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.

Tobago: Welcome to Pie Island

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

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

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

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

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Soothing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You are some weird little cubes, guys

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

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

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

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

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

*** With apologies to The Thick of It

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

Takara Island – More like Take-all-ya-treasure Island

Pairs well with: a nice pint of cider, preferably un-spilled.
Traitor rating: 2/10 no real way to ruin each others’ day unless you get particularly creative, like muscling in on someone’s treasure or taking the sword they need.

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You would think that by now your Misery Farming friends would be running low on games purchased at Essen. You’d be wrong! We save up all year for that madness. Having said that, this week’s game was not bought by us at Essen but rather was given as a gift.

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Specialist tiles – or – some of the trades that Bob is Jack of.

Bob, as you might not know, is a bit of an academic Jack of All Trades,* though she prefers the term ‘renaissance woman’. Bit of coding? Yeah it’s lurking in there somewhere. Film studies? Yep. Performance art reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring? Yeah sure why not. Among these many awe-inspiring skills is some spectacularly mediocre German, which gets drafted into service every year for Essen Spiel (with progressively less impressive fluency as time goes on). In 2015 it was pushed to the limit by an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that was unable to deliver any you can eat sushi. After waiting for food for two hours the whole table watched in awe as Bob drew herself up to her full height of 5’4 and did something that went against every British instinct: she made a complaint.

The stern Japanese proprietress was unimpressed, and only after a long, long exchange of bad German on both sides interspersed with stony silences was Bob able to procure a mighty 20% discount.

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DON’T SPILL THE CIDER, BOB. NO!

Nonetheless her bravery inspired her comrades and on the last evening they surprised her with a copy of Takara Island as a reward, which she had been eyeing all weekend thanks to its beautiful illustrations (another masterpiece from Naiiade), but had never quite gotten around to buying. It was actually quite sneaky: they staged a conversation so spectacularly boring that Bob zoned out and didn’t notice people slipping off to the Ferti Games stand. It was about the comparative size in millimetres of Warhammer model settings. No normal human can withstand that.

Bob’s given it a few plays since then but she finally gathered up Briony and Lizzy for a play-through in late January at Southampton’s favourite inner-city gastropub the Rockstone. Their ridiculously alluring veganuary specials might have had something to do with it. After munching down burrito bowls and veggie burgers with blue cheese sauce* we set up the board and got down to some rules-explaining.

P1030042… Which of course was interrupted when someone knocked over a glass of cider, prompting a chorus of ‘noooooooo’s and scrabbling to save the cardboard bits. This summoned the very lovely barmaid who said that we sounded like a chorus of angels. Aw shucks. Loveliest thing anyone has ever said to us.

Excitement over, we could get started.

‘First things first,’ declared Bob, ‘this is a game about treasure hunting. No complications, no mixed motivations or influence or hidden goals or nothing. Just delicious treasure. You’ve packed up all your shit because you’ve heard there’s loot under the sea and you want to hunt it!’

Briony, looking closely at her character board, commented that it didn’t look like she’d packed anything, really. Except a bear.

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Briony… well prepared for adventure? 

Bears are very good at treasure hunting, Briony. Duh.

It really is a supremely straightforward worker-placement game elevated by adorable graphics and the gentle thrill of minor combat and diving for treasure.  You begin the game with two workers and no money. There are various actions available to you, from gathering small amounts of money to converting your money into treasure (only treasure is worth points at the end of the game). These actions are represented by drawings of buildings on one side of the board.

P1030051On the other side of the board is the sea, on which are placed six stacks of nine tiles. You must ‘dig’ through these tiles in the search for the fabled Stones of Legend, clearing rockfalls and battling monsters along the way. As you go deeper into the stacks the monsters get tougher but the rewards become greater. Sure you might find a creepy sea-bat-dragon, but you might also find a very valuable glowing-eyed Tiki icon. If you come across a monster while digging it will beat you up and send you to the hospital, causing one of your workers to be out of action for the next turn. Luckily you can also ‘survey’ as an action, which means looking at the top three cards in a stack to figure out if that mess is worth your time.

Some of what you find will be worth money instead of treasure points. Money is still useful as it allows you to rent the sword (the only way to fight monsters), as well as hire more workers. A one-off payment of 5 gold will buy you another permanent worker. All three of which look suspiciously similar.

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Weird triplets

“Are they nice triplets?” asked Lizzy, eyeing the stack of extra workers.

“Yes Lizzy they’re nice triplets.”

“I don’t know, they clearly have mixed loyalties. How come they will only work for different teams?”

“OK, they’re not nice triplets, just regular triplets.”

