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.

Opening event: Board in the City

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All pictures featured in this post are copyright to Board in the City

Our review this week is a little different from our regular posts. Instead of being a game, event or tournament review we instead wanted to share some hype (and probably information? I guess we should include some information) for the new board game café/pub that has opened up in our very own city of Southampton.

Here is some hype. Enjoy the hype. Hype.

There had been rumours for a long while that someone, anyone, would eventually start up a board game café in the city. Among the board gaming community, it had become something of a prophecy: when the time was right someone with the time, and the funds, and a love of games would rise up and provide us all with comfy seats, snacks, and rows upon rows of games. And low fun times were had*.

Fortunately, the time is now and the place is Board in the City. You can find them on the map here.

Unlike the other board game café’s we knew about in other cities, for example the Thirsty Meeple in Oxford, Board in the City offers some extra pub facilities**. It also offers a range of hot and cold food to go alongside that, perfect for those like Briony, who continually felt the need to be eating a head-sized giant cheese covered pretzel while playing games at Essen Spiel 2015. Only better, because you wouldn’t have to walk through several packed halls to locate and retrieve one.

20321_657697387698363_9165735674812569710_nAs we understand it Board in the City has a large collection of games that will gradually be increasing during the first couple of months of its opening. Their page has been publishing some pictures of this as it unfolds. Mmmm, more games, said every board gamer ever. Effectively, the lure to go and play will heighten over time, so basically there is no excuse not to go and check it out.

Although we only managed to catch a glimpse of the décor on the opening night we can safely say that there is some great promise. We really enjoyed the feature wall: this is where several well known games were selected, with similar games branching out in a tree diagram suggesting ideas of what to play next. The idea is to help folks look for games based on similar themes and increasing difficulty or length.

Despite finding it awesome it sparked a long and intense debate about how it could be improved, and what games should be included and the criteria for selecting them to go on the wall. After all, there are a butt-load of games out there, guys. But, as the venue will have to deal with gamers much like ourselves, we figured we’d at least give them one night before leaping into the ‘I think you should change X to Y because I have an opinion and I think it is right’ discussion.

12795435_756616284473139_6169465504884956120_nExcitingly the venue will be running some special events of their own. But how can they possibly make board gaming with your friends, in comfort, while supporting the community more fun you ask? Well, firstly by running a huge murder mystery game during the opening evening, involving the entire audience which was followed up with some delightful live music by our very own Grant Sharkey.

The events will keep on coming too, having recently held a Steam Punk party on the premises.

Ultimately, if you’re in and around Southampton go and check it out. If you live further afield then you should make sure that if you’re ever passing through the city it’s worth stopping off for an hour to sit and have a pint, and play a lovely relaxing game of Twilight Imperium before resuming your journey.

 

Here at the Misery Farm we are looking forward to showing you some more of what they have to offer, and to begin writing some of our reviews from within their walls based on some games we’ve never gotten our hands on before***.

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* For a few months before selling her soul to do a PhD Briony had even considered opening and running one with her angry punk boyfriend as a backup career. The lesser of two evils? Who knows, you PhD students can debate that.

**What with being based in a renovated pub…

***Ideally this is going to be the first of such reviews. Briony caught sight of it on the opening night and thought to herself ‘you know what would be funny? Three drunken, angry feminists playing this game. Better convince Bob and Lizzy!’

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Event Review: Global Game Jam 2016

Pairs well with: Stress and energy drinks.
Brutus scale: 0/10 – it’s all down to your own planning, kids.

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Courtesy of GlobalGameJam.org

This week The Misery Farmers are excited to tell you our experiences with the Global Game Jam 2016. Well, Briony is, because she was the only one of the three musketeers to actually have the time to take part this year (curse you, academia *mutter, grumble, mutter*). Despite this we are fairly confident that she, at least, has thoroughly flown the board game flag at this international event.

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Team Misery is GO!

Global Game Jam is the biggest game jam in the world, where individuals, groups and companies from around the globe are challenged to make a video (or other) game in just 48 hours. Their website likes to think of it as ‘a hackathon focused on game development’. The game must be playable to others by the end of the event, and must be loosely tied to a theme. The theme for 2016 was ‘ritual’. Teams may be of any size (including being on your lonesome), and roles are not constrained. You can have musicians to create music, artists to draw up some designs, hard-core programmers who write the gritty stuff… And Briony to be hungover and eat flapjacks.

Luckily for Briony, she had a partner in flapjack crime, Chris*, to help share the load.

Game Jam has many regional venues where people can take part**. Fortunately, the University of Southampton, where all of The Misery Farmers are current PhD drones researchers, is one of them. This really takes the hassle out of the ‘international’ nature of a global event.

