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AtB#7


It's a mystery

5th April 2017

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AtB#7


It's a mystery

5th April 2017

Given a certain amount of mystery about where Across the Board #7 was going to take place, it seemed appropriate to choose a theme to match. The night ended up being heavily focused around Shut Up and Sit Down favourites (never, ever a bad thing in our book), so I'll keep the descriptions light(ish) and include lots of links to videos of them doing a better job than I ever could of explaining why these games are amazing.

I spent much of my evening in the afterlife, playing the role of the ghost in the fantastic game Mysterium. In this game, apart from the aforementioned spirit, players are mystics who have been summoned to a spooky mansion to solve a murder, which they must do by interpreting messages sent to them from the afterlife in the form of dreams (or, in reality, cards showing beautiful but highly surreal illustrations chosen for them by the ghost). Each player initially has their own personal scenario to interpret, but it makes sense for players to work together to interpret the clues they receive, because everyone must solve their mystery in certain number of turns in order for play to progress to stage two of the game where the assembled mystics combine their powers to solve the ghost's own murder based on extremely patchy and peculiar evidence. I shall end my description there and direct you to SU&SD's highly entertaining play-through which will tell you all you need to know :-)

We also played the brand new escape room-themed tabletop game Unlock!, which does a very impressive job of recreating the excitement, challenge and frustration of a real-life escape room game, using only a very cleverly designed pack of cards. The box contains three scenarios (one card deck per puzzle), of which we've only tried the first so far with excellent feedback, so you can expect this one to make a reappearance at another night in the future... 

Watson and Holmes also made its AtB debut in April (there's a lack of photographic evidence of this one unfortunately... I was dead, OK?!). As the title suggests, this a Sherlock Holmes-themed game, where players are... surprise, surprise... trying to solve a mystery. They do this by travelling to locations around London represented by cards laid out on the table which have (partially) pertinent information on the back. Where things get interesting from a strategy point of view is that only one player can visit each location on a given turn, and when they leave can choose to block other players from visiting by leaving a police cordon. In the initial phase of each turn when players select where they want to go, there's an opportunity to spend 'carriage tokens' to get there first, effectively evicting the person who picked the location first, but these as you might expect, are a limited resource. This is a really strong design with excellent writing and really engaging game play... thanks SU&SD for another great recommendation :-) 

Last but decidedly not least, we ended with one massive game of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, and my word it was dark! This game combines elements of Mysterium with the hidden role aspects of the likes of Werewolf and the Resistance. In this game, everyone is a member of the Hong Kong police force trying to solve a murder. Except, one of you committed it, and another one of you knows who the killer is. Everyone starts off with a grid of eight cards in front of them, four depicting possible murder weapons, and four showing clues which were found at the scene. At this point, the hidden roles are dealt, and whoever gets the forensic scientist card reveals themselves and their card grid is cleared away. Next, everyone but the forensic scientist closes their eyes, then the murderer opens theirs and points at a weapon and clue from the cards in front of them so that the forensic scientist can see. After that, everyone opens their eyes and the game begins. The forensic scientist cannot speak, but issues hints by placing bullet tokens on options from a list of six items, covering things like 'location' and 'condition of the corpse' (there's that darkness I promised). This requires them to basically come up with a story for what happened based on the limited information proffered by the murderer, a great exercise for taking one's imagination to weird and sinister places! Everyone else then tries to piece together what happened and convince everyone else round to their way of thinking... except of course, one person is guilty and so is trying to misdirect the rest. Just one more thing before I pass the case over to SU&SD: at AtB#7, the murder weapon was a knife and fork. Can you spot the murderer who committed this grotesque and macabre crime from the pictures below? I suspect you can...

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AtB#6


Modern classics

1st March 2017

AtB#6


Modern classics

1st March 2017

For Across the Board #6, we decided to crack out the big guns and focus on some of the games most responsible for the huge resurgence of the board gaming hobby that we're seeing today. The night saw the most epic game of Ticket to Ride Europe I have ever beheld, with basically every inch of the continent covered.

Three brave souls were persuaded by my enthusiastic rantings to tackle the complexities of medieval farming in Agricola, one of my all-time favourites, and (in my opinion) well worth the gradient of the learning curve the first time through. The game proved especially challenging in this setting given that it only just fitted on the table, and the light was a touch dim for reading small print. However, they enjoyed it! Or so they assured me, anyway...

