Scoville: Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

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

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

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Lizzy gets her serious face on

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

So diddy!
So diddy!

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

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

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

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

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Disclaimer: not conventional chilli-placement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woohoo! Three points!
Woohoo! Three points!

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

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Gettin’ real judgy there, Rudolph-jumper.

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

*a bit more beer and ten minutes later*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fun game, intermittent sobbing notwithstanding.

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

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

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

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

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.

Steampunk Rally: A Rally Good Game!

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

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

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

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

Sold! Literally.

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

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

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Science!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. Here that comes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RACE BEGINS AGAIN!

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

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

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

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Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speeding to victory
Speeding to victory

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

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

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

T.I.M.E. Stories: Sherlock Holmes meets Groundhog Day

Pairs well with: A nice cup of tea to help you think.
Traitor Rating: 1/10. It’s a co-op game, but accidents do happen…

What with it being Halloween and all, you might think that we at the Misery Farm would have prepared something special for you. After all, we are three alternative-type ladies and Halloween is basically Christmas for goths.

Well, we don’t. At least, not something especially spooky/Halloween-y. Sure the scenario we’ll be reviewing is set in an insane asylum and there are a few cases of [deleted] as well as terrifying [deleted] to be dealt with but it’s not, as such, a horror game. What this game is, is excellent. Bob cannot remember the last time she enjoyed a game so much on so many levels. The problem is trying to review it without giving away any spoilers, but we’ve done our best. This review is of the base game and introductory scenario, and all specific references and photos should be of game parts already explicitly mentioned or shown in the rulebook. If you spot a rogue plot point then let us know asap and we’ll shut it down.

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We can’t tell you what this girl’s painting, or why that guy is wearing a plague mask but… yeah.

With all that said, on with the review!

TIME Stories is a co-operative exploration-slash-puzzle solving game. If you’ve played games like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (which, by the way, is possibly one of the greatest puzzle games of all time), Tragedy Looper, or even an old school ‘GO TO LOCATION’-type MUD game then you’ll be acquainted with the format. TIME Stories perfects the genre in board game form. It’s a tabletop RPG with combat elements, it’s a strategy game, it’s an item-collecting, clue-solving meta-gaming puzzler. Most importantly, it does all these things well. Now, before we get going you should know that this is a scenario-based game. Essentially you buy the base game (which comes with an introductory scenario) and all subsequent scenarios must be bought as expansions. This has led some people* to declare it a waste of money and clearly a scam. They are wrong. It is a beautiful game and well worth the cash. Just don’t play it with two people. You want it to be a team experience.

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You play as a time detective. It’s probably got a fancier name than that but that’s basically what you are. You live in the future where time travel has totally been invented but people keep fucking around with it, creating time anomalies that threaten to break the space-time continuum and kill the whole wide universe! Luckily you’re part of a noble special-ops firm dedicated to going back in time and fixing the problems before they happen. Each game scenario is one of these time adventures.

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‘Sounds familiar!’

The problem is that while you can go back in time to a location, you do not necessarily know what the problem is going to be or how to solve it. You have to follow clues, question suspects, and basically behave like the nosiest PI ever hired.

P1020965There are a few other minor *cough* challenges.  Firstly, your body does not go back in time with you. Instead, your consciousness inhabits a local ‘receptacle’ (unfortunate human) which you control like a hideous meat puppet. In the first scenario, Asylum, you are sent to investigate an old-timey mental asylum. Unfortunately the only bodies available to you are those of patients, and patients are not usually given free run of the sanatoriums where they have so thoughtfully been placed. Your consciousness also suffers from whatever debilitating mental condition has had them incarcerated in the first place, such as crippling [deleted] and hideous bouts of [deleted]. Sometimes you can turn these to your advantage, however, with careful use of [deleted] and doses of [deleted]. Choosing your receptacle wisely in a way that helps the team is part of the game for sure.

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Some nice people.

The second problem is that it takes a vast amount of energy to both send you back in time and keep you there. As such you only have a limited amount of time to complete your mission, otherwise you get transported back to the future (hey-oh!). Exploring, moving, taking actions, etc. all use up valuable time, and if you don’t solve the problem in your allotted time then you get in trouble with your superiors. Luckily they are quite willing to send you back again to have another crack at it. The aim of the game is to try and fix the temporal anomaly in the lowest-possible number of runs. The faster you do it, the more points you get and thus earn some [deleted].
P1020961Of course, if you finish the game quickly and efficiently you miss a lot of what it has to offer. This game has loads of branching paths. Not so many that it becomes heavy and messy but enough that to explore every aspect would definitely be a challenge within the time frame. Bob was sceptical at first, expecting that the format of ‘do and then re-do’ would simply turn into a game of ‘follow the leads as efficiently as possible, rinse, repeat’. This would suck, and probably result in a quarterbacking** problem. Luckily, TIME stories is actually very good and neatly side-steps this issue. Each run was completely different both in storyline and format.

