If there’s one thing my wife hates, it’s me planning everything down to the last detail.But as we’re staycationing this summer, I’m going to be using that as an excuse to really get stuck into some quality family boardgames, thanks to the fine folk at Asmodee UK and from start-up indy publisher Lemery Games.
Naturally, there’s also stuff for you to win in this week’s giveaway (as well as the result of our Star Wars Giveaway from last time!) This is the first of TWO massive summer giveaways, so without further ado, let’s get stuck in!
THIS WEEK’S REVIEWS
- Yak (Pretzel Games)
- Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest (Stonemaier Games)
- Takenoko / Takenoko: Chibis (Bombyx)
- Catch The Moon / Catch the Moon: XXL (Bombyx)
- Bagh-Chal (Lemery Games)
- Chili Mafia (Lemery Games)
- Escape the Dark Sector (Themeborne Ltd)
- Brass: Birmingham (Roxley Games)
- Marvel Champions – Ironheart & Nova Hero packs (Fantasy Flight Games)
- Dune: Imperium (Dire Wolf)
- GIVEAWAY TIME!
(RRP – £42.99)
Yak is the delightfully bonkers game of building colourful stone towers in the Himalayas, as Yak-powered carts trundle around villages. Now I love Camel Up! (the insane game of camel racing) so I was all for another game of animal antics – and Yak doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Yak is probably the pick of the bunch for me in our current review, and so I just have to let you get a copy of your own – read on below to find out how!
There’s shades of everything from Catan to Azul here. You can either Build (spend food tokens to buy stones from the Yak cart), Restock (take food from the cart, and add a stone to it) or head to Market (take food from the limited supply at market and a stone in a cart). There are lots of whimsical, delightful mechanics – the Yaks themselves have food preferences, so you can’t give the Vegetarian Yak meat or the Gluten-intolerant Yak bread – and the Baby Yak first-player token is a sly nod to the old “Youngest Play goes first” mechanic, but here it’s hairiest (shades of SAGA). Plus, yaks continually get lost in the fog, so the direction of travel around the board changes frequently, making it very difficult to game the system (though not making it too random either).
Scoring comes from building sets of colours, and being the first person to build a 4 layer tower. It’s surprisingly tactical but with chunky gaming pieces that keep it fun – you can’t not love trundling little wheeled yak carts around the board. We are absolutely smitten with it, it’s a joy to play, accessible (and easy to calculate final scores, always a bonus) – definitely our top pick!
Read on to find out how you can get yourself a copy.
Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
(RRP – £54.99)
You may have noticed we’re huge fans of Stonemaier Games’ superb Wingspan here at BCP, so when we heard that they were giving Paolo Mori’s original game of pirate plunder an overhaul and re-release, we were just a little bit excited. Whilst the first edition of the game was quite fun, it didn’t really lean much into the piratical theme aside from the art, oddly, so we were keen to see how the new edition – with its Fantasy Sky-pirate theme – shaped up.
At its heart, it’s a collect and assign hand management game, but the new edition adds in a reputation mechanic, as well as ten new crew (on top of the original 30) to add variety to the experience. Each turn, you select characters by rank to form your crew, and reveal simultaneously: everyone’s abilities trigger in ascending order (the ‘Day’ phase). Then you gather loot in descending order (the ‘dusk’ phase), and finally count up your doubloons and bonuses at the end of turn (‘night’), before assembling a new crew for the next day.
I must admit, I’m not crazy about the Crew mechanic – or rather, it’s fine mechanically, just not thematically. My loyal crew! We have plundered! Now, I’m off to get a new crew… Eh?! You DO get to keep some from turn to turn in your hand, so there is that side of it, but it still feels a bit… Odd.
Comparing the two editions, the tiles in the new edition are much chunkier, and the board layout of an island to plunder (as oppose to the ship itself) is definitely more accessible. I like the double-sided board, with its more interactive, aggressive Stormy side for something more competitive than the usual Calm side. The cutesy art style is… fine I guess, I’m not one to complain about anthropomorphic pirate animals (I quite enjoyed the My Little Pony movie) but I was hoping for something that either felt MORE piratey or MORE fantasy (because Sky Pirates to me mean Stardust, Spelljammer and the works of Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell).
The best moments in the game come when you grab a sabre and get to off a member of the other crew – it feels proper nasty and piratical. But there’s not enough yelling of Yarr! and not a drop of grog in sight.
As a game, it’s great fun; as a theme, I’m not sure it quite rings true. Don’t get me wrong, it is a really enjoyable, accessible, family game (playing in well under an hour) and is a decent gateway drug for the younger (8+) or casual player – and I’m all for that. It’s just not quite the solid, middle-weight aeronautical gaming experience it claims to be.
