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.

Steampunk Rally: A Rally Good Game!

Pairs well with: Gin on rough terrain (the rocks)
Traitor rating: 4/10 “I could race… or I could screw over Lizzy…” – (everyone)

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Each member of the Misery Farm had several favourite games to come out of Essen 2015. When pressed, all you can get out of us tends to be a pretty diplomatic and squirmy answer, along the lines of “well I loved so many of the games, I couldn’t possibly choose!” or “can’t I just say that I love all of them?” or “I CAN’T FREAKING DECIDE, LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY”. We’re told this is similar to how some human adults feel about their children.

But if we were pressed to decide on a top list of games then we could probably all agree that Steampunk Rally has a pretty damn high spot. It’s one of the games we all actively sought out after Bob enticed a group of us in with her description:

DSC_0617_Fotor“Guys! We need to play Steampunk Rally next. It’s like the hipster Wacky Races, but you get to play as Marie Curie! Only she’s a ROBOT!”

Sold! Literally.

Now we’ve brought (several copies of) the game back to our humble homes the excitement hasn’t worn off.

To start off with, have we mentioned the characters? There are sixteen to choose from, all based on some of the coolest inventors that history has to offer. If you want a team of badass lady-racers (which you know very well your team of badass lady-journalists do), then you actually have a whole range of options! That’s right, A RANGE of female characters!

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Science!

This evening we plummed for Bob as Ada Lovelace, Briony as Marie Curie and Lizzy as Hertha Ayrton. Briony had conveniently hosted a steampunk Hallowe’en party in her house a few days beforehand, and being the cool kids we are we grabbed a few spare steampunky goggles strewn around and got our race on!

Each player gets their little chosen inventor card plus an additional unique card which, together, make up the start of your brilliant machine, which you’ll add bits to as the race goes on via a little valve symbol that lets you know more bits of machine can go there. Being the snazzy and intelligent inventors that you are you can easily unscrew some bits here and there and rearrange your machine as you go along, so you don’t need to worry too much about the order of placement (take that Galaxy Trucker!).

DSC_0624_FotorThe aim of the game is to win the race. You win the race by crossing the finishing line first.* Sounds simple and familiar so far, right? Racing 101. Oh! Also, you’re racing in a giant machine that’s constantly rearranging, powering up, and occasionally exploding – more on that later.

Brimming with overconfidence, having not actually played since the trial rounds at Essen, we opted to play on the super-fancy FUTURISTIC HOVERDROME. More danger, but we could handle it. Robot power! Plus the map is a bit randomised at the beginning, which is always a bonus.

DSC_0613An actual turn consists of a few different phases, which each person does at once 7-wonders-style (or does slowly and in turn order if you haven’t figured out the rules yet, or if you just want to show off your rad moves). The first of these involves taking a card from a selection and passing the rest on. Here’s where you’ll use some of these cards to add bits on to your machine! Propellers, rocket boosters, a forcefield… should we chuck a time machine on there? Yeah, why not!

But the machine you’re building isn’t just about cool gadgets and aesthetics, it’s a beautiful, smoothly-running *cough* mechanism that uses water, electricity and fire power (dice of different colours) to bolster your machine’s defence or SPEEED madly along the track.

DSC_0630_FotorLater in the round is the racing phase! Here you roll the dice you’ve generated that turn and see how much power (how many little winged-wheel symbols) you’ve managed to generate. The misery farmers were off to a flying start! Each of us racing ahead with some efficiently running robot monstrosities, producing the dice and throwing them madly into the machines.

Oh, remember that bit earlier where we glossed over the bit where your machines can explode?

Yeah. Here that comes.

The final phase of a round is a ‘damage phase’, where you calculate all the damage you’ve taken from the terrain you’ve just hastily and cockily rattled across.

“Oh, oh shit. I think I raced a bit too far ahead.”
“Oh crud, me too. Ohhhh no.”

The exploding machinery is probably the most unique mechanic of Steampunk Rally. For each damage you take which you haven’t defended yourself against, a part of your machine (of your choice) will explode and fall off. This can be a useful tactic at some points- sometimes it might just be worth losing some outdated bits of your machine for the chance to speed a bit further ahead. Maybe the force of the explosion is propelling you ahead a bit? Who knows!

But uh, what happens if you take more damage than you even have bits of machine? Back into last place you go.

Every single one of us had, despite being nominally-competent adult human beings, miscalculated the damage we’d take and exploded our machines completely. On the very first round.

“Guys. Guys. Can we just… maybe…”
“Pretend none of this happened?”
“Yeah!”
“Start over?”
“Yep.”
“PRACTICE ROUND OVER, GUYS. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.”

We definitely owed it to the great inventors that we were representing to pretend that that was a practice round and start over. Nobody wants that kind of a disgrace on their shoulders.

THE RACE BEGINS AGAIN!

DSC_0626_FotorSlightly more careful this time, the team of badass lady-racers (or just ‘badass racers’, if you will) had a much more successful second attempt at a race.

The theme is excellently done, as you can tell from our enthusiasm over the characters. Marie Curie has a brilliant robot body because of the radiation poisoning done to her flesh one, but this just makes her even more hard-core than she was already. Which is tough, because Marie Curie is pretty hard-core even in puny human form. Lovelace is also a robot, having downloaded her consciousness into a robot casing.

The depth of the machine parts is also great. You can build some pretty bizarre and beautiful machines!

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Boom.

“I’m becoming a weird spider-tree with legs! FEAR ME!”

“Argh! I keep wanting to attach a penny-farthing to my machine but there’s never room!”

“KAPOW! Oh no, my galvanised brakes!”
“Oh no, you’ve lost your galvanic brakes!”
“Galvanic! That’s what I said.”

Impressively, it also plays with up to eight players. But it does this while still being strategic, rather than a game of luck. You can fit the same amount of players as Camel Cup, for example, but actually involves some skill and planning.

Briony’s playing a giant-machine tactic. Unfortunately, she seems to have got a little bit carried away with building something beautiful and forgotten that she’s actually taking part in a race. Lizzy, going for a “try to win” strategy, keeps losing her galvanised galvanic brakes, but the lack of stopping power definitely seems to be playing in her favour, and she’s speeding to victory.

That's a damn impressive machine, Briony, but it doesn't appear to be going anywhere...
That’s a damn impressive machine, Briony, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere…

The way that the phases work together is good for a larger number of players, so you’re not spending too much time waiting for other people to make their moves. But there’s definitely something lost when everyone races together, and it has a bit less of an exciting or sociable feel to it when you don’t get to watch everyone else’s smoothly running machines creating the perfect amount of water for their steam machines and then trudging along, or completely misjudging their power, going too far and falling in a hole. We prefer doing that part of the game one at a time, so we get to watch each other’s’ triumphs and disasters as they unfold.

Speeding to victory
Speeding to victory

The game is a winner both on theme and gameplay. It’s a great game to get your friends excited, and although there are certainly games that are more in depth, more strategic, and more ridiculous, it plays a pretty good role in our board game collections.

Of course, as always, the real winner is board games. And Lizzy.

*You can also cross the finishing line at the same time (on the same turn) as someone else, but then it’s about how far over the line you get. It’s not literally a case of who moves their character over the line first winning, because that would be madness of a different kind.