Pairs well with: Any old cocktail so long as it has an umbrella in it. You’ll be needing that shade. Brutus rating: 2/10 for picking the meeple the other person wanted GODDAMNYOU
Aren’t you guys lucky – this week we have a super exciting time-lapse of our game of Five Tribes thanks to our lovely friend Pete! Enjoy and keep on reading.
Have you ever wanted to own your own camel herd? A golden palace? How about controlling all-powerful djinn for your mischievous bidding?
It may sound like it’s taken straight out of a Disney film, but trust us, Five Tribes has all of the hallmarks of a great fantasy board game.
Five Tribes first grabbed our attention back in Essen Spiel, 2015. Brightly coloured and beautifully charismatic it was no surprise that Days of Wonder were pushing it to as many people as possible. Fortunately for Days of Wonder, the Misery Farmers were in fact drawn to the camels.
‘Holy shit it has camels. Like, a lot of camels. At least four camels. Guys, stop, we’re playing this. We need to see if it can compare to Camel Cup…’
The game is set in the mythical land of N’quala, where the design and artwork of the game leave little to the imagination. The aim of is to use the five different tribes – the varying coloured meeple who are randomly allocated across the board – to control the kingdom. In short you’ll need to collect the most money (which double up as victory points), where you may dictate, sat atop your pile of cash.
Confusingly, that means that Five Tribes is NOT for five people. Five meeple, not five people. Cast away that spare friend and get them to be in charge of snacks.
Now, let’s get back to those tribes. A round kicks off with some jostling about turn order which relies on a bidding mechanic. After this, each player selects one square of randomly coloured meeple, each of which have a different profession, and therefore have a different action associated with them. Blues are builders, they gather you money based on the surrounding tiles. Reds are assassins, they allow you to kill lone and undefended meeple. Whites are elders, they summon djinn who may grant you extra actions. Etc, etc.
Wait! So the five different tribes are each a different colour? And any meeple of the same colour has the same profession?
Yep. N’quala is definitely not a place of very cleverly distributed jobs. No idea what you do if you want to build something and you’re not the builder tribe, for example. Pff. And what, when your hair starts to go grey do you go and leave your family to join the elders tribe? I mean I know a few badass old people but as a rule they must suck pretty hard at most things, like manual labour.
However it normally works, they’re all gathered together and mixed up at the moment. Probably for the best.
The key to this game is looking very, very intently at which squares to begin and end your turn with. Choose which action you want to achieve carefully before moving anything.
‘Right, that’s my turn… hmm… no… I’ve done this wrong, can I try again? Does anyone remember which order of different colour meeple I put where? Did I pick up 4 or 5 to begin with? Oh God, which tile did I start with, they all look so similar…’
^^Literally, fuck you. Don’t be that asshole.
To be fair, it’s a little unintuitive before you get used to it. You pick up all of the meeples from one tile and then spread them around one at a time on each tile as you move in any non-diagonal direction you like. You have to end on a tile with at least one meeple of the colour you’re about to put on it, and then you pick both of those up to keep or put away. That’s probably how the game has been described by our friends both as “reverse-worker-placement” and “the tidying-away game”.
The number of meeple you pick up on your last tile dictates just how much of that action you can do. For example, picking up three reds allows you to kill a piece up to three squares away. Not entirely sure how that one works, perhaps their morale allows them to travel faster if they’re egging each other on.
As well as taking actions through meeple, each board square has a symbol on the bottom left hand corner that provides you with an additional action, should you choose to use it. This allows some great combo-moves (obviously depending on your foresight and ability to count small wooden folk).
And so, each player picks up and redistributes meeple throughout the game, using their skills to generate victory points. Briony is particularly good at a strategy relying on market traders: it’s always satisfying to generate enough points in a single track to beat everyone else and their diversity tactics. She annoyingly does this with the science track in 7 Wonders and is rarely, if ever, beaten.
What about the camels, I hear you cry! You’ve been shouting it at us from the moment we stopped mentioning them. Well! If you pick up the very last meeple of ANY colour in a square, thus leaving empty, you are allowed to park a camel of your colour on it (which is worth a certain amount of victory points at the end of the game)*.
Yup. You know when we said that you’re not the tribes? Turns out you’re the camels. The better you make use of the human tribes to your own advantage and the better spots, goods, djinns, and many other things you end up for yourself, the closer it’ll bring you to victory.
Particular tiles have a palace or palm tree symbol also. This means that if any action occurs on this tile a palace/palm will be added. Whoever controls the tile with their camel** at the end of the game scores 3 points for each palm tree, 5 points for each palace.
Scoring at the end is a complicated affair, since there are a lot of different and interesting criteria to judge who the best bunch of camels are. But the game comes with an adorable picture sheet to help you tally up with. It’s all good.
As all truly great, repayable board games Five Tribes can be played with many strategies. A full game takes around 45 minutes to play, which means that you can try new ideas, refine old ones, and base your tactics off of the other players. It has that element to it where you’re desperate to try a new tactic before you’ve even finished the game you’re playing. You can even play it many times in one night if you like camels that much***.
The real winner, as ever, is board games. And camels. Camels and board games.
*’What do you mean that’s all the camels do in this game? Where is the excitement, the drama?’
‘I don’t know, maybe they’re the retired camels from Camel Cup?’
‘Hmm. Fair enough. That’ll do camel, that’ll do.’
**Strategic camel placing is a great strategy for this game. It is now commonly referred to as the ‘parking your camel’s butts’ method.
Pairs well with: the blood of rival gangs mixed in with some post-apocalyptic moonshine. Brutus rating: 8/10 for backstabbing
It’s almost a year ago now that UFOs were last sighted in the skies over the Misery Farm for our second play through a Watch the Skies event, and in that time an awful lot has happened. The world turned. Our Prime Minister was accused of the kind of scandal that satirists dream of (#PigGate #NeverForget), and America lost its collective shit and voted for an orange balloon in a wig to run as Republican presidential nominee. Our long-time RPG matriarch, occasional guest correspondent and one-time GNN news reporter has had a small “human” baby (All Hail).
Oh, and the apocalypse went down.
Our story today really starts sometime in March. Zane Gunton, organiser of Bob and Lizzy’s first Watch the Skies (and indeed their first Megagame experience) had another game in the works and was looking for teams of three to live out what happens in the South of England after the world has ended. Aftermath is set some time after capitalism has fallen, society has broken down, and the snows of a winter long enough to do Westeros proud have finally started to melt.
Bob, Lizzy and Briony practically fell over themselves in excitement once it dawned on them that finally, after all these years, this was their chance to live out their mad, anarchist, Amazonian death-warrior fantasies. They’d survive the apocalypse and they would do it in true style, god dammit.[i]
This Megagame was hosted, unlike our two previous experiences, somewhere actually pretty accessible. It was in the centre of a town, in an large bunker-like room. The good people at Southampton Guildhall would probably resent that comparison but they’re the ones with a shabby basement-level ‘suite’. Rumour has it that the room was one of the more expensive parts of the endeavour, but where better to host the Aftermath of the apocalypse than a subterranean grotto?
It even came with a passably-stocked bar, which let us buy booze more cheaply than normal at the very reasonable and restrained time of around 1pm (with the excuse that red wine looks a bit like the blood of your enemies). They could clearly tell that we weren’t the kind of, fancy, business clientele that normally meet in the city centre’s guild hall. Not sure how, but it might have had something to do with the (fake) blood smeared across our faces or the leaves stuck in our hair (what? That’s just how we normally wake up on Saturdays.)
