Focus your mind on this life, and prepare your soul for the next. The actions you take now allow you to reach fulfilment and ascend from dung beetle to Nirvana. However, don’t overreach and make sure you delay some actions, so you can use them in your future life. If you fail, you collect Karma and get a better chance at moving up the Karmic ladder when you next get reborn in this game of Karmaka by Hemisphere Games.
Solo gaming has a huge following and playing against an AI or trying to solve an objective or puzzle set by the game can be very satisfying. Playing two player games is a different challenge, whether you play co-operative or competitive, and I love playing games with my wife. However, having three or more players changes the situation again and it is this player count that I want to delve into a bit deeper.
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.
Let’s not beat around the bush – Kickstarter seems to become more and more the de facto way to sell tabletop games. It used to be the domain for small designers to make their game become a reality, but now established publishers use the crowdfunding platform to bring their latest release to market. I don’t want to discuss whether this trend is good or bad – there are plenty of discussions on this topic already. Instead, I want to focus on how people use it to buy games and what their expectations are.
You’re on the phone to the real estate agent talking about this great piece of land near a school and park, which would be ideal to develop into modern housing. At the same time, you see an email from a small local business owner who is interested in renting one of the units in your newly built office complex. Things are going really well for your growing empire, but you also realize that property prices are at an all-time high. The big crash isn’t far away now – you can feel it. It will be crucial to sell everything at the right moment and make the most profit. However, if you leave it too long, you’ll lose it all and destroy your chance of becoming the greatest magnate in history.
In Tiny Epic Mechs by Gamelyn Games you control a meeple in a battle arena against other players and try to suit up with your mech suit and reach the giant mech in the middle before your opponents do, all the while avoiding turrets and attacks.
Chess, draughts, cribbage, bridge and many other traditional games are completely abstract in nature. Yes, sure, there is a theme in chess. There are two fighting armies facing each other in the battlefield, and it makes sense for the peasants, i.e. the pawns, forming the biggest part of the army and being the most dispensable – but it pretty tenuous when it comes to how these pieces move. Draughts, on the other hand, is a completely abstract game of course. Many traditional games have great depth and complexity, showing that there is no need for a theme in a good game. So let’s explore this some more.
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.
In Microbrew by One Free Elephant you try to mix up your copper and brew the best beers to sell to your thirsty customers. This 2 player mint tin game is a lot of fun, and in this video you will see what comes in the box.
As the tabletop games industry grows and companies consolidate, lots of independent game designers and publishers, including self-publishers, enter the market space. You would think that these smaller players’ products are of a lower quality because their budgets are smaller, but instead many of these people create amazing games with beautiful components, often made themselves by hand – and I’m not talking just about the finished product, but also very high-quality prototypes.
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.
Language in tabletop games has been a topic for quite some time now. Many games aim to be language independent,…
It is with a sense of deja vu that you desperately type into the console in front of you in a frantic attempt to contact your colleague who, like yourself, has locked themselves into one of the bays on this vast manmade construct. It feels like you have been in this situation before, where both of you were trying to escape alive, as the station’s AI was watching your every move and interfering where it could. As if with the help from your previous self, you manage to switch some of the station’s functions to manual mode, making everything ten times harder. Now, every command you issue will have to be confirmed by your colleague, and the AI will be able to listen in. You know you have only so many commands before the AI will lock you in permanently, sealing your fate forever. Even though the situation feels very familiar, there is something very different. You notice robots on the station, and there is an additional safety mechanism that forces you to lock all bays in clockwise order. You are back on the Assembly space station, like you were before, but this time the Re-Sequence & Override expansion doubles the difficulty.
Six Gun Showdown by Redwell Games is a quick card and dice game. Check out this video to find out what comes in the box.
It was around this time last year that I came back from my first visit to a UK tabletop games exhibition, all elated and happy. I had felt welcome and saw a lot of opportunities for the little venture I had in mind at the time. I spoke to a lot of people, looked at a lot of games, bought more than I probably should have and realized that I wanted to work a lot more in this wonderful industry. Of course, I’m talking about UK Games Expo, and I was back again this year, and it was even better – if that’s possible.
