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Spring restocks and Tabletop Day

After the busy time up to and around Christmas, game stocks have been replenished and new games added to the store. Four games that have been out of stock for a while are now back with us:

Forbidden IslandForbidden island. The essential co-operative game where a band of intrepid explorers attempt to save precious artefacts from a sinking island, and escape in the helicopter before everything is lost to the rising waters.

Forbidden Desert. The sequel to the above, where you are attempting to locate the co-ordinates of parts of a flying machine in a desert full of shifting sands, so you can piece it together and fly off.

Sneaky Cards. The game played in public spaces, where you leave cards for other people to find and use, to prompt random acts of kindness and friendly public interaction.

Anomia. New reprint of the family party game where one by one players reveal cards with categories and symbols on, and each player must watch for other players cards’ symbols that match their own, so they can be first to say a word in the category on the opponent’s card.

Recent new additions to the latest products page include:

Scythe, a Worker Placement/Economic Engine board game set in an alternate-history 1920s period;

Tanto Cuore, a Japanese-anime-styled deck-building card game from Japan, where players hire maids to fill out their house; and

Ice Cool, a flicking skill game involving aiming penguins around the game board and through doorways to collect fish while the hall monitor tries to tag your penguin.

Also don’t forget April 29th is Tabletop Day – look out for press coverage about this annual board gaming event, and look out for events near you, where you can go along and try out new games. Due to other commitments we are not planning a specific event in Cheddar that weekend although may take a few games down to the local pub! But Bristol Board Game Cafe are having an event, if you are in that area.


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The Christmas rush

Captain Sonar
Captain Sonar

The shop has been really busy over the past couple of weeks and it’s great to see so many people buying board and card games for each other as festive gifts. The Guardian’s new board games column has undoubtedly been a major factor in this. One of the games covered in the most recent column is the frenetic Captain Sonar, which we currently have in stock, and is a real-time game between two teams of submarine crew, trying to be the first to blow each other out of the water. There’s a great review of it on Shut Up and Sit Down.

Also popular has been HMS Dolores but at the time of writing we have sold out – again it was covered in the Guardian column. Many other perennials are selling well, such as Catan, Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride – stocks of these are dwindling but we will keep topping up as and when new supplies become available. One of the other popular games in 2016 was Funemployed, now reprinted through a different publisher and should be a great addition to any festive gathering.

If the game you want is out of stock, you can subscribe to an email alert on the product page, but it’s not possible to know if game x or game y will be in stock again before Christmas. When new shipments arrive from manufacturers, wholesalers are finding their shelves stripped bare pretty quickly at this time of year – so there’s no guarantee we will get an allocation of any new supplies. To be sure of getting your orders delivered in time, please place them by Monday 19th, and please allow an extra day for us to process orders at this time of year. We will keep sending orders out right up to the 23rd and again from the 28th to the 30th. No orders will be posted out from Dec 24-27 or Dec 31 – Jan 2, but you can still place orders via the web site during these times.

Have a great Christmas and in the words of Mr Wil Wheaton – whose Tabletop Season 4 has recently begun with Lanterns – “play more games!”


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The gift of board games

5220663566_ffce30a320_mAny time you have a gift-giving opportunity approaching, whether it be Christmas, birthday or some other reason, you should always consider giving a board game. Well we would say that. But why? Well, here are a few reasons…

  • Happiness will be created. Nobody plays a board game to be miserable. Playing board games involves interaction with other people, friends or family. Whether you win or lose the game yourself, guaranteed, at least one person around the table will smile or laugh during the game. Even if you are playing “Gloom” ! So giving the gift of happiness can’t be a bad thing.
  • Brains will be exercised in different ways. Whether you are bartering sheep for lumber in Catan, rushing around the globe fighting virus outbreaks in Pandemic, or trying to bluff your way past the Sheriff of Nottingham with a few crossbows disguised as chickens, the players will find themselves thinking about unusual situations far from everyday life.
  • Problem-solving skills will be enhanced. Just which is the optimum way to assemble this Patchwork quilt? What clue do I give for this Dixit picture that is not too obvious? And what is the best tile placement I can employ to stop my opponents scoring a Qwirkle?
  • People can learn to work together as a team, if you choose a co-operative game. Everyone versus the game itself. Save the Forbidden Island from sinking, complete a Space Alert mission, or survive the Dead of Winter – they all require people to work together towards a common goal.

