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 spooky month of October!
Tom H - Finishing Charterstone, Ice Cool Hilarity & Rhine Valley Experimentation
October has been busy. In a month chock-full of highlights, finishing our three-player game of Charterstone has to be mentioned first. Don’t panic: no spoilers here. But my brother-in-law now insists we refer to him at all times as ‘The King’ – not sure I can bring myself to call him that!
We’ve managed to complete all 12 games of this ‘Legacy’-style worker placement in under 10 weeks. I truly believe this is essential to getting the absolute best out of any legacy game: regular continuity. While Jamey Stegmaier’s colourful, cute, sticker-placing village-builder can accommodate up to six players, finding a time-slot to match each other’s social calendars is often harder than playing the game, itself.
As a polar comparison, last weekend I introduced ICE COOL to a couple of my ‘non-gaming’ friends. They watched in awe as I constructed the frozen school in front of them, using the box lids themselves to piece together a 3-D layout. Then, the penguin-flicking frenzy began – and with it howls of anguish, mirrored with uncontrollable giggles. You know you’re onto a winner when people ask you at the end of the game, “Can we play that again?”
They’re excited about ICE COOL 2, which is not only a standalone title, but it can also be intertwined with its predecessor to build a ginormous arena for further fun.
Finally, merlot in hand, I sat down to partake in Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture. A friend had recently picked up the Visit from the Rhine Valley cards. These claim to be a ‘fix’ to lure players back towards earning points from actual wine orders, rather than scalping points elsewhere in this worker placement (which, while effective, always feels like you’re going against the grain of the theme).
My thoughts? Yes, these cards do make it easier to achieve orders, quicker. But still not quick enough to combat a strategy that insists on ignoring orders in favour of hoovering up points by other means. Not that it’s enough to detract me from wanting to play it again, mind. It’s always a great opportunity to get out the corkscrew…
Ben G - 3 Games you can Teach Anybody
I played more games than usual in October, which made it difficult to pick three. I narrowed it down by focusing on games that I think anyone will enjoy, whether or not they’ve played a lot of games before.
Barenpark is a tile-laying game from Phil Walker-Harding and Lookout Games. Players compete to build the most impressive bear park, laying tiles down to score points and unlock other kinds of tiles. It’s a very calm, pleasant game that can leave you incredibly satisfied as you build gorgeous patterns out of adorable tiles. There’s a sprinkling of interaction, but nothing that draws from the experience of creating your own little work of art. The game-play is thoroughly enjoyable and it has a loose theme that anyone can get on board with.
Dice Forge is another loosely-themed, accessible game. Two to four players compete to gain the highest points total by completing heroic challenges in this innovative 2017 title from Régis Bonnessée and Libellud. What’s innovative about it? The core mechanic of the game is rolling dice which you upgrade and build as you go. You literally buy new die faces to replace those you have, turning your basic dice into rollable powerhouses as you go. This is a light, fun and highly tactile game that has a wide appeal.
Finally, we come to Rivals for Catan, the often-overlooked but thoroughly impressive two-player counterpart to one of the most successful designer games ever. Rivals for Catan takes the system in a new direction. Players are building up their settlements in front of them, with individual tableaus of square cards. Resource cards generate the five familiar resources and gold, while familiar towns, cities and roads all need to be built to get you to 12 victory points.
But there’s more - buildings are added to settlements to provide you with new, interesting powers and there are plenty of ways to mitigate the randomness of the resource dice. I prefer this game to Catan and will happily teach it to anyone.
The Game Shelf - Gaming with Old & New Friends
This month we’ve had a few opportunities to game with friends. We had a visit from Luke Hector, a fellow blogger from Zatu Games, a visit from some non-gaming friends who wanted to learn some heavy games and Fiona visited a London board game café with an Australian twitter contact. Here are three of the games we enjoyed;
- Terraforming Mars is one of our favourite games – we have all the expansions, pimped out 3D printed components and player board overlays. With new players, we went back to basics with the base game and no corporations and still it was a fantastic experience. Terraforming Mars is just a fantastic economic engine building game. For new players, it was a little overwhelming when faced with the choices of many cards in the early part of the game, but the fact that every card explains what it does means anyone can play so long as they’re willing. We can’t wait to add the Prelude Expansion and the forthcoming Colonies Expansion into the next game we play.
