Galaxy Trucker: Space Truck Simulator 2016

Pairs well with: Pabst Blue Ribbon and caffeine tablets. 

Brutus scale: 6/10 

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Have you ever wanted to be a space pirate?

Of course you have, why did we even bother asking. Well this game isn’t for you. This game is for the people who want to live on the right (ish) side of the law, piloting glorified piles of scrap-metal held together with prayers and duct tape through the far reaches of space, shipping cargo from one end of the galaxy to the other at the mercy of reavers and smugglers and so on.

To be honest though, even the space-pirate aficionados would probably have fun playing this game as it is, to use the technical term, ‘a right laugh’.

 

Galaxy Truckers is a deceptively smart yet utterly bonkers tile placement game in which every player must build their own beautiful, sparkly spaceship from a range of components. Once built, you’ll experience a series of random encounters per round that will test how well you have planned and built your ship.

Easy, right?

Wrong.

The moral of this game is that you are, in fact, not very good at building spaceships. Yes, even if you try really, really hard. Even if you nick all of the components that another player wanted. At some point parts of your ship are going to be blown off, you’ll lose cargo and crew, and you’ll fail to sell any goods at the end of your ship’s whole eventful ordeal.

The game is played over three rounds, as encounters in each round become progressively more difficult. To account for this, you can build bigger and bigger ships1. The round begins with frantic ship-building. A pool of tiles is placed face-down in the centre of the table, ostensibly within easy reach for all players (but in practice it always feels like everyone else is closer to the good tiles). All players simultaneously pick tiles one at a time from the pool and place them on their boards as ship-parts.

DSC_0805This stage looks and feels a bit like a manic, grabby version of Carcasonne, except that it’s possible to return tiles to the pool if they won’t fit on your ship.

 

The aim is to build a ship that will fly out of miscellaneous bits and pieces, survive pirate attacks, and carry valuable space-goods to space-market2. Components must marry up with one another in order to have a legal ship that can actually fly (so as well as the tussle for good tiles, players are also simultaneously putting together a puzzle), and will need include several component types to be able to earn you some sweet, sweet money. Engines are pretty essential, without them you would endlessly drift through space. As are storage facilities. Lasers are also quite useful, as they can shoot down hostile space pirates and small asteroids which would otherwise damage your ship. Shields, similarly are helpful for asteroid protection and for when you bump into stuff. As well as these you can build quarters that provide you with crew, battery cells that fuel lasers, shields and engines, and alien habitation units x 3.

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All the tiles are useful, is what we’re saying. But in their own special ways, and only when strategically placed (a challenge, given the aforementioned building-panic). If you were, for example, to build a mighty ship replete with enormous weapons and powerful engines, it would not do you much good to place those engines behind the exhaust ports. That is how you get an exploding ship. Similarly, you want cargo holds to be hidden deep in the bowels of the ship, out of harm’s way.

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What a pretty ship.

The poor placement of tiles, though useless to that particular player, becomes the hilarious for everyone else.

DSC_0810 In the end you (perhaps unsurprisingly) end up with a ship that looks an awful lot like a 7-year old child’s desperate attempts to construct a flightworthy vessel out of macaroni, aluminium foil, and a cardboard box. But you are a noble, brave space trucker on a mission and on a deadline, so off you go. Galaxy Corp, Inc., your shady parent company, are not paying you to lollygag around. Any ‘illegal’ or unfinished bits of ship are assumed to fall off or burn up in take-off, so particularly unlucky or unwitting players may end up with just an engine, a laser, and some pipes. Others, like Chris, have played this game so many times with and without expansions4 that he can build an efficient spacecraft replete with 360 degree shield-coverage in his sleep.

‘Have you seen John’s ship?! It’s just a million batteries tied together with some string. There isn’t anything for the batteries to even power. There’s only one engine and its stuck on the front. John I can’t wait for you to meet our good friends the asteroids.’