Carcassonne, the classic tile-laying, map-building game was also out in force (my fascination with the game of Agricola in progress may explain the lack of photographic evidence...). I've really enjoyed revisiting this one recently, despite being consistently bad at it - definitely in the 'quick to learn, hard to master' category, for me at least! We've also found that playing the rules variant where you draw a hand of three tiles and chose one from these to lay on each turn takes the game from good to great by removing the frustration of waiting patiently for your turn then drawing a tile you absolutely didn't want. The first couple of expansions (Inns & Cathedrals, Trader & Builders) are also both really strong and add more depth to the strategy. 

However, the sleeper hit of the night was undoubtedly 6 Nimmt!, which admittedly isn't really well known enough to fit with the theme of the evening, but snuck its way into the bag in case we were in need of a filler. We should have seen the result coming because this game has never failed to go down well, despite involving nothing but a pack of cards. We first encountered this one in Suzanne Sheldon's top 10 games (her overall top 50 list is varied, interesting and packed with great choices - worth a look), and it's now one of the most played in our collection. It's full of tension, highly addictive, fits in a pocket and genuinely works with anything from 2-10 players. I won't tax you with the rules here as despite being simple they're a bit abstract and don't really make sense until you start playing, so you'll just have to take my word for it that this is a good'un :-)

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AtB#5


Go team!

1st February 2017

AtB#5


Go team!

1st February 2017

Across the Board #5 was all about teamwork and co-operation. The works of top games designer Matt Leacock made a strong showing, and I'm happy to say that the world was successfully saved from four deadly viruses by a crack team of experts in king of the co-op genre, Pandemic. The outcomes at escaping from the Forbidden Desert were a little more mixed, with the odd death from dehydration here and there, but at least one team made it out in the magical flying machine!

An interesting time was also had with Hanabi, where players are a team of Japanese pyrotechnicians (of course!) whose fireworks have got jumbled (oh no!) hours before the big display. Each firework is represented by a card of one of five suits, which everyone is given a hand of at the start of the game. The catch is that you have to hold your hand of cards facing away from you, so you can see everyone else's cards but not your own, and the amount of information you're allowed to reveal to other players about what they're holding and what they should do about it is extremely limited. One of the biggest challenges with this game is not 'dishonouring yourself' by grimacing or sucking your teeth at the wrong moment. But, if you're successful, your firework display will receive a glowing review from the audience :-)

Beyond Baker Street uses a similar mechanic to Hanabi, but translates the challenge to Victorian London with a Sherlock Holmes theme, adds some additional twists and turns and packages it beautiful artwork. Personally I think the quirkiness of Hanabi's theme and simplicity of its design gives it the edge, but Beyond Baker Street wins hands down on looks.

The big finale of the evening was Captain Sonar, a team game where two submarine crews, each comprising four players, chase their opponents around a map and try to blow them up with torpedos. This game is Battleship's cleverer, beefed-up, adrenaline junkie cousin, and it is sooo much fun. To understand why, we strongly recommend watching Shut Up and Sit Down's excellent review, here.

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AtB#4


Two can play at that game

4th January 2017

AtB#4


Two can play at that game

4th January 2017

The theme for AtB#4 was two-player games. These are a great solution to the common gaming enthusiast's conundrum of having a brilliant game but not enough players, and there are excellent ones out there for every taste. This month the selection of games on offer was bigger than usual, so I'll be as brief as possible in my descriptions!

