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.

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Sunday 13 October 2019

The Game Shelf's Rundown of SHUX 2019

This year we decided we would go to one board game convention in North America. Initially we were going to try and celebrate around my 30th birthday, with the Dice Tower Cruise, but in the end the pull of a holiday in Vancouver was greater. Vancouver is a beautiful city and one that I desperately wanted to share with Amy. So, after a week spent in Victoria and Vancouver, our SHUX started with a pre-convention dinner.

Here, we met a few convention attendees and started to build a picture that the attendees of SHUX really are super-fans of Shut Up and Sit Down's board game review channel. I was kind of surprised that it was so fan driven. For me SHUX was just a large (not sure it's the largest) board game convention in Canada and I thought it might stand on its own for that reason. But no, the merchandise stall must do really well at that show! I listen to the SUSD podcast, but Amy doesn't follow them at all and we were a little worried about how the convention would unfold.

What we also learned is that everyone told us SHUX is all about the people. Many people we met had travelled their on their own and seemed to have no apprehension about finding people to play with. SHUX is primarily an open gaming convention, with a large library, and a huge amount of open gaming. People were there to meet people, make friends and play games.

Things to Do
  • Open Gaming
Open Gaming is definitely the primary purpose of SHUX. There's around 1500 open gaming seats and there were people playing from 8am to Midnight. The board game library ran a great system and people were making fantastic use of it all weekend. We play a lot of board games, and were able to keep ourselves busy playing 'new to us' titles that were definitely exciting. There were a fair number of hot new games in the library as well as some Essen releases. The open gaming also had an RPG area with its own library, although it looked very underutilised.

  • Events
The events timetable for SHUX was massive, with everything from live shows, interviews, panels, tournaments and mega games. Only the mega games had an additional charge over and above convention entry and it's a place that we did not venture. I would say that the events in general certainly focused on some SUSD favourites - with games of Blood on the Clocktower happening all weekend, Two Rooms and a Boom and other social games, which definitely seemed to suit the crowd.
  • Exhibitors
The exhibitor area at SHUX was small. In terms of size I would compare it to AireCon in Harrogate, UK. However, unlike AireCon, it attracted some really big name publishers, meaning that the demo tables were full of hot games and it was super popular. Asmodee Canada brought games from Plaid Hat, Fanatasy Flight, Days of Wonder and Space Cowboys. CGE and Roxley had booths, as well as many more big names. In addition to the main exhibitor space, the Indie Avenue had a rotating variety of smaller publishers and people playtesting, who also seemed to get lots of traffic. Aside from publishers there were only a couple of small retailers. The main downside for me was that it could be difficult to get into a hot demo. We really wanted to try Deep Blue, the new KeyForge set and Parks, but didn't have the patience to wait for a table.

Our Highlights
  • Rail Pass
TOOT-TOOT! Rail Pass is a 2-6 player real-time cooperative pick up and deliver game. With the emphasis on pick up. You start the game with 6 stations which all have the wrong cargo in them, then have to load that cargo onto trains and deliver it to the colour-matched stations. To do this you simply pick up the train, and say toot-toot to pass it to the owner of the next station down the track. Of course there is only so much room for trains so they likely have to immediately pick up a train to make room for the incoming train. Now you are dealing with unloading cargo, changing driver and sending that train along it's way with 1 hand. Add in the complications of engineers never wanting to be more than 1 stop from home, trains having to be passed through tunnels or along a bridge and the selection of different maps and you have a perilously difficult, but hilariously fun cooperative experience. Rail Pass attracted tons of attention from passers by, both for its table presence and presumably for the train noises we were making, even getting us into a game with Quinns.

  • Escape Room
I'm really glad that we took the time to do a few events besides open gaming. It's what makes going to a convention worthwhile. After all, we can play board games together at home. Every day, Trapped Puzzle Rooms ran a two hour escape room session and we signed up for two empty slots in a team of six. Although many teams played simultaneously, it wasn't a competition, much like visiting a normal escape room. We were given a locked box and had to solve a bunch of puzzles to locate a stolen pear. What was so fantastic about the game is that it was totally unique for SHUX and all centered around board games - I can't imagine how much time and effort went into it! We started with a pretty difficult first puzzle that all 6 people had to look at, but then each box contained a variety of things that we chose to work on in teams of two - Amy and I looked at puzzles based on the board games Brass and Agricola, whilst other people were looking at Ticket to Ride. There was also a series of ten dexterity challenges, using pieces from Junk Art, Flick Em Up and concepts from Loony Quest. I think it was more fun than any real escape room I've been to and really had a mixture of board game escape rooms and real life escape rooms that worked brilliantly!

