The Indigo Bar – Board Games

Did The Indigo Bar Mystery spark an interest in the world of board gaming? Or add to an existing interest in the hobby? We’ve written five reviews of games we recommended you try! We’ve listed these reviews from simplest game to the most challenging.

 

Timeline

Deliberating when barbed wire was invented may not sound like the most thrilling game, but Timeline makes history fun again.

It’s a card game with a minimal learning curve (literally a minute or two) that can last five minutes or an hour depending on how many rounds you want to get through.

Timeline consists of cards depicting a historical event, invention, discovery, movie release or musical composition on one side, and the date on the other. You can buy themed packs depending on your interests. A good place to begin is the Diversity pack which involves a little of everything mentioned above. I’m partial to the movies and music set but only because that’s where my strengths lie (i.e. I’ll win).

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The way we play is by dealing four to six cards to each player from a shuffled deck with the date side face down. Place one card in the middle of the table date-face down – this will be the starting point of your timeline. It’s then up to each player to guess the date of this card. When everyone’s guessed, flip the card over and the player with the closest guess begins. In the unlikely event of a tie, establish who looks more the distinguished historian, and get on with the game. This first player will look at their set of cards, choose one and place it on either side of the starting card chronologically. If you’re right, well done for being a history buff – sit back and relax. If you’re wrong, move the card to the correct place on the timeline and take a new card from the deck. The first player with no cards remaining wins the round. As the timeline grows, it becomes more difficult to slot cards into their correct place.

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Being knowledgeable about your dates is one thing, but being completely off is often more fun. Try being 8000 years out for the domestication of cattle. I don’t know that I’ll ever be allowed to live that one down. Competitive players who feel confident with their cards can also employ a little strategic element and slot in cards with dates close to each other, making it tricky for other players. To help yourself, playing cards you’re more uncertain about first, when the timeline is smaller, always helps. Sometimes you’ll inadvertently help other players, however. I played the ‘Start of the Hundred Years’ War’ card, revealing the date. What did one of my opponents have? ‘End of the Hundred Years’ War’…

After a round ends, you can clear the slate and begin a new timeline, but maybe you’ll want to challenge (or embarrass) yourself further by keeping the existing timeline in play. It will get messy, but you’ll feel an even greater sense of achievement when you get one right.

The potential drawback to Timeline is that after a few plays you may begin to remember the dates of some cards, affecting overall replayability. On the flip-side, you’ll be able to impress everyone at dinner parties with tons of pointless information. While this might be a concern for some players, it hasn’t made much difference for me, as I shuffle four different sets into one game, each set being 109 cards. Plus I have a terrible memory, which helps.

 

Lost Cities

Pick up your map and safari hat. You’re now an intrepid explorer, ready to embark on expeditions to far-flung corners of the globe and make the discoveries you’ve been dreaming of! Set out towards the Himalayas, the bottom of the ocean, the Central American rain forest, volcanic islands and harsh Egyptian desert climates to unearth lost cities. Your globetrotting jaunts won’t come cheap, though. You’ll need financial backing first due to a limited supply of resources. Let’s hope you can pay back those investments, otherwise you’ll be returning home in severe debt…

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Lost cities is a two-player hand management game that revolves around the risk and reward factor of playing cards into your own set. The game consists of a board placed between the two players and 5 sets of  12 cards. Each card set is a different colour – red, blue, green, yellow and white – representing the 5 different locations mentioned above. Each coloured set has cards numbered from 2 – 10 plus three investment cards. 45 expedition cards and 15 investment cards in total.

At the start of the game you’ll shuffle all 60 cards and place them face down next to the game board. Each player then receives 8 cards. Looking at the game board, you’ll notice 5 card spaces, one of each colour. These will be used as discard piles and also to indicate where you should begin expeditions of a corresponding colour.

On your turn you have two options. You may use one of the cards in your hand to begin a new expedition, or you can discard a card face up on the game board.  You’ll probably be eager to start your journey, but remember the costs! Each expedition costs $20,000. Are you sure you can make that money back and not incur a loss? During an expedition you’ll lay down cards of a certain colour in a column, beginning from the same coloured space on the game board. You must ensure that by the end of the game the combined total of each expedition equals more than 20 (i.e. $20,000) in order to score points. The problem is, once you’ve placed a card the next one must always be higher in value. Remember, each set of cards is numbered from 2 -10. Beginning an expedition with an 8 would be unwise, unless you have both the 9 and 10 in your hand, or you feel confident you can obtain them from either the discard piles or the draw pile. If your opponent secretly has those cards in their hand and is venturing on the same expedition, you’re in trouble. Ideally, you’ll want to begin an expedition with lowest value possible.

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What if you’ve started a red expedition with a 4 and then later pick up a 3? Well, it’s too late, that card is no use to you now. Best to discard that card on the game board. Be sure to check you’re opponent’s progress, though. Perhaps they’ve also begun a red expedition with a 2. If you discard the 3 then you may as well place the card right in their hand. There is a benefit, therefore, to keeping cards in your hand that you don’t need if it prevents your opponent from accessing them.