  • Patchwork is a game of competitive quilt-making! Players use buttons to purchase Tetris-esque tiles to add to their personal player board, in order to assemble the most beautiful (well, high-scoring) quilt. Lovely to look at with a surprising amount of strategy, and short enough to be a bit addictive!
  • Hive can most concisely be described as 'insect chess'. A pure strategy game involving extraordinarily pleasing, chunky Bakelite pieces, this is a classic 'quick to learn, hard to master' game with huge depth and replayability... quite possibly my personal pick of this list.
  • In Jaipur, players are merchants in an Arabian market, vying to make the biggest profit in order to win the Maharaja's favour! This is a colourful, appealing card-based game involving a delicate balance of chance and strategy and a large number of camels. Of all the games we played at AtB#4, this definitely generated the most enthusiasm - probably the hit of the evening.
  • Seven Wonders Duel is a two player spin-off from the modern classic Seven Wonders, in which players compete to develop cities in the ancient world. This is a little more complex than the other games in this list, with a more involved set-up and structure, but is a great choice for those with an established gaming habit who want something a bit meatier and don't mind a thick-ish rule book, especially people who are fans of the orginal Seven Wonders.
  • Fungi has such an endearing theme that I would forgive it many things: players are foraging for mushrooms in a gloomy forest, with the aim of collecting enough of a given type to cook them up over a campfire with lashing of butter and cider. Happily there isn't much to forgive, as the game mechanics work nicely and the artwork is gorgeous, and you even get to learn the Latin names of some fungi into the bargain!
  • Cartography is a recent release that was explicitly designed as a cross between Go and Carcassonne, so if you happen to be a fan of both of those then this is definitely for you! The result of this marriage is a fairly abstract, area control-based strategy game with a lot of depth. One word of caution: if you manage to lay your hands on a copy of this, do not try to teach yourself using the rulebook provided as it's peculiarly unhelpful! Instead, go to the game's website and check out the 'how to play' video, and all will become clear :-)
  • Any description of The Duke begins by sounding a lot like chess: you move pieces around a simple, grid-like board, with the aim of capturing your opponent's Duke. The first twist is that rather than beginning the game with all the pieces on the board, you start with a minimal set-up of a Duke and two footman each, and draw additional pieces randomly from a supply bag as the game progresses. The second twist is that each piece is represented by a tile with a picture outlining its abilities, and every time a piece is moved or activated, its tile is flipped over to reveal a slightly different skill-set. The result is a real brain-burner, but the element of chance keeps things fresh and makes winning as much about opportunism as strategic finesse.
  • Bridget and Pucket are both handmade wooden affairs produced by Et Games, who can sometimes be found at craft fairs and music festivals (and also online). Bridget is a neat little strategy game that involves placing wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes to create an unbroken path in your colour across a small board. Although the concept is simple, the game offers a satisfyingly knotty little puzzle, and the spatial aspect makes it engaging to watch, too... Pucket, however, is a spectator sport on a different level. The game couldn't be simpler: use a tensioned bit of elastic to flick wooden pucks through a hole from your side the board to your opponent's, until all the pucks are on their side. There are no turns - once you've initiated proceedings with a double high-five, it's a total free-for-all. This game is very effective at bringing out everyone's most competitive side, so swearing and sometimes even violence are commonplace during matches.
  • Twilight Squabble and Agent Hunter are both small-box card games produced by AEG that are easily small enough to fit in your pocket and cost under a tenner. Twilight Squabble rather ambitiously tries to recreate the entire cold war in fifteen minutes, with players representing the USA and USSR respectively. The rules take a little mastering so I won't attempt to explain them here, but the game play involves an amount of bravado and second-guessing (as you might expect), and the cards feature historic events of the era in a way that's both funny and educational. In Agent Hunter, each player has a team of secret agents which they need to both protect and deploy against their opponent's safe houses in order to win. This is an entertaining guessing game with a sprinkling of strategy, albeit with some VERY silly illustrations (think Archer without the humour!).
  • Ponte del Diavolo is the only game on this list that isn't readily available to buy at the moment, but it's so good that we couldn't resist including it. The game is set in an abstracted version of Venice, with players placing a combination of wooden tiles (representing islands and sand banks) and adjoining bridges on each turn, with the aim of creating unbroken chains of linked islands. Again, this is a simple game with a surprising amount of depth, but the main word that springs to mind to describe it is 'elegant'. If you ever happen to stumble across a copy we highly recommend you snap it up.
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AtB#3


Mind games

7th December 2016

AtB#3


Mind games

7th December 2016

AtB#3 was a viper's nest of backstabbing, intrigue and subterfuge. And that was just what happened when the pizzas started appearing! We accept full responsibility for this, having set the scene with a selection of games that encouraged everyone to put on their most angelic faces whilst quietly plotting their opponents' downfall. We can only applaud how fully you embraced the theme :-)

(Disclaimers: everyone got the correct food in the end, just not necessarily in the right order. The alternative explanation of completely innocent mistakes has not been disproven. Everyone remained friendly and polite throughout!)

Here are the games that started the trouble...

