Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Sunday 31 December 2017

Overthinking by The Yellow Meeple:- Top 10 Board Games of 2017

This year we've definitely been more active in following the hot new releases, in part because the popularity of the blog has been growing significantly and we want to cover the games that readers are most excited to hear about. Compared to my lists in 2015 and 2016, this year my list is huge, so hopefully this blog gives a much better sense of the really good games from 2017!

No-one can play all of the new releases at the current rate of incoming new games. In previous years I've listed the games we've played in this blog post, but this year we've played over 70 new releases, so you can check out what we've played on Board Game Geek (User:fibobs) if you're interested.

For me, there have only been 3 or 4 stand out games this year, followed by a large number of very good games - far more than just the ten on this list. Some of these games are games we've only had the chance to play once or twice, so over time they might move. However, here’s the Yellow Meeple’s Top 10 board games of 2017!

Saturday 30 December 2017

The Yellow Meeple's First Impressions:- 24th December - 27th December 2017

Over the Christmas period we typically only get the chance to play lighter favourites with our families, and so far we've played Qwirkle and Azul which have been a hit. However, on Boxing Day, we got the opportunity to indulge in some new games at Coffee and Dice - a board game cafe in Bournemouth. It was great to try some of the games that they managed to bring home from Essen that haven't reached a broad circulation in the UK yet.

So, here's the Yellow Meeple's first impressions;

Friday 29 December 2017

The Yellow Meeple's First Impressions:- 22nd - 23rd December 2017

After a couple of good gaming sessions earlier this week, I've already played enough new games to share some more first impressions -this festive season is off to a great start! We only managed to play one new game at the gaming cafe - after which we ran into a friend and played games we know. It's great to have so manY friends frequenting the cafe that we can now just bump into friends to play games with. My Saturday gaming day was actually a small gathering of board gamers in the corner of a room full of people playing war games. It was interesting to see how some of the war gamers were gravitating towards the board games, although I'm not sure any of my board game group were tempted by the war gaming!

So, here's the Yellow Meeple's first impressions;

Thursday 28 December 2017

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Otys

Game: Otys

Publisher: Libellud and Pearl Games

Designer: Claude Lucchini

Year: 2017

Otys was an Essen release in 2017, which definitely appeared to attract some attention, for its artwork if nothing else. The art style is definitely something that drew us to the game and Libellud have a great track record, contributing some beautiful art to our game collection with Seasons, Mysterium, Dixit and Dice Forge, all part of their beautiful back catalogue. However, theme and artwork don't sell a game to us and Otys needed to impress mechanically too, so let's take a look at how it plays.

In Otys you have a group of divers who must dive to the depths to collect resources. Each of your divers has a unique ability. It's up to you to decide how deep each diver should go, but once you've activated them, they will surface and will have to wait in line to dive again. The game has elements of set collection and resource management, but for me it's a puzzle game with many moving parts. Your goal is to collect resource cubes to fulfil contracts. Contracts give you points and sometimes other resources and when the first player hits 18 points, the winner will be the player with the most points.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

We devotin' full time to floatin' under the sea!:- Otys

Game: Otys

Publisher: Libellud and Pearl Games

Designer: Claude Lucchini

Year: 2017

Otys is a 2-4 player game in which you play as a group of divers scavenging the resources from the long-drowned ruins of the world. During the game you will send divers down to differing depths to collect resources that you can trade in for rewards, but you will also be having to carefully watch the ever-changing whims of your sponsors if you want to be the most successful.

In Otys each player gets their own player board, these are made out of two individually cut pieces of card which were later glued together. This allows the board to have indents, both in the top and bottom layer, which are used to full effect as placement areas for your divers, as well as your hacker, mechanic and key tokens. This works very well for the divers and key tokens, but unfortunately the process of making these boards leaves them with a very slight bend, which does mean the boards tend to rotate at the slightest knock. When this happens the hacker and mechanic are often left behind, so I hope you remember where on the track they were.

