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.

Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers: Get your… carcasses… on?

Pairs well with: Rudimentary fermented fruit? Whatever, we just had some wine we found in the back of Briony’s cupboard. It worked out alright. We hunted and gathered it.

Traitor rating: a firm 6/10 for tile-dickery

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This box contains one more hunter-gatherer than normal

Do our long-time readers remember Dr Photographer? Such fancy pictures. Anyway one time he kindly lent Lizzy his copy of Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers to see her through a Christmas with her family. This was several years ago so, naturally, Lizzy still has the copy* and it’s her go-to Carcassonne edition to this very day.

By the way, did you know there was a world championship Carcassonne tournament at Essen Spiel every year? We were pretty surprised. Yeah, it’s a popular game with a few bajillion expansions, but is it really the kind of thing you can have a world tournament of? Well, we suppose it must be. In hindsight we realised that we had made up and attended our own tournament for Codenames which is a much lesser known game, so really, who are we to judge?

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Bob poses with some meeples. Like a kind of pre-game prep.

Hunters and Gatherers is pretty similar to regular Carcassonne in a lot of ways, but all stone-age and stuff. Instead of a road you have a river, instead of castles you have forests, instead of farms for farming you have meadows for hunting, but the basic principles tend to still be there. In addition to this, at the end of the game you cannot score points for any forests or rivers you failed to complete which we feel is a just end to that one slacker friend who deploys his remaining meeple in a last ditch attempt to get some half-assed points. It makes the end game much more excited, and makes you that little bit more keen to just get that damn forest-ending tile that you’ve been looking for for like five turns now NOT ANOTHER CURVY RIVER ARRGH!

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Box insert mammoths

This does mean that when Lizzy plays real Carcassonne with the big kids then she always gets confused playing with the river expansion – an expansion where the first few tiles are just to place out a river for the rest of the cities and roads to go around. “Lizzy, why are you trying to put your meeples on the river, are you drowning them?” “That’s where they go!” “Is… is she new to games?” It’s embarrassing for everyone around.

One of the main parts of playing Carcassonne is just taking a tile out of a bag. The “taking a tile out of the bag” phase, if you will.** Since your entire turn relies heavily on which bit you take out, it’s easy to see how much of an effect that old toad Luck can have on your game. Particularly with your first few plays-through, or if you don’t play that often.

Nobody ever wants a river tile, for one thing. Or a road tile, if you’re playing vanilla Carky. Long river, curved river, ending river. NOBODY CARES, RIVER. GO HOME.

Just as in regular Carky lots of the points can farmed in the cities, in Hunters and Gatherers the points are in the forests. Two points per forest tile compared to only one point per river? Psh. Easy choice!

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Bag of delights

But there comes a stage in your Carcassonne life where it’s become your go-to game with a certain friend or two for a while. Or maybe you’re stuck on holiday somewhere or the internet hasn’t been working properly and Carcassonne is one of the games you have around. Whoever loses is really determined to play again, and the winner is determined to prove that it was definitely mad skillz and not just luck which earned them that victory. You start playing a lot of Carcassonne. Like, a lot.

Before you know it, randomly placing tiles wherever will add to your current river and your current forest turns into actually developing some kind of advanced, coherent and complex strategy.  Briony likes to think that placing a tile with a tasty animal on it anywhere on the board may in fact bring her more points. ‘Are you not going to farm that…?’ ‘I don’t need to, I brought a badass MAMMOTH to the party. I get cool points.’

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This section was later renamed Bobtopia

Brionys of the world aside, you start thinking not just in terms of how to increase the length of your rivers and size of your forests, but how many extra points each extra tile is worth. You start spreading your bets and stop relying on that one exact freaking tile you need with some forest on one side and a bit of river on the other side but only while facing a particular direction.

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Briony’s happy fish hut

Fucking hell, you start to think, river tiles do have a use – to join up your meadows. You become resentful of players who seem to understand the concept of scoring points better than you – “Briony… are you playing the points game? The game where you try to get points and then win?”
“Yeah… not on purpose, but I seem to be doing well at it”

Basically, you just start thinking about all of the things you should have been thinking about from the beginning. Huts, for instance. Never underestimate a well-placed fishing hut.

Ok, you say to yourself after the third game in one evening. That’s why there’s a world tournament for Carcassonne!

