Saturday, 22 October 2016

Boardgames for Big Groups

In my weekly gaming group we regularly have six or seven players (there are eight of us in total but it is rare that everyone is present). This has grown over the last couple of years, mainly due to the addition of two of our players grown up children. Most of us are wargamers and we try to get some figure games in most weeks, but at our weekly gaming session we mainly play boardgames. This post will look at a few of the games we have been playing that cater for six or seven players.

First off, with a game we haven't played for some time, Memoir'44. This is a miniature wargame / boardgame hybrid by Days of Wonder. It is a relatively simple card driven game where each player plays one card on his turn to activate some units (normally in one sector of the battlefield, depending on the card played). It gives a quick, fun game and the rules are easy to pick up. The basic game is for two players, but the Overlord expansion allows for bigger battles and these work really well with six players. Each side has three players, each commanding one sector of the battlefield. One player on each side is designated as the commander-in-chief, and he has the extra role of managing the cards and allocating them to the generals in command of each sector.


Overlord scenarios can be found online (although you would need an extra board in addition to the basic set to play these) but there are also some special scenario packs available with a large double sided board with all the terrain printed on and the starting locations of the forces noted. These are obviously limited in flexibility but are much quicker to set up. We have two of these between us (which gives four scenarios), which gives us quite a lot of replayability as commanding each sector gives a different experience.

Next is one of the best known games of recent years for a large player count, and that is Seven Wonders. This is a civilisation building card game with a card drafting mechanic that means there is little down time as everyone is playing at the same time. Although it is the type of game I'm quite good at (as most of the skill is analysing the relative pay-off from the choice of cards, either in terms of victory points or resources and hence determining the best card to keep and play, and as a mathematician I'm good at this sort of thing) I'm not actually that keen on it as it seems a bit dry in terms of theme. Maybe it's because it's all cards, with no pieces or board to make it feel like you are actually building something.

Last Night on Earth is a zombie game, pitting up to four heroes against a horde of zombies. The zombies are controlled by one or two players, so it can cater for up to six players. We have even played it with seven players, using an extra hero and giving the zombie player a slight boost to balance the extra hero.  The board is modular and depicts a town with building such as a hospital, school and police station. The game involves the heroes moving around the buildings, searching for useful items and killing zombies. Heroes can search whenever they are in a building instead of moving, by drawing a card from a deck. All manner of weapons and other items can be found, such as guns, chainsaws, explosives, first aid kits, as well as event cards with varying useful effects.

There are a variety of scenarios, for example in one the heroes have to find keys and gasoline and get to a truck to escape the town. The zombie player (or players) moves the zombies to attack the heroes and gets events cards which help the zombies or hinder the heroes. The scenarios seem to be well balanced and the heroes must work together effectively to win.  It works well with a large number of players as there is very little downtime. The game is great fun and full of tension and cinematic moments.

Shadows over Camelot is a relatively new game for our group, and one I’ve been wanting to try for ages, being a fan of Days of Wonder games. It is a cooperative game with a possible traitor, so the players are never sure if they are all working together. The players take on the roles of King Arthur and his Knights. They go on quests (such as the search for the Holy Grail or defeating the Black Knight) whist also defending against attacks from the Saxons, Picts and other unnamed forces. The players have to work together and plan their actions, but there are times when some players don’t get to do much of interest – for example the player with the most Grail cards will usually go on the Grail quest, and whilst on this quest, all they will do on their turn is play a card on the grail track.

Lastly, and another recent acquisition, but one we have played a lot over the last few months, is Quartermaster General. This is a six player card driven WW2 game. The players are in two teams – Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan) and Allies (Britain, US and Russia).
 The board depicts the whole world, and there are army and fleet counters (wooden tank and ships) but it’s not really a wargame in the normal meaning of the word. The game covers the whole war and playing time is about an hour, so we can get through three games in an evening – yes, that’s right, a game depicting the whole of WW2 in an hour!
On each players turn he plays a card and draws a card, so it moves quickly with little downtime. There are five main types of card a player can play – Status cards which are played face up onto the table, and have a permanent effect from then onwards (for example one such card for the Russians means their units are always in supply), Response cards which are played face down and can be triggered by future events (for example the British player has a response card which stops a fleet being removed), Build Army or Navy which is the main way units are deployed, Land Battle or Sea Battle which destroys an enemy unit,  and other events, based on actual historical events such as Murmask convoy (where the US can give aid to the Russian player) or the Enigma machine (allowing the British player to remove a German status card). There are no dice used – if a battle card is played (which you can only do if you have a unit in supply adjacent to the enemy unit) the enemy unit is automatically destroyed, unless the owner of the unit has a response card or status card which can stop it being removed. It’s a great game and we’ve had a lot of fun playing it recently. As with any card driven game it is quite dependant on the cards you draw – sometimes you feel like the outcome is more based on luck of the draw rather than how you play the cards, but given the game length this isn’t a huge issue. Another downside for some groups might be that it really is a six player game. You can play with less, but then some players would be playing as more than one country, with more than one hand of cards, so it would actually slow the game down.

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