UK Games Expo

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. Read more

Snookered

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. Read more

Clans of Caledonia (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2017 Players: 1-4
Designer: Juma Al-JouJou Length:  30-120 minutes
Artist: Klemens Franz Age: 12+
Publisher: Karma Games Complexity: 3.4 / 5

 

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. Read more

Scythe (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2016 Players: 1-5
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier Length:  90-150 minutes
Artist: Jakub Różalski Age: 14+
Publisher: Stonemaier Games Complexity: 3.5 / 5

 

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. Read more

Top 5 Tabletop Games of 2018

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 nearly 25 different games over the year, including playtesting, PnPs, online games as well as games played during our weekly games night, with family and at MeetUp sessions. So I thought choosing 5 from those games would be a good number. Read more

Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2015 Players: 2-4
Designer: Thomas Spitzer Length:  60-90 minutes
Artist: Johannes Sich Age: 12+
Publisher: Quined Games Complexity: 3.0 / 5

 

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. Read more

War, huh, what is it good for?

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. Read more

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2012 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg Length:  30 minutes
Artist: Klemens Franz Age: 13+
Publisher: Lookout Games Complexity: 2.5 / 5

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. Read more

There can be only one

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. Read more

Merge in turn

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. Read more

Out with the old?

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. Read more

Digital to analog converter

Some of us will have been avid computer gamers before coming round to playing tabletop games – and of course there will have found digital versions of tabletop games and then started playing more computer games. In this article I want to focus on tabletop games that were inspired by computer games. These games have been coming out sporadically over the last few years and some are of course better than others. However, I will not be reviewing any of them, but instead highlight the different types of tabletop games that are available or soon to be released. Read more

Charts and tables

If you play in a regular games group, you probably play certain games several times – you may even have one game that is your group’s go-to game. If so, you may have started to record game end totals, so that players can try to beat their own score, or even aim for the group’s high score. You may even start to record more details, such as the factions played, number of rounds or game time. Maybe you also have an end of year awards ceremony, where people in your group with the highest score in each game, or with the most games won overall, get a small prize – or everyone gets a printout of their scores. Read more

Too many choices

Complex games can be great fun. You have to really stretch yourself and think several steps ahead, while having alternative strategies ready to respond to the other player’s actions. You wrack your brain to come up with the best solution on each turn. It takes a lot of thinking and therefore is enjoyable by people who like this sort of puzzle. Read more

Dicey workers

There are so many different games mechanics out there across the various tabletop games available these days. Gone are the days of rolling dice to move your meeple along a track. Even when you look at modern worker placement games, the traditional method of using a pool of meeples and a limited amount of worker slots has been superseded by new methods. Dice worker placement is more common now and introduces an element of chance which can help level the playing field in a game. Read more

A mountain of games

Once you get hooked on tabletop games, you quickly amass a mountain of games. It is so easy to buy yet another game with an exciting theme, new game mechanics, amazing miniatures, realistic coins or resources, or some other reason that justifies the expense – but has the hobby suddenly turned from playing games into collecting them? Will you actually play them all? Read more

Games for everyone

Recent tabletop games are aimed at younger as well as older players, widening the age range. Many traditional games usually only cater for young players, because they are too boring for older players. On the flipside, games aimed at older players are too complicated for younger players. Read more

Family games

The recent launch of Haunt the House and a visit to UK Games Expo where I picked up a copy of Spaghetti made me think about what family games are on the market and what distinguishes them from other tabletop games. Read more

Playtesting

When creating a new tabletop game, a large chunk of time is spent on testing. Even very simple games need to be thoroughly tested to ensure they work. Playtesting helps identify whether a game is fun, balanced or swingy, lasts the right amount of time, works with the intended number of players and if there any issues with the rules. Read more

Unboxing videos

I know, there are dozens upon dozens of unboxing videos out there. So you can see what it feels like to open a game, without ever buying it. People are very proud to be the first to get their unboxing video live and to show off their latest purchase. It really shows how enthusiastic everyone is in the tabletop games industry. Read more

UK Games Expo 2018

If you are interested in any type of tabletop game for pretty much any reason, and you live in the UK, then the UK Games Expo 2018 at the NEC in Birmingham is a must. It’s probably the biggest, and in my opinion best, tabletop games and accessories exhibition in the UK. Read more

Variants and house rules

If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have probably come across some that either don’t quite fit your expectations or are a little ambiguous. That’s where variants and house rules come in.

