Above and Below: Buy your cave now to get on the hermit property ladder!

Pairs well with: Local, organic, micro-brewed cider. By the barrel!
Brutus rating: 2/10. Not many knives in the back, except maybe the overly enthusiastic claiming of barrels and buildings

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If we were to sum up Above and Below with one word it would be ‘pleasant’. It’s fairly gentle (one to play with older kids), has minimal conflict, and is just rather nice all round. It combines many of the neat bits of town-building worker-placement games with the bonus of extra roleplay scenarios (we totally love a bit of extra roleplay!). Instead of a humiliating scrabble to feed your family (such as in Agricola) there’s a considerably less desperate scrabble to make sure everyone gets a bed for the evening, or they won’t be nice and rested for the next day to carry on work. And the game even scales down well for two players!

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The camera’s focus on cider is definitely not entirely based on ourselves.

The setting is gentle fantasy – after being unceremoniously ousted from your home, your family settles in a new land and proceeds to build a nice village. Each player has a separate family, making the game a little too insular for some (you’d have a hard time ruining someone else’s play time), though there are some shared and limited resources like buildings which drive the competition. Hire workers, build houses, harvest resources. All pretty straightforward.

Beds, oddly, are the main resource you need to keep an eye on, as they only come with certain buildings. Pretty sensible, really. In your village there’s none of this bullshit you see in documentaries about rural settings with poor working conditions and sleeping on hay on the floor. In Above and Below, the workers get their very own double-bed with proper sheets and an excellent mattress. Cushty stuff. Don’t say I don’t treat you well, workers.

No cushty bed? No work the next day. Pretty amazing employment rights. This even goes for

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Bob, spending ages trying to find the round token before realising it mean the round token. 

people who don’t get a bed two days in a row. You’d think they’d have just spent the day lazing around in other people’s beds, while everyone else is adventuring, building, working. But if they do then they keep pretty quiet about it, and continue to remain too tired to work until they finally get a shot in a proper bed.

The one exception to the rule? Cider. If you get your workers a barrel of cider, a couple of them are going to share a bed. We’ll leave it to your filthy imagination as to why that is the case, but it also raises important questions. What if only one person in the double bed has cider? Is Gary always going to be sick of Devin turning up drunk and ruining his night’s sleep? Would the game be improved by a mechanic that generates new villagers after a ‘cider night’ occurs? … probably not.

Aside from the excitement of the bed-mechanics, you have many of your decent but run-of-the-mill worker placement activities. Build things for more resources, do things for resources, acquire more workers to do more things and build more things for more resources.

One of these activities stands out, however. Exploring! As you might work out from the title, you can build your village in two different ways: above, and… below! Before you can build below, you need to explore some of the exciting caverns that twist around underneath your village. With the help of a plucky band of explorers and a giant roleplaying book! Huzzah!

This is where the game bridges the gap between regular Agricola-type worker placing and some more roleplay-heavy story-based game. For each adventure, a story is randomly selected and one of your adventuring comrades will read you out some exciting spiel about your journey underground. Maybe you’ll bump into wizards, rescue some captives or discover your spirit animal!

For all that questing is an essential part of the game, it does feel very disparate from the ‘main’ task of village-building. It’s plenty of fun though so it’s hard to feel too sad about that.

And, like any good game with a roleplaying twist, the game allows you to add as much flavour

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The cider is important both in the game and in playing the game.

as you like to the adventures you read out. The written down adventure will tell you the choices that the explorers face – usually involving various difficulties of dice-rolling dependent on the party you’ve chosen to take on the journey – and the rewards are listed in the book, but how the adventurers acquire those rewards is up to you.

Your friends can add any extra layer of plot that they like, on a scale of Briony to Bob. Where a Briony might end an adventure with “Great! You conjure up a mushroom, now you have a mushroom”, a Bob will give you an elaborate plot with sympathetic characters, motives and backstory. Briony only plays adventures, she doesn’t make them.

Unfortunately for Briony, her lack of roleplaying skills also somehow extends to sucking at playing them. If there is a demon to accidentally be let loose on an unsuspecting village, Briony is the one who will open that cage. If there is a pig to be rounded up, Briony will fail in every method of capture from luring with treats to singing a special magical pig song. When she finally resorted to lassoing the poor creature by the neck the farmer was singularly unimpressed.

“WHAT! What do you mean, ‘minus one reputation’? I helped the farmer! Just because I didn’t have enough points on me to know a damned pig song!
“Yeah, we’ve all been there, bro.”

