Monthly Archives: September 2014

Just Good Friends?

I love this picture by artist Bob Dob. Just the idea of these two as actors on set getting ready for the next person to put 20p in the Donkey Kong machine is amazing. Mario looks absolutely drained from having to run up all those girders knowing that even if he does rescue his love, he will instantly have to start all over again. Worse is that the original arcade Donkey Kong had a glitch that meant that on level 22 Mario would hit a kill screen and that would be it. He couldn’t win. Ever. No wonder DK looks so pleased with himself.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-Up 22/09/14

Every Monday night my gaming group meets up at the Cross Keys pub in Liverpool. It’s a real diverse mix of games and gamers and I thought I would start writing a weekly round-up of the games I played and what I thought of them. I can see this getting a little shorter with each one as games get repeated (this one got a bit long) but let’s give it a go.

Love Letter

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 10 minutes

Love Letter is the perfect filler. It’s easy to explain, easy to play and only takes ten minutes which explains why in pure numbers it must be the most frequently played game at my gaming group. Sometimes there are even three or more copies of it in the library. I will probably only mention it once in these round-ups as it’s so basic so here goes.

In Love Letter you are all potential suitors for the Princess and are trying to get your letter to her before the others. Players start with a single card and take turns drawing and then playing one of their cards. Cards represent various roles within the court and each has a special power when played. For example, the Priest lets you look at another players hand, the Baron lets you compare cards with another player and eliminate the one with lower rank and with the Guard, if you can guess another players hand then you can eliminate them. Play continues until the last man standing or if the deck runs out (which happens quite quickly as there are only 16 cards) the player with the highest ranking card is the winner of that round. Play continues for as many rounds as you like.

That’s about it. This game is so simple it almost plays itself but there is a little room for strategy and bluffing and it always goes down well. I am not sure that it deserves it’s high ranking on Board Game Geek but what it does, it does perfectly. There is a similar game called Lost Legacy recently released that I would like to try as it seems to add a little bit more without taking away the accessibility. On a side note, I have always got the feeling that the player themselves is the actual love letter and we are being passed among the characters in our own hands. When I think about this too much I feel weird, we play the game but the game plays us, sort of.

Splendor

Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

After Love Letter we were still in filler time so we had a quick game of Splendor, another simple game but one I enjoy. On their turn players either take gems (represented by nice chunky poker chips in 5 colours) or purchase one of 12 cards on the table (which is immediately resupplied) with the gems they have collected. Cards then give players a free resource and the more expensive ones also give you victory points. Players can also reserve a card in their hand on their go if they are worried that other players are about to pinch it. The first to 15 victory points is the winner. There are also 4 patron cards that players can claim once they have built a certain amount of cards which also score victory points.

What players are trying to do is build a little economy where their cards can pay for more cards without using a go to collect gems. As gems are limited and cards change all the time you have to be quite adaptable as that card you wanted might get picked up or the stock of gems of a certain colour might run out. For me this game has a great mix of economy building and player interaction. Once a player starts claiming the high points cards it starts a race that really starts you trying to be as efficient as possible – then that card you wanted gets nabbed and you have to think again. I was one turn away from victory on this game so you can see how close it gets… one turn.

Concordia

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

Then it was time to start the meatier games and I found myself in a game with some of the more serious players in the group. This can add a bit of stress to the evening as I am new to the hobby and sometimes you get the feeling that making noob errors is a little bit looked down on. The finer points of strategy are often lost to me but I thought to hell with it, switched from beer to Coke, hunkered down and had a good go of it.

The game was Concordia which is set in and around the Mediterranean and involves creating colonies, resource management and a little bit of hand management. On their turn players play a card and this lets them colonise, trade, purchase more cards or claim resources. Cards then stay out their hand until you play one that lets you draw them back in. Initially described as a deck builder (I find Dominion unfathomable) I was relieved that your hand is the whole deck so you are not constantly shuffling and drawing. As you play cards it limits your options but there is always something you can do so it never feels unfairly limiting and you can always draw all you discards back early if it gets too tough.

