Super-Mega Apocalyptic Misery Farm On-The-Road Review: Aftermath!

Pairs well with: the blood of rival gangs mixed in with some post-apocalyptic moonshine.
Brutus rating: 8/10 for backstabbing

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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.

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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.)

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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.

DSC_0690_Fotor.jpgOur 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.

DSC_0673_Fotor.jpgWe 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!

DSC_0692_Fotor.jpgThe 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.

DSC_0689_FotorAll 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.

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Action shot: Gold command telling Silver command eliminate The Morrigan.

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.

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The sole survivor of the hunting party. So crazy she’d been named by the controllers themselves.

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?”
“Oh dear.”
“Did we mention it’s a castle?”

DSC_0758We 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.

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Hi, welcome to Arundel Castle. *turns to controller* We attack him.

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.

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Even team Madmax needed to do some serious planning.

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.

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Team Apple. Appling away.

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’.

DSC_0731.JPGGold 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.

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Discussions with a controller. Yes, that is a death count on Lizzy’s arm.

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?

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Organising your raiding parties should always be done with hands stained with the blood of your enemies.

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.

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The ‘tactical’ spillage of coffee over the flooded marsh land. Gee, Ordnance Survey maps are so realistic!

[i] And by ‘style’ we of course mean ‘soaked in blood’.

[i] Inspired by the case of Emily Garland in table-top gaming.

[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.

[iii] Drawn from not-at-all biased memory.

[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.

Easter Special: Travelling Games for Travelling People

Here at the Misery Farm we are big fans of Big Games. Euro-games that take a bajillion hours and a Masters in applied Logic to wrap your head around. Twilight Imperium, Caylus and Agricola are what we’re about. The only party game we allow is Codenames – casual fripperies like Obama Llama and CAH get cast aside like last week’s empty wine bottles.

Nonetheless we admit that sometimes games that take less than an hour are not only desirable, but necessary. Imagine being in a wine bar with your best friends during those awkward minutes in between sitting down and the first arrival of a round of rich Malbecs to your table. Nothing to soften the acute agony of interaction and no lead-in to broach the latest gossip. Horror. For times like this we have casual games. Stick them in your handbag and never be bored on a train again. Give them a permanent home in your backpack and no flight delay need hold fear again. Wherever you are, you bring the party.

Note: Some fiddly bits included. The Misery Farm cannot be held responsible for lost pieces on rickety train journeys.

Hive

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Hive is a two-player tile placement game much in the same style as chess. Each player controls a range of either black or white tiles with different bugs printed onto them. Each bug has a special movement ability, again much like chess. Because of this similarity it makes Hive a good game to play with kids and adults of all ages. The aim of the game is to surround your opponent’s queen bee with tiles*. The game has many varying tactics such as blocking your opponent’s bugs with your own tiles, using their tiles to surround their own bee, or simply pinning tiles down using a beetle. Once placed you can still move any of your tiles around so long as they are freely able to move, and in moving them they do not break the hive mind, i.e. the tile doesn’t connect other tiles to the hive. Similarly to chess games of hive will keep your brain engaged and constantly testing new strategies on your opponent**. The more you play the better you will become until your ragtag army of unyielding and undying insects can take over the world friends willing to play you.

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Dobble

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Dobble is a very fast-paced card placement game which has more than 7 ways of playing. The deck is made up of circular cards with a selection images printed onto them. On every single card features one image that will match with any other card in the deck. All of the games are centred on the idea that you need to find the one matching image between one card and another which can become infuriating and impossible under pressure***. There is no player limit for the game which instantly makes it a party classic especially when combined with shouting, laughing and intense time pressure. The sheer simplicity of the cards is enough to enthral any scientists among you into working out algorithms and new games, and for everyone else to simply become better at identifying objects under pressure. There should probably be a noise warning on the tin however, as you will definitely find your whole party sometimes shouting incoherent nonsense. This makes it a great game to play with kids, as not only is it simple but children spend a lot of their time shouting incoherent nonsense anyway.

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Exhibit 1. All fun, all of the time.

Bananagrams

banana1Bananagrams is probably a game a lot of people have seen while Christmas shopping as it’s sold in a lot of stores that don’t even specialise in games. Usually when we see a game like this we instantly assume it’s terrible – Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit notoriously belong to this same category and have hurt us in the past. Rather amazingly Bananagrams is actually fun. It’s a game very similar to Scrabble where players are given a set number of tiles (usually 21 but depending on number of players) and must make connecting words with them. Unlike Scrabble there is no point scoring system, and instead to win the game you must get rid of all of the tiles in the central pool first. You do this by using all of your hand tiles and then shouting ‘PEEL!’**** Each player will then take an extra tile from the pool and continue trying to form words. For the player who shouted this means that you now have only one letter to get rid of, and fortunately the game allows breaking up and reforming words. The game pitches your intellectual Scrabble ability against that of time pressure and the abilities of the other players. This can be a bit distressing when you think you’re doing really well but it turns out you’ve only been laying two and three letter words, whereas your friend opposite has practically written a novel*****.

