Since George was demoing Fog of Love each morning, I was unleashed on the unsuspecting stalls of the UK Games Expo like a starved board gaming dog. These are some of the games I was lucky enough to try over the weekend.
Speaking of dogs, the Homeward Hound people were playtesting their game in the open gaming area for a lot of the weekend. The designers were lovely people and it was great to chat with them, have a biscuit (not a dog biscuit), and give them feedback on their prototype.
Homeward Hound is deckbuilding game about adopting a dog. The cards are brilliantly mundane or dog related. For example, the self-employed card gives you money when played and a dog bed increases your love factor. Each card makes thematic sense, and you will gradually build a deck full that tells a story of your families. This leads to some hilarious combinations of cards with players having a second child just so they can get more love or buying several dog toys before ever owning a dog. To adopt a dog you need to have a certain amount of money, time and love and a free family card.
Unlike some deckbuilders, all resources other than energy remain at the end of your turn. This means that even if you have a poor hand this turn, it can help for next time. The game was still a prototype with only the dog cards having images. However, I can see great potential for Homeward Hound and I would definitely play it again.
Mr Cabbagehead’s Garden
Mr Cabbagehead is a solo or two-player game about cultivating a vegetable garden. The first thing that struck me about this game was that there was a fake bowl of fruit and veg on the table, and I thought “This is something worth checking out”. And I was right, Mr Cabbagehead’s Garden was a fun little card game.
Players chose one of three cards each turn to put into their garden. However, as any good gardener knows, you need to keep your bees happy. Taking the card on the left removes honey from the beehive and taking the one on the right adds honey. If either is empty, then you can’t take a card from that side. This makes it your choice a little more difficult, as you never want to be overly weighted in one direction as the other. Players score points at the end of the game depending on how many vegetables they have next to each other and other scoring criteria. There are also the naughty neighbours to deal with, who will routinely come and cause a mess in poor Mr Cabbagehead’s garden.
All of the cards look lovely with fantastic artwork for each vegetable and neighbour. Each game is quick enough that you if you make a mistake, you don’t feel like you have wasted your time. This is important for a solo game. The turns move quickly and there is very little slow down when playing the two-player variant. The game was recently Kickstarted, but not yet delivered to backers. If anybody has a copy that they don’t want anymore, give me a shout and I will happily take it off your hands.
Serengeti: A Race For Life
Serengeti is a strange game. It’s a set collection game but not really. It’s also a deck builder but not really. What it is, is a two-player hybrid game with elements of both that forges its own path through the tall grass and emerges a completely different beast. Every card in Serengeti links and relates to the other cards. This creates a synergy and emulates the circle of life in a way that feels very natural. A good example is that you can use lion cards to gain points by going on hunts. However, this creates carcasses that cause negative points. If you have hyenas, then you can use these to devour the carcasses and remove those negative points. This is just one example and everything you play and do matches the theme organically. I didn’t get to try out all of the different cards but will be playing this again shortly.
Above and Below
I’ve watched Above and Below from a distance from a while, thinking that it looked interesting but concerned that the various elements didn’t gel. Unfortunately, my assumptions I found this to be the case. The worker placement part of Above and Below is limited and involves zero interaction with the other players. You can pick a card from the market before somebody else and this might scupper their plans, but that is about it. Selling items that you find feels like a last-ditch attempt to squeeze some interactivity between players and was barely used in my game.
Surely, though this is a game all about exploring and adventuring? The worker placement and ‘winning’ are all secondary to delving into the dark below and uncovering its secrets? If you have ever played any interactive fiction (Fighting Fantasy, any of the Inkle games, Fallen London), then you will be left feeling empty after each encounter in Above and Below. There is basically no narrative, you choose an option, roll some dice and succeed or don’t. The stories don’t link together or affect anything and if you fail, then you just don’t get any items. It’s incredibly disappointing.
Above and Below sets itself up as a eurogame with a choose your own adventure book weaved inside. However, what you end up with is a poorer version of both and a game that isn’t worth your time.
Solar City was intriguing. It definitely felt like it had potential, but also like something was missing. This is a city builder played on a grid. Players take turns buying buildings to fill their grid and activating its lines. Once a row or column has been used, it can’t be used by another player. This lends the game an interesting layer of strategy as you purposefully lock off options for your opponents. Skyscrapers won’t score any points on their standard side. Instead, they need to be flipped to their reverse as players compete to score eco points.
