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What’s Hot: Agricola Goodies Expansion

AgricolaLimited to a world wide English print run of 2500 copies!

Over the years, many small expansions for Agricola have been released, mostly in the German language. Deluxe wooden pieces were also created to complement the game. Now’s your chance to add these fantastic Agricola Goodies to your game!

The Goodies Expansion contains:
The legendary X-Deck containing 24 cards with alien encounters all over the farm. Every time a player visits a stone quarry, a card is drawn from the pile. And then? Resistance is futile!

The O-Deck was created under the guidance of the Austrian Games Academy. 12 new Occupations and 12 new Minor Improvements including a wunderkind, the guy with the couch, the singing family from the Alps, and of course that one specific Governor.

The C-Deck (12 Occupations and 12 Improvements) is based on famous people, places, and historic events from the Czech Republic, and is illustrated in the spirit of the legendary Czech artist Josef Lada. This expansion was initiated by the Czech publisher of Agricola, Mindok.

The L-Deck. Nobody knows exactly what the L stands for. Some tend to believe Lookout, others insist on Looneys. Decide for yourself; but don’t take it too seriously…

All 5 double-sided theme boards: Western, Spring, Autumn, Winter, and Mars (just in case you wondered where the aliens from the X-Deck have their interstellar base).

A sheet with 70 stickers: 35 adults, 33 children, 1 alien, and even a werewolf.

And of course the wooden meeples: Veggiemeeples, Animeeples, and Resourceeples. They’re cute and nice to look at, but don’t hesitate to cook, eat, sow, or use them in any possible way that supports your family and your farm.

Please Note: You need AGRICOLA to play this expansion set.

The Rise and Rise of Z-Man Games

The boardgame industry is dominated by a few big publishers, with lots of small publishers bringing out occasional games. However, one small publisher that has steadily grown to join the big guns is Z-Man Games. After the last few years Z-Man has released a wide range of games to suit all tastes, from big box, highly thematic extravaganzas to small abstracts and card games. Z-Man Games are known for their variety, so you’re sure to find a few favourites among their catalogue. Here’s a look at some of their better-known games.

First, I must declare a slight bias, since I worked on the graphic design for a few Z-Man games!

Road Kill Rally
There are few things more enjoyable than a good car combat game, and Road Kill Rally is a hilarious example of the genre which adds pedestrian-smashing to the mix! Fans of the old David Carradine camp-classic movie Death Race 2000 will feel right at home here, racing against opponents all eager to destroy you with guns, rockets and flame throwers. Which is all a lot of fun, but the big points come from running over and blasting pedestrians!

Earth Reborn
The game designer Christophe Boelinger is well known for his highly-successful abstract dungeon combat game Dungeon Twister and its many expansions. His newest game is quite a departure—a highly realistic, scenario-based simulation game set in a post-apocalyptic melieu, Earth Reborn. This is a system for those who love detailed, very thematic, big games. Luckily, the rulebook/tutorial/scenario guide leads you step-by-step through the complexities of the game system, and in no time at all you’ll have the factions of the underground cities meeting on the wastelands and in the ruins of Earth, 500 years after its devastation—NORAD, militaristic, scientific, paranoid, and the Salemites, occultists experimenting with the revival of the dead.

This game has been receiving a lot of positive buzz, not only for its highly-detailed and impressive miniatures, but for the huge potential for player modification and publisher expansion. It looks designed to be a big ‘sandbox’ of a game. The support is already in place: the official site already has several new scenarios and scenario tools available.

Of course no article about Z-Man Games can fail to mention Agricola, the classic ‘Euro’ game of medieval farming that even knocked Puerto Rico off its Number One perch at BoardgameGeek, for a time. You start small in Agricola (Latin for ‘farmer’)—as a simple farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse. On a turn, you only get two actions from all the possible things that have to be done on a farm: collecting clay, wood or stone, building fences, even having kids to help with the work—once you’ve expanded your house of course—but then you’ll have to feed them! It’s a game of countless strategies, and also plays as a simpler family version or solo. Agricola has won many gaming awards, including the Deutschen Spiele Preises Game of the Year (2008), and continues to be expanded. If you love games like Puerto Rico and Caylus, you really should try Agricola.

