Tom: … So I’ve got all these because I thought you said ‘Games Newts’, it’s just a simple misunderstanding.
Ava: Look, it doesn’t matter, we’ll just get on with the news and absolutely nothing will happen, and nobody will notice and nobody will tell Matt and we’ll all keep our jobs, and you can put them in the Shut Up & Sit Down pond after we’ve finished.
Tom: Oh dang I think two of them escaped, and I think one had a bottle of whiskey and the other was carrying a tiny gun.
Ava: Uh oh. That’s some really bad newts.
New York Zoo is Uwe’s latest attempt to re-bottle the lightning of Patchwork, with a lovely looking tile laying zoo builder. You’ll be filling tiny zoos with tiny animals, and trying to best your opponents in this hopefully sharp family friendly game. Each turn you can either expand your zoo with new tiles or pull more tiny wooden animals onto your board, provided you’ve got the space to house them. On top of this, New York Zoo borrows a bit from some of Uwe’s big farm themed games. Just like in real life, animals will breed when the shared elephant crosses certain thresholds on the central board, helping you fill up enclosures to grab bonuses. It’s like a little Uwe’s greatest hits. Capstone Games is publishing in collaboration with Feuerland and they always make things look pretty.
I was definitely pretty disappointed with the first wave of post-Patchwork polyomino output from Herr Rosenberg, but I have hopes for this having a bit more refinement and simplicity. Plus adorable animals, and iffy New York accents are a winning combinati-
New York Tom: EY BUDDY WELCOME TO NEW YOYK ZOO. I GOT ALL THESE SLAWTHS. ALL THESE GOOOSES. ANYONE WANNA SEE MY LOIYON.
Ava: Oh cripes not this again – who are you, how did you get in here, and what’s happened to Tom.
Tom: Not to worry Ava, that wasn’t a real new yorker! It was just two buckets of clam chowder inside a trenchcoat!
Ava: But… you’re inside the trenchcoat.
Tom: ….And all that clam chowder is inside me! I think I’m going to be sick.
Ava: I don’t think I’ve ever actually been tempted to link to a new version of Love Letter on here, at least not since the expanded version of the original. Most of them just look like reskins with a tiny change, and that’s not interesting enough for me. This one, however, had me going ‘bwuh?’ and ‘huuuuh?’ repeatedly as I looked down the page In a good way.
Infinity Gauntlet is yet another Marvel tie in, remixing the evergreen micro game Love Letter. Seiji Kanai’s tiny masterpiece has been rebuilt by Alexander Ortloff, and frankly, I’m excited. To fit with the theme of a superhero gang trying to overwhelm the big purple boss bloke, the game takes a one-versus-many format. Thanos has a whopping two cards (plus the one you draw on your turn before playing) in hand, and his own deck, while the heroes have more limited shared resources. The evil player will be attempting to knock out all the heroes, while the gang are attempting to stop him getting enough gems to end the world. The heroes will be chaining together abilities to gain information and land blows on the mad titan.
Will it be as taut and sharp as Love Letter? Or is that too much to add to the micropot?
Tom: This does look nice and interesting, but twisting the unique theming of Love Letter towards a Marvel direction makes me sad, in this case it’s mainly because there’s an unbelievably wasted opportunity here for an enticing game about the Avengers sending secret little love poems to Thanos in order to win his massive purple heart to their cause. ‘Dear Thanos. I wish you would pay attention to me as much as you did to those shiny power rocks. Then we could uh… uh… avenge the… uhh…
Ava: You don’t know enough about Thanos to write a half-decent goof here, do you?
Tom: Not really… but you know what war won’t take an infinity?
Ava: Very close, we’ll take it.
While the full blown sequel Imperial Struggle slowly lumbers towards construction, Jason Matthews, one half of the design team for wargame stalwart Twilight Struggle, has been working on a stripped down version of the classic.
Twilight Struggle: Red Sea – Conflict in the Horn of Africa has too many subtitles and taught me that the Horn of Africa isn’t where I think it is.
Boiling down the cold war to one region, and playing over only two turns, this stripped down version of Twilight Struggle borrows many of the rules: playing cards for events, consolidating power, coups, or throwing them into the space race, and so works as a teaching scenario. It’s also part of GMT games lunchtime games series, so should be playable in about an hour. The key problem of getting a hand full of your opponents cards and having to play them in the least bad order is still present. This might be a much nicer way to learn the ruthless shenanigans of the bigger game than having your commie ass handed to you repeatedly as someone tries to show you just how careful you have to be about the formation of the CIA.
Tom: There’s so much to love here – but I think the real standout is the idea of this as a ‘teaching scenario’ for the main game. As someone who has had ‘A Distant Plain’ in their collection for a good while now and still doesn’t really understand how to play it, GMT having a learning curve rather than a learning cliff for these dense, complicated beasts would be a great way of making their enticing designs more approachable. Now I just need another member of staff in my hastily arranged home office to go on lunch break with.