As witches fly overhead, giants stomp around the wastelands, swarmlings huddle in swamps, chaos magicians cause, well, chaos, halflings burrow the plains and engineers build their bridges from their mountains, you roll up your carpet and prepare to continue through the desert in your nomad way. As you consider the scene in front of you, something nags you. Engineers building bridges from mountains – that doesn’t sit right somehow. Yet, that’s not all. Suddenly the desert in front of you terraforms into a wasteland. Deserts aren’t much of a laugh and wastelands don’t seem much different, but terraforming in this fantasy setting seems completely out of place. You half expect a spaceship to land in front of you, when instead a giant places a dwelling in the newly created space. Not only that, they then proceed to convert the dwelling into a trading house. It is not clear what giants have to trade, but you consider it for a moment, before you decide to send one of your priests to advance on the cult track for air – because after all, everyone needs air to live. A moment later you realize that you’re in a giant game of Terra Mystica by Z-Man Games.
I think for many in the hobby, playing games is about having fun with other people – and that is no more so true when it comes to enjoying a game with the family. I absolutely love spending an evening solving crimes or building the best bird reserve there is, instead of sitting in front of the TV. It’s great to play a quick mint tin game while we wait for our food in the pub on a family day out. There are many opportunities to play games with the family, and the games don’t necessarily need to be family games.
Strolling along the parterres, taking in the view of the stepped garden to one side and the water garden on the other, you relax and try to fully appreciate the immensity of this Wonder of the world. The whole arrangement is cleverly emphasized by carefully placed temples. The huge amount of work and dedication that has gone into this expansive and exquisitely manicured design, the countless shrubs, hedges and flowering plants, all add to the feeling that you are but a small creature in this giant world. Suddenly the zen-like peace is rudely interrupted by deafening noises, as you watch in disbelief as the water garden is bulldozed to the ground to make room for more parterres. Welcome to The Hanging Gardens by Hans im Glück, which are in constant change to score the gardener as many points as possible.
As you will know by now, UK Games Expo 2019 is just around the corner – a week on Friday, to be precise. So the question is who you should go and see on your visit – assuming you’ll be there of course. There is no way that I can list all the over 400 exhibitors and their games, or mention all the events, seminars and other things that are going on at this amazing exhibition. However, I can focus on who I’m planning to see, bearing in mind that I’ll only be there on the Sunday. So it’s going to be a jam-packed day, but I just can’t wait.
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.
If you fancy yourself as a police detective, then try the amazing Portal Games game Detective. In this video I show what comes in the box.
I am very lucky to have a group of friends who live nearby and who all love playing tabletop games. We meet once a week, more or less, round each other’s houses, taking turns to make sure nobody is the host all the time, bring snacks and drinks, so it doesn’t get too expensive for anyone, and play a game or two, depending on how we feel and what we play. These games nights are very important to me, but not everyone is blessed with this opportunity, so I want to talk about what other options there are.
In this video you will see what come with the Folded Space insert for Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games.
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.
I thought it’s time to add my unboxing videos to my blog, so here is the first of these types of blog posts. However, it’s not my first unboxing video of course.
In this video I unbox the prototypes of the new game by Wren Games called Sensor Ghosts, and the expansion to Assembly called Re-Sequence & Override.
UK Games Expo 2019 is around the corner now. In just over three weeks, 40,000 or so visitors and over 350 exhibitors will descend on the Birmingham NEC to explore the over 24,000 sqm’s worth of exhibition halls, plus the dozen or so of rooms in the nearby NEC Hilton Hotel and probably other venues. From Friday, 31 May to Sunday, 2 June, the family friendly exhibition celebrates all things tabletop games and offers virtually everyone something of interest. I will be there on the Sunday and can’t wait to see what’s on offer.
In my second review of online gaming platforms I look at Yucata, a free website that is all about a great, friendly community of people who love playing modern German-style tabletop games. It was started by Kay Wilke back in 2001, but since then he and many helpful people expanded the selection on the site into what it offers today – over 140 multi-player games for your enjoyment.
We all love to play lots of different games with lots of different people, it’s only natural. There is also always the draw of the Cult of the New and the Fear of Missing Out, tempting us to play new games all the time. Most of us only have a limited amount of time to play games each week, so chances are we play each game only once, or maybe twice – and if we’re really lucky three time – before moving onto the next. We might revisit a game if there is a lull, but usually only after many weeks, by which time we’ve forgotten how the game works. I am just as guilty as everyone else, but I have started to come round to the idea that playing the same game many times before moving on is actually much more fun.
