Each month members of our writing team come together to share their board game tales! Let's find out "What We've Been Playing" during the cold month of November!
Will M - Architects of the West Kingdom, Imhotep & Azul!
With 26 games played, November wasn’t as prolific as October’s 43 plays, but there were a few quality items in there.
I usually try to avoid worker placement games, but last month I was introduced to Architects of the West Kingdom at Games Group and was pleasantly surprised with its quick and fun gameplay, plus its innovative take on the worker placement genre – rather than building up your workers as the game goes on you actually start with a full complement and have the ability to kidnap and jail the workers of other players. Once the game clicked in the minds of us players (which incidentally seemed to happen at the exact same time) we were whizzing through turns until the game’s climax. Recommended.
My most played game of the month was 2016 Spiel des Jahres nominee Imhotep, which I received for my birthday. This game has you and your opponents all contributing to the building of Ancient Egypt’s obelisks, pyramids, burial chambers and temples with wonderfully chunky wooden cubes (stones). Watching these structures gradually build up during play is a real spectacle and the game provides a streamlined set of options that lead to some tough tactical decisions. A great gateway game with a lot of depth.
Another birthday game, Azul, captivated me in November – I’ve lost my 100% win record, but I guess that’s a good thing overall. I have mainly played this tile drafting game at four players but was surprised just how well it plays at two, as a wonderful and quick head-to-head duel. People often compare Azul to Sagrada, but there is definitely a space for both of these games in my collection.
Ben G - KeyForge, The River & Wildlands
I, like thousands of people around the world, have been playing KeyForge relentlessly since its mid-November release. With a handful of Archon decks to my name, I’ve been exploring this excellent new card game over a dozen or so games with friends.
KeyForge is everything I wanted it to be. The gameplay stands up to the best card games out there, with meaningful decisions every turn. The lack of deck-building is also just what I was looking for, helping me to enjoy the game without pouring all my mental energy into it, as I did with Magic.
I’m playing in a sealed tournament at a local games cafe on Wednesday and can’t wait for the experience. Every game I play leaves me hungry for more, whether I win or lose. At just £9 or so a deck, I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
A game I’ve enjoyed almost as much this month is Wildlands, now that I’ve had the chance to get a few plays under my belt. The arena combat miniatures game from legendary designer Martin Wallace is surprisingly accessible and plays well at both two and four. I’ve enjoyed exploring the different factions and have felt like every game I’ve played has been close. The miniatures are gorgeous; the mechanics are slick and innovative. You get a lot of game for a very reasonable price.
Finally, we come to a different kind of game: The River. I pre-ordered this title after a demo at Tabletop Gaming Live and I’ve really enjoyed the couple of two-player games I got in this month. It’s a light worker-placement game from Days of Wonder that’s easy to pick up and teach without sacrificing some tough decisions. With a 30-40 minute play time, The River is perfect for a tired evening where you don’t want to commit to something longer.
Matt T - Gizmos & Kingdomino
Gizmos a light tableau, engine building game by designer Phil Walker-Harding (Barenpark & Sushi Go Party). It has players building an engine out of various gizmos (square cards) that can cause chain reactions when performing various actions. There are four different types of energy represented by coloured marbles that are gathered from a marble dispenser (akin to Potion Explosion, but with only one track).
The rules are straightforward and the gameplay is quick and smooth. A big part of the game is combing your gizmos so that when you do a certain action or actions it triggers another gizmo which triggers another and so on. Players can only perform one action per turn but with careful planning and building certain gizmos, the one action can trigger a landslide of other actions. The first player to build 16 gizmos, or four level three gizmos triggers the end of the game, the round is finished and total points are scored. The player with the most points wins.
Gizmos is quick playing game, with minimal down time. It has cool table presence with the colourful marbles and the marble dispenser but has depth with the combinations that can be created. Hitting them combos is essential and feels pretty great when you pull off a great chain.
Kingdomino has hit the table a lot this month, mainly because I have played it with my parents a fair bit. It is a very quick playing, simple game with basic rules. I like the game for what it is and enjoy the fact that I get to play games with my folks. We often play two or three games of this back to back. A great light filler game.
Queendomino has more to it, with extra actions that can be performed each turn, building tiles and different ways to score points. It is still a light game but a step up from Kingdomino. I have also managed a few plays of Queendomino this month and I personally prefer it to Kingdomino and may “upgrade” my folks to Queendomino in the future. Both games are great though. They can also be combined to play up to six players which is an added bonus.
Tom Harrod - Forgive me Santa, for I Have Sinned!
One of the games I played this month involved bumping off family members for profit, and the other all about straight-up lying. Part of me did feel a tad guilty for enjoying the former’s macabre nature, but at least I played them with friends rather than family – so at least I didn’t have to look my parents in the eye when gleefully removing meeples from the board!
