Every Monday I wake up thinking that I will get a light and healthy dinner on the way to game group and drink lemonade when I am there but when I arrive and the barman asks me what I want my mouth always asks for a steak pie and chips with a pint of Trooper. Help!
Players: 7 (Plays 3-10)
Duration: 20 minutes
There is one person in my group that loves Saboteur and brings it every week. Due to her enthusiasm it generally gets a fair bit of table time at the early filler portion of the night which is a good thing because it sure beats that 20 minutes where everyone stares at a stack of games unwilling to commit to anything!
Players are gnome miners who are trying to tunnel their way to gold over multiple rounds. Effectively the game takes place in a 5×9 grid with the entrance to the mine at one end and three cards at the other of which only one is the precious gold. Players take it in turn to play tunnel cards of different layouts to get from the entrance to the gold. The twist is that some of the gnomes are secret saboteurs who will try and fail the game by playing unhelpful tunnel cards to create dead ends or diversions. As well as tunnel cards there are equipment cards that can break or repair equipment (which helps or hinders tunnel building), dynamite cards that can remove a tunnel card in play and map cards that allow a player to look at one of the three target cards. The round ends when there is a clear tunnel from the entrance to the gold or the cards run out and the mine is doomed.
Saboteur is easy to play and understand and there is potential for lots of strategic deception. There are a few traitor games that I have got bored of (BSG, Avalon, The Resistance) but for some reason Saboteur still holds my attention. Probably because rounds are short, roles are reassigned after each one and I am a terrible liar. Good random fun.
Pandemic (including In the Lab expansion)
Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)
Duration: 1 hour
Pandemic is a hugely popular co-operative game where players have to cure 4 diseases that are making their way across the globe. The game has two decks of cards, an infection deck (used to randomly infect cities) and a player deck (used for fast travel and researching cures). At the start, players are given a role and hand of cards before a number of cities are infected (represented by cubes). On their turn, players have 4 actions including moving, removing disease cubes, exchanging cards, building research stations and finding cures. At the end of their turn players draw two more cards (up to a maximum of 7) and then randomly place disease cubes by drawing from the infection deck.
That’s the nice part. The real clever (and mean) part of the game are epidemics and outbreaks. Distributed through the player deck are epidemic cards which, when revealed, mean players have to shuffle the infection discard deck back on top of the infection deck meaning those cities you just cleared are going to come up again and again. It also increases the number of cards drawn at the infection stage. On it’s own this doesn’t sound so bad but it causes outbreaks. Which are very bad. Cities can only have a maximum of 3 disease cubes so instead of a fourth being added to that city there is an outbreak and one is added to every adjoining city. If they have 3 cubes then they outbreak too and you have a chain which can fill the board up with disease very quickly. After 8 outbreaks you lose. If you run out of cubes in the supply you lose. If the players deck runs out you lose. It’s hell…
…but it’s brilliant. And hard. So very hard. But yesterday, and for the first time ever, I was in a winning game and an incredibly dramatic one too. The 4th disease was cured on the last action of the last players turn before the player deck ran out. It was exhilarating. In fact I am still astounded by it now and am grateful for cleverer (and soberer) minds on the team. Now we can try it on hard and never win ever again.
It’s worth noting that we played with the In the Lab expansion which adds a whole minigame to the way cures are found. In the original, cures are found by cashing in 5 cards of their colour at a research station but in the expansion players have to spend actions to research and test cures instead of just handing in the cards. It sounds more difficult but getting five cards of the same colour is actually very tricky and requires a lot of movement around the map to meet other players and exchange cards so it seems to balance out in terms of difficulty. I am still determined to beat the vanilla version one day though. One day.
Ticket to Ride (including Alvin and Dexter expansion)
Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)
Duration: 90 minutes
Do you like trains? It seems that a lot of board gamers do as the train theme is one of the most popular I have seen but Ticket to Ride is by far one of the most successful and accessible I have seen. Luck can play a big part in Ticket to Ride and some fortunate card draws can see a player boosted to victory (as I was yesterday getting twice as many points as the player in second) but the simple and satisfying gameplay means that claiming routes is always a lot of fun and due to some hidden scoring (some down to the game itself and some to inept scoring by us at the table) you can never really be sure where you are.
Ticket to Ride plays across a map of the US which has various cities on it with routes between them with players scoring points by claiming these routes. On their turn a player can either draw train cards, claim a route (by playing train cards of the matching colour and quantity for that route) or draw secret route cards. Without the route cards the game would boil down to simple set collection but they give the player the opportunity to claim additional points (only revealed at the end) by connecting two cities across the map with their trains. The longer the route the more points are awarded but the risk is also greater as you could get blocked or not get the right train cards before your train supply runs out which means that the points for that card are deducted. The key is to try and get as many overlapping route cards as possible to minimise the amount of routes you need to claim. Thankfully luck was on my side yesterday and I got a lot of overlaps.
We also played with the Alvin and Dexter expansion which adds 2 giant monsters to the board! If you play a multi-coloured train card (which act as wildcards and so are quite valuable) on your turn you can move these monsters to different cities which block players from building there and means any routes through them count for half at the end of the game. This expansion makes no sense whatsoever and was totally out of place with the theme of a train game but so what? If you don’t love giant monsters in a game for no reason then check for signs of life.