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What We’ve Been Playing May 2021

WWBP Feature Image May 2021

Dragons And Princesses - Andrew Walker

Improving weather and easing restrictions means more going on for everyone. With less free time we've been playing shorter, lighter games during opportunities to connect with family.

My daughter and I continued our 50 game challenge, battling for board game supremacy. Cramming in a few plays of Yahtzee-like Age of War determined that she is the superior castle storming samurai. While apparently, I'm more skilled at annihilating half the galaxy as I repeatedly claimed victory as Thanos in Infinity Gauntlet - smugly ending the game with a click of the fingers!

For garden visits with grandparents we've kept things simple and engaging. The kids enjoyed teaching their elders Santorini, a beautiful, charming tower building game, great for playing outside on a lazy sunny afternoon. While Grandad has been teaching us all a lesson with Skull, a fantastically engrossing push-your-luck bluffing game. And unwinding at day's end we've enjoyed the relaxing social deduction of Love Letter.

Not all our gaming has been light. We've had some marathon Dungeons and Dragons sessions with friends; playing The Lost Mines of Phandelver and The Dragon of Icespire Peak. Both are brilliantly written adventures and excellent introductions to D&D. After recently trying the board game version, we also kicked off a digital RPG version of the jungle-themed Tomb of Annihilation with family in New Zealand. We're enthralled by the weird and wonderful flora and fauna and, of course, the dinosaur racing! My youngest will be 11 next week and is as excited about his in-game birthday as he is about his actual party!

We also treated ourselves to some new purchases. I previously held off buying Sheriff of Nottingham because we have a copy of the original 1950s game Smuggle. But I'm glad I eventually did. This reimplementation (a bluffing game about sneaking contraband past a corrupt official) improves a lot on the original, especially the accessibility for children. And after perusing the Zatu Blog reviews I grabbed a game on sale that had passed me by, Three Cheers for Master, for some light-hearted take-that style cheerleading. Hip-hip-hooray for the Zatu blog!

All Aboard! - Hannah Blacknell

This month after a bumper April, I feel like I haven't had as much gaming time available to me in May. Maybe it is the result of some lifting of restrictions or perhaps it is simply the ebb and flow of a gamer's life.

Recently I have been playing a lot of solo games during my lunch break to give myself a mental break from work and the world, you can check out my recent feature on Solo Lunch Time Gaming for more. One game that I have been thoroughly enjoying solo and multiplayer this month has been Railroad Ink Challenge. Over 7 rounds, or six if using expansion dice, players try to connect road and rail networks together based on what die rolls are available for that round. Your aim is to connect as many exits together whilst leaving as few unconnected tracks as possible.  This is a thinky roll-and-write that comes in a number of different varieties. The Lush Green and Shining Yellow editions are the new “challenge” editions and are a step up in gameplay vs the original Blazing Red and Deep Blue original editions.

I have also tested this as an outdoor game, verdict: approved. This is perfect for the wild, fling it in your backpack and take it to the park with a picnic in the sun. If you take the insert out, you can use the box as a dice tray, or pick up one of the fold-flat Zatu branded ones here.

A Trip To The Zoo? How About Mars? - Craig Smith

As I’ve recently started a new job, I decided to treat myself to a couple of new games with the first wage. The first we've been playing is New York Zoo, which is a tile-placement race to complete your animal park quickest. There are similarities to Barenpark, so if you enjoy that game, you’ll most certainly enjoy this. The main difference being that you’re not trying to score the most points. New York Zoo is just a flat-out race to see who can finish first. Also, the animal meeples (animeeples? is that what they’re called?) are just delightful!

Another game which I bought was Saboteur. I recently wrote about board gaming on a budget, and Saboteur is an excellent example of a cheap board game that’s plenty of fun. The aim of the game is to mine a route to the gold, but one (or more in a higher player count) are working against the group. As well as being cheap, the box for the game is tiny, meaning that it doesn’t take up much space. It’s also an ideal game for taking to the pub or beer garden.

Finally, my copy of Red Rising landed on the doorstep this month. Red Rising is a hand management game where you’re trying to synergise your hand to earn yourself the most points. There are other bonuses available for gaining helium, having the most influence and moving furthest along the fleet track. However, the vast majority of points are earned from your hand. There are 112 character cards in the deck, so having only played three-player games means I’ve not even scratched the surface of this game. It certainly feels like a game that will benefit greatly from a higher player count.


Indiana Jones Who? - Nathan Coombs

Sometimes to go fast it pays to start slow, and this is also true for the Quest for El Dorado. With lockdown easing and the ability to see family and friends, this has opened up opportunities to dust off some older games and get them to the table.

The Quest for El Dorado by one of my favourite game designers, Reiner Knizia and published by Ravensburger Games. It is essentially a deck-building, exploring, race game. Up to four intrepid explorers need to traverse various terrains to reach the fabled city of gold. However, to get from A to B means different landscapes must be negotiated. You start with a basic deck of just eight cards. These might offer limited movement through jungle or across water. Players have just four cards in their hand at any time and can play as many or as few in combination to advance.

The board is a series of modules. Each has spaces indicating the challenges faced and equipment needed to progress. These can be arranged and positioned in hundreds of different variations to shorten or lengthen the quest. The first few tiles contain little challenge. Players can advance easily without many obstacles and make very quick progress. Later, however, the terrain becomes more difficult. The basic starting deck will be insufficient for too much progress. Players need to manage their deck and hand, choosing to purchase equipment or other assistance.

So it was with our recent game. One or two family members raced ahead. Within a few turns, they had what was thought was an unassailable lead. I took a more measured approach, buying equipment to bring depth and strength to my deck, instead of moving. I was still near the start line. Soon, it was apparent that two players were quite literally “up a creek without a paddle”. Their decks were weak and they had few equipment cards to deal with water. They could not move without going backwards. Within a few turns I had reeled them in and soon overtook them. Using some special equipment, I hacked my way through the jungle with a giant machete to win the gold.

This was a definite case of a win for the tortoise over the hare.

For a fun game that the whole family can enjoy, with plenty of replayability, The Quest for El Dorado should be one to consider.

Private Decktectives And Superheroes! - Matt Thomasson

This past month has been a mixed bag of gaming. From light filler games to more in-depth, complex games. I have also been playing a lot of “escape rooms in a box” games from the Deckscape/Decktective line. 

The “Deck” games are basically a deck of cards that players work through, solving puzzles, riddles and investigations. What is achieved with the puzzles from just a deck of cards is wonderful. They all have a different feel to them. The Deckscape series is more akin to an escape room and the Decktective games involve more deduction and crime investigation style games. They're very accessible and can be played straight out of the box. Get ready for an hour of satisfying entertainment and puzzle solving that I have been enjoying quite a lot this past month! Also, they are completely resettable so can be passed on to friends/family to try. 

It would not be a What We’ve Been Playing article without me mentioning Marvel Champions (it is only my most played game to date). Gamora and Star-Lord Hero packs have been hitting my table this past month. Two new playable Heroes that are amazingly fun to play. Gamora has a lot of cool deck building potential with her additional aspect cards that can be included in her deck. Star-Lord can take extra encounter cards for big combos and high damage turns. Both play very differently but, once again, both are very fun to play and have been seeing a lot of table time. 

I have also been playing a lot of Solar Storm which is a 1-4 player cooperative game about working together to repair a damaged ship and using resources to divert power to the energy core. It is a very tight and interesting puzzle game packed into a small box with a big box feel. 

Whistle Mountain, Vindication, Dice Hospital and Raiders of Scythia have also been hitting my table and are worth mentioning in what I have been playing this month.