Saturday is the busiest day of the Expo and Peter had taken himself off to play in the wargame tournament, so I did the rounds chatting to people and having games explained to me. I did get to play a couple of games, though.
Home on Lagrange is an intriguing card game of building space stations in the 1970s. And the artwork is suitably retro. It looks good ... well, appropriate anyway. At the heart of the game are the large cards representing space station modules of several types. The aim is to complete your station with four modules - and score more points than anyone else.
The small cards are what you use in your turn. These can be played to enhance your station, attack another player or for their monetary value. The most important action is buying a module card, of course. Modules get more expensive with each one you buy, but are only worth their lowest value at the end of the game. Regardless of how many cards you play, you draw just one more to complete your turn.
The game continues until everybody's built their four modules, which feels a bit odd. Certainly players can continue to enhance their station, but the game could go on for quite a while after the first station's been completed - especially if players attack those who haven't finished. Players then score for the value of the modules and other cases in their station.
I really enjoyed this, though it felt quite a light game. The complexity is in the cards, though, so it may well be meatier than my demo game suggested. My favourite touch, though, is the little stories of what happens to your station. There is a different story for each combination of modules, which is terrific.
I do like Gil Hova's The Networks, so I was keen to have a go at his new game, High Rise. The aim is to collect the raw materials needed to build skyscrapers matching the available blueprints. All you do each turn is move along the track on the outside of the board. You can move as far as you want, but you won't get another move until everybody's gone past you - an old mechanism, but a goodie.
Naturally, many spaces let you pick up raw materials, though you have limited storage (you can expand this), and you can also build a skyscraper if you have the right set of materials. You then get the special action on the space tied in with the skyscraper space - this space also gives you a bonus when someone else lands on it. In the photo we've just started the demo game, each of us already having a skyscraper on the board.
The other important mechanism is corruption. Players can build faster or get better rewards if they also take corruption markers. At the end of the game, corruption is negative points with extra penalties for the players with most. Playing the demo game, I made a point of having the lowest corruption. I didn't score a huge number of points for my skyscrapers, but the other players' corruption brought their scores back to me.
I had great fun playing this, even for just half a game. High Rise is a clever, interesting game that I'm definitely going to be following up on.
Sunday is the shortest day of the Expo, which I made shorter with a lie-in. However, I was able to fit in playing two of the three games I wanted to try. First of these was Tony Boydell's Attention All Shipping prototype. The title gives away that this is a game inspired by the shipping forecast. (An institution on British radio: broadcast at specific times to give weather information to fishing boats around the UK. The roll call of sea areas - Forties, Dogger, Tyne... - is a familiar, soothing litany.)
It's essentially a pick-up-and-deliver game, with players moving their ships to fish in a sea area (what they catch depends on the dice) and then to sell their catch in a town - there may be some travel in between these two. You have a set number of action points each round, which are used for movement and the number of dice you fish with. Selling fish earns money and most money wins, but you can also spend money to improve your boat (larger hold, bigger engine etc).
Crucial to movement is the weather, represented in each area by an arrow to show wind direction and a die to show strength. Moving with the wind costs fewer action points; against costs more. The fishing boats don't have modern technology as the game is deliberately set in the 1950s - reflected in the artwork, something I hope makes it through to the production version. The photo shows us reaching the end game - I (blue) have a small lead, but it won't last.
On top of this, there are other ways of earning money, hazards to avoid and, best of all, stories to complete. The stories give a focus to what you're doing and give players tales to tell. One of my stories was "The Footsteps of Robert [Louis?] Stevenson", which had me delivering lightbulbs to lighthouses (useful features that negate hazards - once a bulb has been installed).
The game was just as much fun as I expected and I'm looking forward to this even more than Tony's Alubari, which is due later this year.
My second game on Sunday was Museum from Holy Grail Games, which I'd been eyeing up all weekend as it looked great. The idea is that players are each the curator of a museum, looking to fill it with suitable exhibits. The exhibits are gorgeously illustrated cards which players pick up from four geographical groups.
Each card has a value, which you score when you place it onto your museum board. However, to do so, you must also put at least the same value of exhibits into storage. You can get exhibits back out of storage, but so can other players - provided they swap in item/s of at least the same value.
