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The board hoard: your guide to the best new board games

Each month, we play a stack of newly released tabletop games to help you find the ones you’ll love. This time, we’re building our vision of an urban utopia, hosting a dinner where we poison all our friends and cruelly attempting to ruin other people’s parties by poaching their guests.

Between Two Cities

3-7 players, 20 minutes, RRP £34.99
Designers: Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley

There’s something about civic administration that seems irresistible to gamers. Ever since SimCity first hit computer screens in 1989, players have spent untold hours tweaking tax rates and manipulating zoning regulations in an effort to construct an urban utopia.

The drama, excitement and sex appeal of urban planning haven’t been confined to video games, though. Over the years, numerous board games have given players the chance to build the city of their dreams. Between Two Cities is one recent example, and it puts a slick, simple and addictive spin on the well-worn theme.

Rather than focussing on a single city, it challenges you to build two – one each in cooperation with the players to your left and right. Each round sees you choose a pair of building tiles from a random selection. You’ll place one in each of your cities and pass the remainder to the player next to you, repeating the process as the game goes on. Over time, your cities will grow, incorporating new buildings that score points based on how they’re grouped together. Shops gain you a bonus if they’re arranged in a straight line to form a thriving high street. Parks are worth more when clustered together in little green pockets. Houses lose almost all of their value if you build a factory nearby, and, just like in real life, offices are at their most successful when located next to pubs.

You’ll have to confer with your partners to place tiles in the locations that maximise your score, and the result is an engaging, evolving puzzle that mixes competitive and collaborative elements to brilliant effect. It may not be a deep or realistic simulation of city management, but Between Two Cities is light, quick and deceptively cerebral. I can’t wait to get it back to my table.

Raise Your Goblets

2-12 players, 30 minutes, RRP £46.99
Designer: Tim Page

Raise Your Goblets casts you and your friends as power-hungry nobles vying for the throne of a fantasy kingdom. Rather than relying on political intrigue, lines of succession or simple meritocracy, though, you’ve decided to seize power by ruthlessly poisoning all of your rivals. Unfortunately, they’ve all had the same idea, meaning that your upcoming dinner party is going to rack up an alarming body count.

The game revolves around a set of plastic goblets. At the beginning of each round, you randomly distribute tokens representing wine, poison and doses of antidote between them. After a few turns spent peeking into cups, secretly adding tokens or moving goblets around the table, you’ll all have to “drink” from the one is in front of you. If it contains more poison than antidote, you’re dead. You’ll gain points for surviving at the end of a round, for killing off rivals and for consuming more wine than anyone else, and, after three rounds, the player with the highest score claims the crown.

To win, you’ll need to carefully observe your opponents, maintain an inscrutable poker face and make use of a selection of special abilities that can tip the chances of survival in your favour. It’s a fun, light-hearted concept, and it leads to hilarity and recrimination as each round sees players meet with an untimely end.

This isn’t the only simple, sociable game out there though, and while it looks undeniably impressive, it’s expensive for what it is – especially as its suggested UK price is 50% higher than its European equivalent. If you’re looking for a bit of duplicity and deduction at your next game night, there are other options, and unless you’re irresistibly drawn to Raise Your Goblets’ sculpted cups and gemstone-like tokens, it’s worth giving some of them a look.

Belle of the Ball

2-5 players, 30-45 minutes, RRP £19.99
Designer: Daniel Solis

Belle of the Ball is another game focusing on high-society soirees, and, while it may not rack up quite as many deaths as Raise Your Goblets, at heart, it’s every bit as mean. You and your opponents take on the role of hosts who have unwittingly organised parties on the same night, and you’ll each try to attract the most glittering array of guests to your own get-together.

In the centre of the table is a line of cards representing potential attendees, each of whom comes with a set of topics they’re keen to discuss – things such as politics, romance, military affairs or cheese. Your goal is to group characters with similar interests together, and that turns out to be more about who you exclude than who you invite. You’ll start the game with a set of “regret” cards, which you can use to reject partygoers and attract someone else to your gathering instead. Pick a character who’s already been declined by your opponents, though, and you’ll acquire any regret cards spent on them, giving you newfound flexibility in selecting the most desirable guests.

It means that rejected characters become more attractive over time, and – combined with a set of “Belle” cards, which grant you special abilities and new ways to score points – it elevates a simple set-building game into something far more cutthroat, where you’ll constantly have to adapt your tactics to the changing state of the game.

Belle of the Ball benefits from a surreal sense of humour and a distinctive art style, and while its default mode is simple enough for children to pick up, it comes with some optional advanced rules which emphasise its more competitive edge. With two players it can feel a little flat, but more opponents bring greater scope for interaction, and more rewarding ways to mess with your rivals. It all adds up to a family-friendly game that manages to be fun for grownups as well.

What have you been playing this month? Let us know below.