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FTW Staff Picks - Elysium January 17 2018

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new. 

Elysium

Genre: Card Drafting / Set Collection

Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert

Player Size: 2-4 Players

Game Length: 60 minutes

For fans of: 7 Wonders, Seasons

7 Wonders has always been a popular board game among groups since its initial release. Its simultaneous card drafting style lends itself to quick games with minimal downtime. Combined with its ability to play up to 7 players and you have a unique choice for large groups of gamers. The biggest hurdle to overcome with it has always been the various icons that you have to remember. And when first trying Elysium I felt a similar level of discomfort trying to wrap my head around everything. To me, Elysium feels like a more comprehensive version of 7 Wonders

In Elysium, players compete against one another to earn the most victory points by writing Legends of the various Greek gods. Each of the 8 gods is represented by a unique deck of cards. During the setup, players will select 5 of the 8 decks to use throughout the game. Each Epoch (round) players will draft from the face-up available cards in the Agora, using 4 different coloured columns as currency. During the ending Phase of each Epoch, players may transfer cards from their Domain to their Elysium. Legends score VP depending on how large they are, and bonuses are awarded to players who complete the various Legend-types earliest. After the fifth Epoch, the final scoring begins and the player with the most VP is declared the winner!

Elysium is a classic case of quick & easy to play, but difficult to master strategically. Reading each situation and trying to maximize your VP output is a puzzle at every step. Becoming comfortable with taking a turn will likely take several plays. In that sense the game reminded me fondly of Seasons. Drafting combinations that work together well is the crux of winning gameplay. And the round-to-round randomization of cards that are placed in the Agora create situations that require players to plan-on-the-fly. 

In 2015, Elysium was one of the three final nominees for the Kennerspiel des Jahres. Since then it has received minimal fanfare and surprisingly there are no planned future expansions. For a game that seems ripe for more variety, it appears that Elysium has not performed well at retail and even at our cafe it sees minimal play. Not every game can find success, even with a sublime approach on a visual and gameplay level. It's unfortunate, but hopefully it can become a late bloomer down the road. It's certainly a game that deserves more love than it receives. 



Earl

 

 


Most Anticipated Games - January 2018 Edition January 05 2018

Each month at For The Win Board Game Cafe, we take a look at a few future releases that we're really excited about. From new games, to expansions, to Kickstarters we'll be covering it all monthly. 

Betrayal Legacy

There's no shortage of popular franchises that could potentially become a Legacy-style game. But among them, I think Betrayal at House on the Hill is the best candidate. The original already comes with some great, diverse narratives. I can't wait to see how they put it altogether in Betrayal Legacy. I'm excited about the traitor aspect as it would be a first among Legacy games. There's a lot potential for interesting game design here and I trust the guys behind it after their stellar output last year. Oh, and the game features 30 haunts that allow for re-playability even after you've finished the campaign. 

Betrayal Legacy is scheduled for a release in Q4 2018. 

Century: Eastern Wonders

The second instalment in the Century trilogy has been revealed. Century: Eastern Wonders is an entirely different game from its predecessor, Spice Road. The game features a similar spice-progression resource system. But instead of a card game, the engine of the game is a pickup-and-deliver mechanic. The modular tile setup allows for randomized maps that diversifies gameplay. 

If you own Century: Spice Road and Century: Eastern Wonders, you can combine both games to create a third game called Century: From Sand to Sea. They've definitely put a lot of thought into the planning of their trilogy. It's nice to see that level of care and detail from a designer/publisher. Really hoping the whole thing turns out well for them!

Century: Eastern Wonders will be available in June 2018. 

UBOOT: The Board Game

UBOOT: The Board Game is a cooperative, real-time game where players take on different roles of a submarine crew in the midst of World War 2. Immediately the game reminded me of Captain Sonar, but from a fully cooperative standpoint. But diving deeper, there seems to be a lot more depth to it. The game is accompanied by a companion app which will handle the revealing of information. It will automate the scenarios and skirmishes for the players, similar to how XCOM: The Board Game handles it. With the promise of a full campaign mode, alongside other game modes, it looks like there'll be plenty to do in UBOOT: The Board Game

UBOOT: The Board Game will be on Kickstater on January 22, 2018.

Imaginarium

Imaginarium is unofficially the board game version of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It's certainly a better title than its original title of Steamers. Yikes. Imaginarium is a Euro-style tabletop game where players will build, repair, combine and destroy various machines in order to score projects first. It's yet another Bruno Cathala joint, so fans of his should be on the lookout for this one.

Imaginarium should be released sometime in Q3 2018.

Black Hole Council

Don Eskridge is back with another project. While Abandon Planet didn't exactly blow people away, it's still a decent game. With Black Hole Council, it looks like he's taking a more political approach akin to Article 27. Players are part of an intergalactic council with hidden agendas to see certain planets succeed while other perish. 

With negotiation and deduction at its core, this looks like yet another strong table-talk game, which is all you can really ask for in a Don Eskridge game. Here's to hoping its more Avalon/The Resistance and less Abandon Planet.

