Tapestry (Takebacks)

Your tribe is sitting around the fire – a new invention that will prove to be the spark of great things to come, things that nobody can yet predict or even dream of. It feels like you have been here before though. The scene seems very familiar. The faces may be different and so is the location, but the warmth of the flames and the crackling of the embers trigger memories in you – memories of a bright future, memories of generations to come, of a civilization rising out of the plains and large structures reaching into the sky. Yet, something is different this time. It seems as if your tribe of Traders has an extra coin and an extra food in this more balanced version of Tapestry by Stonemaier Games.

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig (Saturday Review)

“I know,” said the King’s master builder, “if we use modular rooms, all of them square, we could manufacture several of them, all at the same time, in our many workshops, transport them to the site as they are finished, and connect them on-site to build a magnificent castle, befitting our Highness’ standing and reputation. In fact, we could build several castles all at the same time, all as glorious as each other.”
”That’s madness,” his apprentice exclaimed in horror.
”Exactly,” the King’s master builder replied, “but imagine the wonderful feeling of amazement our Royal Highness will get when he surveys the construction from a vantage point Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig.”

Dune (Saturday Review)

Our heighliner was positioned safely in Arrakis’ orbit. With a steady stream of Spice filling our coffers gradually, we had to be patient and observe from afar the goings-on down on the planet itself. It was clear that House Atreides was pivotal in the unfolding events and our scheme had to remain hidden until the right moment was reached. The cogs were set in motion and doubts had been planted in the Emperor’s mind that would lead to their unavoidable conclusion. The Spice needs to flow on Dune by Gale Force Nine.

Play styles (Topic Discussion)

We all play games for different reasons, and we all approach them differently. In fact, we may play the same game differently on two different days, just because we’re in a different mood. However, I’m not talking about playing a different strategy or choosing a different character or even just playing with a different player colour. I’m talking about something different altogether.

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.

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.

Battle Ravens (Saturday Review)

My latest review is for Battle Ravens by Daniel Mersey and published by PSC Games. Just for disclosure, it was PSC Games who kindly sent me a review copy, but that didn’t influence my view of the game. It’s a war game set in Viking England and due to launch on Kickstarter on 20 November 2018, so keep an eye out. You either take the side of the Norse or the Anglo-Saxon armies, who face each other’s shield walls on the battlefield. Your aim is to puncture three holes in your opponent’s line to win the game by manoeuvring your warriors and attacking with your six-sided dice. However, the clever twist to this game is that your actions are determined by how many raven tokens you place on your six battle spaces. It creates a bidding element which means that being the first player isn’t necessarily an advantage.

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.

Just the two of us

Most tabletop games are aimed at three or more players, with possibly a two player variant – and maybe even a solo option. However, more and more games coming out recently are either specifically aimed at two players only, or are designed to be played with two or more players. There is a choice between co-operative and competitive games, anything from light to heavy games and with virtually all types of game mechanisms found in other multi-player games.

Tabletop Player Profile – Updated

In a previous article (see Co-op or competitive?) I showed what my tabletop player profile looks like, as per Quantic Foundry’s online form at https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/surveys/start/tabletop/ – which I highly recommend to everyone. In the article I said I would check my profile monthly, which didn’t come to pass as other things got in the way. However, I have now completed the survey again and unsurprisingly, my profile hasn’t changed a huge amount, but the subtle differences are interesting. You can see the latest results at the end of this article – and the previous results in the article Co-op or competitive?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?