Tales of the Arabian Nights
I’ve written in detail about the graphic design of Tales of the Arabian Nights before in this article, but if you’re a fan of the story-telling possibilities inherent in boardgaming, you really can’t miss this one. A remake of an 80s classic, Tales explores the rich and detailed world of the Arabian Nights stories in a boardgame. It’s not so much about the winning or the losing in this game; it’s all about the story you create as you travel the colourful world of the board, encountering a huge range of characters and going on countless adventures, all detailed in the 300-page Book of Tales. It’s a hugely enjoyable and very funny game, and you won’t even mind if you end up a diseased, penniless beggar at the end, because you’ll have had such a good time!

If you enjoy fantasy adventure games like Talisman, you should definitely check out the excellent Prophecy by Vlaada Chvatil, the designer responsible for such favourites as Space Alert and Dungeon Lords (also from Z-Man Games). As in Talisman, you play a fantasy character adventuring across an imaginary land, but you have more control over your destiny in Prophecy. With the addition of Dungeon Realm and the upcoming Water Realm, there’s an incredible amount of variety available as well, so no two games will ever be the same.

In Prophecy, you battle creatures (and other characters), increase your skills and learn spells at the five Guilds, acquire special items, and eventually may possess enough of ancient artifacts to become the next rightful king. But first you must defeat their guardians in the Astral Planes…

A big new release for 2011 is Ninjato, a thematic strategy game that puts each player in the role of a master ninja. Players practice dojo fighting techniques, learn the sensei’s esoteric skills, raid clan-controlled houses, bribe influential envoys, and spread certain rumors—the pathways to rise as the most legendary ninja of the age. Since I worked on the graphic design, I’ll be writing some special articles in the coming months about this fantastic game, including an interview with one of its designers, Adam West.

Well, that just touches on the huge range of games that Z-Man Games publishes, and I highly recommend checking out their website and exploring the many excellent games they have available. And if Games Paradise doesn’t have your favourite in stock, let them know so they can get it to you!

by Universal Head

For more information about these games, visit Z-Man Games and BoardgameGeek. You can also rules summaries and reference sheets for some of these game at Headless Hollow.

Universal Head has been designing for clients across the globe for more than 20 years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites and His blog site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for boardgames.

Stuff From Essen 2010

The Internationale Spieltage SPIEL 2010 games trade fair in Essen, Germany, has just come to a close. Let’s have a look at just a few of the hot new games on the way.

Mansions of MadnessFor all you Cthulhu fans out there—and I definitely count myself one of them—Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games will be on your ‘must-buy’ list. Designed by Corey Konieczka, who was responsible for Runewars, Battlestar Galactica, and Starcraft among others, this Arkham Horror-esque adventure game puts the emphasis on plot threads and story while players, as brave investigators, explore the manors, crypts, schools, monasteries, and derelict buildings near Arkham, Massachusetts. It comes with investigator and monster miniatures, and a shed-load of cards, tokens and tiles. Great stuff!

We’ve already introduced you to Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game in a recent article, and we’ll be talking more about this impressive looking civilization boardgame very soon. In the meantime, check out the video.

Earth Reborn is the new game from Christophe Boelinger, maker of the very popular range of Dungeon Twister games. It’s a detailed game of tactical combat in a post-apocalyptic world, with a system driven by Command points and scenarios. The game comes with some very impressive miniatures. Earth Reborn is coming soon from Z-Man Games.

Merchants & MaraudersAlso from Z-Man Games, who has been churning the games out at a great rate of late, is the much anticipated pirate game Merchants & Marauders. Gamers have been looking for the definitive pirate game for a while now after the disappointingly complicated Blackbeard remake. Players seek glory on the high seas of the Caribbean, plundering merchants, completing missions, buying better ships, selling cargo, and of course stashing gold at their home port. The plastic ships look great, too. Cutlasses crossed for this one!

Cadwallon: City of Thieves should be available very soon now. This game was one going to be released by Dust Games until they and Fantasy Flight Games did a deal to release this and the new miniatures system Dust Tactics under the FFG banner. It looks like a relatively easy, fun game of thievery and burgulary in a district of Cadwallon, a fantasy city originally invented by Rackham for their Confrontation games. Fantastic art and wonderfully detailed miniatures are a feature.

Survive: Escape From Atlantis is a re-release by a new company called Stronghold Games. There have been many versions of this game over the years by some major manufacturers; in fact it has sold almost 1.5 million copies worldwide! For those of you who have yet to enjoy it, you try to evacuate your pieces from an island in the centre of the board that is sinking and breaking up. Your evacuees can swim or use boats, but beware the whales, sharks and sea serpents!

