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.

Enjoyable design (Topic Discussion)

Tabletop game designers want to create an enjoyable experience for people – whatever enjoyable means in this context. From that starting point, they create a game that is balanced, flows well and meets the desired complexity requirements, as well as meets other criteria. They may use the skillset of developers to refine everything, and if a publisher is involved, there will be additional criteria that have to be met. However, in this article, I want to focus on enjoyment, what it means and whose responsibility it is to make a game enjoyable.

On the Underground London/Berlin (Saturday Review)

After a short journey by train, you arrive in Berlin at Friedrichstraße central station. Wasting no time, you immediately take the stairs down to the U-Bahn platforms. You want to see as much of this metropole as possible, not just the usual tourist sites, but also the more regular stations that locals would travel to. Your first destination is Zitadelle in Spandau, after which you want to see the famous Potsdamer Platz. However, as you arrive on the platform, you notice there are no trains running. It turns out that you have to take a taxi to Jungfernheide, after which you can take the yellow line to Zitadelle, then back to Jungfernheide and another taxi to Zoologischer Garten, where you can catch the white line. It seems weird, but this is On the Underground London/Berlin by LudiCreations.

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.

Top 5 Tabletop Games of 2019 (Saturday Review)

For the first time, the Tabletop Games Blog is giving away an award: the Top Table Award for the best game released in 2019. As you know, a lot of new tabletop games were released this year, probably around 3,000 to 4,000, excluding expansions. That’s more games anyone will ever be able to play in a year, and I have probably only seen 20-30 of those. However, I still thought it’d be good to share with you my top 5 games that were published in 2019 and crown the winner.

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.

Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Saturday Review)

The four armies have landed on the beach of the abandoned island and deposited their troops with intent. They are here to claim their stake and become the new rulers. Yet, battles are rare. The invaders mostly compete for majority, tolerating their opponents’ presence, while brave cohorts cross the seas to reach neighbouring islands in this tiny archipelago. Cities are built to establish a permanent presence, but it doesn’t take long until it is all over. In Eight-Minute Empire: Legends by Red Raven Games, you and up to three other players try to manoeuvre your armies over eight to eleven rounds to come out victorious. 

Alpha One

As some of you will know, I’m an alpha player at the core, which means I can take over co-operative games and tell people what to do. Even in competitive games I’m the one who makes sure rules are followed and actions are done in the right order. I even adjust tokens or tiles to line them up properly and ensure everything is in the right place. However, I’ve changed a lot over the last year or so and I want to share my journey with you. Maybe it will give you some tips for yourself, if you’re an alpha player too.

Magnate: The First City (Takebacks)

The price bubble has burst and the property market has crashed. People have lost a lot of money when they were forced to sell everything at a much lower price. They bought too high and got out too late. Yet, there are also a number of happy faces around the table. They bought land when prices were still extremely low, built properties, rented them out, earned a decent income and then sold everything at the peak of the market – or at least sold most of it, breaking even with everything else. These are the property tycoons that managed to make it big in Magnate: The First City by Naylor Games.

Tapestry (Saturday Review)

Through five millennia you guide your civilization from the discovery of fire through vastly different eras to its ultimate end. You discover and develop different technologies, flex your military muscle, explore new lands and execute unexpected and sometimes devastating science experiments as your people advance from generation to generation. In Tapestry by Stonemaier Games, you write an alternative history that has echoes of mankind’s but turns out completely different, but hopefully for the better.

Roam (Saturday Review)

Here is another beautifully illustrated game by Ryan Laukat. You will immediately recognize it from his other games, such as Near and Far. You will also recognize a lot of the characters he created in his other games and which appear in Roam as well. Yet, this game from Red Raven Games is quite different from the others. There is no resource management, no movement and no storytelling. Instead, you get a lovely, light game that is very easy to explain and learn and relatively quick to play.