After a two player game, I was intrigued by how this game would be more interesting with more people. Deciding when to flip a skyscraper was an interesting decision as they often gave a one-off power, but become useless for the rest of the game. Also, the theme of creating a ‘solarpunk’ city was an interesting counterpoint to cyberpunk and other city building games. You are actively trying to create a sustainable and eco-friendly city throughout the game which is a concept I get happily get behind. The game is on Kickstarter right now.
Wreck and Ruin
Wreck and Ruin is a hex-based car combat game with clear Mad Max influences. Players take their band of vehicles and charge through a wasteland capturing locations and exploding their opponents. Each vehicle has different stats and a special ability, but players can rarely activate all of their pieces in one turn so forethought is required. To capture a point, a player must remain in a hex for a full turn. This means that it regularly falls to the player on your left to try and stop you scoring points. This creates organic rivalries and makes each turn intense. Another thing that I loved was the way damage is represented by small flame tokens that clip into the side of each car – this is genius. Wreck and Ruin was successfully Kickstarted during the UK Games Expo. I was lucky enough to have a chat with the designer, so keep an ear out for that in our podcast feed.
This was a power demo. With only 10 minutes to play after the rules explanation, I only got a light feel for how it all comes together. However, I can tell you that Perdition’s Mouth is a cooperative dungeon crawler that requires discussion with your teammates. This is mostly due to the game’s core mechanic – the action wheel. On your turn, you have a limited number of action points and you need them to do anything. Some of these points need to be spent to move around the action wheel. The wheel denotes which actions a player can take. This means that you can spend lots of action points moving a long way around the wheel, but have less to do the action or work out a better way with your teammates.
Certain spaces only have room for one or two players, so turn order is very important. Players also have a hand of cards that allow them to do one-off abilities. However, I didn’t like this as much as it felt very “and now I do a thing” and didn’t really add anything to the game. Another Kickstarter game that felt indicative of the landscape, from the small part I played the cards actually take something away rather than adding anything meaningful. However, Kickstarter is often “more is better” so it is a difficult line to walk.
Huns was one of the first games I played at the UK Games Expo, and it was with the lovely Quinns and Matt from Shut Up & Sit Down. Huns, like many before it, is a points scoring game. Players are gathering cubes, filling carts, collecting treasures, recruiting people and doing everything they can to scrape together a few extra points.
Each round, you roll five coloured dice. This dictates the number of cubes of that colour you can pick up or how many cards you can look at and pick one. One of the best things about Huns is that each card is unique with their own artwork and ability – this means that card combinations will be radically different each game.
One of these decks is where all the curse cards live. These are the teeth waiting to snap at your fingers in Huns. One curse, you can probably manage that right? How about two? Or three? Curses aren’t necessarily how you are going to win at Huns, but they might be how you can prevent another player from streaking ahead. It is also hilarious to pick that black die and go “Oh, well, I guess I should just take a curse card.” before presenting to another player with glee.
Heroes of Tenefyr
For people not in the know, this is the stall where all the delicious Dutch biscuits were from. It was also where I got to meet the lovely duo from Semi Co-op. Heroes of Tenefyr is a cooperative dungeon crawler with deck building but it something closer to a cooperative version of blackjack. Players use their decks to overcome various monsters by jointly having enough damage to defeat them. As you vanquish monsters and complete dungeons, you will gradually improve your deck. The overall goal is to become strong enough to tackle the devastating final boss. Unfortunately, in our game, we pinged off the Dark Lord like a fly trying to topple the Eiffel Tower.
However, we really needed to communicate and cooperate to even stand a chance of beating each monster. Since everyone has their own unique deck and character class it’s hard to get into a situation where people end up telling you what to do. This makes the puzzle feel personal and like you are contributing to a team. Thumbs up for the people I played with and the game itself.
I know I said this in the last UK Games Expo article, but it needs repeating. Thank you so much to everyone who showed me your game, demoed something with me or that I chatted with. This weekend was easily one of the highlights of the year. If I played your game and haven’t mentioned it above, then I’m sorry. It might get its own dedicated article or I have completely blanked. Thanks again and I hope to see you all next year.
You can find the rest of our UKGE 2018 coverage on our collective round-up article. If you want more board games in general, then why not read the Best Bit of Arctic Scavengers or our review of solo fire defence game, Sylvion.
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