Saturday, 31 December 2011

Shiny new baubles...

Well, it’s been nearly a week since I posted last.  Between then and now much has happened: the castle has had a state visit from my family for the annual Christmas festivities, and we have paid a visit to my wife’s family - in as much pomp as we could fit into our car (and that’s quite a bit of pomp considering how well my self-proclaimed ‘tetris-queen’ wife can pack into a small space).  There has been much feasting, much drinking, much squirting of water pistols, some golf, but relatively few games. Happily tonight, after the lad retired for the evening, my wife and I managed to get in a game of Catacombs - one of the gifts I received as a part of the annual celebrations.

Last year, as the annual gift giving rolled around, the usual call for ‘present ideas’ was trumpeted from one end of the kingdom to another.  Apparently keeping an online gift registry in the form of a wish-list on Boardgamegeek, as well as having a variety of sundry interests ranging from astronomy to reading books, isn’t enough to inspire ideas - people want more specific suggestions!  I decided last year to forgo the usual requests for whatever the latest and greatest games were, and instead I asked for books, DVDs and various telescope-related paraphernalia.  

This year, as that familiar call echoed from wood to vale,  I did ask for games - my wife and I sat down and decided upon a range of games we each would like, we purchased some as gifts for ourselves and gave out other titles as suggestions to those family who asked for them.

Now all of this seems like we’ve turned Christmas into some twisted and hateful consumer orientated spending spree.  Not so.  This season, for us, is all about the time we get to spend together with our families and friends, relaxing, eating, drinking and generally attempting merriment. But gifts - given and received do play their part.

So - onto the games!  All in all we now have 5 shiny new titles we must find room for on our overburdened game shelves.  This year we really decided to focus on games that we could sit down and play together - some of our personal favourites, titles that get regular play here at the castle, include Agricola, Rivals of Catan, Stone Age, Ticket to Ride and the like.  We find now, that games that are relatively simple, are easy to set-up and play, and that can be finished in around an hour are those we enjoy the most.  And when we get the chance we really have loved sitting down together and participating in something we can both actively engage with, laugh over, talk over and generally make eyes at one another over.  In short: it’s a damn fine way to while away an evening together.  With all that in mind we were very happy with the 5 titles we were gifted.

The Ticket to Ride pocket iOS app has rekindled our love of this game - it’s one we have played regularly in the past, especially with my father-in-law, who much enjoys the game.  We already own the vanilla Ticket to Ride, and after both becoming addicted to the iOS implementation, we decided to investigate some of the other iterations - in the end we chose Nordic Countries.  It looks as if the game, specifically designed for 2 or 3 players, would be particularly tight and interesting.  We haven’t played yet, but the pieces and board are up to Days of Wonder’s usual very high standard - and we’re hoping to play soon.

A Schacht puzzle making game.  My wife loves anything to do with animals; and the cute artwork and fun theme of this game seemed like it would be one we would both enjoy a lot.  We haven’t played yet, but both look very much forward to breaking it out soon.

A short and small-box game published by Z-Man Games.  The theme looks like a lot of fun, and the idea of tile-laying in order to build the largest burrows the gophers would therefore visit seems an interesting mechanism.  We are a fan of small-box games that are light and easy to break out, and while we haven’t played it yet, we both hope this one will be a lot of fun.

This one was really my choice - I love dexterity games, and the mixture of a fun theme, dealt with through the novel implementation of the flicking mechanism seemed like it could be a lot of fun.  The theme is one of a dungeon crawl - with one player controlling the monsters, and the other players controlling the heroes.  Players play through a variety to rooms in an effort to meet and best the ‘big-bad-guy’ - nothing too cerebral, but a lot of fun.

We played tonight for the first time and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.  While there is a bit of set-up, there is also a lot of variability and fun to be had here.  It plays well as a two-player game, and I could see it working very well as the close for an evening.  The rules are extremely simple, and while the rules-book could really do with a better and more consistent layout, the game really isn’t that difficult to master.  The fact that each character and each beast breaks or bends the core mechanism in a small way makes for an enjoyable and sometimes tactical experience.  I’m glad we got it - and my wife was much more impressed with it than she thought she would be.  All in all I can see this getting quite a bit of play - and I’m already looking at the expansions... stay tuned...

Hasn’t arrived in the kingdom yet - but looks like a nice medium-weight family style game of the same ilk as others we enjoy.  I’ll write a little about this when it arrives and we get to play it no doubt!