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Satan eyeing up her wine

Of course this seeds some serious resentment when you (Lizzy) play with somewhat less-practiced players (Briony and Bob). Bob will start with very careful placement of each tile, considering every position and muttering encouragements to herself (‘Come on, Bob, we need this, buddy’ – Bob). Her response to then having her carefully-farmed meadow hijacked is to accuse Lizzy of LITERALLY BEING SATAN and start her own settlement miles away from anyone else’s.***

Meanwhile Briony, despite having a pretty good score early on, fosters an incredible inability to perform the most basic function of Carcassonne – fitting the pretty picture tiles together so that the edges match.  The situation has reached a point where if any of us mis-place a tile it is now referred to as ‘doing a Briony.’

“Briony, buddy, it’s Bob’s turn. Also that tile doesn’t fit there.”

Soon the tides turned, and everything was once again right with the board-gaming world. That is, Lizzy was trouncing everyone.

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Super exciting bonus mountain nugget thing!

Another feature that makes Hunties & Gazzers different from regular Carcle is that you get a selection of shiny gold nuggets in your forests. Ok, so there aren’t even forests in regular Carcle, but the nuggets actually have their own little neat mechanic. When you complete a forest with at least one gold nugget in it, no matter who’s the greedy point-grabbing owner of the forest, you the completer will get to draw an extra, exciting non-bag tile. Not to be underestimated as a tactic! More tiles, more points. And the bonus tiles tend to be a little extra nifty, too. More fish than you could have dreamed! Golden mushrooms (for an extra point), a magical fire that scares away tigers!

Oh, that’s right, there are tigers. As well as delicious huntable animals like deer and mammoth, there are also tigers. These do naff all except eat deer at the end, and lower your score if you’ve got a little gatherer lying down there trying to catch them. Arseholes.

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Meeple dance party

Meanwhile
Briony: Can I put the tile-
Others: No.
Briony: Can I put it-
Others: STILL NO.
Briony: Ok I’m putting it-
Others: STILL NOOOO

So overall, Lizzy actually managed to convert her two sidekicks (cough) to Hunters and Gatherers as a superior game of Carcassonne. Maybe it was the wine speaking, but it also could plausibly have been the neater scoring mechanics and the more charming scenery.

There was only some mild and mostly-accidental cheating.

(the team spots a river tile going into a meadow tile… where it most certainly doesn’t fit)
“Wait. Look at this tile here. Who let this slide?”
“Have we had too much wine?”
“It was Briony! I remember!”
“Oh shit it was. Should I take two points back?”
“Nah we’re just going to make fun of you about it for a while.”

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Does this tile go here?

Briony, we want you to know it’s OK and we understand. Except we don’t, because we can think laterally.

The real winner here was wine. And probably Lizzy. And this cat who had a snooze in the box while we played.

* In Lizzy’s defence, Dr Photographer-friend has about a thousand different Carcassonne games and expansions, he probably hasn’t noticed it’s missing. Probably. Or maybe there are “missing” posters and a reward out somewhere… don’t tell!

** Or you could employ a sly-Bob tactic which involves slowly taking a tile, pulling a face, and slowly putting it back in the bag when she thinks Briony and Lizzy aren’t lookin. That’s right, we’re onto you Bob. This part is called the ‘drunk cheating’ phase.

*** Blackjack and hookers optional. Mammoths mandatory.

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roll for the Galaxy: More fun than it looks.

You start by rolling a nice fat cup of dice.

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

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Today we are exploring.

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

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‘Hello and welcome to Space Town’

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

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

Got that?

No?

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

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

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

 


 

*Well, the good ones at least.

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

The Little Prince / Make Me a Planet : There’s a Starman Waiting in the Sky

Pairs well with: Sloe gin with lemonade. Because it’s adorable, just like the game.

Traitor rating: 3/10. It’s dickery by omission – avoid picking the cards that will ruin your opponent’s adorable little planet. Because you’re mean, and you hate happiness.

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A smaller game, the kind that fits well at the beginning of the evening or slotted between two longer games, The Little Prince also works well as a soothing follow-up to something a bit feistier. Worried that your friends will never speak to each other after a long slog of Game of Thrones: The Board Game? Concerned that your compatriots will never stop calling you traitorous toaster scum after you defeated them at Battlestar Galactica? Worried that you and everyone else are going to murder Lizzy because of her stupid smug victory face after a game of Scoville, and then get in trouble with the police in the morning? Then maybe The Little Prince is for you!