Alien FrontiersAlien Frontiers is a game of resource management and planetary development for two to four players. Those of you who enjoy Kingsburg will feel comfortable with the dice placement system used in this Euro/Ameritrash hybrid. Cleverly, the game was funded by players through, a site that allows creators to scare up funding for their projects. The game has had some great feedback and reviews.

Of course there are a lot more goodies: The Resistance, a Werewolf-like social game for 5-10 players; King of Tokyo, a giant monster smackdown game by Richard Garfield (of Magic: The Gathering fame); 7 Wonders, another highly-anticipated Civ-light game; and just too many others to mention!

Upcoming Games

I keep several boardgaming-related websites in my bookmarks list so I can keep an eye on the next batch of games that are in development or on their way. The big North American gaming convention GenCon has recently come and gone in Indianapolis, so a lot of new games saw their debut at the show. Here’s a quick look at some of the new games that should be out this year or early next year.

Fantasy Flight Games is, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, my favourite publisher, and they have a stack of new goodies in the pipeline for release this year (hopefully). The two surprise announcements recently were Dust Tactics and Cadwallon: City of Thieves. These  were originally to be published by Dust Games, but that company suddenly found themselves short on the resources required, so have done a deal with FFG to hand over the games. Dust Tactics is a tactical miniatures boardgame set in an alternative 1940s world created by the comic book artist Paolo Parente. It’s been in the works for a surprisingly long time; originally it was to be released by Rackham Entertainment, who then went on to release AT-43 instead. Dust Tactics is quite a spectacular-looking product, featuring over thirty detailed, individually-sculpted miniatures (including four huge tank/walker figures). The initial game consists of eight scenarios fought on a set of cardboard terrain tiles (with some model terrain), but later there will be a set of rules released for fighting battles on a tabletop, like a normal miniatures game.

The miniatures in the game come primed in a flat colour which you can paint, if you desire, but there is also a Collector’s Edition set on the way, with all the miniatures fully painted to an incredibly high standard. The Collector’s Edition will be pricey, but for the non-painters, I’m sure it will be worth it.

There are already plans for several expansion sets to the core game of course; introducing such things as artillery robots, strange creatures, new heroes, aircraft, and even an alien race, the Vrills. It’s all shaping up to be an amazing system, and it will be interesting to see the reaction to the core set and watch the future of this game.

The other game to arrive at FFG from Dust Games is Cadwallon: City of Thieves. This fast-paced boardgame of thievery and skulduggery is set in the Rackham fantasy city of Cadwallon, the subject of a short lived roleplaying/combat game. It’s a perfect addition to the FFG stable, with gorgeous art and miniatures dripping with character. You lead a gang of thieves sneaking about a district of Cadwallon, grabbing loot and avoiding the militiamen hot on your tail. Individual scenarios bring variety to the game play. Again, the miniatures are not pre-painted, but you’ll be able to buy a separate set of painted miniatures if you so choose.

Another exciting game from FFG in the works is a Space Hulk-themed cooperative card game set in the Games Workshop Warhammer 40,000 universe, called Space Hulk Death Angel: The Card Game. This will accommodate anywhere from 1-6 players, and sees you taking Blood Angel Terminator combat teams into the twisting labyrinthine corridors of an abandoned space hulk, to join combat with the horrific alien Genestealers. The game is playable in under and hour and comes in a small ‘Silver Line’ box. This looks like a great choice if you feel like a quick, theme-rich game experience.

Sticking with card games, there are two more on the way from FFG: The Lord of the Rings Card Game and The Blood Bowl Team Manager Card Game. There’s very little information yet about the latter but it’s certainly exciting news for Blood Bowl fans, and I certainly count myself a member of that group! Apparently it will be a frenzied game of deck-building for 2-4 players, and you can choose from Human, Dwarf, Wood Elf, Orc, Skaven, or Chaos factions and play through an entire season. The LotR Card Game will be another of FFG’s very successful Living Card Games, so they’ll be a long series of expansion card packs after the 216-card core set. 1-2 players (or more if you buy a couple of core sets) cooperate to select heroes, gather allies, acquire artifacts and complete quests in the land of Middle-Earth. Players can shape their decks to create their favourite combination of spheres of influence: leadership, lore, spirit and tactics. It looks like they’ll be lots of spectacular artwork and a huge amount of variety in this game, and hopefully it will be a must for any gamer who’s a fan of Tolkein’s world.

