Category Archives: Review

A Game by Any Other Name

Set a posting schedule for myself and I already broke it. I’d like to think that calling my dad for Father’s Day and spending the afternoon with a friend is a good excuse. But then last night night I have zero excuse except that Trigun has sucked me in again. I felt a little guilty… but not enough, clearly.

Saturday I made a challenge to myself: I wasn’t going to wrinkle my nose up at any game that was proposed to me, no matter what. I’ve been far too negative about other peoples’ game choices lately, which has limited who I get to play with. I also think it reflects poorly on me – it’s important to me that my gaming isn’t just about me and what I want to do, but rather about supporting community and inclusion by placing others above myself more often than not. Even if it means playing some games that certainly aren’t my top pick. As we learned with Monopoly, sometimes giving a game a second chance has its benefits.

I showed up about 40 minutes after the meetup started, which meant that everyone else was already engaged in a game when I arrived. So I parked myself at an unclaimed table, and took the opportunity to browse the rules for the Bohnanza board game. I haven’t played it yet – every time I think about playing it I decide I’d rather just play Bohnanza instead. But the fact that my eye keeps getting drawn in its direction means I should probably give it a try at some point.

While I was doing this, a pair of women I didn’t recognize walked in. They looked a bit intimidated, so I said hello, asked if they were there for board gaming, and they said yes, but actually they were hoping to play some cards. Part of me thought “Bleh, I want to keep reading these rules!” but I stuck to my agreement with myself and said I’d be happy to play – what game were they thinking of?

Melds for the seventh round: three runs
Melds for the seventh round of Shanghai Rummy: three runs

Their game of choice was a rummy variant called Shanghai, which BGG has listed as just Contract Rummy or California Rummy. As they explained the rules I realized it was a progressive set-building game very similar to Phase 10, and the fourth player who joined us just as we were getting started was familiar with it as Progressive Rook. There was some confusion as all four of us women reconciled the version we knew of the game with the version that was being taught to us, but it didn’t take long before we were all on the same page.

A set and two runs in Shanghai Rummy
Shanghai Rummy: A set and two runs, and apparently one “buy” that hand

The unique elements of this variant are the ability to “buy” a discard on someone else’s turn if the active player doesn’t want it, up to three times per hand and with a “penalty” of an additional card from the draw pile, and the ability to trade the wild card in someone else’s sets or runs with the card it represents from your own hand. I wasn’t entirely keen on playing such a long card game as my first game of the day when there were a number of other people I’d been looking forward to playing with, but it was nice to be able to welcome a few new people to our community, even if just for a few hours. Maybe next time they’ll be brave enough to try something new!

Shanghai Rummy: One set and one run
Shanghai Rummy: One set and one run

When our game was finished, a few more people had arrived and were hovering awkwardly at various tables. So I roped them in to learning The Builders: Middle Age with me. One of them was a brand new board gamer and opted to just observe instead of playing, so it ended up just being two of us.

Using my circular saw to build the Stables in a game of The Builders: Middle Ages.
Using my circular saw to build the Stables in a game of The Builders: Middle Ages. Not sure why there’s a circular saw in the middle ages…

The Builders was a fun little game, but a little over the head of our newbie gamer. He asked if everything we played in the group had a steep learning curve, and I assured him that we played all sorts of games, and also that everyone in the group was friendly and willing to teach games to newcomers. I was impressed that he showed up alone and with no board gaming experience! To demonstrate that some of the games we played were short and easy to pick up, and to hopefully entice him to visit us again, I grabbed a copy of Red7.

Red7 box
Forgot to take a picture of gameplay so here’s the box

At first I feared I’d misstepped again and picked another one a little too convoluted for a newcomer. I’d never taught it before and I always get tripped up on how tie disputes are settled – I understand in theory but when it comes to specific examples I get confused. He started to get the hang of it, though – just in time for the game to end… and for him to win. laugh

overview of the board for Wildlife

Another group had just finished up their longer euro moments before Red7 ended. I’d been hoping for exactly that thing to happen since I hadn’t played a game with a couple of them in a while. Two people took that opportunity to leave, and what was left of our two groups joined forces to play a game of Wildlife, which one of the guys had just gotten in a BGG trade. Thematically and visually, it reminded me a little of Inhabit the Earth, which I’m really sad that I still haven’t had the chance to play! (I don’t have the funds to buy it, so I’m hoping one of our more obsessive collectors picks it up soon.)

Crocodile player card for the game Wildlife
My crocodiles in Wildlife. They’re apparently not Plains Crocodiles or Mountain Crocodiles…. yet.

Wildlife was an interesting twist on an area control game. Each player starts with a different species with different abilities in each of six terrain types. Over the course of the game, you can “evolve” your species to travel and/or attack in additional terrains. You can also steal abilities from your opponents, and each turn you are required to auction off one of the action cards in your hand in exchange for food (the game’s currency) – then the player who wins the auction gets to take that action immediately.

