Star Realms: Are we the bad guys, Hans?

Pairs well with: pirated space-rum
Traitor-rating: 4/10 knives in the back. Direct rivalry but not too much player interference. 

One of the expansions*

Star Realms works well as a game that you want to play again. In fact, it’s one of those games you’re keen to play again before you’ve even finished the current round. That’s either a point for or against it – you can decide.The game works this miracle by letting you see and plan enough different ways to victory, enough different cards that you want to pick and different strategies you want to use.

Star Realms is a two-player space card game.

There’s a communal pool of five different spaceships and your job is to hire them to do things for you like fight, trade or improve your authority. How do they improve your… authority? We didn’t go to the trouble of looking into it too much, but the little authority symbol on the cards looks fairly harmless, a bit imperial though. We assume the ships carry little flags and sing loyalty songs. That sounds right.


Anyway. The number of ships you can hire depends on how much trade you have to spend that turn. How much trade can you spend that turn? Well, however much trade you’ve amassed from the ships you’ve already bought. And how many of those cards come out in the hand you play this turn.

Yep, it’s also a deck-building game. A lovely, addictive deck-building game.

There are four different kinds of ship – in the basic game, minus expansions, at least – which each come from a different alliance in the galaxy. It’s nice, because each of these card sets also has a different kind of feel to them in the way that they play, as well as just a different name and a different colour. Each kind of ship will play best with certain kinds of tactics, but not in such a strict way that there’s only one good strategy for each set.

Although the farmers of misery spend 90% of their board game lives nerding-it-up with the real-life versions, this is one game where we’re certainly qualified to give a review on the app version as well.

The star realms app is pretty good. It costs money to get anything but the basic version, which is a pretty successful tactic at luring in any unsuspecting gamers (worked on Lizzy!) and, even then, there are a whole bunch of expansions to try to milk even more from you. Luckily, though, there’s still a fair bit to keep you going, particularly for people who like to milk a lot from their games. Each campaign has a number of games for you to win, with some spiel that gets read out by a deep-voiced male who sounds like he’s describing an awful action movie. And each game itself has three achievements for you to keep busy with, and a harder difficulty if that still isn’t enough.


And let’s be fair, nobody here at the blog is beneath giving the app extra credit for having puns in it. Puns that seem specifically designed to just-about avoid copyright trouble. Yeah, we’re looking at you, mission against the Machine Cult called “Rage Against the Cult” and another mission called “The Empire Strikes”.

Doesn’t look like a ram to me

We gather that not all of the people who read about our humble adventures in farming misery are British. Not even the majority of you, in fact. So instead of just diving straight into a British comedy pop culture reference we’ll have to set it up a little first.

There’s this sketch show we have called The Mitchell and Webb look. In this one scene, Webb and Mitchell are both dressed in war uniforms and making plans on the battlefield. Mitchell’s character looks concerned, and says to his friend;

“Hans… Hans I’ve just noticed something. Have you looked at our caps recently?”
“Our caps?”
“The badges on our caps. Have you looked at them?”
“What? No. A bit.”
“They’ve got skulls on them. Have you noticed that our caps have actually got little pictures of skulls on them? Hans… are we the bad guys?”

Anyway, that’s pretty much what it’s like paying attention to the semblance of plot in the Star Realms app. There’s pretty much fuck all evidence that you’re the good guys. You’re battling for territory, you’re having space fights, you’re showing the enemy who’s boss. But there’s no reason to believe you’re the good guys. No good reason why the space territory is really yours in the first place. At least, none that would hold up in a fair human (and alien) rights court. Someone needs to start talking about the merits of diplomacy, that’s all I’m saying.

“Kill some peeps.”

Overall, with the app it’s still difficult to resent the way that the app seems to give you a plentiful plethora of content and then slowly reveals the amount of extra bits you’ll need to buy in order to actually play it. Upon first download it looks like you have a wonderful six campaigns to play through, and a whole lifetime of fun ahead of you! Then, one by one, when you actually get round to the next campaign it’ll let you know that you have to buy the full version, the expansion, another expansion.

The app gameplay is good, and it offers a lot that the real life version doesn’t- particularly if you’re sat alone in your room with nobody else to play with. But the app ethics are a little pants.

The real winner is definitely not world peace, let alone space-peace. As usual, the real winner is board games. Over and out.

We come in peace?

* Lizzy advises you to be wary of the Star Realms box. She and her ex tore it open when they first got it, to realise that was the only packaging. Whoops. Might be related to why you have a photo of an expansion instead.

Dixit: Insert dick joke here

Brutus Scale: 0/10 knives in the back. For friendship! Huzzah!
Pairs well with: A cocktail with a rude name. Something like “sex on the beach”, “screwdriver”, “I like vaginas”, “sweaty underboob” etc.*


As offensive as it is to compare an amazing game to an awful one (one which actually aims to be ‘offensive’ with all the wit and subtlety of a fourteen year old ragelord spewing epiphets on Call of Duty,) Dixit is like a far better Cards Against Humanity.