Funnily enough, one of those above situations was what led to The Misery Farmers playing The Little Prince together for the first time. Even though it doesn’t have a whole world to offer in the way of strategy or unique aspects, and it’s not as catchy and unique as some of the other short games we all know and love, it does definitely hold a top spot as being something peaceful and adorable to play. It would probably be very kid-appropriate (we don’t know any children ourselves so we can’t check), but it’s also a fitting introductory game for e.g. nice mums who have nothing against board games per se but everything’s changed a lot since Monopoly and they’ve misplaced their spectacles and what does this card do again?

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Make me a planet! Oh sure, ok, why not.

It also mercifully doesn’t take a lot of explaining, because getting heavily beaten at precursory strategy games by Lizzy make Bob and Briony very… thirsty. Rules-explanation took the following, somewhat slurred, form:

 “So this tile is good ‘cause it’s got loads of shit on it, where this other tile is good because of all this stuff on it. But this one, he’s a bastard because he’s got all this bad stuff on him.”

Thanks thirsty Bob!

Luckily in the cold light of day we can briefly explain the rules a little better.

The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet is a short game based on the French children’s book of the same name.* You assemble an adorable little planet made up of 12 tiles with, as Bob so helpfully explained, stuff on them.  The game lasts for the same amount of turns as you need tiles to build your planet, and there’s a neat strategy of turn-taking in which a player picks three tiles from a tile-pile, chooses a tile for their planet and then decides whom to pass the remaining two tiles onto for next picksies.

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Point-scorey tiles

It does have a few unique twists that make it interesting. Some of these tiles will determine how your planet will score points at the end, so you can find yourself with a choice between taking a tile which might get you points or tiles which might get you ways to earn points. You’ll have the complete set of tiles by the end anyway, but do you want to decide on point-scoring tiles earlier, or do you want to leave it until later so your comrades are equally clueless for now?

Collecting certain types of ‘stuff’ is how your victory stars are reaped. Obviously, you should maximise the kinds of ‘stuff’ which your point-scoring tiles say you need to get points. The objects themselves are fairly whimsical; it’s as if a little prince made them up. Items such as sheep, cardboard boxes (with sheep in them), snakes, roses and lamp-posts are all among his imagined items, and are all adorably drawn.

Briony, never having read The Little Prince, would like to know where the clearly man-made lamp-posts came from.  Who installed them, and for what purpose? Which interplanetary council maintains them and pays the lamp-lighter to light them?**

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Lampposts! Lampposts everywhere!

The job of maintenance and management clearly falls to us as sole members and executors of the planet-construction committee, replies Lizzy. Very sadly, the game involves no complicated mechanics for lamp-post-powering or allocation of maintenance workers or electricity. Now that would be a great game. We could call it ‘The Little Misery Planet’ and it’d feature lots of sexy worker placement and focus on the logistical challenge of planetary maintenance.

A further layer of interest is added to the actual game by the presence of Baobab trees. Baobab trees, unlike most other features, take up a heck of a lot of space. Chief Science Advisor of the board game company clearly knows how to do their job, and knows how trees work. They need roots, you see. Lots of roots. To root them down. Particularly space-Baobab-trees, you see, to protect them against floating away. It’s basic science.

You’ll also notice, however, that the big trees are pretty big, and the planet pretty small (the little prince obviously wants a little planet). No, that tree you see on the tile isn’t just a scaled-up picture of the tree to represent the actual tinier tree down on the planet’s surface – it’s the actual size of the tree. The problem is that the deep, anchoring baobab roots take up a lot of space, and can start breaking up the planetary core! This means that your planet can only really sustain up to two live Baobab trees.

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So many trees!

Oh balls, there are a lot of tiles with Baobab trees! What happens if, in your haste to set up some lampposts and acquire some points you acquire one too many Baobab trees? All three tiles with the trees on get flipped over. That means everything on those tiles, lampposts and all, are gone. No points for you! Be sad!

The thirst-quenched Misery Farmers had some very sad tree-times on their planets. Very sad indeed. Only Lizzy managed to successfully employ a strict tree-avoiding strategy to avoid the dickery, since she was very aware that Bob was still fuming at her from a previous game, and that no amount of peaceful adorable game-theme would protect her from Bob’s venom.

The other farmers though? Not so careful. Ex-Baobab wastelands everywhere.