The first run was a game of exploration. Talking to people, making mistakes, and collecting P1020962whatever clues we could. Two red herrings and a violent [deleted] later, we found ourselves back in the future, being reprimanded by our commander (confusingly also named Bob).  The second run revealed a whole new, previously unsuspected line of clues. There are layers to this game, man. This time we went deeper, coming so close to the end and then… promptly causing a temporal anomaly. Whoops.

By this time nearly 4 real-time hours had passed, and we needed to stop. This was when TIME Stories traversed from ‘fun’ to ‘incredibly well thought-out and borderline-genius’ in Bob’s eyes. The creators know that you might not have time to play a 6-hour game in one sitting, but that you also won’t want to lose your place in your scenario. As a solution, the box comes with what is essentially a manual ‘save game’ set-up. You can carefully place your receptacles, clues, and various tokens and whatever in special little holsters in the box, ready for another go at a later date. The board even clips in so that everything is kept in stasis. Absolutely shitting brilliant.

LOOK AT IT
LOOK AT IT

Our final run had to be efficient, business-like, yet not forgetting to visit any necessary locations to gather important clues and items. We completed the game with not a single death on the team and in good time, which earned us a decent rank and… you’ll have to find out what else for yourself. But you should know that it’s so cool Bob almost died.

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We highly recommend you keep notes!

We are very excited to play further scenarios. Unfortunately, currently only The Marcy Case (a period drama set in 1992) is available, but future instalments should be out soon. Additionally, there is something to be said for playing the same scenario twice with different friends, just to see if they uncover more of the game than you did, as well as all the myriad ways they might fuck it up.

So many ways to fuck up and die.
So many items, so many ways to fuck up and die.

* Including Misery Friends who shall remain unnamed but who are pictured in our previous post.

**For those not down the lingo, this is when someone (usually a more experienced player) basically takes charge in a co-op game and tells everyone else what to do. It’s pretty irritating.


Pictures this week are by Bob. Which is why they’re terrible.

 

The Misery Farm On the Road: Essen Warm-Up

Seriously, one of the biggest board gaming conventions in Europe if not the world and that's their promo video. DO DO DO DO DO.

All aboard the Essen Hype Train! Destination: Essen Spiel 2015 (obviously). Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that all has been unusually quiet around the ol’ farmstead recently, but that delicate peace is about to be shattered as we plunge face-first into Germany. Throughout Essen we will be posting mini-reviews, play-throughs, first impressions and all kinds of fun nonsense both here and on Twitter, so climb aboard and buckle up cuz this train stops for no one!*

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For those not in the know, Essen Spiel is a four-day board games trade convention held in (not very) sunny Essen, Germany. It’s held in a convention hall roughly the size of an international spaceport, and has just enough room for the approximately 150,000 people who show up every year.** It is mind-bogglingly large. It’s so big it requires two tram stops on the same line. And all that space is filled with nerds.

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Nerds like us!

 

Needless to say, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Endless people and rules-learning and throwing money at wholesale-priced board games can be exhausting, so one kind redditor, ItsMrPig has written a handy and highly-recommended survival guide. It effectively boils down to:

  • Research the games you’d particularly like to play beforehand.
  • Cash is recommended as not all stalls have card machines, plus you don’t want to pay a transaction fee for every board game you impulse-buy. That’s just adding insult to injury.
  • Don’t wear a backpack. At least not a big one. It’s crowded and they get in the way. Ditto those trolley things. Like they’re practical but that place is crowded. Last year one guy appeared to have like a train of carts behind him that he was dragging along. While the sheer number of games he was trolleying around was impressive, it was still incredibly irritating.
  • Tote bags are a much more effective and less annoying way to lug your purchases around.
  • Don’t play to win. Just have as much fun as you can until you feel like you’ve got the hang of a game and then let someone else have a go if it’s a busy stand.

Mr*** jtown007 also adds

  • Hydrate yo’self. Beer doesn’t count, kids.
  • Comfortable shoes. Did we mention how big this place is?
  • Shower every day. Please. Despite being huge the halls are also hot and stuffy. Do your fellow nerds a favour and don’t make them bathe in your stank.