“Oh. Shame.”

You can also hire experts who will perform special actions for one turn only. For example the mistress of foresight can look at three cards anywhere in a stack. Briony likes her in particular because of her fabulous hat. It is a giant eye.

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Giant eye of foresight

The miner can dig through several tiles at a time rather than the usual one.  You can always tell the miner because Bob forgets which one is him every single time she plays. Luckily Briony was on hand with keen observations.

“Hey Bob are you sure this one is the miner?”

“Uh… sure. Yes.”

“Because this one has a pickaxe and a little light on his head.”

“So he does.”

“So do you think he could be the miner?”

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Giant sword of… fighting

“…”

“On account of how he looks more like a miner?”

“You guys think you’re really fucking clever don’t you.”

Scoring is done at the end of the game, and is a bit odd. The game ends when both Stones of Legend have been found or too many stacks have been completely cleared without finding the stones. If that happens then everyone loses. If both stones are found, but by different players, points are scored according to overall treasure accumulation. If both stones are found by the same player they win forever and everyone else loses no matter how much cool other junk they’ve found.

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Briony’s “I’ve already surveyed these haven’t I?” face

The tiles come in three stages of difficulty, and the tiles for each stage are randomised. If you follow the rules properly then this randomisation is more or less perfect while still ensuring that both Stones of Legend do not occur in each stack. While this makes the whole thing more balanced, there ain’t nobody got time for that. The ol’ ‘shuffle and get on with it’ method is a lot more straightforward, and the possibility of both stones appearing in the same stack gives the whole game a higher risk/reward ratio.

It’s a fun, light-hearted game. It would be good for introducing new friends to Euro-style or worker-placement games, as it’s actually quite superficial. Strategy is minimal, though there are ways to optimise your play (Bob favours a ‘dig blindly while still in the easy early stages, then hire the mistress of foresight for fancy surveying when you’ve got some cash’ playstyle, while Briony prefers to fight monsters (with mixed results)). It would get new players used to the mechanics of ‘proper’ games, without the harrowing punishments usually doled out by said games.***

Maybe also pretty handy for kids, or parents, or those friends who just can’t pick up the rules that quickly and aren’t that deeply into board games as much as they’re into just having a pleasant evening (weirdos).

There are definitely a lot of worker placement games around. But although it doesn’t stand out greatly, it has some pretty beautiful graphics and is still good to play.

The real winner this week was board games. And treasure. And cider.

It’s a tie.

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* And Master of none one! Geddit!? Cuz she has a Masters…? Hahaha?

** They were out of fancy ramen with mock duck gyoza. So sad.

*** If playing Agricola doesn’t make your soul hurt so much that you feel the need to name a board game blog after the pain it causes, you’re not playing it right.

 

Event Review: Global Game Jam 2016

Pairs well with: Stress and energy drinks.
Brutus scale: 0/10 – it’s all down to your own planning, kids.

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Courtesy of GlobalGameJam.org

This week The Misery Farmers are excited to tell you our experiences with the Global Game Jam 2016. Well, Briony is, because she was the only one of the three musketeers to actually have the time to take part this year (curse you, academia *mutter, grumble, mutter*). Despite this we are fairly confident that she, at least, has thoroughly flown the board game flag at this international event.

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Team Misery is GO!

Global Game Jam is the biggest game jam in the world, where individuals, groups and companies from around the globe are challenged to make a video (or other) game in just 48 hours. Their website likes to think of it as ‘a hackathon focused on game development’. The game must be playable to others by the end of the event, and must be loosely tied to a theme. The theme for 2016 was ‘ritual’. Teams may be of any size (including being on your lonesome), and roles are not constrained. You can have musicians to create music, artists to draw up some designs, hard-core programmers who write the gritty stuff… And Briony to be hungover and eat flapjacks.

Luckily for Briony, she had a partner in flapjack crime, Chris*, to help share the load.

Game Jam has many regional venues where people can take part**. Fortunately, the University of Southampton, where all of The Misery Farmers are current PhD drones researchers, is one of them. This really takes the hassle out of the ‘international’ nature of a global event.

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The event kicks off on Friday evening with a series of introductory talks and meetings with the people you’re going to be trapped in a lab with for the entire weekend. For our event this included a well prepared organisers’ talk about what to expect (stress), and what to aim for (less stress?). Good job Southampton organisers.

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Boss Alien’s advice – ‘remember to shower’

Following this there was a talk from professional video game designers Boss Alien, who have a strong track record of taking part in the GJJ. They provided us with insider knowledge based on previous experience in other jams. Finally, the video produced by the organisers of event themselves showed a series of talks from game designers around the world showcasing the work that they had produced. At the end of this video the theme was announced.

