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.

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.

Tobago: Welcome to Pie Island

Pairs well with: A Bahama Mama, Tequila Sunrise, or other fruity long drink served in a coconut and festooned with flowers and paper umbrellas.
Traitor rating: 2/10. Not that it’s all friendly island-fun, but the game limits how able
you are to ruin someone’s fun.
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Recently Bob has been extremely annoyed about science. Not only does she have to do it all the time for her job, but being quite good at it means she has to put up with noticing everyone else being really bad at it.*

Take Indiana Jones for example. He is terrible at science (yes, archaeology is a science). That is absolutely not how you go about retrieving artefacts for a museum, Dr Jones. For one thing your fieldwork methodology is disastrous, and for another your insistence on removing artefacts from their research site and country of origin in order to put them in American museums is deeply problematic! How many ethics forms did you have to fill out for this shit? You’re almost as bad as Brendan Fraser in The Mummy stomping through delicate dynastic tombs or Richard Attenborough breeding dinosaurs for funsies in Jurassic Park. Disgusting.

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Unfortunately, this kind of unscientific madness does make for better games and adventures. (Not that we haven’t tried to make the scientific method fun, too!). Enter Tobago, where we find ourselves ransacking an island for its treasures once more. At least this time the island won’t get completely destroyed, but we may still piss off some island spirits enough to get cursed.

Tobago takes place on a beautiful, sunny island. As a treasure hunter noble archaeologist you have presumably scraped together the funding to conduct research there in lieu of going on an actual holiday to somewhere you can relax. But that’s ok! There are sandy beaches, roaring waterfalls, and picturesque mountain ranges. The native peoples follow a rural lifestyle, living in huts and maintaining enormous stone idols (which Facebook amusingly recognises as faces if you photograph them) and surprisingly huge palm trees. None of which you will have a chance to explore as you dash madly around the island trying to find treasure.

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Soothing!

Bob’s friendly robot boyfriend introduced this game to her as “a backwards deduction game”. The idea was that she kind of sucks at deduction games, so maybe this will finally be her chance to shine (spoiler: it wasn’t).

P1030070There are four treasures up for finding at any one time: brown, grey, white, and black. There will be more hidden around the island, ultimately, but presumably you only have enough room for four maps at once, the rest of your pockets being filled with snacks and maybe a board game to pass the time. To find one of these four you will gradually hone in on their location by playing cards which eliminate possible locations until only one remains. The treasure is then dug up and shared out among not only those who dug it up, but also those who contributed to discovering its location (because, of course, researchers share academic credit).

A turn mainly consists of either tootling around in your Jeep** or contributing some kind of map card from your hand to one of the treasures, narrowing down the possibilities of where that treasure could be.

As long as you eliminate at least one feasible location from a treasure’s dig site each time, you can contribute as many times as you like. Sometimes it can make you seem a bit less Indiana Jones and more like the lab intern who could be easily replaced by a monkey wearing a robot suit, but who has managed to involve themselves in so many projects that no one can get rid of them.

Suppose we have the brown treasure pile, and we know so far that this treasure is within two hexagons of the largest island forest. Here, someone might yell:
Chris: Right! I’m contributing to finding this treasure. It’s… not in a lake!
Everyone else: But… there was only one small chance of it being in the lake anyway.
Chris: SHUT UP, I HELPED.

We were forced to refer to Chris as Captain Unhelpful for the rest of the game, as he continued to make that kind of contribution.

P1030073The game doesn’t encourage you to be unhelpful to your expeditions. In fact, it does quite the opposite. Every time you help narrow down the location of a treasure you’ll get a bit more of a share of that treasure. Or, as we call it, “put another finger in the pie”. You’ll want to have your fingers in a variety of pies, particularly earlier in the game, to get yourself a lot of treasures, and the quicker those treasures are found then the quicker you can stick some new fingers into some new pies, you see. Pie treasure for everyone.