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The event kicks off on Friday evening with a series of introductory talks and meetings with the people you’re going to be trapped in a lab with for the entire weekend. For our event this included a well prepared organisers’ talk about what to expect (stress), and what to aim for (less stress?). Good job Southampton organisers.

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Boss Alien’s advice – ‘remember to shower’

Following this there was a talk from professional video game designers Boss Alien, who have a strong track record of taking part in the GJJ. They provided us with insider knowledge based on previous experience in other jams. Finally, the video produced by the organisers of event themselves showed a series of talks from game designers around the world showcasing the work that they had produced. At the end of this video the theme was announced.

The rest of the evening was spent networking with fellow jammers to get an idea of teams.  What ideas would people have? What sort of media did they want to make? How succinctly could they explain their ideas? At the end of this people should ideally form some groups, and have a loose idea on what they wanted to do. Briony was keen to assemble a crack team who would be very good and also not notice when she occasionally took a cheeky nap. A tough ask.

Briony and Chris (Briss?) had decided that they wanted to make a board game. Stage one complete. But what about? They brainstormed some ‘ritual’ ideas… and concluded that, both being children of academia, it was a totally ridiculous and depressing area to be in. Is that what they meant by ritual? Let’s say yes. Well then, stage two complete. Ace.***

Now, to decide how they wanted the game to play.

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Paper-calypse

2 hours later they’d come up with a basic first draft of the game, in a glorious multi-layered white paper format, which we’ll have you know was definitely meant to represent the white-paper format of academic treatises and not the lack of other materials.

The concept was to complete ‘project cards’ which were worth varying victory points at the end of the game. The cards ranged from rubbish conference papers, to journal papers, research bids, and the all-powerful thesis (that’s where the fantasy element comes in. We all know that theses are the most worthless academic document of all). Each player would begin with a starting job role which had different starting resources. At four points throughout the game, each player would be forced to pick up an event card, which described an undesirable situation based on real academic life. With a little bit of artistic licence, obviously, since an accurate depiction of your supervisor giving you a withering look and asking what exactly the point of your research is would ruin the light-hearted spirit of play. (What are we doing with our lives?!) You would have to complete your event cards** before being able to move on and complete further project cards.

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Strategic pins replace lack of meeple

The resources of the game are collectable through worker placement on four dials****. Briony and Chris (and the rest of team Misery) had figured that deciding what the resources should be in the first place may actually be the hardest part of the game designing process. In fact, it turned out to be the quickest decision that they made all weekend.

‘What do all postgrads, lecturers, fellows and professors run on?’

‘Uh… Coffee. Postgrad labour for marking and demonstrating. Grant money or funding. Annnnd…’

‘ – Sleep! Sleep is the premium resource in this game. Done.’

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It almost looks like a game if you squint…

And so the second draft of the game came about, complete with spinning ‘cogs’*****. Now was the perfect time to try a play test, especially after much of the advice we had previously been given was to play your game at the soonest possible point in time. The idea was then to refine what you had for the rest of the weekend.

The first play test started off slowly, as Briss had deliberately left some spaces blank in order to add to as the game went on. Throughout the game they were able to discuss with the other players and themselves to get a better idea of the different strategies people may use. Based on that they could scribble on the paper draft copy of the game, and amend things as they went.

Academia: The Game going a hell of a lot better than Academia: The Reality. No tears, no existential crises, no waiting three months for your supervisor to email you back before you can move on to your next task. Bam!

DSC_0384After much tweaking, the first play test actually went well! They came out with a better functioning game (would’ve sucked if it had just got worse) and so they were able to turn their attention to the graphics and other features that needed work. By the end of Saturday evening they had a range of fully written and themed cards ready for use, and had worked out what they wanted the board to end up looking like.

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Chris’ beautiful cards

Sadly, Briony had other commitments on Sunday but our faithful friend Chris ploughed on diligently. He refined more graphics, and did yet more tweaking. By the end of the weekend Team Misery had an OK magnificent game to be proud of, and have plans in the near future to fully finish off the game. Stay tuned, board gaming world, you may yet play our very own creation.

The game jam itself was a pretty rad excellent experience. We learnt a hell of a lot about planning and timing. We also really began to appreciate the sheer amount of effort that goes into every single detail and decision of a board game.

Seriously, board game designers, you guys are doing an amazing job and we sure do appreciate it.

The real winner of the day was gaming itself.

If you’d like to see any of the video games that were produced, you can find them on the Global Game Jam site.

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SotonGameJam2016 organisers being proud of their orgnaising (sourced from @sotongamejam)

 

* Not to be confused with Friendly Robot Boyfriend Chris.