In a new type of review, I talk about Happy Meeple in this article, a free to join website where you can play tabletop games online against other people as well as AIs. The brainchild of Nicolas Guibert, the website aims to introduce more people to modern tabletop games, which is something I highly encourage, by offering an easy way to learn these games, as well as creating a friendly, welcoming platform.
There are many reasons why people play modern tabletop games. Some love the competitive element of games and enjoy winning. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and that is highlighted by the amount of boardgame contests that are available every year. I also enjoy when I win a game, especially because it doesn’t happen very often, but for me playing games is much more about fun – and it’s this that I want to focus on in this article.
Instead of looking at a particular game, this week I want to look at a number of games that are great to have with you when you’re out and about. These games are easy to learn and quick to play, don’t take up much room in your pocket or on the table, are quick to set up and put away, but still create enough interest to while away the time. Most of these games will already come in a small box, but some you will have to re-package yourself to make them portable.
We have a sort of house rule in our games group where you’re not allowed to introduce a new game, unless you know the rules and can teach it to the group. It might sound harsh, but it makes for a smoother experience during the games night. I know other groups do it differently. They might expect the whole group to learn the game themselves beforehand, which is of course also an option. However, whatever approach you choose, you will probably come across a situation where you will teach a game to someone, so I wanted to discuss an approach I have started to adopt recently.
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.
Don’t get me wrong – I like heavy games, where you have to plan ahead and think about every step. I particularly like strategy games where you can outmanoeuvre your opponents by choosing your tactics wisely and making the right decisions at the right time. I enjoy it when I make steady progress and my position becomes stronger on every turn. It feels very satisfying when everything snaps into place and your earlier choices allow you to continue down the same route and everything just flows. Yet, it usually takes me quite a while to get good at a heavier game.
I haven’t yet reviewed any pure print-and-play (PnP) games, but Alex Bardy contacted me via Twitter and sent me a complimentary copy of Minty’s Bootiful Football Game. I decided to try it and wasn’t disappointed. As the name suggests, it is a mint tin game all about football. Now, I love mint tin games, in case you hadn’t noticed, but football isn’t really my cup of tea. Yet, when I played this game, I actually really enjoyed it and did get the feeling of taking part in a real football match – but let’s start at the beginning.
Let me start by saying that I completely appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into thinking of, prototyping, designing, playtesting and developing a game. It takes hundreds of hours of playtest sessions to refine a game and very clever people to create a great game that flows nicely, is balanced and creates the intended player experience. So when people buy a game and change its rules without second thought, they disrespect the designers’ and developers’ hard work, time and effort. After all, your quick and hasty rule changes are unlikely to improve a game that has gone through years of development and been tested by many, many people. Yet, I think there are reasons why you would want to change a game, and I don’t think there is any disrespect to anyone by doing so in those situations.
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
For many of us it is easy to forget how we started with tabletop games. We have now played so many different games and followed the industry for some time that we forget the games we used to play and love. Of course, we have stopped playing some of these early games for good reasons. Our tastes will have changed and as we discovered more games we realized what it is that we enjoy more than the games we started with. However, that doesn’t mean our early games are bad games. In fact, it will be these games that are great for introducing new people into the community.
Here is yet another mint tin game, simply because they pack such a huge punch in such a small package. Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse by subQuark is another game that comes in a small form factor mint tin, is really quick to learn and a lot of fun to play. It easily fits into virtually any pocket and doesn’t take up much table space, so you can have it with you anywhere and play it everywhere. It is a realtime game, which means there are no turns and both players take their actions continuously in order to win. It creates a lot of frantic excitement and hilarity for players of virtually all ages.
I joined the tabletop games industry as a blogger only recently (less than a year ago actually) and my journey really started when I visited UK Games Expo in 2018. I had started to work on a little project that I thought might eventually make it onto Kickstarter, and I felt that by attending the event I could do a little research, maybe get some contacts and generally get a better feel for the tabletop games industry and community. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, because the UK Games Expo is an amazing event, and the whole atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. I would argue that my visit to the expo made up my mind about wanting to do more within this great community – and I knew I had to return for UK Games Expo 2019.