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Losing all ability to form words has never been more fun!

 

*In the animal kingdom this would probably mean ripping the bee limb from limb and taking over the colony in cold blood, but we’ll leave that part to the nature documentaries.

**Incidentally there is an online version of the game available through Steam. In this you can play against varying levels of difficulty against the computer, play online, and also pass and play. It also has excellent music.

***At the Misery Farm we found that certain people***** were ‘blind’ to particular items regardless of how many times they came up. The game sizes the items differently on each card to throw you off even more, but still, item blindness continued.

***We strongly encourage you to try this in a number of different voices and accents. Bonus points for knowing ‘peel’ in another language.

****The joke is on them though – ‘Fuck your five syllable words, it’s all about peeling the most. I can peel better than all of you! FEEL THE PEEL!’

***** It was Bob. Bob still can’t tell colours and shapes apart. Five year olds would have a great time playing against her.

Hanabi: A guide to successfully marketing pyromania

Pair well with: a warm (green?) tea to watch your splendid firework display on a cold night.
Traitor rating: n/a (co-op game)

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Hanabi is a test.

It’s also a co-operative game, and a pretty neat one. You have a hand of cards but, excitingly, you hold them facing backwards so that only your companions can see what you have. You, for your part, can see theirs but not your own.

The game itself is a test of memory and testing the bounds of limited information. Your goal is to use these skills to create the best fireworks display that humankind has ever seen! Failure can come in the forms of either a really shit victory (what, you wanted more than two small fizzley fireworks?) or a complete loss which comes in the form of all of the fireworks exploding. This presumably results in death, destruction and – even more significantly – shame.

You want to have a victory, obviously, but it’s really about a good victory. A spectacular victory! There’s a scoring system based on just how well you managed to firework, and you want to do well at it.

lots 311_Fotor.jpgThe cards are a range of colours numbered 1-5. Effectively, what you want to do is put down sets of the same colour, starting with 1 and ending at 5. Simple. Except, you know, that bit where you don’t know what cards you have. Your turns are a battle between putting down your own cards if you think you’ve figured out what they are (or even sometimes if you haven’t! You maverick!) and giving very limited bits of information to one of your team-mates.

What was that we were saying earlier about how Hanabi was a test?

It’s a test in being able to follow the damned rules and not accidentally give away all of the information. Similar to Codenames, in a way. In Codenames the spymaster needs to constantly fight the urge to stare obviously at the correct clues, look shocked when the spies talk about something really obviously wrong (cough cough JUNGLE JAM) and to say “that’s right!” when someone gets their clue.

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Typically you introduce someone to the game with the phrase “don’t look at your cards” and they immediately look at their cards. This gives you permission to make fun of them for the rest of the game.

In Hanabi the urge to cheat is somehow even harder to control, because you’re all working on the same team. Perhaps today we’re giving you both a review of a cardgame, and a review of our own skills as not-cheaters. (the conclusion of the latter review is going to be something like “points for effort”*).

One thing you need to try pretty hard to resist is to fish for information you’ve already been given. Because, you know, it’s kind of a memory game, amongst other things. That means you should probably be using your memory!

“Oh damn… did I already know that these two were green?”
“We can’t say!”
“Ok, but if I put in a request via the Freedom of Information Act?”
“Yes, those were green.”
“Scandal!!”

There are sneaky tricks to organising your cards. You can, for example, optimistically try to rearrange your cards without looking at them, perhaps by putting all of the 1s on the left. Which is fine, until you completely forget whether you’ve done that, and where you put the new card you drew, and what bloody number you were even trying to remember in the first place.

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What? The cards just naturally fell that way

Is it maybe bending the rules a little to completely turn your 5 cards to a 90-degree angle? We’ll let your own consciences be the judge of that. Our friend Rich’s conscience certainly had nothing to say on the matter.