Sunday 24 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Sheriff of Nottingham: Merry Men

Game: Sheriff of Nottingham: Merry Men

Publisher: Arcane Wonders

Designer: Sergio Halaban

Year: 2017

Word has got out that the Sheriff around these parts is frankly quite ineffective. Contraband goods are making their way into Nottingham left, right and center. As a result a black market has developed with people prepared to pay handsomely for large stashes of contraband.  Contraband goods are a bit of a new craze around town and some of the rich have started to make special orders, realising perhaps that pepper is rather a good seasoning for chicken. The Sheriff has been so ineffective, that the merchants have also realised there is money to be made by trying to smuggle some merry men into town too!

Be careful though, the Sheriff isn't taking this lying down. He's instigating new laws and hiring deputies to try and stop the influx of contraband into Nottingham. Find out if he can be successful in the new expansion Merry Men for Sheriff of Nottingham.

Thursday 21 December 2017

The Yellow Meeple's First Impressions:- 11th December - 21st December 2017

In preparation for Christmas we appear to be stocking up on new games to play. It's easy to forget that I only really have one week off work and most of that time will be spent catching up with family. Instead I'm imagining we'll be trying all sorts of games and putting up a review every day because we're playing so much! The reality is that my Mum has at least requested we take home Azul and Animals on Board! This week we've done our board game group Secret Santa gift exchange which was a good excuse to play some games at The Ludoquist board game cafe and we've started to take a look at some new games for review.

So, here's the Yellow Meeple's first impressions;

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Harvest Dice

Game: Harvest Dice

Publisher: Grey Fox Games

Designer: Danny Devine

Year: 2017

Harvest Dice is a roll-and-write game, a style of game where you roll dice and based on the results, you fill out a paper sheet in front of you, the most obvious examples perhaps being the classic game Yahtzee. The genre appears to have gained a lot of popularity over the last 12 months, with games like Qwixx from Gamewright games and a whole host of games from Asia, as well as increasing number of print and play games and games from newer designers. Harvest Dice is one of our first experiences with the genre, as it's typically a lighter game than we play, but let's take a look at how it plays.

Harvest Dice is a 15-30 minute game for 2-4 players in which you are planting your vegetable garden with cabbages, carrots and tomatoes. You do this by drafting dice. In a two player game you roll 6 dice per round - 2 green (cabbages), 2 red (tomatoes), 2 orange (carrots). The value on the dice face represents which of the 6 columns you must draw your vegetable into. You have three rows and once a column is full you can no longer plant dice of that number. At any time you can choose not to place a dice, and sometimes you won't have a legal place to play one, so instead you can feed the vegetable to the pig. The more you feed to the pig, the more pig bonuses you get to use to manipulate the dice rolls.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

A quick roll in the mud:- Harvest Dice

Game: Harvest Dice

Publisher: Grey Fox Games

Designer: Danny Devine

Year: 2017

Harvest Dice is a 2-4 player dice drafting game in which you play as a farmer attempting to make the best field full of crops. It's not as simple as choosing the best vegetable to sow and filling your field, there is a market that changes the value of the crops depending on which dice are taken. Sometimes you won't have a use for any of the dice, in these cases you can always feed one of them to your trusty pig who will reward you with points at the end of the game because bacon reasons.

At the start of the game each player is handed a sheet of paper that depicts their land, their pig and the value of crops in the local market. Each turn one player will roll all the dice, then one at a time players will choose one of the dice to plant in their field. The position is determined by a grid reference along the top of the field, if you take a green die showing a 4 you must draw a cabbage in the 4 column on your playing sheet.At first this is the only restriction, but you must also keep all of your veggies of a type together, so our hypothetical player could now only take green dice if they were a 3,4 or 5. Players continue drafting dice until only 1 die is left, the colour of this die dictates which of the 3 markets (carrot, tomato and cabbage) increases in value this turn.

Sunday 17 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Mystic ScROLLS

Game: Mystic ScROLLS

Publisher: Drawlab Entertainment

Designer: Evangelos Foskolos, Stelios Kourtis

Year: 2017

You are a young magician, with a thirst for knowledge. You have searched the enhanted forest and found a temple with an enormous library, filled with all the scrolls and knowledge you've ever dreamed of. The only problem is that some other magicians have also sumbled upon this source of wisdom. Luckily you know a few basic spells and you can cast these to try and defeat for opposing magicians, as well as tryig to catch some of the scrolls flying through the air.

Mystic ScROLLS, as you may be able to tell by the pun-tastic name, is a dice rolling game. In the game, you and up to 3 friends are trying to roll dice as fast as possible to achieve the combinations to cast spells, heal yourself, damage your opponent and obtain scrolls so that next turn you can hurt your opponent even more. So how does it play?

