Christmas Highlights 2017

Pandemic: Iberia Board

I spent a week with my extended family over Christmas and we played lots of games!  As well as the obligatory party games like Empires, Time’s Up and The Animal Game, I also got to play Pandemic: Iberia and Zombicide: Black Plague for the first time.  Not to mention a whole host of other favourites.

Despite the excellent food on offer, I remained remarkably restrained in the eating department – all the binging was boardgame related.  So today I’d like to give you a few highlights.  Which games really shined?  Oh, and we were playtesting a certain app-based survival game from yours truly…


Pandemic: Iberia

Pandemic: Iberia

After introducing my family to this, it became the most-requested game of the holiday.  It is a variant of the original Pandemic and feels very similar to the original game in many ways.  However, there are enough differences for me to happily own both.

The setting is the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) in the 1800s.  You’re still running around trying to treat the diseases while gathering information (cards) to conduct critical research.  Due to the lack of medical development at the time, you can’t actually cure any of the diseases though.  You just have to build hospitals and do the research before the peninsula becomes overrun.

There are a few nice changes from the original.  The most noticeable being transport.  You can’t charter flights anywhere (obviously!) – instead you need to spend some of your valuable time building up a rail network.  Once you have connected enough cities with railroads, you will be able to travel by train very quickly between these cities, but travelling at the start is very slow.

Another significant difference is the introduction of water purification.  The lines joining the cities split the board into regions.  As an action you can discard a card to add water purification tokens into that region.  Each time a disease cube would be added to one of the cities bordering that region, you remove a water purification token instead.  It provides an interesting alternative way of managing the disease outbreaks.

There’s a large variety in roles (each with a special ability) that you can play, which further adds to the interest.  Overall I think it’s harder than the original Pandemic.  It’s more like a gamer’s version of Pandemic (at least when comparing it with base Pandemic), which I like.  There’s a lot to think about and my family were thoroughly engrossed.

Zombicide: Black PlagueZombicide: Black Plague

We bought this for my nephew for Christmas (in collaboration with his parents due to the cost!) and we played it 5-player (my brother and I plus three of the kids).  I’ve never played the original Zombicide (I’d heard too many negative things about it), but this version, set in the Middle Ages, was apparently a significant improvement.

We weren’t disappointed.  It plays fairly quickly for what is effectively a dungeon crawl.  We have tried Descent in the past and while everyone enjoys it, it just takes so long.  The turns in Black Plague were fast though.  You might have a couple of main options in practice on your turn so there’s not a great deal to think about, but it’s fun.

You spend most of your time running around, searching the buildings for loot (better weapons and armour mostly) and then using it to bash zombies.  Combat is simple if rather swingy: I think it took me five attempts before I managed to hit something in our first game.  When it comes together though, you can take out a satisfying number of zombies with the better equipment.

If you’re looking for a light, fully co-op (no dungeon master) dungeon crawl to play with kids or people who are new to gaming, I thought Zombicide: Black Plague was great!

Hanabi

Hanabi

This was our most-played game.  Mainly because I kept asking people to play it with me!  Despite trying this on multiple occasions with other gamers, I’ve still had more success playing this with my family than anyone else.

Hanabi is the co-operative card game where you can see everyone else’s cards, but you can’t see your own.  You have to play the cards on the table in a specific order by giving clues to the other players about what cards they hold in their hand.

It’s my all-time favourite game.  I think the reason I’ve had more success playing it with my family is because it relies on you developing an agreed set of conventions about what certain clues mean and in order to do this you have to play with the same people regularly.

For example, you might give someone a clue telling them that two of their cards are 1s.  In our convention, this means that they should play the most recent of those 1s on their turn.  And then on their next turn, they should play the older 1 – unless they are clued again in the meantime, which would mean that they shouldn’t play the older 1.

It’s tricky and it takes time to develop these conventions.  The thing I love about it though is that no convention is foolproof.  There will always be times when you have to break the convention and trusting that people will understand what you mean when you give a particular clue is both tense and so satisfying when everyone pulls it off correctly.

I’ve been looking around online for strategy tips to improve our play and while there are a couple of excellent articles, overall the offering is rather meagre – particularly in terms of video content.  To this end, I am looking to produce a Hanabi series on the Boardgame Opinions channel this year, which already has me very excited!  More on that next week.

Doomsday: Atlantis

Doomsday: AtlantisThis is the working title for the first boardgame published by Maven Games.  Due to the use of a mobile app, it has taken a fair amount of time to develop a working prototype, but we finally got there just before Christmas.  So of course I brought it with me to try out on my family.

I can’t reveal too much about it at this stage.  More details with be forthcoming over the next couple of months.  However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the reception it has had.  We played a 10-player game involving children, parents and grandparents and everyone seemed to be engaged and enjoying themselves.

I realise this not exactly an unbiased opinion, but there’s a difference between asking someone what they think and watching them play.  People can always be polite and not really say what they think, but if people are enjoying themselves while they play, you can see it.

The kids all had a great time.  More so than I was expecting.  My one concern with the game was that it might be a bit too light, but the adults seemed to spend a surprising amount of time deliberating over their decisions, which encouraged me a lot.

I’ve playtested the game with gamers as well and people have been asking to play it again, so current feedback is really positive!  Hurray!


Other notably popular games over the holidays were Too Many Bones, Captain Sonar, Anomia and the excellent CrossTalk, which was the most requested game after Pandemic: Iberia.  What did you play?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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