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What We’ve Been Playing – May


Tej Bhatti:

Recently, I have been having a bunch of friends come over and visit me, or I have been going out to catch up with them. Whether it’s in cafes, restaurants, or in the park, I tend to grab my copy of Love Letter, which conveniently comes in a small velvet bag. I love this because it always amuses me (and all my friends) when I pull this out of my jacket pocket.

But do not be fooled by the small package, this game is devilishly addictive and is exactly perfect for 2 to 6 players. Explaining the rules to new players might take you a little while and I often find that by the time I get to explaining the final card’s rule, I am faced with blank and emotionless expressions to which I generally follow up with, “Let’s play a round or two. You’ll get it.”

The gameplay in Love Letter is simple. Each player has a single card in their hand, so on their turn, they must first draw a card from the draw pile, decide which one they want to use, and place that card face up in front of them for everyone to see. They then take the action of that card they just put down. The game’s objective is to gain a favour from the Princess. This thematically makes so much sense because you use the cards’ actions based on the roles to stop the other players, or suitors in this case, from successfully delivering their love letter to the princess. So the cards here are all the typical characters you might encounter in a royal palace, and as a potential suitor, you must manipulate them to get to the princess. If at any point you lose your hand, you are out of the game. With the guard, if you guess another player’s hand correctly, they’re out of the game. Or with the Baron, if you compare your hands with another player of your choice, whoever has the lower-valued card is out of the game. The King allows you to trade your hand with another player, and so on.

The funny twist is that there is only 1 princess card, which is the highest-valued card in the deck, and if at any point you discard it, you instantly lose. You would hate to have this card or draw it in the beginning, but towards the end of the round, it becomes crucial. Once the draw deck is out of cards, either you become the last player standing or the player with the highest hand wins the round and gains a favour token.

Love Letter is a pure deduction game and the best part is you never have to lie about your hand. You just need to be a good guesser. Just play a few rounds with newbies, and watch them fall in love with this game. They might love it so much, that they’ll consider writing letters about it to all their friends and family.

Tom Goodhand:

Bohnanza is a game I first played years ago. At the time, board gaming wasn’t something I did (beyond the obligatory Christmas Monopoly misery fest). I found it confusing and frustrating, but something must have stuck with me, because when I saw it in the sale last month I snapped it up and forced my family to play.

For those not au fait with Bohnanza, it was created by Uwe Rosenberg way back in 1997 and was his first major published game. These days Rosenberg is famous for proper heavyweight euros - Le Harve, Agricola, A Feast for Odin etc. - as well as for the deliciously light Patchwork.

Bohnanza is nothing like Patchwork, but is much more at that end of the spectrum. You’re planting and harvesting stupid-looking beans, while managing a tight hand of cards (which you MUST NOT and CANNOT rearrange) and desperately trying to trade with your fellow players to reach optimum harvesting conditions.

It’s light and simple, but also kind of cutthroat, allows for bluffing, stubbornness, obstinance and - sometimes (but not often) generosity. It’s not for nothing that our family-agreed subtitle for this game is ‘Aggressive Bean Farming’.

On a similar family theme, my daughter loves maths, but most kid-orientated math games are horrifically tedious. Not so Prime Climb, which has become another household staple. You multiply, add, subtract and divide dice rolls from the numbered space you’re on to race around a board and hit space 101 exactly.

Sounds simple, but it comes with plenty of opportunities to upset and scupper your opponent. If you contrive to land on a prime number (don’t worry, the board shows you your number is prime!) you get a power up card, and these power up cards generally help you send your fellow players hurtling back down the board. I’ve never been so excited to land on number 13.

Steve Conoboy:

‘The rules are all wrong,’ says Iggy Pop in the family-friendly Death In Vegas tune ‘Aisha’. He was right, but we didn’t realise at the time that he was banging on about the rulebook for Sea Of Thieves: Voyage Of Legends. It’s a rulebook that looks the part but is really a skullduggerous trap that’ll keep your entire first playthrough off-course. My hopes for the game were almost scuppered early on.

I came into this game expecting to unleash my cannons upon my opponents and plunder their remains on a regular basis, but it turned out that I needed to reset my expectations. Instead, I came to realise that SotVol (oh yeah, that’s my cool way of shortening the title) is about a race to secure as great a reputation as possible, and a ship-on-ship battle can be an excellent way of disrupting that pesky Cap’n Red’s plans of securing a lot of rep from a juicy Legendary Voyage. That’s when I found the joy of the game. It carries over the open world element of the video game with aplomb, there’s freedom here to pursue the endgame however you wish, and isn’t that the true essence of a pirate’s life?