Yes, I’m talking about Village, a wonderful worker placement game by Pegasus Spiele where some of your ‘older’ generation meeples die. However, some of them might end up in a chronicle, forever etched into the memory of others (and, importantly, worth precious points come the end of the game). Time is like a currency here, and if you’re stingy with it, your folks might end up in an undignified, unmarked plot in the graveyard.
We included the Village Port expansion overlay, which makes the travel section of the board far more lucrative and adds in another layer of strategy to consider. You’ll need to acquire goods to load up your ships, hire beardy or eye-patchy cap’ns, and then race to get your family members, now missionaries, to the islands’ churches for points. Or you can just kill ’em off, sending them to a watery grave. Time can be the cruellest of mistresses…
Elsewhere, I played Sheriff of Nottingham with two friends I’ve known for about 15-plus years. Since this is a bluffing/lie-to-their-face kind of set collection game, the fact we knew each other really well added to the tension. It’s always a lot of fun trying to read how much ahem, horse manure, people are feeding you, especially when they’re trying to bribe each other against the clock.
I’ll try and play more morally correct games in December, I promise, Santa. Please don’t leave me coal for Christmas…
Nick W - Quacks of Quedlinburg, Newton & Fantasy Realms
In November I got to play The Quacks of Quedlinburg, winner of this year's Kennerspiel. Not only does it have a great name, but it is also incredibly playable and satisfying. You play as a potion maker or ‘quack’ coming up with liquid remedies for all sorts of afflictions. You have a cauldron in front of you that you will draw ingredients from, each ingredient has a number which indicates how far around the cauldron it will move from the last ingredient, but draw too many white ingredients and your potion will explode meaning you won’t get full access to the rewards in the next phase. Quacks is a delight. Simple to play, variable due to different ingredients triggering different powers, and just a heck of a lot of fun.
Newton impressed me with it’s interesting engine building. It’s definitely a game of not being able to do everything you want, but is reasonably generous. The mechanics are so tight that you forgive the tacked on theme as unique as it is. I cannot wait to play this again.
Architects of the West Kingdom shakes up the worker placement genre with a system where you don’t return your worker to take the action, instead your action improves the more workers you have on the board. To stop you taking ridiculous moves other players can capture your workers and sell them to jail! It all works really well and I encourage you to check it out.
Lastly a quick mention of Fantasy Realms. An excellent small card drafting game with a silly amount of depth thanks to a deck of unique cards that combo with each other in cool ways. On your turn you draw a card and discard one, but other players can draw from the discard pile, which makes for some crunchy decisions. Really recommend it.
Andrew P - Samurai Spirit, Aeon's End & Everdell
Between my rampant job hunting of previous months and now starting a new job in January, I’ve been very privileged to get a ton of gaming time in this month.
Samurai Spirit is one of those unassuming small-box games that doesn’t get enough attention. I am a fiend for co-ops, and Samurai Spirit hits all the right notes for me. Wonderful artwork and a rich theme set in Japanese history, all the while tying in an intricate combat system with Bloody Roar-style transformations. OK, so maybe that last part isn’t quite historically accurate (I don’t recall many samurai being able to turn into a warthog-human hybrid). Still, a fun romp and an ideal way to while away an hour.
Aeon’s End, however, is a game that gets too much attention. It’s currently my second most played game this year at 19 plays, and I can’t see that slowing down with my Aeon’s End: Legacy Kickstarter pledge (hopefully) inbound. It’s a game which will kick you in the teeth time and again, yet still makes me produce a big, gap-toothed smile when you overcome the tremendous power of the Nameless. Not for everyone, but it’s certainly ousted Marvel Legendary in terms of play time for me this year, a feat I didn’t think many games were capable of.
Everdell is the one with the most to gain or lose this coming year. A whimsical 7 Wonders meets Keyflower experience, you are woodland critters attempting to build the best city within the province of Everdell. I cannot say that this replaces more entrenched worker placement games such as Champions of Midgard or Viticulture for me yet, but as an entry to the genre I can see its place. It’s a quirky and imaginative adventure that looks fantastic on the table, from the large Evertree down to the custom-shaped animeeples. My worry is that the game lacks depth in places, but with an expansion on the horizon for 2019 and a rousing climb up the BGG rankings, I can see this one having its place in the sun for the foreseeable future.
James Hazell - Rising Sun & Axis & Allies & Zombies!
November has been a month of grand strategy and conflict with long games of Rising Sun and Axis & Allies & Zombies taking up the main gaming nights. Whilst bearing similarity of territory control and aspects of teamwork they both move in completely different directions. Rising Sun’s betting mechanic for combat feels refreshing versus traditional dice resolution but I do still love the theatrics of rolling and cursing at lady luck. If anything, regular group seems to be having grand delusions of power as it has pushed us into planning a larger game of Axis & Allies Anniversary just before Christmas.
