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Geeking Out – Unbox Now: Xmas Countdown

With Xmas not far away – no, really! – and everyone tightening their belts, I thought I’d take a look at some family favourites in plenty of time for the fat man’s arrival.

This week, we’re going to take a look at Asmodee’s Unbox Now range, which are games for everyone – with the emphasis on fun; plus, a look at a few other new releases for you to think about picking up in the run-up to the big day. Not necessarily lightweight, but accessible games for players of all experience levels.

And yes, of course you can win some for yourself a stack, thanks to Asmodee UK: we’ve got a selection of their Unbox Now range up for grabs worth over £250! And, don’t worry, our annual Geeky Gift Guide and Giveaway will still be running in December. We are RIDICULOUSLY good to you, it’s true.

The Unbox Now Range includes: Catan, Unlock! Explorers, 7 Wonders, Splendor, Pandemic, Dixit, Azul, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne – a full spread of modern classics. I love that they can now be found more readily in the High Street, be it at GAME or other stores, but of course I always recommend checking out your FLGS (friendly local gaming store), which for me is Static Games (A1toys.com) right here in Glasgow – use the link HERE to find yours!


THIS WEEK’S REVIEWS


7 WONDERS

(RRP: £44.99)

The near-legendary status of 7 Wonders, with all of its awards, makes it an auto-included in many “must-have” lists. It’s probably the weightiest game here (that is, most complex in terms of rules), but for the experienced game that means it offers a rich, satisfying experience that’s unlike any other with its simultaneous turn mechanics and genuine sense of constructing a civilisation from scratch. Sure, 7 Wonders Duel (reviewed HERE) does it in a more streamlined way, and 7 Wonders Architects (reviewed HERE) does it in a more family-friendly way, but there’s a reason that the original holds so many plaudits: it remains unrivalled as in intense, deeply complex play experience.

7 Wonders sees you scheming as leader of an ancient civilization, drafting cards to develop your people whilst (hopefully) not advancing your opponents too much. I love a draft game, and the engine building that’s worked into this make for compelling gameplay. It’s at the heavier end, and is optimal at around 5 players, but for a game to play with gaming buddies, it’s still pretty much unmatched.


CATAN

(RRP: £49.99)

Sheep! Wood! Brick! Ah, Catan. For many people it is THE gateway game, even more so than Carcassonne – certainly, when I was a student pre-millennium (for, I am old), it was the must-have Board Game for “serious” gamers. Whilst it does not have the complexity of some more modern offerings, and can even seem a little too random at times, it’s still a game of rich charm and huge playability that’s accessible to the whole family.

It’s one of those rare games that my non-gaming wife will join in on, even if the kids do stand a decent chance of beating us! I won’t lecture you on why you should have Catan in your collection, but it’s enough to say that it’s a truly accessible classic that is the benchmark by which all those that have come after are judged by.


SPLENDOR

(RRP: £29.99)

We’ve looked at both Splendor (reviewed HERE) and its Marvel reskin/upgrade recently (reviewed HERE), so I won’t repeat myself too much, but as a quirky game they don’t really come much more eccentric than crafting gemstones in medieval Europe (well, except maybe making tiles in Portugal…) A great gateway game for older players especially, with its arresting art and cultural depth along with straightforward – but not simple – rules.

It’s also relatively portable, ideal for a long train journey or weekends away, with speedy gameplay but plenty of replay value – a staycation classic. And if you want variety, you can always throw in the Cities expansion, with its 4 alternate game modes (though you’ll notice some similarity with Marvel).


PANDEMIC

(RRP: £44.99)

If ever there’s a game that had its moment in the sun recently, it’s Pandemic. Now with numerous versions (we particularly like Hot Zone, reviewed HERE and Contagion (where you ARE the diseases) and even reskinned for World of Warcraft (reviewed HERE), it is also responsible for the Legacy craze (where you physically modify your actual game as it evolves) – but it’s worth taking a look back at the original. Pandemic is an intense hour or so (the tweaks, with the new characters, make it play a bit faster) as you desperately struggle to stop diseases spiral out of control.