 

Picture the scene of a tense game of Hanabi (whether or not you’ve played before): Each player with five firework cards in their hand, all facing away. Each trying really, really hard to psychically send messages to their teammates about which card is super-important to play to get the next firework completed. If you’re not passing on information this turn then you can choose to either discard a card or play one into your firework collection. Of course if you play it and it won’t fit, perhaps if you’re trying to play a white 1 but you’ve already got a white 1 and 2 down in front of you, then a mysterious bomb somewhere gets a little bit closer to exploding.

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Maybe finish the fireworks display BEFORE they explode

But if you discard a card, there’s a chance that it might’ve been really important. There are only two of most of the cards in the game, and only one each of the 5s, so if you accidentally discard two green 3s over the course of a game, for example, then you know you’ll never be able to complete the green part of the fireworks display.

This can lead to some very sharp intakes of breath as you see someone’s hand hover over a card to discard that you all really need. Again, bad work with the ‘accidental’ cheating, team.

Still, we’d love to be able to say that was close to the worst example of cheating in some of our games (we could, but it would be lying. Which is just another form of cheating).

“Right, it’s my turn. So, JUST AS A RULES CLARIFICATION, you guys… we can now feel free to discard any of the 1s we have for the colours we’ve already got 1s for, right? We don’t need any of those any more? For the colours WE’VE COMPLETED?”
“Um… yep?”
“Ok. COMPLETELY UNRELATEDLY, I’m going to spend my turn giving information. Lizzy, these cards are all 1s.”

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Your  card-holding’strategy’ is getting a bit complicated there, Rich

This kind of thing sends Lizzy, who despite all her anti-establishment tendencies is a stringent rule-follower, into twitching apoplexy.**

The game is a great challenge because of the really limited information that you have at your disposal. If you use your turn to give someone information, then you can only tell them one single thing about their cards: either you can point at all of the cards which have a certain number, or all of the cards which have a certain colour. But you have to tell them ALL of the cards of that type. So if you really want to give someone some information about, say, a useful yellow firework card that they have (perhaps that Yellow 2 that you so desperately need) then you can’t sneakily just tell them that that particular card is yellow, you also have to tell them any other yellow cards they might have which may well be useless as heck to you right now.

This can occasionally lead to a person accidentally trying to inform someone of a super useful card before realising that they have a second one of that type.

“This is a … oh shit, no, nevermind.”

Definitely not cheating.

lots 307_Fotor.jpgTo make matters worse, the amount of times you’re allowed to give out information is limited by a bunch of clock-faced tokens. When you run out of those tokens then you have to either gamble and play a card, or discard a card to regain a token. As if the pressure of running out of cards and ending the game isn’t bearing down upon you enough already.

It’s a good game, and it can get surprisingly interesting in terms of strategy. And it’s really… fun. Not just in the way that working out a complex strategy can be really fun (let’s face it, we all know we’re in this hobby because we’re nerdy about that kind of thing) but also in a more general fun way. There’s laughter, there’s miscommunication, there’s failing miserably. All great qualities for a game to have. It’s a game for both dedicated games nights and for casual games down the pub, since it has the highly sought-after quality of using up not very much table space.

And there is just SO MUCH trying not to cheat.

“What? I wasn’t trying to give extra information, I was just making a general comment about how some of these games tend to pan out, that’s all…”
“Really, Rich…”

The real winner this week is board games. But also, a slightly guilty-looking team with some questionable cheating ethics.

* Except for Bob. Bob doesn’t even get points for effort. She’s even dodgy with Carcassonne.

** Her Codenames competitors sometimes refer to her as ‘The Fun Police’

Pandemic Legacy: Plague Simulator 2016

Pairs well with: a surprise drink from your friend’s liquor cabinet. Not only does it thematically link with surprises and possible poisons for which you might need a cure, but also it helps get rid of those mystery drinks nobody’s touched in years and helps to build a sense of teamwork.

Traitor Rating: 0/10. If you’re betraying your friends in this game you’ve seriously misunderstood the aims.

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Publicity image by Z-Man Games.

 

Important information: Pandemic Legacy is a campaign game with a number of unique elements which will cause drastic variation in each game. All kinds of crazy shit happens, but we don’t want to give that stuff away. The only information we’ll give about it here is stuff that’s in the rulebook and which could cheerfully occur in the base game. It’s impossible to avoid mentioning absolutely everything that sets Legacy apart from the base game (even setting up the game begins the narrative) but we’ve hopefully avoided giving away too much. If you would prefer a more in-depth, if a bit spoiler-y,* review, then Shut Up and Sit Down have the video for you.

