Pairs well with: Pabst Blue Ribbon and caffeine tablets.
Brutus scale: 6/10
Have you ever wanted to be a space pirate?
Of course you have, why did we even bother asking. Well this game isn’t for you. This game is for the people who want to live on the right (ish) side of the law, piloting glorified piles of scrap-metal held together with prayers and duct tape through the far reaches of space, shipping cargo from one end of the galaxy to the other at the mercy of reavers and smugglers and so on.
To be honest though, even the space-pirate aficionados would probably have fun playing this game as it is, to use the technical term, ‘a right laugh’.
Galaxy Truckers is a deceptively smart yet utterly bonkers tile placement game in which every player must build their own beautiful, sparkly spaceship from a range of components. Once built, you’ll experience a series of random encounters per round that will test how well you have planned and built your ship.
The moral of this game is that you are, in fact, not very good at building spaceships. Yes, even if you try really, really hard. Even if you nick all of the components that another player wanted. At some point parts of your ship are going to be blown off, you’ll lose cargo and crew, and you’ll fail to sell any goods at the end of your ship’s whole eventful ordeal.
The game is played over three rounds, as encounters in each round become progressively more difficult. To account for this, you can build bigger and bigger ships1. The round begins with frantic ship-building. A pool of tiles is placed face-down in the centre of the table, ostensibly within easy reach for all players (but in practice it always feels like everyone else is closer to the good tiles). All players simultaneously pick tiles one at a time from the pool and place them on their boards as ship-parts.
This stage looks and feels a bit like a manic, grabby version of Carcasonne, except that it’s possible to return tiles to the pool if they won’t fit on your ship.
The aim is to build a ship that will fly out of miscellaneous bits and pieces, survive pirate attacks, and carry valuable space-goods to space-market2. Components must marry up with one another in order to have a legal ship that can actually fly (so as well as the tussle for good tiles, players are also simultaneously putting together a puzzle), and will need include several component types to be able to earn you some sweet, sweet money. Engines are pretty essential, without them you would endlessly drift through space. As are storage facilities. Lasers are also quite useful, as they can shoot down hostile space pirates and small asteroids which would otherwise damage your ship. Shields, similarly are helpful for asteroid protection and for when you bump into stuff. As well as these you can build quarters that provide you with crew, battery cells that fuel lasers, shields and engines, and alien habitation units x 3.
All the tiles are useful, is what we’re saying. But in their own special ways, and only when strategically placed (a challenge, given the aforementioned building-panic). If you were, for example, to build a mighty ship replete with enormous weapons and powerful engines, it would not do you much good to place those engines behind the exhaust ports. That is how you get an exploding ship. Similarly, you want cargo holds to be hidden deep in the bowels of the ship, out of harm’s way.
The poor placement of tiles, though useless to that particular player, becomes the hilarious for everyone else.
In the end you (perhaps unsurprisingly) end up with a ship that looks an awful lot like a 7-year old child’s desperate attempts to construct a flightworthy vessel out of macaroni, aluminium foil, and a cardboard box. But you are a noble, brave space trucker on a mission and on a deadline, so off you go. Galaxy Corp, Inc., your shady parent company, are not paying you to lollygag around. Any ‘illegal’ or unfinished bits of ship are assumed to fall off or burn up in take-off, so particularly unlucky or unwitting players may end up with just an engine, a laser, and some pipes. Others, like Chris, have played this game so many times with and without expansions4 that he can build an efficient spacecraft replete with 360 degree shield-coverage in his sleep.
‘Have you seen John’s ship?! It’s just a million batteries tied together with some string. There isn’t anything for the batteries to even power. There’s only one engine and its stuck on the front. John I can’t wait for you to meet our good friends the asteroids.’
You might think that the mad ship-building is a game in itself, and you’d be right, but there is also the small matter of actually flying the damn thing. Bonuses are paid for a speedy delivery, but any *cough* merchandise you pick up en route is yours to profit from. A particularly good-looking ship will also win prizes, but that’s probably not something you would want to bank on, given the gamut of asteroid fields, pirates, and slavers standing between you and your destination.
Of course, if you happen to lose any tiles from your ship on the way, you are technically losing company merchandise, and will unfortunately have to pay for it. This may result in bankruptcy, starvation, and, ultimately, death. A suitably miserable game after all!
But, as ever, the real space bad-ass is board games.
Pairs well with: pirated space-rum
Traitor-rating: 4/10 knives in the back. Direct rivalry but not too much player interference.
Star Realms works well as a game that you want to play again. In fact, it’s one of those games you’re keen to play again before you’ve even finished the current round. That’s either a point for or against it – you can decide.The game works this miracle by letting you see and plan enough different ways to victory, enough different cards that you want to pick and different strategies you want to use.
Star Realms is a two-player space card game.
There’s a communal pool of five different spaceships and your job is to hire them to do things for you like fight, trade or improve your authority. How do they improve your… authority? We didn’t go to the trouble of looking into it too much, but the little authority symbol on the cards looks fairly harmless, a bit imperial though. We assume the ships carry little flags and sing loyalty songs. That sounds right.
