Takara Island – More like Take-all-ya-treasure Island

Pairs well with: a nice pint of cider, preferably un-spilled.
Traitor rating: 2/10 no real way to ruin each others’ day unless you get particularly creative, like muscling in on someone’s treasure or taking the sword they need.

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You would think that by now your Misery Farming friends would be running low on games purchased at Essen. You’d be wrong! We save up all year for that madness. Having said that, this week’s game was not bought by us at Essen but rather was given as a gift.

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Specialist tiles – or – some of the trades that Bob is Jack of.

Bob, as you might not know, is a bit of an academic Jack of All Trades,* though she prefers the term ‘renaissance woman’. Bit of coding? Yeah it’s lurking in there somewhere. Film studies? Yep. Performance art reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring? Yeah sure why not. Among these many awe-inspiring skills is some spectacularly mediocre German, which gets drafted into service every year for Essen Spiel (with progressively less impressive fluency as time goes on). In 2015 it was pushed to the limit by an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that was unable to deliver any you can eat sushi. After waiting for food for two hours the whole table watched in awe as Bob drew herself up to her full height of 5’4 and did something that went against every British instinct: she made a complaint.

The stern Japanese proprietress was unimpressed, and only after a long, long exchange of bad German on both sides interspersed with stony silences was Bob able to procure a mighty 20% discount.

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DON’T SPILL THE CIDER, BOB. NO!

Nonetheless her bravery inspired her comrades and on the last evening they surprised her with a copy of Takara Island as a reward, which she had been eyeing all weekend thanks to its beautiful illustrations (another masterpiece from Naiiade), but had never quite gotten around to buying. It was actually quite sneaky: they staged a conversation so spectacularly boring that Bob zoned out and didn’t notice people slipping off to the Ferti Games stand. It was about the comparative size in millimetres of Warhammer model settings. No normal human can withstand that.

Bob’s given it a few plays since then but she finally gathered up Briony and Lizzy for a play-through in late January at Southampton’s favourite inner-city gastropub the Rockstone. Their ridiculously alluring veganuary specials might have had something to do with it. After munching down burrito bowls and veggie burgers with blue cheese sauce* we set up the board and got down to some rules-explaining.

P1030042… Which of course was interrupted when someone knocked over a glass of cider, prompting a chorus of ‘noooooooo’s and scrabbling to save the cardboard bits. This summoned the very lovely barmaid who said that we sounded like a chorus of angels. Aw shucks. Loveliest thing anyone has ever said to us.

Excitement over, we could get started.

‘First things first,’ declared Bob, ‘this is a game about treasure hunting. No complications, no mixed motivations or influence or hidden goals or nothing. Just delicious treasure. You’ve packed up all your shit because you’ve heard there’s loot under the sea and you want to hunt it!’

Briony, looking closely at her character board, commented that it didn’t look like she’d packed anything, really. Except a bear.

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Briony… well prepared for adventure? 

Bears are very good at treasure hunting, Briony. Duh.

It really is a supremely straightforward worker-placement game elevated by adorable graphics and the gentle thrill of minor combat and diving for treasure.  You begin the game with two workers and no money. There are various actions available to you, from gathering small amounts of money to converting your money into treasure (only treasure is worth points at the end of the game). These actions are represented by drawings of buildings on one side of the board.

P1030051On the other side of the board is the sea, on which are placed six stacks of nine tiles. You must ‘dig’ through these tiles in the search for the fabled Stones of Legend, clearing rockfalls and battling monsters along the way. As you go deeper into the stacks the monsters get tougher but the rewards become greater. Sure you might find a creepy sea-bat-dragon, but you might also find a very valuable glowing-eyed Tiki icon. If you come across a monster while digging it will beat you up and send you to the hospital, causing one of your workers to be out of action for the next turn. Luckily you can also ‘survey’ as an action, which means looking at the top three cards in a stack to figure out if that mess is worth your time.

Some of what you find will be worth money instead of treasure points. Money is still useful as it allows you to rent the sword (the only way to fight monsters), as well as hire more workers. A one-off payment of 5 gold will buy you another permanent worker. All three of which look suspiciously similar.

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Weird triplets

“Are they nice triplets?” asked Lizzy, eyeing the stack of extra workers.

“Yes Lizzy they’re nice triplets.”

“I don’t know, they clearly have mixed loyalties. How come they will only work for different teams?”

“OK, they’re not nice triplets, just regular triplets.”

“Oh. Shame.”

You can also hire experts who will perform special actions for one turn only. For example the mistress of foresight can look at three cards anywhere in a stack. Briony likes her in particular because of her fabulous hat. It is a giant eye.

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Giant eye of foresight

The miner can dig through several tiles at a time rather than the usual one.  You can always tell the miner because Bob forgets which one is him every single time she plays. Luckily Briony was on hand with keen observations.

“Hey Bob are you sure this one is the miner?”

“Uh… sure. Yes.”

“Because this one has a pickaxe and a little light on his head.”

“So he does.”

“So do you think he could be the miner?”

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Giant sword of… fighting

“…”

“On account of how he looks more like a miner?”

“You guys think you’re really fucking clever don’t you.”

Scoring is done at the end of the game, and is a bit odd. The game ends when both Stones of Legend have been found or too many stacks have been completely cleared without finding the stones. If that happens then everyone loses. If both stones are found, but by different players, points are scored according to overall treasure accumulation. If both stones are found by the same player they win forever and everyone else loses no matter how much cool other junk they’ve found.

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Briony’s “I’ve already surveyed these haven’t I?” face

The tiles come in three stages of difficulty, and the tiles for each stage are randomised. If you follow the rules properly then this randomisation is more or less perfect while still ensuring that both Stones of Legend do not occur in each stack. While this makes the whole thing more balanced, there ain’t nobody got time for that. The ol’ ‘shuffle and get on with it’ method is a lot more straightforward, and the possibility of both stones appearing in the same stack gives the whole game a higher risk/reward ratio.

It’s a fun, light-hearted game. It would be good for introducing new friends to Euro-style or worker-placement games, as it’s actually quite superficial. Strategy is minimal, though there are ways to optimise your play (Bob favours a ‘dig blindly while still in the easy early stages, then hire the mistress of foresight for fancy surveying when you’ve got some cash’ playstyle, while Briony prefers to fight monsters (with mixed results)). It would get new players used to the mechanics of ‘proper’ games, without the harrowing punishments usually doled out by said games.***

Maybe also pretty handy for kids, or parents, or those friends who just can’t pick up the rules that quickly and aren’t that deeply into board games as much as they’re into just having a pleasant evening (weirdos).

There are definitely a lot of worker placement games around. But although it doesn’t stand out greatly, it has some pretty beautiful graphics and is still good to play.

The real winner this week was board games. And treasure. And cider.

It’s a tie.

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* And Master of none one! Geddit!? Cuz she has a Masters…? Hahaha?

** They were out of fancy ramen with mock duck gyoza. So sad.

*** If playing Agricola doesn’t make your soul hurt so much that you feel the need to name a board game blog after the pain it causes, you’re not playing it right.

 

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.