Star Realms: Are we the bad guys, Hans?

Pairs well with: pirated space-rum
Traitor-rating: 4/10 knives in the back. Direct rivalry but not too much player interference. 

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One of the expansions*

Star Realms works well as a game that you want to play again. In fact, it’s one of those games you’re keen to play again before you’ve even finished the current round. That’s either a point for or against it – you can decide.The game works this miracle by letting you see and plan enough different ways to victory, enough different cards that you want to pick and different strategies you want to use.

Star Realms is a two-player space card game.

There’s a communal pool of five different spaceships and your job is to hire them to do things for you like fight, trade or improve your authority. How do they improve your… authority? We didn’t go to the trouble of looking into it too much, but the little authority symbol on the cards looks fairly harmless, a bit imperial though. We assume the ships carry little flags and sing loyalty songs. That sounds right.

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Anyway. The number of ships you can hire depends on how much trade you have to spend that turn. How much trade can you spend that turn? Well, however much trade you’ve amassed from the ships you’ve already bought. And how many of those cards come out in the hand you play this turn.

Yep, it’s also a deck-building game. A lovely, addictive deck-building game.

There are four different kinds of ship – in the basic game, minus expansions, at least – which each come from a different alliance in the galaxy. It’s nice, because each of these card sets also has a different kind of feel to them in the way that they play, as well as just a different name and a different colour. Each kind of ship will play best with certain kinds of tactics, but not in such a strict way that there’s only one good strategy for each set.

Although the farmers of misery spend 90% of their board game lives nerding-it-up with the real-life versions, this is one game where we’re certainly qualified to give a review on the app version as well.

The star realms app is pretty good. It costs money to get anything but the basic version, which is a pretty successful tactic at luring in any unsuspecting gamers (worked on Lizzy!) and, even then, there are a whole bunch of expansions to try to milk even more from you. Luckily, though, there’s still a fair bit to keep you going, particularly for people who like to milk a lot from their games. Each campaign has a number of games for you to win, with some spiel that gets read out by a deep-voiced male who sounds like he’s describing an awful action movie. And each game itself has three achievements for you to keep busy with, and a harder difficulty if that still isn’t enough.

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And let’s be fair, nobody here at the blog is beneath giving the app extra credit for having puns in it. Puns that seem specifically designed to just-about avoid copyright trouble. Yeah, we’re looking at you, mission against the Machine Cult called “Rage Against the Cult” and another mission called “The Empire Strikes”.

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Doesn’t look like a ram to me

We gather that not all of the people who read about our humble adventures in farming misery are British. Not even the majority of you, in fact. So instead of just diving straight into a British comedy pop culture reference we’ll have to set it up a little first.

There’s this sketch show we have called The Mitchell and Webb look. In this one scene, Webb and Mitchell are both dressed in war uniforms and making plans on the battlefield. Mitchell’s character looks concerned, and says to his friend;

“Hans… Hans I’ve just noticed something. Have you looked at our caps recently?”
“Our caps?”
“The badges on our caps. Have you looked at them?”
“What? No. A bit.”
“They’ve got skulls on them. Have you noticed that our caps have actually got little pictures of skulls on them? Hans… are we the bad guys?”

Anyway, that’s pretty much what it’s like paying attention to the semblance of plot in the Star Realms app. There’s pretty much fuck all evidence that you’re the good guys. You’re battling for territory, you’re having space fights, you’re showing the enemy who’s boss. But there’s no reason to believe you’re the good guys. No good reason why the space territory is really yours in the first place. At least, none that would hold up in a fair human (and alien) rights court. Someone needs to start talking about the merits of diplomacy, that’s all I’m saying.

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“Kill some peeps.”

Overall, with the app it’s still difficult to resent the way that the app seems to give you a plentiful plethora of content and then slowly reveals the amount of extra bits you’ll need to buy in order to actually play it. Upon first download it looks like you have a wonderful six campaigns to play through, and a whole lifetime of fun ahead of you! Then, one by one, when you actually get round to the next campaign it’ll let you know that you have to buy the full version, the expansion, another expansion.