But beware! Instead of delicious golden pie and chips you might instead dig up a portion of double wank and shit chips.***

P1030063In a startling return to scientific inaccuracy, there’s a chance that the treasure you discover could contain some horrible curses, which can only be protected against with magical amulets or appeased by giving up your greatest treasure (in-game treasure though, obviously. You needn’t be prepared to offer up your firstborn just to play). As soon as a curse comes up then there’s no more of that treasure for anyone, no matter how many of the fingers you had in that pie. That’s why it’s best to not keep all your eggs in one basket fingers in a single pie!

There are only two curse cards in the treasure deck, and the game ends when the deck runs out. This meant that the game we were playing as we wrote this review managed to get pretty tense as curse card after curse card failed to appear.

We ended up with a pretty unusual Tobago game, in which suddenly nobody really wanted to collect any treasure, because of the near certainty of suddenly turning into a stinking, curse-ridden turd pie from which it would be impossible to extricate our fingers.

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Pictured: Bob’s green tokens attempting to find a treasure all her own.

This might ruin the otherwise pleasingly dry play experience, but it does add some excellent tension, of the type that would make Lizzy shout ‘Jeepers Creepers!’****

P1030066There’s something really satisfying about a game of Tobago. Not just working out locations of treasures, but also the gameplay more generally is rather nice. Those mysterious, giant stone heads that we mentioned at the beginning of the game will spurt out delicious amulets now and again, which make it worth pootling about in your Jeep a little more to collect them. They can enable you to double up some moves and work out some pretty tasty combos, as well as just saving you from the worst effects of the curse cards.

You can also employ some sneaky tactics in which you don’t just narrow down the location of a treasure and go and collect it, but actually cunningly narrow down the treasure so that you’re already standing on it. This impressive move was pulled more than once in today’s Tobago adventure (-“I love it when things are under my butt!” (Bob, 2016) ).

Lizzy was actually pretty impressed to find that Chris had Tobago in his board game collection, even though the collection itself is rather vast. There was a period when Tobago was out of print and you couldn’t get hold of it other than by paying some pretty extortionate prices. Luckily it’s been reprinted, but the price to pay for that is a few awfully printed pieces. Still worth it, but we’ll always be envious of those with a more original copy.

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You are some weird little cubes, guys

In a dramatic ending, the final curse of the day was luckily avoided, as each dishing out of treasure requires one more treasure card than there are people to collect it. Having convincingly earned the biggest pile of coins, Lizzy has learned to hide under the table and shout ‘if you can’t see me, you can’t say I look smug!’ It’s nice that she’s learning. Bob usually throws things at her otherwise.

The winner this week is science. But also, as usual, Lizzy.

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Credit where it’s due: The box layout is excellent.

* She sometimes blogs about this kind of thing instead of board games. Madness.

** We think it looks more like a bus but bear with us, there’s a pun about Jeeps waiting up ahead that we need to get to.

*** With apologies to The Thick of It

**** It absolutely didn’t. She thought up that pun really early on but wanted it put in at an opportune time. This was the best we could do. Sorry.

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.

DSC_0712_Fotor
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.)

DSC_0713_Fotor
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: Essen Spiel 2015 Day 2 First Reports

Essen Spiel still pairs well with German beer. Who knew. We’ll keep you updated tomorrow.

A summary of Briony's first day.
A summary of Briony’s first day.

Following on from yesterday’s report this post will bring you some coverage of the games played on day two. Each of the Misery Farmer’s have been frankly all over the place today, and a wide range of games have been played, enjoyed and pondered. Briony however has had an excellent day full of fried potato spiral’s and mega-complex games that she is just itching to talk about.

The first game Briony played was actually Liguria on recommendation from Lizzy and others the day before. It turns out painstakingly painting your home city’s Cathedral by travelling from port to port, although seems boring, is actually great. She promptly bought the game and would like to assure all readers that it definitely more fun than it sounds.

Stay off my island, guy.
Stay off my island, guy.

