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!


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.


‘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.


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 4 Field Report

Exhaustion looms, but we’re still truckin’. On the final day of Essen Spiel 2015 we offer some final play-throughs and insights, including our considerations for Children’s Game of the Year.

Bob starts the day late, and hungry. The sheer number of games she and Chris have purchased has completely overwhelmed even her giant suitcase and they’ve had to rope in the aid of Friends With Cars to help lug twenty-something board games back to England. Additionally, Saturday night sushi had been completely de-railed when the previously-awesome all-you-can-eat sushi place failed epically in its mission to, you know, serve sushi to hungry gamers*. Deeply disappointing stuff. It took a generous liver-sausage roll and slice of pleasingly stodgy cake to fortify her for the day’s first mission: get Naïade to sign stuff, take a selfie, and draw us a picture.


Mission success, though with many a concerned look. Naïade  is very French, and as such does not understand enthusiasm.

Day 4, game 1: A Study in Emerald
Sanity or victory points.. sanity or victory points..
Sanity or victory points.. sanity or victory points..

First actual game of the day was the second edition of A Study in Emerald. The game is based on Neil Gaiman’s cult short story of the same name, which is set in an alternate Lovecraftian nineteenth century in which the royal family have been replaced by Great Old Ones. Sherlock Holmes is there, along with a number of figures from history and fiction. In the game, you play (secretly) as either a Loyalist, faithful to the ‘royal family’, or a Restorationist commie intent on bringing down Britannia as we know and love her. The board is divided into locations which allow certain actions with varying ease, as well as a draw pile of cards. It’s effectively worker placement combined with deck-drawing mechanics, to reasonably solid effect.

DSC_0438Bob liked it, Briony didn’t. It may be that Bob really wanted to like it as she’d bought it on day one and it had sold out, but equally it’s possible that Briony hated it due to being hungry combined with a shockingly poor game demonstrator explaining the rules**. Certainly it’s simpler than the ‘glorified beta test’ original, and much cheaper and cleaner to boot!

Team Misery divided, and wanting everyone to know about it.
Team Misery, divided and wanting everyone to know about it.
day 4, Game 2: M.U.L.E.

Next, Bob and Lizzy tackled M.U.L.E., the boardgame based on the 1983 Commodore 64(?) game. It is absolutely charming. It starts off as a farming/resource management game set on an unexplored planet called Irata, where all you have for company is a robot-mule worker and your fellow explorers. Then suddenly there’s a capitalist market-trading mechanic and a magic money-generating Wampus and a mystical mine of purple crystals which change value in each game round. The board is busy but in a very Stonemaier-Games way in that all the initially-confusing symbols are actually there to clarify any potential misunderstandings and remind you of available actions. The winner is the Bob with the most space gold, while the loser is the Lizzy who has forgotten what their plan was to maximise their resources.

After that economic thrill ride any form of grown-up game seemed an impossible task. Our brains were just too full to absorb any further information such as ‘rules’ or ‘strategy’ or ‘tasks’, so we took refuge in Push-a-Monster, the award-nominated children’s game of monster-crowding. It’s very simple: try to fit your monster on an already-crowded monster platform, without knocking any monsters off the platform. If you knock a monster off, it gets hurt and has to go to monster hospital, so everyone else gets a point. Best of all is the lack of numbered scoring. No one needs that shit. Instead the monster-points are different sizes so the player with the longest string of monster-points wins. The illustrations are adorable to boot; one of the monsters makes exactly the face that Bob’s robot boyfriend makes when he wants to not be part of the Misery Farm.

10505414_10152401408286161_9040811379626614324_n (1)
Stop. Including. Me.

Two refreshing, addictive little games later and we were ready for more. Not before stopping by the HABALINK stand though, where we found a strong best kid’s game contender in Treasure of the Thirteen Islands. In this tactical children’s game, you explore treasure islands by navigating with your finger, then attempting to follow the route blindfold on a grooved board. If your little airship falls into a groove, you get stuck! If you find treasure, you win! It’s adorable and at least one person bought it.

day 4, game 3: Cash and Guns

Somehow we next managed to grab an eight-person table for Cash n Guns, which was promoting its fresh expansion, a special-edition Cthulhu character with a tommy-gun, and foam Uzi machine guns. The expansion was rapidly scorned as unnecessary, as Cash n Guns is perfectly fun without any extraneous bullshit, and plenty of shoosty fun followed.

Meanwhile, Bob secured a game of ‘Acquire Giant Sausage’, which she promptly then lost by dropping half of it on a surprised passer-by. Strong work, Bob.

Pictured: Large sausage.
Day 4, Game 4: Architect
The road to victory. Deed-filled victory.
The road to victory. Deed-filled victory.

Briony and co., after being fairly disappointed by the experience of A Study in Emerald went and found a solid worker placement game. Architect fully ticks all of the boxes of worker placement, gasping drought, and being an intricately themed board game. Awesome. In this game you represent a travelling band of folk with different and useful jobs forming a caravan. The caravan travels around small villages and towns in a miscellaneous medieval European region, with a castle located in the centre. The band of travellers must fit the requirements of the specific village/town to be able to build or repair buildings generating prestige points.

Prestige points must be generated to go up each level of the victory track, which will eventually allow a player to win the ultimate prestige from the castle and win a contract. Or something. Honestly we needed a little more coffee to follow the broken English rules, but the game was fun regardless.

DSC_0450There are a nice number of mechanics in this game – the most unique of which is the ‘worker star’. Workers which you buy have different careers which are denominated by the numbers around the corner. After using them to build something you twist the worker around, showing a different number. Throughout a worker’s career their numbers go down, sometimes plummeting to zero if they’re going through stuff, maybe their wife left them or something.

The actions you are able to fulfil are dictated by the worker star also. But in the end, this game is about generating enough build points to get the castle’s favour. Fortunately the whole team was in agreement that this game was fun, quick, and exactly what we needed at that time during the day.


day 4, game 5: Elysium

So this was the final game of Essen. Sad times. A band of team Misery longingly searched the halls looking for an empty table where they were able to play a game on their ‘to play’ list, and much to their delight found a free table for Elysium.


The game is card based, and is heavily focused upon mythology. For anyone who likes 7 Wonders, boy is this your game. Half of the table was excited about its similarity, while the other half was excited because of its twist and difference from 7 Wonders. It ticks both boxes. In fact it won an award at Essen this year (and yet only two gaming tables! Why, Essen, why?!). Instead of representing a nation (as in 7 Wonders), you are a demi-god striving to generate enough myths about yourself to advance to becoming a full God. You have two areas where you may play cards: the mortal realm, and the immortal realm.

