So none of us have been having the March we would have expected. But we have been able to find more creative ways to play games, and hopefully finding joy in some older favourites once again.
It has very much been a month of halves - the beginning of the month included Airecon, where many games were played (even though I was only there for two days). Particular stand out games include Bruxelles 1897 (the card reimplementation of Bruxelles 1893), New Frontiers (the board game version of Race for the Galaxy), Mini Rails and Cooper Island.
If you like the peculiar integrated mechanisms of Bruxelles 1983, there is no doubt you will like 1897. Most of the same elements are there - the games is, underneath the surface, a blend of area control, resource management, and set collection. In fact it is difficult to see where the major differences are between the two - 1897 feels very familiar. Bruxelles 1897 is one of the heavier card games I have played.
New Frontiers is a welcome addition to the Race for the Galaxy family. It has a lot of things in common with all of the existing games in the series. New Frontiers is essentially a tableau builder, in which players either colonise (or invade) worlds, or fund new developments (which aid progress). Worlds which are colonised will produce goods in later rounds, which can be sold for money (to fund future colonies or developments) or consumed, for victory points.
The action phases which occur in each round are selected by the players, but unlike Race and Roll for the Galaxy, they do not occur in a predetermined order. There are a number of things which make New Frontiers distinct from the other games in the family - if you are a fan, I would strongly recommend giving it a look.
Mini Rails is a quick, small game, arguably a train game in miniature (without any pick up and deliver element).. Each round, players take two actions - lay tracks and take a share. Laying tracks will result in increasing or decreasing the value of shares in a given company, Taking shares adds a share token to the payer’s portfolio, at a value of $0 - but this is unlikely to remain at that value. The game plays in around 45 minutes, which makes it ideal as a longer filler, but it is much more thinky than many other games of the same length.
Cooper Island was new to me… and I enjoyed it so much I immediately bought a copy. It is without doubt one of the best games of 2019. Anyone who knows my gaming tastes will appreciate that is a weighty game, with a lot of planning involved. At its core it is a tile placement game, but unusually, the tiles are stacked. And each time a tile is laid, it produces a new resource, with the height of the tile stack indicating the number of resources it produces. From this, careful resource management is key, as the right resources can be spent on increasingly valuable upgrades…. And then there is the ship movement…
The latter part of March has had quite an understandable impact on mine, and everyone else’s gaming. Hopefully you are managing to find ways of gaming online, if you don’t have anyone at home to play games with. So far I have played games of Brass Birmingham and Dice Throne on Tabletop Simulator, and First Class on Yucata. These virtual environments are ideal for allowing you to play games with friends.
But whatever you do to get your gaming fix, stay well.
A Month Of Two Halves
What an mad, mad place the world has turned into, these past four weeks. COVID-19 has pulled the rug from underneath many regular board game nights. It’s sad, but it’s the only way we can protect ourselves and those around us.
The first half of March chuffed along like a regular train. I played A Pleasant Journey To Neko, a delightful dice-drafting/-placement game. Set in the Antarctic, you aim to sail your boat(s) to see adorable penguins. Sounds cute, but this has wonderful layers of strategy within. Players bid on cards using die pips, and acquired cards sit in your tableau. The left- and the right-hand side of neighbouring cards each have abilities. Sat together, this creates a unique worker placement spot you can place a die (instead of bidding). Bright colours and artwork. Quality components. Fascinating, dovetailing mechanisms. More than pleasant; Neko had me thinking about it long after we’d packed the game away.
I also played Chimera Station, before ‘lockdown’. This Euro-style offering by Tasty Minstrel Games sees players building a space station. The cool thing here is you can ‘splice’ body parts (claws, brains, tentacles, leaves) onto your alien workers to give them bonus traits. Possibilities for awesome chain combos, and components that clip together like LEGO? I’m itching to play this again.
And then these past two weeks: boom. The train’s hurtled past the station, no driver, and no one to pull the brakes. I miss my regular board game group in ways I didn’t appreciate until now. I’m still playing games at home with my family, but a lighter fare, on the whole. These days, family-weight, ‘gateway’ or ‘gateway-plus’ are on the menu. Still enjoyable, of course! So far we’ve played games of Jamaica (pirates, racing, hand management) by Bruno Cathala, and Cacao (jungle, tile-placement) by Phil Walker-Harding. Both are my go-to designers when I want a fun, simple-to-teach game. Their portfolio of board games always guarantees interesting, interactive experiences. I’d recommend their games in a heartbeat!
Well, March was an interesting month. Fortunately, I was able to get some gaming in with friends before the UK entered lockdown. My regular gaming group got two more rounds of our Formula D championship completed, on the Estoril and Valencia circuits. I'm still enjoying it, though I'm yet to win a race! It could be some time before we're able to meet again face to face. Perhaps April will be a month for digital versions of our favourite board games.
We also got Pirates Cove, Colt Express, Seven Dragons, and Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space to the table. All are good games for 5+ players but don't see regular play in my group. I set myself a gaming challenge in January, to play through my entire collection at least twice in 2020. It's been a great way to revisit those titles that are often overlooked, and rediscover what I like about them. Colt Express has gone from un-played for maybe two-three years, to played three times this year already.