We walked in bright and early (so, so early), into a really well set-up room. Tables were covered in maps and there was a lot less prep to do beforehand than previous Watch the Skies events. Bob nearly lost her mind when she saw that the maps were proper Ordnance-Survey ones because that bitch is crazy and really, really loves maps.
To get into character we started by greeting everyone who came near us with a cheery smile and the phrase “death to man”. Of course, the only people allowed to approach our table at the beginning were control, who quickly pointed out that they weren’t male at all but just nebulous god-like beings there to impart wisdom and make the game work. They escaped our wrath.
The next person who came by our table was the event photographer who, rather than being terrified by our sharpened nails (yes really) and spatters of gore was deeply entertained and gave us badges emblazoned with the motto ‘Stop Harrassment in Gaming’[i]. Which was lovely, but didn’t really convey the kind of terror we were hoping to inspire. Luckily we could let our barbaric blood-thirst flow free once the game started.
Our theme was, to put it mildly, heavily influenced by raging death cults. The apocalypse hit us hard (as it had everyone) and driven us to some rather extreme methods of survival. Old Lady Lizard (Lizzy) had amassed a group of female followers and preached to them about the cause of the end-times: not just capitalism but its patriarchal roots. Death, destruction and madness brought Nameless B (Briony) and Crazy Bob (Bob) into the fold and, in our insanity, we concluded that the only reasonable response was retribution and vengeance to the male puppets of patriarchy for bringing about disaster.
Gameplay was actually really good, and one of the best ones we’ve experienced in a Megagame yet. Although it took us maybe a turn to get the hang of things, it was actually quite simple. We had cards representing resources and people, and it was our job to use them in as creative and effective a way as we could. Given cards representing groups of survivors who’d joined our cause, we named them “The Valkyries”, “The Matriarchs”, “The Harpies” etc. We had a great time.
We could place cards on our own board to determine what we’d do locally in our home base of Arundel Castle (a real castle about an hour’s drive from where we live and an excellent defensive fortress)[ii]. A controller would come round and together we’d explain and work through what the units were doing, be it gathering supplies, fortifying the castle, or cutting down trees. ‘Housekeeping’ was also an option. An option which we ignored.
Resolutions were conducted using a method we can only describe as ‘Blackjack’. A controller would decide what kinds of numbers we’d need to aim for, what difficulty we were at, and we’d play a mini round of Blackjack. This was great as not only did it combine elements of luck and personal decision-making, but Blackjack is Bob’s favourite betting game.
Bob: We’d better play it safe and hold it there.
Lizzy: That doesn’t sound like us.
Bob: (shocked) Wait, you’re right! That doesn’t sound like us! HIT ME!
The other main thing to do in a turn was, of course, to leave the castle and go out into the surrounding area to kill, maim, and loot. This was done via more cards (that represented our bands of survivors, our supplies, any weaponry we might have, etc) and written instructions, complete with details like co-ordinates of where we were heading. After a few misunderstandings and mis-readings (controllers are, after all, only human) Bob took to writing the instructions in block capitals with copious underlining.
This was where all the maps came in. Our tables were each supplied with a map of an area in the South of England, along with markers describing some local information. If we wanted to go somewhere, we had to decide where, how, and how long it would take. This more realistic approach is one of the ways in which the gameplay was really intriguing. We couldn’t just make up places we were going, or be vague, we had to actually choose somewhere real. We had to consider terrain (roads, in the post-apocalyptic South, are clogged with abandoned cars and near-useless), buildings, and which places would have the kinds of supplies we were after without being too full of homicidal locals.
All of which worked in our favour during what’s now being lauded as ‘The Great Victory’.
Apparently our approach of raiding parties, killing sprees and general unwillingness to civilly interact with our neighbours had not gone unnoticed. A lot of the rest of the room (playing as the government (‘Gold Command’) and local law-enforcement (‘Silver Command’) had actually done a pretty good job, it turned out, of trying to bring society back together. There were regular news reports on the radio (that signified when a new ‘turn’ in the game began), apocalypse-proof farming initiatives, safe-zones, and capitalistic enterprises springing up all over the damn place. The army and the police had, pretty quickly, been despatched to sort out the havoc going on around Arundel Castle.
You know that shit is about to go down when half a dozen green-shirt controllers all surround your table at once with a couple of the guys from silver command. One (whom we recognised as the Military Advisor for France during our first Watch the Skies. His tactical skills had clearly helped him survive the great apocalypse) was wearing a police hat and a stern expression. Zane ‘Megagames’ Gunton himself broke the news that there were tanks and approximately 200 people approaching the castle fortifications.
Unluckily for us, we actually had no weapons beyond some mediaeval stuff we’d picked out from the armoury and some medical supplies. We’d sent our only rifles off with our original hunting party (who had never returned). The tanks were well-equipped and heavily outnumbered us.
Luckily for us, we were a band of insane warriors who had spent much of the previous turns erecting even more fortifications than the castle already had. Briony had in fact insisted that we block the only susceptible part of the castle seen as we had some spare builders and a lot of trees lying around. Also, as a storm was raging in-game, we had brought all our survivors inside the castle walls and they were ready to dispense some guerrilla defensive tactics. Also, did we mention we had a fucking medieval castle. Those things have been around for literally years.
The poor attackers weren’t quite sure where to start. Here’s a transcript of how some of that went down[iii]:
“Er, we get take up a good position and start firing at the castle.”
“You can’t just say you take up a good position. Where?”
“Ok, er, here. This high ground. *gestures at map*”
“That’s more than two kilometres away. Your mortars would be useless”
“Oh. Er. Here then!”
“That’s inside our fortifications. That line there is our fortifications. It’s clearly labelled fortifications” (Controller: “They’re right, I watched them build them.”)
“Damn. Er. We start from the hill and start slowly approaching?”
“Ok. You’re walking slowly down a hill, towards our fortifications, in front of a great big castle?”
“Did we mention it’s a castle?”
We did have a pretty damned defensible position. A lot of the plains on one side of the castle had been flooded, and we’d done a lot of work in fortressing-up the rest. We had also dispatched some particularly fervent warriors into the forest (hereafter known as Guerilla Warfare Woods) to stage slash-and-run attacks with medieval axes and some scalpels we’d nicked from a hospital.
A few excellent card-draws later (including a straight 21) the police were too afraid to approach and the army were losing people. They withdrew. We tallied up a few more on our death-count and drank to our own victory. It was a glorious time.
We had a really good time in general. We later found out that we were having some pretty incredible luck at drawing cards behind the scenes with the controllers as well as at our table. All just part of what can make a Megagame really exciting.
Our isolationist approach did mean we didn’t get much interaction with the rest of the people in the room and thus had a fair bit of dead time as the poor controllers rushed around trying to resolve everybody’s plays at once. In fact, the first and only interaction we had with another party was a small band of traders cautiously approaching our table. The travellers were represented by one guy who we’d seen across the room talking to a lot of the other groups. Naturally, we immediately attempted to kill him. He got away (thanks to some unlucky card draws) but dropped some awesome stuff (stolen rum goes great with human flesh). He had then later alerted all of the other groups, and silver command, to our hostility thus beginning their plotting against us.
