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d20 Staff Picks

d20 has come a long way from it’s humble, kick-started beginnings. Along with Michelle, Mario and Page the café now employs a cast of characters that you might have met.

We are always asked for recommendations and depending who you ask you’ll get a different answer. In that spirit during May I asked all the d20 staff what their favourite games are and why. This is what I learnt

Name: Michelle (Chigs)
Position: Owner/Director
Fun Fact: I can make my toes click!
Favourite Game: Blood Rage
Reasoning: Ever since I first played Blood Rage, it has remained a firm favourite of mine. It is a Viking-themed area-control game all about achieving glory through death – whether it’s your friends’ death, or even your own! There is a drafting element at the beginning of each age, which makes you use different cards and strategies each time you play.

The miniatures are amazing, especially the painted minis in d20’s library copy. Our customer, Matt, did an incredible job painting ours for us; my favourite is the Frost Giant with his bum out! Epic monster battles resulting in victorious glory or crippling defeat? Yes please!

Name: Mario (Supermaz)
Position: Owner/Director
Fun Fact: Used to be a plumber, it’s-a him!
Favourite Game: Settlers of Catan
Reasoning: Catan was introduced to me as a teenager and is what sparked my loved of board games. I had never played a game of that calibre before and I was immediately hooked. I’ll never decline a game of Catan and I’m very competitive.

Catan, or Settlers, is a game where players compete for control of Catan to harvest resources and build settlement and cities, the first player to 10 points is the winner. The game has a modular board for varied plays and can be variously expanded upon.

Name: Page (Bardcommander)
Position: Owner/Director
Fun Fact: According to my doctor, my arms are hilariously short for my body. This explains why I am always having to ask people to move my pieces!
Favourite Game: Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game
Reasoning: Battlestar Galactica is a game best played with friends… so you can feel the full weight of the betrayal once your trusted ally inevitably turns on you. With an ideal player count of 5 – 7 BSG is a game that you need to dedicate a few hours of your life too, but it’s totally worth it!

It’s a weighty secret identity game where the humans are running around trying to manage crisis after crisis whilst journeying to the safety of Kobalt whilst all the while the Cylons are secretly trying to send them too their doom. If you like a game with lots going on, various routes to victory and heavy deception, then we should play some time!

Name: Andrew (Androsaur)
Position: Manager
Fun Fact: Is a published poet
Favourite Game: Dominion
Reasoning: Dominion is often described as the Godfather of deck-builders. It epitomises the genre and for me nails down the core rules in an incredibly tangible way. Learning this game is a gateway to so many brilliant games and itself is an excellent game with replay-ability like nothing else.

The base, now in its second edition, has players build a deck of kingdom cards to acquire victory points more quickly and in greater numbers than their opponents. Players contend with Militia, Curses and Spies and make good use of Mines, Chapels and Villages to ensure their kingdom is the most illustrious.

Each play of the game players use 10 of 35 different kingdom cards in the main supply meaning there are thousands of possible combinations. What with the plethora of expansions, promos and fan-expansions there are millions of ways to play and countless more ways to win.

Name: Adam (AdZeBad)
Position: Kitchen Manager
Fun Fact: Once ranked number #1 at Kdice
Favourite Game: Coup
Reasoning: Coup is a game of lying and deceit and not much else. Everyone draws two character cards who each perform different actions, but luck of the draw has nothing to do it, because your cards are whoever you want to be as long as you aren’t caught lying about it.

Assassinate, steal, tax, and bluff your way through to be the last man standing, and claim victory.

Name: Keiran (Mazz)
Position: Chef
Fun Fact: Does a great Tim Allen impression
Favourite Game: Hive
Reasoning: Hive is a great little game with a basic concept that takes minutes to learn, surrounding your opponents Bee. The variety of strategies alone will keep you playing for hours. Each player has a selection of up to 8 different bugs, all of which varying greatly in their abilities, for example, the Spider can only move along 3 edges of the Hive at a time, whereas the Grasshopper can jump in a straight line over the Hive to reach the other side. Keep an eye on those ones or they might really start to bug you.

The game, although simpler in nature, can share the same level of intensity as Chess, constantly trying to keep on top of your opponents plans can become quite the task once the Hive starts to take shape! As for the pieces themselves, they are simplistic yet beautifully charming (if you like bugs of course). Hive is an excellent game of strategy that, if given the chance, mite become your favourite too.