Anyway. The number of ships you can hire depends on how much trade you have to spend that turn. How much trade can you spend that turn? Well, however much trade you’ve amassed from the ships you’ve already bought. And how many of those cards come out in the hand you play this turn.
Yep, it’s also a deck-building game. A lovely, addictive deck-building game.
There are four different kinds of ship – in the basic game, minus expansions, at least – which each come from a different alliance in the galaxy. It’s nice, because each of these card sets also has a different kind of feel to them in the way that they play, as well as just a different name and a different colour. Each kind of ship will play best with certain kinds of tactics, but not in such a strict way that there’s only one good strategy for each set.
Although the farmers of misery spend 90% of their board game lives nerding-it-up with the real-life versions, this is one game where we’re certainly qualified to give a review on the app version as well.
The star realms app is pretty good. It costs money to get anything but the basic version, which is a pretty successful tactic at luring in any unsuspecting gamers (worked on Lizzy!) and, even then, there are a whole bunch of expansions to try to milk even more from you. Luckily, though, there’s still a fair bit to keep you going, particularly for people who like to milk a lot from their games. Each campaign has a number of games for you to win, with some spiel that gets read out by a deep-voiced male who sounds like he’s describing an awful action movie. And each game itself has three achievements for you to keep busy with, and a harder difficulty if that still isn’t enough.
And let’s be fair, nobody here at the blog is beneath giving the app extra credit for having puns in it. Puns that seem specifically designed to just-about avoid copyright trouble. Yeah, we’re looking at you, mission against the Machine Cult called “Rage Against the Cult” and another mission called “The Empire Strikes”.
We gather that not all of the people who read about our humble adventures in farming misery are British. Not even the majority of you, in fact. So instead of just diving straight into a British comedy pop culture reference we’ll have to set it up a little first.
There’s this sketch show we have called The Mitchell and Webb look. In this one scene, Webb and Mitchell are both dressed in war uniforms and making plans on the battlefield. Mitchell’s character looks concerned, and says to his friend;
“Hans… Hans I’ve just noticed something. Have you looked at our caps recently?”
“The badges on our caps. Have you looked at them?”
“What? No. A bit.”
“They’ve got skulls on them. Have you noticed that our caps have actually got little pictures of skulls on them? Hans… are we the bad guys?”
Anyway, that’s pretty much what it’s like paying attention to the semblance of plot in the Star Realms app. There’s pretty much fuck all evidence that you’re the good guys. You’re battling for territory, you’re having space fights, you’re showing the enemy who’s boss. But there’s no reason to believe you’re the good guys. No good reason why the space territory is really yours in the first place. At least, none that would hold up in a fair human (and alien) rights court. Someone needs to start talking about the merits of diplomacy, that’s all I’m saying.
Overall, with the app it’s still difficult to resent the way that the app seems to give you a plentiful plethora of content and then slowly reveals the amount of extra bits you’ll need to buy in order to actually play it. Upon first download it looks like you have a wonderful six campaigns to play through, and a whole lifetime of fun ahead of you! Then, one by one, when you actually get round to the next campaign it’ll let you know that you have to buy the full version, the expansion, another expansion.
The app gameplay is good, and it offers a lot that the real life version doesn’t- particularly if you’re sat alone in your room with nobody else to play with. But the app ethics are a little pants.
The real winner is definitely not world peace, let alone space-peace. As usual, the real winner is board games. Over and out.
* Lizzy advises you to be wary of the Star Realms box. She and her ex tore it open when they first got it, to realise that was the only packaging. Whoops. Might be related to why you have a photo of an expansion instead.
Pairs well with: Any old cocktail so long as it has an umbrella in it. You’ll be needing that shade. Brutus rating: 2/10 for picking the meeple the other person wanted GODDAMNYOU
Aren’t you guys lucky – this week we have a super exciting time-lapse of our game of Five Tribes thanks to our lovely friend Pete! Enjoy and keep on reading.
Have you ever wanted to own your own camel herd? A golden palace? How about controlling all-powerful djinn for your mischievous bidding?
It may sound like it’s taken straight out of a Disney film, but trust us, Five Tribes has all of the hallmarks of a great fantasy board game.
Five Tribes first grabbed our attention back in Essen Spiel, 2015. Brightly coloured and beautifully charismatic it was no surprise that Days of Wonder were pushing it to as many people as possible. Fortunately for Days of Wonder, the Misery Farmers were in fact drawn to the camels.
‘Holy shit it has camels. Like, a lot of camels. At least four camels. Guys, stop, we’re playing this. We need to see if it can compare to Camel Cup…’
The game is set in the mythical land of N’quala, where the design and artwork of the game leave little to the imagination. The aim of is to use the five different tribes – the varying coloured meeple who are randomly allocated across the board – to control the kingdom. In short you’ll need to collect the most money (which double up as victory points), where you may dictate, sat atop your pile of cash.