Managing your limited resources, and marshaling your team’s skills, are vital to survival. It is one of those games where you can feel like you are staring down the barrel of failure, but that slim hope of victory drives you on. If you enjoy a nail-biting co-operative experience, Pandemic is a corking game for 12+ that still stands up as a modern great.


DIXIT

(RRP: £29.99)

The charming all-ages game Dixit works off a deck of images. Each turn, one player as “Storyteller” makes up a sentence from one of 6 cards in their hand; the other players pick a card of their own that best matches the sentence, and then everyone has to guess which storyteller’s card. It’s delightfully and deceptively simple, and ticks the party-game box perfectly; I always think the mark of a good all-ages game is can it be played as easily by small children as drunken adults? And in the case of Dixit, it’s a resounding yes.


AZUL

(RRP: £42.99)

The beautiful Azul games have featured heavily in the reviews this year, with the release of Queen’s Garden (reviewed HERE) and looking again at Summer Pavilion (reviewed HERE). The relative simplicity of the original belies its compelling and devious gameplay, however – as well, naturally, as being absolutely stunning to look at. Each turn, you draft tiles to build the most beautiful wall, with patterns being rewarded in the endgame. It’s attractive, fairly straightforward and really satisfying to have those chunky moorish tiles in hand. Whilst it has rapidly spiralled in complexity with its descendants, the original remains a friendlier, even therapeutic game – with a dash of competition, naturally.


TICKET TO RIDE

(RRP: £44.99)

Now I’m going to admit straight out of the fate that I tend to prefer the European edition of TTR to the classic American edition, but that’s probably a question of geographical familiarity more than a reflection of the game itself. In TTR, you connect cities with coloured trains, using the cards you get each turn in an attempt to complete key routes across the US. With fab component quality and a simple but engaging mechanic at its core, it strikes an excellent balance of weight and accessibility.

And just to tempt you further, promo Unbox Now! packs of Ticket to Ride also include a £5 off voucher for any of the first 9 Unlock! boxsets, which is even more of a bargain. Speaking of Unlock…


UNLOCK! 1: ESCAPE ADVENTURES

(RRP: £29.99)

 

We’ve already mentioned how much we love Unlock! Star Wars edition HERE, with its clever (but not too clever) puzzles and effective integration of app driven mechanics. In our view they are the best pseudo-Escape Rooms out there, both in terms of value for money and play experience – though I should also mention their eco-credentials, as not only are you getting 3 full experiences in one box, they can readily be passed on to others to be played. If you’re cagey about app-integration – which I stress that I usually really dislike in my boardgaming – here it is intuitive and genuinely experience enhancing.

The themes are varied even in the starting box, including 60s spy mysteries and a pesky, sausage stealing mouse. Now not every puzzle will be to everyone’s taste – potentially, even, frustratingly so – but that’s ok, as there’s 3 in the box. Unlock! is also a great choice for non-gaming teens if you’re stuck for a gift, as who DOESN’T love an escape room? There’s always at least one puzzle in each that only one of us figured out – spawn figuring out the maths puzzle, me figuring out the art one, for example – making it, on balance, a great family experience all in.


CARCASSONNE

(RRP: £36.99)

We talked recently about the Big Box rerelease of Carcassonne HERE but obviously most folk would want to start with the classic. Carcassonne really is the go-to game to convert the wary: even my mother plays with the grandchildren, having bought her a copy. In this tile laying, worker placement classic you aim to build cities and roads, scoring as you complete whilst trying not to exhaust your supply of meeples. It’s still one that we regularly bring out, despite the plethora of new and unusual games and mechanics we have to choose from: Carcassonne still stands out from the crowd.