The reason to do this is that you're trying to make sets. Each card comes from a particular civilisation (such as the Celts or the Romans in Europe) and belongs to a particular 'domain' (warfare, trade, religion and so on). At the end of the game players get points for the size of their civilisation and domain sets - provided all the exhibits in a set are a contiguous group on their museum board. I've got an Indian collection (pink bar at the to of the cards) in my museum in three photo,.
Players start with a bonus card that will give them extra points if they achieve a certain goal, providing some initial structure to what they collect. Then there are 'expert' cards that can be bought for advantages during play or bonuses at the end. Oh, and I haven't mentioned the very useful prestige points that can be gathered and either spent during the game or kept to score at the end.
This was great fun to play - helped by my companions at the table - though I can't help wondering how I managed to get Stonehenge and Machu Picchu into my museum! In fact, this was my favourite of the games I played at the Expo, and I even walked away with a copy.
The game I missed out on (I just ran out of time) was the latest from Hub Games, MegaCity: Oceania, which looked wonderful. Essentially, players are stacking up odd-shaped translucent plastic pieces (shades of the venerable Bausack - though that's wooden pieces). These are buildings to add to the growing 'megacity'. The really tricky bit is that you stack your pieces onto a hexagonal tile in front of you and then have to slide it across the table to the city. I look forward to catching up with it at the next opportunity.
This was the title of my board games column in Flagship magazine, so I thought I'd resurrect it, 8 years after Flagship's demise. The idea is to get down my musings in a more contemporaneous way - expect things to appear later in To Win Just Once (www.pevans.co.uk/TWJO) in a more considered form. Now, can I manage a less formal style?
Archive for UK Games Expo
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Moving on to Friday and the Expo is now officially open. Yay! Cue hordes of gamers keen to purchase the very latest game/expansion. And I can settle down to playing some of them. Peter Card, my usual wingman, was with me on Friday - he had a date with a wargaming tournament for Saturday and Sunday.
The first place we got to sit down was BadCat Games to try Gladiatores: Blood for Roses. The title comes from the rose petal tokens that are players' rewards - taken from the roses spectators in ancient Rome threw at their favourite gladiators. The game is played across a series of gladiatoral contests, each of which has a certain number of rose petals available.
Depending on which gladiator they've hired, players have a starting hand of cards and add more from the separate Attack/Defence/Event decks. Then we're off: the first player chooses an opponent and plays an attack card. If their target plays one of the defences shown on the attack card, the attacker can respond with a follow-up (as shown on the defence card) if they have a suitable card. And so on until one player can't or won't play - using your gladiator's special ability also ends the fight. The last card takes effect and then the next player attacks someone. In the photo I've attacked with a Cleave, been parried and have followed up with a stab: can my opponent respond?
Last gladiator standing wins the fight, with players getting extra points according to how many rose petals they have. What makes the game, however, is the initial auction for gladiators before the fight takes place. Plus the ability to bet on the outcome. It looks a cut above most gladiator games, but I do wonder how long it takes to play, given that players have quite a few contests to work through.
I do like trying games that are clearly not aimed at my demographic. The cover of Smile features a furry creature wearing a wide, self-satisfied smile. Some of the cuteness goes away when you spot this is a Michael Schacht game. At first glance the game looks like No Merci, but there's actually more going on here.
In their turn, players either add a bead (fireflies, apparently) to the lowest card available (cards can have positive or negative values) or take that card, with the beads on it. The remaining players continue with the next lowest card until all cards have been taken. Most cards have a coloured corner and taking a second card of the same colour means you discard both of them. It's a great way of getting rid of a negative card and even better if you can force an opponent to discard a high value card. As in the photo: the -2 red card isn't useful on its own, but it would remove itself and the -5 if I got it, while Peter doesn't want it cancelling his 6-point card.
The game plays until the cards have gone, which I thought would take a while but, once we knew what we were doing, the game zipped by pretty quickly. I had a nice, big, negative score, Peter less so and our demonstrator thrashed us! This is a cracking little filler, despite the family-friendly artwork.
Given the designers, I expected La Stanza to be complex. And I was right. It's about the Renaissance, with players progressing through the six 'rooms' on the board, representing different aspects: art, politics, exploration etc. The main mechanism is moving around the rooms, recruiting a 'character' tile each move and then taking one of the actions in that room. The strength of the action depends on how many characters you have of the corresponding type. Characters are distributed randomly, so an important tactic is collecting the characters needed for the action you want to take. Here's the board towards the end of a round when most of the characters have been taken.
