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

Tuesday 31 December 2019

There'll Be No Accusations... :- Deep Blue

Game: Deep Blue

Publisher:  Days of Wonder

Designer:  Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen

Year: 2019

Deep Blue is a 2-5 player push your luck hand-building game in which you play as the owner of a diving boat. Your goal is to sail the oceans to find the absolute best diving spots and come home with the most valuable treasures. To do so you'll need to recruit a highly skilled crew. But if you spend too long recruiting and you might miss the gold rush. If you can be in the right place at the right time then you can be piggyback on another's dive and get most of the rewards.

On each turn you may do one of four actions, then it is the next player's turn. You can move your boats (you have two) by discarding a number of cards that show propellers. Each propeller lets you move one boat along one path to the next dive spot/buoy. If you end your move on a dive spot then you can park your boat on one of the bonus spaces, giving you greater rewards/a safer dive when the dive begins. To recruit you discard a number of cards that have money on them and in return pick up the matching cost card from the open market and add it to your hand. Then re-fill the market back to four cards. You can also rest, to do so you will take all of your discarded cards, shuffle them, and draw 3 back into your hand.

Sunday 29 December 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Papillon

Game: Papillon

Publisher: Kolossal Games

Designer:  J.B. Howell

Year: 2020

Papillon certainly doesn't look like your typical Kickstarter game, but for Kolossal Games, Kickstarter is the business model, so they're brought all sorts of games to Kickstarter over the past couple of years. From typical big box games like Western Legends, to small games in big packages like Papillon.

Papillon certainly needs its large package and starts with a craft project, which might be something you farm out to a crafty friend or child. Your first project is assembling the 8 3-dimensional flowers which really form the centre piece of the game, as well as filling out of the space in the large box. Once assembled, Papillon is a tile-laying and area control game for 2-4 players about planting flower, capturing butterflies and little cardboard butterfly pieces on clothes pegs.

Thursday 26 December 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Letter Jam

Game: Letter Jam

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Designer: Ondra Skoupý

Year: 2019

Letter Jam is a word game that I'd loosely categorise as a party game, even though it's truly a lot more cerebral than that. There's a few party games I'll be bringing home over Christmas this year and they're actually all word games. Codenames and Just One are sure fire hits, Decrypto will be new to the table and Letter Jam is a bit like a stretch goal. I really hope that my family enjoy it, but it's definitely the most ambitious game out of that selection and is certainly one we'll play before having too many drinks.

We were lucky enough to be taught Letter Jam at the UK Games Expo earlier this year and we now have a copy of our own. It's a very effective cooperative word game, for 2-6 players, all about decoding an anagram. With very simple, but really quite fantastic components, you need to give brilliant clues to allow every player to guess each letter of their word and ultimately unscramble their anagram.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Word Sandwich:- Letter Jam

Game: Letter Jam

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Designer: Ondra Skoupý

Year: 2019

Letter Jam is a 2-6 player cooperative word game in which you have to decipher an anagram. But in order to do that you are going to need to work out what letters you have to work with. You'll have to work as a team to try and give clues to the other players as to the identity of their secret letters. At the end of the game if anyone makes a mistake then you all lose!

The game starts with each player taking a selection of the game's letter cards. From these you will all make a five (or more if you're feeling ambitious) letter word in secret, shuffle the cards, and then hand them to the player to your right. You will then take your cards and lay them out in a row before taking the first one and placing it onto a stand so that everyone except you can see it. At the point you should be able to see 5 letters belonging to the other players, along with a single wildcard in the center of the table. These are the tools that you must work with.

Saturday 21 December 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- MegaCity: Oceania

Game: MegaCity: Oceania

Publisher: Hub Games

Designer:  Jordan Draper, Michael Fox (II)

Year: 2019

MegaCity: Oceania is a reimplementation of Tokyo: Jutaku from designer Jordan Draper. Hub Games have created a beautiful edition, which is colourful and extremely impressive on the table. We first got to try MegaCity: Oceania at the UK Games Expo and were really impressed by the combination of a dexterity and lightweight strategy game, so it’s been great to get it back to the table.

MegaCity: Oceania is a city building game set on the Gold Coast of Australia in the year 2100. Rising sea levels have left you with no choice but to build you towering skyscrapers on floating islands out in the ocean.

Sunday 15 December 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Vast: The Mysterious Manor

Game: Vast: The Mysterious Manor

Publisher: Leder Games

Designer: Patrick Leder

Year: 2019

If you're looking for asymmetric games, then Vast would be the first game that comes to mind for me. We never approached the original Vast because the huge amounts of asymmetry and steep learning curve I anticipated. Leder Games followed Vast with Root - with a cute appearance masking an asymmetric war game that also made us wary of whether we'd enjoy it. In the meantime, we explored the simpler end of the asymmetric market with Villainous, before taking a closer look at Vast: The Mysterious Manor.

