Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail

Alexander Pfister’s Great Western Trail is a game about making old cowboys sad. When it starts the prairie is still wide open with only a few neutral buildings around. You drive small herds of mangy cattle to Kansas City. And if that cattle goes all the way to Santa Fe on the train then you can say it’s seen the wide world. The more the game progresses, the more buildings will clutter the prairie, the bigger and more expensive the herds get, and the further the cattle will be shipped. What makes the old cowboy sad will be the same thing that makes players happy, because every one of those developments is under the players’ control in their pursuit of victory points.

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Mysterium

Many years ago, in Warwick Manor, there occurred a murder most foul. The crime had been carefully planned and so well executed that the police have ruled it an accident. But ever since Warwick Manor has not been the same. Haunted, they say. And in that haunting the new owner of Warwick Manor sees a chance to have the murder solved still, and the ghost thus laid to rest. He has invited the most famous psychics in the world to contact the ghost and discover what happened. A great plan in theory, if only the ghost wasn’t too traumatized by his death to clearly remember what happened, and if he hadn’t been a member of the Dixit fan club in life.

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Tempel des Schreckens

A mysterious temple in the jungle, untold treasures inside. But it is pretty darn dark inside here, impossible to see anything. We’ll just feel around for the doors and hope we find some treasure. But the sound is weird. I could swear there are more footsteps in here than we brought people in…

That’s the somewhat peculiar premise of Tempel des Schreckens (translated: Temple of Terror), a German version of Yusuke Sato’s social deduction game Don’t Mess with Cthulhu / Timebomb. (There appear to be some minor rules changes, so I’m not going to call it the same game.) A group of adventurers has found a temple in the middle of the jungle and enter it in search for treasure. Inside, unnoticed by all of them, they are joined by a number of temple guardians who want to lure the expedition into the temple’s fire traps. And because everyone is only looking at their smartphone nowadays, no one knows which group any of the others belong to. Guys, we’ve been walking through the jungle together for weeks, but I can’t tell you apart from the women guarding this temple.

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The Grizzled

The Grizzled

Boardgames don’t really have an equivalent to literature. We gamers don’t usually consider the categories of literary fiction versus genre fiction, we think about light games and heavy games instead, or about different game mechanics. But by most criteria, the vast majority of games are more like genre fiction: advancing linearly, focused on a big payoff at the end, and made to entertain, not to invite reflection on their subject.

What you might call literary games are not entirely unheard of, though. One fine example is The Grizzled by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, a cooperative game set in World War One. The setting in itself is not what sets The Grizzled apart, though. Plenty of games are set in the two big wars. But in this one you don’t move tanks across a map, you don’t heroically storm beaches, and you don’t go home to live happily ever after, even if you win.

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Kingdomino

Kingdomino

Bruno Cathala is one of those game designers who aren’t married to one genre or one game mechanic they keep coming back to. Games with his name on the box include Shadows over Camelot, Cyclades, 7 Wonders: Duel and many more. The only thing they really have in common is that they are great games. That list is now joined by Kingdomino, a kingdom building game using Dominoes-like tiles. It’s a light family game and has nothing in common with any of Bruno’s other games, mechanically speaking. It is nominated for the Spiel des Jahres 2017, usually a good indicator for a great game.

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The Bird Told Me To Do It

The Bird Told Me To Do It

When birds start telling you to do things and it’s not your pet parrot demanding crackers, that’s an indicator you might want to meet with your friendly neighborhood mental health specialist soon. Have your health insurance ready, then, because you’re about to take a whole bunch of orders from avian high command.

The Bird Told Me To Do It is a card laying game by Carl Chudyk (Glory to Rome, Innovation,…) that works on a somewhat smaller scale than his other games. You’re not going to build an empire, you won’t control a civilization from the stone age until they discover nuclear power. All you want to do is to have your birds be the most numerous on the tree. It sounds so simple, right?

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Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

I’ve been a long-time sufferer from collectible card games, buying way too many booster packs to find that one card I really wanted. I’m out of that now, but I’ve been reluctant to get into Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Games because of it. They are much nicer than CCGs, of course. There are no booster packs that always have the same worthless cards. But their business model is still to keep you buying cards to remain competitive every time a new expansion comes out. But that’s not a concern with Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It’s a cooperative game, so no one has to buy cards just to be able to compete. You just buy an expansion when you want more story to experience.

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Betrayal at House on the Hill – Widow’s Walk

Betrayal at House on the Hill – Widow’s Walk

When we did the nostalgia piece about Betrayal at House on the Hill last week, there was one thing we didn’t mention: there is an expansion. The 2016 release Widow’s Walk was created after years and years of fans asking for more haunts. An understandable request since playing the same haunts again and again loses its appeal as well as some of its challenge when you know the other side’s secret rules. And so a monumental nine people design team was put together to give us fresh haunts. And that’s exactly what they did.

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Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia

Here’s another first for us: we’re doing a review of a game that doesn’t exist yet. At least, not really. Clans of Caledonia only just started it’s run on Kickstarter, but thanks to Tabletopia we already had the chance to test it extensively.

Clans of Caledonia is the new game by Juma Al-JouJou and Karma Games, previously presented here with Green Deal. Clans of Caledonia is a very different game from that one. Both are heavier games with a strong economic component, but that’s where it ends. Instead of a tidy, modern office Clans of Caledonia sets you down smack in the middle of the Scottish highlands some time in the 19th century. No, it’s not Outlander – The Boardgame.

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Mea Culpa

Mea Culpa

Way too many religions in the world threaten their believers with going to a bad place if they misbehave. Let’s call it Hell. Or maybe Purgatory, if there’s a chance you might leave and go to a good place at some point. Think about that what you will. But in the Middle Ages, one religion went a step further than usual with this belief: the Catholic church offered their believers a way to buy themselves free from eternal punishment. With the purchase of a papal Indulgence, they advertised, your soul will go straight to heaven, all your sins forgiven. And as a side effect, the money will pay for a shiny new basilica in Rome. This practice was not universally popular. It was so unpopular, in fact, that a German priest and theologian rallied against it and caused a schism in the church that was never mended. And that’s why we get Mea Culpa, a game about indulgences, this year, exactly 500 years, after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

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