** And in a lot of cases actually stay at the venue for the full 48 hours.

*** Some examples of our event cards are listed below:

‘Your University decides to ‘reward’ you by asking you to be the one responsible for a new course. After realising that literally nobody else in the department wants anything to do with it, you decide the only way to move forward is to blackmail your colleagues with photos from the last Christmas party. Lose two sleep resource tokens as you move around at night, intimidating your peers.’
‘Your most recent peer reviewed paper has made reviewer number two so angry he has transmorphed into a manticore. He is now pillaging the local villages, showing no sign of stopping his killing spree. It is your responsibility to intervene with reviewer two and calm him down. Sadly, your calming words have no effect and you are forced to distract him with some students. Sacrifice two student labour resources.’
‘Your superior finally succumbs to the pressure of overseeing a thousand projects at once. Once the ambulance leaves, you suddenly realise it is your responsibility to take over their job. Lose all your coffee, and call an ambulance for yourself.’
‘The co-author you were writing a killer paper with has mysteriously gone missing. You can’t seem to contact her through messenger pigeons, and her students haven’t seen her in weeks. Bravely, you decide to search the nearby settlements for any trace. After trekking through forest you stumble upon a dank and intimidating cave. You see remnants of clothing strewn about, and a large amount of blood. Your fears are confirmed when you find a severed arm, still grasping the draft paper. She didn’t even manage to finish writing the abstract, the MOOSE. Loose one sleep resource from the horrors you have seen.’
'Some poor fool has asked you how your research is going. Try not to cry. Pay two of any resource.’

*** Lizzy had, in fact, had a conversation with someone about a week beforehand about the possibility of an academic board game. She’d interpreted as some kind of horror-theme, and maintains that the game should have basically ended up a lot more similar to Arkham or Eldritch Horror.

**** Much in the style of Tzolk’in.

***** These were just paper with a pin poked through them, with some blue tack added to the pointy end. Sadly the game jam didn’t have any card available for the creation of board games, but we can forgive them.

 

2015: A Year in Misery

A New Year round-up and big thank you from all of us here on the farm.

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For those board-gamers who follow the Gregorian calendar (as opposed to, say, the Mayan calendar… hint hint) then you’ll have noticed that the year 2015 is steadily running out of steam. With the trudging inevitability of indigestible ham, sour champagne, and your uncle’s ‘humorously’ cynical Bah Humbug black Santa hat, Christmas is pushing us kicking and screaming into 2016. It’s just what Jesus would have wanted.

2015 has been a big year. Briony and Lizzy achieved academic accolades, and Bob reached rank 14 in Hearthstone. Truly a rollercoaster of events.

This year also brought Bob, Briony and Lizzy’s crazed dream to fruition. No, not the one with Jason Momoa riding a unicorn; the one where we spontaneously decided that it would be a great idea to start a board gaming blog. It was either that or, you know, do some work for our sodding PhDs, so the choice was clear.

To celebrate our first year of being real-life bloggers we’re bringing you – arranged via meticulous colour-coding, secret voting and over-the-top spreadsheet-based organising – a thrilling Top 5 of the board games we’ve reviewed this year. Complete with a few bonus extras.

‘Bonus extras such as what?’ We hear you ask, glugging mulled wine and hiding in your childhood bedrooms from enthusiastic family celebrations

Well, how about the weirdest search term to lead intrepid Web Explorers to our blog in 2015? These wondrous search terms have provided literal minutes of entertainment for us, and we fully intend to release a ‘Top 10 WTF search terms’ in next year’s annual summary. Exciting stuff.

This inauspicious award goes to “can kids hide drugs inside of dice?”

…shit. Can they? I mean, it probably depends on the dice. And the kids. And the drugs. We all know how edgy and craze-balls young board-gamers are. It all starts with a light dabble in Dobble and Sushi Dice and then BAM! Before you know it your kids are hopped up on DnD and Twilight Imperium, attending all-day Magic the Gathering events and saving their pennies for Essen. Anyway, we sure hope the hand-wringing parents or ingenious teenagers found their drug-related answer somewhere.

And now for the interesting bit! Let’s roll some drums! Here are the top five, in descending order:


 

5: TZOL’KIN: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Plastic Cogs

Official MF drinks pairing: Sacrificial human blood and/or a Bloody Mary

Tzol’kin secured a top spot in the team’s favourite games by being Briony’s favourite game overall,* out of everything we reviewed in 2015. She just loves some hard-core corn.

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Briony: I loved this game. Such cogs, such corn. Butt-loads of worker placement (but with a twist!). My only regret is clearly not making enough time for Lizzy to come and play it with me. For now I’m happy with my record of never losing.