People tend to have different preferences when it comes to tabletop games. Some really like high player interaction, whereas others prefer a more “solitaire” approach where everyone just does their best to win the game in their own way. Different player groups also often lead to different approaches to games, be it due to player numbers or playing style preference.

That has led to variants being developed, where some game mechanisms are adjusted to make them more compatible with one’s own preferences, without breaking the game. You don’t like the farmers in Carcassonne, so take them out. The game is just as playable and much more accessible.

More often than not, game developers have included variants to the rules to change the difficulty of the game or to reduce the learning curve for a game. These official variants have been play tested, ensuring they will work and don’t break anything.

Sometimes rules need only minor tweaks and are therefore more like house rules than actual variants. House rules are also needed when rules aren’t clear and need clarifying. That little piece of land in Clans of Caledonia – you can house rule whether it divides the loch or not. Even the game designer says that it can be done either way and needs to be house ruled.

What house rules do you apply to games? Are there variants that you really like that have turned an average game into one that’s much more fun? Join the conversation and share your experience with tabletop games.

IMG_8776 32760219835.jpg

Games on the go

It is great fun sitting around a table with friends or family playing a tabletop game. However, when you are out and about, you also want to play games. So you need something that is portable, quick to set up and quite rugged. If you want to play a game in a restaurant, while waiting for food, the game has to be either very quick, or easy to stop at any point. The game also can’t take up too much space during play.

That rules out quite a large number of games. Many games are played on large boards or contain many, large components that make them too big and/or too heave. If you are part of a regular tabletop games group, you will know how important a car suddenly becomes if you want to take those games to a friend’s house.

So what games are there that you can play pretty much anywhere? Card games are the obvious option. Fluxx and its variants are very popular – whether on holiday or for a quick game while waiting for food. Love Letter is another example. Mint Works is even better for taking out, because it comes in a tin box – and it is a worker placement game, making it a bit more interesting.

You might not believe it, but Carcassonne can also become very portable, if you put everything into a smaller box. The game won’t work in a restaurant, because the game uses up too much space during play, but it is still great for taking on holiday.

So what games do you take on holiday with you? Are there any you have played while waiting for food yet? Have you used a portable game to make new friends while away? Share your thoughts by commenting on this conversation. I would love to hear what other games are wonderfully portable games.

IMG_9986.JPG

Rule books – the Holy Grail?

Every tabletop game comes with a rule book. Even the simplest game needs a basic set of rules. More complex games need longer rule books of course, but there comes a point at which a rule book becomes too long and turns people away from the game – and this point will be different for different people.

Long rule books aren’t necessarily bad. The use illustrations actually makes a game much easier to learn. Additional explanations, such as frequently asked questions and game variants, add to rule book length, without making the game harder to learn. FAQs are often vital for complex game where edge cases need further explanation.

Of course, ideally you just want to get the game out of the box, set it up and start playing – with minimal reading of rules. Some games have tried to incorporate the rules into the game itself by basically offering players a tutorial setup that is easy to learn and play, while at the same time explaining the finer points of the rules.

Legacy games actually start with a relatively small set of rules, but while you play you add new rules, meaning you learn the game as you play. The extra rules don’t necessarily have to be permanent, and Fluxx is probably the most famous example of a game where the rules constantly change and every game is different.

In general, good rule books have a clear setup guide, with a good photo for reference. They are also concise, with plenty of illustrations to visualize how the game works. A scoring guide will also be critical, whether that’s scoring during the game, or at the end of the game. If the rule book then has an FAQ section and a strategy guide as well, it should cater for everyone.