But wait! There’s more. The long-awaited return of the Games Workshop classic, Dungeonquest, is imminent. Anyone who played this cut-throat game back in the 80s knows that it’s tough work surviving that dungeon—but that’s all the fun. FFG have re-themed the game to set it in their world of Terrinoth (and cleverly cross-marketed the new characters by supplying components for them for Descent, Runebound and Runewars). Dungeonquest is a fast and fun game of dungeon exploration for 1-4 players.

Keep an eye peeled for some other FFG games on the horizon as well: Bruno Faidutti’s magnum opus, Isla Dorada, two army expansions for Battles of Westeros, various expansions for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games, a quick card game called Dragonheart, Kevin Wilson’s new game, Civilization: The Board Game (inspired by Sid Meier’s video games), a new small-box version of the classic Lord of the Rings Board Game by Reiner Knizia, the new Tide of Iron expansion Fury of the Bear, and a new expansion for Talisman called The Sacred Pool. Not to mention the usual regular Living Card Game releases.

Well, there are other game companies in the world apart from FFG I admit, and another company with a hectic release schedule for 2010 is Z-Man Games. The company is known for releasing an eclectic mix of titles of all different styles and themes. Check out this list of titles: Earth Reborn, Parade, Burrows, The King Commands!, Power Struggle, Magical Athlete, Malta!, Prolix, Kings & Things, Mines of Zavandor, Trollhalla, Inca Empire, Pocket Battles: Orc vs Elves, and De Vulgari Eloquentia. Whew!

There’s certainly been some buzz about the new game from Christophe Boelinger, the creator of Dungeon Twister. It’s called Earth Reborn and it’s a post-apocalyptic scenario-based tactical combat game. It’s also one of the first forays by Z-Man Games into the world of plastic miniatures, and the ones that come with the game are looking mighty impressive. Parade is a quick 30 minute curious card game by Naoki Homma for 2-6 players. Hansa Teutonica is a tense game of route manipulation and economics by Andreas Steding for 2-5 players; players are merchants jostling for position and standing in the Hanseatic League. Power Struggle is a game about becoming the top-dog in a corporate empire by reaching milestones in investing, corruption, influence and position. In Burrows, you’ll find yourself trying to keep a group of fussy Gophers well-housed, using tiles to build a twisted network of burrows. Bottle Imp is a trick taking card game by Gunter Cornett. And of course, don’t forget the car-racing mayhem of Road Kill Rally; the new game by the creator of Duel in the Dark, Duel of the Giants, a tank-battle game; pirate fun with Merchants & Marauders; and a real-time strategy computer game-inspired game called The Ares Project. Zev from Z-Man must be run off his feet!

As for other publishers, there’s a new game coming from Asmodee and Antoine Bauza (Ghost Stories, Mystery Express) called 7 Wonders, a a civilization-building card game. Wizards of the Coast are releasing a Dungeons & Dragons board game called Castle Ravenloft that looks to be a classic dungeoncrawler with a simplified set of D&D 4th Edition mechanics. And Flying Frog Productions, makers of Last Night on Earth and A Touch of Evil, continue their series of crazy, fun games with photographic art with their new one, Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game, which pits alien invaders against circus freaks in a Tim Burtonesque carnival.

Well, if that lot doesn’t keep gamers happy I don’t know what will! There’s obviously no shortage whatsoever of great games on the way—all we need do now is somehow find the time to play as many as possible …

by Universal Head

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek ( There is a Dust Tactics site at Z-Man Games can be previewed at You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many games at Headless Hollow (

Universal Head (, has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites and His blog site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Books and Boardgaming

If you enjoy boardgaming the chances are you enjoy a good read as well, and books have certainly been a rich source of inspiration for boardgames over the years. Here’s a quick look at some of the myriad games based on well-known books. if you enjoyed the book, now play the game—or vice versa!

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a classic of science-fiction writing, and a series that has gone on and on (though, to this reader, the first three—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—are the original and best). A game of the book was released in by Avalon Hill in 1979, and it is universally recognised as being an excellent game that captures the flavour of the books incredibly well, with a lot of player interaction. You’ll represent various factions trying to control the planet of Dune and its spice trade using negotiation and bluffing, all while dealing with sandstorms, the mammoth sandworms, and the military forces of the other players. Some gamers have gone to amazing lengths to create their own versions of this much-loved game—one even created his own custom-made table inlaid with rare woods! The good news is—for those of us with far less time and money on their hands—Fantasy Flight Games is in the process of re-releasing Dune in a brand new version. The bad news is that it will no longer be based on the Dune books, but on a different licence—Warhammer 40,000 perhaps?