Almost as important as researching what games you’d like to play is figuring out where they are. If there’s a game you think will sell out fast and you want to get there as soon as the doors open on Thursday, it’s probably wise to figure out where you need to leg it to. There are a few unofficial maps kicking around on BoardGameGeek, or you can do it yourself by the somewhat arduous process of finding the reference number for the publisher’s stall, then cross-referencing it to a map of the hall via the official Spiel website.

Needless to say, Bob and her android boyfriend Chris have two different spreadsheets prepared, showing game priority, booth number, cumulative price (Chris’s reached €2000 last night) and any additional notes that might be necessary – such as the times that Naïade**** will be available to sign stuff or where Catan’s 20th Anniversary mega-contest will be.

Of course the most important thing is to have fun. If that means ignoring this article and diving into a sea of dice and Deutsches Bier without a second glance then you do you. There is plenty to be said for running around in sheer, giddy excitement at ALL THE STUFF OMG while subsisting on a diet of fried potato spirals and gummy worms.*****

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Remember Spiel ’14? Guys?

Speaking of fried potato, enjoy the food. The stuff in the convention itself is your usual junk (bar the exemplary fro-yo stand) but nearby are plenty of German bakeries offering fresh poppyseed rolls and hazelnut pastries. In the evenings, the local restaurants and pubs serve up everything from all-you-can-eat sushi to pork knuckles the size of your face served with liver dumplings, so don’t be afraid to explore.

See you on the other side, folks, and if you see us there don’t hesitate to come and say hi! We’ve got business cards now!

If you have stories to tell and experiences to share, don't hesitate to share them in the comments or our sharing page!

 

*Please hype responsibly.

**According to Wikipedia, which has been known to play silly buggers with facts.

*** We assume it’s mister but we apologise profusely if we’re wrong.

****Artist of such wonders as Tokaido, Shinobi Wat-Aah!, and more.

*****Bob’s approach last year.

Terra Mystica: Terrain Stereotypica

Brutus scale: 3/10
Pairs well with: A selection of ales representing terrain types. E.g. dark stout for Swamp, pale ale for Grasslands, red IPA for desert, etc.

Contents: Mystery, Dirt and Sulky Opponents.
Contents: Mystery, Dirt and Sulky Opponents.

Terra Mystica roughly translates to English as ‘mystical earth’. What’s so mystical about it you ask? Well, for one, the fact that the laws of geography and biology don’t exist is pretty thrilling. And by thrilling we mean no-one cares. It’s another terrain-based board game with different ecologies represented by different tile designs in the style of Small World or Kingdom Builder. Also similar to Small World is that you play as a race/civilisation. Your choices are scantily-clad female races (such as witches), brutish large men races (such as giants), and sneaky stereotyped races (like the dark and plotting alchemists). Many of the available races fall in between these categories, but one thing’s for sure: it will feel like your flippant choice of race has way too much impact on the game.

I am Man, hear me roar.
I am Man, hear me roar.
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I am Woman, my breasts are barely covered.

Each race will have some varying starting resources, and will have a selection of different abilities that come into play throughout the game. This makes playing through as a particular race for the first time really fucking difficult, as three hours into a game you’ll spontaneously realise you should have built something in turn one, but didn’t. There is no way to save it. You’ll just have to suck it up and keep building single houses every turn until the game ends. You are a terrible leader of your people and they know it, and they resent you for it.

‘Sire, what shall we do to make our empire grander? More trade perhaps? Build a mighty cathedral maybe?’

‘No my poor peon, we shall build a small wooden house on a single tile. Forever.’

‘But sire, all of our people have houses, surely we should build something better –‘

‘- Houses! Forever!’

DSC_0123The mechanics of the game are mainly centred on job selection. This will provide you with some sort of resource, and/or an ability that you can tailor your turn to. Each race receives a board with around 5,097 wooden pieces on it, of which you play the wrongly-shaped piece often. In reality there are about 20 pieces, but still, that’s a lot of shapes under your control. Each of these pieces represents a different type of building, or worker, each with build costs that ramp up the better the building you want to construct. Once you’ve selected a job an action phase occurs. This is where the real meaning of the game title is revealed: your race can only settle on a particular type of terrain tile. In order for your city to expand you need to terraform different terrains into your own in order to build on top them. It’s like Civilization or Tigris and Euphrates only worse and a more frustrating drain on your resources.

Imagine you are a small band of settlers looking for the ideal place to begin your great dynasty. You’ve travelled all over the land to find the most fertile, most beautiful, most defensible place. But Gary decides that actually, maybe if we settled on some scorching, inhospitable lava plains, that might be better. Gary is pretty stubborn leader so we’ve had to go along with it. Typical fucking Gary.

Who knew there were so many different types of dirt.
You could have picked any of these, Gary.

