What Did I Play? July 2022August 22, 2022 https://blog.arranfrance.com/post/what-did-i-play-july-22/
In July, I played 29 different board games. Here’s a few thoughts on each!
In July, I played 29 different board games. Here’s a few thoughts on each!
Paper Dungeons: A Dungeon Scrawler Game is a roll ’n write where players explore a dungeon, defeat the creatures inside, and collect treasure. It does a fantastic job of invoking the feel of old school RPGs, and it has landed incredibly well with everyone I’ve shown it to. I find it a little tricky to teach because there are several interconnected systems and there’s a lot of iconography, which all have to be understood to take your first turn. After playing this game a few times, the map is starting to feel a little static and the variable setup isn’t quite enough to keep it feeling fresh each time. I could see this game exiting my collection if it weren’t for the fact everyone I’ve introduced the game to loves it!
I first played The Fox in the Forest at my favourite board game café - Draughts. This is a neat little trick taking game for two players that I actually preferred to The Crew my first trick taking experience. I’d definitely play this again.
SCOUT is an Oink Games ladder climbing I picked up at UK Game Expo. I really enjoyed this game and its interesting hand management mechanics, but I wish it played better at smaller player counts - it really shines best at 4. I also wish it was possible to sleeve it all and keep it in the box but unfortunately Oink Games pack their games into their boxes incredibly tightly, no space is wasted!
PARKS is a game I’ve only ever played on Board Game Arena. It’s a simple game about hiking through US National Parks. It has a one-way travel system as you move your hikers from one end of the trail to the other collecting resources in order to score specific parks. Each of the games four seasons adds a new location to visit on the trail and a new season specific effect. The game can be either played as a simple and relaxed game or as a thinky game full of small decisions to be optimised. I love the art and the theme of PARKS but I don’t think I’ll ever own it - it’s a little too expensive, and the game runs a little too long.
7 Wonders: Duel is a game I initially dismissed when I first purchased it back in 2017. I really enjoyed the original 7 Wonders and I fell into the trap of thinking they were similar games. Although 7 Wonders and 7 Wonders: Duel have near identical themes, terminology, iconography, and even in some places similar rules they are very different games. The original 7 Wonders is a game based on your individual goals, resources, and the offer of cards in your hand; by comparison 7 Wonders Duel is a game where you need to think a few steps ahead and need to actively engage with your opponent. In 7 Wonders, money matters far less than your resources but in 7 Wonders: Duel - money is everything! 7 Wonders: Duel is a game that rewards replay, and as a duelling game requires you to be on an equal footing to your opponent. Once you begin to understand it you realise how much depth there is to the game and how small decisions about which cards to draft have a big impact on your opponents options.
Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is a roll ’n write game all about building a dinosaur park. Players draft dice for resources, use those dice to take actions such as constructing buildings or creating dinosaurs, and then run through their park to gain excitement and see the visitors stay alive. This game has a ton of interesting decisions in it from “Where do I draw my enclosure?” to “Can I make another carnivore, if I do will too many people die?” and all this thinking fits into a small box that can be setup or set down in a couple of minutes. Similarly to Paper Dungeons, this game has begun to feel a little stale, but the variable setup in this game adds a lot more variety and Rawr ’n Write benefits from having an entirely empty grid to draw buildings on instead of a prefilled grid like Paper Dungeons. I have heard expansions are on the way, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they change up the game.
Atmosfear, or Nightmare in the U.S., is a board game controlled by a video. Players have an hour to race against the host, The Gatekeeper, to earn collect their characters 6 keys before racing to the centre and escaping. The basic game mechanic is a Monopoly like roll and move, and you collect cards that are events you trigger when the clock reaches a specific time. The Gatekeeper, the host of the video, will also interrupt you and reward/punish specific players. There isn’t much, if any depth or strategy to this game, and that would be okay if it executed better. Everything from the components to The Gatekeeper’s acting and the thought put into the various events feels a little subpar. Party Mania, which has a similar lack of depth or strategy, does a much better job of making the game feel less dull by giving players a better chance to draw meaningful events, focusing down the board, and having a higher quality video to accompany the game. Atmosfear is, unfortunately, the worst game I’ve played in my adult life by quite a huge margin.