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That’s some sad wasteland right there

The game is neat, and kind of cute. Probably of particular appeal to small children and drunk adults who need a bit of help getting through the rest of their evening. And more so to those who have actually read the book.

The real winner, as usual, is board games.

(And also, as usual, Lizzy!)***

* Is it really a children’s book? Philosophical treatise? Morality fable? No one knows how categorise it. Finding it in a bookshop is bloody impossible.

** Those who HAVE read The Little Prince will agree that the lamp-lighter is owed some serious overtime.

*** Lizzy was not supposed to win this game. It was supposed to be FUN.****

**** We’d like to pretend this was the first time Bob has sent a regretful ‘Sorry I threw pieces of game at you’ text message to Lizzy the following morning, but it would be a lie.

Pandemic Legacy: Plague Simulator 2016

Pairs well with: a surprise drink from your friend’s liquor cabinet. Not only does it thematically link with surprises and possible poisons for which you might need a cure, but also it helps get rid of those mystery drinks nobody’s touched in years and helps to build a sense of teamwork.

Traitor Rating: 0/10. If you’re betraying your friends in this game you’ve seriously misunderstood the aims.

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Publicity image by Z-Man Games.

 

Important information: Pandemic Legacy is a campaign game with a number of unique elements which will cause drastic variation in each game. All kinds of crazy shit happens, but we don’t want to give that stuff away. The only information we’ll give about it here is stuff that’s in the rulebook and which could cheerfully occur in the base game. It’s impossible to avoid mentioning absolutely everything that sets Legacy apart from the base game (even setting up the game begins the narrative) but we’ve hopefully avoided giving away too much. If you would prefer a more in-depth, if a bit spoiler-y,* review, then Shut Up and Sit Down have the video for you.

P1020999Pandemic is a classic of golden-age gaming. You play as a co-operative crack team of medical experts attempting to save the world from four virulent and rapidly-spreading diseases. You each have a different unique character with a specific role. The dispatcher, for example, can helicopter team-mates to where they’re needed most, while the medic (aka the mop) is very good at getting rid of diseases in certain areas. Lizzy and Dr Photographer have long been suspicious that the medic is actually carrying a gun rather than a highly-effective mobile hospital. You know, for efficiency.

The game is easy to learn, difficult to play well, and brings both misery and joy in equal measure. It also has approximately 478 versions, including one in which you play as the viruses.** Today we’re focusing on the most recent: Legacy.

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It’s death for you, I’m afraid.

Much like a virus, this game evolves as you play based on choices your team makes and the resulting wins and losses. Unlike a virus, you really should share it with your friends, because it’s great. For definitely this reason and not because Bob has moved in with her robot boyfriend, she and Lizzy are currently involved in two completely separate campaigns. It’s not going very well for either of them – most of Asia has been thoroughly sneezed on for both of them.

Pandemic: Legacy adds to the pantheon of games which hang out somewhere on the dividing line between board game and role-playing game.*** The game aims are controlled by objectives (which can, naturally, change depending on what you get up to). There is an in-game timeline. Your decisions affect your environment. The board is broken up into regions, and characters can take both mental and physical damage. If they die, they die forever in both the real and game-worlds. No really it tells you that you should DESTROY their stats sheet character card if this happens.

There are, however, a lot more rules than in a role-playing game, and the randomisation is achieved with card-shuffling instead of dice, and no-one’s in charge, and oh god oh god everyone’s going to die.

P1030013With that in mind, Bob sat down to her first round of Legacy misery this afternoon.**** The first chance for customisation was immediately sprung upon as hey, why use the approved character tokens when you have an arsenal of Lego minifigs at your disposal? Because they’re too big for the city spaces and have a habit of toppling over, it turns out, which is bloody annoying. Lego Admiral Ackbar and Unikitty were swiftly relegated to the sidelines.

Naming was rather more successful, although choosing the perfect names and team composition took half an hour and three cups of tea. Eventually joining Bob in her role of the renowned scientist Dr Asenath West: Reanimator were Dr Basin Rudebacher in research, Dr Antony Edward Body (hacker alias Ant3b0dy) as the dispatcher, and Cpt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce as the martini’d up medic.

P1020997Once they finally got to work, the game progressed swiftly and in the style of all Pandemic games, in that everything seems to be under control and working as part of a greater strategy, until it’s very suddenly it’s not and everything has exploded. In this instance, turn three had already brought about the complete eradication of a virus (largely because, admittedly, it had not shown up yet). All was going swimmingly, with a second cure lined up when… the game evolved. This was both exciting, as the team got to open the Top Secret dossier, and upsetting, as the game suddenly went from Pandemic (not an easy game in the first place) to not-Pandemic (in hard mode).