Bob: I have definitely played this game and can definitely remember playing it. There were giant dials, that was cool. It was one of those initially-overwhelming games that eventually gains an internal sense and logic, which you realise just a couple of rounds too late to actually be able to plan anything effectively. Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe next time it’ll be onward to Aztec victory over the Spanish invaders!**

Lizzy: I’ve not actually played this game, so I’m not really sure what I’m Tzol’kin about. Hey! That’s a point. If this is supposedly Briony’s favourite game, how come she never invites me round to play it?

* And obviously because of this she knows that it’s spelled Tzol’kin, not T’zolkin, then. *cough* (thank you to the person who pointed that out!)

** That is absolutely not what this game is about, Bob.

[drumroll, etc]


4:LETTERS FROM WHITECHAPEL: The Case of the Illogically-Numbered Board

Official MF drinks pairing: Gin from your local 1880’s London gin distillery

Our next favourite game is more or less just hide-and-seek with Jack the Ripper. Also, the person you’re hunting happens to murder a few people as you’re playing. Still, as an excellent reflection of the discrimination of the time, as the murders don’t really play that much into your motivation as the fuzz/bobbies/peelers Police. You can still win the game after everyone’s been murdered, it’s just finding Jack that counts.

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Briony: Although a very good game, it can be totally ruined if the person who is playing Jack the Ripper runs out for a toilet break, leaving notes of where they’re hiding unguarded. Remember, it’s not polite to use toilet time to corner the Ripper.

Bob: How did this game make it into our top 5? The subject matter is grim and bizarre as you follow a trail of viscera all over the stinking slum that is Victorian Whitechapel. Despite this point in its favour it’s like playing Minesweeper, but where Lizzy is the mines so you have no titting chance. Fantastic moustaches can only go some way towards making up for that.*

Lizzy: This one is my absolute favourite game at the moment, and it has been for nearly a year. It works particularly well with a good group of people, since it’s got a surprising amount of roleplaying potential to it. Some of us particularly love to flourish all of our clue-hunting by weaving some great stories into the game.

*I know what you’re all thinking. ‘Hey, why don’t you be the murderer for a change, Bob? Then you can cause some misery yourself and stop complaining!’ Well, gentle reader, you are wrong. If I played as Jack two things would happen. Firstly, I’d fuck it up and be accused of cheating. Secondly, Lizzy would find and arrest me and then my humiliation would be complete.  Then there would be more complaining.


3: POTION EXPLOSION: Ignoring Lab Safety 101

Official MF drinks pairing: Clumsily mixed cocktails

A big hit at this year’s Essen Spiel, this game brings together the classic elements of marbles, fairy dust, and Alchemy-school exams. Think of it as the entrance-exam to Achemists’ post-graduate research centre.

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Briony: At Essen I was confused why this game was so damn popular. Then after queuing for what felt like an age I finally got to play it, and totally understood in a zen-like moment. Two of my four companions then promptly bought it before even finishing playing it.

Bob: I have introduced a ton of people to this game by now, and no-one has disliked it. There’s no other game quite like it, except maybe those addictive online Flash games like Bejewelled and Bubble Cannon. It’s fun and tactile but not completely un-cerebral. It’s a little too lightweight and one-dimensional to earn a higher spot on our list (once you’ve nailed the play tactics there’s very little to do apart from mock your opponents), but it’s a definite recommended buy for play with all members of friends and family.


2: ELDRITCH HORROR: Misery, Doom, Tentacles (a normal Friday night in!)

Official MF drinks pairing: Very strong whisky. Strong enough to forget the horrors.

Across the world terror and madness loom. Unrest in the streets, nervous whispers from the darkest corners of society, and bizarre, otherworldly creatures appearing in cities with alarming regularity. You and an intrepid band of investigators must discover the truth, and suppress the rising horror before it’s too late! Sadly, it’s already probably much too late. You’re all screwed, and the world gets eaten. Happy gaming!

 

Briony: As someone who enjoys Cthulhu roleplay this game was already right up my street. Add some worker placement, and random monsters into the mix and boom. Good board game. It’s a shame it’s so hard to win… (Warning: do NOT play with more than 4 players).

Bob: Definitely one of my all-time favourite games. It’s a chaotic collaborative mind-fuck of a game which deserves all the love in the world. It took the gameplay of Arkham Horror and streamlined it into something magnificent. Lots of bits, lots of variability in play, lots of horror. Not recommended for noobie players, and if you do choose to play with more than 4 players, make sure everyone is ready to spend 6 hours on it and role-play their moderately racially-stereotyped characters.

Finally, in the number 1 spot it’s our favourite game of 2015……


1: CODENAMES: From Essen, With Love

Official MF drinks pairing: Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred.