DSC_0451Each game plays with 5 gods, and there are 8 in total in the box so there’s variation, replayability and excitement! Your humble misery farmers/demi-gods played with Zeus (a classic), Aphesites (god of metal and hammers, stuff), Athena (owls, wisdom and the Hogwarts postal system), Ares (WAR hurr!) and Dickseidon (aka Poseidon but for serious, this guy is a dick and all his cards are dicks and the illustrations on his cards are dicks and his dick-in-ear scale is measured in kilotonnes).

The game plays out over 5 turns split into 3 phases. First is the ‘Agora’ (or ‘marketplace’. Yeah this game has got its Greek down, yo). This was helped by Lukacs, our excellent and friendly game demonstrator (helpful as we cannot read German rules). After that you move some cards into their immortal realms where their effects disappear but become sets (either by colour or number) and lastly the usual maintenance.

Screw your mortal resources, we need only pillars.
Screw your mortal resources, we need only pillars.

The cards have different coloured symbols relating to 4 actual, physical, coloured columns that each player has on their board. To take a card from the ‘Agora’ a player must have the relevant coloured column. Each card has effects, as you would expect – some of these affect only the player while others affect the player and the others players (not as good, obvi) You can also destroy whole coloured columns with barely an evil laugh. Dickseidon’s cards on the other hand usually do not affect the player but dick over other players (such as losing gold, victory points, discarding cards etc). This game is highly recommended, especially for anyone who likes 7 wonders, mythology and Dickseidon.

Rounding up the day

Finally we retired to a nearby hotel lounge, where our easily-bored but deeply punk friend Pat had secured a few big tables and crates of beer. Codenames, Potion Explosion, and Microfilms*** were all brought out and played to great enjoyment. Codenames remains an instant classic while Potion Explosion is shameless fun, and not just because Lizzy is hilariously bad at it. Microfilms needs… a more thorough explanation than we received. A cousin of [redacted], it relies heavily on keeping your cards secret, so if you don’t understand it you can’t ask what your cards mean. It has potential as a quick three-person game though, and our version comes with highly-professional art!

This weekend (FOUR DAYS IS NOT A WEEKEND -ed.) has been beyond intense, but extremely fun. Really we need to add ‘get enough sleep’ to our survival tips, but somehow between the beer, boardgames, and bratwurst that seems to be impossible. Besides, who needs that stuff when you’ve played upwards of 20 different games in four days? Especially when you’ve been playing with friends as good as ours.

We’d like to extend our thanks to the friends who came with us and made this trip as mad and brilliant as it was: Pat, Chris, Martin, Emma, Sina, Dave, Sam, Charlie, Gord, Mac, and The Reading Boardgames Social guys.** Final thanks to all the wonderful game creators, illustrators, vendors and demonstrators who work so hard and put up with the manic excitement of nerds like us. We’ll see you next year.

*Red Sun sushi, you guys make some delicious food but dear god expecting us to wait an hour for each of five courses is insane. We’re sorry we had to sic Bob and her mediocre German on you, making a complaint was physically painful to our English sensibilities.

** She also strongly dislikes deck building games due to unfortunate circumstances in her earlier years. It’s amazing how difficult it is to like a game again after you’ve cursed it to Hades for a truly terrible experience.

***On a side note, Microfilm has a character that looks hella like Briony. Is she really a Misery Farmer, or is she really the American spy?


Misery Farm On The Road: Misery at Gavcon II

This week we bring you the next in our sporadic series of event reviews, in which we bravely leave the house to give you an exclusive report from one of the hottest board game conventions in … a little area north of Southampton, England.


Ok! Perhaps, more accurately, we bring you an exclusive report of what it’s like to host a small board game convention between friends. Apologies for the lower quality photographs than normal, Dr Photographer (link) decided he’d rather spend the convention ‘having fun’ and ‘playing games’ than working for us, for free, all day, so most of the photographs have been taken by Lizzy. At least this time she remembered to wipe the lens of her digital camera first, instead of just getting confused as to why all of the photos were blurry.

Gavcon (lovingly called Gaviscon* by everyone except the eponymous Gav) is the now-annual convention run by one of our good buddies we went to Essen with in 2013. A year later Gavin ‘went rogue’ and, while wildly shouting “I don’t play by your rules!”, tried to save on his yearly trips to Germany by hosting his own mini-convention, for about 20+ people, friends and friends-of-friends. This is our report from the second annual Gavcon!

How does Gavcon work?

Gavcon is unlike any other small (or large) conventions we’ve been to, but it seems to work really well. The host, Gav, charges everyone about £30 (that’s about 40 euros, 45 USD, 12,500 Hungarian forints, etc). In exchange for this unusually large sum for a convention he will book a hall and buy one game for each paying participant.

The room preparing for Gavcon
The room preparing for Gavcon

So suppose he gets 12 paying participants. He sets up a list on BoardGameGeek where everyone nominates and votes for the games they want to be able to play; we often pick new releases, things we’ve not played before but heard about, recent recommendations. Based on votes, variety and availability Gav will pick 12 games to buy and bring them all to the convention. There’s a full day of merriment, playing, food from the bar, seeing your friends who inconsiderately moved to Cambridge but are down for the convention, etc.

As the day wraps up, maybe 5pm, the real game begins! Gavin will have the names of everyone who paid their £30 on a piece of paper and in a hat. One by one a name is drawn, to applause and envy, and everyone will get to pick one of the games to take away and keep! Hopefully throughout the day people will have played a wide enough variety of games to make sure they can choose something they like, and if not they can get by on recommendations from others.

Since the £30 entry fee gets you a free game at the end of the day it turns out to be a pretty good deal. And people who can’t afford the fee or didn’t get around to paying are still encouraged to come along, they just won’t get to take away a game at the end of the evening.

Gavcon 2k14

Now for the low-down on this year’s Gavcon from Lizzy, our Chief Gavcon Correspondant.

The first trick to running a small games convention, it would seem, is to pick the location very carefully. You need the space, you want somewhere that sells beer and food, but most importantly you want it to be both conveniently close and incredibly difficult to find. Gavcon meets each of these criteria, hosted just north of Southampton while simultaneously being in the middle of nowhere at all. Even when you can see the building, somewhere in the woods, it will take the driver at least ten minutes to find the entrance to a carpark. This is an important part of convention scheduling; you want the players to feel like they’re warming up, being challenged, playing their first game, getting their first victory in before they’ve even arrived.


The first game we started off with was Red7: a small and quick card game, but with some fun mechanics. It consists of the numbers 1-7, each in seven different colours.

P1020518To play, you have a choice of putting a card in front of you or in the middle. Cards in front of you will add to your ‘palette’, which is where you get your points from. Cards in the middle will… completely change the rules of the game, depending on which colour you’ve chosen! After you’ve played your turn, either changing the rules, adding to your hand or both, you need to be winning. If you’re not winning after your turn, you’re out! The round will end fairly soon and everyone will count up their score and start again.