The app gameplay is good, and it offers a lot that the real life version doesn’t- particularly if you’re sat alone in your room with nobody else to play with. But the app ethics are a little pants.

The real winner is definitely not world peace, let alone space-peace. As usual, the real winner is board games. Over and out.

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We come in peace?

* Lizzy advises you to be wary of the Star Realms box. She and her ex tore it open when they first got it, to realise that was the only packaging. Whoops. Might be related to why you have a photo of an expansion instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So fancy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Roll for the Galaxy: I’ll show you my dice if you show me yours

Pairs well with: The tears of your alien enemies.
Traitor Rating: 3/10. You’d need a very long dick to stick it in someone’s ear from all the way across the galaxy.

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Bob’s friendly robot boyfriend is on a quest. It’s not a noble, or spiritual, or self-sacrificing quest, but it is a quest nonetheless. His aim? To boldly seek out and possess ALL the board games. All of them.* From ancient, dusty copies of DnD and Buck Rogers: Battle for the 25th Century to limited-release Kickstarter editions of next year’s big hits, Chris**has amassed some serious plastic and cardboard. As long as it’s not Monopoly, it’s worth a try.

A game increases highly in his estimation if it can be comfortably adapted for two players. Whether this is due to a keen desire to share a hobby with Bob, or simply to play board games without all the bother of inviting friends and changing out of pyjamas, is unclear. The result is the same. More games!

Unfortunately, he is also better at most games than Bob, and she does not like losing. This results in an unfortunate paradox of Bob liking a game and wanting to play it but also hating it and Chris and you and everything else.

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If Lizzy were here, these dice would be ordered by rainbow.

Latest in the series of paradox-games is Roll for the Galaxy. Released in 2015 it has received some well-deserved love on SU&SD and Reddit. It scales extremely well, which means that when Bob has gotten sick of losing at it to Chris she can lose at it to any number of additional people. It’s a worker-placing, dice-rolling, tile-laying space quest. If you, like Briony, have dice-anxiety, look away now. This is not the game for you.

R4tG looks pretty inauspicious. Apart from an intriguing Cloth Bag Full of Stuff and a rainbow cascade of dice, it looks a bit… dry. It’s a well-known fact that early Bob-game engagement correlates strongly with the level of illustration or model adorableness. This game carries a worryingly low rate of adorableness. There are several shades of grey in the artwork. The pictograms have the scent of the GCSE maths textbook about them. The cheat sheets are dauntingly dense, and the game phases/actions are reliant on each other in a way which makes for solid play but a hideously confusing rules explanation. There’s always one person who gets confused about how production and shipping work, which is reasonable because they work in an annoying way. Once you get past that though, it’s worth it. Trust us.

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Roll for the Galaxy: More fun than it looks.

You start by rolling a nice fat cup of dice.

Your dice are your workers, and depending on their results you can try to put them to work doing different things. They can explore, which will either yield new worlds and developments for you to conquer, or earn you a few straight-up dollars; contribute to developments, which will earn you victory points at the end of the game as well as having in-game benefits; contribute to settling new worlds, which work in much the same way as developments but they’re planets; produce goods on settled planets;  and finally ship goods from settled planets back home to your grateful citizenry yielding either money or victory points. Exhausted workers (spent dice) return to the citizenry (dice pool) but can be re-hired with cold hard cash. Bafflingly, these workers are happy to be employed at a rate of a dollar each. We don’t know the exchange rate of space-dollars to pounds sterling but that still seems a bit cheap.

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Today we are exploring.

Developments and worlds take the form of tiles, drawn blind from the big cloth bag when taking the ‘explore’ action. The game creators definitely subscribe to the ‘you can make anything sci-fi by giving it a space-y adjective’ school of thought. Thus your empire will very quickly become populated with a Galactic Market, Tourist World, Space Theme Park, etc. Once you have earned your tiles, you place them in your galactic empire. Some worlds and developments synergise particularly well, some earn stacks of victory points or dollar, and some add new and brightly-coloured alien species dice to your hireable citizenry. Because clearly different alien species are better at different jobs, the ratio of results will vary on different colours of dice. You wouldn’t hire space pirates to farm plant genes would you? That would be ridiculous. Space pirates are obviously better at invading settling new planets, so they have corresponding dice faces.