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This ship has a great personality.

You might think that the mad ship-building is a game in itself, and you’d be right, but there is also the small matter of actually flying the damn thing. Bonuses are paid for a speedy delivery, but any *cough* merchandise you pick up en route is yours to profit from. A particularly good-looking ship will also win prizes, but that’s probably not something you would want to bank on, given the gamut of asteroid fields, pirates, and slavers standing between you and your destination.

 

 

Of course, if you happen to lose any tiles from your ship on the way, you are technically losing company merchandise, and will unfortunately have to pay for it. This may result in bankruptcy, starvation, and, ultimately, death. A suitably miserable game after all!

But, as ever, the real space bad-ass is board games.

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Five Tribes: Migration the media can get behind

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.

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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.

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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.

DSC_0782.JPGHowever 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.

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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).

DSC_0777.JPGAnd 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.

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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.

***Definitely not us, nope. No. No camels here…

Opening event: Board in the City

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All pictures featured in this post are copyright to Board in the City

Our review this week is a little different from our regular posts. Instead of being a game, event or tournament review we instead wanted to share some hype (and probably information? I guess we should include some information) for the new board game café/pub that has opened up in our very own city of Southampton.

Here is some hype. Enjoy the hype. Hype.

There had been rumours for a long while that someone, anyone, would eventually start up a board game café in the city. Among the board gaming community, it had become something of a prophecy: when the time was right someone with the time, and the funds, and a love of games would rise up and provide us all with comfy seats, snacks, and rows upon rows of games. And low fun times were had*.

Fortunately, the time is now and the place is Board in the City. You can find them on the map here.

Unlike the other board game café’s we knew about in other cities, for example the Thirsty Meeple in Oxford, Board in the City offers some extra pub facilities**. It also offers a range of hot and cold food to go alongside that, perfect for those like Briony, who continually felt the need to be eating a head-sized giant cheese covered pretzel while playing games at Essen Spiel 2015. Only better, because you wouldn’t have to walk through several packed halls to locate and retrieve one.

20321_657697387698363_9165735674812569710_nAs we understand it Board in the City has a large collection of games that will gradually be increasing during the first couple of months of its opening. Their page has been publishing some pictures of this as it unfolds. Mmmm, more games, said every board gamer ever. Effectively, the lure to go and play will heighten over time, so basically there is no excuse not to go and check it out.

Although we only managed to catch a glimpse of the décor on the opening night we can safely say that there is some great promise. We really enjoyed the feature wall: this is where several well known games were selected, with similar games branching out in a tree diagram suggesting ideas of what to play next. The idea is to help folks look for games based on similar themes and increasing difficulty or length.

Despite finding it awesome it sparked a long and intense debate about how it could be improved, and what games should be included and the criteria for selecting them to go on the wall. After all, there are a butt-load of games out there, guys. But, as the venue will have to deal with gamers much like ourselves, we figured we’d at least give them one night before leaping into the ‘I think you should change X to Y because I have an opinion and I think it is right’ discussion.

12795435_756616284473139_6169465504884956120_nExcitingly the venue will be running some special events of their own. But how can they possibly make board gaming with your friends, in comfort, while supporting the community more fun you ask? Well, firstly by running a huge murder mystery game during the opening evening, involving the entire audience which was followed up with some delightful live music by our very own Grant Sharkey.

The events will keep on coming too, having recently held a Steam Punk party on the premises.

Ultimately, if you’re in and around Southampton go and check it out. If you live further afield then you should make sure that if you’re ever passing through the city it’s worth stopping off for an hour to sit and have a pint, and play a lovely relaxing game of Twilight Imperium before resuming your journey.

 

Here at the Misery Farm we are looking forward to showing you some more of what they have to offer, and to begin writing some of our reviews from within their walls based on some games we’ve never gotten our hands on before***.

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* For a few months before selling her soul to do a PhD Briony had even considered opening and running one with her angry punk boyfriend as a backup career. The lesser of two evils? Who knows, you PhD students can debate that.

