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*.
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.
As 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.
Excitingly 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***.
* 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!’
Pairs well with: Martinis. Shaken, not stirred. (Rumour has it they’re actually better stirred, but that’s just the kind of shit you’ve got to deal with as a spy.)
Traitor-rating: 2/10 for the ability to try to put off your opponents mid-game.
We three kings* board game enthusiasts have had a lot to say about what some of the best games from Essen 2015 may have been. There have been a lot of candidates and a lot of enthusiasm. It’s almost as if we really, really love board games! Weird.
The excited froth of enthusiasm shall continue to spill forth as we move on to what really is one of the best, and surprisingly so, games of the year: Codenames. Don’t be put off by the box art which looks like it was designed in MS Word and features the thrilling byline of ‘TOP SECRET WORD GAME’,** this is some addictive shit. We hope you’ll forgive a bit of brief explanation, since the game is pretty simple to play and explain.
In Codenames you (usually) play as two different teams of spies. One person per team is the spymaster, the rest of you are regular vanilla-spies sitting in the field awaiting instruction.
The ‘board’ consists of a 5 x 5 grid of cards, each with a different word on it. The two rival spymasters, presumably sitting nice and comfortably somewhere in Spy HQ playing with some gadgets and looking at a dozen different CCTV monitors, have access to an extra card which they share, but which the rest of the players aren’t allowed to see. That card shows the ‘board’ as a 5 x 5 grid with each card marked as red, blue, grey or the single black.
This little card means that the spymasters can know which of the words on the table are the codenames of red-team spies, blue-team spies, regular confused passers-by and THE ASSASSIN!
The actual game is a word association game, with the aim being to contact all of the spies on your own team before the other team does the same, and to not contact the assassin (for obvious, game-ending reasons). The spymasters will take turns giving exactly one word and one number, the word being one that they’re trying to associate with some on the table and the number indicating how many words they’re trying to link.
One of the first things you come to notice as you play the game is that you really feel sorry for some of these spies. Agent Ghost? Cool. Agent Roulette? Pretty classy. Agent Ham? Umm, maybe not so much. Agent Ketchup? Are you sure you work here? Oh and I’ve got to say I’m a little embarrassed to be working with Agent Pants over here. There’s a reason we gave her that name.
And sometimes you’ve really got to question just what the secret service were thinking about. Agent Spy? I mean really. AGENT SPY? What do you think the point of a secret codename is? Maybe to avoid revealing your identity as a spy to everyone? Tsh. Some people just weren’t cut out for this business.
The plus side of Spy HQ’s batshit, overboard spy-naming policy is that you’ll never be short on variety between different games, even when each one is only about 15-20 minutes long. The box is jam-packed with different words, two sides to each, and you can get through a hell of a lot of games (trust us, we’d know) before you need to come across the same words that you’ve already used. Even if that weren’t the case, the way that the board is always different means that it’s unlikely any of your games will ever resemble each other. And other factors, like the impossible and bizarre ways that you and your friends’ brains work.
Bonus points for the game come from its flexibility. In our short time of owning it we’ve played it on beds, on floors, in hotel lobbies… even on walls. While procrastinating our PhD research doing important board game research for this blog we even spotted someone on /r/boardgames who threw together a makeshift copy for a family gathering. Pretty impressive.
Codenames is more fun than we ever thought a word association game could be, and at least part of that is thanks to the mad things you’ll try to connect, the connections that seem startlingly obvious to some and mad to others.
Lizzy: Water; Two. Bob: Right. Ok. So, I’ll go for… ‘Well’ *Well is correct* Bob: Good. Ok, so next I’ll go for Bridge.. *Bridge is incorrect* Bob: WHAT. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BRIDGE IS INCORRECT? Lizzy: *silence* Bob: Bridge! Water goes under the bridge! Lizzy: *awkward silence* Bob: Seriously? ARGH.
Bob: Wait, so what the flip was the other word for water? Lizzy: Palm. Bob: P… pardon? Lizzy: You know, Palm. Palm trees… are… er… sometimes near water. And Palm Springs is a place that sounds like it’s named after some, you know, springs. Bob: … I think we should be on different teams.
Other times you find that special friend who just seems to share your brain.
Spymaster: Bond; Four. Secret agent: Right, well. There’s Octopus, because of Octopussy, (correct answer), Moon, because of Moonraker (correct answer), Spy because James Bond is a spy, (correct answer) and… well, James Bond holds a gun in the palm of his hand, so… Palm! (correct!!)
Another great feature of the game, although one that only really works with a group of 4+ playing, is the constant (but friendly) mockery of the other team’s guesses. Not to mention trying to put them off!
Lizzy: Right guys. Beef; Three. Opposing Team (pretending to talk to each other, but loudly so the other team can hear): OH! Yeah. She’s probably referring to the great Beef Revolution of ’93. Or she means ‘Beef Dice’. Isn’t that the sequel to Sushi Dice?
