Scoville: Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

Pairs well with: Chilli pálinka. Or some fancy Mexican beers.

Traitor Rating: 6/10.
There are some definite mechanics for trying to get up in someone’s way, but it’s not all that easy, as was demonstrated in our game by a complete failure of Bob and Briony trying to gang up against Lizzy with her stupid smug face. 

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Lizzy gets her serious face on

The farmers first spotted the game Scoville during the first Gavcon in 2014 and also Essen Spiel 2015, but only as a distant adorable-looking game that they never got around to playing. All they knew were rumours of it being great fun, and the fact that there were itty-bitty little chillies that could fit into some itty-bitty little chilli-shaped holes in the soil. It looked good.

So diddy!
So diddy!

Fast forward to the present, and Bob has had Scoville in her collection for a good few weeks.
She had kept this pretty secret, because while she loves this game on a theoretical level, she is absolutely awful at it. Every now and then she forgets and digs it out, before losing horribly and refusing to play it until the sting of defeat has worn off again. She knows that it’s a beautiful, clever, medium-weight game and that her refusal to play it is entirely due to personal failure. She also knew from the get-go that Lizzy would absolutely stomp this game and was keen to avoid the inevitable dickening.

In Scoville you’re a chilli farmer. You plant chillies, you breed chillies, and you make delicious, spicy chilli sauces out of your produce. Our first set of hats-off go to whoever sat in the board-game-office (is that where you sit to invent board games? With a white board, a lot of pens and a pot of tea? We imagine it’s something less fancy than the office you have in GameDev Tycoon) had the job of coming up with the great puntastic chilli-names. Chili Chili Bang Bang. Born to be Mild. Flux Capsaicinator…

DSC_0817_FotorNot gonna lie, one of the first couple of things that we noticed about the game were the colourful chillies and the little slots in the board that they fit into when you plant them. All good games have something to lure you over to that end of the room, and this particular bait looks pretty satisfying. Lizzy immediately pounced on the big bag o’ chillies to create a beautiful chilli rainbow.

Scoville matches a nice amount of strategy with a level of not being able to plan too far ahead because of other people getting in your damned way. The balance works pretty well. A round consists of several parts. Each farmer will plant a chilli, walk around to pick some chillies, and then either sell these chillies or fulfil a limited number of potential chilli recipes for delicious,

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Disclaimer: not conventional chilli-placement

delicious victory points. There’s one randomised set of recipes for everyone to play towards all the way through the game, which are there straight from the beginning, and these big sauces will be your biggest sources of points at the end. That makes it a pretty decent game strategy-wise, since you know what you’re supposed to be working towards and you should be able to get an idea of how your game comes together.

In a neat twist, the chillies stay put after you’ve planted and harvested them. Finally, a game where the farmer thinks that maybe they can save themselves some future replanting by actually leaving some of the produce in the damned fields. Flashbacks straight away to Agricola, Catan, Farmville, and all those other games where the fields are regularly cleared and you’re left having to re-sow and re-harvest the same accursed vegetables over and over again.

DSC_0823_FotorThere are a few contingent factors that will keep you on your toes though. Your adorable farmer-meeple has to physically wander around to collect the delicious chillies, but your lovely friends, no matter how good their intentions are, may end up getting just a little bit in your way.* There’s also an auctioning for turn order mechanic, so you have to think a lot about whether you want to be the first one to have a little wander and farm, or be the first one to sell some goods.

Your humble Misery-turned-chilli-Farmers played the game together for the first time this week, and they were keen, excited and … thirsty. Beers all round.

Briony’s fate had been forecast by her attempt at making a stir-fry earlier in the day and mistaking a rather spicy chilli powder for paprika. Just as the spices failed her once, they would continue to fail her for the rest of the evening. She is also pretty terrible at growing living plants, chillies included. It would appear that fate was against her from the word ‘go’.