  • In Not Alone, players are survivers of a space ship crash on an alien planet... except for one, who plays as the existing resident of the planet, a 'creature' that perhaps doesn't mean you actual harm, but definitely doesn't want you to signal for help and escape. To kick off each round, each survivor secretly chooses a location on the planet to visit, all of which offer some useful characteristic or resource. The creature also decides where to lurk this turn, and potentially also disables or booby-traps one or more other locations. When the choices are revealed, we learn whether the survivors have moved a step or two closer to escaping the planet... or, whether the creature has successfully sapped some of their willpower, making them more likely to just... stay. This is a very new (2016 released), nail-biting game of guesswork and second-guesswork for 2-7 players, complete with great artwork with an 80s-inspired, Stranger Things-type feel.
  • Citadels is a more venerable offering, having been around since 2000 and quietly reached something like classic status in the world of Euro games. It was thrust back into the limelight with a re-release in late 2016 (we haven't got our sticky fingers on the new version yet, so we were playing the original). Players are racing to build lofty citadels by drawing building cards from a deck and paying gold to construct them. So far, so simple, not to mention intrigue-free... However, the cards you can draw, the money you have available, and the nasty things you're able to do to other players are all determined by the role card you choose at the start of the round. The roles are selected using a card-drafting mechanic (pick a card and pass the rest on, for those unfamiliar), meaning that some players have some information about which roles other players might have adopted. This is important, because the nasty cards act on specific roles rather than specific players. So, if you're the thief and you want to steal money from the player to your left, you'd better guess right which role they selected or your attack will go awry. All this adds up to a LOT of game in a tiny and very reasonably priced box.
  • I won't say too much about Sheriff of Nottingham, except that it's both gripping and funny, despite being, in essence, "Customs: the game". If that's given you an appetite to learn more, we strongly recommend you watch this excellent video, from our favourite games reviewers Shut Up and Sit Down.
  • The Resistance: Avalon is set in the time of King Arthur, with players as knights in his court. At the start of the game everyone is dealt a hidden role card, assigning them either as a loyal servant of Arthur or an evil minion of Mordred. One of Arthur's servants is Merlin, who learns the identities of Mordred's minions. Said minions also know who else is on their side, whereas the rest of Arthur's allies are playing blind. Throughout the game, players take turns selecting a team of knights from those round the table to embark on one of a series of quests (team selections are voted on by the rest of the players to determine whether each will go ahead). Getting the team right is crucial, since those who make the final cut have the chance to sabotage the mission from within, and Arthur's servants must complete three missions successfully in order to win. If they do manage to get that far, the forces of evil have one final shot at victory: if they can guess the identity of Merlin, he is assassinated and Mordred & co win the day, so he had better make use of his insider info very carefully. A number of other special roles can be introduced to the mix creating further twists and turns, but suffice it to say that the set-up reliably creates tension and surprises, and the big reveal at the end when you finally learn who was who can be enlightening on a number of levels! There are also few things more satisfying than finding yourself accepted as a trusted member of the good guys' team, knowing all along that you have something nasty up your sleeve.
  • Legend has it that Skull was originally played with beer mats by Mexican biker gangs. Whether or not this is true, Skull is a quintessential bluffing game that's easy to teach but hard to win, with beautiful artwork to boot. Once again I'll hand over to Shut Up and Sit Down to do the hard work of explaining it for me: learn how to play in five minutes here.
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf has a lot to answer for, as it was probably this game more than any other that transformed our occasional board gaming hobby into a full-blown obsession. It showed us that board games don't have to involve big boxes full of components and weighty rule books (we're big fans of these too, don't get us wrong, but they're less useful at midnight on a Saturday when you want something to keep the night going!). ONUW is, in our opinion, about as good as hidden role games get. It's super-streamlined with a minimum of rules, and works well with anything from four to ten players (more still with the Daybreak expansion). To start each game, everyone is dealt a hidden role card to determine whether they are on the werewolf or villager team. Depending on the cards selected during set-up, team villager will contain a mix of roles, from bog-standard villagers with no special powers, to seers, thieves, trouble makers, insomniacs, suicidal tanners, and a host of other peculiar characters. Once players have looked at their card, the night-time phase begins in which everyone closes their eyes and the various roles activate in order, narrated either by a player with a good memory or by the handy accompanying app. Werewolves open their eyes simultaneously to learn each others' identities, thieves exchange another player's card with their own and look at the result, etc, until all roles in play have activated. Then, dawn breaks, everyone opens their eyes, and the real meat of the game begins: sharing information (genuine or otherwise), to reach some sort of verdict on who looks the most suspicious, before taking a vote on who to lynch. If at least one werewolf dies then team villager is victorious, but if the only casualties are villagers, the werewolves win the day. Each game lasts just ten minutes or so, but in our experience one is never enough!
  • Not too long after ONUW gave us an appetite for hidden role games, we heard about Two Rooms and A Boom and knew we had to try it. It certainly did not disappoint. This is a full-blown party game: no table necessary, but you will need a good crowd of people (we would suggest at least 10-12 to get things going). You don't even need to buy a game: Tuesday Knight Games have graciously gifted 2R1B to the world as a print and play, so you just need to run off a set of cards and cut them up. They've even provided an extremely concise and funny how to play video, so just gather everyone round a screen and you won't even need to do the teaching. In a nutshell: everyone gets a card assigning them a role and team. There is a red team and a blue team, randomly mixed up between two (actual, real-life) rooms. One blue team member is the president. One red team member is the bomber. A timer starts and each room has three minutes or less to elect a leader, who chooses a number of people (determined by the number of players) as hostages to be exchanged with the other room. This happens two more times. At the end of the third swap, the bomber 'explodes'. If the president and bomber are in the same room, the red team wins. If the president is safe in the other room, the blue team wins. LOTS of additional add-on cards and variations are provided to add complexity and sub-plots if desired. Voila! Twenty minutes of high-adrenaline fun for a houseful of people, not to mention a least another half hour of hilarity working out what the hell just happened, before everyone decides they want another go :-)
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AtB#2