Most of the actions involve collecting stuff, gaining money and scoring points. There are also 'masterpieces' in each room, which need extra strength to achieve, requiring rather more planning. The right bonus tile is useful here and also with the final scoring. It's my kind of game, while not being as complicated as some of the designers' other games - Nippon, for example.
One of the many new games Asmodee was showing, in this case from Days of Wonder, was Flight Plan, the latest expansion for Memoir '44. This replaces the old, and long out of print, Air Pack. It was billed as providing a simpler implementation of aircraft in the game, so Peter and I had to give it a go.
I immediately saw one significant change from the Air Pack: players don't have to order their aircraft every turn. Once you've got a plane on the board, you order it like any other unit. To keep them from being too powerful, planes have limited ammunition and you can only have one in play at a time. The other new feature is the pack of Air Combat cards. Like other Combat cards, these are played to provide special actions or bonuses - and are also used to deploy aircraft onto the board.
The other simplification is that aircraft are generic fighters, bombers or fighter-bombers, rather than providing specific characteristics for each individual aircraft. The board was laid out for the Mont Mouchet scenario, so this is what we played. This pits French Resistance fighters (me) against German infantry who have a couple of armoured units in support (Peter). It was an odd scenario to add aircraft to, but it all worked nicely.
As we started with some Air Combat cards, I immediately deployed a fighter-bomber (using he Typhoon model) and strafed the enemy reserves (see photo). In response, Peter played a bomber (Dornier) that unloaded on some of my troops. What he wasn't expecting was the anti-aircraft ambush card I played to shoot it down! A few turns later, Peter deployed a fighter-bomber of his own (time the for the Stuka model), which took out two damaged units. I promptly brought a fighter onto the board (Spitfire) and shot down the Stuka - there are simple rules for aircraft dogfights. That was a win for me 4:2.
On first acquaintance, the Flight Plan expansion does a much better job of introducing aircraft to the Memoir '44 battlefield than the Air Pack. Effectively, it gives both players the option of adding an extra unit - one that can be powerful in the right circumstances. The excellent models add flavour. And there are also rules on combining the Air Combat cards with other Combat decks.
Following this we bumped into Peter Burley, who had a new prototype for us to try. Rolling Bears is a dice drafting game. There are five colours of dice, with increasing points values and an animal head in place of the '1' side - bears are the most valuable dice.
There are, of course, specific rules for what dice players can re-roll when. The key is how the dice score and Peter has provided two different scoring options in the game. We played Wuppertal rules: players take sets of the same colour and number or runs of all different colours. All players score the value of the dice they've collected and whoever has the best set of animals scores these as well. As the photo shows, players' boards provide a quick way of totting up the score.
The Hollandica scoring option reverses the same/different requirement on set collecting. Animals can be used as wild dice or collected as sets of different animals. This is a neat little game, though it's clearly aimed more at family play. I look forward to the finished article.
This had taken us to closing time, so it was time for beer and pizza and then into hall 2 to find gamers. Our evening game was Space Base, which seems to be a favourite of Peter's. It's a neat little game and I applied the lessons I learned from my last game (see Gathering 2019 - and finally) to win comfortably.
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Switching to my To Win Just Once hat, my second Thursday session was at the Expo's press preview in the evening. Had all the tables been occupied, I reckon there would have been 150-odd games publishers represented. I skipped through, stopping to look at the occasional item, so here's another selection of photos and brief comments in chronological order. Note that many of these are prototypes our pre-production versions, so don't necessarily reflect the final artwork/quality.
EmperorS4 had several games on display. This one is their latest, Trial of the Temples. I didn't follow all the explanation, but players need to advance on all three central tracks while picking up resources to power their particular abilities.
Funki Fruit is a quick playing card game of optimising the fruit cards in your hand before the second swarm of bees appears from the deck. It's certainly colourful.
Having visited the city several times, Zoom in Barcelona caught my attention. It's a family game of travelling around the city to capture the sights and landmarks. The advanced game adds more strategy. Expect the finished game at Spiel this year.