It’s a game that works best when you faff about and roleplay it. Forget about ‘winning’, unless it accidentally happens. Be a pirate. Roam around the islands. Hunt your mates to wind them up. Hoard treasure. Become a skelly-murdering bounty hunter.

Even talking about the game here gives me the urge to swipe everything off the table and cancel all interactions with the real world for a few hours. That’s right, hours, but they seem to sail past in a blur. I’ve had a recent weekend with this game where, quite honestly, I don’t know where those days went. You might say that SotVol has flaws, but I’ve come to realise it has something more important: a personality. It feels piratey. You’ll get swept up in it, you’ll catch that wind in your sails.

Like any board game, you’ve got the option to put a couple of house rules on it and make it work for you. Whatever you do, though, don’t use Fortune cards for rerolls. Seriously.

Steven Gibney:

This month I’ve managed to squeeze in a few longer gaming sessions giving me the time to try games that have extended play times (a shout out to my in-laws for babysitting my 7 month old son while my wife and I ran away to these sessions). Two games that stood out were the always popular Everdell and the recent hit Wyrmspan.

Everdell has been around for a few years and, despite being part of the busy market of worker placement games, it always scores highly on board game lists. After just one playthrough I can see why. Players place their workers throughout the forest gathering resources that will allow them to purchase construction and critter cards. These cards are then used to create player's individual cities which generate points and determine the game's winner. Gameplay takes place over a series of seasons, as each one passes players unlock more workers allowing them to build more effective point gathering engines. At first glance I was intimidated by Everdell, and not just because of the giant tree included in the setup. Thankfully, after just one “season” of gameplay everything fell into place and by the end of the game I was hooked and am already clambering to play again.

In a similar vein, I had the chance to play Wyrmspan, a smash hit released earlier this year and sibling to the extremely popular Wingspan. Players take on the role of a dracologist trying to excavate caves and entice dragons to take up residence. Between the massive number of cards and heavy reliance on strategy this was another intimidating game, made harder by the fact that none of our group had played the game's predecessor. In the end gameplay took almost 4 hours and, despite being exhausted when it was over, I am keen to play again, mainly because I feel like we only scratched the surface of what is an incredibly in-depth game

Abigail Bradish:

May is always a busy month for us as a family, with both mine and my daughters birthdays just a week apart, its mostly a month where the kitchen permanently has a fine layer of icing sugar coating it from cake making. However it also means I can make my other half take me out to our local games store to play games on my birthday and I might even have been gifted new game or two as well!

Not a birthday present, but a game I bought is Horrified, I’d heard so much about this and I was not disappointed. A cooperative where you and your fellow heroes are attempting to defeat various universal monsters, whilst also protecting the locals. The great thing about Horrified is you can choose how many monsters to pit yourselves against, and each monster has a difficulty rating meaning it’s up to you how challenging you make the game.

We also managed to play both Azul and Sky Team whilst at the games store, neither of which I’d played before. I see why Azul is a classic, a great drafting game where you need to fill your mosaic without letting too many of your tiles fall to the floor. Super tactile too, the tiles give a very satisfactory clinkety clink in the bag. Then we played Sky Team which has been raved about this year, a dice drafting cooperative game for two, where you’re trying to safely land your plane, all without saying a word. Controversially – I didn’t love it, that’s not to say it’s not a great game it is, but it just didn’t float my boat… or fly my plane. It did remind me of was another great dice drafting game I then had to play, Taverns of Tiefenthal. Conversely this is a competitive game where you’re trying to beat your fellow bar keeps to have the best tavern around. This makes it sound like I’d prefer to fight in a pub than work together to successfully achieve a task...

I also got a handful of tiny games for my birthday with two standouts amongst them. Firstly Saboteur, a game for up to 8 players where you’re trying to work together to successfully tunnel and reach gold, well most of you are. Some of you will be saboteurs, secretly trying to foil the other player’s attempts so they can’t reach the treasure. So far we’ve only played this at 3 players and I’ve ended up being the backstabber an inordinate amount of times… it was great! Looking forward to playing this at a higher player count. The next was tinderblox, dinky dexterity game that’s plays through super quick, kind of like a pocket size men at work!

To finish off the busy month of May we did sneak in one games night, and my friend brought over Quacks of Quedlinburg, which has long been on my wish list. It’s still firmly on my wish list its A-Mazing. Who wouldn’t want to be a potion maker trying to make the best brew whilst also avoiding catastrophic explosions? Little bit strategy, a hefty chunk of push your luck and a whole lot of fun!

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