Briony’s reputation, in fact, got so low that her reputation marker couldn’t go down any further. People had zero good to say about Brionytown. Those clowns just go around hurting people, releasing demons, cursing everyone. Stay clear away, folks! Unless you want to trade or have a nice house. Maybe she was just building up a fancy gated community after all…

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So fancy!

Lizzy “Always The Cylon” on the other hand earned an excellent reputation among adventurers of the world. Everything she explored turned into reputation gold! Not points, mind you, but at least she had some serious respect amongst the fictional communities.

Above and Below, as well as doing a pretty good job of crossing over two different board game genres, ticks several other boxes as well. The art is clean and gorgeous, the characters aren’t bland meeples but are cards varied in race, gender AND species.* And there are just about enough ways to earn points to keep it pretty interesting. You get points for buildings, there’s an interesting points scale for different kinds of resource, and there are points for reputation. It’s just right to get the players having to think carefully about what they’re doing.

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There is even, as ever, a Briony-a-like character.

And, most importantly for the Misery Farmers, it has enough story-telling flair to distract from just being a point-machine game. There are some games that are fun, but that everyone knows Lizzy is going to win. Scoville, Euphoria, Liguria, for example. Above and Below is, praise the cardboard gods, not one of those games! QUICK, DISTRACT LIZZY WITH ROLEPLAYING! SHE’LL FORGET SHE HAS TACTICS!

We had a great time. Briony turned out to be the winner after setting up an effective income-based infrastructure which resulted in fancy buildings and piles of resources, while Bob and Lizzy wasted their time having pointless and stupid fun adventures. And so finally Lizzy lost a game, Briony eventually earned back a little of her reputation and Bob learned that her spirit animal is a fish. The real winner, as always, is board games.

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We got so excited about Lizzy not winning that we forgot how to fist-bump!

*In some scenarios you can gather extra party members. These include a robot, a lady made of tar, and a cat. The cat is particularly fun because if given any task it has a 1 in 3 chance of just… not doing it. That is exactly how cats do.

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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Easter Special: Travelling Games for Travelling People

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

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

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

Hive

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

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Dobble

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

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Exhibit 1. All fun, all of the time.

Bananagrams

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Little Prince / Make Me a Planet : There’s a Starman Waiting in the Sky

Pairs well with: Sloe gin with lemonade. Because it’s adorable, just like the game.

Traitor rating: 3/10. It’s dickery by omission – avoid picking the cards that will ruin your opponent’s adorable little planet. Because you’re mean, and you hate happiness.

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A smaller game, the kind that fits well at the beginning of the evening or slotted between two longer games, The Little Prince also works well as a soothing follow-up to something a bit feistier. Worried that your friends will never speak to each other after a long slog of Game of Thrones: The Board Game? Concerned that your compatriots will never stop calling you traitorous toaster scum after you defeated them at Battlestar Galactica? Worried that you and everyone else are going to murder Lizzy because of her stupid smug victory face after a game of Scoville, and then get in trouble with the police in the morning? Then maybe The Little Prince is for you!

Funnily enough, one of those above situations was what led to The Misery Farmers playing The Little Prince together for the first time. Even though it doesn’t have a whole world to offer in the way of strategy or unique aspects, and it’s not as catchy and unique as some of the other short games we all know and love, it does definitely hold a top spot as being something peaceful and adorable to play. It would probably be very kid-appropriate (we don’t know any children ourselves so we can’t check), but it’s also a fitting introductory game for e.g. nice mums who have nothing against board games per se but everything’s changed a lot since Monopoly and they’ve misplaced their spectacles and what does this card do again?

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Make me a planet! Oh sure, ok, why not.

It also mercifully doesn’t take a lot of explaining, because getting heavily beaten at precursory strategy games by Lizzy make Bob and Briony very… thirsty. Rules-explanation took the following, somewhat slurred, form:

 “So this tile is good ‘cause it’s got loads of shit on it, where this other tile is good because of all this stuff on it. But this one, he’s a bastard because he’s got all this bad stuff on him.”

Thanks thirsty Bob!

Luckily in the cold light of day we can briefly explain the rules a little better.

The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet is a short game based on the French children’s book of the same name.* You assemble an adorable little planet made up of 12 tiles with, as Bob so helpfully explained, stuff on them.  The game lasts for the same amount of turns as you need tiles to build your planet, and there’s a neat strategy of turn-taking in which a player picks three tiles from a tile-pile, chooses a tile for their planet and then decides whom to pass the remaining two tiles onto for next picksies.

