(1995, Z-Man Games, Dominique Ehrhard & Duccio Vitale)
And now we flit back again to a much smaller game. Condotierre is a card game with a small map of Italy. The players play cards to amass strength to win battles and claim regions. Once a player has three adjoined regions or five in total they win. Simples.
Well, nearly simples. Historically the Condotierre were leaders of mercenary companies that had appeared in Italy after the Crusades. Obviously the loyalty of mercenaries is always questionable and this game represents their fickle nature with an interesting hand refill mechanism. At the end of each battle players don’t automatically get new cards. Instead, each player has the option to discard their hand. Then, if only one player has cards left they must discard their hand and everyone draws up.
This twist that replaces the usual “Draw X cards at the end of the round” really makes this game. Now players might not want to put all of their cards into this one battle because they might be left sitting out for a couple of rounds. Equally, if it looks like you’ll be the only player with cards at the end of the battle then you should commit them since you’ll have to discard them anyway.
There’s some extra wrinkles with cards that have special powers such as ending the battle immediately or reduce the power of all cards. It’s pretty simple rules-wise but the levels of play that are available are great. Disclaimer, I’ve only played this a couple of times but can’t wait to play it more!
4. The Artemis Project
(2019, Grand Gamers Guild, Daryl Chow & Daniel Rocchi)
OK, let’s swing back to a game that takes up a bit more table space. We’ve also switched from Medieval Europe to future Europa as we play The Artemis Project and life has got a bit more colourful again.
Worker placement is often considered the genre for ‘multiplayer solitaire’ (a phrase I hate). The perception being that simply placing your piece to gain an action doesn’t really affect other players. For those who find this a problem, The Artemis Project is the solution. Players will be placing their dice on action spots but the value of the dice is important. Some spots are almost mini auctions with players adding the pips of their dice together to gain the right to perform that action. Some spaces are gambles where a higher dice yields larger rewards but all the lower dice get their rewards first. All the rewards are gone? Tough!
It’s also high up on this list because it’s a setting that interests me – I do love a bit of space! My wife seems to enjoy this, too! And she normally isn’t into space stuff. Yay! This is a great game and I am really looking forward to playing this one more. Well, until the monoliths arrive, that is!
(2017, Lookout Games, Uwe Rosenberg)
Ah! Uwe Rosenberg! How the name sounds like it is formed of syllables of some angelic language. Yea, the ground must truly blossom with life as he sweeps past. Truly, Uwe Rosenberg must be the god of games-design. I might be a bit of a fan.
Bit of a fan I might be but it still took me a while to try Nusfjord. I have no idea why and if I’d realise how good it was I would’ve tried it earlier! As much as I do enjoy Mr. Rosenberg’s ‘tetris’ games like Cottage Garden, it’s his worker placement games I love. I absolutely adore Le Havre with the complexity arc that builds as the game goes on. The only reason I would turn down a game of Le Havre is because someone else was offering me a game of Agricola! Well, now there is Nusfjord.
But why play Nusfjord instead of those other two masterpieces? Well, if time is limited then ‘Nussy’ is quicker, certainly quicker than Le Havre! Also, Nusfjord implements shares in an interesting manner. Players will catch fish each round but don’t get to keep them all. Opponents who own your shares get some of your fish before you get any! Fish are central to this game so getting shares can be a big thing. It’s a very simplified implementation but it works well.
That share mechanism really makes this feel different to the other Uwe worker placement titles. There’s other things to keep an eye on, too. Constructing buildings, feeding elders, clearing forests. This isn’t a simple game but does clip along at a good pace. Really love it!
(2016, Renegade Games, Simone Cerruti Sola)
Whoosh! We’re back in space again! This time, we’ve made it to the 31st century and humanity is on the brink of reaching the stars. This is a beautiful 3X game where players will eXplore the galaxy, eXpand to new planets and eXploit those planets. There’s no eXtermination of opponents as the makers of this game believe the human race will need to use all its resources peacfully in order to go stellar. Probably true.
However, this game does have a remarkable and unique resource management system. The game uses three types of resources: matter, energy, and antimatter. Interestingly, each player has a limited number of these which they cycle between available and unavailable. This means each player has a super tight economy and can’t affect other players’ economies. But those economies are super tight and it is very hard managing them even without interference!
This game does truly have a race element to it as each player builds ships and flings them at nearby stars. Ship speed can be increased with research but taking the time to do the research might leave a player behind. I always have tingles watching the starships spreading out from the central Earth space like points on a star.
There’s a lot of clever stuff happening in this game. Also, the presentation and artwork are gorgeous. Like Trickerion, above, this game is a huge table hog, though. But boy is it worth it!
1. Commands & Colors: Ancients
(2006, GMT Games, Richard Borg)
Finally, we come crashing back down to Earth landing amongst the Ancient Romans and their contempories. Last year I really enjoyed Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan, placing it at number 4 in my Top 10 of 2018. I was lucky enough to find a friend who also enjoyed the idea of playing a block wargame and we both had a blast. This year I found a copy of Commands & Colors: Ancients (C&C:A), another wargame that uses blocks.
True, this one doesn’t use the blocks to simulate a fog of war. The blocks have stickers both sides so each player can see what’s what. Instead, they are here for their chunkiness. Generally three of four blocks represent a unit in an army and gather together in a single hex on the board. Nicely, infantry are represented by smaller blocks than mounted troops. Elephants have huge blocks!
C&C:A does use cards to produce a fog of war. Each turn a player plays one card which allows them to move a number of units either on one of their flanks or in the centre. This is really neat as it might be worth attacking a player’s left flank because they might not have a card to respond with! In our first game, we were really impressed with how the neat lines of troops soon collapsed into disarray and chaos! Horses ran down fleeing infantry. Heavily armoured units stood their ground slowly advancing through a rain of arrows as archers desperately tried to make them rout. Leaders rallied troops, keeping them strong when else they would have fleed. It’s all very dramatic!
The best bit is that it’s not very complicated and it all plays out in 60 to 90 minutes. The rulebook might seem a little daunting but it’s just very thorough. After a round or two, players are soon flinging dice and causing panic in their opponent with the occasional lucky roll. Yup, this is the top game for me that I discovered this year. There are so many scenarios in the base set but I really want to go out and buy the Spartan set since I have a fondness for them! It’s got chunky pieces, medium-light rules and creates some amazing tales from the tabletop! Rob, where are you? We need to play this again!
What About You?
Did you find any new favourites this year? Leave a comment below and let us know!