In Games: The UK Games Expo 2017

Saturday

Kingdomino

On Saturday we firstly ventured into the Family Zone to meet up with our Imagination Gaming friends, Neil and Chris. Typically both looked very busy so we sat at a table and tried a game. One of the helpers offered to show us this Spiel des Jahres nominee so we happily accepted.

Kingdomino is about building yourself a kingdom out of dominoes. Each round, each player will select a ‘domino’ from a row of dominoes and add it to their kingdom.  The dominoes have terrain printed on them instead of numbers. When adding a domino to their kingdom, players must ensure that at least one of the terrains on the domino touches a matching terrain on an existing domino, or it must touch their starting tile (a ‘half domino’, i.e. square, with a castle on it).

Scoring is done at the end and involves multiplying the number of contiguous space in a terrain by the number of crowns in that terrain. Repeat for each area in the kingdom. Simples, really.

Interestingly, selecting which domino you want also determines the player order for the next round (a bit like Vikings on Board, above). More valuable dominoes will set you back in player order.

We thought this game was ok after this first play. However, we since discovered that the demo guy got the rules a bit wrong: he neglected to mention the restriction on placing a domino so that at least one terrain matched. In subsequent plays, this has made things a lot more interesting as it sometimes means a player cannot select a tile they could legally place and then have to discard it. With the rules right the tension moves up a notch making this game much better!

Century: Spice Road

We ambled away from the Family Zone and bumped into a number of tables playing Century: Spice Road. I had heard of this game before the Expo so was interested in playing it. Sarah and I waited for a current game to wrap up and then took our seats with a couple of other punters.

The hype around this game is that it is the ‘Splendor killer’. Like Splendor, players are buying cards for victory points and that’s about where the similarity ends. Unlike Splendor, players have a hand of cards that allow them to execute an action such as gaining cubes or upgrading cubes. These cubes are then used to buy VP cards or new action cards (that go straight to hand). A player must spend an entire turn to pick up the cards they have already played which means the game rewards having an efficient engine in your hand of cards. Hand-building, the new deck-building!

Is it like Splendor? Hmm… Century: Spice Road.

So, being nothing like Splendor, is it any good? Well, yes, it is actually. I rather enjoyed the ‘hand-building’ aspect to it. It feels more controlled than deck-building where cards go into your deck and it may be a few turns before you see them. In this, you know exactly what is in your hand and what your hand is capable of doing. You can plan several turns ahead because you know what your engine will do during several turns.

What also interested me was that VP cards to the left of the display come with a bonus coin worth more VPs. I rather enjoyed getting the cubes together to buy a card and then letting my opponents buy cards until the card I wanted was in the bonus zone.

This game is also a race: the first person to buy six cards (or three in our demo) triggers the end round. The round plays out so that each player will have had the same number of turns then the game ends. Sarah, as I feel is her speciality, reached the finish line first (something that happens in board games and real running races with me!). She bought her third card but I had seen this was coming and had the resources to buy another card on my last turn, getting me the win!

I enjoyed this game rather a lot and I would recommend it. It’s definitely different to Splendor – it’s longer, there’s more going on and, to be honest, I think it fills a different niche. Oh, and it brought out the Magic player in me with one of the random other players correctly guessing that I play Magic as I sat there fanning and close my cards over and over again.

Beyond Baker Street

Up next was a game I’d heard nothing about but Sarah was interested in: Beyond Baker Street. As the title suggests, this game is about Sherlock Holmes. In fact, it is a co-operative game where players try to beat Sherlock Holmes at solving a crime.

The game is very reminiscent of Hanabi, in that players are not allowed to see their own cards but fan them out so the others can see them. On their turn, a player may play a card or give information to the other players. Playing a card successfully buys the players some time, whereas playing a card wrong or giving information costs time.

Calls himself a detective? Jobby and Sarah beat Sherlock in Beyond Baker Street.

The difference between this and Hanabi is what you’re trying to achieve with the cards. Hanabi has players trying to lay suited straights in numerical order. In this, the players must lay suited cards onto piles until that piles adds up to the correct number. There is also a ‘dump’ space where any cards may be dumped and must add up to at least a certain value. The piles are the evidence for the crime, whereas the ‘dump’ pile is the impossible.

It’s all very abstract and the two of us beat it fairly easily. The demo girl explained there are other scenarios which can make the game harder but it still felt a bit so-so to me. To be honest, I’m not a massive fan of Hanabi although I enjoy it occasionally. I don’t need another ‘you-can’t-look-at-your-cards’ game.

Kerala

We ambled on around Hall 2 of the NEC until we came upon the Kosmos stand. I don’t think the demo lady recognised us, but I certainly remembered her as the lady who showed us Imhotep last year. This year, Sarah was excited to see a game which included decorated elephants (presumably Indian elephants). And so we played Kerala.

This is an interesting little abstract game that is certainly very colourful! The rules are simple: draw a tile out of the bag and attached it to an existing tile in your tableau making sure it is orthogonally adjacent to one of your elephants. Then move your elephant onto the new tile.