- T.I.M.E. Stories – Expedition Endurance is the latest expansion to T.I.M.E. Stories, this time with a pirate theme. We've played every expansion so far and it was nice to find that this expansion tried to pull together a few threads of the main story. Without spoilers, this expansion gave us some of the most interesting choices we've had to make so far, where the narrative really factored into the choices we made. The game seemed to have a lot more branching paths than others and the overall puzzle felt well thought out. We found the end-game quite confusing, but it was interesting to see the game doing something slightly different and giving us more story even after the game could easily have ended. It's one of the longer scenarios we've played, but one of the more enjoyable ones for me.
- Glass Road is a game from Uwe Rosenberg that I've been interested to play for some time. It's one of his medium weight games and I was extremely surprised by how fast it played. Four rounds was over in about 30-45 minutes for two-players and only by the end of the game did I have any idea how to do well! It reminds me most of Nusfjord, where you are selectively clearing your board to add buildings that will give you end game points, however your system for tracking resources is the biggest element to understand. Your quantity of resources is all interlinked - you can't have more glass until you get more of the raw materials that make glass - this is pretty thematic and is cleverly represented in the game by rotating dials to track your resources. Because of how overwhelmed I felt, Glass Road isn't an instant hit for me, but I'd like to play it some more and see if I can start to build some strategy earlier in the game - it has the potential to be a really fun light-to-middle weight game.
Nick W - Many, Many Good Games
This month I played a lot of good games. Trying to select a few to highlight is always difficult! It was definitely a month for roll and write games with the physical version of Ganz Schön Clever, Qwinto and Welcome To, all getting play time. I love Welcome To with its quirk of swapping out the usual dice for a deck of cards, but Qwinto really won me over too. You have three dice on purple, one orange and one yellow. On your turn you roll any number of them with one re-roll if you want. Then you enter the number on your sheet according to various placement rules. It’s a bit like a simplified version of the streets from welcome to and I super enjoyed the simple but difficult decision of how many dice to roll and which colours.
Narrowly missing out on game of the month for me were Coimbra and Wildlands. Coimbra is a Euro game almost totally bereft of theme, despite its pretty colours. But this is more than made up for with the satisfying dice drafting that requires you to pay attention to the value and colour of your dice. Wildlands grows on me more and more each time I play it. Having had great fun with a four player game I was ready to proclaim it a ‘best with four players’ game. Then I had a super intense and fun three-player game!
Kickstarters that turned up included the awesome Robin Hood, and the neon Dinosaur Island. Both employ worker placement in slightly different to normal ways and both are incredibly thematic experiences. I give the edge to Robin Hood as the semi co-op nature really worked and the theme is woven in to every aspect of the game. They are both in my top games of the year though!
James H - Dinosaur Island, Wildlands & Champions of Midgard
October has been a bumper month of activity, with a bunch of new and old games making their way to my table. Surprisingly, I’ve had two very long game experiences which are usually hard to organise with two little ones taking up energy…
First up, the Dinosaur Island Kickstarter reprint landed and demanded a lot of table space for our first four-player game, lasting four hours. This can be shaved down once we get familiar with the sections of the turn. There are a lot of factors to balance off against future turn decisions and by the end of the first play I began to see how bad my engine had become. More practice is most definitely needed. In opposition, I absolutely dominated at Great Western Trail leading to my highest ever point score of 165 (Boom). However, after four hours of herding cattle my brain needed a few days to recover. I am keen to see how the imminent expansion changes up the train options at the top of the board.
Aside from starting to play Wildlands and fully enjoying its simplicity of depth, I had chance to revisit an old favourite Thunder Alley. Every time I think of how much I need to plan a championship with friends. A vanilla game of Champions of Midgard reminded me its time to read the expansion rules and finally Heroes of Black Reach’s seal was broken leading to opening salvo’s between the Space Marines and the Orks. Aside from some rule queries that took some digging to resolve this was gloriously fun and deserves more table time in November.
Jonathan T - Gloomhaven & Patchwork
At what point does the game start playing you? Is it when you spend your free time researching optimal character builds? Is it when you dedicate an evening to re-sorting the map tiles and monster cards?
