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Monday, 28 November 2016

Stocking Fillers - A Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts

So this year Mike Barnes of Who Dares Rolls fame and I have decided to have a Christmas Crossover episode and put together our Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts. These are short lists of great games across five interesting categories. So whether you're a gamer looking for a good suggestion to fit your collection or you're buying Christmas presents for your gamer partner, there should be plenty of choice in here. Just click on the title of the game to visit somewhere you can buy it!

Keep checking back for new lists over the next two weeks. Here we go, today's list, Stocking Fillers.

Chris’ Picks 

Stocking fillers is a tricky category, the options are so vast that narrowing it down to three was a herculean task. In the end I decided to go for simple games that really anyone can learn and play but that offer a good amount of replayability. These really are a lot of game in a small space. 


Celestia is a push your luck game with absolutely stunning components, just take a look at the picture below… go on, take a look, I’ll wait… Did you look? Boom! Stunning right? The premise is simple, you and your fellow gamers are passengers on a bizarre airship where everyone on board gets a chance at being captain as you float between strange teacup islands. Each turn the captain rolls the dice and must play cards that match his roll. All the passengers then choose whether to stay on the airship and trust the captain or to jump ship and claim a treasure from their current location. If the captain has the cards the airship moves on and the next player becomes captain, if he doesn’t the airship and all of its passengers plummet to a fiery end. The game ends when one player scores fifty or more points. 


Not only is Celestia beautiful to look at, but it’s also fun at a tiny price point. It’s easy to teach and play. The only caveat here is the rulebook, which is a fairly terrible translation (Google Translate maybe) but there are plenty of videos online to show you how to play if you get stuck. 

Mike Says - This is one of those games that I’ve constantly heard great things about and never played, I love the look of it, it's got a great toy factor with the airship and the wonderful art and whimsical silliness of the whole enterprise is hugely enticing. So I put it on my Christmas list so hopefully I’ve not been too naughty this year. 


Timeline comes in around £10 and plays in about 5 minutes. It comes in many flavours with the most recent being British History. I recommend getting a bunch of them and mashing them together for maximum fun. 

In Timeline the players each have a selection of historical events, inventions, films, books or songs in front of them and they must decide where they come on the Timeline. As players add cards to the line it becomes harder to slot your cards in. On your turn you play one of your cards, declaring where you think it fits in the current timeline, flip the card over, if you’re right it gets added to the line, if you’re wrong you get a new card. The first player to get rid of all their cards is the winner. 

Timeline is a great game for anyone to play with plenty of thematic options to suit each gamer, however, once you pop you just can’t stop and you’ll want to own all the sets! 

Mike Says - This is a great pick as indeed there's a Timeline for literally any interest though obviously Star Wars is the only way to go. I think we’re well overdue for the Game Of Thrones edition although perhaps it should be called deathline as you try and order the corpse strewn timeline into order of messy end. 


The ultimate stocking filler coming in at around £9. On your first play Stak Bots may seem like a simple chaotic card game but don’t dismiss it just yet… hang on… did you just look at the art and assume a small child had been let loose with clipart? Don’t look at the art either… 

Okay, I can sense I’m losing you. It’s a game of FIGHTING ROBOTS! Ah ha, I knew that would get your attention. Each player begins the game with a stak of robots in front of them, this is their health, when the stak runs out they are dead and eliminated from the game, but it is also their fighting force. On your turn you’ll draw a card, then you can play a card, attack with the card on top of your stak or scrap cards from your stak to reveal new bots, in any order as often as you like until you chose to stop. Defeat all your opponents to reign supreme. 

Once you’ve mastered the basics Stak Bots has dozens of different play modes known as Toggles which change how the game plays, allowing for vastly more strategic play. At last count Tom Norfolk had designed some 60 modes each changing the game in small or big ways, so 60 games for £9 sounds like a bargain to me! My personal favourite mode? Two Stak, what will yours be? 

Mike Says - I completely dismissed this game when I first encountered it at a small local convention in the depths of a particularly chilly December. Fortunately Son No.1 who was in tow at the time had the good sense to drag me kicking over to the stall enticed as he was by the thought of battling robots, and I’m so glad he did. As Chris has said for such a small stack of cards there is a massive amount of game in this box, I love it, it's great and I always look forward to when Tom unleashes a new army of these vicious little tin bastards upon me. 

Mike’s Picks 

Gah! How bigs a stocking! All of my picks should squeeze into a standard lapland supplied furry receptacle without too much effort and also serve the purpose of being those things that get found later on after everything else has been poked prodded and mucked around with. So yes these picks should do the job very well of the ooh I had this in my stocking I wonder what it is. 