Saturday 16 December 2017

Fiona's Board Game Christmas Wish List

For someone like me, with an addiction to buying board games, it can be very hard for my friends and family to identify good board games to give to me at Christmas! However, during November and December I try really hard to not buy too many games and to keep a Christmas wish list, for different Secret Santa gift exchanges and for anyone else who feels generous and wants to buy me a game at this time of year. (Any family reading this, please note that Secret Santa has delivered on of these games already!)

This year my list includes a lot of new Essen releases, some of which may not be release in time for Santa to load them on his sleigh, but here are five games that are definitely available and that I’d be very happy to see wrapped up under the tree this year!

Friday 15 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Letter Tycoon

Game:Letter Tycoon

Publisher: Breaking Games and Squirmy Beast

Designer: Brad Brooks

Year: 2015

Imagine if you owned the rights to letters of the alphabet, every time someone wanted to print a word they'd need to pay you to do it! This business is lucrative, but every other person with a printing press is competing to buy these patents first - the competition for the common letters is hot, but if you spend a long time saving up for the letter 'E', your competitors might buy up a few uncommon letters and get ahead in the printing game.

Letter Tycoon is visually fantastic for a word game, with a kind of steam punk machinery style that evokes the Victorian printing press for me. It mixes the mechanisms of classic word games some speculation and economics that makes you think even harder about the words you can make. I was interested to find out if this game fell into the trap of games like Scrabble where the player with the better vocabulary will always have the upper hand or if it would successfully incorporate more modern board gaming mechanics to compete with a game like Paperback, where a word game becomes a little less one sided when you're playing against the same opponent.

Thursday 14 December 2017

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Game: Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment

Designer: Travis R. Chance, Nick Little

Year: 2017

I have not watched many popular geek culture movies/TV shows. As such the many different versions of Legendary don't hold much appeal from a thematic point of view. I enjoyed Legendary Encounters: Alien from a gameplay standpoint, and we own Legendary Marvel, in which some of the characters are familiar. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that I have never seen and I don't understand a single reference, but I was surprised to find that my wife used to love the show and was keen to try it. So here is a review of Legendary: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the mechanics version!

Legendary Buffy is a deck-building game in which each player is forming a deck of good guys to defeat a villain and their evil plot. As with most deck-building games, each player starts with a small deck of very basic cards and it is typical to try and get rid of these basis cards as the game progresses and to replace them by purchasing  stronger cards. Some cards are focused on generating you the money to buy more cards, whilst others are focused on giving you attack points, which you spend to attack the mounting pile of smaller villains or henchmen. Ultimately you're trying to get enough hit points in a single hand to punch the big bad, since that is worth the most end game points and punching them 4 times will mean you collectively win the game.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Awoooooo... *guitar solo* :- Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Game: Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment

Designer: Travis R. Chance, Nick Little

Year: 2017

Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a 1-5 player semi-cooperative deck builder in which you recruit the help of Buffy the Scoobies, and some of their photo-phobic pals in order to dust vamps and save the town of Sunnydale. Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer takes the core Legendary ruleset and adds a few thematic twists to complement the Buffy theme.

For those already familiar with the Marvel version of Legendary you will already know 90% of the mechanics, so feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.

Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer works as you'd expect of many deckbuilder, you start the game with a deck of 12, pretty bad, starter cards and each turn you will draw 6 cards from your deck. Once you play these cards you can spend the two main resources, attack lets you combat the vampires and demons, as well as eventually taking on the "big bad", which you must defeat 4 times to win the game. Each villain gives you a number of victory points, and should the good guys win the player with the most points is the overall winner. Recruit points allow you to add new cards to your deck which have improved abilities. At the start of each turn you must draw a card from the villain deck, this largely comprises of villains that you can fight, but also contains scheme twists which bring the villains closer to winning and master strikes which allow the big bad to attack you personally. To counter these enemies the hero cards you recruit can combo off each other in many ways, either based off their faction (Scoobies, Slayers, Vampires, etc) or their card colour.