A deceptively clever spy-themed party game. Form teams and use word-association clues to contact your code-named agents in the field. Get it wrong and you risk contacting the assassin, or just accosting some bewildered passers-by and accusing them of being part of an intelligence group. Special commiserations to agents Ham, Toe, and Spy, who were clearly at the very back of the queue when pseudonyms were being handed out.

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Briony: Over the short few months since we first played this game it has proved to be an exceptional source of both fun, and anxiety for whoever may be the spy leader. No two games are the same, and you’ll remember all the word combinations for a long time to come.

Bob: This game is very stressful. It’s the most thinky, stressful party game I’ve ever come across. It’s excellent.


Our final honourable mentions go to the games with the Most Misery and Most Farming. Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone who read our blog, commented, or even just gave it some love on Facebook. You’re all rad and we hope you have a wonderful new year!

Most misery: CAYLUS

For being less of a game and more session of calculating a perfect game strategy which will inevitably fall apart due to your own idiocy or the sabotage of the opposing players. It’s like a maths exam in game form, but with castles made of pigs.

Most farming: AGRICOLA

Because well…. obviously.

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Happy New Year!

 

Codenames: From Essen With Love

Pairs well with: Martinis. Shaken, not stirred. (Rumour has it they’re actually better stirred, but that’s just the kind of shit you’ve got to deal with as a spy.)

Traitor-rating: 2/10 for the ability to try to put off your opponents mid-game.

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We three kings* board game enthusiasts have had a lot to say about what some of the best games from Essen 2015 may have been. There have been a lot of candidates and a lot of enthusiasm. It’s almost as if we really, really love board games! Weird.

The excited froth of enthusiasm shall continue to spill forth as we move on to what really is one of the best, and surprisingly so, games of the year: Codenames. Don’t be put off by the box art which looks like it was designed in MS Word and features the thrilling byline of ‘TOP SECRET WORD GAME’,** this is some addictive shit. We hope you’ll forgive a bit of brief explanation, since the game is pretty simple to play and explain.

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Lizzy gets fancy photography confused with just holding the camera in a funny place

In Codenames you (usually) play as two different teams of spies. One person per team is the spymaster, the rest of you are regular vanilla-spies sitting in the field awaiting instruction.

The ‘board’ consists of a 5 x 5 grid of cards, each with a different word on it. The two rival spymasters, presumably sitting nice and comfortably somewhere in Spy HQ playing with some gadgets and looking at a dozen different CCTV monitors, have access to an extra card which they share, but which the rest of the players aren’t allowed to see. That card shows the ‘board’ as a 5 x 5 grid with each card marked as red, blue, grey or the single black.

This little card means that the spymasters can know which of the words on the table are the codenames of red-team spies, blue-team spies, regular confused passers-by and THE ASSASSIN!

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The Assassin

The actual game is a word association game, with the aim being to contact all of the spies on your own team before the other team does the same, and to not contact the assassin (for obvious, game-ending reasons). The spymasters will take turns giving exactly one word and one number, the word being one that they’re trying to associate with some on the table and the number indicating how many words they’re trying to link.

Simple!

One of the first things you come to notice as you play the game is that you really feel sorry for some of these spies. Agent Ghost? Cool. Agent Roulette? Pretty classy. Agent Ham? Umm, maybe not so much. Agent Ketchup? Are you sure you work here? Oh and I’ve got to say I’m a little embarrassed to be working with Agent Pants over here. There’s a reason we gave her that name.

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Confused passer-by

And sometimes you’ve really got to question just what the secret service were thinking about. Agent Spy? I mean really. AGENT SPY? What do you think the point of a secret codename is? Maybe to avoid revealing your identity as a spy to everyone? Tsh. Some people just weren’t cut out for this business.

The plus side of Spy HQ’s batshit, overboard spy-naming policy is that you’ll never be short on variety between different games, even when each one is only about 15-20 minutes long. The box is jam-packed with different words, two sides to each, and you can get through a hell of a lot of games (trust us, we’d know) before you need to come across the same words that you’ve already used. Even if that weren’t the case, the way that the board is always different means that it’s unlikely any of your games will ever resemble each other. And other factors, like the impossible and bizarre ways that you and your friends’ brains work.

Bonus points for the game come from its flexibility. In our short time of owning it we’ve played it on beds, on floors, in hotel lobbies… even on walls. While procrastinating our PhD research doing important board game research for this blog we even spotted someone on /r/boardgames who threw together a makeshift copy for a family gathering. Pretty impressive.

Codenames is more fun than we ever thought a word association game could be, and at least part of that is thanks to the mad things you’ll try to connect, the connections that seem startlingly obvious to some and mad to others.