Well, this festive season hasn’t seen us break out and play a lot of games.  I have a mate arriving on the morning tide tomorrow for a day of gaming - so hopefully there’ll be more game commentary to follow in the next few days.  It has been highly enjoyable though - with the hot weather we’ve been having fun teaching the lad to chase the castle staff around with an arsenal of water-firing weaponry.  I’ve even enjoyed playing a couple of rounds of golf - though I have to admit, my game lacks in a few departments - namely driving, chipping, putting, and any other moment requiring one to strike the ball in a specific direction.  It’s the specific I’m having difficulty with.  All in all a highly enjoyable time.

I hope everyone out there has also enjoyed a similarly happy Christmas period.  All the best from myself and everyone here at the castle!



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.

Games for many who don't game, part 2.

With a heavy heart and after much soul searching I have managed to tear myself away from the seasonal movie: Surviving Christmas, starring an affable and emotive Ben Afleck in what really is quite a surreal and bizarre experience.  I think I can live with myself.  

In any case - following on from my last post, this is the next in a series of: 

Games for many who don’t game...

Published by: Gryphon Games
Designed by: Bruno Faidutti and Alan Moon

Diamant/Incan Gold is a game of pushing your luck in order to acquire the most treasures.  Players are explorers venturing into the heart of an ancient Incan pyramid in search of gold and gems.  After 5 adventures, the player who has managed to bring the most treasure back to their camp wins.

Each round of the game a new card is flipped - this card will show either treasures, or hazards.  If the card shows a number of treasures, that number is divided equally between those brave adventurers still in the pyramid - and remainders stay on the treasure card.  Hazards are interesting as one alone of a type (and there are 5 types) will do nothing, but if a second of any hazard is flipped then any adventurers still in the pyramid will lose any of the treasures they have managed to collect on that adventure.

With all their predictive powers (or was that the Mayans), you would have thought the Incans would have been able to foresee and cater for the pillaging of their grand burial and religious monuments - luckily, they focused their prognostications on grander subjects - like the end of the world.

In any case - back to the review - prior to each card flip players have the choice of either continuing or turning back - if they continue they have the opportunity to win more treasure, but risk losing it all.  If they turn back they get to bank what they have found so far on that adventure - and that cannot be lost.

The game has some neat aspects to it - the remaining treasures - those left over after splits, may be collected by adventurers turning back to camp - so as these add up in dribs and drabs there are elements of bluff and double-guessing as players try and balance the desire to be the only one turning back (and getting the remainders), or keeping on.  The way the deck of cards is constructed is also interesting - 15 treasure cards, 15 hazards, with 5 varieties of hazard making for three hazards of each type.  This means that the game is not just dumb luck - there is an element of playing the odds.

I use this game in my class during maths lessons to help talk about the process of division - moving from the concrete - one gem for you, one for them, one for me etc. To the knowledge of number facts and the relationship between the times tables and division - there are 12 treasures, 4 adventures - 4x3=12, therefore 12/4=3.  I also use it to introduce the language of probability - likely, unlikely, odds, etc - when talking about whether, half way through an adventure, you are more likely to draw a treasure card or a hazard card.

There’s isn’t much difference between the original Diamant version and the Incan Gold version, the change are largely cosmetic.  In Diamant players have wooden figures they blind bid with, in Incan Gold they have two cards - one for going forward, one for going back.  The gems and containers for the treasures are much nicer in Diamant.  But Incan Gold includes some artifact cards that add a neat variant into the game that can be a lot of fun.

All in all this is a good game full of exciting moments.  There is nothing here that is overly deep, but is a fun push-your-luck game of probabilities and pushing the odds.  I thoroughly recommend it!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Games for many who don't game...

The latest update from the Castle - and therefore latest addition to the lists I’ve been writing, has been delayed somewhat by the pageantry and general celebration surrounding state visits.  I was planning on getting this written and posted sooner, but the schedule was interrupted (not unhappily) by family, friends, the odd beer or two, cricket (ahh, the season is starting again), episodes of Red Dwarf, a scampering lad much obsessed by dinosaurs and jumping (not necessarily in that order), and a game of Finca.  

Such was my level of disconnection with the online goings-on in the board gaming world that I even managed to miss much of the furore over the flavour text for Fantasy Flight’s new version of Fortress America, a game which, I must be honest, doesn’t really interest me - though I am always fascinated by watching the slow-motion style train wreck of internet outrage.