Perhaps it’s when you put down your paintbrush and consider purchasing a 3D printer just so you can print out a nice looking treasure chest or doorway.
Surprisingly this isn’t an isolated incidence when it comes to Gloomhaven. After a history defining rise to the top of BoardGameGeek’s list, it has spawned a whole cult of fanatics. People love its Legacy style gameplay, its RPG roots and its Euro-style mechanics. It scratches so many itches and always leaves you wanting more, always in search of that next scenario or piece of loot.
I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a Gloomhaven addict. And I am not ashamed.
I played Patchwork for the first time this month. I’m not sure what took me so long to play it – but by the end of it I was screaming about buttons like a lunatic. Created by the heavyweight of the industry Uwe Rosenberg (famed for complex Euro masterpieces such as Agricola and Le Havre), Patchwork is a light two-player game about making a patchwork quilt. Hidden beneath this premise is a fun, but definitely strategy laden, game about filling a board with different patchwork pieces, akin to a small puzzle. It’s quick, easy to learn, with a good amount of complexity to keep even a Uwe Rosenberg fan firmly seated.
Would I play it again? Most definitely. If only for the thrill of more buttons.
Matt T - Pocket Pharma & Jaipur
Over 40 games have been played in October. Top three being Kingdomino, Sushi Go Party and Tiny Epic Zombies. I am not going to talk about all 40+ games but just a select few that have stood out, not necessarily played the most.
Pocket Pharma – I have only recently received this so not had loads of plays of it yet. But it has hit the table a fair bit in a short amount of time. It is a small box game about competing pharmaceutical companies. Players will draft drug fragments (cards) in an attempt to match a pattern of 1 of the 4 displayed drugs, reminiscent of rummy. Once they have matched the pattern they can launch the drug to the market and gain Victory Points. However, players must pay attention to the permitted side effects and efficacy of the drug that they are formulating. If the formulated drug is not as effective players will lose points.
If there are too many side effects, they must discard cards from their play area. This gives an interesting choice as a player can rush to launch a drug to get a high victory point card but lose some points as the drug is not as effective. Or hold off and try to get the best, most effective drug they can. But the other players might pip you to the post and launch before you, denying you the big pay out. The theme sits perfectly with me based on my pharmaceutical background and the game is really good with smooth gameplay. It also comes with five mini-expansions which I am looking forward to trying out. Fantastic game that I imagine will get a lot of playtime.
Jaipur is a quick playing, two-player only, trading game that works so well. Players are trying to collect sets of different goods to sell for money. The more you sell the more of the tokens of that particular good players gain. Sell more than two and get a bonus token. Goods can be exchanged from the central market with other goods or camels. Each token is worth a certain amount of money and at the end of the round the player with the most money gains the “Seal of Excellence”. The first play to gain two Seals wins the game.
It is a lightweight game but really enjoyable. I like the quick playing nature of the game and the minimal rules. There is a decent amount of game in the small box and it is inexpensive. The game can get a bit mean with taking cards that your opponent might want but the game is over so quickly and it is done within the spirit of the game that it doesn’t feel harsh.
There have been many other games played this month, Colt Express, Bang! The Dice Game, Twin It, Gizmos, Ticket to Ride: New York and many more. I couldn’t talk about them all in this article but check back next month to see what has made stood out and what I have been playing.
Rob W - Reef & Eldritch Horror
Next Move Games turned Azul into the start of their four letter series, and Reef is the follow up. You’re once again placing pieces on a board, but Reef feels easier to teach and this time you get to put pieces on top of each other. Gameplay is either take a card from the face up cards, or play a card which gives you both the pieces on that card and then a way to score. So, play two purples and maybe score a line of three greens. The pieces are shaped coloured plastic closer in design to a toddler’s play-set than the sleek lines of Azul, but this is no worse for it, in fact your Reef feels chunky. It’s fast, it’s 3D fun and we are enjoying it.
In the month that Arkham Horror: Third Edition is released, I naturally started playing Eldritch Horror because time is a relative concept. In this you move your investigators around the world map to build skills, find artefacts and gather clues while trying to solve mysteries and stop the appearance of the world ending Great Old Ones. Actually, no, what you’re trying to do is desperately stay alive.