Vast: The Mysterious Manor is a streamlined game in which each of the factions feels very accessible. With rules and combinations for 1-5 players, there's a lot of different game experiences to enjoy in the box to explore.

Monday 9 December 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Decrypto: Expansion #1 - Laserdrive

Game: Decrypto: Expansion #1 - Laserdrive

Publisher: Le Scorpion Masqué

Designer:  Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance

Year: 2019

Decrypto is one of our favourite party games. It supports 3-8 players and very quickly replaced Codenames at Fi's work board game group. It's a fantastic word game that forces you to think outside of the box and is brilliant for teams and players who might want to drop in and out.

In Decrypto, each team has four secret words numbers 1,2,3 and 4. Each turn, one player will draw a 3 digit clue and will need to give a clue to each of those three words that helps their team to identify the matching words, whilst not giving too much away to the opposing team. Turns go back and forth and so you'll start to give more clues for the same word. The opposing team will try to match new clues to old clues as they start to get an idea for each of the four words. If you guess the other team's code correctly twice, you win, or your own team guesses incorrectly twice you lose.

Thursday 5 December 2019

My Robo A-code-error:- Quirky Circuits

Game: Quirky Circuits

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Designer: Nikki Valens

Year: 2019

Quirky Circuits is a 2-4 player cooperative programming game in which you work together to get a group of charming robots through a book full of challenges. Each robot has their own unique charm and role. They also have their own glitches and errors which you'll have to learn and adjust for if you want to guide them to their objectives before they run out of battery. All of this would be super simple, except that you aren't allowed to communicate with each other. The only hints you get from the other player's actions are whether the card they played was a turn/straight/special and an assumption of some kind of common sense!

Instead of a board there is a spiral-bound book. Each double page spread is a combination of map and rules for the map. The rules will tell you which robot and tokens you should use and what objective you need to meet before the battery meter runs dry. They will also explain any special rules that apply for your robot, and whether to include the troublesome quirk cards. Gameplay follows a few basic rules: Each player must play at least 1 card, face down, during the round. If a player has a quirk card they must play it before they can play any other cards. At least five cards must be played each round. You must do all this without communicating with each other. When players are done playing cards the robot will then follow those commands, in the order they were played, to completion.

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Quirky Circuits

Game: Quirky Circuits

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Designer: Nikki Valens

Year: 2019

Quirky Circuits is a cooperative game where you can't talk to each others. Whilst this might sound unique, it is almost its own genre of games at this point. The Mind, Magic Maze and Mechs vs. Minions are three such games and that's only if I think about games that start with the letter M! It happens to be a genre that we really enjoy and Quirky Circuits fits right in alongside Mechs vs. Minions as a cooperative programming games.

Quirky Circuits uses Plaid Hat's history of creating story book games with fantastic miniatures to create a game that is incredibly adorable. This book doesn't tell a story, but it gives you a huge number of different cooperative scenarios to explore with the four different characters in the box - Rover - the dog, Twirl - the bumblebee, Lefty - the sushi chef and Gizmo - the roomba.

Sunday 24 November 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Escape Tales: Low Memory

Game: Escape Tales: Low Memory

Publisher: Board&Dice

Designer: Jakub Caban, Bartosz Idzikowski

Year: 2019

Escape Tales: Low Memory is the second game in the Escape Tales series from Board&Dice. Escape Tales: The Awakening is one of the best escape room experiences we've ever had, and if we had played it during 2018 it would certainly have hit Fi's Top Ten of the Year. The escape tales games are large, narrative driven escape room experiences and The Awakening was a bit of a surprise for us because of how we got invested in the story - finding it to be really emotional - even though Fi in particular doesn't typically get invested in narrative in games.

Escape Tales: Low Memory is a standalone experience with no links to The Awakening, besides a couple of Easter eggs hidden in the artwork and story. You don't need to have played the first game to try out this one and there will be no spoilers for either game in this review.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Keyforge: Worlds Collide

Game: Keyforge: Worlds Collide

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Designer: Richard Garfield

Year: 2019

Keyforge: Worlds Collide is the third wave of Keyforge. It's the first time that new factions have been introduced to the game and also introduces a few new formats that you can purchase the game in. We've been playing Keyforge since the beginning in a very casual way. We own a few decks from each wave and just grab two decks for a casual game from time to time. It's a great game to travel with because it's just a deck of cards and a few tokens for each player and I've always liked the idea that any two people might meet up at a convention and play a game. The reality is that when we took our decks to the UK Games Expo, we were accosted by lots of players who were far too serious and now it's a play at home only kind of game!