The game is quick, easy to learn but great fun. A very good ratio of interesting tactics to difficulty. Recommended as a neat small game.


Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Have you played Suburbia? Good. Well, it’s that game, made by the same people, but better. You have to build the best, maddest castle for the Mad King, with the rooms that become available to you. There are lots of ways that a room can score you points, and lots of exciting combinations you can work towards.

How about instead of a photo of this game you just accept this photo of a duck and ask no questions. Good.
How about instead of a photo of this game you just accept this photo of a duck and ask no questions. Good.

It’s another great one for interesting mechanics; each player takes a turn being the ‘master builder’ and decides how much money each room will cost the players to buy. They’re incentivised to make the more attractive rooms as expensive as possible, since everyone will pay them the money for the rooms.

Slightly more complex, but good fun. It’s great to play a game where you can see several paths to victory and you have to make a tough choice about which one to take.


Oh hell. I don’t even know. The day made sense earlier, what happened? Help!

P1020555Witness is a… surprising game. I don’t even know. What did they just say? Shit. It’s a combination of Chinese whispers and a puzzle game, and I don’t know how a group of four smart human adults could be as awful at it as we were. There’s a lot of information to memorise and you’re not allowed to write it down until the end. You’ll find yourself reaching over to whisper to someone and suddenly realising you’ve forgotten all of the names of all of the participants. There’s laughter, there’s tears.

A very quick game which gave us a lot of fun, but we’re not sure how much we’d want to play it after the first few runs.

Letters From Whitechapel

Chief Commissioner Moustache
Chief Commissioner Moustache

This was, to Lizzy, the most fun game of Gavcon. Since seeing a review for it she’d been mega-keen to give it a go, and voted for it to be a part of the convention both years. This year she was successful and she wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to play it!

The game requires one person to be Jack The Ripper (Dr Photographer was incredibly keen. He’s always had that serial-killer glint in his eye) and the others to be the noble investigators. There’s scrambling, hidden movement, murder and a lot of roleplaying if you get into it properly.

Quite a long game, but simple rules and very enjoyable. We’ve since reviewed it in full, here.

Murder scene
Murder scene

Colt Express

A lot of people would say that this game is worth getting just for the model train. They’re probably right.


P1020547_FotorIt’s also fun, but if I owned it I probably wouldn’t play it that often. I don’t think that’s just because I lost. It’s fairly simple but also seems to involve a fair bit of luck, and how much the other players get in your way! It has some fun pre-planned movement mechanics that are always a laugh. Fun as a game to play through, but not for strategy, perhaps.

A pretty medium game for me, in both length and enjoyment. But maybe that’s just because the standard of games was so high! (and did I mention  how badly I lost?)

The end of the day

As the dust settled, we all gathered round for the real game to begin. We all screwed up our faces and stared intently at the hat of names, trying to get our names pulled out as early as possible to grab our favourite games. Good tactics at this point are to run around to all of your friends and try to find out which games they enjoyed the most.

Lizzy came some point in the middle but it was enough to win her Letters From Whitechapel; she was pleased as punch. Last year she was chosen first (still managing to look incredibly smug about it, despite it being luck) and managed to grab Glass Road, which is also now a favourite of the team’s.


Gavcon works really well, but it does so because of the small number of people and the fact that they all know each other fairly well. Then you can be sure there aren’t too many grumpy disputes about anything like the money, the game you win at the end, etc. The atmosphere is friendly and the hosting seems fairly relaxed. It might not work on a larger scale, but if you’re interested in hosting your own board game events with a similarly-sized group of friends then we found this format to work really well!

As always, the real winner is board games.

*Gaviscon is the name of some kind of heartburn medication over here, by the way. Honestly, it’s a very witty joke if you’re from the UK.**

**Disclaimer, joke might not be witty.


Letters From Whitechapel: The Case of the Illogically Numbered Board

Brutus scale: Just 1 dagger out of 10
Pairs well with: Gin from your local 1880s London gin distillery.


Picture the scene. It was a dark and stormy night (only metaphorically, it was actually a disappointingly pleasant afternoon) and in the area of Bob’s living room designated as ‘Whitechapel’, four frightened looking bloggers and blogger-friends looked on as Lizzy cackled maniacally behind a cardboard screen and took up her role as Jack The Ripper.

Letters From Whitechapel is a mostly co-operative board game. Between one and five of you will play the noble detectives, trying to hunt down and stop the ruthless, psychotic killer before it’s too late. Another of you will play that very same ruthless, psychotic killer. That was obviously going to be Lizzy. Lizzy ‘always-the-cylon’, ‘never trust her in any board game’, ‘what the hell lizzy leave my goddamn skeletons alone’ The Ripper. Suits her.


She first saw this game on a Shut Up and Sit Down review and had wanted to try it ever since. She incessantly insisted that someone buy it for Gavcon- a mini gaming event hosted by some friends – until eventually the eponymous Gavin relented. She ended up winning the game in a raffle at the end of the night, and went on to play it eight times the following week. You get the idea; Lizzy really likes the bloody game.

6D-32-107The game uses what most people (more on that later) would call some very simple hidden movement mechanics. Jack The Ripper moves on circles, the detectives move on squares. Jack tracks his (or in this case, her) own movements secretly on paper hidden behind a screen-of-doom and tries to get from the murder scene to her house without getting caught. The detectives try to catch her first. They can do this by ‘searching for clues’ on the circles nearby to see if she’s passed through that spot in that round, or by ‘making an arrest’ if they think she might be there.

With us so far? You are? Good, perhaps it’s time to introduce the game from the other perspective. The detectives have all chosen their period-accurate roles. Chief Inspector Donald Swanson (no relation to Mr. Ronald Swanson, and played in this game by our own Dr Photographer) gets the role of Lead Investigator to start with. 6D-32-128Everyone has excellent faith in his leading abilities, since as long as they’re half as good as the moustache in his portrait then it’ll be an easy round. The team quickly scrabble through the fairly administrative first half of the game – the instructions describe this as ‘HELL’ – and Lizzy The Ripper needs to decide when to make her first kill. Oh, yeah, that’s right. She gets her first kill before anyone gets a chance to try to stop her. The game isn’t about saving lives, it’s about the egos of the detectives and the serial killer.

"First Part: HELL"
“First Part: HELL”

She’s mildly indecisive about when to make the kill, possibly for suspense, viz: “… and suddenly! Through the cool summer night’s air you hear a scream… wait, no… sorry guys. CA-CAW! It was actually a seagull. Carry on.” Or possibly it’s just for a chance to make seagull noises. It will forever remain a mystery.

London's most wanted
London’s most wanted
Pool of blood. The scatty focus is supposed to be reflective of the detectives' state of mind.
Pool of blood. The scatty focus is supposed to be reflective of the detectives’ state of mind.

