Pairs well with: Any old cocktail so long as it has an umbrella in it. You’ll be needing that shade. Brutus rating: 2/10 for picking the meeple the other person wanted GODDAMNYOU
Aren’t you guys lucky – this week we have a super exciting time-lapse of our game of Five Tribes thanks to our lovely friend Pete! Enjoy and keep on reading.
Have you ever wanted to own your own camel herd? A golden palace? How about controlling all-powerful djinn for your mischievous bidding?
It may sound like it’s taken straight out of a Disney film, but trust us, Five Tribes has all of the hallmarks of a great fantasy board game.
Five Tribes first grabbed our attention back in Essen Spiel, 2015. Brightly coloured and beautifully charismatic it was no surprise that Days of Wonder were pushing it to as many people as possible. Fortunately for Days of Wonder, the Misery Farmers were in fact drawn to the camels.
‘Holy shit it has camels. Like, a lot of camels. At least four camels. Guys, stop, we’re playing this. We need to see if it can compare to Camel Cup…’
The game is set in the mythical land of N’quala, where the design and artwork of the game leave little to the imagination. The aim of is to use the five different tribes – the varying coloured meeple who are randomly allocated across the board – to control the kingdom. In short you’ll need to collect the most money (which double up as victory points), where you may dictate, sat atop your pile of cash.
Confusingly, that means that Five Tribes is NOT for five people. Five meeple, not five people. Cast away that spare friend and get them to be in charge of snacks.
Now, let’s get back to those tribes. A round kicks off with some jostling about turn order which relies on a bidding mechanic. After this, each player selects one square of randomly coloured meeple, each of which have a different profession, and therefore have a different action associated with them. Blues are builders, they gather you money based on the surrounding tiles. Reds are assassins, they allow you to kill lone and undefended meeple. Whites are elders, they summon djinn who may grant you extra actions. Etc, etc.
Wait! So the five different tribes are each a different colour? And any meeple of the same colour has the same profession?
Yep. N’quala is definitely not a place of very cleverly distributed jobs. No idea what you do if you want to build something and you’re not the builder tribe, for example. Pff. And what, when your hair starts to go grey do you go and leave your family to join the elders tribe? I mean I know a few badass old people but as a rule they must suck pretty hard at most things, like manual labour.
However it normally works, they’re all gathered together and mixed up at the moment. Probably for the best.
The key to this game is looking very, very intently at which squares to begin and end your turn with. Choose which action you want to achieve carefully before moving anything.
‘Right, that’s my turn… hmm… no… I’ve done this wrong, can I try again? Does anyone remember which order of different colour meeple I put where? Did I pick up 4 or 5 to begin with? Oh God, which tile did I start with, they all look so similar…’
^^Literally, fuck you. Don’t be that asshole.
To be fair, it’s a little unintuitive before you get used to it. You pick up all of the meeples from one tile and then spread them around one at a time on each tile as you move in any non-diagonal direction you like. You have to end on a tile with at least one meeple of the colour you’re about to put on it, and then you pick both of those up to keep or put away. That’s probably how the game has been described by our friends both as “reverse-worker-placement” and “the tidying-away game”.
The number of meeple you pick up on your last tile dictates just how much of that action you can do. For example, picking up three reds allows you to kill a piece up to three squares away. Not entirely sure how that one works, perhaps their morale allows them to travel faster if they’re egging each other on.
As well as taking actions through meeple, each board square has a symbol on the bottom left hand corner that provides you with an additional action, should you choose to use it. This allows some great combo-moves (obviously depending on your foresight and ability to count small wooden folk).
And so, each player picks up and redistributes meeple throughout the game, using their skills to generate victory points. Briony is particularly good at a strategy relying on market traders: it’s always satisfying to generate enough points in a single track to beat everyone else and their diversity tactics. She annoyingly does this with the science track in 7 Wonders and is rarely, if ever, beaten.
What about the camels, I hear you cry! You’ve been shouting it at us from the moment we stopped mentioning them. Well! If you pick up the very last meeple of ANY colour in a square, thus leaving empty, you are allowed to park a camel of your colour on it (which is worth a certain amount of victory points at the end of the game)*.
Yup. You know when we said that you’re not the tribes? Turns out you’re the camels. The better you make use of the human tribes to your own advantage and the better spots, goods, djinns, and many other things you end up for yourself, the closer it’ll bring you to victory.
Particular tiles have a palace or palm tree symbol also. This means that if any action occurs on this tile a palace/palm will be added. Whoever controls the tile with their camel** at the end of the game scores 3 points for each palm tree, 5 points for each palace.
Scoring at the end is a complicated affair, since there are a lot of different and interesting criteria to judge who the best bunch of camels are. But the game comes with an adorable picture sheet to help you tally up with. It’s all good.
As all truly great, repayable board games Five Tribes can be played with many strategies. A full game takes around 45 minutes to play, which means that you can try new ideas, refine old ones, and base your tactics off of the other players. It has that element to it where you’re desperate to try a new tactic before you’ve even finished the game you’re playing. You can even play it many times in one night if you like camels that much***.
The real winner, as ever, is board games. And camels. Camels and board games.
*’What do you mean that’s all the camels do in this game? Where is the excitement, the drama?’
‘I don’t know, maybe they’re the retired camels from Camel Cup?’
‘Hmm. Fair enough. That’ll do camel, that’ll do.’
**Strategic camel placing is a great strategy for this game. It is now commonly referred to as the ‘parking your camel’s butts’ method.
Pairs well with: the blood of rival gangs mixed in with some post-apocalyptic moonshine. Brutus rating: 8/10 for backstabbing
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.
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.)
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.
Our 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.
We 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!
The 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.
All 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.
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.
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?”
“Did we mention it’s a castle?”
We 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.
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.
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.
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’.
Gold 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.
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?
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.
[i] And by ‘style’ we of course mean ‘soaked in blood’.
[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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
There 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.
The 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.***
In 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.
