Your tribe is sitting around the fire – a new invention that will prove to be the spark of great things to come, things that nobody can yet predict or even dream of. It feels like you have been here before though. The scene seems very familiar. The faces may be different and so is the location, but the warmth of the flames and the crackling of the embers trigger memories in you – memories of a bright future, memories of generations to come, of a civilization rising out of the plains and large structures reaching into the sky. Yet, something is different this time. It seems as if your tribe of Traders has an extra coin and an extra food in this more balanced version of Tapestry by Stonemaier Games.
In recent years, there seems to have been a surge in board game events in the UK, where people come together for a day or two to play games with old friends and new. I’m thinking of events like AireCon, Manorcon or Tabletop Scotland, but there are many more. These events are different to expos, like the UK Games Expo, which do have open play or tournaments, but whose main focus is on exhibitors showing off their products. What I want to talk about here are more like festivals, where the focus is on playing, and exhibitors, seminars and other activities are secondary – and I want to look at AireCon in particular.
“I know,” said the King’s master builder, “if we use modular rooms, all of them square, we could manufacture several of them, all at the same time, in our many workshops, transport them to the site as they are finished, and connect them on-site to build a magnificent castle, befitting our Highness’ standing and reputation. In fact, we could build several castles all at the same time, all as glorious as each other.” ”That’s madness,” his apprentice exclaimed in horror. ”Exactly,” the King’s master builder replied, “but imagine the wonderful feeling of amazement our Royal Highness will get when he surveys the construction from a vantage point Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig.”
Sure. It’s always great to play with the latest shinies and be at the cutting edge of what board games have to offer. It makes you feel trendy, in-the-know or it’s just great to have bought something new. I love it myself. It’s amazing when someone offers you a game for review that hasn’t been released yet. You feel honoured. It’s a special thing. It just makes you happy, and enjoying games has a lot to do with happiness for a lot of people. However, there is also the flipside. It can be stressful, and often very expensive, to always hunt for the latest game, the newest release. Your fear of missing out can turn into panic. That’s when it’s time to remind ourselves where our interest in the hobby started.
Our heighliner was positioned safely in Arrakis’ orbit. With a steady stream of Spice filling our coffers gradually, we had to be patient and observe from afar the goings-on down on the planet itself. It was clear that House Atreides was pivotal in the unfolding events and our scheme had to remain hidden until the right moment was reached. The cogs were set in motion and doubts had been planted in the Emperor’s mind that would lead to their unavoidable conclusion. The Spice needs to flow on Dune by Gale Force Nine.
Growing up, I played a lot of tabletop games with my parents and brother. Yes, there was Monopoly of course, as well as other roll and move games such as Winnetou, but also tableau builders like Ogalala and a stock market game called Die Börse which required a little more strategic thinking. It was mostly my brother who would teach us these sort of games, and my parents would teach us trick-taking games like Skat and Doppelkopf.
After finishing my shift in the press room at the local newspaper, I had returned home. As I entered the apartment block’s communal hallway and went over to collect my post, I saw that someone had changed the padlock on my letterbox. I knew that my own padlock had never been very secure, and I always expected someone to cut it with a bolt cutter to steal my post. However, I never thought anybody would go through the trouble of replacing my own lock with theirs, but clearly someone had done just that. Then I saw a sticky note written by my friend Henry. It seemed that I had to solve a little puzzle to work out the code of the new padlock, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, was going to lead me down a rabbit hole of puzzles of ever-increasing difficulty which would eventually help me uncover a major conspiracy in Escape Room Puzzles by Carlton Books.
We all play games for different reasons, and we all approach them differently. In fact, we may play the same game differently on two different days, just because we’re in a different mood. However, I’m not talking about playing a different strategy or choosing a different character or even just playing with a different player colour. I’m talking about something different altogether.
You sit quietly in your hide, binoculars in hand, peering out over the lake, with the grassland on the other side and the woodlands in the background. You have already spotted a fair number of birds that frequent this nature reserve regularly, but suddenly you spot something new. You think you glimpsed a read head and black and white back. Slowly scanning the woodlands, you see it again, hanging onto the trunk of a dead tree. It’s a white-backed woodpecker, which is a new visitor and comes with 80 other birds in Wingspan: European Expansion by Stonemaier Games.
