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Neil Walter's Essen Review

Essen Games Impressions 2011

This was my 13th trip to the show and from a games on show viewpoint, rather an unremarkable and disappointing one, not helped admittedly by the non arrival of games like Ora at Labora, TheVillage and Bullfrog Goldfield that were at the very top of my potential buy list. Apart from that I can report that production quality is up, prices are up, the icons are overwhelming and that the action selection mechanic is still going strong and shows little sign of waning. There were some good games there, but not any really stand out ones. Some of the higher rated games from the show such as ‘Trajan’ and ‘Eclipse’ I haven’t tried yet as Herr Feld’s offerings and multi player conflict/civ types are no longer first choices for me, but here are some thoughts on the ones I have tried:


A game set in a South Sea Island paradise is not a setting you would associate with the meanest (brutal even) action selection mechanic you’re ever likely to come across. The potential for screwage when selecting your actions creates a lot of tension that I like. You can easily end up with no actions in a turn if you’re not careful. Believe me I know because I’ve been there! Has this put me off? Well no actually as it was all my own fault and could easily have been avoided and you just make a mental note for next time. The game is tactical and opportunistic and is essentially a race to claim (fish, treasure, goods) or place (huts, tourists, sand drawings) before anyone else. Position is important both in the turn order and where your boat is on the board. Vanuatu also features an unusual cash to vp conversion mechanic that can easily catch out the unwary. Nice artwork and thematically very strong for a euro, this is definitely one of the more challenging and original games from the show.

Walnut Grove

I thought this game evoked the Wild West rather well for a Euro. You set up a ranch, extend your lands and farm them, use the produce to feed your workers, or sell for cash and services (upgrades to your ranch and more workers to hire) in the local town. Not forgetting of course to keep sufficient back to keep the home fires burning. All good stuff. I also like the tension in the decision you sometimes need to make whether to keep produce or coins when you run out of space in your barns. Activities take place around the four seasons of the year, three of which can be conducted simultaneously, while the remaining one in Autumn of moving around the town is conducted in strict order. WG is for the most part a multi player solitaire but the simultaneous actions do keep the game moving along. I am comfortable with this in the hour time frame it takes to play, and there are sufficient things going on to maintain interest. I have enjoyed all my four games so far.

Pret a Porter

Don’t let the fashion theme put you off as despite all appearances this is a very good business game. Although there are plenty of options to choose from, perhaps too many, this isn’t a difficult game to play. Having to learn yet another set of icons is a pain and will make your first game comfortably drift past the two hour mark. But it’s worth the effort if you like economic type games. Tension comes from the continual pressure to get your buildings, employees, contracts, designs and materials all together in time for the fashion shows. All these are acquired using our old friend action selection. Cash is tight at the start and credit or emergency loans may be necessary. Third game in and it’s getting even better now with more familiarity. It’s also possible to make a comeback from a poor start so that is a further plus.

German Railways

This Queen remake of one of Winsome’s Essen 2010 bundle, Preussische Ostbahn is from the same stable as Chicago Express and they both share similarities in the way they handle the share buying and track builds. Notable differences are that the railways in GR each have different attributes which is good and also the way player actions are determined which most definitely isn’t good. Random draws from a bag to see if I get an action or not doesn’t do it for me I’m afraid, so very unlikely I’ll be playing this again. I’ll stick with Chicago Express.

Bullfrog Goldfield

One of my top games to try that was missing from the show. Fortunately I managed to get hold of a paper copy that I have since mounted and played. Good news is that it didn’t disappoint. BG is a heady mix of railway building, mining and share trading set in early 20th century Nevada. The stock market is volatile and the mines run the risk of depletion. Perfect planners look away now. Tension mounts as mines near exhaustion and investors agonise over whether to ditch their shareholding or risk holding on for another year. Great stuff! Looking forward to getting a real copy and hopefully it won’t be too long before they arrive. My best of show even though it wasn’t there!

Urban Sprawl

The core idea of town building with a dash of politics is certainly one that is very appealing to me, so I had high hopes for this game. Sadly it didn’t deliver on a number of levels. Downtime is excessive as it is not possible to plan between turns because the cards and the board position are constantly changing. You have no idea what cards will be available until your turn actually arrives. And when it does arrive any decisions were strictly limited to the cards currently on display. Swingy event cards also add an unwelcome dose of chaos that I don’t find acceptable in a 3 to 4 hour game. For a lot of the time I felt that I was a spectator rather than a player. As you’ve probably gathered I didn’t care for it too much.

Santiago de Cuba

A light and fun little game set in Cuba world. Ideal for family play but also with sufficient interest to keep a hardened gamer like me amused (ideal after 5 hours of 18xx). It very easy to explain with its simple mechanics, quick turns and playing time that comes in at between 45 and 60 minutes. There are icons to get acquainted with but not too many and you will have them down pat after a few turns. Good variability as action discs (Cuban workers and artisans) and buildings are randomly laid out for each game. Randomness comes in the form of dice rolled reflecting the demand for each good to be loaded on the ship in port. I particularly like the tactical manovering of the car around the circuit of actions especially when it nears the port. With a limited demand for goods, it’s generally better to be first there. In the crowded market of light fillers, this is a very good one.


Just when you thought it would be impossible to design another game that features buildings, yet another one comes along to prove you wrong. Whereas in games like ‘Cuba’ for example where there are lots of other very interesting things going on in the game, here there is little else happening. You build buildings, collect resources, followed by conversion to other resources, cash and vps at other buildings. Repeat for 90+ minutes. That’s it. It works but sadly its one dimensional and not particularly exciting. Shame really as Peer Sylvester’s earlier King of Siam is a very good and original game that I enjoy, so I was expecting rather more from this. On a positive note, the game certainly looks great, components are excellent and the rules are short and easy to digest.

Last Will

An originally themed game with the object of getting rid of all your money based on the idea of the 80s film Brewster’s Millions. On looks alone this game is the business. The cards are gloriously illustrated that adds to the pleasure of playing. While the game play is interesting as you try and work out the best cards or combo of cards from various different types of decks to draft and play as actions, for me there was also a sense that the game lasted way too long for what it is. Admittedly this wasn’t helped with the constant reference to the rules for explanations of the icons and card effects. I feel the game falls in that uncomfortable slot of being slightly too complicated as a filler or family game and too long to maintain your interest. It’d be fantastic with a playing time of no longer than an hour, but it isn’t with four or more. However I do like and am happy to play Last Will provided it is with no more than three players.


Well Herren Rieneck and Stadler had to come unstuck sooner or later. To be fair to ask the designers of such great games as ‘Pillars of the Earth’, ‘Cuba’and ‘World without En’d to come up with another winner was probably asking a lot. What usually makes these two’s designs a fantastic marriage of theme and game play is conspicuously absent from Fortuna. Apart from the cool card swapping mechanic there is little else to recommend it. I don’t usually mind a bit of dice rolling but felt that the outcomes here just held sway a little too much for comfort. And the object of all this activity to race your citizen along your own track to the centre of Rome doesn’t exactly get the pulse racing either. Pass.

Show Manager

This re-release of Dirk Henn’s 90’s classic introduces the forerunner of the “unwanted cards slide down the track to a cheaper price” mechanic similar to the one revived in the recent release of Urban Sprawl. A set collecting card game with the twist that your hand limit of cards potentially forces you to put on a show with a less than ideal cast of artistes. Simple, quick and fun to play for gamers and family alike. Certainly one to look out for if it’s missing from your collection.


Another action selection game where you can marry off your boys and girls with partners in other villages (for extra benefits plus offspring) as the original feature, combined with the more familiar build buildings that produce resources to get more buildings and yet more resources etc….…you get the drift. It’s workmanlike and dull even right down to the brown hues of the graphics, a total contrast to Matthias Cramer’s more colourful and excellent earlier release, Lancaster. Unless you are looking to complete your collection with a game that features goats, I recommend you give this a miss.


I am still behind on my Essen 2011 games - there are lots still to be played, but having found Eclipse i'm quite happy to keep playing the same game!

The other stand out is another game that's not available - Vanuatu. The publisher has sold out and a reprint depends on distributors persuading the Krok Nil Douil chaps their is demand.

Oh my. This game is vicious - the whole hook and competition hangs around the action selection mechanic. And you can end up placing five action tokens and taking no actions if you have been very stupid, more likely you can end up only taking two whilst a smart opponent takes four - It creates an incredible tension and competition for scarce resources. Not only can you get screwed when selecting actions you can then get rear ended by the order that other gamers take theirs.

The rest is the usual sell stuff/collect stuff/deliver stuff (though thankfully simplistic without any flim flam)

The action selection is a stoke of genius - it has put my copy of Vasco Da Gama on the trade pile - a game for euro gamers who like it bloody in tooth and claw - and most certainly not for the squeamish or solitaire cube pusher

As of mid November 2011 this is one of my top 2 Essen pics.

Call off the search!

...Because the perfect 4x, Ti3 space opera 'Lite', has been found. No need for gaming wild goose chases, no false reports of grail sightings at ZippoCon XXVI, no need for any more mixed metaphors. 'Eclipse' has just catapulted to the top of my Essen games pile, heck to the top of the 2011 pile - and this based on one incomplete 2 player game. Opening a lot of games can make me a little jaundiced about new releases, if not even cynical and having watched the hype for 'Eclipse' grow on the 'Geek, and from an unknown designer to boot, my response has been of the 'yea right' variety. Until I heard there were only 150 English language copies at Essen and then lemming mode kicked in and I immediately pre-ordered, if only to sell it on after the show to a friend who might want it. After queuing for what seemed like the whole of Friday morning at the show (25 minutes) I was close to abandoning the line but was persuaded not to - and how glad I am.