I’ve mentioned the epic wargame War of the Ring several times before, and there are no prizes for guessing which famous series of books this game is based on—yes, J. R. R. Tolkein’s timeless Lord of the Rings trilogy.WotR is an exceptional gaming experience in its own right, but the way it captures the feel of the novels, and builds upon their epic quality by also focussing on the epic battles of the Third Age, is extraordinary. There are several games based on the trilogy, but WotR is the most impressive in my opinion. Also don’t forget to try the other fantastic wargame by the same authors, Age of Conan, which is based on the series of swords-and-sorcery classics by Robert E. Howard (and other writers such as L. Sprague de Camp). It doesn’t quite capture the adventuring spirit of the Conan stories, but it is an excellent wargame in its own right.

Arkham Horror (2005) has also been mentioned many times in my previous articles. This game draws on the inventions of H.P. Lovecraft and later writers who created fiction using his unique Cthulhu mythos. The Mayfair game Witch of Salem (2008) also draws heavily on the Cthulhu mythos, this time from Wolfgang Hohlbein’s book series, and it features some stunning artwork. They are both very different games, and while re-creating the unique atmosphere of Lovecraft’s books is a challenge that will probably never be met—you’d probably have to go insane first!—there’s plenty here to keep cosmic horror fans happy.

Fantasy Flight Games has certainly got a lot of mileage out of its licence of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. I discussed the new Battles of Westeros in my last article, but don’t forget the Game of Thrones LCG (2008), and the A Game of Thrones (2003) boardgame. The Living Card Game has been expanding for some time now and at last count there were 32 expansion packs and more on the way! The boardgame has two expansions, A Clash of Kings (2004) and A Storm of Swords (2006). In the game, each players is one of the great Houses of Westeros and attempts to control the land with a mixture of resource management, diplomacy and cunning—and of course wielding armies and unique characters from the books. I have yet to play A Game of Thrones, but I hear it captures the flavour of the books extremely well.

Another game I haven’t played myself, 1960: The Making of the President (Z-Man, 2007) is based on The Making of the President, 1960, by Theodore White and published in 1961, which won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. This two player, card-driven game explores the 1960 American presidential race beween John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, and is played on an electoral map of the USA. You’ll have to deal with a wide range of political and social issues of the time in your race for the White House.

The Pillars of the Earth (Kosmos, 2006) is based on the best-selling 1989 novel by Ken Follett, about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. The game was awarded the 2007 Deutscher Spiele Preis, the Spanish ‘Game of the Year 2007’ and the Norwegian ‘Best Family Game of 2007’ and the GAMES Magazine Game of the Year 2007. A new stand-alone game, World Without End, was published two years later and is based on the book’s sequel. In classic Eurogame style, these games involve lots of resource management, production, buying and selling, and victory points!

Kosmos have published an entire line of literature-based games, among them Reiner Knizia’s co-operative Lord of the Rings game (2003); Around the World in 80 Days (2005) and Journey to the Center of the Earth(2008) based on the Jules Verne classics; Beowulf: The Legend (2006, and later published by Fantasy Flight); The Golden Compass (2008), based on Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy; and The Swarm(2009, published by Z-Man in English) and based on the novel by Frank Schätzing.

Ravensburger published a game in 2008 based on Umberto Eco’s wonderful story of murder and deduction in a medievalmonastery, The Name of the Rose. The Days of Wonder game Mystery of the Abbey (1996) could also be said to have drawn heavily for its inspiration on this novel, involving as it does the deductive search for a murderer among the monks of an abbey.

There are some old fantasy and science-fiction classics that are certainly ripe for re-publishing in a more modern form, amongthem Starship Troopers (Avalon Hill, 1976) based on the classic Robert A. Heinlein story; and Dragonriders of Pern (Mayfair, 1983), from Anne McCaffrey’s series of fantasy/sci-fi novels.