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!’****
There’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.
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.
Pairs well with: Stress and energy drinks. Brutus scale: 0/10 – it’s all down to your own planning, kids.
This week The Misery Farmers are excited to tell you our experiences with the Global Game Jam 2016. Well, Briony is, because she was the only one of the three musketeers to actually have the time to take part this year (curse you, academia *mutter, grumble, mutter*). Despite this we are fairly confident that she, at least, has thoroughly flown the board game flag at this international event.
Global Game Jam is the biggest game jam in the world, where individuals, groups and companies from around the globe are challenged to make a video (or other) game in just 48 hours. Their website likes to think of it as ‘a hackathon focused on game development’. The game must be playable to others by the end of the event, and must be loosely tied to a theme. The theme for 2016 was ‘ritual’. Teams may be of any size (including being on your lonesome), and roles are not constrained. You can have musicians to create music, artists to draw up some designs, hard-core programmers who write the gritty stuff… And Briony to be hungover and eat flapjacks.
Luckily for Briony, she had a partner in flapjack crime, Chris*, to help share the load.
Game Jam has many regional venues where people can take part**. Fortunately, the University of Southampton, where all of The Misery Farmers are current PhD drones researchers, is one of them. This really takes the hassle out of the ‘international’ nature of a global event.
The event kicks off on Friday evening with a series of introductory talks and meetings with the people you’re going to be trapped in a lab with for the entire weekend. For our event this included a well prepared organisers’ talk about what to expect (stress), and what to aim for (less stress?). Good job Southampton organisers.
Following this there was a talk from professional video game designers Boss Alien, who have a strong track record of taking part in the GJJ. They provided us with insider knowledge based on previous experience in other jams. Finally, the video produced by the organisers of event themselves showed a series of talks from game designers around the world showcasing the work that they had produced. At the end of this video the theme was announced.
The rest of the evening was spent networking with fellow jammers to get an idea of teams. What ideas would people have? What sort of media did they want to make? How succinctly could they explain their ideas? At the end of this people should ideally form some groups, and have a loose idea on what they wanted to do. Briony was keen to assemble a crack team who would be very good and also not notice when she occasionally took a cheeky nap. A tough ask.
Briony and Chris (Briss?) had decided that they wanted to make a board game. Stage one complete. But what about? They brainstormed some ‘ritual’ ideas… and concluded that, both being children of academia, it was a totally ridiculous and depressing area to be in. Is that what they meant by ritual? Let’s say yes. Well then, stage two complete. Ace.***
Now, to decide how they wanted the game to play.
2 hours later they’d come up with a basic first draft of the game, in a glorious multi-layered white paper format, which we’ll have you know was definitely meant to represent the white-paper format of academic treatises and not the lack of other materials.
The concept was to complete ‘project cards’ which were worth varying victory points at the end of the game. The cards ranged from rubbish conference papers, to journal papers, research bids, and the all-powerful thesis (that’s where the fantasy element comes in. We all know that theses are the most worthless academic document of all). Each player would begin with a starting job role which had different starting resources. At four points throughout the game, each player would be forced to pick up an event card, which described an undesirable situation based on real academic life. With a little bit of artistic licence, obviously, since an accurate depiction of your supervisor giving you a withering look and asking what exactly the point of your research is would ruin the light-hearted spirit of play. (What are we doing with our lives?!) You would have to complete your event cards** before being able to move on and complete further project cards.
The resources of the game are collectable through worker placement on four dials****. Briony and Chris (and the rest of team Misery) had figured that deciding what the resources should be in the first place may actually be the hardest part of the game designing process. In fact, it turned out to be the quickest decision that they made all weekend.
‘What do all postgrads, lecturers, fellows and professors run on?’
‘Uh… Coffee. Postgrad labour for marking and demonstrating. Grant money or funding. Annnnd…’
‘ – Sleep! Sleep is the premium resource in this game. Done.’
And so the second draft of the game came about, complete with spinning ‘cogs’*****. Now was the perfect time to try a play test, especially after much of the advice we had previously been given was to play your game at the soonest possible point in time. The idea was then to refine what you had for the rest of the weekend.
The first play test started off slowly, as Briss had deliberately left some spaces blank in order to add to as the game went on. Throughout the game they were able to discuss with the other players and themselves to get a better idea of the different strategies people may use. Based on that they could scribble on the paper draft copy of the game, and amend things as they went.
Academia: The Game going a hell of a lot better than Academia: The Reality. No tears, no existential crises, no waiting three months for your supervisor to email you back before you can move on to your next task. Bam!
After much tweaking, the first play test actually went well! They came out with a better functioning game (would’ve sucked if it had just got worse) and so they were able to turn their attention to the graphics and other features that needed work. By the end of Saturday evening they had a range of fully written and themed cards ready for use, and had worked out what they wanted the board to end up looking like.
Sadly, Briony had other commitments on Sunday but our faithful friend Chris ploughed on diligently. He refined more graphics, and did yet more tweaking. By the end of the weekend Team Misery had an OK magnificent game to be proud of, and have plans in the near future to fully finish off the game. Stay tuned, board gaming world, you may yet play our very own creation.
The game jam itself was a pretty rad excellent experience. We learnt a hell of a lot about planning and timing. We also really began to appreciate the sheer amount of effort that goes into every single detail and decision of a board game.
Seriously, board game designers, you guys are doing an amazing job and we sure do appreciate it.
The real winner of the day was gaming itself.
If you’d like to see any of the video games that were produced, you can find them on the Global Game Jam site.
* Not to be confused with Friendly Robot Boyfriend Chris.
** And in a lot of cases actually stay at the venue for the full 48 hours.
*** Some examples of our event cards are listed below:
- ‘Your University decides to ‘reward’ you by asking you to be the one responsible for a new course. After realising that literally nobody else in the department wants anything to do with it, you decide the only way to move forward is to blackmail your colleagues with photos from the last Christmas party. Lose two sleep resource tokens as you move around at night, intimidating your peers.’