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 was recently approached by Chris Anderson to be a judge in The Board Game Workshop Design Contest 2019, and I felt very honoured. After all, I’m not a well known game reviewer, nor am I a famous YouTuber with over 1,000 subscribers. However, the contest is open to anyone who is interested in tabletop games, which I think is really great. Here is a contest that aims to really help the community of designers and bring them together with real people who love playing games. It is these sort of events that we need more of.
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.
After a lot of work behind the scenes, I am excited to announce that Boardgame Inquisition and Tabletop Games Blog have joined forces to create Tabletop Inquisition, a topic based podcast. In each episode we’re going to tackle a different issue facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.
I recently went to the Watford Colosseum to watch the Snooker Shoot Out. I have enjoyed snooker for most of my life now and used to play it regularly with friends, even though I’ve not played in many years now. I know most people find snooker boring, and it can be, but you would have loved the Snooker Shoot Out, which is fast paced and a real laugh. Afterwards I thought about the idea that snooker could be considered a two player only, dexterity tabletop game. I appreciate it’s stretching the concept a little, but then I reckon there are other terms in the tabletop games industry that are used loosely.
Economic simulation games set in 19th century Scotland are few and far between, but Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games is one of those rare games. Your role is to expand your influence in the Highlands, cut wood or mine ore for income, plant the land with wheat, as well as herd cows and sheep. You build factories that turn your milk and grain harvest into delicious cheese, bread and, of course, whiskey, all of which you will export and trade for imported sugar cane, cotton and tabacco. It is very much what you would expect from any other economic simulation game of the same ilk, yet Clans of Caledonia is exceptional because the theme and mechanisms fit like glove and hand, making for a really smooth gameplay
As you may know, I’m very active on Yucata.de, a website where you can play over 60 games online with other people around the world on a play-and-pass basis. I also frequent The Crucible Online a fair bit, where I play with my KeyForge decks against others. You can find me as “oliverkinne” on both, so feel free to invite me to a game. I also play a few games against an AI on my smartphone, such as Star Realms and Terra Mystica. I would say I still prefer playing with my friends and family, because I love the face-to-face social element that you just don’t get with online games. However, online games, and I include apps as well as websites in this term, offer a number of advantages that make playing that way more enjoyable in other ways.
Haunt the House by Kids Table Board Games is not your usual paranormal investigation game, where your role is to explore a haunted mansion and exorcise the evil spirits found within. Instead you take the role of ghosts living happy lives in a comfortable and beautifully spooky house, which is suddenly invaded by pesky humans. So to chase them away you use your full arsenal of scary noises: moans, creaking doors and sudden bumps. Match the right noises to the right person and you score points – but your fellow ghosts try to do the same and they could steal the person and the points from under your nose. So it’s important you make the right noises at the right time.
The more modern tabletop games I play, the more I realize how stories are at the core of each and every one of them. I accept that there are abstract games all about mechanisms, strategy and making the most effective moves, but even these games have a story to them, even if it’s not at the fore. After all, stories are an intrinsic part of our culture, and storytelling has been around for such a long time, that nobody knows when it began.
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.
Inspired by a recent video from Jamey Stegmaier talking about “overproduced” games (see here: https://youtu.be/PxRpL-JQMfI), I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic. Please watch Jamey’s video first, so you know what the word “overproduced” means in the context of his video and my article. The topic is quite broad, and I won’t be able cover every aspect, but instead I’ll discuss a select few areas that I think can help focus everyone’s thoughts on the subject and allow you to be more constructive in your feedback to publishers.
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.
Making a tabletop game takes a lot of effort and a lot of people. Everyone will think of game publishers and game designers, maybe even playtesters. There are also rulebook writers and editors, the manufacturers and distributors, as well as the marketing people, and many more. Who are often overlooked are the illustrators, even though it is their work that for many of us will be in our mind when we think about games.
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.
For a lot of seasoned gamers only heavy games with a lot of complexity, many different mechanisms and that last at least two hours are worth playing. If you bring a light game to your weekly games group, chances are it will not be chosen and left on the pile. That is a real shame, because many of the recently released lighter games are a lot of fun and actually more tricky and demanding than you’d think.
