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!

 

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!

 

Misery Farm On The Road: Essen Spiel 2015 Day 3 First Reports

Our third Essen report comes from the well-rested Lizzy, who, on the way out to get some dinner on Night 2, accidentally fell asleep instead and so is actually pretty well-rested. Incredibly rare for a board game convention, where sleep is normally a very limited resource, only available when you’ve run out of beer and are waiting for Messe to open its doors to you again.

As before, Bob is playing social media guru and is live-tweeting our trip to Essen, check it out. She bought a data plan for her mobile and is going mad with it. Mad! Also if you’re hungry for even more Essen, Lizzy and Briony wrote up the first reports for days one and two.

We’ve also started racking up a bit of ammunition for a ‘Disappointing Games of Essen 2015’ post, which is in the works. If you’d like more of anything else, let us know in the comments! (Or twitter, facebook, to our faces…)

Right. It’s Saturday morning, you’re full of Walnussplunder and Butterkuchen… go!

Day 3 Game 1: Scythe

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If there’s one game that Lizzy ‘didn’t even bring a spreadsheet’* Miseryfarmer was hyped about, it’s this. Scythe isn’t available yet, it isn’t even up on Kickstarter until next week! But it comes from a pretty solid background of previously beautiful kickstarted games, of which Euphoria is probably the most memorable.

Badass tiger-lady
Badass tiger-lady

The game is pretty popular already. Bookings to try the game are at a premium, and a lot of people are being turned away, even with testing limited to an hour at a time.

Because it’s in such early stages, the pieces aren’t quite done yet. Lizzy’s hawk lady came without a hawk, the shiny pile of coins were apparently not in their final form and some of the pieces were definitely the wrong shape. The hawk lady’s yellow ‘stars’ happened to, for example, look exactly like yellow lightning bolts from Euphoria. Funny, that.

The game comes with the most beautiful art of mechs and a fallen Eastern Europe, and you can tell. Everything about it so far is beautiful, and you know the rest will be too.

We got a fair idea of gameplay during the hour’s test and, luckily, it seems to be exactly what you want for a game that looks like it does. It comes with building, expanding, fighting, resources, colonising, rising to power. We cannot wait to play it some more.

"You guys may have more points. But are you riding a bison? Didn't think so."
“You guys may have more points. But are you riding a bison? Didn’t think so.”

Day 3 Game 2: Codenames

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The hall was already damn busy by the time we were looking for a second game, but before long Bob enthusiastically dragged us over for a quick game or two of Codenames.

Codenames is another one of those games that you end up only trying because of luck or the insistent recommendations from people you trust. Bob is often trustworthy and persistently insistent, so we cast our doubts aside and sat down.

You only need to take one look at it to figure out why we might’ve been a bit sceptical. The box is awful, and one of the dark figures on the front even has a speech bubble coming out of it which says ‘word game’. Word game? Really? Is that how low I’ve stooped during rush hour at Essen?

DSC_0155_FotorWe’re reassured that Shut Up and Sit Down themselves describe it as an excellent game with a terrible box. And it turned out to be just that! It’s a word association game, but in the best way possible. There are spies, competition and mocking. There’s a slightly dodgy two-player mode for it as well, but we strongly recommend you try it with four or more, for better making fun of the other team when they think that the clue “wedgie” matches “plane” rather than, say, “pants”. You know who you are!

Day 3 Game 3: Between Two Cities

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To our surprise, we soon ended up bagging a seat at our second Stonemaier game of the day for Between Two Cities. The game’s novelty is that you’re building two cities, one on either side of you, but each city is being shared by a person on either side. Your lowest-scoring city is the one which gets you all the points at the end, so victory ends up being a bit of a balancing act.

DSC_0160_FotorIt’s good, and it has a satisfying level of simplicity and quickness as well as a having potential for good level of strategy and tactics. To play it feels a bit Suburbia crossed with Mad King Ludwig crossed with Seven Wonders. Which is fine by us! A perfectly reasonable game, and one of our number left with a copy in their bag.

(They did pay for it, we’re not using our blog to just let out confessions of theft.)

Day 3 Game 4: Titan Race

Another smaller game, in which you each play a hero riding a monster. Three laps of the racetrack wins! You may die a few times, and also blast some enemies into some lava. Simple stuff, some dice rolling and some mild fun.

Also contains a character called “Cthooloo” which is definitely the first time any of us had seen it spelled that way.

Not the winner.
Not the winner.

A little bit telling was that when we were choosing characters, the rules explainer advised us that Cthooloo wins most of the time. Oh! How much is most of the time? Erp, 90%?

Cthooloo won our game as well. Is this a flaw, or is it secretly actually an amazingly accurate representation of the mighty dark lord Cthulhu?