LWH Codenames Tournament
As we briefly mentioned last week, one of our local conventions Little Wooden Houses ran a Codenames tournament at their latest shindig. Teams of 3 people competed for the coveted Tiny Trophy of Being Good at Games in an incredibly tense competition. Team Misery decided that despite wearing her ‘Captain Hangover’ hat, Bob should be spymaster as it’s very easy to get inside her head.***
The first match was against a team of raw recruits who’d never met. It’s easy to underestimate a team of nice (ha!) ladies but all early pleasantries were rapidly erased as Bob politely but firmly invited the opposing team to suck her dick when they took an early lead.**** Team Misery sucked it up and got their shit together to win convincingly and immediately take on the next challengers.
Round Two (or ‘Semi-final’… it was a pretty small tournament)
On round two, shit got serious. These were no fresh-faced n00bs, but experienced gamers and long-time friends. It would be easy for them to work together, and the stress was real. Ground rules were firmly laid (no speaking at all from the spymasters apart from clues (a rule which Bob finds supremely hard to follow), and taunting and smack-talk from team-members absolutely allowed). Adrenaline pumping and neurons firing, Bob flopped her enormous spymaster-schlong across the table with a steady ‘Culinary, six.’
Six correct card choices left the opposing team in the dust, and Team Misery advanced to the final round unbeaten.
The final match was played as best of three rounds, against a team which included a girlfriend-boyfriend pairing (Dr Boyfriend and Cthulhu-Joss) and Dr Charlie. Harsh.
A strong start in the first round got Team Misery off the ground, but they were nearly brought down by an incredible last-ditch hail-Mary clue from Charlie, whose team needed to get five correct answers in one turn to win.
Um. What. Surely this could never work! But after the initial laughter, Joss and Al took to the board to give it their all.
‘Er. Did the Nazis ever go near some Czechs? Czech!’ *1/5 correct* ‘Well, they probably had ships. Ship?’
‘They love to MARCH!’
*3/5 correct, panic from Team Misery*
Team Misery watched in shock as all their dreams decayed in the face of insanity. If the opposing team got one more correct answer, they would win.
‘Aw nuts. Isn’t there a movie about Nazis where they’re all somewhere really cold? And they’re zombies? Dead Snow! Yeah. Maybe he means that! ICE!’
Thank goodness for good guys. (That’s us, by the way.)
Round two was almost as close, but went to team Charlie, making it even-Stevens going into the final round.
Bob meditated while Lizzy and Briony made a break for stress-wees and tea.
It was a tough board for the team. ‘Hollywood’, ‘France’, and ‘New York’ were all needed, but ‘England’ was the assassin and ‘Beijing’ belonged to the opposing team, so a simple clue like ‘places’ was out.
‘Cannes, three’ managed to tie Hollywood, France, and Premiere together, but that was just the start. An incredibly close, tense game ensued, until both teams were down to their last two words.
Bob made a desperate bid to tie ‘New York’ and ‘Forest’ together with ‘Jungle, two’ (urban jungle, right?) but was thwarted by Lizzy’s insistence that ‘Jungle Jam’ was a thing (she meant a jungle gym. Like the climbing frame. Bob actually broke the rules when that went down as she was incapable of stopping a stress-pressured ‘Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp’ from escaping).
To be fair, the team’s eventual demise might also be put down to a glorious moment in which Bob forgot which colour she was, and gave a clue for the wrong team’s spies. Some swearing followed.
A smooth final two from Team Charlie and it was all over. The tiny trophy of ‘Good at Games’ was wrested from the Misery Farm’s grasp, and Bob unclenched her butt-hole for the first time since the tournament started.
Codenames is a frickin’ excellent game. Good as both a light party game for the inexperienced, and as a brain-crusher for more experienced players. Incredibly stressful. Highly-recommended.
The real winner was the stupid other team. But also, board games.
* Too early for Christmas jokes? What? Christmas jokes are never appropriate? Psh.
It’s been a long week here at The Misery Farm. Lizzy and Bob have been marking idiot undergraduate papers while Briony has been attempting the academic equivalent of fitting a gallon into a pint glass, i.e. condensing her Master’s thesis into a publishable paper.
Needless to say, they were all very happy to see the end of the week and to celebrate with happy hour cocktails (Bob and Briony) and going to bed at 9pm (Lizzy).
Saturday dawned bright and early. And hungover.
Somehow your farmers managed to pile into Bob’s shitmobile car and pootle all the way up to Oxford without any major death or destruction,* fully stocked with caffeinated beverages and terrible service-station sandwiches. What a treat lay ahead of them – a full day of board games ahoy!
What’s Little Wooden Houses?
Little Wooden Houses is the brainchild of Mac ‘Amazing’ Chapman, fellow board-game enthusiast and blogger. His dream was simple: to gather friends and acquaintances and pretty much anyone who fancied it, put them in a large room together, and play some board games.