Takenoko / Takenoko: Chibis
(RRP – Standard: £35.99 / Chibis: £19.99)
Now this is more like it on the cute animal front! A light, fun game of building the perfect bamboo garden for the Emperor’s new panda, from the creators of the excellent 7 Wonders. Each turn, you roll for weather and then take 2 actions (or 3, if the weather’s nice). As the garden is communal, you’re actually helping one another whilst competing, so it never feels antagonistic, which is unusual and refreshing. It always feels thematic, rather than simply overlaid, and is a delightful family experience.
And if you’re looking for a bit more depth or challenge, there’s always Chibis – Baby Pandas! Yes, you get a female Panda in the expansion, and the chance to make babies (rather more successfully than Edinburgh Zoo) as well as more complexity with new ponds, gardens, hills and a cabin for your gardener. It fits seamlessly into the base game without over complicating it, ironing out some kinks at the same time (preventing easy Panda 🐼 objective wins).
A lovely game with a lot more crunch than you might expect from such a cute theme.
Catch The Moon / Catch the Moon: XXL
(RRP – Standard: £21.99 / XXL: £66.99)
Now if you want a game that anyone, of any age, can play – even those that don’t do board games – then Catch the Moon is the game for you. In this whimsical game, the moon awaits your love, so you stack ladders according to the roll of the die, trying not to make her cry. The game ends when the moon has shed 7 tears or you run out of ladders, with added twist that whoever makes her shed the final tear is always eliminated. It’s a lovely little (or not so little) game of dexterity, like a weird reverse Jenga.
If you grew up on the likes of Kerplunk and Buckaroo, it has the same wholesome vibe, engaging the 6 year old and the 70-somethings alike. The XXL version is particularly good for wobblier hands of all ages – it’s even seeing use in care homes – or just for playing under the (occasional) summer sun, but however you choose to play, this is a treat of a game.
(RRP – Pay What You Want)
Talking of games for those that don’t really do board games, then Bagh-Chal – the ancient Nepalese game of Goats evading hungry Tigers – is absolutely perfect for the more traditional player of games.
With the game itself on the verge of extinction, the lovely Lemery Games have produced a beautiful, pocket-sized pouch of the game. It’s pay-what-you-want to purchase, with Lemery hoping that the increased availability of the game will help increase its popularity and ensure that it remains available for future generations to come.
The Kickstarter campaign launches on July 6th, and you can ensure you’re notified when it goes live by CLICKING HERE.
I myself am a big fan of ancient games (though I freely admit that I’m rubbish at chess) – there’s photographic evidence of me making my wife find the Mancala board carved into Rome’s Forum on our honeymoon – and we have several, though the one that this most closely resembles is Hneftafl, the so-called Viking Chess, and is similarly an asymmetric capture game on a grid.
With 4 tigers and 20 goats, the tiger player must eat 5 goats (by leapfrogging them on the board, draughts/checkers style) before being fully surrounded with no available moves. It’s very similar to the Indian game of Adu Huli, where there are fewer animals and the board is triangular (think mountain), and as if you don’t get enough value from your purchase the reverse of the cloth Bagh-Chal board provided is an Adu Huli board. With lovely, chunky tokens, concise instructions and a neat carry pouch, Bagh-Chal has become the portable pocket game of choice round our parts.
(RRP – Printed: £30 / Print & Play: £8)
Chili Mafia is a gloriously silly set collecting game with a surprising amount of tactical depth. We are Texmex obsessed in our house – there’s a riot if I don’t cook it at least once a week – so we were really excited to get it on the table. Along with happy (or not so happy) chili familias to build into gangs (same chillies scoring double) there are a range of Action and Whack (attack) cards to take out, disrupt or otherwise interfere with your opponents – plus, when you draw single the Dawn Raid card from the deck, you can rearrange your gangs into the optimum scoring arrangement. Different chillies also have abilities- Sweet Chilli is only a single point but is a wild card, whilst Ghost Pepper is a sniper with the ability to take out pretty much any other pepper out there.
There’s a lot that’s familiar here but it’s well executed in a great, high-quality package that emphasises fun. It’s a smooth play experience with lots to offer but – of course – you’ll be wanting to upgrade with the Goodfellas expansion: it’s not necessary, but does add some more chillies in the middle of scoring range which helps with balance, especially if your play group is at the more competitive end. There are also playmats, both for keeping draw/discard tidy and for players featuring your favourite variety of chillies, promo cards that challenge you to eat chillis mid-game, even their own brand hot sauce – honestly, how can you resist? Well, you can check out the rules for free on their site and give it whirl!