Viticulture: Essential Edition is a worker placement game about running a vineyard in pre-modern Tuscany. Throughout the year you take season specific actions by allocating your workers and playing cards in order to build buildings, grow grape vines, harvest them, produce wine, and fulfil orders. Viticulture has a fantastic theme, but I’m not entirely sold on the game. Every card in the game is both situational and powerful which often detracts from the natural game rhythm of placing workers to do the necessary steps to produce wine. I’ve only played this game a couple of times so I’m keen to play more to see how I feel about it.
Spirit Island is a cooperative game about defending an island indigenous population from colonising invaders. You play as an island spirit who must expand their influence to grow in strength and fend off the invaders before they ravage the land entirely. I love this game. It’s deep, it’s complex, and it’s satisfying. Every sprit in the game plays slightly differently, and it’s an enjoyable puzzle to figure out how to make the best use of their abilities. My only complaint is if the difficulty is not set at the right level the game can feel a bit anti-climatic. This is a game that constantly makes me want to up the difficulty and see how far I can push it, and I enjoy the freshness of using a spirit for the first time and the interplay between them. This is absolutely one of my favourite games. I’m surprised I only played this game once in July, and I want to play it more!
Marvel Champions is another cooperative game, this time Marvel themed. Pairing two heroes together, you face a villain and attempt to stop them completing their nefarious scheme whilst trying to stay alive. Every turn you decide to either stay as a hero where you are more effective but risk taking damage, or swap to your alter-ego where you can recover health but risk the villain accomplishing more of your plot. You also play out cards from your hand to try and either build up your resources, thwart the villain’s schemes, or fight them off. This game is a fascinatingly deep game that’s taken me a while to warm to. Every hero plays quite differently but in my first couple of games battling the villains felt like a bit of a slog. This is the first game I played where the game came truly alive and the game felt like I was Dr. Strange battling against Ultron. I’ve played plenty more of this in August, this game is rising in my estimation.
Kanban EV is the biggest game from my UK Game Expo haul. Kanban EV is a game about producing electric vehicle in a factory. You work to research designs, improve parts, produce cars, and perform well in meetings1. The designer, Vital Lacerda, is renowned for his deeply interconnected systems and Kanban is a game that illustrates that well. Producing a car and adding it to your garage scores you points, but you score more points if you have a tested-design which requires you to have upgraded a part which matches the car, which makes it harder to make more of that car, which makes it harder for you to score points. I really like how this game has public and private objectives you know you’re going to be scored on ahead of time, but that getting to those can feel challenging. My one complaint in this game is that it’s easy for the end of the game to sneak up on you as there are two timers that count down and both can suddenly advance to the point that triggers a game to end. This isn’t an easy game to learn, or to play, but everything sort of fell into place on my second play through. It didn’t quite match the hype I expected from a Lacerda game. I do enjoy this game, and it was a fantastic way to dip my toes into the Lacerda pool - it might be the only one I end up owning though.
1960: The Making of the President is a game that relives the 1960 presidential election and players take the role of either Nixon or Kennedy. You fight for electoral votes by playing cards to influence states, either for the special effect on the card or use the card for points to take basic actions. You play the game over a series of rounds which climaxes in the final election day count. As the game progresses certain states become battlegrounds and key areas like California and Texas change hands. It has the tenseness that playing any duelling game brings, but there’s something special about this game. Every round feels like the push and pull of election politics and as look out across the board and realise that your opponent can influence just a couple of states and turn the whole tide of the game, every inch you gain on your opponent as election day looms ahead feels hard won. This game is epic in the best sense, it feels climactic, it has moments that are memorable, and whilst the game has abstract cubes the game is dripping with theme. This game is one of the favourites in my collection.