Day 2, Game 1: Sheriff of Nottingham

In traditional Essen fashioned they played this game because.. well because it was the only table available in the nearby vicinity. Fortunately for the team the game turned out to be a rather fun game about deception and calling your fellow players out.

This is definitely what a medieval crack den would look like.
This is definitely what a medieval crack den would look like.

Each person plays a character based in medieval England, overseen by the gruesome Sheriff of Nottingham. A player is dealt a hand of cards which may be green legal goods (apples, chicken, bread, boring things), or red illegal cards (which are not as illegal as they seem. Apparently medieval England really disliked pepper and silk). Each turn a player will select a number of good to put in their ‘swag bag’ which they intend to travel with. The player must declare what is in the bag to the Sheriff, with the intent of getting as many cards through his checks as possible.

The sheriff decides based on your declaration whether he believes you or not, and may challenge to look in your bag. If you lied you can bribe him, but he may decide to take or ignore it. The aim of the game is to lie. Lie all the time, and then tell the truth to backfire on the Sheriff. If the sheriff is wrong about your lie, he must pay you in compensation, if you get away with it you rack up the monies.

The moral of the story is that Sina is terrible at identifying lies, and lost on the most spectacular hands (5 whole apples!).

Worst. Sheriff. Ever.
Worst. Sheriff. Ever.

Day 2, game 2: Andromeda

‘It’s sci-fi themed and it has a free table. We are going here.’

DSC_0358Andromeda, predictably, was strongly generically alien themed. This much was obvious from 50 meters away due to the life-sized plastic alien model, but fortunately for the game it played better than the stall get-up indicated. Each player owns a race of aliens and must explore an ancient abandoned spaceship found floating in the galaxy. The ship has several compartments which must be explored.

Who knew massive dice dependency could be a good thing.
Who knew massive dice dependency could be a good thing.

The main mechanic is rolling a handful of dice with different tasks represented. Interestingly, re-rolls weren’t allowed, and the first player ‘made up’ selections of dice to offer the other players in turn. They could choose to accept them, or to pass them on. If the hand of dice was significantly bad and every player passed, the first player who made it automatically has to accept it. This made making particular hands an intriguing mechanic.

Day 2, game 3: Potion Explosion

So far, this game has been the busiest to approach. All of Essen want’s to play this, and their stock has more or less run out at the end of day two. Luckily two members of the Misery Farm cohort and partners have already bought this, and as Briony is currently writing this a game is being played in the background.

DSC_0419Potion explosion is basically a physical version of bejewelled, played with marbles. Each player has a potion with multiple colour requirements, and they have to select marbles of those colours from the centre magical trough. Once you fill the potion with the correct marbles you can use it’s effects i.e. take two specific marbles, steal another players stock etc. If, when you pull a colour out it causes two colours of the same colour to roll together (know as the ‘explosion’ part), you get to take those marbles too. The idea is to select a marble that gets you the most in your hand to create more potions.

Its fun, fast paced, and colour based. A perfect game to play between epic saga games or simply if you like marbles. Either or, really. The person with the most completed potion’s worth the most points wins.

If only all magic was this easy.
If only all magic was this easy.

Day 2, game 4: Burano

So many things.
So many things.

This is single handedly one of the most complex board games ever conceived. Team Briony and co. only played 1/4 of the game due to the waiting list being fully booked, and it still partly made their brains melt. The combination of mechanics and strategies are extensive, and are coupled with new mechanics that they had not encountered before such as the resource pyramid (where only certain resources are available at certain times).

The game is based on the island of Burano, in Venice. There is a city in the centre island that has coloured houses (in reality these are the most satisfying coloured cubes ever seen). You each play a family who must fish, make lace (as was the tradition at the time.. mainly for the ladies.. stupid history..), and build more houses on the island. Once enough houses are built players may build roofs to connect houses, making spaces above them to become available.

That’s right kids, it’s a 3D build em up worker placement game. It’s as rare and magical as unicorn to find a fully functioning, beautifully designed one of these, which most importantly actually works.