**What with being based in a renovated pub…

***Ideally this is going to be the first of such reviews. Briony caught sight of it on the opening night and thought to herself ‘you know what would be funny? Three drunken, angry feminists playing this game. Better convince Bob and Lizzy!’

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Easter Special: Travelling Games for Travelling People

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

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

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

Hive

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

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Dobble

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

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Exhibit 1. All fun, all of the time.

Bananagrams

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015: A Year in Misery

A New Year round-up and big thank you from all of us here on the farm.

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For those board-gamers who follow the Gregorian calendar (as opposed to, say, the Mayan calendar… hint hint) then you’ll have noticed that the year 2015 is steadily running out of steam. With the trudging inevitability of indigestible ham, sour champagne, and your uncle’s ‘humorously’ cynical Bah Humbug black Santa hat, Christmas is pushing us kicking and screaming into 2016. It’s just what Jesus would have wanted.

2015 has been a big year. Briony and Lizzy achieved academic accolades, and Bob reached rank 14 in Hearthstone. Truly a rollercoaster of events.

This year also brought Bob, Briony and Lizzy’s crazed dream to fruition. No, not the one with Jason Momoa riding a unicorn; the one where we spontaneously decided that it would be a great idea to start a board gaming blog. It was either that or, you know, do some work for our sodding PhDs, so the choice was clear.

To celebrate our first year of being real-life bloggers we’re bringing you – arranged via meticulous colour-coding, secret voting and over-the-top spreadsheet-based organising – a thrilling Top 5 of the board games we’ve reviewed this year. Complete with a few bonus extras.

‘Bonus extras such as what?’ We hear you ask, glugging mulled wine and hiding in your childhood bedrooms from enthusiastic family celebrations

Well, how about the weirdest search term to lead intrepid Web Explorers to our blog in 2015? These wondrous search terms have provided literal minutes of entertainment for us, and we fully intend to release a ‘Top 10 WTF search terms’ in next year’s annual summary. Exciting stuff.

This inauspicious award goes to “can kids hide drugs inside of dice?”

…shit. Can they? I mean, it probably depends on the dice. And the kids. And the drugs. We all know how edgy and craze-balls young board-gamers are. It all starts with a light dabble in Dobble and Sushi Dice and then BAM! Before you know it your kids are hopped up on DnD and Twilight Imperium, attending all-day Magic the Gathering events and saving their pennies for Essen. Anyway, we sure hope the hand-wringing parents or ingenious teenagers found their drug-related answer somewhere.

And now for the interesting bit! Let’s roll some drums! Here are the top five, in descending order:


 

5: TZOL’KIN: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Plastic Cogs

Official MF drinks pairing: Sacrificial human blood and/or a Bloody Mary

Tzol’kin secured a top spot in the team’s favourite games by being Briony’s favourite game overall,* out of everything we reviewed in 2015. She just loves some hard-core corn.

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Briony: I loved this game. Such cogs, such corn. Butt-loads of worker placement (but with a twist!). My only regret is clearly not making enough time for Lizzy to come and play it with me. For now I’m happy with my record of never losing.

Bob: I have definitely played this game and can definitely remember playing it. There were giant dials, that was cool. It was one of those initially-overwhelming games that eventually gains an internal sense and logic, which you realise just a couple of rounds too late to actually be able to plan anything effectively. Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe next time it’ll be onward to Aztec victory over the Spanish invaders!**

Lizzy: I’ve not actually played this game, so I’m not really sure what I’m Tzol’kin about. Hey! That’s a point. If this is supposedly Briony’s favourite game, how come she never invites me round to play it?

* And obviously because of this she knows that it’s spelled Tzol’kin, not T’zolkin, then. *cough* (thank you to the person who pointed that out!)