Tabletop game designers want to create an enjoyable experience for people – whatever enjoyable means in this context. From that starting point, they create a game that is balanced, flows well and meets the desired complexity requirements, as well as meets other criteria. They may use the skillset of developers to refine everything, and if a publisher is involved, there will be additional criteria that have to be met. However, in this article, I want to focus on enjoyment, what it means and whose responsibility it is to make a game enjoyable.
“…as more people are put into isolation in specifically built camps that are guarded by military personnel and run by medical experts and support staff brought in from around the country. The World Health Organization has so far identified five different viruses in this global epidemic. A number of scientific laboratories across the world are working around the clock in an attempt to discover a cure for them all, while teams on the ground travel to infection sites to gather samples and monitor outbreaks.” You switch off the TV, because you have to return to your fieldwork and help your team find cures in Pandemic by Z-Man Games.
Chits, tokens, player boards, tiles, pieces, cards and all the other components we have come to know and love can sometimes be a bit of a problem: when you need to place dozens upon dozens of them into specific places on the game board or player mat and spend hours shuffling dozens of decks of cards before you can even think about starting the game. Setup is something most of us will want to be quick, so we can get to the fun bit as soon as possible.
After a short journey by train, you arrive in Berlin at Friedrichstraße central station. Wasting no time, you immediately take the stairs down to the U-Bahn platforms. You want to see as much of this metropole as possible, not just the usual tourist sites, but also the more regular stations that locals would travel to. Your first destination is Zitadelle in Spandau, after which you want to see the famous Potsdamer Platz. However, as you arrive on the platform, you notice there are no trains running. It turns out that you have to take a taxi to Jungfernheide, after which you can take the yellow line to Zitadelle, then back to Jungfernheide and another taxi to Zoologischer Garten, where you can catch the white line. It seems weird, but this is On the Underground London/Berlin by LudiCreations.
Let’s start 2020 with a serious topic and wade straight in. I might as well start the year as I mean to go on. So, turn order. It’s something that matters very little in some games, and a lot in others. In some games, players take their turns in clockwise order, in others it’s based on the faction they’ve chosen or some other similar measure, or you might bid for turn order. In some games, turn order remains the same throughout the game, in others it changes from round to round. I want to look at the different ways turn order is implemented in games and the effect this can have.
Here is a game that has been around the blocks for a few years, but still seems very popular amongst people who like trick-taking games. Skull King by Schmidt Spiele does a few things differently to other trick-taking games, which is why it’s so much fun and a game that you can teach to people who are new to trick-taking games. Yet, there is as much depth in this game as there is in other trick-taking games.
I wanted to use this opportunity to thank everyone who supports me via Patreon, follows me on Twitter, has subscribed to my YouTube channel, follows me on Instagram, likes my LinkedIn page or who supports me otherwise. A particular thank you goes, of course, to Antoinette from Board Game Inquisition with whom I’m running the Tabletop Inquisition podcast.
For the first time, the Tabletop Games Blog is giving away an award: the Top Table Award for the best game released in 2019. As you know, a lot of new tabletop games were released this year, probably around 3,000 to 4,000, excluding expansions. That’s more games anyone will ever be able to play in a year, and I have probably only seen 20-30 of those. However, I still thought it’d be good to share with you my top 5 games that were published in 2019 and crown the winner.
I know, it’s Christmas Eve, so talking about New Year’s resolutions might feel a little early, but I thought I’d get them out of the way now, so I can enjoy the holidays. As this blog is about tabletop games, my list of resolutions featured here focuses solely on what I promise to do, or stop doing, with regards to the hobby. Of course, there are many other things, that are personal and private to me and that I aim to become better at next year, but that I won’t mention below.
Another year has come and gone. A lot has happened in the world, some good, some bad. The tabletop game community has not got away unscathed of course. Yet, there have also been a lot of positive trends and changes. So as we’re nearing the end of 2019, I want to look back at what happened in the tabletop games hobby.
