This weekend my gaming group had an opportunity to get together for a rare 2 day super gaming session, I’m talking 12+ hours a day of non-stop, unlimited, wife and children free gaming. It was epic, it was hilarious and it offered me an opportunity to play and reminisce about a great many games. These are not going to be anything even approaching full reviews but some snippets and thoughts on some of the games we played. All of our games were played 4 players, I mention it now so I don’t have to in each review. Enjoy!
Cutthroat Caverns (2007 by IELLO & Smirk & Dagger Games)
Designer: Curt Covert
Cutthroat Caverns is a strange beast, it has the appearance and mechanics of a warm up game but really this is a robust and despite simple mechanics fairly thinky game. It’s really all about fucking over your friends and that alone means it belongs in your collection and reason enough to love it. The truth is however that it’s a fantasy (D&D like) game of fighting monster and every time I play it, it reminds me of those classic AD&D moments where players weren’t just cooperating to solve the many problems of a dungeon crawls but trying to manipulate the events in their favor so that their character walked out with the loot. Some foolishly compare it to munchkin and while It has built in humor and silliness there is some weight behind the game, a bit of actual gameplay. I’m surprised to find it ranked so low on boardgamegeek.com because this is really a true gem and must own game for fans of the genre. If the game has any faults it’s that as an opener it can run a bit long, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome in my humble opinion.
Verdict: Highly recommended if you love take that games with a fantasy theme and have hilarious friends with a plethora of inside jokes and great banter.
Conquest of Nerath (2011 by Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast)
Designer: Richard Baker, Mons Johnson, Peter Lee
Richard Baker is actually one of my favorite writers/designers that worked for Wizards of the Coast, among his many wonderful creations he is the man who brought us the Stardrive campaign setting for the Alternity roleplay game with which I fully intend to be buried!
Conquest of Nerath is a D&D fantasy spin on old school classics like Axis & Allies, Shogun and Fortress America but with modern mechanics. I love it for its theme, its Asymmetrical gameplay and the fact that it’s a straight forward unapologetic war game. Sure it might not be the most balanced of games and it certainly has a few places where it could use some polishing but it looks beautiful on the table, it’s furiously fast paced and constantly puts you into tough push your luck decisions. In my humble opinion this is one of the most underrated and unappreciated games to come out of Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast. You have to love a war game that starts and finishes in under 3 hours yet gives you the full bodied feel of games that historically go 6+ hours. I have read a great many reviews on this game and the complaints are justified from a design perspective but gaming isn’t always about pure balance and I find it outrageous that reviewers & boardgamegeek ratings find fault with Conquest of Nerath (rated 1037 on BBG) but give similar games like Runewars (rated 100 on BBG) a pass. Are you fucking kidding, Runewars is outright broken as fuck, it is a complete failure as a game, my mind is boggled! There is opinion and there is objective and responsible reviewing, and in this case it’s a complete injustice, Conquest of Nerath kicks the shit out of Runewars any day of the week and twice on Sunday!
Verdict: If you want a fantasy war game with Asymmetrical gameplay this is about as good as they come. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a flawless execution but if you go by BBG ratings and buy alternatives be ready to be horribly disappointed, this is THE premiere fantasy war game.
Galaxy Trucker (2007 Czech Games Edition)
Designer: Vladda “Never Fails” Chvatil
Ok I will say this upfront, Galaxy Trucker is not a serious game and the normal rules for reviewing a board game simply do not apply. It’s not fair, it’s not balanced, it is random and by traditional definitions it’s barely a game. Despite all that, if you have a sense of humor and good group of friends who don’t mind playing a game just for shits and giggles it creates, look no further. Galaxy Trucker is a silly exercise in futility which simply challenges you to get stupidly lucky enough to survive it. Yet despite it all, if you play it enough you will actually find that there is some element of control, it’s definitely an illusion, but clever folk will win this game more often than not. In the end it’s just good clean fun and what is a board game night about if not laughing your ass off at your friends as they fail miserably at the hands of the gods of dice. I have and always will love Galaxy Trucker for the countless memorable nights it has created in my gaming group and there is absolutely no question that there should be room in your collection for this one. If you don’t like Galaxy Trucker, you probably want to re-evaluate your life and your friends, just saying.