There’s a few special tiles that let you move things around and do stuff, and there’s a couple of special scoring tiles but that’s about it. Oh, and there is a rule about not needing to add a tile if you choose to lay down an elephant. This loses you some points at the end but can be worth it to stop your tableau getting messed up.

No, my elephants aren’t dead. They’re just sleeping. Kerala.

The scoring is to do with how many elephants printed on the tiles you have in a contiguous group. Multiple groups of one colour loses you points and not having at least one tile of each colour loses you points. I think that’s it – I remember a scoring pad being brought out!

A very enjoyable game. Simple (enough) rules, colourful but still very head-scratching. Oh, and did I mention it has elephants?

Yamatai

Ah, Days of Wonder! These guys’ games are always hotly anticipated. Last year was the rather lovely Quadropolis and this year was the equally colourful Yamatai. Set in the land of Yamatai (part of ancient Japan, apparently) this game has players picking up boats and laying them in a row among the many criss-crossing waterways on the board. Surround an island with the right coloured boats and a player may build a building. When a player builds their last building the game ends.

That’s the very simplified version. The rules explanation took what felt like forever. Although it sounded more complicated than it was. Did you do X on the first part of your turn? Great, then you can do Y! No? Then you can do Z. Is about how it boils down.

The game does let players do clever stuff, pick up tiles that give special powers, get bonuses for laying buildings in a certain way. All sorts of things and it really can be a bit overwhelming. It is definitely an enjoyable game, though. There’s a lot going on but it isn’t the indecipherable mess that Five Tribes is. There’s certainly more happening than in Quadropolis, though.

Sarah and I were both glad we played this and it was worth the 40 minute wait to get a play. The Days of Wonder stall was straining so hard that they were demoing a shortened version of the game (they had reduced the number of buildings that ended the game). Also, while we were playing the demo-ers could be heard prioritising people who were at the Expo only for Saturday. This game is going to be big!

Red 7

Exhausted from all the waiting and rules explanations we went back to the Family Zone in search of Nigel to say “Hello!”. We found him and, as usual, he looked more exhausted than us! He does a great job with the Family Zone but I think it takes its toll on him. 🙂

Nigel asked if we wanted to try any particular game. We asked about Santorini but their copy was already being played elsewhere. Nigel offered to show us a little filler game while we waited: Red 7.

A little card game in which the most important rule is that you must be winning at the end of your turn or you are out. Cards are numbered 1 to 7 and are coloured as the colours of the rainbow. Highest number is best but if there is a tie then red beats orange which beats yellow, for example.

On a player’s turn they either lay a card in front of them (their palette) or in the centre (the canvas) or both. The top card in the canvas dictates the rule of the game and the palette is what players compare to see if they are winning. For example, the game starts with highest card wins. What happens if I can’t put down a higher card? I lay a different colour to the canvas to change the rules in my favour, say most cards of one number.

Players never draw new cards so it gets more and more difficult to stay on top. If a player plays a lot of cards to the canvas they will find themselves out of cards (and out of the game) sooner. This game hurt my brain. A lot. So much so that Sarah bought a copy there and then!

Santorini

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Santorini had been finished with. Nigel grabbed us the copy and explained the game to us. Deceptively simple: in this game players have two people on the board. Each turn a player moves one of their people and builds a bit of building in a space adjacent to the piece that was just moved. A playing piece is allowed to move up one level during its move or down as many levels as the player likes. A player wins as soon as one of their pieces is on the third level.

It’s so pretty! Santorini got a few plays from us.

Despite the pretty simple rules Sarah was having trouble working out the best moves. Sometimes this happens with simple games and is understandable; the rules seem so simple but the goal unattainable. We blarted through our first game (which I won). Sarah was miffed that it hadn’t ‘clicked’ yet and wanted to play again but another couple were waiting so we let them take the copy and wandered off.

Raise Your Goblets

Now it was getting late in the day. We’re both a bit tired but Sarah really wanted to try Raise Your Goblets. Luckily a table was just breaking up so we sat down to play. A couple who were playing in the previous game stayed to play with us so we didn’t have to wait for a demo guy.

In this game, players all have a role and are trying to poison one of the other players determined by a card with a ‘target’s’ role on it. Each turn players can secretly drop a marble into a goblet with the marbles representing wine, poison or antidote. Alternatively, players can sneak a look into the goblet in front of them or they can mess with where the goblets are.

Once a player is out of marbles they can call for a toast. Each player gets one last turn and then all players must ‘drink’ from the goblet in front of them. Points are awarded for not being poisoned, from poisoning your target and from being the most drunk(!).

All-in-all it’s quite fun. It was a little odd player with a couple of strangers and I suspect the fun level goes up when you’re playing with friends (fnarr!). However, the price tag is very steep for just a party game. A completely over-produced party game, but a party game nonetheless. I can’t see myself ever buying this.

Tired and weary we headed off to the night’s accommodation there to fill our bellies and rest.

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