The murder happens at last and an apt transparent red counter is used to mark the pool of blood that’s spilling into the gutters of Victorian London. The team’s faith in C.I. Donald Swanson may have been misplaced, since it’s now revealed that none of the inspectors are very close at all to the crime scene. He’s promptly renamed ‘Chief Inspector Whoops’. There’s already discussion of whether or not they should give up and pretend that they didn’t hear the scream. It’s very far away. Probably nothing to concern ourselves with, nothing to see here folks.

As it became apparent when we played Quantum, Lizzy loves a game with some good and unexpected roleplaying potential. Letters from Whitechapel is one of these games. By the end of her first week of playing each of her housemates had developed a personality and a backstory for each of the detectives.

Our heroes are vaguely aware that a crime may have happened in the distance.
Our heroes are vaguely aware that a crime may have happened in the distance.

Poor Detective Inspector Edmund Reid’s wife has been arrested several times by mistake, and let’s not even go into the kinds of things that Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline has got up to. Those mutton chops hide a multitude of sins, folks.

You remember earlier we mentioned that The Ripper moves on circles and the detectives move on squares? And that the detectives can try to hunt The Ripper down by looking for clues on adjacent circles? Well, it’s time to have a few words about Bob.

Bob is a competent human being. Bob runs places, plays a damn good game of Glass Road and is doing a bloody PhD. She also has a rare condition called Letters From Whitechapel Blindness (in addition to a serious case of Turn Narcissism, as describe in Caylus). For the love of all that is good in the world, Bob cannot remember which numbered circles she’s supposed to be searching on. Really. It’s embarrassing for all of the players on the game. She’d never see us. Bob’s detectives must just have a really good sense of smell or something. They can apparently check for clues through walls and two streets away.

The guilty party
The guilty party

Coincidentally, Bob isn’t such a fan of this game. You may find her lying on the floor proclaiming that this game is ‘like Minesweeper, but shit’. It’s definitely one that has polarised The Misery Farmers. Briony enjoyed it rather a lot, maybe she’s just pretty good at ignoring the horrific murder of prostitutes disguised by a white wooden game piece, or indeed distracted by the intrigue of what could possibly be in Jack’s house? She reasons what if it’s totally normal, and he has like an elderly mother sharing the house, and has lace doylies, and flushes the toilet like a normal person? What if he has a pet cat? Was that the clue-cat all along Lizzy? Holy shit, Lizzy, was your cat trying to guide us to your capture?


Meanwhile, another prostitute has been murdered and another round has begun. The team have decided that the best way to make the game fair is to introduce a new rule: for every successful space The Ripper moves, she takes a small swig of gin. Only way to even things out.

“I search for a clue on 68!”
“You find a cat. It miaows.”
“Does the cat have any clues?”
“No, you fool, it’s a cat.”

“I search for a clue on 86!”
“Nothing here but a gentle breeze and a sense of bitter disappointment.”

“I search for clues on 75!”
“No you don’t, Bob. For goodness’ sake, that circle is miles away.”
“Oh, so it is.”

“I search for clues on 70!”
“It’s that same cat from before.”
“Oh damn. Does it have a clue this time?”
“Why yes! It’s playing in some entrails. YOU FIND A CLUE!”

Hot on the trail
Hot on the trail

The detectives eventually employ some excellent guesswork deduction and have narrowed down The Ripper’s hideout. They’re certain it’s on 78. For sure. They don’t have any clues pointing in that direction but they sure are confident. It just looks a bit shifty. Bob, meanwhile, continues to get confused over circles and squares. We decide that if Bob were a supervillain, we could all just infiltrate her lair by dressing up as a black square. She’d never see us.

6D-32-178The team gather their wily crew of detectives round 78 and are “staking out the joint”. No amount of darting through alleys will save our slightly tipsy antagonist now. She has to get home in a certain amount of moves or presumably she just falls asleep where she is on the streets and gets arrested in the morning, losing the game. Time is nearly up. She makes one final dash for it but the detectives have employed a reckless but effective strategy of making random arrests on every circle in the vicinity. Most of Whitechapel has been loaded into their van so far, included several pigeons, the cat from earlier and the baker’s son. Finally, she weeps and Briony makes the fatal arrest.

Lizzy took five victims: four of whom were in the game and the fifth of which was Bob’s gin supply. It was a victory for the good guys.

Lizzy loves the game. Bob does not. Briony is narrative-distracted.

Overall, it was a game that polarised the team. It’s not incredibly high on strategy, but can still be an awful lot of fun. Originally we worried that it might get a bit boring after a while, but the evidence shows that if you like the game then you’ll get a lot of play out of it. We awarded it only 1/10 on our ‘Brutus Scale’ because it’s not really the kind of game for dicking each others’ turns up at all. At least, not on purpose, and not easily.

The team line up for a round of applause.
The team line up for a round of applause.

Credit to Dr Photographer (C.I. Donald Swanson) for the photographs

Caylus: Is that a lot of rules or are you just pleased to see me?

By Briony, Lizzy and Bob.

Brutus rating: 6 knives in the back out of 10
Pairs well with: The best French wine that £4 can buy and a crushing sense of defeat.

The bottle's empty for a reason
The bottle’s empty for a reason

Recently your friend Bob has been ‘Doing Exercise’. This is deeply unpleasant (and if you’d like to charitably sponsor her ill-advised half marathon you are welcome to do so here). Anyway, as part of this whole fitness drive she decided to give ‘Tough Mudder’ training a go. For those of you who don’t know what that is, congratulations. Nor did Bob until last Monday, when she found herself army-crawling across a muddy football pitch with the prospect of push-ups at the end of it, while a group of athletically-attired strangers whooped and cheered her on. The cheers straggled after a few minutes; it’s difficult to stay enthusiastic when you’re standing in the cold watching an overweight goth clumsily wriggle across some grass. It felt an awful lot like PE at school, and even ‘giving it your best shot’ did not make the experience of doing walking lunges while overhead-balancing a car tyre more pleasant.

Getting into the spirit..
Getting into the spirit..

It turns out that ‘Tough Mudder’ is just like Caylus. That is, just like crawling along a muddy pitch ‘Doing Exercise’ and wallowing in despair, particularly at yourself and your abilities. Caylus has a reputation that precedes it as being a particularly difficult and frustrating game. It is long, it is punishing, and it wants you to know that it’s all your own fault for getting yourself involved in the first place. And now you’ve fucked up your turn, well done you. “Those jumping jacks/turn order mechanics were just a bit too much for you, weren’t they?” says Caylus. Yup, they were. Once you’ve knobbled yourself over once there’s very little you can do to get your enthusiastic strategy back on track, and instead you’re left to be cynical and grumpy in the corner while everyone else carries on with a lovely evening, occasionally encouraging you not to give up and to stick it out. This introduction to the game might make a person think ‘why would I ever play something that makes me so disappointed in myself, not to mention cold and muddy?’ (OK the metaphor’s getting a bit stretched here), but it is impossible to stress enough how amazing that ‘eureka!’ moment feels when you get it RIGHT. Displacing water in a bath never felt this good.