Oh, and as a special, BCP exclusive, how about a 10% off store wide discount code at lemerygames.com? Just enter CHLMF10OFF during the checkout process.
Escape the Dark Sector
(RRP: £34.99, Mission Packs: £18)
There’s something gloriously retro about the black and white stylings of Escape the Dark Sector (and its sister game Escape the Dark Tower). Channeling a strong 70s pen and paper / game book vibe, these atmospheric classics are simple, quick, co-op joys. They really aren’t kidding when they say two minutes to set up and 45 minutes to play – in fact I would say even less than that for playing, which to my mind is strongly a positive. This doesn’t mean it’s any less of an enjoyable storytelling experience for that, and whilst it’s not nail-shredding terror it’s certainly an enjoyable intergalactic shudder fest.
Each character has individual strengths, reflected by the frequency of symbols (Might, Cunning and Insight) on their character die, whilst the ability to choose a cybernetic enhancement at the start of the game, typically allowing you to modify certain dice rolls, is invaluable. Nevertheless, #spoileralert it’s a highly lethal game: it’s interesting that you will almost certainly lose, and yet that doesn’t detract from the experience. Maybe it’s my love of cosmic horror that prepared me for this, or perhaps I’ve played too much Paranoia in my time. With a huge deck of staged encounters as you scramble through the station, the progressive difficulty means you are in a sorry state by the time you get to the end – and genuinely exultant if you win.
It’s a remorseless slice of sci-fi, and with its Carlos Ezquerra inspired art it feels ripped from the pages of classic 2000AD, just as Dark Castle feels like a retro Gygax module. I would have to say Dark Sector is the superior game, though, both with its addition of ranged combat (which means the game feels MARGINALLY less lethal) and the aforementioned staged Acts, adding levels of difficulty whilst not leaving you feeling as if you’re dealing with totally random encounters. Its high Replay value, speed of play and wealth of Expansions if you DO exhaust the base game have quickly made this a family favourite, and very highly recommended.
The 3 Expansions, or rather Mission Packs – Twisted Tech, Mutant Syndrome and Quantum Rift – are by no means necessary but add great variety to the experience: after all, for a game that emphasises storytelling, there’s only so many times you can get locked up in the same alien prison and have to break out without it feeling repetitive. By changing up the Act One encounters in particular what is already a great game becomes truly excellent; personally, I am huge fan of the gribbly monstrous nonsense of Mutant Syndrome, but I like that each mission pack leans into a particular set of tropes (harder sci-fi and cyborgs, aliens and gribbly nonsense, and weird space/time shenanigans respectively).
If you’re still not sure, check out the rulebook HERE. Just don’t open that airlock…
(RRP – £69.99)
Where’s the muck there’s brass (and let’s be clear it’s a short “A” like cat!), as the addage goes. So how did a game about this very thing, exploring Britain’s industrial heritage (and fondness for beer) go global, and become rated as one of the top 3 board games of all time? Well, for starters, for quite a heavyweight game it’s relatively light on components and indeed rules – with core rules repeated throughout to reiterate their importance.
I’ve spoken before about my frustration with cardboard fetishism, and with relatively few (but very beautiful) components, Brass: Birmingham packs in an awful lot. It’s also manageable in afternoon or evening; our usual “timeslot” for gaming is a couple of hours of a Tuesday night, and this is ideal; Twilight Imperium; it is not. In fact two players, with its smaller board (just centered on Birmingham itself, rather than the outlining towns as well) is playable in under an hour once you’ve got the hang of it.
The game is quick to set-up, even with the 45 money tokens each player starts with. Each turn you’re taking two actions (as is oft the way): build, expand your network, take a loan, sell buildings, develop, or draw cards – discarding a card from your hand of 8 to do so. You aim to develop a canal (and ultimately rail) network to keep your mines, factories, cotton mills, breweries and potteries running, scoring based on the connections made between buildings – though every player benefits from connections, as the network is open to all. As the hub, Birmingham itself is constantly being vied for also, so it never suffers from feeling like a multiplayer solo game, as can so often be the case.
It’s also thematically rich, for example the importance of breweries for merchants (and I do love my beer) or with the emphasis on Coal during the rail era as a resource. It adds a layer of depth to what was already great about its predecessor Brass: Lancashire, without feeling cluttered or unnecessary. If you’re looking for a weightier game that’ll challenge you that bit more, but not take over all of your precious free time, then Brass: Birmingham absolutely hits the sweet spot.
Marvel Champions – Ironheart & Nova Hero packs
(RRP – £14.99 each)
I’ve really enjoyed the recent trend of Champions revisiting and reimagining early releases. This month, we get Ironheart AND Nova as Iron Man and Captain Marvel reboots… With mixed results.