‘Your most recent peer reviewed paper has made reviewer number two so angry he has transmorphed into a manticore. He is now pillaging the local villages, showing no sign of stopping his killing spree. It is your responsibility to intervene with reviewer two and calm him down. Sadly, your calming words have no effect and you are forced to distract him with some students. Sacrifice two student labour resources.’
‘Your superior finally succumbs to the pressure of overseeing a thousand projects at once. Once the ambulance leaves, you suddenly realise it is your responsibility to take over their job. Lose all your coffee, and call an ambulance for yourself.’
‘The co-author you were writing a killer paper with has mysteriously gone missing. You can’t seem to contact her through messenger pigeons, and her students haven’t seen her in weeks. Bravely, you decide to search the nearby settlements for any trace. After trekking through forest you stumble upon a dank and intimidating cave. You see remnants of clothing strewn about, and a large amount of blood. Your fears are confirmed when you find a severed arm, still grasping the draft paper. She didn’t even manage to finish writing the abstract, the MOOSE. Loose one sleep resource from the horrors you have seen.’
'Some poor fool has asked you how your research is going. Try not to cry. Pay two of any resource.’
*** Lizzy had, in fact, had a conversation with someone about a week beforehand about the possibility of an academic board game. She’d interpreted as some kind of horror-theme, and maintains that the game should have basically ended up a lot more similar to Arkham or Eldritch Horror.
***** These were just paper with a pin poked through them, with some blue tack added to the pointy end. Sadly the game jam didn’t have any card available for the creation of board games, but we can forgive them.
Pairs well with: Sake, or another spirit derived from rice. Brutus scale: 4/10 for the dickery-to-other-players scale
Sometimes rather than jostling for attention with a review of a big-name high-flying board game it’s nice to settle in with something which might have been criminally overlooked. Something clever, attractive, and strategic. Spirits of the Rice Paddy is such a game.
Briony bought it in anger during Essen Spiel 2015. She had queued up for an hour for the chance to buy one of the last three copies of a game of Burano, and had walked away empty handed. Instead of saving the large amount of money she would have splurged on Burano, she instead decided to angrily stomp around the convention halls looking for the prettiest box. Rounding a corner, she encountered Spirits of the Rice Paddy and fell in love with the art. She watched it being played for about 20 seconds before resolving ‘Fuck it, and fuck the board game gods. I’m taking a risk and buying whatever the hell it is’.
Fortunately, she does not regret that decision to this day.
Other people do, however. Pat, Briony’s angry punk boyfriend, finds this game particularly annoying and difficult. Everyone else isn’t really sure why this is the case, as rice isn’t the most challenging of crops to grow (it just needs a lot of water) and it really hits the spot when you’re hungry and want 1000 of something.*
Spirits of the rice paddy is set in Bali, and you play the role of a rice farmer. You own a plot of land that may be sectioned off into paddies in order to grow your rice and earn some tasty, tasty victory points. Fear not though, brave rice farmer, for you will also have a hand of cards which represent certain Balinese gods which give you a little helping hand.
We assume these are real gods from the local culture, but we are too lazy to check and instead are more taken with imagining what powers we would have as Balinese gods –
‘I would totally be like this snake guy, but with legs. My power would be to give all of the snakes legs.’
‘So… a lizard?’
‘Well I would be better than your limbed serpent – I’d have the head of a dragon and the stomach of someone who really likes eating rice. That way I can judge which rice is the best and reward whoever grew it, while still maintaining my fearsome appearance.’
‘I’d still be myself, but, you know, I’d eat less carbs.’
The game begins by dealing a hand of gods, selecting one, and passing them clockwise. You build up a hand of four cards, which you play in an order of your choosing once at the beginning of each round. Classic card-drafting stylee. The god’s power is in affect as soon as it is played, and the number in the top right hand corner then dictates the turn order. Gods with higher numbers go later, but have more powerful benefits. It turns out its very tricky to get the balance of numbers right as each number adds to the ones from each previous round, meaning that you can’t get away with playing one high card among three lower cards.
Each player has a board representing their own plot of land in which to grow rice. You can hire hard-working meeples to do jobs like plant and harvest rice, and to build walls to form paddies. You can buy livestock (oxen or ducks) to remove rocks and pests. Both of these guys are pretty important to build up functioning rice paddies.
You begin the game with one small paddy – in order to be able to grow rice you will need land enclosed by walls, with an entrance gate, an exit gate, and the all-important water. Actions follow an order on the right of your board. At the beginning of this phase you allocate all of your meeples and livestock to the part of the chart you would like them to do. Then, when everyone is happy with allocation, all players go through each job step by step together.
The amount of water in a round is dictated by turning over a rain card. The water then collects behind the water gate of the player with the lowest-numbered gods. Only some actions may be completed without water in your paddies (for example, removing weeds). Then comes irrigation. The collected water flows through the first player’s paddy, and remaining water passes on to the next player.
At this point you begin to see why the number of your Gods is so important.
Often the amount of water varies, and players can be left with half-filled paddies (which are useless), or even completely empty paddies (which are useless-er). Once you have managed to plant some rice in a watered paddy, there is no guarantee that pests or rocks can ruin that rice. Rain cards, more frequently in the later stages of the game, bring plagues or… just rocks. This means that if you have several paddies growing rice to be harvested next turn you’ll still have to drain the water, remove the pests, and then re-water before you can harvest well.
Over time we stumbled upon a good tip for rain card pests and rocks; the rain card sometimes allows you to allocate the pests and rocks yourselves. As long as you have a certain number somewhere in a paddy the rain gods are totes appeased. This means that if you leave a small paddy intentionally empty, you can allocate all of your nasty things there and it fucks with your strategy a little less.
