Heavy Times (Topic Discussion)

Text and board games are inextricably linked. You find text in various places in every board game to a greater or lesser extent. I can’t think of any game that doesn’t have some text somewhere, but feel free to prove me wrong in the comments below. At the very least, there will be text on the box, stating where the game was made or what its player count is. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find games that are text-heavy. I want to look at the varying levels of use of text in modern board games.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits (Takebacks)

The air is still and the sky is mostly clear. There are only a couple of fluffy clouds and sparkly stars fill the firmament. The forest is flourishing, stocked with many great, big trees with long branches colonized by many fragrant flowers, marvellous mushrooms, wriggly worms and fantastic fireflies. You are proud of what you have achieved in the three preceding growing seasons. It wasn’t easy to decide how to grow each tree so that it would be in harmony with nature and be inviting to a varied flora and fauna. Yet, you did it. You pleased the spirits of the forest, the so-called Kodama: The Tree Spirits by Action Phase Games.

Underleague (Saturday Review)

Your stable is ready. You’ve chosen three creatures from your selection of 30. There are the Chill Wraith, the Stasis Golem and the Skinling. You know that some of them will lose and some will win, which is fine. In fact, it’s what you’re betting on happening, because if you win your bet, irrespective of whether the creature wins or loses, it will give you a strategic advantage in the next round of combat. You also have a few trumps up your sleeves. The Iron Tusks, which you have kept back for now, will make one of the creatures even stronger, and you have pulled some strings behind the scenes, so you know that you can fix one of the matches in your favour. You are confident that you will come out on top in Underleague by Cogwright Games.

Jaipur (Saturday Review)

“Diamonds, gold, silver, cloth, spices, leather,” you shout from your stall into the hustle and bustle of the market. You are not the only trader vying for the many people wandering around the square, most of whom are tourists looking for a bargain. In fact, there is one other trader selling the same wares as you, and both of you pride yourselves on selling the finest goods. Neither of you wants to sell cheap, but if you’re not quick enough, prices will drop and you will end up with a stall full of unsold items. However, what you both want most, over everything else, is to attract the Maharajah’s eye and be granted one of his rare Seals of Excellence in the hope that you will become his personal trader in Jaipur by GameWorks.

Wingspan: European Expansion

Wingspan: European Expansion (Saturday Review)

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.

Skull King (Saturday Review)

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.

Silver Bullet (Unboxing)

Here is the successor, aka re-implementation, aka expansion to Silver. In fact, Silver Bullet can be played independently of Silver, but you can also mix the two decks together. The rules of both games are basically the same, except for the card effects. Bézier Games has really created an interesting way of creating a series of games that all work the same, but still create a new level of interest.

The Mind Extreme (Saturday Review)

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.

Games of Christmas

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.

Vivaldi (Saturday Review)

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.

Hitting the mainstream

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.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits (Saturday Review)

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.

Silver (Saturday Review)

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.

Hardback (Saturday Review)

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.

Vector Wars (Saturday Review)

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.

The Blessed Dark (Saturday Review)

The stage is prepared: a dusty old tome in the middle, a silver dagger encrusted with rubies across the open pages marking a specific section in the ancient text, a goblet in front of the book filled with the blood of thirteen poor souls, and five candles arranged in a pentagon around the periphery of the white marble pedestal. The whole room is gloomy and the air is thick with incense. There is absolute silence as you focus your mind on the difficult ritual you’re about to perform. The stakes are high, but if you succeed you will be able to summon a greater demon, who will bestow you the nine favor [sic] you need to become The Chosen, the highest-ranking cultist in your circle. The Blessed Dark by Nathan Meunier drags you away, kicking and screaming, into a world of deck building, rolling dice and casting spells.

Karmaka (Saturday Review)

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.

Six Gun Showdown (Saturday Review)

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.

Assembly: Re-Sequence & Override (Saturday Review)

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.

Another day in paradise

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.

The Hanging Gardens (Saturday Review)

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.

Yucata (Saturday Review)

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.

Travel games (Saturday Review)

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.

Mint Tin Pirates (Saturday Review)

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.

Mint Tin Aliens (Saturday Review)

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

Wingspan (Saturday Review)

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.

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.

Haunt the House (Saturday Review)

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.

Project Dreamscape (Saturday Review)

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.

GoodCritters

GoodCritters (Saturday Review)

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.

KeyForge: Call of the Archons (Saturday Review)

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.

The Mind (Saturday Review)

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.

Coming in 2019

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.

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 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.

Mystic Vale (Saturday Review)

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.

Chai (Saturday Review)

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.

Assembly (Saturday Review)

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.

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.

Whenever, wherever

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.

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.

Food, drink and sticky fingers

Enjoying a games night doesn’t just consist of playing a game with a group of friends or likeminded people – but usually also drinks, snacks and other foodstuff. However, do sticky fingers and spilled drinks go with playing games? I suppose it depends.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?