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Despite the complexity the game is awesome. It’s definitely for the experienced gamer, and there is more or less no way to have a good first season due to the how much the player needs to know to kick things off. In fact it’s complex enough not to go into much detail about it, but fear not, Briony is probably going to sell all of her worldly goods to acquire this game and then write about it in the future.

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Battlestar Galactica: or ‘how to legitimately take out all of those secret grudges you had on your friends with bullying and wild accusations’

Pairs well with: Space whiskey for the humans, some kind of oil-based fuel for the toasters

1

In a fit of hostility we’ve decided that it would be a great idea to take on a traitor game two weeks in a row. Who can say why? Perhaps because once you’ve started stirring the resentment-pot then you might as well keep going until you have a delicious broken-friendship-soup. Or perhaps it’s because games with a traitor mechanic are bloody brilliant.

2As far as traitor games go, Battlestar Galactica is one of the greats. A familiarity with the television series isn’t necessary, but is a good idea regardless of your position on board games since it’s pretty damn good. (What’s that? Strong female characters? More than one?! Don’t mind if we do!) As such, we’ve always found it a good game to whip out with a group of friends no matter their gaming experience or level of nerdiness. We have all kinds of gateway drugs board games here.

3A willingness to play along when it comes to shouting at each other always helps, though. Like with a lot of traitor games, a lot of the real fun comes from player interaction, rather than clever mechanics and strategies. But that’s good, and there’ll always be space for those sorts of games too in our board game collections. Be wary about playing it with a room full of very quiet people though: we’ve all had mishaps where we have been the only person in the room accusing, thinking ‘maybe if I get this going, everyone will join in…’, when ultimately the room silently and awkwardly judges you. We have instead worked out through trial and error that you will require at minimum of two louder people (three if possible), who are poised and ready to create a shouting, energy-fuelled, accusatory positive feedback loop between themselves. As they get louder, and the claims get wilder, the other players in the room are drawn in like the event horizon of a black hole.

Pick a loyalty card, any loyalty card!
Pick a loyalty card, any loyalty card!

It doesn’t even matter if their accusations are true – say literally anything to gain the room’s unyielding attention. ‘I put it to you could have stolen that cargo before you baked the innocent unicorn into the birthday cake!’

Continuing, the theme is a really well-done sample of the well-trodden trope of “human-makes-artificial-intelligence. Artificial-intelligence-thinks “fuck-this-I’m-a-mother-fucking-bad-ass-robot-I’m-having-you-all-for-breakfast-except-I-don’t-even-eat-meat-because-I’m-a-robot-so-I’ll-just-kill-humanity-and-mount-your-squishy-heads-on-my-wall-as-a-trophy””. Humans are the “good guys” (say The Humans) and Cylons (or “robots” or “toasters”) are the baddies. There tends to be one or two toasty traitors per game, depending on numbers, and traitors will discover their role secretly with hidden cards that are given out at the beginning and in the middle of the game.*

Dr Photographer is a good guy. This time!
Dr Photographer is a good guy. Not in real life, maybe, but in this game.

No matter how much you sit your friends down and tell them to please, carefully read the page in the instructions about what to do if you’re a Cylon, and please all make sure that you understand it all and ask any questions before the loyalty cards are handed out and the game begins, there’ll always be one person who picks their loyalty card, looks at it, looks uncomfortable for five minutes and then has to meekly ask to see the rulebook and shiftily hide which bit they’re reading. This is not a subtle Cylon strategy and we recommend avoiding it if possible.

The sympathiser
The sympathiser

One downside that this game has, (at least, nobody we’ve ever played with has seen it as an upside, that’s for sure) is the way that it deals with certain numbers of players. Camelot, for example, makes the brave move of always having only zero or one traitor per game, no matter the number of players. (It also leaves you with this nifty ability to introduce and lose players mid-game if people suddenly want to join in- genius!) Battlestar has this determination to balance things out, which maybe goes a little bit too far. The Resistance does this to a lesser degree, but still it’s super fucking difficult when everyone is shouting ‘BAD GUY’, and half of the room actually is…

More players (5+) means more Cylons. Fair enough! That can be kind of fun. There are still more good guys than bad guys and there’s an extra level of fun you can have with two Cylons working together to defeat the pesky noble humans.