Lizzy: Water; Two.
Bob: Right. Ok. So, I’ll go for… ‘Well’
*Well is correct*
Bob: Good. Ok, so next I’ll go for Bridge..
*Bridge is incorrect*
Bob: WHAT. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BRIDGE IS INCORRECT?
Lizzy: *silence*
Bob: Bridge! Water goes under the bridge!
Lizzy: *awkward silence*
Bob: Seriously? ARGH.

*later*

Bob: Wait, so what the flip was the other word for water?
Lizzy: Palm.
Bob: P… pardon?
Lizzy: You know, Palm. Palm trees… are… er… sometimes near water. And Palm Springs is a place that sounds like it’s named after some, you know, springs.
Bob: … I think we should be on different teams.

Other times you find that special friend who just seems to share your brain.

Spymaster: Bond; Four.
Secret agent: Right, well. There’s Octopus, because of Octopussy, (correct answer), Moon, because of Moonraker (correct answer), Spy because James Bond is a spy, (correct answer) and… well, James Bond holds a gun in the palm of his hand, so… Palm! (correct!!)

Another great feature of the game, although one that only really works with a group of 4+ playing, is the constant (but friendly) mockery of the other team’s guesses. Not to mention trying to put them off!

Lizzy: Right guys. Beef; Three.
Opposing Team (pretending to talk to each other, but loudly so the other team can hear): OH! Yeah. She’s probably referring to the great Beef Revolution of ’93. Or she means ‘Beef Dice’. Isn’t that the sequel to Sushi Dice?

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It’s really an unfair advantage that the blues get Pierce Brosnan on their team

LWH Codenames Tournament

As we briefly mentioned last week, one of our local conventions Little Wooden Houses ran a Codenames tournament at their latest shindig. Teams of 3 people competed for the coveted Tiny Trophy of Being Good at Games in an incredibly tense competition.  Team Misery decided that despite wearing her ‘Captain Hangover’ hat, Bob should be spymaster as it’s very easy to get inside her head.***

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Round One

The first match was against a team of raw recruits who’d never met. It’s easy to underestimate a team of nice (ha!) ladies but all early pleasantries were rapidly erased as Bob politely but firmly invited the opposing team to suck her dick when they took an early lead.**** Team Misery sucked it up and got their shit together to win convincingly and immediately take on the next challengers.

Round Two (or ‘Semi-final’… it was a pretty small tournament)

On round two, shit got serious. These were no fresh-faced n00bs, but experienced gamers and long-time friends. It would be easy for them to work together, and the stress was real. Ground rules were firmly laid (no speaking at all from the spymasters apart from clues (a rule which Bob finds supremely hard to follow), and taunting and smack-talk from team-members absolutely allowed). Adrenaline pumping and neurons firing, Bob flopped her enormous spymaster-schlong across the table with a steady ‘Culinary, six.’

Six correct card choices left the opposing team in the dust, and Team Misery advanced to the final round unbeaten.

The Final

The final match was played as best of three rounds, against a team which included a girlfriend-boyfriend pairing (Dr Boyfriend and Cthulhu-Joss) and Dr Charlie. Harsh.

A strong start in the first round got Team Misery off the ground, but they were nearly brought down by an incredible last-ditch hail-Mary clue from Charlie, whose team needed to get five correct answers in one turn to win.

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Play along at home!

‘Nazis, infinity.’

Um. What. Surely this could never work! But after the initial laughter, Joss and Al took to the board to give it their all.

‘Er. Did the Nazis ever go near some Czechs? Czech!’
*1/5 correct*
‘Well, they probably had ships. Ship?’
*2/5 correct*
‘They love to MARCH!’
*3/5 correct, panic from Team Misery*
‘Drill?’
*4/5 correct*

Team Misery watched in shock as all their dreams decayed in the face of insanity. If the opposing team got one more correct answer, they would win.

‘Aw nuts. Isn’t there a movie about Nazis where they’re all somewhere really cold? And they’re zombies? Dead Snow! Yeah. Maybe he means that! ICE!’
*INCORRECT*

Thank goodness for good guys. (That’s us, by the way.)

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A very tense Dr Charlie and ‘Hangover-hat’ Bob

Round two was almost as close, but went to team Charlie, making it even-Stevens going into the final round.

Bob meditated while Lizzy and Briony made a break for stress-wees and tea.

It was a tough board for the team. ‘Hollywood’, ‘France’, and ‘New York’ were all needed, but ‘England’ was the assassin and ‘Beijing’ belonged to the opposing team, so a simple clue like ‘places’ was out.

‘Cannes, three’ managed to tie Hollywood, France, and Premiere together, but that was just the start. An incredibly close, tense game ensued, until both teams were down to their last two words.