I found this an intense, story telling game that I’ve played several times, but I can also see the finite limits of each box and why the expansions are so popular: once you’ve hit all the story points a few times it’s time for the next expansion. Maybe I’ll play Arkham Horror 3 eventually!
Will M - Codenames, Carcassonne & More!
I logged a decent rate of 43 board game plays in October, including 11 games of Codenames and Codenames: Pictures at my Games Group. I much prefer ‘vanilla’ Codenames as there’s less room for misinterpretation that I find often happens in Pictures.
October shattered by delusions that I’m good at Carcassonne, as I got thumped in 4 and 5-player games twice. Still, it’s such a good quick game that I’ll keep plugging away at it and won’t refuse a play!
New-to-me games included receiving my Kickstarter for Tiny Epic Zombies, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I played twice solo but look forward to playing as the zombie horde against my friends. I also reluctantly played Splendor’s Cities of Splendor expansion and despite previously stating “Splendor doesn’t need an expansion” I was completely won over by the Cities module and this expansion has gone straight onto my Christmas list! I look forward to trying the other modules as soon as possible.
The most devastating thing to happen to me games-wise was seeing coke cascading over my copy of Terraforming Mars! The board took 24 hours to dry out and some project and Prelude cards were affected but damage was minimised by having the cards in sleeves – still once they were dry I had to use a black marker on the edges. New rule at Games Group: NO drinks on the table!
FUSE wins my award for Game of the Month (read the article here), but possibly one of my favourite plays this month was Azul – I kept my 100% win record (albeit I’ve only played it twice so far!) by emerging victorious via tiebreaker in a 4-player game and can’t wait to receive my own copy for my birthday in a few days’ time…
Louis N - Coimbra, Gizmos, Riverboat & Brass
This month has been an interesting one. I didn’t go to Essen, but instead chose to visit friends for a weekend of gaming. This, as well as establishing a new regular evening with other friends has given me the opportunity to play some old, loved games as well as some of the new additions to the shelves.
- Coimbra - Messrs Brasini and Gigli have done it again, with another very well designed game. Whilst comparisons with Lorenzo are inevitable, Coimbra might well prove to be the better game, with its excellent dice drafting/auction. The jury is still out as to which game I prefer, but it is very much a hung jury, as both scratch different itches.
- Gizmos - This was a surprise. I hadn’t heard much about Gizmos at all. Then the comments started appearing (from friends whose tastes are similar to mine) comparing it to Splendor, but with a bit more going on. I have a soft spot for Splendor (or maybe it’s just the chips?) so I had to give it a go. Gizmos has, much to my surprise, been my most played game of the month.
- Riverboat - Michael Kiesling is becoming an increasingly popular designer – largely thanks to Spiel des Jahres nominations. It’s a shame that Riverboat was mostly overlooked in favour of Heaven and Ale, as I think Riverboat is the (slightly) better game. If you haven’t played it yet, I strongly recommend it.
Ben S - Introducing Games to Family
This month I’ve been trying to introduce my nephews to some new games to give my sister a break from playing the same games over and over again. The favourite was Outfoxed. Outfoxed is a co-operative game, making it easier to teach children, where your task is to find out which Fox has eaten Mrs Plummet’s prized pot pie. To do this, players use their deduction skills to eliminate suspects.
At the beginning of the game, players randomly chose a fox (without looking at it) and place it into the clue decoder (slide machine). On their turn, players then decide whether they will search for a clue (paws) or reveal a suspect (eyes) and roll all of the dice, trying to get them to have their choice – re-rolling twice if needed. If you don’t get what you need, the fox moves, otherwise you carry out your action.
Clues help you to eliminate certain characteristics or items on the fox. For example, you might find a hat. You then place the top hat into the clue decoder and slide it open to see if the thief had a hat. If it shows red, it does have a top hat. If it is green, the thief does not have a top hat. You can then eliminate some foxes, now or later, based on your findings. You continue until either you have eliminated all but one fox or the fox has reached the end!
The game’s theme is very engaging and the game is great for improving children’s deduction skills. A definite winner!
Tom G - New Games Everywhere!
