This will be the first in, hopefully, a regular series of posts outlining the games I played in the last month along with impressions of both myself and those I played with. This will be a big one, as we had our big winter gaming day with Meeples’ Corner in November, but what better way to start off this series than with a big splurge of new and newish titles!

Using the best board game stat tracking app I’ve found, Board Game Stats, I can see that during November I managed to play 24 different games and a total of 30 plays with a total of 22 different people. Pretty good! Below I go through all the highlights with links to where to find out more or buy your own copy from show sponsor, Meeples’ Corner:

Valeria: Card Kingdoms

One of my personal favourite games to have come via Kickstarter, this is a fantasy themed Machi Koro-esque dice rolling game where you collect a tableau of characters which activate on different rolls of the dice. These activations result in the collection of differing resources which can be used to fight monsters or buy new cards for your tableau. Once a certain number of stacks of cards from the collective pool are empty the game ends and points are totalled up.

Valeria Card Kingdoms

The art is what first drew me to the game, but after playing it for the first time it totally sacked Machi Koro for me. The theme is equally as light, but the artwork is more involving, as is the gameplay. Unlike Machi Koro, everyone’s cards activate on each player’s turn rather than only on your own. This keeps everyone involved at all times and speeds the game up nicely, as resources are rarely limited (a down point for some players, but not for me!).

Oceanos

The newest title from the prolific French designer Antoine Bauza, this is a simple and family friendly set collection type game of deep sea exploration. In Oceanos you’re drafting and building up a tableau of cards which will have a number of different symbols on them. Treasure chests, undersea creatures, gems… the combinations of these and how well you upgrade your submarine in order to maximise your score for each will define how well you score come finish.

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A really simple and light game (albeit with me messing up the rules at first) and featuring the typically awesome Iello production quality, Oceanos us a fun family game. It plays very quickly, has lovely artwork and the gameplay evolves nicely with each draft, offering up some properly game-altering decisions for players. Do you pick the card that’ll give you some points now, or take the one that will give you a submarine upgrade in order to collect more points further down the track? Good stuff.

Fool’s Gold

As discussed on episode 23 of the Devon Dice podcast, this one was a pleasant surprise for me. I first saw it at Essen in 2015, but didn’t get a chance to play it. Cut to a few weeks ago and I managed to pick a copy up cheap and give it a go.

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In Fool’s Gold 3 to 5 players are Yukon prospectors heading out into the cold countryside looking to strike it rich. You’ll commit workers to one of the five locations in order to search their respective decks for gold and/or gems. After five rounds the game ends and scores are totalled up… with a couple of neat twists. Firstly, the location from which you discovered the most gold is discarded… that’s your “Fool’s Gold”. Then, for any location from which you failed to collect any gold you receive a minus 5 points deduction from your overall score, so you’re forced to prospect each location and not just mine out the more promising spots.

Altogether, this proved to be a very neat game. It played relatively quickly even with five players, the artwork and components are all very nice and neat and the gameplay is dynamic and fun. There are push your luck elements which are always fun, especially when players spectacularly fail to discover anything worthwhile in their locations. Definitely a keeper for my collection.

Cottage Garden

One of the big releases at Essen 2016, this is Uwe Rosenberg’s four player version of Patchwork, basically. Each player has two garden plots which they need to fill with flower beds and plant pots from the collective pool.

Cottage Garden

It’s a bit Tetris-like and is quite charming. I really enjoyed my first play of this and would happily buy myself a copy, though one of our group beat me to it… I’ll give it a couple more plays and see if it still takes my fancy, but it’s a highlight of the year so far!

Celestia

Players are on an airship attempting to make it as far along the trail of cities as possible without crashing. Players take turns being captain, which involves rolling the required number of dice showing different threats (birds, pirates, storms etc). In order to successfully pass to the next city the captain needs to play a number of cards to match the symbols rolled. The passenger players take turns opting to stay on the ship and risk crashing with the captain or jumping off and collecting points for the city the ship is already in. First player to reach a score of 50+ wins.