Monday 11 December 2017

The Yellow Meeple's First Impressions:- 5th December - 10th December 2017

This week in gaming, Telestrations was a huge success at my office Christmas party! I'm so glad that we invested in the 12-player version from North America. We also had our traditional meet up to play the next T.I.M.E. Stories expansion - it's a great excuse to meet up with our friend Luke - The Broken Meeple - and play some extra games too.

So, here's the Yellow Meeple's first impressions;

Saturday 9 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Can't Stop Express

Game: Can't Stop Express

Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games

Designer: Sid Sackson

Year: 2017

Can't Stop Express is a roll and write game which funded on Kickstarter in March 2017. It seems that roll-and-writes are a booming genre, gaining lots of popularity with gamers who enjoy something light and Can't Stop Express came out at just the right time with a very low price point. It also has a good pedigree - being a sequel of sorts to the original Can't Stop from Sid Sackson - first released in 1980 - a game that is still talked about  now as a staple of the push-your-luck genre.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- When I Dream

Game: When I Dream

Publisher: Repos Productions

Designer: Chris Darsaklis

Year: 2017

When I Dream was originally a limited print run release at Essen 2016. It got a lot of positive feedback, so far Essen 2017 it was reprinted by Repos Productions, and Asmodee definitely put a lot of marketing effort into the release. At Essen I believe they had a full sized bed and lots of people walking around in pyjamas, and in the run up to the show they even sent a copy of When I dream to space with a weather balloon (surely a tongue in cheek response to the release of Clank! In! Space!). So after all that hype, does When I Dream live up to expectations?

When I Dream is a party game for 4-10 players where in each round one player plays the dreamer and all of the other players are 'dream spirits' giving you limited information about your strange and surreal dream, represented by the word cards in the centre of the table. The dreamer is blindfolded and the other players around the table are each dealt a role. The role will determine whether you want the dreamer to guess words correctly or incorrectly. The fairies want the dreamer to guess right answers, the bogeymen want wrong answers and the sandmen want an even distribution of right and wrong. A round lasts 2 minutes and you go round the table giving one word clues until the dreamer makes a guess. The dreamer gets points for correct answers but also for reciting a dream from memory containing all of their correct guesses.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

The Yellow Meeple's First Impressions:- 22nd November - 4th December

There's been a short break since we last posted first impressions, but we're still playing new games. Two factors have combined to mean that a lot of games are going straight to full review, and I don't want to spoil those reviews by telling you what I think two days before the review goes live. Firstly, all of the Essen releases are starting to hit the UK, and we want to share our reviews of those as quickly as possible. Secondly, we've started to write for Board Game Exposure, so we're playing games quite quickly to stay on top of the number of games we need to review.

However, I've still got some thoughts to share, so here's the Yellow Meeple's first impressions;

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Take my hand, We're off to never-never land:- When I Dream

Game: When I Dream

Publisher: Repos Productions

Designer: Chris Darsaklis

Year: 2017

When I Dream is a Picture based party game for 4-10 players. In it you take turns being a dreamer, attempting to work out what the other players, as the spirits, are making you dream about. This would be a challenge by itself, but not all the spirits want you to have restful dreams. Some spirits just want to watch you slip into nightmare!

 Each round of When I Dream the dreaming player will put on the blindfold while a 2-minute timer is started. The rest of the group are given a role card, they will either be helpful fairies, nasty bogeymen, or the sandman who is seeking balance. These players will take turns trying to get the blindfolded player to correctly (or incorrectly) guess the topic on the central card. As cards are guessed they are assigned to either a correct or incorrect pile which are used to work out each players score. The dreamer then has a chance to recite their dream, if they manage to name every correct topic that they guessed during the timed phase then they score bonus points. 

Sunday 3 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Samurai Gardener

Game: Samurai Gardener

Publisher: Osprey Games

Designer: Hisashi Hayashi

Year: 2017

As a fiercely competitive lord in the time of the Samurai, there are many ways you could demonstrate your prowess, but why not wow the Shogun with your house and garden?Take some time away from your training, tend your plants, feed your koi carp, get a dog, or maybe a cat. Design pathways for your garden, so that if the Shogun ever visits, he'll look past your shoddy Samurai skills, caused by lack of training, and be won over by your fantastic horticulture and landscape garden design.

Samurai Gardener is a game with quite an odd name and no real theme. However, the Japanese setting has inspired some lovely card art, from Kevin So and Ryo Nyamo, for this simple tile-laying game from Osprey Games.