As an interesting diversion I also checked out the digital version of Scythe, available on Steam. Scythe is one of those games that deserve more time on my table (especially with my investment in its expansions and extras) but we never seem to get around to unpacking it. My last real game was at the end of December 2017. Usually I am on the fence about digital conversions, the lack of physical contact with the components takes some of the magic away.
At the same time I have spent far too many hours playing Through the Ages on an iPad, way more than the cardboard version. The artistic feast of Scythe is translated well however the dirge of information and stats over the current state of play is harder to follow than looking down on the player boards. Having an A.I to compete against is great and scratches the gaming itch but I find myself disinterested in their moves compared to playing against humans. I am yet to try it with real online competition but as I have got older, sitting around a table and soaking up the tension far surpasses playing faceless strangers. It will pass the time on a cold winters night and if anything has made me move the box closer to table…
Alex S - Orchard Toys, KeyForge & Fog of Love
As my son has reached the grand old age of three I’ve found myself looking at more accessible games for him to get into. Many of the Orchard Toys games such as Llamas In Pajamas and Counting Clocks have kept him amused, but where I saw real joy was in…Jenga! Something about carefully and precisely destroying a wooden tower gave him both a fun way to use his deductive skills and also give him an outlet to destroy something. It usually lasts about three games before he decides he just wants to knock over the tower over and over again.
A few of us in our group are now completely addicted to KeyForge. It’s not uncommon for us to always keep a deck in our pockets just in case we happen to meet up and want to forge keys. The dynamic alternative to deck-building is really enthralling and I love that I don’t have to purchase a ton of booster packs to play a complete game. I am however getting my deck destroyed by a fearsome Mars, Dis, Brobnar deck, maybe if I purchase some more decks hmmm...
Myself and the wife are having a lot of fun playing Fog Of Love, the role-playing relationship simulator. It’s a brilliant outlet for us to play around with funny situations we wouldn’t be in normally and has a surprising amount of strategic depth for a game which doesn’t have a clear winner. We’ve managed not to have a major relationship crisis playing it, despite her attempt as a small cross eyed politician with an alluring smell to cause me emotional distress by refusing my declaration of marriage! This is going to be a great party game and am really looking forward to getting in front of my regular group.
James Hitchmough - Friday Family Games Night
Every Friday night, my wife and I say cheers to the good things from the week and play a game! This month we’ve played a few fillers like Sushi Go! and Animal Upon Animal. Our favourite from November was Star Realms: Frontiers, which is absolutely fantastic! Shuffling cards whilst holding a wriggly five-month-old can be difficult, but this didn’t take away from the fun. We love Star Realms!
Sometimes, Friday Family Games Night is shared with others. This month we were able to play Space Base with Hairy Game Lord, Andru! We enjoyed the game a lot and had a tight competition for first place. It’s always great to play a game where there was only one turn between the winner and second place, especially from different play-styles.
Space Base has been compared to Machi Koro, one of our favourites, but I would say that the only real similarity is in the mechanic of claiming rewards based on rolls. Space Base has a completely different taste about it, allowing for much more complexity and strategy off the bat – even allowing for some engine-building.
Also, we finally finished Pandemic Legacy Season One! What a cracking game this is! It took us just over two years (and one of those was between our final and penultimate games) and truly sets the bar for legacy gaming – even modern gaming. My wife was especially pleased to have played as the scientist every game. One thing we didn’t realise was that the game would score us at the end. We missed out on the best ending by four points, that we would have easily won had we known the scoring criteria! Regardless, Pandemic Legacy Season One is incredible and we were immediately discussing when we’d get Season Two!
Ben S - Chronicles of Crime, Decrypto & No Thanks!
I have played a LOT of Chronicles of Crime this month. This is not only my favourite game of the month but has to be up there with some of my favourite ever-gaming experiences.
A crime has been committed and as a team it is your task to look for clues that might help you to find suspects and eventually solve the crime. The game uses a free app on your phone, which you use to scan cards representing items, locations and people. Using QR codes, you can question the people you meet, ask specialists about items and scan crime scenes for clues. As the mystery begins to unravel, the breakthrough moments where you figure out key information are amazing and our whole gaming group absolutely loved it! It is a brilliant, original gaming experience, which really highlights how technology can be used - without it just feeling gimmicky.
I have also enjoyed playing Decrypto, a game in which two teams are trying to give codes to each other without the other team intercepting your code. Each team gives clues to their words in order to solve the code, while the opposing team are trying to crack the code by listening to the answers and building up knowledge of what each word is. It is a great game for a small group and the components look amazing!
Finally, I’ve also returned to one of my favourite games – No Thanks! This is such a simple game and one which is fantastic for travelling. The easy accessibility of the game makes it quick and easy to teach to anyone and within no time you’ll find yourself on the fourth or fifth game! A great month of gaming!