I have been hearing about 7 Wonders for some time now. It won the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres award a couple of years ago along with more other honours than you could shake a stick at, and is known for its scalability: it takes about the same amount of time to play as a two-player game as it does with seven.
So how does it achieve this? Well, the main mechanic is card drafting. Everyone has a hand of cards. Everyone chooses one to keep and play in front of them, then passes the rest to the next player, in turn receiving a new hand from another player. The cards all interact to allow you to build a civilisation with advances in things like trade, science, religion and warfare plus, of course, building one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
So, despite having heard a lot about this game I had never got around to trying it until we had a friend visiting, who brought around his copy for us to try. It turns out the game is not complicated, but there are quite a few icons and interactions between cards to learn about. But Miss B and I just waded in after a quick explanation and learnt the game as we went along. It all went reasonably well and we managed to both build a pretty decent civilisation (though experienced players may differ!) and finish our respective wonders.
There are pretty tricky decisions to make all the time in this game, but it’s nice that you are continually making progress and improving the tableau of cards in front of you. Even if you can’t do anything with the cards you hold, you can remove something that someone else might want and gain some gold into the bargain. Miss B was, by the end, recognising cards that other people might want and trying to frustrate them. This is something that makes 7 Wonders both fun and agonising!
Unfortunately we didn’t have time for a second game, but I suspect it would have gone really well. Both Miss B and I really enjoyed playing and would certainly have another go if given the opportunity. 7 Wonders is definitely high on my wish list, but there is a lot to be said for not having some of the games we really like as it means we can look forward to playing them when we see friends who have them.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6½): “7 Wonders is 9½ out of 10. I’m saying that because it’s not got enough detail in it. I like the pictures, I like how it works, I just think you should have -2 counters as well.”
The game: 7 Wonders (Asmodee), 2 to 7 players, aged 10+.
As you have probably noticed (if you’ve read many of these posts), we get through quite a lot of games in this house. Some of them I’ve had for years, some are bargains picked up in sales or charity shops, some are games that are well established standards, but not that many are new releases. (If someone out there wants to send us their new releases, that would be fine, though. Well, I guess it’s worth a try. :)) Anyhoo, Augustus is fresh out this year, and has picked up a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres award. Reviews have not been entirely positive (basically because of light-weightedness), but what I have seen about it suggests that this could be a good game for us.
Basically, Augustus is a game of bingo set in ancient Rome, with players trying to influence senators and control provinces with legions. Because it turns out that Gaul was conquered by two fat ladies, one little duck, and the Brighton Line. Or something like that.
It doesn’t make much sense, but it works. One player acts as “town crier”, pulling counters from a bag and announcing the icon on each. Everyone can then place a legionary meeple onto a card in front of them, on a space showing that icon (if it has one) and when someone fills all the spaces on a card, they shout, “Ave Caesar!” and win control of that card. These cards all give victory points, but most also give special abilities like placing extra legions or being able to use icons in different ways. When someone gets control of their 7th card the game is over and whoever has the most victory points wins.
We had a little confusion about some of the reward tiles (which you can claim for various things — and I think the rules could be clearer about these), but this was a very quick game to get into, and our first game took well under an hour (the box says 30 minutes, but everything is slower with Miss B). At the end of the game there is a load of totting up of points, and Miss B enjoyed writing down the scores as we went along.
We’ve played a couple of games of Augustus so far and I think it may well get fairly regular play for when we want something a bit bigger than Sleeping Queens or Gubs but not up to getting a longer game out. We’ll see how it goes in the monthly round-ups.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6½): “It was really good. 9¾ out of 10. I liked the way it was a bit like bingo.”
The game: Augustus (Hurrican Editions), 2 to 6 players, aged 8+.
I must admit that when I first heard of Gubs, I thought it looked cute, but didn’t think it would be a hit in our house as it is a lightweight card game with loads of chaotic attacking other players, stealing or destroying their resources. Boy was I wrong. The description I’ve just given is about right but the “take that!” aspect of the game turned out to not be a problem.