My bias is to Euro design but I do like a story and a bit of conflict. 'Eclipse' takes the best of Euro design and melds it into a Sci Fi universe, not quite Opera but certainly richly populated. What do I like so much that it makes the game my current squeeze?

1) Action selection - do one thing and on to the next player, limited down time (the curse of Space opera is that it can take a lot of pages of libretto until you get to sing). Repeat until you pass (and you can repeat the same action at no penalty) - then you can comeback in with half actions if anyone gets nasty whilst you were resting.

2) Resources v Actions - there is a balance between what you want to do and what you can afford to. Despite the game only lasting for 9 rounds (believe me it feels like 'only') you can vary the intensity of actions by saving betwwen turns, or trading between resources (especially for the Terrans)

3) The tech to upgrade ships cycle - This is the piece de resistance. There are a lot of juicy technology upgrades in the game - however at the beginning of the technology board is seeded with a small random set of advances (with more coming out each turn) - so you might see a mixture of expensive and cheap techs, or multiple copies of one of the techs (each player has to take a tech chit to benefit). It creates real tension in the timing of the 'Research' action (so often an uncontentious one) as there may only be one of the tech you need out or along the discount path you want (there are three branches of technology - but no prerequisite you just get a progressive discount on future purchases of techs from the same row). Once you have acquired the technology then upgrading is a separate action - just grab the parts that the tech. has entitled you too (well two pieces max) and place them in your ship templates. Customising your ships becomes a puzzle in itself, and your strategy in the game can be determined by a couple of synergistic early tech. grabs - in my one half game I had fire power but my opponent had manoeuvrability.

4) Upkeep is really simple - can I afford to pay for the actions I took in the last round?

The only down side to the game that I can see is that its not on general release yet

Essen - some very early impressions

A couple of friends have asked what I have made of the Essen 2011 crop. The right answer should be – I don’t know yet, I have not played many of the games and I have certainly not played them enough to have formed an opinion. What I do have though is some early impressions
Overall they are positive _ i have only played one game I disliked (more on that later) and I have played a few I have liked, one or two I think I am going to love and there a couple waiting in the wings which are really exciting

Like last year (with Civilization the board game) the games that registered highest on the ‘OMG it’s here and I must have it!’ scale are not really Essen releases. The first was ‘Urban Sprawl’ – I was able to pick up my P500 copy (yes I know I am a retailer and can get them at cost but some GMT games have to be in my hands as soon as humanly possible). I enjoyed my one play –I was in a minority of one though. Its long, chaotic, requires constant reassessment of the board and you can get dented by the flip of card. Sounds familiar? It should being a Chad Jensen Euro, and it does feel a lot like ‘Dominant Species’ and though this has a theme I’m more interested my cagey and qualified assessment is that I think DS the better game. 'Urban Sprawl' is a game though I want to play again (and again) to get to know the cards, like 'Through The Ages' and 'Twilight Struggle' I expect the experience to get richer with more plays and more familiarity , my fear though is that I am going to struggle to find opponents.

The other OMG game was ‘Fame and Fortune’, the expansion to Civilization – I am yet to play it but the new powers, Leaders, investments etc look like it’s going to add loads more chromatic fun to one of my favourite games

The last OMG game was’ Ora et Labora’ and it was not at Essen in an English version. I did lean over the shoulder of some Germans playing the Lookout edition and I have one very big worry about the game – the cards are tiny, they go into your tableau but all your neighbours need to see them and what they do. This could kill the game stone cold dead for me if it’s going to be interrupted every 2 minutes by players leaning over the table asking ‘what does your buttery do again?’

Of the games I have played ‘Dungeon Petz’, ‘Last Will’ and ‘First Sparks’ have been the most impressive. No one seems to agree with me but ‘Dungeon Petz’ puts me in mind of a simpler and more streamlined ‘Vinhos’ – in this game though Pets are purchased, held in cages, entertained by imps and age. To score points you need to sell them and/or exhibit them. The rule book is a little intimidating but game play is quite smooth, the hook and genius of the game is the need to keep the Petz happy, fed, entertained and contained – and the card draw system that drives this is very clever

I have not been the other Vlaada’s biggest fan with ‘Shipyard’ and 200th Century falling a little flat for me; however i really like ‘Last Will’ – it’s an efficiency engine card drafting and playing game masquerading as ‘Brewster’s Millions’.

'First Sparks' is my favourite game from the green haired one since..oh Power Grid. The game is easy to teach and play and I predict will become a top gateway game – it’s not going to be loved by some Power Grid purists, but as a 45 minute family game it’s a smash

I have invested five evenings in learning the rules to ‘Mage Knight’ – the walkthrough (essentially the rule book) is 20 pages long but printed in a font that makes equivalent to most 40 page rule books. Martin Wallace took the build a deck mechanic of Dominion and turned into to use in a short war game, Chvatil has put the mechanic at the core of a beast of a game. I’m not sure game is the right phrase, as it feels more like a universe - It is huge ; complexity, flavour, variability. At its core though is the deck building mechanic which creates Euro style questions of players in an adventure game. I have only played the walkthrough first scenario and am looking forward to delving deeper into this game – though being so complex I’m not keen to ever have to teach the game again

At the opposite end of the complexity and size scale is Martin Wallace’s filler ‘Old men of the Forest’ ‘ it’s a delightful counter intuitive card game that left me feeling like I’d been to trying to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. All profits from this go to charity, so not only can you pick up a good game but you can also do some good by purchasing here.
Ever since ‘Glen More’ erupted from Nuremburg 2010 I have been watching the career of Mathias Cramer with interest. ‘Helvetia’ is his third game and one I need to play again to make my mind up on, the action selection and method of getting more meeples is really engaging – however the rest of the game is goods conversion and a race to get those goods to market which felt a little anticlimactic.

‘Welcome to Walnut Grove’ is my least favourite of the Essen release I have played; billed as Agricola meets Carcassonne it actually has only a superficial similarity to the two classics. I am not the biggest fans of solitaire optimisation games and in each of the eight rounds three phases of them are spent taking actions simultaneously without reference to the other players at the table. The other thing that left me lukewarm is that the eight year tiles in the game are always seen so once you know what to expect (they come out semi randomly) you are planning around them.

Though I am yet to play it I am tremendously excited by ‘Eclipse’ (from the same designer as WAlnut Grove), it’s another shot at the Ti3 lite game and this looks like it might be the ‘one’ – the Euro economics combined with Ameritrash combat look like a potent combination. The other touch I like is the semi-random way the techs come out each round.

I have two weekends of gaming coming up in November and games that are queued up for table time are Vanuatu, Eclipse, Civilisation plus expansion, Urban Sprawl, Pret a Porter, Air Show, Panic Station, Singapore, Mil 1049, Nefarious, Space Bastards, Trajan, and Core Worlds – that is about the order of preference as well. Six days of gaming should be enough to give them all an outing.

Essen wednesday

Great journey - almost empty roads.

The story of the show on Wednesday is how many games are stuck in customs or 'hopefully' arriving on Thursday - I won't name them as I don't want to start a panic

Despite that I have already managed to collect all my White Goblin, CGE, Portal, Gen x, Rallyman and Sierras Madre games.

Looks like limited numbers at show means no Trajan, Tournay or Mil 1049 for shops which is a shame.

Great to see so many old friends at the Handelshof and around the halls - Wednesday is my favourite day at Essen

On a personal note v excited to see the Sid Meier Civ expansion here and will be picking one up today

Only played one game so far -a cute game which I can't remember the name of :)

Wrong again...

The IGA multi player strategy award went to 7 Wonders - and well deserved too! Not my pick (if i ever get one right it will be chance) but a good choice.

As I predicted 'A few acres of snow' won the 2 player award - I suspect it was almost unanimous.

The next Counter magazine will have detials of the voting and it will be interesting to see how clear cut was the 7 Wonders victory and whether any other game on the 2 player list got a look in