Click here to visit the Kickstarter page. Black Hole Council ships to backers in August 2018.

 

Earl


Our Favourite Games of 2017 - The Ten December 15 2017

Let's be honest, 2016 was not a stellar year for tabletop games. There were a few standouts, but overall it felt like a down year for the hobby. I'm happy to say that 2017 has been a very exciting year for gamers. Each month was full of fun releases, and in most cases the hype was met by stellar games. 

People like tend to discuss whether board games are just a fad, or if they're here to stay. I'm happy to say that as long as the industry's output resembles 2017 as a whole, the hobby is here to stay and continue to make waves. Not just for the casual or hardcore, but also everything in between. So without further ado - our 10 favourite games of 2017.

10) Magic Maze 

If you've ever played Escape!: The Curse of The Temple you know just how chaotic a real-time cooperative game can be. Now imagine playing Escape! without being able to verbally communicate - that's Magic Maze. It's got a bit of a Hanabi-vibe with how heavily you rely on the entire group thinking and moving as one mind. It can be very frustrating at times, but when you get into a groove everything feels right. 

 

9) Dice Forge

If a game brings a sound mechanical engine with ambitious visual design, you can almost bet on it making our end-of-the-year list. Dice Forge is the result of an artist and designer having a specific vision combined with a publisher who trusts them. Together they've created the best overall package of the year. And while the game could use an injection of additional modules to add more variety, Dice Forge lays down a solid foundation.

 

8) Unlock!

This year saw several "escape room" type games hit the market. And considering how big and bloated the actual escape room market is (especially in Toronto), it should come as no surprise. When it comes to designing puzzles for an escape, there's a certain level of elegance that you need to approach it with. They can't be too hard, but they also need to feel rewarding. And while Unlock! isn't perfect in its solutions, it usually feels fair. And it does genuinely feel good when you reach the end, which all you can really ask for.

7) Star Wars: Destiny

Over the course of its first full year on shelves, Star Wars: Destiny has produced 4 sets of products alongside a ready-to-play, two-player box. With every collectible game, the goal is always longevity. Keep the players engaged and communities strong, so that they will always be looking forward for what's to come. And while still in its infancy, the signs point towards Star Wars: Destiny having a big impact on the hobby. 

Perhaps the biggest factor to their success has been how easy it is to pickup and play. Without anything resembling a stack for resolving effects in Magic: the Gathering, the gameplay is streamlined to make everything easy to understand. With a low barrier to entry, they can capture the casual Star Wars fans and hopefully transform them into more competitive gamers. 

6) Captain Sonar

Captain Sonar reminds me of the team-building exercises I would do as a freshman in high school and university. It requires a particular mindset going in and a very specific (and demanding) table setup. But when everything comes together, Captain Sonar quickly becomes one of the best table top experiences you can have. 

The frenetic, real-time pace, combined with the focus on the task at hand produces both a difficult and hilarious challenge. The guys behind the popular Spaceteam phone app also tried their hand at a tabletop game, but make no mistake, Captain Sonar is the truest adaptation to that game. 

5) Century: Spice Road

Announcing a table top trilogy before selling a single copy of a game that was already delayed numerous times and eventually re-structured, after getting dropped by the original publisher is perhaps one of the boldest moves a young designer could make. Combine that with the fact that Century: Spice Road was already being hailed by Tom Vasel (the largest online persona in the industry) as the Splendor-killer. The narrative was quickly setting up into what could have been the one of the biggest board game busts ever. But as soon as gamer's finally got their hands on Century: Spice Road all that tension dissipated. 

4) Braintopia

It came very early in the year, so it's easy to forget but Braintopia quickly became of the most played games at For The Win Cafe. Ghost Blitz and Anomia have always been favourites here and Braintopia is the beautiful marriage of those two games. Games that test reaction speed are fun because they immediately pit players in tense situations without having to build up to it. Braintopia is now our favourite game to suggest as a warmup. It even makes for a great stocking stuffer, for anyone looking for last minute gifts!

3) Santorini

If you told me a year ago that I'd be singing high praise for a new abstract game in 2017, I would have called you crazy. But Santorini has rightfully earned its place among the elite two-player games. And while you could argue its aesthetic is what even procured any interest to begin with, it was a very intelligent decision to get the game onto tables. The design is what caught my eye, but I stick around for the interesting depths of variety and strategies. 

2) Clank! In! Space!

Clank! In! Space! is more than just a fresh coat of paint. As we played Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure, I couldn't help but feel it was an almost perfect game in terms of my personal preferences. With the minor changes introduced in Clank! In! Space! I feel like this is a game that could sustain my interest for a while.

The game is strong at making players feel in control, while still offering up enough twists that will keep you on your toes at all times. Plotting out a strategy in Clank! In! Spaceis only worthwhile if you are willing to make audibles. And most impressively, the game manages greed better than any I've ever played. 

1) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2

Two years ago, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 was dubbed our #2 favourite game of 2015. Not to be denied again, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 is firmly our #1 favourite game of 2017 and it was never even in question. As soon as we completed the game (in less than a week), I was ready to crown it the year's champion. It's not a slight to the other incredible games on this list, but more-so a testament to just how good Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 is. 

Anytime you are building a sequel to anything with high acclaim and great fanfare, you put your reputation at risk. Think about all the great movies you love that had less than stellar followups (The Matrix, The Mask, Robocop). It may seem like a guaranteed cash-in, but it's never that easy. And following the mess that was Seafall, Rob Daviau had a lot to makeup for. And instead of taking the easy way out and making a game that begins as Pandemic and only slightly deviates from that formula, Season 2 takes risks from the very first game. And it continues to deliver more and more twists and turns that make the whole experience feel very rewarding. 

There is no guarantee there will be a Season 3, but given how stellar the first two have been I would lean towards it being an almost sure-thing. We can't wait!

 

Earl

 

 


Our Favourite Games of 2017 - Specialty Awards December 05 2017

Let's be honest for a moment, 2016 was not a stellar year for table top games. There were a few standouts, but overall it felt like a down year for the hobby. I'm happy to say that 2017 has been a very exciting year for gamers. Each month was full of fun releases, and in most cases the hype was matched by stellar games. 

As we've done the past three years, we're going to be celebrating our 10 favourite games of the year alongside a few special mentions. This week we'll be handing out our Specialty Awards. Be sure to come back next week when we reveal our 10 favourite games of 2017. 

Trend of the Year Games Gone Wild!

It's been 8 years since Cards Against Humanity first arrived, and even now its effects are still being felt in the hobby. For many, it has gotten stale but there's always a new group of gamers who are discovering it for the first time. And with its incredible rise to popularity, over the course of several years, it's clear that this is less a fad and more of a trend. 

 

This is not necessarily a new trend. There have been plenty of clones and attempted cashgrabs in the last few years, such as Crabs Adjust Humidity and Personally Incorrect. But a true test of popularity comes when the mainstream begins to latch on. And in 2017 alone we have witnessed the birth of Anomia X, Telestrations After Dark, Midnight Taboo, Cranium Dark, Codenames Deep Undercover, 5 Second Rule Uncensored and Catch Phrase: Uncensored. The oversaturated market is unlikely to last very long, but it's impressive to see the impact of a game that is nearly a decade old. And if you've ever browsed Amazon's Best Sellers in the Board Game and Card Game sections, you'll notice that these types of games take up a large percentage of the top slots.

Some will say its juvenile, and maybe it is. But ultimately we play games to have fun, and laughter is generally a strong indicator of people having fun. Once upon a time board games were reserved for the geeks, but today it's viewed as a cool social outing. Games gone wild has played a big part in getting it to that point.

 

2017's 2016 Game of the Year Imhotep

I had no real interest in playing Imhotep when it was announced, and even when it was released. And even when it was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres, it was on low priority of games to check out. We eventually felt it was worth picking up for our Library, as it's a nice entry-level option for players. When I finally got to sit down and play it, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed it. It's a very unassuming game that doesn't demand much from you, but it's very easy to get caught up in. 

Imhotep is the perfect game for friends who love to test the limits of their friendships. It's an awfully cutthroat game when played with the right (or wrong, depending on your preference) people. And I love it for that reason. But even beyond that, it's a game that offers meaningful choices for the players. You'll rarely find yourself making a disinterested move in Imhotep. And for a game where you're only performing one action every turn, that's a fairly big accomplishment.

Imhotep gives gamers a new gateway option that really finds itself among the modern classics such as Ticket to Ride, Splendor and Carccassone. Of these "one-and-done" style games, where players can slowly learn the game by performing a single action at a time I would place Imhotep as my game of choice. 

 

Honourable Mentions Codenames Duet, Oh! Sushi Game, Shop 'N Time

As mentioned before, 2017 was really good year and while we wanted to maintain our tradition of selecting only 10 games for our final list, we couldn't help but cheat a little and give props to a few more. Codenames Duet, Shop 'N Time and Oh! Sushi Game were all on the cusp, but ultimately fell a little short. 

Codenames Duet is one of the few party games that made the transition successfully to a great two-player game with just a few tweaks. And as an added benefit, the cards between the original Codename and Duet can be shared for more diversity. And speaking on games that made minor tweaks to familiar formulas, we really loved Oh! Sushi Game. On its aesthetic alone, it earned its place in our hearts - but the variety of modes they came up with in the rulebook was genuinely impressive. It's a great example of implementing theme to an originally stiff and plain game. 

And finally we come to Shop 'N Time, a very small, overlooked release that feels like a sign of things to come. Mobile companion apps are nothing new as we saw it in a big way with Mansion of Madness: Second Edition last year. But the implementation in a casual game felt very natural. Cashing out your items just feels really cool. Give it a few years, and we'll likely see this become the Trend of the Year, as more and more games begin to embrace technology as it advances. 

 

 

Earl