It’s a formula which pretty much guarantees success.
Effectively, it’s just a day at a friend’s house with a bunch of people you like and a bunch of board games you like, but on a larger scale. Things that you like, but more of it! YEAH!
Unlike similar small and friend-run events we’d been to previously, like Gavcon, it’s a simple case of turn-up, bring-games, leave with the same games you arrived with. Simple stuff. Particularly good for those on a budget! We each gave a small contribution to M. Amazing for renting the hall and brought our own homemade sammidges, hangover snacks and maybe ordered a tiny bit of takeaway too.
Little Wooden Houses 2
This event, the second of its kind (but we weren’t at the first, so it can’t have been as good), was hosted in a little village hall near Oxford, where we’d previously had an incredibly successful day as the media in Watch The Skies. If only half as many nuclear bombs went off this time, it would be a success! It’s a bit further away from our homes than a couple of us would like, but it all worked out ok because Bob is an incredibly safe driver and we didn’t fear for our lives once in the entire journey.**
We started the day with HangoverBob opening her packet of Skips upside down and declaring it to be the end of the world. Fortunately, the team plodded nobley onwards, and got stuck knee deep into some games:
Elysium is a good game with one strange weakness:
‘Have I played this before?’
‘Yeah, have I? I really really can’t tell…’
‘Nah it just looks like all other games ever.’
It really does as well. It’s ancient-Greek themed and the artwork is a bit 7 Wonders, maybe a bit Cyclades.
We came across it on Day 4 at Essen and Briony bought it there and then.
There are pillars, but hungover games-explainer Briony is quick to point out that the aim of the game is not to build a tower out of them. Sadness all around.
Otherwise, it offers a good level of chance and luck v strategy and tactical play. It’s simple to learn, plus there’s just enough opportunity for dickery to keep things interesting and victory points get handed out like Skittles. And we love skittles!
As a downside, there are a few design errors. You must knock your pillars over to collect cards, but the bases of the pillars are circular so they just roll around all over the table and onto the floor, repeatedly. The turn order tokens are nearly the perfect size to fit into a slot on your player board, but not quite. Argh!
We still all had a pretty good time. Bob and Briony survived their hangovers, and laughed at the worst jokes.
‘Can I have a circley thing?’
‘You certainly can!’
‘… I CIRCLEY can!’
Victory for Briony!
Ok, when we said that Little Wooden Houses was just bring-a-game, play-a-game, we were almost telling the truth. Little Wooden Houses also has a long standing tradition (as long-standing as a tradition can be when it’s only the second event) of having a mini tournament. The first event was home to a Blueprints tournament, and this time Codenames was the star of the show!
If you haven’t played Codenames yet, then you should. It’s a competitive word-association game played in teams, but even more fun than it sounds.
Your steadfast reviewers made up a team of 3 (obviously), and were determined to come in either first or last place (because those are the only two positions worth blogging about). It was decided that Bob should be spymaster because a) she’s strangely OK at it even when wearing her ‘Captain Hangover’ hat and b) Briony and Lizzy can get inside her mind with ease. To catch your prey, you must think like your prey. To think like Bob, just replace 98% of brain function with pop culture references and sarcasm.
We started strongly. A decisive victory against a team which had never met before, followed by a trickier match-up against long-time friends. The tension was absolutely insane, largely because we take winning board games far too seriously. The final match was an incredibly close best of 3. We fought bravely but… ultimately the tiny plastic cup of victory was wrestled from our grasp.
A full review of both the game and the little tournament will be out soon!
Between Two Cities
After the intense stress of a tournament, a soothing game of Between Two Cities was called for. It’s fun and simple and can fit absolutely loads of players thanks to its team-based mechanic which means that until the scoring phase you only really play with and against the players to your immediate right and left.
Next was Takara Island, a worker-placement-lite game recently re-released with art by the incredibly talented Naiiade. Dive into the deep seas, fight some monsters, and dig for magical treasure. It’s flawed by some unbalanced mechanics which aren’t clarified in the rulebook, possibly due to translation errors.
Two Rooms and a Boom
There are a lot of reasons to gather twenty-something friends in a single place to play games, but one of the strongest has to be Two Rooms and a Boom. A game that not only works with these larger numbers, but thrives with them.
It’s a combination of hidden roles and party game: red terrorists v. blue secret agents. Everyone is divided up into two rooms and allowed to get chatting. Every few minutes there’s a hostage swap where a few people can change (or be forced to change) rooms. The aim of the game is to get the (red) bomber and the (blue) president in the same room at the end of the game if you’re the terrorists, and to get the president the hell away from the bomber if you’re the blues. That’s right, even if the entire rest of the secret service explodes with the bomber, as happened in one of the games we played, the blue team still win if the president is alive. Is death worth victory? Almost certainly.