In any case - on with the show...

Often on game sites around the web we like to create a differentiation between those who game, and those who don’t.  We categorise people as gamers and non-gamers, and while this is often a useful distinction - when we’re looking for games that might be suitable for a particular audience not familiar with the tropes and features of the usually more rules-intense hobby games we enjoy so much - it can also sometimes carry a connotation of negativity.  

This list is of games for many who don’t game.  I am not attaching any judgement to that attribution - I often play games at family gatherings and I’m sure that a great many others do the same.  Note everyone will love playing games as much as I do, and nor should they.  I am not the sort of gamer who believes that people enjoying hobbies other than mine is the thin end of the wedge, and that the obvious thicker end is a world riddled by ideological divides, calling out for a master to impose a new world order.  

Of course, should the world ever require such an authority figure, I would, with a heavy heart, assume the duty.  As long as there was some sort of larger-than-life Gothic throne and scepter that went along with it of course - that sat atop a giant edifice dominating the city-scape of my new-world capital like a chess King on a draughts board - and monogrammed slippers too.

In any case, I digress...

Here are the first two of

5 games for many who don’t game

Published by: Rio Grande Games
Designed by: Uwe Rosenberg

Bohnanza is a quick playing card game of trading and bean farming.  Players are trying to collect and play certain types of bean down to their limited fields (spots in front of them) - the trick being that cards must be played in order from the hand, and that cards cannot be swapped around (in other words - when you draw cards, they are added in order to the back of your hand, and cannot be placed just anywhere).

If you cannot play a bean card of a type you already have growing, and have no spaces left in your fields, you must tear up one crop and plant the next.  Of course - the more cards you can manage to get down in a field the more points they’ll be worth when you harvest them.  Different beans are worth different amounts, and are more or less common - which adds some depth and an interesting layer of decisions to the game.

All this means that gifting cards, trading cards and generally being clever with your hand is rewarded.  Bohnanza is a highly interactive game, that plays much more simply in practice than either the rules book or my ungainly description might otherwise suggest.  It is an excellent little game that is full of slyness, pleading, excitement and tension.  Well worth owning whatever your tastes in games I think.

Published by: Northstar Games
Designed by: Brian and Amy Weinstock

Crappy Birthday is a very simple party game published by North Star games, a publisher who has established themselves as a master of this style of game.  In Crappy Birthday players receive a hand of large cards.  Each card has a photo on it, usually of something a tad bizarre.  Each turn it will be a different players turn to receive gifts - every other player will select a card from their hand showing a gift they think that player will dislike the most.  The receiver will decide the gift they most dislike, and the giving player will gain a point.  The receiving player will change, hands will be refilled, and new gifts selected... it’s that simple.

Crappy Birthday has an interesting design paradigm - it is touted as a game that can be given as a gift, opened, and played immediately.  In this it succeeds very well.  The game is a lot of fun, and the wide selection of gifts as well as the large cards and photos make for an amusing game.  We often play several games in a row.  While the box stipulates a player count of 4-8 I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t play with more, I’ve successfully played with 11 - and I’m sure 12-14 wouldn’t be impossible - though cards might start running short with more than that.

It’s also very easy to modify the game, we have often played a round where the object was to give the gift the judges would most dislike (as per the usual rules), followed by a round giving gifts they would most like.  We’ve found this works very well - as your hand of cards doesn’t stack up with cards that are mildly interesting - it may well be the oddities of our group, but many of the gifts on the cards are actually things we wouldn’t mind getting!

All in all Crappy Birthday is an excellent little game; don’t expect a lot of depth, but for a game that is easy to break out and play, for something that causes some hilarity and much fun and table talk, it is a great little game.  The fact that it is easy to mess with the rules without causing too many headaches means that Crappy Birthday has a good level of replayability for this type of game.

Tune in next post for 3 more games for those who don't game... In the meantime, if I have egregiously left out any all time classic games for many who don't game - feel free to post them in the comments!