Play on words

2nd November 2016

AtB#2


Play on words

2nd November 2016

AtB#2 was all about words, with a selection of games based around communication skills and quick-wittedness. There was also a short but rather challenging word-based quiz... questions and answers provided below :-)

Here are the games we picked out for November...

  • Concept is a game of guessing and clue-giving following along similar lines to Articulate and Taboo. We are long-time fans of both of these (to the extent where we've played them so much we've resorted to making up our own variants over the years, e.g. the version where you can only say things that the answer isn't: "not a porpoise" = "a dolphin", or the version where you can only mime the clue like in charades), so we were very excited to hear about a whole new take on the format. In Concept, you communicate each clue to your team by placing tokens on a grid of pictures representing simpler concepts, which (hopefully) your team-mates can piece together to reconstruct the idea in your head. Check out the review here for an example of how this works (or doesn't, depending on how well-attuned you are with your team-mates...). At AtB#2, the group playing this worried us a little by spending a fair amount of time sitting quietly watching one person stare forlornly at the board, albeit interspersed with bursts of laughter. We were reassured that they were in fact having fun by the general level of enthusiasm afterwards and reports that a couple of new copies of this game might be changing hands over Christmas :-)
  • Paperback is a card-based game taking many of its basic design elements from the popular deck-building game Dominion, combined with word-formation aspects akin to Scrabble. Players are cast as aspiring authors trying to climb the greasy pole to fame. Each player begins with a starting deck of cards, some with a letter on and some which are wild cards representing any letter. On your turn, you randomly deal yourself a hand from this deck, then use it to form a word containing as many letters as possible. Dependent on how successful you are, you then receive a pay-cheque which you can use to purchase new cards to add to your deck, giving you either new letters (some of which have special abilities providing more points, etc when used), or fame cards (displaying some delightfully trashy book cover art) which add to your points at the end of the game. This is a clever, fun and endearing game which we think neatly combines the satisfaction of strategic deck-building with the more creative challenge of coming up with a great word to put your cards to good use.
  • On the subject of creativity, Knit Wit knocks this up a notch or three by getting players to create a bizarre set of descriptions, then challenging them to a race against each other to come up with a unique "thing" to fit each one. If that sounds kind of dry, consider that the description sets are constructed in the middle of the table out of coloured string and clothes pegs, with wooden cotton reels to identify the answers required, and also that in the hands of certain individuals (you know who you are) this game can rapidly become extremely smutty! This is a rare game that you could teach to your whole family in five minutes, but that could also go down really well with a tipsy group of friends and only become funnier as the night goes on and things start to... unravel a bit.
  • Anomia is essentially a game about the brain-freeze you get when faced with a simple question under extreme time pressure, and more importantly, the entertainment value of watching said brain-freeze happen to other people. Players take turns to flip over cards from one of two central decks and place them face up in front of them. Each card shows the name of a category, generally something simple e.g. 'breakfast food' or 'dog breed', and a coloured symbol. If the symbol revealed matches the symbol on another player's uppermost card, the players race to name an example of the category on the other person's card, and the winner claims this card. The deck also contains wild cards showing two different symbols. The most recently drawn remains face up in the middle of the table and creates a new possible link between revealed cards, e.g. if the current wild card shows a yellow square and purple star, then yellow square cards now match purple stars as well as yellow squares. The player who has claimed the most cards when the deck is exhausted is the winner. This game is tense, loud, fast-paced and funny, and would no doubt become more so if played later into the evening :-) 
  • We wrapped up AtB#2 with Codenames, a fantastically successful release from 2015 which has never, in our experience at least, failed to go down amazingly well. It created something of a stir by winning this year's Spiel des Jahres award, a prize which traditionally goes to more thematic, family-friendly, component-heavy games (our AtB#1 picks include a couple of past laureates, incidentally). Codenames is played as two teams using a five-by-five grid of words in the middle of the table, which represent the code names of agents in the field. Each team nominates a player to be their 'spy master' for the game. The spy masters sit side by side allowing them to scrutinise a shared card dictating which of the agents belong to which team, which cards represent innocent bystanders, and which single card represents the all-important deadly assassin. On a team's turn, the spy master issues a clue in the form of a single word followed by a number. The word gives a clue to the identity of one or more of the team's field agents, and the number indicates how many agents the clue applies to. The rest of the team then attempts to guess the identity of these agents, while the spy master sits helplessly in an agony of tension waiting to learn the success of their clue. In the worst-case scenario, the clue results in the rest of the team inadvertently picking the assassin word causing them to instantly lose, so the stakes are always pretty high! If the team picks out one of the opposing team's agents, their turn is over and it's the other spy-master's turn to give a clue. The team which is first to identify all of their agents is the winner. This game ticks a huge number of boxes we think: it's exciting, highly mentally challenging, easy to learn, and can be highly revealing about your fellow players (listening to your team-mates interpret your clue is fascinating on a number of levels!). 

