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: Blue Milk and Rhuvian Fizz, according to Wookiepedia.
Traitor rating: 10/10. This game is straight up you and your opponent ruining each other’s lives and dreams through the medium of small printed cards.
Briony has recently been involved in a pub quiz. It wasn’t any old pub quiz though, it was the University of Southampton’s Rock and Metal society pub quiz. Having been a member for the full five years of her University life she knew exactly why most people would be caught off guard and end up with a score of -27. Rocksoc pub quizzes have very sporadic rounds which can be worth different values of points, either for getting the right answer or for getting it monumentally wrong. The questions follow no logical sequence and often feature dubious rounds, for instance the ‘decipher the name of the metal band from the logo’ or ‘recognise the fewest pop artists’, which confuse a lot of folk. It is a proud traditional that has certainly gotten out of hand over the years, making regular pub quizzes look like a basic pre-school maths test.
This year however, there was a welcome edition of Star Wars trivia. Despite having a team who were 75% blind drunk and regularly absent during and between rounds, Briony’s team managed a cool 9/10* in this segment. This was in fact the best score they got for the entire quiz and later prompted the old** Star Wars card game to be played over the following weekend.
Star Wars: The Card Game is a two-player deck building game. It is set loosely during the height of the Empire’s control in a way that allows the different card affiliations to have beef with one and all of the others at the same time. Although not plot-specific, the decks will feature characters, places and events that occur during the novels, films and general Star Wars universe.
It’s almost like we’re in control of our own Star Wars adventure, guys! … Guys?
The game comes with four pre-made decks: the Sith, Imperial Navy, Rebel Alliance, and the Jedi. Each deck will feature cards with affiliations from their respective force sides. There are affiliations in total (but some cards may be neutral or without an affiliation). These are: the Sith, Imperial Navy, Rebel Alliance, the Jedi, Scum and Villainy, and Smugglers and Spies.
Obviously there are now several million expansions and other decks to pad out these beginning few, but the game works excellently just with these basic four. Mmmm, tasty vanilla decks. One player will play the light side of the force which may use either the Rebel Alliance or Jedi decks, which are formed of cards from the Rebel Alliance, Jedi and Smugglers and Spies affiliations. The other will play the dark side using either the Imperial Navy or Sith decks, which are composed of cards from the Imperial Navy, Sith, and Scum and Villainy affiliations.
Now, because this is a card game there is going to be a lot more cards. Like, a lot. Unit, enhancement, event and fates cards will be included in your deck and enable you to do some other stuff other than playing Chewie to entertain the moral of your troops. But why would we want to do anything other than that, you ask?
Units cards, like Chewie, are used for attacking and defending in engagements and may also contribute to balancing the force (don’t worry, we’ll come back this like Han Solo comes back to bars). Enhancement cards do what they say on the tin – play the card to do or get a better thing, or to improve existing cards. Event cards are sudden effects which are played directly from the hand instead of having to be placed in the play area first. They usually cost resources or cancel effects of other cards. Finally, fate cards are similar to event cards but usually have more powerful effects. You can only play these during a certain phase, and when used correctly can be a game-changer***.
During the setup of the game you will firstly, and rather obviously, be excited by seeing your favourite characters being played****. Secondly, usually later on in the game after staring at your cards for so friggin’ long in a vain attempt to make some sort of plan, you’ll be excited by how awesome the artwork is.
During setup you’ll also pick and layout three objectives. These are what the game is really all about: each player will be trying destroy their opponent’s objective cards. A light side victory requires the destruction of three objective cards (even though more may be played throughout the game). A dark side victory occurs if the death star dial advances to 12. This is a dinky little clock which will advance once per turn, and twice if at the beginning of the turn the dark side of the force is more powerful.
A player’s turn has many phases. In the rule book this is listed as 8 or so phases, with very specific things you can do within them. Sometimes you can only even take part in a phase if it is your turn, for example. When in doubt it’s safe to assume that you’ve just progressed to a phase you have utterly forgotten about. At the beginning of turns there is a re-fresh phase (removing old tokens), draw phase (drawing cards into the hand), and deployment phase (play cards from the hand into the play area for the cost of the card). After these there is a conflict phase.
Pew! Pew, pew!
The attacking player (the player’s whose turn it is) can choose to use cards in their play area to attack. Their opponent can choose to defend with cards in their own play area, or not to commit at all. Defending results in deadly exploding space battles with lots of fire and casualties and screaming and an epic soundtrack*****.