The IGA nominees and a return to form for Euros

After 2010's parade of ‘just above average’ the 2011 shortlist for the IGA is evidence of a return to form for Euro games. There are some genuinely strong contenders for the multiplayer award and a shoe in for the 2 player. I wrote a long piece on the 2011 nominees [link] bemoaning the quality or originality of the candidates - 2011 though is an impressive field. There are not many of the nominees that can be dismissed as also run but there are a couple of make weights; ‘Asara’ and ‘K2’ are the two that fail to make the cut. Both games are pleasant to play, and the closest to the family gamer end of the spectrum of the shortlist. In fact ‘K2’is a game I now only play with family, with gamers it falls flat as the congestion at the top of the mountain creates too many artificial situations. ‘Asara’ though is a most enjoyable 45 minutes, made entirely by the action selection mechanic. Despite the merits of both games they fall short of IGA winning pedigree. Last year I dismissed the eventual winner, ‘Age of Industry’, because it is an iteration of ‘Brass’. Despite that I am going to say that ‘Incan Empire’ is the next to miss the cut - it's almost the same game as Tahuantinsuyu, and Despites it's merits I doubt that that many of the jury have played this edition. I am delighted to see ‘Airlines Europe’ make the short cut - however I think it falls foul of both being part of a venerable chain of Alan Moon transport games. So that leaves seven. And I would not be suprised to see any of them as the eventual winner. ‘London‘is the weakest of the candidates, it's Wallace treading water - however its very widely played and could benefit from vote transfers ala St Petersburg. I wonder if the underwhelming critical reception for ‘London’ was because its card play seems slow and cumbersome in comparison with 2011 Kennerspiel winner 7 Wonders? Here is a game that is instantly appealing, not going to suffer from not being played multiple times by the jury panel. Moreover the drafting mechanic is a very fresh take on the Civilisation building game. A strong contender, though it would have the shortest play time of any IGA winner and I have a feeling that might count against the game in some people’s eyes – it would break the mould of previous winners. ‘Die Burgen von Burgen’ has last mover advantage; it was released in 2011 and is probably quite fresh in the mind of the jurists. It's a typical Feld game in that it has clever mechanics, is intricate and the first few games are a spent going up a steep learning curve. However, a little like ‘Macao’ the charm of the game wears off after repeated plays. The intricacies of the tile interactions are aimed inward, it's very much a solitaire experience. Moreover the combos start to feel like stutter steps without an overarching strategic arc to the game. Add in the wafer thin theme and the production values I would not be voting for this game - however like ‘London’ I can see this benefiting from the transferrable vote. I would love to see ‘Dominant Species’ win the IGA; it's the antithesis of ‘Die Burgen’, theme rich, interactive and with a real arc to the game. It might be too rich faire for some and I can’t quite see this as eventual winner. And then there were three. My own view of ‘Vinhos’ is skewed by having to teach the game in each of the four times I have played – there were so many rules questions throughout that I felt more like a moderator than a participant. It’s a game I admire more than like, and I feel there is too much of a wrestling match with the mechanics for this to be a truly great economic game – but its close and was obviously crafted with love for and fidelity with the subject matter. This could be the winner, but it does polarise opinion and that might just cause it to fall short. That leaves two – and it is a choice between the innovative ‘Troyes’ and the perfectly honed old school mechanics of ‘Navegador’. I like ‘Troyes’ but I love ‘Navegador’ – it’s the most elegant design of the rondel series. ‘Troyes’ feels a little rough around the edges in comparison. However, my personal opinion does not matter it the jury that counts – and I can see both of these picking up a lot of first or second place votes. My feeling? ‘Navegador’ by a nose for the multiplayer strategy 2011 IGA award Evidence of the strength of this year’s field is the omission of ‘Sid Meier’s ‘Civilization: The Board game’, ‘Pantheon’ and the superb ‘Key Market’ The two player award can be handed over now – ‘A Few Acres of Snow’ is a magnificent game, and regardless of the merits of the other games on the short list (none of which I have played – not I can I imagine many of the jurists will have played either). The two player nominees seem a bit lacking – no ‘Basilica’, ‘Yomi’, ‘Railroad Barons. If there were a market on boardgame awards I Would advise you to act on any of the above – I have a Zero percent record in predecition eventual winners

New Releases 19th July

‘Olympos’ confirmed for next Tuesday, from Ystari and Philippe Keyaerts (Vinci, Small World and Evo), is a fast playing game of technology development, prayer and conflict set in Ancient Greece.

‘Grimoire’ has been printed in a new edition by Zman games, originally a Japon Brand design this was my fastest selling game from Essen 2010. Best described as a cross between ‘Citadels’ and ‘Fairy Tale’ this game has been a sort after cult classic, now everyone can own a copy.

‘Age of Industry Expansion one’ is a double sided board with maps of Minnesota and Japan.
Both are excellent with Japan players need to plan for the scarcity of home grown natural resources and on the Minnesota map Chicago dominates the board, with special rules for iron production and sales.

‘NightFighter’ from GMT and Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (‘Downtown’, ‘The Burning Blue’) , simulates the cat and mouse fights in the night sky above Germany and Japan. Game play is quick at under an hour for each scenario; and players take it in turns to control the night fighters or moderate for the other player

‘Case Yellow’, GMT and Ted Reicer, is a light simulation of the 1940 invasion of France.
Already in store is ‘Miskatonic Horror’ which contains additional game material for Arkahm Horror and its expansions.

The 2011 reprint editions of ‘Curse of the Dark Pharoah’ and ‘The King in Yellow’ are in stock.


‘Olympus’ (with a ‘U’) was one of my top three picks from 2010 – its been reprinted and is back in stock as is ‘Cosmic Encounter’.

Bargain ‘Troyes’ is back and I have managed to pick up some very inexpensive German automobiles (its language independent and I will provide English rules

The Royal Society of Gamers Podcast

I have a new favourite podcast. Checkout The Royal Society of Gamers Podcast.

A quick-and-dirty wargame taxonomy

Most seasoned board game spotters don’t need binoculars to tell the difference between Fantasy Flight-produced Ameritrash and its European cousins, the Caylus family of luck-free games. On the other hand, the dizzying array of wargames can present problems for even veteran gamers.

In this entry, we’ll identify the main phyla of these games – their identifying marks, their habits, their mating rituals – and briefly discuss what makes them tick. Wargames aren’t as daunting as they may seem at first, and there’s at least one out there for nearly everyone.

Card-driven wargames

These games – often called CDGs – come in all shapes and sizes, some easy and accessible and others quite daunting. Typically, players will have a hand of cards that they can use to move armies around or give them actions; this can mean commanding individual troops (as in GMT’s Combat Commander), whole legions (as in Sword of Rome) or squads (Memoir ’44). The grandfather of this genre, Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage, has not only escaped extinction, it’s won legions of fans (and a few reprints) since it was released in 1996. The American company GMT Games is one of the biggest producers of this subtype - they make many (though certainly not all) of the best card-driven games, backed up with a superb attitude toward their customers.

Lighter card-driven wargames include the aforementioned Memoir ’44, its fantasy clone Battlelore, and the complex-seeming but easy-playing Maria, which uses an innovative system based on playing cards.

More complex card-driven games include the squad-level classic Combat Commander; the magnificent, deep World War I game Paths of Glory; and Successors, a truly brilliant and not-overly-long multiplayer game about the ills that befell the Macedonian empire after the death of Alexander the Great.

Block games

Block games can be recognised by the heft of the boxes they come in. Block wargames usually mean moving armies around a map, with each wooden block labelled on only one side and representing a unit of varying strength. Since your opponent can see how many blocks are in an advancing army but may not know exactly what kind of troops you’re moving, block games usually mean making careful decisions with only partial information. These games go out of their way to model the 'fog of war', the notorious difficulty military commanders face as they try to make the best decisions. Columbia Games is widely noted for its range of block wargames (which are usually heavy in more ways than one).

Notable block games include Hammer of the Scots, Bobby Lee and Richard III. Also, keep your eyes peeled in case Europe Engulfed if it comes back into print - it may be the best example of the genre.

Hex-and-counter wargames

If you’ve ever seen a few grizzled board gamers huddled pushing cardboard chits around on a board that’s divided up in to hexagons, this is what they were doing. (For mathematical reasons, hexagons are easily tiled, and offer finer control of movement and facing than would be possible on a mere grid.) While these games can frighten off anyone but the most dedicated grognard, the hex-and-counter crowd harbour a dark secret: these games are easier than they look.

Conflict of Heroes is a common gateway into the world of hex-and-counter gaming, as are most of Victory Point’s budget productions of extraordinarily fun games. For heavier fare, try SPQR or A Victory Denied.

Hybrid wargames

Some designers can’t just stick to one mechanic, and given the breadth of wargames out there, it shouldn't surprise anyone that plenty of mongrels populate the genre – and some hybrids are among the most acclaimed wargames available.
Commands & Colors: Ancients and its sequel, Commands & Colors: Napoleonics both use a combination of blocks and cards, while also behaving a lot like a simplified hex-and-counter game. While putting the stickers on the blocks can be a chore, the games themselves are history-buff heaven. They're an engaging way to while away the hours, picking up strategies from Caesar, Scipio and Boneparte himself without feeling like you're studying for a history A-level.

Many a nerd has engaged in internet fisticuffs over whether GMT’s card-driven Cold War game Twilight Struggle is a wargame at all. Players use cards as events but also to influence different countries’ disposition toward their chosen superpower. While learning TS can feel like a steep climb, it’s easy enough once you grasp your options, it's highly replayable, and as of this writing, users at Boardgamegeek have rated it the best game currently in production.

Eleven Games Every Family Should Own (Or, How to Train Your Gaming Ninja)

Go on, admit it. When your first squalling infant emerged into the world, you celebrated, you looked fondly on as she took her first step, grew her first tooth... and yet, in the dead of night, you were already plotting to get her to join your hobby.

Here’s our suggestions for the first games that should hit the table, once your young turn ten or so. Use whatever rationale works best. Call them ‘Family Night.’ Call them a bonding activity. Because really, you know you’re training your ninja spawn, honing her skills so one day she can go out into the world and kill on her own... at the Agricola table.

[Note: if you’re not already a board gamer, you’ll be seeing the world this way just a few games in. Jump in!]

Ticket to Ride

Probably the ultimate family game, in Days of Wonder’s venerable Ticket to Ride franchise, you teach your children to take the cards their opponents need out of sheer cruelty, to sense and exploit weakness, and to block other players’ moves. Like Karate Kid’s Mister Miyagi might say, ‘Wax on, wax off!’

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is a game in which players build up settlements that score them resources on certain rolls of the die. There’s also a trading phase, so game ninjas-in-training can learn when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, when to trade and when to hold out. The dice still play a big role in your ultimate fate, so young players can always blame their failures on luck.


Not all beans are created equal. This light card game teaches young gamers the importance of scarcity, and acquiring the right bean at the right time. If your young student can master the art of trading a stink bean for a valuable one, then what are you doing reading this article? You should have them enrolled at La Sorbonne already!

No Thanks!

Every budding ninja needs to know her limits. In this push-your-luck game, players can either give a chip or take a card, but chips are important (and limited), and cards give negative points. No Thanks! features incredibly simple rules but strategy that takes a lifetime to master, and it’s a quick game, sure to satisfy even the most jaded sensei.