Despite the ostensible secrecy of the roles, it quickly becomes clear who’s on which team.
“Lizzy, wait, are you on the red team?”
*Lizzy bursts into nervous laughter and has to run away*
It gets interesting when more roles are added. The engineer to fix the bomb. The doctor to diagnose the president. The Shy Guys, the fools. The first lady and the mistress, both of whom are competing to be in the room with the president at the end of the game (but not in the same room as each other). Moby Dick is there, as is Ahab.
Ultimately, despite the number of roles, it’s not a difficult game. Bob was the bomb and she quite successfully exploded. Good work, everyone!
The end of the day
Little Wooden Houses 2 ran on to the late, late hours of 11pm. Your noble journalists ducked out before then, but still had a wonderful day. The atmosphere was relaxing, friendly and rife with games.
Your competitive team of journalists had so much fun that they barely even cried at not winning the coveted Codenames tournament trophy.
But, as always, the real winner… is board games.
*Despite what Lizzy might say about Bob’s driving.
**(shifty look from Lizzy, as if from someone under duress)
Pairs well with: Grog for your long sea voyage.
Traitor Rating: 2/10 daggers in the back.
Board-gamers are a picky lot. Contrary to popular belief, when presented with a game which has a tonne of bright colours, a million pieces, and a theme along the lines of ‘the ultimate zombie werewolf death match apocalypse’, they do not get so excited they hyperventilate. What actually happens is that they take one look at the box and think ‘I’m not four’, ‘Please stop trying so hard’, or ‘for the love of God, pitching monsters against one another and using that many adjectives doesn’t make a game good, invest some of that energy into the actual game’.*
What a lot of people don’t understand is that board-gamers like dry, intricate and deeply boring themes. Euro-themes. Agriculture and shipping. Because that is what makes a really great game: enough theme to feel involved and immersed in a different environment, but enough structure and room for strategy to feel satisfying. An unfortunate by-product of this is that when we try and describe a very good game to someone else, it always winds up sounding like the most tedious thing in the universe.
‘Hey, have you played Paper Mills of Liechtenstein yet? No? You really should, it’s about working in a paper mill where you need to make sure the colour and consistency of the paper pulp is exactly right.’
‘Ermeghherdd I just played Sacrificial Canaries! I am totally the best at loading pieces of tin onto a cart and then getting a horse to pull it up the mine shaft. It only took three hours, it was amazing.’
Liguria falls into this category. It’s a game about paint samples and financial planning. You go travelling from port to port collecting different coloured paints, which you then bring back to your own port in order to paint your cathedral. But trust us guys, it’s a great game.
‘Have you realised that re-painting a cathedral in 16th century Italy would probably have the modern equivalent of Pimp my Cathedral… I would probably watch that.’
Each player represents a port, and has their own ship. During a turn tiles will be selected at random from a bag and placed in a line in the centre. The players then have the option of selecting how many of the tiles they want to pick. The fewer tiles you opt to pick up means the closer to the beginning of the turn order you will be when resolving actions, and so will be more likely to get a good pick.
The layout has a little port and boat in front of each player, and all of the players sitting in a little circle, connecting it up. This is actually a pretty damn nifty alternative to the usual method of, you know, just sharing a board. You get to sail your little boat around your little circle of friends and it means you can be pretty flexible with table-space. More importantly, it means you can have fun pretending to be a bit of a child and sailing your boat along the table and making noises.
“CHOO CHOO!” “That’s not a boat noise, Lizzy.” “You can’t tell me what to do!”
The boats also have that really pleasant double-cardboard kind of makeup, where you can fit little cubes neatly inside them. What’s not to love?
The tiles have a number of different icons: buildings, churches, daggers, paint contracts, scrolls, collection bags and helms. Most of the tiles you build in your town (your board) and provide you with a range of benefits: buildings provide victory points, helms provide an extra movement to your ship etc.
The idea is to build up a good range of tiles which help you to get the most paint. You will only receive victory points for paint if you have a tile asking for certain types. It’s all about the paint, man.
‘I don’t understand it, there are only three types of paint colour in this game but I’ve still managed to collect only blues and can’t fulfil any of my paint contracts. What is this? Why am I so bad at paint?’
‘Our ports must have some serious artists living in them because I’m pretty sure even Michelangelo couldn’t paint a cathedral with only three primary colours and make it look like a 3 year old child hasn’t gotten carried away with some marker pens’
After the tile selection phase there is a card phase. Each turn, three cards are laid out which will have a number at the top, and an action below. In most cases the action will be something similar to ‘three boat movements’ or an anchor which allows the boat to stop and start. The number at the top of the card is important because you’ll be adding all of these at the end of the game. Some are negative, some are positive, and if at the end of the game you end up with a total that is negative you will immediately lose a whole bunch of victory points. It’s kinda brutal.
Sure does teach you how to manage your finances in real life better though.