What do you like about rule books? Do you have examples of games with a good rule book? Can you think of any bad examples? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

IMG_5257 30118794222

The long game

If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have noticed how game length varies drastically. Some games are specifically designed to last a very short amount of time. In fact, some games include a timer that explicitly limits the length of the game. Other games stretch over hours – or even days, but these are usually split into separate sessions, where you “save” the game and return to it another day.

Game length can have a huge impact on enjoyment. Long games especially can create situations where a player is too far behind the rest of the group to ever catch up or otherwise stuck in a dead end, and then the game becomes a chore.

Game designers have to carefully consider game length and ensure that all players get equal enjoyment. It can be hard to make a long game exciting for everyone until the end, but one often used mechanism is keeping victory points secret – either completely, or at least to a very large extent. That way nobody knows who is in the lead. Other games use an (often random) event that triggers the end of the game, therefore making it impossible to decide who will win.

What are your thoughts about game length? Do you prefer long or short games? Is there a game you like that ensures that all players enjoy it equally until the end? Please add your thoughts below to carry on the conversation.

IMG_9995

Miniatures – worth the extra money?

A lot of recent game releases have done away with old fashioned, wooden game pieces or cardboard standees and replaced them with miniatures. They are either included as part of the core game, or offered as upgrades – but in most cases these miniatures are highly detailed and add an extra interest to the game, bringing everything to life. These miniatures have attracted new people to tabletop gaming and even created new business for artists who offer to paint miniatures.

Of course, miniatures are nothing new. The Games Workshop has always made miniatures the centre of their games and artists have been painting them for years. However, game designers have now taken miniatures and introduced them to classic strategy board games. One of the first was Scythe, and Rising Sun is the most recent contended taking the use of miniatures in board games to another level, just by the sheer number of figures included.

I think there is no denying that moving a dragon figure around the board is much more satisfying than moving a small, wooden piece or cardboard standee, but the design and manufacture of miniatures is considerable, driving up prices.

So, is the extra cost worth it? How important are miniatures to your game experience? Have you been drawn in by detailed figures? Have miniatures introduced you to tabletop gaming?

IMG_8417

Boxes full of air?

If you have bought a number of tabletop games, you will have noticed how some games fill out every inch of space in the box, while other games are basically a large box of air.

Most card games come in perfectly sized boxes, while board games often waste space to fit in the board, even when there are very few other components. Games with miniatures also often leave space to keep the figures safe. Many games ship with punch out boards that decide the box size, but the actual game parts end up filling less than half of the box they came in. Box sizes are a consideration for display purposes. Larger boxes stand out better among a display of tabletop games – while small boxes often get overlooked and therefore not the attention they deserve.

However, storing your games becomes harder if boxes are basically just air – and shipping costs increase as well. Many people resort to taking everything out of the box and storing it in bags or plastic storage containers, leaving the game board separate. That is far from ideal, because it makes it hard to find the game you want.

So what are your thoughts on boxes? How do you store your games? Is there a particularly good game that makes best use of the box it comes in? Is there a worst offender? Please share you thoughts in the comments below.

5aaa8da9-5609-4b9c-a7cf-6816649da9de-large

Design your own game – you can do it!

With the advent of crowd funding sites like Kickstarter, it has become easier to fund a new project – and the tabletop games industry has been overrun by games designers launching their own games with the help of people willing to sponsor their ideas. These days literally anyone can design a new game and try and make it a reality.

However, one new game stands out from the rest. It’s a story of a daughter and dad team who were inspired by a Kickstarter game. The daughter wanted to bring tabletop games to an audience of all ages and with the help of her dad they made it a reality – and now it’s published by the company who launched the game that inspired it all.

My Little Scythe is a success story that will help inspire another generation of game designers to keep going and not give up.

To find out more about the game, go to Stonemaier Games’ website at https://stonemaiergames.com/games/my-little-scythe/ and watch the teaser trailer below:

Chance or strategy

All games are a mixture of chance and strategy – Yahtzee is virtually pure chance, while Chess is virtually pure strategy, and there is a whole range in between of course. Chance and strategy affect specific aspects of games.