Lurking inside every child gamer is a vicious beast, struggling to emerge and destroy! What makes the tile-laying game Carcassonne singularly appropriate for training young gamers is its scalability: it can be played casually, simply, kindly... but once players are past the basics, they can use meeples and tiles to destroy other players’ cities, to cancel each other’s farmers out, and to steal points out from under their opponents’ noses.


Sneaking past an enemy daimyo’s forces requires swift, precise movements. Spend a few hours a week sharpening your students’ coordination with this block-piling dexterity game, and each hour will repay them tenfold... with the swift deaths of their enemies.


Young shinobi all think they’re going to live forever. An experienced ninja is always aware of the possibility of defeat; that’s how they learn to value patience. Sometimes the long way around is best. K2 is perfect for imparting these lessons – players scale the world’s toughest peak, choosing their path up carefully, hanging back as long as they can while struggling to acclimatise to the thinning oxygen every step of the way. Sometimes players have to harden their hearts, and leave one of their team’s climbers behind – but to make a decent omelette, you have to break some yolks.


The young trainee's mind should never be at rest, but there are times when an abstract, Tetris-like game is just what the doctor ordered. Blokus works well for two, three or four; it refines players' sense of spatial relationships, helping to develop IQ and grace under pressure. You don’t even have to know your Jackie Chan from your Koharumaru to enjoy this one.

Survive! Escape from Atlantis

Survive! is based on an ’80s-era classic in which players flee the sinking island of Atlantis while trying to keep track of their hard-won treasure amid the chaos. As the venerable Sengoku-era Ninja master Hachisuka Tenzo learned during his botched attempt on Takeda Shingen’s life, knowing how to escape in style can be as important as knowing how to get in.


Swift calculation, economy of movement, focus: these are the watchwords of the ninja. Alhambra is a city-building, tile-laying game that rewards those who can react to their opponents’ actions as efficiently as possible. Use Alhambra to refine your trainee’s tactical sense.


The last step in the ladder before joining the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or playing Agricola). It’s a game about keeping animals in a zoo. Unfortunately for this metaphor, there’s nothing even remotely menacing about it.

Paul's 2010 review Part one

I played 73 games released in 2010 which sounds like a lot until I consider the list of games I did not play. Overall 2010 was a good year, lots of games that I have enjoyed and played multiple times, they just fall short though of my personal criteria for greatness – which is a game I have, or can see myself, playing well over twenty times, Agricola, Through the Ages, Le Havre to name but three.

If there’s a theme running through my likes and dislikes it is inconsistency; this list won’t correlate with my Boardgamegeek ratings, the top five I submitted to Counter Magazine last week and most definitely not to any list I might write next week. It also reflects the fact that I would like to see Euro designers take a few risks and move away from the formulaic.

Onto the list and let’s start at the top – as I intend to cover all 73 games the summary for each game is brief.

1) Navegador – the best of Mac Gerdt’s Rondel series, and has the perfect, but not non confrontational, intense interaction that is the hall mark of a great Euro. There are many strategies to explore and they all seem to have a good chance of success if you are playing your opponents as well as the game.
2) Dominant Species – a brute of a game that bucks the orthodoxy of Euro design, though it’s really more a wargame than Euro. It requires players to accept and then manage chaos, muster huge amounts of concentration and be prepared to ride the roller coaster for three hours or more. Please Chad Jensen, give us some more!
3) Civilization – Purely as a game this should be lower on the list. However, it feels like I’m playing the greatest computer game ever with mates around the table. And it continues to surprise me with the wealth of strategic choices.
4) War of the Ring Collector’s Edition – Should a game be so high on the list when most of my time with it is spent staring in delight as the bits? Yes, the game itself is wonderful and this edition is a lot easier to play than the original
5) 7 Wonders – Once you have got beyond the first few games this a great game of balancing efficiency and counter drafting.
6) Inca Empire – It’s a reprint, but is a shining example of what Euro design should aspire to – clean, thematically coherent and interactive in a subtle, and in this game symbiotic, way.
7) Olympus – A Euro/Civ. game with some ‘take that’ – this game has the most interesting timing issues and the military side of the game means you cannot treat this as a multiplayer solitaire exercise.
8) We Must tell the Emperor – A gaming history Haiku of the Pacific campaign in 45 minutes. It’s so simple yet so tense and for such a short game captures the Japanese expansion and decline perfectly. This is about as long as I want to play a solitaire game which adds to the appeal
9) Defenders of the Realm – This is the first co-op I have loved, it feels like an adventure rather than a puzzle solving exercise, the side quests add a lot of fun and the garish board and components take me back to my gaming youth.
10) Merchants and Marauders – The world needs the perfect pirate game; this is a close as we have got so far. Despite the absence of parrot’s it has adventure in spades and so long as it’s played with said spirit of adventure it’s a captivating way to spend a few hours
11) Age of Industry – It makes ‘Brass’ playable with most gamers, rather than just the hard core. If there are regular map releases then this could be as successful as Power Grid.
12) Command and Colors Napoleonics – The first time I played Battledore I thought the system would be perfect for Napoleonic warfare and CCN is my favourite of the series to date.
13) K2 – It can get very gamey towards the top of the mountain, however its tense, original and popular with my family
14) Lords of Vegas – the spiritual heir to Acquire, demands players actively trade to impose some order on the dice rolling shenanigans. It also gets top marks for looks
15) SNCF (‘Paris Connection’) – If Chicago Express is a sub atomic particle of the Rail 'n Equity school of games, Winsome have found the quark with this gem. Its genius is its simplicity and I defy Mr Bohrer to reduce the formula further.
16) Irondale - John Clowdus is one heck of an original game maker, remarkably so as he only makes game that will fit in a Small Box. Irondale is tremendously challenging and I am sure one day a large publisher will snap up this protean designer
17) Circus Train – There is a wealth of game design talent outside the pool of usual suspects that publishers go to time after time for bland, rehashed Euros. Circus Train is evidence of this talent, if it were picked up by Days of Wonder and given a deluxe production job this would become a best seller. Eulogy over now, the game is reminiscent of coliseum with some point to point movement.
18) Key Market – Any game my wife likes and is willing to play has got to be good, any complex game my wife likes is great by default. The artwork, the speed and variability of play are the other attractions of this game
19) Grand Cru – Had I made this list three months ago this would have been higher up the list. I like the ‘Age of Syrah’ toughness of the game and the small incremental actions, however virtually no one else iIknow does – and this game needs all players to be engaged either wise it can fall flat. Most promising debut design from the multi-talented (Actor and Chef as well as board game designer) Ulrich Blum
20) Dominion Prosperity – My liking and admiration for Dominion has gone up year on year. ‘Prosperity’ adds some complexity and length to the game, though I am unsure about the length part being good, but the new cards add to the game
21) First Train to Nuremburg – Were it not for this being a reprint it would be a top ten game for the year. I like the 2 player game and the new rules, however the old map is easier to play on for this colour blind gamer
22) Firenze – a tower building game, with some special powers and a Thurn und Taxis constraint on having to keep the towers going up. It’s not as light as it first appears, and you feel faced with tough decisions from the outset
23) Asara – another tower building game, the hook being a great action selection mechanic which requires players to follow suit to take an action. The joy of the game is the hand management, the scoring and tower building pedestrian. This fills a light medium weight spot which I think it will keep in the rota for a few years