Name: Charlie (Cornflake)
Position: Front of House
Fun Fact: Is an amateur singer/songwriter
Favourite Game: Great Western Trail
Reasoning: Great Western Trail is a fantastic game, and one of the most well-balanced I have ever played.
I find myself coming back time and time again in order to traverse the trail, avoiding hazards like flooding, desert droughts, and rock-slides, in order to sell my cattle in Kansas City and send them off to various destinations around the USA.

You are given the option to hire workers in order to place buildings along the trail, offering you strategic advantages as you go. Other workers enable you to purchase better varieties of cattle at the market, or to move your train around the track to reach new cities and to purchase railway stations for even more bonuses.

It can be a long gruelling game at times, (much like I imagine a real western trail to be), but the rewards are worth it. Nothing is more satisfying and tense than tallying up scores at the very end. Best played under the beating sun with a corn stalk dangling from your mouth.

Name: Charlie (Charlie.is.allwright)
Position: Front of House
Fun Fact: Loves painting miniatures
Favourite Game: Dungeons and Dragons (5e)
Reasoning: The core of Dungeons and Dragons is a role playing game where you and your friends create a story and go on Adventures. I’ve never played a game that’s immersed me as much as DnD has. I’ve foiled the plot of a powerful Lich, explored the underground caverns of the underdark, been the only survivor of a deadly attack by a Red Dragon, stole a ship from a group of pirates and lost that same ship to a bunch of thieving wizards!

It’s a very social game and I’ve met some amazing people by playing it. I’d recommend anyone to give it a go if they get the chance too. If fantasy isn’t your thing there are other game systems like DnD such as Call of Cthulhu, Star Wars RPG, World of Darkness and Dark Heresy just to name a few.

Name: Charlie (Rookie Wookie)
Position: Front of House
Fun Fact: Can name all 45 US Presidents in order
Favourite Game: Mafia De Cuba
Reasoning: Fantastic hidden role party game. It’s incredibly easy to pick up and play with the age-old tale of a Crime Boss trying to reclaim all of his diamonds from his (not so) loyal crew. Filled with bluffing, deduction and a LOT of hilarious conflict. Hilarious conflict for a (small) Mafia of 6-12.

Name: Elliott (/error)
Position: Front of House
Fun Fact: Played Defensive Back in American football at university
Favourite Game: Firefly: The Game
Reasoning: Firefly definitely works best if you have a passing knowledge of the TV series it is based off. You fly your little plastic spaceship across and expansive board, picking up crew and gear to complete various “jobs” with the ultimate aim of getting well paid for your trouble.

What makes Firefly so enjoyable for me is how easily a narrative forms around each player. You’ll grow attached to your crew of misfits and imagine the wisecracks that would be exchanged when the job you’re on inevitably goes south. You’ll shake your head in disbelief as the incredibly unlucky captain to your left is once again boarded by space pirates but then ruefully accept that he doesn’t have to pay his crew if they’re dead.

So yes, it’s a big game (break out the extra table for this one) and if you quietly go around completing less illegal and hazardous jobs you’ll probably quietly win the game but will you have an exciting story to tell at the end of it?

Name: Harry (H-Dawg)
Position: Chef
Fun Fact: Once won a hot-dog eating contest!
Favourite Game: Risk
Reasoning: My favourite game is Risk because it satisfies my need to take over the world, it’s really good because you get little dudes you can put in your country and then you can use them to kill all the other little dudes until you win!

Name: Natalie (Mattikur)
Position: Front of House
Fun Fact: Is doing an English degree
Favourite Game: Monopoly
Reasoning: It sounds like blasphemy to work in a board game cafe and say my favourite game is Monopoly, but I’d be lying if I said it was anything else.

It’s the one game that everyone knows how to play. It’s beautiful is in its simplicity, in the way each family adapts it their own way, but essentially it’s always the same. The comfort of knowing that everyone is aware of the rules means that there’s no holding back – people can be as brutal as they like, and they are. You think you know a person until you see them play Monopoly and you realise they have a devil inside them.

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Why it works: Azul

Azul seems to have taken the board-gaming world somewhat by storm. Released in 2017, with a second edition already with us by early 2018 the game claims to ‘capture the beautiful aesthetics of Moorish art’ with simple, quick and family-friendly game play.

Michael Kiesling, award-winning developer of Tikal and Torres to name a few, said in an interview with plan B games (publishers of Azul) that ‘My inspiration was to develop a simple game, but isn’t that simple at all’. The game takes very little time to learn, with perhaps a few small hiccups, but it takes several plays with different players to develop strategy and see the depths of the game.