Oink had three new games at the press preview with at last one more due to arrive. This one's Mr. Face where players have to work out what your caricature of a face represents.
Here's the prototype of Gil Hova's new game, High Rise. Players move round the board to collect the resources needed to construct skyscrapers. However, come round two and you may need to knock other buildings down to put yours up...
No artwork yet for X Arrr!, so this prototype looks very abstract. The aim is to collect your treasure from several islands by moving your pirate along is current track. But first you can rotate an island or switch to a different track.
Solar Storm is a co-operative game of repairing your spaceship before it falls into the sun. Where's International Rescue when you need them? It looks fun and should be on Kickstarter in Sept.
Gladiatores: Blood for Roses claims to be a more accurate representation of Roman gladiators. Players are training schools: they bid on historical (mostly) gladiators to fight in the next event, winning plaudits from the crowd. These translate to wreath segments gradually filling up their board.
MegaCity: Oceania has players constructing skyscrapers on a hexagonal tile from odd shapes of plastic sheet in accordance with contract requirements. Then they push them (carefully!) into place with the other tiles...
Martin Wallace was promoting his latest from PSC Games, Milito. This is a development of his card wargame, Fields of Glory: Napoleonic Scenarios for Shako Rules. However, he also had a prototype with the working title of Runestones. This is a multi-player wargame in a fantasy setting using the mechanisms from Lincoln. However, this game has domino-style tiles rather than cards, with each nation having its own advantages and disadvantages. Here's what it looks like at the moment.
Museum is an interesting looking game from Holy Grail Games. Players each have their own museum and are competing for artifacts to exhibit, curating their exhibition to meet public themes and private goals.
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I know what you're thinking: the Expo doesn't open until Friday morning, so what are you doing there on Thursday, Pevans?
Well, the 'Retailer Summit' hosted by Asmodee UK (formerly Esdevium Games) takes place on Thursday. It's an opportunity for publishers to show their new games to retailers, many of whom will be busy for the rest of the event. So I had my Games from Pevans hat on.
Here are some photos and brief notes on what I saw in the order I saw them (i.e. completely random). Starting with Pegasus's Series: Undo (Pegasus Spiele) games. The idea is that the players visit specific times in the past to try to prevent a crime (?) in the present.
Here's Terror Below from Renegade. They were keen to make it clear that it has nothing to do with a certain film. It's a pick-up-and-deliver game. It's possible giant worms will burst out of the ground and squash your vehicle. But, really, how likely is that?
Who would publish a 15-minute game of drawing paths through dungeons? Deadly Doodles is from SJG.
This is what we expect from SJG (apart from Munchkins):
Yes, Car Wars sixth edition is expected later this year. Here's a closer look at the car models. And some cards.
Catan Studio had this neat travel edition of Catan, which I hadn't seen before. It's a modular peg board, with the pegs in trays underneath, which is also where the mini cards are stored. The whole thing then folds up to fit in the box.
Days of Wonder had the new aircraft extension for Memoir '44, New Flight Plan. This has some different planes and streamlined rules from the old Air Pack.
Plus the new Ticket to Ride: London. This is a short game, like Ticket to Ride: New York, but with double decker buses as playing pieces.
I so hoped that Wizkids' Smash City involved chucking giant dice at cardboard skyscrapers.
However, Zev tells me the dice are players' monsters fighting each other through the city.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic looks terrific, but can it live up to the book? The aim is to become the foremost practitioner of English magic by accumulating more points than the gentleman with the thistledown hair. This you do by travelling around London, England and Europe, collecting the ingredients you need to perform feats of magic.
Osprey had some other games too:
That's Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter and this is Undaunted: Normandy, a two-player game of the Normandy battles post-D-Day.
It seems the Lookout guys had had enough by the time I got to them, but they had left these behind...
Valley of the Vikings from Haba is nominated for the 2019 Kinderspiel des Jahres prize. You roll a ball at the skittles, allowing you to move tokens for the Vikings whose skittles you knocked over, aiming to leave yours in a scoring position. Most gold in your boat wins after several rounds. It looks great and has some tactical opportunities.
A game about the periodic table? Yes, that's Periodic: A Game of The Elements. Move your dobber to collect elements towards sets of different kinds, or take movement chips back. Singing is optional.
And finally, here's another prototype that's on show:
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