Since Essen has now been and gone, and I unfortunately didn’t make it, I have tried to keep myself busy and have found myself playing a fair few new games!
Wildlands has been my main game that has taken up most of my table time. A great, simple to learn game that moves away from the heavy games that have become synonymous with Martin Wallace and instead give players a thematic game where strategy is vital!
One Night Ultimate Werewolf has been making an appearance on my table this month as well. A simple bluffing game where a player (or players) is given the role of a werewolf and must avoid the constant interrogation of the eager villager team, trying to weed out those pesky wolves! The companion app for this, in my eyes, is vital and the speed it plays makes it a wonderful party game, whatever the occasion! Be prepared for accusations galore!
The final two games only arrived in the last couple of days of October but I have managed to get them to the table pretty quickly! 8Bit Box and Downforce are two offerings from Iello, 8Bit Box being an Essen release. 8Bit Box works very much like a retro games console, with three games included with players using “controllers” to play each game included. It harks back to the days of the Nintendo 64 but I have to say, first impressions are good!
Downforce, while initially thought to be a Formula D copycat, I swiftly found that it was anything but! Players bid to win cars, the cars are then raced by playing cards from your hand and you bet on who the winner will be. All the money is totted up at the end and the winner is the one with the most. An immensely fun and engaging game which I look forward to playing more of! Reviews for both 8Bit Box and Downforce will be out soon so keep an eye out for those!
Dawid - Work Board Game Club
I have recently started a board game club at my work place and had a chance to revisit a lot of games. One of the first ones played was A Game of Thrones (2nd Edition), which turned out to be a big success. After all, everyone likes to stab others in the back, especially at a work place. The game is also quick to understand, and within a few rounds everyone was up to speed. So much so, that I lost. Well, in a game of thrones you either win or you die.
Another popular choice last month was The Mind. A game so simple that it had people question as to how is this even a thing – players lay cards down in an ascending order from one to one hundred without any form of communication – but with the right group of people it is as tense, exciting and infuriating as some of the best games out there.
I’ve also played a few games with my partner, such as Azul, Indian Summer and Champions of Midgard, which is my game of the month. The first two are abstract, tile laying, family friendly games. They play great with only two players and are a perfect choice for cold autumn evenings. And, if you want to introduce your partner or family to board games, they also offer a very good balance between simplicity, addictiveness and strategy.
Andrew - Ex Libris, Caverna & Gravwell
Usually, I’m a designated teacher for my gaming group, so this month it was a pleasant change to sit back and be taught some new games, one of which I was positively enamoured with.
- Caverna is one of a class of games I’ve admittedly shied away from, with its multitude of options, combinations, resources, it looks heavy and it doesn’t take prisoners. That was before I sat down to play, and after having played it I can appreciate where the affection for this game comes from. Though my strategy of 12 sheep and a Cuddle Room didn’t pan out, it opened the door to a world of strategy and adventuring.
- Gravwell shouldn’t appeal to the outspoken hater of Sci-fi in me, but as an experience I can’t fault it. It’s a blend of simple mechanics and thematic ties that sells this one, and there’s nothing more satisfying than forcing your opponent’s high movement card to jettison them straight back into the singularity. A light one, but one that I can’t let my distaste for the theme get in the way of.
- Ex Libris, however, has the makings of a grail game for me. The mixture of theme, form and mechanics blends into a wonderful experience, filling your bookcase with every genre from the magical to the alchemical to the forbidden. Plus, the asymmetric player powers add lots of replay-ability to a game brimming with flavour, from quaint books such as ‘Centaurs Are People Too’ to unique assistants such as the bespectacled golem helping you shelve them, each with its own meeple. The Gelatinous Cube is the firm favourite for best component, though!
Simon L - 60 Games!
I played 60 different games in October (one fewer than August). A game I have finally bought and racked up 20 plays in 24 hours is Hey That's My Fish! It takes typically seven minutes to play (plus three to set-up and put away), pure strategy, so many options, its a fast, low down time, multi-player Chess with a theme!
Having a board game sleepover in London for three nights gave me the chance to try Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition, whilst we finally completed Pandemic Legacy Season One....before opening Season Two! Whilst in the Pandemic mood, we also had another adventure in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.