Friday, 8 April 2016

Been a while....

....but expect a lot more as I've had an idea.....

So last weekend I went down to Stabcon South (It's called that because it's in Southampton and it's run by people who really like Stabcon. Which is in Manchester and if you want to know why that's called Stabcon you'll need to ask the people that make it happen) and played a bunch of games.

One the Sunday we played a game called Forge War which made me think about 'theme' and games.

In Forge War you play a blacksmith, mining metals, to equip hero's with weapons, to send them out to defeat quests and gain victory points.  Which to do well involves a lot of timing and finesse as quests are multi stage and increase in difficulty as each stage falls.

Two of the players (including myself) felt that it had rather had a theme fail - because we'd been expecting a game about being a blacksmith making and selling weapons to hero's.  Where as from my perspective it would have taken but a tiny twist of the game to make us wizards directing a team of hero's.  Theme wise this would have fitted my head fine - that's a thing that wizards do, it's not a thing blacksmiths do (in a fantasy land, with dragons).

However one of the other players was fine with the theme - they saw nothing odd about a blacksmith equipping there own team of adventurers and sending them out.

So based on this I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about theme (which are not all linked to the above - this just seems like a good time to write them down).

Theme is a pretty important concept in board games - with people attacking or defending games based on theme.  A common complaint about a game is that the Theme is just pasted on.

Theme is evocative.  It seeks to invoke in you a particular feeling above and beyond the mechanics.

Mechanics invoke theme.  If you are taking actions in the game which seem counter to your expectations - then no matter how mechanically good it is - it won't invoke theme.

Words, and art invoke theme.  In Lord of Waterdeep you get cubes which represent warriors, wizards, clerics, and thieves - if you called them something else (like Ninja's) you'd be invoking a different sort of theme.

Expectations define theme. If the game matches what you think should happen that sets the boundries of how a game does or does not invoke theme.  If the game has a world war II tiger tank on the front cover and I get a stock mechanic then my expectations will not be met.

For me the mechanics are the most important bit - so much so that I originally called Mechanics Major Theme, and Words and art , if they match then I feel a game is themed. Take Caverna it's a game about dwarves developing there home.  So the classic worker placement mechanic fits really well for me, I go get stuff, I make stuff, things grow and develop.  The dwarf stuff on the other hand - some what skin deep.  Stuff is named sort of dwarvish but you spend half your time growing pumpkins and raising sheep....

Heck I like Battle Line a game allegedly about the battles of Alexander and Darius - which is so little about the battles of Alexander and Darius it was originally released as game about battling Scottish Clans.  But it's game play of slowly trying to build up strong formation (groups) of cards in key places, trying to scupper your opponents plans (even at the cost of some parts of your plans) for me invokes feelings of being a classical general.

I originally called mechanics the major theme, and words and art the minor theme because that's how it works for me.  But I've avoided that here simply because there might well be other people out there.  People who think that Ra is a game with a good well developed theme - because the art is really Egyptian......

So most of this conversation about the theme of War Forge took place as part of a drive; and as part of that we talked over what a game would look like that was the game we thought we were going to play.  You are a blacksmith - sell weapons to hero's to profit.

This rather enthused me and for the first time in a long time I appear to have a game design on the go.  In fact I was so enthused that last night we did a play test of the crafting and selling system which did not utterly suck but in fact seemed to be broadly what we wanted.  I need to rework the entire deck and the card mix - but that's frankly as expected......

Monday, 16 March 2015

Odyssey, the arena and why I want more of it.......

Sometimes I write loads for an update – and then realise I need to summarise - and sometimes that summary gets really long as well......

Case in point this hit four pages with a lot of background and explanation and asides before I realised – lord that is long and not finished.

So short version. The larp Odyssey is based around arena combat – it has stands – and I genuinely enjoy sitting in the stands with wine and sausage watching as people beat each other up with foam rubber swords for my amusement.

Sadly Odyssey is coming up towards the end of it's designed life (4 more events and it's done), it's not been a commercial success and so it seem unlikely that another company will choose to make something else based around an arena.   Which means no more arena fights for my entertainment because as far as I know Odyssey arena focused combat is as far as I now unique (do tell me if I'm wrong I might well break my “PD only” rule.

Since a picture speaks a 1,000 words I'll use this photo to show you why I want there to be more arena based larp.

