Our Red Hot Board Games in July 2015

It has been a couple of months but we are back! Here is a quick run down of the some of the board games we here have been playing since we last spoke!


If I was to give a general theme to all of the board games I have played this month, it would probably be something along the lines of ‘my pile of board game shame that I should have played long time ago’. These are classics or favourites that I have heard about and even talked about before many times, yet somehow never actually managed to play myself. It is a pretty shameful list, I can tell you that, and I am glad I finally got a chance to play them.


The first one up is Hive, a two player board game with amazing chunky tiles with bug drawings etched in them. Every bug has their own ability or move, and the aim of the game is to surround the opponent’s queen bee. There is no board, in fact the pieces themselves become a board. The tiles cannot be eliminated from ‘the board’, but the sequence of tile introduction is a big part of the strategy for this game. Hive is a very strategic game that is also easy to understand and very addictive.


The second game out of my pile of shame is Splendor. While I see this game being played almost every TableTop Tuesday, I have not managed to play it until very recently. In this chip-collecting and card development board game, players buy gems with gems so they could by more gems. Well, the proper names for the cards are actually mines, transportation, shops and others, but it is all shiny to me! I have heard mixed responses to the game and some people claiming that you could ‘card count’ your way to victory. This might be true, however I have clearly not reached this level of savvy yet. After playing Splendor twice, I am still scratching my head for the best strategy and I am sure it will take me several more games to figure it out. What is important here, is that I am looking forward to those many games.


Finally, I will give a mention to a little card game called Good Cop Bad Cop. I am still very unsure about it and will need several more playthroughs to figure out if I like the game. In essence, this is a bluffing and deduction game that takes at little as 10 minutes to play. The ‘goodness’ or the ‘badness’ of a player is determined by a set of cards randomly dealt in the beginning of the game, but there is always a leader for each faction. The players have to figure out who is on their side and shoot the leader of the opposing faction to win the game. So far it looks like a nice alternative to Resistance, although I definitely prefer Cash’n’Guns shooting mechanic to the one in Good Cop Bad Cop.



A few months ago, some work friends invited me to play Sheriff of Nottingham during our lunch hour. Over the next few weeks we played the game just about everyday, and I enjoyed it so much that I bought myself a copy to play with my family.



So what’s this game all about?  In one sentence, Sheriff of Nottingham is all about smuggling illegal goods past the sheriff while also collecting legal good.

Here are the details of how one turn plays out. One player takes on the role of the sheriff, while all other players draw 6 cards. Each card is either a legal good (Apples, Cheese, Chicken, Bread) or contraband. Players can trade in any number of their 6 cards to try and collect more of their chosen legal good. After this phase, each player places cards in their little card pouch (that conceals the cards) and declares what they are “bringing into the kingdom”. For example, let us say I have 3 apples and 1 crossbow (illegal contraband).  I put all 4 cards in my card pouch, give it to the sheriff, and declare “Sheriff, I have 4 apples”. If the sheriff believes me, he hands me my pouch back, and I reveal that I actually smuggled in contraband. If the sheriff does not believe me, he opens the pouch and I must pay him the value of the contraband.

There are some subtle intricacies within the game (bribing the sheriff, bonus points for collecting the most of certain goods, etc) but this brief description gives you a nice flavor of the simple yet fun nature of the game.



In the last Red Hot Board games article I talked about a fancy miniatures game called Golem Arcarna. My initial opinion was that it was gimmicky – using a stylus and a tablet to control a game that really seemed too simple to need these features. I have since played it again, properly this time and I can say that it actually works quite well. To recap each player controls a little army of Golems, each with their own different powers and attacks. Rather than having to roll dice, and work out ranges and dodges everything fancy is done using a smartphone, tablet or computer. To play you just tap away with the stylus that comes with the game. Tap a golem to select it and the app tells you where you can and can not move. Tap a tile and the app updates with your new position. Tap an enemy in the same area as you and it lets you know your chances to hit.


My first game which I wrote about was a simple one-on-one brawl and I was not exactly bowled over. Recently I have played a big four player game with each player controlling three golems and it is here where all this fancy technology becomes useful. There was a lot going on and a lot to keep track off. Doing it the old fashioned way would have been a right pain, keeping track of all the various buffs and debuffs that effect individual zones as the game goes on. Using the stylus you can just tap a zone and everything about it appears on screen – bonuses gained from cover, ranged bonuses from it being higher ground and all the spells that are currently effecting. It just speeds the whole thing up and yeah….it was pretty fun.


As the pictures show it is a very pretty game. The miniatures are great and the app is well laid out. If you are into painting miniatures then unfortunately these come pre-painted which could be a pain for some people. My main issue is that it is still a money sink like all similar games. There is a reason why I have not got into X-Wing or Armada because I know that if I do it will eat up all my money.