The reskin of Cloud 9, this is a great push your luck game for up to six players which plays quickly and results in lots of laughs. Never fails to satisfy.

Not Alone

A new game released at Essen 2016 and a surprise hit, this is a one vs many game where one player is an monster on a planet the other players have crash landed upon. The group are trying to survive long enough to be rescued while the monster is attempting to hunt down the players before that happens. This is done using a bit of a hide and seek card mechanic where the group choose the locations they will be for each round and the monster selects a single location to hunt. Find a player and they reduce their health and their time to escape reduces.

Was surprisingly quick and would reward players who enjoy the hidden info, deduction element of this type of game. I’m rubbish at that, but even so it was pretty close between me as the monster and the survivors escaping.

Junk Art

Another contender for game of the year for me, I described this as reverse Jenga to my wife in order to make her try it, she did and she liked it too. Her liking a game is about as good as I will ever manage, but I personally love it.

Junk Art

In Junk Art you’re artists on a world tour, competing to create the best sculptures in each city you visit (three per game). That’s the loose theme, but what you’re really doing is stacking an assortment of different shaped pieces onto a small square plinth. Different scenario/cities have different win conditions (tallest structure, most pieces on the sculpture, fastest to finish etc) but ultimately the scoring is almost irrelevant. The fun is in the dexterity action more than the winning and this is easily a keeper for me.

Tavarua

When you consider Far Off Games’ previous title was the space epic sandbox game, Xia: Legends of a Drift System you’d be hard pushed to believe their next game would be a relatively straightforward Euro style game about surfing.

Tavarua

In Tavarua players are surfers competing to catch the best waves and score big on both long and short boards. Waves are depicted by dice coming down one side of the board, with the other side being the channel through which the surfer meeples paddle out. Catching and riding waves is done via card play with different cards representing different scores for the tricks depicted upon them. Careful though, as each card also denotes your surfer’s balance upon the board. Each round the top card from the wave deck is revealed, showing the force of the wave and how it forces you to rebalance. You have to plan carefully lest you wipe out!

This is quite possibly my game of the year for 2016. I was really excited by it when I backed it on Kickstarter and it has totally lived up to my own hype for it. It was a modest success on Kickstarter, but a big success in both my gaming group and for me personally. I’ve even tricked it out with some diecast VM campervans for each player to store their surfboards!

Kingdomino

Kingdomino

This one was a bit of a surprise. Despite it being from one of my absolute favourite designers, Bruno Cathala, this has the distinct ‘kids game’ look to it. However, it’s actually a simple, fun and colourful family friendly game centred around the domino placement mechanic. You’re looking to select domino-like tiles from those on offer each round and add them to your own construction, which has to conform to a size restriction. Each tile has two different halves… maybe one side is desert and the other water, another forest and fields…. Or maybe a double sea or double forest. Either way, you’re trying to score for adjacency of terrain types, so careful placement and selection of tiles is necessary.

Quick, light and fun. One I will happily play again!

First Class: Unterwegs im Orient Express

This one was totally new to me when Christoph of Meeples’ Corner suggested playing it at our big winter gaming day in Crediton, Devon.

In First Class you’re constructing two lines of carriages for your own little Orient Express type train and moving your locomotive along a track you’re also building on another part of your player board. You do this rather simply by selecting and buying cards from the central pool. These might be expansions for your carriages, route map cards for your locomotive, movement cards for the loco, movement cards for your conductor (who moves down through your carriages and earns VP depending on how far down the train he makes it).

All pretty simple stuff and actually played pretty quickly, was easy to learn and looked nice. I need a second play of it now I know what I’m doing to make my mind up properly though!

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King

Yet another new game from Bruno Cathala… that man is on fire! This one is also illustrated by my favourite artist, The Mico, who also produced the artwork for Valeria: Card Kingdoms (see above).

