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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Thursday 5 August 2021

Thoughts from The Yellow Meeple:- The Initiative

Game: The Initiative

Publisher: Unexpected Games

Designer: Corey Konieczka

Year: 2021

The Initiative is an immediately intriguing game - the cover is wonderful and for a brand new publisher, there was a lot of buzz for this title when it released earlier in the year. Corey Konieczka is a very well known game designer, involved in many of Fantasy Flights Games' greatest hits. Unexpected games is his own publishing brand, but you can see the links back to fantasy flight, even down to the basic insert and the proof of purchase token in the punchboard!
The Initiative is a cooperative game for 1-4 players which uses a comic book to tell the story of a group of teenagers who like to play a board game (yes it's very meta!). The game is a campaign, with sequential missions that take you through the story, adding new game mechanisms and increasing the difficulty of the codes you solve. We're about half way through the campaign at the time of writing our reviews.

Each scenario comes with a new map layout and a new puzzle to solve. The game centres around the double sided board and tokens are laid out on the appropriate side of the board to suit that scenarios particular map. Each player gets a hand of cards which are numbers between 1 and 12. On your turn you can play cards to take actions. The basic actions are gather (pick up two tokens in your space), intel (look at two tokens in any space), run (move your pawn up to three rooms) or gather, which allows you to remove all previously played cards from an action space. Gather is important because you can only play a card that is higher than those played before on any action. As you start to gather tokens from the board, some will be good eg. a symbol that is useful to the puzzle, some are useless symbols and others are penalties that can make you discard cards, or block certain actions. You only have until the deck runs out before the unpredictable end game timer will start ticking.

The first three games play in the same way and then new rules start to be introduced every one or two games. The new rules are kept very simple and (so far at least) don't hugely change the game, but each game can still play out very differently. The shuffle of the tokens can lead you to have an easy game or a hard game, and your ability to deduce the answer to the puzzle early may mean you can squeeze a win in a game that is otherwise going downhill fast. Win or lose, you'll still move on in the story, but you might learn different information along the way.

The gameplay in The Initiative is incredibly simple and in most cases, I would describe a game like this as too simple. However, I really like how you have to try and work together, with limited communication to make the best of the cards in your hand and maximise each others ability to use the actions and have good turns. Communicating and discussing when is the right time to gather, who should move where on the board and hinting that you have really high cards, so it's OK if some of the piles are jumping to high numbers quite quickly, all help create a highly cooperative experience in which everyone is engaged. It gives me a similar feeling to Spy Club or X-Code, which are both cooperative, card-driven games with a similar simple yet satisfying feeling.

I wouldn't categorise The Initiative as an escape room game. The game is not packed full of challenging puzzles - it leans towards de-coding clues instead. Each game you'll get one or maybe two clues to decode and you're given all of the cyphers you'll need to do it - you might have to look a little carefully, or consider which particular cypher is the right one in this instance, but there is nothing standing in the way of you and the right answer. The Initiative never made me feel stupid, and still gave me a sense of satisfaction, even though I wasn't really taxing my mind very much. I'm completely satisfied with the low level of difficulty in the puzzles, and it fits well into a game that has a very relaxing, rather than stressful, overall feel.
Whilst the story is perhaps not the games strong-suit, it certainly had some appeal to me, after all these kids do find the board game at a garage sale and board game thrifting is very, very close to my heart. Not only that, but the comic book style is really engaging and gives life to quite a slow story, as well as leaving some opportunities for visual clues. And finally, to be honest, I really dislike story in games, I'd rather just get on with playing and so a very quick interlude between each mission is perfect for impatient gamers like me. 

The Initiative is one of my favourite experiences of the year so far. It's not a spectacular game in any obvious way, but it's a cosy warm blanket, an easy-breezy game that I really enjoy sitting down to play a couple of games of. It does for campaign games what My City did for legacy games - it has created a family friendly experience that's short and sweet. Neither the game's mechanics or the puzzles you solve are hugely taxing, but you still feel a sense of achievement and progression throughout the game. I can't wait to complete it and to hand it to a friend to give them the same wonderful experience. For the Yellow Meeple, it's an 8.5/10.

The Initiative 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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