Sure, CAH has selling points. Obviously, because it sells. It’s got this adorable anti-establishment thing going on, and the company seem to be an unusual combination of dickish and altruistic with a side of gentle ribbing. But the game’s humour is questionable at best, player input seems more noticeably limited the more you play it and after a few games it becomes unforgivably… boring. Jokes about Gary Glitter and Madeleine McCann just don’t have that much longevity, and once punchlines start being repeated it’s all over. The death-knell of comedy is repetition, and explaining bukkake to your grandma is only funny once.

Dixit, on the other hand, is a brilliant game. Like they went forward in time, got the good bits about CAH, and improved it.

In Dixit each player has a hand of cards showing images. Not just plain pictures of a teapot or a cat, but something a little more surreal and, importantly, ambiguous. You’ll find no literal paint-by-numbers jobs here, but beautiful if faintly malevolent dreamscapes.


The gameplay is where the similarities come in: the starting player secretly selects a card and tells the group a word or phrase. The rest of the players then also select cards that they think best matches the same phrase. All of the chosen cards are all shuffled and the non-starting-players have to all simultaneously guess which card belonged to the starting player. Which card best fits the phrase that the starting player chose, and which cards look more like a desperate attempt to fit in.

Points are then assigned in such a way that all of the non-starters are rewarded for guessing correctly, but the starting player is only rewarded if some but not all of the players guess correctly. If everyone guesses correctly then you’ve made it too easy, but if no one guesses then you’ve been too obscure and pretentious. Get it together, yo!

13140896_10153572506966161_450317919_n_FotorPoints are tallied on the kind of number circuit we’re all used to seeing, only this time the counters are adorable, brightly-coloured, wooden bunnies.

Wait, adorable brightly-coloured, wooden bunnies?

Why? Because it’s adorable, that’s why. Stop asking silly questions.

Making the phrase you choose too literal is easy and boring. More importantly, it’s bad tactics. If your card shows a creepy hourglass with people falling through it, you don’t say something like “a creepy hourglass with people falling through it”. Instead, the way that the points are allocated makes it really interesting. A good choice allows personal interpretation while still creating a theme. It’s all about coming up with some slightly mysterious and elusive phrase which captures something just right about the essence and metaphor of the card. The more romantically-minded player may choose a line from a poem as their descriptor, while those battling some inner demons may focus more on the faintly sinister air of some of the depictions. When playing with children (highly recommended, as it sparks their imaginations in play without being too dull for adults), their clue might be seemingly obvious, such as colours or objects, but still offer room for flexibility in interpretation.

Ok now, which of these represents “Lizzy’s night out last night”?

One of the ways in which the game way outperforms CAH is this very ambiguity and flexibility. It moulds itself to the humour of everyone you’re playing with. For example, there’s that guy whose phrases are always something like “The Labour Party’s performance in the last election” or “The downfall of capitalism”. There’s in-jokes like “Bob’s thesis” and, finally, in the right crowd there’s always the one person who goes “Vagina.” It works, because you can control the humour in a freeing, independent way rather than choosing from a roster of punchlines. If you’re playing with your gran you can still have something just racy enough for that situation, but perhaps not about semi-legal sex acts or gassing Jews. In the unlikely event that you start being able to predict cards based on clues, there are also many, many expansion packs, each as melancholy and lovely as the other.

Scrub CAH from your minds, because Dixit is where it’s at.


*Lizzy doesn’t know the name of many real cocktails. She just sits back and lets Bob bring over the drinks.

Hanabi: A guide to successfully marketing pyromania

Pair well with: a warm (green?) tea to watch your splendid firework display on a cold night.
Traitor rating: n/a (co-op game)

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Hanabi is a test.

It’s also a co-operative game, and a pretty neat one. You have a hand of cards but, excitingly, you hold them facing backwards so that only your companions can see what you have. You, for your part, can see theirs but not your own.

The game itself is a test of memory and testing the bounds of limited information. Your goal is to use these skills to create the best fireworks display that humankind has ever seen! Failure can come in the forms of either a really shit victory (what, you wanted more than two small fizzley fireworks?) or a complete loss which comes in the form of all of the fireworks exploding. This presumably results in death, destruction and – even more significantly – shame.

You want to have a victory, obviously, but it’s really about a good victory. A spectacular victory! There’s a scoring system based on just how well you managed to firework, and you want to do well at it.

lots 311_Fotor.jpgThe cards are a range of colours numbered 1-5. Effectively, what you want to do is put down sets of the same colour, starting with 1 and ending at 5. Simple. Except, you know, that bit where you don’t know what cards you have. Your turns are a battle between putting down your own cards if you think you’ve figured out what they are (or even sometimes if you haven’t! You maverick!) and giving very limited bits of information to one of your team-mates.

