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What We’ve Been Playing – October 2019

What We've Been Playing - Ecos First Continent

Pumpkins, sweets, ghosts and board games!! That's what October is all about. Here's what we've been playing during the last 30 days.

The Game Shelf - Convention Season

During October we were fortunate enough to attend two board game conventions. The first was SHUX. This is run by Shut Up & Sit Down in Vancouver, Canada. We tied this convention into our holiday plans for the year. The second was our first trip to Essen. SHUX was all about playing games, but we were also surprised that we got to play quite plenty of games at Essen too.

Our highlight of SHUX was Ecos: First Continent, which I’m now describing as ‘build your own bingo card’. You are crafting a tableau of cards that will be triggered when all of the symbol on that card have been drawn from the bag. When a card triggers, it gives you benefits or scores you points based on the layout of land an animals on the central map. Right now it’s top of my Christmas list.

Our highlight of Essen was Glen More II: Chronicles which is a re-implementation of the out of print game, Glen More. It’s a great medium weight tile-laying game and the new version adds a few new mechanisms, fantastic component quality, and a chance to work through 8 different expansions.

Essen was also about shopping for new games, and since we returned we’ve also loved The Mind: Extreme and Nine Tiles Panic. Plus, we picked up Horrified whilst in Canada, which has been a blast!

Neil B - Mage Knight & Twilight Imperium

This month I have been fortunate to play two titans of the gaming world: Mage Knight and Twilight Imperium. The former is a legendary game of character building and combat. It's permanently perched at the top of BoardGameGeek's (BGG) Top 100 solo games (despite being a multiplayer game).

Mage Knight is famous for several things.

  • The steepness of its learning cliff.
  • Its many nuanced rules.
  • Being an unashamed gamer's game.
  • For the sheer challenge it presents.

Persevere with the above and you're rewarded with a truly stunning experience. Staring at a hand of five cards, thinking “what do I do?” has never been so rewarding. With the freedom to do what you like within the many scenarios, Mage Knight reminds me of RPG classic Skyrim. From small, relatively humble, beginnings you develop the power to level cities and command armies.

A shiny new Ultimate Edition packs in all the expansion material ensuring hours and hours of entertainment for years to come.

Twilight Imperium, now on its fourth edition, is a classic of space exploration, negotiation and conquest. Both the current and previous editions of the game are in the BGG Top 100. However, for every person that loves the game, there is another that loathes it. “Isn’t that that game that takes hours?” is a common question when the game is suggested. And yes, it can take hours to play.

Everything you may have heard about it is true. It’s overly complex, bordering on bloated. It’s full of fiddly rules and the combat involves dice. Dice that can inflict board game genocide on a player’s empire half-way through a six-hour game!

But each of those hours is hugely memorable. It’s tense, deeply absorbing, comes with little plastic spaceships and you can build an intergalactic empire with space turtles. A game of Twilight Imperium is an event. Weeks in planning, hours in the execution and a talking point for months. It's an experience and love it or loath it, everyone should try it at least once.

What We've Been Playing - Twilight Imperium

Nick T - Top Trumps Match, King & Assassins & Colt Express

October has been a bit germy in my house. Me and all three of my boys came down with a grim cough, all at different times… my wife was over the moon to avoid contamination but less pleased to be kept up all month with coughing noises coming from each one of us. At times it felt like we were playing a real-life version of Pandemic.

Whenever I was sick as a child, I would watch back-to-back Star Wars movies. As a nod to this, and as my eight-year-old’s bug slightly overlapped with mine, I played quite a few games of the Star Wars version of Top Trumps Match.

I really enjoy this two-player game with the kids. To win the game you need to get five matching cubes in a row. I was pleased to see my middle son applying some skill, tracking which cubes I knocked out to try and work out which rows I was building and deliberating pushing cubes out and randomising his own cube placement. There is still a bit of luck involved, but it is a surprisingly fun game to play with children as there is an almost equal chance of them winning fair and square. Top Trumps Match is also simple enough for my youngest five-year-old to grasp.

In the evenings I played King & Assassins Deluxe Edition, partly because I was in the process of writing my review, partly because it is currently my go-to two player game. I really like the asymmetry and the strategy involved. As I mostly play my wife, you have to regularly think up new ways of possibly winning. What you did in the last game may not necessarily work in the next. This constant evolution of tactics combined with the option of playing from two different viewpoints gives this game plenty of replayability. I love it.

A new game also graced our household. Although probably considered a classic by many, the marvellous 3D train of Colt Express graced our gaming table quite a bit. It was surrounded by new game excitement which meant we wanted to play it lots. We tried it with two, three and four players. The more players we had the harder it became to keep track of each other’s movements.

For me, that meant it was more chaotic and fun and I will probably only play it with three players or more. We’ve had a blast with Colt Express and I can see why it attracted so many awards, I can also see it escaping the board game cupboard very frequently over the next few months too.

