat the bamboo to complete the third type of objective. But as players complete for the same items for their own objectives there is a push and pull dynamic as you fight to complete your goals first. A strong choice for a gateway game.

I've been a 7 Wonders: Duel fan for years, but only last month did I start playing the original game, and it's great! This card drafting, empire and engine building game is fun and fast with interesting decisions to be made and you will want to play it again and again. Taking up to seven players, this one can accommodate the fullest of gaming tables.

Dawid K - Blood Rage, Coimbra & Quacks of Quedlinburg

There are three games I have played in July that really stand out for me. And although very different from each other, all three have been extremely enjoyable, exciting and engaging.

The first was Blood Rage from CMON. A great looking Viking themed area control game with fantastic miniatures. It has tense battles and difficult choices delivered in an accessible package. The game feels tight and stripped of any unnecessary mechanic, yet delivering a lot of depth. Everything in it works like a well-oiled engine and it is deservedly seen as one of Eric Lang’s best games.

For the second game, I’ve swapped the miniatures for dice in Coimbra. This colourful and cartoony looking game is very deceiving. Inside, it is a mean and think-heavy dice placement game, where the number of moves is very limited and the stakes are high. Dice need to be put in either ascending or descending order, which will determine who gets the best pick of the available workers. These give players special abilities that may be used once, throughout the game, or in the end scoring. The game can lead to a decision paralysis, but, thanks to its relative short playtime over four rounds, does not overstay its welcome.

Lastly, after the tense battles and difficult decisions, The Quacks of Quedlinburg delivered pure fun and childlike excitement every time my hand was drawing a token out of the bag. Its push your luck mechanic sees players adding ingredients to their potions, but if too many cherry bombs are added the whole pot will explode! Depending on how many ingredients were added, players will gain victory points and money, with which new ingredients can be purchased and added to the bag for a new round of potion brewing!