Since we've never reviewed Keyforge before, I'll give a brief overview and thoughts on both the game system and this latest release.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Sorry, not Saury:- Keyforge: Worlds Collide

Game: Keyforge: Worlds Collide

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Designer: Richard Garfield

Year: 2019

In case you have been paying no attention to card games over the last 12 months. Keyforge is Fantasy Flight's Unique deck game. What's a unique deck game? Well it's not quite a TCG, not quite a LCG, but man... Essentially imagine an trading card game where you can only buy fully made decks. You can't deckbuild, the cards in your decks are locked to that deck. If you ever want a new experience then you simply have to buy another deck. But the decks are cheap, costing about as much as 3 trading card booster packs. Every deck you buy will have 3 of the 7 factions present in equal amounts with a computer generated decklist. They are quite serious when they say every deck is unique!

World's Collide is the third and latest set of Keyforge. As the third set they have chosen to freshen up gameplay a little. Two factions have been cycled out and replaced with the Saurians (huge dinosaurs, but also Romans?) and the Star Alliance (Imagine a Star Trek Crew but less competent... no, less competent still, Galaxy Quest, yeah that's the level we're at). These new factions have brought with them some new gameplay mechanics, new combinations and lots and lots of dinosaur puns! World's Collide brings with it not just 2 new factions, but also the deluxe deck - a 1 player starter set for those who are ready to jump into the game with their friends.

Sunday 17 November 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Rush M.D.

Game: Rush M.D.

Publisher: Artipia Games

Designer:  Anthony Howgego, Konstantinos Kokkinis, Dávid Turczi

Year: 2019

Rush M.D. is a sequel of sorts to the game Kitchen Rush, from Artipia Games, Stronghold Games and now Pegasus Spiele. You might have noticed that Kitchen Rush is a bit of a favoutrite for us here at The Game Shelf. It was number 1 on our best Kickstarter games list and frequently hits Fi's top ten of all time.

Rush M.D. had a successful Kickstarter and released at Essen with a lot of theatrics from the live action nursing team at Artipia's booth. Much like Kitchen Rush, it's a real time cooperative game, but Rush M.D. adds more dexterity elements and mini games to get in the way of you successfully treating patients requiring operations or simple in-patient treatments. 1-4 players will each play as a doctor, as well as calling on the help of nurses to ensure that the hospital runs smoothly, treating all patients and making sure no accidents happen!

Saturday 16 November 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Kingdomino Duel

Game: Kingdomino Duel

Publisher: Blue Orange Games

Designer:  Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc

Year: 2019

Kingdomino is a Spiel des Jahres winning, family game. It’s definitely on the simple end of gaming, but it’s an elegant play on dominoes as you try to create large areas of matching terrain, scoring based on the crown symbols that are within each area. Kingdomino Duel reimplements this classic as a roll and write game – following the trend that has certainly had more longevity than I anticipated.

However, unlike any other roll and write I’ve encountered, which tend to be my go-to for a crowd of gamers, Kingdomino Duel is a 2-player only roll and write game. Dice become the tool that determines your terrain type – in this case denoted by different flag designs, but otherwise the placement and scoring rules of Kingdomino still stand. However, with the addition of some extra bonuses to work towards, a little extra complexity is added and I was hopefully that this would spice up Kingdomino for me – a game that we’ve long since grown bored of.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Parks

Game: Parks

Publisher: Keymaster Games

Designer: Henry Audubon

Year: 2019

Parks is a game that is brought together by the wonderful artwork of the Fifty-Nine Parks print series, featuring poster artwork for the national parks of the US. Artwork and production value – with wooden animal meeples and Gametrayz inserts are certainly something that first attracted me to Parks, but the game seems to be getting a good amount of buzz in its own right – making it well worth checking out.

Parks is a game for 1-5 players in which your two hiker meeples will trek through different trails over the course of the four seasons of the year. Along the way you’ll collect memories and take a few photographs, as well as collecting canteens for water and gear that may make your travels easier. Those memories can be assembly into visits to National Parks at the end of each hike.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

A Natural Wonder:- Parks

Game: Parks

Publisher: Keymaster Games

Designer: Henry Audubon

Year: 2019

Parks is a 1-5 player worker placement game in which you play as hikers traveling and camping across America's national parks. You'll want to stock up on the best gear, stay alert to the current weather and perhaps even take a photo or two along the way. The game acts as a worker placement with a twist. The worker placement spots come in the form of a linear hiking trail. Your workers can only ever move forward on the trail, meaning careful choice of movement with both your hikers is key to get the most out of any one round.