Once all of the jobs have been completed by all players the actions phase ends and the market phase commences. Amazingly, selling is uncompetitive (you stock your own market on the left of your board) which is fairly rare for these sorts of games. You can hire more labour and livestock for your majestic rice empire… *cough* which may currently more resemble a plague-ridden paddy of horrors and only produce only one bag of rice every two turns *cough*…
During the beginning of turn five another deck of gods will appear. With divine intent. These gods are much more powerful than the starter pantheon, and can help you do much more – especially if you tailor your final stages strategy to their powers. There is one small twist however, as in the final stage of the game all rice you harvest and subsequently sell is worth practically DOUBLE however much it was previously worth (some of the best gods will allow you to add even more to that).
‘Move aside, lower carb-consumption god. I now have ‘wipe everyone out with my rice empire’ god. His name is Monsanto, and I have a lot of rice.’
Overall, the game is beautifully designed. The gods bring a nice setup to the beginning of each round, and boy do you learn fast that you either play low-ass numbers, or select gods which provide you with water themselves. The progression of the game is something we enjoyed as well, as it really gives the feel of time moving along in the mountains for the farmers (after years and years you learn to grow better, and gain more favour with the gods, and your children don’t starve). The only downside we found was that at the very beginning of the game, each player will be given a starting conditions card at random. Some of which seemed to be massively unbalanced – we had one person starting with 5 walls, and someone else starting with three walls, extra meeple, and a wad of rice. To combat this though we just took out the ridiculous cards and made it a little more even.**
Aside from this, we are really looking forward to seeing what other games Philip duBarry produces, and strongly hope that there will be more cute pest pieces and pretty drawings.
Pairs well with: a surprise drink from your friend’s liquor cabinet. Not only does it thematically link with surprises and possible poisons for which you might need a cure, but also it helps get rid of those mystery drinks nobody’s touched in years and helps to build a sense of teamwork.
Traitor Rating: 0/10. If you’re betraying your friends in this game you’ve seriously misunderstood the aims.
Important information: Pandemic Legacy is a campaign game with a number of unique elements which will cause drastic variation in each game. All kinds of crazy shit happens, but we don’t want to give that stuff away. The only information we’ll give about it here is stuff that’s in the rulebook and which could cheerfully occur in the base game. It’s impossible to avoid mentioning absolutely everything that sets Legacy apart from the base game (even setting up the game begins the narrative) but we’ve hopefully avoided giving away too much. If you would prefer a more in-depth, if a bit spoiler-y,* review, then Shut Up and Sit Down have the video for you.
Pandemic is a classic of golden-age gaming. You play as a co-operative crack team of medical experts attempting to save the world from four virulent and rapidly-spreading diseases. You each have a different unique character with a specific role. The dispatcher, for example, can helicopter team-mates to where they’re needed most, while the medic (aka the mop) is very good at getting rid of diseases in certain areas. Lizzy and Dr Photographer have long been suspicious that the medic is actually carrying a gun rather than a highly-effective mobile hospital. You know, for efficiency.
The game is easy to learn, difficult to play well, and brings both misery and joy in equal measure. It also has approximately 478 versions, including one in which you play as the viruses.** Today we’re focusing on the most recent: Legacy.
Much like a virus, this game evolves as you play based on choices your team makes and the resulting wins and losses. Unlike a virus, you really should share it with your friends, because it’s great. For definitely this reason and not because Bob has moved in with her robot boyfriend, she and Lizzy are currently involved in two completely separate campaigns. It’s not going very well for either of them – most of Asia has been thoroughly sneezed on for both of them.
Pandemic: Legacy adds to the pantheon of games which hang out somewhere on the dividing line between board game and role-playing game.*** The game aims are controlled by objectives (which can, naturally, change depending on what you get up to). There is an in-game timeline. Your decisions affect your environment. The board is broken up into regions, and characters can take both mental and physical damage. If they die, they die forever in both the real and game-worlds. No really it tells you that you should DESTROY their stats sheet character card if this happens.
There are, however, a lot more rules than in a role-playing game, and the randomisation is achieved with card-shuffling instead of dice, and no-one’s in charge, and oh god oh god everyone’s going to die.
With that in mind, Bob sat down to her first round of Legacy misery this afternoon.**** The first chance for customisation was immediately sprung upon as hey, why use the approved character tokens when you have an arsenal of Lego minifigs at your disposal? Because they’re too big for the city spaces and have a habit of toppling over, it turns out, which is bloody annoying. Lego Admiral Ackbar and Unikitty were swiftly relegated to the sidelines.
Naming was rather more successful, although choosing the perfect names and team composition took half an hour and three cups of tea. Eventually joining Bob in her role of the renowned scientist Dr Asenath West: Reanimator were Dr Basin Rudebacher in research, Dr Antony Edward Body (hacker alias Ant3b0dy) as the dispatcher, and Cpt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce as the martini’d up medic.
Once they finally got to work, the game progressed swiftly and in the style of all Pandemic games, in that everything seems to be under control and working as part of a greater strategy, until it’s very suddenly it’s not and everything has exploded. In this instance, turn three had already brought about the complete eradication of a virus (largely because, admittedly, it had not shown up yet). All was going swimmingly, with a second cure lined up when… the game evolved. This was both exciting, as the team got to open the Top Secret dossier, and upsetting, as the game suddenly went from Pandemic (not an easy game in the first place) to not-Pandemic (in hard mode).
Bob had not played a lot of Pandemic previously. In fact her full experience was playing the base game (once) on sunny spring afternoon in a beer garden, but even she could see that things had gotten out of hand. Someone (and no-one’s naming any names, but someone) had definitely forgotten to wash their hands when travelling through Hong Kong. The team was, in short order, pretty fucked. In the end they were but one (ONE!) turn away from victory. Not even a full turn, just like, the next person in the sequence could have found the final cure (though no word on how long the clinical trials leading to implementation among the general public would take).