The final stage of a turn is where players may move their boats and pick up paint. There are several islands scattered between the ports and these offer temping treats such as extra paint and victory points. Once you dock at another player’s port you collect as much paint as your boat allows and then sail back to drop it off at your own. Unlike other shipping games like Puerto Rico and Le Havre your boat can stay out as long as it wants instead of having to return in the same turn. This gives the game more of an authentic feel sailing from place to place in a long sea voyage that eventually results in returning home with a butt-load of paint.
The turn begins again by drawing and laying the tiles. The game ends when the tiles run out. Simple. Go and paint your cathedral, kids.
Another thing worth mentioning is some different strategies – in this game it is not, in fact, actually all about the paint. This is fortunate because a lot of our friends are Warhammer 40K-obsessed nerds who could bring more paint to the table than you’d need to cover a fleet of cathedrals – we wouldn’t stand a chance.
Scrolls, for example, add an interesting diplomacy twist: when a player docks at another’s port they may place a scroll tile on any track of that player’s board. That means at the end of the game the player who owns the scrolls gets 2 victory points per tile in that track.
Briony has basically mastered this game, and instead of collecting paint she simply swans about collecting scrolls then sails from port to port being incredibly diplomatic and partaking in everyone else’s victory points at the end of the game.
Lizzy, on the other hand, wiped the cathedral floor with everyone in the first game just by getting highly into the building-points game. Ka-pow!
We haven’t met anyone who hasn’t liked this game. It was actually the first game we played at Essen, chosen only because as everyone streams into the hall for the first time there is a manic rush to sit at the nearest game and play it. We thought that Queen Games would provide us with some good reliable fun, and it did! Liguria was just suitably close to the door and we got to experience paint like never before. Excellent work all round.
The fact that the game is pretty relaxing and not stressful at all is another thing it has in its favour compared to other similar games.** Ship some paint, have a nice time. Shh, shh, just don’t think about having a load of cards with negative numbers, you’ve still got time to sort that out.
At the end of the day, or indeed your long sea voyage, you can take comfort in the fact that however badly your game has gone your cathedral will get painted and the citizens of your town will be all the happier for it.
*This is such a persistent problem that sometimes we’ll see a game and be so put off by the theme that we won’t give it a solid chance. The Possession is basically Evil Dead in game form and at first appears to rely heavily on gumpf like zombies and girls who look like they belong in The Ring, but is actually a solid, well-balanced game with some unique features and clever mechanics.
** Bob’s friendly robot boyfriend found it incredibly stressful, but then he is terrible at financial planning.
Exhaustion looms, but we’re still truckin’. On the final day of Essen Spiel 2015 we offer some final play-throughs and insights, including our considerations for Children’s Game of the Year.
Bob starts the day late, and hungry. The sheer number of games she and Chris have purchased has completely overwhelmed even her giant suitcase and they’ve had to rope in the aid of Friends With Cars to help lug twenty-something board games back to England. Additionally, Saturday night sushi had been completely de-railed when the previously-awesome all-you-can-eat sushi place failed epically in its mission to, you know, serve sushi to hungry gamers*. Deeply disappointing stuff. It took a generous liver-sausage roll and slice of pleasingly stodgy cake to fortify her for the day’s first mission: get Naïade to sign stuff, take a selfie, and draw us a picture.
Mission success, though with many a concerned look. Naïade is very French, and as such does not understand enthusiasm.
Day 4, game 1: A Study in Emerald
First actual game of the day was the second edition of A Study in Emerald. The game is based on Neil Gaiman’s cult short story of the same name, which is set in an alternate Lovecraftian nineteenth century in which the royal family have been replaced by Great Old Ones. Sherlock Holmes is there, along with a number of figures from history and fiction. In the game, you play (secretly) as either a Loyalist, faithful to the ‘royal family’, or a Restorationist commie intent on bringing down Britannia as we know and love her. The board is divided into locations which allow certain actions with varying ease, as well as a draw pile of cards. It’s effectively worker placement combined with deck-drawing mechanics, to reasonably solid effect.
Bob liked it, Briony didn’t. It may be that Bob really wanted to like it as she’d bought it on day one and it had sold out, but equally it’s possible that Briony hated it due to being hungry combined with a shockingly poor game demonstrator explaining the rules**. Certainly it’s simpler than the ‘glorified beta test’ original, and much cheaper and cleaner to boot!
day 4, Game 2: M.U.L.E.
Next, Bob and Lizzy tackled M.U.L.E., the boardgame based on the 1983 Commodore 64(?) game. It is absolutely charming. It starts off as a farming/resource management game set on an unexplored planet called Irata, where all you have for company is a robot-mule worker and your fellow explorers. Then suddenly there’s a capitalist market-trading mechanic and a magic money-generating Wampus and a mystical mine of purple crystals which change value in each game round. The board is busy but in a very Stonemaier-Games way in that all the initially-confusing symbols are actually there to clarify any potential misunderstandings and remind you of available actions. The winner is the Bob with the most space gold, while the loser is the Lizzy who has forgotten what their plan was to maximise their resources.