24) Workshop of the World – I like Ragnar Brother Games, the themes and the little idiosyncrasies in game design. This is one of their dryer offerings however, the auction mechanic is subtler than it first appears and the joy of the game is the constant revaluation of each route to you and your opponents
25) 1655 Habemus Pape – This auction game works so well because the sets you are bidding for, and their, interactions, tell a story. By the end you will be a lot more familiar with the Papal Election of 1655
26) Fires of Midway – Cracking tense two player game of bluff and hand management that captures the essence of Carrier Warfare in a rather unusual way
27) London – I enjoy every play but every play feels the same, its Wallace treading water and that a bit like Wagner writing a waltz, it just ain’t right
28) Troyes – played it five times, and it’s gone down in my estimation with every game. What appeared novel and genius at first is now just another pleasant way of building a Cathedral in a Medieval City.
29) Innovation - Like Troyes this has gone from being a top game to one I find mildly frustrating, when the cards come together for all players it’s a great game, but that seldom happens
30) Thunderstone Wrath of the Elements – Not got the finesse of Dominion, but the series gets better with each expansion and it’s a go to game when I fancy some solitaire dungeon crawling
31) Castle Ravenloft – An alternative provider of the Dungeon Crawl fix this is just a little too fiddly for me to hit the spot. I love the minis though and some of the character powers are OTT. ‘Wrath of Ashardalon’ is an improvement, but let’s save that for 2011’s list
32) Sun. Sea and Sand - The theme is bright and breezy and the choices pleasantly challenging in this Worker placement game. However, the charm has worn of after a few plays – I will probably enjoy it again after a longish break
33) Runewars – The action selection mechanic is great, there are a lot of options. I wish I could get a little more enthusiastic about the world of Terrinoth – it ain’t Miidle Earth and never will be
34) Dixit 2 – If anything the hypnotic artwork is even better in this expansion. This expansion is necessary to give Dixit longevity, especially if played a few times with the same group
35) Wars of the Roses – If you can put aside the fact this is a Euro squeezed into a theme, this is a solid area majority game with a nasty catch up mechanic through the drafting. The amazing production qualities make the game worth a look
36) Alien Fronteirs – Not the second coming, more like a well themed Euro for the Ameritrash market. Great dice, and if played at pace a good game
37) Key West – The fantastic bidding mechanics and the gaming geography of the Florida Keys provide the ‘hook’.
38) Mord Im Arosa – I can’t think of any other auricular/Euro hybrids. Not to be played whilst listening to AC/DC, but perfect for a late night filler at a convention
39) 11 Nimmt! – No game could be quite as random as it’s little brother, 6 , and this adds a little more strategy to the Nimmt! Family
40) Napoleon’s War 100 days – Lovely system hampered by bargain basement production values, also by the fact CC Napoleonics is sitting next to it on the shelf
41) Level X – This is the only Schmidt Spiel Easy line game i have played, and if this representative then i should try more. It’s a Yahtzee varaiant
42) Vinhos – I never want to teach this game again. I have played it four times and everyone has been a chore because of the constant need to remind players of how to play. Monster complicated, thematically rich – the verdicts out until I get to play a game without having act as a moderator every two minutes
43) 51st State – If this game was themed as European powers in the age of colonialism I think it could have been a stratospheric blockbuster. The Neuroshima setting does not work for the original card play
44) Pocket Battles – Orcs v Elves – I love the first game in the series; Celts v Romans. However Orcs and Elves need some rich gaming texture to make them entertaining, this is not the system for fantasy battles – back to the historical for the next game please
45) Wax – Further testament to John Clowdus’s seemingly bottomless well of creativity. A perfect game for three and a half hours on an Easyjet flight
46) Dominion Alchemy – I really like the potion addition to Dominion. It creates an extra choice that increases the early game options and for that the game is richer
47) Hotel Samoa – No one i know likes this game, which is a shame as the bidding system (high gets you hotel improvements, low gets the income paying tourists) makes each round very tense
48) Heroes of Graxia – The most ‘Magic’ like of the deck builders suffers a little because of the constant need to recalculate stuff.
49) Braggart – Folksy art and drinking gameplay – a good filler for three or four players
50) Rattus – I quite like the aim of escaping the plague and pushing towards the others. Need to play more as I suspect this would be much higher in my rankings with more exposure
51) Porto Carthago – This I need to play again as I remember neither liking or disliking the game
52) Forbidden Island – I am not a Pandemic fan, this has though has the advantage of theme and were I to game with the under 10s I am sure this would become a favourite
53) Don Quixote – I should not like this but I do, especially if the squares are called in a faux bingo voice.
54) Fresco – Looks lovely, thematically wonderful – the rest is almost a parody of the current state of Eurogames.
55) Junta Viva El Presidente – I wanted to like this knock about dice rolling negotiation game but it’s tedious in the extreme no matter how much you try and role play it
56) Seeland – Treading water for Kramer. Pleasant to play once or twice and looks great, but fairly forgettable
57) Poseidon – The errors in the rules are almost unforgivable in an 'entry level' xx game. My first game was a toxic experience, the second marginally better.
58) Leaping Lemmings – It’s like Herbert Von Karajan conducting Barry Manilow – if your bread and butter is the serious stuff (GMT) then stick to it
59) Regatta – Light and fluffy, a ‘Wings of War’ for the Cowes brigade
60) Titania – It’s hard to believe that the same designer created Goa. The game is so over dependent on the mistakes made by the player to your right and very little else. Looks a million bucks but the first HIG spring miss for a few years
61) Samarkand – It’s over before you get going and it really feels like the winner is randomly determined. Fun for the first two or three games, but frustrating beyond that.
62) Last Call the Bartender Game – The first time Wattalspoag have released a duffer. Far too much brain power required for a game about drinking, especially as it should be played when alcohol is in the vicinity
63) Travel Blog – I can’t see the point of this game, especially when compared to the ‘10 Days in’ series – this relies on geographic knowledge whereas in 10 days there is a game underneath the surface. Vlaada please stock mucking around and give us ‘Through the Ages Two’
64) Railways of the World The Card Game – Take all the fun out of Railroad Tycoon, add some cards and this is what you get. I can’ think of any train game that has had a good card game version – the upside for this is that it is better than Ticket To ride’s lamentable effort
65) Settlers of America – A wonderful host of ideas and mechanics shoehorned into a mono victory condition. The end game is excruciating and destroys any enjoyment to be hand in getting there.
66) Merkator – Rosenberg’s next game is not an auto buy for me; it might be unreasonable to expect another Agricola or Le Havre. This is a tedious exercise in cube pushing efficiency.
67) 20th Century – I need to play this game again as my first filled me with apoplectic loathing. I just hated the solitaire optimisation element of the game, to me the antithesis of fun – can’t we share the same board?. Most people tell me I am wrong so will play again
68) Founding Fathers – Unlike 20th Century I did give this a second go and it was worse than the first. Any attempt at planning is easily destroyed by the OTT cards. Why on earth let players build positions which can be ‘Wrath of God’ed out of the game. Armageddon resets were weeded out of Magic the Gathering ten years ago and have no place creeping into boardgame design
69) Puzzle Strike – Interesting game destroyed by the playing pieces and the terrible first set of rules
70) Ascension Godslayer – Deck building with the interesting parts taken out, ugly artwork and a totally unnecessary board.
71) Khan ¬– A blockbusting theme that hides the diriest of multiplayer abstracts
72) Le Grand Hameau – The cards are amusing but broken, and can spoil a nice game of Le Havre.
73) Nuns on the Run – A game about Nuns with LOS? Tedious record keeping, easy to make a mistake, about as amusing as life in a nunnery