DSC_0821Another pretty exciting USP of the game is that, as we mentioned above, you don’t just plant chillies- you breed them! You start off with a simple primary-coloured chilli and then a freakin’ massive grid to let you know which chilli colours make which other chilli colours when mixed together. Because of the complexity of how to make them, and how much mixing you need to do to breed them, some of the fancier chillies (black, white, and MEGA SHINY GLITTER CHILLI) won’t appear until a few turns on, and tend to be the ones you need to get the mega-points at selling time.

Some of the colour-mixing is fairly logical, following the colour-mixing lessons learned by splashing about with poster paint in primary school, some of it less so. For example cross-breeding a red and a yellow chilli gets you an orange chilli, but why does mixing brown and white chillies make a black chilli?

Nonetheless it’s reasonably intuitive to, perhaps, most people. Maybe not Briony.

Briony: I still can’t do anything
Lizzy: You love not doing anything
Bob: We still love you Bri

You also get smaller amounts of points for being the first, or one of the first, to plant a fancy chilli of various colours.

Half an hour into the game
Briony: You know what? I’m going to plant this second brown chilli thing.
Bob: Yeah you do that. You get… oh wow a whole three points!
Briony: *sobs*
Bob: I’m so sorry I’m teasing you but you make it so easy. By being, like, really bad at this game.
Briony: I just don’t know why I’m so bad at it… I’m getting another beer.

Woohoo! Three points!
Woohoo! Three points!

Fortunately, Briony’s sadness made up for the disgusting smugness that was constantly radiating from Lizzy’s side of the table. Lizzy is exactly the kind of person who wins at this kind of game. She’ll sit there, organising the chilli pile into a rainbow, whistling innocently and pretending like she just wants to have a nice time and potter around in the farm. We would be interested in another lovely farming game to test Lizzy’s green fingers, as we strongly suspect they don’t exist outside of board games.

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Gettin’ real judgy there, Rudolph-jumper.

Bob: Stop pulling that innocent crap on us, we know you. WE KNOW THAT YOU’RE WINNING, STOP TRYING TO HIDE IT.

*a bit more beer and ten minutes later*

Bob: HOW DO YOU EVEN SIT SMUGLY
Briony: Do you want another drink?
Bob: YES.

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Briony: Hey look it’s a metaphor for me playing this game

The evening continued slowly but surely as beer was sipped and chillies continued to get farmed. Bob eventually took up her role as drunken photographer, perhaps slowing the process a tad.

Lizzy: Bob! Bob! It’s your turn! Sell some shit!
Bob: No! I’m doing art!

“Look! I’m zooming!” Bob says excitedly, as she just edges the camera closer to the board.

Despite their distraction, all three of the farmers were big fans of the game. Good theme, good pieces, good balance of strategy and getting in each other’s way.

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Fun game, intermittent sobbing notwithstanding.

Bob’s verdict: It’s so freaking cute but it makes me want to kill everyone
Briony’s verdict: It’s a shame that I suck at this game because it’s so good and the chillies are so dinks
Lizzy’s verdict: Well, let’s just say there was a really, really, smug look on her face.

The game is good. The score was 56, 59, 104. After all of Briony’s sadness, it would appear she wasn’t as horrifically terrible as previously thought. Or that Bob was just much, much worse than she hoped. Everyone should try this game, even if it’s just to get very excited over the adorable chillis, much in the same way people get overly excited about the pieces in Euphoria. Exciting pieces all round!

This week the winner is board games. But also, definitely, definitely Lizzy.

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*This is how Lizzy talks when she’s winning a game. It’s a tone of voice that combines ultimate innocence and sweetness with just the right sprinkle of smugness, and is perfectly designed to get Bob’s heartrate soaring towards apoplexies of rage.

Codenames: From Essen With Love

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.

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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.

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Lizzy gets fancy photography confused with just holding the camera in a funny place

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!

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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.

Simple!

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.

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Confused passer-by

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.

*later*

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?

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It’s really an unfair advantage that the blues get Pierce Brosnan on their team

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.***

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Round One

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

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.