Of course, early out-of-copyright classics are a goldmine for game designers—and not only because no intellectual property rights need be obtained and paid for! Games Workshop’s Fury of Dracula (1987), and its Fantasy Flight Games re-vamp (pun intended) in 2006 are of course drawn from the Bram Stoker book we all know and love, Dracula, first published in 1897. The game is one of my all-time favourites and positively drips with the atmosphere of the novel. Tales of the Arabian Nights (2009), recently completely redesigned by Z-Man Games (with graphic design by yours truly), recreates the world of One Thousand and One Nights and the timeless stories of Scheherazade. The first English language edition of this collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales (including the tales of Aladdin and his lamp, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, and the seven yoyages of Sinbad), was published in 1706 as The Arabian Nights’ EntertainmentTales of the Arabian Nights is a game of pure fun where players create their own story; strategy gamers beware, this is a game for those who like a good laugh and a lot of fun and are happy to let control of the game run away from them!

Days of Wonders’ Shadows Over Camelot (2005) is a beautifully produced co-operative game inspired by Arthurian legends, most notably those written down by Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur, first published in 1485. It could be said that this game kicked of the current craze for co-operative games; it’s an enjoyable game that is great for families, and the lurking possibility of one of the players being a traitor definitely spices things up a bit!

Of course this article just touches on the huge array of games available that seek to re-create the many places available to us between the covers of a book (or the electronic pages of an iPad, if you’re that way inclined). Whether immersing yourself in a familiar world, or changing the course of events, or creating your own stories, games offer an extra level of interactivity that a book cannot—yet another reason why gaming is such an absorbing and interesting pastime!

by Universal Head

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek ( You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (

Universal Head (, has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites His blog site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Learning History By Gaming

Yet another great thing about boardgames is you can learn a lot while you enjoy a game—sometimes without even realising it. Historical events and boardgaming have long co-existed happily together. I won’t be looking at the long and extremely detailed history of wargaming in this article, but let’s explore a few slightly more mainstream boardgames that actually can teach a lot about the past to old and young players alike—and they’re fun too!

The Days of Wonder game Memoir ’44 (2004), has, more than other game, been an education for me to play. I’ve certainly learnt a lot about the battles of World War II from this excellent game—one of my top five favourites. Of course it helps that my regular opponent is a bit of a WWII buff, and everytime we sit down to play and I read out the title of the scenario he says something like “ahhh yes, this battle; this was when the blah met the blah and the blah blah happened.” But even if you don’t have a gaming friend with an encyclopaedic knowledge of every battle of the war, the scenario introductions can teach you a lot about the conflict you are about to play out; and actually playing the game can give you an insight into the forces and factors involved in each battle.

Of course to get the full enjoyment of this game you really should invest in all of its expansions. Expansion sets for the Eastern Front, the Pacific Theatre and the Mediterranean Theatre bring those aspects of WWII to life, and there really are few gaming experiences as enjoyable as playing an Overlord scenario with two boards and multiple players. Adding the Air Pack brings in a number of very nice little pre-painted planes to spice up the action, and I’m really looking forward to the new Breakthrough expansion that lets you play with a board designed for deeper end-to-end scenarios rather than the usual side-to-side ones.

One of the most satisfying Memoir ’44 experiences is playing a series of scenarios together as a campaign, and the Memoir ’44: Campaign Book Volume 1 (2009) is designed for just that. Included are more than 50 scenarios and advanced campaign rules covering three Theaters of Operations throughout the War: The Battle for Normandy in the summer of 1944, the Blitzkrieg to the West in 1940, and Operation Barbarossa on the Russian Front in 1941. If you don’t have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the passage of WWII after playing that lot, you just haven’t been paying attention!

Staying in the World War II period, another excellent game that explores the time is Tide of Iron (2007) by Fantasy Flight Games. Armed with this game, and of course the expansions Days of the Fox (2008), and Normandy (2008), you can learn a lot about the course of World War II, and replay many of the major conflicts. Tide of Iron is more complex than Memoir ’44, and goes into much more detail, with a far greater emphasis on strategy and specific scenario goals. Along with the scenarios that come with the game and its expansions, you can also purchase the hardcover book Designer Series Vol. 1, which gives you another twenty scenarios designed by some of the best in the wargaming business. Anticipation is high for the Russian Front expansion slated for this year, Fury of the Bear.

For a completely different take on WWII gaming, try Duel in the Dark (Z-Man Games, 2007) and its expansion Baby Blitz (2008). This very clever game simulates the British nighttime bombing raids on German cities during the war, but not in a ‘traditional’ wargaming fashion. The expansion explores the Luftwaffe raids on London and western England. This is more a strategic boardgame than a wargame, as you win by scoring victory points either by successfully completing your secretly plotted bombing runs or strategically placing civil defences such as flak and floodlights to thwart them. The detail in this game is incredible and it’s a very unique gaming experience.