What was that we were saying earlier about how Hanabi was a test?

It’s a test in being able to follow the damned rules and not accidentally give away all of the information. Similar to Codenames, in a way. In Codenames the spymaster needs to constantly fight the urge to stare obviously at the correct clues, look shocked when the spies talk about something really obviously wrong (cough cough JUNGLE JAM) and to say “that’s right!” when someone gets their clue.

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Typically you introduce someone to the game with the phrase “don’t look at your cards” and they immediately look at their cards. This gives you permission to make fun of them for the rest of the game.

In Hanabi the urge to cheat is somehow even harder to control, because you’re all working on the same team. Perhaps today we’re giving you both a review of a cardgame, and a review of our own skills as not-cheaters. (the conclusion of the latter review is going to be something like “points for effort”*).

One thing you need to try pretty hard to resist is to fish for information you’ve already been given. Because, you know, it’s kind of a memory game, amongst other things. That means you should probably be using your memory!

“Oh damn… did I already know that these two were green?”
“We can’t say!”
“Ok, but if I put in a request via the Freedom of Information Act?”
“Yes, those were green.”

There are sneaky tricks to organising your cards. You can, for example, optimistically try to rearrange your cards without looking at them, perhaps by putting all of the 1s on the left. Which is fine, until you completely forget whether you’ve done that, and where you put the new card you drew, and what bloody number you were even trying to remember in the first place.

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What? The cards just naturally fell that way

Is it maybe bending the rules a little to completely turn your 5 cards to a 90-degree angle? We’ll let your own consciences be the judge of that. Our friend Rich’s conscience certainly had nothing to say on the matter.


Picture the scene of a tense game of Hanabi (whether or not you’ve played before): Each player with five firework cards in their hand, all facing away. Each trying really, really hard to psychically send messages to their teammates about which card is super-important to play to get the next firework completed. If you’re not passing on information this turn then you can choose to either discard a card or play one into your firework collection. Of course if you play it and it won’t fit, perhaps if you’re trying to play a white 1 but you’ve already got a white 1 and 2 down in front of you, then a mysterious bomb somewhere gets a little bit closer to exploding.

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Maybe finish the fireworks display BEFORE they explode

But if you discard a card, there’s a chance that it might’ve been really important. There are only two of most of the cards in the game, and only one each of the 5s, so if you accidentally discard two green 3s over the course of a game, for example, then you know you’ll never be able to complete the green part of the fireworks display.

This can lead to some very sharp intakes of breath as you see someone’s hand hover over a card to discard that you all really need. Again, bad work with the ‘accidental’ cheating, team.

Still, we’d love to be able to say that was close to the worst example of cheating in some of our games (we could, but it would be lying. Which is just another form of cheating).

“Right, it’s my turn. So, JUST AS A RULES CLARIFICATION, you guys… we can now feel free to discard any of the 1s we have for the colours we’ve already got 1s for, right? We don’t need any of those any more? For the colours WE’VE COMPLETED?”
“Um… yep?”
“Ok. COMPLETELY UNRELATEDLY, I’m going to spend my turn giving information. Lizzy, these cards are all 1s.”

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Your  card-holding’strategy’ is getting a bit complicated there, Rich

This kind of thing sends Lizzy, who despite all her anti-establishment tendencies is a stringent rule-follower, into twitching apoplexy.**

The game is a great challenge because of the really limited information that you have at your disposal. If you use your turn to give someone information, then you can only tell them one single thing about their cards: either you can point at all of the cards which have a certain number, or all of the cards which have a certain colour. But you have to tell them ALL of the cards of that type. So if you really want to give someone some information about, say, a useful yellow firework card that they have (perhaps that Yellow 2 that you so desperately need) then you can’t sneakily just tell them that that particular card is yellow, you also have to tell them any other yellow cards they might have which may well be useless as heck to you right now.

This can occasionally lead to a person accidentally trying to inform someone of a super useful card before realising that they have a second one of that type.

“This is a … oh shit, no, nevermind.”

Definitely not cheating.

lots 307_Fotor.jpgTo make matters worse, the amount of times you’re allowed to give out information is limited by a bunch of clock-faced tokens. When you run out of those tokens then you have to either gamble and play a card, or discard a card to regain a token. As if the pressure of running out of cards and ending the game isn’t bearing down upon you enough already.

It’s a good game, and it can get surprisingly interesting in terms of strategy. And it’s really… fun. Not just in the way that working out a complex strategy can be really fun (let’s face it, we all know we’re in this hobby because we’re nerdy about that kind of thing) but also in a more general fun way. There’s laughter, there’s miscommunication, there’s failing miserably. All great qualities for a game to have. It’s a game for both dedicated games nights and for casual games down the pub, since it has the highly sought-after quality of using up not very much table space.