Confusingly, that means that Five Tribes is NOT for five people. Five meeple, not five people. Cast away that spare friend and get them to be in charge of snacks.
Now, let’s get back to those tribes. A round kicks off with some jostling about turn order which relies on a bidding mechanic. After this, each player selects one square of randomly coloured meeple, each of which have a different profession, and therefore have a different action associated with them. Blues are builders, they gather you money based on the surrounding tiles. Reds are assassins, they allow you to kill lone and undefended meeple. Whites are elders, they summon djinn who may grant you extra actions. Etc, etc.
Wait! So the five different tribes are each a different colour? And any meeple of the same colour has the same profession?
Yep. N’quala is definitely not a place of very cleverly distributed jobs. No idea what you do if you want to build something and you’re not the builder tribe, for example. Pff. And what, when your hair starts to go grey do you go and leave your family to join the elders tribe? I mean I know a few badass old people but as a rule they must suck pretty hard at most things, like manual labour.
However it normally works, they’re all gathered together and mixed up at the moment. Probably for the best.
The key to this game is looking very, very intently at which squares to begin and end your turn with. Choose which action you want to achieve carefully before moving anything.
‘Right, that’s my turn… hmm… no… I’ve done this wrong, can I try again? Does anyone remember which order of different colour meeple I put where? Did I pick up 4 or 5 to begin with? Oh God, which tile did I start with, they all look so similar…’
^^Literally, fuck you. Don’t be that asshole.
To be fair, it’s a little unintuitive before you get used to it. You pick up all of the meeples from one tile and then spread them around one at a time on each tile as you move in any non-diagonal direction you like. You have to end on a tile with at least one meeple of the colour you’re about to put on it, and then you pick both of those up to keep or put away. That’s probably how the game has been described by our friends both as “reverse-worker-placement” and “the tidying-away game”.
The number of meeple you pick up on your last tile dictates just how much of that action you can do. For example, picking up three reds allows you to kill a piece up to three squares away. Not entirely sure how that one works, perhaps their morale allows them to travel faster if they’re egging each other on.
As well as taking actions through meeple, each board square has a symbol on the bottom left hand corner that provides you with an additional action, should you choose to use it. This allows some great combo-moves (obviously depending on your foresight and ability to count small wooden folk).
And so, each player picks up and redistributes meeple throughout the game, using their skills to generate victory points. Briony is particularly good at a strategy relying on market traders: it’s always satisfying to generate enough points in a single track to beat everyone else and their diversity tactics. She annoyingly does this with the science track in 7 Wonders and is rarely, if ever, beaten.
What about the camels, I hear you cry! You’ve been shouting it at us from the moment we stopped mentioning them. Well! If you pick up the very last meeple of ANY colour in a square, thus leaving empty, you are allowed to park a camel of your colour on it (which is worth a certain amount of victory points at the end of the game)*.
Yup. You know when we said that you’re not the tribes? Turns out you’re the camels. The better you make use of the human tribes to your own advantage and the better spots, goods, djinns, and many other things you end up for yourself, the closer it’ll bring you to victory.
Particular tiles have a palace or palm tree symbol also. This means that if any action occurs on this tile a palace/palm will be added. Whoever controls the tile with their camel** at the end of the game scores 3 points for each palm tree, 5 points for each palace.
Scoring at the end is a complicated affair, since there are a lot of different and interesting criteria to judge who the best bunch of camels are. But the game comes with an adorable picture sheet to help you tally up with. It’s all good.
As all truly great, repayable board games Five Tribes can be played with many strategies. A full game takes around 45 minutes to play, which means that you can try new ideas, refine old ones, and base your tactics off of the other players. It has that element to it where you’re desperate to try a new tactic before you’ve even finished the game you’re playing. You can even play it many times in one night if you like camels that much***.
The real winner, as ever, is board games. And camels. Camels and board games.
*’What do you mean that’s all the camels do in this game? Where is the excitement, the drama?’
‘I don’t know, maybe they’re the retired camels from Camel Cup?’
‘Hmm. Fair enough. That’ll do camel, that’ll do.’
**Strategic camel placing is a great strategy for this game. It is now commonly referred to as the ‘parking your camel’s butts’ method.
Pairs well with: the blood of rival gangs mixed in with some post-apocalyptic moonshine. Brutus rating: 8/10 for backstabbing
It’s almost a year ago now that UFOs were last sighted in the skies over the Misery Farm for our second play through a Watch the Skies event, and in that time an awful lot has happened. The world turned. Our Prime Minister was accused of the kind of scandal that satirists dream of (#PigGate #NeverForget), and America lost its collective shit and voted for an orange balloon in a wig to run as Republican presidential nominee. Our long-time RPG matriarch, occasional guest correspondent and one-time GNN news reporter has had a small “human” baby (All Hail).
Oh, and the apocalypse went down.
Our story today really starts sometime in March. Zane Gunton, organiser of Bob and Lizzy’s first Watch the Skies (and indeed their first Megagame experience) had another game in the works and was looking for teams of three to live out what happens in the South of England after the world has ended. Aftermath is set some time after capitalism has fallen, society has broken down, and the snows of a winter long enough to do Westeros proud have finally started to melt.