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Play along at home!

‘Nazis, infinity.’

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?’
*2/5 correct*
‘They love to MARCH!’
*3/5 correct, panic from Team Misery*
‘Drill?’
*4/5 correct*

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!’
*INCORRECT*

Thank goodness for good guys. (That’s us, by the way.)

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A very tense Dr Charlie and ‘Hangover-hat’ Bob

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.

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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.

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Hate is such a strong word, but…

* Too early for Christmas jokes? What? Christmas jokes are never appropriate? Psh.

** Codenames won Shut Up & Sit Down’s prestigious ‘Best Game, Worst Box’ award 2015.

*** It is mostly filled with air so there’s plenty of room.

**** Did we mention that we’re really, really competitive?

 

Misery Farm On The Road: Little Wooden Houses 2

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!

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Pictured: Meeples, not Little Wooden Houses. It’s the thought that counts.

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.

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The whole room’s a bit like a big wooden house, actually

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:

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Little wooden pillars

Elysium

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!

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Some vigorous pointing from HangoverBob

Tournament: Codenames

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!

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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.

Takara Island

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?”
“No.”

*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.

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It’s fine. We didn’t want the Codenames trophy anyway.

 

*Despite what Lizzy might say about Bob’s driving.

**(shifty look from Lizzy, as if from someone under duress)

Liguria: Pimp my Cathedral

Pairs well with: Grog for your long sea voyage.
Traitor Rating: 2/10 daggers in the back.

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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.’

Or,

‘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. During12268901_10156309277145085_1530353084_o_Fotor 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?

CHOO CHOO
CHOO CHOO

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.

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‘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’

dsc_0418_FotorAfter 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.

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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.

Conspiring to win
Conspiring to win

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.

I'm here to steal all of your hard earned points. Thanks bye.
I’m here to steal all of your hard earned points. Thanks bye.

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.

Un-pimped cathedral
Un-pimped cathedral

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.

Steampunk Rally: A Rally Good Game!

Pairs well with: Gin on rough terrain (the rocks)
Traitor rating: 4/10 “I could race… or I could screw over Lizzy…” – (everyone)

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Each member of the Misery Farm had several favourite games to come out of Essen 2015. When pressed, all you can get out of us tends to be a pretty diplomatic and squirmy answer, along the lines of “well I loved so many of the games, I couldn’t possibly choose!” or “can’t I just say that I love all of them?” or “I CAN’T FREAKING DECIDE, LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY”. We’re told this is similar to how some human adults feel about their children.

But if we were pressed to decide on a top list of games then we could probably all agree that Steampunk Rally has a pretty damn high spot. It’s one of the games we all actively sought out after Bob enticed a group of us in with her description:

DSC_0617_Fotor“Guys! We need to play Steampunk Rally next. It’s like the hipster Wacky Races, but you get to play as Marie Curie! Only she’s a ROBOT!”

Sold! Literally.

Now we’ve brought (several copies of) the game back to our humble homes the excitement hasn’t worn off.

To start off with, have we mentioned the characters? There are sixteen to choose from, all based on some of the coolest inventors that history has to offer. If you want a team of badass lady-racers (which you know very well your team of badass lady-journalists do), then you actually have a whole range of options! That’s right, A RANGE of female characters!

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Science!

This evening we plummed for Bob as Ada Lovelace, Briony as Marie Curie and Lizzy as Hertha Ayrton. Briony had conveniently hosted a steampunk Hallowe’en party in her house a few days beforehand, and being the cool kids we are we grabbed a few spare steampunky goggles strewn around and got our race on!

Each player gets their little chosen inventor card plus an additional unique card which, together, make up the start of your brilliant machine, which you’ll add bits to as the race goes on via a little valve symbol that lets you know more bits of machine can go there. Being the snazzy and intelligent inventors that you are you can easily unscrew some bits here and there and rearrange your machine as you go along, so you don’t need to worry too much about the order of placement (take that Galaxy Trucker!).