The game begins with a trail being made up of 5 standard action spaces and 1 random action spaces from the pile of 4 unlockable ones. Players will then be handed a canteen each, a choice of 2 'Year' cards worth end game points, and place their 2 hikers at the start of the trail. The weather card for the round will be revealed, seeding the trail with water and sun resources as well as revealing the special rules for the round. Players will then take turns taking one of their two hiker meeples as moving it as far along the trail as they like. Wherever they leave their hiker will activate. If there is a resource token there due to the weather forecast then they can take that for free.

Monday 11 November 2019

The Yellow Meeple's First Impressions of Games from Essen Spiel 2019

We've spent the last two weeks staring at a pile of games we brought home from Essen and trying to find the time to play them. I think it might be a long time before we play them all, but we have managed to play a few from our own pile, as well as a few from the haul we took to The Ludoquist board game cafe in Croydon, UK. Here's some first impressions and some reviews to look forward to.

Sunday 10 November 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Board Games to Create and Play

Book: Board Games to Create and Play

Publisher: Pavilion Books

Author:  Kevan Davies & Viviane Schwartz

Year: 2019
I imagine there's a lot of board gamers who dream of designing their own board game. I know a number of people who have prototypes they're working on, but it's not something we've ever taken the plunge into doing. The closest we get is a game design discussion on a long car journey, or a dream about a game design, both of which we swiftly forget.

I don't think there is a board game design in me, but this book certainly made me turn over a few rocks to see whether my very limited imagination could come up with something good. Board Games to Create and Play leads you through a step-by-step process of designing increasing complex games. It also provides you with charming artwork and ideas to inspire you along the way.

Saturday 9 November 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Walking in Provence

Game: Walking in Provence

Publisher: EmperorS4

Designer:  Wei-Min Ling

Year: 2019

Walking in Provence comes hot on the heels of the success of Walking in Burano, which we reviewed earlier this year, which was picked up for broader distribution by AEG. Walking in Burano used the setting of Burano, with its multi-coloured houses to create a really stunning looking card-laying and drafting game. Walking in Provence takes another beautiful setting, and uses it to create a very different card-laying game, with lavender and wheat fields, punctuated by mills, churches, small towns and sunflower fields.

After you've created a beautiful landscape, its important to take the perfect picture. You can do this by whizzing around on your moped, or taking an aerial shot with your drone. After all, if there's no photos on Instagram, did you really even go to Provence at all?!

Walking in Provence is a competitive card game for 2-5 players that takes just 20-30 minutes to play. You'll be racing to take the best shots first, but also hoping to arrange your landscape to meet various objectives by the end of the game.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Machi Koro Legacy

Game: Machi Koro Legacy

Publisher: Pandasaurus Games

Designer: Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Masao Suganuma

Year: 2019

Machi Koro was a one time play for us when it first came out. I found it for a bargain of £1, but the luck factor in the game meant that we quickly moved on to games like Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Space Base.

However, I am one of those gullible people who will try a game if you put 'legacy' in the name. Aeons End Legacy proved to me that you don't need to like the original game to enjoy the legacy version - it's probably one of the best gaming experiences I've had during 2019. Not only that, but Rob Daviau was the designer of Pandemic Legacy, my favourite gaming experience of all time. As a result, I set aside my concerns and we launched into a 10-game campaign of Machi Koro Legacy. Here's my *SPOILER FREE* thoughts.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Money makes the die go round:- Machi Koro Legacy

Game: Machi Koro Legacy

Publisher: Pandasaurus Games

Designer: Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Masao Suganuma

Year: 2019

Machi Koro Legacy takes the core dice-rolling, town building action from Machi Koro, and adds in everything you would expect from a legacy game. We're talking sealed boxes of goodies, an ongoing storyline, cards thrown away and many stickers applied. Machi Koro Legacy will take you on a series of 10 games, with choices along the way which will make your game distinct from everyone else's.

The gameplay starts simply as a typical Machi Koro game. For those not familiar Machi Koro is a town building game. Each turn you will roll a die (or two dice later on), with the results of that die dictating which buildings in your tableau will activate. Buildings come in a couple of different types, blue buildings tend not to make much money but will do so on any player's turn. Green buildings tend to be more efficient, but only activate on your turn. Red buildings activate on opponents turns and let you steal money from the active player. Money makes the world go round, and it also lets you build buildings. Each turn you can buy one building from the central pool and add it to your tableau, eventually making a better and better town. Each game there are a number of special buildings that can be built instead of a normal buildings, and once one player has build all of these they win the game.