Rising Sun (Saturday Review)

Feudal Japan is in turmoil. Warring clans are roaming the land to claim territories and gain influence and power, while vying for the favour of the spirits, the Kami, whose support will help cement the superiority over the enemies. As clans form alliances and recruit legendary monsters to bolster their armies’ ranks, everyone prepares for multiple battles which will change the face of Japan. Yet, territories are often held only fleetingly as alliances are betrayed and powers shift. It is up to you to use your cunning and strategic planning to come out the victor in Rising Sun by CMON.

Jetpack Joyride (Saturday Review)

When struggling gramophone salesman Barry discovers a not-so-secret secret lab (I recommend you watch the trailer on Halfbrick’s website) which has developed a number of different and increasingly crazy jetpacks, his life changes. He starts with a basic jetpack and flies through the various rooms of the lab to avoid obstacles and find the next and better jetpack to try out for himself. A lot of frantic horizontally scrolling fun ensues, which the boardgame conversion of Jetpack Joyride by Lucky Duck Games tries to reproduce on your dining room table.

Photosynthesis (Saturday Review)

A handful of small trees stand at the edge of a clearing. The wind blows gently as the sun starts to rise in the east. You can almost see the trees reaching for the light, as they slowly convert the sunshine into sugars, which is used to grow and produce seeds. Each species will have different survival strategies, but all trees have a natural urge to disperse their seeds towards the middle of the clearing, where there is less competition and more fertile ground. However, it won’t be long until the many saplings have filled the available space and the fight for sunshine will become more and more intense. In the meantime, some trees will have grown old and will die, freeing up precious ground for seeds to settle and hopefully germinate. It is for you and up to three of your friends to look after your rootstock in Photosynthesis by Blue Orange Games.

Near and Far: Amber Mines (Saturday Review)

In the world of Arzium, groups of brave adventurers travel from town to town, where they load up on supplies and pack animals and recruit new members, who are willing to join them on the long journey, as they look for a lost city, called Last Ruin, where legend says lies a powerful artefact that will fulfil the finder’s innermost wishes. It is time for you to add your name to the list of famous explorers, venture into the wild to collect valuable and useful items, meet new people, return to town to work for money and food, travel through abandoned mines and do what is needed to successfully complete the journey. Near and Far: Amber Mines by Red Raven Games allows you to become a hero, if you can compete with your fellow bands of explorers and come out ahead.

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.

Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy & Wit (Unboxing)

The stock market is in turmoil. There is a financial crisis. Companies’ solvency is in doubt. Panic selling has started for some securities. The year is 1792, and 24 stockbrokers meet in Wall Street in New York under a buttonwood tree to sign an agreement that creates a new way of securities trading, which creates a closed market where everyone can trust each other to honour payments and where investments are legitimate. In Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy & Wit by Eric Sillies, you are one of the group of 24 and you have to use your wit and cunning to take the beginnings of a new stock exchange to what will eventually become the New York Stock Exchange.

Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy & Wit (Saturday Review)

The stock market is in turmoil. There is a financial crisis. Companies’ solvency is in doubt. Panic selling has started for some securities. The year is 1792, and 24 stockbrokers meet in Wall Street in New York under a buttonwood tree to sign an agreement that creates a new way of securities trading, which creates a closed market where everyone can trust each other to honour payments and where investments are legitimate. In Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy & Wit by Eric Sillies, you are one of the group of 24 and you have to use your wit and cunning to take the beginnings of a new stock exchange to what will eventually become the New York Stock Exchange.

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.

Mint Works (Saturday Review)

As many of you will know, I absolutely love small box games, and mint tin games in particular (see episode 6 of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast). They’re so easy to stash away and take with you anywhere, and Mint Works by Five24 Labs is a great example. The small mint tin is robust and can easily deal with knocks, it’s quick to set up, as it consists basically of a deck of cards, and the tin itself functions as the pool for the mint worker tokens. The gameplay is also relatively quick, so overall it’s ideal for when you’re out and about – on a train, plane or a bus, or while you’re waiting for food in a pub or restaurant.

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.

Magnate: The First City (Saturday Review)

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.

Microbrew (Saturday Review)

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.

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.

Fun and games

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.

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.

Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery (Saturday Review)

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.

Clans of Caledonia (Saturday Review)

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

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.

Scythe (Saturday Review)

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.

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.