The rest of the evening was spent networking with fellow jammers to get an idea of teams.  What ideas would people have? What sort of media did they want to make? How succinctly could they explain their ideas? At the end of this people should ideally form some groups, and have a loose idea on what they wanted to do. Briony was keen to assemble a crack team who would be very good and also not notice when she occasionally took a cheeky nap. A tough ask.

Briony and Chris (Briss?) had decided that they wanted to make a board game. Stage one complete. But what about? They brainstormed some ‘ritual’ ideas… and concluded that, both being children of academia, it was a totally ridiculous and depressing area to be in. Is that what they meant by ritual? Let’s say yes. Well then, stage two complete. Ace.***

Now, to decide how they wanted the game to play.

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Paper-calypse

2 hours later they’d come up with a basic first draft of the game, in a glorious multi-layered white paper format, which we’ll have you know was definitely meant to represent the white-paper format of academic treatises and not the lack of other materials.

The concept was to complete ‘project cards’ which were worth varying victory points at the end of the game. The cards ranged from rubbish conference papers, to journal papers, research bids, and the all-powerful thesis (that’s where the fantasy element comes in. We all know that theses are the most worthless academic document of all). Each player would begin with a starting job role which had different starting resources. At four points throughout the game, each player would be forced to pick up an event card, which described an undesirable situation based on real academic life. With a little bit of artistic licence, obviously, since an accurate depiction of your supervisor giving you a withering look and asking what exactly the point of your research is would ruin the light-hearted spirit of play. (What are we doing with our lives?!) You would have to complete your event cards** before being able to move on and complete further project cards.

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Strategic pins replace lack of meeple

The resources of the game are collectable through worker placement on four dials****. Briony and Chris (and the rest of team Misery) had figured that deciding what the resources should be in the first place may actually be the hardest part of the game designing process. In fact, it turned out to be the quickest decision that they made all weekend.

‘What do all postgrads, lecturers, fellows and professors run on?’

‘Uh… Coffee. Postgrad labour for marking and demonstrating. Grant money or funding. Annnnd…’

‘ – Sleep! Sleep is the premium resource in this game. Done.’

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It almost looks like a game if you squint…

And so the second draft of the game came about, complete with spinning ‘cogs’*****. Now was the perfect time to try a play test, especially after much of the advice we had previously been given was to play your game at the soonest possible point in time. The idea was then to refine what you had for the rest of the weekend.

The first play test started off slowly, as Briss had deliberately left some spaces blank in order to add to as the game went on. Throughout the game they were able to discuss with the other players and themselves to get a better idea of the different strategies people may use. Based on that they could scribble on the paper draft copy of the game, and amend things as they went.

Academia: The Game going a hell of a lot better than Academia: The Reality. No tears, no existential crises, no waiting three months for your supervisor to email you back before you can move on to your next task. Bam!

DSC_0384After much tweaking, the first play test actually went well! They came out with a better functioning game (would’ve sucked if it had just got worse) and so they were able to turn their attention to the graphics and other features that needed work. By the end of Saturday evening they had a range of fully written and themed cards ready for use, and had worked out what they wanted the board to end up looking like.

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Chris’ beautiful cards

Sadly, Briony had other commitments on Sunday but our faithful friend Chris ploughed on diligently. He refined more graphics, and did yet more tweaking. By the end of the weekend Team Misery had an OK magnificent game to be proud of, and have plans in the near future to fully finish off the game. Stay tuned, board gaming world, you may yet play our very own creation.

The game jam itself was a pretty rad excellent experience. We learnt a hell of a lot about planning and timing. We also really began to appreciate the sheer amount of effort that goes into every single detail and decision of a board game.

Seriously, board game designers, you guys are doing an amazing job and we sure do appreciate it.

The real winner of the day was gaming itself.

If you’d like to see any of the video games that were produced, you can find them on the Global Game Jam site.

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SotonGameJam2016 organisers being proud of their orgnaising (sourced from @sotongamejam)

 

* Not to be confused with Friendly Robot Boyfriend Chris.