** That is absolutely not what this game is about, Bob.

[drumroll, etc]


4:LETTERS FROM WHITECHAPEL: The Case of the Illogically-Numbered Board

Official MF drinks pairing: Gin from your local 1880’s London gin distillery

Our next favourite game is more or less just hide-and-seek with Jack the Ripper. Also, the person you’re hunting happens to murder a few people as you’re playing. Still, as an excellent reflection of the discrimination of the time, as the murders don’t really play that much into your motivation as the fuzz/bobbies/peelers Police. You can still win the game after everyone’s been murdered, it’s just finding Jack that counts.

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Briony: Although a very good game, it can be totally ruined if the person who is playing Jack the Ripper runs out for a toilet break, leaving notes of where they’re hiding unguarded. Remember, it’s not polite to use toilet time to corner the Ripper.

Bob: How did this game make it into our top 5? The subject matter is grim and bizarre as you follow a trail of viscera all over the stinking slum that is Victorian Whitechapel. Despite this point in its favour it’s like playing Minesweeper, but where Lizzy is the mines so you have no titting chance. Fantastic moustaches can only go some way towards making up for that.*

Lizzy: This one is my absolute favourite game at the moment, and it has been for nearly a year. It works particularly well with a good group of people, since it’s got a surprising amount of roleplaying potential to it. Some of us particularly love to flourish all of our clue-hunting by weaving some great stories into the game.

*I know what you’re all thinking. ‘Hey, why don’t you be the murderer for a change, Bob? Then you can cause some misery yourself and stop complaining!’ Well, gentle reader, you are wrong. If I played as Jack two things would happen. Firstly, I’d fuck it up and be accused of cheating. Secondly, Lizzy would find and arrest me and then my humiliation would be complete.  Then there would be more complaining.


3: POTION EXPLOSION: Ignoring Lab Safety 101

Official MF drinks pairing: Clumsily mixed cocktails

A big hit at this year’s Essen Spiel, this game brings together the classic elements of marbles, fairy dust, and Alchemy-school exams. Think of it as the entrance-exam to Achemists’ post-graduate research centre.

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Briony: At Essen I was confused why this game was so damn popular. Then after queuing for what felt like an age I finally got to play it, and totally understood in a zen-like moment. Two of my four companions then promptly bought it before even finishing playing it.

Bob: I have introduced a ton of people to this game by now, and no-one has disliked it. There’s no other game quite like it, except maybe those addictive online Flash games like Bejewelled and Bubble Cannon. It’s fun and tactile but not completely un-cerebral. It’s a little too lightweight and one-dimensional to earn a higher spot on our list (once you’ve nailed the play tactics there’s very little to do apart from mock your opponents), but it’s a definite recommended buy for play with all members of friends and family.


2: ELDRITCH HORROR: Misery, Doom, Tentacles (a normal Friday night in!)

Official MF drinks pairing: Very strong whisky. Strong enough to forget the horrors.

Across the world terror and madness loom. Unrest in the streets, nervous whispers from the darkest corners of society, and bizarre, otherworldly creatures appearing in cities with alarming regularity. You and an intrepid band of investigators must discover the truth, and suppress the rising horror before it’s too late! Sadly, it’s already probably much too late. You’re all screwed, and the world gets eaten. Happy gaming!

Horrors?!

Briony: As someone who enjoys Cthulhu roleplay this game was already right up my street. Add some worker placement, and random monsters into the mix and boom. Good board game. It’s a shame it’s so hard to win… (Warning: do NOT play with more than 4 players).

Bob: Definitely one of my all-time favourite games. It’s a chaotic collaborative mind-fuck of a game which deserves all the love in the world. It took the gameplay of Arkham Horror and streamlined it into something magnificent. Lots of bits, lots of variability in play, lots of horror. Not recommended for noobie players, and if you do choose to play with more than 4 players, make sure everyone is ready to spend 6 hours on it and role-play their moderately racially-stereotyped characters.