For the more seasoned biologists, the new version of the game adds a lot of excitement to an old favourite. There doesn’t yet seem to be much of a way around the classic co-op quarterbacking problem (where some co-op games tend to have one more experienced or strategic player dominating the board and coming up with all the plans), but if that doesn’t bother you too much, the new features definitely make it worth a go. Lizzy, for one, still raves about the adrenaline rush when she had to tear up her first actual card in the game. It’s so counterintuitive! Tearing up someone’s copy of an actual genuine board game! Oh, the rush! The thrill!
It’s really after this first game that things start to get interesting. A game, after all, only lasts a month of in-game time, and Legacy is set over a period of a year. The outcomes of each game affect all subsequent games, presumably until the world is a utopia free of all disease from cholera to acne, or begins to resemble medieval Europe in both smell and plague death-toll. That’s all to come though. In the meantime all we’ll say is that this is an excellent choice for experienced co-op game groups, and well worth the investment of time and cash. Plus you get to choose whether you want it in red or blue and if that’s not magical we don’t know what is.
*They say it’s not but it is, a bit.
** It’s not a fantastic variation, but it does come with little petri dishes for storing your microbes which is pretty rad. *** See also TIME Stories and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
**** Yep, literally this Sunday afternoon. Let it never be said that we here at the Misery Farm are not well-organised professionals.
Pairs well with: Chilli pálinka. Or some fancy Mexican beers.
Traitor Rating: 6/10.
There are some definite mechanics for trying to get up in someone’s way, but it’s not all that easy, as was demonstrated in our game by a complete failure of Bob and Briony trying to gang up against Lizzy with her stupid smug face.
The farmers first spotted the game Scoville during the first Gavcon in 2014 and also Essen Spiel 2015, but only as a distant adorable-looking game that they never got around to playing. All they knew were rumours of it being great fun, and the fact that there were itty-bitty little chillies that could fit into some itty-bitty little chilli-shaped holes in the soil. It looked good.
Fast forward to the present, and Bob has had Scoville in her collection for a good few weeks.
She had kept this pretty secret, because while she loves this game on a theoretical level, she is absolutely awful at it. Every now and then she forgets and digs it out, before losing horribly and refusing to play it until the sting of defeat has worn off again. She knows that it’s a beautiful, clever, medium-weight game and that her refusal to play it is entirely due to personal failure. She also knew from the get-go that Lizzy would absolutely stomp this game and was keen to avoid the inevitable dickening.
In Scoville you’re a chilli farmer. You plant chillies, you breed chillies, and you make delicious, spicy chilli sauces out of your produce. Our first set of hats-off go to whoever sat in the board-game-office (is that where you sit to invent board games? With a white board, a lot of pens and a pot of tea? We imagine it’s something less fancy than the office you have in GameDev Tycoon) had the job of coming up with the great puntastic chilli-names. Chili Chili Bang Bang. Born to be Mild. Flux Capsaicinator…
Not gonna lie, one of the first couple of things that we noticed about the game were the colourful chillies and the little slots in the board that they fit into when you plant them. All good games have something to lure you over to that end of the room, and this particular bait looks pretty satisfying. Lizzy immediately pounced on the big bag o’ chillies to create a beautiful chilli rainbow.
Scoville matches a nice amount of strategy with a level of not being able to plan too far ahead because of other people getting in your damned way. The balance works pretty well. A round consists of several parts. Each farmer will plant a chilli, walk around to pick some chillies, and then either sell these chillies or fulfil a limited number of potential chilli recipes for delicious,
delicious victory points. There’s one randomised set of recipes for everyone to play towards all the way through the game, which are there straight from the beginning, and these big sauces will be your biggest sources of points at the end. That makes it a pretty decent game strategy-wise, since you know what you’re supposed to be working towards and you should be able to get an idea of how your game comes together.
In a neat twist, the chillies stay put after you’ve planted and harvested them. Finally, a game where the farmer thinks that maybe they can save themselves some future replanting by actually leaving some of the produce in the damned fields. Flashbacks straight away to Agricola, Catan, Farmville, and all those other games where the fields are regularly cleared and you’re left having to re-sow and re-harvest the same accursed vegetables over and over again.
There are a few contingent factors that will keep you on your toes though. Your adorable farmer-meeple has to physically wander around to collect the delicious chillies, but your lovely friends, no matter how good their intentions are, may end up getting just a little bit in your way.* There’s also an auctioning for turn order mechanic, so you have to think a lot about whether you want to be the first one to have a little wander and farm, or be the first one to sell some goods.
Your humble Misery-turned-chilli-Farmers played the game together for the first time this week, and they were keen, excited and … thirsty. Beers all round.
Briony’s fate had been forecast by her attempt at making a stir-fry earlier in the day and mistaking a rather spicy chilli powder for paprika. Just as the spices failed her once, they would continue to fail her for the rest of the evening. She is also pretty terrible at growing living plants, chillies included. It would appear that fate was against her from the word ‘go’.
Another pretty exciting USP of the game is that, as we mentioned above, you don’t just plant chillies- you breed them! You start off with a simple primary-coloured chilli and then a freakin’ massive grid to let you know which chilli colours make which other chilli colours when mixed together. Because of the complexity of how to make them, and how much mixing you need to do to breed them, some of the fancier chillies (black, white, and MEGA SHINY GLITTER CHILLI) won’t appear until a few turns on, and tend to be the ones you need to get the mega-points at selling time.
Some of the colour-mixing is fairly logical, following the colour-mixing lessons learned by splashing about with poster paint in primary school, some of it less so. For example cross-breeding a red and a yellow chilli gets you an orange chilli, but why does mixing brown and white chillies make a black chilli?
Nonetheless it’s reasonably intuitive to, perhaps, most people. Maybe not Briony.
Briony: I still can’t do anything
Lizzy: You love not doing anything
Bob: We still love you Bri
You also get smaller amounts of points for being the first, or one of the first, to plant a fancy chilli of various colours.
Half an hour into the game Briony: You know what? I’m going to plant this second brown chilli thing.
Bob: Yeah you do that. You get… oh wow a whole three points!