Thursday 31 October 2019

The Game Shelf Previews:- Tranquility

Game: Tranquility

Publisher: Board Game Hub

Designer: James Emmerson

Year: 2020

Tranquility is a cooperative card game for 1-5 players, in which players set sail on a journey through paradise. The game embodies its title in two ways – first the beautiful artwork, from artist Tristam Rossin, really sets the peaceful tone, but, more importantly, the game is played in silence.

Each card features a scene of an island, depicted at both day and night. By placing these cards in a route of ascending order, you’ll create the pathway for a beautiful voyage, hopefully before time runs out. Tranquility is a first publication from James Emmerson, and it launches on Kickstarter on 2nd November 2019.

Monday 28 October 2019

The Game Shelf Visits:- Spiel 2019 in Essen, Germany

We're home from our first ever visit to Spiel in Essen, Germany! Along with 209,000 other visitors and 1,200 exhibitors we spent some time at Essen last week buying games, playing games and meeting up with friends. Essen is the largest board game convention in the world and WOW, it certainly felt like it too!

In 2.5 days we did mange to explore all 6 halls, played a few demos each day and came home with a lot of games. Thursday and Friday were actually less busy than I had expected, but Saturday felt like Armageddon at times. Next year, we'll either be booking meetings or avoiding the halls on Saturday! I didn't expect to be able to find a demo table at all, but I was really surprised by how often we got lucky and found a game we wanted to play, even on Saturday, although it was significantly more difficult!

From a personal perspective, I'm really happy with the games we found to buy or review and generally happy with what we got the chance to play. But, although it seems a little cliche, I'm also happy that we upped our social game for this convention. We're certainly not the kind who want to approach people from Twitter or Youtube, just to say 'Hi', but we did connect with more publishers and friends and had social plans every night - it's starting to feel a little more like home during conventions thanks to people like Kai, Nuria, Paul, Dan, Vince and Mark.

New Games

Essen is still growing. The number of new games this year was 1,500, compared to 1,400 last year. However, there was a general consensus that this year had no big stand-out game that sold out in minutes. On Thursday there was a smattering of sold out signs, and more and more each day, but its hard to know what the big hit was.

We decided to pay to ship our games home from the halls, shipping one box on Thursday and a smaller box on Saturday. Our boxes haven't arrived yet, but they're both on their way. Since we were paying to get them home, we didn't want to buy games that will make their way to the UK in a matter of weeks. We focused on the games we think might not come out in the UK at all or publishers who have often taken a long time to get their games to the UK, as well as some games for upcoming reviews. We also shipped a bunch of games to The Ludoquist board game cafe in Croydon, where Amy works.

Coming home in our hand luggage were:
  • Pret-a-Porter was a Kickstarter pick-up from Portal Games. It was exceedingly heavy and a bit of an issue at check-in!
  • Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula  was on my most anticipated list, since it's from the same designer and publisher as Teotihaucan. I expect that it's heavy in more ways than one!
  • X-Wing Miniatures were hugely discounted at the show. Amy could've bought a lot more than 5! the smaller ships were just 3 euros and the fact that they're in German doesn't matter because we have a 2nd edition conversion kit. We avoided the larger ships, but at just 7 euros, they were a huge bargain for the miniatures alone!
  • Everdell Bellfaire & Everdell Spirecrest are the two latest expansions for Everdell. I wasn't even sure they were going to be at Essen, but now I'm glad I chose not to back the recent Kickstarter because I have the two expansions in my hands!
  • T-Rex's Holiday and Majolica Painting are both from Blue Magpie Games, one of the publishers represented by Taiwan Board Game Design. Last year they brought out Majolica which many people compared favourably to Azul. Both of these games are roll and writes, but I'm excited to try them out.
  • Silver & Gold is a game I finally gave up waiting for an English language edition of. It's a small card-based 'roll and write' type game from Phil Walker-Harding. I'm sure Pandasaurus will get their edition out very soon, but it was inexpensive, so I'm happy to have it now.
  • The Mind Extreme is a version of The Mind where you have two decks numbered 1-to-50 - one red, one white, White cards must be played ascending, red cards must be played descending and some rounds are played face-down!
  • Walking in Provence is from Emperor S4 and is a sequel to Walking in Burano. The game looks quite different, and much more like Honshu than Walking in Burano, but with a similar harming art style.
  • Escape Tales: Low Memory is the second Escape Tales game from Board & Dice. Escape Tales: the Awakening was an epic narrative escape room game that was a superb gaming experience and I can't wait for more.
  • Nine Tiles Panic is one of the latest releases from Oink Games, who release really small box games. It's a competitive real time game and there's a whole lot packed into that tiny box!
  • Albedo: Yggdrasil is the latest expansion for Albedo, from designer Kai Hebertz. Albedo is the best hidden gem we've ever found and we are glad to continue to support this innovative deck-building game.
  • Fleet: The Dice Game is a really heavy looking roll and write from Eagle Gryphon games. It was an impulse purchase after not seeing a release in the UK.
You can fit a whole lot into two small suitcases!

