April means that the snow starts disappearing from Southern Ontario driving vitamin D starved Torontonians to the parks and patios of the city. It also means that the Annual Gathering of Friends takes place in Niagara Falls. Some of the most famous and respected designers, publishers, and media come together to try out games months or years away from being published. It’s a great event to get a sense of what games will be hot in the coming year. This past week, Nicole and Sean have been taking part in many different amazing events, seeing old and new friends, and of course, playing a bunch of games. Here we ten titles that stood out for them.
If you’ve been following the Evolution games from Northstar Games, this one will feel familiar to you. Players create new species of undersea dwellers and evolve them with different traits to make them tougher, more resilient, more opportunistic, etc. The game lasts a variable number of rounds depending on when the population (or fish) run out. Each round you attempt to feed on creatures, either by bottom feeding in the reef or attacking other species. Oceans is a tricky, tableau building puzzle. You’ll be forced to find synergies in your cards and creatively build new life. The art is top notch and the puzzle is a lot of fun. Oceans is on Kickstarter right now, so check it out if that sounds interesting.
This one was a bit surprising for me. I hadn’t heard anything coming in to Niagara, but it was one of the games that everyone seemed to be playing. Hadara is played over three epochs broken up into two phases. In phase A, players will take sets of cards from the central board in different categories like military, civilization, and finances. One card is discarded and one is added to their city. As cards are acquired, your civilizations stats are advanced and you can get better and better cards, however you won’t be able to pay for everything and sometimes you’ll just have to discard cards for coins. At the end of each epoch you have to feed your people. On the food track you need to be at a higher number than the amount of cards you’ve build, otherwise you’ll lose some of your people. It’s a surprisingly simple and fast game, one that I found really satisfying.
A coatl is a winged serpent originating from Aztec legends (you’re forgiven if you didn’t know that). In this game from Synapses, players take turns collecting head, body, and tail segments of the mythical creatures, constructing them together with super satisfying interlocking pieces, and completing goal cards. I saw a lot of people drawn to this game based on its beautiful table presence and addictive gameplay. Although, it is still in prototype form, Coatl features nice chunky serpent bits that you’ll be unable not to play with once you acquire them. I can easily see it being the next Azul. Now for the bad news, you probably won’t see Coatl in stores until 2020, however, Synapses had a couple of other cool titles on display including Incubation, where you’re hatching baby dragons and Crazy Tower, a fun dexterity game with a traitor.
Here is another title with a simple set of rules, but some great art and an interesting market element. In Welkind you’re working in the fantasy real estate world, acquiring floating houses and sending them off to cities in the sky. Each house, requires a certain set of resources to lift off, but the market for said resources is always in flux, causing the value of your homes to change rapidly. When you acquire new properties and when you send them off, they will grant special abilities. This is another cool game with an interesting market system. It plays fast, looks nice, and is pretty easy to learn. Looking forward to trying again.
Sorcerer is a two (to four, but never play that way) player card game set in Victorian England. Players choose a character, lineage, and location deck, then shuffle each deck together. They become powerful Sorcerers sending out minions to attack locations around the city and each other. They spend actions and energy to cast spells, play enchantments, and gain cards. These are usually not my style of games, which should go to show what a solid one this was. The art is great, the rules were really easy to learn, and very quickly I was learning how to maximize my hand of cards. Sorcerer was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to trying it again.
I generally tend to have a lot of fun with games where I end up having built something satisfying by the end of the game. Tiny Towns was a game I’d heard a bit of buzz about from Eric at What’s Eric Playing, but didn’t know what was fully involved. This spatial puzzle has players arranging resources in a 4×4 grid, and when certain configurations are completed, you can turn them into buildings! Make the best combination of buildings – and there’s a great deal of them thanks to the opportunity for variable setup – and you’ll be points-rich. I am, quite frankly, terrible at this game. But I can’t wait to play it again and again! Thanks so much to Kylie and Renee of Games Unlimited in Pittsburgh for introducing the game to me and then leaving me with a copy to share the love for the rest of the con.
Silver and Gold
Those who know me will understand why this isn’t the first flip-n-write game on this list. Freshly released in Germany (coming to North America hopefully mid-year) is Phil Walker-Harding’s stab at the roll ‘n’ write genre – and it is not just silver and gold, it’s platinum, baby! A simple 4 round game of filling out little maps with tetromino shapes, collecting points for completed cards and various features (gold coins, palm trees, bonuses) – the best part about this is that you’ll be filling the actual cards out! Every card is dry-erase laminated and it makes the game super portable and it looks fab. A fresh new feeling for this genre of games, I’m excited for this to be more widely known.
I might be biased with this one, being that it’s themed to be all about Australia! I had a nostalgic fondness for my home country as we played through this lovely little flip-n-write game. Each round consists of drafting of cards with a variety of features – places on the map, types of tourism, wildlife signs and the like. Each player places their first card face down, and at the end of the round reveals it – if it’s lower than the last card they placed, they score (having chanced throwing the boomerang and having it come back). It’s a wonderful sort of set collection and marking things out on a map combo and I love it a great deal.
I don’t play a lot of combat games, nor do I tend to play head-to-head combat games. Unmatched might be the game that changes this for me – it’s quick to learn and play, and the options are all fairly straightforward and clear. Each player takes on a character of legend and plays through their deck to move around the map and hope to take out their opponent with attacks and the help of their trusty sidekicks before they suffer the same fate. I got to try one of the base game characters – Medusa (who managed to get her butt kicked by Alice of Wonderland) and Bigfoot, who befell a similar fate from Robin Hood and his outlaws. There’s so many fun combinations and I’m looking forward to trying more as soon as I can! Restoration Games/Mondo will be releasing Unmatched at Gen Con this year.
What if Hanabi was a game of letters where you were trying to suss out your secret word before all your clues run out? Then this, my friend, is your jam. Each player will have a 5 letter word passed to them by the player to their left – these letters are secret and face down in front of you. Rounds are played out by each player having one of their secret letters facing out – and then someone at the table will try to make a word combining as many of the players letters as they can. Based on the word, you can hopefully extrapolate what your letter is, and move onto the next. As you work your way through the 5 letters, you’ll hopefully unscramble them to figure out what your word is, along with others at the table. Like Codenames and Trapwords before it, CGE have given us another delightful brainy word game to test ourselves on! I believe this will be out later in the year.