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 15 June 2021

Now with Zebras!:- Ecos: New Horizon

Game: Ecos: New Horizon

Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group

Designer:  John D. Clair

Year: 2021
New Horizon is an expansion to 2019's Bingo-style tile layer Ecos. The Expansion adds a handful of new cards (including two new starter decks to play with), half a dozen new animals and the new terrain tiles. You'll also find some player aides for the animals which help players remember which animals can be placed in which areas. 
For those who might not be familiar with the base game; Ecos: First Continent is a 2-6 player map building game with a core bingo style mechanic. Players start with three cards on the table and the current first player starts drawing energy tiles from the bag. These allow everyone to simultaneously place a cube over the batching energy symbol on one of their cards. Once all energy symbols on a card are covered that player calls out "Ecos" and then performs the cards powers. These powers typically earn you points along with adding/moving animals/landmasses to the board. The cards can be extremely simple, but the more powerful points cards tend to demand more of you, building up certain combinations, such as a lion on a mountain shaded by a tree, in order to gain the most points.

Of all the new elements, the terrain tiles are the star of the show. Each has an associated card which explains the requirements needed on the map in order to build them. As soon as that pattern is built, even if it was by someone else, you can declare completion and place the terrain tile overlay over the existing tiles on the board. This terrain then gains new special rules which ultimately serve to provide you more points or energy to play your cards with. The inclusion of these tiles instantly makes players more invested in creating larger maps than ever before, which in turn opens the game map up to more possibilities. 
With the new cards come new animals species, to frolic, and hunt, on the new landmasses.
When playing through the expansion we did notice that some terrain cards seemed to be harder to place than others, the smaller locations often needed mountains and trees on top of the terrain tiles. But once the small footprint of terrain had been formed the addition of features is an inevitability. Meanwhile terrain tiles that demanded a larger footprint could be thwarted accidentally by an errant river placement ruining half a game's worth of hard work. The rewards for them also weren't quite as spectacular as one might hope they would be in a two-player game. This leads onto the problem of the balance of the two starter decks in the expansion. One deck focuses on building landscapes, while the other plays around with the new animals. While this is great for learning the new mechanics, the reality of pitting these decks against each other was the animals had no natural predators, which made the points rewards for the herds of giraffes become rather obscene. In a larger player count game you wouldn't get away with this as other players would introduce lions or particularly ambitious crocodiles to the board to thin their numbers. Meanwhile the landscaping deck could continue its slower, but unstoppable, increase in points. 

Kilimanjaro brings a big impressive mountain onto the table, from now on every time a smaller mounting gets placed you get rewarded

Ecos: New Horizon is mostly a 'more of the same' style expansion. The new animals might be interesting and add to the variety of choices in the game, but they ultimately don't do anything that wasn't in the game before. The landscape tiles do add a new twist, but once mixed into the main deck they are rather few in numbers and often hard to actually achieve. This all makes the box feel a touch light in content, since you are really only getting a few overlays, a deck of cards and a single, albeit big, wooden mountain token. The problem with the starter decks might only be an issue at lower player counts and then only while you are still using the start decks, but they do present a slightly bad foot put forward. If you are like me your first instinct when opening an expansion is to try out all the content as soon as possible, but here that backfires on you. 
So that leads me to the point of bringing the final judgement down upon Ecos New Horizon. Did I enjoy playing it: Yes. Did it get a game I love back to the table: Yes. Was it a disappointment to see so little content when I opened the box? Yes. Is the expansion without its flaws? Certainly not. If you love Ecos and a touch more variety will help keep it fresh for you then New Horizon is going to give you a great time. But if you go in expecting a fundamental change to the game's mechanics then you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Ecos: New Horizon was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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