Lost Cities has an extremely simple mechanic but creates interesting dilemmas and engaging game-play. You want to get going with a green expedition but you’re waiting for low value cards, let’s say. Should you continue to bide your time or just begin with a 6 and hope for the best? Look at what your opponent has played so far. How likely is it that there are green cards you need at the top of the draw pile? Throughout the game you’ll frequently be lacking the cards you need at the right time and must consider your moves with all the information available to you.

Risk-takers will appreciate the added investment aspect of the game. If you’re feeling particularly confident about your Nepalese mountain trek then why not secure a large investment first? If you place an investment card at the start of your expedition it will multiply that column’s total score. Sounds great, but if you don’t break even on that expedition then you’ll be multiplying your loss. Ouch. There are 3 investment cards of each colour and you can use more than one per expedition. If you make a profit on an expedition backed by more than one investment then you’ll really be making it rain, but score lower than 20 and you may as well stay in the Himalayas and start living out your life with only the Abominable Snowman for company.

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The game ends when the draw pile expires. You can manipulate the length of the game and either draw out proceedings by taking cards from the discard piles instead, or speed things up by choosing the draw pile every turn. What suits your purpose will depend on your progress. I love the rounds that create a hilarious desperation as they get closer to concluding. There may be five cards left in the draw pile, but if you don’t start a yellow expedition now with a card value of 7 then you’re opponent will finish with the upper hand. Can you make a profit before time is up?

Some may find the math-heavy scoring system a little awkward or off-putting, especially when investment cards are involved. It took me a few minutes to make sense of it as I’m woefully inept when it comes to maths. I’m also aware that the theme is completely tacked on – this is nothing but a game of numerical organisation. However, I love using my imagination when I play board games so I still like to embrace the story. Paper-thin theme and maths homework aside, I really think this is an excellent 2-player game. The gamble of drawing the cards you need to fulfil expeditions, especially when you’ve added investment modifiers, allows for agonising decisions and a high stress factor in a 10-15 minute game.

Good luck on your worldwide quest for high value cards!

 

Ticket to Ride

I bypassed Ticket to Ride for the longest time. I knew how popular it was, but the idea of connecting railway routes sounded like an express train to boredom. That was until my friend selected it at a board game cafe several years ago. I was surprised at how much I loved the game’s simplicity and the competitive stress it creates in trying to complete all your routes in time. It was a lesson in being open-minded towards themes that might not strike me as interesting at first glance.

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The original game includes a map of the USA. Subsequent editions – and there are a lot of them – have added new rules and features. Having tried them all, the one I always find myself coming back to is Ticket to Ride: Europe. I find the Europe edition still retains the game’s accessibility while offering a few tweaks to make things more interesting. If you’re new to the game, either USA or Europe is the best starting point. You can then try out the expansion maps if you’re keen for more rail exploration. Ticket to Ride has a well designed app featuring most of the expansions, so checking those out first to see what you enjoy is a good idea cost-wise. 

Regardless of which edition you’re playing, the basic rules remain the same throughout. You’re given a set of destination tickets at the start worth various point values. You must then try and complete these tickets by collecting coloured train cards and claiming routes with those cards along the map, marking a route with your own set of train shaped counters. You may also collect more destination tickets as the game progresses, but become too ambitious and you run the risk of not completing them all, and those points are deducted from your final score. In the USA, connecting from city to city is simple enough. In Europe, however, you’ll be crossing seas and heading through mountain ranges, adding variants to the way you claim routes.

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The best part about Ticket to Ride is the stress in trying to build routes before your opponents either take them or block them, sometimes deliberately by players with a loco-motive of their own, feeling mischievous and/or open to ruining friendships. You’ll be surprised at how much tension this game creates, especially when routes start getting claimed in highly sought after areas of the map. You’ll be scrambling for sets of coloured train cards and crossing your fingers in the hope that a route you desperately need isn’t taken before your next turn. 

It’s probably down to an uncountable number of plays, but I have a high win rate with Ticket to Ride. My trick is to quietly build up my routes and collect destination tickets while other players start blocking each other, causing mass pile ups. Meanwhile, I made it from Edinburgh to Athens without an obstruction in sight! However, this is a game where you can also derail in grand style. One time I confidently declared I was on track for victory and then proceeded to not score even one of my destination tickets. The lesson there? Bad conduct won’t help you reach your destination.

Ticket to Ride is often referred to as a gateway game, a name given to board games with simple rules that can attract newcomers to the hobby.  This is certainly true from my experience of introducing Ticket to Ride to others. Most new players enjoy the base game and are often eager to try out other maps. India and Switzerland are my recommendations, but there are so many expansions to choose from. Enjoy your journey, and may the course you take be full of 20 point destination tickets!

