Culture Magazine

Brief Board Game Reviews

By Manofyesterday

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a board game review on my blog and I regret that, so to make up for it here are some quick reviews of board games that I’ve played over the past few months. Being a director with Board in the City CIC, one of the duties is to play games so that we can decide whether we’re going to feature them in our cafe or not.  There may well be a few more posts like this since we’re going to have to play around 200 games over the next few months!

Twilight Struggle –

May as well start with the #1 ranked game on Board Game Geek. This is a 2-player Cold War simulation, in which the players take on the roles of the USA and the USSR. I’d been itching to play this for a long time. The rule book is daunting but it’s actually intuitive to play. The game consists of 10 rounds, made up of a certain number of turns. On each turn players play a card from their hand and take an action, like perhaps they’ll spread influence in a country or they’ll advance in the space race. The trick comes with the fact that each player shares the deck, so come cards you play will  have an event that helps your opponent.

This is the thing I loved most about the game, as you have to figure out when is the best time to give your opponent a hand, or the time when it is going to hurt you least. It gets really tense, and the tug-of-war scoring is a great mechanic. And despite its serious theme, there are some funny moments, like how boycotting the Olympics could end up in Nuclear War.

It’s an amazing game, with loads of tough decisions, and the stress that comes from the game is the good kind of stress.

Splendor –

This is a resource-collection/engine building game in which you are gathering resources to buy cards that will give you discounts on future purchases. The better cards will give you points, and the first player that reaches 15 points is the winner.

I like Splendor but it’s not perfect. The cards are pretty and the poker chips are great, much better than using cubes or cardboard tokens, but I was looking forward to the engine building aspect of the game and it seems like it is downplayed. I think it’s because of the points threshold, as 15 points is quite quick to get to. I’ve found that just as my engine is going the game ends, so it’s a little disappointing in that regard.

But it’s quick to pick up and there’s a lot of table talk that comes from players taking the card you want, or reserving a card that someone else was looking to get, and it’s one that people new to the hobby can grasp quickly. Plus it doesn’t take too long to play so I’m not too sad that I don’t get to see the results of my engine.

Batman Love Letter –

The title brings about chuckles but I actually prefer this version to the original (but that’s probably just due to the fact that I’m a comics geek). Love Letter is a small card game in which you’re trying to guess what other players have, and be the last person holding a card. This version has an added mechanic in which you get a token if you eliminate another player using the Batman card (basically guessing what card they’re holding), and this speeds the game up so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The artwork is good, the tokens are amazing, so yeah it’s going to get a lot of laughs but it’s not just a cash-grab with the Batman theme slapped over the framework of the game.

The King Commands –

Arthur has died and the remaining knights of the round table are vying for control of the kingdom. It sounds epic, but it’s another small card game in which you’ll be playing swords to try and steal gold from other players. There are also crowns and crystal balls in the deck that have other effects.

This was pretty cool. The only problem I had was that there are different attacks you can make like pokes, thrusts, swings etc, which require different combinations of cards, and at first I had to keep consulting the cheat sheet to see exactly what I could do, and this slowed the game down somewhat. A lot of time you’re mostly guessing as to who has gold, but it’s only a quick game, and there are a couple of ways to find out what people are holding in their hand so it was pretty fun.

Destination: Southampton –

Yeah…not all the games we play are good ones. This is a game in which you are a taxi driver trying to race around the board and collect fares, this time it’s in Southampton, which is of course where I live.

The components in this are horrible. Paper money, the rest is cheap card, and it just feels horrible. The game itself is boring. You’re just rolling dice and going to the tickets you get, and you can spend £150 to become a turbo taxi (roll two dice) but I don’t know why you wouldn’t do this. There’s also an annoying rule in which you need to go to the petrol station so you can fill up, but you can only have 5 fuel cards at any one time, and you always need to keep one in hand otherwise you break down, and you’re spending a fuel card every time you reach a destination, so every four fares you collect you then have to make it back to the petrol station.

Very repetitive, and the board doesn’t even match the actual layout of Southampton so it kinda defeats the entire purpose of the game! One of those that I will never play again. Far too long, and it’s just an exercise in monotony.

Scorpion –

This is a game from 1983, which makes it three years older than me. The board is an ‘s’ shape with a yellow track and a black track. Players have 4 scorpion tokens and the winner is the one who can get all their tokens off the board. You roll dice and can choose whether to move on the yellow or black (if you have scorpions on the respective tracks). Sounds simple, right? It is, but there’s a wrinkle, if you land on another scorpion you can push it onto the opposite track! So someone may be just a few spaces from coming off the board but you bump them back to the start! And if you land on your own pawn and don’t want to move it, you can piggy back off it and roll another die.

It’s always fun when you get to piggy back off people, especially if you can do it two or even three times in the same go. I get that the idea of being knocked back when you’re close to escaping sounds awful, but the board is small enough that you’re never that far behind, and if you want you can roll two dice at once to move your scorpion forward pretty quickly. It’s also interesting to decide when to put your tokens on the board, do you want to get all four of them out as quickly as possible or hold off?

If the board was bigger this could be dragged out, but its the perfect length to make this a really quick game filled with laughs. And of course with more players (it plays 2-4) its even more hectic. Really impressed with this one and if you see it in a charity shop, or in the back of someone’s cupboard, you should definitely check it out!

Forbidden Island –

Back to modern board games. This is a co-op game from Matt Leacock, who has made these types of games his speciality. Each player gets a character card and the object of the game is to collect four treasures, then make it off the island, which is made up of tiles. The tiles are going to be sinking so you have to try and shore them up, so there’s a puzzle element to it.

I liked it the first time I played it, but I think I’m done with it now. For me it lacks some tension and it feels like the decisions you should make are obvious, and often you’re at the whim of the cards. BUT for people new to gaming, and for kids, this game is fantastic because it gives a flavor of what modern games can offer. So it’s definitely going into the cafe, and it’s been a hit in our community work, but on a personal level it doesn’t do anything for me.

And finally today let’s thank god it’s…

Friday –

A solo deck-builder, this game has you as Friday, trying to help Robinson Crusoe escape the island. I love deck-builders, so my curiosity was instantly piqued, and I don’t mind a bit of solo-gaming here and there either (you could play it with more if you wanted, and just share in the decision-making). Basically there’s a fighting deck and a hazard deck. You’ll draw a hazard deck and then draw cards from the fighting deck to try and beat it, and if you do succeed then the hazard will be flipped around and be added to your fighting deck. But if you lose you won’t get it and you’ll lose life points, however you can use these points to get rid of the weak cards of your deck.

But the third deck is an aging card, and every time you go through your fighting deck you’ll add one of these cards into it, and they have bad effects. Also, once you go through the hazard deck you’ll re-shuffle and then move into the second phase, which are more difficult, and finally the red phase. After you’ve gone through that deck you have to fight off two pirates, and then you win the game!

A lot of solo games are still complex to set up (like Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island) so I appreciate that this is just a bunch of cards. The deck-building works well and I like how the hazards became fighting cards if you succeed at them, so when they come out you’re looking at what it will offering you and weighing up whether it’s worth you losing in that instance to thin out the deck. It plays quickly, and there’s a whole deck of pirate cards to fight as well, but you’ll only use two at any one time, so there’s some variability there as well. Really good game.

And that’s all there is for today! Like I said I’ll probably be doing some more of these short reviews, so keep an eye out from then. Until then, happy gaming!

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