The list of things you can do in your turn isn’t particularly well-structured either – you can more or less keep doing all  of the things you want until you run out of resources (admittedly in some games this is a great thing, but you grow weary of the freedom rapidly). This makes competition with the other players minimal as no one can tactically end turns, or force extra resource spending. However one mechanic that is pretty good is ‘power’. Power is a physical resource in DSC_0116this game, which is purple and stored in some big dishes on your personal board. You can collect/receive it during turns or actions, which means that you transfer a little purple power pellet from one dish into the main dish. When you spend that power, you move the power pellet from the main dish to the beginning dish. In order to generate more power you have to move all of the purple pellets from the beginning dish to the main dish again in a little cycle. It’s a pretty neat cycle which requires forward planning, and allows unlimited but very tightly-constrained regeneration.

DSC_0126Unfortunately it’s only worth doing if you go heavily into a power farming strategy, or your race is particularly good at keeping power generated. For instance, Briony quite enjoys playing as the alchemists as their race ability, once the stronghold (a particularly important bit of wood) is built, generates a lot of power straight up. This means that you don’t have to compete for resources or jobs as you can mostly pay for everything with power, and you don’t have to keep putting a lot of effort into getting the power cycled around the dishes. She also enjoys this race as she’s spent almost every game playing as them, so she’s nailed the routine of what to do for the most effect. Then again she is the sort of person that can spend hours playing the first 100 turns of civilization over and over as one particular race to optimise strategy and timing. Bob simply cannot do this – she claims to enjoy fun.

Tasty bonus tiles.
Tasty bonus tiles.

As the game goes on your settlements begin to expand. Buildings are worth points, and once you’ve accrued enough your settlement becomes a city. This comes with a nice one-off bonus and also allows you to build a stronghold, unlocking a race ability. Along one side of the board there are a series of bonus tiles that offer a selection of lovely things e.g. extra victory points, some resources, a nice compliment about your hair. These are turned over once per round, and will state a requirement such as ‘Gain a buttload of power if you build five perfectly-domed city halls out of lava this turn’. This allows you to plan out your buildings to occur in rounds where you can get the most victory points from them. You can also imagine a giant stroking the bonus card seductively, clad in a leotard and heels for maximum gameshow effect. Whatever floats your boat.

In addition to this there is also an elemental temple track. In this there are four tracks representing each element. In order to go up in these tracks you must have a priest meeple (which can be gained by building certain buildings) or fulfill a job has that rewards you with that resource for free. Priests are sacrifically burned in the ‘totally-not a cult we promise, guys’ temple to push you up the track and also correspond to the bonus round tiles. DSC_0124For instance ‘if you are at least at level 4 in the Earth track gain a free visit from the Emperors of Xenu’*. We’re not particularly sure why this mechanic exists really. It’s adding an extra component to a game that already has a shit tonne of components, and to use would really take a lot of investment. Bob tried it once and even with a very cult-loving race it wasn’t really so much ‘viable’ as ‘fucking irritating’. We also aren’t really sure why they represent the elements… possibly because the earth is made from the basic four elements? Who knows, all we know is that that is bad science and the expansion will probably have a Helium and a Potassium track.

Once the game ends you get some final victory points that add to the ones generated throughout by your buildings or bonus’s. Points are awarded for the biggest city, how far up each track a player is, and some other excuses to have some points. It’s actually quite a nice way to end because it changes the scoring up, makes you feel good for getting more, and that you did better than you had originally thought. Overall the game has some really good mechanics – its downfall is that it has too many of them. This makes picking an effective strategy difficult and requiring a lot of experience with each race. We can’t help but feel that is doesn’t need quite that much stuff. There is a lot of it. Pieces, tiles, bonuses, tracks, races, resources, power, jobs, workers, buildings, giants in leotards – like the contents of a student’s bedroom floor (Nerds have ‘interesting’ university experiences).

Exhibit A - 'stuff'.
Exhibit A – ‘stuff’.

That being said, the two player version of the game is surprisingly good as a lot of the extra guffin is taken out. As a result of fewer players, the game progresses much faster, and you tend to get a grip on your race more quickly. Certainly playing it two player a few times would be the ideal way to understand the game, technique, and races before diving into a monster 6 person epic. Don’t be too put off from playing this game kids, there are a lot of positive reviews of itout there. We just feel like it was so close to being a truly classically epic game, but it got a bit too ahead of itself. Less is more, Terra Mystica, you don’t have to keep putting on extra frilly bits to please your target audience.

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*We respectfully request that the Church of Scientology, hallowed be your celebrities, please not sue us for these jokes. We haven’t got any money for you.