Bob: I’m so sorry I’m teasing you but you make it so easy. By being, like, really bad at this game.
Briony: I just don’t know why I’m so bad at it… I’m getting another beer.
Fortunately, Briony’s sadness made up for the disgusting smugness that was constantly radiating from Lizzy’s side of the table. Lizzy is exactly the kind of person who wins at this kind of game. She’ll sit there, organising the chilli pile into a rainbow, whistling innocently and pretending like she just wants to have a nice time and potter around in the farm. We would be interested in another lovely farming game to test Lizzy’s green fingers, as we strongly suspect they don’t exist outside of board games.
Bob: Stop pulling that innocent crap on us, we know you. WE KNOW THAT YOU’RE WINNING, STOP TRYING TO HIDE IT.
*a bit more beer and ten minutes later*
Bob: HOW DO YOU EVEN SIT SMUGLY
Briony: Do you want another drink?
The evening continued slowly but surely as beer was sipped and chillies continued to get farmed. Bob eventually took up her role as drunken photographer, perhaps slowing the process a tad.
Lizzy: Bob! Bob! It’s your turn! Sell some shit!
Bob: No! I’m doing art!
“Look! I’m zooming!” Bob says excitedly, as she just edges the camera closer to the board.
Despite their distraction, all three of the farmers were big fans of the game. Good theme, good pieces, good balance of strategy and getting in each other’s way.
Bob’s verdict: It’s so freaking cute but it makes me want to kill everyone
Briony’s verdict: It’s a shame that I suck at this game because it’s so good and the chillies are so dinks Lizzy’s verdict: Well, let’s just say there was a really, really, smug look on her face.
The game is good. The score was 56, 59, 104. After all of Briony’s sadness, it would appear she wasn’t as horrifically terrible as previously thought. Or that Bob was just much, much worse than she hoped. Everyone should try this game, even if it’s just to get very excited over the adorable chillis, much in the same way people get overly excited about the pieces in Euphoria. Exciting pieces all round!
This week the winner is board games. But also, definitely, definitely Lizzy.
*This is how Lizzy talks when she’s winning a game. It’s a tone of voice that combines ultimate innocence and sweetness with just the right sprinkle of smugness, and is perfectly designed to get Bob’s heartrate soaring towards apoplexies of rage.
Pairs well with: Gin on rough terrain (the rocks) Traitor rating: 4/10 “I could race… or I could screw over Lizzy…” – (everyone)
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:
“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!”
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!
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!).
The 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.
An 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.
Later 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?”
“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!
Slightly 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!
“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.
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.
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.
Pairs well with: A nice cup of tea to help you think.
Traitor Rating: 1/10. It’s a co-op game, but accidents do happen…
What with it being Halloween and all, you might think that we at the Misery Farm would have prepared something special for you. After all, we are three alternative-type ladies and Halloween is basically Christmas for goths.
Well, we don’t. At least, not something especially spooky/Halloween-y. Sure the scenario we’ll be reviewing is set in an insane asylum and there are a few cases of [deleted] as well as terrifying [deleted] to be dealt with but it’s not, as such, a horror game. What this game is, is excellent. Bob cannot remember the last time she enjoyed a game so much on so many levels. The problem is trying to review it without giving away any spoilers, but we’ve done our best. This review is of the base game and introductory scenario, and all specific references and photos should be of game parts already explicitly mentioned or shown in the rulebook. If you spot a rogue plot point then let us know asap and we’ll shut it down.
With all that said, on with the review!
TIME Stories is a co-operative exploration-slash-puzzle solving game. If you’ve played games like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (which, by the way, is possibly one of the greatest puzzle games of all time), Tragedy Looper, or even an old school ‘GO TO LOCATION’-type MUD game then you’ll be acquainted with the format. TIME Stories perfects the genre in board game form. It’s a tabletop RPG with combat elements, it’s a strategy game, it’s an item-collecting, clue-solving meta-gaming puzzler. Most importantly, it does all these things well. Now, before we get going you should know that this is a scenario-based game. Essentially you buy the base game (which comes with an introductory scenario) and all subsequent scenarios must be bought as expansions. This has led some people* to declare it a waste of money and clearly a scam. They are wrong. It is a beautiful game and well worth the cash. Just don’t play it with two people. You want it to be a team experience.
You play as a time detective. It’s probably got a fancier name than that but that’s basically what you are. You live in the future where time travel has totally been invented but people keep fucking around with it, creating time anomalies that threaten to break the space-time continuum and kill the whole wide universe! Luckily you’re part of a noble special-ops firm dedicated to going back in time and fixing the problems before they happen. Each game scenario is one of these time adventures.
The problem is that while you can go back in time to a location, you do not necessarily know what the problem is going to be or how to solve it. You have to follow clues, question suspects, and basically behave like the nosiest PI ever hired.
There are a few other minor *cough* challenges. Firstly, your body does not go back in time with you. Instead, your consciousness inhabits a local ‘receptacle’ (unfortunate human) which you control like a hideous meat puppet. In the first scenario, Asylum, you are sent to investigate an old-timey mental asylum. Unfortunately the only bodies available to you are those of patients, and patients are not usually given free run of the sanatoriums where they have so thoughtfully been placed. Your consciousness also suffers from whatever debilitating mental condition has had them incarcerated in the first place, such as crippling [deleted] and hideous bouts of [deleted]. Sometimes you can turn these to your advantage, however, with careful use of [deleted] and doses of [deleted]. Choosing your receptacle wisely in a way that helps the team is part of the game for sure.