And don’t forget to include one of our business cards with the gift – so the recipient knows where to go for more 🙂

Image by Jennifer C. on Flickr

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Board games and mental health

Board gaming and mental healthThere have been many articles written about how board gaming improves general health, connections and communication between people. People need the kind of interpersonal interaction you don’t get from watching TV or playing an online MMORPG. Depending on the game being played, they can help improve reasoning, deduction, negotiation, spelling and language, storytelling, co-operation, mental and physical dexterity, problem-solving and reaction times, to name but a few. And a 2013 article in the BMJ concluded that “a possible beneficial effect of board game playing on the risk of dementia could be mediated by less cognitive decline and less depression in elderly board game players”.

Many people will have bad memories of being soundly thrashed at Monopoly in their youth. Or maybe sitting round a Scrabble board while those “in the know” are cleaning up by playing QI and ZA on premium tiles while you are still struggling with the more straightforward words. Whereas, modern board games are much more conducive to people having a good time and getting together for an enjoyable games night.

In this video, which is tough to watch at times, Michael May tells how board gaming has helped him cope with depression and social anxiety. He explains that a game night can give someone in his situation a safe framework and an expected course of events, through which to engage with other people. Beginning with games against existing friends, Michael was able to push himself out of his comfort zone, to go to game nights with strangers. Also, playing games at home can help to improve family bonds and help to overcome differences and disagreements, by bringing people together and giving the participants a task to focus on as a group (and possibly co-operative games such as Pandemic or Forbidden Island would work well here). And of course any laughing that may ensue, increases happiness!

Michael’s YouTube Channel also reviews a large number of board games, and you can subscribe to it here.

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Letter Tycoon and Brexit costs

letter_tycoonEarlier today I did a quick summary of Letter Tycoon, recently new in stock, for attendees at the local Business Breakfast Club. Letter Tycoon is a kind of cross between Scrabble or Boggle, and Monopoly, so if your family can’t decide which one to play, try Letter Tycoon!

In this game for 2 – 5 players, each person takes a turn trying to make as good a word as possible from the seven in their hand plus three in a community pool on the table. Points are scored based on the word played, but you can then also opt to buy a “patent” in one of the letters in the word you played. This is akin to buying a property in Monopoly, so when anyone else uses that letter in a word, you get additional cash. Letters that are used often are more expensive to buy patents for, whereas the more infrequently used letters are cheaper but have special powers. B’s patent, for example, scores you extra points for words starting and ending in vowels. Letter Tycoon is a 2015 Mensa Select Award Winner and can be found in-store here.

And staying on the financial theme, UK games distributors have been hit hard by the recent Brexit-related exchange rate fluctuations, and as the majority of games seem to come from the USA or Europe, they have had to review the price of games across the board (no pun intended)! It has meant some games in the £30 area have increased in retail price by £5-£10, and some of the pricier ones such as Mansions of Madness, by even more than that. If you are wondering why some prices have been hiked up, that’s the reason. Old pre-Brexit stock is still in our shop at the original prices but as new stock comes in leading up to Christmas, these will be at the new prices.

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UK Games Expo 2016

UKGEThe weekend of the 3rd-5th June 2016 is the UK Games Expo, (UKGE) the main board games exhibition for the UK held every year in Birmingham. Unfortunately due to family reasons we can’t make it this year, but if it is anything like previous events, if you are going, you are sure to have a great time. The show doesn’t just cover board games but card games, roleplaying, and miniatures too. The show is a combination of trade stands, seminars and talks, tournaments, playtesting, cosplay, and opportunities to try out new games, or play some old favourites with new friends. It’s completely open to the public and in 2015 there were 7000 unique visitors and 14000 attendances over the weekend. There is plenty of parking, and on-site catering provided by the Hilton Hotel and other providers, so you don’t need to leave the exhibition for sustenance.