I thought it would be helpful to talk about something that I, and many other people, struggle with around this time of year. It’s not quite a tabletop games related topic, but there is a link, as you will see. What I am talking about is the feelings of gloom, self-doubt and general negativity when the days get shorter and the weather is less pleasant. I hope my experiences are helpful to others, even if it’s just so people know they are not alone. After all, mental health does matter.
There is absolute silence and the flickering candles cast eerie shadows of the four people sitting around the table. Everyone has one hand on the table and moves their gaze from face to face, trying to lock onto the thoughts that waft through the other person’s mind. The tension is palpable and the air is thick. There is a faint sound of ticking, as if from a grandfather clock, but it’s not real. It’s in everyone’s head. Yet, it’s not a single clock, but a jumbled rhythm as each player counts down at their own frequency. Then, slowly, everyone withdraws their hand and the game begins. It’s time to get into synch as the game of The Mind Extreme by Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag begins.
I thought it might be time to give everyone an update of where I’m at with the blog, the podcast, videos and everything else I do in the industry. After all, we’re nearing the end of the year and everyone is starting to reflect on what they have achieved. However, there will be a separate article on my blog talking about what happened in 2019 in the industry in general and with regards to my work specifically, so here I focus on what is involved in producing the content for my various outlets and give you a behind-the-scenes look of what I do.
The four armies have landed on the beach of the abandoned island and deposited their troops with intent. They are here to claim their stake and become the new rulers. Yet, battles are rare. The invaders mostly compete for majority, tolerating their opponents’ presence, while brave cohorts cross the seas to reach neighbouring islands in this tiny archipelago. Cities are built to establish a permanent presence, but it doesn’t take long until it is all over. In Eight-Minute Empire: Legends by Red Raven Games, you and up to three other players try to manoeuvre your armies over eight to eleven rounds to come out victorious.
As some of you will know, I’m an alpha player at the core, which means I can take over co-operative games and tell people what to do. Even in competitive games I’m the one who makes sure rules are followed and actions are done in the right order. I even adjust tokens or tiles to line them up properly and ensure everything is in the right place. However, I’ve changed a lot over the last year or so and I want to share my journey with you. Maybe it will give you some tips for yourself, if you’re an alpha player too.
The price bubble has burst and the property market has crashed. People have lost a lot of money when they were forced to sell everything at a much lower price. They bought too high and got out too late. Yet, there are also a number of happy faces around the table. They bought land when prices were still extremely low, built properties, rented them out, earned a decent income and then sold everything at the peak of the market – or at least sold most of it, breaking even with everything else. These are the property tycoons that managed to make it big in Magnate: The First City by Naylor Games.
I guess it has become tradition now for boardgame blogs to suggest a number of games that people should play with their friends and family over the festive period. As I love tradition, I will do what everyone else is doing and give you a selection of games some of which may suit your taste and may also be a good match for whoever you choose to play with when you enjoy some time off over Christmas.
It’s been a very long time since I have played one of the classic, German trick-taking games, like Skat or Doppelkopf. My family and I used to play Skat at home a lot when I was in my late teens, early twenties, and I used to play Doppelkopf pretty much every break with my friends in school when I was in my late teens, keeping the session going virtually all day, as one person would leave to get to their lesson and someone else would take their place. I had very much forgotten how much I loved these sort of games, especially the uncertainty in Doppelkopf where you don’t know who your partner is until later in the game. However, when someone bought Vivaldi by XV Games at Spiel Essen this year and brought it to the Gaming Rules meet-up, we had so much fun and all my fond memories flooded back.
Apparently, modern tabletop games have had a huge surge worldwide recently. Mind you, “recently” really means a few years, and it doesn’t seem to let up. It’s great to see so many people pick up cardboard and have a great time, whether it’s alone or with friends, family or complete strangers. So I want to look at what has been happening and see where and how tabletop games have appeared in people’s lives.