At the last Tabletop Tuesday I also managed to play Specter Ops, the latest release from Plaid Hat Games. Plaid Hat made the fantastic Dead of Winter which I am pretty darn fond of so I was excited to play one of their newer releases. Specter Ops is a hidden movement game where up to four Hunter players try and….well….hunt down one solo agent as he sneaks around a futuristic facility completing objectives. Think Metal Gear Solid but with a more Netrunner artstyle. The four hunters move their figures around a large gridded board whilst the agent writes his moves secretly down on a bit of paper. If at any point the agent would be in the line of sight of a hunter he lets them know and places himself on the board. Whenever that happens the hunters can take a few pot shots and try and kill the agent before he legs it back into the shadows.


Each hunter and agent has their own little assortment of special powers that make things more interesting. One hunter can learn where the agent was two turns ago. Another can sniff him out and learn when he is close. The agent has equipment he can use sporadically to help him when he is in a bit of a pickle. When playing with 5 players one hunter is also secretly a traitor, a mechanic which unfortunately I was not particularly keen on. In theory it is a nice idea to have one player working against the others. It is a mechanic that is used all over the place these days, including in Plaid Hat’s own Dead of Winter. The issue is that playing as the traitor in Specter Ops is just kind of dull. Whenever the agent wonders in the line of sight of the traitor he simply announces that no one can see him. As the traitor you have no idea if this is true or if the agent is using you to sneak away. Unlike other games with similar mechanics there is very little you can do to actively sabotage. You just wonder around the map….seeing nothing and are ultimately powerless.


You can get caught out or reveal yourself as the traitor becoming an agent and disappearing from the board which is kind of fun. However, as the second agent you are unable to complete objectives and can not really do much. In our game once I revealed myself I was largely ignored by the remaining hunters. The game fell into a rather boring stalemate. I had a few tricks up my sleeves to slow them down but nothing concrete and the game dragged until it eventually lead to them killing the original agent. All in all it was an okay game. I think my opinion is slightly hampered by playing as the traitor and I have a feeling 3 or 4 player games would be a vast improvement and possibly a fair bit quicker.


Most of that which I played this month will be a recap of many of the games mentioned above. However, I had a much better time with Specter Ops than Mike, mainly I think down to me playing as a more exciting role – but I can fully understand his frustrations of playing as the traitor and did worry that this role in particular would be less enjoyable. In my playthrough I was the agent, i.e. the one assigned to try and reach three of the four objectives and exit without being seen.

The team that was tracking me down did a fairly exhaustive job of logically going through every possible outcome of where I could be at any stage of the game and could perhaps do with the introduction of a house ruling on the maximum amount of time that can taken to deliberate at any one move of the agent. Other than that though my only concern was that the person I had assigned to be traitor was even less useful to me when not revealed by the hunters – allowing the agent to deliberately reveal the traitor and having the traitor able to help with objectives could negate a lot of the issues.


I did come away thinking that Specter Ops was an excellent game that I would like to play as other roles before deciding just how good it was. To me though any game where I can lose and still have a great time playing is usually a very good sign.

I was also at last weekend’s LFCC event helping demo games for Esdevium on behalf of our friends from Dark Cleo Productions. While most of my morning was spent in Mexican standoffs in the excellent Ca$h ‘n Guns, I also squeezed in some mighty fine Sheriff of Nottingham-ing (which is every bit as fun as Allan alludes to above), played some rootin’ tootin’ good Old West train robbin’ shootin’ in Colt Express and saved the world from deadly diseases in Pandemic. Despite having enjoyed playing Pandemic before, I had never actually been successful in winning the game, which did add to the enjoyment of curing a global crisis even further – as did coming up with comedy names for the diseases we were battling against. Explosive diarrhoea nearly got the better of us but everything was made easier by us completely wiping out Jeffalism very early on in our campaign.


More recently I also had a quick chance to play a few games using the new Marvel Dice Masters: Age of Ultron starter sets ahead of its release last week, which Alex wrote about in more detail here. You can also join us for a Tabletop Tuesday Age of Ultron special this week with prizes of Marvel Dice Master starter sets and more to be won.

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  1. I have to say that Specter Ops’ mechanic of keeping the agent absent from the board while he’s not in line of sight was a deeply compelling and enjoyable experience. It could be said that the presence of the traitor slowed things down considerably, but I believe that adds an excellent new twist to the way the players control their characters: in addition to sniffing out the agent, they must also work with each other to expose the traitor, a logic exercise which is fully supported by the rules.

    Had a blast playing this with Tim – will definitely be buying this for the family come payday!!

  2. Michael Barclay

    I think the traitor idea is great in theory but it can be a bit boring if you are the traitor. Many games have similar, hidden role traitor mechanics but they usually provide the traitor with ample opportunity to sabotage the rest of the team. In Spectre Ops I was definitely sabotaging the efforts of the remaining hunters but I was doing it without really knowing I was. It removes the fun of being a traitor and any player agency.

    Everyone else in my group really enjoyed the game and I was the only person who had a negative experience. Overall I liked it but I’m a little unsure what I think about the traitor mechanic in this game.

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