Because from the looks on there faces something amazingly cool has happened – and they all got to see it. Apparently at the last Empire one of members had an awesome drag out fight with the opposing general – I know this because the person playing the general came by to thank him for it. I was on that field – I had no idea........

So following a couple of long conversations with some fellow Odyssey people my brain starting ticking over what you might do – game design wise to try and keep the arena combat but sort out some of the problems.

Problematically the bit of Odyssey I do – the god game – works (and works well enough to be moved into Empire as the Eternal game). So I have very little direct experience of the arena – this is based on conversations with people – so it's possible I've got the wrong end of the stick. I should also say that I've nothing but the highest respect for the people that designed Odyssey – that it works at all is a tribute to there vision. So it's very possible that more skilled game design minds have already look at this problem – but hey it's been rattling around my head so I best get it out so I can think about other things.

First step to solving a problem is working out what you think that problems actually are.

Firstly as a warrior the number of fights you can take part in is pretty limited. Basically you get to take part in one attack and one defence a day. Those fights are intense – but short – the great battle for Athens took 5 minutes for example. So you get twenty minutes of action over a weekend – which is a pretty low action to time ratio. There are quests as well but it’s an issue.

Secondly – at game release – the amount of stuff that warriors could do that was not arena based was limited – which meant people spent some time distracted. Profound decisions have worked hard on that area of the game to their credit – and I think somebody turning up who used to play but stopped would find a very different game. Some of this is that there are just more quests per player now (and they sorted out the issue where we once sent the whole of Persia to deal with some bandits – there were about ten of them – they very sensibly put down there weapons when the 80 or so players appeared and scowled at them).

Thirdly - while the arena seeks to give you epic combat where skill matters – it does not guarantee it. So you can turn up to a fight to discover your opponents have given up so they can concentrate on another fight or on the flip side you are the other fight and superior numbers are about to roll you into the ground.

Problem number 3 is especially bad when combined with problem number 1 – because only have four fight sucks when two of those are terrible. This then gets worse when you realise that number of people is a key factor in a fight, so of course you are going to do everything in your power to outnumber your opponents to win. The game does have a feedback mechanism for this – the Gods want entertainment – but that feedback mechanism is a confused channel compared to winning which is clear (made less clear because the Gods are also very keen on you winning as well….).

Fourthly – every epic moment requires that some other player fails. Some people are much better than others in a fight so some people are just going to keep getting those epic moments. One of the great things about Odyssey is that the truly great warriors stand out – there names are shouted across the arena but one of the bad things is that some people are just never going to get that moment and be an also ran.

Problem four might be solvable – magic/buffs/general shinies can be a great leveller. But there are two reasons that does not quite work – the in game reward cycle and rational choice. The reward cycle means that the really good people tend to get the shinies - the person that just dropped 4 opponents with a dramatic flourish is the one going to get noticed, is the one going to get the shinie toy (and lets me clear they deserve that reward). But the net effect of that is that the winner gets stronger while the loser has even less chance next time around. The second time is rational choice- magic only makes so much of a difference compared to skill. I’m not a brilliant fighter - bit of a flapper who hides behind a shield if I’m honest. You could magic me up the wazoo and I know I’d still get torn apart by anybody half way decent – so why bother magicing me up the wazzo in the first place? Save that for more useful people.

So what do you need to do.

There are two things you need to sort out more then anything else– the first is you need to get people more fights. The second is those fights have to be more balanced at least in numbers – because it's numbers that really determine if a fight is going to be a walk in the park or not. Fortunately I think the solution to both of those is the same – control the numbers going in. Have fixed numbers on each side.

They don't have to be the same number – because imbalanced fights can create epic moments – but they need to be 9 vs 6 not 20 vs 1 – and the people signing up to that fight have to know what they are getting into.

Background wise – you stop using the arena as a proxy from battles and treat it like an actual arena – with preset limits solely intended to ensure amusement to the crowd.

That removes some of the dead space that can exist in Odyssey – the sacrifice attack to force the opponent to burn resources – that takes 30 seconds but has a half hour slot because it was not clear what exactly was going to happen. If you've got a 9 vs 9 battle scheduled you can call that 15 minutes - and away you go. On the other hand if you've got a 30 vs 30 grudge match then give them the full 30 minutes slot.  You can also drive action by having a timer - attacker wins by the end or the defender does.  Means the attacker has to do just that - attack.