We once heard someone run over to a table and say “Wait! I’ve just realised that that is the most suspicious thing I’ve ever heard. Did you say a unit of 29 old ladies walking by with zimmerframes?” which kept us amused for a while. Otherwise we didn’t find out much about what was going on in the greater game until the summaries at the end. We even heard the same problems from some people who were actively trying to find other groups, so perhaps the game was spread out over slightly more land than was ideal or the players were wildly under-estimating how far and how efficiently they could travel.
The summaries at the end are always one of the best parts, bringing together the stories of what had been happening for all of the different groups, and really giving everyone an understanding of how their actions actually affected everyone else.
Some of our favourite other-group themes included the return of capitalism from Team Apple (who brought WiFi and radiation-resistant technology in the form of the ‘iPocalypse’ to the wasteland), the cannibals who only managed to kill around 6 people (psh! Our kill count was nearer 70), and a group who were on a stag party when the apocalypse happened, and just kept on partying. Their table was decked out with Hawaiian flowers, cocktail glasses and pineapple juice, and a large part of their end-game was devoted to throwing a party big enough to invite all the survival groups in the South. In the words of their controller, “their star is burning very brightly but I’m not sure about their long term strategy for survival,” which sounds like a nice way of saying ‘they’re playing a good game but they’re all going to die soon’.
Gold command had apparently had a fantastic game, but the disconnect between what they were doing and what the survivors were doing was enormous. They had no idea of what we were doing and we had little idea of how well their mandatory ID cards and ‘education’ policies were going. Amusingly, the silver command in control of our area (whose attempted arrest of the Morrigan had gone so disastrously poorly) had decided that Gold Command were fascists and seceded from the government in the final turn.
Oh, and there was apparently a ‘Cult of Bee’ people.
As for your noble reporters, our game also finished on a pretty good note, though we felt a lot like the game had run out of time before really getting to the finishing point, especially as our final orders weren’t resolved before time was called. One, maybe two more turns and the shit would have really hit the fan. There was not just one, but two large groups of people heading towards Arundel Castle. The army had returned with reinforcements, and … a strange band of old ladies were on their way with homemade bombs. The two sides would, we assume, bump into each other and end up fighting each other instead.
This was particularly amusing news for us, since (predicting this kind of reprisal) we’d secretly abandoned the castle a couple of turns ago, and all of our forces were out raiding the towns and farms around Littlehampton[iv]. As a distraction Briony had spent several turns constructing some trebuchet’s for the inevitable second wave attack on the castle, and had left the builders there to (wo)man them. May as well get some medieval siege-killings in while the rest of our survivors were racking up the raiding party’s kill-count, right?
We can’t thank the organisers and the controllers enough for putting up with our mad ways. It’s definitely an amazing Megagame, and one that we highly recommend to others if it happens again. We also can’t even begin to thank Zane’s wife for making apocalypse-proof cakes, which were distributed around the halfway point of the day. Those lemon drizzle cakes were boss.
The real winner, as always, is cake gaming.
[i] And by ‘style’ we of course mean ‘soaked in blood’.
[ii] Not only is Arundel Cast a real castle, but it’s actually owned and sometimes lived in by an earl or duke or something. This pleased Bob immensely as the implication was that the Morrigan would have killed and eaten him in order to gain access to his sweet medieval armoury.
[iv] A plan which Briony had great difficulty with, since she was having a very hard time listening to her roleplaying side over her highly trained strategy-game side. BLOOD AND DEATH TO ALL, but you know, while maintaining an impregnable stronghold.
Pairs well with: Rudimentary fermented fruit? Whatever, we just had some wine we found in the back of Briony’s cupboard. It worked out alright. We hunted and gathered it.
Traitor rating: a firm 6/10 for tile-dickery
Do our long-time readers remember Dr Photographer? Such fancy pictures. Anyway one time he kindly lent Lizzy his copy of Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers to see her through a Christmas with her family. This was several years ago so, naturally, Lizzy still has the copy* and it’s her go-to Carcassonne edition to this very day.
By the way, did you know there was a world championship Carcassonne tournament at Essen Spiel every year? We were pretty surprised. Yeah, it’s a popular game with a few bajillion expansions, but is it really the kind of thing you can have a world tournament of? Well, we suppose it must be. In hindsight we realised that we had made up and attended our own tournament for Codenames which is a much lesser known game, so really, who are we to judge?
Hunters and Gatherers is pretty similar to regular Carcassonne in a lot of ways, but all stone-age and stuff. Instead of a road you have a river, instead of castles you have forests, instead of farms for farming you have meadows for hunting, but the basic principles tend to still be there. In addition to this, at the end of the game you cannot score points for any forests or rivers you failed to complete which we feel is a just end to that one slacker friend who deploys his remaining meeple in a last ditch attempt to get some half-assed points. It makes the end game much more excited, and makes you that little bit more keen to just get that damn forest-ending tile that you’ve been looking for for like five turns now NOT ANOTHER CURVY RIVER ARRGH!
This does mean that when Lizzy plays real Carcassonne with the big kids then she always gets confused playing with the river expansion – an expansion where the first few tiles are just to place out a river for the rest of the cities and roads to go around. “Lizzy, why are you trying to put your meeples on the river, are you drowning them?” “That’s where they go!” “Is… is she new to games?” It’s embarrassing for everyone around.
One of the main parts of playing Carcassonne is just taking a tile out of a bag. The “taking a tile out of the bag” phase, if you will.** Since your entire turn relies heavily on which bit you take out, it’s easy to see how much of an effect that old toad Luck can have on your game. Particularly with your first few plays-through, or if you don’t play that often.
Nobody ever wants a river tile, for one thing. Or a road tile, if you’re playing vanilla Carky. Long river, curved river, ending river. NOBODY CARES, RIVER. GO HOME.
Just as in regular Carky lots of the points can farmed in the cities, in Hunters and Gatherers the points are in the forests. Two points per forest tile compared to only one point per river? Psh. Easy choice!
But there comes a stage in your Carcassonne life where it’s become your go-to game with a certain friend or two for a while. Or maybe you’re stuck on holiday somewhere or the internet hasn’t been working properly and Carcassonne is one of the games you have around. Whoever loses is really determined to play again, and the winner is determined to prove that it was definitely mad skillz and not just luck which earned them that victory. You start playing a lot of Carcassonne. Like, a lot.
Before you know it, randomly placing tiles wherever will add to your current river and your current forest turns into actually developing some kind of advanced, coherent and complex strategy. Briony likes to think that placing a tile with a tasty animal on it anywhere on the board may in fact bring her more points. ‘Are you not going to farm that…?’ ‘I don’t need to, I brought a badass MAMMOTH to the party. I get cool points.’
Brionys of the world aside, you start thinking not just in terms of how to increase the length of your rivers and size of your forests, but how many extra points each extra tile is worth. You start spreading your bets and stop relying on that one exact freaking tile you need with some forest on one side and a bit of river on the other side but only while facing a particular direction.
Fucking hell, you start to think, river tiles do have a use – to join up your meadows. You become resentful of players who seem to understand the concept of scoring points better than you – “Briony… are you playing the points game? The game where you try to get points and then win?”
“Yeah… not on purpose, but I seem to be doing well at it”
Basically, you just start thinking about all of the things you should have been thinking about from the beginning. Huts, for instance. Never underestimate a well-placed fishing hut.
Ok, you say to yourself after the third game in one evening. That’s why there’s a world tournament for Carcassonne!