You and a handful of brave explorers have finally found the entrance to Mount Arima, the fearsome volcano that has laid sleeping for decades, and which hides an important secret in its maze of tunnels. Tales of a magical sanctum have drawn you and your fellow adventurers together. You all promise to work together and face whatever dangers you may encounter in the depths of this mountain. Yet, none of you have realized that your allegiance will be tested to your death, if you are not able to escape before the volcano erupts and burns you alive. Sub Terra II: Inferno’s Edge by ITB Board Games will require you to work together effectively and swiftly if you want to succeed.
As we commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, I wanted to talk about walls in tabletop gaming and look at what walls there still are that might stop people from enjoying the hobby or becoming a part of our growing community. I don’t proclaim to be able to tear down all the walls that still exist, but hopefully my thoughts will start a constructive discussion and help move us forward in some way. Maybe we can look back in 30 years and see the positive things that have happened and evaluate what else needs to be done.
Through five millennia you guide your civilization from the discovery of fire through vastly different eras to its ultimate end. You discover and develop different technologies, flex your military muscle, explore new lands and execute unexpected and sometimes devastating science experiments as your people advance from generation to generation. In Tapestry by Stonemaier Games, you write an alternative history that has echoes of mankind’s but turns out completely different, but hopefully for the better.
I’m sure, many of you are tired of hearing all about Essen Spiel 2019. Everyone who went is talking about all the games they saw, played and bought, and anyone who didn’t go is reading about all the games everyone saw, played and bought. So I want to talk about the people side of the exhibition and share my experiences of attending this major event for the first time.
Here is another beautifully illustrated game by Ryan Laukat. You will immediately recognize it from his other games, such as Near and Far. You will also recognize a lot of the characters he created in his other games and which appear in Roam as well. Yet, this game from Red Raven Games is quite different from the others. There is no resource management, no movement and no storytelling. Instead, you get a lovely, light game that is very easy to explain and learn and relatively quick to play.
It has been nearly a year since I last updated my tabletop player profile using the Quantic Foundry‘s online form. Let’s … More
Feudal Japan is in turmoil. Warring clans are roaming the land to claim territories and gain influence and power, while vying for the favour of the spirits, the Kami, whose support will help cement the superiority over the enemies. As clans form alliances and recruit legendary monsters to bolster their armies’ ranks, everyone prepares for multiple battles which will change the face of Japan. Yet, territories are often held only fleetingly as alliances are betrayed and powers shift. It is up to you to use your cunning and strategic planning to come out the victor in Rising Sun by CMON.
I have previously spoken about unique games, which were something new at the time – see my article “There can be only one”. It was KeyForge by Fantasy Flight Games and designed by Richard Garfield of Magic: The Gathering fame, which started this new way of making games. There is probably a better and longer description of the term, but in short, the term unique in this context describes games where every published copy is different in a number of ways. In KeyForge this is, for example, the name and logo, as well as the composition of the different cards, but different decks will still have some cards the same. I want to look at some aspects of unique game design in more detail to explore the concept.
When struggling gramophone salesman Barry discovers a not-so-secret secret lab (I recommend you watch the trailer on Halfbrick’s website) which has developed a number of different and increasingly crazy jetpacks, his life changes. He starts with a basic jetpack and flies through the various rooms of the lab to avoid obstacles and find the next and better jetpack to try out for himself. A lot of frantic horizontally scrolling fun ensues, which the boardgame conversion of Jetpack Joyride by Lucky Duck Games tries to reproduce on your dining room table.
Trying to organize a group of people to regularly play games with isn’t always straightforward. I am lucky to have a weekly games night group of four, including myself, with people who live quite close, making it easy for us to meet up. I have previously described how you can play games with different groups of people (see “Night, night”). So this time I want to focus on what to consider when trying to organize regular games nights with friends.
It’s that time of the year again. The huge Essen Spiel game fair is upon us, so as is custom, here is my list of games that will be at the exhibition and that I’m looking forward to.
Classifying things we encounter is important. It gives us a way to describe them to others, allows us to decide whether things are similar or different and provides a method to create connections between them. Classifications help us with decision making and prediction. However, classifications alone don’t fully describe things and especially when we talk about classifying tabletop games, there are a lot more nuances and details that cannot be described by classifications alone. So I want to explore how far classifications can go until their usefulness deteriorates.