Heading back in time to WWI, Wings of War (Fantasy Flight Games, 2004) and its many expansions may not recreate specific air battles—though I’m sure that is, in theory, quite possible, but for any fan of airplane design history, this game is a must. The rules are simple and fun, and the game is great out of the box, but to get the most of it your really need to get yourself some of the stunning airplane miniatures. There’s a continually growing range of this accurately modelled and painted miniatures, and flying them around a tabletop is huge fun. You can even buy large mats to give you a suitably attractive surface of fields to fly over. Wings of War: The Dawn of World War II (2007) brings the game into WWII; I just played this for the first time and was impressed how the same system has been adapted to feel faster and more frantic with the more modern planes such as Spitfires and Messerschmitt, and it was a huge amount of fun.

Back to more traditional wargaming territory, Britannia (Fantasy Flight Games, 2005) takes us considerably back in time to explore the history of the conquests of the British Isles. This is a fascinating and involving boardgame that traces the Roman invasion in 43 AD, through the conflicts between Angles, Saxons, Picts, Norsemen, Scots, Irish, and other tribes, finally all the way to the Norman invasion of 1066 AD. There’s a certain amount of pre-scripted activity to keep the history roughly on course, but players still have the freedom to change the history and explore what could have happened. If you can never remember the difference between Angles and Saxons and Picts, this is the game for you. Set aside a long afternoon and some dedicated players, and the game will definitely be rewarding.

The setting for The End of the Triumvirate (Z-Man Games, 2005) is that period of history when the fate of the Roman republic rested in the hands of three men: Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus, and explores what would have happened if these three had engaged in civil war. As you can tell from the title, this game is definitely best with three players, though, less satisfyingly, it can be played with two. There are three ways to win: politically (a player must win the election to Consul twice); militarily (a player must control nine regions); or a mixture of both. It’s a cleverly balanced and very strategic game, more Euro game than wargame, and gives the player some interesting insights into the Roman world and its struggles for power.

Wind the clock about one hundred and fifty years back to play Hannibal: Rome Vs. Carthage (Valley Games, 1996). This classic game, first released by Avalon Hill in 1996 and now back in a beautifully designed edition by Valley Games, uses a card-driven system to recreate the events of the Second Punic War from 218 to 201 BC, when the Carthaginian general Hannibal came close to defeating the might of the Roman Empire. Famously, Hannibal drove war elephants with his army over the Alps to invade Italy, and so can you if you play this involving game, nut you’ll have to wield political control as well to achieve victory.

Finally, an excellent way to refresh your high school ancient history is the wargame system Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT Games, 2006). If you’re familiar with Memoir ’44 you’re well on your way to knowing how to playC&C: Ancients, as it basically uses the same system of card-driven unit activation by Richard Borg (variations of which form the basis of Battle CryBattleLore and the brand new Battles of Westeros as well). C&C:Ancientshas five expansion sets that allow you to recreate a wide variety of battles  that took place between the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians and the invading barbarians, from 3000 BC to 400 AD.< So if you still think of history as something you only studied in high school in boring textbooks, maybe it’s time to try out some of these games and discover the thrill of battles, strategies and personalities past. The games are great fun—and you might even learn something! For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek ( You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (

by Universal Head

Universal Head (, has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites and His blog site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Car Combat Games

Playing games is often about escapism and fantasy, and if there’s one fantasy we’ve probably all shared, it’s pressing a big red button on the car dashboard and letting loose with a hail of machine gun fire at the car in front of us as it cut us off in traffic! So it’s not surprising that car racing and combat games have for a long time been a popular genre in boardgaming.

The film Mad Max (1979) and its two sequels Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior in the US) in 1981 and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, obviously had a big influence on this kind of game. In fact you could say they started the craze. The director George Miller has a sequel slated for 2012 called Fury Road, so we may see a new flood of car combat games, especially those set in a post-apocalyptic melieu.

Of course the grand-daddy of them all is the venerable Car Wars, first published in 1980 by Steve Jackson Games in a zip-log bag and later in a small plastic box—and still later in any number of editions each more elaborate than the last, along with a plethora of expansions. Car Wars pretty much set the standard for the car combat games to follow, with weapons such as missiles and machine guns, car upgrades and armour plating, and of course the ubiquitous post-apocalyptic setting where everyone is out to get their hands on a dwindling supply of petrol, and road warriors take part in frequently fatal demolition derbies. Hold on—that sounds a bit like right now!