The second problem is that it takes a vast amount of energy to both send you back in time and keep you there. As such you only have a limited amount of time to complete your mission, otherwise you get transported back to the future (hey-oh!). Exploring, moving, taking actions, etc. all use up valuable time, and if you don’t solve the problem in your allotted time then you get in trouble with your superiors. Luckily they are quite willing to send you back again to have another crack at it. The aim of the game is to try and fix the temporal anomaly in the lowest-possible number of runs. The faster you do it, the more points you get and thus earn some [deleted]. Of course, if you finish the game quickly and efficiently you miss a lot of what it has to offer. This game has loads of branching paths. Not so many that it becomes heavy and messy but enough that to explore every aspect would definitely be a challenge within the time frame. Bob was sceptical at first, expecting that the format of ‘do and then re-do’ would simply turn into a game of ‘follow the leads as efficiently as possible, rinse, repeat’. This would suck, and probably result in a quarterbacking** problem. Luckily, TIME stories is actually very good and neatly side-steps this issue. Each run was completely different both in storyline and format.
The first run was a game of exploration. Talking to people, making mistakes, and collecting whatever clues we could. Two red herrings and a violent [deleted] later, we found ourselves back in the future, being reprimanded by our commander (confusingly also named Bob). The second run revealed a whole new, previously unsuspected line of clues. There are layers to this game, man. This time we went deeper, coming so close to the end and then… promptly causing a temporal anomaly. Whoops.
By this time nearly 4 real-time hours had passed, and we needed to stop. This was when TIME Stories traversed from ‘fun’ to ‘incredibly well thought-out and borderline-genius’ in Bob’s eyes. The creators know that you might not have time to play a 6-hour game in one sitting, but that you also won’t want to lose your place in your scenario. As a solution, the box comes with what is essentially a manual ‘save game’ set-up. You can carefully place your receptacles, clues, and various tokens and whatever in special little holsters in the box, ready for another go at a later date. The board even clips in so that everything is kept in stasis. Absolutely shitting brilliant.
Our final run had to be efficient, business-like, yet not forgetting to visit any necessary locations to gather important clues and items. We completed the game with not a single death on the team and in good time, which earned us a decent rank and… you’ll have to find out what else for yourself. But you should know that it’s so cool Bob almost died.
We are very excited to play further scenarios. Unfortunately, currently only The Marcy Case (a period drama set in 1992) is available, but future instalments should be out soon. Additionally, there is something to be said for playing the same scenario twice with different friends, just to see if they uncover more of the game than you did, as well as all the myriad ways they might fuck it up.
* Including Misery Friends who shall remain unnamed but who are pictured in our previous post.
**For those not down the lingo, this is when someone (usually a more experienced player) basically takes charge in a co-op game and tells everyone else what to do. It’s pretty irritating.
Pictures this week are by Bob. Which is why they’re terrible.
Exhaustion looms, but we’re still truckin’. On the final day of Essen Spiel 2015 we offer some final play-throughs and insights, including our considerations for Children’s Game of the Year.
Bob starts the day late, and hungry. The sheer number of games she and Chris have purchased has completely overwhelmed even her giant suitcase and they’ve had to rope in the aid of Friends With Cars to help lug twenty-something board games back to England. Additionally, Saturday night sushi had been completely de-railed when the previously-awesome all-you-can-eat sushi place failed epically in its mission to, you know, serve sushi to hungry gamers*. Deeply disappointing stuff. It took a generous liver-sausage roll and slice of pleasingly stodgy cake to fortify her for the day’s first mission: get Naïade to sign stuff, take a selfie, and draw us a picture.
Mission success, though with many a concerned look. Naïade is very French, and as such does not understand enthusiasm.
Day 4, game 1: A Study in Emerald
First actual game of the day was the second edition of A Study in Emerald. The game is based on Neil Gaiman’s cult short story of the same name, which is set in an alternate Lovecraftian nineteenth century in which the royal family have been replaced by Great Old Ones. Sherlock Holmes is there, along with a number of figures from history and fiction. In the game, you play (secretly) as either a Loyalist, faithful to the ‘royal family’, or a Restorationist commie intent on bringing down Britannia as we know and love her. The board is divided into locations which allow certain actions with varying ease, as well as a draw pile of cards. It’s effectively worker placement combined with deck-drawing mechanics, to reasonably solid effect.
Bob liked it, Briony didn’t. It may be that Bob really wanted to like it as she’d bought it on day one and it had sold out, but equally it’s possible that Briony hated it due to being hungry combined with a shockingly poor game demonstrator explaining the rules**. Certainly it’s simpler than the ‘glorified beta test’ original, and much cheaper and cleaner to boot!
day 4, Game 2: M.U.L.E.
Next, Bob and Lizzy tackled M.U.L.E., the boardgame based on the 1983 Commodore 64(?) game. It is absolutely charming. It starts off as a farming/resource management game set on an unexplored planet called Irata, where all you have for company is a robot-mule worker and your fellow explorers. Then suddenly there’s a capitalist market-trading mechanic and a magic money-generating Wampus and a mystical mine of purple crystals which change value in each game round. The board is busy but in a very Stonemaier-Games way in that all the initially-confusing symbols are actually there to clarify any potential misunderstandings and remind you of available actions. The winner is the Bob with the most space gold, while the loser is the Lizzy who has forgotten what their plan was to maximise their resources.
After that economic thrill ride any form of grown-up game seemed an impossible task. Our brains were just too full to absorb any further information such as ‘rules’ or ‘strategy’ or ‘tasks’, so we took refuge in Push-a-Monster, the award-nominated children’s game of monster-crowding. It’s very simple: try to fit your monster on an already-crowded monster platform, without knocking any monsters off the platform. If you knock a monster off, it gets hurt and has to go to monster hospital, so everyone else gets a point. Best of all is the lack of numbered scoring. No one needs that shit. Instead the monster-points are different sizes so the player with the longest string of monster-points wins. The illustrations are adorable to boot; one of the monsters makes exactly the face that Bob’s robot boyfriend makes when he wants to not be part of the Misery Farm.