A handful of small trees stand at the edge of a clearing. The wind blows gently as the sun starts to rise in the east. You can almost see the trees reaching for the light, as they slowly convert the sunshine into sugars, which is used to grow and produce seeds. Each species will have different survival strategies, but all trees have a natural urge to disperse their seeds towards the middle of the clearing, where there is less competition and more fertile ground. However, it won’t be long until the many saplings have filled the available space and the fight for sunshine will become more and more intense. In the meantime, some trees will have grown old and will die, freeing up precious ground for seeds to settle and hopefully germinate. It is for you and up to three of your friends to look after your rootstock in Photosynthesis by Blue Orange Games.
A hook, as per the dictionary definition, is something that draws you in. In games, a hook can be a number of different things. Often it is something visually exciting, such as beautiful illustrations, amazingly detailed miniatures, realistic resources or some sort of physical component that is integral to gameplay. Hooks can also be an interesting theme, an exciting gameplay mechanism or even the background story behind how a game was made. Certain awards or even the price of a game can be a hook too. Ultimately it’s about finding something that grabs your attention and gets you to take a closer look.
Travelling to games night, weighed down with a giant bag full of games isn’t easy. I appreciate that many people have a car and use that to get to games night, and that makes sense, especially if you travel a bit further. However, if your friends live only a short while away, then going by bike would be another, and possibly better, option. Yet, a lot of bikes aren’t really designed to carry much. Yes, you could get panniers, but they’re not ideal. However, these days there are a lot of utility orientated bicycles available from your local bike shop, or you can go one better and get a custom-built bike that is not only up to the task of ferrying around bulky loads, like board games, but is also made exactly how you want it.
It is always nice to get some positive feedback for the work you do, so winning awards is even more satisfying, especially if you receive one of the many prestigious awards from the industry you work in. So far, the Tabletop Games Blog hasn’t won any awards, but in this article I am not fishing for praise, but I want to look at the many board game awards that are run every year and show how winning an award affects the popularity of a game, what costs may be attached with some awards and what the different awards try to achieve within the industry.
In the world of Arzium, groups of brave adventurers travel from town to town, where they load up on supplies and pack animals and recruit new members, who are willing to join them on the long journey, as they look for a lost city, called Last Ruin, where legend says lies a powerful artefact that will fulfil the finder’s innermost wishes. It is time for you to add your name to the list of famous explorers, venture into the wild to collect valuable and useful items, meet new people, return to town to work for money and food, travel through abandoned mines and do what is needed to successfully complete the journey. Near and Far: Amber Mines by Red Raven Games allows you to become a hero, if you can compete with your fellow bands of explorers and come out ahead.
Games change when played with different numbers of players. I think many of us will have found that games that are said to work for two or more players often are quite a different experience when played with two versus more players. Some games are said to work with a larger number of players, but really work best with a specific number. Games, where you form teams, are often like that, working best with an even number of people, even though they’re said to also work with odd numbers. I discussed many of these points in my article Group mentality, so this time I want to focus on some specific issues.
In a world where every tree is inhabited by its own gentle and benign spirit, it is your important task to ensure that every sapling grows strong and big, and offers a home for as many small creatures and plants as possible, thereby creating harmony and balance in the forest. If you can work in harmony with the seasons and nurture the worms, fireflies, flowers and mushrooms that grow on the tree that you have been tasked to look after, you will come out as the best caretaker and will be generously rewarded with health and happiness by the tree spirit, the kodama, that inhabits your tree. It is this work that you carry out in Kodama: The Tree Spirits by Action Phase Games.
I am not sure if you’ve come across this before, but you may have heard some people on a podcast or in a tabletop games review video talk about a game being overproduced. Often the term is used in a negative way, implying that a game includes unnecessary components and therefore is more expensive than it needs to be. However, different people seem to apply this term to different games in different ways, so I wanted to look at it a bit more closely and see whether we can investigate what overproduced actually means and whether it is indeed a bad thing.