War of the Ring is another epic game which has players taking the role of the Free People’s of Middle-Earth and the Shadow, the forces of Sauron, in a battle for the fate of Middle-earth. The forces of Sauron close in to try and conquer cities and strongholds whilst the Free People, in secret, try to advance the Fellowship of the Ring to Mount Doom. The forces of the Shadow seem infinite, and the Free People’s have small forces that they need to convince to join the battle. Everything in this game feels like you’re reliving the story of Lord of the Rings and the game is fittingly deep, complex, and immersive. This is a game where both your strategy and your tactics matter, but the story it tells is the real gem. Did Legolas and Gimli stick with the Fellowship the entire way? Did Gandalf inspire the ents to strike out against Orthanc? Did Minas Tirith fall? Did Sauron conquer the shire? This is a game where some or even all these things could happen. The Lords of Middle-earth adds plenty more cards that allow these things to happen and also add in the Balrog, Elrond, Smeagol and other important characters, now I have it I won’t play the game without it.
Royal Visit is a small two-player board game designed by the prolific Reiner Knizia. Players play cards from their hand to move a matching piece from the centre of the board, towards their chateau. If a play can successfully move the King into their chateau, they win the game. Making this more difficult are the kings guards, who have to be on either side of the king at all times and do not allow the king to venture out of those bounds. There’s also a wizard who can move any piece to his location and a Jester who lets you move any piece towards him using any card. This game is a tug of war between the two players who are each trying to move pieces to the opposite end of their board. This game is light, fun, and is very tactical. I enjoy the push and pull of the pieces and spotting ways to bend things ever so slightly in your favour, but it’s not a game I feel like I want to explore frequently. There isn’t quite enough for me to enjoy on repeat visits, and it’s not a fun or light game you’d play to kill a few minutes.
Startups is the second half of the Oink Games duo from UK Game Expo2. It’s a simple set collection game and is an easier game to teach than SCOUT. You’re aiming to get majorities of simple sets of companies, but the leader of each set cannot collect any more of each set. Hidden from view, each player also starts with two hidden cards which alter the probabilities in the deck. Startups is slightly lighter and easier to teach than SCOUT and I think I prefer it. It has a slightly more appealing set of art and fills a similar spot in my collection.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a cooperative trick taking game where players advance through a series of scenarios trying to win specific tricks. This is a small game that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of, having played through the first few scenarios multiple times. I enjoy it, but I feel like this is a game you have to get into a rhythm with and I haven’t been able to do that yet.
The Split is blackjack with a few extras. This isn’t a game you play particularly seriously but it is fun and light and will stick around in my collection as a beer and pretzels kind of game.
Cascadia is a nature themed tile laying game where you draft pairs of terrain tiles and animal tokens to expand your own personal collection of terrain and wildlife. Ideally you want to group terrain together, as you score based on the largest groups of terrain, but animals can only be matched with matching terrain and animals each have their own requirements in order to score. Some animals want to be grouped together, others want to be far away from each other, and some score the best when their near different animals. Cascadia is all about making the best of the limited options but despite that the game rarely seems overly restrictive. I enjoy that the game is easy to pick up and play, but I’m not overly drawn to it.
Vengeance Roll & Fight is the roll and write version of Vengeance, a game in which players take on the roll of the titular character of a revenge film like Kill Bill, John Wick, or Old Boy. This game was particularly interesting to me because Mike DiLisio, my favourite board game reviewer from The Dice Tower, really enjoys the original. The game plays through a series of rounds where you slowly advance through a scenario like a safe house, or a mafia den, towards the “boss” who you aim to take down before safely finding your way out of the building. At the start of each round, you roll a set of dice that allows you to improve your character, but the main meat of the game is focused on two parts of the round. The first part is a race to roll through a pool of dice shared amongst all players. Each player starts with four dice and then simultaneously all players attempt roll dice to enable them to use abilities in the next part of the round. To be able to perform one move action in the next round, a player needs to roll dice until they have two move symbols showing. These dice are then set aside and players refill up to four dice from the shared pool. This shared pool of dice and simultaneous play creates an inherent pressure, as you desperately try to roll the specific combination you need to make sure you can kill everyone in the next room you watch as the pool dwindles down, and consequently so does the potential numbers of actions you can take next turn. Once the pool is empty, play moves onto the next phase where you use those actions to try and clear rooms and advance towards the boss. Vengeance Roll & Fight is deeply thematic but the disparity between the frantic rolling phase and the incredibly precise and puzzle-esque phase of moving and shooting through the building feel at odds. Right now this game sits at the edge of my collection - maybe I’ll warm up to it.