Playing Battlestar with 5 players is excellent! Two Cylon traitor cards and a lot of fun. Playing Battlestar with 3 players is pretty good too, one Cylon traitor and still enough people for a bit of the ol’ shouting and accusing. With four or six players the game starts worrying that maybe it needs to add more bad guys but also there aren’t enough players for more bad guys, so it says “Shit! We’ll introduce this sympathiser to add instead!”

Let me out of the brig!
Let me out of the brig!

Nobody wants to be the sympathiser. The sympathiser is a poor player who gets dicked over at the ‘halfway’ point of the game. If the human team are close to death then the sympathiser is a Cylon who sympathises with them, and gets put in the brig but is still on the human team. If the human team aren’t quite teetering on destruction yet then the sympathiser is a dastardly human who sides with the Cylons but can’t do the full range of Cylon moves. So in attempting to balance out the human vs Cylon ratio the game just selects a player and shits on them a little. Boo, sir.

A team that’s getting along fairly well might find themselves trying, on purpose, to lower a resource to a required level so that the sympathiser that’s about to be chosen will side with them. How does that translate into plot? It doesn’t, it definitely doesn’t.

“Why are you chucking all of that food out of the airlock, Sir?”
“Oh, I was hoping that if we get a food shortage then the Cylons will start to take pity on us.”

I don't mean to worry you all, but this card says
I don’t mean to worry you all, but this card says “Ambush”…

Is there also something a little shitty about being a regular Cylon who only gets their traitor card halfway through the game? After you’ve been trying so hard to stay alive this whole time? Maybe, but that does kind of work as a mechanic. You realise your programming, you realise you’ve just been trying to blend in with the fleshbags and earn their trust, and now it’s up to you to make them pay.

Shit's going down
Shit’s going down

The plight of the humans is pretty damn difficult anyway, as it should be in any co-op game. You don’t want victory to come easy, you want all of your games to be a painful and horrible slog, clawing hopelessly at all your resource dials and trying to stay just about afloat in time to reach the end of the game. Our photographer bought this game over one evening when we’d requested a “small-to-medium sized game”, and he insisted against Lizzy’s protests that it would totally be fine. Several hours later he confessed that, actually, it was just so rare that he’d survived long enough during a game that he barely knew the full length of it.

The card appropriately titled
The card appropriately titled “Loss of a Friend”

Perhaps Lily the dog had the correct tactic when she just waltzed in and knocked everything over. Good girl, Lily.

The gameplay itself has two important rules that aren’t mentioned explicitly in the actual official rules set. Firstly, whenever someone does anything it’s important to determine why, assume that makes them suspicious, and to yell at them for probably being the traitor. This is particularly the case when it’s something that you know they had no choice over.

“OH! You just happened to draw THAT random card, huh? Just what the Cylon would do.”
“OH!! You’re going to the bathroom NOW, huh? Seems like you’re all too keen to convince us of your human functions, huh? cough cough CYLON”
“I saw you touch the toaster this morning, to get toast huh? Lies. You don’t like toast. More like communicating via instantaneous up-link the invasion plans back to the general!”

THEY'RE EVERYWHERE
THEY’RE EVERYWHERE

Secondly, it’s important that you make the appropriate noises when you’re trying to blow things up. Every time one of us forgot to make the appropriate “pew pew” noises as we rolled a die to destroy a raider, we failed. COINCIDENCE?**

Appropriately for a team of misery farmers and their friends we ended up losing from too much misery. Losing any one of your four main ‘resources’ will end the game. It’s pretty clear how this works in terms of running out of population (“Guys? Where is everyone?”), food (humans need that to survive, apparently) and fuel (“Ok, ok, we’ll just float around in space… let’s see…”) but it’s not as clear what’s happening when you run out of morale. Mass apathy? Everyone just goes to their room and has a little sulk? Riots, perhaps?