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Point-scorey tiles

It does have a few unique twists that make it interesting. Some of these tiles will determine how your planet will score points at the end, so you can find yourself with a choice between taking a tile which might get you points or tiles which might get you ways to earn points. You’ll have the complete set of tiles by the end anyway, but do you want to decide on point-scoring tiles earlier, or do you want to leave it until later so your comrades are equally clueless for now?

Collecting certain types of ‘stuff’ is how your victory stars are reaped. Obviously, you should maximise the kinds of ‘stuff’ which your point-scoring tiles say you need to get points. The objects themselves are fairly whimsical; it’s as if a little prince made them up. Items such as sheep, cardboard boxes (with sheep in them), snakes, roses and lamp-posts are all among his imagined items, and are all adorably drawn.

Briony, never having read The Little Prince, would like to know where the clearly man-made lamp-posts came from.  Who installed them, and for what purpose? Which interplanetary council maintains them and pays the lamp-lighter to light them?**

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Lampposts! Lampposts everywhere!

The job of maintenance and management clearly falls to us as sole members and executors of the planet-construction committee, replies Lizzy. Very sadly, the game involves no complicated mechanics for lamp-post-powering or allocation of maintenance workers or electricity. Now that would be a great game. We could call it ‘The Little Misery Planet’ and it’d feature lots of sexy worker placement and focus on the logistical challenge of planetary maintenance.

A further layer of interest is added to the actual game by the presence of Baobab trees. Baobab trees, unlike most other features, take up a heck of a lot of space. Chief Science Advisor of the board game company clearly knows how to do their job, and knows how trees work. They need roots, you see. Lots of roots. To root them down. Particularly space-Baobab-trees, you see, to protect them against floating away. It’s basic science.

You’ll also notice, however, that the big trees are pretty big, and the planet pretty small (the little prince obviously wants a little planet). No, that tree you see on the tile isn’t just a scaled-up picture of the tree to represent the actual tinier tree down on the planet’s surface – it’s the actual size of the tree. The problem is that the deep, anchoring baobab roots take up a lot of space, and can start breaking up the planetary core! This means that your planet can only really sustain up to two live Baobab trees.

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So many trees!

Oh balls, there are a lot of tiles with Baobab trees! What happens if, in your haste to set up some lampposts and acquire some points you acquire one too many Baobab trees? All three tiles with the trees on get flipped over. That means everything on those tiles, lampposts and all, are gone. No points for you! Be sad!

The thirst-quenched Misery Farmers had some very sad tree-times on their planets. Very sad indeed. Only Lizzy managed to successfully employ a strict tree-avoiding strategy to avoid the dickery, since she was very aware that Bob was still fuming at her from a previous game, and that no amount of peaceful adorable game-theme would protect her from Bob’s venom.

The other farmers though? Not so careful. Ex-Baobab wastelands everywhere.

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That’s some sad wasteland right there

The game is neat, and kind of cute. Probably of particular appeal to small children and drunk adults who need a bit of help getting through the rest of their evening. And more so to those who have actually read the book.

The real winner, as usual, is board games.

(And also, as usual, Lizzy!)***

* Is it really a children’s book? Philosophical treatise? Morality fable? No one knows how categorise it. Finding it in a bookshop is bloody impossible.

** Those who HAVE read The Little Prince will agree that the lamp-lighter is owed some serious overtime.

*** Lizzy was not supposed to win this game. It was supposed to be FUN.****

**** We’d like to pretend this was the first time Bob has sent a regretful ‘Sorry I threw pieces of game at you’ text message to Lizzy the following morning, but it would be a lie.

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

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

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

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

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The previous key to Rich’s popularity

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

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

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Miaow?

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

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

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

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

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These had better be some damned good treasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aptly named

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonus picture

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

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

CAN WE TAKE THREE ACTIONS OR NOT??

*flips island*

Elk Fest: Hoof to Victory

Pairs well with: Beer sipped from a horn or antler. 
Traitor rating: 8/10 for stone-flicking treachery .

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We here at the Misery Farm are not sure whether Elk Fest counts as a board game. It has pieces, but no board. Players may follow a loose strategy, but there are only about 3 rules. Regardless of whether it is a board game or not, it’s immensely fun and it involves elk. That, as we’ve just decided, is what really matters.

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The elks have names.

Elk Fest is a popular game among our friends*, probably because it makes for a great partyDSC_0798 game, pub game or mad ‘friendly’ tournament**. The game is for two players and you each begin with a small wooden elk, an island, and three round grey stones.  The islands are placed a box-width away from one another with the colour-coded elk placed on top. The three stones are lined up alongside the island, primed and ready for some moving. The aim of the game is to flick the stones to create a path for your elk which leads all the way to the other player’s island. Player number two is also trying to do this, and so you must concentrate and be accurate, while trying to ruin their strategy as much as possible.