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‘Hello and welcome to Space Town’

The game ends when the pool of victory point tokens runs out, or when a player places their twelfth tile. This means that playing becomes a balancing act of conquering planets as quickly and efficiently as possible without compromising on valuable end-game victory points. Even a perfect strategy, however, can be undone by an unlucky dice roll or a succession of poor exploration-draws. This is fairly unlikely as R4tG has several clever balancing mechanics built in (exploring, for example, becomes more efficient the more tiles you have previously drawn) but might make the whole thing a little too luck-based for some.

If this all sounds a little bit too straightforward and insular for you, dear reader, it’s P1030023
because we’ve left out an important bit. There is more here than just ‘get tiles, place tiles, put workers on tiles to gain tile effects.’ See, each time you roll out your dice and try to figure out how best to make them work, you can only instigate one of the five actions. This is inefficient and sad. Luckily you may also place further workers in reserve for the other actions. All of this is done behind a handy screen. When dice are revealed (simultaneously) you will be able to not only perform the action that you have chosen, but the actions that your opponents have chosen will also apply to your relevant reserve dice.

Got that?

No?

See this is why we don’t normally go too deeply into the rules of a game. Some mechanics which are reasonably straightforward in play are a nightmare to explain. It’s much more fun to make sarcastic quips about speciesism in intergalactic politics.

P1030029Simply, your hidden worker-placement decisions affect what your opponents are able to do and vice versa. The upshot is that you make some choices by predicting your opponents’ strategy. The galaxies laid out in front of your frenemies are absolutely not hidden information, so a good peeping should at least give a hint as to their intentions, if not the results of their dice-rolls.

Ultimately like so many good games it’s all about efficiency. And good worker management. And dice.

 


 

*Well, the good ones at least.

**Whose own, sadly on-hiatus board game blog you can find at 4vp.tumblr.com

Scoville: Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

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. 

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Lizzy gets her serious face on

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.

So diddy!
So diddy!

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…

DSC_0817_FotorNot 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,

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Disclaimer: not conventional chilli-placement

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.

DSC_0823_FotorThere 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’.

DSC_0821Another 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!
Briony: *sobs*
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.

Woohoo! Three points!
Woohoo! Three points!

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.

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Gettin’ real judgy there, Rudolph-jumper.

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?
Bob: YES.

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Briony: Hey look it’s a metaphor for me playing this game

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.

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Fun game, intermittent sobbing notwithstanding.

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.

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*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.

Elk Fest: Hoof to Victory

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

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

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The elks have names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hard mode.

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

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

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

‘… How do you even know that?’

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

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

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

Yeah, elk <3
Yeah, elk ❤

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

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

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

Potion Explosion: Ignoring Lab Safety 101

Pairs well with: Clumsily-mixed cocktails.
Brutus Rating: 3 daggers in the back out of ten

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There is one big problem with regular and varied board gaming. It is not, as you might imagine, a growing addiction to the adrenaline rush and euphoric thrill of playing out a perfect winning strategy. It is, in fact, rules. Reading rules is boring, learning them from other people is even worse, and explaining them to new players is almost as bad. The only person in the world who actually likes sitting down with a nice fat rulebook is Bob’s boyfriend Chris, and he is, as previously mentioned, a robot. Beep boop.

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Yay! Rules!

Luckily, when we settle down for a gentle Monday night game of Potion Explosion, there is only one noob among us. Additionally, it’s not particularly complicated and Briony’s angry punk boyfriend Pat can do a decent job of explaining a game when he puts his mind to it. Plus Briony and Bob have enough fine red wine to see them through this difficult time (Waitrose, son. We don’t fuck around with our red wine).

A bottle of Malbec and a Chinese takeaway (not a recommended pairing) later, and we’re ready to go.

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Pictured: What happens when you combine wine and note-taking.