Finally, in the number 1 spot it’s our favourite game of 2015……


1: CODENAMES: From Essen, With Love

Official MF drinks pairing: Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred.

A deceptively clever spy-themed party game. Form teams and use word-association clues to contact your code-named agents in the field. Get it wrong and you risk contacting the assassin, or just accosting some bewildered passers-by and accusing them of being part of an intelligence group. Special commiserations to agents Ham, Toe, and Spy, who were clearly at the very back of the queue when pseudonyms were being handed out.

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Briony: Over the short few months since we first played this game it has proved to be an exceptional source of both fun, and anxiety for whoever may be the spy leader. No two games are the same, and you’ll remember all the word combinations for a long time to come.

Bob: This game is very stressful. It’s the most thinky, stressful party game I’ve ever come across. It’s excellent.


Our final honourable mentions go to the games with the Most Misery and Most Farming. Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone who read our blog, commented, or even just gave it some love on Facebook. You’re all rad and we hope you have a wonderful new year!

Most misery: CAYLUS

For being less of a game and more session of calculating a perfect game strategy which will inevitably fall apart due to your own idiocy or the sabotage of the opposing players. It’s like a maths exam in game form, but with castles made of pigs.

Most farming: AGRICOLA

Because well…. obviously.

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Happy New Year!

 

The Misery Farm On the Road: Essen Warm-Up

Seriously, one of the biggest board gaming conventions in Europe if not the world and that's their promo video. DO DO DO DO DO.

All aboard the Essen Hype Train! Destination: Essen Spiel 2015 (obviously). Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that all has been unusually quiet around the ol’ farmstead recently, but that delicate peace is about to be shattered as we plunge face-first into Germany. Throughout Essen we will be posting mini-reviews, play-throughs, first impressions and all kinds of fun nonsense both here and on Twitter, so climb aboard and buckle up cuz this train stops for no one!*

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For those not in the know, Essen Spiel is a four-day board games trade convention held in (not very) sunny Essen, Germany. It’s held in a convention hall roughly the size of an international spaceport, and has just enough room for the approximately 150,000 people who show up every year.** It is mind-bogglingly large. It’s so big it requires two tram stops on the same line. And all that space is filled with nerds.

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Nerds like us!

 

Needless to say, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Endless people and rules-learning and throwing money at wholesale-priced board games can be exhausting, so one kind redditor, ItsMrPig has written a handy and highly-recommended survival guide. It effectively boils down to:

  • Research the games you’d particularly like to play beforehand.
  • Cash is recommended as not all stalls have card machines, plus you don’t want to pay a transaction fee for every board game you impulse-buy. That’s just adding insult to injury.
  • Don’t wear a backpack. At least not a big one. It’s crowded and they get in the way. Ditto those trolley things. Like they’re practical but that place is crowded. Last year one guy appeared to have like a train of carts behind him that he was dragging along. While the sheer number of games he was trolleying around was impressive, it was still incredibly irritating.
  • Tote bags are a much more effective and less annoying way to lug your purchases around.
  • Don’t play to win. Just have as much fun as you can until you feel like you’ve got the hang of a game and then let someone else have a go if it’s a busy stand.

Mr*** jtown007 also adds

  • Hydrate yo’self. Beer doesn’t count, kids.
  • Comfortable shoes. Did we mention how big this place is?
  • Shower every day. Please. Despite being huge the halls are also hot and stuffy. Do your fellow nerds a favour and don’t make them bathe in your stank.

Almost as important as researching what games you’d like to play is figuring out where they are. If there’s a game you think will sell out fast and you want to get there as soon as the doors open on Thursday, it’s probably wise to figure out where you need to leg it to. There are a few unofficial maps kicking around on BoardGameGeek, or you can do it yourself by the somewhat arduous process of finding the reference number for the publisher’s stall, then cross-referencing it to a map of the hall via the official Spiel website.