Monday, 12 December 2011

Games for many who game, part 2

A full moon is bathing the castle walls in a pale light.  Jupiter is bright and high in the sky, and the great hunter Orion is upside-down - as usual.  Following on from my last post, it is time for me to close this category and write up:

The last two of five:

Games for many who game:

Published by: Days of Wonder
Designed by: Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala

In Shadows over Camelot players are knights hoping to see Camelot survive a series of challenges the game system besets it with.  Players must work together to solve quests, such as searching for the Holy Grail, fighting off the invading Picts and Saxons, and making sure the fields before Camelot are free of siege engines.  Each knight is different, having an individual special power that allows them to break the usual game rules in a specific way.  Utilisation of these special powers and effective team-work are essential to winning.

Shadows over Camelot is a game that arrived on the gaming scene to much fanfare.  It was, as well as Knizia’s Lord of the Rings, a major influence over the rise of co-operative games.  Co-operative games are designed so that the players must work together in order to defeat the game system, one of the issues with this concept is that a strong personality in the group can dominate other players.  Shadows over Camelot included a very interesting twist to help mitigate this potential issue: the introduction of a traitor.  Players are dealt loyalty cards at the beginning of the game, and these indicate whether you are a loyal knight of Camelot, or whether you are the filthy traitor; whose aim is to help bring Camelt to ruin.  There will not always be a traitor in a game of Shadows, but the fact that there may be means that you must be careful about who you trust, and how you work as a team.

Every turn players must take one ‘evil’ action, which hurts either themselves or their efforts in some way, and one good action.  Players move around the game board fighting off enemies, achieving quests, gaining special items, and destroying the siege engines mounting up before the gates.  The presence of a traitor makes the team play aspect of the game very interesting, the traitor will want to stay hidden for as long as they can, and reveal themselves at some devastating moment.  This means the traitor will work with the team, but will try and be as ineffective as unobtrusively as they can.

Shadows over Camelot ends when the Round Table fills up with swords, and swords may either be white (good), or black (evil).  If there are seven or more white swords on the table at games end the knights can rejoice and retire to Ye Olde Camelot Inn for a well deserved digestif.

The production values in the game are spectacular, with beautifully illustrated cards, boards and tokens, as well as a bunch of very nice plastic figures representing the knights, Saxons, Picts, siege engines and artifacts.  This level of production really help builds the atmosphere, and when played in the right frame of mind Shadows is a game that lives and breathes it’s setting.    

Shadows is at it’s most fun and enjoyable when played in the right spirit, with a dash of role-playing in the team banter as the players struggle through the challenges set by the game.  When played in this spirit, it is a highly enjoyable and greatly amusing game.  Well worth playing.

Published by: Asmodee
Designed by: Laurent Lavuar and Eric Randall

Formula D is a game that could easily fit into the next category I’ll be writing about (Games for many who don’t game): it is a simple to learn game, that still remains a lot of fun.

Formula D is a racing game (I realise I’m spelling out the obvious here), it plays with up to ten players and lasts a satisfactory amount of time.  Formula D is all about pushing your luck and playing the board well.  On a given turn players will choose whether to change up or down gears, with each gear represented by the different sized dice, with a different range of numbers on it.  Players will then roll that dice and move their car a number of spaces according to what was rolled - no more, and only less when tires and brakes are spent.

So, you roll the dice and move... roll and move games have a notorious reputation for being low on choice and high on luck.  However, Formula D is a game that is full of interesting choices that directly affect how well, or how poorly you will place.  The key to the game is the board, not only do the outer lanes on the race track have more spaces than the inner lanes, but each corner has a rating which indicates how many times a player must stop in that corner.  A long gentle curve may only require one stop, while a sharp turn may require two or three.  Players will need to consider what gear they are in, and therefore what dice they’ll roll and how many spaces they may move as a result.  Overshooting the corners - entering them too fast - will cost tire and brake points, losing all of those will mean you’re out of the game.  Gearing cleverly, so as to be hitting a higher gear when leaving the corner, is an important thing to try and achieve consistently.

Of course, there are other cars on the road as well, and players will need to consider where those cars are when making their choices about gears and where they’ll be moving.  You may well be forced to take a corner tighter than you can afford, or be pushed into an outer lane, meaning you’ll have more ground to cover just to keep up.

Asmodee reprinted this game from the older edition of Formula De, and have done a splendid job.  The board is large, luxurious and double sided.  The little trays for the car stats are an excellent addition, and the street racing side of the board can be a lot of fun.  There are also a range of expansions available which add in other boards - and given the fact that playing the board well is key to winning - a new board is a wholly new experience.