Probably the former.

Day 3 Game 5: Conquest Stratego

This final game was another case of a last-minute choice based on glimpsing a free table in the distance. Conquest Stratego is based off another game, Stratego, which thanks to our excellent research and journalism skills we can tell you almost nothing about.

DSC_0168_FotorWe can, however, tell you about Conquest Stratego. CS is a game of battles, a bit reminiscent of Risk, but without dice rolling. Instead of dice rolling your pieces have a range of numbers from 1-10 and, bar a few exceptions, the highest number wins.

The game has one neat little mechanic which we’ve not yet seen before, which is to have these strange little capsules for each of your pieces, designed so that only you, at one end of the table, can see what your number is. This actually worked better than we’d hoped, which is probably also how we’d describe the game as a whole. Not that bad, but wouldn’t personally buy it.

As always, the real winner is board games. As day four dawns, your  brave journalists are heading out for one last morning pastry for the final day! Wish us luck.

Guten gamin’

*Bob brought so many spreadsheets for Essen board games. Cumulative cost was the scariest column.

Agricola: The Original Misery Farm

By Briony

Dicks in ears rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: An English cider

I play board games pretty frequently, but I’ve so far managed to avoid Agricola. I haven’t actively avoided it, but at the same time I haven’t actively sought it out either as I’ve heard some pretty polarised reviews. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that board gamers have strong opinions. For those of you who don’t know, Agricola is a worker placement board game. 6D-31- 172The description on boardgamegeek states ‘you’re a farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else. On a turn, you get to take only two actions, one for you and one for the spouse, from all the possibilities you’ll find on a farm: collecting clay, wood, or stone; building fences; and so on.’

So tonight is the night, and I have my first beer. This post will be a running commentary of my thoughts, feelings and reflections whilst playing it for the first time. Side note – don’t read this if you’re interested in an actual synopsis of the rules of the game.

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Bob: Unsure
  • Setting the things up. As usual this involved making pretty piles of meeples that will almost immediately be destroyed. The game has 6 stages, with a harvest at the end of each.
  • Stage 1 – There are an awful lot of pieces, and 6D-31- 183unfortunately they all seem to be pretty important to any overall strategy. Beginning with a set amount of jobs was a good way to ease into the mechanics, in much the same way as Caylus. I got the immediate suspicion that being relaxed into the game would screw you over simply for feeling relaxed at some point, especially as one new job is added per round.
  • As I’m playing with three people who are all veterans, I’ve decided it’s a good idea to get a gauge on their individual strategies. So far Pat’s is mainly starving his family. Pete’s is actively farming his family instead of animals, with an initial single vegetable from his one field. Simon’s was to build one giant pasture and then knock over his entire board by accident.6D-31- 187
  • The first harvest has come! When these occur you need to have two food for every one member of your family (starting with two) or risk a lot of minus points. In addition, some other fiddly stuff happens with resources that I won’t go into. Fortunately, my family survived thanks to some measly and hastily ploughed corn. I immediately invested in some more fields for grain, and some clay for a badass oven that converted 1 grain to 5 food. Pat’s family is still starving. Pete is building more houses, which might end up being a sky-rise complex at the rate he’s enhancing them. Simon is farming sheep.

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    Setting things on fire.
  • Stage 2 – I’d so far avoided the many cards I was given. Probably not wise. They required too much reading at the beginning to bother with until I needed them. I took a chance and played one that seemed the most beneficial, seen as everyone seemed to be stocking up on wood, because it gave me the ability to build fences without any wood. I put a little sheep in there, he looks pretty happy.
  •  I got another sheep. It’s been a good day. Added bonus of extra sheep next harvest, and I’ve got a lot of food for the family. Now to expand some pastures and get in on some other livestock. I’m aware hard times are coming that I’m probably not equipped to deal with, having never played the game before, but so far it’s pleasant and I remain optimistic. I’m wondering whether I should have used my cards more in conjunction with the game, I’ve
    resolved to play another next round.
  • The harvest has come again. Panicked conversations occur:
    ‘Right. Fuck. I’d forgotten I didn’t have any food. Can my family eat wood?’

    What did you just say to me you little bitch?
    What did you just say to me you little bitch?

    ‘It’s ok we can eat the house cow. Kids, go kill the house cow.’