P1020999Pandemic is a classic of golden-age gaming. You play as a co-operative crack team of medical experts attempting to save the world from four virulent and rapidly-spreading diseases. You each have a different unique character with a specific role. The dispatcher, for example, can helicopter team-mates to where they’re needed most, while the medic (aka the mop) is very good at getting rid of diseases in certain areas. Lizzy and Dr Photographer have long been suspicious that the medic is actually carrying a gun rather than a highly-effective mobile hospital. You know, for efficiency.

The game is easy to learn, difficult to play well, and brings both misery and joy in equal measure. It also has approximately 478 versions, including one in which you play as the viruses.** Today we’re focusing on the most recent: Legacy.

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It’s death for you, I’m afraid.

Much like a virus, this game evolves as you play based on choices your team makes and the resulting wins and losses. Unlike a virus, you really should share it with your friends, because it’s great. For definitely this reason and not because Bob has moved in with her robot boyfriend, she and Lizzy are currently involved in two completely separate campaigns. It’s not going very well for either of them – most of Asia has been thoroughly sneezed on for both of them.

Pandemic: Legacy adds to the pantheon of games which hang out somewhere on the dividing line between board game and role-playing game.*** The game aims are controlled by objectives (which can, naturally, change depending on what you get up to). There is an in-game timeline. Your decisions affect your environment. The board is broken up into regions, and characters can take both mental and physical damage. If they die, they die forever in both the real and game-worlds. No really it tells you that you should DESTROY their stats sheet character card if this happens.

There are, however, a lot more rules than in a role-playing game, and the randomisation is achieved with card-shuffling instead of dice, and no-one’s in charge, and oh god oh god everyone’s going to die.

P1030013With that in mind, Bob sat down to her first round of Legacy misery this afternoon.**** The first chance for customisation was immediately sprung upon as hey, why use the approved character tokens when you have an arsenal of Lego minifigs at your disposal? Because they’re too big for the city spaces and have a habit of toppling over, it turns out, which is bloody annoying. Lego Admiral Ackbar and Unikitty were swiftly relegated to the sidelines.

Naming was rather more successful, although choosing the perfect names and team composition took half an hour and three cups of tea. Eventually joining Bob in her role of the renowned scientist Dr Asenath West: Reanimator were Dr Basin Rudebacher in research, Dr Antony Edward Body (hacker alias Ant3b0dy) as the dispatcher, and Cpt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce as the martini’d up medic.

P1020997Once they finally got to work, the game progressed swiftly and in the style of all Pandemic games, in that everything seems to be under control and working as part of a greater strategy, until it’s very suddenly it’s not and everything has exploded. In this instance, turn three had already brought about the complete eradication of a virus (largely because, admittedly, it had not shown up yet). All was going swimmingly, with a second cure lined up when… the game evolved. This was both exciting, as the team got to open the Top Secret dossier, and upsetting, as the game suddenly went from Pandemic (not an easy game in the first place) to not-Pandemic (in hard mode).

P1030004Bob had not played a lot of Pandemic previously. In fact her full experience was playing the base game (once) on sunny spring afternoon in a beer garden, but even she could see that things had gotten out of hand. Someone (and no-one’s naming any names, but someone) had definitely forgotten to wash their hands when travelling through Hong Kong. The team was, in short order, pretty fucked. In the end they were but one (ONE!) turn away from victory. Not even a full turn, just like, the next person in the sequence could have found the final cure (though no word on how long the clinical trials leading to implementation among the general public would take).

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Artist’s impression of the Pandemic world.

 

For the more seasoned biologists, the new version of the game adds a lot of excitement to an old favourite. There doesn’t yet seem to be much of a way around the classic co-op quarterbacking problem (where some co-op games tend to have one more experienced or strategic player dominating the board and coming up with all the plans), but if that doesn’t bother you too much, the new features definitely make it worth a go. Lizzy, for one, still raves about the adrenaline rush when she had to tear up her first actual card in the game. It’s so counterintuitive! Tearing up someone’s copy of an actual genuine board game! Oh, the rush! The thrill!

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Look at this insanity.

It’s really after this first game that things start to get interesting. A game, after all, only lasts a month of in-game time, and Legacy is set over a period of a year. The outcomes of each game affect all subsequent games, presumably until the world is a utopia free of all disease from cholera to acne, or begins to resemble medieval Europe in both smell and plague death-toll. That’s all to come though. In the meantime all we’ll say is that this is an excellent choice for experienced co-op game groups, and well worth the investment of time and cash. Plus you get to choose whether you want it in red or blue and if that’s not magical we don’t know what is.

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*They say it’s not but it is, a bit.

