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What We’ve Been Playing November 2019

Chocolate Factory

As November draws to a close and winter approaches, we're reflecting on what we've been playing! Because what's better to do on a cold, dark night than crack open a board game?

Nathan C- Railroad Ink Blue Edition, Dobble and Iron curtain

November has been a month involving working abroad. The games played have reflected their portability, possibly teaching them to other non-gamers and even the ability to play solo. A stint in Senegal, West Africa meant explaining some games to an international audience, with language challenges too.

Railroad Ink Blue Edition is a compact roll and write game by CMON Games. It plays well as a solo challenge as well as up to six players. The aim is to draw a branching and interconnecting road and railway network on a 9x9 grid. The shape and direction of the tracks and roads is determined by what is shown on the four dice. All players use the same dice so there is no downtime or luck in the outcome. Most games take 15 to 20 minutes. Points are awarded according to the number of edges linked, longest continuous road and rail, and number of dead-ends remaining. As a solo challenge, this game has helped pass many hours whilst waiting for international flights.

Railroad Ink Blue expansion involves lakes and rivers. These increase scoring possibilities and challenges too. CMON also produce Railroad Ink Red edition with lava and meteorites for added fun.

The second game that has fitted in the hand luggage is Dobble by Asmodee. This family-friendly game involves matching shapes and pictures on cards as quickly as possible in order to get through your stack. The 54 cards come in a handy storage tin that will fit into any small bag. A solo game involves a time challenge against the clock to match every card with the previous one.

It is very easy to explain the principle of Dobble to new gamers. Whilst in West Africa I played a crazy game with seven other nationalities. Our “local rules” were that you had to shout out the name of the matching picture, but in your mother-tongue. All was going well until the chap from Madagascar was stumped because there are no Malagasy words for snowflake, igloo or snowman! Dobble does wonders for international relations.

Iron curtain is a two-player, battle of wits, set at the height of the Cold War. A full review was published on the Zatu website in October. Using just 18 cards and a couple of dozen wooden cubes, the close, seesaw balance of power between the US and USSR is played out. The game involves hand management, card placement and a clever tug of war scoring system. Players represent either the US and its allies or the Soviets.

As cards are played, each nation can exert influence on neighbouring countries. Most games involve a balancing act of choosing whether to dominate a region to prevent the opposition from taking hold, or spreading forces wide to have a greater sphere of influence. After 20 minutes this short, thinky, filler game is often won or lost by the narrowest of margins. The beauty of Iron Curtain is its portability, speed and easy setup.

With no travel planned next month I hope to get the chance to bring slightly heavier games to the table.

Northern Dice- Space Base and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

November is my favourite month. It has nothing to do with the Christmas range of coffees suddenly available, but it's a factor. I love the dark nights, excuse to stay home and warm, and, of course, crack open a board game or two! It's close to the anarchy that is festivities, but far enough away to enjoy the cold air. And in those spirits, we've been playing two games in particular! Space Base, a game set in the dark of space, and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, a game known for its cold harshness. Fitting right?

Space Base is an engine builder, like another of our favourites Machi Koro. However, this is on another level, boasting greater complexity and more player power. Your objective is to obtain 40 VP (Victory Points), and these are earned through ship activation's. Every player starts with 12 ships, activated on a dice roll corresponding to their location. Also, they gain one bonus ship to replace one of the starting set. This aids players as it adds a ship that will activate on others' rolls. When a ship is replaced, the old ship goes upside down, under the player's board. These can then activate through other players' rolls.

There are three running currencies in Space Base. One controls your money, one your bases (least amount of money you can have), and one your VP. Your money changes the most and will frequently drop to zero - any time you make a purchase, all your money is used! And as soon as you get to 40 VP, the round continue until all players have had equal turns and then it ends. What else is interesting is that you can split a dice roll to activate two ships instead of one. Instead of activating a seven, you can use the three and the four rolled separately. What you need to remember is that, typically, higher activations are more powerful... but that's context specific!