Too much misery
Too much misery

Whatever it was, it got us good. It was an apt representation of our real life selves, as Sophie was just starting to fall asleep in the corner.

It’s a great game for several players and several hours, as long as you have a good team of people keen to accuse each other. Good luck, brave humans. Get your accusatory pointed finger at the ready.

*of course saying that traitor cards are handed out in ‘the middle’ of the game is a generous but loosely-used description. It’s the middle of the game in theory, if the mighty humans are heading for a full game and a victory. It is, unfortunately, also possible for the game to not even reach the point of handing out the second round of cards before humanity gets blasted into oblivion. It maybe wouldn’t be too shocking if this happened when there aren’t even any traitors on board yet.

** Yes.

Credit to Adam “Not the cylon for once” Photographer-friend for the photos. (Usually about 50% game and 50% hamster these days)

Shadows Over Camelot: Knights of the Round Board Game Table*


Pairs well with: Mead (straight from the Holy Grail)

You know the hamster's in the way, right? Sigh. Of course you do.
You know the hamster’s in the way, right? Sigh. Of course you do.

There’s a lot to be said for a game with a traitor mechanic. And that’s not just because we’re a group of ruthless, soulless, naturally traitorous types who like nothing better than to yell accusations at each other across a table, floor or other flat surface. I mean sure, we are that, and such qualities do lend themselves to particularly enjoying traitor based board games, but still. There are also objective reasons to love a traitor game!

For example, co-operative board games, which the team love (see Letters From Whitechapel), can sometimes suffer from a bit of the ol’ problem where one person knows the game slightly better, or perhaps has a slightly better mind for tactics, and so effectively ends up controlling everything all of the other players do.

2 “Hmm, what should I do for this move…”
“Probably go throw a sword in that lake.”
“Well, I could, but also-”
“Yeah but seriously, the lake.”
“K.”

And nobody wants that.

There are several solutions to this kind of problem in co-operative games, but one trusty solution is the traitor mechanic. If there’s a chance that the person offering you advice is secretly a duplicitous scum bag trying to con you then you’re maybe not going to be so ready to take that advice after all.

One of the players has three feet, but that's probably not too much of an advantage in this game.
One of the players has three feet, but that’s probably not too much of an advantage in this game.

This review was written during a particular game of Camelot with Dr Photographer, three other friends not yet quite fully immersed into the board gaming world and a hamster. And Lizzy ‘usually the traitor’ Blogger, there for journalism and science. The Misery Farmers: Having Fun So You Don’t Have To since… earlier in 2015.

In Shadows Over Camelot the team all play a group of plucky Knights of Round-Table fame. There are several to choose from: these range from the old favourites like King Arthur and Sir Galahad to various lesser-known characters to the farmers such as Sir Tristan ‘the purple one’ or Sir Bedevere ‘the blue one’. (‘Bluedevere?)

TRAITOR GAME?
TRAITOR GAME?

With your character you get a die, a little knight to move around, and a character card with some sorts of special abilities and spiel. Our particular band of plucky adventurers for the evening contained a couple of friends who were still, as mentioned above, fairly new to and slightly wary of all of these board gaming shenanigans, but we had thankfully managed to rile them up get them into the spirit of things with a few rounds of The Resistance first. As such, everyone was ready and willing to start yelling at each other straight from the get-go. Characters were still being dished out when our dear friend Sophie started screaming:

“I’ve seen his card! IT SAYS TRAITOR ON THE BACK!”

Of course, each of the character cards have a ‘traitor’ side on the back with an alternative set of tips and instructions, for if the traitor ends up being revealed. A quick cup of tea and some reassurances later, we persuaded her to stop screaming accusations until the traitor cards had actually been dished out.

