Saturday, 24 December 2011

'Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas...

Twas the night before the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
There were game pieces stirring, and a player did grouse...

Well, not quite.  We had family staying last night, and three of us managed, through beer-y-bleary eyes, to knock out a couple of games before reason prevailed and we shuffled off to our respective chambers to enjoy a short repose.  The morning would bring sun-shine; a wife that takes a certain delicious glee in prodding and cajoling her weary husband (never mind how well he may have fought off slavering mutants or settled Mars the night before), and a young son who wakes as the first rays of sun-shine trickle over the horizon and who delights in the creation of bustle and noise.

We broke the games out quite late, and decided that short playing times, some aggression and general fun should rule the choice of titles.  In the end we pulled out three middle-length middle/light-weight games - 7 Wonders, Neuroshima Hex and Mission: Red Planet.  7 Wonders was a proven choice - the three of us had played before and all enjoyed the game.  Neuroshima Hex was an old favourite, but hadn’t seen table time in a little while.  Mission: Red Planet was an old game of mine that I like quite a lot, but one that others in our game circle don’t fancy - as such it has a hard time hitting the table, and we hadn’t played it in a good couple of years.

We started off with Neuroshima Hex - a tense and aggressive game where players build up a web of interactions - hoping that when the board is kicked into battle - that the intricate mixture of initiative levels, attacks, and other interactions are able to carry out something of the mad-cap plan you had desperately tried to piece together over the preceding rounds.  This game is an old favourite of mine.  It plays quickly and yet is filled with interesting choices.  Sadly I got severely beaten this game - an ascendant Moloch triumphed, with a close Outpost second and myself, as the mutant Borgo in a distant third place.

We decided that one more game might be enough, and that after that the fires should be dimmed, the candles snuffed and the Castle could return to the brooding quiet of night time.

In the end we opted for the game we hadn’t had the chance to play for a good while - and so Mission: Red Planet was unboxed and set up.  This game has a beautiful graphic design and magnificent art.  It is a strange mixture of mechanisms found in other successful games - a dash of area majority, a spash of role selection...

Again this is a game I really enjoy.  The mixture of jostling for positions in the rockets on the launch pad - each of which will deposit your footsoldiers into particular regions of the Mars board - as well as the need to select roles that will allow you to manipulate what’s happening on the surface of the red planet itself makes for an often interesting dichotomy of choice.  There are several cogs turning in this game - and using the roles to jump on and off those turning cogs at the right times is fundamental to success.  Of course - one also needs a good dash of luck as well.

All in all Mission: Red Planet is a highly enjoyable game that moves along at a cracking pace.  You never really feel like you can do everything you want, and because the play length isn’t overbearing, the luck elements don’t feel out-of-place (at least for me).  I am always highly surprised at how poorly this game seems to have done - or rather, how low it seemed to fly beneath the game radar at the time.  It’s a lot of fun.

Well - that was the gaming for the evening.  My brother and I concluded the evening by talking about how fun it could be to run a podcast similar to Melvin Bragg’s excellent ‘In Our Time’ podcasts - except with a collection of intellectuals taking a far too serious look at different games.  We then spent some time impersonating English academics talking about the way melee and ranged combat were represented unfairly (and ahistorically) as somewhat equal in Neuroshima Hex.  Yes, we had been drinking.

Now, I must apologise for the slow roll out of blog posts this last week or so, with Christmas looming, preparations around the Castle for the festivities and frivolities have consumed my waking moments.  I expect this will continue - and I may well struggle to have internet access/much time in the next few days - so I’ll try and micro-blog from my phone should any gaming take place, or anything interesting occur - we shall see.

In any case - whatever your cultural background, I hope you enjoy the season - for me the time with family and friends is wonderful - all here at the Castle hope you enjoy yourselves similarly.


Warden of the Squirrels. Purveyor of Acorns. Lord high-self proclaimed master of the Castle.


  1. I love the concept of an In Our Time with gaming, that is probably my favorite podcast. Merry Christmas to you and yours

  2. Can I be on 'In Our Time'? I'm English but not an 'academic' but can be overly serious about games at the drop of an acorn

  3. Every one of the games you mentioned are in my collection and I play frequently. Mission: Red Planet is great, I am glad to see that others like it as much as I do as well. Even though most of my Blog is about the games I am designing, I also document the games I play and post on my blog. Stop by if you get the chance.

  4. Thanks Eric! I'll check it out. Always on the lookout for new game blogs.

    Your focus on the games you're designing sounds interesting!

    Mission Red Planet is a lot of fun!