After that economic thrill ride any form of grown-up game seemed an impossible task. Our brains were just too full to absorb any further information such as ‘rules’ or ‘strategy’ or ‘tasks’, so we took refuge in Push-a-Monster, the award-nominated children’s game of monster-crowding. It’s very simple: try to fit your monster on an already-crowded monster platform, without knocking any monsters off the platform. If you knock a monster off, it gets hurt and has to go to monster hospital, so everyone else gets a point. Best of all is the lack of numbered scoring. No one needs that shit. Instead the monster-points are different sizes so the player with the longest string of monster-points wins. The illustrations are adorable to boot; one of the monsters makes exactly the face that Bob’s robot boyfriend makes when he wants to not be part of the Misery Farm.
Two refreshing, addictive little games later and we were ready for more. Not before stopping by the HABALINK stand though, where we found a strong best kid’s game contender in Treasure of the Thirteen Islands. In this tactical children’s game, you explore treasure islands by navigating with your finger, then attempting to follow the route blindfold on a grooved board. If your little airship falls into a groove, you get stuck! If you find treasure, you win! It’s adorable and at least one person bought it.
day 4, game 3: Cash and Guns
Somehow we next managed to grab an eight-person table for Cash n Guns, which was promoting its fresh expansion, a special-edition Cthulhu character with a tommy-gun, and foam Uzi machine guns. The expansion was rapidly scorned as unnecessary, as Cash n Guns is perfectly fun without any extraneous bullshit, and plenty of shoosty fun followed.
Meanwhile, Bob secured a game of ‘Acquire Giant Sausage’, which she promptly then lost by dropping half of it on a surprised passer-by. Strong work, Bob.
Day 4, Game 4: Architect
Briony and co., after being fairly disappointed by the experience of A Study in Emerald went and found a solid worker placement game. Architect fully ticks all of the boxes of worker placement, gasping drought, and being an intricately themed board game. Awesome. In this game you represent a travelling band of folk with different and useful jobs forming a caravan. The caravan travels around small villages and towns in a miscellaneous medieval European region, with a castle located in the centre. The band of travellers must fit the requirements of the specific village/town to be able to build or repair buildings generating prestige points.
Prestige points must be generated to go up each level of the victory track, which will eventually allow a player to win the ultimate prestige from the castle and win a contract. Or something. Honestly we needed a little more coffee to follow the broken English rules, but the game was fun regardless.
There are a nice number of mechanics in this game – the most unique of which is the ‘worker star’. Workers which you buy have different careers which are denominated by the numbers around the corner. After using them to build something you twist the worker around, showing a different number. Throughout a worker’s career their numbers go down, sometimes plummeting to zero if they’re going through stuff, maybe their wife left them or something.
The actions you are able to fulfil are dictated by the worker star also. But in the end, this game is about generating enough build points to get the castle’s favour. Fortunately the whole team was in agreement that this game was fun, quick, and exactly what we needed at that time during the day.
day 4, game 5: Elysium
So this was the final game of Essen. Sad times. A band of team Misery longingly searched the halls looking for an empty table where they were able to play a game on their ‘to play’ list, and much to their delight found a free table for Elysium.
The game is card based, and is heavily focused upon mythology. For anyone who likes 7 Wonders, boy is this your game. Half of the table was excited about its similarity, while the other half was excited because of its twist and difference from 7 Wonders. It ticks both boxes. In fact it won an award at Essen this year (and yet only two gaming tables! Why, Essen, why?!). Instead of representing a nation (as in 7 Wonders), you are a demi-god striving to generate enough myths about yourself to advance to becoming a full God. You have two areas where you may play cards: the mortal realm, and the immortal realm.
Each game plays with 5 gods, and there are 8 in total in the box so there’s variation, replayability and excitement! Your humble misery farmers/demi-gods played with Zeus (a classic), Aphesites (god of metal and hammers, stuff), Athena (owls, wisdom and the Hogwarts postal system), Ares (WAR hurr!) and Dickseidon (aka Poseidon but for serious, this guy is a dick and all his cards are dicks and the illustrations on his cards are dicks and his dick-in-ear scale is measured in kilotonnes).
The game plays out over 5 turns split into 3 phases. First is the ‘Agora’ (or ‘marketplace’. Yeah this game has got its Greek down, yo). This was helped by Lukacs, our excellent and friendly game demonstrator (helpful as we cannot read German rules). After that you move some cards into their immortal realms where their effects disappear but become sets (either by colour or number) and lastly the usual maintenance.