DSC_0799In your turn you are allowed two flicks of any stone, as long as it does not have an elk on it. This is the real kicker because the three stones you begin with do not necessarily belong to you. If your opponent sees you trying to line up a great shot for the next turn, they are perfectly within their rights to flick the same stone over to their side, thus ruining your magical elk moment.  If you manage to set up some stones for your elk to jump across, then you pick up your elk, place them on the new stone and then remove your hand to prove that the elk is free-standing, and then continue. There is no limit to how many times you can move your elk in the turn (except the natural limit of how terrible you are at flicking stones into the right place). If you manage to knock any elk over by any means, then you must miss a go and the stone that you moved must be replaced back to where it was. Bad elk-master. We know you’ve already had a pint or two but stop nudging the damned table.

DSC_0801If you lift up your elk to move it to a stone, and it turns out that you are an idiot and didn’t judge the space correctly, your elk will fall helplessly into the water. Sploosh. Thus, you made yourself miss a go, presumably while your poor trusting elk scrambles back onto the rocks. Well done, and get better at judging distance next time.

The kinds of manoeuvres that you end up making are reminiscent of an old fashioned game of Jenga. But better, because it’s a race, and again because it features little wooden elk. There are some pretty tense moments when you’re hoping there’s going to be enough room on this stone for your elk, even though the other elky sod is already there, and that’s if you even reach it in the first place. Argh!

The game really is that simple. A few friends of ours argue that it’s actually an incredibly complex masterpiece, with strategies such as ‘always taking as many stones away from the other playing’, (being a knob) or only trying to hit your stones in a zig-zag pattern***. To which we say ‘That’s meta strategy, move your fucking elk please.’

When you’ve played a few times, you realise there are three stages to this game. The first is known as ‘the shaky start’. In this phase, neither player has quite got the hang of aiming or exerting enough pressure when flicking stones yet. Even if they’ve played before, perhaps that was about ten minutes ago and they’ve forgotten, or maybe they’ve had an extra beer. This results in a lot of stones pinging around in the first few turns, and usually a lot of swear words, or saying the phrase ‘I’ll do it better next time’.

DSC_0800The second stage is known as ‘the ardgy-bardgy bit in the middle’. This is where each player’s elks are passing one another in the middle, and moving basically anything becomes tense and difficult. Often there is a lot of stone sharing for both elk, and things are both tense and cosy.

Finally, the last stage is known as the ‘just don’t fuck it up’ phase. This is where a player is within a few stones of the island they are hoping to get to. It’s amazing how easy it is to completely forgot how to elk when this happens. It’s also amazing how easy it is for your opponent to keep nicking the stones that you really needed to use to help you crush them.

But, eventually, an elk is crowned victorious. And then you will play it again, and again. You can even play is in hard mode by changing the length of the elk, or taking out some stones.

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Hard mode.

You will probably play it until you start thinking of nothing but elk. For instance,

‘Why is called Elk Fest? Is it a festival of elk?’

‘That can’t be right because there are only two elk on the table. And even if there were more than two I happen to know that many elk are referred to as a ‘gang’.’

‘… How do you even know that?’

‘Because I know that they’re also called Wapati. And knowing more about elk than you means that I will crush you.’

DSC_0807This is a great example of one of those lighter games that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you need something to play on a trip out, or a day at the pub, you should definitely find somebody who owns this game. It’s simple, it’s portable, and it’s not full of cards that are going to get blown away if you’re in someone’s garden. Become the grand elk master, which apparently in elk society just means someone who can cross over to an island really well. Thanks Kosmos two player series, you have successfully reduced all boredom felt at parties.

As ever the real winner is board games, but elk are probably right up there too. You go, you smelly mammals.

Yeah, elk <3
Yeah, elk ❤

*So popular in fact that our friend Andy is the European champion at it three years running.

** Or at least Briony has spent a lot of time playing it at various events and trips to the pub after she bought a copy for her angry-punk boyfriend for his birthday a few weeks ago. He just can’t stop enjoying those elks.

***We are unconvinced about this tactic because it’s almost exclusively argued by people who just aren’t that good at aiming stones. A straight line forward to the other island is clearly what the pros are doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DING!

Kids like loud***.

DING DING DING!

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

(DINGING intensifies)

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

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

That’s what we can consider a success story.


 

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

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

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


Picture thanks to Dr Photographer