Bob, Lizzy and Briony practically fell over themselves in excitement once it dawned on them that finally, after all these years, this was their chance to live out their mad, anarchist, Amazonian death-warrior fantasies. They’d survive the apocalypse and they would do it in true style, god dammit.[i]
This Megagame was hosted, unlike our two previous experiences, somewhere actually pretty accessible. It was in the centre of a town, in an large bunker-like room. The good people at Southampton Guildhall would probably resent that comparison but they’re the ones with a shabby basement-level ‘suite’. Rumour has it that the room was one of the more expensive parts of the endeavour, but where better to host the Aftermath of the apocalypse than a subterranean grotto?
It even came with a passably-stocked bar, which let us buy booze more cheaply than normal at the very reasonable and restrained time of around 1pm (with the excuse that red wine looks a bit like the blood of your enemies). They could clearly tell that we weren’t the kind of, fancy, business clientele that normally meet in the city centre’s guild hall. Not sure how, but it might have had something to do with the (fake) blood smeared across our faces or the leaves stuck in our hair (what? That’s just how we normally wake up on Saturdays.)
We walked in bright and early (so, so early), into a really well set-up room. Tables were covered in maps and there was a lot less prep to do beforehand than previous Watch the Skies events. Bob nearly lost her mind when she saw that the maps were proper Ordnance-Survey ones because that bitch is crazy and really, really loves maps.
To get into character we started by greeting everyone who came near us with a cheery smile and the phrase “death to man”. Of course, the only people allowed to approach our table at the beginning were control, who quickly pointed out that they weren’t male at all but just nebulous god-like beings there to impart wisdom and make the game work. They escaped our wrath.
The next person who came by our table was the event photographer who, rather than being terrified by our sharpened nails (yes really) and spatters of gore was deeply entertained and gave us badges emblazoned with the motto ‘Stop Harrassment in Gaming’[i]. Which was lovely, but didn’t really convey the kind of terror we were hoping to inspire. Luckily we could let our barbaric blood-thirst flow free once the game started.
Our theme was, to put it mildly, heavily influenced by raging death cults. The apocalypse hit us hard (as it had everyone) and driven us to some rather extreme methods of survival. Old Lady Lizard (Lizzy) had amassed a group of female followers and preached to them about the cause of the end-times: not just capitalism but its patriarchal roots. Death, destruction and madness brought Nameless B (Briony) and Crazy Bob (Bob) into the fold and, in our insanity, we concluded that the only reasonable response was retribution and vengeance to the male puppets of patriarchy for bringing about disaster.
Gameplay was actually really good, and one of the best ones we’ve experienced in a Megagame yet. Although it took us maybe a turn to get the hang of things, it was actually quite simple. We had cards representing resources and people, and it was our job to use them in as creative and effective a way as we could. Given cards representing groups of survivors who’d joined our cause, we named them “The Valkyries”, “The Matriarchs”, “The Harpies” etc. We had a great time.
We could place cards on our own board to determine what we’d do locally in our home base of Arundel Castle (a real castle about an hour’s drive from where we live and an excellent defensive fortress)[ii]. A controller would come round and together we’d explain and work through what the units were doing, be it gathering supplies, fortifying the castle, or cutting down trees. ‘Housekeeping’ was also an option. An option which we ignored.
Resolutions were conducted using a method we can only describe as ‘Blackjack’. A controller would decide what kinds of numbers we’d need to aim for, what difficulty we were at, and we’d play a mini round of Blackjack. This was great as not only did it combine elements of luck and personal decision-making, but Blackjack is Bob’s favourite betting game.
Bob: We’d better play it safe and hold it there.
Lizzy: That doesn’t sound like us.
Bob: (shocked) Wait, you’re right! That doesn’t sound like us! HIT ME!
The other main thing to do in a turn was, of course, to leave the castle and go out into the surrounding area to kill, maim, and loot. This was done via more cards (that represented our bands of survivors, our supplies, any weaponry we might have, etc) and written instructions, complete with details like co-ordinates of where we were heading. After a few misunderstandings and mis-readings (controllers are, after all, only human) Bob took to writing the instructions in block capitals with copious underlining.
This was where all the maps came in. Our tables were each supplied with a map of an area in the South of England, along with markers describing some local information. If we wanted to go somewhere, we had to decide where, how, and how long it would take. This more realistic approach is one of the ways in which the gameplay was really intriguing. We couldn’t just make up places we were going, or be vague, we had to actually choose somewhere real. We had to consider terrain (roads, in the post-apocalyptic South, are clogged with abandoned cars and near-useless), buildings, and which places would have the kinds of supplies we were after without being too full of homicidal locals.
All of which worked in our favour during what’s now being lauded as ‘The Great Victory’.