Bob made a desperate bid to tie ‘New York’ and ‘Forest’ together with ‘Jungle, two’ (urban jungle, right?) but was thwarted by Lizzy’s insistence that ‘Jungle Jam’ was a thing (she meant a jungle gym. Like the climbing frame. Bob actually broke the rules when that went down as she was incapable of stopping a stress-pressured ‘Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp’ from escaping).

To be fair, the team’s eventual demise might also be put down to a glorious moment in which Bob forgot which colour she was, and gave a clue for the wrong team’s spies. Some swearing followed.

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A smooth final two from Team Charlie and it was all over. The tiny trophy of ‘Good at Games’ was wrested from the Misery Farm’s grasp, and Bob unclenched her butt-hole for the first time since the tournament started.

Codenames is a frickin’ excellent game. Good as both a light party game for the inexperienced, and as a brain-crusher for more experienced players. Incredibly stressful. Highly-recommended.

The real winner was the stupid other team. But also, board games.

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Hate is such a strong word, but…

* Too early for Christmas jokes? What? Christmas jokes are never appropriate? Psh.

** Codenames won Shut Up & Sit Down’s prestigious ‘Best Game, Worst Box’ award 2015.

*** It is mostly filled with air so there’s plenty of room.

**** Did we mention that we’re really, really competitive?

 

Misery Farm On The Road: Little Wooden Houses 2

It’s been a long week here at The Misery Farm. Lizzy and Bob have been marking idiot undergraduate papers while Briony has been attempting the academic equivalent of fitting a gallon into a pint glass, i.e. condensing her Master’s thesis into a publishable paper.

Needless to say, they were all very happy to see the end of the week and to celebrate with happy hour cocktails (Bob and Briony) and going to bed at 9pm (Lizzy).

Saturday dawned bright and early. And hungover.

Somehow your farmers managed to pile into Bob’s shitmobile car and pootle all the way up to Oxford without any major death or destruction,* fully stocked with caffeinated beverages and terrible service-station sandwiches. What a treat lay ahead of them – a full day of board games ahoy!

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Pictured: Meeples, not Little Wooden Houses. It’s the thought that counts.

What’s Little Wooden Houses?

Little Wooden Houses is the brainchild of Mac ‘Amazing’ Chapman, fellow board-game enthusiast and blogger. His dream was simple: to gather friends and acquaintances and pretty much anyone who fancied it, put them in a large room together, and play some board games.

It’s a formula which pretty much guarantees success.

Effectively, it’s just a day at a friend’s house with a bunch of people you like and a bunch of board games you like, but on a larger scale. Things that you like, but more of it! YEAH!

Unlike similar small and friend-run events we’d been to previously, like Gavcon, it’s a simple case of turn-up, bring-games, leave with the same games you arrived with. Simple stuff. Particularly good for those on a budget! We each gave a small contribution to M. Amazing for renting the hall and brought our own homemade sammidges, hangover snacks and maybe ordered a tiny bit of takeaway too.

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The whole room’s a bit like a big wooden house, actually

Little Wooden Houses 2

This event, the second of its kind (but we weren’t at the first, so it can’t have been as good), was hosted in a little village hall near Oxford, where we’d previously had an incredibly successful day as the media in Watch The Skies. If only half as many nuclear bombs went off this time, it would be a success! It’s a bit further away from our homes than a couple of us would like, but it all worked out ok because Bob is an incredibly safe driver and we didn’t fear for our lives once in the entire journey.**

We started the day with HangoverBob opening her packet of Skips upside down and declaring it to be the end of the world. Fortunately, the team plodded nobley onwards, and got stuck knee deep into some games:

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Little wooden pillars

Elysium

Elysium is a good game with one strange weakness:

‘Have I played this before?’
‘Yeah, have I? I really really can’t tell…’
‘Nah it just looks like all other games ever.’

It really does as well. It’s ancient-Greek themed and the artwork is a bit 7 Wonders, maybe a bit Cyclades.

We came across it on Day 4 at Essen and Briony bought it there and then.

There are pillars, but hungover games-explainer Briony is quick to point out that the aim of the game is not to build a tower out of them. Sadness all around.

Otherwise, it offers a good level of chance and luck v strategy and tactical play. It’s simple to learn, plus there’s just enough opportunity for dickery to keep things interesting and victory points get handed out like Skittles. And we love skittles!

As a downside, there are a few design errors. You must knock your pillars over to collect cards, but the bases of the pillars are circular so they just roll around all over the table and onto the floor, repeatedly. The turn order tokens are nearly the perfect size to fit into a slot on your player board, but not quite. Argh!