  • Gloomhaven Talk
When you get a chance to listen to the designer of the number one game on Board Game Geek and our 8th (and rising) most played game. You take that chance. Getting an insight into Isaac Childres' design process was fascinating, followed by the cheers from the audience at choice moments. Oh and there was a cuddly Headache (apparently other people call her Mindthief). While hearing about some of the underlying decisions on the original game was fascinating, the highlight of the talk was the announcement of "Gloomhaven: Subtitle". A game which brings the Gloomhaven you know and love to a smaller, less intimidating box, aimed at Target/Barnes and Noble and a mass market audience. Featuring 4 brand new characters and a mini (in Gloomhaven terms) standalone campaign. This time round the maps are printed directly into the campaign book so you play on the book, like in Stuffed Fables or Comonauts. Combine this with a tutorial that introduces mechanics slowly and you should have a great entry-point into the Gloomhaven universe, as well as an expansion for fans that includes lots of new characters and content.

  • Irish Gauge
We organised a 5-player game of Irish Gauge through Board Game Geek. We're not very good at approaching people to play games at conventions, so it's helpful to organise a couple of games in advance. We found ourselves with a lovely group of 3 Vancouver locals who kindly taught us Irish Gauge - a learning game for everyone around the table. I've been desperate to try an 18xx style train game for quite some time, bu almost all of them require 3+ players, so I was glad to seize a convention opportunity. Not only that, but Irish Gauge is a light, 60 minute experience, which made it a perfect taster. The rules are just a single double sided sheet and that really describes how simple the game is. Auction a share, place trains, build a point of interest or call for dividends. It's incredible how interesting the game becomes as you start to form allegiances with other players who have shares in the same train companies. Every auction is so important and money is ultimately your end game scoring, so people are very careful with what they bid. We had an absolute blast and were grateful for a group who didn't take things too seriously. It was so good that we played two games in a row. With the right people, I'd love to play Irish Gauge some more.

  • Quirky Circuits
Quirky Circuits has been on my list to play since it was given an early release at Gen Con. It's from Plaid Hat Games and uses the 'story-book' style of boards where each scenario has a double page spread in the book with rules on the left and a map board on the right. Niki Shults from Plaid Hat was kind enough to give us a demo and join us for a game. Quirky Circuits is a cooperative programming game where you are trying to get your character to complete tasks in a certain time limit. We played as Gizmo, the roomba, who needs to collect all of the dust bunnies scattered around the room. Without communicating all players must play cards into a programming line that make Gizmo move backwards, forwards or turn. Everyone must contribute and you'll only know the kind of cards a player has played, not their speed or direction. Given that we played the easiest scenario, we had a ridiculously close game, coming down to the last card flip, where we won. Quirky Circuits is such an endearing game, with its four incredibly charming characters and a group of scenarios for each character with ever increasing difficulty. We can't wait to try out more and *hopefully* get a little bit better at the game!

  • Marvel Champions
One of the many games on the humbly sized show floor was the much anticipated Marvel Champions. If you've managed to hide away from all board game media for the last few months then you might be unaware that this is Fantasy Flight's upcoming LCG (Living Card Game) due to release at the start of next month. Marvel Champions puts you in the  tight-fitting spandex of one of a handful of classic marvel heroes. However in an interesting twist it also puts you in the work-a-day clothing of their secret identities too. Once each turn you can swap from hero to civilian form or vice versa. During the villain turn if they see your hero form they fight you, but if you are hiding as a civilian then instead they carry on with their crime, speeding up the game's loss condition. This creates a ebb and flow to the gameplay as you boldly fly out to thwart evil then, once you've gotten a bit banged up, hide as your alter-ego to recuperate and re-arm. Marvel Champions might not bring many never-seen before features to the table, but it is an incredibly robust and strong card system based on a fantastic IP. I'm certainly looking forward to it's release!

More Games Played

We played 21 different games during the show - not bad for three days. We managed to play a few games with other convention attendees, wither by pre-arrangement, or when players approached us looking to play the game we were setting up. We were really glad for this, and had almost all of our best experiences playing with additional players. Here's a few of the standout games.