And now for some game context – ‘The year is 1289. To strengthen the borders of the Kingdom of France, King Philip the Fair decided to have a new castle built. For the time being, Caylus is but a humble village, but soon workers and craftsmen will be flocking by the cartload, attracted by the great prospects and desire to please the King.’

Building things out of your pieces: the real game
Building things out of your pieces: the real game

Slowly but surely you and your fellow players will be building up the board with buildings and farming resources, turning the village into a thriving mercantile city with a glorious castle dominating the skyline. Also, the castle is going to be built out of pigs. Pigs and velvet. Honestly, you may as well wildly point at the nearest object to yourself and declare that it will become part of the castle. That, my friends, is how castles were build back in the day. Foolproof.

6D-32-72Alongside building the castle you can reap victory points by various other means: gold mining, collecting favours, exchanging money, etc. Going through each of these individually would be deeply tedious and abstract and therefore better left to ‘real’ board gaming blogs (or even (gasp!) the rulebook). Instead let’s talk you through some turns of the game using a recent game between Lizzy, Briony, Bob, and a generic white male gaming buddy (here known as ‘Gord’) as an example. This way you’ll hopefully get an idea of the mechanisms, type of play and how scoring works. From there we’ll highlight some particularly good strategies we’ve come across, and discuss some select ones in a bit more detail. We’ll also discuss the crushing misery of failure. Woo!

You call this a meeple?
You call this a meeple?

A turn of Caylus has a few different phases. Firstly, the worker placement phase in which each player places a worker in turn on an existing building. This lasts until you run out of workers (6), run out of money to place workers (it costs one franc per placement), or you choose to pass (i.e. if there is nothing more you want on the board). The meeples, by the way, are just disappointing cylinders. The pigs are just cubes. We take this to be an artistic statement about capitalism and despair in medieval France.

A pile of pigs, velvet, gold, stone and wood
A pile of pigs, velvet, gold, stone and wood

We’ve kicked off with Briony’s workers claiming a broad range of resources intended for castle building, while Lizzy’s workers are grabbing up some stone and wood and generally sturdy things (stone and wood? To build things with? Ridiculous. It’s almost like she’s seen a building before.) Gord has gone for a construction angle using some architecturally sound pig and wood, and Bob has got some velvet as it is the most flamboyant and least buildy resource available.

Secondly, there is the job phase. As all buildings are built along a road leading from the castle, the jobs are resolved in the same order as if we are travelling down the road ourselves6D-32-88 (Fortunately we don’t actually have to move for the game, which is good because, ya know, moving). Each building will offer something like resources or the ability to build, and you take the things that your workers were placed on in the order of the road. Order in this game is extremely important, and worryingly easy to forget. To both generate resources and to build stuff you need to work out at what point you are receiving things, which must occur before building in the castle, or having enough resources to build other buildings. We advise the use of the medieval equivalent of a stock-checker at all times.

6D-32-16Thirdly, there is the castle building phase. This can only be done if you place your worker in the castle position during the worker placement phase. A vital part of this is actually having the right resources to build, which sounds simple, but when you’re collecting multiple different things in the previous phase and having to plan out steps far in advance then it’s very easy to accidently pick up a velvet when you really needed a goddamn pig (One of the few games that can trigger the lesser known phenomenon ‘pig-rage’). In order to build in the castle you must have 3 resources, one of which must be a pig, and each of the others must be different types (why, why is a pig a major building resource? This is never addressed anywhere in the rules. This sounds like an extremely inefficient and wriggly way to build a castle. Does anyone have any theories?). Again, a simple premise, but if you organise your stock slightly wrong or spend something you weren’t intending to then it’s pretty easy to rock up to the castle with two pigs and a stone and be disappointed when the king laughs at you. Foolish peon, bringing two pigs with which to build a castle, he needs only one pig! And some velvet! And a rock of indeterminate size!

Another important aspect to bear in mind with castle-building is the extremes that it produces.

Bob's score definitely going in the wrong direction
Bob’s score definitely going in the wrong direction

If you build the most castle in the turn then you receive a favour (which is spent in the favour-reward track of your choosing), however if you place a worker and don’t have the resources to build then you immediately receive minus points. His royal highness is mightily pissed. Bob has demonstrated this consequence beautifully in her very first attempt at getting some victory points, and is now sat sulkily at -2 points, hoarding velvet.

As with many worker-placement games, a viable early strategy is to simply farm resources until they dribble (painfully – in this game they’re represented by wooden cubes) out of your ears. Making more resources happen more easily is therefore an even better strategy, but difficult to do consistently. The very best strategy (that we’ve found), is to be given resources as an idle tax while other players are trying to gather their own. There are three buildings which have this effect, and if you manage to construct all three of them you have effectively broken the game. It’s ridiculous. Especially when you combine it with building green buildings (which have to be built on top of existing non-taxed resources, therefore forcing players to give you extra resources AND generating extra income from green buildings).

A quick break for blog-notes
A quick break for blog-notes

This is the only real mechanical issue we’ve found with Caylus, but it’s a biggie and is very difficult to stop. No strategy should be that OP, unless there are other big earners that we’ve somehow missed (entirely possible, somehow we don’t get round to playing Caylus all that often). And no, we’re not going to tell you which buildings they are; that would be cheating.

As the game progresses and other players’ strategies become clearer, the daggers come out. Let’s be clear: the biggest dick in this game undoubtedly belongs to you, and it’s aimed at yourself. Even people who are normally competent in their everyday lives can just repeatedly screw themselves over in this game, more than seems statistically probable. You’ll miscount your resources, you’ll forget how to build anything, you’ll even forget when the game ends.

Having said that, there are some excellent ways for other players to knobble you over too, such as by taking the resources that you can see other players eyeing, muscling in on their share of the castle, or by moving a little white token called the Provost. 6D-32-27This little guy, combined with the Bailiff (upon whose head the Provost gently sits), determines how far down the ‘road’ your workers can be placed and have effects, as well as when the game ends. If you can end someone’s turn before they’ve got all the resources or victory points they want, then you can really make their day unpleasant. Luckily, despite the constant shifty eyes and threat of skulduggery as pacts get made and broken, players are often far too focussed on their own misery to try and inflict it on others. That’s what keeps the Brutus Rating at a 6/10.