This game is basically about trying to have the most gubs (cute little bug-like critters) under your control at the end of the game. This involves playing gub cards in front of you, protecting them with barricades (like mushrooms), luring your opponents’ gubs to your side with shiny things or trapping them in soap bubbles or with shiny rings (which they feel compelled to hold on to), or use a number of dirty tricks to tip the balance in your favour.
One disadvantage of the game is that there is a fair bit of text on some of the cards and you need to figure out how and when to play them. Miss B was soon taking this in her stride, though, and revelling in wiping out my barricades and luring my poor, hapless gubs over to her side.
Gubs is really a very chaotic game, with massive swings happening in play, occasionally due to random events that you really can’t do much about and which could mean that you lose all your cards and have to miss your turn. But, you know what?, we don’t care. There have been a couple of occasions when Miss B’s lower lip has quivered at the way things have gone, but that has never lasted more than a moment and often another turnaround has happened soon afterwards. She keeps coming back for more and over the last couple of weeks this has been, by some margin, our most played game.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6½): “Gubs is 10 out of 10 or 15 out of 15. It is one of my favourite games now. I like the cricket song and how lures, super lures and traps work. I also like the speech marks on the cards.”
The game: Gubs (Gamewright), 2 to 6 players aged 10+.
For some reason we don’t play a lot of dice games. The sort where the dice are the dominant part of the game, that is. I don’t really know why that is, because I generally enjoy them, and Miss B likes rolling dice as much as most. So now we have a new (to us) game, Roll Through the Ages which I have played a few times and now Miss B has given it a go.
Roll Through the Ages has a surprising amount of strategy for something that is all about rolling little wooden cubes. You can use workers to build cities (more dice) or monuments (lots of victory points), you can choose to trade your goods and cash to buy developments to mitigate against bad luck or give you handy bonuses, and there are many other small decisions that can take your empire in various directions.
I really like this game and have actually been playing it quite a bit on yukata.de. Miss B cottoned on to the main ideas pretty quickly and soon got the hang of tracking resources on the peg boards (though I helped her with totalling up the values to speed things along) and enjoyed marking up her purchases on her score sheet. There was a bit of disappointment that her score ended up quite a lot behind mine, but she had made all her own decisions and was pleased that she had managed to complete construction of the Great Wall by the end. I think the monuments are quite nice in this respect as they give something of a sense of achievement (as well as points!) on completion.
The game is probably a little heavyweight for really regular play between us, but I expect it’ll come out from time to time. Apart from anything else, the dice are lovely and the peg boards for tracking goods are wonderful, so it’s just a nice thing to play with.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6½): “Roll Through the Ages is 9 out of 10 and 14 out of 15. I quite like the way the pegs work and the dice rolling, and I like writing things down on the paper.”
The game: Roll Through the Ages (Gryphon Games), 1 to 4 players, aged 8+.
I have a Kindle e-reader, on which I have a number of “dip in” books that I occasionally read a chapter or two from. A recent addition to this selection is Tabletop: Analog Game Design, which is a collection of essays on the design of board games. The book is available for free online or as a PDF download, or on various e-readers for a small charge at their respective shops. I believe a dead-tree version is even available. I’m only about half way through so far and am finding it very interesting, though some chapters are very much better than others.
For me, though, one of the stand-out chapters is 15 Games in 15 Years by Stone Librande. This is an epic tale of a geek dad, who made a simple game for his young son one Christmas, then did another one the next year, and then… Well, as the title suggests, as of the time of writing, this has gone on for fifteen years and covers the growth of two kids. The story goes on quite a long time, but I loved reading about the trials and tribulations, successes and failures, and all round ingenuity and geek daddery being displayed.