If you discover a new game while you are at UKGE, but for some reason are unable to get a copy at the show, let us know and we may be able to help. You are welcome to pop a note in the comments below to say what you thought about the show.

This year, The Dice Tower’s Tom Vasel and Sam Healey will be attending – see the preview video below. Other guests this year include Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor Who), the guys from Shut Up and Sit Down, and prolific game designer Dr. Reiner Knizia.

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Narrowboat holiday board games

narrowboat gameThis time last year we were planning our annual holiday, which was to be a trip along the canals of the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Warwickshire, with Anglo Welsh Holidays, starting from their base at Tardebigge. We spent a week on the Stourport Ring going clockwise via Worcester, Kidderminster, Kinver, the Netherton Tunnel, Brindley Place and back via Cadbury World and Alvechurch. A key part of the planning was “what board games to take” of course. With space limited on the boat, there was going to be little opportunity to lay out anything with a huge playing board, and also not wanting to lose any small pieces we went for the games with fewer components. In fact it struck us that these were similar criteria we had used previously when planning a camping holiday so if you are going camping, caravanning or campervanning this summer, these might also work for you.

Games that made the cut and went in to the suitcases included:

  • Dodekka – a card game that plays out in a long line of cards on the table, ideal for the table in the boat.
  • Concept – a small board with only a few playing pieces and consists mainly of playing cards.
  • Exploding Kittens – which had recently arrived as a result of our Kickstarter sponsorship, a simple card game to play on deck or in a canalside pub.
  • Dixit Odyssey – with seven on the boat this is a nice game for up to 12, with an elongated scoreboard ideally shaped for the dining table, and again consists mainly of playing cards.
  • Carcassonne – using an iPad scoreboard app we dispensed with the scoring track to save space and obviously ensured our road building did not take us off the edge off the tile-able world.

Due to lack of funds we’re not narrowboating this year (unless this e-store becomes seriously busy!), but if we were, we might also take with us some newer acquisitions such as The Game, again doesn’t need much space to set out the card piles, and perhaps Jungle Speed which just requires space for the players’ card piles and the central totem.

narrowboat gameAfter the holiday it got me thinking – someone needs to create a board game about narrowboating. And make sure it fits on a long, narrow board, so narrowboaters can play it! The only recent game I know of on this theme is Canal Mania but that’s more about building canals. There is actually some strategy to narrowboating itself, particularly around locks, whether to wait for someone coming the other way to fill a lock, or wait for someone to accompany you through a double lock. Also tidal considerations if using rivers – and so on. Plus… there is always the possibility of a broken lock gate, or closure of a section of canal to throw your travel plans into disarray.

Perhaps a board game with a flavour of Catan where you are trading traditionally-canal-shipped goods like coal or wool around the country. Or maybe a 21st century version where you are a marina manager trying to hire out all your boats and recover them in one piece within 7 days, and managing the resources needed to deal with breakdowns and other issues that may crop up. Perhaps incorporating an element of Tokaido where the boats need to visit as many interesting places as possible before the game ends.  I can also see a canal-themed version of something like The London Game working well, where players can thwart each others’ plans with a “shopping trolley tangled in your propeller”  or “hireboat caught on lock cill, miss a turn” cards.

So, to board game designers out there, as Bamber Gascoigne or Jeremy Paxman would say, “there’s your starter for 10” for a narrowboat game. Happy to help with play-testing and future sales of what could be a veritable board gaming masterpiece. And if our dream of owning a narrowboat called something like “The Floating Meeple” ever comes to fruition, we’ll be able to play it in the correct environment too!

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Monopoly alternatives

So being a board game store, it’s not surprising that Monopoly is one of the most popular terms searched on here. However it’s not something we stock. Monopoly has a bit of a reputation for giving board gaming a bad name, for reasons eloquently described by DanQ.

