Let’s start with our prizes this month – wait, what? Where’s the tease? Well I’m sure you’re all just dying to get back to school. Mmm-hmm…
Anyway, we’re blown away with your continuing support and response to reviews and giveaways. So we are going to give you a STACK of stuff once again, as we look at some absolutely banging games from some of our favourite publishers including Stonemaier Games games and Repos productions, thanks to our excellent chums Asmodee UK.
So read on to see how to get some of the games that have absolutely lit up our summer (ah, there we go): you can win Red Rising – Collector’s edition, Azul Summer Pavilion, Love Letter: Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel Splendor and 7 Wonders: Duel + Pantheon expansion.
Red Rising – Collector’s Edition
I’ll be honest, I didn’t know anything about the fiction that inspired this hand-building card game from Stonemeier Games. I enjoyed the game so much, so captivated by the world building and care that’s going into its construction, that I immediately went and ordered it (and it was, indeed, superb). Let’s get it of the way that you really do want the Collector’s edition, with its chunky metal tokens, beautiful foiled Gold Elite cards, crystal Helium-3s… I could go on, but I haven’t even got to the gameplay.
This is a fierce and devious game of building the best final hand by the time the endgame triggers. Cards are in coloured suits that represent the different strata of society, though you’re not necessarily set collecting. You’re initially competing for advancement in your (space) Fleet or the Institute (the training ground of the Elite). And whilst these will give you a measure of victory at the end it’s the combination you have built that will ultimately determine your success.
You draft from the cards visible in play, so you are moving back and forth, deciding which cards to deploy at the risk of improving your opponent’s chances. Each time you play from your hand, you activate the card’s deploy ability, and then choose a card to take from elsewhere and activate the location ability It’s tense, thematic and thrilling, and – as it turns out – as utterly compelling and duplicitous as the books. You can feel the creative team’s passion for the source material – this is a masterful game that does not disappoint.
If I have criticisms, it’s that Jupiter (easy to build fleets) and Apollo (bonus turn) are in many ways just BETTER as starting houses than the others (maybe not Ceres, extra card in starting hand is decent) but this lends itself to scalable difficulty with new players (almost like the beginner corporations for Terraforming Mars). Even so, this is to my mind one of the best card-based games out there and I’m thrilled that one of you will win a copy of your own.
My Little Scythe / Pie in the Sky
(RRP: £46.99 / RRP: £19.99)
Can a family game satisfy hardened gamers? SCYTHE, the alternate history 1920s dieselmech resource management game is rightly seen as a classic – but honestly, My Little Scythe might actually be even better than the original, especially when you thrown in the expansion, Pie in the sky, which Stonemaier Games were kind enough to send me. Now for a kid’s game this has, first of all, extremely high-quality components: delightful (but sturdy and well-cast) anthropomorphic animals, magic gems and apple tokens, heavy cardstock and a frankly massive board – plus a wonderfully whimsical airship in the expansion. It FEELS like a high-end, grown-up product, albeit one that the smallfolk will be smitten with (it is indeed a challenge to prevent my 6 year old from simply stealing all the critters).
It’s ideal for a 7/8 year old – you need a little patience and confidence with reading, though not a lot – but don’t be fooled: this is a very challenging, yet accessible game. It features area control, resource management, and multiple paths to victory – although friendship, rather than starting fights (Pie Fights, that is), will generally do better. Collect gems to upgrade magic abilities, apples to make pies, craft upgrades, take on quests or try to deliver your wares to the great castle – complete 4 (or 5 with the expansion) to win!
Pie in the Sky, incidentally, is rather lovely as expansions go – and crucially fits in the main game box, which is not only a massive bonus, but I mean how many games actually come with a tailor-made insert from the get-go? I am a sucker for Owls, which are added as one of the two new factions, and the airship adds in a couple of excellent tweaks including the ability to carry your tokens separately and different abilities for each faction (though these can be distributed randomly also). Whilst not an absolutely essential extra, you’d be a fool not to get Pie in the Sky as well. Mmm, pie…
Carcassonne: Big Box Edition
Many years ago, when my wife and I first got together, my half-Austrian cousin came to stay with his partner, and they brought with them a board game: the original Carcassonne. It’s amazing to me now that we’ve reached that Germanic state of being able to pick up half-decent board games in a supermarket, but in those twenty years Carcassonne itself has likewise evolved. The most recent Big Box brings together the all of the mini-expansions in a handy box (the River, Abbot, Inns & Cathedrals, Merchants & Builders, Flying Machines, Messengers, Builders & Traders, Ferrymen, Wizard & Witch, Robbers, the Crop Circles) with dividers – there’s even space for other expansions, if you need somewhere to stow larger expansions such as The Tower, The Abbey or the Princess and the Dragon.
It’s a lovely thing, and as well as having a tidied up, comprehensive rulebook it also includes all the revisions made (so for example, a tweaked River) giving you the fullest experience possible. Now I know many folk will plump for the decadence of the 20th Anniversary Edition but, to me, this is the ultimate Carcassonne buy. It’s easy to mix it up with one or more expansions adding variety without feeling cluttered – we are a bit old school, so tend to go for the River (naturally) along with Inns and Cathedrals, but there’s a place for Witches (burn her), Flying Machines and of course the Robber – whatever you fancy, mixing and matching.
In this day of price and content creep, it’s deeply satisfying to know that for your money you can guarantee a great game for the whole family. You might argue that it should have literally all of the expansions but, by focusing on mini-expansions, it ensures that there’s something for everyone to mix and match as they please.