The stock market is in turmoil. There is a financial crisis. Companies’ solvency is in doubt. Panic selling has started for some securities. The year is 1792, and 24 stockbrokers meet in Wall Street in New York under a buttonwood tree to sign an agreement that creates a new way of securities trading, which creates a closed market where everyone can trust each other to honour payments and where investments are legitimate. In Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy & Wit by Eric Sillies, you are one of the group of 24 and you have to use your wit and cunning to take the beginnings of a new stock exchange to what will eventually become the New York Stock Exchange.
We all know that the use of plastics has become a huge issue. So-called microplastics, tiny particles of plastic, have been found in fish and other marine life, and more recently even in arctic snow. Only last week did the World Health Organization ask for “further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.” A lot of us have started replacing single-use plastics with recyclable alternatives, such as plastic straws with paper ones, or even plastic toothbrushes with ones made from bamboo. Yet, there is still a lot of plastic in a lot of tabletop games, and I want us to consider its impact.
Here is another game that I shouldn’t like, because I don’t like memory games, what you have to remember where certain cards are. However, there is something very addictive about Silver, the new card game by Bézier Games. I can’t put my finger on it, but somehow I look past my dislike of games where I have to remember things when I play Silver. In fact, I can’t stop playing it, especially against the AI that comes with the app.
I think supporting independent game publishers, and I include self-publishers too here, by buying their games gives you a warm feeling. In many cases, your money goes directly to one or two people who you know by name, whose photos you’ve seen many times, whose newsletters you’ve read, who you followed on Twitter and who you’ve started to trust. If their game was published with the help of a crowdfunding platform, you will have lived through the journey of the game from its first public outing to the final, finished product. Yet, independent doesn’t always mean small, and some publishers who seem to be large are actually only a handful of people. So if you like helping small publishers, because you want to know that your money goes to a couple of great people who deserve your support, you might have to think carefully.
I don’t like word games. Even though I love writing, which is one of the reasons for this blog, I was never any good at crosswords or Scrabble, and it’s not because English is my second language. Even when I do a German crossword or play German Scrabble, I’m still not very good, at least not compared to my parents or a couple of my friends who seem to excel at these. Yet, when I play Hardback by Fowers Games, I have a lot of fun and have a good chance of winning.
I recently talked about how some of us need to let people know what we’re up to, by regularly sharing updates with our followers – see my article Image matters. Now I want to drill into this a little deeper and discuss the various platforms you might want to use. My focus is on tabletop game reviews, as this is one of the things I do, but you can apply the same ideas to similar content.
As many of you will know, I absolutely love small box games, and mint tin games in particular (see episode 6 of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast). They’re so easy to stash away and take with you anywhere, and Mint Works by Five24 Labs is a great example. The small mint tin is robust and can easily deal with knocks, it’s quick to set up, as it consists basically of a deck of cards, and the tin itself functions as the pool for the mint worker tokens. The gameplay is also relatively quick, so overall it’s ideal for when you’re out and about – on a train, plane or a bus, or while you’re waiting for food in a pub or restaurant.
Unless you’re a very outgoing person or working in marketing, you will probably not want to boast about your achievements, or maybe not even see what you do as worth mentioning at all. In fact, you might hate the idea that everyone expects that you constantly post photos and write updates about every little thing that happens in your life. I can see where you’re coming from, and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re a game designer, publisher or a press person, you will need to try and be somehow present, even if that feels alien.
I am making a slight diversion from my usual reviews and am looking at a book instead. However, it’s The Board Game Book, so don’t worry, we’re still on topic. It’s not the first book all about board games of course, but it certainly stands out, because it counts a number of professional writers among its contributors. So the quality of the writing is high, and the editing and production are also excellent – but let me start at the beginning.
When you look at buying a modern tabletop game, you will have a rough idea as to how much you think it is worth – or you will have some sort of budget in your head that you want to stick to, and which guides you to the sort of games that you think you can afford. Your price expectations will be based on things such as the quantity and quality of the components, replayability and probably also rarity or hotness of a game. Yet, the amount of money you’re willing to put on the counter doesn’t always match the real cost or value of a game and is either too much or too little in comparison.