Of course this seeds some serious resentment when you (Lizzy) play with somewhat less-practiced players (Briony and Bob). Bob will start with very careful placement of each tile, considering every position and muttering encouragements to herself (‘Come on, Bob, we need this, buddy’ – Bob). Her response to then having her carefully-farmed meadow hijacked is to accuse Lizzy of LITERALLY BEING SATAN and start her own settlement miles away from anyone else’s.***
Meanwhile Briony, despite having a pretty good score early on, fosters an incredible inability to perform the most basic function of Carcassonne – fitting the pretty picture tiles together so that the edges match. The situation has reached a point where if any of us mis-place a tile it is now referred to as ‘doing a Briony.’
“Briony, buddy, it’s Bob’s turn. Also that tile doesn’t fit there.”
Soon the tides turned, and everything was once again right with the board-gaming world. That is, Lizzy was trouncing everyone.
Another feature that makes Hunties & Gazzers different from regular Carcle is that you get a selection of shiny gold nuggets in your forests. Ok, so there aren’t even forests in regular Carcle, but the nuggets actually have their own little neat mechanic. When you complete a forest with at least one gold nugget in it, no matter who’s the greedy point-grabbing owner of the forest, you the completer will get to draw an extra, exciting non-bag tile. Not to be underestimated as a tactic! More tiles, more points. And the bonus tiles tend to be a little extra nifty, too. More fish than you could have dreamed! Golden mushrooms (for an extra point), a magical fire that scares away tigers!
Oh, that’s right, there are tigers. As well as delicious huntable animals like deer and mammoth, there are also tigers. These do naff all except eat deer at the end, and lower your score if you’ve got a little gatherer lying down there trying to catch them. Arseholes.
Briony: Can I put the tile-
Briony: Can I put it-
Others: STILL NO.
Briony: Ok I’m putting it-
Others: STILL NOOOO
So overall, Lizzy actually managed to convert her two sidekicks (cough) to Hunters and Gatherers as a superior game of Carcassonne. Maybe it was the wine speaking, but it also could plausibly have been the neater scoring mechanics and the more charming scenery.
There was only some mild and mostly-accidental cheating.
(the team spots a river tile going into a meadow tile… where it most certainly doesn’t fit)
“Wait. Look at this tile here. Who let this slide?”
“Have we had too much wine?”
“It was Briony! I remember!”
“Oh shit it was. Should I take two points back?”
“Nah we’re just going to make fun of you about it for a while.”
Briony, we want you to know it’s OK and we understand. Except we don’t, because we can think laterally.
The real winner here was wine. And probably Lizzy. And this cat who had a snooze in the box while we played.
* In Lizzy’s defence, Dr Photographer-friend has about a thousand different Carcassonne games and expansions, he probably hasn’t noticed it’s missing. Probably. Or maybe there are “missing” posters and a reward out somewhere… don’t tell!
** Or you could employ a sly-Bob tactic which involves slowly taking a tile, pulling a face, and slowly putting it back in the bag when she thinks Briony and Lizzy aren’t lookin. That’s right, we’re onto you Bob. This part is called the ‘drunk cheating’ phase.
*** Blackjack and hookers optional. Mammoths mandatory.
Pairs well with: Sloe gin with lemonade. Because it’s adorable, just like the game.
Traitor rating: 3/10. It’s dickery by omission – avoid picking the cards that will ruin your opponent’s adorable little planet. Because you’re mean, and you hate happiness.
A smaller game, the kind that fits well at the beginning of the evening or slotted between two longer games, The Little Prince also works well as a soothing follow-up to something a bit feistier. Worried that your friends will never speak to each other after a long slog of Game of Thrones: The Board Game? Concerned that your compatriots will never stop calling you traitorous toaster scum after you defeated them at Battlestar Galactica? Worried that you and everyone else are going to murder Lizzy because of her stupid smug victory face after a game of Scoville, and then get in trouble with the police in the morning? Then maybe The Little Prince is for you!
Funnily enough, one of those above situations was what led to The Misery Farmers playing The Little Prince together for the first time. Even though it doesn’t have a whole world to offer in the way of strategy or unique aspects, and it’s not as catchy and unique as some of the other short games we all know and love, it does definitely hold a top spot as being something peaceful and adorable to play. It would probably be very kid-appropriate (we don’t know any children ourselves so we can’t check), but it’s also a fitting introductory game for e.g. nice mums who have nothing against board games per se but everything’s changed a lot since Monopoly and they’ve misplaced their spectacles and what does this card do again?
It also mercifully doesn’t take a lot of explaining, because getting heavily beaten at precursory strategy games by Lizzy make Bob and Briony very… thirsty. Rules-explanation took the following, somewhat slurred, form:
“So this tile is good ‘cause it’s got loads of shit on it, where this other tile is good because of all this stuff on it. But this one, he’s a bastard because he’s got all this bad stuff on him.”
Thanks thirsty Bob!
Luckily in the cold light of day we can briefly explain the rules a little better.
The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet is a short game based on the French children’s book of the same name.* You assemble an adorable little planet made up of 12 tiles with, as Bob so helpfully explained, stuff on them. The game lasts for the same amount of turns as you need tiles to build your planet, and there’s a neat strategy of turn-taking in which a player picks three tiles from a tile-pile, chooses a tile for their planet and then decides whom to pass the remaining two tiles onto for next picksies.
It does have a few unique twists that make it interesting. Some of these tiles will determine how your planet will score points at the end, so you can find yourself with a choice between taking a tile which might get you points or tiles which might get you ways to earn points. You’ll have the complete set of tiles by the end anyway, but do you want to decide on point-scoring tiles earlier, or do you want to leave it until later so your comrades are equally clueless for now?
Collecting certain types of ‘stuff’ is how your victory stars are reaped. Obviously, you should maximise the kinds of ‘stuff’ which your point-scoring tiles say you need to get points. The objects themselves are fairly whimsical; it’s as if a little prince made them up. Items such as sheep, cardboard boxes (with sheep in them), snakes, roses and lamp-posts are all among his imagined items, and are all adorably drawn.
Briony, never having read The Little Prince, would like to know where the clearly man-made lamp-posts came from. Who installed them, and for what purpose? Which interplanetary council maintains them and pays the lamp-lighter to light them?**
The job of maintenance and management clearly falls to us as sole members and executors of the planet-construction committee, replies Lizzy. Very sadly, the game involves no complicated mechanics for lamp-post-powering or allocation of maintenance workers or electricity. Now that would be a great game. We could call it ‘The Little Misery Planet’ and it’d feature lots of sexy worker placement and focus on the logistical challenge of planetary maintenance.
A further layer of interest is added to the actual game by the presence of Baobab trees. Baobab trees, unlike most other features, take up a heck of a lot of space. Chief Science Advisor of the board game company clearly knows how to do their job, and knows how trees work. They need roots, you see. Lots of roots. To root them down. Particularly space-Baobab-trees, you see, to protect them against floating away. It’s basic science.
You’ll also notice, however, that the big trees are pretty big, and the planet pretty small (the little prince obviously wants a little planet). No, that tree you see on the tile isn’t just a scaled-up picture of the tree to represent the actual tinier tree down on the planet’s surface – it’s the actual size of the tree. The problem is that the deep, anchoring baobab roots take up a lot of space, and can start breaking up the planetary core! This means that your planet can only really sustain up to two live Baobab trees.