So all of these rightly have a place on your shelves. BUT that’s not all! Many of these games will be familiar to a lot of you as well-established classics, so here’s some more recent offerings to tempt you:


VENN

(RRP: £24.99)

Venn is an excellent abstract party game with delightfully surreal art that you can interpret in all sorts of different ways. The Venn diagrams give clues from the list of possible words and the areas of overlap add further hints. The giant plastic circles are bright and cheery, and the game is delightfully deductive. Despite being an English teacher IRL (occasionally) I love a venn diagram and this is makes for a really fun, unusual game that works equally well as a co-op or competitive experience. If you like games like Concept, Dixit or even Pictionary you’ll love Venn – definitely recommended for 10+ fun, but actually if you’re playing together it’s very easy to include younger spawn (or inebriated adults) and let crazy imaginations run riot!


AKROPOLIS

(RRP: £24.99)

We were very lucky recently to sit down and play this new game from Hachette with them at Tabletop Scotland last month. It’s the mark of a great game when it has clear tactical depth and complexity that’s immediately accessible: the twelve-year old beat me and his older brother fair and square (and by beat, I mean utterly trounced). In this elegant tile placement game, you attempt to build the best, highest ancient Greek city, collecting coloured sets of varying value (and the higher each stack, the more it’s worth).

Whilst you start with a limited amount of stone from your quarries with which to build, constructing atop a quarry gives you extra stone, providing more choices from the “river” of tiles available each turn. It’s a tense game which scales well between 2, 3 and 4 players, and whilst final scoring requires a bit of calculation it’s nothing beyond a 10 year old (or even me). An instant winner in our house, which we heartily recommend – it’s straightaway gone into contention for our top 10 games this year. Definitely a good bet for the Xmas loot stack.


ARKHAM HORROR: THE DUNWICH LEGACY & THE PATH TO CARCOSA

(CAMPAIGN EXPANSIONS RRP: £69.99/ INVESTIGATOR EXPANSIONS RRP: £44.99)

Of course, card games might be more your thing than Board Games. And if you’re a fan of such things, perhaps, you’ve taken our advice and invested in Arkham Horror – maybe even read our other article and picked up a Scenario pack? And now you’re itching for more content – well even if Xmas is a bit far, it’s nearly Hallowe’en after all – but don’t know where to turn? Well, that’s where the revised Expansion boxes come in. It’s always been a headache for players of the LCG to get every Mythos (Campaign) and/or Investigator pack – well, now they come revised and repackage in 2 handy boxsets. At first, I was a little wary of the split, but I think it’s a great move: although more expensive up-front, in the long run it’s both cheaper and more convenient than trying to pick up each expansion in turn.

THE DUNWICH LEGACY

Dunwich is, as it always was, a deeply satisfying play experience. Often held up as “the original and the best” campaign, with its emphasis on time pressure (don’t take too long on any one scenario, or the subsequent ones get harder), and there is a genuine sense of potential total failure – you can simply crash out of this campaign having failed to save humanity. It is VERY Lovecraftian, and as a huge fan of the books and the classic Sandy Peterson RPG, this feels entirely authentic… but equally, it may put off some as you may want setback for failure rather than having to do the etch-a-sketch hard reset.

The revised Investigators don’t really add masses to the game beyond some new decks to play with: the characters are relatively mid-tier and don’t really enhance or alter existing game mechanics; to put it another way, you can readily just play the campaign box with your core set. I personally would like to have seen the Investigator box really lean into teaching the deck-building side of the game, but equally not making it essential makes the purchasing decisions easier. As a campaign box, though, it’s a great buy as your next step: more variety and more narrative without adding further complexity.

THE PATH TO CARCOSA

For a more complex experience that doesn’t stint on story, though, the Path to Carcosa really pushes the boundaries. It’s a less shlocky and more psychological horror than Dunwich (though still gribbly in places). New mechanics add Hidden cards into your hand that affect how you play, reflecting your descent into madness without letting other players know. Story cards develop the narrative and provide additional rewards for leaning into the roleplaying side, whilst the Doubt/Conviction mechanic (without #spoilers) makes you question the reality your character is facing. It is in some ways less Lovecraftian and more conventional in its take on horror, which again will appeal more to some than others, and acts as a great next step if you’re up for more of a challenge from the starter set or you’ve progressed from Dunwich.