The final scores for Wildlife
Men in the lead, followed by the eagles, the crocodiles, the bears, and finally the mammoths

My crocodiles maintained a strong lead for the first half of the game, but my lack of solid strategy started to catch up with me and eventually they were overtaken by the sneaky eagles and the pesky men. There’s more strategy in choosing which cards to auction off than I took advantage of, and that among other oversights almost certainly cost me the game. I let several other players amass much larger herds than I should have, and also probably gave my opponents the opportunities they needed to break up my own herds. As you can see, we had a pretty wide spread of points, and I was right smack in the middle. I don’t feel bad about that at all. Looking forward to giving this one another try now that I have a better grasp of what the heck I’m doing.

Tomorrow is another Wednesday, and then this Saturday is the monthly event I host at my church building. That already has 14 RSVPs and several maybes, and I know that at least five people always put in their RSVPs at the very last moment. So I’m hoping we can beat our March attendance count of 19! (We had an amazing 52 for International Tabletop Day in April, and then in May took a month off so I could recover and my team of helpers wouldn’t mutiny.) I think I’ll continue my “no turning up my nose” challenge through the rest of the week to see what interesting adventures come my way.

Passing the Buck

“It’s very simple. The ship basically flies itself. Nothing could possibly go wrong. But in the very unlikely event that it does…” So begins every mission briefing for a game of Space Alert, one of the most stressful tabletop games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. We were all old hands at it, so after a brief review of the rules for the advanced game, we were off on our ten minute voyage that should have been a piece of cake….

 Space Alert

And three games later, we still hadn’t won.

Space Alert is a 2008 game by Vlaada Chvátil. You may have seen me post about his game Codenames in the past, which has been spreading through my social circles like a flu. Or a wildfire. Or something else that spreads rapidly. If you’re active on Board Game Geek and haven’t heard of this game, you’ve been living under a board game rock. Just yesterday a friend I introduced it to earlier this month told me he and his wife liked it so much they went out to Target and bought their own copy, then introduced it to another couple who liked it so much that they bought it online before they were even finished with their first game!

But Space Alert is a different sort of game. It’s a timed cooperative game where you and up to four friends try to coordinate your actions so that all the lasers fire when they’re supposed to, all the batteries are recharged in time to power the lasers and shields, all the battlebots are discharged to the proper rooms to fight off invaders, and oh yeah, someone needs to wiggle the mouse so the computer doesn’t go into sleep mode again and doom us all. It’s chaotic and frantic, and inevitably something will happen to put a wrench in your otherwise perfect planning. Like, someone hits the A button (which fires a laser) on turn four when they were supposed to hit C (which recharges a battery). Or two people try to go down the elevator in the red zone at the same time, jamming it and thus delaying one person’s remaining actions by a turn. It’s hilarious, and frustrating, and perfect with the right group of people who like that sort of stuff (and who don’t lose their cool when things don’t go according to plan).

IMG_7356

Each game is randomized and narrated using a downloadable mobile app, and adding to the chaos was the fact that the other half of our gaming group decided to simultaneously play Fuse, a game that is also timed using a mobile app. It meant that the first hour of games night was pretty loud as the two groups attempted to hear their respective apps without yelling over one another. The restaurant must really like us if they’re willing to put up with us each week!

When we were tired of losing at Space Alert, we moved on to an even sillier game R. brought with him called Aye, Dark Overlord. Imagine Once Upon a Time, but with inept minions. One person plays the Dark Overlord, who sets the scene by playing a series of card and using them to describe a mission he sent his minions on. The rest of the players are said minions, and spend the rest of the game giving excuses to the Dark Overlord for why it wasn’t their fault that they failed at said mission, and then shifting the blame to another player.

I’m not sure whether the rules are bad or the rules-explainer was bad, but none of us ever felt like we had a firm grasp on how the game was meant to be played. So by the end, we just gave up on using the official rules and played as we saw fit, using the cards to craft amusing stories about failure and blame-shifting. Plans to fetch bottles of Scotch were foiled by tornadoes and walls and sea monsters, plans to bring a magical sword to an assassin failed because the assassin was actually on a floating city, and plans to retrieve parchment from a frozen mummy princess went awry due to a lack of proper winter clothing.

Conclusion: the concept of this game is great. Would play it again with either a clearer understanding of how the rules are meant to work, or with modified house rules to keep it running smoothly. It was fortunate that everyone was in a silly, open-minded and flexible mood. This was not a moment for rules lawyering.
Dixit

Finally, we finished off the evening with a game of Dixit, which I actually won for a change. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. And thus ended a nice light evening of gaming, which was a relief before a con weekend. I will probably not get another chance to post until Monday, so enjoy your weekend! Play some games!