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What We’ve Been Playing – May

What We've Been Playing May - Dice Stars

Each month members of the Zatu Games writing team share details on the board games they have been playing, sharing both positive and negative thoughts on those games. Here are the games that our team have been playing during the month of May.

Simon - D&D and Ticket to Ride

We've played a lot of Castle Ravenloft, and dabbled in Drizzt, but we own Temple of Elemental Evil so we've played this one the most. Over the last month we've played a couple of adventures, and we're now about two thirds through the campaign and absolutely loving it.

This game system gets a mixed reaction, I'm guessing because to purists it isn't Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) - the limited options available are a (fantasy) world away from the open environment that a role-playing game offers.

But the key elements are all in there, armour class, hit points, the character and creature types, chucking a D20 to attack, so it has a familiar feel to it for anyone who has played D&D. And it is so simple to learn, after reading the rules once the reference cards are all they’d needed to refresh on how to play.

We’ve had some amazing experiences with this game, chaining power cards and being lucky enough to roll multiple critical hits in a row to dispatch boss monsters in one attack, great stuff!

Ticket to Ride - Europe

This is the board game equivalent of a big warm hug to me, always welcome at the table. We love the familiarity of the European map, despite the fact that other than Edinburgh, London and Paris, we can never find any of the cities! Our excuse is that the names have changed since Victorian times, not that our geography is awful at all!

This version introduces the risky element of constructing train tunnels, where extra cards may be needed, and if you don't have them you have to abandon the attempt altogether. Huge points can be gained from the Russian tunnel, but it’s a big gamble!

There are also stations that can be placed on cities to allow you to use other player’s constructed lines, very handy if all the lines get used up, but if you hold onto them they are worth points at the end of the game.

We like to finish the game by revealing route cards in ascending order, so each player reveals their lowest, then we go around again revealing next highest - it makes it exciting knowing you have a 20+ point route card for the final reveal!

Ashley - Port Royal

I've been travelling a lot recently, so some thought has gone into what to throw into a bag and fill time on the fly, so Port Royal.

This is a game all about cards, there are only cards in the game, but they can be used in different ways. Port Royal has numerous things going for it; it is easy to set-up, fast to play, and is simple and easy to learn. What's more, it's good two-player and with more players and because it is no more than a big deck of cards it makes a very good travel companion. It's the sort of game you can drag out in an airport departure lounge and use to fill some time. So, if you are looking for something that is simple, packs light, is fun and has a bit of strategy then Port Royal is worth considering.

On the surface Port Royal seems to be a fairly simple luck-based game, turning over cards and collecting income, but with each card a player elects to turn over there is both an increased chance of earning more money and an increased chance of losing it all and earning nothing. Players will "bust" at times, this is part of the game and it really does not matter that much because play is fast and another turn will come around pretty quickly.

The deck is split 50/50 between ships of various colours which can be used to gain money, but draw two of the same colour and go "bust", and workers and expeditions which require funding.  There are numerous possible roads to victory but in a broad sense collecting workers, being it sailors or pirates or an admiral or governor, or others are all helpful towards achieving this and give specific in play bonuses.  Then there are the expedition cards with their large victory point rewards but require other cards to be traded in.  Downtime is kept to a minimum because providing the active player does not go bust any workers or expeditions which become available can be bought in sequence by any player.

Despite the large luck element on drawing cards there is a good amount of strategy in the game, even at times deliberately going "bust" in order to deny others access to cards they may want.  The designers have packed a lot of fun, decisions and strategy into those 120 cards, into a game that plays in no more than 10 minutes per player, and really is a very good travel companion.

The Game Shelf - Board Game Drought

We log our plays on Board Game Geek. Usually we play games around 80-100 times per month. This month we have logged 30, which includes Amy playing Mythic Battles Pantheon five times in a single day! Instead we’ve been travelling, and have only really managed to play board games for review, rather than the huge array of games we normally play.

Between us we’ve visited board game stores in Canada, Germany and Mallorca this month and bought some interesting new games along the way. In Canada, I picked up Space Base and Nautillion. In Germany I picked up The Mind which was recently nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. In Mallorca we picked up Dice Stars, which is an interesting roll and write game that has a few hints of the drafting that you see in the game Azul.