We love Space Base for its heightened complexity over Machi Koro. They're different, but Space Base requires more skill and clever decisions than the latter. It's a tacticians Engine Builder without being super heavy! Making poor choices early on can result in shocking scores, and these have an impact on later turns. What's more is the snowball effect that can occur. When a player has the perfect combination of cards out, they can win within a round! It's quickly becoming one of my favourites and I'm currently eyeing up its two expansions... Christmas is only a month away...

Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed is a game I've owned a while and not had opportunity to play. The app driven element appealed, but the weight put me and my group off. It shouldn't have as we play many heavier games, but it just got overlooked. This was to our loss, as it is superb! I have some qualms with the game as it stands with regards to its massive lack of an insert, but that's all. Something superficial that I fixed easily. Everything else about it is awesome!

The game is run as all Lovecraftian games are; investigators are trying to prevent a cult from summoning horrors and elder gods. What makes this unique? Well, it's app driven so the events that occur are generated through that... and not doing thing s has consequence too! We played a scenario twice and the happenings were very different! One resulted in a lot of bloodshed, the other in far less. What's more is that as the game gains expansions, more scenarios are generated through the app. And! Each scenario is laid out different across tiles, so one mansion will look different to another, despite it being he same scenario.

We found a lot of need for communication with Mansions of Madness. At no point could we go solo without major consequence, and we often ran back to the group crying. It also surprised us with how it forced our characters to react to the horrid around them. Usually, games overlook the human element of a game and the fact we are tremendously fragile, both physically and mentally!

Mansions of Madness takes consideration of this with a horror check whenever you're near a nasty. You're surrounded by masses of flesh and tentacles, writhing and squealing at you... surely it's going to churn your stomach at the least! We thoroughly enjoyed Mansions of Madness and it's no doubt going to frequent the table a fair bit. We may also look for an expansion for this too, as we said.. Christmas isn't far away!

Louis N- Barrage, Ecos: First Continent, Hadara, Chocolate Factory and (finally) Letter Jam

November was a good month for new games.

I finally had the chance to play Barrage. Despite concerns over component quality, this proved to be a very enjoyable game. It has something of a Terra Mystica vibe to it, whereby placing buildings to uncover in game bonuses forms a key mechanism in the game. Proximity of your buildings to other built components in the landscape is also of major importance. This is definitely not one to be taken lightly!

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ecos: First Continent. My first impression was that it would be just another tile-laying hex-landscape game, with little to set it apart. However, there is an interesting resource management spin to Ecos, where the resources may be materials, or may be species of animals. Tiles are drawn at random from a bag. Each tile represents one type of resource, which can be used to activate cards. The cards then allow further resources to be gathered, species to be placed on the landscape, or, more importantly, victory points to be earned. It doesn’t have the decision depth of a game like Dominant Species, but it is certainly more family friendly. I even managed to get approval for this one from my long suffering partner.

I have to admit to being a little uncertain about Hadara at first. A brief description as a card drafting, light civ building game can make it sound like 7 Wonders, but there is a little more variety to Hadara. Like all good civ building games, there are progress tracks to monitor, workers (i.e. cards) to be fed and so on. Hadara is never going to topple a game such as Through the Ages, and nor should it. It is placed very much at the lighter end of the game spectrum. It plays in under an hour, but it is a very enjoyable game, for its length. And it has a pentagonal board (though the shape of the board is arbitrary).

November also saw Chocolate Factory played for the first time. This is a classic engine builder, in many senses. The engine is the factory in which you refine cocoa, process it to make chocolates, and then package those to produce boxes of chocolates. As you might imagine, given the theme of the game, there are orders to complete. Some of the orders are for very fancy department stores, who prefer to have an ongoing order, with payment  (money is victory points) at the end of the game - these orders are contested by all players, in a sort of area control challenge.

Other orders are for corner shops, which give instant rewards, and are replaced as soon as they are fulfilled. Whilst it is never going to set the world on fire, Chocolate Factory is very satisfying to play, and has the added attraction of a feature conveyor belt, imitating the process of moving the chocolates from one factory machine to the next. It’s a nice touch, and it makes the game more tactile.