In a cardboard box somewhere between Essen and Surrey are a bunch of games for The Ludoquist:
  • Zoom in Barcelona is a game we tried at UKGE. It's the first published game from the lovely people at Cucafuera game and we're excited to try the advanced mode now we have a copy to play again.
  • L.L.A.M.A. is a card game from Reiner Knizia that was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. I don't think I've seen it in English yet, so for 6 euros, I'm happy to try it.
  • Papillon was Kickstarted by Kolossal Games. It has lovely 3D flowers and you put butterflies on them. It's supposed to play well with two as well!
  • Cairn is a two-player only game from Matagot that looks like fun chess.
  • Bloom Town is the first game from Sidekick Games - a publishing company founded by Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen - designers of Deep Blue, Flamme Rouge and Copenhagen. We played a demo and really enjoyed it.
  • Plunderbund was a game highlighted by a few media folks on Twitter during the show. We followed the tip-off and got a really exciting explanation of this economic game with a side of deck-building.
  • Skytopia: in the circle of time is from the designer and publisher of Smartphone Inc, one of the break out hits of last year's Spiel.
  • Rush M.D. is a new game based on the system of Kitchen Rush - one of our absolute favourite cooperative games. This time you're in a hospital, completing mini games and dexterity challenges, all in real time.
  • Ka Pai is one of many roll and writes. It was hard to not buy all of the roll and writes at the show!
  • Underwater Cities: New Discoveries is an expansion to a game we've only played once, but we really wanted the Delicious Games edition to match our base game!
  • MegaCity: Oceania is from Hub Games. It's a great dexterity experience crossed with a euro game that we tried at UKGE.
  • War of the Worlds: The New Wave is an assymetric 2-player only game that was Kickstarted by Grey Fox Games.
  • Vast: The Mysterious Manor will be our first venture into the games designed by Leder Games and wer're ecited to find out what all of the fuss is about!

The Demos

As I noted, I was surprised how many demos we got the chance to play. Essen, more-so than any other convention we've attended seemed to have huge booths with significant gaming space. Every game we played was a full game and that even seemed to be true for some of the larger 2-3 hour games that we chose to avoid to maximise the number of games we had the chance to see.

Here's a few of the best games we had the chance to play. While none of them fit the criteria for games we needed to bring home in our luggage, we will hopefully find a few releasing in the UK soon.
  • Last Bastion is a re-implementation of Ghost Stories from Antoine Bauza. The game has a new theme and a few changes to mechanisms, but stays very close to the original game of Ghost Stories. The ghosts are now skulls, but they still advance onto the board, with 3 skulls meaning that you lose. There are still 5 different colours of tokens used to defeat monsters. Most of the village tiles have also had their ability slightly tweaked. The production quality is high, with 8 different character miniatures (and the option to buy a painted miniature set) and minis to hang a banner and to represent a net and a cart full of explosives. If you missed out on Ghost Stories, which is now 10 years old then you might as well buy Last Bastion - it's still a fantastic and very challenging cooperative game. If you have Ghost Stories, like we do, then it might not be worth buying a whole new game.
  • Bloom Town is an elegant tile-laying and town building game. Each turn you take a tile from the 5 face-up tiles in the market and add it to your 5x5 grid player board. The type of tile will determine how it scores eg. parks like to be in groups of 3, whilst subway stops want to be in a diagonal pattern. Where you place the tile will determine which tile will take next. Your board is split into 5 columns, each with a printed symbol and these correspond to the 5 tiles in the market. In addition to the scoring when you place a tile, there will be bonus scorings, as well as a few special powers you can use during the game. We really enjoyed the simplicity of Bloom Town - it's a very clean design with a classic feel to it and we're looking forward to playing some more.
  • Big Dig is a small release from Tasty Minstrel Games. It works much like a roll and write or flip and fill game, expect you're not rolling or flipping over cards. Each player works with an identical player board depicting an area to mine - including different coloured gems, fossils and artifacts, a tunnel and some rocks. Each game will use three objectives from the deck, perhaps mine all green gems or completely surround the fossil. On your turn you can either take one of the five cards and draw that shape on your board - mining through the soft earth only, or you can blow up a rock. All of you crossed out areas must connect to each other or the surface. Once all 5 cards in the centre have been used they're flipped over and returned to the centre as a new supply. It's only a 10-minute game and it's a nice little pocket roll and write.
  • Miyabi is the latest family title from Haba Games. You can spot their family titles because they're not in the classic yellow box. Miyabi is a tile laying game which, like many, uses tetromino pieces. There's a fixed supply of pieces for each round with pieces in a variety of shapes and sizes, depicting one of 6 different feature types. You'll each be constructing a Japanese garden by taking one tile per turn and placing it so that the feature is in the correct row of your player board and in a column you've not yet placed something in in that round. With a 6x6 grid, you'll take 6 turns per round. Once you have a base, tiles can be stacked, with bonuses for the first to reach the 5th level on any given row. Tile placement gets more and more interesting as the game goes on ad you try to score big points for placing features on higher levels while maintaining a majority of symbols in each row compared to all other players. It's a brilliant puzzle that ramps up as you go along and I'd love to try again to beat Amy after her runaway victory in our first game.

  • Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 - Japan & Italy jumps the queue of Ticket to Ride maps we're yet to play. We played the Japan side of the map which adds a couple of interesting new elements. The first obvious difference is the board, which has two 'zoomed in' areas for major cities. There's no real effect on gameplay, you just need to be mindful of how to connect a place on the main map to somewhere on the zoomed in section -which the ticket cards are very good at showing graphically. The main gameplay difference is the bullet trains, which add a semi-cooperative feel to the game. The bullet trains can be placed by anyone and there's an end game point bonus for contributing the most, but all bullet train routes are considered connected for everyone when it comes to scoring tickets. During the game, you play card the same way, eg. three matching red cards to claim length 3 bullet train route, but instead of scoring points, you just go up 3 on the bullet train track. I love how much of a difference this adds into the game - it feels far more significant than many expansions, really changing the strategy in the game, but also making the map more open and making this map a bit of a ticket-fest, much like Switzerland - another map I really enjoy.
  • Mine Deeper is a very tactile, toy-like game from Korea Board Games. It's pretty much a Battleship game for two players in which you need to be the first to find all 5 of your opponents red gems. Each player takes a different setup card, placing red, yellow, grey and a single purple gem. On your turn, you poke on of the doors and cause the gem behind it to fall - a purple gem indicates that two adjacent gems are red, a yellow gem indicates that one adjacent gem is red, a grey means nothing and finding reds is your goal. A a deduction game, it's very simple, but satisfying, even though Amy basically won by guessing all of the locations of my gems without clues. Unfortunately, it is a little too fragile and gems fall out either with great difficulty or way too easy, causing a landslide of boulders to fall from one push. It's a lovely concept for a kids game, but just not quite executed in production.

  • Trails of Tucana is a roll and write game from Aporta Games and the designers of one of our favourites - Kokoro. Each player takes a map sheet, but denotes outpost locations in different places on their board. One of the key goals of the game is to connect outpost A to the opposing outpost A, B to B and so on. Each turn you can draw one line segment based on two cards flipped over. Each card shows a terrain type, so you might be able to connect water and forest. As well as connecting outposts there are objects around the board that you'll also score for and you can gain a bonus line segment for connecting both symbols of one type to any outpost. We really liked this roll and write, although the players with us definitely didn't understand it. It's got a lot of similarities to Kokoro, but with a couple of extra scoring benefits that are perhaps simpler, but add more strategies into the game. I think I might need this one, in spite of our pretty large roll and write collection.
  • Porto is a family weight game from Portuguese publisher Mebo Games, about building the colourful buildings of Porto. Each turn you either take cards or play cards. If you take cards, you can take  total value of three from the supply. If you play cards you play 2 cards - one for its colour and one for its numerical value eg. 3 red. In this case you would take 3 red building level tokens and either start a new building on the board or add them to an existing building. If a building is completed, you add a roof tile. There are different scoring objectives to work towards and some private end game scoring objective too. What really makes this game stand out is how it looks - the board is a work of art and the houses have a really satisfying look to them. For us, the game is perhaps a little too simple, but I'm really glad that we managed to play it once.
  • Glen More II: Chronicles is a reprint of the classic tile-laying game Glen More. In preparation for our demo, we played Glen More in the run-up to Spiel for the first time. The base game of Glen More II keeps all of the same basic concepts as the original, but its been given a new, more modern art style. Mechanically, only the personalities have been added, who allow you to explore the new map board, which reminds me of travelling in Orleans. The major changes with the second edition come with the 8 chronicles - which are each a mini expansion that can be mixed, matched and combined. Glen More II was probably the best game we played all weekend, however it's at least four times the volume of the original, so the expansions need to be great to justify the game's size - I'd really like to give them a try. If you don't have Glen More, then I really think Glen More II is a must try!

