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. Read more

Mint Tin Pirates (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2014 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Kate Beckett, David René Miller Length:  5-15 minutes
Artist: David René Miller Age: 10+
Publisher: subQuark Complexity: 1.0 / 5

 

As you can tell from my previous reviews of subQuark’s games (Mint Tin Mini SkulduggeryMint 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. Read more

Mint Tin Aliens (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2014 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Kate Beckett, David Rene Miller Length:  5-15 minutes
Artist: David Rene Miller Age: 10+
Publisher: subQuark Complexity: 1.5 / 5

 

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. Read more

Wingspan (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2019 Players: 1-5
Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave Length:  45-90 minutes
Artist: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Beth Sobel Age: 10+
Publisher: Stonemaier Games Complexity: 2.5 / 5

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 Wingspan to the next level. 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

Haunt the House (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 2-5
Designer: Josh and Helaina Cappel Length:  30-45 minutes
Artist: Josh Cappel, Apolline Etienne Age: 8+
Publisher: Kids Table Board Games Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

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. Read more

Project Dreamscape (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2015 Players: 1-4
Designer: Sarah and Will Reed Length:  30-45 minutes
Artist: Julie Okahara Age: 10+
Publisher: Undine Studios Complexity: 1.5 / 5

 

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. Read more

GoodCritters (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 4-8
Designer: Fabian Zimmermann Length:  30-45 minutes
Artist: Valerio Buonfantino and Stephen Gibson Age: 10+
Publisher: Arcane Wonders Complexity: 1.5 / 5

 

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. Read more

KeyForge: Call of the Archons (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Richard Garfield Length:  15-45 minutes
Artist: Age: 12+
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games Complexity: 2.5 / 5

 

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. Read more

The Mind (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 2-4
Designer: Wolfgang Warsch Length:  10-30 minutes
Artist: Oliver Freudenreich Age: 8+
Publisher: Coiledspring Games Complexity: 1.0 / 5

 

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. Read more

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.

Chai by Deep Aqua Games

Expected delivery: January 2019 for the print-and-play, and September 2019 for the full game

The Kickstarter campaign for Chai by Deep Aqua Games is still going for a few more days, so you can check it out here and consider supporting it too: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/strider88/chaian-immersive-tea-board-game

As you will see from the review I wrote (see Chai (Saturday Review)) and the related review video (see https://youtu.be/3R7QEKthQhY), I absolutely love this game. I was lucky enough to playtest a print-and-play version of Chai, and once my wife and I tried it, we kept playing it at least once a day for a couple of weeks. 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

Mystic Vale (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2016 Players: 2-4
Designer: John D. Clair Length:  30-60 minutes
Artist: Ralf Berszuck, Storn Cook, et al. Age: 14+
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

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. Read more

Chai (Saturday Review)

Release Date: due 2019 Players: 1-5
Designer: Dan & Connie Kazmaier Length:  20-60 minutes
Artist: Mary Haasdyk, Sahana VJ Age: 8+
Publisher: Deep Aqua Games Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

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. Read more

Assembly (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 1-2
Designer: Janice Turner, Stu Turner Length:  10-20 minutes
Artist: Mike Jessup Age: 8+
Publisher: Wren Games Complexity: 1.0 / 5

 

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. 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

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. 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

Food, drink and sticky fingers

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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