UKGE 2019 Roundup Part 2
By Ben Porter
We opted for a bit of a lie-in on the Saturday. We knew that it was going to be bedlam from previous year's experience, so we made our way in for 11am and our appointment with Livia from Mozi Games.
I had never heard of Mozi Games until shortly before this year's expo. They are a Taiwanese company who are now looking to bring their games to a Western audience. Their games typify the requirements of the Asian market; games with a small footprint and low component count. Livia was very welcoming and obliging, and simply asked us which of their games we were interested in. Being a bit of a nature enthusiast, I asked if we could see Mini Garden and Horticulture Master.
Mini Garden consists of 5 cards that each represent a different flower, a coloured dice to match each flower, and 4 sets of 6 cards divided into a grid of 6 with various quantities of the 5 flowers pictured -called garden cards. The dice are rolled and players race to see who can be the first to arrange their garden cards so that flowers represented in their garden match the numbers on each dice, overlapping cards as required. It's a really simple premise for a game that can actually be quite challenging at times. Livia absolutely trounced us at the game.
Horticulture Master is a essentially a polyomino, card-drafting hybrid. Players draft element cards from a grid of nine cards, and elements can be used to buy tools that grant you various upgrades, or they can be used to buy polyominoes to fill your garden (some of which also grant upgrades). The thing that I love about Horticulture Master is the way that the 'fire' and 'snow' elements behave on the drafting grid. Fire burns the next card down, removing the burned card from play, and continues travelling down the board burning cards until it reaches the bottom. Snow prevents the space below it being filled. It's a really elegant way of representing the cycle of renewal in a game all about nature. Livia was very kind enough to give us review copies of both, so we'll have more coverage of both games very soon.
Despite a slight scheduling mix up, we were able to catch-up with Chris Birch from Modiphius who shed some more details on their upcoming The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms miniatures game. (Some of you may have already listened to our interview with him. If not, you can go here to listen to that.) Whilst the game will build upon the same skeleton of Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, a lot of time and effort has been invested in the co-operative elements of the game; AI has been developed further, and dungeon delving will allegedly be a large facet of the game. There's a bit of a void as far as co-operative games go in the miniatures games genre, so I'm hopeful that the team are able to produce something good with Call to Arms. I think it's certainly the intelligent way to go, rather than trying to compete with an already saturated market of competitive skirmish games. If nothing else, the miniatures we've seen so far are very highly detailed, faithful representations of the creatures and characters from the Skyrim video game.
Towards the end of the day we stopped by the Hall or Nothing Productions stand to catch up with Tristan. He unfortunately didn't have anything for 1565: St Elmo's Pay to show, but we did manage to get a quick interview with him that you can listen to here.
Afterwards, we stopped by the Board Game Box and played a round of an Ankama game called Tales of Glory. This game wasn't at all what I was expecting, as there's very little actual storytelling in it. To me, it felt much more like a tabletop interpretation of the top-down RPGs of the late 80s and early 90s; from the square location tiles you accumulate throughout the game, to the chibi character art. Like all Ankama games, the artwork was bold, vibrant and instantly recognisable as Ankama, but I'd need to play the game a bit more to formulate a fuller opinion on it.
We ended Saturday at the Grimlord Games stand. We had been hoping to get a look at The Everrain, but they only had one prototype for the game with them and the table had been mobbed all day. Instead, we got involved in a game of Village Attacks!
I really enjoyed Village Attacks! when I played it last year, but we just never got around to picking a copy up. I played as the Vampire this time around, which was a nice change from the slower, tankier Dullehan. Because of the scenario we were playing, I did spend most of my time collecting books whilst the other players beat up peasants in the corridor. A lot of these sorts of miniatures-based games can devolve into a bit of a slog, but Village Attacks! circumvents that problem with a fairly well thought out levelling up system; the board gets mobbed, but you get to do more cool stuff with your character as the game progresses.
For the last day of the expo we kicked things off back at the Grimlord Games stand. We finally managed to sit down with designer Adam Smith, who was kind enough to chaperone us through The Everrain. On purely superficial level, The Everrain is cosmic horror on the high seas. Betentacled monsters and pirates? Sold.
As much as that may sound a bit Hollywood at first glance, the game is very intelligently implemented with an art style that immediately marks it as a Grimlord game. It uses a party management system that bears strong resemblance to that found in punishing PC dungeon crawler, Darkest Dungeon; you even have to manage the mental Strain of your crewmen by allowing them to return to land every so often to blow off some steam. In addition to recruiting more crew members, you can purchase various upgrades for your ship - which you will need.
Instead of the investigation typical of Lovecraftian-style cosmic horror, players explore the seas to discover new islands, shipwrecks and clues; the currency you'll need to keep abreast of the awakening of a malevolent god. There's a much stronger emphasis on narrative than in Village Attacks, and fans of games like Arkham Horror will be in familiar territory, but it's a really cool implementation of nautical themes with a Lovecraftian bent. And it boasts some phenomenal-looking miniatures to boot. We were only able to play through to the game's first act so I'm looking forward to taking to sea again soon to see what horrors await in the later stages of the game.
The last game of the weekend was Sanctum from Czech Games Edition, which is absolutely Diablo for the tabletop, by the way!
I wasn't really sure what to expect from this game, to be honest, as my experience from playing the Diablo video games is that they can become a bit grindy; how would that translate to the tabletop? I was quite pleasantly surprised. Filip Neduk has very cleverly translated the reward loop that will be familiar to players of games like Diablo and Borderlands to the tabletop by blending together tried and tested mechanics. Inventory management is essentially a tile placement mini game, whilst players take turns choosing to draft monsters or push their luck by advancing further into the dungeon. And of course it wouldn't be a looter game without being able to magically jump through a portal back to town to have all your treasures appraised.
I like that the designers have taken the less obvious path with this sort of game - the only miniatures the game uses are those included to represent the player pieces. Streamlining character levelling into just 3 characteristics is also great. Each stat has its own skill tree and all of the monsters in the game match one of the 3 colours that each skill tree uses respectively, meaning you have a good idea of what monsters you want to be fighting depending on how you want your character to progress - though sticking to a colour is not necessarily always the best choice with several other variables to account for.
Again, we ony got to play the first portion of Sanctum as it's still got some finishing touches to be added. It'll be interesting to see if the reward loop system is enough to carry the game through to the final boss battle.
Another UKGE out of the way! This one seemed to go by a lot quicker than last year; we definitely had a lot more appointments and such to see to, which is always an encouraging sign. Compared to last year where there weren't many brand new games out for that year that stood out for me, there are a lot of really good games coming out for this year. I did notice that there were a lot of smaller, lighter games front and centre this year; perhaps the Spiel des Jahres nominations for this year were indicative of a shift in the market? Possibly a direct result of the prevalence of larger, higher priced games that we saw for much of last year.
There were a few games that we wanted a look at but never managed to get to. Sushi Roll was constantly mobbed on the Coiled Spring stand. Sushi Go Party is one of my all-time favourites, and as a sucker for a good dice chucker, I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get the chance to play it. I didn't even get near the Lucky Duck stand to try out Kingdom Rush after making such a big deal about it in our preview article either. And, of course, there were all the cool games that we saw for the first time at UKGE and never got near, and we're still only about half way through the year. 2019 is shaping up to be a very promising year for tabletop gaming.