If you are controlling how many people then the cunning and manipulation has to be who is fighting each battle. Which means rather then the Odyssey 'War leader says we go here' each player needs to be involved in arranging where they personally are fighting. Which is good as it gives you something to do. You can make groups - I fight with my brothers only - but there smaller, informal and flexible.

That means you need to limit the number of fights people can have – otherwise you'll just send El Tasty the finest swordsman into every single fight (also you need to give everybody a go). But rather then a hard limit – use increasing resources – it costs more and more each fight you go into. So at some point you have to ask your self 'do I want El Tasty or do I want to save my money for another day?'

Finally giving people the chance to shine. Well the obvious solution is leaguing – split the player base up into skill ranks. Trouble with that is – what if El Pretty Good manipulates things so they stay in the bottom league and slaughter people? I think a better solution is to have sets of weapons – and then have some fights limit the sets of weapons that are allowed in that fight. So this character fights ambidextrous, this character fights sword and shield, this character fights with a two hander. This battle is only for two handers – that gives you a better chance to shine in your chosen field the one you are best at. It's not perfect but then neither is leaguing.....

The devil is in the detail – but a game based around an arena with those rules – provided you managed to make the stakes high enough (and one things Odyssey does do is make you care about those fights) might well solve some of the issues. Oh don't get me wrong the devil is in the detail – how much does each extra fight cost – how to do you manage the paperwork and ensure that somebody does not get missed out and end up with no fights at all?

But this is 'short version' is long enough I think......

Background wise – for some reason I think decadent empire with a gilded class (relatives of the Emperor perhaps) kept from the true power by utterly Machiavellian civil service but given this one route to struggle amongst themselves for privilege and status. Perhaps with the Byzantium fervour about chariot teams thrown in – a faction you support for the joy of supporting that crosses religious, economic, and social boundaries.

Edit - changed something about Odyssey life cycle because I'd got the wrong end of the stick somewhere.

Monday, 5 January 2015


Being one in a series of six monthly reviews of my favourite friendly games con.

Before the event somebody asked what our plans for the event was - so I thought I'd compare my answer to reality.

"Drink port, stay up to late, demand to know why they have not brought me prince charmings head on a plate, mock the bacon forge, buy a new game from Dave, reduce the size of my unplayed shelves, deliver 2 bundles of Essen joy, and start 2015 as I mean to go on......"

I definitely drank port.  Saturday morning was not a good morning.

I went to bed at 4.30 and 4 - and while I was never the last one up I figure that counts as late.

I totally failed to play Aye Dark Overlord and so never asked for prince charming head.....  I got sucked into a supper late night game of Kanban which might have been a mistake - see later......

There was some bacon forge mocking - but if I'm honest not that much - and it was better then I expected it to be.  This might indicate just how hung over/still drunk I was on Saturday morning.

I did buy one game from Dave - and while tempted by a 2nd I said no.

I played two unplayed games - my own Antike conversation pack, and Dice Vs Cards.  Which makes me down one over all.  Which is fine......

So I delivered two set of Antike update conversation packs from Essen.

All of which sounds like I managed most of my plan.

In addition I went out to a restaurant and eat a very tasty and frankly excessive quantity of meat.  Still not sure about the meal out - it's always fun but takes a chunk of the con out.  Not just leaving at 8 and back at 11 - but the fact you don't start anything in order to be able to do that.

Introduced some new people to aquasphere - and more evidence that it's not a supper complicated game it's just a really unforgiving game.  The fact that your actions need to be pre-programmed, are often mutually exclusive, and exploiting opportunities requires you to spend time to do so - makes for a very harsh game environment where you can spend a lot of turns achieving very little which feels crappy.

While slightly drunk and unable to choose between Dalmuti and Perudo (two stabcon late night favourites) decided to fire up the large games collider and invent Dalrudo, or maybe Permuti.  We never really decided.  Turned out this worked quite well - with senior roles looking at more dice then lower roles, with the merchants dropping there dice into a shared trade pot and only the highest merchant getting to see all of them.  Did lead to interesting situations - where people were playing while unable to see any dice at all......

Maybe we should try mashing Coyotte and Dalmuti together next time.....  :-)

Anyway - onto new games....

Antike 2 - an old favourite got a new version at Essen. I debated picking it up - a debate that ended when I learned there was an upgrade pack to go from version 1 to version 2. The improvements are minor, some improvements in balance and smoothness of play but it is a better version of the game which is a euro style war game. Got two games of that in and it was well received.  War is in nobody interests......