Oh balls, there are a lot of tiles with Baobab trees! What happens if, in your haste to set up some lampposts and acquire some points you acquire one too many Baobab trees? All three tiles with the trees on get flipped over. That means everything on those tiles, lampposts and all, are gone. No points for you! Be sad!
The thirst-quenched Misery Farmers had some very sad tree-times on their planets. Very sad indeed. Only Lizzy managed to successfully employ a strict tree-avoiding strategy to avoid the dickery, since she was very aware that Bob was still fuming at her from a previous game, and that no amount of peaceful adorable game-theme would protect her from Bob’s venom.
The other farmers though? Not so careful. Ex-Baobab wastelands everywhere.
The game is neat, and kind of cute. Probably of particular appeal to small children and drunk adults who need a bit of help getting through the rest of their evening. And more so to those who have actually read the book.
The real winner, as usual, is board games.
(And also, as usual, Lizzy!)***
* Is it really a children’s book? Philosophical treatise? Morality fable? No one knows how categorise it. Finding it in a bookshop is bloody impossible.
** Those who HAVE read The Little Prince will agree that the lamp-lighter is owed some serious overtime.
*** Lizzy was not supposed to win this game. It was supposed to be FUN.****
**** We’d like to pretend this was the first time Bob has sent a regretful ‘Sorry I threw pieces of game at you’ text message to Lizzy the following morning, but it would be a lie.
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.
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.
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…
Not 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,
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.
There 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’.
Another 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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
*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.
Pairs well with: Martinis. Shaken, not stirred. (Rumour has it they’re actually better stirred, but that’s just the kind of shit you’ve got to deal with as a spy.)
Traitor-rating: 2/10 for the ability to try to put off your opponents mid-game.
We three kings* board game enthusiasts have had a lot to say about what some of the best games from Essen 2015 may have been. There have been a lot of candidates and a lot of enthusiasm. It’s almost as if we really, really love board games! Weird.
The excited froth of enthusiasm shall continue to spill forth as we move on to what really is one of the best, and surprisingly so, games of the year: Codenames. Don’t be put off by the box art which looks like it was designed in MS Word and features the thrilling byline of ‘TOP SECRET WORD GAME’,** this is some addictive shit. We hope you’ll forgive a bit of brief explanation, since the game is pretty simple to play and explain.
In Codenames you (usually) play as two different teams of spies. One person per team is the spymaster, the rest of you are regular vanilla-spies sitting in the field awaiting instruction.
The ‘board’ consists of a 5 x 5 grid of cards, each with a different word on it. The two rival spymasters, presumably sitting nice and comfortably somewhere in Spy HQ playing with some gadgets and looking at a dozen different CCTV monitors, have access to an extra card which they share, but which the rest of the players aren’t allowed to see. That card shows the ‘board’ as a 5 x 5 grid with each card marked as red, blue, grey or the single black.
This little card means that the spymasters can know which of the words on the table are the codenames of red-team spies, blue-team spies, regular confused passers-by and THE ASSASSIN!
The actual game is a word association game, with the aim being to contact all of the spies on your own team before the other team does the same, and to not contact the assassin (for obvious, game-ending reasons). The spymasters will take turns giving exactly one word and one number, the word being one that they’re trying to associate with some on the table and the number indicating how many words they’re trying to link.
One of the first things you come to notice as you play the game is that you really feel sorry for some of these spies. Agent Ghost? Cool. Agent Roulette? Pretty classy. Agent Ham? Umm, maybe not so much. Agent Ketchup? Are you sure you work here? Oh and I’ve got to say I’m a little embarrassed to be working with Agent Pants over here. There’s a reason we gave her that name.
And sometimes you’ve really got to question just what the secret service were thinking about. Agent Spy? I mean really. AGENT SPY? What do you think the point of a secret codename is? Maybe to avoid revealing your identity as a spy to everyone? Tsh. Some people just weren’t cut out for this business.
The plus side of Spy HQ’s batshit, overboard spy-naming policy is that you’ll never be short on variety between different games, even when each one is only about 15-20 minutes long. The box is jam-packed with different words, two sides to each, and you can get through a hell of a lot of games (trust us, we’d know) before you need to come across the same words that you’ve already used. Even if that weren’t the case, the way that the board is always different means that it’s unlikely any of your games will ever resemble each other. And other factors, like the impossible and bizarre ways that you and your friends’ brains work.
Bonus points for the game come from its flexibility. In our short time of owning it we’ve played it on beds, on floors, in hotel lobbies… even on walls. While procrastinating our PhD research doing important board game research for this blog we even spotted someone on /r/boardgames who threw together a makeshift copy for a family gathering. Pretty impressive.
Codenames is more fun than we ever thought a word association game could be, and at least part of that is thanks to the mad things you’ll try to connect, the connections that seem startlingly obvious to some and mad to others.
Lizzy: Water; Two. Bob: Right. Ok. So, I’ll go for… ‘Well’ *Well is correct* Bob: Good. Ok, so next I’ll go for Bridge.. *Bridge is incorrect* Bob: WHAT. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BRIDGE IS INCORRECT? Lizzy: *silence* Bob: Bridge! Water goes under the bridge! Lizzy: *awkward silence* Bob: Seriously? ARGH.
Bob: Wait, so what the flip was the other word for water? Lizzy: Palm. Bob: P… pardon? Lizzy: You know, Palm. Palm trees… are… er… sometimes near water. And Palm Springs is a place that sounds like it’s named after some, you know, springs. Bob: … I think we should be on different teams.
Other times you find that special friend who just seems to share your brain.
Spymaster: Bond; Four. Secret agent: Right, well. There’s Octopus, because of Octopussy, (correct answer), Moon, because of Moonraker (correct answer), Spy because James Bond is a spy, (correct answer) and… well, James Bond holds a gun in the palm of his hand, so… Palm! (correct!!)
Another great feature of the game, although one that only really works with a group of 4+ playing, is the constant (but friendly) mockery of the other team’s guesses. Not to mention trying to put them off!
Lizzy: Right guys. Beef; Three. Opposing Team (pretending to talk to each other, but loudly so the other team can hear): OH! Yeah. She’s probably referring to the great Beef Revolution of ’93. Or she means ‘Beef Dice’. Isn’t that the sequel to Sushi Dice?
LWH Codenames Tournament
As we briefly mentioned last week, one of our local conventions Little Wooden Houses ran a Codenames tournament at their latest shindig. Teams of 3 people competed for the coveted Tiny Trophy of Being Good at Games in an incredibly tense competition. Team Misery decided that despite wearing her ‘Captain Hangover’ hat, Bob should be spymaster as it’s very easy to get inside her head.***
The first match was against a team of raw recruits who’d never met. It’s easy to underestimate a team of nice (ha!) ladies but all early pleasantries were rapidly erased as Bob politely but firmly invited the opposing team to suck her dick when they took an early lead.**** Team Misery sucked it up and got their shit together to win convincingly and immediately take on the next challengers.
Round Two (or ‘Semi-final’… it was a pretty small tournament)
On round two, shit got serious. These were no fresh-faced n00bs, but experienced gamers and long-time friends. It would be easy for them to work together, and the stress was real. Ground rules were firmly laid (no speaking at all from the spymasters apart from clues (a rule which Bob finds supremely hard to follow), and taunting and smack-talk from team-members absolutely allowed). Adrenaline pumping and neurons firing, Bob flopped her enormous spymaster-schlong across the table with a steady ‘Culinary, six.’
