Elk Fest: Hoof to Victory

Pairs well with: Beer sipped from a horn or antler. 
Traitor rating: 8/10 for stone-flicking treachery .

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We here at the Misery Farm are not sure whether Elk Fest counts as a board game. It has pieces, but no board. Players may follow a loose strategy, but there are only about 3 rules. Regardless of whether it is a board game or not, it’s immensely fun and it involves elk. That, as we’ve just decided, is what really matters.

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The elks have names.

Elk Fest is a popular game among our friends*, probably because it makes for a great partyDSC_0798 game, pub game or mad ‘friendly’ tournament**. The game is for two players and you each begin with a small wooden elk, an island, and three round grey stones.  The islands are placed a box-width away from one another with the colour-coded elk placed on top. The three stones are lined up alongside the island, primed and ready for some moving. The aim of the game is to flick the stones to create a path for your elk which leads all the way to the other player’s island. Player number two is also trying to do this, and so you must concentrate and be accurate, while trying to ruin their strategy as much as possible.

DSC_0799In your turn you are allowed two flicks of any stone, as long as it does not have an elk on it. This is the real kicker because the three stones you begin with do not necessarily belong to you. If your opponent sees you trying to line up a great shot for the next turn, they are perfectly within their rights to flick the same stone over to their side, thus ruining your magical elk moment.  If you manage to set up some stones for your elk to jump across, then you pick up your elk, place them on the new stone and then remove your hand to prove that the elk is free-standing, and then continue. There is no limit to how many times you can move your elk in the turn (except the natural limit of how terrible you are at flicking stones into the right place). If you manage to knock any elk over by any means, then you must miss a go and the stone that you moved must be replaced back to where it was. Bad elk-master. We know you’ve already had a pint or two but stop nudging the damned table.

DSC_0801If you lift up your elk to move it to a stone, and it turns out that you are an idiot and didn’t judge the space correctly, your elk will fall helplessly into the water. Sploosh. Thus, you made yourself miss a go, presumably while your poor trusting elk scrambles back onto the rocks. Well done, and get better at judging distance next time.

The kinds of manoeuvres that you end up making are reminiscent of an old fashioned game of Jenga. But better, because it’s a race, and again because it features little wooden elk. There are some pretty tense moments when you’re hoping there’s going to be enough room on this stone for your elk, even though the other elky sod is already there, and that’s if you even reach it in the first place. Argh!

The game really is that simple. A few friends of ours argue that it’s actually an incredibly complex masterpiece, with strategies such as ‘always taking as many stones away from the other playing’, (being a knob) or only trying to hit your stones in a zig-zag pattern***. To which we say ‘That’s meta strategy, move your fucking elk please.’

When you’ve played a few times, you realise there are three stages to this game. The first is known as ‘the shaky start’. In this phase, neither player has quite got the hang of aiming or exerting enough pressure when flicking stones yet. Even if they’ve played before, perhaps that was about ten minutes ago and they’ve forgotten, or maybe they’ve had an extra beer. This results in a lot of stones pinging around in the first few turns, and usually a lot of swear words, or saying the phrase ‘I’ll do it better next time’.

DSC_0800The second stage is known as ‘the ardgy-bardgy bit in the middle’. This is where each player’s elks are passing one another in the middle, and moving basically anything becomes tense and difficult. Often there is a lot of stone sharing for both elk, and things are both tense and cosy.

Finally, the last stage is known as the ‘just don’t fuck it up’ phase. This is where a player is within a few stones of the island they are hoping to get to. It’s amazing how easy it is to completely forgot how to elk when this happens. It’s also amazing how easy it is for your opponent to keep nicking the stones that you really needed to use to help you crush them.

But, eventually, an elk is crowned victorious. And then you will play it again, and again. You can even play is in hard mode by changing the length of the elk, or taking out some stones.

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Hard mode.

You will probably play it until you start thinking of nothing but elk. For instance,

‘Why is called Elk Fest? Is it a festival of elk?’

‘That can’t be right because there are only two elk on the table. And even if there were more than two I happen to know that many elk are referred to as a ‘gang’.’

‘… How do you even know that?’

‘Because I know that they’re also called Wapati. And knowing more about elk than you means that I will crush you.’

DSC_0807This is a great example of one of those lighter games that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you need something to play on a trip out, or a day at the pub, you should definitely find somebody who owns this game. It’s simple, it’s portable, and it’s not full of cards that are going to get blown away if you’re in someone’s garden. Become the grand elk master, which apparently in elk society just means someone who can cross over to an island really well. Thanks Kosmos two player series, you have successfully reduced all boredom felt at parties.

As ever the real winner is board games, but elk are probably right up there too. You go, you smelly mammals.

Yeah, elk <3
Yeah, elk ❤

*So popular in fact that our friend Andy is the European champion at it three years running.

** Or at least Briony has spent a lot of time playing it at various events and trips to the pub after she bought a copy for her angry-punk boyfriend for his birthday a few weeks ago. He just can’t stop enjoying those elks.

***We are unconvinced about this tactic because it’s almost exclusively argued by people who just aren’t that good at aiming stones. A straight line forward to the other island is clearly what the pros are doing.

Misery Farming on the Road goes to Reading to play Legacy: Let Them Eat Cake!

Pairs well with: Tiny fancy glasses of sherry or enormous ones of brandy
Brutus rating: 2 tiny daggers in the back out of 10

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Our international readers may not be aware, but it is currently an even 3,000 degrees Celsius in England (that’s 98269.6 degrees Fahrenheit for the Yanks). We Brits are utterly unprepared for this. We have no air conditioning, no clothes made of white linen, no enormous straw hats. Your friendly misery farmers are particularly miserable – Briony once got sunburnt in Scotland, while it was raining, and Bob is not much better off.

