Sharing The Love: Board Games

My wife and I are spending New Year’s Eve at home — not (just) due to the pandemic, but because we’re at that age when going to bed at a reasonable hour is far more enticing than staying up stupidly late. There will be lots of food, lots of booze, a cozy fire, and board games galore.

We used to play a lot of video games together, but video game producers seem to hate the idea of two people sitting on a couch in the same room and playing a game together, so we’ve gravitated toward board and card games because we enjoy the personal interactive quality of them — and we cannot wait until it’s safe enough to have a decent sized group of friends over for a proper game day!

But for now, we’ll have to content ourselves with our various two-player games, and as a public service, here are the games we’ve been playing heavily over the course of 2021.

Arkham Horror – Third Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)

The second edition of Arkham Horror was my gateway to modern board games. Sure, it was bloated, complicated, and had some wonky game mechanics, but I was instantly hooked and it’s still one of my favorites. I was admittedly unhappy that the third edition deviated so far from the game I knew and loved, but I’ve come to enjoy 3E for what it is. It’s a longer game, and more story-driven than its predecessor, but it’s cooperative and has a lot of replay value, especially as you add expansions.

Elder Sign (Fantasy Flight Games)

Another of FFG’s Lovecraftian games, this one is a little faster paced, and the base game is challenging but not frustrating (you need to go to some of the expansions for that). I generally am not a big fan of heavily dice-based games, but this is one of our regular go-to games. For a longer experience, try playing this marathon style: keep going until your characters are devoured or until you defeat every ancient evil.

The Big Book of Madness (Iello Games)

I stumbled across this one at my comic book shop (That’s Entertainment in Worcester, MA) and it was a very happy discovery. Players take on the roles of students at a school for elemental magic, who are fighting to hold back monsters being unleashed by a book of evil magic. Players have to coordinate their spellcasting to defeat the monsters, avoid curses that drive them insane, and prepare for the final battle to decide who wins. Takes a game or two to get used to the mechanics and develop your strategy, but after you get into a groove, the game moves nicely.

Note: the Iello website is currently down for an overhaul, so look for this in stores.

Here to Slay (Unstable Games)

We got this for Christmas and it became an instant favorite after one game. It’s a fantasy card game in which players develop adventuring parties to hunt and kill monsters, but the characters are all cute animals. Aside from being freaking adorable, the game is easy to set up, easy to learn, and you can get a few rounds into an hour. Nice, light, fun, and did I mention FREAKING ADORABLE?

Marvel United – X-Men (CMON Games)

Each game sets up a randomized board with different perks and pitfalls, and each hero has their own powers that influence game play as the X-Men try to defeat Magneto, Sabertooth, Mystique, and the Juggernaut. I took a chance and backed this on Kickstarter earlier this year. I’ve already received the base game, and am now awaiting the expansions I also backed, which stand to give the game a ton of replay value as it adds new heroes and villains galore. There’s also a main Marvel Universe version, which I plan to pick up.

Horrified – American Monsters (Ravensburger)

I was already a huge fan of the original Horrified, which is based on the Universal Monster movies, but when I heard they were releasing a version using American cryptids, my response was something along the lines of “You son of a bitch. I’m in!” The base mechanics are the same, so if you know the original game you can jump right in to American Monsters (or vice-versa), but the particulars of defeating the monsters are different, so between that and the new theme, it’s a satisfying new experience.

Note: the company is currently not selling directly from its website in the interests of supporting its retail partners, so look for it in stores.

Sharing The Love: Arkham Horror (Third Edition)

Copyright Fantasy Flight Games

As you may have inferred from past posts, I love board games. I’ve pretty much given up on video games, largely because I’m rarely in the mood to waste several hours playing a game on my own. I like the social aspect of gaming and video games aren’t really doing that for me.

Arkham Horror has long been my favorite game. It’s big, complicated, has some clumsy game mechanics, and a single game can last forever. The first time I played, the game ran nearly twelve hours. But I fell in love with it right away and grabbed a copy for myself. I finally snagged the last of the many expansions last year, and it turns out my timing was excellent, because that version of the game was discontinued to make room for Arkham Horror – Third Edition.

Copyright Fantasy Flight Games

The third edition version is a much different game than the previous incarnation. For starters, instead of a traditional fold-out board, this version has a modular design that allows you to create different map layouts based on which scenario you’re playing — of which there are four, and that’s another major change.

In Second Edition, players faced one of several available Elder Gods, and the goal was to prevent their awakening by traveling through Arkham to collect clues and close down interdimensional gates. In Third Edition, players still need to collect clues to prevent an ancient evil from coming into our world and raising hell, but the game itself is more story-driven. Meet certain conditions and the game takes players in one direction, fail to meet certain conditions and it takes you in another.

Some of the changes to the mechanics — adapted from FFG’s Arkham Horror – The Card Game — add to the stress levels, and the difficulty levels. I’ve played three of the four scenarios so far and got stomped every time. It’s easy to fall behind and get overwhelmed to the point there’s no way to recover and pull out a win.

One of the big improvements from Second Edition, if not the biggest, is that the whole thing has been somewhat stripped down and streamlined. Setup takes a fraction of the time, as does game play. It’s much more viable as a two-player game than Second Edition, and you can spend a gaming day running through all four scenarios rather than dedicating yourself to just one.

My hope for future expansions is that FFG will add scenarios along with new investigators, items, spells, allies, etc., but refrain from piling on new game mechanics.

Sharing The Love – Letters From Whitechapel

Copyright Fantasy Flight Games
Copyright Fantasy Flight Games

Taking a minute or two out of my first full writing weekend in a month and a half (yeesh) to let folks know about a cool now board game I picked up this week.

The game is Letters From Whitechapel, which is based on the Jack the Ripper murders. One player controls Jack as he hunts down and kills “the Wretched” (a gentle term for prostitutes) over the course of five nights, while one to five more players assume the role of investigators tasked with capturing Jack.

If you’re not bothered by the admittedly morbid source material, I’d recommend this game — especially if you’re a fan of Fury of Dracula, which uses a similar game mechanic. The player controlling Jack moves around the board surreptitiously, while the investigator players have to find clues the reveal his escape path so they can determine where his hidden lair is. Jack wins by killing all five Wretched and returning successfully to his hideout. The investigators win by arresting Jack as he tries to evade capture.

Along the way, Jack can throw investigators off with false clues and redirect them as they patrol Whitechapel with taunting letters — which are based on the actual letters Jack sent police during his murder spree. Several elements of the game likewise draw from history; the game board is based on a map of Whitechapel at the time, certain key spots on the board correlate to the locations of the actual murders, and the investigators play the actual police officers and detectives who worked on the case. Fun and educational!