The cards have different coloured symbols relating to 4 actual, physical, coloured columns that each player has on their board. To take a card from the ‘Agora’ a player must have the relevant coloured column. Each card has effects, as you would expect – some of these affect only the player while others affect the player and the others players (not as good, obvi) You can also destroy whole coloured columns with barely an evil laugh. Dickseidon’s cards on the other hand usually do not affect the player but dick over other players (such as losing gold, victory points, discarding cards etc). This game is highly recommended, especially for anyone who likes 7 wonders, mythology and Dickseidon.
Rounding up the day
Finally we retired to a nearby hotel lounge, where our easily-bored but deeply punk friend Pat had secured a few big tables and crates of beer. Codenames,Potion Explosion, and Microfilms*** were all brought out and played to great enjoyment. Codenames remains an instant classic while Potion Explosion is shameless fun, and not just because Lizzy is hilariously bad at it. Microfilms needs… a more thorough explanation than we received. A cousin of [redacted], it relies heavily on keeping your cards secret, so if you don’t understand it you can’t ask what your cards mean. It has potential as a quick three-person game though, and our version comes with highly-professional art!
This weekend (FOUR DAYS IS NOT A WEEKEND -ed.) has been beyond intense, but extremely fun. Really we need to add ‘get enough sleep’ to our survival tips, but somehow between the beer, boardgames, and bratwurst that seems to be impossible. Besides, who needs that stuff when you’ve played upwards of 20 different games in four days? Especially when you’ve been playing with friends as good as ours.
We’d like to extend our thanks to the friends who came with us and made this trip as mad and brilliant as it was: Pat, Chris, Martin, Emma, Sina, Dave, Sam, Charlie, Gord, Mac, and The Reading Boardgames Social guys.** Final thanks to all the wonderful game creators, illustrators, vendors and demonstrators who work so hard and put up with the manic excitement of nerds like us. We’ll see you next year.
*Red Sun sushi, you guys make some delicious food but dear god expecting us to wait an hour for each of five courses is insane. We’re sorry we had to sic Bob and her mediocre German on you, making a complaint was physically painful to our English sensibilities.
** She also strongly dislikes deck building games due to unfortunate circumstances in her earlier years. It’s amazing how difficult it is to like a game again after you’ve cursed it to Hades for a truly terrible experience.
***On a side note, Microfilm has a character that looks hella like Briony. Is she really a Misery Farmer, or is she really the American spy?
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
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.
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.
Day 3 Game 2: Codenames
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?
We’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
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.
It’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.
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.
We 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.
*Bob brought so many spreadsheets for Essen board games. Cumulative cost was the scariest column.
Essen Spiel still pairs well with German beer. Who knew. We’ll keep you updated tomorrow.
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.
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.
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!).
Day 2, game 2: Andromeda
‘It’s sci-fi themed and it has a free table. We are going here.’
Andromeda, 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.
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.
Potion 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.
Day 2, game 4: Burano
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.
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.
This week we bring you the next in our sporadic series of event reviews, in which we bravely leave the house to give you an exclusive report from one of the hottest board game conventions in … a little area north of Southampton, England.
Ok! Perhaps, more accurately, we bring you an exclusive report of what it’s like to host a small board game convention between friends. Apologies for the lower quality photographs than normal, Dr Photographer (link) decided he’d rather spend the convention ‘having fun’ and ‘playing games’ than working for us, for free, all day, so most of the photographs have been taken by Lizzy. At least this time she remembered to wipe the lens of her digital camera first, instead of just getting confused as to why all of the photos were blurry.
Gavcon (lovingly called Gaviscon* by everyone except the eponymous Gav) is the now-annual convention run by one of our good buddies we went to Essen with in 2013. A year later Gavin ‘went rogue’ and, while wildly shouting “I don’t play by your rules!”, tried to save on his yearly trips to Germany by hosting his own mini-convention, for about 20+ people, friends and friends-of-friends. This is our report from the second annual Gavcon!
How does Gavcon work?
Gavcon is unlike any other small (or large) conventions we’ve been to, but it seems to work really well. The host, Gav, charges everyone about £30 (that’s about 40 euros, 45 USD, 12,500 Hungarian forints, etc). In exchange for this unusually large sum for a convention he will book a hall and buy one game for each paying participant.
So suppose he gets 12 paying participants. He sets up a list on BoardGameGeek where everyone nominates and votes for the games they want to be able to play; we often pick new releases, things we’ve not played before but heard about, recent recommendations. Based on votes, variety and availability Gav will pick 12 games to buy and bring them all to the convention. There’s a full day of merriment, playing, food from the bar, seeing your friends who inconsiderately moved to Cambridge but are down for the convention, etc.
As the day wraps up, maybe 5pm, the real game begins! Gavin will have the names of everyone who paid their £30 on a piece of paper and in a hat. One by one a name is drawn, to applause and envy, and everyone will get to pick one of the games to take away and keep! Hopefully throughout the day people will have played a wide enough variety of games to make sure they can choose something they like, and if not they can get by on recommendations from others.