And there is just SO MUCH trying not to cheat.

“What? I wasn’t trying to give extra information, I was just making a general comment about how some of these games tend to pan out, that’s all…”
“Really, Rich…”

The real winner this week is board games. But also, a slightly guilty-looking team with some questionable cheating ethics.

* Except for Bob. Bob doesn’t even get points for effort. She’s even dodgy with Carcassonne.

** Her Codenames competitors sometimes refer to her as ‘The Fun Police’

Skulls and Roses: The lesser known 80s band

Brutus Rating:  2 knives in the skull out of 10. There aren’t really a variety of options for easy dickery to your opponents beyond the regular subterfuge.
Pairs well with: Pint of ale from a tankard.


The ratio of complexity of gameplay to complexity of strategy can be a good basic indicator for how good a game is. A lot of really good fun can be found in a game if it has some fairly basic steps and mechanics, and is fairly easy to learn, while also leaving room for a relatively more detailed, complex and developed strategy. Less fun can be had, sometimes, for a game that has a lot of detail in the play but not so much wriggle-room for thought-out plans for victory.

This isn’t meant to be a perfect recipe for board games, of course. Sometimes you want to just sit the heck down and let the board game adventure and some luck take you wherever you’re headed. Preferably to victory. Other times you want to get really deep into the nitty and gritty mechanics of a game and work for your delicious glory that way.

Guest reviewer of the day: Lily the dog
Guest reviewer of the day: Lily the dog

But the play-complexity-to-strategy-complexity formula can still be replicated in a lot of games, including some of the smaller and quicker ones. A good small game is often one that you pick up quickly, has maybe a limited amount of possible ‘moves’, but still lets you develop some excellent strategies for exactly how to play. One of these games is the topic of our review today!*

Everyone present have a skull? Check. You're ready!
Everyone present have a skull? Check. You’re ready!

Skulls is a great game for everyone. After all, everyone has a skull. It’s also pretty damn simple, but you get to develop sneakier and better tactics the more you play.

You’re a member of a biker gang. That’s right, time to whip out the old leather or denim jacket and… I’m not sure, start making motorbike noises and talk about how you miss the feel of the wind in your hair? Presumably that’s what bikers do. You’re competing to become what the rules call the supreme leader. Apparently, biker gangs are run just like North Korea. You learn something new every day!

6D-41-90_FotorEach player in Skulls gets a bunch of circular beer mats with your biker insignia on one side (Which gang are you in today? Panthers? Eagles? Snakes? Weird cow-skulls?) and three of them will have a rose on the other side, the fourth will have a skull. They also get a nice square beer mat with a skull on one side and rose on the other.

Once you’re done with the formalities of pretending to mistake some of the ‘cards’ for actual beer mats and getting yelled at by the person who owns the game, then you’re ready to begin.


It’s a short game, and it’s a game of bluff. Everyone takes turn placing cards down in front of them (insignia side up, or the bluff part won’t be very effective) and definitely remembering whether you’ve put down a rose or a skull. Eventually one person will decide that instead of putting down a new card they’ll ‘bid’ on how many circular beer mats they can turn over without finding a skull. The trick is, whoever wins the bid (and therefore actually has to attempt to do so) will have to start with their own beer mats first, and starting from the top. Getting it right will lead you halfway to victory (counted by flipping over your square beer mat) and the penalty for getting it wrong is a good mocking and removal of one of your four cards, making it more difficult for you to play. (Particularly if you lost four times… having no cards makes it very difficult to play indeed)

It's actually unclear whether it says 'panthers' or 'punthers'
It’s actually unclear whether it says ‘panthers’ or ‘punthers’

So what you DON’T want to do is forget that you put down a skull and then knob yourself over by bidding as high as possible. Unless you’re trying to lure everyone else into a false sense of security with your incompetence so that you can sweep them all away in the next few rounds. The brilliance of this game is that shit like that can actually happen, and maybe even work!

It’s all about trying to trick everyone into thinking you’ve got a rose when you’ve got a skull, and into thinking  you’ve got a skull when you’ve got a rose. And this isn’t just done by plain old conversation: “Hey you should definitely pick my card. I’ve just put loads of roses down. OR HAVE I?” because, you know, that would be silly. It’s also bluffing through your actions. Bidding really high to convince people that you do have roses, just to have the bid snatched away from you at the last second (just as you’d planned!) so that the winner of the bid will pick your card, convinced that you wouldn’t have done that if you’d had a rose, only to fall down crying when you flip it over to reveal your cunning bluff. TAKE THAT, RICH! YOU NEVER SAW IT COMING! WHO’S YOUR DADDY?


It’s also a very reactive game. Because it fits in that part of the collection for small games, ones that you can fit between other games or when you’re busy, and ones that you can play anywhere because it doesn’t have many pieces, you’ll find yourself just intending to play a quick round of it before you start up the Battlestar Galactica or the Eldritch Horror and then realise, an hour later, you’re all still in the kitchen desperately trying to stop Sophie from getting a fourth victory in maybe six games.

