Misery Farm On The Road: Little Wooden Houses 2

It’s been a long week here at The Misery Farm. Lizzy and Bob have been marking idiot undergraduate papers while Briony has been attempting the academic equivalent of fitting a gallon into a pint glass, i.e. condensing her Master’s thesis into a publishable paper.

Needless to say, they were all very happy to see the end of the week and to celebrate with happy hour cocktails (Bob and Briony) and going to bed at 9pm (Lizzy).

Saturday dawned bright and early. And hungover.

Somehow your farmers managed to pile into Bob’s shitmobile car and pootle all the way up to Oxford without any major death or destruction,* fully stocked with caffeinated beverages and terrible service-station sandwiches. What a treat lay ahead of them – a full day of board games ahoy!

DSC_0664_Fotor
Pictured: Meeples, not Little Wooden Houses. It’s the thought that counts.

What’s Little Wooden Houses?

Little Wooden Houses is the brainchild of Mac ‘Amazing’ Chapman, fellow board-game enthusiast and blogger. His dream was simple: to gather friends and acquaintances and pretty much anyone who fancied it, put them in a large room together, and play some board games.

It’s a formula which pretty much guarantees success.

Effectively, it’s just a day at a friend’s house with a bunch of people you like and a bunch of board games you like, but on a larger scale. Things that you like, but more of it! YEAH!

Unlike similar small and friend-run events we’d been to previously, like Gavcon, it’s a simple case of turn-up, bring-games, leave with the same games you arrived with. Simple stuff. Particularly good for those on a budget! We each gave a small contribution to M. Amazing for renting the hall and brought our own homemade sammidges, hangover snacks and maybe ordered a tiny bit of takeaway too.

DSC_0691.JPG
The whole room’s a bit like a big wooden house, actually

Little Wooden Houses 2

This event, the second of its kind (but we weren’t at the first, so it can’t have been as good), was hosted in a little village hall near Oxford, where we’d previously had an incredibly successful day as the media in Watch The Skies. If only half as many nuclear bombs went off this time, it would be a success! It’s a bit further away from our homes than a couple of us would like, but it all worked out ok because Bob is an incredibly safe driver and we didn’t fear for our lives once in the entire journey.**

We started the day with HangoverBob opening her packet of Skips upside down and declaring it to be the end of the world. Fortunately, the team plodded nobley onwards, and got stuck knee deep into some games:

DSC_0670.JPG
Little wooden pillars

Elysium

Elysium is a good game with one strange weakness:

‘Have I played this before?’
‘Yeah, have I? I really really can’t tell…’
‘Nah it just looks like all other games ever.’

It really does as well. It’s ancient-Greek themed and the artwork is a bit 7 Wonders, maybe a bit Cyclades.

We came across it on Day 4 at Essen and Briony bought it there and then.

There are pillars, but hungover games-explainer Briony is quick to point out that the aim of the game is not to build a tower out of them. Sadness all around.

Otherwise, it offers a good level of chance and luck v strategy and tactical play. It’s simple to learn, plus there’s just enough opportunity for dickery to keep things interesting and victory points get handed out like Skittles. And we love skittles!

As a downside, there are a few design errors. You must knock your pillars over to collect cards, but the bases of the pillars are circular so they just roll around all over the table and onto the floor, repeatedly. The turn order tokens are nearly the perfect size to fit into a slot on your player board, but not quite. Argh!

We still all had a pretty good time. Bob and Briony survived their hangovers, and laughed at the worst jokes.

‘Can I have a circley thing?’
‘You certainly can!’
‘… I CIRCLEY can!’

Victory for Briony!

DSC_0661.JPG
Some vigorous pointing from HangoverBob

Tournament: Codenames

Ok, when we said that Little Wooden Houses was just bring-a-game, play-a-game, we were almost telling the truth. Little Wooden Houses also has a long standing tradition (as long-standing as a tradition can be when it’s only the second event) of having a mini tournament. The first event was home to a Blueprints tournament, and this time Codenames was the star of the show!

If you haven’t played Codenames yet, then you should. It’s a competitive word-association game played in teams, but even more fun than it sounds.

Your steadfast reviewers made up a team of 3 (obviously), and were determined to come in either first or last place (because those are the only two positions worth blogging about). It was decided that Bob should be spymaster because a) she’s strangely OK at it even when wearing her ‘Captain Hangover’ hat and b) Briony and Lizzy can get inside her mind with ease. To catch your prey, you must think like your prey. To think like Bob, just replace 98% of brain function with pop culture references and sarcasm.

We started strongly. A decisive victory against a team which had never met before, followed by a trickier match-up against long-time friends. The tension was absolutely insane, largely because we take winning board games far too seriously. The final match was an incredibly close best of 3. We fought bravely but… ultimately the tiny plastic cup of victory was wrestled from our grasp.

A full review of both the game and the little tournament will be out soon!

DSC_0712_Fotor.jpg

Between Two Cities

After the intense stress of a tournament, a soothing game of Between Two Cities was called for. It’s fun and simple and can fit absolutely loads of players thanks to its team-based mechanic which means that until the scoring phase you only really play with and against the players to your immediate right and left.

Takara Island

Next was Takara Island, a worker-placement-lite game recently re-released with art by the incredibly talented Naiiade. Dive into the deep seas, fight some monsters, and dig for magical treasure. It’s flawed by some unbalanced mechanics which aren’t clarified in the rulebook, possibly due to translation errors.

Two Rooms and a Boom

There are a lot of reasons to gather twenty-something friends in a single place to play games, but one of the strongest has to be Two Rooms and a Boom. A game that not only works with these larger numbers, but thrives with them.

It’s a combination of hidden roles and party game: red terrorists v. blue secret agents. Everyone is divided up into two rooms and allowed to get chatting. Every few minutes there’s a hostage swap where a few people can change (or be forced to change) rooms. The aim of the game is to get the (red) bomber and the (blue) president in the same room at the end of the game if you’re the terrorists, and to get the president the hell away from the bomber if you’re the blues. That’s right, even if the entire rest of the secret service explodes with the bomber, as happened in one of the games we played, the blue team still win if the president is alive. Is death worth victory? Almost certainly.

Despite the ostensible secrecy of the roles, it quickly becomes clear who’s on which team.

“Lizzy, wait, are you on the red team?”
“No.”

*Lizzy bursts into nervous laughter and has to run away*

It gets interesting when more roles are added. The engineer to fix the bomb. The doctor to diagnose the president. The Shy Guys, the fools. The first lady and the mistress, both of whom are competing to be in the room with the president at the end of the game (but not in the same room as each other). Moby Dick is there, as is Ahab.

Ultimately, despite the number of roles, it’s not a difficult game. Bob was the bomb and she quite successfully exploded. Good work, everyone!

The end of the day

Little Wooden Houses 2 ran on to the late, late hours of 11pm. Your noble journalists ducked out before then, but still had a wonderful day. The atmosphere was relaxing, friendly and rife with games.

Your competitive team of journalists had so much fun that they barely even cried at not winning the coveted Codenames tournament trophy.

But, as always, the real winner… is board games.

DSC_0724.JPG
It’s fine. We didn’t want the Codenames trophy anyway.

 

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

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

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.

CRBpZnvWUAATBfD

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.

CQ9NwHVWwAAxSr7
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.

DSC_0445

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.

DSC_0453

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?

Spy-Bri
Spy-Bri