Despite its typical Uwe Rosenberg-patented Agricola-esque misery this game is, in many ways, perfect. It’s an incredibly ‘pure’ game, in that it relies on a strategic understanding of the mechanics’ abstract interplay. In fact it’s so computational that Chris* maintains it’s not actually a game. We would disagree; its dry strategy, intricate game scenarios and yet almost absurd lack of flexibility makes playing it surprisingly intense. It brings out serious turn-narcissism** as you desperately and meticulously line up your strategy. And when it works… oh god, when it works…. The feeling of relief, pride, and joy is, we imagine, much like giving birth. No exaggeration. This game is definitely not for everyone, requiring a fair amount of time and dedicated concentration, but it’s so very worth it, and makes you genuinely feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it.

As a final tip we strongly advise keeping tabs on the timing and resources you have at all times, and be aware of when the round, or even game, will end. Briony has solved this in a rather eloquent way on her copy of Caylus. The kind of eloquent way that was triggered by in-game anger and a sharpie. Be warned, folks, but also enjoy trying new strategies.


We recommend it more highly than Tough Mudder training, at least.

*Friendly robot boyfriend, see Steam Park and Shinobi-WAT AAH! reviews, previous.

** There’s a fairly well-known concept in the psychology of narcissism called ‘conversational narcissism’, in which a speaker in a conversation pays almost zero attention to the other speakers, instead focussing entirely on what they want to say and simply waiting until a moment when they can take their turn to talk. Bob insists that ‘turn-narcissism’ is the same and totally real, but applies to when you’re waiting to take your turn in a tense game.

Credit and thanks to our pal Dr Photographer for the photos

Glass Road: Why would you build a road out of glass?

Brutus rating: 4 daggers in the back out of 10
Pairs well with: Bavarian beer, some sort of spirit in a flask that can be carried around while toiling in the German forest.


But why would they build a road out of glass, though?

Glass Road is a self-proclaimed ‘celebration of the 700-year-old tradition of glass-making in the Bavarian Forest’.* Just hearing the rules being read can make someone on the other side of the room sit up and ask ‘Are you playing Agricola?’. That’s right kids, it’s an Uwe Rosenberg game! For those that don’t know, this guy is arguably the king of European board games. His other offerings include Agricola and Le Havre, a game Briony has owned for more than a year and never played. It is said just looking at the rules booklet can cure insomnia. If you’ve any experience with European board games generally, and Rosenberg’s games in particular, you might reasonably expect this one to be heavy on the worker-placement, fairly abstract, and deeply German. Surprisingly, it’s only one of those things, and even then not as badly as some others**. It’s not even hideously long or punishing, and doesn’t make you curl up in a corner after screwing up your 3 hour long strategy in one single turn.

Let’s take a step back and tell a story. It’s the beautiful tale of why this game makes sense on both a conceptual and mechanical level, and is nerdily satisfying in the same way that all good game-lore is satisfying. Imagine you’re a rural baron in pre-Industrial Germany. You have a fair6D-32-202 bit of land, though a lot of it is green and covered in trees. Lizzy informs us that these are called ‘forests’. You also have lots of extremely hard-working peasants who are happy to do your bidding. They’re invisible, but they’re there, toiling in the harsh German sunshine. For some reason you also have a glassworks and a brickworks. This is a bit odd because you don’t have any of the raw materials to make glass and brick yet, but just go with it. I’m sure you’ll find some sand and mud soon enough.


Your neighbourhood barons seem to be making a lot of money off this whole ‘production’ trend, so you decide to jump on board. You hire experts in the fields of farming and food production, irrigation, building, and quarrying to help you turn your land into useable raw materials. You can even get on board with a local feudal lord who has some excellent architects on exclusive retainer (‘The feudal lord is suitably fat. That’s good’ – Briony). Your invisible hordes of hard-working peasants, as soon as they’re given sufficient food and resources, immediately set to it in the glass- and brickworks and before you know it you’ve got some luxury items. These you invest into building factories, luxury second homes, and highly-efficient farming conglomerates. Eventually the buildings and luxury items earn you a bunch of cash moneys and then the game ends. Whoever has the most cash money at the end of the game wins. In this it’s very much like real life, and also extremely like Puerto Rico.

There are, of course, some complicating factors. If your neighbouring barons also want the use of the expert artisans then you will have to split the amount of work they can do. If you hack and burn all your forests to build farms there will be no pristine land to place a successful hunting lodge. If you accidentally over-feed your workers they’ll continue to produce glass and brick even when what you really wanted were the raw materials they were sitting on. Briony has a degree in geography and says that this is sort of how rocks and stuff work: cool stuff is usually underneath other more boring stuff, and it’s a shame medieval peasants didn’t know about taking core samples.

6D-32-192This game is actually kind of adorable and well-designed (though it is, according to Briony, geographically inaccurate). Some of the little resource tiles have unique bits of illustration, and spotting them is a treat. Not gonna lie, it has some haters, who seem to dislike it for the same unusual mechanic that other people love. That is, the big individual cardboard dials that tally6D-32-199 your basic resources (coal, food, etc.) and determine when they get used up and turned into the more luxurious brick and glass. Tzolk’in lovers will probably have some familiarity with this from that game’s corn-and-worker gear machines, while Caylus players will enjoy the familiar feeling of not having tallied their resources properly and fucking up their entire turn. Some people blame this on the game rather than their own fuzzy-minded planning, but that’s on them. A more reasonable criticism of Glass Road is that it has no easy or clear way to tally point-scoring. There’s just an awful lot of counting at the end of the game, again a little bit like fuzzy-strategies during Puerto Rico.

At the start of the game it’s pretty difficult to know what you’re trying to do. However, like most worker-placement games, collecting resources is usually a good start. Each player begins by selecting 5 of the 15 cards which represent your agriculture/industry specialists (a water carrier, a slash-and-burn farmer, a sand-quarrier (is that a thing?) etc.). On playing these experts you will be able to transform the cardboard tiles representing your land (initially representing such useless things as ‘trees’, and ‘lakes’) into resources of charcoal, food, sand, and water. Briony begins by selecting 5 cards more or less at random and plays a fish farmer. Unfortunately she’s apparently either very good or very bad at determining a useful specialist to hire, as both Lizzy and Gord (today’s Generic White Male Gaming Buddy) reveal that they also wish to hire the fish farmer. This means they only get half the use out of their fishing expert. The fish farmer, being a dick, doesn’t like sign a contract of exclusivity saying he’ll finish one job before starting another; he just does two half-assed jobs at the same time. Again, this is much like real life.