You can play it anywhere!
You can play it anywhere!

“AHA! Well, Will clearly has a rose because he tried to encourage us to pick his cards”

6D-41-130_Fotor“AHA! Rich definitely has a skull because he was pretending to deliberate, and there’s no way he would have actually been deliberating about bidding higher than five at this stage because that would be MADNESS, so he must have been pretending to deliberate to trick us into thinking that it would be an option for him and to trick us into thinking he has a rose!”**

“Just… never trust Sophie, guys! She’s going to have a skull, she always has a skull! She…. NOOO!”

The spurt of victories from Sophie was quite the surprise. We actually started to wonder if she’d been playing the really really long game, faking incompetence in previous games just to finally show her colours as a ruthless bastard in Skulls and Roses.

All in all, the developed bluffery from Skulls and Roses makes for a great small game, and ranks it pretty well in the ratio of complexity of play to complexity of strategy. Sophie may have played us all for fools but, as always, the real winner is board games.

And Lily the dog.

This review doubles as an educational piece about how difficult it is to take photos of dark dogs in light rooms.
This review doubles as an educational piece about how difficult it is to take photos of dark dogs in light rooms.

*You’d bloody hope so wouldn’t you, or else what have we been rambling on about for the last few paragraphs?

** Take our word for it, this paragraph definitely makes sense to Skulls and Roses aficionados.

Credit goes to our photographer friend for, of course, the photos. Huzzah!

7 Wonders: For when 6 wonders aren’t quite enough but 8 seems excessive.

Brutus rating: 4/10 knives in the back
Pairs well with: A suitable drink to match your wonder (we recommend buying some of that classic terrible cheap liquor that all tourists buy as souvenirs while wandering around in a hot country. ‘But honey, it’s made with guava – that’s so traditional!’)


In Briony’s house, the copy of 7 Wonders was deemed too big to carry around with ease. To address this her angry spiky-haired boyfriend Pat spent a week engineering the perfect compact version, presented in a lovely Christmas gift box. The juxtaposition of the Colossus of Rhodes and the Christmas tree works beautifully. To give you some indication of exactly how much more compact it is, here is a fair trade banana for scale.


Onto the actual game?

Have you ever wanted to control your own Civilization? Order your serfs well paid labourers to build cool stuff that will ensure your name is never forgotten for as long as humanity walks the earth? Cry war when someone upsets you? Wait for your turn patiently while your fellow assholes can’t pick a single card in a three-hour time frame? Good. Although this may sound mightily like Civilization (of which a couple of board games actually do exist) it’s actually 7 Wonders. At least, this week it’s 7 wonders. Can’t speak for future weeks, it’s not like we have a schedule for these things.

DSC_03397 Wonders was actually Briony’s ‘gateway drug’ to the board gaming world. She rocked up to a friend’s house one night expecting pizza, but instead got a lot of cards. At the time her friends explained the rules slowly, as if to a small confused child who couldn’t possibly understand the word ‘wonder’. They concluded ‘We’re all really good at the game because we play it a lot, so don’t worry about getting a low score. You’ll get better next time!’

Unfortunately for them Briony has accrued some 400 hours playing Civilization. She promptly wiped the floor with all of them, and has only been beaten once since. 7 Wonders has remained one of her favourite games to this day.

DSC_0337To begin, each player is assigned a great world wonder. One of seven, hence the name, but you probably figured that bit out (It’s not doing the “Five Tribes” trick where there aren’t actually five players and you don’t actually get to play the five tribes, confusingly.) Again, if you’ve played Civilization (the non-board-game version) you’ll already recognise the wonders; maybe you might even recognise them anyway. They differ both in starting resources and the benefits they offer. During the game you can, but are by no means obligated to, build parts of your wonder (they usually have 3 stages), and thus reap some tasty ancient treats.

The game works in three eras. Each player begins with a hand of cards. You look at the cards. You eye them up, rate them out of ten, or ask for their number – whichever is the most effective way of determining a good card for you. Once everybody has selected which card they would like to build, you pass your remaining hand of cards to the player clockwise. Everyone then simultaneously places their chosen card face up and everyone has a lovely time.

DSC_0342Simple. Now, do it again. In fact, keep doing this until you only have two cards left in your hand, then discard one and build the other. Now it the ending of the era, but it’s not particularly like the great works of writing and art suggest. It’s mainly about war, really. Each player has a mandatory fight with the player either side of them. Losing a war means losing points, winning war means winning points. Huzzah!

Well done everyone, we survived an era. Best keep going.

With the start of the second era a new deck of cards is brought out. These cards build on the resources you gathered in the previous era, and will either start racking up victory points or generating larger amounts of resources. The same mechanism as before happens (start with hand, play a card, pass it on, repeat), only this time you pass the cards anti-clockwise. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Era ends, have some war, next era begins.