DSC_0624_FotorThe aim of the game is to win the race. You win the race by crossing the finishing line first.* Sounds simple and familiar so far, right? Racing 101. Oh! Also, you’re racing in a giant machine that’s constantly rearranging, powering up, and occasionally exploding – more on that later.

Brimming with overconfidence, having not actually played since the trial rounds at Essen, we opted to play on the super-fancy FUTURISTIC HOVERDROME. More danger, but we could handle it. Robot power! Plus the map is a bit randomised at the beginning, which is always a bonus.

DSC_0613An actual turn consists of a few different phases, which each person does at once 7-wonders-style (or does slowly and in turn order if you haven’t figured out the rules yet, or if you just want to show off your rad moves). The first of these involves taking a card from a selection and passing the rest on. Here’s where you’ll use some of these cards to add bits on to your machine! Propellers, rocket boosters, a forcefield… should we chuck a time machine on there? Yeah, why not!

But the machine you’re building isn’t just about cool gadgets and aesthetics, it’s a beautiful, smoothly-running *cough* mechanism that uses water, electricity and fire power (dice of different colours) to bolster your machine’s defence or SPEEED madly along the track.

DSC_0630_FotorLater in the round is the racing phase! Here you roll the dice you’ve generated that turn and see how much power (how many little winged-wheel symbols) you’ve managed to generate. The misery farmers were off to a flying start! Each of us racing ahead with some efficiently running robot monstrosities, producing the dice and throwing them madly into the machines.

Oh, remember that bit earlier where we glossed over the bit where your machines can explode?

Yeah. Here that comes.

The final phase of a round is a ‘damage phase’, where you calculate all the damage you’ve taken from the terrain you’ve just hastily and cockily rattled across.

“Oh, oh shit. I think I raced a bit too far ahead.”
“Oh crud, me too. Ohhhh no.”

The exploding machinery is probably the most unique mechanic of Steampunk Rally. For each damage you take which you haven’t defended yourself against, a part of your machine (of your choice) will explode and fall off. This can be a useful tactic at some points- sometimes it might just be worth losing some outdated bits of your machine for the chance to speed a bit further ahead. Maybe the force of the explosion is propelling you ahead a bit? Who knows!

But uh, what happens if you take more damage than you even have bits of machine? Back into last place you go.

Every single one of us had, despite being nominally-competent adult human beings, miscalculated the damage we’d take and exploded our machines completely. On the very first round.

“Guys. Guys. Can we just… maybe…”
“Pretend none of this happened?”
“Yeah!”
“Start over?”
“Yep.”
“PRACTICE ROUND OVER, GUYS. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.”

We definitely owed it to the great inventors that we were representing to pretend that that was a practice round and start over. Nobody wants that kind of a disgrace on their shoulders.

THE RACE BEGINS AGAIN!

DSC_0626_FotorSlightly more careful this time, the team of badass lady-racers (or just ‘badass racers’, if you will) had a much more successful second attempt at a race.

The theme is excellently done, as you can tell from our enthusiasm over the characters. Marie Curie has a brilliant robot body because of the radiation poisoning done to her flesh one, but this just makes her even more hard-core than she was already. Which is tough, because Marie Curie is pretty hard-core even in puny human form. Lovelace is also a robot, having downloaded her consciousness into a robot casing.

The depth of the machine parts is also great. You can build some pretty bizarre and beautiful machines!

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Boom.

“I’m becoming a weird spider-tree with legs! FEAR ME!”

“Argh! I keep wanting to attach a penny-farthing to my machine but there’s never room!”

“KAPOW! Oh no, my galvanised brakes!”
“Oh no, you’ve lost your galvanic brakes!”
“Galvanic! That’s what I said.”

Impressively, it also plays with up to eight players. But it does this while still being strategic, rather than a game of luck. You can fit the same amount of players as Camel Cup, for example, but actually involves some skill and planning.