** And in a lot of cases actually stay at the venue for the full 48 hours.

*** Some examples of our event cards are listed below:

‘Your University decides to ‘reward’ you by asking you to be the one responsible for a new course. After realising that literally nobody else in the department wants anything to do with it, you decide the only way to move forward is to blackmail your colleagues with photos from the last Christmas party. Lose two sleep resource tokens as you move around at night, intimidating your peers.’
‘Your most recent peer reviewed paper has made reviewer number two so angry he has transmorphed into a manticore. He is now pillaging the local villages, showing no sign of stopping his killing spree. It is your responsibility to intervene with reviewer two and calm him down. Sadly, your calming words have no effect and you are forced to distract him with some students. Sacrifice two student labour resources.’
‘Your superior finally succumbs to the pressure of overseeing a thousand projects at once. Once the ambulance leaves, you suddenly realise it is your responsibility to take over their job. Lose all your coffee, and call an ambulance for yourself.’
‘The co-author you were writing a killer paper with has mysteriously gone missing. You can’t seem to contact her through messenger pigeons, and her students haven’t seen her in weeks. Bravely, you decide to search the nearby settlements for any trace. After trekking through forest you stumble upon a dank and intimidating cave. You see remnants of clothing strewn about, and a large amount of blood. Your fears are confirmed when you find a severed arm, still grasping the draft paper. She didn’t even manage to finish writing the abstract, the MOOSE. Loose one sleep resource from the horrors you have seen.’
'Some poor fool has asked you how your research is going. Try not to cry. Pay two of any resource.’

*** Lizzy had, in fact, had a conversation with someone about a week beforehand about the possibility of an academic board game. She’d interpreted as some kind of horror-theme, and maintains that the game should have basically ended up a lot more similar to Arkham or Eldritch Horror.

**** Much in the style of Tzolk’in.

***** These were just paper with a pin poked through them, with some blue tack added to the pointy end. Sadly the game jam didn’t have any card available for the creation of board games, but we can forgive them.

 

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.

rgg492

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

Misery Farm on the Road: Essen Spiel 2015 Day 2 First Reports

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2, Game 1: Sheriff of Nottingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2, game 2: Andromeda

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

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

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

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

Day 2, game 3: Potion Explosion

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

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

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

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

Day 2, game 4: Burano

So many things.
So many things.

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

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

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

DSC_0427

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

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Euphoria: War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Worker oppression is victory

Brutus Rating: 3/10 daggers in the back
Pairs well with: A high dose of soma and a full complement of your water rations, you lucky worker, you! 

6D-37-178

Euphoria represents the misery farmers’ first expedition into the exciting world of Kickstarting board games, and it’s pretty clear why this board game was so successful at getting funded. Dystopian theme? Say no more, we’re sold. Fetch the people-zapper and the keys to The Courthouse of Hasty Judgment, it’s time to oppress some workers. Or ‘liberate’ them or something (we need to work on our spin, guys).

Before we dive in head-first to a review, allow us five minutes of just drooling over these gold bricks:

Oh yeah. Check out this fancy business.
Oh yeah. Check out this fancy business.

Having the beautiful Kickstarter edition of the game has definitely proved to be a good idea. It gets us these super-neat, extra-nice resources, amongst other things. The gold bricks are really shiny, and satisfyingly weighty! For a while when our friends came over we would literally just drag them over to the board game cupboard to show them how nice the pieces were. Our fellow board-gaming friends, that is, obviously not our normal friends. Board games? What? Us? Nah! Let’s all uh, grab a beer and watch a sport, woo!

In a move which makes you think “why didn’t I think of this first and make my millions this way?”, the game designers also sell these and a bunch of other neat-looking resources separately to spruce up some of your board game collection. They know their audience, and it’s people who are fascinated by weighty gold bricks. (Us!)

Hubba hubba
Hubba hubba

Right! Enough showing-off about the really nice game pieces. Wait …

(That's not actually where they go, we just kind of stacked them there while we were fiddling)
(That’s not actually where they go, we just kind of stacked them there while we were fiddling)

…ok, now that’s enough guys.

Lizzy:  Hey guys, do I look more dystopian with a mask?
Lizzy: Hey guys, do I look more dystopian with a mask?

Whatever level of the game you buy, Euphoria has some really alluring qualities. Mostly, of course, there’s the theme, which is both inspired and well-executed. Also let’s face it, when you’re trying to convince your novice game buddies that board games really are super-cool and that they should totally play with you then you’re more likely to have some luck with “this really cool dystopian-themed worker placement game, in which you oppress your workers and can’t let them get too smart or they’ll realise what you’re doing them and escape” than “this worker placement game in which you … run a farm! Yeah no really guys, farming board games are great fun, I have like six… hey, where are you going? Guys?”

Apples or goldfish?
Apples or goldfish?

I mean, it’s not that a lot of people aren’t going to love that kind of thing, it’s just that those aren’t really the people who you need to put effort in to lure into the board gaming world. Those are the kinds of friends who are already excited to queue for the latest Uwe Rosenberg game with you or the ones who keep trying to trick you into playing 1853 again. (EIGHT HOURS! EIGHT. SODDING. HOURS. We love an eight hour game in principle but waiting twenty minutes between turns is… aaaaah!)