DSC_0338This mechanic where everyone picks cards at the same time means that the game is fairly simple, fast, and can sit up to seven players without significantly racking up the play time to the point where you want to claw your eyes out, or go to bed, or have a life, but you can’t because you started playing a nine-hour game. None of that in 7 Wonders. Even better, it manages to do this while still keeping a lot of delicious strategy and giving everyone some good time to think about what to do.

The third and final era is where it gets particularly interesting as all the big cards come out. This is the only era where purple, or ‘victory’, cards emerge, and they have the power to significantly enhance your score if used wisely. During this era it also becomes fairly apparent which major strategy a player has gone for. And by apparent we mean ‘huh, Pete the twinkly-eyed hippie has 739 blue cards. I guess he’s collecting blue’. This is partly where this week’s Brutus rating comes in- there game does still give you a bit of wriggle room for player interaction, mostly in choosing which card you want (and therefore which card you don’t want the player to the side of you to have). If Pete is collecting blue cards then this gives you at least some reason to nab all the ones he needs before he can lay his grubby little paws on them (disclaimer: Pete actually has hands and they aren’t that grubby. Sorry Pete).

DSC_0344It also earns an extra dagger because after each era you have to have a war with the players to your left and right either side, the poor buggers, and if you want those extra victory points you’re going to have to softly jab someone at least a little.

Unless you’re Rhodes, and then you fully jab everyone. Unapologetically.

Of course the problem with this, and with the fighting mechanic, is that you get a bit dicked over depending on where you decided to sit at the table. Lizzy may be a charming barrel of wit and great to sit next to sometimes (we said “may”) but this kind of game could result in everyone scrabbling to get away from her so they don’t have to put up with her meddling in their affairs for most of the game.

DSC_0343Like all things over the great expanse of the centuries, the game will eventually come to an end. Victory is tallied up and your Civilization scores points for various card-related and wonder-related things.

One thing we should mention is the trickiness with how to score science: no-one really knows. It is literally the only complex thing about the entire game. Usually there is some 7 Wonders veteran in the corner who is called upon to interpret and talk with the science cards, and then relays that information back to the rest of the group like some sort of lesser prophet. Fortunately for the rest of us mortals some genius made a thing that does it for you   If you can figure out how to make it work, the ‘science!’ strategy is a reliably high scorer, though easily ruined if your neighbours are paying attention to what you’re building.

Had enough photos of cards yet?
Had enough photos of cards yet?

The game is fast in general, which makes it perfect to play several times in one evening or to get new people into gaming. As was the case with Briony, it can make a pretty good gateway board game, as long as you take the time to explain each component and keep the card-choosing phase pretty quick. Bob actually hated (or thought she hated) this game for years, not having Briony’s Civ experience and finding game frustrating and exhausting as a board game noob. Turns out, she just had really dawdly friends who didn’t make the trading rules clear. In addition, make sure to stop and take in the art work on the cards, if that’s your cup of tea. They’re often beautifully painted scenes or buildings and they add a lot to the game design.

The real winner is history. But also Briony. She’s just really good at Seven Wonders, man.

This week the credit for the photos also goes to her. Good work, Bri!

Just assume that it says
Just assume that it says “Briony Wins”. Convenient blurring, Briony.

Jaipur: One of the best camel trading games you’ll play this week!

Brutus Rating: 7/10 knives in back
Pairs well with: Fine wines sipped from golden chalices that you don’t quite have enough of to trade yet.


(Poorly lit photos can be blamed on the photographer friend not being around this week. Or maybe on Bob for moving house. Basically, anyone other than Lizzy, who is coincidentally in charge of posting this week.)

11720023_10155865987270085_260705191_n2014 was quite the year for camel games, so it also proved to be an excellent time for Lizzy to receive Jaipur as a Christmas gift. It most certainly ranks in the top three for camel-based-games that she acquired that year, and Briony is inclined to agree that is sure is fun. This review marks the beginning of a new, and duly called for, list created by ‘The Misery Farm’ – Two Player Games Ranked In Order Of How Likely They Might Make You To Split Up With Your Other Half While Spending Time Together.

Huzzah! Never has a more practical and important list been created! We constantly see threads on various sites and blogs that call for good two player games with a lot of specific categories: these range from ‘must be easy to learn because my wife has a short attention span’, to ‘has to be small and portable enough for me to carry this to another country to see my long-distance bae’.

"Show me the goods!" "Here they are!" "Good."
“Show me the goods!”
“Here they are!”

Jaipur is a pretty good two-player card game to kick the list off with. You buy goods, trade goods, trade goods for camels, trade camels for goods, trade goods for other goods, sell goods. Good? Good!