Here is another review of a game that is quite a few years old. Bremerhaven by Lookout Spiele is from 2013, so over five years old, but it is probably the only game with a secret bidding mechanism that really works, and lots of player interaction without making you feel helpless if the other players gang up on you. There is also a huge time element in the game, that keeps you on your toes. To top it all off, the game also has a really fun theme, beautiful illustrations and a really tense gameplay. As you can see, I really like the game, so let me explain a bit more.
It’s a new year and a new exhibition and event season. There are dozens upon dozens of tabletop game exhibitions each year around the world, from the giant, annual, international Essen Spiel, GenCon and UK Games Expo filling many exhibition halls held over several days, to the smallest local events held in a single room and running only for a single day – and of course many sizes of events in between. It’s impossible to attend all of them, even though it would be very tempting. So here are some tips to help you choose which events to consider for yourself.
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.
I never thought I would write game reviews, but when given the opportunity to try out a couple of games on Steam for free by DigiDiced, I gave it a go and now publish one game review nearly every week. I wouldn’t claim that I’m a brilliant reviewer or a tabletop game critic. My reviews focus on interesting mechanisms that introduce an interesting twist to a game, and they cover only what I feel are the positives parts of a game. I don’t want to write negative reviews. For many people this probably feels wrong. In their mind a review must cover the pros as well as the cons, or it is one-sided and not useful.
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.
Inspired by a recent #ThrowbackThursday tweet from Board Game Inquistion I thought it would be nice to write about one of my own game related memories from my childhood. Like probably most kids of my generation, I grew up with all the usual classic tabletop games, or boardgames as they were known then: Monopoly (of course), Game of Life (a friend had that one), Chess (I always lost, until one day), Checkers (when there was really nothing else), Ludo (the dice chucker), Stratego (chess on steroids) and probably a few more.
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.
Let me start by wishing you a Happy New Year. I hope you enjoyed the holidays and had a chance to relax and recharge. Now that 2019, it’s time to look ahead at my most anticipated games of the coming year. The list happens to consist purely of Kickstarter projects, because that is how I buy most of my games these days, but as the year goes on I will of course keep an eye other releases as well. The list is sorted in expected delivery order, rather than alphabetically or anything else. So here goes.
Yes, it is nearly the end of 2018, so it is time to list Tabletop Games Blog’s top 5 games of the year. It has been a great year for tabletop games in general, and I have been lucky enough to play no less than 23 games over the year, including playtesting, PnPs, online games as well as games played during our weekly games night and at MeetUp sessions. So I thought choosing 5 out of those 23 games would be a good number.
It has been a couple of months since I last updated my tabletop player profile, as per Quantic Foundry’s online form. So it’s time to do it again and share the results with you. See the links at the bottom of this article to complete the form yourself, which I highly recommend, and my previous results.
Christmas is just around the corner, in case you hadn’t noticed, and soon it will be time to visit family and be merry together. For many of us, games will be part of this annual ritual, and I am sure we all have our selection of games that are tried and tested to be compatible with the varying experience within the various family groups who we will be seeing over the holidays. So here are those games that are my go to selection and come out whenever the wider family comes together – and not only at Christmas time.
Inspired by a recent, and very brief, discussion on Twitter (nod to Kathleen Mercury and Paul Grogan), I decided to investigate the age old question of what makes a role-playing game a role-playing game. Now, let me say that this article is by no means exhaustive, and I am merely trying to touch on the main points only. Also, and this is sort of a spoiler, it turns out that the matter is unlikely to be settled any time soon, and different people have different views of what is a “true” role-playing game and what isn’t, or what game is not a role-playing game, but has role-playing elements. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter whether a game is, or is not, a role-playing game, as long as you enjoy playing it and have fun with others or on your own. So bearing all of this in mind, let’s start.
Rise of Tribes by Breaking Games looks like your normal area control game with the usual random terrain made out of hexagonal tiles. The game is set in ancient, prehistoric times, and you move your tribe members around the terrain, collect resources, craft tools to upgrade your tribe’s abilities and generally do things that you will have seen before in other games. However, look closer and you will see that there are at least two interesting mechanisms in this game, which make it stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Tabletop games tend to encourage people to come together and enjoy some time together. Even solo games are often enjoyed in company with other solo players, and then of course you have a number of multiplayer solitaire games, where people play the same game at the same time, but basically everyone does their own thing. There are many way of people playing games together, so let me look at each one briefly in turn.