Six correct card choices left the opposing team in the dust, and Team Misery advanced to the final round unbeaten.
The final match was played as best of three rounds, against a team which included a girlfriend-boyfriend pairing (Dr Boyfriend and Cthulhu-Joss) and Dr Charlie. Harsh.
A strong start in the first round got Team Misery off the ground, but they were nearly brought down by an incredible last-ditch hail-Mary clue from Charlie, whose team needed to get five correct answers in one turn to win.
Um. What. Surely this could never work! But after the initial laughter, Joss and Al took to the board to give it their all.
‘Er. Did the Nazis ever go near some Czechs? Czech!’ *1/5 correct* ‘Well, they probably had ships. Ship?’
‘They love to MARCH!’
*3/5 correct, panic from Team Misery*
Team Misery watched in shock as all their dreams decayed in the face of insanity. If the opposing team got one more correct answer, they would win.
‘Aw nuts. Isn’t there a movie about Nazis where they’re all somewhere really cold? And they’re zombies? Dead Snow! Yeah. Maybe he means that! ICE!’
Thank goodness for good guys. (That’s us, by the way.)
Round two was almost as close, but went to team Charlie, making it even-Stevens going into the final round.
Bob meditated while Lizzy and Briony made a break for stress-wees and tea.
It was a tough board for the team. ‘Hollywood’, ‘France’, and ‘New York’ were all needed, but ‘England’ was the assassin and ‘Beijing’ belonged to the opposing team, so a simple clue like ‘places’ was out.
‘Cannes, three’ managed to tie Hollywood, France, and Premiere together, but that was just the start. An incredibly close, tense game ensued, until both teams were down to their last two words.
Bob made a desperate bid to tie ‘New York’ and ‘Forest’ together with ‘Jungle, two’ (urban jungle, right?) but was thwarted by Lizzy’s insistence that ‘Jungle Jam’ was a thing (she meant a jungle gym. Like the climbing frame. Bob actually broke the rules when that went down as she was incapable of stopping a stress-pressured ‘Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp’ from escaping).
To be fair, the team’s eventual demise might also be put down to a glorious moment in which Bob forgot which colour she was, and gave a clue for the wrong team’s spies. Some swearing followed.
A smooth final two from Team Charlie and it was all over. The tiny trophy of ‘Good at Games’ was wrested from the Misery Farm’s grasp, and Bob unclenched her butt-hole for the first time since the tournament started.
Codenames is a frickin’ excellent game. Good as both a light party game for the inexperienced, and as a brain-crusher for more experienced players. Incredibly stressful. Highly-recommended.
The real winner was the stupid other team. But also, board games.
* Too early for Christmas jokes? What? Christmas jokes are never appropriate? Psh.
Essen Spiel, it turns out, pairs really well with: a nice litre or so of German Weiser. Who’d have thought it?
To begin a series of frantic, excited and well-beered posts, The Misery Farmers bring you the first installment of a series of blog reports straight from the board game convention’s mouth. The three farmers have teamed up with what can only be described as a whole platoon of board-gaming friends to enjoy their biggest Essen adventure yet.
With Bob on the tweets and Briony running mad in a beer hall somewhere, these first glimpses of our convention adventure come from Lizzy “first on the scene” MiseryFarmer. Here you’ll find first impressions, photos, brief summaries and playthroughs of the games she’s tried so far. Tuck in!
Day 1 Game 1: Liguria Otherwise known as: “Lib.. Laria… Lag… the game with the boats!”
As the doors to the convention hall opened, Lizzy and much of the team ran towards the Queen Games sign, in a noble attempt to grab the first free table they saw and dive straight in to some board games. Liguria provided the perfect start!
The lure of Liguria is the excellent little boats that come with it. We’re also a fan of the flexible layout of the pieces of the table!
The introduction started like this: “So… you’re a merchant, and you’re selling… colours.”
It transpired, after a few glances at the rules, that this wasn’t a flippant comment from a rules-explainer after all. We’re actually trading colours to paint a beautiful cathedral, or something. With actual bags of colour. … Fair enough!
Don’t let the shaky trading pieces get the better of you though, the game was really fun! There’s an excellent selection of tactics and methods to victory, and the rules aren’t too complicated while still providing a lot of room for thought.
Being our first game at Essen we were pretty freakin’ excited.
“OK REFRESH THE BOARD! NEXT TURN!”
“You haven’t even had your move yet!”
We learned pretty quickly that, despite all of the promising-looking colour trading and boats, building a few buildings is a sure route to victory.
“Lizzy saw how to get points. Lizzy did that.”
Day 1 Game 2: Raptor
An excellently themed game, Raptor also wins the points for having the best wall display we’ve seen so far. As shown here, behind this Bob-shaped raptor.
Raptor is a two-player game, in which one person plays the evil scientists trying to capture some baby raptors and the other plays the baby raptors and their mother, trying to either save the baby raptors or eat all of the humans. Either will do!
It’s a reasonably quick game, with a few interesting card mechanics. It’s difficult to tell how much this will ultimately rely on some luck, it’s very easy to get punished by playing the wrong card at the wrong time, giving your opponent a lot of ‘action points’ to play with and a lot of juicy humans to eat. Lizzy’s game was over pretty quickly (*raptor-burp*), but Bob and her robot-boyfriend insist that if you play it for long enough to actually get the hang of the rules then it turns out to be pretty playable.
Day 1 Game 3: For Sale Otherwise known as: “House selling thing! House game! Selling house!”
‘For Sale’ was a game we stumbled across while lurking creepily around a table for The Big Book of Madness. The game didn’t look appetising, nobody else seemed to want to play it and it was on one of those tables where you usually relegate your less popular short games to.
Determined to stick close to TBBoM, for reasons to do with Bob and a very complicated excel spreadsheet of games she wanted to try, we gave the game a go anyway. And it was a surprisingly great game!
For one thing, it’s more beautiful when you look at the cards. There are thirty different houses that cover a range in values, from grotty old outhouses (geddit? out… houses?) to some mid-range igloos right up to some fancy castles and space stations!
The game itself is a short, simple, but surprisingly good bidding game! It begins with a bidding war over all of the houses ranging from 1-30 in value. (It’s not clear what this value is measured in, yet.)
After everyone’s tried spaffing all their bids on the best houses, a range of cheques are brought out in a similar way, and people have to spend their houses in a similar bidding war to get the cheques.
All in all, a surprisingly good game!
Day 1 Game 4: The Big Book of Madness
All that lurking in the shadows did eventually pay off, as the team got a turn at the game they were after: The Big Book of Madness.
The game’s fairly easy to pick up. At least, moreso than it originally looks. But it also gets more complicated as it goes along, and sooner or later you’ll be writhing around in the requisite amount of horror for a co-op game.
Of course, in classic Lizzy-style, it took her most of the way through the explanation of the rules before she even cottoned-on to the fact that it was co-operative. That’s what you get for not doing your research!
“I like a co-op game that, even in the beginning stages, still feels like you’re just pissing in the wind.” –Chris
A lot of people around the table praised the game for being a co-op game that didn’t have too much of a piggyback / quarter-back type problem, where one player tends to get a little bit carried away and start deciding everyone else’s moves for them. Having cards to yourself tends to lead you down a road of thinking “RIGHT! WHAT CAN I DO AND WHO CAN HELP ME?!” rather than worrying too much about anyone else.