Pleasingly, the Investigators box for Carcosa is a much more satisfying product than for Dunwich: whilst they are not essential to play the campaign (and, again, there’s a lack of deck-building suggestions), they offer varied play experiences and are, generally, a bit stronger than those in the base game. The secretary, for example, allows you to assist more easily on skill tests; the actress can switch roles; the grave digger can pull cards out of the discard pile (neat); the soldier is, unsurprisingly, a combat machine. This emphasis on thematic gameplay really adds to the experience, which couples particularly well with the campaign’s Story cards. If you’re wanting to have greater variety – or just a better chance of survival – it really is an excellent addition.


FLUXX

(RRP: £19.99 / EXPANSION RRP: £4.99)

Then again, you might be looking for something a bit lighter. Now on its 5th edition, with innumerable thematic variants (but Star Trek Fluxx is best,… because Star Trek), Fluxx is the brilliant, bonkers game of drawing a card and playing a card… and that’s all. Because you can’t win – well, not until someone plays a card that lets you. It’s a constantly changing game where every turn the rules change based on the cards you’ve drawn and the order you choose to play them in.

It’s surprisingly vicious, occasionally infuriating but always fun. We also cracked open the new mini booster packs for Fluxx which mix the (already crazy) game up even more! They generally speed the game up – though the meta rule cards address that – and are compatible with any version/edition of the game. A great, cheap way to mix up a classic, and a great one to stuff in that stocking!


GIVEAWAY TIME

So thanks as ever to the gang at Asmodee UK, we’re giving you the chance to win a pile of family fun – a huge selection of UNBOX NOW games! You’ll get Catan, Unlock! Explorers, 7 Wonders, Splendor, Pandemic, Azul, Ticket to Ride AND Carcassonne – yes, that’s over £250 of goodies!

To enter, just tell us – as ever – which game has caught your eye the most, either from Unbox Now or elsewhere in the review!

And remember to Like, Comment and Share across your socials (FB, Insta and/or Twitter) tagging us @bigcomicpage & @games_with_graven to bag yourself a bonus entry!

And finally, the winner of our Marvelous MCP Giveaway is… Anish Antony!

Congratulations! Remember to get in touch with admin@bigcomicpage.com within 30 days to claim your prize!

In two weeks, tune into our exclusive interview with Stonemaier Games founder Jamey Stegmaier as he chats Wingspan, Red Rising and more with us!

And remember, first Monday of the month is now giveaway day!


The Writer of this piece was: Sam Graven
Article Archive: Geeking Out
You can follow Sam on Twitter and Instagram


13 Comments on Geeking Out – Unbox Now: Xmas Countdown

  1. Love them all, never actually managed to get a game of 7 wonders so would love the chance

  2. Splendor is a nice gateway game.

  3. George Halbert // October 24, 2022 at 4:52 am // Reply

    Azul For me. Always enjoy a game.

  4. I love Ticket to ride on my mobile.. a “hard copy” to play with the family would be fab.

  5. 7 wonders looks great for a games night with the family!

  6. Not going lie, I would love to win them all. They all look fantastic.
    Have a nice day!

  7. Heard so much Good about ticket to ride so must be that one

  8. So listening to the kids I would’ve picked Dixit but after reading this even I would be tempted to try Azul 🙂

  9. Carol Yeoman // October 4, 2022 at 11:31 am // Reply

    Dixit is a game I would love to add to our collection of games. We love a family games night and the reviews on here help to guide our new purchases

  10. Gavin Watson // October 3, 2022 at 9:11 pm // Reply

    Dixit would be my choice. So many variations.

  11. Joshua Price // October 3, 2022 at 3:40 pm // Reply

    I have to say I love ticket to ride, its not my usual style of game but its a game I can play with my kids and play with adults. I also like dixit.

  12. Would love to play azul, dixit and 7 wonders with the kids!!

  13. I love Splendor. When we first played it at a Convention it was on a playmat that we found out later didn’t come with the game so we went out and bought it.

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  1. Geeking Out – Interview with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games – BIG COMIC PAGE
  2. Geeking Out – Marvel Champions LCG Mutant Mayhem Giveaway – BIG COMIC PAGE

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