Apparently our approach of raiding parties, killing sprees and general unwillingness to civilly interact with our neighbours had not gone unnoticed. A lot of the rest of the room (playing as the government (‘Gold Command’) and local law-enforcement (‘Silver Command’) had actually done a pretty good job, it turned out, of trying to bring society back together. There were regular news reports on the radio (that signified when a new ‘turn’ in the game began), apocalypse-proof farming initiatives, safe-zones, and capitalistic enterprises springing up all over the damn place. The army and the police had, pretty quickly, been despatched to sort out the havoc going on around Arundel Castle.
You know that shit is about to go down when half a dozen green-shirt controllers all surround your table at once with a couple of the guys from silver command. One (whom we recognised as the Military Advisor for France during our first Watch the Skies. His tactical skills had clearly helped him survive the great apocalypse) was wearing a police hat and a stern expression. Zane ‘Megagames’ Gunton himself broke the news that there were tanks and approximately 200 people approaching the castle fortifications.
Unluckily for us, we actually had no weapons beyond some mediaeval stuff we’d picked out from the armoury and some medical supplies. We’d sent our only rifles off with our original hunting party (who had never returned). The tanks were well-equipped and heavily outnumbered us.
Luckily for us, we were a band of insane warriors who had spent much of the previous turns erecting even more fortifications than the castle already had. Briony had in fact insisted that we block the only susceptible part of the castle seen as we had some spare builders and a lot of trees lying around. Also, as a storm was raging in-game, we had brought all our survivors inside the castle walls and they were ready to dispense some guerrilla defensive tactics. Also, did we mention we had a fucking medieval castle. Those things have been around for literally years.
The poor attackers weren’t quite sure where to start. Here’s a transcript of how some of that went down[iii]:
“Er, we get take up a good position and start firing at the castle.”
“You can’t just say you take up a good position. Where?”
“Ok, er, here. This high ground. *gestures at map*”
“That’s more than two kilometres away. Your mortars would be useless”
“Oh. Er. Here then!”
“That’s inside our fortifications. That line there is our fortifications. It’s clearly labelled fortifications” (Controller: “They’re right, I watched them build them.”)
“Damn. Er. We start from the hill and start slowly approaching?”
“Ok. You’re walking slowly down a hill, towards our fortifications, in front of a great big castle?”
“Did we mention it’s a castle?”
We did have a pretty damned defensible position. A lot of the plains on one side of the castle had been flooded, and we’d done a lot of work in fortressing-up the rest. We had also dispatched some particularly fervent warriors into the forest (hereafter known as Guerilla Warfare Woods) to stage slash-and-run attacks with medieval axes and some scalpels we’d nicked from a hospital.
A few excellent card-draws later (including a straight 21) the police were too afraid to approach and the army were losing people. They withdrew. We tallied up a few more on our death-count and drank to our own victory. It was a glorious time.
We had a really good time in general. We later found out that we were having some pretty incredible luck at drawing cards behind the scenes with the controllers as well as at our table. All just part of what can make a Megagame really exciting.
Our isolationist approach did mean we didn’t get much interaction with the rest of the people in the room and thus had a fair bit of dead time as the poor controllers rushed around trying to resolve everybody’s plays at once. In fact, the first and only interaction we had with another party was a small band of traders cautiously approaching our table. The travellers were represented by one guy who we’d seen across the room talking to a lot of the other groups. Naturally, we immediately attempted to kill him. He got away (thanks to some unlucky card draws) but dropped some awesome stuff (stolen rum goes great with human flesh). He had then later alerted all of the other groups, and silver command, to our hostility thus beginning their plotting against us.
We once heard someone run over to a table and say “Wait! I’ve just realised that that is the most suspicious thing I’ve ever heard. Did you say a unit of 29 old ladies walking by with zimmerframes?” which kept us amused for a while. Otherwise we didn’t find out much about what was going on in the greater game until the summaries at the end. We even heard the same problems from some people who were actively trying to find other groups, so perhaps the game was spread out over slightly more land than was ideal or the players were wildly under-estimating how far and how efficiently they could travel.
The summaries at the end are always one of the best parts, bringing together the stories of what had been happening for all of the different groups, and really giving everyone an understanding of how their actions actually affected everyone else.
Some of our favourite other-group themes included the return of capitalism from Team Apple (who brought WiFi and radiation-resistant technology in the form of the ‘iPocalypse’ to the wasteland), the cannibals who only managed to kill around 6 people (psh! Our kill count was nearer 70), and a group who were on a stag party when the apocalypse happened, and just kept on partying. Their table was decked out with Hawaiian flowers, cocktail glasses and pineapple juice, and a large part of their end-game was devoted to throwing a party big enough to invite all the survival groups in the South. In the words of their controller, “their star is burning very brightly but I’m not sure about their long term strategy for survival,” which sounds like a nice way of saying ‘they’re playing a good game but they’re all going to die soon’.
Gold command had apparently had a fantastic game, but the disconnect between what they were doing and what the survivors were doing was enormous. They had no idea of what we were doing and we had little idea of how well their mandatory ID cards and ‘education’ policies were going. Amusingly, the silver command in control of our area (whose attempted arrest of the Morrigan had gone so disastrously poorly) had decided that Gold Command were fascists and seceded from the government in the final turn.
