In Review of… 2020 (Part Six)
Following on from last week’s finale of the TV that I enjoyed last year, this week I conclude my look back at the things that kept me sane last year with a brief look at the Board Games that helped me through 2020.
The Board Games
Growing up, we all have those fond memories (mostly) of long Sunday afternoons, hunched over the Monopoly board, praying that there were no arguments, and that you would be the first person to land on, and be able to afford, Mayfair. I remember I enjoyed playing Monopoly – or at least I think I do – I know games of it could go on for hours, and that I probably got bored after three hours of play, or fell out with my brother during it.
Other games from my youth stand out more for me – Battleships, Cluedo, and, later into my teens, HeroQuest, Supremacy and Talisman. These board games, much like Dungeons and Dragons would come to capture my imagination, with a fantastic blend of mystery, escapism, and strategy.
In 2020, as we all sought to escape what was happening in the real world, my love for modern board gaming only deepened. We have a regular group of four, getting together playing our ongoing epic, Risk Legacy, but, of course, all that stopped, as soon as the real world got in the way.
So which games did my wife and I play during 2020? Here’s a detailed look at the game that we have enjoyed the most, and some notable others, from quick, strategic tile laying games, to more involved, day-consuming epics.
No board game list would be complete without this behemoth of a board game. Recently celebrating its 20th year since Hans im Glück gave this beautiful looking tile-laying game to the world, and with numerous expansions available, one of the great board games in recent memory, only continues to get better the more you play it.
On the table, it’s fairly straighforward, even to players not familiar with a lot of modern board games – players randomly pick tiles from a bag, stack, or, if you want to pimp your board game further, a tower to draw tiles from. Pick a tile, place a tile where you can, and assign one of your (in the base game) 7 Meeples – short for “my people” – onto a tile to claim ownership of a road, a field or castle should you wish to.
It’s a simple, brilliant concept, and the more you play it, the more you develop your strategies and tactics, the more you realise how downright nasty and fun this can be. Someone is building a mighty-fine castle, and, rather envious, you are keen to share, or perhaps steal their points and hard work from them. By careful, legal placement of a tile, you can work towards joining the castle together, and if you are really nasty, and this is where the fun comes from, you can have more meeples than the player who started the castle, to complete the castle and oust them with nothing to show for all their hard work. Only when a road or castle is complete do you get your meeple back, so you had better be careful when assigning them to tiles.
It’s great fun, and very satisfying. The tiles are beautiful, capturing the countryside around the real Carcassonne in southern France. Castles are all walled cities, roads have crossroads and villages on them, and there are monasteries and fields to help create your own unique map.
I play this game online at the moment, too (the only board game I seem to enjoy digitally), and my friend calls it Farm Wars, as it ususally descends into a strategic fight to have the most workers (meeples) in a field – at the end of the game every completed castle in your expansive network of fields is worth 3 points. Nice! Similar battles occur on the aforementioned roads, and the randomness of the tile drawing, adds to the tension and excitement. Are you going to get that one tile you have been waiting for the entire game? All I need is this tile to snatch that castle, road, field from my opponent… familillarity with the game also helps you to know what tiles may still be waiting to be drawn.
When I first started playing Carcassonne, it was a gentle, enjoyable game, the prefect tonic for the imperfect situation happening around me. But the more you scratch the surface of this game, and delve deeper into the tactics, the more devilishly fun it becomes.
With a fairly short playtime, it can all be over in less than an hour – longer, of course, if you are playing with expansions. Each of these adds more tiles, meeples and mechanics into the game – but they don’t overwhelm or spoil the game, they just add more depth to an already enjoyable board game, and you can play with any combination of expansions you like or prefer with the base game. Our current favourite is Traders and Builders, which enables you to score more points on roads, if you finish them, and a builder meeple, that allows you to draw an extra tile on an unfinshed castle or road he/she is present upon. New castle tiles also have commodities on them, and if you complete a castle with them in (even if the castle is not yours) you get the commodity. At the end of the game, if you have to most of one commodity, there’s a 10pt bonus waiting for you for each commodity type.
