Like many gamers, I’m managing to stay sane in lock down thanks to free online board game websites. I’m lucky some of my absolute favourites are available, such as Concordia, Terra Mystica and Oracle of Delphi. But it has also given me the chance to learn a few new games and play some others I haven’t played for years. Below you’ll find mini reviews of five of the latter. Bare in mind these were written after one or two recent plays of each, and that these games are all designed primarily for the tabletop.
I’d happily give each a proper go ‘in real life’ some time after this nonsense is all over. But here are my impressions of their online implementations – with links to where to play. If you want to check out more games that are available online at these sites, take at look at my posts about online board game websites Yucata and Boite a Jeux.
Kahuna (1998, 2 players, 45 minutes, ages 10+)
I’m a big fan of many two-player games from publisher Kosmos (Rosenkonig, Balloon Cup, Targi, Lost Cities etc). So its nice to see quite a list of them available on Yucata. I’m not really seeing Sarah due to lock down, but I have talked her into playing a few lesser known of these titles online. In typical Kosmos fashion, this is small box, small board abstract game with brightly coloured pieces and a simple yet cunning rule set.
This series often blends classic abstract mechanisms with a level of randomness, usually via a deck of cards. Kahuna is no different. Here you lay bridges between islands, taking control of the islands once you control more than half the bridges leading to it. But to play bridges, you need the right cards – and there are are only a few per island per round. Worse, if you lose a bridge you can lose island control – which can have a cascading effect onto other islands. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to more plays – and grabbing a copy when we’re finally allowed to visit Germany again.
Available free online at at Yucata (Designer: Gunter Cornett)
La Granja (2014, 1-4 players, 2 hours, ages 12+)
As with many of publisher Spielworxx’s releases, La Granja sold out in a flurry of fandom when it first arrived. And by the time it was reprinted by Stronghold (and others) I’d lost interest in it. Because despite its brief time at the top of the hype parade, it’s not one I used to see much on tables after the initial hubbub. But when London on Board friends Sam and Alex said they’d played online, I was definitely up for filling in another unsightly gap in my euro ‘played’ games list.
Unfortunately the BGA version leaves much to be desired. The game has extra actions you can do whenever you like. But instead of listing these somewhere clickable (as, say, Yucata does with Terra Mystica) it makes you answer a question on whether you want to do an extra action after each game phase. And there are a lot of phases. And sub phases. Thankfully the game is served much better at Yucata, where the extra actions are organised much more sensibly. I’d definitely recommend the Yucata implementation over BGA.
The Ruhr: Story of the Coal Trade (2017, 2-4 players, 2 hours, ages 12+)
This is a re-implementation of 2012 Spielworxx title Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890, now reissued by Capstone Games. It is a medium-heavy pick-up-and-deliver/worker placement game with a classic euro ‘theme’ – 18th Century German canals. And yes, it has Essen on the map. The online implementation is slick, although some of the icons (especially area crests) are a too small to see clearly. But generally it was a smooth online experience.
The game has an extremely tight economy, seeing you scrap for every coin. And while there isn’t direct interaction as such, this is an incredibly interactive game. Players are constantly vying for precious resources, while racing to grab vital bonus markers. Turn order can be vital, but can change phase to phase, making it a constant worry. But despite the tightness of the system, it felt as if there were different viable routes to victory. My fear would be over long-term replay value. But I very much enjoyed the game’s challenges.
Available free online at Board Game Arena (Designer: Thomas Spitzer)
Seasons (2012, 2-4 players, 1 hour, ages 12+)
I first played Seasons near its release in 2012. That was a great year for euros – Terra Mystica, Tzolk’in, Snowdonia and Manhattan Project to name a few. And in the face of such competition, Seasons didn’t catch me enough to stay on my radar. But I was encouraged into a couple of online plays by local gaming friends Chris and Jonathan. The lovely artwork looks great online, while the interface is simple and well implemented. It’s just a shame you don’t get to roll those big chunky dice.
This is very much a ‘cards with words’ game. Players draft dice to gain resources that match the seasons. A game clock clicks through years, with particular symbols more prevalent in each month. You use the resources to play cards, which in turn give you bonuses and victory points. It’s a slick system that makes thematic sense. And there’s just the right amount of ‘take that’ cards and actions to keep it feeling competitive. The first game was fun, but back-to-back plays felt a bit samey. There just isn’t enough card variety without the expansions being here. But for occasional fun it hits the spot and we’ll surely play more.
Available free online at Board Game Arena (Designer: Regis Bonnessee)
Vanuatu (2011, 2-5 players, 2 hours, ages 12+)
Vanuatu got some buzz on its release. But its second printing went through crowdfunding hell, losing its momentum. So despite a 2016 re-release by Quined Games it still flies largely under the radar. I’ve never picked it up, as most of my regulars don’t like mean games (more below). Plus, it plays best with more players. However local friends Chris and Jonathan are up for a scrap, so we gave it a go online.
Don’t let the game’s theme and art fool you. Because that cartoony depiction of beautiful pacific islands and their laid back inhabitants hides a monster. Sure, on the surface Vanuatu is a relatively straightforward action selection game. But playing those actions is hyper competitive and a poorly planned round can leave you with literally nothing to show for it. The implementation is good, apart from the board being in French – which doesn’t gel well with the English instructions. But this didn’t slow us down much (the iconography largely gets you through) and I really enjoyed my play. I may have to pick this on up after all…
Available free online at Boite a Jeux (Designer: Alain Epron)