Briony’s playing a giant-machine tactic. Unfortunately, she seems to have got a little bit carried away with building something beautiful and forgotten that she’s actually taking part in a race. Lizzy, going for a “try to win” strategy, keeps losing her galvanised galvanic brakes, but the lack of stopping power definitely seems to be playing in her favour, and she’s speeding to victory.

That's a damn impressive machine, Briony, but it doesn't appear to be going anywhere...
That’s a damn impressive machine, Briony, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere…

The way that the phases work together is good for a larger number of players, so you’re not spending too much time waiting for other people to make their moves. But there’s definitely something lost when everyone races together, and it has a bit less of an exciting or sociable feel to it when you don’t get to watch everyone else’s smoothly running machines creating the perfect amount of water for their steam machines and then trudging along, or completely misjudging their power, going too far and falling in a hole. We prefer doing that part of the game one at a time, so we get to watch each other’s’ triumphs and disasters as they unfold.

Speeding to victory
Speeding to victory

The game is a winner both on theme and gameplay. It’s a great game to get your friends excited, and although there are certainly games that are more in depth, more strategic, and more ridiculous, it plays a pretty good role in our board game collections.

Of course, as always, the real winner is board games. And Lizzy.

*You can also cross the finishing line at the same time (on the same turn) as someone else, but then it’s about how far over the line you get. It’s not literally a case of who moves their character over the line first winning, because that would be madness of a different kind.

7 Wonders Duel: WONDERing whether to play?

Pairs well with: Coffee and aspirin.

Brutus scale: 8/10. This is because it’s a two player game that pitches you against an opponent. As with 7 Wonders, someone may be more placid or war-y than the average.

Sunday morning has been a rather slow start for Briony. She and her punk boyfriend Pat were screamingly hungover after celebrating Gord’s (from team Misery during Essen) birthday the night before. Logically they decided that now was probably the most opportune moment to re-play through the games Briony had bought at Essen*. It had to be done. Enough time had elapsed since returning to forget what board gaming was like at a convention**, and be able to put the new purchases into a living room setting. A living room now filled with blankets, coffee, painkillers, cheese toasties, and the occasional ‘Oh god my head, why is it so fucking bright?’ became the domain of Call of Chthulu’s lesser known Ancient one: The seething mass of fleece blankets whose singular goal was to play some games.

The seething fleece mass: Evade roll (-1). If approached without coffee loose 2 sanity.
The seething fleece mass: Evade roll (-1). If approached without coffee loose 2 sanity.

The first game of the morning was 7 Wonders: Duel***. This was the first game that Briony bought during Essen. In fact she bought it probably about 23 minutes after the gates first opened. In hindsight she was utterly right, and around 66% of team Misery also ended up buying the game before the end of the convention. Bob, it should be said, is not included in this number. Bob thought it was a bit unnecessary and not particularly rewarding. She’s generally considered to be wrong, though. Shush Bob!

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7 Wonders: Duel is simply a two player version of 7 Wonders. It does what it says on the tin. The game is so good is because it actually looked at some feedback from 7 Wonders, such as ‘how the fuck does one score science without an app’, and actually addressed the problems. Consequently there is now a ‘research system’ in place for science, which means that if a player builds two science cards with the same symbol at the top they unlock a piece of research, i.e. picking a token. Tokens have a whole range of perks that span from straight up victory points, to making your wonders significantly cheaper to construct. Obtaining all 6 different symbols of the science cards straight up wins the game there and then, meaning that no other points are counted at the end. This gives science an edge that it previously didn’t have in 7 Wonders, even though it was a useful mechanic for generating a tonne of points at the end of the game.

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‘This is the third research token you’ve got… are you researching how to be an asshole opponent?’

‘My major is how to be a dick, minoring in winning this game. You should turn up to class more often. Burrrrrrn.’