Needless to say, Bob and her android boyfriend Chris have two different spreadsheets prepared, showing game priority, booth number, cumulative price (Chris’s reached €2000 last night) and any additional notes that might be necessary – such as the times that Naïade**** will be available to sign stuff or where Catan’s 20th Anniversary mega-contest will be.

Of course the most important thing is to have fun. If that means ignoring this article and diving into a sea of dice and Deutsches Bier without a second glance then you do you. There is plenty to be said for running around in sheer, giddy excitement at ALL THE STUFF OMG while subsisting on a diet of fried potato spirals and gummy worms.*****

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Remember Spiel ’14? Guys?

Speaking of fried potato, enjoy the food. The stuff in the convention itself is your usual junk (bar the exemplary fro-yo stand) but nearby are plenty of German bakeries offering fresh poppyseed rolls and hazelnut pastries. In the evenings, the local restaurants and pubs serve up everything from all-you-can-eat sushi to pork knuckles the size of your face served with liver dumplings, so don’t be afraid to explore.

See you on the other side, folks, and if you see us there don’t hesitate to come and say hi! We’ve got business cards now!

If you have stories to tell and experiences to share, don't hesitate to share them in the comments or our sharing page!

 

*Please hype responsibly.

**According to Wikipedia, which has been known to play silly buggers with facts.

*** We assume it’s mister but we apologise profusely if we’re wrong.

****Artist of such wonders as Tokaido, Shinobi Wat-Aah!, and more.

*****Bob’s approach last year.

Smallworld: small world, big dickery.

Pairs well with: A fair-well shot every time someone you love kills your brethren.

Brutus scale: 9/10 daggers in the back. It’s like the Ides of March out there.

Image source http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51e0scvztbL._SX300_.jpg
Image source http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51e0scvztbL._SX300_.jpg

Smallworld is played on a mythical map where different and diverse races work towards annihilating one another. This seems morbidly like our own sad world (bar the absence of victory points) but actually it’s rather cheery. During the game a number of races are randomly selected through the art of shuffling, with random characteristic pairings. Each player will start off with selecting a race: it is your job to pick the best combination of race and characteristic, smallworld1both of which supply you with some kind of delicious special abilities (more points here, easier stuff to do there, deathless and invasive ghouls… you know the drill). This means you shouldn’t pick Dwarves and then blame the game for having weak racial balance (you know who you are, gamers!) as it very much depends on the race/characteristic combination. Each race then sweeps onto the board starting at the edges, and generally takes over territories, killing anything in its path.

The killing floor is set.
The killing floor is set.

Although this game appears to have a massively high Brutus Scale rating bestowed for the ability and even encouragement it gives the players to try to ruin each other’s games, strategies, and lives, it is in fact still great fun. Super-awesome slaughter-themed fun. In fact, there is not really any easy way to play the game without cheerily stabbing your closest friends in the back on your campaign to achieve more victory points than everyone else. Once each player has a race on the board it is nigh-on impossible to sit in a little corner and avoid any conflict. Furthermore, the drive to kill is even exacerbated by some races and some characteristics. For instance, Skeletons gain another unit each round for every unit that they have killed. Remember what we said about picking the best combo? Skeletons paired with the characteristic ‘berserk’ or something similar (more berserk = more death to the enemies) means that your race can more or less act as the apocalypse.

DSC_0063During a turn you place your race units (sometimes called tokens) over regions you wish to hold – the more regions you hold at the end of your turn the more victory points you generate. This balance fluctuates depending how many units are killed, where you move, and how many races you are currently controlling. A player may only have one ‘active’ race. What does that even mean you ask? You’re allowed one extremely fit race which darts around the board like a sleek and well-oiled warrior, and one obese one, which stays where you left it like a sad sack of low-scoring potatoes. In times of peril you may sacrifice the obese guys because they’re slower and delicious.