Workers are a-workin'
Workers are a-workin’

So yeah, Euphoria’s theme will make it stand out from some of your other games.  The afore-mentioned feature of worker intelligence being bad for you is a particularly good expression of it. Your workers are dice, and the number on the dice will have some limited effect on how you can use that worker. The general idea is that a six is pretty canny but a one is quite a few apples short of a wasteland farm. Your overall worker intelligence is tracked elsewhere on the board by numbers 1-6, and if you’re retrieving all your workers and roll their total (plus that number) to be higher than 16? Uh oh! Your workers have been colluding! THAT SMART ONE IS ESCAPING! THEY’VE LEARNED TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES! GET THE ZAPPER!

6D-37-137In real (game) terms this means you get one less worker and one unhappy Lizzy, who has only just saved up enough lightning bolts to zap that worker into activation in the first place! Who let all these workers at the books? Don’t they know that freedom lies in slavery?

Another way in which the game beautifully manifests its theme is the randomized set of buildings that you’ll be able to construct. It’s amazing how much more fun you can have building ‘The Center for Reduced Literacy’ or ‘The Free Press of Harsh Reality’ rather than just ‘another flipping corn farm’. The same goes for your recruits (different from your workers), with names such as Curtis the Propagandist, Julia the Thought Inspector and Jefferson the Shock Artist.

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The two PhD students studying ethics at the table question the 'ethical dilemma' description of the ethical dilemma cards.
The two PhD students studying ethics at the table question the ‘ethical dilemma’ description of the ethical dilemma cards.

Victory in the game is earned by getting rid of all ten of your star tokens and spreading your delicious influence all across the metaphorical dystopian toast. (Dys…toastpia? Or is that spreading it a bit thin?) This can be done a number of ways including building these exciting buildings, playing your ‘ethical dilemma’ cards a certain way (“ ‘Help a friend escape or turn in a friend?’ I don’t think this game understands what an ethical dilemma is”) and just generally spurting your workers and resources at the sections of the board which have a nice handy star on them.

The different range of options for your workers can be a little overwhelming at first, particularly for newer players, and it can take a while to get the hang of what it is you’re supposed to be doing. There are four areas of the dystopia and most of them are fairly symmetrical but with different resources (except the bloody Icarites, they do whatever the shit they like. LET’S MINE A CLOUD FOR HAPPINESS!)

Cloud-mining
Cloud-mining

Basically you want to vacuum up some regular resources and then pump them up into being relics or bigger, shinier resources, both of which you can then end up splashing on some delicious victory star-spurting. It’s not a game with a lot of different paths to victory, so it doesn’t have that same rush of different possibilities opening up in front of you like other games can, but it’s still good.

It’s also mildly difficult at times to keep track of all of the things you’re supposed to be keeping track of:

“Oh, balls! Wasn’t I supposed to be paying some penalty every time I roll a one now because I didn’t contribute to building that diss-assemble a teddy bear factory?”
“Err, how long have I had four cards in my hand? My workers’ morale is far too low for this… you saw nothing, guys.”
“DAMMIT GUYS WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME WE REMEMBERED TO LOSE MORALE FOR RETRIEVING WORKERS?”

Although we’re not necessarily saying that this is a criticism of the game rather than just a criticism of our own competence.

“Why do my workers hate me?”

One more neat and unusual point of the game is the aforementioned worker retrieval method, which differs from most other worker-placements. There’s no set ‘end of a round’ where everyone scoops back their dice at the same time. Instead, you can choose to lower your worker’s morale (morale, unlike intelligence, is something you actually want your workers to have) or pay a penalty to increase it, and then retrieve as many of your dice as you like on your turn. It makes the turns more fluid than a trip to the Subterran Aquifer.

6D-37-147The game earns a ‘brutus rating’ of 3/10, because there’s not too much in the way of screwing over of the other players, which can be refreshing, particularly if you’re playing with us. Having said that, there’s still a little space to gang up on someone *cough Lizzy cough* by all building a shiny building without her, meaning she has to suffer some penalties for a while until she fixes it.

In today’s adventure Dr Photographer won the game. About time too, probably. Lizzy was stunted pretty early on by some damn smart workers, and the other participants just couldn’t wrangle enough shiny things.

The real winner is oppression. DOWN WITH THE PEOPLE! Ahem.

Dr Photographer getting a bit carried away with the dystopian theme there
Dr Photographer getting a bit carried away with the dystopian theme there

Credit to our fellow oppressor Dr Photographer for the photos!