Card games come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from the traditional games played for centuries throughout Europe to the modern card collecting, card drafting and deck building games. It is the modern deck building games that I want to focus on in this review. In Mystic Vale by Alderac Entertainment Group you don’t just build your deck in the traditional sense, where you simple buy new cards to improve what you have. Instead you have a fixed deck where every card can be added to, meaning that you literally customize every card. That creates a very interesting mechanism not seen in other games.
A lot of games now come with an option to play against an artifical oponent – often called an AI, or automa. Don’t worry though, the AI won’t try to take over the world and enslave humanity. Instead an automa is there to offer the option of an additional player. In fact, some games allow you to add multiple automa, if you so wish. Artificial oponents come in many flavours and often provide different levels of difficulty, allowing you to choose how tough you want your new opponent to be.
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.
In my view, the tabletop games community is generally a friendly, welcoming group of people. We seem to know that we are all human beings, and each of us has different skills, experiences, backgrounds, challenges and attitudes. We do our best to ignore stereotypes and prejudices and try to allow anyone join in the fun of escaping to another world, solving difficult puzzles or do whatever constitutes playing a game. Of course, our community isn’t perfect, but I would say the trend is in the right direction. The same is true for modern games, and many designers and publishers are clearly doing what they can to allow more people to join in the fun. There is still more work to be done of course, but again the trend seems to be in the right direction.
I had the pleasure of trying the prototype PnP version of Chai by Deep Aqua Games, which is due to launch on Kickstarter on 4 December, so keep an eye out for it. The aim of the game is to collect resources, in this case flavours and additives, to fulfil the outstanding tea orders for customers, which give you points. It’s the classic mechanism of completing contracts or quests, like in so many other games. However, the twist is how you collect your resources from the market, which creates a really interesting puzzle which forces you to think ahead and work out what you need versus what other players may need.
The tabletop games industry has been booming for some years now. Back in September 2016, the The Guardian website describes how the Thirsty Meeples cafe in Oxford taps into “[t]he rise and rise of tabletop gaming” (1). In January 2017, the New Statesman website explains “[h]ow board games became a billion-dollar business” (2), and in December 2017 the Financial Review website describes how “the golden age of board games” (3) allows the Draughts game cafe in London to benefit from the popularity of boardgames and how the industry grew over time. Even as recently as April 2018, an article on the Bloomberg website (4) says that board game nights are the latest way to network. So the boom clearly continues, and it has made me wonder if small players, be they game publishers, designers or developers, rules writers, content creators, game cafe owners or games group or exhibiton organizers, still have a role in the industry.
After the Kickstarter campaign for Assembly by Wren Games finished successfully back in June, the game is now close to being sent out to backers. So it is time to have a closer look at this fun, co-operative card game. The game can be played solo, which is also possible using an app, or in a two player co-operative setup. The aim is to manoeuvre a set of tokens along a randomly configured circle of locations into their correct slots by playing cards that allow you to rotate, swap and lock these tokens in place. To do this efficiently you need to play cards that your team mate can match with a card in their hand – but the problem is that you don’t know what cards they have.
Imperfect information games have been around for a long time. Games like Cluedo or Guess Who? are examples that most people will know and have probably played. In these games you all have the same goal, but everyone has a different set of information, and nobody has the full picture. These type of games create an interesting puzzle for players who try to win without revealing too much information to their opponents. It is often impossible to know which of the possible actions is the best one, and whether it will give others an advantage. A whole branch of game theory is dedicated to solving imperfect information games, but in this blog post I want to describe a couple of games that have built on the basic premise of these type of games and developed it further.
My latest review is for Battle Ravens by Daniel Mersey and published by PSC Games. Just for disclosure, it was PSC Games who kindly sent me a review copy, but that didn’t influence my view of the game. It’s a war game set in Viking England and due to launch on Kickstarter on 20 November 2018, so keep an eye out. You either take the side of the Norse or the Anglo-Saxon armies, who face each other’s shield walls on the battlefield. Your aim is to puncture three holes in your opponent’s line to win the game by manoeuvring your warriors and attacking with your six-sided dice. However, the clever twist to this game is that your actions are determined by how many raven tokens you place on your six battle spaces. It creates a bidding element which means that being the first player isn’t necessarily an advantage.