We still all had a pretty good time. Bob and Briony survived their hangovers, and laughed at the worst jokes.

‘Can I have a circley thing?’
‘You certainly can!’
‘… I CIRCLEY can!’

Victory for Briony!

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Some vigorous pointing from HangoverBob

Tournament: Codenames

Ok, when we said that Little Wooden Houses was just bring-a-game, play-a-game, we were almost telling the truth. Little Wooden Houses also has a long standing tradition (as long-standing as a tradition can be when it’s only the second event) of having a mini tournament. The first event was home to a Blueprints tournament, and this time Codenames was the star of the show!

If you haven’t played Codenames yet, then you should. It’s a competitive word-association game played in teams, but even more fun than it sounds.

Your steadfast reviewers made up a team of 3 (obviously), and were determined to come in either first or last place (because those are the only two positions worth blogging about). It was decided that Bob should be spymaster because a) she’s strangely OK at it even when wearing her ‘Captain Hangover’ hat and b) Briony and Lizzy can get inside her mind with ease. To catch your prey, you must think like your prey. To think like Bob, just replace 98% of brain function with pop culture references and sarcasm.

We started strongly. A decisive victory against a team which had never met before, followed by a trickier match-up against long-time friends. The tension was absolutely insane, largely because we take winning board games far too seriously. The final match was an incredibly close best of 3. We fought bravely but… ultimately the tiny plastic cup of victory was wrestled from our grasp.

A full review of both the game and the little tournament will be out soon!

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Between Two Cities

After the intense stress of a tournament, a soothing game of Between Two Cities was called for. It’s fun and simple and can fit absolutely loads of players thanks to its team-based mechanic which means that until the scoring phase you only really play with and against the players to your immediate right and left.

Takara Island

Next was Takara Island, a worker-placement-lite game recently re-released with art by the incredibly talented Naiiade. Dive into the deep seas, fight some monsters, and dig for magical treasure. It’s flawed by some unbalanced mechanics which aren’t clarified in the rulebook, possibly due to translation errors.

Two Rooms and a Boom

There are a lot of reasons to gather twenty-something friends in a single place to play games, but one of the strongest has to be Two Rooms and a Boom. A game that not only works with these larger numbers, but thrives with them.

It’s a combination of hidden roles and party game: red terrorists v. blue secret agents. Everyone is divided up into two rooms and allowed to get chatting. Every few minutes there’s a hostage swap where a few people can change (or be forced to change) rooms. The aim of the game is to get the (red) bomber and the (blue) president in the same room at the end of the game if you’re the terrorists, and to get the president the hell away from the bomber if you’re the blues. That’s right, even if the entire rest of the secret service explodes with the bomber, as happened in one of the games we played, the blue team still win if the president is alive. Is death worth victory? Almost certainly.

Despite the ostensible secrecy of the roles, it quickly becomes clear who’s on which team.

“Lizzy, wait, are you on the red team?”
“No.”

*Lizzy bursts into nervous laughter and has to run away*

It gets interesting when more roles are added. The engineer to fix the bomb. The doctor to diagnose the president. The Shy Guys, the fools. The first lady and the mistress, both of whom are competing to be in the room with the president at the end of the game (but not in the same room as each other). Moby Dick is there, as is Ahab.

Ultimately, despite the number of roles, it’s not a difficult game. Bob was the bomb and she quite successfully exploded. Good work, everyone!

The end of the day

Little Wooden Houses 2 ran on to the late, late hours of 11pm. Your noble journalists ducked out before then, but still had a wonderful day. The atmosphere was relaxing, friendly and rife with games.

Your competitive team of journalists had so much fun that they barely even cried at not winning the coveted Codenames tournament trophy.

But, as always, the real winner… is board games.

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It’s fine. We didn’t want the Codenames trophy anyway.

 

*Despite what Lizzy might say about Bob’s driving.

**(shifty look from Lizzy, as if from someone under duress)

Misery Farm on the Road: Essen Spiel 2015 Day 4 Field Report

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.

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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
Sanity or victory points.. sanity or victory points..
Sanity or victory points.. sanity or victory points..

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.

DSC_0438Bob 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!

Team Misery divided, and wanting everyone to know about it.
Team Misery, divided and wanting everyone to know about it.
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.

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Stop. Including. Me.

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.

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Pictured: Large sausage.
Day 4, Game 4: Architect
The road to victory. Deed-filled victory.
The road to victory. Deed-filled victory.

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.

DSC_0450There 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.

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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.

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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.

DSC_0451Each 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.

Screw your mortal resources, we need only pillars.
Screw your mortal resources, we need only pillars.

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?

Spy-Bri
Spy-Bri