P1030004Bob had not played a lot of Pandemic previously. In fact her full experience was playing the base game (once) on sunny spring afternoon in a beer garden, but even she could see that things had gotten out of hand. Someone (and no-one’s naming any names, but someone) had definitely forgotten to wash their hands when travelling through Hong Kong. The team was, in short order, pretty fucked. In the end they were but one (ONE!) turn away from victory. Not even a full turn, just like, the next person in the sequence could have found the final cure (though no word on how long the clinical trials leading to implementation among the general public would take).

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Artist’s impression of the Pandemic world.

 

For the more seasoned biologists, the new version of the game adds a lot of excitement to an old favourite. There doesn’t yet seem to be much of a way around the classic co-op quarterbacking problem (where some co-op games tend to have one more experienced or strategic player dominating the board and coming up with all the plans), but if that doesn’t bother you too much, the new features definitely make it worth a go. Lizzy, for one, still raves about the adrenaline rush when she had to tear up her first actual card in the game. It’s so counterintuitive! Tearing up someone’s copy of an actual genuine board game! Oh, the rush! The thrill!

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Look at this insanity.

It’s really after this first game that things start to get interesting. A game, after all, only lasts a month of in-game time, and Legacy is set over a period of a year. The outcomes of each game affect all subsequent games, presumably until the world is a utopia free of all disease from cholera to acne, or begins to resemble medieval Europe in both smell and plague death-toll. That’s all to come though. In the meantime all we’ll say is that this is an excellent choice for experienced co-op game groups, and well worth the investment of time and cash. Plus you get to choose whether you want it in red or blue and if that’s not magical we don’t know what is.

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*They say it’s not but it is, a bit.

** It’s not a fantastic variation, but it does come with little petri dishes for storing your microbes which is pretty rad.
*** See also TIME Stories and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

**** Yep, literally this Sunday afternoon. Let it never be said that we here at the Misery Farm are not well-organised professionals.

Forbidden Island: I sink we need to get out of here!

Pairs well with: An ice cream float.
Traitor rating: n/a (co-op game!)

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Having not played Forbidden Island in a while, the game was reintroduced to some of the Misery Farmers through a friend. He’d been looking for some board games to get his maybe-not-quite-double-digits-yet children into. More specifically, he’d been looking for some co-op games to get them.

“It’s great! I’ll trick them into family bonding. They’ll like me if I can turn us all into a team facing an enemy of some kind. Unity against a common enemy!” He said, maniacally.

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The previous key to Rich’s popularity

You see, a couple of months ago said friend had been a very popular guy. He’d reluctantly taken in a stray cat at the behest of his friends and children, and soon realised she was a little bit rounder in the belly than he’d remembered. Four kittens later and Rich was the most popular friend / dad in town.

“OH HEY! We’ve just popped by to see you and spend some time with you and play some games with you… where are the kittens?”

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Miaow?

Having eventually given the kittens away, (something something cat allergies, something something ice-cold heart) Rich needed a little something extra to win over the friends and daughters. Such beginneth the purchasing of board games.

One of the first purchases (which, of course, we insisted on testing *cough* before the kids tried it) was Forbidden Island. As described by our friend Dr-Photographer, and several others before him, “Oh, hey, you’re playing Pandemic, but easy!”

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There’s a sign there somewhere which says “DON’T GO HERE”

But don’t run away yet! If you’re like us, then you know that there’s little worse for a co-op game to be than easy. Co-ops need to balance their lack of competitive dickery with misery, misery and more misery. You need to have to strive for victory! And, dear readers, let us reassure you right now that Forbidden Island is not easy.

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These had better be some damned good treasures

What does give Forbidden Island its advantage (or disadvantage, depending on who you are) over Pandemic is not that it’s easier, but that it’s simpler. You play some cunning explorers, and your goal is to acquire four glorious pieces of treasure and then flee the Forbidden Island. But, presumably, the reason that the island was so forbidden in the first place is because it’s rapidly sinking into the sea, or at least it has a tendency to do so when explorers try to take its treasure. Damn.