Potion Explosion (or ‘Poshe Exploshe’ as the kids call it) is a fun, intuitive game for two to four players. You play as a potions student sitting their final exam. You have before you a little Bunsen burner thing with space for two flasks, and a communal chest of potion ingredients. Every time you take an ingredient you cause the two ingredients on either side to collide with each other. If those ingredients are of the same type then they explode and you must take them, too. In this way you fill your flasks, making potions with different effects when drunk. You may ask for help from your professor, deducting points from your final score, as well as drink the potions you have made (depleted potions still count towards your final score).

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Mmm, delicious potion.

The ingredients are represented by pretty marbles of different colours set in a fancy little cardboard chest/dispenser. The chest is extremely fiddly to construct, but worth it for its mechanical ingenuity. When you take a marble from a row, the tilted tray forces the marbles on either side to collide, making it easy to see when you’ve formed an exploding chain. The marbles go into your flask on spaces designated by colour, into your ‘extra ingredients’ pool, or are discarded into the top of the chest. The chest-top is also slanted so the marbles roll down into new rows at random. It’s very clever.

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Ladies and gentlemen. Introducing: marble porn.

It’s basically like manual Bejewelled Blitz, and it’s adorable. It was the first game played by Bob and Chris at Essen and they were immediately charmed. Through the weekend it was played by all the Misery Farmers and farm-friends to the delight of every single person. It even put a smile on Pat’s face. It’s intuitive and requires a decent amount of luck, so even a first-time player has a chance at winning. The only slightly tricky part is remembering what each potion does, and using their powers appropriately. The powers are handily indicated on the neck of each flask, and are enjoyably thematic. For example the Love Potion allows you to steal the extra ingredients in another player’s pool, while the Draft of Prismatic Joy will let you use the wrong ingredients to fill your flask.

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Pictured: Pat smiling.

Sidenote: the stoppers are adorable. One is a little brain, one is a little tentacle skull. There’s a happy green blob-guy. It’s great.

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Fuckin’ cute as fuck, yo.

Importantly, cascading is possible and even encouraged, in which one explosion triggers a chain reaction. By careful potion-drinking and occasionally asking for help you can set up a turn which will rake in the marbles. There is no punishment for taking too many apart from you must discard any you can’t use or find room for in your ‘extra ingredients’ pool

DSC_0517Pat demonstrates this to great effect in our Monday-night game as he set up a perfect cascade in his second turn, netting himself approximately a million marbles and filling two flasks. This puts him unusually in the lead, and keen to maintain his advantage he takes an e-turn-ity (lol) planning each subsequent move. It’s Briony’s bad luck to be next to him, as she is left with the meagre scraps and useless ingredients he leaves behind. This is the big difference between playing this game as a pair and as a four. Unlike many board games this actually scales really well for two players, but the gameplay is very different. In a two-player game it’s much easier to predict what your opponent will do, and plan around it. In a four-player game the marbles move much more quickly so planning ahead becomes difficult.

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‘Gaze upon my perfect turn! And also my crotch!’ – Pat

Bob amuses herself during Pat’s eternal pondering by opening another bottle of wine and trying to play with Briony’s camera. It does not go well.*

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Morose Briony.

Points-scoring in Potion Explosion is based on several factors. Firstly, the value of each individual potion; more complicated potions score higher. Secondly, variety; taking a set of five different potions will score you a rosette, worth four extra points. Finally, similarity; making a set of three of the same potions will again score you a rosette. The game ends when four rosettes are gone.

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Marble. Porn.

Pat convincingly wins this match, but Bob and Briony will rise again. Briony was in fact mainly grumpy because since Essen she has only lost the game once out of roughly 12 times. Despite that the real winner is DSC_0522
definitely board games, as this would be an asset to any collection. Easy to teach and fun to play, and allowing for both light and heavy levels of engagement and strategy. It’s also so original we had to make a new category just for it.** Plus Lizzy is unexpectedly terrible at it, which gives it a level of unanticipated glee for every person who’s ever played anything else against her.


*There is a reason why Bob is not an officially-sanctioned Misery Farm photographer.
** Horrible Games are good at this. Good work Horrible Games.

charlie essen