Skulls, Diamonds, Murder And Escape
My June highlight was my first physical games night since early 2020. Rather than playing the big games we've been excited to try all lockdown, the consensus was to keep things light. We mostly played suspense based games that generated laughter, tension and cheering moments - perfect for our return to in-person gaming.
We started with Skull, a bluffing game in which players challenge and trick one another to raise stakes and gamble on the contents of card stacks. Players secretly place, or feign, traps to thwart the overconfident. The close shaves and narrow misses laid a foundation of suspense we followed with...
Diamant, a game of Chicken in booby-trapped mines. Whoever lasts longest stands to collect a hefty haul of treasure - if they avoid the snakes, spiders, boulders, lava and log traps! Each game someone took an early lead, either braving the caves the longest or being smart enough to leave before everyone got squashed, stung or skewered. To catch up, everyone else risked it all right to the end. Sometimes a last-minute victory was snatched. Sometimes we were caught flat-footed and flattened by boulders. Several raucous games later we took a break from suspense with...
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, a hidden role game about deciphering clues to catch a murderer, while a traitor in your midst attempts to lead you astray. It's a fast, highly replayable, thinky game. Being mostly cooperative it provided a nice break from our earlier competitive gaming. And while it can be tense, it's mostly deduction, which allowed us to recover our nerves before...
Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. A hidden movement game that throws players into an unsettling silence, except from the eerie, radar-like declarations of noise throughout the doomed space station. Humans try to evade prowling aliens and reach escape pods. The suspense builds to a climax as the aliens close in. Highly atmospheric, this is one of my all-time favourite games; a great finale to a games night that got the heart racing.
Betrayal At House On The Hill
The horror! The horror! The horror… genre isn’t one of my favourites, I often find things aren’t scary enough to make it feel worthwhile for me. However, when we set out Betrayal at House on the Hill to play the other day, in one of the first gaming days I’ve had since the lockdown, I was excited to give it a go. For those who haven’t seen this title, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a tile-laying exploration game with a traitor mechanic. Dice are used for combat and other damaging aspects, but at its thrust, the game is a cooperative experience, based on survival against a spooky house and the 50 different ways it’s trying to kill you.
I had played the D&D version, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, once before, and had been thrust straight into the role of the traitor, which did not go well for me. This time around, I was part of the team which tried to fight against the house. Once we succeeded, the second time we failed. Luck is heavily relied upon, getting the right items, omens and events happening to you and the rooms connecting in just the right way! The dice aren’t always on your side either – both times the Haunt, the mechanic which flips the game on its head, came up very early, which mean we, the party, were on the backfoot.
Despite this, we loved playing this game, and with the 50 haunts possible, and an expansion available for another 50, there is so much replay value in this single box, you can keep bringing it out again and again. Just don’t be that guy… you know, the traitor. No one likes the traitor (even though you’re essential and we love you.)
June has been a domino packed month. Not the usual block game of ancient times, but clever, colourful, modern iterations!
Why? Well, earlier this month, the Kinderspiel des Jahres award was won by the wonderful Dragomino. On top of that, Blue Orange and Coiledspring games announced their forthcoming autumn release of the stone-age based Kingdomino Origins!
Therefore, with double-six inspired delights on our radar, we decided to break out an old favourite, Kingdomino. Designed by Bruno Cathala, and illustrated by Cyril Bouquet, Kingdomino is a lesson in a compact, clever crunch. A 20-minute tile-laying game, Kingdomino sees you picking and placing domino-style tiles around your own little castle. Each chunky tile depicts two terrain types, and you must place a tile adjacent to an existing one. In true domino-style, however, that tile only hits the table if one of the territories match.
Some tiles have crowns on them and these little additions are golden indeed. This is because, if you have crowns inside a given region, that region will score points at end game. Not only that, but the more crowns you have, the more those palatial points will multiply!
Now, this may sound easy. You are imagining a classic domino layout with crown covered tile tentacles spreading out across the table. But in a tricky twist, your tiles must be laid in a 5 x 5 grid (or 7 x 7 at two-player count) around your little castle. Furthermore, the turn order is a tense affair. The tiles you choose in a given round determine where you are in line for the next one. And with crown-tastic tiles lower down in the pool, you must make a decision. Do you go for the bounty now, but get stuck with what’s left next round? Or do you build up your geographical areas now and have first pick of the tiles in the subsequent round? Being able to hate-draft territories can also have huge strategic advantages!
We love Kingdomino, and it was a joy to get it back to the table. Plus, as we are also lucky enough to own the sequel, Queendomino. I am predicting a lot of combo plays in July and beyond!
The Jester, The Traitor, And The Genius
It’s been a busy month for game playing, as our regular group started to meet again. We had a hilarious time with Monikers, which I reviewed recently, and opened the evening with tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks. Kung-Fu Panda in Round Three (the mime round) was a particular hit.
The Resistance: Avalon also hit the table and made for some raucous backstabbing, lies and dissembling. I got pegged early as a suspected baddy – and they were quite right – but as the assassin had much fun trying to scope the identity of Merlin just in case. We were outed in the last round, the knights succeeded in their final quest, but I guessed right and team evil snatched the win. Also, we played Master Word, which took the elders among us back to our childhoods and the source material, Mastermind. We had a good time, though opinions were a bit mixed as to how it rated against Code Names, Just One and Decrypto.
I have played Imperium: Classics as a solo and a 2-hander with my daughter, and we have been really rather impressed. The care over the asymmetry of the factions, and the basis of this in their history is really impressive and intriguing – they do really feel different. The puzzle is a good one and while it can be a bit of a multiplayer solo, with 2 the pace of the game mitigates this. And, actually, there can be a fair bit of interaction with some factions.
Worth noting while the card quality is a bit meh, it’s really cheap for what it is and the artwork is gorgeous. Full review to follow shortly. I am hoping Fort will be coming out this weekend. I bounced off it a bit when I first got it, but I have heard a number of good reports from friends recently so I think it deserves another go; maybe it’s a ’grower’.
June has been a month where I have been able to get back to face to face gaming big time. It’s been a great relief after the lean year previously. Probably the big new thing is beginning the Dunwich cycle of Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It’s nice to have a new playing partner after so many two-handed solo missions and so far two brains are better than one. We have won both opening scenarios. Well, as much as you can “win” a scenario of Arkham Horror. It’s a game where doom awaits your every turn.
There was also an animal-themed game night with two other friends. We began with a gentle stroll in the park, feeding the ducks in the deceptively tricky Ducks in Tow. In this beautifully produced and charming pick-up and deliver game, you wander around the park encouraging ducks to follow your tow by bribing them with food. Deliver the correct ducks to the correct location to play cards into your row. But plan ahead because you will only score if you get all your ducks in a row with no gaps in the chain.
Also on the table that evening was the relaxing, zen-like Seikatsu. It’s a unique abstract designed to play best at exactly three players. It’s all about perspectives and getting the right birds and flowers collected from your perspective while cutting off your opponent’s opportunities to score from theirs.
We finished the evening off with my go-to “and one more thing…” game: Spicy. I really can’t get enough of this simple and hilarious bluffing game. The cards are gorgeous, and the gameplay is fast, simple and guaranteed to raise a laugh. I’m so relieved to have game nights back, proper!