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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Tuesday 11 August 2020

Our first visit to Gencon? Some first impressions of online demos

Given our location in the UK, it might be fair to say that we'll never make it to GenCon in the flesh. Perhaps one day we'd consider tying the trip into a holiday in the USA, but I don't see that happening in the next few years. This year though, pretty much every big convention, and many small ones, have made the effort to go online.

For GenCon, that primarily seems to be a mixture of paid events and some free live-streaming, as well as unofficial events run by publishers on the side, making the most of the buzz around the weekend. For me, the idea of paying to play an online demo isn't at all appealing, perhaps it's worth it to try before you buy with some new or unreleased games, but for me an online experience would never proxy for the real experience anyway, I'd still need to try the physical game. However, as content creators, we've been fortunate to take advantage of a few press demos, as well jumping on some free demos. 

We don't ever plan to review games based on an online simulation on this blog, but we're excited to share some first impressions of some new and upcoming games, as well as imminent Kickstarters that we've had the chance to try out over the GenCon weekend.

  • Plantopia is a game coming to Kickstarter from Origame - a publishing company part-owned by game designer Daryl Chow. We have played The Artemis Project and Overbooked, which are both games we've enjoyed, so we're excited to hear more about Daryl's new and unique titles. Plantopia is themed with the characters from a web comic called 'Life of Potato'. While I've never heard of this comic, it has given rise to some rather adorable vegetable characters and a huge number of the cutest plants I've ever seen. The game is a tableau builder about growing plants to gain points, and in each round a common pool of weather, which all players contribute to, will cause certain plant types to grow. There is a huge opportunity for combos and a lot of focus on your own tableau, with simultaneous play, but the weather phase each round brings about player interaction and group participation around the table. It's a simple game, but one that we enjoyed quite a bit. I'm hopeful that the charming theme will attract backers when it comes to Kickstarter on August 27th.
  • Vinyl: Jukebox is on Kickstarter right now from Talon Strikes Studios. The original game of Vinyl has a number of expansions and all are being reprinted, along with an opportunity to back to receive their new two-player game, Vinyl: Jukebox. In Vinyl: Jukebox, each player is working towards a grid of 3x3 records to put on deck int ehir jukebox. Each record has a genre, era and a side (A or B) and you'll be drawing chips from your bag in order to try and set collect towards records to add to your deck. There are some light bag-building aspects when you add single use bonus tokens to your bag, as well as some push your luck and player interaction when you start to draw more tokens in a single turn. In terms of the types of records you're looking for, there are lots of private and public bonus points available depending how you lay out your 3x3 grid, and this will start to drive most of your choices in the game. I really like what Vinyl: Jukebox has pulled together in terms of mechanisms, making it feel like a 2-player set collection cousin to The Quacks of Quedlinberg. It's definitely a two-player game that we could add to our collection. 

  • High Rise was recently released from Formal Ferret Games and designer Gil Hova. It's very well implemented of Tabletopia, but it's clear that High Rise would have fantastic table presence too. High Rise revolves around a mechanism like Tokaido, where it's always the turn of the player in last position on the track to move their player piece forward to a new action spot. However, High Rise introduces a restriction where the action spots are in zones and you may only use one spot per zone. Your goal is to collect materials and build the tallest sky scrapers in each city district. There are very few spots on the board that allow you to build though, which encourages some very big jumps around the track, leaving opportunities for others to clean up some of the reamining actions in between. I definitely need another play to grasp the mechnisms more, but the other players were managing to use the cards that you pick up around the action track to fantastic effect to create combos and score huge points without resorting to the amount of corruption I had to take. If you want to see the game being played, then our game was streamed live on the Gaming Rules Youtube channel.

  • Roll Player Adventures is Thunderworks games taking Roll Player back to it's role-playing roots. Presenting itself as a story driven adventure game you'll be taking your characters (either pre-made or imported from a completed game of Roll Player) and exploring the world. while playing the twelve mission campaign you'll encounter characters to talk to, items to collect and monsters to slay. Most importantly though you'll be making decisions. Some by choosing narrative paths, others by the success, or failure, of your actions. Regardless of why you made the decisions they will grant your party tags, these tags will then be called into play by the story book. Did you feed a troll in chapter one? well now that Troll won't fight you when you go to cross it's bridge in chapter four. Combat and skill checks are done in a very Roll Player way, with six sided dice drawn from a bag in random colours. You have to get fixed results in both colour and number, but when that red five is eluding your rolls you can always use your stats and your items to manipulate dice, get re-rolls or even change the colour of the die!
  • Plunderbund: Supply and Conquer is a small expansion featuring around a dozen cards for Plunderbund. But these cards aren't the typical deck-building kind you'll be used to using in game. Instead these cards will be given out at the start of the game to create asymmetry between the players. Each guild leader has a pair of two that you can use for a quick game, or your can draft the cards at the start of the game to create your own unique combinations. These new powers vary from abilities that will trigger every round, every scoring round, or at the end of the game. Providing new scoring opportunities, or catch up mechanisms, if you ignore the power of these cards then be prepared to lose dramatically. While Supply and Conquer does a fantastic job of adding to the gameplay experience of Plunderbund, the theme of fantasy bootlegging still tends to fall to the wayside, but with a big box expansion planned to add monsters to the mix, perhaps there is hope for the fantasy element in the future.
  • Familiar Alchemy is a 2-4 player game that has you performing alchemy as part of a class of pupils. Of course the hardest part of performing alchemy is getting the ingredients, so before you can brew your potions you'll need to spend time growing and trimming your plants. Each player gets one action per turn, which can be growing their plants, trimming their plants to gain ingredients, or using said ingredients to brew the communal potions. The more you assist with the potions the more points you'll get at the end of the game, but the potions are a group effort, with bonus points available for adding even one ingredient to each brew. You'll also have to manage a communal garden, which might just grow the ingredients you need if someone else doesn't harvest them first! Even if they do you can use your knowledge of alchemy to transform your ingredients, or gain other players unique powers to tip the scales. It's an ever changing set collection games, where combos are tricky to pull off, but very successful if you can. If you like the sound of Familiar Alchemy you can check out the Kickstarter from 21st August 2020 and/or get an online demo during the UK Games Expo virtual convention.
  • Rival Networks is a 2-player only follow-up to Formal Ferret's The Networks - a game all about running your own television network. Much like its predecessor, you'll be scheduling shows into the three prime-time evening slots, picking shows of certain genres and assigning appropriate stars and advertising. Rival Networks is, however, a much more streamlined system, It keeps all the fun of starting up new shows and making them great to get more viewers, without the hard work of trying to keep viewers interested in ageing shows. While this is perhaps only a reflection of half of the reality of running a TV network it certainly does a good job of packing the fun theme of the networks into a tight little two player game that will make this enjoyable theme accessible to a bigger audience as a result.

We're really thankful to Punchboard Media for providing us with the opportunity to meet with a few publishers and try some new games. It was a great chance to capture a little bit of the media experience of the conventions we've missed this year - as well as connecting with people on the other side of the world. In particular, thanks to Gil Hova, of Formal Ferret Games, who not only gave us demos of two great games, but also introduced us to his Check-in Cards. At 10pm on a Monday evening, these cards were a great way to communicate our energy at the table and make sure we were playing the same level of casual or intense game.

Did you try anything you're excited about over GenCon weekend? Or are online conventions just not your thing?

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