  • ‘I could get some food… but I could also get some fences.’
    ‘But you don’t have any food…’
    ‘Yeah you’re right, fences it is.’
  •  Stage 3 – My sheep are at capacity, so it’s time to build a pasture for wild boar (since I just played an occupation card of ‘Boar master: master of boars’. This is my own made up title, I preferred it to the original). Expanding more occurred to me earlier in the game, but being in the situation where I knew absolutely nothing, wasn’t able to form a sensible strategy using previous knowledge, or know whether doing a little bit of each strategy would work. So I decided to be slow and sensible, and simply do one thing at a time to a decent level while selecting only a handful of things to develop. Consequently my family are still basically living in a swamp with a couple of stones thrown in. But hey, now I have a lot of pasture and grain.
  • Harvest. For fuck’s sake, I have too many sheep and not enough everything else. The free pen is too small for any more sheep, even with a barn, so I have acquired a house sheep. I’m fairly certain it’s going to smell. Luckily I’m pretty comfortable with having to plan out actions in advance even if I now have a sheep all up in my shit. I’m not losing faith though; planning for misery in advance is something board games teach well, Caylus, Puerto Rico and Year of the Dragon are three of my favourite merciless epics. The other players are continuing to reap misery.
  • Stage 4 – We’re all now doing something which we’ve convinced ourselves is a strategy. It’s mainly poor decisions, hope and miscalculations. But nonetheless we’re going strong. Pete and I have more pastures, Simon has more livestock. Pat has realised he doesn’t have any food again, so the remaining sheep will have to be sacrificed.
  • Harvest. I say harvest in the loosest sense of the word: in the sense where actively burning your livestock in a resource pile constitutes a meagre amount of food and there is no joy for your family. Fortunately my oven and grain strategy is working excellently for food. My family is living off of bread, and bread alone. It’s a shame about the whole collecting victory points thing. I’ve decided to go for that next stage.

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    Yeah, that sounds about right.
  • Stage 5 – Victory points are hard. The effect of having few points for what seems like an awful lot of effort you’re investing in your farm is disconcerting. I can’t help but feel it was designed to do exactly that. Not only are we now silently adding up our current points in preparation for the final stage, we’re also cursing at our inanimate objects because we ourselves didn’t have the foresight to improve them. Pat has now gone heavily into farming, mainly as a result of being annoyed at the everything in his empty farm. Pete remains the group troll, taking all the resources we want but having no livestock to invest in. Simon has merged all of the livestock into one giant dystopian pen (an ability granted by one of his cards), in which the animals have developed some sort of rudimentary government.
  • Stage 6 – Honestly stage 6 is letting me down. With only one round to scrape together as many points as possible, my fellow players have neglected to tell me vital scoring rules that are definitely going to fuck me over at the end. I really wish someone had told me I’d get minus points if I didn’t have any of one resource type. I have neglected farming vegetables the whole time, because I had shit tonnes of grain. I also wish I’d known that space efficiency on your board/farm doesn’t get you anywhere, unlike in other worker placement games such as Puerto Rico or Terra Mystica. I’d intentionally used the least amount of board for the things I was doing – but it turns out leaving blank squares will give me minus points.
  • End of the game – Obviously as my first run through I hadn’t been able to win as most of my time was spent trying to get to grip with the rules and to understand the game a little better. Being able to plan your next moves ahead with the ability to adapt to other players ruining your strategy is a great skill to have, and certainly probably stopped my family from dying.

    Briony: The hair of defeat.
    Briony: The hair of defeat.

I actually quite enjoy the task of resource collecting to be able to play cards or perform tasks in games, and I think Agricola did that very well. The jobs built up well throughout, and the resources restocking supported that. I really like the very simple mechanic of having two livestock in one pasture, and them reproducing as part of the harvest. Not only is it interesting to factor in to any strategies, it makes you feel like your farm is actually functioning. You’re being the farmer, channelling that farmer knowledge, successfully doing agriculture (or not, as we’ve proved). I feel like the point scoring is pretty harsh, especially with negative scoring. I also felt a bit stranded as there was no real way to do damage limitation. The resolution to that is simply to play the game better next time. I felt that having a pen with a barn and fences and 8 wild boar deserved more than 4 points, especially in comparison to earning 2 points for the house you begin the game with.

“The only time I enjoyed this game we were playing it wrong. This is misery farming.” – Pat, 2014.

One thing I wasn’t totally convinced about was the effectiveness of the cards. Sure, it’s handy to be able to play something good you’ve got and tailor your strategy to maybe a few key abilities. However, I think it may have been better to have a mechanic to pick up a card at random, and to only introduce them at certain stages of the game. In fact much like the purple ‘victory’ cards in the last age of 7 Wonders. (Of course that can backfire horribly, forcing players into strategies completely at odds with their original aims a la Twilight Imperium -Bob)

Overall I enjoyed the game, and I’m convinced that a second round playing will seal that opinion. Having my friends in just as much misery and sticky predicaments as myself was perversely amusing, and the game definitely didn’t allow one or two players to be riding free of worry. You’re all in this farming malarkey together.

Briony: Wah.
Briony: Agriculture expert.