I've enjoyed playing Undaunted Normandy with a friend and in solo mode. I wasn't completely taken with it after my first play through, but it's steadily growing on me. It's a solid game. I enjoy how the campaign continues to introduce new elements as you progress - it keeps it interesting.
My partner and I also went head to head again in the gaming arena..This time we shunned outright 2-player games for bigger sport; Agricola, Everdell, and Riverboat all hit the table in one evening. I remain undefeated at Riverboat but was completely outplayed in Agricola, going down to a ten point loss. Still, it's a great game and I enjoy a challenge. A rematch is surely on the cards.
This month saw a return to my solo gaming roots with two classic single player small box games.
You play Friday, Robinson’s friend and native islander. Friday wants little more than to see stranded Robinson return home so that peace can return to his idyllic paradise.
However, Robinson is suffering from an excess of comfortable living. Blessed with little common sense and a tendency to feel weak and tired, Robinson will need all the survival skills that Friday can teach him.
Robinson learns these skills through a deckbuilding mechanic that allows you take on increasingly difficult challenges. Each challenge you overcome provides Robinson with new skills and abilities that will eventually allow him to face off against pirates and return home. Easier said than done! In 5 years, I have sent Robinson home only a handful of times from dozens of plays.
Sylvion, from Shadi Torbey, is the second game in the Oniverse series.
You are helping the inhabitants of an enchanted wood save their homes from the Ravage, lord of the Fire Elementals.
The Ravage’s fire is magical, flaring unexpectedly and instilling fear into the forest. The Ravage itself leaps from fire spirit to fire spirit providing protection and driving the fire ever onwards.
Each turn the fire will spread. You need to recruit firefighters, plan your defences, employ spy tactics and repair damage. If the fire reaches the tree line, the forest burns, and the game will end.
Sylvion uses deck building, hand management and distinctive artwork to provide a fun tower defence experience. Sylvion also includes a selection of expansions in the base box providing variety and longevity that keeps me returning to it after countless plays and years in my collection.
A curious WWBP this month as… well, I haven’t got out as much as I usually don’t do anyway and neither has anyone else (seriously people, stay indoors – let’s flatten that curve). As a result, I have been finding new ways to enjoy the hobby with people remotely, or just on my todd.
First off, the gorgeously unforgiving solo version of Vladimir Suchy’s Underwater Cities, proving that life is much better down where it’s wetter but maybe not on my board. It’s worker placement, but card driven and all about the combos – match the colour of the card and the slot and you get both actions, otherwise it’s half measures all around. There’s a lovely feeling of synergistic achievement when a plan comes together, followed by that feeling of abyssal frustration when you’ve played for kelp but need the cash. Plenty complex, but easy to pick up and easy on the eye, with just a hint of sardonic humour – I’m looking forward to playing this with real people…
Continuing on the subject of sea-based adventures, Oink Games’s Deep Sea Adventure is a little box of brutal air-line cutting fun for up to six players that plays very well over rudimentary laptop and tablet cams (though those rolls you were getting on your dice app JV? Very sus…). You have three rounds to plumb the depths in the search for hidden treasure and you have to balance how much you pick up (each treasure you hold will cost you air), how deep you go (treasure weighs you down, so you won’t move as fast) and whether you get back to the sub. Fail to get back and it’s glub, glub, glub for you and Davy Jones’s Locker for your treasure. Quick, mean and fun.
Finally, a return to a game I’d had a go at… then moved on. Keyforge from Fantasy Flight and game design legend Richard Garfield. It’s a bit TCG and I know people who have vanished into the key-hole, but the way each individual deck’s cards work together, the reaping over fighting mechanic, the delayed satisfaction on strategies when you can only use one house at a time… yeah, maybe this requires a bit more attention. Surely one more deck… couldn’t… hurt?
This has been a very different month for all of us and I'm sure our What We've Been Playing article reflects that.
For me, I've been playing lots of Shards of Infinity with my housemate. This is a competitive deck-building game where players battle to whittle away the health of their opponent. There's a good bit of depth that I'm still exploring, but the rules themselves are simple enough that the more boardgame-shy folks in your home won't have much trouble getting involved.
Secondly, I've been playing some tabletop RPGs over video calls. My current favourite is Blades in the Dark, which I strongly encourage you to check out, though it sadly isn't sold on our site. Using the same system, Band of Blades is on Zatu and I'm currently working my way through its rulebook. These rely far less on pre-written preparation and are free-flowing, fast-paced games, lacking any turn-based combat. Regardless, tabletop RPGs are still very possible whilst social distancing and if you've not tried them before, there's not been a better time.
Lastly, I've dedicated much of my time to painting some of my miniatures. It's been great for the headspace whilst in isolation, keeping productive and unleashing some creative energy. Many of you will have unpainted minis sat in your boardgame boxes, so why not look into giving them a lick of paint? To give you a hand, I've written a Poor Man's Guide on the topic.