After such a drought we can’t wait to start June with a fantastic four days at the UK Games Expo. I won’t be surprised if we exceed 30 game plays in the whole weekend. We’re hoping to demo a lot of upcoming games, but our shopping list includes Century: Eastern Wonders, 5 Minute Chase and Dragon Castle, which we hope might just be released in time!

Patrick C - Vikings, Horror and UKGE

878 Vikings is just not the type of game my girlfriend enjoys but I was so keen that we tried anyways. Two failed attempts later I came to terms with the bad news: whilst I was hooked she basically wanted never to play it again. Determined to get more games out of it I’ve called my dudes on a map crew and convinced them of trying this bad boy. We were all smiles after three games straight, success! This one is going to be on my hot list for a long time, that’s for sure!

I had to make it up with my girlfriend and that's got to be co-op gaming. I am not a big fan of LCG’s, don’t like its usual low cost x benefit. Arkham Horror: The Card Game changed all that I am afraid. This is get to be the coolest horror AND Lovecraftean game I’ve ever played! Now I just can’t wait to get my hands in a few expansion packs and render myself pennyless!

I finally had the chance to visit Draughts in London, which by the way is THE best looking board gaming café I’ve been to in the UK. My game of choice that night was Sub Terra which I’ve been wanting to try for ages. I simply love how it looks and was so very keen about theme and mechanics. My advice is: do not play it solitaire or at least not in your first time around. I am eager to try it in a different setting with five or six people. I shall not quit!

The rest of the month I spent playing games as I would be demoing during UKGE. Amongst my favourites were Warhammer 40K’s Gretchinz!, Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft and Dungeon Raiders. However, after playing these three fellows dozens of times over the last weekend I should take some distance and focus in my ever growing shelf of shame.

Nick Welford - Cash 'N' Guns & Rajas

Alongside the usual array of preview copies and new games I got to play some older games too. Cash 'n' Guns was discovered by my eight-year-old son and so got played every time we had enough willing adults in the house! The silly gameplay and ability to point foam guns at each other is a real winner as long as you don’t mind being betrayed lots!

Ilos has won me over with its immediate gameplay and gorgeous looks. Essentially a market manipulation game with some exploration, the game is easy to understand and play. From a hand of cards you will discard some to play others in order to mine resources, snag gold or become a pirate! This is one I plan on introducing to my family as soon as possible.

Rajas of the Ganges hit the table again, and this time we tried the advanced mode. A tense, close game saw multiple strategies employed and all seemed viable. I love this worker placement game so much and need to play it more regularly! The advanced mode let’s you acquire more workers but you can store less dice. It also randomises some of the other elements to give some variability. The scoring remains the same with you have to cross over the fame and money tracks to trigger the end game. Clever stuff.

A personal favourite Kemet also came to play and I was extremely excited to play it. Having got the Cyclades crossover expansion I threw in the new power tiles and minis, and… none of them got used! However the game proved memorable as myself and the other players fought hard over the temporary victory points until two of us ended the game with an unbreakable tie!

Ben Garry - Sushi Go Party, Ghost Stories and a Kickstarter Sneak Preview

It seems like every month at the moment I’m getting the chance to play some highly regarded party-style games for a large player count. This month’s instalment was Sushi Go Party, a light card-drafting game from Phil Walker-Wright and Gamewright. I played a couple of games at the full eight-person player count and had a great time.

The game is pure card drafting. You choose the cards to include each round, then deal everyone an equal hand. Each player picks a card for their personal tableau before passing the hand on. Points are scored at the end of each round based on the cards you collected. It’s easy to teach, great to look at and fast to play. All in all, a great game for get-togethers where you want to play something other than a social deduction game.

On the more serious side of gaming, I also got my first chance to play Ghost Stories this month. Ghost Stories is a co-op game from Antoine Bauza and Repos Productions where players control Taoist monks, moving round a village and rolling dice to defeat hordes of angry ghosts. It was an engaging, well-paced game that seemed to have a lot of replay-ability. I would recommend it even if you’re not typically a fan of co-operative games.