6D-32-186Once the great cardboard dials of industry have turned, you may use the product of your workers’ labour to further your cause as a budding capitalist. Buildings have unique effects on gameplay, which can be long-term, such as upgrading your glass factory; one-shot, such as generating a wad of cash; or end-game, giving bonus points with the caveat of certain accomplishments like ‘not turning all your lakes into factory run-off’ or ‘flattening vast swathes of land into sandy Depression-era dustbowl wastes’. Which buildings are more useful and desireable becomes clear as the game progresses. Once Briony and Gord had gotten the hang of their first game she became quite adept at snagging all the buildings that Lizzy wanted.


This game requires flexibility as well as forward-planning. A perfectly-devised strategy is likely to go awry as there’s no way to be sure of which buildings will be available to play, or which specialists you’ll have to share with your opponents. This is why Bob loves this game. She has a lot of very clever, strategically-minded friends who can logic out the best path through a game like a shark swimming through custard. Bob has a slightly more… lateral (ass-backwards) approach, picking up whatever strategy looks best at the time and throwing her toys out of the pram when it inevitably goes horribly wrong (we don’t talk about Black Fleet. So many little cubes were lost that day…). Somehow this really works for Glass Road. Unfortunately, Bob was busy cleaning up gaming-snack detritus and sat out this game.

In conclusion, it’s a nicely designed game, with just the right of in-game mechanics. It’s themed well, and has multiple strategies that my lead to victory that keeps intense direct competition to a minimum. The dials, ever becoming more popular in modern board games, certainly give a new dimension to resource collection. We recommend it highly. Also Lizzy wins again.

Laid out in all its glory. image courtesy of boardgaming.com
Laid out in all its glory. image courtesy of boardgaming.com

*Fun fact, you can totally go to Germany and tour the black forest’s monuments to the real glass road. There are glass museums and craft workshops and everything.

**The most unashamedly German board game is quite possibly Glück Auf (and then only until someone with a name like Rosenmüllentheimermassbergsohn invents a game called ‘Strategic Worker Placement in an Industrial or Agricultural Setting’***). It’s set in the Industrial Revolution-era Ruhrgebiet (basically the Black Country of Germany) and is about coal mining profits. The title is traditional German pit-lingo for ‘good luck’.

***’Strategische Arbeitereinstellung in einem Industrie- oder Landwirtschaftsszenario’. Catchy, no?

Photo credit and thanks to Dr. Photographer

Shinobi WAT-AAH!: Everything changed when the fish nation attacked

By Bob, Lizzy, Briony

Dicks in ear: 7/10
Pairs well with: Sake, meditation, wisdom. All three at once, no cheating.

Note before playing: Everyone always asks if yelling WAT-AAH is part of the game, and, if so, when you shout it. While the parameters for shouting WAT-AAH do not appear in the rules, it is said the shouty samurai spirit has been inside you all along, and all that is needed is for you to free it when you feel the call. We enjoyed a house rule of shouting WAT-AAH whenever you put cards down. Or pick up cards. Or look at someone funny.


This is a game about ninjas with magic powers. And that’s pretty cool, but much more cool is the fact that this game might even have magical powers of its own. We’re pretty sure it’s impossible not to enjoy playing it. Genuinely, we’ve not found a single person who disliked it, and we know people who dislike everything.

Check out this little guy. Is he an upside-down dude in a hat? Or two tiny men in a plane cockpit?

It’s another Essen find, and a very fortuitous one at that. Essen is a wonderful and exciting four days of board games but it is, nonetheless, four very long days of board games. By Saturday Bob was flagging. She hadn’t slept well in her overheated German hotel room and had more or less twisted her gastrointestinal tract into origami with German ham hock stew and pilsner (from this and the Sanssouci post you might have guessed that she has something of a complicated relationship with Germany. You would be correct). Running through pouring rain to catch our tram to the convention centre did not improve the mood and by the time we Shinobi6arrived, damp and itchy-eyed with tiredness, Chris (friendly robot boyfriend) was detecting all the signs of a classic Bob-style rage-quit (pouting, tearfulness, The Grumps). Worse; we had arrived early in order to be first in line to play Hyperborea and hadn’t even managed to secure first play spot.  Nor, despite a mad dash, did we make it to Tragedy Looper before its first clientele of the day had casually picked up the instruction booklet and started reading (the boardgame convention equivalent of yelling ‘dibs!’).

Chris later confessed that when we spotted an available table with Shinobi WAT-AAH! laidshinobi 11 edit out on it that he was more or less praying that it would be good, or a full-scale tantrum was going to occur. Bob of course informed him that she is an adult woman and she does not throw tantrums,* to which we all obviously agree, but conceded that the appearance of the Shinobi table was still pretty well-timed.

shinobi something edit
Explaining rules is the most fun Bob can have with her clothes on.

Mechanically it’s a fairly straightforward deck-building card game in which you’re a royal lord (or lady) trying to unite clans of epic fighting ninjas in order to trigger their epic ninja fighting skills so that you may defeat the final demon boss (WAT-AAH!) and place your royal rear upon the Imperial throne. The epic ninja fighting skills fuel conflict in the game as you fuck with other players’ cards, peek through the Jigoku (the discard pile – literally translates as ‘hell’), or copy other clans’ powers. We give it a rating of 7 dicks-in-ear for the irresistible opportunities to knobble each other with these powers. Although some of the clans’ powers are more friendly (pick up some cards, look at some cards, etc) you’ll almost certainly find yourself plotting some nasty moves and stealing an entire hand of cards from someone you sometimes consider to be a friend.

Shinobi10 edit


There are two modes to play in: Grasshopper and Grand Master. In Grasshopper mode you simply play turns until someone has laid four fully-formed clans (WAT-AAH!) on the table. You then tally up the scoring value of each clan on the table and the player with the highest number wins (not necessarily the person who ended the game). Grand Master mode begins the same but after the tally you retain the cards still in your hand (fully-formed clans already on the table get discarded) and receive a number of The Shuriken of Winning depending on your place in the running. You can spend your Shuriken of Winning on cards which will give you bonuses (WAT-AAH!) in the next round, or toward battling the final boss (which could be zombies or creepy old lady-demons or whatever).

You do this for three rounds and then the final showdown happens. The showdown is6D-31- 458 much more anti-climactic than it sounds, as it’s really just a scoring of a the number of shuriken you’ve already put toward fighting the final boss against the (hidden, mysterious) number that they want in order to give you the best possible number of points. There is no epic battle between ninjas and demons, sadly, but interestingly more Shuriken of Winning doesn’t always translate into more winning points.