Arkwright - an epic game of industrialisation that basically eat all of Saturday day. Maths heavy - prone for causing analysis paralysis but it's system of quality, price and appeal is as smooth an implementation of a complicated system as you'll find.  I also like the use of shares and share price to provide a score system that allows different styles of play.  Not one I'm going to own not because of quality but because my opportunities to play would be very limited.

Cards against Dice this is a very quick little filler game with one cards worth of rules.  It's actually a game that could easily be played just using a few dice and a deck of standard playing cards and it is almost a classic pub game but a good and fun classic pub game.  Only one change I'd make to the rules is to reduce the amount of 'lucky' tokens need to win as I think otherwise it might drag a little.

Progress the evolution of technology -  beat described as 'civilisation without the armies and maps' just an epic technology tree to explore.  There is a distinct lack of interaction between players might well be an issue, and it might well be quite random with luck of the draw being the deciding factor but I want to play it again.  It looked like I was storming a head because I was playing tons of cards - but in the end it was much closer then it looked.

Kanban - the game of automotive design is sadly one that left me rather cold.  The idea amused me - it's based in an office designing cars - and you do lots of things but it ends with a scoring round which is you trying to talk about what you've achieved.  As a euro worker placement game with a good reputation I was very keen to play it. I found it baffling - I was unable to plan and every choice seemed worthless.  I described it as not being able to find a rhythm or routine for the game. Buy the end of it i was almost getting the hang of it so it's worth a second attempt.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Another play test.....

So Monday nights play test of Upon a Throne of Bone went well.  We only had 5 of us – so I played a two headed overlord who had no idea what is right hand and left hand were doing......

Although simple the minions seemed to enjoy the whole spying, bidding for units, fighting, resolving cycle – despite the very simple nature of the combat system and rewards.

As the Overlord I also felt I had a set of tools with which to try and drive my minions behaviour – and even deliberately set out to run two different management styles (one carrot, and one stick) to see if I could.  The rest of the overlord game did not get tested so there is nothing to say about that.

That is what is going to appear at stabcon if anybody wants to poke me to see what we've got so far.

The real challenge is going to be working out where additional complexity can be added without losing what works – and there I need to keep in mind the mantra – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Ideas under consideration for now…..

I think the main place to poke is the rewards coming back.  We need a bit more complexity for the overlord game – and in particular we need different sorts of tokens flowing in order to support the mastermind style game.  So I think making doing very well brings back not just fear but all victories.

That in turns effects the bidding sequence, as you are now bidding two things.  I suspect it will be a perudo style bid – so many victories and so much fear.  With victories being more important than fear – so 1 victory and 1 fear is greater bid then 10 fear.  Here the overlord will be able to influence things by indicating what sort of victories they would like – you can fulfil your expectation by delivering any number of   victories but deliver a different sort and the overlord will have the option to slap you down (if they choose).

I might also make giving the 1st and 2nd legions come with some automatic favour – after all the overlord is clearly pleased with you.  But those legions also come with much bigger ways of being punished.  Whereas the 3rd legion will be able to achieve a lot less – but have a lot less risk of punishment and have a chance to be rewarded if they do well.

At the moment all of the information is hidden, and you get to look at some of it.   Whereas I think it might well work better if some of the information is public – and you get to peak at a little less.

Which seems like enough change for now.  What is not being changed – yet – is the combat system.  There are two competing version – the first is based around strength but the strength is a but lumpy – some of your cards have 0 strength, some have 1 strength and some 2 or 3 strength.  So people might see somebody has gone there – but there no sure how much.  The second version is based on the bidding system of Revolution – where you have tiers of resource – with a higher tier beating any amount of a lower tier.  In revolution the tiers are gold, blackmail and force.  No amount of gold will convince somebody to do something against a threat of blackmail, and no amount of blackmail will triumph over the threat of death.    What I like about the second one is that it would allow us to have a sense of progression -starting with corruption, that gets replaced with Legions of orcs and eventually foul beasts like Dragons and Nazguls arrive.

Once it was just me and the Brazen Duke - we rambled about the difference between a larp and a mega game.  This is in part because my friend the Brazen Duke really likes mega games and indeed throws in a lot of roleplaying while doing it– but had a bad experience larping and refuses to consider doing that again…..

