It seems like a very long time and a whole lot of Pandemic Legacy jokes since last month’s update
. But for us gamers during this difficult time, we’ve at least got a great outlet for all that indoor free time. Games are still shipping and being delivered if you want some fresh cardboard for your collection. Just please remember to wash your hands after opening the box.
As it happens, there are actually several games in the frame this month that are great for solo and family play. So it’s time to sit down, stay indoors and get your game on.
Board Game New Releases
Kung-Fu Panda: The Board Game
Kung-Fu Panda delivers exactly the kind of crazy co-operative action you’d expect from a big-name family license. Players roll dice as fast as they can, trying to collect the right symbols to defeat foes and bypass obstacles over a range of scenarios. The catch is that often, you’ll do better if you slow down and pool dice. But take it too easy and the timer will catch you before the evil Tai Lung and his goons do. A fun balance of quick thinking and tactics with tons of variety, this is a sure-fire hit for younger players.
The lavish card art, short play time, and simple rules here belie a fun game of tactics, bluffing and being mean. Players start with identical decks of ten cards. They take turns laying them face down into a queue and deciding whether to flip them face up. Most either score points, which also accumulate on face down cards, or eliminate other cards. So unfolds a taut dance of trying to get your enemy cards into vulnerable positions while keeping yours safe. Naturally, you can lay traps and ambushes of various sorts leading to super-satisfying nasty surprises.
Shadows of Kilforth
Many games seek to re-create the feel of a role-playing adventure in a board game, and this sequel to Gloom Of Kilforth is the latest. It’s a veritable Swiss army knife of a game, playable solo, co-operatively and competitively so is a great candidate for play at home. Well balanced between complexity and detail, rich art supports the huge narrative potential that’s key to the game’s appeal. From heroic sagas to the rumors you’ll follow up to find fantastic treasures, every game is a fresh fantasy epic to enjoy.
Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails
At the other end of the scale, Hero Master is the opposite of epic fantasy. The adventurers in this game are neophytes, has-beens or no-hopers trying to scrape enough gold from a dungeon to earn a crust. Barge into a room and the first player gets first pick of whether to take on the monster within. If you do, be careful: you’ll need to play the right combos of attack and equipment cards to defeat it. Then be extra careful since your party members might sabotage your efforts with fumble cards. Don’t let the fun premise and art fool you: there’s lots of solid combo-and-bluff-based gameplay to enjoy.
The Isle of Cats
What’s better than being a cat rescuer? Being a cat rescuer who has to fit their funny-shaped feline charges into a strategic grid to score points, that’s what. That’s the core of this cunning game, which combines shape-fitting and card-drafting into a pleasing package. First draft your hand of cards from the options passing around. Then play them to set up scoring opportunities and rescue the right cats from the island to fit on the rooms and over the rats on your player board. Polyomino games are enjoying a boom, and this is one of the best yet.
Despite the, erm, stellar star art and the fact you lay cards out in the shape of a telescope, this two-player card game is really an abstract. But like the best of that genre, it’s easy to learn but hard to play well. The challenge is to play your hand of cards split between that telescope and the notebook area underneath. To score you’ll need a wide variety of stellar objects in your telescope, but also sequences of cards in the notebook to gain multipliers. Placement rules mean you can’t dump cards wherever you want, resulting in a tough new puzzle every game.
New Board Game Expansions
Architects of the West Kingdom: Age of Artisans
Architects upended the rather stale worker placement genre last year with clever new twists. Extra interaction from being able to capture other player’s workers was especially fun. This new expansion spices up the formula with a new extra-useful worker, the Artisan. That, of course, means it’s also a key target for capture, so it must be used with care. Also new are options to customize your apprentices and buildings. It’s the best kind of expansion, opening up tons of new strategies without derailing what made the original great.
Star Wars Destiny: Covert Missions
Destiny is one of the best collectable card games around, with its custom dice element providing fast, taut gameplay. The Star Wars license is just a bonus. Sadly, then, Covert Missions is the last set of booster packs to come out before the publisher winds the series down. As befits the final expansion, it’s chock-full of iconic characters and moments from the series. Imperial and Rebel players can now build and destroy the Death Star respectively. And everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett can now play and collect bounties on targeted characters.
New Board Games on Kickstarter
Generating massive pre-release buzz from convention demos, this is a fun concept for a classic economic engine game. There’s some decent depth beneath the goofy theme, using a variety of mechanics to distill, deliver, and deal illicit liquor for a fat profit. There’s even some gambling and bluffing in the vicious auction phase, plus bribery for extra player interaction. And of course, it’s also a great excuse to responsibly enjoy a few drinks as you play.
Two-player asymmetric games are always interesting for the variety and replay value they provide. But Lawyer Up has the added bonus of an unusual but eminently game-able theme of courtroom drama. One player is the prosecution, the other the defense. The game proceeds through rounds of collecting — and maybe burying — evidence then using symbol matching to form chains of argument. With mechanics based loosely on card-driven historical hits like Twilight Struggle and Watergate, it’s sure to have a measure of forensic strategy.