Pantheon - 2011 Spiel Des Jahres winner?

Its Spring time, and, as they have for the last few years, Hans Im Gluck has released a beautifully produced family game; a chunky box, lovely components and board and eight pages of rules. In 2008 it was ‘Stone Age’, followed a year later by ‘Finca, then last year saw ‘Titania’. The game (firmly aimed at the medium weight German family market) quality has fallen off year by year since the superb ‘Stone Age’, with ‘Titania’ being a bit of a flop (Rio Grande, wisely has not picked up this game for and English language release). No matter the game quality the games have looked lovely, and have been a joy to unbox. The latest HIG game bucks the trend, firstly because the eye candy quality is not up to the previous releases – but far more importantly it has reversed the declining gaming quality and is up there with ‘Stone Age’ as a great medium weight game that takes about an hour anda bit to play – so much so that I think this might be in the running for 2011’s main Spiel Des Jahres award. It may be no coincidence that this is the best in the series since ‘Stone Age’ – because it’s from the same designer Bernd Brunnhofer. Brunnhofer is not a prolific designer, before Stone Age his previous game was ‘St Petersburg’, so it’s quite a pedigree. ‘Pantheon’ I can report adds to his record of putting quality above quantity.
The game is set in a world after the ‘Stone Age’ (and a long time before ‘St Petersburg was built), when the early civilisations were forming, many gods were worshiped and tribes were building monuments to these gods. The aim of the game is to score points by recruiting gods, demi-gods and building columns.
Components and setup
The game is, mainly, played on a map of Europe, North Africa and the near East. A hexagonal grid is superimposed on the board. There are home hexes for each of eight nations (some, for example, Iberia a little distant from the real ancient geography) ,marked hexes for the placement of bonus tiles for each nation and hexes where only columns can be built. In each of the 4 player colours there are a supply of feet (used to move your tribe on the board) and 12 columns. Each player starts with four feet and three columns, the rest form a reserve which he can acquire throughout the game. Other game material includes a deck of cards; the cards are money, steps (used to place feet and columns on the board) and four different types of sacrifice cards. Four of the cards are drawn laid out on the table, Ticket to Ride style, the rest form a draw pile. There is a small special deck of money ranging in value from 2 to 5 in value (all money in the main deck is worth 1). There are 40 god tiles shuffled into a draw pile and a demi god tiles that are shuffled into two piles, one with values one to three and the second with values four to six. The lower value pile is placed on the higher value pile. Demi-gods sound exciting but they only score you points. Gods score points but also have one off or permanent benefits associated with them. There are four types of sacrifice tiles (misnamed because you never lose them) of the same ‘suits’ as the sacrifice cards and each type comes in two tiles , one value one and two on the reverse the other value three and four on the reverse. For a medium weight game there a surprising large number of bits and bobs that you need to play! And there’s more, there are forty hexagonal bonus tiles that are placed in a bag and will be later placed on the map. There are also six starting bonus tiles, eight nation tiles and a card for each nation. And lastly there is s the Big Foot and the Temple, wooden bits. I am a fan of Franz Vohwinkel’ artistic work but there’s something a bit uninspired and washed-out about the design here.
The aim – how do you score points
The game is played over six epochs, with a scoring at the end of the third epoch and the last. Victory points can be acquired in five ways; columns score you points with the point per column increasing with the number of columns you own; from 1 point per column if you only own one to 3 to the almost unachievable 4 points per column if you manage to get all 12 on the board. You also score points from demi gods – these tiles just have a victory point value on them and they can be acquired as a starting bonus, from bonus tiles on the board or from the god Pliasiris. Gods score you points as well, depending on which epoch you acquire them from; one point in the first epoch to six in the sixth and final epoch. Causing the end of an epoch scores you three points, and lastly one god gives bonus points at each scoring
Game play
At the beginning of the game players are randomly given a bonus tile (most are a one off bonus, a god, a demi god, a sacrifice tile, place a column, an extra foot and a column), five cards and four feet and three columns. At the beginning of each epoch the top card of the nation deck is flipped over, the temple marker is placed on the home spot of the drawn nation and then gods (number of players plus one) placed on the board as are bonus tiles from the bag (number of players plus one). Each nation has a ‘trait’ this is then executed. Most traits are beneficial, e.g. card draws, a sacrifice tile or a purchase action. Two of the eight countries are a double edged sword as they reset your hand size to seven, either giving a draw or making you discard. Players take actions in turn into the Epoch ends; which is caused by either the last god tile or bonus tile being claimed. This leads to a lot of variability in the length of each epoch; if the gods available each round are cheap and juicy and the bonus tiles all corkers then the epoch will fly by. If the gods are expensive and the bonus tiles stinkers then players may stock up on cards so it might be a longer epoch. However, a longer epoch will probably be followed by a shorter epoch as players will have a lot of cards to blitz the board or purchase gods. This unpredictability is one of the attractions of the game for me.
On their turn players choose one of four actions. They can take three cards, Ticket to Ride like, from the four on display, or from the top of the draw pile. Secondly they can take a movement action, which will allow everyone else to, Puerto Rico like, take the same action. Movement involves placing feet and columns on the board; the player who selected the action takes the big wooden foot which gives him one free step. He then can play as many step cards (worth two steps each) as he likes. Each step allows him to place a foot or a column on the board. They must start from the temple and form a continuous route back to the temple. If he places a foot on a bonus tile he takes the tile which is activated at the end of his movement action. The number of feet and columns that can be played is limited by the number he has in his personal reserve. Bonus tiles are either yellow or blue, with yellow tiles a one of bonus and blues permanent to be reused. They include demi gods, a free god from the draw pile, card draw, a money card from the special money deck or extra feet and columns, or free permanent steps to be used in future movement actions. He can also place columns, but only in the column hexes. There can be two feet and columns of different players in each hex, but the second foot or column costs two steps to place. The other players may also take a movement action, though they don’t get the free step awarded to the player who initiated the action. However, they may have free steps from bonus tiles or the god Vinthrad. They also may play step cards to place feet and columns. If a player does not place feet or columns on the board they take a card from the draw pile. The decision to take the movement action is a tricky one, you can leach of another player’s movement action but you are going to get second (or third or fourth) pickings of the available bonus tiles and column spaces. As the bonus for ending the round goes to the active player, it means that if the last bonus tile is taken by another player leaching then they are giving three vps to the player who initiated the movement action.
The third action is to buy stuff, and you pay for it with money cards and the god Stonkus (called so, I imagine because he is stonkingly powerful) provides a cash bonus for each buy action. You can buy as many items as you like up to what you can afford. Feet and columns cost one money each (you will need to supplement your starting feet and columns as soon as possible), Sacrifice tiles vary in cost depending on the level of the tile with level one tiles costing one money up to Level four tiles which cost ten money. You can also level up your tiles by paying the difference between the costs of the levels, for example levelling up a level one to a level two tile costs two. You can only own one of each type of tile. You can spend money to buy steps to immediately place feet and columns on the board at a cost of one money per step. This is a rather handy way of getting stuff on the board without giving the other players a free ride.
The fourth action is to take a god tile from the selection laid out at the beginning of each epoch. Each god has a cost in sacrifices. These can be paid for with either sacrifice tiles or cards or a combination of the two. The cost of each god is shown in the number of different types of sacrifices that have to be made (between one and four) and the number of sacrifices of each type that have to be made , for example Stonkus requires four types of sacrifice, with one being four , another three , then two then one. I can pay for that for ‘free’ if I have four sacrifice tiles of these values, more likely I will have to pay with a combination of cards and tiles, with the cards going to the discard pile and the tiles staying in front of me to be reused. Gods are good, but as I have found not essential to winning the game. The most immediate benefit a god gives is victory points, one in the first epoch through to six in the last. Gods, like bonus tiles, either provide one off or permanent benefits. You can own multiple copies of the same god. Permanent benefits help you throughout the games for example gives free steps, Stonkus free money, Detraccus two cards at the beginning of every epoch, Gaiviles helps you jump over occupied hexes on the board. The one off benefits might be another free god (super powerful in the last epoch as you score points or both gods) or the top card from the speciality money deck.
At the end of an epoch any unclaimed gods or bonus and god tiles are removed from the game and all players feet are returned from the board to their personal reserve. The game then moves on to the next epoch. At the end of the third and sixth epoch there is scoring phase where players score columns, demi-gods. The player with the most Victory points wins.
Why I like the game
Each action is simple, however from the four actions available to me each turn most of the time I find myself wanting to take all of them; Worried that if I grab some quick points I am going to sacrifice future gain, on the other hand concerned that the demi -god I am forsaking could decide the game if I don’t take him now. The decisions sit on that delicious cusp right between strategy and tactics and that’s where I like it best.
I have noticed a few comments that the game is too dependent on the luck of the draw – cards, gods, bonus tiles. For me that is missing the point of the game. – The random nature of the draw is one of the games strengths because it poses a new challenge game by game and epoch by epoch. The draw can mean that an epoch might be short or long (five juicy bonus tiles won’t be there for long), or it might be long with hard to pay for gods and weaker bonuses. The three points round ending bonus puts pressure on players to make moves rather than accumulate and you need to be looking for short term scoring opportunities as well as trying to grab gods that help your longer term plans. Making too many long term plans is a mistake in this game; it’s over before you know it and the random draw might militate against it so you need to keep flexible. You just have to play to it as you see it; with a sharp eye on the other players. You might not be seeing feet cards. No problem – you use money to buy map placement or you get yourself cards for a juicy god. One of the joys of the game is that it plays out differently every time and you can’t wed yourself to one strategy, e.g. it would be nice to aim for 12 columns at the beginning of the game however one the random draw of the countries might make it nigh on impossible and the other players are going to block you (well I am going to )
Unlike ‘Stone Age’ (which I love as a 2 player game) the full complement of four is the best number for Pantheon, there’s more potential for screwage on the board, some of the gods increase in value (especially the hex jumping god Gaiviles) there are less turns per player per Epoch which creates more tension. Three is also very good but two is the least enjoyable experience for me as you can pretty well do your own thing on the board (though that might be a plus for some gamers who want more control). I have played five games and none has lasted more than 90 minutes and I think it will come down to 75 minutes with four when everyone is up to speed.
‘Pantheon’ now sits on my shelf between ‘Stone Age’ and ‘World Without End’ as a go to medium weight Euro, for occasions when I like a little bit of unpredictability in my gaming. I understand that Rio Grande hare going to be publishing this in an English language edition later this summer

Neil Walters picks eight games from Essen 2010


Top notch euro game that utilises dice in a unique way. Dice by nature are random but Troyes has very little luck. I have played this half a dozen times and while high die rolls are generally more useful, I have never felt that my low rolls were having a major impact on how I was doing. The major feature is that everyone’s dice are available to all, at a cost naturally! You have to temper the natural tendency to persistently take your own dice that are free. Money can be tight but does not count for anything in its own right at the end of the game, so paying for dice is not as bad as it might first appear. It does matter though which and whose dice you choose and of course your gain is another player’s loss. The setting is the medieval city of Troyes that is divided into three sectors, military (red dice), civic (yellow dice) and church (white dice). The number of different coloured dice you roll is dependent on how many of your men occupy a particular area. The dice are used to undertake various actions such as booting out other player’s men replacing them with your own, building the cathedral, helping to get rid of enemy invaders or earning more cash. One of you main actions will also be to hire artisans from each of the city areas for their specific abilities that could help you achieve more VPs, cash or even give potential bonuses to your dice. There are 27 such artisans in the game (9 per area) but only 3 of these per area will be called upon for each game. In addition only one per area will be revealed in each of the first three rounds of the game. This gradual seeding is great for me as I don’t have to remember them all at once. Great replay value as each game will be different depending upon what combination of artisans appear. Two other excellent features are worth mentioning. Players can earn influence during the game, from fighting invaders or building the cathedral for example. Influence can then be spent to mitigate their own dice, such as re-rolls or flipping of dice as well as bringing on additional men to allow you to hire more artisans or claim another spot in one of the three game areas. I also like the way that the game system deals with the enemy invaders. Each round an additional two invader cards are introduced that can upset players plans but like a bad penny they will keep coming back each round to haunt you until the players eventually deal with them. There is an aspect of co-operative play here to get rid of the card if it affects everyone. No downsides to the game for me I can think of, so all in all, one of the best games from the Essen show.


As a fan of the rondel mechanic, there was little chance that I was not going to like this game. For the uninitiated the rondel is a very clever but simple device for controlling all the player’s actions. It consists of a circle drawn on the game board divided into eight segments. With the exception of one particular segment, the Market action, which occurs twice, each of the other six are completely different. In your turn you advance your marker up to three segments (you can move further but it’s prohibitively expensive to do) and complete the action on the segment you finally decide to land on. There is no blocking so you have the freedom to plan your future moves as you wish. It also has the advantage that you can see what your fellow players are up to as well. Tension comes with those actions where there is an incentive to get to a particular segment first, as some actions have a limited number of resources or benefit to pick up, or the resources become increasingly more expensive as cheaper ones have already been taken. In my view it is one of the most innovative mechanics to have come out in the last ten years. It’s clean, simple and totally transparent with the added attraction of very little down time in play. Even in five player games it’s your turn again before you know it. But it’s not good enough having a great mechanic if the rest of the game doesn’t shape up. No fears here either. Set in the 15th century, you are a Portuguese explorer building a colonial empire. You can explore the seas and oceans going east, found colonies, sell sugar, gold and spices for profits to invest in ever more ships to continue your quest eastwards. Or not. You could also be that “stay nearer to home type” of explorer. After all sailing long distances is time consuming and expensive. So why not hang back a little and snaffle up a few colonies that the others have left behind, and perhaps build lots of factories to process the goods for lots of cash instead. Both alternatives might work and can work. I’ve seen both happen successfully. Along the way you can also build churches to recruit workers, shipyards to build your ships and also obtain privileges for instant cash and future victory point potential. It is a game of maximising the efficiency of your actions both in your selection on the rondel but also the volume of benefits you can manage to reap in a single turn. It is also a game where you have to keep a close eye on what the other players are doing, as the market for selling and processing goods is dynamic. Prices could easily have dropped by the time your turn comes round again. You need to be particularly aware of what your right hand neighbour is selling, and be prepared to adopt a flexible strategy. All this adds up to just my type of game. The components are excellent and the artwork on the board is the very best combination of great to look at and total clarity. To be honest, I’m really struggling to come up with any negatives to say about Navegador and instantly became a favourite from the Essen crop. There may be some, but if so they’re not immediately apparent to me. Navegador is not totally original of course, but my feeling is that there is a natural progression and improvement in the rondel series. In my view this is the best of the series so far and if you haven’t tried one before, then I think you should seriously consider treating yourself to this one.