Louis N - Pipeline, Glass Road & Sierra West

Pipeline saw its first outing. A challenging game to play which, like many heavier games, deserves at least a second play. Actions are selected allowing players to buy pipeline tiles, buy or sell crude or refined oil, purchase machinery which can be used to automate oil refinement and so on. Alternatively, players can activate their own oil refineries. The purpose of the game is to make money (victory points and money are the same thing). Throughout the game this can be done by refining and selling oil.

However, players must spend money to improve their refinery, so there is a delicate balance to be found. There are several strategies to be adopted in Pipeline, but it isn’t advisable to play your first game with experienced players, as it has such a steep learning curve.

I haven’t played Glass Road in quite some time, so it was great to get this one out again. I much prefer the mid-weight Rosenberg games to all his other designs, so this and Nusfjord are by far my favourites. I love the way resources are managed on a dial, and as long as there are sufficient of each resource type, the manufactured goods (glass and brick) are automatically produced, depleting all other materials.

Resource management is so much more complicated in this game! As with most other Rosenberg games, there are building tiles to be purchased, which will affect the manufacturing process and, ultimately, award end game victory points. Glass Road plays in a relatively short time; four players who are familiar could probably play this in less than an hour.

Sierra West is another new game in my collection. This is a game which brings together mechanics in a novel way. Sierra West is based on multi use cards, which are placed together to provide number of available actions in a round. Three cards are drawn from a personal deck, and the player then arranges them to provider an optimal series of actions. Actions are taken in a programmed order (according to the arrangement of the cards).

The personal decks are all identical initially, but Sierra West is also a deck builder, so the cards in the deck will evolve as the game progresses. There are four modules to Sierra West – each one plays slightly differently, which gives the game even more replayability.

What We've Been Playing - Sierra West

Rob W - One Deck Dungeon, Legendary Marvel & Taverns of Tiefenthal

With Halloween and Christmas fans at each other's throats for season supremacy, I thought it would be a good time to hibernate! Failing that, however, a bit of gaming would sort me out.

One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows, follow up to One Deck Dungeon, is a great little game for one. You can play it with two, but if you want to go for a dungeon crawl but don’t want to deal with miniatures, maps or other people, it really hits the spot. Use the cards for encounters, skills and items and the dice will do the rest. Build up your character and face off against one of six increasingly tricky bosses. You can even campaign it on a little pad and carry over experience to unlock benefits in later games. It isn’t too table hungry, either.

My next game takes a little more to set-up, but has a satisfying line in combos (I love combos), even if you're playing solo. I'm talking about Legendary Marvel. The Legendary games are all very good thematic deck builders, but Marvel is probably ‘the daddy’. It has a huge roster of heroes and villains, with expansions still being released seven years since launch. The mix and match nature does make it a bit of a chore to set-up and pack away, but when you’re playing Old Man Logan, Thanos and Superior Iron Man against Wasteland Hulk and the Banner Family… yeah, a most satisfying smack down.

I did venture outside a little. This was mainly to try and get people to play the thoroughly entertaining Taverns of Tiefenthal. Quacks was a revelation, but Taverns is the second coming of my own personal Jesus – deck building and dice drafting to build a pub? Shut up and take my money!

Seriously, all the mechanics work together so beautifully, and the flow is very, very nice. I often wish that there were a few more rounds, it’s just so much fun to play. Now, more blankets and another strong porter please (it’s beer – I’ve not taken to being carried around. Although…).

Tom H - Falling Apples & Fooling Dracula

Last month I learned Newton. It’s a clever game, themed around Sir Isaac and fellow smarty-pants scientists. Hand management plays a huge role, here. You’ll play five cards triggering actions and, like all good Euro-style games, each appeal.

At the end of the round, players dismiss one card from those five. It gets added to your tableau, acting as a permanent multiplier from now on. Deck-building is essential, or you’ll run out of cards! There is a neat bookcase mechanism, where filling holes in rows or columns earns points. To do so, you need to have played cards thus far this round with required book symbols. This give cards a double-usage. Or, have visited certain universities or cities. So you need to travel too, then.

Newton is by Simone Luciani, one of my favourite designers. Luciani’s portfolio includes Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, Grand Austria Hotel, and Lorenzo il Magnifico. Like Newton, he’s also a genius.

I also had the fortune of a games night falling on Halloween. Some friends and I got our spook on and busted out Fury of Dracula (the ‘4th’ Edition by WizKids) at the pub. It’s a one-vs-many, hidden movement, point-to-point and then card combat game. Think Scotland Yard – with an extra dollop of devilish, Gothic spice (garlic granules?) added.

I played the titular villain, with four others playing co-op as the Hunters. It was my first attempt at playing as Drac, and I had a blast. There was a noticeable swing in proceedings. I started off smug and undetected, but a Newspaper report then revealed half my trail. I managed escape again, after beating up van Helsing, and then had to run away to sea. (Insert bad Bela Lugosi laughing impression here.)

It’s not the simplest of games – but luckily, I wrote a ‘How To Play… guide for Fury of Dracula last month.