Release Date: 2019 Players: 1-4 Designer: Scott Almes Length: 30-60 minutes Artist: Roland MacDonald, Benjamin Shulman Age: 10+ Publisher: Gamelyn Games Complexity: 2.5 … More
In a future where mankind has resolved to abandon war and replace it with virtual battles, teams of nine elite fighters selected by their nations face each other in pairs to win a precious new energy source that promises to bring the world back from the ashes. You have the opportunity to lead one of these teams out onto the 3 by 3 grid, where you take turns with your opponent and carefully occupy key positions in the hope that you win battle after battle to become a hero of the Vector Wars.
Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games comes with a lot of wooden pieces, cardboard tokens, player boards and the modular game board. Fitting everything in the box, while keeping things organized, isn’t easy. It’s a very tight fit, if you separate all the different pieces into baggies or small plastic containers. However, the insert from Folded Space sorts everything neatly into separate boxes.
Inside the brewery, the mash and lauter tuns hum away happily on one side, as the brew kettle bubbles silently on the other. Outside, the fermentation vessels slowly turn the malt’s wonderful sugars into delicious alcohol. On the other side of the yard is the bottling line, where the beer is filled into bottles, and then it’s finally ready to be sold. It is your job to create the right balance of malts to create the best beer for your micro brewery’s customers, eagerly waiting in your bar. The whole process takes time and patience, but is worth it, when the number of loyal customers grows in appreciation of your effort.
The sun is high in the sky, shining directly down onto Main Street in this ramshackle town of wooden buildings. The heat is almost unbearable, if it wasn’t for a light breeze that is creating small swirls of sand and dust. You have to squint in the bright light, as you stand outside the saloon waiting for the clock to strike twelve. A speck of dust makes you blink, which doesn’t bode well. You need to be able to see your opponent clearly, so this won’t do. You step away from the saloon and try and position yourself in a more sheltered spot, where dust will be less of an issue and there is more shade, making it easier to see. Yet, this duel is different. You actually have to face off several people in this Six Gun Showdown, and you also have to play your cards right to make sure you come out victorious.
The rain is relentless, pouring down in heavy sheets, making the city outside your office window appear like it is behind net curtains. The James River appears to be bubbling, but you haven’t noticed any of it. You have spent the last few hours staring at your computer, checking various databases and cross-referencing intel. You drank at least six coffees, yet you’re no further. Welcome to Detective by Portal Games where you’re an officer in the recently created special unit of Antares. Your task is to solve curious cold cases, following up leads and doing other detective work, all against a mercilessly ticking clock.
Imagine the asteroid field scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, where our heroes risk their lives to try to get away by entering an asteroid field, then add the AI HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which has gone mad and taken over the spaceship, forcing the crew to try and outwit it – and you basically end up with the gameplay of Sensor Ghosts, the new game by Wren Games, due to launch on Kickstarter on 28 May.
As you can tell from my previous reviews of subQuark’s games (Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery, Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse and Mint Tin Aliens), I love mint tin games. The love and effort Kate Beckett and David René Miller put into every game makes them very special indeed, and Mint Tin Pirates is no exception of course. It offers lots of pirate fun in a small tin that you can easily take with you, that is easy to learn, quick to play and has a small footprint, so can be played virtually anywhere. I believe Mint Tin Pirates was subQuark’s first game, and it already showed that it is possible to squeeze a lot of fun into a small package, something that the whole line of subQuark games shares.
It might be time to call me the Mint Tin Man, à la The Wizard of Oz, given how many of subQuark’s mint tin games I have now reviewed and made videos about. However, there is just so much fun in these small packages that I just have to write about them. Of course, games that last only 5 to 15 minutes won’t satisfy everyone’s needs – but then, few games do. Also, being only two player limits who these games are for. Yet, it is exactly the length, player count and box size that make these games perfect for taking with you and playing with anyone, including people who may not otherwise be much into modern games. Of course, Mint Tin Aliens is no exception
I’ve been saying it for a while now: Wingspan by Elizabeth Hargrave and Stonemaier Games is an amazingly beautiful game. The great physical table presence created by the dice tower and eggs, the gorgeous illustrations on the player mats and cards, the sheer number of different birds on the cards, all with their latin name and a brief description of what they are, and the high quality of all the components and parts make it very special. The artists, Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas and Beth Sobel, have done an amazing job, and Stonemaier Games has ensured that the product meets, if not exceeds, everyone’s expectations. However, the beauty and quality are only one part of what makes this game so outstanding. For me, it is the gameplay that lifts Wignspan to the next level.