If you manage to kill, damage, or immobilise all of the defenders you can take a stab at the objective cards. More powerful objective cards can only take a few damage tokens before they are destroyed, whereas weaker ones may be able to take more. Deal some damage to the cards, and then your little rag-tag army will fly all the way back home to your own play area.
The force struggle phase happens at the end of each turn, in which players commit cards to the force. Whoever has the most committed points to the force means that for that round, the force will be changed to their side. Committing cards to this however means being unable to use them in the later stages of the round.
AND THEN IT ALL HAPPENS AGAIN. Until one of you wins, or you get so wound up at all of your cool cards being killed off that you give up and set up a nice game of Tobago instead. This regularly happens to Bob who finds the stress of the game too much to bear, which always ends with her throwing the remnants of her deck in Robot Boyfriend’s face.
If there is one thing that Briony has learnt from this game it’s that she is not qualified to single-handedly bring peace to the universe through military might. This makes her a little bit sad as someone who plays a lot of turn-based strategy games, but also a little bit glad that she won’t ever have to apply for the job ‘resource manager of the Empire’, because boy does that look like a stressful job utterly void of job security.
In conclusion the game is very well thought out and balanced. The art, and range of characters and cards are excellent. It is a constant struggle from beginning to end, but once you get better at it it feels like you have the might of the Empire emanating from your very being. Unfortunately, like similar deck-building games such as Magic the Gathering, it’s going to take a while for you to get really good, kid, and until then you’ll need to be prepared to loose a lot. But it’s ok, even the best Jedi loose sometimes.
*They still argue that the last question was in fact correct, and they should have gotten full marks. Scruffy looking nerf herders… *mutter, mutter*
** It’s actually a fairly recent release of much older games. Everyone loves having a whole range of games from the same universe, right? Fortunately it is much better than the original.
***A phrase that gives most board-gamers an apprehensive feeling. You can just feel the traitor scale edging up already.
**** Shouting ‘Yoda! I call upon you to defend my honour!’, or ‘Jabba the Hut – I CHOOSE YOU!’ never gets old.
*****It definitely only ends with you counting up some numbers and maybe giving them a couple of damage tokens. Actually killing a card is pretty exciting. And by killing I mean taking a small piece of coloured card off of the board and back into the discard pile.
Exhaustion looms, but we’re still truckin’. On the final day of Essen Spiel 2015 we offer some final play-throughs and insights, including our considerations for Children’s Game of the Year.
Bob starts the day late, and hungry. The sheer number of games she and Chris have purchased has completely overwhelmed even her giant suitcase and they’ve had to rope in the aid of Friends With Cars to help lug twenty-something board games back to England. Additionally, Saturday night sushi had been completely de-railed when the previously-awesome all-you-can-eat sushi place failed epically in its mission to, you know, serve sushi to hungry gamers*. Deeply disappointing stuff. It took a generous liver-sausage roll and slice of pleasingly stodgy cake to fortify her for the day’s first mission: get Naïade to sign stuff, take a selfie, and draw us a picture.
Mission success, though with many a concerned look. Naïade is very French, and as such does not understand enthusiasm.
Day 4, game 1: A Study in Emerald
First actual game of the day was the second edition of A Study in Emerald. The game is based on Neil Gaiman’s cult short story of the same name, which is set in an alternate Lovecraftian nineteenth century in which the royal family have been replaced by Great Old Ones. Sherlock Holmes is there, along with a number of figures from history and fiction. In the game, you play (secretly) as either a Loyalist, faithful to the ‘royal family’, or a Restorationist commie intent on bringing down Britannia as we know and love her. The board is divided into locations which allow certain actions with varying ease, as well as a draw pile of cards. It’s effectively worker placement combined with deck-drawing mechanics, to reasonably solid effect.
Bob liked it, Briony didn’t. It may be that Bob really wanted to like it as she’d bought it on day one and it had sold out, but equally it’s possible that Briony hated it due to being hungry combined with a shockingly poor game demonstrator explaining the rules**. Certainly it’s simpler than the ‘glorified beta test’ original, and much cheaper and cleaner to boot!
day 4, Game 2: M.U.L.E.
Next, Bob and Lizzy tackled M.U.L.E., the boardgame based on the 1983 Commodore 64(?) game. It is absolutely charming. It starts off as a farming/resource management game set on an unexplored planet called Irata, where all you have for company is a robot-mule worker and your fellow explorers. Then suddenly there’s a capitalist market-trading mechanic and a magic money-generating Wampus and a mystical mine of purple crystals which change value in each game round. The board is busy but in a very Stonemaier-Games way in that all the initially-confusing symbols are actually there to clarify any potential misunderstandings and remind you of available actions. The winner is the Bob with the most space gold, while the loser is the Lizzy who has forgotten what their plan was to maximise their resources.
After that economic thrill ride any form of grown-up game seemed an impossible task. Our brains were just too full to absorb any further information such as ‘rules’ or ‘strategy’ or ‘tasks’, so we took refuge in Push-a-Monster, the award-nominated children’s game of monster-crowding. It’s very simple: try to fit your monster on an already-crowded monster platform, without knocking any monsters off the platform. If you knock a monster off, it gets hurt and has to go to monster hospital, so everyone else gets a point. Best of all is the lack of numbered scoring. No one needs that shit. Instead the monster-points are different sizes so the player with the longest string of monster-points wins. The illustrations are adorable to boot; one of the monsters makes exactly the face that Bob’s robot boyfriend makes when he wants to not be part of the Misery Farm.
Two refreshing, addictive little games later and we were ready for more. Not before stopping by the HABALINK stand though, where we found a strong best kid’s game contender in Treasure of the Thirteen Islands. In this tactical children’s game, you explore treasure islands by navigating with your finger, then attempting to follow the route blindfold on a grooved board. If your little airship falls into a groove, you get stuck! If you find treasure, you win! It’s adorable and at least one person bought it.
day 4, game 3: Cash and Guns
Somehow we next managed to grab an eight-person table for Cash n Guns, which was promoting its fresh expansion, a special-edition Cthulhu character with a tommy-gun, and foam Uzi machine guns. The expansion was rapidly scorned as unnecessary, as Cash n Guns is perfectly fun without any extraneous bullshit, and plenty of shoosty fun followed.
Meanwhile, Bob secured a game of ‘Acquire Giant Sausage’, which she promptly then lost by dropping half of it on a surprised passer-by. Strong work, Bob.
Day 4, Game 4: Architect
Briony and co., after being fairly disappointed by the experience of A Study in Emerald went and found a solid worker placement game. Architect fully ticks all of the boxes of worker placement, gasping drought, and being an intricately themed board game. Awesome. In this game you represent a travelling band of folk with different and useful jobs forming a caravan. The caravan travels around small villages and towns in a miscellaneous medieval European region, with a castle located in the centre. The band of travellers must fit the requirements of the specific village/town to be able to build or repair buildings generating prestige points.
Prestige points must be generated to go up each level of the victory track, which will eventually allow a player to win the ultimate prestige from the castle and win a contract. Or something. Honestly we needed a little more coffee to follow the broken English rules, but the game was fun regardless.
There are a nice number of mechanics in this game – the most unique of which is the ‘worker star’. Workers which you buy have different careers which are denominated by the numbers around the corner. After using them to build something you twist the worker around, showing a different number. Throughout a worker’s career their numbers go down, sometimes plummeting to zero if they’re going through stuff, maybe their wife left them or something.
The actions you are able to fulfil are dictated by the worker star also. But in the end, this game is about generating enough build points to get the castle’s favour. Fortunately the whole team was in agreement that this game was fun, quick, and exactly what we needed at that time during the day.
day 4, game 5: Elysium
So this was the final game of Essen. Sad times. A band of team Misery longingly searched the halls looking for an empty table where they were able to play a game on their ‘to play’ list, and much to their delight found a free table for Elysium.
The game is card based, and is heavily focused upon mythology. For anyone who likes 7 Wonders, boy is this your game. Half of the table was excited about its similarity, while the other half was excited because of its twist and difference from 7 Wonders. It ticks both boxes. In fact it won an award at Essen this year (and yet only two gaming tables! Why, Essen, why?!). Instead of representing a nation (as in 7 Wonders), you are a demi-god striving to generate enough myths about yourself to advance to becoming a full God. You have two areas where you may play cards: the mortal realm, and the immortal realm.
Each game plays with 5 gods, and there are 8 in total in the box so there’s variation, replayability and excitement! Your humble misery farmers/demi-gods played with Zeus (a classic), Aphesites (god of metal and hammers, stuff), Athena (owls, wisdom and the Hogwarts postal system), Ares (WAR hurr!) and Dickseidon (aka Poseidon but for serious, this guy is a dick and all his cards are dicks and the illustrations on his cards are dicks and his dick-in-ear scale is measured in kilotonnes).
The game plays out over 5 turns split into 3 phases. First is the ‘Agora’ (or ‘marketplace’. Yeah this game has got its Greek down, yo). This was helped by Lukacs, our excellent and friendly game demonstrator (helpful as we cannot read German rules). After that you move some cards into their immortal realms where their effects disappear but become sets (either by colour or number) and lastly the usual maintenance.
The cards have different coloured symbols relating to 4 actual, physical, coloured columns that each player has on their board. To take a card from the ‘Agora’ a player must have the relevant coloured column. Each card has effects, as you would expect – some of these affect only the player while others affect the player and the others players (not as good, obvi) You can also destroy whole coloured columns with barely an evil laugh. Dickseidon’s cards on the other hand usually do not affect the player but dick over other players (such as losing gold, victory points, discarding cards etc). This game is highly recommended, especially for anyone who likes 7 wonders, mythology and Dickseidon.
Rounding up the day
Finally we retired to a nearby hotel lounge, where our easily-bored but deeply punk friend Pat had secured a few big tables and crates of beer. Codenames,Potion Explosion, and Microfilms*** were all brought out and played to great enjoyment. Codenames remains an instant classic while Potion Explosion is shameless fun, and not just because Lizzy is hilariously bad at it. Microfilms needs… a more thorough explanation than we received. A cousin of [redacted], it relies heavily on keeping your cards secret, so if you don’t understand it you can’t ask what your cards mean. It has potential as a quick three-person game though, and our version comes with highly-professional art!
This weekend (FOUR DAYS IS NOT A WEEKEND -ed.) has been beyond intense, but extremely fun. Really we need to add ‘get enough sleep’ to our survival tips, but somehow between the beer, boardgames, and bratwurst that seems to be impossible. Besides, who needs that stuff when you’ve played upwards of 20 different games in four days? Especially when you’ve been playing with friends as good as ours.
We’d like to extend our thanks to the friends who came with us and made this trip as mad and brilliant as it was: Pat, Chris, Martin, Emma, Sina, Dave, Sam, Charlie, Gord, Mac, and The Reading Boardgames Social guys.** Final thanks to all the wonderful game creators, illustrators, vendors and demonstrators who work so hard and put up with the manic excitement of nerds like us. We’ll see you next year.
*Red Sun sushi, you guys make some delicious food but dear god expecting us to wait an hour for each of five courses is insane. We’re sorry we had to sic Bob and her mediocre German on you, making a complaint was physically painful to our English sensibilities.
** She also strongly dislikes deck building games due to unfortunate circumstances in her earlier years. It’s amazing how difficult it is to like a game again after you’ve cursed it to Hades for a truly terrible experience.
***On a side note, Microfilm has a character that looks hella like Briony. Is she really a Misery Farmer, or is she really the American spy?
Essen Spiel still pairs well with German beer. Who knew. We’ll keep you updated tomorrow.
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.
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.
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!).
Day 2, game 2: Andromeda
‘It’s sci-fi themed and it has a free table. We are going here.’
Andromeda, 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.
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.
Potion 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.
Day 2, game 4: Burano
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.
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.
Dicks in ear: 7/10
Pairs well with: Sake, meditation, wisdom. All three at once, no cheating.
Note before playing: Everyone always asks if yelling WAT-AAH is part of the game, and, if so, when you shout it. While the parameters for shouting WAT-AAH do not appear in the rules, it is said the shouty samurai spirit has been inside you all along, and all that is needed is for you to free it when you feel the call. We enjoyed a house rule of shouting WAT-AAH whenever you put cards down. Or pick up cards. Or look at someone funny.
This is a game about ninjas with magic powers. And that’s pretty cool, but much more cool is the fact that this game might even have magical powers of its own. We’re pretty sure it’s impossible not to enjoy playing it. Genuinely, we’ve not found a single person who disliked it, and we know people who dislike everything.
It’s another Essen find, and a very fortuitous one at that. Essen is a wonderful and exciting four days of board games but it is, nonetheless, four very long days of board games. By Saturday Bob was flagging. She hadn’t slept well in her overheated German hotel room and had more or less twisted her gastrointestinal tract into origami with German ham hock stew and pilsner (from this and the Sanssouci post you might have guessed that she has something of a complicated relationship with Germany. You would be correct). Running through pouring rain to catch our tram to the convention centre did not improve the mood and by the time we arrived, damp and itchy-eyed with tiredness, Chris (friendly robot boyfriend) was detecting all the signs of a classic Bob-style rage-quit (pouting, tearfulness, The Grumps). Worse; we had arrived early in order to be first in line to play Hyperborea and hadn’t even managed to secure first play spot. Nor, despite a mad dash, did we make it to Tragedy Looper before its first clientele of the day had casually picked up the instruction booklet and started reading (the boardgame convention equivalent of yelling ‘dibs!’).
Chris later confessed that when we spotted an available table with Shinobi WAT-AAH! laid out on it that he was more or less praying that it would be good, or a full-scale tantrum was going to occur. Bob of course informed him that she is an adult woman and she does not throw tantrums,* to which we all obviously agree, but conceded that the appearance of the Shinobi table was still pretty well-timed.
Mechanically it’s a fairly straightforward deck-building card game in which you’re a royal lord (or lady) trying to unite clans of epic fighting ninjas in order to trigger their epic ninja fighting skills so that you may defeat the final demon boss (WAT-AAH!) and place your royal rear upon the Imperial throne. The epic ninja fighting skills fuel conflict in the game as you fuck with other players’ cards, peek through the Jigoku (the discard pile – literally translates as ‘hell’), or copy other clans’ powers. We give it a rating of 7 dicks-in-ear for the irresistible opportunities to knobble each other with these powers. Although some of the clans’ powers are more friendly (pick up some cards, look at some cards, etc) you’ll almost certainly find yourself plotting some nasty moves and stealing an entire hand of cards from someone you sometimes consider to be a friend.
There are two modes to play in: Grasshopper and Grand Master. In Grasshopper mode you simply play turns until someone has laid four fully-formed clans (WAT-AAH!) on the table. You then tally up the scoring value of each clan on the table and the player with the highest number wins (not necessarily the person who ended the game). Grand Master mode begins the same but after the tally you retain the cards still in your hand (fully-formed clans already on the table get discarded) and receive a number of The Shuriken of Winning depending on your place in the running. You can spend your Shuriken of Winning on cards which will give you bonuses (WAT-AAH!) in the next round, or toward battling the final boss (which could be zombies or creepy old lady-demons or whatever).
You do this for three rounds and then the final showdown happens. The showdown is much more anti-climactic than it sounds, as it’s really just a scoring of a the number of shuriken you’ve already put toward fighting the final boss against the (hidden, mysterious) number that they want in order to give you the best possible number of points. There is no epic battle between ninjas and demons, sadly, but interestingly more Shuriken of Winning doesn’t always translate into more winning points.
It’s hardly the most complex or rich game in the world, but it is unashamedly fun. It’s the feudal Japanese card game equivalent of a pew-pew video game. Dicks fly everywhere and the art is about as fantastic as you’d expect from the guy who also did Seasons and that most scenic of games, Tokaido. It has a cartoonish feel that is both beautifully detailed and very bold and clean. This perfectly reflects the style of the game – simple, fun, yet with captivating little details. For example the wild cards which can be used to simply make up numbers in a clan are called Ronin – a feudal Japanese term for a samurai without a master or lord. Similarly, the powerful single cards which can be played as one-off additions to a clan are called Yokai – spirits or supernatural beings present in Japanese folklore. This is exciting if you’re incredibly nerdy and contributes to the immensely satisfying feeling of a well-balanced, well-designed game that just works. The cards are also taller than you’d expect, which is aesthetically very pleasing. It’s a neat touch.
Price-wise it’s a bargain. For some reason it seems that the more board games cost the more polarising and more rarely-played they become. Everyone will play a round of Coloretto or Hanabi but you actively have to search out friends interested in a game that costs hundreds and takes 6 hours. Twenty quid might not get you meeples of every colour and shape or a giant, detailed board but it will get you a game where even friends whose opinion of pretty much everything is that it’s ‘bullshit’, will sit up halfway through a round and mention how much fun it is.
Lizzy won again. But the real winner is board games.
* She does kind of throw tantrums a little bit. But only when she’s really tired. Or hungry.** Or drunk.
** Before Essen she gave Lizzy a bag of Cadbury’s éclairs, with strict instructions to feed them to her if (when) she got cranky. It was a good strategy.