Sleeping Gods is a narrative driven game that explores the crew of the Manticore as they explore the world in search of the totems of the gods. The main draw of the game is the storybook and the atlas, which in tandem allow you to explore anywhere you want and dip into the adventure anywhere you can get to. Sleeping Gods is perhaps the biggest game to have released in 2021 but it’s fallen a little flat for me. The exploration is fantastic but the game can be quite punishing. Resource management is at the heart of this game, but often-times it’s felt like there just aren’t enough resources on offer. Rather than focusing on exploring the story of the game I’ve often felt pushed to do safe things in order to obtain enough resources to avoid defeat. This is a game I’d really like to enjoy more, but I find it often times frustratingly punishing.
Cloudspire is a mix between a MOBA3 and a tower-defence game. Players choose one of a number of asymmetric factions and then the players build out the arena together by flipping and placing hexes. Players then attach their base to the map and receive source, the game’s currency. Players can spend source to purchase units from the market, upgrade their faction, build towers on the map, and to purchase units for the round ahead. Once players are finished spending all the units queued up for the round are readied. Players then take turns moving their units around the map until all the units are eliminated or until their opponents keep is defeated. Each round, the amount of currency players can spend increases and players can afford to purchase better upgrades and field stronger units. After my first play, I knew Cloudspire had the potential to be one of my favourite games. Before the round starts there’s a chess match between the units you think your opponent will field, and which best counter them. During the round, Cloudspire’s main wrinkle appears, all your minions - the majority of your units, have to progress towards the enemy keep. There’s a predictability to it that keeps turns short but also lends itself to countering. My one complaint about Cloudspire is the difficulty it takes to explain it. When teaching the game there are too many exceptions and too many elements have dual meanings. Additionally, there’s a huge volume of keywords to look up, and ideally the game would ship with twice as many reference sheets. That said I’ve enjoyed every game of Cloudspire and I look forward to exploring its cooperative and solo modes as well.
#Played Three Times
Food Chain Island is a small solo puzzle game in which you try to find a way to enable all the animals in a grid to eat each other. The catch? Animals can only a small subset of the animals on the island and animals have to be adjacent to eat each other. Further complicating the puzzle, each animal has a specific rule to them. Some animals can’t eat twice in a row, others eat by jumping over another animal, and some once they eat need to move to somewhere else. Some of these effects are beneficial, perhaps allowing you to move an animal from out of reach to somewhere it can be eaten, and others are downright frustrating limitations. Balancing the competing needs of all the animals is both a frustration and a joy and I find this game hits a sweet spot in complexity and enjoy solving it when I have ten or so minutes to kill. The expansions for this game on the other hand, are downright evil. I haven’t beaten the game once yet with any of the expansions included. This game fills the solo game niche in my collection perfectly. Tom from Shut Up and Sit Down! has done a fantastic review of this game and some of Button Shy’s other games and I can’t help but recommend it, it is my all-time favourite Shut Up and Sit Down! review.
Codenames is an insanely popular word based party game for two teams. This has been a mainstay of my collection since 2017 and is generally a hit at every party I’ve brought it to. It’s not a game that I love, but it is a game everyone enjoys when it’s brought out.
No Thanks! is another classic party game. No Thanks! is all about avoiding points where at all possible. The deck of cards contains the numbers between 3 and 35, where the number on the face of the card is how many points the card is worth. Players, in turn, are given the choice to either take the card or to pay one of their limited chips to the middle to say “No Thanks!” and avoid having to take the card. Play goes on until someone eventually accepts the card or runs out of chips, and therefore can’t say no. When they do, they earn all the chips in the middle and add the card to the collection. Runs of consecutive cards are only worth the lowest number in the run making certain cards desirable to specific players, but the deck is setup so that nine cards are randomly removed at the start of the game making it possible that the card you’re looking for my might never come up. Once the deck is exhausted the person with the least points wins. I’m terrible at this game, but I can’t help but enjoy the chaos and brinksmanship at the heart of this game. A fantastic game to play with people that don’t mind screwing each other over. Coincidentally, Tom from Shut Up and Sit Down has also done a fantastic review of this game.