That wraps up our November games selection and brings us on to... the quiz! Questions were kindly provided by our good friend Ben, whose quiz-mastering style may be familiar to those who attended pub quizzes at the Riverside or Hallamshire House going back a year or two. This is a decidedly challenging set of questions (the best score of the night was 5/6), so top geek credentials to you if you can get them all! 

  1. Which single seven-letter word can be defined as opposite, token or surface?
  2. What connects the words Woodstock, marathon, alcoholic and Watergate?
  3. ‘REFLECTS NO TATAS' is an anagram of which popular board game title?
  4. Which four-letter word connects ‘OIL’ and ‘FLINT’?
  5. The chemical symbols for nitrogen, arsenic, sulfur and gold spell out the name of which Caribbean capital city?
  6. Cryptically: Reckless year after United Nations conflict (6 letters)

Answers can be found at the bottom of the page below the pictures.

Quiz answers: 1) Counter; 2) They all spawned a popular suffix; 3) Settlers of Catan; 4) ‘Skin’, as in ‘oilskin’ and ‘skin-flint’; 5) Nassau (capital of the Bahamas); 6) Unwary

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AtB#1


The golden age of board gaming

5th October 2016

AtB#1


The golden age of board gaming

5th October 2016

At the very first Across the Board, we wanted to showcase the fantastic things happening in the world of board gaming at the moment. We're convinced it has never been a better time to be a gamer, with a never-before-seen number of great new releases appearing every month, and the hobby as a whole reaching new audiences all the time (see the Guardian's new monthly board game column as a demonstration of this).

We picked out a mixture of our favourite new games from the last few years with a wide range of themes and mechanics, to give a flavour of how game design has moved on from the classics we all know and (perhaps) love.

Here's what we picked...