IMG_0531_Fotor.jpgOne of the mechanics that you might be familiar with is the ‘Waters Rise!’ card. These are like the outbreak cards in Pandemic, but you have an outbreak of water instead of an outbreak of, you know, diseases. The cards are hidden among all of the treasure and bonus cards that you’ll be collecting at the end of each turn, which you’ll need a certain amount of to be able to find treasures. (Just like you’ll need a certain amount of cards to research a cure in… what’s that game again? Pandemic.)

Also at the end of each turn you’ll need to draw cards which list places on the island, and the corresponding places that you pick will either start to flood or completely go underwater and get removed from the game. You need to particularly hope not to lose Fool’s Landing (nobody’s arguing against the idea that the explorers are fools) where you ultimately need to escape via helicopter, since losing that means you’ll lose the game. There are also only two tiles on each island where you can find each particular treasure, so if both of those are lost before you’ve actually collected the treasure from it then that’s also a big fat LOSE.

One more way to lose the game is, as you’d expect, drowning. If you’re on an island tile that gets completely lost then you can hurriedly swim to a nearby tile, no problem. If all of the adjacent tiles have already gone? Then I’m afraid that this is the end of your adventure, traveller.

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The difference between an area and a flooded area is, as it turns out, just that everything turns blue.

It’s a little unclear in terms of the plot why everyone needs to survive for the team to win. Perhaps the adventurers have a very limited but strong sense of morality. The game is a beautiful tale of human greed, but not between the players. Should we travel to this forbidden island? Yeah, fuck the rules! Steal this treasure? Try and stop me! Let the sea swallow up this beautiful island? Why not. But leave one of your friends behind? NEVER!!

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Aptly named

The whole game has a great rushed, panicked feeling about it, as it should. The further into the game you are, the quicker everything seems to move, as getting through more ‘Waters Rise’ cards means that the island starts to flood quicker and quicker. And for every island tile that gets removed from the game, the corresponding card gets removed as well, so you’ll suddenly find yourself having a very small deck and a very small island, practically drawing the entire deck every turn by the end of the game.

To make things seem even more desperate, a player only gets two actions per turn.* Which, by the way, is phrased unhelpfully as “Up to 3”. Up to, but not including. The amount of times that we forgot this as we were planning in our first game is … a number high enough to be embarrassed by.

IMG_0526_FotorOne of the actions you can do is to try to stop the island from going completely under before you’ve high-tailed it off with the treasures. The action is to flip a slightly soggy land-tile so that it becomes dry land again, and the action is called ‘Shore Up’, but it’s a little bit thematically unclear what you’re actually doing. We think there might be a lot of mopping involved. But the amount of mopping you get to do versus the rate at which the island is going under is pretty heavily tipped in favour of the sea. As such, this part of the game tends to feel a little bit like one of those cartoons where a poor cabin boy is using a tiny bucket to chuck the water over the ship and back out to sea, even when water is crashing in around him faster than he could ever bail it out.

The game is fun, and it’s not yet one that we’ve mastered. We’ve only won once on ‘novice’ level so far, and we’re not convinced that we’d have done so well if the difficulty was raised at all higher.

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Er, we’re running out of island very fast, you guys!

Some of the roles that you get to pick seem to be a bit pants compared to some of the others. But perhaps that depends on how you play. Also, this might just be an excuse we’re all throwing out for why we’ve lost so often. (I’m sure if we’d been playing with [insert any other role here] then we’d have won that game… *cough*)

We’ve also been on a bit about how similar some of the mechanics are to certain other games, so does it have an advantage? Well, it doesn’t have a legacy version for you to drool over, and the simpler rules do mean that there’s a bit less of a feel for strategy than a lot of games can offer. But it’s not all bad! The theme is good and you can get into character just a little. And the simplicity is in some ways a good thing- not just so that the rules are a bit easier for kids to pick up but also because it means the game moves really quickly, and it can achieve the desperate panicked atmosphere that it’s aiming for.

The real winner is not the island, nor the treasure, and certainly not us. It’s board games.

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Bonus picture

Edit: *It has come to my attention, thanks to the ever-wise Mac in the comments, that there’s a discussion on BGG about the actions. Consensus on the small thread appears to be that they do mean three actions rather than two, but now we’re not sure what to believe. Have we just been extra-hardcore this entire time? The only thing that everyone can agree on is the confusing nature of the wording. 

You may take up to 3 actions each turn (could be 0, 1, or 2).

CAN WE TAKE THREE ACTIONS OR NOT??

*flips island*