Oh, and there was apparently a ‘Cult of Bee’ people.
As for your noble reporters, our game also finished on a pretty good note, though we felt a lot like the game had run out of time before really getting to the finishing point, especially as our final orders weren’t resolved before time was called. One, maybe two more turns and the shit would have really hit the fan. There was not just one, but two large groups of people heading towards Arundel Castle. The army had returned with reinforcements, and … a strange band of old ladies were on their way with homemade bombs. The two sides would, we assume, bump into each other and end up fighting each other instead.
This was particularly amusing news for us, since (predicting this kind of reprisal) we’d secretly abandoned the castle a couple of turns ago, and all of our forces were out raiding the towns and farms around Littlehampton[iv]. As a distraction Briony had spent several turns constructing some trebuchet’s for the inevitable second wave attack on the castle, and had left the builders there to (wo)man them. May as well get some medieval siege-killings in while the rest of our survivors were racking up the raiding party’s kill-count, right?
We can’t thank the organisers and the controllers enough for putting up with our mad ways. It’s definitely an amazing Megagame, and one that we highly recommend to others if it happens again. We also can’t even begin to thank Zane’s wife for making apocalypse-proof cakes, which were distributed around the halfway point of the day. Those lemon drizzle cakes were boss.
The real winner, as always, is cake gaming.
[i] And by ‘style’ we of course mean ‘soaked in blood’.
[ii] Not only is Arundel Cast a real castle, but it’s actually owned and sometimes lived in by an earl or duke or something. This pleased Bob immensely as the implication was that the Morrigan would have killed and eaten him in order to gain access to his sweet medieval armoury.
[iv] A plan which Briony had great difficulty with, since she was having a very hard time listening to her roleplaying side over her highly trained strategy-game side. BLOOD AND DEATH TO ALL, but you know, while maintaining an impregnable stronghold.
Brutus Scale: 0/10 knives in the back. For friendship! Huzzah! Pairs well with: A cocktail with a rude name. Something like “sex on the beach”, “screwdriver”, “I like vaginas”, “sweaty underboob” etc.*
As offensive as it is to compare an amazing game to an awful one (one which actually aims to be ‘offensive’ with all the wit and subtlety of a fourteen year old ragelord spewing epiphets on Call of Duty,) Dixit is like a far better Cards Against Humanity.
Sure, CAH has selling points. Obviously, because it sells. It’s got this adorable anti-establishment thing going on, and the company seem to be an unusual combination of dickish and altruistic with a side of gentle ribbing. But the game’s humour is questionable at best, player input seems more noticeably limited the more you play it and after a few games it becomes unforgivably… boring. Jokes about Gary Glitter and Madeleine McCann just don’t have that much longevity, and once punchlines start being repeated it’s all over. The death-knell of comedy is repetition, and explaining bukkake to your grandma is only funny once.
Dixit, on the other hand, is a brilliant game. Like they went forward in time, got the good bits about CAH, and improved it.
In Dixit each player has a hand of cards showing images. Not just plain pictures of a teapot or a cat, but something a little more surreal and, importantly, ambiguous. You’ll find no literal paint-by-numbers jobs here, but beautiful if faintly malevolent dreamscapes.
The gameplay is where the similarities come in: the starting player secretly selects a card and tells the group a word or phrase. The rest of the players then also select cards that they think best matches the same phrase. All of the chosen cards are all shuffled and the non-starting-players have to all simultaneously guess which card belonged to the starting player. Which card best fits the phrase that the starting player chose, and which cards look more like a desperate attempt to fit in.
Points are then assigned in such a way that all of the non-starters are rewarded for guessing correctly, but the starting player is only rewarded if some but not all of the players guess correctly. If everyone guesses correctly then you’ve made it too easy, but if no one guesses then you’ve been too obscure and pretentious. Get it together, yo!
Points are tallied on the kind of number circuit we’re all used to seeing, only this time the counters are adorable, brightly-coloured, wooden bunnies.
Wait, adorable brightly-coloured, wooden bunnies?
Why? Because it’s adorable, that’s why. Stop asking silly questions.
Making the phrase you choose too literal is easy and boring. More importantly, it’s bad tactics. If your card shows a creepy hourglass with people falling through it, you don’t say something like “a creepy hourglass with people falling through it”. Instead, the way that the points are allocated makes it really interesting. A good choice allows personal interpretation while still creating a theme. It’s all about coming up with some slightly mysterious and elusive phrase which captures something just right about the essence and metaphor of the card. The more romantically-minded player may choose a line from a poem as their descriptor, while those battling some inner demons may focus more on the faintly sinister air of some of the depictions. When playing with children (highly recommended, as it sparks their imaginations in play without being too dull for adults), their clue might be seemingly obvious, such as colours or objects, but still offer room for flexibility in interpretation.