  • Colt Express, a game where players are outlaws trying to rob a train in the wild west. Among other things, the box contains six small wooden cowboys, a six-carriage self-assembly cardboard train set (fiddly to assemble but pleasing once complete), and a number of rocks and cacti which serve no purpose in the game apart from helping set the scene. In each round, players take turns adding cards to a central deck to determine what actions their character will perform in what order (climb onto the roof of the train! Punch another outlaw in the face! Grab some loot!). Some of these are visible to other players, allowing them to plan their actions accordingly, but others are secret. Once this is done, the deck is flipped over and the cards are revealed one at a time, playing out the scene on the cardboard tableau in the middle of the table. At this point, players learn whether their meticulous planning will see their bandit smoothly grabbing some swag and exiting the scene, or acting out a mini slapstick routine, swinging wildly at the air and running headlong into the marshal who has unexpectedly appeared in the next carriage.  We love this game for its great balance of strategy and silliness (not just the cool toy train, honest!). 
  • Celestia, a game about going on an airship adventure, on a mission to explore (and... well, loot basically) a series of beautiful floating cities. Players take turns as the airship captain, giving them the responsibility for navigating the ship and its passengers past a series of threats and obstacles to get to the next destination. The captain's ability to do this depends on what they're holding in their hand of cards, known only to themselves. The other players have to decide whether to trust the captain's word that "everything is completely under control, it's only a measly flock of birds, I could deal with that in my sleep", or play it safe and disembark with their loot so far, hoping to watch from the distance as the ship falls from the sky in a ball of flame, at which point everyone still aboard returns to the start empty handed. To get a feel for the game and a glimpse of its gorgeous artwork, check out this review from our favourite game site here, and get a recipe for frittata thrown into the bargain!
  • Camel Up, a game about camel racing, obviously! Players are punters betting on the outcome of a race between five camels. The concept is simple, but the fun comes from the hilariously erratic way that the camels move round the track. The unpredictability is generated by the fact that the camels are stackable (camels that land on the same space pile on top of each other, then camels on top are carried along by the camels underneath). The set-up of the game means that you have partial information about the order the camels might move in, so it's possible to think through scenarios and apply a little strategy, which somehow makes it all the funnier when something completely different happens. To quote Shut Up and Sit Down, aspects of this game can cause 'embarrassing, inexplicable levels of joy', which has certainly been our experience.
  • Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, possibly the most tense and exciting game we've ever played, where half the players are humans stranded on a damaged space station, creeping through the darkness in the hope of reaching an escape pod, and the other half are flesh-hungry aliens trying to catch and devour them! The game play has some similarities with battleships, with all players having a private copy of the same map which they use to mark down their own co-ordinates and make guesses about the location of other players. On certain spaces, players must draw a card which might require them to reveal their co-ordinates to the rest of the group, or alternatively allow them to announce a false location (no one else will know which). To add to the confusion, no one knows who is on their side at the start of the game, so even as information emerges about the location of other players it isn't clear who poses a threat (this changes as the game goes on and the aliens reveal themselves via bloodthirsty attacks on other players). Any human who is eaten by an alien reappears on the alien side and joins the hunt for human flesh, however any alien who is (accidentally... usually) attacked by another alien can feel justifiably irked as this is the end of their fun. The designers of this game have very kindly made it available as a print and play, so if it appeals you can give it a try without investing in the full game (which is beautifully boxed and packaged, we should mention). Ideal Halloween entertainment!
  • Incan Gold, a game where players are somewhat unscrupulous archaeologists embarking on a distinctly Indiana Jones-esque mission to steal gold, jewels and artifacts from a temple, which just so happens to be infested by all kinds of hazards (snakes, spiders, mummified zombies - the usual). Players test their nerves by pushing further and further into the temple while the threats multiply around them, aiming to choose the exact right moment to high-tail it back to camp with their loot, ideally without having to do too much sharing with the other players. This is another simple concept that nonetheless delivers an easy-to-learn game with a satisfying amount of excitement, strategy and backstabbing. See Shut Up and Sit Down's take on it here.
  • Dead Last, a brand new release which is absolutely ruthless. The aim of the game is simple: be the last person left alive and make off with the loot. In each round of the game, players have 90 seconds to subtly communicate with each other to agree who will be assassinated this time, without tipping off the intended victim. When the time is up, everyone votes on their desired target using a face down card. At this point, the person (or persons) with the most votes is eliminated, UNLESS they got wind of the plan and used their ambush card rather than voting for another player, in which case they can eliminate one of their attackers instead. In addition, anyone who failed to vote on one of the chosen targets, or who played an ambush card without being the chosen target, is also dead. This goes on until either one or two players are left standing. In the latter case, a prisoner's dilemma-type showdown ensues to share out the loot (or not!). This game has a unbelievably high body count in a very short space of time, but as the game is usually played over several stages and everyone miraculously rises from the dead to participate in the next stage, there are usually plenty of opportunities to avenge any past grievances. At AtB#1, we played Dead Last in a trimmed-down, single round format as a way of awarding discount vouchers for Patriot Games to those left in at the end of the round, so the stakes were pretty high, but no lasting vendettas were started (at least not as far as we know!).