Board games

I spend enough time in front of a computer, so it’s nice to step back and play some board games with friends. Here are some I’ve been playing lately.

Wingspan

Wingspan is an engine-building game themed around birds – you probably guessed that based on the name. It comes with something like 180 bird cards, all unique, and as a player you decide which ones to add to your habitat, what food to collect, whether or not to concentrate on gaining food in the forest, laying eggs in the grasslands, or gain more cards in the wetlands.

Each bird has an ability that triggers off others in your habitat and possibly other birds in the other player’s habitats. Scoring involves meeting per-round objective (have the most birds with ground nests that have eggs, etc), secret objectives (most birds with wingspans above/below some number, most eggs, etc).

This game won the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres and it deserves it. My group really enjoys playing this.

Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven, currently #1 on boardgamegeek, is a tactical combat RPG. There is a giant amount of content in the box, with nearly 100 scenarios, a branching storyline to follow, 6 starter classes and 11 unlockable classes (spoiler – 12 since there is one that unlocks after solving a puzzle). There is an expansion that adds another starter class as well.

The classes are all creative and not just typical fantasy tropes of fighter/wizard/thief.

The game is cooperative – the group succeeds if the objective is met (typically: kill all the monsters) and at least one player is alive. But nearly everything else is competitive, such as gaining loot, accomplishing secret objectives (be the first to loot a chest, let someone become exhausted, etc.)

The game brings several new mechanics to the typical board game dungeon crawler. One is: instead of dice each character and monster has a modifier deck. Characters can influence the deck as they play and earn “perks” from the secret objectives. What each class can do to the modifier deck differs, but they all generally involve improving the deck by adding or removing cards. Think of it as a customizable die.

A second is the skill ability deck mechanics. Each class gets a certain number of cards (ranging 8 – 12), each of which has an initiative value and two halves: top and bottom. The key mechanic is the cards must be played in pairs, one card for the top half ability, the other for the bottom half ability. If you can’t play a pair of cards, you have to rest which makes you sit out a round, choose a card to discard, heal up, and re-enter play.

Over time, resting depletes your deck and you are out when you are unable to play a pair of cards, i.e. become exhausted.

OK, there is a lot more that I can’t possibly summarize here, but this game is fun and challenging. There is character progression – level up to access to better equipment, learn new abilities, possibly unlock a new class to play, etc. There is a computer version available on Steam, which is missing several classes and mechanics… but to be fair, does implement basic game play well.

LoTR: TCG

In case you can’t get enough Lord of the Rings, there is a “living card game” (LCG) by Fantasy Flight. LCG means the expansion packs are all fixed, so you know what you are getting, as opposed to a traditional CCG like Magic where expansions packs contain random cards.

The basic play of Lord of the Ring: The Card Game is: build a deck of 50 cards from the huge number available, advance the quest deck, and survive the encounter deck. Each round you get resources to spend putting cards into play from your hand, and those cards lets you advance the quest, defend against monster attacks, or attack – you decide how to divvy the effort up.

You can dip your toes in by getting the LoTR:TCG so-called “core set” which has enough cards for 2 people to play. From there, you can buy deluxe or saga expansions, or try to catch up on monthly adventure packs.

This game is cooperative, and plays very well solo or 2 player. It can play more but then the downtime between turns starts to get pretty large. Also, if you play with more than 2, you’ll need more core sets.

I have a friend who is really into this game, and sets up a weekly meeting at a game store. All I have to do is show up with my character deck, all the extra work of picking the quests and setting the encounter deck up is handled by others, so I can be lazy. To be fair, I’m the least experienced player in the group.

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