** It’s not a fantastic variation, but it does come with little petri dishes for storing your microbes which is pretty rad.
*** See also TIME Stories and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

**** Yep, literally this Sunday afternoon. Let it never be said that we here at the Misery Farm are not well-organised professionals.

Forbidden Island: I sink we need to get out of here!

Pairs well with: An ice cream float.
Traitor rating: n/a (co-op game!)

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Having not played Forbidden Island in a while, the game was reintroduced to some of the Misery Farmers through a friend. He’d been looking for some board games to get his maybe-not-quite-double-digits-yet children into. More specifically, he’d been looking for some co-op games to get them.

“It’s great! I’ll trick them into family bonding. They’ll like me if I can turn us all into a team facing an enemy of some kind. Unity against a common enemy!” He said, maniacally.

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The previous key to Rich’s popularity

You see, a couple of months ago said friend had been a very popular guy. He’d reluctantly taken in a stray cat at the behest of his friends and children, and soon realised she was a little bit rounder in the belly than he’d remembered. Four kittens later and Rich was the most popular friend / dad in town.

“OH HEY! We’ve just popped by to see you and spend some time with you and play some games with you… where are the kittens?”

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Miaow?

Having eventually given the kittens away, (something something cat allergies, something something ice-cold heart) Rich needed a little something extra to win over the friends and daughters. Such beginneth the purchasing of board games.

One of the first purchases (which, of course, we insisted on testing *cough* before the kids tried it) was Forbidden Island. As described by our friend Dr-Photographer, and several others before him, “Oh, hey, you’re playing Pandemic, but easy!”

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There’s a sign there somewhere which says “DON’T GO HERE”

But don’t run away yet! If you’re like us, then you know that there’s little worse for a co-op game to be than easy. Co-ops need to balance their lack of competitive dickery with misery, misery and more misery. You need to have to strive for victory! And, dear readers, let us reassure you right now that Forbidden Island is not easy.

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These had better be some damned good treasures

What does give Forbidden Island its advantage (or disadvantage, depending on who you are) over Pandemic is not that it’s easier, but that it’s simpler. You play some cunning explorers, and your goal is to acquire four glorious pieces of treasure and then flee the Forbidden Island. But, presumably, the reason that the island was so forbidden in the first place is because it’s rapidly sinking into the sea, or at least it has a tendency to do so when explorers try to take its treasure. Damn.

IMG_0531_Fotor.jpgOne of the mechanics that you might be familiar with is the ‘Waters Rise!’ card. These are like the outbreak cards in Pandemic, but you have an outbreak of water instead of an outbreak of, you know, diseases. The cards are hidden among all of the treasure and bonus cards that you’ll be collecting at the end of each turn, which you’ll need a certain amount of to be able to find treasures. (Just like you’ll need a certain amount of cards to research a cure in… what’s that game again? Pandemic.)

Also at the end of each turn you’ll need to draw cards which list places on the island, and the corresponding places that you pick will either start to flood or completely go underwater and get removed from the game. You need to particularly hope not to lose Fool’s Landing (nobody’s arguing against the idea that the explorers are fools) where you ultimately need to escape via helicopter, since losing that means you’ll lose the game. There are also only two tiles on each island where you can find each particular treasure, so if both of those are lost before you’ve actually collected the treasure from it then that’s also a big fat LOSE.

One more way to lose the game is, as you’d expect, drowning. If you’re on an island tile that gets completely lost then you can hurriedly swim to a nearby tile, no problem. If all of the adjacent tiles have already gone? Then I’m afraid that this is the end of your adventure, traveller.

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The difference between an area and a flooded area is, as it turns out, just that everything turns blue.

It’s a little unclear in terms of the plot why everyone needs to survive for the team to win. Perhaps the adventurers have a very limited but strong sense of morality. The game is a beautiful tale of human greed, but not between the players. Should we travel to this forbidden island? Yeah, fuck the rules! Steal this treasure? Try and stop me! Let the sea swallow up this beautiful island? Why not. But leave one of your friends behind? NEVER!!

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Aptly named

The whole game has a great rushed, panicked feeling about it, as it should. The further into the game you are, the quicker everything seems to move, as getting through more ‘Waters Rise’ cards means that the island starts to flood quicker and quicker. And for every island tile that gets removed from the game, the corresponding card gets removed as well, so you’ll suddenly find yourself having a very small deck and a very small island, practically drawing the entire deck every turn by the end of the game.

To make things seem even more desperate, a player only gets two actions per turn.* Which, by the way, is phrased unhelpfully as “Up to 3”. Up to, but not including. The amount of times that we forgot this as we were planning in our first game is … a number high enough to be embarrassed by.