First up, Ironheart is a pre-built Leadership for Champions as a subfaction, with a really well conceived mechanic that allows her to upgrade her suit in game – with 3 different versions of the character card to represent this. She’s comfortable dishing out damage, thwarting and supporting her team: where Warmachine was a dedicated combat reskin of iron man, this is a much more rounded deck. The pre built is a little light on allies, especially for a leadership deck, though Vivian as a basic is a great addition with excellent mechanics (blanking Villain abilities). She is an excellent option in an increasingly crowded field.
Nova, by contrast, is a bit of a letdown out of the box. Now it’s a bold attempt to build something designed to run off wild resources, and counter his weak numbers with aggression… But it just falls flat. With minimal card draw and a lack of focus, he’s begging to be stripped for parts. I can’t tell whether this is deliberate – after all, the base game is designed to make you rebuild Captain Marvel – and certainly he works better if you just straight swap him and Miles Morales’s pre-build Justice.
We tried out Ironheart and Nova against Sandman (Sinister Motives Scenario 1) and tbh Ironheart did almost all the work. Once Nova gets going, he’s not bad… Just not great. There’s definitely a disadvantage in giving him interesting alter-ego resources when you’re so rarely wanting to flip him from Hero. He does, however, come with a minion set for Armadillo which is outstanding – he’s an unbelievably tough cookie, and a more interesting addition than Zzzap, who comes with Ironheart.
BUT you can make your own mind up: we’ve got both in our giveaway for you!
(RRP – £52.99)
I am very indecisive person. I like a bit of worker placement. But I also like a spot of deck-building. So I love it when games try to combine the two – which is probably why I like Arnak so much (even though it’s not really about the deck-building). So the prospect of a game set in the Dune universe with both elements really appeals to me.
Now I am a big fan of the classic Avalon Hill Dune game (recently re-released by GF9) with all its duplicity and treachery, but it’s pretty full-on game that really requires a thorough knowledge of Herbert’s universe and doesn’t play that well with fewer than (at least) 3 players. Imperium has is app-driven not only for Solo but also to include a 3rd player in 2-player games, and given that a lot of our gaming in the house is 2-player, this is certainly a bonus – even if we’re not always a fan of mandatory app usage.
I particularly like the deck-building side of Imperium. You could niggle and say that it’s not thematically appropriate to be able to add Harkonnens and Atreides to the same deck, but I would argue that it represents the scheming nature of the setting rather well, cutting dark deals and making contacts wherever you can to bolster your house’s position. More importantly, the game balances worker placement and deck-building in a way that’s not always achieved by other games (vid. Arnak, again).
Your cards can typically be revealed for an effect that uses one of your workers, but with only two workers, at other times they are less effective, so that’s an interesting balance to strike. Equally, classic worker placement dilemmas of blocking a key development tree is here less important with the Emperor, Bene Gesserit or Fremen giving you plenty of different routes to victory. Indeed, one of the particularly satisfying elements of this game is that victory is never assured. Whilst you might achieve your objectives and get to 10 VP (the win condition) in a turn, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of another player betraying you to leapfrog to victory.
In a less well-designed game this could be infuriating but here it feels both thrilling and thematic. Combat, similarly, is a slow trickle of troop build-up before one great reveal at the end of rounds: there is an inherent sense of cloak-and-dagger maneuvering. As such, it looks and feels like Dune, with enhanced by tokens (for Spice and Water especially) that really feel like scarce, valuable resources.
The board is, perhaps, a little sparse, and the regular wooden cubes are maybe rather generic – but the card art is great, and you’re still getting plenty for your money, when you consider that Dune: Imperium is relatively cheap compared to many on the market, in what is an increasingly crowded field.
It is not the massive, Machiavellian masterpiece of the classic Dune game, but neither is it a lacklustre, cynical cash-in: it’s an accessible and supremely (if not necessarily that innovative) slice of modern board-gaming.
Thanks to the gang at Asmodee UK, we’ve got quite the pile of goodies for you to take on holiday with you!
There’s a copy of Yak, both Nova and Ironheart expansions for Marvel Champions, Brass: Birmingham, Takenoko AND our runaway favourite game of the year (so far)… Wingspan!
Not only that, but the wonderful gang at Lemery Games have given us a copy of Bagh-Chal for us to give away also (but remember there’s also the discount code above) so there’s something for everyone!
To enter, just tell us which of the above looks like a must-buy for your summer getaway? Let us know in the comments section below.
UK entries only unless you’re willing to fork out the postage, alas.
Come back soon for part 2, with Summer Giveaway: Deluxe Edition!