This is the perfect little box of fun to find slipped into your stocking. Its quick, fun and guaranteed to be a hit with whoever is gathered at your post Turkey dinner table. It's a pack of cards and you simply pull one off the top and have to obey its instructions "one finger touching nose", "left elbow above shoulder", "two hands touching" or "this card on top of head" and so it goes around the table. The moment you can’t comply with a card's instructions it's game over. Infectious, stupid and bloody brilliant. 

Chris Says - Having watched Mr Barnes attempt to play this game while conducting an interview with Bez I can attest that it's almost as much fun to watch as it is to play! 


Another compact little box featuring a design by two the industry's best. Players are wreckers dishing up loot on a soggy beach somewhere utilising the classic ‘Prisoner's Dilemma’ each round you and a fellow player pull two bits of random loot and have to make a choice:

Peace (I want the 2 in front of me)
War (I want them all)
First pick (I want just one, pick first) 

If you both split then you split, War and everybody loses, both first pick and all the goodies are gone. Its fast, it's silly and can be brutally cut throat and features the majestic art of Vincent Dutrait. 

Chris Says - Small box, wonderful artwork, simple premise and two titans of game design, this has to be a winner. 


Perfect for your stocking a tiny tin that contains 15 dice and the rules to play 6 wildly different and fun little games, featuring everything from dexterity, racing to push your luck. I still carry this round with me it's the perfect portable multi-game playing system and it gives a satisfying rattle when you shake it. 

Chris Says - 6 was the first game Mike and I ever played together so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The true genius of 6 is that it opens up your mind, it's a game designer's kit almost as much as it is a game. You can play the six games in the box or use the components inside to design your own. Best of all this game comes from the minds of three of the nicest guys in gaming… they're nuts but they are super nice!

About the Authors

Chris Bowler is the lead author at Unboxed The Board Game Blog and The Duke of the Blood Keep. He also runs the UK Gaming Media Network and in his spare time he likes to… yeah… like he gets spare time!

Gaming since birth Chris enjoys a vast collection of Board, Card, Miniature and Role-Playing games, with eclectic taste in both Style and Theme.

Mike B is the founder of Who Dares Rolls, Host of the sporadic Who Dares Rolls Podcast that nobody listens too and occasionally produces videos on the WDR You Tube channel that nobody watches.

Mike displays almost no taste or appreciation of the finer points of game design despite this potentially debilitating personality defect he continues to critique board games.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Guest Post - Hybrid Gaming

I am a great believer in the world of hybrid board gaming. As technology advances it allows us to implement it into our games and enhance our experiences effortless and seamlessly… Well mostly. The keyword here is “enhance”, I don’t want to use tech in a board game if it replaces the human elements that I find so endearing. I want to use to tech to bring atmosphere to my games, or to streamline my games, removing the tiresome book keeping. I want the tech to make the games easier to teach, more reactive to my style of play or to help bring the game to new depths of strategy and storytelling.

I admit we are not there yet but every attempt brings us closer to the utopian future I dream of. Here to present his idea of the next evolutionary step is Kevin Sturdivant with the Game Slate. Is it a good next step? It’s certainly a bold idea, let me know what you guys think in the comments.

GameSlate origins

The GameSlate was born of inspiration from other board game fans, who wish to be more immersed in their craft. At the beginning of 2016, I had the notion to design a gaming table for all my favorite games. I had previously designed several enlarged maps for wargames to allow the miniatures to easily fit on the spaces provided, but this time I wanted something a bit more flexible.

I started with the internet, of course, and was amazed by all the many different table designs and creations by talented fans. One was dedicated to Twilight Imperium. Another was dedicated to X-Wing. Still another to Pathfinder. However, the one thing that all these designs lacked was flexibility in the form of switching from game to game. And the table took up too much room in the house. Thus, the idea for the GameSlate was born.

Instead of an entire table, The GameSlate is a tabletop device that lies flat where the player’s miniatures or tokens are placed upon the surface. Each press or release of a figure triggers a gameplay function; such as attacks, movement, or skill use. Player cards are digitally mastered and manipulated through swipe gestures; the cards turn, shuffle and flip.

Digital cards

The multi-touch grid allows multiple, simultaneous touch points which is a new innovation that makes the GameSlate possible. Multiple touch points translates to multiple figures on the gameboard at once. After a month of work, I was able to make the multi-touch device work with the software, which was a happy occasion indeed. Not just for me, but for every one who benefits from this innovation.

The Benefits for the Player

Include the Casual Gamers: The GameSlate encourages casual and new gamers through a lowered learning curve and novice play settings. We all want more players in our gaming sessions, but if the new player is confused, they will never play again. Our software is designed to help the new player and challenge the expert all in the same setting.

Remove the Boring: As the game proceeds, lost counters, lost dice, rule clarifications, other bookkeeping tasks, such a moving the turn marker become unnecessary. Thus, the overall gameplay time decreases and allows a speedy resolution.