IMG_0526_FotorOne of the actions you can do is to try to stop the island from going completely under before you’ve high-tailed it off with the treasures. The action is to flip a slightly soggy land-tile so that it becomes dry land again, and the action is called ‘Shore Up’, but it’s a little bit thematically unclear what you’re actually doing. We think there might be a lot of mopping involved. But the amount of mopping you get to do versus the rate at which the island is going under is pretty heavily tipped in favour of the sea. As such, this part of the game tends to feel a little bit like one of those cartoons where a poor cabin boy is using a tiny bucket to chuck the water over the ship and back out to sea, even when water is crashing in around him faster than he could ever bail it out.

The game is fun, and it’s not yet one that we’ve mastered. We’ve only won once on ‘novice’ level so far, and we’re not convinced that we’d have done so well if the difficulty was raised at all higher.

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Er, we’re running out of island very fast, you guys!

Some of the roles that you get to pick seem to be a bit pants compared to some of the others. But perhaps that depends on how you play. Also, this might just be an excuse we’re all throwing out for why we’ve lost so often. (I’m sure if we’d been playing with [insert any other role here] then we’d have won that game… *cough*)

We’ve also been on a bit about how similar some of the mechanics are to certain other games, so does it have an advantage? Well, it doesn’t have a legacy version for you to drool over, and the simpler rules do mean that there’s a bit less of a feel for strategy than a lot of games can offer. But it’s not all bad! The theme is good and you can get into character just a little. And the simplicity is in some ways a good thing- not just so that the rules are a bit easier for kids to pick up but also because it means the game moves really quickly, and it can achieve the desperate panicked atmosphere that it’s aiming for.

The real winner is not the island, nor the treasure, and certainly not us. It’s board games.

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Bonus picture

Edit: *It has come to my attention, thanks to the ever-wise Mac in the comments, that there’s a discussion on BGG about the actions. Consensus on the small thread appears to be that they do mean three actions rather than two, but now we’re not sure what to believe. Have we just been extra-hardcore this entire time? The only thing that everyone can agree on is the confusing nature of the wording. 

You may take up to 3 actions each turn (could be 0, 1, or 2).

CAN WE TAKE THREE ACTIONS OR NOT??

*flips island*

T.I.M.E. Stories: Sherlock Holmes meets Groundhog Day

Pairs well with: A nice cup of tea to help you think.
Traitor Rating: 1/10. It’s a co-op game, but accidents do happen…

What with it being Halloween and all, you might think that we at the Misery Farm would have prepared something special for you. After all, we are three alternative-type ladies and Halloween is basically Christmas for goths.

Well, we don’t. At least, not something especially spooky/Halloween-y. Sure the scenario we’ll be reviewing is set in an insane asylum and there are a few cases of [deleted] as well as terrifying [deleted] to be dealt with but it’s not, as such, a horror game. What this game is, is excellent. Bob cannot remember the last time she enjoyed a game so much on so many levels. The problem is trying to review it without giving away any spoilers, but we’ve done our best. This review is of the base game and introductory scenario, and all specific references and photos should be of game parts already explicitly mentioned or shown in the rulebook. If you spot a rogue plot point then let us know asap and we’ll shut it down.

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We can’t tell you what this girl’s painting, or why that guy is wearing a plague mask but… yeah.

With all that said, on with the review!

TIME Stories is a co-operative exploration-slash-puzzle solving game. If you’ve played games like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (which, by the way, is possibly one of the greatest puzzle games of all time), Tragedy Looper, or even an old school ‘GO TO LOCATION’-type MUD game then you’ll be acquainted with the format. TIME Stories perfects the genre in board game form. It’s a tabletop RPG with combat elements, it’s a strategy game, it’s an item-collecting, clue-solving meta-gaming puzzler. Most importantly, it does all these things well. Now, before we get going you should know that this is a scenario-based game. Essentially you buy the base game (which comes with an introductory scenario) and all subsequent scenarios must be bought as expansions. This has led some people* to declare it a waste of money and clearly a scam. They are wrong. It is a beautiful game and well worth the cash. Just don’t play it with two people. You want it to be a team experience.

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You play as a time detective. It’s probably got a fancier name than that but that’s basically what you are. You live in the future where time travel has totally been invented but people keep fucking around with it, creating time anomalies that threaten to break the space-time continuum and kill the whole wide universe! Luckily you’re part of a noble special-ops firm dedicated to going back in time and fixing the problems before they happen. Each game scenario is one of these time adventures.

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‘Sounds familiar!’