Another game that I’ve played a lot of is one that isn’t actually out yet! I got the chance to play a prototype copy of Mire Marsh, a brand new title from Room 17 Games that’ll hit Kickstarter in early July. In this game, players control bog goblins who move around a board, rolling custom dice to complete quests that earn them rewards. If you fail a quest, you die and have to restart with a new goblin! The aim is to complete a fiendishly tricky quest at the edge of the board before you run out of food.

I have a full review of this game coming soon, but the summary is that it’s a fun, fast-paced game with more depth than you might think from the first play through. It feels very random, but there’s a lot of strategy involved in turning that randomness in your favour. Definitely one to watch when it comes out on Kickstarter in a month or so.

What We've Been Playing - May Games

Craig - Games Marthaon and UKGE

At the beginning of the month, my local games group in Billericay, Essex, held a 24-Hour Charity Board Games Marathon.  The prospect of staying awake for a full day is daunting at the best of times. Add in having to pay attention to game mechanics just added to the stress. Not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, far from it. In fact, we are talking of organising another event for next year.

We played plenty of games across the day; we kept count - 60 games in total. A fantastic effort, and in doing so raised around £700 for both ‘Mind’ & ‘Chernobyl Childrens Life Line’.

A few games of note on that day, I managed to get my first ever play of Libertalia – a light to medium bluffing, card game.  It’s difficult to describe, but I would highly recommend seeking this out – seems to be Out of Print, or hard to find in the EU at least. Check out Wil Wheaton’s ‘Tabletop’ play-through on YouTube for an idea on how the game plays.

I also managed to get in on a round of Salem 1692. I’ve fallen a out of love with games of this type, similar to One Night Ultimate Werewolf. What I particularly liked about this in comparison to the latter was that there was plenty to do in terms of playing cards and actions, whilst also having the hidden role element encasing the game. One Night can suffer from people alpha-gaming it, whereas I found Salem 1692 to not have that issue.

Orleans: Invasion is another title I have in my collection that rarely hits the table.  The base game and Trade & Intrigue expansion are a firm favourite of mine (No.2 on my all-time Top 25), but the Invasion Co-op game has only been to the table once before. That changed this month when six of us embarked on trying to conquer this. My only previous experience was at SorCon earlier this year, where we failed miserably. As far as co-operative games go, this tended to have a lot more discussion and actual co-operation going on throughout.  We were agonisingly close to succeeding, only to fall one Knight short on the castle walls.

One of the few Kickstarter campaigns I was still waiting on arrived this month, in the form of Roll Player: Monsters and Minions. I enjoyed the base game a great deal, it's a step up from the likes of Sagrada in terms of dice placement and selection. The expansion adds in new player boards, cards, dice & Bosses & Minions to defeat for additional victory points. My personal opinion is that it adds enough to the original to warrant purchasing, in particular for its solo gameplay.

Matt - Quick Filler Games

For one reason or another my gaming in May has been mainly filled with light, quick, filler games. I have manged to play a few medium games such as Grand Austria Hotel, Manhattan Project: Energy Empire and Clans of Caledonia but most of my gaming has been on the lighter side.

I recently received a copy of The Mind which has been a massive hit. It is a simple, fun, quick card game where plays place cards in a common discard pile in ascending order. The main challenge in the games is that players can’t communicate with each other at all. The game is easy to teach but hard to master and being only a deck of cards can be played anywhere, even on a coach. The Mind has been nominated for the 2018 Spiel des Jahres.

I also received a copy of OK Play. OK Play is described as the world's easiest game to learn. Players have a set of coloured tiles which they lay edge to edge to other tiles and try to create a line of five in your colour. Its gameplay and rules are simple but the game is still fun to play and offers an interesting puzzle as players try to create their line of five whilst attempting to block other players doing the same.

Other lighter games that have hit my table this month are Port Royal, Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age and Dice Forge. Sometimes I am just not in the mood for the big, heavy, multiple path to victory board game that give you brain a mental work out and I just want to relax and play something lighter. This has been that month for me. The lighter games are still enjoyable and will always have table time with me.