Enhance the Awesome: Lastly, there is the enhanced game experience with lights, sounds, and gratuitous explosions and special effects. When playing licensed games, my gaming group would often put on the theme music from the show, but now the GameSlate performs lights, power effects and musical scores just like any AAA video game production.

A Bridge between Worlds

We feel that the GameSlate will help revolutionize the board game industry, which has been attempting to jump to the video game format for several years. When porting a board game to the video game format, the video game port changes the board game dramatically or forces the players into a “hot seat” turn order. Neither of these instances is great for the immersion that we, as board gamers, crave.

Within the last few years, there has been a massive wave of board games and board game designers emerging through Kickstarter, which is awesome. What this means is that the barrier to entry to the board game market has been lowered significantly and competition is increasing. The GameSlate is a new way to differentiate a board game brand through enhanced features, painted miniatures, and even special effects.

We have confidence that this project will fund because of the usefulness of the GameSlate. It was designed to be versatile. For instance, current mobile game apps can be ported to the GameSlate easily. So, in addition to the software offering that Sturx will make, I will be encouraging current mobile software developers to port their application to the GameSlate market to round out the game selection and thereby have a large selection of game apps available to our customers. Thank you for your support in making the GameSlate a reality. Trash the board; Amp your game!

Thanks Kevin. If you found this article interesting you can check out GameSlate on kickstarter and don’t forget to leave your opinions down in the comments.

Until next time…

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Game Night Review: Codenames

With our first successful meetup done and dusted I expected a full twelve months to pass by before I would have another opportunity to introduce my friends to the fun of board gaming. You could have knocked me down with a feather when less than a month later they suggested we meet up again!

The evening was proposed as a social gathering, a post Christmas drink and catch up, so I seeded my bag with a couple of light party games (which I do for every party) fully expecting that I wouldn’t actually need them. I was wrong! And so Codenames saw its first outing on a crisp December night with a group of good friends gathered around a coffee table by a roaring fire, glasses of wine and mince pies in hand.

A Brief Overview

So what is Codenames? It is a team game where the players are competing to uncover all of their spies before the other team. One player on each team takes on the role of the Spymaster, only they know the locations of each of the spies, innocent bystanders and the sinister assassin.

The game is played on a 5x5 grid of cards, each card has a word on it. The Spymasters must give a single word clue followed by the number of cards the clue relates to. Then the players on his team can discuss and guess which cards the spymaster was trying to indicate. If they guess correctly they can continue to guess upto the number of times given in the clue plus 1 or they can stop. If they guess wrong and uncover an innocent bystander their turn ends, if they uncover an enemy agent their turn ends and they give a point to the opposing team and if they uncover the assassin the game ends and they automatically lose.

Why Choose it?

I chose Codenames for a couple of reasons, firstly, selfishly, I had been given it as a Christmas present and I really wanted to play it. Secondly the buzz the game was generating at the time was tremendous and Paul Grogan, CGE’s UK representative and my close friend, highly recommended the game. As with all my Game Night choices the reasons for choosing Codenames comes down to “Can it handle 6?” and “Is it simple to teach?” and Codenames ticks both of these boxes.

The AP Problem

Codenames rewards players for their ability to analyze a lot of information and provide a single linking word to allow their team to score the maximum points. For some players this is straightforward and for me it was it was more fun to be the Spymaster, but for players who suffer from Analysis Paralysis* this task could take a long time, causing players to disengage with the game while Alan mulls over his choices.

The Exceptions & Clarifications

While Codenames is a great game and it has a simple premise the rulebook does manage to be rather long as it presents a series of rules about what is and what is not an acceptable clue. The list of exceptions can be a little overwhelming to take in and takes the game away from it’s party-game roots towards strategy gamer territory.

There were two particular rules I opted to omit during the first few rounds. The Zero rule, where you can use your codeword to imply that none of your remaining words relate to a specific word and the Unlimited rule where you give a clue but instead of a number you can say unlimited, with this method your teammates don’t know how many words relate to your given clue, but they can guess as many times as they like, unlocking their ability to guess previously unsolved clues.

Did They Like It?

Yes, a resounding yes. Many games of Codenames were played as everyone wanted a turn at being the Spymaster. I feel our literary inclined friends enjoyed the game more as they found clever ways to give clues but everyone seemed to have a good time.

Final Thoughts

Should you buy Codenames? The answer is probably yes. The game is small and cheap so it’s a great standby for parties and social gatherings. For me Codenames beats the spots off other popular party games, like Dixit or Cards Against Humanity, offering instead an actual game with strategy and mostly uncomplicated rules.

As I mentioned the game bogs down with AP prone players and really it requires a minimum of 4 players but ideally 6+ for it to really shine.

However, with only those two caveats I highly recommend jumping onboard the bandwagon and playing this year's Game of the Year (Spiel Des Jahres 2016)

*Analysis paralysis [uh-nal-uh-seez puh-ral-uh-seez] or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. - Source Wikipedia

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