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King

In Hand of the King you create a tableau of cards depicting the various characters of A Game of Thrones in suits of their houses. One of the cards is Varys (The Spider). Players take turns moving Varys orthoganally as far as they like in any one direction. Whichever character they move him to is the one they will collect plus any of the same suit you have passed over en route. Whoever has the most of any given suit/family will claim the family banner. Once there are no more valid moves for Varys the game ends and the player controlling the most banners wins.

Really simple, really light, looks great. A perfect filler game for 2 to 4 players.

Quartermaster General

I don’t really play war games… thankfully, Quartermaster General is a war game only in theme. It’s actually a strategic Euro with an area control, route building type vibe with some hand management, tactical card play.

Quartermaster General

The game is played between two sides (Axis and Allies) of three countries divied up between the available players. In our gave of five players that meant one player, Murray, played two countries (Germany and Italy) while I played Japan. The other guys played USA, UK and Russia. The idea is to spread your armies and navies around the world, taking strategic locations and retaining your lines of supply. While it’s war themed, there is no real direct combat… it’s a simple “I go here, you lose this” back and forth type thing which plays pretty simply.

In our game I, as Japan, got nailed early on by Phil’s USA card play – he basically played a heap of cards which ripped away half my deck – your deck of cards indicates your total number of available actions and once your deck is gone you’re done. Half way through the game I was essentially done, as I knew most of the cards which would have allowed me to do anything productive were gone in that early hit from Phil. Overall though, it plays pretty simply and for history buffs it’s a lot of fun, as it strangely echoes the real history of WWII!

Mechs vs Minions

My first play of 2016’s surprise, out of left-field mega-hit from Riot Games, based on their League of Legends IP. Not only does this have miniatures, but is cooperative. Two elements which normally turn me right off a game, but against all the odds I had an absolute blast with this!

Mechs vs Minions

One mechanic I love is programmed movement and this is built around that concept. The nature of the programming and damage, akin to Robo Rally, means the cooperative element of play isn’t as subjected to the alpha-gamer problems I normally have with cooperative games. The components are all outstanding, the gameplay is fast and fun, the campaign/modular mission aspect works really well and I am sorely tempted to add a copy to my own collection!

Conan

Another big release, this one a massive Kickstarter from a couple of years ago finally delivered. This one was backed by a friend, who backed at the top level with all the extras, but we chose a simple starter mission of ‘rescue the princess from the village’ type thing.

Conan

The game is very nicely designed, the miniatures are excellent (helped by Darren painting his) and the gameplay is generally simple and dynamic, albeit a little confusing at first. In fact, we managed to play the game totally wrong (not an uncommon situation due to the ambiguous rulebook which is due an update), but even so it was fun… though I’d have happily continued to play Mechs vs Minions instead. Miniatures skirmish type games just aren’t for me.

Glory To Rome

One of my more recent purchases, I finally got my hands on a black box edition of this classic Carl Chudyk game. I had first played it back at the UK Games Expo with the classic Cambridge Games artwork and had a good time with it, but being involved in graphic design as a day job I was attracted to the Heiko Gunther redesign which was going to cost me a packet. It did cost me a packet, but not as much as I feared!

Glory To Rome

In this play I was teaching another three newbies to play, which proved to be a little ambitious given my terrible reputation for teaching games, but we managed just about. In the end everyone understood what they were doing and the game evolved quickly… I was going for my classic “build this and win the game” tactic which worked back in June, but sadly got beaten to the punch by the depletion of the draw deck.

Sits alongside Race for the Galaxy as a game that is best played with folks who already know how to play, but was still fun!

That’s it!

Well nearly… a few more titles I got to play are listed below, but as this is now 8th December and this article has taken me the best part of a week to finish off, I’m going to leave it there! In future posts I’ll focus on titles that are new to me or which had something exceptional happen which is worth talking about!

Also played:

  • Above and Below
  • King of Tokyo
  • Race For The Galaxy
  • 6 Nimmt!
  • Coloretto
  • Skull
  • Age of War
  • For Sale
A month of games: November 2016
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