After your first game of Vinhos, your head may be spinning from the overall complexity and volume of options, but trust me it does get easier! Thematically fantastic as I love wine... you don’t have to like wine to play, but it helps. You are setting up you own estate in Portugal which can accommodate four vineyards. Each vineyard specialises in one variety of grape (either white or red) from one of the eight wine growing regions of Portugal. Once you have decided on a particular grape variety for one of your vineyards you are stuck with it for good or bad for the rest of the game. You need to give thought to what variety you pick as your decision will have large bearing on how your game pans out. You only have 12 basic game actions in the whole game so you need to be focused on what actions are important as you can’t afford to waste them willy nilly. Each two game actions followed by a bank and wine production phase constitutes a game year, so six game years total make up the game. After years 3, 5 and 6 there is a wine fair where you must exhibit one of your wines for tasting and hopefully earn more VPs. Getting your wine production engine going as early as you can is a good thing. The main focus is getting at least three and possibly four vineyards up and running by the end of year 2. This will ensure that you get the volume of wine production for the rest of the game to earn money and VPs and the wine fairs. You will also need wine to exchange for additional actions above the basic twelve with help from your wine managers. A ready supply of cash is required to invest in infrastructure for your vineyards to enhance the quantity and quality of your wine, eg wineries, enologists and cellars. What I like about this game is the juggling act you have to perform to get the best advantage from your choice of actions. The timing and sequencing of your actions is crucial. You have a limited number of them and the order you carry them out is important. Depending on the game situation and your strategy there will be some actions you may not need at all in the entire game, but equally there will be other actions such as getting more vineyards that will be a must at some point. Also I think the game concept of cash in hand and separate bank account is inspired. It’s different and it works although it does add an extra layer of complexity that may not be to everyone’s taste. Going to the bank to draw out cash for future purchases costs an action. There are alternatives in the game to get more cash that don’t require an action but which is best? Possibly you may need to do both. It is these kinds of choices that really make the game interesting to play. Another example is where you can take an action to go to the wine fair early. You will get a choice of benefits up front for doing so but is it worth wasting a full action out of your precious twelve when you can just turn up at the fair for no action cost later? Make no mistake, this is a heavy euro game but one that has been lovingly put together by the designer over many years. And it shows. It may take up to half an hour to explain the rules to others but the time investment is worth it. The iconography on the board is very clear and to be fair once you’re under way it flows fairly smoothly given its depth. I recently played a four player with 2 noobs and it took roughly 2.5 hours, but I would say allowing 45 mins per player for your first game is about right. Experience of the game will be key in how you do and newcomers will be at a disadvantage as there is clearly a learning curve. There is a lot going on and it’ll take a few plays to sink in. A little randomness is thrown in, which is good as it keeps the game fresh and the players on their toes. This is in the form of weather that can add or deduct up to 2 from your wine production values. Fortunately the weather forecasts in the game are better than the ones you see on the telly as you are given advance warning at the start of a year of how production will be affected by the end of the year. So at least you have a couple of actions to try and mitigate the weather’s effects if you wish. With the exception of ensuring that you really must have at least three vineyards up and running by the end of year 2, there are many viable paths to pursue and for me exploring these is what makes Vinhos fun and interesting to play.


A new race game with lots of innovation and one that really gives the feel of what rally racing is all about. The dice mechanic is really clever with a push your luck element. Each die represents a gear (1st to 5th) that you can only roll once in your turn plus two acceleration dice that you can use anytime during your turn. Each die only allows you to move your car one space. Each die also has one or two hazards showing on the faces and if three turn up during your turn your car goes out of control with a subsequent loss of time. And time is what the game’s all about. Most car racing games are of the traditional first past the post type where you are directly competing against other cars to reach the finish line first. But in Rallyman the important thing is to achieve the best time when crossing the line. At the end of your turn you will receive a card corresponding to the gear you finished your turn in, ranging from 10 seconds if you’re in 5th gear, then down in 10 second increments to 50 seconds in 1st gear. At the end of the stage you will tot up all your cards for your final stage time. While it would be nice to drive continually along in 5th, there is always going to be those pesky corners to negotiate and how well you handle them will determine your final stage time. Typically your car will be approaching corners in gears 1 to 3 so a degree of advance planning is required to negotiate them without going out of control. You never feel that your fate is totally determined by the outcome of your die rolls. To some extent the game has a solitaire puzzle feel about it and it’s heaven for those who enjoy some forward planning. Like the real thing, the cars are run at intervals, so the first car away will get two full turns before the second car goes and so on. Some see the waiting around to have your turn as a weakness of the game but it’s one I don’t share. We are only talking about a few minutes here. Indeed I don’t mind going last as I can see how the other cars in front are negotiating the course and I can copy or make alternative plans as appropriate. The potential downside to going last is that the cars in front could possibly throw dirt into the corners that may force you to use a lower gear. During your turn you have the choice of throwing your dice in one of two ways. You can roll your dice one at a time that gives you the opportunity of stopping if there is a possibility you may crash if you continue. Alternatively you can take a chance and roll them all at once and by so doing earn seconds in the form of chips. This is a great feature and adds extra tension to the risk taking element of the game. These chips can either be save to reduce total time at the end of the stage, or used during a future turn in lieu of a die roll to offset any possibility of going out of control. I am a big fan of race games in general be they cars, horses, bikes, or whatever. However for me race games can sink or swim depending on how the random disaster features in the game are handled. It’s a fine line, but penalties have to be severe enough both to maintain tension in the game and keep true to the sport while at the same time not be so severe as to wreck a player’s chances especially early in the race. I think that Rallyman gets this balance right. You can assess the risk before throwing the dice, and also the time penalty for going out of control is one minute total for your turn i.e. just 10 seconds more than you would normally get if you were in 1st gear. In some circumstances you can lose the ability of rolling all the dice, but this will only last until the end of the stage. The game lasts three stages (each stage is about 20 mins long) and this is really the minimum you need to race to get the best from the game. Rallyman is very well supported online with dedicated six stage rallies such as the Monte Carlo and Corsica and I’m really looking forward to trying these out. I also notice that the designer always replies to any rules queries that crop up on the Geek. I really like this game and it is evident that the designer is a big fan of rallying. The boards provided with the game can be put together in a seemingly infinite number of ways so you will possible never need to play exactly the same stage twice if you so wish. Further variety is provided on the reverse of each of the four boards that shows the same track but in snowy conditions. You can even have a stage with both normal and snowy conditions. This will give you an interesting decision on tyre selection that is another aspect of the game that adds variety. A unique feature that this race game brings to the genre is that you never really know who has won the stage until the final count of your time cards. Rallyman brings a lot of totally fresh ideas to the table and has already established itself as one of my firm favourites.

Era of Invention

Era of Invention is a game about the development and production of inventions at the turn of the 20th century, for me thematically appealing and unusual as well. Although there is nothing significantly new in the game play, there is a subtle re-mixing of the usual ingredients that gives the game a different feel that I like. Describing how the game works is simply done. You place two action tokens (three in a 3 player game) one at a time in an empty slot in one of the six action areas on the board. Each action area has two slots available, so twelve slots all told. You then carry out those actions one at a time in any order. Both activities are carried out in strict player order. In addition, players also start the game with between one and five extra action tokens again depending upon the number of players. One of these can be used at any time and in any area after a regular action. Apart from the odd bit of end of turn tidying up and preparations for the following round that’s all there is to it. In a sentence, stick your tokens down and do the actions. Which for me is actually quite a pleasant change. The simplicity of the mechanics leaves you free to concentrate on the interesting bits such as deciding what your best selections will be bearing in mind what other players are doing, your position within the turn order and how best to manage your scarce resources. Turn order is important as first player rotates clockwise after each round. This means that the first player in turn one will be the last player is turn two, so there is definitely an element of forward planning required here, as actions that you would ideally like to take next turn will not necessarily be available. For me this adds to the challenge. The idea of the game is to turn your scarce resources into a combination of factories (to produce different resources), designing new inventions (for mainly VPs or possibly cash) and producing the aforesaid new inventions (for VPs or cash). It is not sufficient to concentrate just on one of these activities alone, but equally spreading your actions too thinly across all three activities will likely dilute your overall potential. There is a finite number of regular actions in the game so you need to make them count. Along with many other games, this is an exercise in efficiency and timing, and a very good one at that. I have seen a game won with loads of factories, and in contrast another where the winner has not bought or produced any factories at all. Some criticism has been levelled centred on games that people have played just the once with 5 players, and mainly around the assertion (misplaced I think) that players sitting in 4th and 5th position at the start of the game are at an acute disadvantage. While I don’t agree this is necessarily the case (two of my games have in fact been won by the player in 4th start position). It is fair to say though that the five player version is a lot more challenging to play and less forgiving on mistakes, but it plays very well for 3 or 4. I’ve really enjoyed my games so far and I’m looking forward to future plays.