The game is fairly fast-paced and over two or three rounds: best of three is the winner. To win the round – that is, being the best at trading and most impressive to the Maharajah – you get a little token with the Maharajah’s face on, and the first person to please the Maharajah twice is crowned the victor and will forever be employed as his best personal trader. Conveniently, the Maharajah tends to be most impressed by whoever has the most points at the end of the round, so determining who wins is pretty simple.

His Grace's faces
His Grace’s faces

Your goods come in the form of captivating colour-coordinated cards, and you and your other half (and/or nemesis) have a hand of your own and a communal pile of five to compete over.

11715998_10155865989180085_1975058349_nThe best bit about this game (other than the inclusion of camels) is its excellent ratio of rules to strategy complexity, and the fact that it might occasionally remind you of playing card games with your Gran in your earlier years. The rules are fairly quick and easy to learn, just like the game is to play, but the more you play it the more you start developing a complex strategy for how to trade. There are several things that the game gives you to look out for, and winning means balancing strategies and trying to open up as few opportunities as possible for your opponent.

11739755_10155865988975085_779132515_nMost goods depreciate in value pretty darn quickly. You can sell some of that brown leathery stuff, the most common good, but only the first few bits that get sold will be worth a decent amount of points, so if you’re going to sell it then you want to be the first person to do so. But wait! The more you sell at one time, the more bonus points you’ll get, so you want to save up as much as you can before you sell it. This shit gets competitive, yo. You don’t want to be saving up a bunch of that lowish-value [green resource] for ages and then have some arsehole your loving partner sell a single [green resource] first just to take the best price. Knob.

The game gets a fairly high ‘brutus rating’ because most things you’ll do will tend to affect the other player. And if you’re anything like us (or anyone we know. We need some new friends) then you’ll be purposely trying to knobble them over instead of just getting ahead yourself. But that’s ok, because it’s a two-player game! That’s how two-player games should work, and the dicking-up goes both ways and isn’t too extreme.

11741830_10155865987485085_1100015158_nThere are also various other factors which turn the game into more of a rampant strategy-fest. The hand limit is devilishly small, which will leave you regularly cursing. And there are special rules for trading different numbers of goods, and special rules for trading camels. Some goods – the most valuable – can only be traded when you have at least two of them to hand. All of this is pretty simple to learn but, again, makes the game surprisingly tactical.

Another great thing about this game is that despite all of the above it’s really fun to play, and the resentment and hatred for your partner doesn’t build up so much that it’s not manageable. Sure, they’ve traded away the last goddamn silver but at least they haven’t ruined your entire bloody life. This time. The fast-paced nature of the game and the fact that you need to win 2/3 rounds for victory really helps with this. Before long the round will be over, and one of you will be taking your victory-Maharajah token, holding it up to your ear and saying,

“What’s that, Maharajah? You were really impressed with my trading prowess today? Oh, thank you, that’s very kind. No, it really is my pleasure. What’s that? You regret choosing Martin last round? Yes, well, we all make mistakes. Not to worry.”

"Oh Maharajah! You flatter me."
“Oh Maharajah! You flatter me.”

So yeah, you’ll give them a smack on the face once or twice, but there’ll be no permanent damage by either hands or words.

Definitely not missing a token. Don't know what you're on about. Your face is missing a token!
Definitely not missing a token. Don’t know what you’re on about. Your face is missing a token!

Lizzy took this on holiday with her boyfriend and they both came back in one piece. Which is an impressive thing to say any time Lizzy plays board games with anyone, to be honest. Briony has also had a good time playing it with a whole range of people, boyfriend included. So Jaipur gets a good rating not just as a good card game, but as a particularly good game to take away on holiday with you if you don’t want to have any more arguments or breakups than necessary. Good work, Jaipur.

The real winner is the camels.


(and Lizzy)

Libertalia: How to Pirate 101

Written by Briony, Bob, Lizzy.

Brutus Scale: 6/10
Pairs well with: white rum, dark rum, spiced rum. All of the rum!

This week, the team have decided to try their hand at pirating with Libertalia. More like Libert-arrr!-lia, am I right? No.

Spot the theme.
Spot the theme.

If there’s one thing the team have learned from the game, it’s that not one of them makes a good, or indeed effective, pirate. No sir. They did all the right things: dressed in pirate clothing gradually throughout the evening, drank for hours before attempting to win some loot, didn’t listen to the reading of the rules like any true badass pirate would, and yet the cards still did not fall in their favour.

Probably because they were continuously playing the wrong cards.

Is it a board because its a ship, or is it ship because its a board?
Is it a board because its a ship, or is it ship because its a board?