One of the ways in which the game way outperforms CAH is this very ambiguity and flexibility. It moulds itself to the humour of everyone you’re playing with. For example, there’s that guy whose phrases are always something like “The Labour Party’s performance in the last election” or “The downfall of capitalism”. There’s in-jokes like “Bob’s thesis” and, finally, in the right crowd there’s always the one person who goes “Vagina.” It works, because you can control the humour in a freeing, independent way rather than choosing from a roster of punchlines. If you’re playing with your gran you can still have something just racy enough for that situation, but perhaps not about semi-legal sex acts or gassing Jews. In the unlikely event that you start being able to predict cards based on clues, there are also many, many expansion packs, each as melancholy and lovely as the other.
Scrub CAH from your minds, because Dixit is where it’s at.
*Lizzy doesn’t know the name of many real cocktails. She just sits back and lets Bob bring over the drinks.
Pairs well with: Local, organic, micro-brewed cider. By the barrel!
Brutus rating: 2/10. Not many knives in the back, except maybe the overly enthusiastic claiming of barrels and buildings
If we were to sum up Above and Below with one word it would be ‘pleasant’. It’s fairly gentle (one to play with older kids), has minimal conflict, and is just rather nice all round. It combines many of the neat bits of town-building worker-placement games with the bonus of extra roleplay scenarios (we totally love a bit of extra roleplay!). Instead of a humiliating scrabble to feed your family (such as in Agricola) there’s a considerably less desperate scrabble to make sure everyone gets a bed for the evening, or they won’t be nice and rested for the next day to carry on work. And the game even scales down well for two players!
The setting is gentle fantasy – after being unceremoniously ousted from your home, your family settles in a new land and proceeds to build a nice village. Each player has a separate family, making the game a little too insular for some (you’d have a hard time ruining someone else’s play time), though there are some shared and limited resources like buildings which drive the competition. Hire workers, build houses, harvest resources. All pretty straightforward.
Beds, oddly, are the main resource you need to keep an eye on, as they only come with certain buildings. Pretty sensible, really. In your village there’s none of this bullshit you see in documentaries about rural settings with poor working conditions and sleeping on hay on the floor. In Above and Below, the workers get their very own double-bed with proper sheets and an excellent mattress. Cushty stuff. Don’t say I don’t treat you well, workers.
No cushty bed? No work the next day. Pretty amazing employment rights. This even goes for
people who don’t get a bed two days in a row. You’d think they’d have just spent the day lazing around in other people’s beds, while everyone else is adventuring, building, working. But if they do then they keep pretty quiet about it, and continue to remain too tired to work until they finally get a shot in a proper bed.
The one exception to the rule? Cider. If you get your workers a barrel of cider, a couple of them are going to share a bed. We’ll leave it to your filthy imagination as to why that is the case, but it also raises important questions. What if only one person in the double bed has cider? Is Gary always going to be sick of Devin turning up drunk and ruining his night’s sleep? Would the game be improved by a mechanic that generates new villagers after a ‘cider night’ occurs? … probably not.
Aside from the excitement of the bed-mechanics, you have many of your decent but run-of-the-mill worker placement activities. Build things for more resources, do things for resources, acquire more workers to do more things and build more things for more resources.
One of these activities stands out, however. Exploring! As you might work out from the title, you can build your village in two different ways: above, and… below! Before you can build below, you need to explore some of the exciting caverns that twist around underneath your village. With the help of a plucky band of explorers and a giant roleplaying book! Huzzah!
This is where the game bridges the gap between regular Agricola-type worker placing and some more roleplay-heavy story-based game. For each adventure, a story is randomly selected and one of your adventuring comrades will read you out some exciting spiel about your journey underground. Maybe you’ll bump into wizards, rescue some captives or discover your spirit animal!
For all that questing is an essential part of the game, it does feel very disparate from the ‘main’ task of village-building. It’s plenty of fun though so it’s hard to feel too sad about that.
And, like any good game with a roleplaying twist, the game allows you to add as much flavour
as you like to the adventures you read out. The written down adventure will tell you the choices that the explorers face – usually involving various difficulties of dice-rolling dependent on the party you’ve chosen to take on the journey – and the rewards are listed in the book, but how the adventurers acquire those rewards is up to you.
Your friends can add any extra layer of plot that they like, on a scale of Briony to Bob. Where a Briony might end an adventure with “Great! You conjure up a mushroom, now you have a mushroom”, a Bob will give you an elaborate plot with sympathetic characters, motives and backstory. Briony only plays adventures, she doesn’t make them.
Unfortunately for Briony, her lack of roleplaying skills also somehow extends to sucking at playing them. If there is a demon to accidentally be let loose on an unsuspecting village, Briony is the one who will open that cage. If there is a pig to be rounded up, Briony will fail in every method of capture from luring with treats to singing a special magical pig song. When she finally resorted to lassoing the poor creature by the neck the farmer was singularly unimpressed.
“WHAT! What do you mean, ‘minus one reputation’? I helped the farmer! Just because I didn’t have enough points on me to know a damned pig song!