  • Dinogenics
I love dinosaurs as a board game theme. We own Dinosaur Island and Duelosaur Island, although admittedly we've only played each one once, so I can't compare them with Dinogenics. We tried to play at least one big game per day whilst at SHUX and this one was probably the favourite. In Dinogenics you're building a dinosaur park, attracting visitors with cool dinosaurs, adding features to your park, but making sure the dinosaurs are secure and fed so that you don't have an *accidents*. The game plays as a worker placement game over a fixed number of rounds and is actually really very simple once you've learned it. With just a few workers, it was fun to really optimise the number of dinosaurs, fences, food and hotels you needed to get the most out of your park. We had a super close game that came down to just one point and I fully intend to late pledge on the latest Kickstarter for Dinogenics.

  • Oceans
Oceans is the next stand-alone game in the Evolution series of games. We got the chance to sit down and play a pre-production sample with designer Dominic Crapuchettes. The biggest standout difference to me was the fact that feeding on another fish species didn't ever cause them to go extinct. You could reduce them to 0 population, but they would still have their next turn to recover. This, combined with a larger number of cards that let you feed off of other players actions, did wonders to create a highly complex ecosystem in the game both between your own fish and those owned by your opponents. It is very much a game of 2 halves, once food runs dry in the shallows you have to venture into the deeper seas, more food is now needed each turn (which means more points if you can keep up) and you get the chance to play some more potent 'deep' evolution cards. I'm pretty certain Dominic's design plan with these was to make them all so blatantly overpowered and ridiculously fun that it creates a weird kind of balance among the newly-formed titans. Oceans is absolutely fantastic fun and evens manages to do the theme of evolution in the sea incredible justice.

  • Ecos: First Continent
Ecos: First Continent was one of my most anticipated games for Essen, and it turns out that I was right to be excited. The demo tables for Ecos were always full, but we managed to grab a library copy. After some reflection, I decided that the best way to describe Ecos is "build your own bingo card". Each player has a deck of cards which they can use to build a tableau. Each card has a number of resource symbols in the top left and will trigger when all the resource symobls have been "checked-off" or covered with a cube. The resource tokens are drawn from a bag and called out and all players can cross off one symbol. If you complete a card, you shout "Ecos" and then fulfil the card's action. Perhaps adding a tile or an animal to the central board, perhaps gaining points, or maybe starting a big combo where you gain more resources and chain more cards. Ecos had a really satisfying sense of engine building and discovering the best may to use you deck was a real joy. I can't wait to try out all of the different decks in the game and play a lot more of Ecos!

  • Chai and Chai Tea for 2
Dan Kazmaier had a pair of tea-themed games to show off to us at SHUX; Chai, a family weight game about being tea merchants, and Chai Tea for 2, a two player game about farming and processing tea leaves. Chai was a charming game about serving up tea to customers. Each turn you are choosing to either buy tea flavours (through a wonderful tile-dropping selection system), buying additives from an open market, or reserving customers so no-one else can serve them. After your one action you get the chance to serve up tea to an available customer, gaining victory points, and hopefully a tip. It's a light, fun game with gorgeous art.

Tea for 2 was still in prototype form when we played it, but it's a very different beast. More akin to an engine building game each turn you gain some tea leaves before guiding them through the process of preparing them for consumption. You'll do this by rolling dice to assign to various places to gain benefits such as moving tea leaves forward across your player board. The engine building comes in with bonus cards that you can place along the outside of your player board. These can do several things, but the most common is 'blocking' a space for a type of tea, meaning any leaves put into that space get automatically pushed forward and past it, letting you make more tea faster. However you can also set-collect blooming teas or gain local delivery crates to create alternative ways to win than the standard export ships.

  • Tramways
Tramways is a train game in which you'll be making routes to deliver people where they want to go (or actually, where you want them to go) in the metropolis of small city. Each round is split up between an auction which determines first player, who gets first pick of the new cards on offer and who gets the most stress (going first is stressful). Stress is a core tracker in this game, at the end of the game more stress is less points so you have to manage your work life balance. During the second phase you'll be using a hand of cards (which you slightly deckbuild over the game) to play 3 actions. Cards have multiple icons printed on them and you can even use 1 card for multiple icons that you needed for an action, you'll play more efficiently but cause yourself more stress! Using these actions you'll create routes, upgrade plots of land into buildings and transport customers getting precious money and happiness points needed to win the game. While the rules are quite heavy to dig into the game flows rather well so it doesn't feel as heavy as it might first appear. But the combination of route-building, auctioning, delivering passengers, and deck building means there is a lot going on. The main problem we had was that the auction fell apart a little at 2 players.