Two refreshing, addictive little games later and we were ready for more. Not before stopping by the HABALINK stand though, where we found a strong best kid’s game contender in Treasure of the Thirteen Islands. In this tactical children’s game, you explore treasure islands by navigating with your finger, then attempting to follow the route blindfold on a grooved board. If your little airship falls into a groove, you get stuck! If you find treasure, you win! It’s adorable and at least one person bought it.
day 4, game 3: Cash and Guns
Somehow we next managed to grab an eight-person table for Cash n Guns, which was promoting its fresh expansion, a special-edition Cthulhu character with a tommy-gun, and foam Uzi machine guns. The expansion was rapidly scorned as unnecessary, as Cash n Guns is perfectly fun without any extraneous bullshit, and plenty of shoosty fun followed.
Meanwhile, Bob secured a game of ‘Acquire Giant Sausage’, which she promptly then lost by dropping half of it on a surprised passer-by. Strong work, Bob.
Day 4, Game 4: Architect
Briony and co., after being fairly disappointed by the experience of A Study in Emerald went and found a solid worker placement game. Architect fully ticks all of the boxes of worker placement, gasping drought, and being an intricately themed board game. Awesome. In this game you represent a travelling band of folk with different and useful jobs forming a caravan. The caravan travels around small villages and towns in a miscellaneous medieval European region, with a castle located in the centre. The band of travellers must fit the requirements of the specific village/town to be able to build or repair buildings generating prestige points.
Prestige points must be generated to go up each level of the victory track, which will eventually allow a player to win the ultimate prestige from the castle and win a contract. Or something. Honestly we needed a little more coffee to follow the broken English rules, but the game was fun regardless.
There are a nice number of mechanics in this game – the most unique of which is the ‘worker star’. Workers which you buy have different careers which are denominated by the numbers around the corner. After using them to build something you twist the worker around, showing a different number. Throughout a worker’s career their numbers go down, sometimes plummeting to zero if they’re going through stuff, maybe their wife left them or something.
The actions you are able to fulfil are dictated by the worker star also. But in the end, this game is about generating enough build points to get the castle’s favour. Fortunately the whole team was in agreement that this game was fun, quick, and exactly what we needed at that time during the day.
day 4, game 5: Elysium
So this was the final game of Essen. Sad times. A band of team Misery longingly searched the halls looking for an empty table where they were able to play a game on their ‘to play’ list, and much to their delight found a free table for Elysium.
The game is card based, and is heavily focused upon mythology. For anyone who likes 7 Wonders, boy is this your game. Half of the table was excited about its similarity, while the other half was excited because of its twist and difference from 7 Wonders. It ticks both boxes. In fact it won an award at Essen this year (and yet only two gaming tables! Why, Essen, why?!). Instead of representing a nation (as in 7 Wonders), you are a demi-god striving to generate enough myths about yourself to advance to becoming a full God. You have two areas where you may play cards: the mortal realm, and the immortal realm.
Each game plays with 5 gods, and there are 8 in total in the box so there’s variation, replayability and excitement! Your humble misery farmers/demi-gods played with Zeus (a classic), Aphesites (god of metal and hammers, stuff), Athena (owls, wisdom and the Hogwarts postal system), Ares (WAR hurr!) and Dickseidon (aka Poseidon but for serious, this guy is a dick and all his cards are dicks and the illustrations on his cards are dicks and his dick-in-ear scale is measured in kilotonnes).
The game plays out over 5 turns split into 3 phases. First is the ‘Agora’ (or ‘marketplace’. Yeah this game has got its Greek down, yo). This was helped by Lukacs, our excellent and friendly game demonstrator (helpful as we cannot read German rules). After that you move some cards into their immortal realms where their effects disappear but become sets (either by colour or number) and lastly the usual maintenance.
The cards have different coloured symbols relating to 4 actual, physical, coloured columns that each player has on their board. To take a card from the ‘Agora’ a player must have the relevant coloured column. Each card has effects, as you would expect – some of these affect only the player while others affect the player and the others players (not as good, obvi) You can also destroy whole coloured columns with barely an evil laugh. Dickseidon’s cards on the other hand usually do not affect the player but dick over other players (such as losing gold, victory points, discarding cards etc). This game is highly recommended, especially for anyone who likes 7 wonders, mythology and Dickseidon.
Rounding up the day
Finally we retired to a nearby hotel lounge, where our easily-bored but deeply punk friend Pat had secured a few big tables and crates of beer. Codenames,Potion Explosion, and Microfilms*** were all brought out and played to great enjoyment. Codenames remains an instant classic while Potion Explosion is shameless fun, and not just because Lizzy is hilariously bad at it. Microfilms needs… a more thorough explanation than we received. A cousin of [redacted], it relies heavily on keeping your cards secret, so if you don’t understand it you can’t ask what your cards mean. It has potential as a quick three-person game though, and our version comes with highly-professional art!
This weekend (FOUR DAYS IS NOT A WEEKEND -ed.) has been beyond intense, but extremely fun. Really we need to add ‘get enough sleep’ to our survival tips, but somehow between the beer, boardgames, and bratwurst that seems to be impossible. Besides, who needs that stuff when you’ve played upwards of 20 different games in four days? Especially when you’ve been playing with friends as good as ours.
We’d like to extend our thanks to the friends who came with us and made this trip as mad and brilliant as it was: Pat, Chris, Martin, Emma, Sina, Dave, Sam, Charlie, Gord, Mac, and The Reading Boardgames Social guys.** Final thanks to all the wonderful game creators, illustrators, vendors and demonstrators who work so hard and put up with the manic excitement of nerds like us. We’ll see you next year.
*Red Sun sushi, you guys make some delicious food but dear god expecting us to wait an hour for each of five courses is insane. We’re sorry we had to sic Bob and her mediocre German on you, making a complaint was physically painful to our English sensibilities.
** She also strongly dislikes deck building games due to unfortunate circumstances in her earlier years. It’s amazing how difficult it is to like a game again after you’ve cursed it to Hades for a truly terrible experience.
***On a side note, Microfilm has a character that looks hella like Briony. Is she really a Misery Farmer, or is she really the American spy?