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Pictured: Stuff

We’ve wanted to review Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy for ages, but had only played it once and with very mixed results. There are few experiences in the world more draining than learning to play a game as you’re playing it by simultaneously reading and explaining the rules, as Bob rapidly discovered. This approach is particularly ill-advised for Legacy, as it’s one of those games which, while reasonably straightforward to play, has an awful lot of stuff on the table. Each player has a board and counters, as well as approximately 568 cards all of which need to be placed face-up and visible for various reasons. And then of course there’s a central board with even more stuff all around it. You need a big table to play this, is what we’re telling you. But you do get to make some nice little family trees out of cards so it balances out.6D-35-181

Apart from anything else, everybody keeps getting distracted by the charmingly-rendered but deeply politically-incorrect artwork. There are 83 unique miniature portraits in Legacy, and presumably in order to stave off death by boredom in addition to severe carpal tunnel the artist (Mateusz Bielski) went for a heavily caricaturised style.

‘Cor, look at the tits on her!’

6D-35-212‘Nevermind the boobs, have you noticed what the moneylender looks like!?’

‘I’m sure his nose is just a coincidence.’

‘Um, alright then, what’s your excuse for the Moroccan then?’

‘Uh… well he has a nice moustache at least!’

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Babbies in arranged marriages

Additionally, the game introduces itself with a beautifully-calligraphied but long letter. Bob should not have tried to read it out loud. Generic gaming buddy Andy questioned whether Anna Karenina (the novel, not the person) had accidentally been snuck in. Briony came close to giving up entirely but stuck around with a superhuman effort of patience for the sake of the farm, sustained by some wine. Part of our reticence was probably due to a mismatch in interests. Your misery farming friends are in their twenties and have expensive cardboard hobbies, intense relationships with gin, and demanding careers. The aim of Legacy is to marry and have lots and lots of babies. This is something that we just don’t quite understand. In fact it was down-right amusing watching ourselves as young adults failing to be young adults set in a different time period: in the end we were grateful to be living in the 21st century.

Essentially it works like this: You play as the head of an aristocratic family desperate to achieve wealth, fame, and honour. You have a secret patron who will reward you with all of these things if you fulfil certain objectives such as contributing to the arts or having tons and tons of babies. There are two kinds of resources in the game; gold and friends. It’s all very French. You can increase the amount of money you have by doing things like begging for cash from your friends or investing in business ventures, and you gain friends by doing things like going to balls and socialising. You can also do things like buy titles, contribute the community (obviously by wasting money on a giant feast, because French aristocrat), or buy a mansion. The main way that you increase your income, gain friends, and earn prestige (which translates to honour – the ultimate victory point of the nobility) is, however, to get married and have babies. Lots and lots o’ babies, as these are actually a resource that earns you victory points per round.

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The game is played in three phases (‘generations’). In each generation you can marry your characters to friends, and then sprog. Sprogging happens immediately upon marriage and it’s IMG_077650/50 whether it’ll be a boy or a girl. There is also a risk of morbid ‘complications’ arising, during which you must choose who survives – mother or child. You may also visit a fertility doctor to have multiple babies (but you will lose friends in high society to do so) or pay money to choose the gender of the baby. You see, gender is important. It can cost a lot to marry off your daughters, while strapping sons can land themselves a wealthy wife and bring status to the family. Finding the ‘right’ sort of friends to wed can be a challenge as well though – it’s no good marrying off your most beautiful daughter to Paul the pig farmer, despite his impressive fertility.

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Additionally, friends and relatives interact in different ways. Some of this is due to the secret objective of your patron, who may want your family to be full of artisans or scientists. Some of it is due to the unique characteristics of the friends and family members. Great-uncle Tufty the King’s fifth cousin may bring a lot of cash with him, but he can’t have any children and he’s Prussian, which means that no self-respecting Moroccan or Spaniard will join the family. Your sixth daughter may have wide hips and a charming smile but oh dick-balls there are no good male (yes, it’s a heteronormative game) friends for her to marry so we’re all fucked now.

IMG_0775At the end of each generation the children grow up, arranged marriages finally come to pass, and more babies are born. The table rapidly becomes full of family trees represented by cards, which is satisfying to see and a cool mechanic but definitely takes up too much space. For a three-person game you need a good-size table and any extra chairs you can lay hands on.

Of course it transpired that the first time we played this game we played it wrong (of course) so this week Bob was dispatched to the Reading Board Games Social under strict instructions to play it and play it right. She did manage to play it again, but playing it right…? Eh, close enough. It was, as discussed, very very hot. The RBGS is held in a nice but heavily under-air-conditioned pub called the Abbott Cooke, which serves gastro-pub food, expensive beer, and nice things like free iced cucumber water. And there was cake! Distracting cake!

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Every year for their anniversary the RBGS has a cake baked in the fashion of the game they believe will win the Essen Spiel Des Jahres award. As you can see, their vote this year goes to Colt Express, the shooty Western-themed train heist game.

IMG_0774Anyway, between the heat and the cake several mistakes were made. Perhaps this is to be expected the first few times you play this game as while it is not difficult to play, there is an awful lot going on. Lots of symbols and tasks, as well as the long-term strategy you’re trying to keep in your head. We give it two daggers because while dickish interaction with other players is minimal, as with many worker-placement games you can place your workers on a space that another player would rather like and if you could please fuck off and let them hire the fucking fertility doctor they’d be very fucking grateful indeed. Which, naturally, can be quite frustrating.

Sigh
Sigh

Overall, recommended for medium-weight, engaging, vaguely-offensive fun, but try the single-player version before trying to introduce it to your friends, and get a big table.

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