“You can be the traitor even if you’re King Arthur?
“Nobody ever suspects King Arthur.”
*Lizzy looks guilty from a previous game*

5

Shadows Over Camelot is an excellent example of a traitor-based game. It has all of the best elements: mystery being one. The traitor card is shuffled into a deck with a bunch of ‘regular old good-guy’ cards and there are always more cards than there are people who receive them. That means that you have no idea whether there’s actually a traitor in the game after all! All of these wild accusations you’re throwing round might all be for nothing. Maybe everything’s fine! Right guys?

It also has the important traitor-game element of hidden cards. The actions available to any brave knight at any given time will be difficult to predict because, quite rightly, players are forbidden to say exactly what cards they have available to them, in terms of specific values and such. For example, one common card is a sword card, which can have a number from 1-5 on it, and the different numbered swords can each be used for very slightly different things. Players aren’t allowed to say specifically which kind of sword they have. (Although they will keep trying to forget this rule and someone (Lizzy) has to play the spoilsport and keep reminding them to shut the hell up)

Tremble before my medium-sized-swords, Saxons!
Tremble before my medium-sized-swords, Saxons!

This does, of course, lead to questionable gesturing and hinting at points which definitely seems to border on maybe not quite following the rules properly.

“Right, I’m making an effort to get rid of these bloody Scots again. I’ve got some… little swords, kind of more like a variety of knives, really. Can someone come and help me out next turn with … uh… some medium sized swords? You know, swords that aren’t that big and aren’t that small… nudge… nudge nudge…”

The beauty of having the full range of options for any one knight hidden from the rest of the table means that it’s always a little bit unclear whether any given person is having a run of bad luck, a traitorous scumbag or are just being plain incompetent.

Almost certainly the traitor
Almost certainly the traitor

On her first couple of turns, Sir Sophie of new-to-board-gaming fame had trotted off to an area where she could only be of use if she had a 1-Sword card, and promptly in the next turn complained of having no such card and being unable to help. Instead, after only the mildest of chastising, her fellow brave-knaves directed her to the opposite side of the board where some “medium-sized-swords” could be useful instead.

Another round of loyal knightery, holy-grail finding and throwing things into a weird lake later (and other Camelot-themed activities that make the game up) and Sir Sophie’s turn came again. This time, she protested, she was very sad to say that she was unable to help with the current quest at all, the only swords she had on her were 1-Swords!

The keenest of detectives among you will notice that there seemed to be something suspicious afoot.

“Nope, definitely can’t help out over here.”

“Oh, golly gosh, did I say that I didn’t have any of those last round? Oh! Oh my, my bad. I’m just not very used to this game yet. I think the card must have been hidden behind my other cards, sorry chaps!”

It’s a real testament to the team’s faith in Sophie that they all still carried on for several turns believing that she might actually just be playing the game incompetently rather than be the traitor.

Sir Dr Photographer-friend even went so far as to formally accuse Sir Lizzy of being the traitor for what seemed to be ‘the-hell-of-it’ rather than to doubt Sir Sophie. EVEN THOUGH Sir Lizzy had been the only knight to have actually won the good guys any points that far in the game. (definitely not bitter!)

All of the elements of mystery in Camelot not only make for great yelling at your friends but also for great gameplay. The game can be won or lost depending on how many black or white swords fill up the round table at the end of the game, and good swords can be converted into bad ones if you falsely accuse someone of traitorhood or if a traitor remains hidden and undetected right until the end.

This week the brave knights suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Sir Sophie of Traitorville. Like any good co-op game there’s plenty of suffering and plenty of horrible ways for the good guys to die. We lost by drowning in enemy siege engines, and we lost shamefully early with no hope in sight.

The crushing defeat.
The crushing defeat.

Luckily, this isn’t necessarily reflective of the game as a whole. We’ve had a fair few victories and a fair few terrifyingly close losses as well.

The real winner is the traitorous scum.

*Sorry to mislead you all so early in the review. We actually played this on the floor.

Credit for the photos, of course, goes to Sir Photographer-friend.