Ava: Stick em sounds intriguing, though it’s always really hard to sell trick taking games as they all sound fundamentally similar. Capstone Games’ first small box card game is a reboot of the german Sticheln.
As is de rigueur, you’ll be trying to win as many tricks as possible except the ones you desperately don’t want to win. At the beginning of each hand, each player chooses a ‘pain colour’ from the suits. From then on, every card you win not in that suit will win points, but those pain points? They get deducted. This looks like a VERY SPITEFUL game, and I am here for it. Especially after playing a fair chunk of the weekend getting really stressed with The Crew.
Tom: I’m interested to see if this is a nice little bitey box, but it really does seem like a hard sell. The cover looks like an accident in a wordart factory, and the colours are making me feel all kinds of ill. The lime green is violently uncomfortable, and the dark purple can only be described as positively ‘8a66a5’.
Ava: That seems a touch harsh.
Tom: They’re my ‘pain colours’.
Ava: Whistle Stop has such lovely art that I consider buying it everytime I walk past it, but I still haven’t heard enough to actually stop at that station.
Whistle Mountain is a stand alone follow-up with a slightly confusing name, (not least because Whistle Stop has a Rock Mountain expansion). Replacing the trains and route-building of the earlier game with airships and balloons and worker placement, Whistle Mountain definitely sounds like it’s own thing. With a board that you slowly fill with machines and buildings, but that also slowly fills with water as the ice on the mountains melt and the seawater rises. It sounds unusual, and I’m adding it to my metaphorical ‘keep an eye on this’ list.
Tom: “The engine builder that slowly drowns you” is quite a sales pitch.
Ava: It’s evocative? Like trying to get a furnace working in a slowly flooding basement and oh my god I don’t want to play this it sounds too much like the world and oh no.
Tom: Whistle Stop that panicking right now.
Ava: Whistle Okay, Whistle Tom.
Tom: Robot fight club! Robot fight club! Robot fight club! Robot fight club!
Robot Fight Club is on Kickstarter now, with players building customisable robots and then getting them in a brawl on the factory floor. You can live out your dream of being a school kid sneaking into a robot lab and starting a clandestine fighting league!
Simultaneous action selection and head to head combat are the order of the day here, making this curious contraption look like the chrome lovechild of RoboRally and Robot Wars – with some lovely illustration to boot. The designers have worked on games for other companies including Blitzbowl and Hellboy, ahd one of them worked on recent Games Workshop titles including the arena battler, Gorechosen. It’s a strong pedigree, and lovely to see folk going independent. This could be interesting!
Ava: If I was a robot, I wouldn’t fight anyone, I’d just roll around the hills walking dogs for people and using my extendable arms to help people get stuff off high shelves, and keep people company like those little robot seals.
Tom: Robot friend club! Robot friend club! Robot friend club! Robot friend club!
Ava: Monuments is also on Kickstarter, and promises a streamlined civilisation game that focuses mostly on building wonders. There’s some promising minis, only half the factions are based on the mediterranean, and a promise to add in Asia and Australia at some point. The core game is based around a Concordia-style deck of action cards that each player holds, and can recall at the expense of a turn. It’s a solid mechanism, but once you start comparing yourself to Concordia, I start looking for an elegance and solidness that I’m not sure is present here.
Tom: I’m a little sceptical of any games that feature big plastic monument construction, as recent games that featured such things (Lords of Hellas and Vindication being the ones that most immediately spring to mind) have had this feeling of all buildup, no payoff. The idea of building a monument sounds great, but the process never seems satisfying, and is usually instead just inevitable, and a little boring. The fact that building them seems the sole purpose of the game also means that presumably the monument only stays fully constructed in the small window of time from finishing the game to packing it away?
Ava: Could you summarise that in all caps for me please.
Tom: I DON’T THINK I LIKE THE LOOK OF THIS BECAUSE THE BIG PLASTIC MONUMENTS MAKE ME SAD.
Ava: The wood tokens look like little poops.
Tom: WHERE DO I BUY IT.
Tom: In news-adjacent news, there’s been lots of sweet gestures from various publishers and designers in response to the covid-19 outbreak. We’ve got Lone Shark Games slashing the prices of their solo games, Button Shy made a selection of their games free to print and play through PnPArcade over the last weekend, and one lunatic on reddit is using the situation to reboot their project to make Cones of Dunshire real. I guess that’s nice?
Ava: There are countless more examples out there of the hobby doing nice stuff for those who are worried about the situation – share ‘em if you got ‘em.
Tom: It’s good to see solidarity over cardboard in such tumultuous times; maybe one day I can even convince Matt that there’s something sweet about solo games.