Welcome to Ruel’s Rundown, a bi-weekly series where I share my initial impressions and thoughts on three board games I’ve enjoyed recently. While many of us are getting our gaming via Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Board Game Arena, and other sites these days, I’m focusing on gaming of the cardboard-only variety.
And since in-person game nights are on pause these days, I’ll recommend at least one game that offers solo play and another that’s playable via Zoom or Skype such as the ones mentioned on sites like https://farmingless.com/why-do-pro-gamers-retire-so-young/. Here are my three latest recommendations.
This is one of my all-time favorites of the roll-and-write (or, more specifically, flip-and-fill) genre. Cartographers is set in the same fantasy universe of Roll Player, but here you’re mapping out the queen’s territory. Four random scoring objectives are chosen at the start of the game and two are scored during each of the four rounds. During a round, explore cards are revealed one at a time, each with a Tetris shape and a terrain (and sometimes a choice for either or both). You’ll fill these into your map scoresheet, hoping to complete the public objectives before the round is over. If an ambush card shows up, however, you’ll pass your sheet to an opponent, who then draws in one or more monsters. These are worth negative points at the end of the round, unless you can surround the monsters with terrain.
I love Cartographers’ player interaction, which isn’t what you normally expect in a flip-and-fill game. I was surprised by the amount of brain burn that this puzzle offers as you try to score the different objectives; since you know which objectives will score each round you’re constantly trying to fill in your map to score points now and setting yourself for the later objectives. Not only is the solo variant easy to implement, it’s also a solid challenge; the rules have a simple method of determining any monsters you may get written on your score sheet. Like other flip-and-fills, you can easily play Cartographers on Zoom or Skype, as long as one player has a copy of the game and everyone else has graph paper or a downloadable score sheet.
Thanks to Thunderworks Games for the copy of Cartographers. Order here: https://www.thunderworksgames.com/cartographers.html
My friend Jeff taught me Tricky Tides last year at Strategicon and I was immediately impressed by its mash-up of trick-taking and pick-up-and-deliver mechanisms. You and your opponents are sailing merchant ships, collecting goods, delivering them to fulfill point-scoring contracts. After being dealt a hand of movement cards, you’ll play one and your opponents must follow its suit. Whoever’s played the highest of the led suit gets to move first. The higher the card, the more directions you can move to an adjacent island; the lower the card, the fewer directions you can move.
I like adding in the monsters variant, which allows the player who played the lowest of the led suit to move one of four monsters (shark, octopus, sea dragon, and whale). These can help you or hurt your opponent, and it’s an easy addition to the game that adds a bit more strategy by giving you another decision to make when you lose a trick. This is terrific game, especially for gamers who don’t like trick-taking games. The mechanism here works as a small yet integral part of Tricky Tides, making it a familiar yet fresh seafaring game.
Thanks to Gold Seal Games for the copy of Tricky Tides. Order here: https://www.goldsealgames.com/product/tricky-tides
Unmatched: Cobble & Fog
With the introduction of the Unmatched: Battle of Legends last year, the former Star Wars: Epic Duels system was revived and rethemed into this ongoing series of one-on-one battle game. It’s an absolute blast to play and before the world stopped back in March due to COVID-19, this hit the table frequently on game night, usually as a filler for the earliest arrivals. The base game featured characters Sinbad, Medusa, King Arthur, and Alice of Wonderland fame duking it out. While I’ve never wondered who would win in a fight between Sinbad and Alice, after playing Unmatched the first time, I wanted all of the expansions to see who I could pit against one another. The characters each play differently and thematically, and set up is minimal: choose a character, grab their deck, mini, and additional tokens for their sidekick, if any, and you’re good to go.
On your turn, perform two of three actions: maneuver on the game board (and draw a card), scheme (resolving its immediate effect), or attack. Combat is extremely simple, but due to the hand management aspect of the game, features some interesting decisions. Since you don’t automatically draw cards after each turn, you’ll have to decide when to leave yourself vulnerable to an attack by emptying out your hand of cards. Some of your cards may boost your other abilities, depending on character, For combat, you and your opponent play a card (your opponent may opt not to play a card; ah, hand management decision time!) and the attacker causes damage equal to their card minus the defender’s. The last player standing wins.
The Cobble & Fog standalone expansion features Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Man; once again the characters surprised me by how fun they are to put into combat. Sherlock Holmes, of course, is joined by Watson, while Dr. Jekyll can switch to his other persona. The game board also features secret passages so you bring other expansion characters into this unique arena. If you’re primarily playing with one other person these days, any of the Unmatched games is an outstanding choice for a tactical combat game that only takes 20-40 minutes to play.
Thanks to Restoration Games for the copy of Unmatched: Cobble & Fog. Order here: https://restorationgames.com/shop/cobble-fog-unmatched/
The Cartographers app is very good!
The game itself on the table, I don’t do the whole “drawing” thing very well so I’m not sure how well I would like it.
But the app is seriously cool.
It’s great to see you writing again after such an extensive respite! I had a chance to play Tricky Tides during Origins 2019 and found it to be a blast. It’s nice to see it highlighted on your list. Additionally, at PAX Unplugged last year, a friend of mine introduced me to Cartographers. Both titles are quite good though they don’t make my “Must Buy” list, they’ll always fall into “Always Play” list.