Samurai Gardener starts by presenting each player with one card, representing the start of their garden. They also receive a point-scoring reminder and a feature card representing each of the 4 terrain types in the gardens (Pond, Tatami, Paths and Garden). At the start of each round 1 card per player is dealt to the center of the table, players must start with their hands placed firmly on their knees as the lead player calls out "Ei! Ei!". To which every will reply by shouting "Oh!" before moving their hands as quickly as possible to cover the card they want. Card selection is first come, first served so you have to be quick to get the card you want. If you aren't willing or able to play the game like this you can always draft the cards instead.

Once you have a card you must add it to your garden, You are allowed to rotate the card 180 degrees, but it cannot be turned sideways. You can partially cover up previously laid cards, but cannot cover up any lines of the same kind of terrain that are 3 or longer. After you place it you are able to score any and all terrains which you have just created a line of three or more in, the longer the lines the more points, although you score nothing for lines of 6 or more. 

You also gain bonus points for scoring 2 or more rows in one turn. When you score the line of any terrain you must turn your feature card representing that terrain upside down, you are no-longer able to score cards of that terrain type. When all 4 of your feature types are upside down you can flip them all back over allowing you to score again. The game continues until one player has exceeded 25 points, at the end of that round the player with the most points wins.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Samurai Gardener is a slightly unusual tile laying game, the restriction on tile placement (either of the short ends must face you) seems rather unnecessary, only serving to reduce player choice and, frankly, infuriate you when you see the perfect move only to realise you can't do it. The restrictions on which tile type you are able to score is actually rather clever, meaning that you have to balance your garden well in order to score well in all 4 terrain types.

The weakest part of the game is how you pick your cards, using the shouting method isn't practical more often than not, and does feel especially silly when you do it as a couple, these kind of things tend to work better for large groups, but Samurai Gardener can only support 4 players. If you decide to draft instead then you will find the drafting rules are extremely bare bones. The starting player picks up all the cards, picks one and then passes it to the left, and so on until the last player is forced to take what they get.

Tile placement and scoring is done well, creating a combo where you score 2 or even 3 lines in one turn is pretty challenging and it does reward a combination of forethought and patience in waiting for the right card, while ensuring that when you get it you are able to score those types of terrain. Overall Samurai Gardener is a pretty average warm up game, it could have been better with a bit more polish, but as it is I doubt that it will be gracing our table that often, there are simply better options.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
My favourite part of Samurai Gardener is the spatial puzzle. It's really satisfying to try and identify optimal locations for a card that either build a long single row of five, or preferably trigger two or even three lines to score simultaneously. With a little more practice, I hope it will be possible to plan out my early moves so that I'm able to maximise these double and triple scoring opportunities, but right now it does feel a little bit like there is some luck of the draw determining whether those opportunities become available.

Perhaps Samurai Gardener doesn't make for the greatest two player experience. Whether you're choosing cards with the speed method or drafting, there's only two cards in each round, so the chances of  seeing a really good card for your current board situation are lower. The speed method of card selection does seem a little ludicrous to me in a game that is otherwise quite serene and thoughtful. The card drafting seems better, but it does seem like the puzzle of the game was the core concept and the way that you actually got cards each round was an afterthought. Although drafting with two players is barely a draft at all, it does introduce a lot of denial, making the game perhaps more interactive than it would be at higher player counts.

Samurai Gardener is a nice game, but nice is about where it ends for me. I enjoy the tile laying and puzzle aspects, but I don't see myself going back to the game again and again because it just doesn't really excite me. Although it probably isn't the right game to introduce to my parents, I can see it filling that niche because of it's inoffensive theme and puzzly aspects. The rulebook is short and very accessible so it could make an inexpensive gift for family members.

The Good
  • The game looks good on the table.
  • It's an interesting game for people who like spatial puzzles.

The Bad
  • Card selection feels like an afterthought of the game's design
  • The need to place cards in a 'portrait' orientation always feels restrictive.
The Verdict
5.5/10 - Samurai Gardener is a relaxing tile-laying game, that is suitable as a filler. However, in our opinion, in a crowded market, there are more refined options, such as Honshu that fulfil the same goals.

Samurai Gardener was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.