In short, players are tiling a wall of the Alhambra with Portuguese inspired tiles, the wall that is the most complete (usually) wins. The theme is fairly unimportant apart from the first player condition being the player that has most recently been to Portugal. Being a Moorish stone mason won’t help you win the game and the community has picked up on this. The game is unarguably beautiful, artists Philippe Guérin and Chris Quilliams have done a brilliant job but the aesthetics play second fiddle to the clever abstract game play. At time of writing Azul ranks number 1 on Board Game Geek (BGG) in the abstract section and 47 overall. Perhaps the greatest clue to Azul’s immediate success however is it’s number 1 rating in the Family section on BGG. Besides the very well composed rule book Azul has no words and the only numbers are on each players intuitive player card, players of a huge range of skills, experience and age are bound to find at least some enjoyment from it. Even if for some reason you’re not enjoying it, games are short; made up of rounds, themselves made up of two phases and rarely going on longer than 6 or 7 rounds, about 40 minutes in total.

Set up for a 4 player game of Azul

In some more detail; players are first given a player board with 4 sections and a scoring reminder area in the bottom right. An individual scoreboard runs along the top and below that, two areas for collecting tiles. The pattern line, left, and the wall space, right. Below that is the floor line, where tiles that fall off the wall and break score minus points. The circles in the centre of the table are ‘factories’ from which tiles are picked up and placed in the pattern line during the first phase, ‘Factory offer’. When taking tiles players take all of the tiles of the same type from a factory and place them in a single pattern line on their board. Pattern lines don’t have to be fully completed in one round but any surplus ends up in the floor line. Any tiles remaining on the chosen factory are placed in the centre of the factories and subsequent players can, rather than taking from a factory, take from the centre.

In the next phase ‘Wall tiling’ players simultaneously move the right-most tile of completed pattern lines onto their wall. Tiles score only 1 for being placed on their own but score for both their horizontal and vertical group. Players score additional points for completing rows and columns and for using 5 of the same type of tile in their wall. Players lose points for any tiles in their floor line. The game is over in the round that a player completes a row of tiles on their row, which can easily be as few as five rounds. To start a new round, expended pattern lines are cleared, and the factories are refreshed with tiles from the bag, when all 100 tiles have been used, discarded tiles are returned to the bag.

The first pattern line can be filled with a single tile, each subsequent pattern line needs an additional tile to be completed so vertical lines are a lot more difficult to complete than horizontal ones. The game really comes down to which tiles to take from each factory and when. In that respect it’s akin to a drafting game but with a number of public pools of tiles rather than concealed hands. In aggressive games many decisions are made on the basis that you need to prevent other players from getting those tiles. An example of very malicious play is observing that your opponent is attempting to fill their bottom pattern line and taking any tiles that they need to fill it.

If you enjoy abstract strategy games like Sagrada, Patchwork or even Santorini this is a must play. It’s inexpensive, simple and fun. Tons of replayability and depth, beautifully presented and produced and goes well with a few drinks and some Tapas. You will probably have to re-check the rule book a few times for some of the more situational rules and I wish the player boards had indents for the tiles so they didn’t slide around but I love the style, look and feel of the game.

Azul will certainly be one of my reliable fall-backs as perhaps a warm-up or short game, especially when playing with new or young players. I can’t see it becoming any more popular but it’ll likely win even more awards this year and prove itself as an incredibly solid abstract strategy game.

Available to play and buy at d20 Board Game Cafe Watford.

Sources:
https://www.planbgames.com/en/home/30-azul.html
https://www.planbgames.com/en/news/dialogue-with-a-designer-michael-kiesling-azul-b50.html
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/230802/azul

Games

A Game of Thrones Catan, Brotherhood of the Watch

Runaway cultural superstar, A Game Of Thrones meets board game legend, Catan. Guaranteed success story, right?

Klaus Teuber’s Catan, (Settlers of Catan if you insist) first published in 1995, is celebrated as a breakthrough success and is both elegant in its simplicity and staggering in its potential depth and scope for competitive gameplay. This however, does not stop developers trying to improve upon this winning formula. Catan has racked up 6 official base game expansions as well as various scenario packs, re-skins, spin offs, adaptations and tie-ins. Most recently and notably, A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch (2017).