DSC_0496Moreover on the topic of addressing the weaknesses of 7 Wonders there is now no longer a war at the end of each era. Instead, there is a war meter which rises or falls when a player plays a military card. The meter is split into several stages which rack up victory points for the player pushing it up and negative consequences for the opponent. In a similar way to science, military domination now has the ability to straight up win the game if the marker is pushed to the end of your opponent’s side of the meter.

DSC_0493The special Essen edition of this game came with a pewter war meter marker which Briony lost while wandering around the convention centre in a haze of excitement. Fortunately the lovely people at Repos Games gave her another free of charge without even correcting her terrible broken German.

As the game is now two player the trading mechanic has had to change a little bit. Instead of being able to pay adjacent players for their resources, you instead pay the bank (which stocks everything apparently). If your opponent already has the resource you need you must pay the bank even more to be able to use that resource. It’s sort of reminiscent of the current European banking crisis. It turns out that the banker’s ridiculous money bonuses may have roots in hoarding all of the brown resource cards…

The final big change that Duel has compared to vanilla 7 Wonders is that each player has the ability to build up to four wonders each. Four whole wonders! That’s a lot of wonders. In reality most civilisations thought ‘eh, that’s probably enough wonder’ after one or two, but in this game you don’t have to let reality hold back your dreams.

The answer is always 'more wonders'.
The answer is always ‘more wonders’.

The great thing about this is you get to choose which wonders you’d like the opportunity to build at the very beginning of the game. Obviously you select in turn order so that one player doesn’t get all of the wonders they really want, but does offer a lot more flexibility from the original selection of races/civilisations in 7 Wonders. In addition to the pewter war marker, the special edition version of Duel from Essen also came with an extra playable card: the Messe****. The modern building has been painted as if it were 100BC making it a lovely addition to the selection.

As ever all of the artwork is stunning – this is one of the best things about 7 Wonders, and we’re all exceptionally happy that they decided to continue with it. Team Misery played a couple of drawing games while in Essen*****, and it’s safe to say that we absolutely could not be trusted to design anything as lovely as the 7 Wonders and Duel artwork.

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Finally, there are three eras to the game, as in 7 Wonders. Each era has a different card layout where each player takes turns in selecting unlocked (face up) cards. Once a card is taken it may unlock a card underneath it and it is turned face up. This brings some new Brutus mechanics to the game where you could discard something in your turn that you know your opponent wants or needs. Pat inflicted this on Briony several times during their Sunday morning play-through as she came close to winning with science twice. Briony preferred to imagine this as a disappointing part of history where the feared and trade-incompetent Pat the Lesser was forced to burn all of the books in the empire.

DSC_0498If you liked 7 Wonders then give this game a go. It’s extremely close to the original game, sticking to all of the bits that you know and love, while being much faster to play. It irons out the (admittedly minor) kinks from the original game, and brings some subtle but novel expansion to the theme and mechanics. Even Briony and Pat, hungover and annoyed at being dicked over by one another, still really enjoyed the second play-through.

*And sneakily on Amazon while in Essen. Always compare prices.

**Hot, sweaty, and always in a rush to find the next game.

*** Yes, we know Shut Up and Sit Down JUST reviewed this. They’re always one step ahead of us, the sneaky bastards. What can we say, they have a much higher budget. http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/review-7-wonders-duel/

****This is the name of the convention centre that Essen Spiel is held in.

*****We highly recommend ‘A Fake Artist Goes to New York’, winner of the Misery Farm’s distinguished ‘Why the hell did anyone pay £20 for what is essentially a pad of paper and some tiny pens…. Oh wait that’s why, this is hilarious’ award 2015. Play it in the pub.

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3 Game 1: Scythe

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

Badass tiger-lady
Badass tiger-lady

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3 Game 2: Codenames

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

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

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

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

Day 3 Game 3: Between Two Cities

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

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

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

Day 3 Game 4: Titan Race

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

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

Not the winner.
Not the winner.

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

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

Probably the former.

Day 3 Game 5: Conquest Stratego

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

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

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

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

Guten gamin’

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