Shinobi8 edit
Beautiful art

It’s hardly the most complex or rich game in the world, but it is unashamedly fun. It’s the feudal Japanese card game equivalent of a pew-pew video game. Dicks fly everywhere and the art is about as fantastic as you’d expect from the guy who also did Seasons and that most scenic of games, Tokaido. It has a cartoonish feel that is both beautifully detailed and very bold and clean. This perfectly reflects the style of the game – simple, fun, yet with captivating little details. For example the wild cards which can be used to simply make up numbers in a clan are called Ronin – a feudal Japanese term for a samurai without a master or lord. Similarly, the powerful single cards which can be played as one-off additions to a clan are called Yokai6D-31- 462 spirits or supernatural beings present in Japanese folklore. This is exciting if you’re incredibly nerdy and contributes to the immensely satisfying feeling of a well-balanced, well-designed game that just works.  The cards are also taller than you’d expect, which is aesthetically very pleasing. It’s a neat touch.

Price-wise it’s a bargain. For some reason it seems that the more board games cost the more polarising and more rarely-played they become. Everyone will play a round of Coloretto or Hanabi but you actively have to search out friends interested in a game that costs hundreds and takes 6 hours. Twenty quid might not get you meeples of every colour and shape or a giant, detailed board but it will get you a game where even friends whose opinion of pretty much everything is that it’s ‘bullshit’, will sit up halfway through a round and mention how much fun it is.

Lizzy won again. But the real winner is board games.

6D-31- 417
The winner is always board games. And Lizzy.

* She does kind of throw tantrums a little bit. But only when she’s really tired. Or hungry.** Or drunk.

** Before Essen she gave Lizzy a bag of Cadbury’s éclairs, with strict instructions to feed them to her if (when) she got cranky. It was a good strategy.

Image credit and thanks to Dr Photographer

Sanssouci: Aristocratic Meeples and Fancy Gardens

By Bob and Lizzy

Dicks in ears: 2/10
Pairs well with: Tiny glasses of sherry or gin, fine wines, BBC radio 3’s evening concert.

6D-31- 252

 Here’s a weird little story for you. For a year I lived in Germany, in a hideous Soviet-style concrete block on the edge of a beautiful eighteenth-century baroque palace and gardens. Built as a summer house in the style of the palace of Versailles by Frederick the Great, the villa is a sprawling arrangement of Roman baths, fountains, and glorified sheds covered in filigree. As a further nod to the Frenchness that was sadly popular at the time, the palace’s name, Sanssouci, translates as ‘no worries’.

6D-31- 247Depressed, bored, and fat from a diet consisting predominantly of German pastries, I spent a lot of time strolling around the gardens so I’ll give you a run-down of the highlights. Firstly, the Chinese House. It’s a little bandstand thing covered in statues of the most Western-looking Chinese people you’ve ever seen in your life. Pretty much second only to the Brighton Pavilion in terms of shameless, state-preserved Orientalism. Secondly, Frederick the Great’s grave (and the surrounding graves, which belong to his dogs). Germans absolutely love Freddy, he’s the dude who introduced the exotic potato to the Mutterland (which for Germans is a Big Deal). Initially the locals ate the plant instead of the root and subsequently6D-31- 241 died, but they soon got over that little hiccup and came to develop the delicate stodge-based Prussian cuisine we all enjoy today. They leave potatoes on Fred’s grave instead of flowers. Finally, the mosquitoes. Now I am a fairly well-travelled lady, hell I grew up in Africa; the sight of inch-long blood-engorged mozzies will barely raise an eyebrow. But these things. These fucking things. See, Frederick the Great, in a hilarious Pythonesque twist of history, built his bloody palace on a bloody swamp. The local mosquitoes are tiny and utterly vicious, to the extent that I could barely walk after one particularly ill-advised spring day spent wearing a skirt in the park,* and spent many a summer evening McGuyvering flame throwers out of aerosol deodorants.

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ANYWAY, to make a short story unnecessarily long, the moment I saw a game called Sanssouci in a discount pile at this year’s Essen it precipitated such a flood of nostalgia that I knew I had to have it. The blurb, entirely in German and describing a garden-building tile-placement game, did not put me off. Would I like to compete to create beautiful flower beds, scented herbaceous borders, and cooling fountains for aristocrats to enjoy? Hell fucking yeah I would.

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The instructions were also in German, and it became a point of pride for me to be able to understand and play the game without looking up the translation. As a result the first game, played some time later with Lizzy over tiny 6D-31- 243aristocratic glasses of  sherry (naturally), was a little… bumpy. We muddled through fairly successfully in the end, thanks to the game’s copiousillustrated rules examples, and Lizzy’s understanding of how a game should work. (“Bob! Do you think maybe the different sets of coloured cards might be for different players? Wouldn’t that be a neat idea Bob?”) Later, I looked up an English translation and you’ll all be pleased to know I got it mostly almost right. Undergraduate degree totally not wasted.

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Ugh. The rabble.

The game is Tokaido-esque in its chilled-outness, if not nearly as pretty. It does have adorable aristocratic meeples with tiny aristocratic meeple hats, which is a point in its favour, and it’s almost as simple as Tokaido. Each player has an empty garden grid in front of them, and in a turn will play a card and pick a tile to place in their garden. One of their noble meeples may then go for a lovely little walk around the garden to score points. Gardens gain points for their size (longer walks for the aristocrats) as well as their layout (you have a full set of pavilions? Spectacular). If you are unable to play a garden feature tile you may play a gardener tile. These do not contribute to your garden, but may bridge two garden tiles. This means that an aristocrat can walk across a gardener tile to reach the inviting vineyard tile that lies beyond. One cannot stay on a gardener tile because, let’s face it, the land workers are plebs and not to be associated with.

We’ve decided to give the game a two-dicks-in-ear rating because you need to pick up your 6D-31- 221gardening tiles from a communal tile-pool. Particularly savvy estate-managers can get a feel for what others are trying to collect and nab the exact water-fountain they need right before they get the chance. Of course, it’s far more likely that most dickery will be accidental and you will unwittingly and unjustly incur Bob’s wrath for the rest of the game anyway, through no fault of your own. I just wanted to extend my vineyard, is that too much to ask?

This game has some good roleplaying potential, particularly to the extent that you enjoy6D-31- 232
pretending to be snobby aristocrats. One recommends pretending to talk to the other aristocrats as you walk you meeples through the garden and sip on your generous helpings of sherry. “Lady Snobbington! I didn’t expect to see you here by the shrubberies today. Have you seen the new bandstand? Splendid isn’t it. *shlurp*”

It’s a fun little game, with decent replayability thanks to its included expansions. I also found it quite absorbing, as the garden grids approximately match the Orangerie garden layout at Sanssouci. If you like your games particularly action-packed or combative then I’d give it a miss though. It’s more like a programme of rehabilitation for combat game addicts, who need to be supervised with the secateurs when they’re trimming the ornamental rose bushes in case they get twitchy.

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*This episode even caused horrible bullseye-shaped rashes to appear on my legs. The local German docs were less than sympathetic to my panicked enquiry regarding Lyme disease, and told me to stop being an idiot and wear trousers next time.