A Game of Thrones (GoT), published in 1996, is the first book in a series of fantasy novels by American Novelist George R. R. Martin. These books have been hugely popularised by HBO’s massively successful television series Game Of Thrones. A Game of Thrones Catan, Brotherhood of the Watch is based not on the television series but this novel and includes all original ‘Catan-esc’ artwork.

Last Friday night at d20 Mario, Adam, Charlie and I sat down to play this new arrival to the Cafe. Mario and I had introduced the Catan base game to Adam just a few weeks before in a highly contested game that ended with Mario scoring the game-winning tenth point. It’s safe to say that there were scores to be settled.

Opening the large box you will find everything you need to play base Catan as well Wildlings mini figures and 4 large wall pieces intended to separate ‘The Gift’ from the ‘Beyond the Wall’. I’m reliably told this means something to those familiar with GoT. To those like myself already familiar with base catan you’ll recognise the five different resources hexes and their corresponding cards as well as the semicircular trade posts and development cards. GoT Catan however moves away from a hexagonal game board and instead, once constructed, the game uses a large rectangular game board with hexes in the southern portion of the play area.

Everything has a new polished GoT aesthetic, including the player’s roads, settlements and cities (sorry Keeps*, as Cities have been renamed) each player is also equipped with a Guard to protect them from oncoming Wildlings, Guards cost 1 sheep, 1 wood and 1 clay and are placed stoic and static on top of the wall. Mario, rules in hand, explained the additions to the game and once we had got passed the slightly strange GoT terminology we were ready to play.

Play proceeds in the same way as in base Catan but with the addition of a 12-sided dice that determines the movement of the ‘Wildlings’ they act much like the robber, blocking the production of a resource hex but they first must approach and overcome the wall. In this respect there is a co-op element to the game because it is in all players interests to keep the invaders at bay. Much like the Cities and Knights base game expansion wildlings approach four distinct sections of wall along three separate tracks so players are unsure which section of wall wildlings will attack until they have arrived.  

Another mechanical change to the game comes in the form of character cards. Players a dealt a unique character card at the top of the game and can use their character’s ability up to twice before they are forced to swap character cards. The abilities are anything from forcing 1:1 trades with players and with the bank, to taking free resources given that a number of prerequisites are met. These cards slow the game probably too much to justify their addition but they do appeal to the diehard GoT fan.

The game continued well over an hour, significantly longer than a standard game of a Catan, but this might be have been expected for a new game. Charlie had repeated bouts of indecision that he was justly chastised for and Adam dealt with the brunt of the wildlings. As is to be expected, trades were fiercely debated and people erred on the stubborn side but play proceeded steadily onwards.  

I took a small lead, at one point having eight revealed points, including a point from longest road, a feature that has also continued over. At around the midpoint of the game the wildlings had reached the walls and trades had become more outrageous and desperate. The cliche abundance of sheep contrasted starkly with the growing need for wood and space on the board was at an all time premium. Mario used the character cards to his advantage gaining a good hand of development cards.

Towards the end of the game Charlie took longest road off of me and Mario used a development card to get a third guard, revealed a victory point card and announced victoriously that he had won, ending our grudge match. Unbelievably, the score now stands; Games of Catan that Mario has beaten Andrew: 2, Games of Catan that Andrew has beaten Mario at: 0.

The final score was Mario: 10, Andrew: 7, Charlie: 6 and Adam: 3. With the game finished we took some time to review. I had certainly underused the character card feature and regretted not having a keep or settlement on a 6 at any point. Adam wished he hadn’t spent quite as much time fighting wildlings and Charlie wished he’d built more. Mario basked in his win but remarked that it wasn’t really an improvement on the original.

Hardcore fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books will probably very much enjoy this title. I imagine those who are bigger fans of the T.V show will feel the absence of characters present only in series two onwards. I see the potential for possible GoT expansions in later releases, we mused on the addition of Dragons and White Walkers for a while.

If you are thinking of picking up this game, do make sure you have a good working understanding of the Catan base game first and the experience is no doubt all the more enjoyable if you have seen/read A Game of Thrones. I don’t rate the game any better than the original but it certainly isn’t any worse, just make sure your first game isn’t with Mario.

A Game of Thrones Catan, Brotherhood of the Watch is available at d20 store for £65 and is in our games library in the back.

Games

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Want to know what is going on at d20? We play new games, old favourites and fun fringe titles all the time and we want to tell you all about them. Here is the place to find a (hopefully) weekly highlight of what we get up to at d20 Board Game Cafe.

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