The more chance there is in a game, the more variable it is – but at the same time it levels the playing field, giving players with varying skill and ability a more equal game experience. Yahtzee is the classic example of a chance game – each turn is completely reliant on the outcome of a dice throw, so every player has an equal chance of winning. There is only a very small amount of decision making involved.

A game with pure strategy means that players’ experience becomes vital. The more you play Chess, the better you get at it – and the more you play with people who are better than you, the more you learn. Strategy games require players of roughly equal experience, or the game becomes very frustrating and boring.

Modern tabletop games usually have a good mixture of chance and strategy. Even strategy heavy games, such as Rising Sun, have an element of chance – the shuffling of Political Mandates for example. Artifacts, Inc. is an example where chance plays a huge role, because you roll dice on each turn, but then there is a lot of strategy when you decide where to place your dice.

What do you prefer in a game? Chance or strategy? Do you have a favourite game which has a nice balance of both? Please reply to this conversation with your thoughts.

IMG_8497

Gateway games

Most of us will have played traditional tabletop games, such as Monopoly, Game of Life, Yahtzee or Risk. However, what if you want to move towards more modern tabletop games? What games are there that introduce you to new game mechanics? What games are you gateway to this new world? There are definitely a number of “classics” that you will return time and again, even when you are a more experienced tabletop game player.

Carcassonne is one of them. It is an amazing, very easy to learn, yet varied tile laying game. Each time you draw and lay a tile, you extend a map with roads, towns, fields and other features. You can claim these features to gain points. There is plenty of randomness in the game to give people of all ages and experience a level playing field – but there is still enough room for some strategic thinking. The game has a number of expansions that will give you many hours of fun.

If you like games of bluffing and deduction, then Love Letter is probably a good fit. It is a card game where you try and finish with the highest card, while not revealing what card you have. Players take turns drawing and playing a card, slowly trading up, while at the same time trying to outmanoeuvre their opponents. It is suitable for players 8 years and up and very easy to transport, so ideal for holidays or even for a quick game in the restaurant while you wait for your food.

If you want to try a co-operative game, have a look at the Forbidden range of games, like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert. They are games where all players work together against time to find treasures and escape. The games require everyone to help each other, or everyone will lose. It is great for players 8 years and up and very easy to learn.

There are many more gateway games, but the above are a good starting point. Have you got a good gateway game you want to recommend? Have you tried one of the above games? Let me know your thoughts and get the conversation going.

IMG_8218 31393832953

How important is theme for tabletop games?

In my view, themes very often make or break a game. Even a game with the most amazing gameplay will be broken by a badly chosen theme. Of course, different people will like different themes. However, irrespective of what people like, blending theme and gameplay is vital to a game’s success – and here is why.

First of all, a good theme makes a game much more accessible. Abstract games like Chess and Go have very little theme at all, and for many people that makes them very hard to learn. Clans of Caledonia’s theme on the other hand makes decision taking feel very natural, because it is very clear what consequences each decision has. Terra Mystica’s theme on the other hand goes against the gameplay, and the game would be better as an abstract strategy game with only a minimal theme.

Secondly, a theme changes how entertaining and enjoyable a game is. Fluxx for example applies the same basic gameplay to different themes. The original Fluxx is great fun, but when you play Oz Fluxx or Pirate Fluxx, it feels like you are playing a completely different game that is more fun to play.

To further strengthen the power of a theme, it needs to be applied to the artwork and design of the game. Scythe’s miniatures for example really add to the theme and take you deeper into the game’s world. Realistic resources are another example, but whatever you do, it is important it doesn’t feel gimmicky.

So how important is theme for your game enjoyment? Do you have a favourite theme? What games do you think benefit from a good theme? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and get the conversation going.

cropped-befunky-collage-21.jpg

Games nights

Let’s kick off this group with a conversation about games nights. I am part of a four player group that has a private weekly session where we play various modern tabletop games, including Rising Sun, Clans of Caledonia, Near and Far, Star Realms, Hardback and even Fluxx. We’re looking forward to trying out the new 7th Continent soon. So do you have a games nights group yourself? What games do you play?

IMG_0678

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: