Roll for the Galaxy: I’ll show you my dice if you show me yours

Pairs well with: The tears of your alien enemies.
Traitor Rating: 3/10. You’d need a very long dick to stick it in someone’s ear from all the way across the galaxy.

rgg492

Bob’s friendly robot boyfriend is on a quest. It’s not a noble, or spiritual, or self-sacrificing quest, but it is a quest nonetheless. His aim? To boldly seek out and possess ALL the board games. All of them.* From ancient, dusty copies of DnD and Buck Rogers: Battle for the 25th Century to limited-release Kickstarter editions of next year’s big hits, Chris**has amassed some serious plastic and cardboard. As long as it’s not Monopoly, it’s worth a try.

A game increases highly in his estimation if it can be comfortably adapted for two players. Whether this is due to a keen desire to share a hobby with Bob, or simply to play board games without all the bother of inviting friends and changing out of pyjamas, is unclear. The result is the same. More games!

Unfortunately, he is also better at most games than Bob, and she does not like losing. This results in an unfortunate paradox of Bob liking a game and wanting to play it but also hating it and Chris and you and everything else.

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If Lizzy were here, these dice would be ordered by rainbow.

Latest in the series of paradox-games is Roll for the Galaxy. Released in 2015 it has received some well-deserved love on SU&SD and Reddit. It scales extremely well, which means that when Bob has gotten sick of losing at it to Chris she can lose at it to any number of additional people. It’s a worker-placing, dice-rolling, tile-laying space quest. If you, like Briony, have dice-anxiety, look away now. This is not the game for you.

R4tG looks pretty inauspicious. Apart from an intriguing Cloth Bag Full of Stuff and a rainbow cascade of dice, it looks a bit… dry. It’s a well-known fact that early Bob-game engagement correlates strongly with the level of illustration or model adorableness. This game carries a worryingly low rate of adorableness. There are several shades of grey in the artwork. The pictograms have the scent of the GCSE maths textbook about them. The cheat sheets are dauntingly dense, and the game phases/actions are reliant on each other in a way which makes for solid play but a hideously confusing rules explanation. There’s always one person who gets confused about how production and shipping work, which is reasonable because they work in an annoying way. Once you get past that though, it’s worth it. Trust us.

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Roll for the Galaxy: More fun than it looks.

You start by rolling a nice fat cup of dice.

Your dice are your workers, and depending on their results you can try to put them to work doing different things. They can explore, which will either yield new worlds and developments for you to conquer, or earn you a few straight-up dollars; contribute to developments, which will earn you victory points at the end of the game as well as having in-game benefits; contribute to settling new worlds, which work in much the same way as developments but they’re planets; produce goods on settled planets;  and finally ship goods from settled planets back home to your grateful citizenry yielding either money or victory points. Exhausted workers (spent dice) return to the citizenry (dice pool) but can be re-hired with cold hard cash. Bafflingly, these workers are happy to be employed at a rate of a dollar each. We don’t know the exchange rate of space-dollars to pounds sterling but that still seems a bit cheap.

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Today we are exploring.

Developments and worlds take the form of tiles, drawn blind from the big cloth bag when taking the ‘explore’ action. The game creators definitely subscribe to the ‘you can make anything sci-fi by giving it a space-y adjective’ school of thought. Thus your empire will very quickly become populated with a Galactic Market, Tourist World, Space Theme Park, etc. Once you have earned your tiles, you place them in your galactic empire. Some worlds and developments synergise particularly well, some earn stacks of victory points or dollar, and some add new and brightly-coloured alien species dice to your hireable citizenry. Because clearly different alien species are better at different jobs, the ratio of results will vary on different colours of dice. You wouldn’t hire space pirates to farm plant genes would you? That would be ridiculous. Space pirates are obviously better at invading settling new planets, so they have corresponding dice faces.

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‘Hello and welcome to Space Town’

The game ends when the pool of victory point tokens runs out, or when a player places their twelfth tile. This means that playing becomes a balancing act of conquering planets as quickly and efficiently as possible without compromising on valuable end-game victory points. Even a perfect strategy, however, can be undone by an unlucky dice roll or a succession of poor exploration-draws. This is fairly unlikely as R4tG has several clever balancing mechanics built in (exploring, for example, becomes more efficient the more tiles you have previously drawn) but might make the whole thing a little too luck-based for some.

If this all sounds a little bit too straightforward and insular for you, dear reader, it’s P1030023
because we’ve left out an important bit. There is more here than just ‘get tiles, place tiles, put workers on tiles to gain tile effects.’ See, each time you roll out your dice and try to figure out how best to make them work, you can only instigate one of the five actions. This is inefficient and sad. Luckily you may also place further workers in reserve for the other actions. All of this is done behind a handy screen. When dice are revealed (simultaneously) you will be able to not only perform the action that you have chosen, but the actions that your opponents have chosen will also apply to your relevant reserve dice.

Got that?

No?

See this is why we don’t normally go too deeply into the rules of a game. Some mechanics which are reasonably straightforward in play are a nightmare to explain. It’s much more fun to make sarcastic quips about speciesism in intergalactic politics.

P1030029Simply, your hidden worker-placement decisions affect what your opponents are able to do and vice versa. The upshot is that you make some choices by predicting your opponents’ strategy. The galaxies laid out in front of your frenemies are absolutely not hidden information, so a good peeping should at least give a hint as to their intentions, if not the results of their dice-rolls.

Ultimately like so many good games it’s all about efficiency. And good worker management. And dice.

 


 

*Well, the good ones at least.

**Whose own, sadly on-hiatus board game blog you can find at 4vp.tumblr.com

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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Atmosfear: As nostalgic and spooky as a rave in a haunted house

Pairs well with: It doesn’t matter, just make sure there’s lots of it.
Brutus rating: 2/10 daggers in the back. Very little of what you do matters to anyone else.

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Here at the Misery Farm we review all kinds of games, classified as ‘board games’ in name only. Card games, coaster games, games where you roll a handful of sushi and ring a little bell. Most of these games are, however, alike in that they are good or at least appreciable (Terra Mystica being the exception because otherwise-intelligent people seem to like it). Atmosfear (aka Nightmare) is not a good game. It is a silly, cheesy, mindless game which you should play as soon as possible if you can get hold of it.

IMG_1207Bonus points if you can find the original, released in 1991 with a VHS tape. This game is almost as old as we are and comes rammed with nearly as much 90s nostalgia. Remember all those crap ‘family board games’ you played as a kid? Monopoly, Cluedo, Trivial Pursuit, Candyland, Snakes and Ladders? Games which involved zero strategy or forward-planning, only a reliance on the kindness of the dice-gods and the ability to react to prescribed actions written on cards. The kind that evoke rainy afternoons on a caravan holiday or evenings at your grannies’ house, not the cool one who basically force-fed you boiled sweets but the one whose TV only had two terrestrial channels so you had to find ‘something quiet’ to do while she knitted and listened to Gardeners’ Question Time. This is definitely one of those games. But spoooooooky.*

You can tell it’s spooky because you play in a dark room** as various undead characters (mummy, skeleton, witch, etc. They’ve really pushed the boat out in terms of originality) running around a graveyard (or is it hell? Spooky, ancient parchment-looking rules unclear). Really guys, you have no idea how hard they’ve tried to make this game creepy in an adorably-crap 90s way. Like, have any of our readers been to Boomtown music festival? Everyone there is chewing their tiny faces off and dancing to psy-trance and reggae, it’s great. Anyway they have this mini-stage called the Rave Yard where they play 90s dance hits and it’s decorated with cardboard cut-outs of grave stones and fake cobwebs and shit. Playing this game is like that, but not self-aware.

Why yes, yes your counters are indeed gravestones.
Why yes, yes your counters are indeed gravestones.

The aim of the game is to collect your 6 character-specific keys and then get to the middle of the board, where everybody has written their deepest fears on face-down cards (or scraps of paper). As long as you don’t draw your own deepest fear then you go through the gate (to where?) and win.

Deepest fears.
Deepest fears.

Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that someone has written an essay instead of a deepest fear. This would be Bob’s friendly robot boyfriend, who is scared of ‘swimming in the sea and then suddenly, like, there’s a whale a couple of feet from me and I can just see its huge eye. Nothing should be that big, man, like I’d just immediately die. Fuck. That.’

IMG_1224Other complicating factors are Fate cards and Chance cards, which seem to be more or less the same thing. Most of these are straightforward crap-game fare (roll the dice***, react to an outcome which may be favourable or unfavourable; hoard this very scenario-specific card until a specific scenario arises, at which point forget that you have this card; roll a 6 or miss a turn, etc), while others are frankly weird. Bob got royally stitched by a card which asked that a player choose another player and, whenever that player made a decision, rub their hands together while looking all sly and questioning their decisions. When they inevitably ask ‘why are you acting like a villain from Scooby-Doo?’ you can steal all their hoarded Fate and Chance cards.

There is also an enormous stack of Time cards, which require players to perform actions at IMG_1218
certain points in the game. For example, Bob received on which required that exactly 50 minutes and 45 seconds into the game, she scream ‘STOP’ as loudly as possible. For every person she frightened she gained a turn and they missed a turn. The scariness of the suddenly-screaming gamer is somewhat lessened by the fact that other players had had the exact same card earlier in the game, so the audience had become somewhat desensitised. Bob managed to make at least two people flinch by working the scream into a long-term dramatic turn as someone with an intense tummy-ache brought on by too much gin. The copious amounts of pre-game gin consumed by the gaming party made this bit of play-acting quite convincing, though it’s possible (read: extremely likely) that folks were flinching more from a fear of sudden gin-spew than actual terror. Either way, result.

Is it spookier with the white balance off?
Is it spookier with the white balance off?

‘But how are you supposed to know exactly how far into this cobwebby nonsense you are!?’ we hear you cry. Well gentle readers, that’s where the VHS DVD video files downloaded off the Interwebs come into play. The game lasts exactly one hour, and the video shows a timer. But that’s not all. Oh no, there is a super-spooky, super-macabre game-master! He demands that you respond to him with ‘Yes my gatekeeper!’ or ‘No, my gatekeeper!’ (answer without the proper formalities and *gasp* miss a turn) and he wants to punish yoooooou! Honestly, it’s just better to take a gulp of whatever tethers you to this mortal plane and pretend for your sanity’s sake he’s not talking to you, and you keep going regardless of his poorly fashioned, overly gothic, and over-acted lines.

Home boy goes from this...
Home boy goes from this…

Basically it’s a dude in a hood who looks progressively more haggard and demonic**** as the game goes on. According to Briony this happens to most pub locals in her home town over the course of the evening, and so the horror is generally lost in the West Country. He makes all kinds of demands ranging, once again, from the predictable (youngest player roll your age or miss a turn!) to the downright weird (player whose turn it is next, crawl closer to the screen…. Obey me!), and calls the players maggots a lot. He has the power to send you to what is effectively the jail in Monopoly, but in this is called the Black Hole (or ‘Blag-hole’ according to the Gatekeeper, whose enunciation is rather poor).

To this.
To this. Contact game on fleek.

As the game progresses stuff happens faster and faster to cover up the fact that the arbitrary snakes-and-ladders progression and punishment cycle actually gets pretty boring. The gatekeeper interrupts more often, releasing players from the ‘blag hole’ and handing out precious keys willy-nilly. At the start of the game these are rare and offer some specific bonuses, but by the end of the game are won and lost in seconds, removing any strategic elements this game had any hope of maintaining and causing chaos as players try to remember what they can and can’t do, as well as the few ways they might be able to screw other players over*****.

IMG_1197Atmosfear is ridiculous and mechanically atrocious, but it is great fun. Who could fail to enjoy a  game where a creepy hooded dude yells at you to a soundtrack of whistling wind and cracking thunder? It’s like being trapped in a Goosebumps novel for an hour. Play it drunk with friends who are at least old enough to remember the 90s, though aren’t necessarily board game aficionados. Then never play it again. Alternatively, play it with Briony’s dad so she doesn’t have to, man is she sick of trying to play that game between eating too many mince pies and drinking too much wine.

The winner of tonight’s board game was the spooky witch. The real loser was board games, and the self-respect of any board gamer who genuinely wants to play that game.

This game has HOW MANY expansions!?
This game has HOW MANY expansions!?

 

* Briony’s dad is actually a big fan of playing it as a family bonding experience at Christmas, which explains a lot.

**Seriously you have no idea how many times this game emphasizes that it should be played in a super-scary slightly darkened room. Yes, this does make it difficult to see what the fuck you’re doing.

***Frustratingly, there are in fact two dice provided with this game but you only seem to roll one at a time? But the game constantly refers to the singular die with the technically-correct-but-unclear ‘dice’, so you’re never quite sure how many you’re supposed to be rolling.

****His skin gets greener and his eyes get redder.

*****Much like Monopoly, there is only really one way; if they land on your property grave.


Bob took the photos on her mobile in a darkened room (as per instructions) so they are terrible. We apologise.

 

Sushi Dice: What is the Sound of One Hand Dinging?

Brutus Rating: 2 little fish hooks in the back.
Pairs well with: Sake or Ahasi beer.

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There are two ways to play Sushi Dice. The adult way, and the kids’ way. The adult way goes like this: You go to Essen Spiel with your friends and partner of choice and have a wonderful time (very important stage, this one). While there your friendly robot boyfriend should find the stand6D-33-104 where a new game called Sushi Dice is being exhibit and played (note, sushi is for some reason the current theme of choice for casual games – don’t confuse Sushi Dice for Sushi Go! or Sushi Express or some other nori-based nonsense). The game artist will hopefully be sitting at the stand, churning out little watercolour octopus drawings on the inner lids of games bought then and there. Friendly robot boyfriends know that this makes an excellent gift, and will buy it for their neurotic board game girlfriends (ie Bob).

Later on, when you and your wily gang of nerds are relaxing at a German Brauerei with beer 6D-33-117and bratwursts the length of your arm, you figure out the (very very simple) rules and have a go at playing. The game can be played by any number (>2) of people, but there are only ever two active players at a time. Each active player gets six dice, with are printed with sushi ingredient symbols. Three of the six dice have a star symbol, and three have a black skull.

To play, a deck of cards depicting sushi and other fish dishes (e.g. paella, fish and chips) is placed face down. Three cards are drawn from the top and laid face-up in the middle of the table.

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Players roll their dice until they match the ingredients of a fishy dish and if they get there first they get the dish card. Whoever has the most cards after an arbitrary length of game time wins. Then the round ends and the dice pass to the next pair of players.

6D-33-122Stars are wild. If you see another player get a skull dice you can yell ‘YUCK!’ and they will have to re-roll all their dice. If a non-active player sees both active players roll a skull they can yell ‘CHOP’ and the round ends.

To signify that you, the plucky sushi chef, have completed an order of whichever fishy dish you’ve chosen, you ring the handily-included bell. Of course, when you play the grown-up version you’re in a tap-house, so it’s unlikely that a group of people ringing a service bell would be very popular. So instead of hitting the bell you instead say ‘Ding!’ This swiftly escalates to shouting ‘DING!’ while hitting the table but that’s still way better than being the dickheads with the bell, right?

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Of course, when you play the kids’ version you have to include the bell. Them’s the rules. You also have to become suddenly and tragically blind to cheating. As part of Bob’s plot to indoctrinate the youth of today with geeky values* she has become adept at rooting out decent games which are still child-appropriate.**Sushi Dice is pretty and brightly-coloured, easy to learn, and loud.

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DING!

Kids like loud***.

DING DING DING!

In fact the children Bob played this game with liked it so much they refused to stop playing it even after all the adults had lost interest.

(DINGING intensifies)

The two of them played it between themselves for a good while until the accusations of cheating got out of hand (they were both cheating, and they weren’t even playing to win). Then one of them continued to play it by herself, mainly just to be able to hit the bell every time she finished a combination.

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(DINGing continues, forever, until all meaning and time is lost to the sound of one hand dinging. And every time the bell rings, Bob’s dog barks. She has created a monster.)

That’s what we can consider a success story.


 

*Parents! Are you worried about your teenage children growing up to be hoodlums and drug fiends!? Well try this remedy on for size: Magic the Gathering! With this collectable card game your son or daughter will never have the money for drugs, and all their friends will commit no greater crime than failing to shower regularly! Hurray!

** Unfortunately she still hasn’t been able to stop saying ‘fuck’ in front of the kids. You can’t fight nature, man.

*** See the Twilight Imperium review for the moment when loud became unbearably loud.


Picture thanks to Dr Photographer

 

Eldritch Horror: Misery, Doom, Tentacles. A normal Friday night in.

Brutus rating: 1/10 knives in the back
Pairs well with: some very strong whisky. Strong enough to forget the horrors you’ve seen.

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The Misery Farm’s friendly photographer-friend enjoys only three things: board games, cameras and suffering. This makes him a good misery photographer but a bad person. It has also adapted him to suit a game called Arkham Horror: a board game that brings nothing but relentless suffering. If you’ve not played it, then rest assured that it’s just hours and hours of trudging around dreary old Arkham before being eaten by a void-born tentacle-god.

When Eldritch Horror came out, Dr Photographer sold it to us as “It’s Arkham Horror, but fun.” Does being fun take the fun out of it? … No, it turns out!

Lizzy's tentacle.
Lizzy’s tentacle.

It’s big and it’s long and it’s tentacley. The board is a great chunky world map which you traverse, and there are lots and lots of extra cards and tokens and doodads which make setting it up annoying but playing it extremely satisfying. Like many ‘big’ games turns take a while and are divided into phases. They are, roughly, Doing Stuff, Stuff Getting Done To You, and Bad Stuff Happens (or ‘action’, ‘encounter’, and ‘mythos’ if you’re being fancy and accurate). The aim of the game is to solve mysteries and stop the hell-spawned Old Ones from rising up and devouring the universe. You will sometimes often fail at this.

10397047_10152420766204337_8447561979145296536_oEldritch is one of those games that gives you some excellent characters to work with if you want to get into the spirit of things with a little bit of the ol’ roleplaying. This makes it an immediate favourite for Lizzy already, and the rest of the team are just relieved that it’s a co-op and they can take a break from having to beat the crap out of her in case she gets ahead. Everyone each gets their own character (until they die, go insane, or the game ends) and a good group of friends will heavily encourage acting, an elaborately developed personality and a funny voice for the duration. The characters each have special abilities of some kind, their own set of stats and their own backstory.

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Of course, the game also doesn’t shy away from other classic Lovecraftian themes such as racial stereotyping. There’s an Asian lady who’s… really good at martial arts? Ok. And the Nigerian’s backstory is about wise village elders and spirits? Yup. Let’s just… yeah. And let’s not put on voices for those characters k? K.

And then there’s our own personal favourite: Silas Marsh. One for the ladies. His thing is that he’s better on sea-tiles. What’s his intricate and carefully woven backstory? He… quite likes the sea.

What?

Yep, that’s it. He just really likes the sea, you guys. He comes from a small seaport town, you won’t have heard of it. It’s in New England somewhere.

"I'm basically just producing slashfic now." -Dr Photographer
“I’m basically just producing slashfic now.” -Dr Photographer

Good.

So as mentioned above, Eldritch Horror is a co-op game, hence the small “knives-in-the-back” rating. It still gets one knife however, in case someone gets a death pact and has to kill one of their friends.

darkpact
You see this face? This is the face of ‘I just found out what a Dark Pact does.’

… Pardon?

Horrors?!
Horrors?!

Yup! That brings us right round to the main theme of the review, the game, and indeed life itself: never-ending horror. As with most good co-ops, at the end of every turn someone needs to trigger what’s known as Bad Stuff Happens (‘mythos phase’). For Eldritch Horror this means turning over a card and letting all hell break loose. Not got enough monsters on the board? Have some more. Not got enough terrifying gates to otherworldly and evil dimensions, floating around? Have some of those, too. Not feeling like there’s enough DOOM floating around? Better advance the DOOM track! Frankly if you’re not feeling overwhelmed and panicky once you’ve resolved all the conditions of the mythos card then you’re playing it wrong.

Big bag o'monsters
Big bag o’monsters

If the DOOM track reaches zero, or you’ve got too many inter-dimensional gates spitting monsters all over the board, or maybe just if great Cthulhu’s great alarm clock was set a little early, then congratulations, the Old Ones have woken up. When that happens you are more or less fucked, unless you can pull out some really fantastic dice rolls and co-operation. So yeah, pretty much fucked. Enjoy being devoured.

But of course, there are several other ways that things can go wrong for a plucky gang of adventurers during the ‘encounter’ phase. There’s that aforementioned “death pact” and other terrifying conditions (you don’t need all of your limbs for adventuring, right?) and there are monsters – those tend to want to attack you if you get too close. Sometimes you’re just on a lovely, optimistic quest for a ‘clue’ and instead you wind up beaten and imprisoned. There are really excellent cards that describe what happens in each situation and which skill-checks you need to pass, and you’ll always find yourself shouting at your character as you read it out.

When the horror gets too much, sometimes you have to turn into a starfish.
When the horror gets too much, sometimes you have to turn into a starfish.

You see a terrifying crypt… good, that’s ok so far… you head towards it to explore… NO I FUCKING DON’T WHY WOULD I DO THAT… and suddenly an arm grabs you… OF COURSE IT BLOODY DOES I’M IN A SHITTING CRYPT WHAT DID I EXPECT? …Make a strength check to escape…  OKAY COME ON ARMS OF STEEL… SON OF A BISCUIT HOW DID THAT FAIL?? …if you fail you get dragged underground where shoggoths pull off your arm and beat you with it.

Strength check you say?
Strength check you say?

The game has an exciting balance of making you firefight all of the things going wrong and actually trying to scrabble your way towards victory. You may want to hoover up all of the lovely clue-juice, for example, depending on the current victory goal that you need to achieve, but you also don’t want to leave open five portals which more terrifying goat-spawn can clop through at any point.

One thing that seemed a little less balanced is the discrepancies between different numbers of players. We left Bob unsupervised once or twice and she had a few solo runs of the game, which she tells us was possibly a little too easy. Obviously we can only explain this by the game being easier with only one player, and nothing at all to do with Briony, Lizzy and the Camera-Man holding her back the rest of the time. It’s also absolutely impossible that she was playing it wrong. She’s a known rules junkie, our Bob, who never takes the ‘eh, that’s probably right?’ approach to little things like numbers of dice or how DOOM tracks work.

Big board o' horrors
Big board o’ horrors

We also didn’t have too much of the “one person controls all” problem that seems pervasive through a lot of co-op board games, but that might just be the particular team of plucky adventurers / arseholes that we are.

“Get the clue, we need it for the next victory condition!”
“… Hmm but I really want to explore Tunguska.”
“But the victory condition?”
“TUNGUSKA!”

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It’s also got great replayability as you can choose from a variety of world-eating monsters to struggle vainly against, and which affect the gameplay quite strongly. If you fancy your misery Shub-Niggurath-flavoured, for example, you’re going to be spending a lot of time losing your sanity to suicidal cultists. If it’s Yig, you’re going to be poisoned by snakes at least twenty times. If you’re in a Cthulhu mood then I’m afraid you’re going to be spending some time in the sea. There are goat-spawn too, and hellhounds.

The expansion adds to this with a host of new monsters, crippling ailments, and a frozen wasteland. Hurray!

To enjoy Eldritch Horror, you do have to enjoy a bit of misery for your adventures. Luckily, this is right up the street of a group of board game reviewers who’ve called themselves ‘The Misery Farm’. We’d certainly recommend it to people who only hate themselves a little. Most of you, probably.

He really likes the sea.
He really likes the sea.

The real winner is Cthulhu. May the dark lord’s tentacles ever be long and terrifying.


Photos credited to Dr Photographer

The big bag o’ monsters was made during a game by the mighty-impressive Emma Field at JustAddCrochet, who is also featured in a photo as a starfish.

Twilight Imperium: Friendly Space Race

By Bob and Lizzy

Brutus rating: 9 zingy lightsabers in the back out of 10
Pairs Well With: Slurm! Romulan Ale! Anything pumped with sugar and caffeine

Look at this magnificent shit. You know you’re in for some intense game-time when the box art is this expensive and epic.

The story of the Misery Farm and Twilight Imperium begins with Bob and Christmas. Bob spends every Christmas with her family and a number of close family friends (as South Africans the lot of them are constitutionally incapable of negotiating ‘small, quiet’ events). There’s lots of food, wine, dogs, excited children and merriment.

It’s hell.

Initial plans were to go from family home to Reading for new year’s eve with the friendly robot boyfriend (FRB) before looping back round to the blessed isolation and wonderful silence of home in Southampton. Then the kids got an honest-to-god noisemaker as a Christmas present. The electronic kind, which plays loud, tinny jingles and farty sounds at the push of a button. Far from being a form of passive-aggressive punishment inflicted by child-free friends on their parents it turned out that their mum (!) had actually bought this thing (!!) herself (!!!) as a gift for her own kids (!!!!).

Naturally, Bob wanted to leave as soon as humanly possible. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be room for her at the FRB’s house until the late in December, and he had planned an all-day Twilight Imperium 3 game on that day. But there would be a constant supply of tea and biscuits if she was interested. Sold!

She had no idea what she had gotten herself into.

First port of call if you need a game overview is of course the blog Shut Up and Sit Down. If you are living under a rock and are somehow reading this without having heard of them, then know that they are nice young men who combine informative game reviews with a quirky and funny presentation style (so pretty much the opposite of us). Their review of the game as fun, complicated but not arduous, and epic in both scale and style was encouraging, and Bob proceeded to download the rules with a view to getting a rough idea of the components, win conditions, and what a turn generally looks like (the holy trinity of basic game understanding).

Here she hit a snag. Having only recently become the kind of special, habitual nerd who can visualise a game to any sort of degree just from reading the rules, these presented something of a challenge. It wasn’t the length of the rules which intimidated her, nor their complexity, poor structure, or incredible, gasping dryness. It was more that better things to do than reading them seemed to repeatedly crop up. Taking a nap, for example. Eating all the Christmas jelly beans. Re-watching Star Trek, Frozen, and the Muppets Christmas Carol (with all the scary bits fast-forwarded so the kids wouldn’t have to hide behind the sofa). If she weren’t under strict instructions from supervisors to Chill the Fuck Out and Take a Holiday then some work might even possibly have gotten done. Maybe.

This wasn’t entirely unfair, in hindsight. TwImp heralds from an era of Fantasy Flight games (i.e. their entire history) when writing down the rules was considered an unfortunately necessary afterthought to game creation. The amount of text in the FAQs on their website exceeds that of the written rules by a factor of about fifty, and even the super handy-dandy cheat sheet on board game geek (second port of call for the game explorer) is twelve pages of tightly-packed and colour-coded terror. Bob refused to be deterred though, forging bravely ahead. It was either this or another day of confiscating her mum’s 11am gin and being forced to watch a ten-year old play Pokemon Platinum* on their shiny new 3DS**. To some long-term gaming buddies this mission to Read the Damn Rules seemed one step away in terms of desperate foolishness from considering a career in crippling heroin addiction. Eventually even Bob had to admit defeat at page 14, and instead downloaded the TI3 app***.

Game day rolled round with an inauspicious start. Bob arrived late and without all the necessary supplies of crisps, cigarettes and sugary beverages that would make a ten-hour game bearable. Luckily the FRB has excellent friends. Ones complete with mandatory nerdy graphic Tshirts and an exquisite layout of appropriate snacks including Gagh (gummy worms), Slurm (Mountain Dew), and a handy supply of delicious codeine and Marlborough Reds to alleviate the crampy terror brought on by driving. FRB did his part by making Bob two whole cups of tea without complaining more than 6 times.

Delicious caffeinated sugar water.
Delicious caffeinated sugar-water.

And it only took an hour to set up the game and go over the rules. Briefly: a central planet IMG_0414(Mechatol Rex), the seat of political power in the galaxy now mired in civil war and petty bureaucratic struggles. It is surrounded by planet and space hexes, which generate resources if you invade take them under your wing. You play as a race fighting for dominance according to certain objectives. First to ten victory points wins. You can usually get a point per turn, and a turn takes an hour. No joke.

Okay, so this game. This game, guys. It’s insane. No one playing it for the first time can
possibly have any idea what the hell is going on. Going over every single rule would be exhausting, and remembering them all on the first try is impossible. It’s entirely plausible that everyone was cheating the entire way through but the fact that we were playing with two extra expansions (and therefore a whole bunch of new and expanded rules) meant that no one noticed or really knew what was going on themselves.

Luckily it’s definitely the kind of game that can be played without a fully-fleshed strategy as IMG_0419long as you have a rough overview of what you might want to do on a turn, and there’s someone around the table willing and able to walk you through the fine points. Some things, like spending resources, invading planets, and building technologies and spaceships are very knowledge-dependent, unfortunately, and messing them up can really ruin your turn. Mercifully the sheer size and duration of the game makes it weirdly forgiving until the very last few rounds.

Some parts are refreshingly simple, such as the straightforward dice-rolling ‘pew pew’ of combat. On the other hand some elements, like playing a political action card in order to pass a law in the galactic senate, are almost like bizarre meta/minigames in themselves, as you try to bribe each other for votes while assassinating other players’ delegates. Sometimes, if another player is particularly annoying you with their piractical trading methods or pointed demilitarisation of strategic planets, you can even assassinate them twice*****.

Romulan ale, for when your girlfriend has passed a motion to have you executed by the senate. Again.
Romulan ale, for when your girlfriend has passed a motion to have you executed by the senate. Again.

The potential for greatness is there (and beginners can do just as well as experienced players with a bit of strategic placement and luck), but it is absolutely exhausting on your first time round. After having your ass solidly kicked across the galaxy by the Winnarian traders you might even swear off it entirely.

But then find yourself thinking, at odd moments, how you could improve your strategy to finally conquer Mechatol Rex and really show those damn space-lions who’s boss.

As you play and get comfortable with the rules (which can take several long, long games) it all starts seriously picking up in terms of mad, bonkers, shooty fun. Despite its enormity the strategic elements are reasonably flexible. Alliances are made and broken based on objectives and the layout of the planet hexes (ah, that nebula of hugs sure looks protective. Wait, guys, why are you launching that dreadnought? Guys…?). You learn the particular skills and weaknesses of your race and start to posture with great big spiny hedgehog death stars war suns.

This. This is what posturing looks like.
This. This is what posturing looks like.
See that weird little fish-looking guy in the background? Flagship. 'Pointing the wrong way' apparently.
See that weird little fish-looking guy in the background? Flagship. ‘Pointing the wrong way’ apparently.

Bob’s first race comprised spooky space ghosts who love wormholes and for some reason have a super-90s-wildstyle-graffiti-looking symbol/crest thing. They have the unique ability to build an enormous flagship which then acts as a wormhole itself, allowing fleets of warships to pop up all over the map (entertaining but not recommended for beginners). Incidentally the flagship looks an awful lot like a fish with antennae bits all over it. Bob assumed this was to streamline it so that it might effectively fly through the massive friction and air resistance of outer space, but it turned out that she did in fact have the ship flying backwards. Other races include incredibly combative swarms of cockroaches led by a shadowy matriarchy (who for some reason no-one trusts. Damn speciesists), clouds of fungal spores, lion-people with civilisations built on the backs of elephants slowly traversing their desert home-planets, cyborg remnants of the once-ruling race spreading their mindnet low-cost broadband internet through the galaxy.

All that remains of the galaxy after a number of mad alien races have tussled over it.
All that remains of the galaxy after a number of mad alien races have tussled over it.

This game is fun, and mad, but very very long. Set aside a full day for it, and don’t play it without an experienced player to guide you through.


*Sidenote: Pokemon game names are really dumb and not-intuitively chronological. Dem crazy Japans amiright?

**Sidenote 2: This kid wouldn’t let Bob take a turn and had the bloody cheek to tell her that an Umbreon was a kind of Pokemon in a tone of voice usually saved for the hopelessly elderly and out-of-touch. Since being informed that we had in fact had Pokemon when we were kids it’s been non-stop Poketrivia quizzing of seemingly every Pokemon except the original 152. She calls them the Pokemon from ‘back in your day’.

*** More useful than the 12-page cheat sheet**** by a factor of about 300. It helps you keep track of what technology you’re building and are able to build, and keeps an eye on your various battle stats.

**** This is a ridiculous fucking thing anyway. It expects you to print out the pdf on legal paper and then fold and staple it into a booklet. What is this, 1963? It has the potential to be amazing but only if it were turned into a beautiful, easily-navigated hypertext doc. With a fucking contents page and some kind of fucking recognisable structure. One day. In the future.

*****Sorry Chris. That’s what you get for not letting me invade Mechatol Rex.


Photos courtesy of Nick Lanng and Chris MacLennan