Let’s get this out of the way without any mucking about: Get Bit! is a very silly game. Depending on the version you own, you have a bunch of robots, pirates, robot pirates, or whatever, all being pursued through the water by a shark which periodically bites a limb off whomever is closest to it. And you actually have little robot figures which you pull the arms and legs off to indicate their state of incapacity. This is very silly indeed.
The set we have is Get Bit! Deluxe, which comes in a nice tin and has stickers that you attach to the robots to turn them into pirates (though there are also stickers for a skeleton, a zombie, Cthulhu, and a panda), which turns the first play into a craft project, one which Miss B and I enjoyed greatly.
So, to play, you set up the robots in a line with the shark (yup, there’s a little toy shark too) at the end, then everyone plays a numbered card from their hand. Robots are then shunted to the front in order of their card number, but only if nobody else has picked the same number. This can, frankly, be hysterical as you watch your poor robo-pirate slipping back through the line with nothing you can do about it but get bit. Bitten. Whatever.
I was a little concerned that Miss B wouldn’t like the dismembering aspects of the game but I needn’t have worried. The pirates aren’t real, of course, and being allowed to dismantle toys as part of a game is a definite bonus. We just played the game with two of us, which was a little unwieldy as we had two robots each, but it just meant that we had to choose two different coloured cards from our hands each turn. No problem, we got the hang of that. And the time Miss B accidentally chose two cards of the same value (thus preventing both her robots from moving) didn’t turn into an issue, and in fact was funny when it transpired that this ended up in one of my robots losing a limb after all.
We’ve since played a three-player game with S joining us, and this was also quick and fun. I think we have another winner here.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6½): “It’s okay. I’d say 9 out of 10, or 15 out of 20.” (The rating system may need some refinement, but there you have it.)
The game: Get Bit! (Mayday Games), 2 to 6 players (it says 3 to 6 on the tin but gives rules for 2) aged 7+.
I think most folks who play boardgames as a hobby will have come across the name of Reiner Knizia. He is possibly the most prolific game designer in history, and we have already written here about a few of his games: The Hobbit, Heckmeck and, one of our favourites, Loot. He has a reputation for games that are slick and abstract, generally with a pasted on theme. The latest game of his we have tried is Botswana, which is true to form in that it has a wafer thin theme, but it has a special, secret ingredient that lifts it to a new level: loads of toy animals. If you don’t like the game, you can play at zoos.
The game plays quickly and easily. You explore the landscape of Botswana, seeking out animals to
shoot spot by… umm… playing cards with numbers and pictures of the animals on. Then you get to add one of those cute toy animals to your collection. At the end of the game, each animal you own is worth points equal to the value of the most recently played card depicting that animal. That is the whole of the game.
In our first session, we had a two player game with just Miss B and I, then we were joined for another by S, who enjoyed playing. Miss B did OK, but said that we should play on another occasion before she made up her mind about it. This was clearly not a bad game in her eyes, but probably not great either. It is worth pointing out, however, the importance of ensuring, while setting up, that the zebras are separated from any predators in the area by a group of pachyderms which can prevent things turning nasty. Luckily we now have a system for ensuring this.
We have now had another go at the game and it went quickly and easily. I won both of the hands we played but the scores were close enough for there to be a little tension and Miss B was all smiles at the end of it.
To be played well, Botswana needs some planning ahead and occasionally bluffing, which doesn’t come particularly naturally to this six-year-old, but it still works well as a light game. I think the game’s biggest problem is that you deal out all the cards at the start of the game. In a two-player game this means that you have a starting hand of 14 cards (too much even for effective use of the card holder we have), which is awkward for little hands and hence Miss B was making face-down piles of cards on the table and looking through them on her turn. The number of cards in hand goes down quickly, so the problem reduces.
I reckon this is probably going to find its way into semi-regular play.
The verdict from Miss B (aged just about 6½): “I like the game, I like the animals, and I like how you play it.”
The game: Botswana (Gryphon Games), 2 to 5 players aged 7+.