Finally, I was intrigued by Letter Jam. Letter/word games often don’t live up to expectations - typically they can become so bogged down in the making-a-word process that they forget to be fun along the way. One way to overcome this is to make the game co-operative, or team based. This can work to a certain extent, but there is a risk of one player dominating the proceedings, and this can tend to lose the collaborative feel. Letter Jam is a co-op game, but because it has a timed objective, it retains a feeling of tension (something which other word games lack).

Each player has a secret word which they have to try to figure out , letter by letter, before the deck of letters runs out. Each round, letter cards are revealed, and players have to suggest a word which will help the other players guess their letter (it makes sense when you play, believe me). Because all players have to guess their letters/words, the game is designed to prevent any one player from dominating the game. 

Nick T – Cobra Paw, Patchwork and 7 Wonders Duel

Frankly, I am a little disappointed with the amount of board games I have played in November. A combination of work, reviews, painting miniature figures and life generally has hindered game time quite dramatically. Needless to say the most played games this month were either fast games to play or two player affairs.

I was surprised to look at my Board Game Geek profile to discover Cobra Paw was my most played game of the month. I guess mainly because it is so quick to play that you end up playing again and again. Cobra Paw is a game about rolling two rather satisfyingly oversized dice and then finding the corresponding pleasingly shaped domino-esque tile. This has to be done in lightning fast time and is a real test of reactions as tiles you have already won are still under threat throughout the whole game.

Normally my go to 2 player game is King and Assassins. In my October review of the game I suggested that the figures were good enough and would be improved by a lick of paint. Having not painted a miniature in over two decades I got some paint and brushes and had a go. Not only has this preoccupied me in the evenings but wet paint has stopped play like rain at Wimbledon.

However, I did get Patchwork back out of the gaming cupboard and boy am I pleased it did! I don’t know if I had forgotten how good it was or just whether I enjoyed it more after a break. Either way it was a treat to revisit and play this brilliantly themed 2 player game. It is a clever mix of economy, drafting and tile placement whilst players try not to progress around the game board too quickly. Patchwork is easy to play, but I can’t help feel there is more mastery to come.

The other two player game making it to the table was one of my September birthday presents. 7 Wonder Duel. Having got to grips with the rulebook and having that Eureka – it’s quite like Splendor moment - I could finally play it. I really enjoyed the drafting mechanic and how the cards were laid out for each different age. I already need to play it more as I feel like it has so much to give, so I will!

Bod A - Dragon Castle, Pandemic Iberia and Yahtzee

Dragon Castle is a Mahjong inspired abstract strategy game for two to four that shines at two. Players  remove available pairs of tiles from the central castle and place them in their own realm. Players build up their own castle and flips sets of tiles over to score points. Building shrines high up on top of the castle's towers of tiles give bonus points. A set of Sprit and Dragon cards can be drafted to add further variation and point scoring to the game.

Dragon Castle is a relaxing and thoughtful game of planing which tiles to take and where to put them to score maximum points. Push you luck with shrine building, slow your opponents by taking tiles they need, and mix things up with the spirit cards and dragon cards.

Pandemic Iberia – Arguably the best version of one of the biggest names in hobby board gaming, every board game collection must have a version of Pandemic. Unless you have a consistent group to play Pandemic Legacy with, then the best option is Pandemic Iberia.

Pandemic Iberia is a cooperative game that has players racing against time and the times to research four diseases plaguing the Iberian peninsula. You will have to build railways to move about quickly and purify water to help slow down the diseases. Your lack of ability to act quickly in the Mid 19th century will frustrate your group at you work together to win the game.

Yahtzee – Board games seem to be getting longer, bigger and more complex. Whatever happened to rolling dice and writing down what you got? Well “Roll and Write” is the hip genre of the moment. Publishers are falling over themselves to release them these days with games like Welcome to..., Ganz Schon Clever and Railroad Ink.

I've been playing the godfather of the genre, Yahtzee. It's simple, its cheap and it's entertaining. It doesn't need any gimmicks It just does what it does perfectly. Stick it in your bag, take it anywhere and teach it to anyone.