Wouldn’t that be interesting? But no, sorry, we were lying. Your ‘active’ race actually means one that is currently in the height of its reign! Moving, conquering, presumably producing great works of art and literature. (None of this is featured in the game, we’ll just assume they all have hobbies and jobs as well. A turn is an entire year, you know!)

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Like a few others that we’ve reviewed recently, Small World is a great ‘gateway’ game, and it played such a role for Lizzy and Briony many years ago. One of the main things that really stands out to a new board gamer is the complete and utter lack of loyalty that you have to your own damn races. There you are, learning the rules and picturing the scenes that will unfold: you picture yourself welcoming a race of optimistic and bright-eyed creatures into your embrace and send them off on their journey, to occupy lands and build a legacy that will truly stand the test of time. Their victories will be your victories, their losses will be your losses, and together you will see the game through to the end.

Nope!

Mid-killing smirk.
Mid-killing smirk.

As soon as your race looks like it’s peaked, has spread itself as far as you’re willing or able to take it, or even that it’s just occupied enough land that you don’t want to have to worry about it anymore, then you effectively abandon it and move on. You put the race into ‘decline’. If you decline your race then in your next turn you can pick a new race and characteristic combination (for god’s sake pick the best one. No, put the Elves down. Try again). Your declined race stays on the board for now, which means they still generate victory points at the end of your turn, but aren’t able to defend themselves or move any more, which essentially makes them Skeleton fodder.

At first, sending your own race into decline is a pretty difficult thing to bring yourself to do. Not just because you have a soft spot for those adorable Flying Tritons, but because it feels like you’re royally screwing yourself over, points-wise. Going into decline is the only thing you can do on that turn, which means you may not end up with many territories to get points from since you’re not able to grab anywhere new. Even worse, most of the special characteristics that your race is paired with will tend to go away as soon as that race goes into decline, including any delicious bonus points that you were getting.

Anti Lizzy-manouvre potion.
Anti Lizzy-manouvre potion.

As such, a lot of the game becomes a lesson in investing in your own future. Sacrificing points now in favour of more points in the future? Madness! It’s also, as above, about picking some really good race / trait combinations to match your goals. But, possibly the most important of all, the game is about trickery and deceit. Another aspect of the game that really stands out to the newbie is the fact that after victory points are given out they all immediately become secret. This is really important in a game of Small World not just to create a bit of suspense at the end but for tactics during the entire game. You need to make a really big deal about how few points you’re getting, how bad your turns have been, and how really, really, important it is that everyone joins together to attack the person who you say is winning. Because you don’t just want to be gaining victory points, you want to be taking them from whoever’s doing the best. And you don’t just want to be spreading across the map, you want to be doing so while still tricking everyone into thinking that you’re no competition and should be left alone. This is what is termed in Smallworld and other games as ‘the Lizzy manoeuvre.’ Briony’s tactics on the other hand tend to be ‘take the thing with the most units, use all of the units, get a lot of points, repeat’. For this manoeuvre the Amazons are excellent, but still scantily-clad.

After so many rounds* the game ends, and the person with the most victory points wins. Simple, honest fun, without the honesty. It’s fast paced, full of dramatic changes, and gets you riled up over a fantasy world. To keep the game ever more interesting Days of Wonder have brought out 734 expansions for the original game** as well as the Smallworld2 app which smoothly transports the game to phone and tablet and passes many a boring train or bus journey whether solo or with friends. One of the good things about the expansions is they’re not utter bollocks, which is a trap a lot of great games fall into. In fact, a lot of the expansions are generated by fan-based designs and ideas for new races and characteristics, meaning that the board game geeks get a say in what the game should include.

Days of Wonder never responded to our suggestions however. Probably because it was a giant llama with laser eyes that became angry at the sight of tangerines instead of an attractive breasty ice-witch. WE LIKE WHAT WE LIKE DAMMIT.

*It varies depending on the number of players.

**In reality it’s about 6. But boy does it feel like 734 when you have so many race tiles and not enough room to store them.