“Yeah, we’ve all been there, bro.”
Briony’s reputation, in fact, got so low that her reputation marker couldn’t go down any further. People had zero good to say about Brionytown. Those clowns just go around hurting people, releasing demons, cursing everyone. Stay clear away, folks! Unless you want to trade or have a nice house. Maybe she was just building up a fancy gated community after all…
Lizzy “Always The Cylon” on the other hand earned an excellent reputation among adventurers of the world. Everything she explored turned into reputation gold! Not points, mind you, but at least she had some serious respect amongst the fictional communities.
Above and Below, as well as doing a pretty good job of crossing over two different board game genres, ticks several other boxes as well. The art is clean and gorgeous, the characters aren’t bland meeples but are cards varied in race, gender AND species.* And there are just about enough ways to earn points to keep it pretty interesting. You get points for buildings, there’s an interesting points scale for different kinds of resource, and there are points for reputation. It’s just right to get the players having to think carefully about what they’re doing.
And, most importantly for the Misery Farmers, it has enough story-telling flair to distract from just being a point-machine game. There are some games that are fun, but that everyone knows Lizzy is going to win. Scoville, Euphoria, Liguria, for example. Above and Below is, praise the cardboard gods, not one of those games! QUICK, DISTRACT LIZZY WITH ROLEPLAYING! SHE’LL FORGET SHE HAS TACTICS!
We had a great time. Briony turned out to be the winner after setting up an effective income-based infrastructure which resulted in fancy buildings and piles of resources, while Bob and Lizzy wasted their time having pointless and stupid fun adventures. And so finally Lizzy lost a game, Briony eventually earned back a little of her reputation and Bob learned that her spirit animal is a fish. The real winner, as always, is board games.
*In some scenarios you can gather extra party members. These include a robot, a lady made of tar, and a cat. The cat is particularly fun because if given any task it has a 1 in 3 chance of just… not doing it. That is exactly how cats do.
Our review this week is a little different from our regular posts. Instead of being a game, event or tournament review we instead wanted to share some hype (and probably information? I guess we should include some information) for the new board game café/pub that has opened up in our very own city of Southampton.
Here is some hype. Enjoy the hype. Hype.
There had been rumours for a long while that someone, anyone, would eventually start up a board game café in the city. Among the board gaming community, it had become something of a prophecy: when the time was right someone with the time, and the funds, and a love of games would rise up and provide us all with comfy seats, snacks, and rows upon rows of games. And low fun times were had*.
Unlike the other board game café’s we knew about in other cities, for example the Thirsty Meeple in Oxford, Board in the City offers some extra pub facilities**. It also offers a range of hot and cold food to go alongside that, perfect for those like Briony, who continually felt the need to be eating a head-sized giant cheese covered pretzel while playing games at Essen Spiel 2015. Only better, because you wouldn’t have to walk through several packed halls to locate and retrieve one.
As we understand it Board in the City has a large collection of games that will gradually be increasing during the first couple of months of its opening. Their page has been publishing some pictures of this as it unfolds. Mmmm, more games, said every board gamer ever. Effectively, the lure to go and play will heighten over time, so basically there is no excuse not to go and check it out.
Although we only managed to catch a glimpse of the décor on the opening night we can safely say that there is some great promise. We really enjoyed the feature wall: this is where several well known games were selected, with similar games branching out in a tree diagram suggesting ideas of what to play next. The idea is to help folks look for games based on similar themes and increasing difficulty or length.
Despite finding it awesome it sparked a long and intense debate about how it could be improved, and what games should be included and the criteria for selecting them to go on the wall. After all, there are a butt-load of games out there, guys. But, as the venue will have to deal with gamers much like ourselves, we figured we’d at least give them one night before leaping into the ‘I think you should change X to Y because I have an opinion and I think it is right’ discussion.
Excitingly the venue will be running some special events of their own. But how can they possibly make board gaming with your friends, in comfort, while supporting the community more fun you ask? Well, firstly by running a huge murder mystery game during the opening evening, involving the entire audience which was followed up with some delightful live music by our very own Grant Sharkey.
The events will keep on coming too, having recently held a Steam Punk party on the premises.
Ultimately, if you’re in and around Southampton go and check it out. If you live further afield then you should make sure that if you’re ever passing through the city it’s worth stopping off for an hour to sit and have a pint, and play a lovely relaxing game of Twilight Imperium before resuming your journey.
Here at the Misery Farm we are looking forward to showing you some more of what they have to offer, and to begin writing some of our reviews from within their walls based on some games we’ve never gotten our hands on before***.
* For a few months before selling her soul to do a PhD Briony had even considered opening and running one with her angry punk boyfriend as a backup career. The lesser of two evils? Who knows, you PhD students can debate that.
**What with being based in a renovated pub…
***Ideally this is going to be the first of such reviews. Briony caught sight of it on the opening night and thought to herself ‘you know what would be funny? Three drunken, angry feminists playing this game. Better convince Bob and Lizzy!’