 

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

It’s the 1800s in Bavaria and reclusive King Ludwig II’s personal fortune has been rapidly depleted thanks to his obsession with medieval castles. Head of state duties? What are those? Better to spend time on the throne thinking up designs for a home so magnificent that it goes far beyond the private needs of any normal ruler! Neuschwanstein Castle is already under construction, elevated on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau so it can be admired in all it’s glory when it’s finally completed. But it’s not enough. Ludwig wants you to oversee the construction of a new castle with even more guest rooms, servants quarters, grottos and entertainment areas than Neuschwanstein. Are you up to the challenge?

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Castles of Mad King Ludwig is not simply a castle builder, although that’s naturally a huge part of this game’s appeal. As a contractor, you’ll need to be sharp and thrifty as you try to find the best deals on rooms and sell your services to other contractors, all while thinking about landscaping and floor plans. There are many different ways to score points in the game so think carefully about the layout of your creation and which rooms offer the best value for money. You’ll also need to accommodate Ludwig’s whims as he’ll be providing you with his room preferences at the start. Perhaps he’ll decide that square shaped rooms are in vogue, or that utility rooms should be ubiquitous in his new dream home. If you complete more of the King’s favours than your opponents then you’ll be rewarded for it at the end of the game.

Rooms for the castle come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and types. Consider the King’s favours and your own personal bonus cards, but you’re probably quite keen to build a castle that suits your style as well. Some contractors may be looking for a sensible layout – a comfortable bedchamber with a private garden, all the necessities such as a pantry and a bathroom, and a few individual touches like a sauna or a french gazebo. Others will happily allow their designs to spiral out of control, ending up with two fungus rooms, a buttery and a secret lair with no where to sleep.

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Each round, rooms will be selected from a draw pile and placed on a bidding chart by the master builder – a role that moves clockwise around the table. So don’t become too consumed by your own creation. You should think about what your rivals are up to, and as a result how you would like to price your rooms. When another contractor purchases a room during that auction they’ll be paying you directly for it. Can you preempt which room will tempt them the most and place it in a lucrative spot on the chart? Over the course of the game you’ll collect rooms, bonuses and Deutsche marks according to your objectives, all before the final room gets taken to auction. Then it’s time to see if you’ve done enough to please the mysterious King!

Not happy with your castle? Well, Castles of Mad King Ludwig allows for plenty of replays as your castles will be vastly different every time. New rooms will make it to the auction and a fresh combination of King’s favours will be drawn, creating a unique set of objectives that will affect your final masterpiece. There may be a little downtime while contractors overthink their options, especially when it comes to the auction – that includes the master builder’s decision of where to place rooms and the purchaser’s decision of what to buy. I personally find the auction aspect of the game a little tricky, but seeing the shape and theme of my castle come together makes it worth it. Now, shall I place a panic room next to my tapestry chamber or a crypt?

 

Shadows Over Camelot

As one of the first co-operative board games I ever played, as well as a provider of many fun memories, Shadows Over Camelot is a perfect choice for Intrigue Inn’s first board game review. Prepare to divide and conquer, but beware! There’s a traitor in your midst…

In Shadows Over Camelot you play as Knights of the Round Table, heading off on various quests while dark forces close in on Camelot – Mordred, Morgan, the Saxons, the Picts, and myriad others are always looking to disrupt your quests in their own nefarious ways. Even Guinevere is an antagonist here, cutting your quests short with a delinquent pout because you’ve been gallivanting around instead of spending quality time with her.

Throughout the game knights must fill up the round table with white swords by successfully completing quests such as the search for Excalibur or the search for the Holy Grail. Failing quests results in black swords being placed on the table. Six black swords means disaster, and the traitor emerges triumphant whether they’ve been unmasked or not.

How does the traitor aspect work? At the beginning of the game each player is given a loyalty card which is kept secret. One lucky (depending how you look at it) guy or girl gets to be the traitor. The traitor must try to derail things by encouraging other players to partake in never-ending quests, hold back useful cards, waste time and resources without the others realising, and do anything else that could potentially disrupt or slow down everyone’s progress. Knights can accuse each other of being the traitor but should exercise caution; a false accusation means placing a black sword down on the table and a general feeling of mistrust.

From my experience, some people relish playing the traitor and excel where others fail. One memorable game involved the traitor cracking under the pressure when it was hinted that she could be a traitor, causing her to throw her hands up in the air and cry out ”Yes! You’ve got me!”

Other players have wreaked total havoc, yet managed to remain undetected. It’s possible to have games without a traitor, where no one draws the black traitor card. This makes for a very interesting game as suspicions fly around despite everyone being on the same side.

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Each turn evil progresses, and players are allowed a single heroic action. The progression of evil can mean picking up a black card resulting in some unfortunate event or summoning a villain to cause trouble, losing life points, or placing a siege engine around the walls of Camelot. Ah, the dreaded siege engines. Place a twelfth siege engine down and the loyal knights automatically lose. And those siege engines build up quickly.

With so many quests, events, and opportunities for failure, Shadows Over Camelot requires teamwork and coordination from the brave knights who attempt the challenge. It’s an immersive game and players get out of it what they put in, like stepping into character and addressing their follow knights in proper medieval fashion. Mount your steeds and gallop into Camelot, gallant knights!

 

 

 

 

 

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