Nobody’s gone so far as to buy it, but it’s a game that’s definitely got us all talking.
Day 1 Game 5: Kumo Hogosha
The final game of the day was, again, not a first choice but rather a game found from necessity. A certain couple (Bob and robot-boyfriend) had, already, on the first damned day, bought nine and a half board games between them. Nine and a half! You should have seen her face, gentle readers, as she would appear, scream something excitedly about some limited edition artist-signed games, then run off again into the distance.
Unfortunately this did mean quite a lot of strain on the shoulders, so the final game was very much a case of “oh dear lord, if we don’t sit down now then I’m going to scream”.
Luckily for us, it was five-in-a-row in the great game of finding games to play at Essen, and two of the four of us thought this last game was beautiful enough to buy.
It’s a two-player game, or four-players if you pick teams of two, and you all play a group of kumotori trying to push a giant block off the right side of a rotating circle. The game comes complete with rotating circle and giant block, and as if those things weren’t enough, it has an absolutely stunning box and some pretty good mechanics that more than one member of the team described as chess-like.
Our one worry was that it might get a little too defensive at points. There’s not much hidden from your opponents, so it can sometimes be a case of just sitting, spending a long time considering your turn and trying to figure out what possible combinations of moves your opponent could do, and how to avoid leaving yourself in any position which might possibly lose you the game.
But these might be the tired ramblings of the last game of the first day of Essen. Only time will tell how they each play in the long run!
Full reviews will eventually follow of the games we most enjoy.
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.
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!*
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!
Each 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)
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.
“AHA! Well, Will clearly has a rose because he tried to encourage us to pick his cards”
“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.
*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.
Brutus Rating: 2/10 daggers in the back Pairs well with: A different type of beer for each terrain you build on
Do you remember that thrill you first had, when you were young(er) and excitable and new to the world of board gaming, and you first discovered that the maps of some games are randomised at the start? Like ‘Woah, this randomised Catan map has all of the brick next to each other, how exciting! Oh and in this one all of the fields are lined up next to mountains, how sweet!’ And then there was Small World, where the lands are the same but the history is different and the races that try to populate it all have different randomized attributes. “Today we’re going to fight with FLYING skeletons? What madness is this?”
No? Just us? It takes us back to childhood memories of those ancient strategy computer games with randomised set-ups. Can we pretend that this fixation makes us endearing rather than sad and odd? Excellent.
Well, if by chance you ARE excited by that kind of thing, then Kingdom Builder is a game for you! There are several different boards to choose from and you select four at random at the start, each constituting a quarter of your future Kingdom. Even more excitingly, each different potential Kingdom-quarter comes with a different bonus action token, meaning the moves you’ll be able to make in the game will be different. EVEN MORE EXCITINGLY THAN THAT (is it even possible to be more excited?) the way to earn points and win the game is ALSO randomised at the start, through a decently-sized collection of cards.
In Kingdom Builder you play a mighty kingdom-builder (OK, so it’s not the most roleplaying-heavy game in the world). The aforementioned randomised selection of cards (of which you get three!) determines what kind of people you’re building a kingdom for, thus also telling you what kind of things they’re looking for in a kingdom, thus also telling you how to get points (‘gold’) and some delicious, delicious victory.
If you’re building a town for miners then you’ll probably want some settlements near the mountains, which is where they tend to get their mining did. So a ‘miners’ card will (quite logically) get you one point per settlement next to a mountain.
At the time of writing and photographing we closed our eyes and picked fishermen, knights and merchants. A pretty pleasing group to live with, we all have high hopes for our future realms; got ourselves some food, some income and a solid line of defence. There have been worse fundaments for civilisations.
So the aim of our game will be to build our tiny little houses near water for our fishermen, connecting different settlements for our merchants and … all in a horizontal line, for the knights.
No, we don’t know why they asked for that. It doesn’t seem like it’d be easily defensible. Do they… do they want to do some jousting, and they want the longest possible run up, spanning the entire kingdom? That can’t be it, because they don’t mind if there are canyons in the way, or how broken up the horizontal line is. Do they just have weirder fixations than even the misery farmers? Who knows! Ideas and answers on a postcard, please.
Play for this game is fairly quick and fairly simple. There are some snazzy terrain rules which will determine where you can lay your houses, of which you’ll lay a base of three per turn, as well as a few kinds of bonus tokens which will let you take extra actions. These, again, are randomised thanks to the boards that you chose at the start. Many of them are kind of samey (Build more on grass! Yay! Build more on desert! Yay…) but there are one or two which can be pretty game-altering. The horses of this kingdom, for example, are so strong that an entire tiny wooden house can hitch a ride across a couple of hexagons and settle down elsewhere. Literally game-changing.
Speaking of those little wooden houses, we should spare a little spot of criticism for the production of some of them. A few of the roofs seem to have collapsed in. Knew we shouldn’t have trusted those bloody fishermen with building the kingdom for us!
The snazzy terrain rules are that you draw a card with a picture of a terrain on it, and that’s where you are destined to build this turn, for three of your settlements at least. It’s unclear why your kingdom is being restricted in this way. Are the people demanding it? It’s difficult to see why a kingdom of fishermen would demand that you build only on the desert for three bloody turns in a row. Besides, what power should they have over you? You’re building a kingdom for them! Go to hell, fishermen! Perhaps instead you only have the materials to build on a certain type of terrain? But then what extra materials would you possibly need to build on the grass that you wouldn’t need to build on the flowers? Ok, let’s just call it some weird superstitious reason and leave it at that. You’re a superstitious kingdom-builder. Done. Let’s not question it any further.
The game is all about making the best you can out of the randomised selection of things that the game throws at you. Mostly in the form of some very annoying terrain restrictions. It’s all randomised in a way that doesn’t seem to leave you too reliant on luck, at least not if you play it right. Sure, having to build your settlements in the sodding canyons for three turns in a row can dick you over a bit but there are measures you can take to avoid it ruining your kingdom too much. Oh you didn’t take those measures and now you’re stuck building in the corner? Well that’s just your own fault.
If you’re not careful you can really feel yourself just getting carried away. A turn itself seems so insignificant, “oh I’ll just waste this one turn building on this bit of desert but I’ll be fine next time”, but then after several turns you can look back and find yourself having just squeezed out a sad turd of a civilization and you’re out of control and maybe you’re not up for this kingdom ruling business after all! Aah! Woe!
This happened in the game we were just playing. Those of you already familiar with Kingdom Builder might look at the photos of the board and think “That can’t be the same game they were describing in the post! There are hardly any horizontal lines at all! If they had Knights they’d be doing terribly!” You’d be right. We were just doing really terribly. We’re rightly ashamed.
Aside from all that, Kingdom Builder is a pretty good game. It’s fairly simple and all of that randomisation we’ve been banging on about for most of this review equates to some pretty damn good replayability. Possibly our favourite game to come out of Essen 2013. Huzzah!
The photographer won again, but whatever. The real winners are the fishermen.
*Lizzy: Can we get some nice photos of some of the bits that make up the game this time? Please? For journalism?
Dr Photographer-Friend: No! Screw you! I’m going to spend most of this time taking photos of this apple and this weird dog toy you’ve been using as a door stop instead. Stop trying to strangle my artistic vision!
