Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: Boardgames

I am a huge fan of boardgames - from Scrabble and Monopoly to Balderdash and Settlers of Catan. But we do not own very many of the newer boardgames. We have Scrabble and Boggle, Monopoly and Cluedo, 30 Seconds and Taboo. But for the most part, we rely on friends to introduce us to new boardgames and go to their houses to play them. Which is why, when we came across Outer Limits Comic Store in Johannesburg, we decided to change that by buying two new boardgames that we were completely unfamiliar with.

Let me preface this by saying that boardgames are not cheap. The two games that we ended up getting cost us a lot more than we would have liked. If it were up to us, we would buy a boardgame a month, but when they cost between R500.00 and R1000.00 at a time, it is not quite so easy. The two boardgames that we bought cost us a pretty penny, but I feel that they are well worth the money that we spent for the hours of enjoyment that we will get out of them.

The first game that we bought is Pirate's Cove, and the premise behind the game is very simple - become pirate of the year by gaining the most fame in 12 months (or turns). The game itself is absolutely beautiful - the board is a map of 7 islands, the markers are ships in 5 different colours (the maximum number of players), and each person has their own ship card and wheel to allow for upgrading and navigation. The way that the game works is that each person starts off with the same attributes on their ship - a base number for sails, crew, cannons and hulls. These numbers represent the size of your ship and how fast it goes, how strong it is and how much treasure it can hold. At the start of the game, each player can upgrade components of their ship by paying the upgrade fees. This means that you can make you ship very fast, very powerful or very large to hold as much treasure as possible according to your preferences as a player. Each player then chooses a destination on their navigation wheel and all wheels are revealed at the same time. Each location will provide fame points, money, tarot cards or treasure according to the card that is represented at that time.  These rewards are changed each round. Each location will also allow a player to either buy upgrades for a particular part of the ship, bury treasure, repair or buy tarot cards to assist you later in the game. Only one person can be at an island at the same time (with the treasure and repair islands being the exception). This means that if two or more players choose to navigate themselves towards the same island, those players have to fight it out to see who stays and who goes. Winning fights gains you fame, as do some tarot cards, and burying treasure or money. Running away from fights has the potential to lose you fame with your crew. There are also pirates sailing the seas who are already pretty famous and can either make or break the hopes of a young pirate captain.

I found Pirate's Cove to be a lot of fun to play with a small group of friends. There is a maximum of five players, which means that we can invite two people over at a time to join us (if Jono intends to play along), which makes it a nice relaxing game to play when we invite one of our couple friends over for dinner. There is an aspect of luck to the game, since fighting is done by rolling dice, and we have found that some people just don't take well to dice games and have found that there is not enough skill involved. I disagree, since there are a number of ways to gain fame that do not involve fighting, and you can build yourself up to be able to avoid fights rather than build yourself as a strong fighter. But that is just my opinion. Maybe it's because I won the game the first time I played it ;) What is really nice about it is that the game is quick. There is a maximum of 12 turns and the game can never go on longer than that, which means that you will never spend 2 hours playing it, unlike the second game that we bought.

The second game that we decided to go for is one called Arkham Horror. It is a co-operative game where players work together to try and stop a monster from destroying the world. This is done by running around the city of Arkham trying to pick up clues, kill small monsters and close gates to other worlds.Each of the characters has a different backstory and a reason for wanting to save the world, which means that there can be a roleplaying aspect to the game as well. Each turn consists of 5 stages - upkeep, movement, encounter, other world encounter and mythos. Each phase happens to all of the players at once, so everyone does upkeep, everyone moves, everyone encounters during every turn. Encounters involve picking up cards that can either be to your benefit or to your detriment. Mythos phases bring the big world destroyer one step closer to waking up, and the point of the game is to either stop him from waking up altogether or defeat him once he does wake up. The game itself consists of a lot of pieces, and the board is very big (too big to fit on any of the tables that we own, so we always end up playing on the floor. We also have to keep stopping our cat from walking over the board or trying to run away with the pieces as he is wont to do. Just to try and give an idea of what I mean by a lot of little pieces, there are stamina tokens, sanity tokens, slider tokens, monster tokens, clue tokens, gate tokens, explored tokens, closed tokes, first player tokens and those are just the ones coming to mind. Those do not include the small cards for items, the larger cards for encounters and the player and monster cards. So yeah, the board is huge, but you can tell that a lot of thought and effort has been put into the creation of the game, and it goes to show.

One of the nice things about the game is that there can be up to 8 people playing at once, meaning that for us, we can invite a whole bunch of friends over to play. The trouble is that the game is very long to play and the rules are fairly complicated. So far, we have played the game twice and only finished it once. The game is supposed to take between 2 and 4 hours to play, but the time that we finished, it took us over 7 hours in total. We came very close to winning a few times, but each time we came close, a new gate would open and we would have to destroy more monsters and close the gate. The other trouble is that there is also a fair amount of dice rolling involved - when you want to sneak past a monster, when you want to fight a monster, when you pick up encounter cards and when you try to keep some of your cards (blessings, retainers and the like), you have to roll dice according to your stats, and that can be quite painful for those who feel that they are bad at throwing dice. In my mind, there is no such thing as being bad at throwing dice - you win some and you lose some, it's bound to happen - but it can be quite frustrating, which I do understand.

Overall, I am really happy with both games, and I think they add a nice variety to our dinners and social evenings. It means that if friends come over, they have a selection of games to choose from. The games themselves are absolutely beautiful and detailed and very well built, which is why they end up costing so much to produce. I would highly recommend them to anyone who enjoys boardgames and I look forward to playing a lot more of them over the next few months!!


  1. Wow, Pirate's Cove sounds really interesting. I would like to get that. We recently bought Munchikin Apocalypse which was a lot of fun for around R280 or so. I remember you telling me what an awesome game it is, so thank you! However, board games can be very expensive but they can be replayed many times and within a week you can regain the value of your money spent. I suggest just saving up for them because they are really fun and social.

    I played Arkham Horror and it took like 5hrs to play. But I can also say that it is a lot of fun since its a team effort and you either all die or all win and no one feels like they have wasted 5hrs of their life unlike Monopoly :)

    Great review Lara!

  2. We actually bought Munchkin Apocalypse as well for our housemate for Christmas, so we have that as well now! Before we were relying on our friends to play it :P