In the first Lockdown, I bought the Carcassonne Big Box for £35, which comes with a whopping great 11 expansions for the game. As there are no written rules on the tiles, only artwork, I bought the Italian version of this and saved well-over £30. If you don’t mind having another language on the box, this is a great way to save money as you can just print out the English rules from the game’s website. That will give you more money to buy all those extra expansions that you will probably feel you need to get, once you fall in love with this game. There are plenty more, many of which are only mini-add-ins, but we are only up to adding expansion 6 to our base game at the moment, so there are plenty of more Farm Wars, err, I mean games of Carcassonne to come.
There are more, in-depth tile-laying games out there (Isle of Skye is brilliant!), but this classic always comes back to the table for us, and, unlike Monopoly, this is a game that won’t descend into arguments and will delight, entertain and leave you keen to play for many more years to come.
My Rating: 9/10 Meeples
Probably my favourite game, though not broken out as much during 2020 as I would have liked, this epic game of colonisation consumes the table space and the hours in the day, but is well worth every second. Players (acting as a CEO) compete in the race to become the most successful Mega-corporation, terraforming the Red Planet with cities, greenspaces, and drinkable water, whilst building up their wealth and resources.
Of course, everyone has their own agenda here, and players have many options and tactics to achieve this, with a huge array of cards to draw from, keep and build. Costs on cards have to be met, mostly through the generation of heat, electricity, credits and resources, and it is here where the game really shines! At the end of the game, of course, the coroporation with the highest Terraforming Rating (TR Points) wins. But the game only ends when the three main game parameters are met – when the heat and oxygen reaches its highest marker, and all nine ocean tiles have been played. With a careful balance of hand management, resource building, generation and creation of facilities, you can orchestrate many different routes to attain your victory. All card are unique, there are no duplicates, which is very impressive, and every game is different, leading to huge replayability.
Even with careful planning of the above, there is no guarantee you will emerge victorious at the final scoring round, wich only adds to the anticipation. Extra points at the end of the game can also be obtained during play by reaching certain milestones, or funding specific awards, and these can often be the deciding factory in a coprporation’s victory.
The game’s playtime and mid-to-steep learning curve will turn away many a player, but Terraforming Mars consistently haunts the Top 10 Best games on most lists, and if you have the patience and the table space for this 2-4 hour epic, you will be launched into another stratosphere of board gaming.
My Rating: 9/10 Meeples
A deckbuilding game in a single box, this fantasy epic from White Wizard Games is a regular on the table. Players take turns using the vast array of cards to build the strength of their hand by buying from the central market, that consists of champions, guards, items, actions and spells. The aim of the game? To get your opponent’s life points down from 50 to zero.
The beauty of Hero Realms is that although there are plenty of booster pack and campaign add-ons available, characters packs for you to play, that offers you even more depth – the base game is self-contained. You don’t need another box, you won’t ever have to buy anything else – you can get started straight away with up to four friends (classes and campaign decks can increase that number). At around £15, this game is a real treat, which can last up to an hour, if you are embroiled in an epic battle, though is usually done in 30-45 mins, and the artwork, from a wide array of talented artists, is beautiful.
Over the last few months, Hero Realms has taken a back seat for some new games, but I know that once it graces our table again, we wll remember why we fell in love with it in the first place.
Hero Realms (Core set)
My Rating: 8/10 Meeples
Other notable games in our collection that have kept us entertained are:-
Isle of Skye (Carcassonne-esque tile placement game, with added barter round)
Viticulture (Run your own vineyard and crush, ahem, your rivals, underneath your feet).
Petrichor (The gentle life of a cloud, moving around the board to rain on fields and grow crops – who knew clouds could be so viscious)
And finally, for now, Photosynthesis (Grow your trees in the forest, but block your opponents light, to emerge from the canopy victorious).
Thank you for being with me these last six weeks, as I looked back at the books, films, Tv and games that saved my 2020. Join me in the coming weeks for more In Review… of features and also a welcome return to 10 Minutes with…