After Pablo

This game has had a very low profile since its Essen release. I suspect that one of the reasons may have been down to its theme, namely the producing of cocaine by the cartels from Columbia and their subsequent sale to Mexico and the USA, so if that is a concern to you, read no further. This would be a pity because if you can get past the potential “bad taste”, After Pablo is actually a very interesting and well designed game. None of the individual mechanics are particularly new. There is a little bit of card drafting, area control, “take that”, auctions, attacking and the ability to take extra actions that we have all seen somewhere before, but not necessarily all in the same package. You will potentially be earning VPs both during and at the end of the game in a number of different ways. Such as from being the boss of either the Columbia or Mexican cartels, fighting other cartels, the smuggling and sale of cocaine, and the exchange of cash for luxuries that can be converted into VPs. The heart of the game and for me what makes it stand out is the function of the multi purpose cards. These show the portraits of various cartel members, eg assassins, politicians, guerrillas, etc together with their various abilities. Pretty much everything you do involves the playing of cards. If you use the card for fighting for example, you are giving it up for using its potential transport capability when smuggling drugs across the border. I like the fact that there are both different strategies to adopt but you also can take advantage of various one off tactical choices that can occur during the game. You also have a limited supply of influence markers at your disposal that are used to claim control of the Columbian and Mexican cartels and also to influence the DEA (extra actions). The random element to the game is how successful you smuggle or sell to the USA. The backs of the cards show either a blank alley or a police car. If the police car is revealed then one of your influence is “arrested” and in the normal course of events you will have to wait a lot of turns to get it back. But even this random element can be mitigated by the extra actions provided by the DEA. There is even more scope to the game than I have time to cover here, and there are plenty of options to consider and do. Thematically it has the feel of what I would imagine (naturally I only know what I read and see on the telly!) the illegal drug industry would be like. It can be played in around 90 minutes by 2 to 4 players, but I think it is at its best with 4.


K2 is the world’s second highest mountain and reputedly one of the most challenging a dangerous to climb. Difficult to categorise this one as it’s not really a race game. It’s not the first man to the top either, but more of the highest you can possibly get and survive. Each player has two parties that begin the game at base camp with the overall objective of getting them as high up the mountain as you can whilst preventing the other players from doing the same. The higher up the mountain you climb, the more VPs you will earn, but if your party does not survive until the end of the game, those VPs are lost. There are two drivers to the game. The first is your own deck of cards that allocate movement and also improve your chances of survival. Each player’s deck is identical but individually shuffled. All the cards will be used at some point (indeed you will go through your own deck twice) but clearly the cards will come out in a different order each time. The second driver is the weather, which can be good, bad or worse depending upon the current altitude of your team. But you do get highly accurate advance notice, so a lot better than real life if you were really on the mountain. Players choose one from their hand of three cards and reveal them simultaneously. These will either allow your party to move or increase their survival rating. Priority for moving first rotates after each round of cards played. This is important especially when a party reaches nearer the top as the number of parties that can occupy the same place are strictly limited. There is nothing to prevent a party from reaching the top and staying there for the remainder of the game, weather permitting of course, thereby preventing anyone else reaching your ledge. Such behaviour is probably frowned upon in the mountaineering fraternity, but in game terms it works rather well and we like it! If the weather gets really bad you can always pitch your tent! I rather like the “push your luck” element as you consider how far up the mountain you can get away with and survive. You will also have to time your surge to the summit taking into consideration the future weather patterns, where your opponents are on the mountain and turn order. K2 is a highly original game with plenty to think about within a short playing time of around 15 mins per player. For those who want a tougher challenge, the reverse of the standard board shows the mountain with slightly more treacherous routes up in bad weather. The ultimate challenge is using the bad weather side with the alternative “bad weather” cards. I can’t wait to try it!

First Train to Nurenburg

FTtN is an updated version of Martin Wallace’s Last Train to Wensleydale. Along with the less colourful graphics, the new package includes a double sided board with the familiar Wensleydale map on one side and a new map set around Nurenburg on the other. The board also includes some additional iconography in the form of arrows that helps you identify pick up points for stone that greatly improves ease of play. The game also features a dedicated 2 player, 4 player as well as two different 3 player versions. Without beating about the bush I think this is one of MW’s finest games all time and a totally different style of railway game from his earlier “Steam” and “Rails” series. I’m not sure how he went about creating this but I think it’s a brilliant design. It has pretty much everything... bidding for influence, variable turn order for different phases, track building, picking up goods and passengers, securing the best rolling stock, takeovers of track, cash (in the form of investment cubes) management. Each game will play out differently on the board as the goods and passengers are seeded randomly at the start, so a different puzzle to solve as you try and work out potential optimal routes. The minor downside to this is that it will take slightly longer than average to set up before each game. One of the really compelling aspects about this game is the juggling act you have to perform with the influence tracks. All are potentially important, but you are forced to prioritise. The idea of the game is to build a network of tracks to link up to goods and passengers. The latter are transported on trains that are hired each turn to earn VPs and profit. Once the tracks have served their purpose you will then need to convert them into one of the major neutral railways, the Midland or the NER. Maintaining unprofitable track of your own ultimately costs you profit (end of game VPs) and also the ability to build future track as there is a limited supply to build with. Along with many features of the game this is a tricky balancing act. The game forces(!) you to diversify in many ways. For example there are two types of goods and also two different passengers, one for each of the two major railways. End of games VPs are earned for a set (one of each type) so there is nothing to be gained by concentrating on even just three. You will also need to keep an eye on how you spend your investment cubes. They are dual purpose, used both for bidding on influence and also for building your track. How much do you need to spend or possibly hold back for next turn? Influence is key to performing your actions and comes in the form of four different tracks. One determines the order you build track, another is the order you hire trains and ship goods and passengers and the final two represent the major railways and your ability to convert your defunct track. There is just one variable in play. Some of the influence up for auction each turn will be randomly drawn so if you are particularly desperate for one type, there is no guarantee that it will turn up. So in summary a great game in its own right and a railway game that has a totally different feel to any other ones I’ve played. And that’s a lot!

Next Steps in Board Gaming

Once you’ve gotten a few of the most popular board games under your belt, there’re still whole worlds yet to discover!

Here are ten board games that the Board Game Guru thinks will provide you with plenty of good times at a slightly higher level of complexity than our “New to Board Games” recommendations. Ramp up your strategic skill level with these next steps.

1. 7 Wonders

7 Wonders provides as much strategic pleasure of much more complex civilisation-building games like Sid Meier’s Civilization, only without some of the drawbacks (like having to wait for your turn). It plays in about 20 minutes, and once you’ve mastered the fairly simple iconography, you’ll be building the Colossus and the Pyramids in no time at all! Plays well with any number of players from 3 to 7. Remarkably smooth and easy-to-learn.

2. Stone Age

An entry into the world of worker placement. Use your tribe’s members to gather resources, spending them on improving the fortunes of your stone age family. Gorgeous artwork; plays inside 60 minutes.

3. Fresco

A top-notch production. Like Stone Age, Fresco is a worker placement game, only here the theme is particularly unusual. Players are Renaissance artists whose aim is to complete the ceiling of their local cathedral in the most vibrant colours possible.

4. Airlines Europe

Airlines Europe is similar to the popular favourite Ticket to Ride in some ways, but a huge upgrade in others. It has the familiar route-building mechanics using cards, but it adds a stock game that has players buying routes to inflate the growth of each airline. Watch out, though – your opponents can sometimes sneak up behind you and take control of your company if you’re not careful...

5. Commands & Colors

If you liked Memoir '44 or think of yourself as a history buff, the Commands & Colors line of games from the high-end publisher GMT is essential. There are now two eras of warfare to play with, Ancient and Napoleonic. Reenact famous battles of Scipio and Hannibal, Napoleon and Wellington, Alexander the Great and, well, everybody... all with a smooth and relatively easy system of card play and dice rolling.

6. Pandemic

A classic of the burgeoning cooperative games genre, Pandemic has you curing diseases before they spread to neighbouring countries. The difficulty scales from fairly easy to maniacally tough, depending on preference – a great advantage that keeps Pandemic replayable. Plus, it’s great for any number of players from two to four.

7. Carcassonne: The City

An elaboration on a favourite tile-laying game, only this time you’re just building the city. But don’t be fooled, Carc: The City is tougher. Players have to position guards all along the city walls, and the better their guards’ vantage points, the more points they’ll get.

8. Lords of Vegas

The American company Mayfair makes some mighty fine games, and this is one of their recent masterpieces. With a whole lot of money that’s ready to burn, you buy casinos and strategically place them where they’ll earn the most money. You can even gamble away some of your profits in hopes of scoring enough cash to build the kind of massive casino that only a legend could put together...

9. Small World

Small World is a fiendishly nasty game that works well for any number of players from two to five. Players are in control of successive fantasy civilisations, controlling them as they’re born, flourish, and picking carefully when they die off... Each civilisation has two special advantages, and the many combinations of these abilities makes Small World endlessly replayable. There's lots of player interaction, and to win you'll have to spend quite a bit of time picking on your opponents, but the lighthearted theme keeps even younger players from taking their losses too seriously.

10. Neuroshima Hex

A tactical sci-fi game of tile laying and battle. Neuroshima Hex is a game of logic and timing in which each one of several factions has special powers that help them defeat their foes. The hard part is figuring out how to use each of your pieces to the best of their abilities. Don’t let the science fiction trappings fool you - this masterful Polish game has more in common with chess than Star Wars!

Once a few of these have hit the table, you'll be ready for just about anything.