Verdict: A classic romp of silliness that will, assuming you have a pulse and a sense of humor liven up any board game night, grumpy Euro gamers stay as far away from this one as possible.
Game of Thrones The Card Game 2nd Edition (2015 by Fantasy Flight Games)
Designer: Nate French, Eric M. Lang
Game of Thrones the card game is frustratingly perfect, it’s the only way I know how to describe it. It is a serious game in my opinion, one that will have you trying to read people’s mind, raise you out of your chair in frustration and give you nightmares while simultaneously challenging you to your wits end. This is not a game for everyone, it really is complex, not in the sense of rules but depth of play, a game that inspires a tremendous amount of thought and will have your head spinning before, during and after you play. This really was THE game of the weekend in my opinion, a game that drew out everyone’s best effort. It really does help a great deal if you are a Game of Thrones fan, without that backdrop while I think it would still be a hit with most card game fans, many of the moments of the game probably won’t have the same flare. This game is dripping with theme, for a fan, you might want to buy the cards even if you don’t ever play the game because the art is that damn good.
Verdict: If you (a serious gamer) and especially if you are a Game of Thrones fan and play/buy only one game this year, this most defiantly should be that game. Game of Thrones the card game (2nd edition) is a masterpiece. Lightweights need not apply.
Shadows over Camelot (2005 by Days of Wonders)
Designer: Cyrille Daujean, Julien Delval
Shadows over Camelot on the surface is a cooperative, player vs. the game type of game with mechanics most hardened gamers might find almost oversimplified. There is a lot of randomness here but despite that if it were not for the potential of a betrayer this would be a fairly easy game to beat cooperatively. In the end though it really is about the betrayer and it’s really this secret player, real or imagined, that creates the atmosphere that catapults this game into a completely different gaming sphere.
Everyone at the table knows that if there is a betrayer he is going to nail them at the worst possible moment and so you spend as much time playing the game as you do trying to figure who in the end is going to screw you and it is this simple twist that pulls this game out of the yawn it would be otherwise and into a fun and mostly paranoid experience.
I think the great thing about Camelot is that it’s so simple mechanically that it really lives in the realm of every day family games. This really is something even mom and dad could play as an alternative to the drudgery of traditional Monopoly-infused boredom. Yet there is sufficient weight here for proper gamers and we experienced that to its fullest this weekend where Camelot really shined as a highlight of the weekend creating a memorable betrayer reveal in the final tense moments of the game. Quick, easy to learn yet creates an atmosphere of anxiety and stress that is just right for gamers of all walks of life.
Verdict: A great game for a gamer’s collection to pull out as an alternative to traditional family/dinner party games that is certain to be a hit yet with sufficient weight to get table time with board game fanatics.
Archipelago (2012 by Asmodee Games)
Designer: Vincent Boulanger, Imsael Pommaz, Chris Quilliams
I had very high hopes for Archipelago this weekend, my group and I have talked about it many times and it’s something I put up on my shelf largely after high recommendation from reviewers like Shut up and Sit Down which I respect greatly. In the end though this really was a moderate disappointment that landed pretty flat with me.
While there are plenty of salvageable mechanics and interesting concepts, this thematically edgy worker placement game was simultaneously fiddly, visually bi-polar with unpredictable winning conditions and really disappointing player interaction. Every mechanic had either an “it’s almost good” feel to it, was marred by oddly misshapen components, strange unnatural rules or bizarrely heavy handed special powers. It was always uncertain who was actually winning, the game ending conditions ranged from “never going to happen” to “It WILL happen in round X, a prediction you can make in round 1”. It was just very odd and didn’t play out at all as described by the reviewers who’s recommendation led me to the purchase. Now I will say that I think we probably got several of the rules wrong, despite me doing several test plays well in advance and that likely contributed to my confusion and disappointment. Still it just didn’t have the result I was looking and hoping for.
I do believe this game deserves a second chance though, I think as a group we really weren’t sure exactly how we should interact, whether the game was truly cooperative, or competitive and exactly how it is you actually find a route to victory here. I don’t think it was a bad game and I honestly feel compelled to play it again because I have this nagging feeling that as a group we really just missed it but for us after all the great and memorable games we had played to this point over the weekend this one really stood out as the big dud.