It takes too long to play, people get knocked out early and have to sit around watching everyone else, there’s very little strategy involved, it’s a poor financial model, the rules are unclear and lead to many house rules being required, it encourages bullying playing styles,  and many more reasons.

Next time you are heading to a place where there is a chance someone will say “anyone fancy a game of Monopoly”, do a bit of pre-planning, and arm yourself with a copy of one of the alternative games below. You should find – even if none of your party has played them before – that they are quick to pick up and more enjoyable than watching Uncle Tony building endless hotels on Park Lane and disappearing behind his piles of cash.


Seafarers Catan (formerly known as Settlers of Catan) is still a game where you are trying to be the person with the best pile of resources to win the game, however this is not in terms of cash, but victory points, which are earned from building settlements and cities, and having the longest road or largest army. This is done by earning wood, ore, brick, wool or grain from the hexagonal land tiles of the playing area, and where necessary, trading with other players. Because some of the scoring is secret in terms of hidden victory points you may have earned by pulling a card from the Catan version of the “Community Chest”, it is often not always certain that the person who is apparently only one or two points away from winning, will actually do so. Potentially anyone could steam out of the chasing pack to nab the win by a short head, if they play their cards right. There are extensions such as the Seafarers one shown here, so lots of options for mixing things up if you find it getting stale.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to RIdeIf you like the geographical aspect of Monopoly, rather than building houses on Regent Street, why not build a railway line to Smolensk instead. We play the European version and also the UK expansion, but there are maps for several other countries too. Here, you and your opponents are all trying to build railway connections between various cities, it’s first-come-first-served on any given route, so you may have to divert your route if another player gets in your way. Again there is some secrecy in that when you complete a route assigned to you, you only declare it at the game end (the UK expansion plays differently in this regard), and there are extra points available for the longest route on the board. So an apparent leader who has been laying tracks and picking up odd points here and there without completing their whole route, can easily be overtaken in the final reckoning.

Sheriff of Nottingham

Sheriff of NottinghamSo if you are a group who prefers something a bit “nastier”, shall we say, rather than trying to knock everyone out of a game of Monopoly by grabbing all the cash and property, try Sheriff of Nottingham. Here, everyone gets two goes per game at playing the Sheriff, and trying to second-guess which opponent is trying to smuggle contraband into the marketplace. Everyone stays in the game to the end. When you are playing the Sheriff, you can inspect your opponents’ bags of produce to make sure only legal goods are being sold. After the Sheriff has decided to inspect or not inspect, players take their goods to market, scoring points for standard fare like bread and chickens (and scoring considerably more points for any contraband that the Sheriff did not spot). And of course when it’s your turn to be a merchant, you may find yourself slipping the odd crossbow into your bag of cheese!


PandemicMaybe you are not comfortable with the idea of one person ending up being the winner of the game? If so then look at co-operative games such as Pandemic. Played on a world map, you are a team of players trying to combat various virus outbreaks that develop around the globe. However, like Whac-a-Mole, they just keep popping up. Every time you sort out one outbreak in India, another one starts in South America, which is just where your team aren’t. Fortunately your team has specialist roles, and the Dispatcher can help get people to where they need to be quickly, while the Scientist is much quicker at finding cures. The longer the game goes on, the more potential there is for epidemics to occur, so time is of the essence and combined team thinking is the order of the day. If you find all the cures, the team wins as a whole, but if mankind is overrun with diseases… well at least you won’t be around too long to be disappointed!

There are many more games that work well in the sort of Christmas / holiday / birthday scenarios where people get together for board games, so do look through the tag cloud in the margin for more ideas. You may also find this video by Scott Nicholson enlightening (it’s from 2010 though and things have moved on a bit since). Dice Tower produced a video on a similar theme in 2014, providing alternatives to mainstream board game titles.

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Junta boxNew in stock this week is Junta, a game we’d not had in before, but I was reminded of it by Andrea who recalled playing it in her student days. First released in the late 70s, this latest repackaging has been done by Alderac Entertainment Group whose portfolio also includes the popular Love Letter.