Brutus Rating: 2 daggers in the back out of 10 Pairs well with: One of those liqueurs you bring back from holiday that nobody wants to drink. Maybe cactus flavour, or ouzo. Raki is pretty rough too. Damn Greece, you got some terrible booze.
Disclaimer: In the interests of maintaining ethics in board game journalism we at the Misery Farm feel that it’s important to make our audience aware that this post contains a high level of pro-yellow camelist propaganda. This does not mean that we aim to denigrate other colours of camel or beings who identify as camels. All camels are equal. Yellow camel is just slightly more equal than other camels.
There are several ways in which Lizzy is the villain of The Misery Farm. She winstoooften, she’s a little bit too keen to play the bad guy and she has a really awful smug face. These things might all make her seem like a kind of loveable rogue, but there’s one thing that we’ve hidden from you all so far. The real reason she will strike fear into your heart. We’re about to show you the inside of Lizzy’s copy of Camel Cup. If you’re of a nervous disposition, or there are children in the vicinity, look away now.
Urrrrgh. *shudder* That game even comes with baggies, guys. There’s no excuse for that mess.
Anyway, now that horror is over, let’s get onto Camel Cup.
There are two schools of thought on the name of this game. Some people think that it’s actually called ‘Camel Up’. Perhaps because of the stacking method, in which the camels go ‘up’ and stack on top of each other.
These people claim to be right because of silly little reasons like “that’s what the instructions say”, “that’s what it says online” and “that’s just the actual name, you guys”.
The other school of thought says that the game is ‘Camel Cup’. Because the camels, you see, are racing to win The Camel Cup. These people claim to be right because of excellent reasons like “there is an actual Camel Cup race”, and “we just prefer this name so agree with us or get the hell out of our living room”, and “shut up and play.” The Misery Farm are a part of the latter school of thought.
Camel Cup won Spiel Des Jahres 2014 (“Game of the Year”. Thanks Bob, that degree in German wasn’t wasted after all.) When you first look at the game, running around a giant convention hall in Germany, then that fact can seem a little surprising. It looks a bit gimmicky: it has some sort of strange pyramid thing scheme going on.
It turns out that Camel Cup is almost certainly the best gambling, camel-racing game you’ll play all year.
In Camel Cup you don’t play as the camels, and you don’t have much influence on how fast each of the camels race around the track. Instead, you’re the Egyptian aristocracy. Your goal is to make as much money as you can by the end of the race, having gambled on which camel will be the final winner, the final loser, and which camels will win each ‘leg’ of the race.
It’s fairly fast-paced, and (hopefully) everyone will do one of four actions quickly and move onto the next person. Two of these actions are gambling (betting on a camel for either the leg or the whole race), one is placing down an oasis or barren dessert sort of token (the one way in which you can almost sort-of influence the race) and the final is to move the camels. That is, make it so that the camels move themselves. You get limited choice in the matter.
“I BELIEVE IN YELLOW CAMEL!” (Lizzy bets on Yellow Camel to win, as is tradition)
“Green Camel is currently in last place… so I think I believe in Green Camel.” (Generic male gaming buddy gambles on Green Camel)
“I think I’m going to move the camels!” (Everyone starts chanting ‘move the camels’ and banging on the table)
Of course, I say that hopefully everyone will do one of four actions quickly. Occasionally you’ll get players trying to cheat. By ‘cheat’, of course, I mean ‘actually trying to think about their turn logically before having it’. Don’t do that, it’s a terrible idea. You’ll look like a dick, and it won’t help. Camel Cup can be for up to eight players, so such behaviour is rightly discouraged in our circles, and hurried along by coughing and reminding guilty parties that “Ahem! This is Camel Cup! The fast-paced camel racing gambling game! Get your shit together” until they take their turn. Attempting to mathematically work out the winning and losing odds has no place in this game, for reasons which we will soon make clear.
To get any good picture of how Camel Cup plays, it’ll be useful to mention how the camels actually move. At the beginning of the leg, the mysterious pyramid of camel-racing is placed in the centre of the board with five different dice inside it, one for each colour camel. The dice are all numbered 1-3. When some brave gambler chooses to move the camels (cue chanting) she takes the pyramid, tips it upside down and pushes open a little flap so that one single die will fall out. The camel of that colour will then speed that number of spaces along the board! The die is then put aside until the other four are out of the pyramid, so that each camel will get one turn at moving before the dice are all put back inside. When all of the camels have moved once, that’s a leg of the race.
Once the novelty of a pyramid dice-shaker wears off, that can all seem very dull. Some dice are rolled, some camels race at that particular pace. *yawn*
But wait! This game didn’t win Spiel Des Jahres 2014 just for some camels trundling along next to each other at a speed of 1-3 per leg! Oh no. I’ve left out the best bit. The camels… they stack on top of each other.
Yep. Apparently the race course is so narrow that there ain’t no room for camels to be side-by-side. When a camel trundles onto an already-occupied tile, they’ll just park their camelly behind on top of that first camel. This is a mechanism that makes Briony feel deeply uncomfortable – when she’s claimed a certain spot on the board she expects not to share, or at least to swear at someone attempting to come near her. This is a particular problem in other games like Tigris and Euphrates as she strongly believes in keeping other civilizations out. Everyone else though? In awe.
BUT THEN! When that first camel moves, does she ask the second one to get the hell off? No! She races on with up to four camels on top of her. The implications that this has on the odds are staggering. Instead of moving a maximum of three places, a camel with some lucky stacking could move fifteen tiles.
What looks at first like a simple race turns into a crazy one, where the odds a lot of the time are almost impossible to figure out. This is the essence of Camel Cup, and what makes the game so much fun to play. It’s not uncommon to see a camel go from last place to first in one leg, ruining all of your bets and expectations. The game is made by the sheer improbability of it all. It’s made by deciding which camel to bet on just by looking really closely into their souls and seeing which camel really has what it takes (Lizzy deeply believes that Yellow Camel has that X-Factor that’ll take it all the way to the big leagues). It’s made by having all of the enthusiasm in the world for the camel in last place, then actually seeing them win and getting to rub it in the faces of the non-believers.
Having said that, there are several things that Camel Cup is not. Camel Cup is not a lengthy game, nor one for much strategy. Not by board-gaming standards, at least. But that’s ok, because most people’s collections need a place for that kind of game. One that’s fairly quick, fairly simple and doesn’t involve too much thought if you’ve had a long day / are playing with some non-gamer friends / are a bit drunk already at 4pm and can’t quite think straight. It also comes with a Totally Official™ side-game in which players should try to pull faces that match those of the camels on the box art.
As you can probably tell, it’s important to play Camel Cup with the right kind of people.
The players need to be willing to get excited about some crazy odds and racing camels, and to not mind the lack of reliable strategy or planning ahead. You need to be able to place a wild bet on a camel just by what feels right. I mean I’m not necessarily saying that it’s your fault if you don’t love the game (you might just have terrible friends). But it might not work so well if everyone’s incredibly quiet, or if everyone’s just received some tragic news.
The game receives just 2/10 daggers-in-the-back since there aren’t all that many opportunities to stick said daggers into your opponents’ backs. There simply aren’t many ways to encourage a lame camel to victory or stop the juggernaut momentum of Yellow Camel. You can sometimes place a tile which will make it better or worse to land on, but most of the screwing-over will just be done by the luck of the dice and the speed of the camels.
A great game, for its type.
The real winner isn’t Lizzy. Nor, for once, is it board games. The real winner is Yellow Camel.