Verdict: Uncertain, definitely deserves a second chance but first impressions are not great.
Pillars of the Earth (2006 by lots of people including Kosmos)
Designer: Michael Rieneck, Stefan Stadler
For me personally, Pillars of the Earth is THE definitive worker placement game in terms of classic, solidified Euro gaming that actually caters to human beings without the need for a calculator. Ok, perhaps that’s mean but most Euro worker placement games I just find dreadfully boring. While Pillars of the Earth’s subject matter is not exactly awe inspiring, there is something about it’s simple and fast paced gameplay that speaks to me. It’s a thinky strategy game with just enough luck to mix things up but not so much that clever players can’t get a hold of the reigns and win it.
I think most of the gaming group enjoyed the game “sufficiently” and It did create one of the most hysterical one liners of the weekend which I won’t repeat as pretty much everything that happened this weekend most would consider horribly offensive but I don’t think this is what most of my gaming group would consider “Their bag”. They humored me and I appreciated it because I really do think this is a little hidden gem, one I will happily play anytime.
Verdict: A classic, its as simple as that. If you are new to the hobby, this is a good place to start your education and a game that will remain in your collection indefinitely.
Dead of Winter (2014 by Plaid Hat Games)
Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Isaac Vega
Amidst a theme that is so played out that it can basically fuck off, Dead of Winter puts a spin on Zombie survival that has not only made it a house hold name among gamers everywhere, but was the only game of our big gaming weekend that was demanded a second time!
Dead of Winter has the same thing going for it that Camelot does, but in my humble opinion does it 10 times better while maintaining the same mechanical simplicity that a casual gamer can instantly pick up. It’s the Betrayer tension, that’s where it’s at, but in Dead of Winter the betrayer has to be clever because not only does he have to ensure everyone loses, he must first complete his own mission, which is hard, really really hard. He needs the survivors at the start of the game as much as they need him so he is initially motivated to actually help the players survive. More than that though I think in big part the game itself is actually very difficult in its own right so there is a good chance that even with everyone helping, betrayer included you will still lose the game and I love that aspect of it. I also really love the fact that there is the group victory, aka beating the game and the motivating push of trying to accomplish your own personal objective. So you not only have the betrayer screwing the colony but potentially even the players that are supposed to be ensuring its survival as they greedily try to complete their own missions. Fantastic concept for the win!
I recall the first couple of times I played this game I thought it was ok, it didn’t blow me away or anything but after this weekend I have joined the ranks of pretty much everyone else in endorsing this one. It really is as fantastic as everyone says it is and after the first game we played I found myself being the eager beaver shouting out “again.. again…!”
Verdict: If you like cooperative games with betrayers, this really is THE game for it. The theme may be played out but the writing and mechanics for this game are so good it just blows everything else out there out of the water.
Lords of Water Deep (with Scoundrels of Skullport) (2012 Wizards of the Coast)
Designer: Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson
Lords of Water Deep is a worker placement game and in a sense very much a traditional one with the caveat that there are plenty of take that mechanics and theme to bring it into the realm of Ameri-Trash games. The truth is the lines are blurred and who really gives a crap about those labels anyway. The only question is, is it a good game and the answer is a resounding yes as long as you use the expansion. I recall playing this game a couple of times without the expansion and frankly it’s a fairly dull affair. Those corruption mechanics, the cards, buildings and worker placement spots that it brings give this game a second life.
I have played a lot of Lords of Waterdeep, it really is a kind of staple game for our group and I’m certain it would have landed a bit better if it wasn’t played at the tail end of a very long gaming weekend but to me the game has lost some of its spit shine. I think it’s mostly from simply having played it so many times which is not to say I don’t think it’s a fantastic game, because I really do think it is, it just doesn’t rank that terribly high on my must play list anymore in a backdrop of the 30+ games sitting on my shelf. I think if you like worker placement games, this is an absolute must own with the caveat again that you have the expansion which I think is absolutely mandatory. There is plenty of depth and tension, the intrigue cards really add a lot to the game and unlike most worker placement games it actually has a theme that comes to life in the game. Great game but came a bit late in the weekend and might be a bit played out for me.
Verdict: A classic must own worker placement game if you’re a fan of the mechanic, Scoundrels of Skullport is an absolute must own expansion.