The Gathering of Friends is a true highlight on the calendar or any board game geek, lucky enough to get an invite. Every year in April about 300 of us descend on Niagara Falls for ten days of seeing old friends and playing new games. It’s a chance to play some of the hot titles that have come out in the last 12 months, and also to try some incredible prototypes that may not hit the market for another year. The 2017 event has just wrapped up and Nicole and Sean played a ton of games while they were there. Here is a list of excellent titles to look for in the coming year.
Duet is a fantastic twist on the game to make it a great, cooperative 2p experience. 2 players are aiming to find all of their agents, some of whom are in the same spot on both players grids, some who aren’t. The game is timed by “pass” tokens that each player will take when they are finished their turn guessing. We played through on an easy mode – 9 tokens, 2 of which are to be used as ‘innocent bystanders’ if those are accidentally guessed, and 7 of which were file tokens (but all 9 could be used to take a turn). The really tough part is giving clues that will not make the other player hesitate because the agents may not be in an obvious spot on their grid (i.e they are marked as an innocent bystander, or assassin). The CGE team are still testing whether there should be 2 or 3 assassin marks – one would be the assassin (on the same grid square on each side), one an agent (different on both) and the possible third is an innocent bystander (different on both). I played with the 3 square variant, will be interested to see what the final version shakes down with.
Without much doubt, this was one of the big hits of the Gathering. Magic Maze is a real time game where players are working together to move adventurers through a growing maze. None of the pawns belong to any one player, and the whole team is responsible for getting them to their goals and then out of the building. The trick is that each player can only move the pawns in one direction. So if we need the yellow pawn to go south only the person with the south directional arrow can move them. Oh, did I mention that there’s no talking allowed. The only way to indicate to someone that they have to make a critical move is to place the red action pawn in front of them. This will let them know that everyone is waiting on them…it just will be up to them to figure out what it is you want them to do. The whole game, a sand timer is ticking off the seconds. It can be flipped to earn more time, but flip it too soon and you might be putting the team into more peril. Magic Maze is reminiscent of Escape: The Cure of the Temple, but with a much more deterministic feel to it. Definitely give it a shot when you can track down a copy.
Fans of Race for the Galaxy have been treated to a number of different expansions and versions of the game over the years, like Gathering Storm or Roll for the Galaxy. Jump Drive is another version that should be enjoyed by fans of the series and may even introduce some new people to it. Jump Drive is all about speed. IT’s a race for players to score 50 points, but instead of the full range of actions, players will only be able to choose from Exploring, Developing, or Settling. The idea is to get your engine up and running as quickly as possible, through careful card selection and finding synergies in your tableau. RFTG has always been a quick game for experienced players, but even I was surprised how fast a four-player game of Jump Drive flew by. The art has the same classic feel of the original, and even borrows some cards right from it. If you’re hoping to introduce someone to RFTG, but want to ease them into the world, Jump Drive might be the perfect option.
Sagrada was one of the most played games of the Gathering. Players are working to create beautiful stained glass windows, while completing scoring goals along the way. Daryl Andrews’ dice drafting game starts off easy enough, but as players fill their 4 x 5 windows, it gets tougher and tougher to find a legal spot to place a die. You can never place the same colour or number next to one of the same, and certain slots require certain numbers. Depending on the difficulty of the window they’re attempting, players will get some gems to spend on tools that will give them some help along the way. Each player gets a private colour based goal, and there are public goals that they can try and complete as well. Sagrada is an addictive little game, and it looks pretty darn beautiful in the process. We can see this one becoming a new wave gateway game.
Detective City of Angels
Evan Derrick’s Detective City of Angels is about as close as you can get to a experiencing a film noir in the first person. Players are detectives in Los Angeles in the 1940s, trying to solve a crime. They’ll start the case with some information, but have to uncover more throughout their investigation. The really neat part that separates this game from other deduction titles is the Chisel. One player takes on the role of the Chisel. They have all the information for the case and act as an impending force during the investigation. The detectives can question the different suspects in the case and the Chisel provides the response. They may choose to give the most useful information, or be a bit more cagey with their responses. The detectives won’t know unless they put the pressure on, but that can yield both positive and negative results. Playing the game as the Chisel is a very different experience, almost like a GM. As the detectives you’ll have to follow the clues and track down the perp before they can leave he city. The goal is to identify the suspect, means, and motive for the crime. Detective is still being developed, but it will be coming to Kickstarter in the not too distant future. If you love games with a healthy dose of mystery, you’re going to love Detective City of Angels.
Bärenpark or Bear Park was one of my favourites of the con, with a lot of spatial fun and enough choices you could control along the way to make it interesting. Starting with one base tile for your park, you’ll place certain types of tiles and hopefully cover icons that allow you certain actions – take shape tiles, other base tiles, or bear statues (by finishing a base tile but for that one spot). There are public goals that vary each game, which gives players something different to try each game, as well as just basic points on almost all the tile types as well as bear statues.
A++ would bear again!
Favela is a Portuguese word that refers to a slum or poor neighbourhood. I got to play a prototype of Favelas that Zev from Wizkids had with him (it’s coming out through them at Essen this year!). Favelas is a light three round game with some tricky decisions to make on the fly. You’ll be taking building tiles & placing them, building up your own personal Favela, then also possibly manipulating dice for end-of-round points. You’ll score points on dice for having the majority of that colour in your Favelas! Everything starts on this wonderful geometric base and builds up which is really cool to me, for a tile laying game. The end result is also pretty beautiful. See also my love of NMBR9, heh.
Fantasy Fantasy Football
Designer Daryl Andrew’s year is shaping up to be a big one. Sagrada is getting a lot of love online, and his sequel to Fantasy Fantasy Baseball is currently on Kickstarter. Fantasy Fantasy Football takes the idea of running a fantasy football league full of imaginary creatures. The sports idea may turn off some board game fans, but rest assured, you don’t need to know anything about football to enjoy this game. Players face off over the course of several months of play with four games each month. Weather conditions affect the outcome of the matches and the games play out in an almost Battle Line-like showdown. You compare your player’s stats and play cards to mitigate their ratings, with the winner earning points. After each month, there’s a waiver draft, allowing you to switch up your players, improving your roster. After the regular season, the top team goes to the finals and the second and third place teams playoff for a chance to meet them. With great art, simple rules, and fast gameplay, this should appeal to gamers whether they’re sports fans or not.
Super Rhino Hero
Super Rhino Hero is MAD FUN. Playing up to 4, where each player has a character they’re trying to get to the highest point of the structure with. Each flat part of the structure is a long rectangle shape and you will place it on a small support or a tall support (or both!) depending on what’s marked on the base you’re choosing to play. Once successfully played (hopefully!) you’ll roll a die to see if you go up or down, and if you end up on the same level as another player you roll dice and whoever loses that roll-off must go down a level. There’s also the added fun of some base tiles requiring you to hang little monkey tokens from them, hoping that won’t cause everything to come crashing down. And, of course, the game ends when everything comes crashing down – and the person with the medal signifying they were highest up at that time wins the game! SO FUN, Y’ALL.
NMBR9 is a fantastic spatial puzzle, oh goodness. Cards are flipped from a deck (2 of each number 0 – 9 appears in there), and then every player takes the represented number token and places it in their play area. This keeps happening until the deck runs out. The aim is to create a solid enough base of number shapes that you can build upward in levels and gain more points. Its remarkably simple to play but brain-burning puzzleness is just my jam.