A few years later, 1983 saw the release of one of my all-time favourite games by Games Workshop: Battlecars. This game (and its sequel Battlebikes) has provided many hours of hilarious car-fightin’ fun for myself and my friends over the years. Each player has one or more car and bike templates which they can fit out with offensive weapons—missiles, flamethrowers, shells, machine guns—and defensive weapons—spikes, mines, oil, smoke. Spaces on the template represent the car’s armour plating. On a small board with cardboard counters the cars drive full-blast at one another, manoeuvring around buildings and trees to get a clear shot, dropping mines in front of opponents, and frequently the whole thing descends into an all-in collision-fest that is hilariously violent! I like this game so much that I went to a lot of trouble creating a Matchbox-scale version, using buildings from the Games Workshop Adeptus Titanicus game, model trees and custom-made speedometers for the cars. You can see the result in the accompanying photo.

Games Workshop didn’t stop there with the car combat theme, but in 1988 released Dark Future in a big box with plastic model cars, motorbikes and large racing track sections. The emphasis was a bit more on racing, and the more complex rules (along with a set of campaign rules that verged on roleplaying) took some of the ‘bash-’em-up’ fun out of the game, but it’s still an interesting take on the genre. You play either a Sanctioned Op (a future bounty hunter), or a Renegade, as you battle out on the highways of the—you guessed it, post-apocalyptic—future. Of course there was an expansion, White Line Fever, along with a series of novels set in the game’s melieu published by GW and their book publishing company, Black Flame.

GW’s last foray into the car combat world was the strange Warhammer 40,000/Necromunda/Dark Future hybrid Gorkamorka, really a skirmish combat game with vehicles, with rival ork gangs battling it out on the surface of a desert planet.

Mad Max was such a cultural phenomenon that it directly inspired a more mainstream game called Thunder Road, published by toy giant Hasbro in 1986. Each team of three cars and a helicopter battles it out on a stretch of—really, there’s no other way to say it, post-apocalyptic—highway; the game came with two sections, and you repositioned the back piece to the front when the cars had moved off it, making a rolling section of endless highway. Great little plastic pieces and very simple rules make this a great bash-‘em-up car combat game that sits nicely on that nebulous border between toy and game. If you’re buying this on Ebay, be careful; the US and UK versions were made in different scales!

The new millennium didn’t see an end to gamer obsessions with car combat. Fantasy Flight Games entered the auto fray with 2003’s Wreckage, a small Silver Line game that came with cardboard pieces but is really best played with Matchbox cars. Another game from that year in the same small box format that I can’t help but mention here is Arena Maximus. Sure, it’s chariots drawn by fantasy creatures instead of cars, and spells instead of machine guns, but it’s car combat in an arena by another name! A small, short, fun game that’s worth checking out.< If you’re looking for a brand-new take on violent car racing you can’t go past Asmodee’s Rush n’ Crush, released just last year. This fantastic game thankfully doesn’t force me to type ‘post-apocalyptic’ again; this time we’re in the sci-fi setting of Rackham Entertainment’s AT-43 tabletop miniatures game. The variety in this game is great, with ten reversible track sections that can make up a huge range of arenas, chock full of tricky turns and obstacles. An ingenious gear system, easily recorded on a player board, really gives this game an impression of speed and danger that the other car combat games lack, and when you mix in the classic range of weaponry you have one of the best-ever takes on the genre. It even comes with a quick and dirty rules set called ‘Arcade’ and a more complex version called ‘Overdrive’. Highly recommended.

The newest game to be announced in this prolific genre is Z-Man’s Road Kill Rally, due for release this year. I don’t know much about it yet, but Zev of Z-Man says “think Car Wars meets Death Race 2000”, and that just can’t be a bad thing! Points are scored by killing pedestrians, destroying competing drivers and racing across the finish line first. It reminds me of the old computer game Carmageddon, which I used to spend many hilarious hours playing, and we’re already seeing a little bit of similar controversy with the satirical theme of cars start mowing down grandmothers and kids. Remember, it’s just a game folks!

Hopefully none of the fans of car combat games ever get into their car and start purposely crashing into annoying cars or pedestrians, firing off missiles at drivers who cut in front or dropping loads of spikes to take out tailgaters. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t thought about it once in a while …

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek ( You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (

by Universal Head

Universal Head (, has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites and His blog site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

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