We did play a few more demos, which for one reason or another didn't fit with us, including Kingsburg: The Dice Game, Funkoverse, House Flippers, Bronze and City Blox, but I guess that's not a bad hit rate.

To Wrap it Up...
  • I had spiral potatoes.
  • Food at the convention was very reasonably priced. Water was not.
  • Spiel was HUGE!
  • Saturday is bad.
  • Crowds are crazy.
  • People are awesome.We should spend more time with people.
  • We played much more than we expected to play.
  • There wasn't one huge standout game.
  • We have so many new games to play!
  • Shipping games home was a good plan, but suitcase Tetris is also fun.
  • The nicest toilets were in between Hall 5/6.
  • The press conference was in German - Doh!

Sunday 27 October 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Lifeform

Game: Lifeform

Publisher: Hall or Nothing Productions

Designer:  Mark Chaplin, Toby Farrands

Year: 2019

Hall or Nothing Productions are a UK-based publisher whose first few published games have been based on historial themes - an obvious passion for designer Tristan Hall. Lifeform if their first game from external designers and so it takes on a very different theme.

Lifeform is a sprawling survival horror game with a theme that might seem a little familiar for the movie Aliens. Your are the crew aboard a mining ship - a warren of interconnected rooms that is now infested by an alien Lifeform. You must evade and make your way to the cargo shuttle before you become lunch!

Wednesday 23 October 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Paranormal Detectives

Game: Paranormal Detectives

Publisher: Lucky Duck Games

Designer:  Szymon Maliński, Adrian Orzechowski, Marcin Łączyński

Year: 2019

Paranormal Detectives casts one player as a ghost, who has recently been victim to a murder. The ghost appears in front of you, bearing wounds (if they have any) and a few visible features. As detectives, you'll want to piece together the mystery of what has befallen the ghost - Who killed them? Why? Where? And what with?

If this sounds a little bit like Cluedo, or the more modern game, Mysterium, then you wouldn't be far wrong. Here you can compete or cooperate, but each of the detective characters has certain tricks and tips for communicating with the dead. The result is a cacophony of varied clues all leading to a graphic story of the ghost's tragic tale.

Monday 21 October 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- UBike Tour: Taiwan

Game: UBike Tour: Taiwan

Publisher: Big Fun Games

Designer:  Chih-Fan Chen

Year: 2019

We’re excitedly preparing to make our first visit to Spiel in Essen, Germany. The listings show over 1200 new releases, but I’m also excited to discover games that haven’t made the list of hot new games. Looking at the maps of Halls 4, 5 & 6 shows how many small publishers will be present from all over the world. Taiwan Board Game Design represents lots of small publishers from Taiwan and brings them all under one banner. They can be found at booth. The first of their games that we have had a chance to try is UBike Tour: Taiwan – a game based around a city-wide cycle hire scheme, which I assume is like London’s ‘Boris Bikes’.

We wanted to check out this one because of its really endearing cartoon artwork and also because it’s from a publisher who has never before been on our radar. It’s a family-weight card drafting and set collection game for 2-4 players which plays in around 20 minutes, where you are cycling around different sites in the city and gaining points depending how far and where you’ve travelled.

Saturday 19 October 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Skulk Hollow

Game: Skulk Hollow

Publisher: Pencil First Games

Designer:   Eduardo Baraf, Seth Johnson, Keith Matejka

Year: 2019

Skulk Hollow is a two-player, assymetric, head-to-head game from publisher Pencil First Games. For me, Pencil First are best known for their games Herbaceaous and Sunset Over Water which boast gorgeous artwork and calming themes. Skulk Hollow is a very different beast. The cartoony artwork is incredible, but very different from what I've seen before from this publisher and the game is definitely not a serene experience.

The guardians of the ancient woodland of Børe have risen. They're literally rising from the ground, laded with trees, rocks and moss, taking on the Foxen race that have lived peacefully in the area. Reminding me of a scene in the movie Detective Pikachu, the Foxen characters are tossed into a battle with the gigantic guardians. What they lack in size, they make up for in cunning and numbers, mounting the guardians and firing arrows to try and take them down piece by piece. Only one side can continue to exist in Skulk Hollow.