This has been the overriding theme of the game: you will never, ever play a decent card, but everyone around you will. And consistently at that. A majority of the game will be spent playing a card from a hand of 9 against your opponent’s selection much in the top trumps style of ‘highest card picks loot first’. The board has seven sections (representing days of the week), all of which feature a randomly drawn selection of loot.* Loot may include expensive shit like jewels and other shiny things classic pirates like, bad shit like curses, and the ability to murder another player’s card modelled on a particularly shiny scimitar. The player who placed the highest-rated card will pick whichever loot they find most appealing, and the rest will resolve in rank order. Whoever is left at the bottom rungs of the rank will find themselves lumbered with curses (worth negative points) or something else undesirable. Think, the captain’s old socks.

Furthermore, each player will have the same hand of cards as you, which brings out some great ‘will they/won’t they’ scenarios when considering who will play which card, and when. It also makes the fact that everyone always seems to have better cards than you somewhat baffling.

If pirates played cards this is almost certainly what it would look like.
If pirates played cards this is almost certainly what it would look like.

Certainly remembering who has already played which card is what the pros would do – but we are not pros. Instead of simple and logical prediction such as ‘Bob has played the ‘waitress’ card, that means she won’t play that card again this round’, whimsical drunken pirate logic quickly turns that into ‘Bob has played the particularly untrustworthy-looking spaniard** this round, and it’s a Thursday and she had brown rice for dinner last night, therefore she will plat the Captain next’. Lizzy and generic male gaming buddy Pete aren’t falling into this trap at all, leading to most of the loot being split between them.

Misery Pirates.
Misery Pirates.

Fortunately for the Misery Farm, they do know how to ruin a good strategy. Despite many players doing well, winning treasures, and reaping large amounts of doubloons, there are some good back-stabbing abilities present in the game (no, Lizzy, put the knife down.), earning it a decent 6/10 knives in the back for our Brutus Scale. Bob and Briony have quickly taken on board (hey-oh!) that conjuring a good strategy is not for them this evening, and so have been killing off other characters, drinking more, and generally trying to mangle everyone else’s plans. Pirates shouldn’t have plans anyway. But apparently they should have spoons, because that’s the closest thing to a knife lying around.

As the game has progressed the playing field has levelled. The game is played over 3 weeks, which means 3 rounds of working your way through the 7 piles of loot on the board. It must be the Pirate Easter Holiday or something. By week three, Bob and Briony are more or less level with the other more sober players, still somehow consistently playing the least effective cards possible. As the player’s hand of cards change at the beginning of each week new characters and cards are dredged up, making the game more diverse with many possible future variations.

We wonder is she has starfish on her nipples like the Trident's of Smallworld. Doubloon for anyone who can confirm.
We wonder is she has starfish on her nipples like the Trident’s of Smallworld. Doubloon for anyone who can confirm.

In week 3 we encounter ‘Granny Wata’ who is supposed to be some sort of mythical sea sprite, but that matters not, for at the Misery Farm table she will be referred to as what she is portrayed as – ‘watery tart’, ‘Lady of Sea Things’, or indeed ‘that naked blue one’. Now, this card is a tricky one as it requires understanding and predicting your opponent’s strategies – the Granny Wata card only gives a player points when that is the only copy of the card in someone’s den (this is where your pirates go after they’ve been played in the ship, they take their boots off and have a nice sit down and a cuppa). In the final few turns of the game, every single player has managed to think the exact same thing ‘Holy shit, I need to play the naked blue card, cos mega doubloons. Quick, quick, quick!’

This, ladies and gentlemen, has led to an entire ship populated only by watery tarts.

*Slow clapping* well done team, I thought we were good at this board game malarkey. Despite this final mishap every single player has thoroughly enjoyed this game. It’s fast-paced, well-themed, diverse, and really forces you to try and put your dick in other player’s ears***. It turns out if you make the stabbing-in-the-back of your friends pirate themed, it sort out cancels out a lot of the resentment someone would normally feel compared to in other games. In addition this game is excellent to dress up and drink throughout. We recommend a good few play-throughs to anyone. Unless you actually are or have been a pirate, in which case it might just trigger some intense nostalgia and you may need to go to bed early.

The lesser known pirates 'see no evil', 'swish no evil', and 'vegetable peel no evil'.
The lesser known pirates ‘see no evil’, ‘swish no evil’, and ‘vegetable peel no evil’.

*We’d like to point your attention to Shut Up and Sit Down’s review of this game, if you would actually like to know how to play it. We do however take issue with their use of a reference pear in this game, as thematically-speaking some sort of citrus fruit would make more appropriate loot in the context of pirate diseases.**** You can also checkout Tabletop’s play-through, where you actually see it being played. Who knew?

** It turns out that there’s actually quite a lot of ‘era-themed’ racism and sexism in this game. Untrustworthy French people, Spanish spies, serving wenches with their boobs out. As long as you embrace it with a laugh and think ‘oh back in those times…’ we guess that makes it alright?

*** In the fun ‘don’t question this’ sense.

**** Lemons would be best in terms of vitamin C content, but lime would make a tasty daiquiri with all that rum.