Terraforming Mars: Big Box Edition
TM is rightly regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. Its mix of hand drafting and resource management, along with a cracking theme and masses of content even without the expansions, have made it a community darling. So of course there is a giant box version with printed tiles, some bonus cards and upgraded components. Now let’s be clear that, yes, it’s very lovely but it really is Astronomical – the cost is prohibitive. It’s just not justifiable when there’s so many great printable tiles our there for free. The other components – boxes, dividers are… Fine. But it’s really only one for the completist, alas.
Splendor, Americanised spelling notwithstanding, is a regular of our lazy Sunday games with its lush art, unusual gem-crafting theme and satisfyingly tactile components. But, hey, we’re nerds after all, so we were really excited to try out Infinity Gauntlet edition. It’s not quite a straight reskin, though it is very similar. The turn sequence is faster, with a single choice to take, whilst rather than crafting jewellery you are assembling your team of heroes and villains.
Like the original, they generate gem resources, so ultimately it’s still the same basic engine building game, though you can only acquire Green/Time Gem as a resource from the top tier characters – and it’s that race for completing the set of gems that sets this apart and, arguably, makes for a better game. The sponsor mechanic is replaced with locations, and Avengers exist as an icon on appropriate characters which can also use to score SHIELD as a sponsor – leading to a very satisfying tug of war over points also. It’s not just the theme that makes Marvel Splendor a better game than the original, it’s a tighter, slicker experience overall. And in fact we liked it so much, you can win a copy right here!
Love Letter: Infinity Gauntlet
Continuing the theme, Love Letter’s take on the Marvel theme is a very different and much more comprehensive reimagining of the original. An asymmetric game that fits in the pocket is always going to get my attention, and here you’re playing either as Thanos acquiring the gems or the Avengers trying to defeat him. It is quite unlike the light, low-weight experience of Jabba’s Palace: despite having the same draw one, play one mechanic, this is a fiendishly difficult game to win as the Avengers, though more players means a greater chance of victory, interestingly.
The health track is similar to the lovelorn meter in the original game, and there are some familiar card abilities such as looking at the top of your deck, predicting the card number in your opponent’s hand, but this is a long way from any other version. It’s not necessarily better, just different; like so many great asymmetric games, the challenge is unravelling a strategy to do the impossible (maybe not one in billions of possibilities, but still).
We keep losing as the Avengers, yet keep coming back to it, trying to find that perfect Endgame solution. So as an experiment we went up to a 2-card hand size (so you’re cycling the deck at the same rate as 3-player) and it made all the difference – not an easy win, but a more viable game. Simple fix! Not one for the easily dispirited, this is nevertheless a great addition to your collection, whether you’re an existing fan of the Love Letter games or not. So why not win one? Go on then.
7 Wonders Duel/Duel: Pantheon
(RRP: £24.99/RRP: £19.99)
Here’s a question: can a game this cheap really be as good as everyone says? It’s a resounding yes. 7 Wonders Duel distils the drafting and building mechanics of the original into a devilish 2-player confrontation. It’s recognisably the same game of construction, warfare and cultural progress but far more sleek and actually more ruthless. Where Architects is a fun, light take on the game for the whole family, Duel is fiendish: you pick from the cards face up, at the risk of opening up better cards to your opponent, as you go through the 3 ages of civilisation until one of you wins by military might, scientific advancement or, ultimately, on points.
Everything you build gives you further advantages, whether it’s clay pits for bricks, libraries to advance knowledge or stables to improve your ability to fight – and always trying to be the first to complete 4 of your Wonders of the Ancient world (as only 7 can be built in total, naturally). Pantheon adds in a layer of perhaps unnecessary complexity with the addition of competing for the favour (and indeed, favours) of the gods, but hey – judge for yourself, win a copy, why not?
Azul Summer Pavilion/Glazed Pavilion
(RRP: £42.99 / RRP: £17.99)
Azul, the tile drafting game of medieval Portuguese artisans, is about as eccentrically Euro as they come: charming, obscure, and elegant in both design and gameplay. Its most recent incarnation, Queen’s Garden, was perhaps less successful as it was more abstract, more competitive and just a whole lot more crunchy. So where does Summer Pavilion sit it in amongst these? Well, it turns out, right in the middle.
Summer Pavilion uses rhomboid tiles which you draft to make intricate floral designs for the King’s garden pavilion. Increasing numbers of tiles are required to fill specific spaces, which you draft from the central factory; if you surround key decorative features (columns, fountains and windows) you gain extra tiles from a separate surplus. Depending on which of the two available game boards you use (double-sided) you are either making colours or patterns, broadly speaking, and the latter though harder is more aesthetically pleasing. It’s an accessible game that will appeal to non-gamers even though it’s a heavier-weight effort than at first appears.
Glazed Pavilion, whilst by no means a necessity, adds useful board overlays to prevent your tiles from moving as well as new double-sided player boards and scoring tracks, opening up a wealth of additional gameplay variants. Certainly, Summer Pavilion is an excellent addition to the collection if you like something a little more abstract but still challenging – and definitely goes well with a glass of something refreshing in the summer sun. So why not win one?
So once again, thanks to the gang at Asmodee UK, we’ve got that massive heap for you! Just as a reminder, that’s Red Rising – Collector’s Edition, Azul Summer Pavilion, Love Letter: Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel Splendor and 7 Wonders: Duel + Pantheon Expansion.
To enter, simply tell us which one of the games we’ve looked at this month has caught your attention most? Let us know in the comments below!
UK only unless you’re willing to fork out the postage, alas.
Next time, it’s a big deep dive into Marvel with new releases for Champions, Crisis Protocol, Dice Throne and more!
And finally, the winner of our Knight Models Giveaway is… Adam Drew!
Congratulations! Remember to get in touch with email@example.com within 30 days to claim your prize!