Prompted by my recent review of Lincoln by PSC Games and Worthington Games, I wanted to discuss the topic of war as a theme in modern tabletop games. Depending on whether a game uses a real historic event as its backdrop, or creates a much more abstract scenario, people will react differently. Tackling the American Civil War, as Lincoln does, is very different to using a sci-fi setting with space ships. Many people simply don’t feel comfortable with games set in a dark time of history, while others don’t mind if the game recognizes what has happened and respects the terrible nature of the events from the past.
In my third review I look at another digital conversion by Digidiced that Asmodee Digital was kind enough to let me try out. It is another Lookout Spiele game by designer Uwe Rosenberg. In Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (I shorten this to just Agricola for the rest of this article) you are a 17th century farmer in central Europe. It is a very clever 2 player only worker placement game where you have to manage your resources, life stock and farmland. Of course, this game also has some clever little twists, which make the gameplay so interesting.
Inspired by Tweets following the recent Essen Spiel 2018 by a fair few people, I thought I write about one of the reasons I love the tabletop games industry: wanting to play a game whenever, wherever. In fact, many of us try and see a game in everyday activities. It is usually not about being competitive, but much more about being playful, having imagination and sharing an experience with other people – or it can be about beating your own best score, whether this is in a competitive, co-operative or solo game.
In my second review I look at the fast-paced, two-player only wargame Lincoln by Martin Wallace and published by PSC Games and Worthington Games, which finished its Kickstarter campaign back in May. Just for disclosure, it was PSC Games who kindly sent me a review copy. The game is set in the American Civil War and you can choose between taking the side of the Union or the Confederate. The game is completely asymmetric, in that the Union and Confederate sides have different decks, different starting locations and strengths, and opposing aims. That in itself makes for an interesting game, but the mix of deck building and strategy board game creates an additional interesting angle.
In many modern tabletop games there is a certain amount of player interaction. The term sounds quite positive. After all, playing games with others is often about interaction and the social aspect. However, the term is actually referring to situations where one player takes an action that directly affects another player. If the effect is negative it is called “take that”, and if it is positive it is called “have this”. Different players like different amounts or different types of player interaction. You can be a care bear or a warmonger. So let’s look at what these different types are and how they affect gameplay.
Digidiced has been very kind to offer me the opportunity to review a number of the games they have converted to digital, and I decided to start with Lookout Spiele’s award winning game Le Havre: The Inland Port which is one of the many popular games by designer Uwe Rosenberg. The game is set in the 18th century in the maritime city of Le Havre in the Normandy region of France. Players are harbourmasters who try to build the best harbour by constructing great buildings to attract trade. It is a two player only resource management game with a large action selection element – but with a twist.
Sandbox, or open world, games have been around in the tabletop games industry for a very long time. After all, that is exactly what role play games are all about. Every player pits their imagination and wits against the games master’s plans. Nothing is impossible, within the rules of the environment of course, and every decision has consequences. However, when it comes to creating a convincing sandbox environment without using a games master you quickly reach limitations. Yet, there are a number of recent releases that create the illusion of a completely open world really well and in an elegant fashion.
The upcoming release of 8Bit Box by Iello is exciting people for a number of reasons. A new game from Iello is always exciting, and for this game there is of course the nostalgia. My first games console was an ATARI 2600, so I will certainly reminisce. However, and I think this is what is most exciting about this release, is that the game is designed to allow everyone to make their own games.
Most tabletop games are aimed at three or more players, with possibly a two player variant – and maybe even a solo option. However, more and more games coming out recently are either specifically aimed at two players only, or are designed to be played with two or more players. There is a choice between co-operative and competitive games, anything from light to heavy games and with virtually all types of game mechanisms found in other multi-player games.
In a previous article (see Co-op or competitive?) I showed what my tabletop player profile looks like, as per Quantic Foundry’s online form at https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/surveys/start/tabletop/ – which I highly recommend to everyone. In the article I said I would check my profile monthly, which didn’t come to pass as other things got in the way. However, I have now completed the survey again and unsurprisingly, my profile hasn’t changed a huge amount, but the subtle differences are interesting. You can see the latest results at the end of this article – and the previous results in the article Co-op or competitive?