Formula D is a game that plays with up to 10 players, it is simple to grasp, and exciting to play.

Two that just missed out:

One I’ve never played:

If you have any games you think I've missed, or have any other comments, add them in the comments section!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Games for many who game:

I’m going to mix up the format I’ve been using so far for this series.  Since it’s a series made up of two other posts, this egregious departure from the pattern shouldn’t blow any minds.  If you find yourself having any heart palpitations at the thought of minor change however, I suggest you lie down now for a while, try some meditation or breathing exercises and then tackle this post renewed.

So, back on topic: This post is all about games for larger groups.  When I was thinking about the games I play with larger groups I felt they broadly fell into two sub-categories - large groups of people who know and play a lot of games, and large groups of people who are non or social gamers.  This post will deal with 5 games I feel make for great playing with a large group of people who game.  

Now when I say ‘large group’ I don’t mean it in the same way as an entomologist might when talking about eusocial insects such as ants.  Obviously finding enough table space and coasters for large groups in your average colony of leaf-cutter ants would be a challenge, plus the downtime between one turn and the next could well be greater than the average worker ant’s life span.  No, a large group by my terms here is really 7 or more people.

These are generally lighter games, but I feel they have enough rules twists to make them ever so slightly harder to introduce to people than those games that will fill out my next category.

In any case, without further ambling:

The first 3 of:

5 Games for many who game.

Published by: Asmodee
Designer: Antoine Bauza

7 Wonders, like Agricola, which I wrote about last post, is a game that hit the gaming world by storm.  I am not usually a gamer who will jump on the latest buzz game fresh off the press and immediately fall in love with it.  In fact, with 7 Wonders I was well prepared to dislike the game when I first sat down to play it.  But the playing of the game drew me in.

In 7 Wonders you are dealt a hand of seven cards, you take one, play the card you took, and pass the remainder to the person next to you.  Then you take a card from the six you were handed, play the card you took, and pass the remainder on, and so on.  The central mechanism of the game is this drafting process and is quite simple.  However, what makes the game interesting is the ways in which the cards interact.  Cards come in many varieties, they allow you to produce resources - and thereby build an economic engine that will support your ability to play future cards.  They also allow you to build a variety of other things, that interact with each other, and score you points in different ways.  Some cards score whatever points are written on them, some multiply with other cards of the same sort, some multiply by cards of different sorts.  

This layer of card interactions, with the economic considerations, the military concerns, and the potential to score points, both short and long term, make for some very interesting choices.  The ways in which the cards and various systems interact with one another make this a fun, and in my opinion very good little game to play.

One of the central reasons I like this game so much, is that it manages to squeeze layers of interesting interactions and some tough choices into a very short playing time.  Even with a large group (it plays with up to 7 players), the game ticks along at an easy and enjoyable pace - and certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
Designers: Bruno Faidutti and Jef Gontier

Bruno Faidutti is a designer with a wonderful sense of humour who manages to squeeze a lot of fun and frivolity into his games.  Those fans of purer game engines, games that make you feel like your mind is slipping into the steep gravitational well of a newly formed black hole, will undoubtedly find the healthy dose of luck and zany humour unpalatable.  Faidutti’s games are to be enjoyed, in my view, and for me, they succeed extremely well.

Red November is Faidutti and Gontier’s take on the co-operative trope - games where everybody wins or loses together.  In it players are drunken Gnomish submariners (what else?), doing their best to keep their submarine from filling with flames, flooding, running out of air, launching nuclear missiles or being destroyed by the giant kraken.

Players rush about the submarine trying (often vainly) to fix all those things going horribly wrong.  The currency in the game is time - players can spend it to perform actions, but must spend it wisely.  They will need to work together to solve the problems, using their time and actions with careful consideration and team work.  Of course - more vodka helps too.

This is not a deep tapestry of layered choices, where careful maximisation of resources will lead to victory.  Luck, both good and bad will happen, chaos will ensue, fires will start and rooms will flood.  This is a zany game full of twists, where players must do their best to weather the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ in order to survive to the end.  Red November plays with up to 8, doesn’t take too long, and most importantly: it is fun.

Published by: Z-Man Games
Designed by: Yasutaka Ikeda

Shadow Hunters is a game that fascinates me.  It is a 'hidden roles' game - meaning every player has a character and a faction to which they are allied, but no-one knows who anyone else is - at least to begin with.  The premise of the game is that there are three factions, the Hunters, the Shadow, and the poor Civilians, caught up in the war between the other two.  The Hunters and Shadow are trying to destroy each other, while each of the Civilians will have their own peculiar ‘win’ conditions.

