coming here which means the pace of new video games has slowed down. So, here are three tabletop games to keep you entertained while hiding from the winter chill.
A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King
Card drafting and positioning are the two core mechanics in A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King. A six by six grid of character cards from houses such as Stark, Lannister, and Greyjoy are laid out to form King’s Landing. On each turn, players name a house and move the spymaster Varys in one of the four cardinal directions, taking all characters from that house and placing Varys where the farmost character was. Once a player either ties or takes the lead in the number of characters in a given house, they take the sigil for that house. There are seven houses in all with a varying number of characters in each from eight Starks down to two Tullys. Play stops once Varys can’t make a move and a player with the most sigils wins.
Taking the last character in a house lets you choose one of six available companion cards like Khal Drogo (my dude), Jaqen H’ghar (my other dude), Loras Tyrell, and more. Each companion triggers a special ability that can turn the tide of a game. For example, Jaqen kills one character from King’s Landing, one character from another player’s area, and one companion card while Khal Drogo allows you to take Daenerys Targaryen and kill Viserys.
Hand of the King can be played as a two, three, or four player game. I’ve played about ten games of two player and it has a very strategic feel to it. You want to maximize your character gains, of course, but you also don’t want to drop Varys into a space where your opponent can pick up multiple characters or pick up the last character in a house on their turn. Two player games are much more of a back and forth than four player games where you have far fewer turns to gain the favor of the nobles. My wife and I are both big GoT fans and really enjoy Hand of the King.
Smash Up is a deck building game where you build your deck right at the beginning by picking two factions and shuffling their cards together. Want to play as robots and aliens? Dinosaurs and pirates? The world is your oyster. A number of bases are placed out on the table with a target power value. On each turn, you can play one minion and one action from your hand. Minions have a power value and are played on bases to raise the power on that base. Action cards are, well, actions that let you play another minion, draw a new card, move a minion to a different base, and so on.
As soon as the power of all minions on a base exceeds its target value, the base is scored. Most bases score first through third places in terms of power from each player but they do not always score in order, meaning that you might want to position yourself as having the second most power. Bases usually have some kind of trigger after they score as well like moving a minion to another base. Otherwise, all cards on a base are discarded and a new base is put in its place. The first player to 15 victory points is the winner.
It takes a few turns to get the hang of how your factions work together, but after that Smash Up really starts to groove. In the one game I played, someone had wizards and zombies which combined extra actions with playing cards from his discard pile, letting him use powerful cards repeatedly. The base game comes with eight factions but there are a seemingly endless number of expansions. The combinations are a dream for the eight year old boy in me. The removal of typical card game mechanics like field-of-play entry/exit effects, attack/health values, and mana cost help make Smash Up very easy to learn. It’s a fun game, no doubt about it.
The Castles of Burgundy
The Castles of Burgundy is hands down one of the best board games I’ve ever played. I can totally see why BGG has it ranked #10 overall. Players are trying to fill out their 15th century land with all manner of period-appropriate hexagonal tiles: farm animals, ships, castles, etc. Those tiles are placed into six piles numbered one through six. On each turn, the two die you roll can be used to either purchase a tile from the appropriate pile and stage it for building, build an already staged tile on a space matching the number of a die you rolled, deliver goods from your ship for victory points, or take worker tiles which can augment the number on future die rolls. The various types of tiles score in different ways: farm animals score exponentially, tech tiles score based on their specific action (think guild cards from 7 Wonders), castle tiles give you an immediate bonus action, etc. You also score bonus points for filling the different colored sections of your board.
Another important aspect of The Castles of Burgundy is turn order. Playing a blue ship tile moves your turn order token up a spot which allows you to go first on the next turn, but the next player to play a ship would place their token on top of yours and act before you. Even the best laid plans can go south quickly as your turn order gets blown up. Trust me. Also important is that each tile you build must touch a previously built tile, so if you want to get to a space quickly you’ll need to build your way there. There are five turns per round and five total rounds, each round resetting the available tiles for purchase.
It’s easy to see why The Castles of Burgundy is so popular. It seems complicated at first with so many different tiles and symbols, but after three or four turns it all starts to make sense. You have be mindful of what tiles are available to purchase, what ones you have ready to build, what your opponent is trying to do, and how to maximize the two actions you get per turn. I only played Castles once but bought it for my sisters as a Christmas gift which I look forward to capitalizing on.