Rush Out! is a one-vs-many dice rolling game. Up to four heroes work cooperatively try to rush through their deck of things to defeat before the evil wizard gets through their deck of evil spells and summons. The key catch is that the evil wizard gets to do evil things whenever they complete a spell pushing the adventurers further from their goal. Players complete cards by rolling the correct dice face to match the dice needed by a card. Making this more difficult for the heroes are the knocked and locked dice the evil wizard inflicts when they complete a card, or the additional cards the heroes are forced to complete. I honestly don’t know if I even like this game. Why? We played it three times and thanks to an insane repeated misreading of the rules, I taught it incorrectly. I’m keen to play it right at some point!
#Played Five Times
Coup is a bluffing game where players seek to eliminate each other by amassing enough money to coup their opponents causing them to lose one of their identities. Players who lose both of their identities are eliminated. If you’re the last player standing, you’re the winner. Each turn you can choose to use a safe action where you use one of the powers your identity has, or you can bluff and pretend to have the identity of another character which might your needs better. If another player suspects something, they can call your bluff - forcing you to reveal the identity you claimed to have. If they guess correctly you’re down an identity and one step closer to elimination; however if they guessed incorrectly, they themselves are forced to lose an identity. Coup feels tense from start to finish, like you’re at a high-stakes poker table where every tiny nugget of social information is a weapon. I played this five times in July and I hate it. To me Coup feels like a game about ganging up and a game about pushing your luck, two of my least favourite mechanics. Games like Werewolf, The Resistance, and Quest fill the social deduction niche better due to the team based nature and the longer form format.
Fantasy Realms is a quick card game about amassing the most points before the clock runs out. Each turn you draw a card and discard a card, trying to make score the most points through combinations of cards. Cards in the deck all have specific penalities, bonuses, and other effects that change how they score based on the other cards in your hand meaning you need to juggle the competing needs of the cards. Dragons work better in Caves and Wizards work better with a staff - but Fire and Lakes do not mix! The game ends when the tenth4 card is discarded creating a natural ticking-clock that forces you to make pragmatic decisions about what to keep and what to discard. Digging down into the deck causes more cards to enter the card pool quickening how quickly the game will end. This game is perfect in my opinion, although I definitely prefer this at lower player counts. My favourite is the two-player variant where you start without a hand of cards and develop your hand one card at a time. I lost every single time in July, despite having an otherwise 80% win record up to this point.
Gizmos is a game all about building an engine. You start the game with four basic actions. Add a card to your engine, pick a resource from the dispenser, file a card into the archives for later. Cards typically either improve the number of resources you can hold or they have a trigger on them. For instance, a card might say “When you pick a blue resource from the dispenser, pick a random resource”. Thus, the engine construction begins! Building up these cards to chain one after each other allows you to achieve multiple things in a turn with your single action. There’s a real joy in seeing an engine constructed that fires on all cylinders and I really enjoy the tactical element of trying to adapt the strategy to the cards that become available. After five plays the game does feel a little samey at two players but I think this game has a solid place in the collection.
#Played Too Many Times to Count
Netrunner is an asymmetric card game set in a futuristic cyberpunk world where corporations rule. One player plays as a corporation seeking to advance their agendas which they store in servers and protect with “ice”, defensive programs. The opposing player, the runner, aims to steal corporate agendas from the hand, deck, and servers of the opponent. This game has recently seen a revival in popularity after the original company, Fantasy Flight Games, stopped producing it. Since then, a fan organisation NISEI has started producing the game, and they were present at the UK Games Expo and I got a chance to play the game there. Since then, it has become my most played game and I take part in tournaments both in person and online. In July I played 25 games of Netrunner both in person and online!
#A Few More Statistics
A few quick statistics from the month of July to end this round up.
- 29 different games
- Across 81 times
- In 5 locations
- With 26 different people, 6 of whom I know personally
- On 21 days of the month