Points are awarded at the end of the game based on your cards and how they relate to your Mediterranean empire. For example, if you have specialised in colonising cities that produce brick then you should be buying cards that give you points for that resource. Apparently it’s best to concentrate on 2 things that complement each other but this had escaped me. I struggled a little with this game and came in 4th but to be honest I was quite pleased with how it went and would tackle it again given the chance. This was at the heavier end of the scale for me but worth the effort.

Elder Sign

Players: 5 (Plays 1-8)

Duration: 90 minutes

Despite the slick Cthulhu themed veneer with it’s nice artwork, wealth of tokens and creepy flavour text, Elder Sign is about one thing – chucking dice. For those that get an inexplicable satisfaction from rolling a fist full of dice (as I do) then this will gleefully satisfy that urge. Sometimes it’s as much as 7 dice at a time – oh baby!

Elder sign is a co-operative game where players are investigators who are trying to prevent a world devouring monstrosity from entering our world and turning it all browny-green. 10 cards that represent locations in a spooky museum are face-up in front of the players, 4 are always the same and let you buy equipment or heal but the other 6 represent strange goings on. On their turn players roll dice to try and match rows on a card of their choosing. If they successfully match a row they assign those dice to the card and attempt another row, if not then they discard a dice and try again. If successful they collect the rewards on the card and a new one is drawn but if not they must suffer the penalties. Rewards can be helpful items, allies or elder signs of which a certain number must be collected to win. Penalties can be a loss of sanity, health or another token on the doom track which, once filled, means the investigators have lost and the world becomes a living hell (with the Old One that we faced).

Amazingly we seemed to sail through this game. I don’t know if it was lucky dice rolls or the optimum number of players but evil was vanquished without too much bother. Co-op games are usually about losing as best you can instead of winning as easily as possible. I think we picked our cards well and avoided the ones that seemed virtually impossible but maybe we are just really good at throwing dice? Yeah, let’s go with that.

Dishonored Impressions

I love a game that makes me think about how I can move in real life. During a holiday to Italy I would stare dreamily at churches or large courtyards, not in awe of the stunning architecture but because I would be thinking about how Ezio might climb his way to the top. Crackdown had me wondering which rooftops to leap between, Bionic Commando how to swing from lamppost to lamppost and Portal had me thinking in, well, portals. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that my favourite feature in Dishonored is Blink, a special power that lets you teleport around it’s steampunk world in 50 yard chunks to either evade guards or drop behind them to administer a swift choke (or shiv to the throat).

There are a host of other powers that let you feel like a murderous assassin too. You can see through walls for a limited time, turn bodies to ash or even summon a swarm of bloodthirsty rats to devour your foes alive. All of the more fun ones lend themselves to a stealthy approach and this does seem to be the way the game wants you to play. Like all the best stealth games getting discovered isn’t a game breaker and you can always resort to your trusty sword and handcannon to noisily and bloodily resolve a level (or just part of it).

There are some small problems. While enemies are comically unobservant (I would definitely notice a masked man crouching on a bus stop) once one of them sees you they all run over to your exact location straight away which breaks the illusion a little, even the standard ‘hey, he’s over there’ shout would smooth that over. But despite some little AI quibbles it’s a great game with some lovely touches. The Heart lets you read the inner thoughts of the characters around you and there is loads of flavour text in the form of journals and books.

Dishonored not only looks great but plays smoothly and perhaps most importantly makes me feel like I have the power of life and death over everyone around me. A classic power fantasy? Maybe, but that’s probably a topic for another time (and person). Go get it.

Back to it

I want to get back to blogging. At first I did it just for myself on Gamespot, it was nice to see my words down in print, but as time went by I got more and more engaged with the community. Others seemed interested in what I had to say and it felt great. But when GS updated, the community I had become a part of seemed to collapse overnight. Comments dried up and there were more blogs about leaving GS than there were about games. I scoffed at these and then quietly left. It was a shame (a few cool people relocated to a forum here which is great).

Well now I am going to go back to it and write for myself which should be fun. For one thing I don’t have to come up with titles that are desperate clickbait in a bid to elicit comments (that sort of thing really gets hold of you) and I can quietly indulge my new passion for board and card games too. I have not read a video game review for about 6 months but have watched about 250 for tabletop gaming (I love you Dice Tower). I guess tastes change and although I say I would never want to stop gaming (digitally that is), somehow I almost have.

Well, that’s life right? So here goes.