My Top 3
Nathan from @njc.games
The Doc’s Top 3
Sometimes it is good to look at the sagging shelves or stuffed Kallax units and ask yourself whether you need all of this stuff. A few months ago, we had a conversation with other gamers. We posed a question, “if there was a house fire, the family and pets are safe, but you can grab just three games from the shelves, what would they be?” That was several months ago, and now faced with a top three scenario I’m asking if I would change my opinions, especially in the light of the new games acquired during lockdown?
The answer is no. These are games that I would come back to, and are favourites with the family, have sufficient depth and thought to keep us interested and variability to ensure replayability. One is quite “mainstream” and well known, one has been under the radar for far too long in my opinion and the other is, perhaps, a little “left field”.
Number 3: Nusfjord
I do like a good worker placement game but some can take ages to set up, occupy all of the dining room table, and can have fiendish little intricacies and rules that detract from gameplay. There is none of this with Nusfjord. I bought it on a whim about 18 months ago and being another game by Uwe Rosenberg, I knew I would like it. It is not as cut-throat as Agricola, and plays in half the time. This means it gets the thumbs up from my family too who also love it.
Do not let the theme of fishing put you off. Catching fish, developing a town, and feeding the Norwegian locals has never been so rewarding. It has a Scandinavian preciseness about it. Yes, there is some competition for a few of the worker placement spots, but if plan A isn’t available there is always something else that you can do that is almost as good. Playing Nusfjord feels so much more civilised than some other worker placement games I could mention.
Number 2: Room 25 (with season 2 expansion)
Co-operative play, a race against time, team modes, hidden moves, a futuristic prison, a traitor in your midst, and even a robot to take the pain of a mortal chamber if you’re lucky. Room 25 has it all. It is based (loosely) on sci-fi films The Cube and The Running Man. Players take the role of prisoners trapped in the middle and trying to find the exit. Each tile around them is a room. Some might be fairly benign like a tunnel or a corridor that limits your movement. Others are much more malevolent. Some rooms will cause a player’s demise if they stay too long. Others cause death instantly or perhaps to others (if they stay too long). Who doesn’t want to have the chance to push their mother-in-law into an acid bath when playing a game?
There are just 8 or 10 rounds to try to reach the exit and this after finding the combination lock. On each turn a player has to pre programme just two moves. This might be to peep into an adjacent room or walk to the next tile. Perhaps you might push another player out of a room just to see what happens or even slide an entire row or column of the grid. Room 25 turns into a big memory game as you try to recall which places around you are problem spots. If you throw into this mix that any one of the other players could be a traitor whose role is to prevent you from escaping, then you have what I consider to be one of the most complete games of all. With season 2 we like to expand this dangerous maze to 45 tiles and when the prisoners reach the exit we feel almost the same elation as you do when conquering a mountain against the odds.
Number 1: Five Tribes
The difference between my first and second choice is wafer thin. Five Tribes by Bruno Cathala has superb production values with colourful tiles. The meeples are placed on the tiles and, with a mancala style of lifting and transferring them across the grid, it becomes quite a puzzle to work out the optimal move. This means that the complexion of moves available changes with each turn - and before you even start there is the auction for turn order. This means you can force others to pay “through the nose” just to get what they might think is an optimal move.
Five Tribes allows set collection for excellent bonus points and genies to give extra powers and scoring opportunities. Days of Wonder always make a quality product and for us this really enhances the gameplay. It is a game that the whole family really enjoys and with a theme of the Arabian nights transports us to a land of camels and carpets, gems and snake charmers. My wife and I enjoy playing this as a two-player game and there is no way of predicting who will win until the final points are tallied. Colourful, replayable, escapism.