The problem is that while you can go back in time to a location, you do not necessarily know what the problem is going to be or how to solve it. You have to follow clues, question suspects, and basically behave like the nosiest PI ever hired.

P1020965There are a few other minor *cough* challenges.  Firstly, your body does not go back in time with you. Instead, your consciousness inhabits a local ‘receptacle’ (unfortunate human) which you control like a hideous meat puppet. In the first scenario, Asylum, you are sent to investigate an old-timey mental asylum. Unfortunately the only bodies available to you are those of patients, and patients are not usually given free run of the sanatoriums where they have so thoughtfully been placed. Your consciousness also suffers from whatever debilitating mental condition has had them incarcerated in the first place, such as crippling [deleted] and hideous bouts of [deleted]. Sometimes you can turn these to your advantage, however, with careful use of [deleted] and doses of [deleted]. Choosing your receptacle wisely in a way that helps the team is part of the game for sure.

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Some nice people.

The second problem is that it takes a vast amount of energy to both send you back in time and keep you there. As such you only have a limited amount of time to complete your mission, otherwise you get transported back to the future (hey-oh!). Exploring, moving, taking actions, etc. all use up valuable time, and if you don’t solve the problem in your allotted time then you get in trouble with your superiors. Luckily they are quite willing to send you back again to have another crack at it. The aim of the game is to try and fix the temporal anomaly in the lowest-possible number of runs. The faster you do it, the more points you get and thus earn some [deleted].
P1020961Of course, if you finish the game quickly and efficiently you miss a lot of what it has to offer. This game has loads of branching paths. Not so many that it becomes heavy and messy but enough that to explore every aspect would definitely be a challenge within the time frame. Bob was sceptical at first, expecting that the format of ‘do and then re-do’ would simply turn into a game of ‘follow the leads as efficiently as possible, rinse, repeat’. This would suck, and probably result in a quarterbacking** problem. Luckily, TIME stories is actually very good and neatly side-steps this issue. Each run was completely different both in storyline and format.

The first run was a game of exploration. Talking to people, making mistakes, and collecting P1020962whatever clues we could. Two red herrings and a violent [deleted] later, we found ourselves back in the future, being reprimanded by our commander (confusingly also named Bob).  The second run revealed a whole new, previously unsuspected line of clues. There are layers to this game, man. This time we went deeper, coming so close to the end and then… promptly causing a temporal anomaly. Whoops.

By this time nearly 4 real-time hours had passed, and we needed to stop. This was when TIME Stories traversed from ‘fun’ to ‘incredibly well thought-out and borderline-genius’ in Bob’s eyes. The creators know that you might not have time to play a 6-hour game in one sitting, but that you also won’t want to lose your place in your scenario. As a solution, the box comes with what is essentially a manual ‘save game’ set-up. You can carefully place your receptacles, clues, and various tokens and whatever in special little holsters in the box, ready for another go at a later date. The board even clips in so that everything is kept in stasis. Absolutely shitting brilliant.

LOOK AT IT
LOOK AT IT

Our final run had to be efficient, business-like, yet not forgetting to visit any necessary locations to gather important clues and items. We completed the game with not a single death on the team and in good time, which earned us a decent rank and… you’ll have to find out what else for yourself. But you should know that it’s so cool Bob almost died.

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We highly recommend you keep notes!

We are very excited to play further scenarios. Unfortunately, currently only The Marcy Case (a period drama set in 1992) is available, but future instalments should be out soon. Additionally, there is something to be said for playing the same scenario twice with different friends, just to see if they uncover more of the game than you did, as well as all the myriad ways they might fuck it up.

So many ways to fuck up and die.
So many items, so many ways to fuck up and die.

* Including Misery Friends who shall remain unnamed but who are pictured in our previous post.

**For those not down the lingo, this is when someone (usually a more experienced player) basically takes charge in a co-op game and tells everyone else what to do. It’s pretty irritating.


Pictures this week are by Bob. Which is why they’re terrible.

 

Misery Farm on the Road: Essen Spiel 2015 Day 2 First Reports

Essen Spiel still pairs well with German beer. Who knew. We’ll keep you updated tomorrow.

A summary of Briony's first day.
A summary of Briony’s first day.

Following on from yesterday’s report this post will bring you some coverage of the games played on day two. Each of the Misery Farmer’s have been frankly all over the place today, and a wide range of games have been played, enjoyed and pondered. Briony however has had an excellent day full of fried potato spiral’s and mega-complex games that she is just itching to talk about.

The first game Briony played was actually Liguria on recommendation from Lizzy and others the day before. It turns out painstakingly painting your home city’s Cathedral by travelling from port to port, although seems boring, is actually great. She promptly bought the game and would like to assure all readers that it definitely more fun than it sounds.

Stay off my island, guy.
Stay off my island, guy.

Day 2, Game 1: Sheriff of Nottingham

In traditional Essen fashioned they played this game because.. well because it was the only table available in the nearby vicinity. Fortunately for the team the game turned out to be a rather fun game about deception and calling your fellow players out.

This is definitely what a medieval crack den would look like.
This is definitely what a medieval crack den would look like.

Each person plays a character based in medieval England, overseen by the gruesome Sheriff of Nottingham. A player is dealt a hand of cards which may be green legal goods (apples, chicken, bread, boring things), or red illegal cards (which are not as illegal as they seem. Apparently medieval England really disliked pepper and silk). Each turn a player will select a number of good to put in their ‘swag bag’ which they intend to travel with. The player must declare what is in the bag to the Sheriff, with the intent of getting as many cards through his checks as possible.

The sheriff decides based on your declaration whether he believes you or not, and may challenge to look in your bag. If you lied you can bribe him, but he may decide to take or ignore it. The aim of the game is to lie. Lie all the time, and then tell the truth to backfire on the Sheriff. If the sheriff is wrong about your lie, he must pay you in compensation, if you get away with it you rack up the monies.

The moral of the story is that Sina is terrible at identifying lies, and lost on the most spectacular hands (5 whole apples!).

Worst. Sheriff. Ever.
Worst. Sheriff. Ever.

Day 2, game 2: Andromeda

‘It’s sci-fi themed and it has a free table. We are going here.’

DSC_0358Andromeda, predictably, was strongly generically alien themed. This much was obvious from 50 meters away due to the life-sized plastic alien model, but fortunately for the game it played better than the stall get-up indicated. Each player owns a race of aliens and must explore an ancient abandoned spaceship found floating in the galaxy. The ship has several compartments which must be explored.

Who knew massive dice dependency could be a good thing.
Who knew massive dice dependency could be a good thing.

The main mechanic is rolling a handful of dice with different tasks represented. Interestingly, re-rolls weren’t allowed, and the first player ‘made up’ selections of dice to offer the other players in turn. They could choose to accept them, or to pass them on. If the hand of dice was significantly bad and every player passed, the first player who made it automatically has to accept it. This made making particular hands an intriguing mechanic.

Day 2, game 3: Potion Explosion

So far, this game has been the busiest to approach. All of Essen want’s to play this, and their stock has more or less run out at the end of day two. Luckily two members of the Misery Farm cohort and partners have already bought this, and as Briony is currently writing this a game is being played in the background.

DSC_0419Potion explosion is basically a physical version of bejewelled, played with marbles. Each player has a potion with multiple colour requirements, and they have to select marbles of those colours from the centre magical trough. Once you fill the potion with the correct marbles you can use it’s effects i.e. take two specific marbles, steal another players stock etc. If, when you pull a colour out it causes two colours of the same colour to roll together (know as the ‘explosion’ part), you get to take those marbles too. The idea is to select a marble that gets you the most in your hand to create more potions.

Its fun, fast paced, and colour based. A perfect game to play between epic saga games or simply if you like marbles. Either or, really. The person with the most completed potion’s worth the most points wins.

If only all magic was this easy.
If only all magic was this easy.

Day 2, game 4: Burano

So many things.
So many things.

This is single handedly one of the most complex board games ever conceived. Team Briony and co. only played 1/4 of the game due to the waiting list being fully booked, and it still partly made their brains melt. The combination of mechanics and strategies are extensive, and are coupled with new mechanics that they had not encountered before such as the resource pyramid (where only certain resources are available at certain times).

The game is based on the island of Burano, in Venice. There is a city in the centre island that has coloured houses (in reality these are the most satisfying coloured cubes ever seen). You each play a family who must fish, make lace (as was the tradition at the time.. mainly for the ladies.. stupid history..), and build more houses on the island. Once enough houses are built players may build roofs to connect houses, making spaces above them to become available.

That’s right kids, it’s a 3D build em up worker placement game. It’s as rare and magical as unicorn to find a fully functioning, beautifully designed one of these, which most importantly actually works.

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Despite the complexity the game is awesome. It’s definitely for the experienced gamer, and there is more or less no way to have a good first season due to the how much the player needs to know to kick things off. In fact it’s complex enough not to go into much detail about it, but fear not, Briony is probably going to sell all of her worldly goods to acquire this game and then write about it in the future.

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