Since the £30 entry fee gets you a free game at the end of the day it turns out to be a pretty good deal. And people who can’t afford the fee or didn’t get around to paying are still encouraged to come along, they just won’t get to take away a game at the end of the evening.
Now for the low-down on this year’s Gavcon from Lizzy, our Chief Gavcon Correspondant.
The first trick to running a small games convention, it would seem, is to pick the location very carefully. You need the space, you want somewhere that sells beer and food, but most importantly you want it to be both conveniently close and incredibly difficult to find. Gavcon meets each of these criteria, hosted just north of Southampton while simultaneously being in the middle of nowhere at all. Even when you can see the building, somewhere in the woods, it will take the driver at least ten minutes to find the entrance to a carpark. This is an important part of convention scheduling; you want the players to feel like they’re warming up, being challenged, playing their first game, getting their first victory in before they’ve even arrived.
The first game we started off with was Red7: a small and quick card game, but with some fun mechanics. It consists of the numbers 1-7, each in seven different colours.
To play, you have a choice of putting a card in front of you or in the middle. Cards in front of you will add to your ‘palette’, which is where you get your points from. Cards in the middle will… completely change the rules of the game, depending on which colour you’ve chosen! After you’ve played your turn, either changing the rules, adding to your hand or both, you need to be winning. If you’re not winning after your turn, you’re out! The round will end fairly soon and everyone will count up their score and start again.
The game is quick, easy to learn but great fun. A very good ratio of interesting tactics to difficulty. Recommended as a neat small game.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Have you played Suburbia? Good. Well, it’s that game, made by the same people, but better. You have to build the best, maddest castle for the Mad King, with the rooms that become available to you. There are lots of ways that a room can score you points, and lots of exciting combinations you can work towards.
It’s another great one for interesting mechanics; each player takes a turn being the ‘master builder’ and decides how much money each room will cost the players to buy. They’re incentivised to make the more attractive rooms as expensive as possible, since everyone will pay them the money for the rooms.
Slightly more complex, but good fun. It’s great to play a game where you can see several paths to victory and you have to make a tough choice about which one to take.
Oh hell. I don’t even know. The day made sense earlier, what happened? Help!
Witness is a… surprising game. I don’t even know. What did they just say? Shit. It’s a combination of Chinese whispers and a puzzle game, and I don’t know how a group of four smart human adults could be as awful at it as we were. There’s a lot of information to memorise and you’re not allowed to write it down until the end. You’ll find yourself reaching over to whisper to someone and suddenly realising you’ve forgotten all of the names of all of the participants. There’s laughter, there’s tears.
A very quick game which gave us a lot of fun, but we’re not sure how much we’d want to play it after the first few runs.
Letters From Whitechapel
This was, to Lizzy, the most fun game of Gavcon. Since seeing a review for it she’d been mega-keen to give it a go, and voted for it to be a part of the convention both years. This year she was successful and she wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to play it!
The game requires one person to be Jack The Ripper (Dr Photographer was incredibly keen. He’s always had that serial-killer glint in his eye) and the others to be the noble investigators. There’s scrambling, hidden movement, murder and a lot of roleplaying if you get into it properly.
Quite a long game, but simple rules and very enjoyable. We’ve since reviewed it in full, here.
A lot of people would say that this game is worth getting just for the model train. They’re probably right.
It’s also fun, but if I owned it I probably wouldn’t play it that often. I don’t think that’s just because I lost. It’s fairly simple but also seems to involve a fair bit of luck, and how much the other players get in your way! It has some fun pre-planned movement mechanics that are always a laugh. Fun as a game to play through, but not for strategy, perhaps.
A pretty medium game for me, in both length and enjoyment. But maybe that’s just because the standard of games was so high! (and did I mention how badly I lost?)
The end of the day
As the dust settled, we all gathered round for the real game to begin. We all screwed up our faces and stared intently at the hat of names, trying to get our names pulled out as early as possible to grab our favourite games. Good tactics at this point are to run around to all of your friends and try to find out which games they enjoyed the most.
Lizzy came some point in the middle but it was enough to win her Letters From Whitechapel; she was pleased as punch. Last year she was chosen first (still managing to look incredibly smug about it, despite it being luck) and managed to grab Glass Road, which is also now a favourite of the team’s.
Gavcon works really well, but it does so because of the small number of people and the fact that they all know each other fairly well. Then you can be sure there aren’t too many grumpy disputes about anything like the money, the game you win at the end, etc. The atmosphere is friendly and the hosting seems fairly relaxed. It might not work on a larger scale, but if you’re interested in hosting your own board game events with a similarly-sized group of friends then we found this format to work really well!
As always, the real winner is board games.
*Gaviscon is the name of some kind of heartburn medication over here, by the way. Honestly, it’s a very witty joke if you’re from the UK.**