The advent of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms has changed how people buy games. Buying games from renowned publishers through an online platform has never been particularly controversial, but buying new games from little known designers who decided to self-publish their games is more tricky. At the end of the day, it is very much about trust, and someone who is unknown will find it very hard to build up that trust with potential customers. Therefore most crowdfunding campaigns now come with a free print-and-play (PnP) download option, so people can try out a version of a new game and decide if it is for them.
Since the days of Yahtzee, roll-and-writes, as these games are now known, have made a huge comeback: Roll through the Ages by Matt Leacock, Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama by Indie Boards and Cards, Harvest Dice by Grey Fox Games and the recent Railroad Ink by CMON are some of the many games in the genre.
Pretty much all tabletop games require the use of your senses – sight, hearing and touch at least. You need to look at the board or your cards, listen to what other players do and use your hands to move your meeples or roll dice. Many recent games incorporate elements to help colour blind people, and of course hearing is often also not required and can be replaced with sign language to communicate with other players. However, no modern tabletop game makes your senses an integral mechanism – that is, until the release of Nyctophobia: The Hunted by Pandasaurus Games.
Tabletop games can be quite expensive, so it makes sense to protect your investment and make sure game components last a long time. That way, when you have enjoyed your game for a while, you can easily resell it in mint condition, recouping close to the original purchase price, which you can then re-invest in a new game.
Tabletop games can be enjoyed in a large variety of ways. There are many people who prefer to play solo, usually playing against some sort of AI or automa, others prefer two-player games, often co-operative, but also competitive of course, then there are people who prefer games with several players, and of course there are plenty of people who enjoy a mix of all of the above.
Ever so often something new hits the tabletop game industry and when this happens, it is always hard to say if it is just a flash in the pan or a new breakthrough that will turn out to be a game changer. However, I will stick my head out and make a prediction – and be happy to swallow my hat, if I turn out to be wrong.
After playing games for a while, it is time for something new. If you are part of a games group, you may find that others in the group buy new games from time to time and bring them along – or maybe you find a new game that you really like and want to bring along. Either way, the game has to fit the group of course, because otherwise it will not get played at all, or some people in the group will not enjoy it and maybe feel sidelined. So assuming the new game that is being introduced is a good fit, what will happen at your next games night? How will you go about playing? There are several options.
There is a great mechanism in tabletop games called “I cut, you choose”, also known as “I split, you choose”, which creates a very interesting dynamic. The mechanism is based on the method used by two people to fairly divide something – let’s say a cake. One person cuts the cake into two slices. That person can decide to make one slice bigger than the other, but it’s the other person who chooses which slice they want. So if the cutter makes one slice bigger than the other, the chooser can decide to just take the bigger slice, which of course encourages the cutter to make both slices equal.
Prompted by the recent announcement of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I thought I would look at co-productions in the games industry as a whole. So, in case you don’t know, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a collaboration between Bézier Games and Stonemaier Games. Designed by Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley, with artwork from Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Laura Bevon and Barlomiej Kordowski, this game is an amalgamation of Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
There has been a boom in tabletop games recently. A huge number of games were published through Kickstarter campaigns on top of the slew of games that publishers released to the market. It has become a matter of “too many games, too little time” – or maybe even “too many games, too little money”. New, hot games are all the talk and many games groups flit from game to game, hunting for the latest and greatest.
If you play tabletop games with friends or maybe even in a games group, you may have come across certain taboos. There are things that people don’t like you doing. Some of these are to with ensuring that there is no cheating, others are about keeping a game in pristine condition, others are just some sort of personal house rules or traditions. Different people or groups will have different rules, and many will seem obvious or sensible, but others may feel unusual.
As everyone knows, tabletop games come in boxes – most of them cardboard, some metal, others maybe plastic, and a small handful simply come in an envelope. Game boxes are often beautifully illustrated, and for many it is important to display the boxes prominently to show off the artwork or at the very least marvel at their collection of games. However, some people see the box as merely a way of storing their games. So the games end up in a cupboard or under the bed, rather than on display. It is more about finding a place to store them.