I absolutely love mint tin games, and Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery by subQuark fits this bill perfectly, as it comes in a properly small, rectangular mint tin, rather than the larger format that many other mint tin games come in. That means it fits perfectly into your coat pocket, so you can have it with you at all time. After all, you never know when the opportunity arises to play a game when you’re out and about.
In Project Dreamscape by Undine Studios your aim is to chain together as many of the same dream types as possible to get the most points. However, building those chains is a lot harder than it looks. Very quickly you realize that you have to plan a few cards in advance to make sure you get the longest chains, and if you’re not careful, you can easily undo all that great planning. Project Dreamscape first draws you into a false sense of being a light game, and then pounces and makes your head hurt as you try and find the best order in which to build your dream sequence. The illustrations by Julie Okahara are beautifully dreamlike, adding to the sense that there is a lot more to the game than you might think.
If you like dice action selection games where you slowly build up action combos, then Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture by Undine Studios is for you. Now don’t be put off by dice rolling, beause in this game you can easily mitigate bad luck and even bad rolls still give you plenty of opportunities. Oaxaca (“wa-ha-ka”) is also beautifully illustrated, quick to learn and really quick to play, while still maintaining enough interest even for very “serious” gamers. So there is something for everyone and one of the few games that I can confidently recommend for family gaming as well as regular games night groups.
GoodCritters by Arcane Wonders is an i-cut-you-choose sort of game with a twist. Players are members of a very successful gang of burglars and take turns to be the boss who divvies up the loot amongst everyone in whichever way they see fit. There is plenty of opportunity to be selfish or favour some players over others. Yet, it is up to the whole gang to vote on whether to accept the split or not. It’s a bit like being a pirate really – but that’s a different story.
I know, Scythe by Stonemaier Games has been out since 2016 and has had a couple of expansions released as well, including promo packs with additional encounter cards. So chances are you have already heard plenty of reviews about this game and maybe own it yourself, but I still felt it’s worth reviewing, because I am sometimes surprised by how many people still don’t know Scythe.
KeyForge: Call of the Archons by Fantasy Flight Games is the first Unique game – and the word “unique” has a very special meaning, but I will talk about this later. KeyForge, for short, is a competitive two-player-only card game where players aim to forge three keys, each costing six Æmber. As players draw and play cards, they can attack their opponent and collect Æmber. The player to first forge their third key is the winner. So far it’s very much like any other card game of their kind, but it is the uniqueness of the decks that is new and is what interests me about this game.
If you are looking for an easy-to-teach, easy-to-carry, quick, fun, co-operative card game, then The Mind by Coiledspring Games is the right game for you. However, let’s start at the beginning. The game is really simply: there is a deck of cards numbered 1 to 100, every players is dealt a certain number randomly from the deck, there is no turn order and everyone plays when they feel the time is right, without co-ordinating with each other, and as long as all cards are played in ascending order everyone wins. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Sounds easy enough – but it’s actually really hard – and that’s what makes this game so interesting in my view, as it creates a new gameplay mechanism that I have not come across before.
Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining, to give it its full title, is a kind of action selection game by Quined Games set in the Ruhr region of Germany. The game is set at a time when the area was still covered by forests and coal was first discovered close to the surface. During the game your task is to dig up that coal until its depleted and you have to start digging deep pits to get to this precious resource. The great mechanism in this game is the action selection element, where you draw all tokens of one colour from one of a number of common pools at the start of each round. These tokens are then used to activate your workforce and develop new technologies. It sounds simple, but it creates a really complex, interesting game with lots of options and very few player interaction.