Players roll dice, move around the board to different locales, use the powers of the locales to gain items that may help , or give hermit cards to other players in the hope of finding out which faction they belong to.  Players may, and very often will, want to attack each other - after all, the Hunters and Shadows naturally want to wipe each other out.

This game is at it’s best with 6 or 7 players in my view, this ensures there are a number of Civilian roles in the game, and the Civilian roles add a significant amount of interest, mystery and fun into the mix.  I also highly recommend the small expansion, if available, as it adds new characters into the game that mix things up and make it even more re-playable.

This is not a deep game, but the mixture of special powers each character brings to the table, the different goals of the different factions, and of course, the mystery of who is who, keeps it lively and interesting.  Shadow Hunters plays quickly, and never really feels like it bogs down.  Players are trying to find out who their friends are, who their enemies are, and of course, win the game.  While lighter perhaps than some of the other games on this list, it is highly enjoyable.

Next post: I'll finish off the list of 5 Games for many who game...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Satisfying, but doesn't take too long...

Satisfying, but doesn’t take too long:

Publisher: Lookout Games/Z-Man Games
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg

Agricola meteorically became the buzz board game a couple of years ago, and it’s popularity is still waxing strong.  It is a game about building up a little farm, and making sure you have a diverse range of produce at the same time as paying the costs of your expanding agrarian empire.

Each turn players use their family members to take actions available from the main board, these fall into two broad categories of either collecting resources, or using some combination of resources to add to your farm.  At the end of a round of turns, players must also pay the bills - in game terms this is food - for each of the family members.  

Because there is such a diverse range of resources available, and a wide-ranging array of ways in which to spend them, players can focus on particular strategies, some focusing on these aspects, some on those.  It is pleasing to see the small empire grow and expand, and it is also pleasing to be able to combine one aspect of that empire with another so that it allows you yet more choices, or scores you X more points.

Points are obviously the goal here, players gain or lose them against a wide range of conditions - grain, vegetables, sheep, boar, family members, stables and so forth.  This system rewards diversification over specialisation, but because there are so many paths a player can take to achieve a desired result, the game never really feels like, game after game, you’re just fine-tuning to achieve the perfect point scoring trajectory.

Agricola hit the hobby game world by storm, republished for the English market by Z-Man Games under a pre-order system from the original Lookout Edition, it quickly rose and rose and rose in game rankings and pre-order numbers.  As the dust settled, and the game became more widely available there was still a very strong and vocal fan base for the game, but there have also been criticisms over the years as well - only natural when something becomes very popular.

Some of the criticisms deal with the theme; the theme of farming is dull.  Some about the way the theme is carried out in the game; why, if I plant grain, can’t my neighbour also plant grain.  Some simply don’t like the game.  I’m not going to refute these criticisms, no game if perfect for everybody or right for every occasion (Ca$h and Gun$ in an airport lounge is probably a poor choice of game for example).  But for my wife and I this has become a very solid game that we both enjoy playing immensely.  I love all sorts of games, and feel that the euro-ameri divide popularised in forums is a touch silly - as if I all poems in iambic-pentameter are great but anything in haiku is the product of a diseased mind.

Agricola is not the be-all and end-all of games, for my wife and I though it really is a game that feels satisfying, but doesn’t take too long.  And for many nights, after the son has been put to bed (with much general complaint and many a request for ‘jumping’ time - he just loves to jump at the moment), such a game perfectly fits the bill.

We can think, plan, see our choices grow and change our little farmlets, watch the animals frolic in the fields, eat said animals when the time requires, talk, laugh, make eyes at each other across the table and generally enjoy a nice game, in great company.  It is a pleasant way to while away an evening, and doesn’t leave us with eyes bulging from lack of sleep when the lad rises with or before the sun on the next morning!

5 other games that feel satisfying, but don’t take too long:

  • Elasund: First City of Catan
  • Qwirkle
  • Rivals of Catan
  • Stone Age
  • Yspahan

Since I am thinking of games my wife and I play - the list is skewed towards games that play well with 2, China is one I would have had on the list for sure otherwise!

If you have any other games to add - post them in the comments!  I’d love to read them!