Andrea said:

“Junta is a game, that for me at least, was a game once played and never forgotten. Almost thirty years ago (suitable for children 14 and over) a friend introduced it saying that I wasn’t allowed to play it. It was too backstabby for girls. The gauntlet had been well and truly thrown down! I begged, assured him that I could cope, please let me play. The box looked great, the game sounded interesting. Please let me play.

In the face of such an onslaught from one girl, the boys caved in. An afternoon of backstabbing, double dealing, downright deviousness ensued. Only at the end did they realise that the girl had won and won in such a way that they were expecting her to have come last.

They never forgot and neither did I. Now, who would like a game of Junta. It’s OK, it’s suitable for mums too…”

Junta, is a game of power, intrigue, money and revolution, and players represent various office holders in a fictional banana republic. Each player has a certain number of votes depending on role and cards held. These are important as they must first elect El Presidente and then vote on the budget that he proposes. El Presidente then draws cards face down from the money deck (which varies in denomination from $1 to $3) and must propose a budget for the year, distributing the money as he sees fit amongst the various offices. Of course, loyalty to him is usually rewarded. El Presidente can also keep some of the loot for himself. And since no one but he knows the value of what he drew, no one knows how much he kept.

Players may attempt to assassinate the other players by guessing where they will be from among five locations. Players who successfully assassinate another player take that player’s money, as the only safe money is the money that has been deposited in a Swiss bank account, and the only way to get to the bank is to survive the assassination round. There are also potential coups where opposition players seek to take control of a majority of the power centres. The game time is stated as two hours but it can go on longer, and the goal is to amass the greatest wealth in your Swiss bank account.

For more details, the rules PDFs are on the Alderac site here and here.

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Golden Geek Awards for 2015

legacyredYesterday the Golden Geek Awards for board games were published and it’s no surprise the winners feature several of the games that we have been selling in great numbers over recent months. Game of the Year Pandemic Legacy has been sold out for a while but we hope to get more in soon. However as this store focuses quite a bit on family games, we were pleased to see the winner and runners-up in that category are products we do currently have stock of.

Between two citiesBetween Two Cities, a runner-up, is a recent addition to our portfolio, in which you sit between two cities and work with the player on your left to design the heart of one city, and with the player on your right to design the heart of another city. At the end of the game, each city is scored for how liveable it is, and your final score is the lower of the two cities you were working on. So to win, you have to share your attention between two cities. The player with the highest final score wins the game.


Other runner-up, the co-operative game Mysterium, our family played a few times over Christmas, with different members of the family having a turn at being the ghost. The object is for the ghost to communicate, without speaking, the identity of a murderer, location and murder weapon (like Cluedo), but using just illustrated cards to give clues to the other players, who are an investigating team. It’s a delightfully mind-bending game, and for the ghost player sometimes agonising as the investigators go off after a red herring. I remember as the ghost I was trying to direct a player towards the nun character and constantly giving them vision cards with lots of black or dark colours on them, but they were always picking up on other elements of the images and consequently selecting incorrectly!

Codenames, a spy-themed game based on word meanings, another top hit of 2015

The category winner was Codenames which we also played a lot over Christmas, and I recently demonstrated to members of the Riverside Inn Business Breakfast club. We had teams of about seven each, working on a large version of the 25 x 25 word grid which I had prepared the day before. The idea of the game is for each team’s spymaster to give single-word clues to the identities of the names of the team’s field agents (shown by the code names on the grid). First team to correctly identify all their agents, without contacting the assassin, is the winner. It was all looking good for the blue team who were ahead nearing the end of the game, but the blue spymaster gave a clue which was too ambiguous and led to his team contacting a red agent, and thus giving an extra point and the game advantage to the red team. With red then to play and with only one relatively simple word to identify, it was a mere tap-in for a red victory.

If you’d like to try out any of these highly praised and award winning games, you’ll find them in the shop pages via the links above.