The conclusion reached seemed to be that in a mega game there is a very solid game structure and so the larping is optional, while in a larp the roleplaying is mandatory and the gamist elements are very secondary.  If I've remembered that wrong – it was very late.  In the cold light of day the bit about the Mega game still seems to be true – I'm not however so sure about the bit about larping.  In particular his description of the second mega game seemed very much life a free form larp or at least some sort of crisis management game.

We also chatted about interactive theatre – me having been along to ‘A Wood Under the World’ under Leeds town hall quite recently.  One particular thing - I’d got slightly confused as to how to react to the Wood Under The World – because they kept talking to me in character, as if it was all real, where as I had no character.  If I was really me then I wanted to say ‘it’s a play dear’ where as if I was me who discovered an unearthly wood under Leeds town hall and I believed it was real – then I suspect I’d just do a runner (well slow jog)…….  Which meant I was confused as to how to react……  

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Playtest 2 - Version 0.03

So last weekend I headed over to Manchester to play test version 2.  Slightly odd thing as we were a couple of people lower then intended s we ended up doing one overlord and 3 minions test which did not work very well but then it was missing any sort of opposition which is pretty key.

But it was still enough to show up a bunch of things.  The combat system mainly worked but I don't think is correct for this game.  It might well work if you had a semi-cooperative board game with one overlord and there minions....

I also got to be an overlord and I realised there was a bit of game play I really wanted – the minions bidding up what they were offering to the overlord to try and take control of the important army.  That was sort of there but the location set up and the complexity of the resources people were either offering very little or everything under the sun.  Also since all of the information was available to the minions it was both overwhelming and anything one could offer all of the rest could offer as well.

Over coffee before hand people had been talking about software design methodology (it's how we roll). And we'd talked over the concepts of horizontal slice and vertical slice. Horizontal being where you give the barest bones version of everything you want the final version to have as opposed to vertical where you give a complete version of a single part of it.

Chatting in the car on the way back it was clear that I’d been very much trying to do a vertical slice of the minion game but I probably needed to do a horizontal slice to check out the really core game play mechanics. The drive back gave us a long time to talk and so was born an almost total reworking of the game.

It’s important to note that you are seeing the basic structure but each individual part might get replaced by a more detailed component once we've got our heads around the idea. For example players will get a random set of tokens to play the master mind game with rather then it being tied into the result of what the minions do. Why? Because it lets me see how that works with some made up numbers and then once we've seen that then we tie the two systems together.

Upon A Throne of Bone version 0.03 – the simplification.

Set up

4 overlord teams, each consisting of one overlord and 3 minions. The overlord wishes to be the best overlord and wants Terror. The Minions wants to be the most loved minion of their overlord and so they want Favour. The general currency of the game is Fear that the minions get from locations and give to the overlord.  I should say all names open to change.

The overlord will have 3 legions consisting of 7, 5, and 3 1 strength orcs.

There will be three races – human, dwarf and elf – each race made up of 3 locations that hold 4, 3, 2 loot cards.  For play testing the number of cards at locations can easily be reduced which is good as it lets you check how it plays with less people.

Loot cards will yield between 1 and 7 fear – with 4 fear being the most common result.

 There will be five dark gods/demons – each of which will be dealt 3 face up terror cards of value 1 to 5 with 3 being the most common value.

Each minion will be given a human scout token, a dwarf scout token, a elf scout token and three wild scout tokens. They will also be given a 1 strength minion token.

The minion turn 

The minion turn has the following phases.

Scouting – look at loot cards on locations. Each card looked at costs one scout token which is left on the card to indicate it has been looked at.

Bidding – the minions will make increasing bids as to how much fear they will bring back this turn to the overlord if given control of the 1st legion (the biggest). The biggest bid is given the legion and that number is there ‘expectation’. There is then a set of bidding for the 2nd legion. The remaining minion states how many Fear they will be bringing back.

Deployment – the minions place their forces at the location they choose and once placed they cannot be picked back up. Forces are placed into a box/bowl so what is there is unclear.

Any minion who does not wish to use counters may tick off one box from their whimsy seat for each strength that is not used at a location. See later for more details on costs and benefits.

Resolution – each location resolves. With the person with the most strength at a location takes the top prize, in the event of a draw the strongest minion present breaks ties, if still no resolution then both players get the next level of reward down. No single player may take more than one loot card from a location – however multiple minions from a single overlord can each take one loot card. A minion may claim multiple loot cards from multiple locations.

Return – each minion brings their Fear back to the table and compares it with the expectation. The overlord can issue rewards and punishments if the conditions are met and they wish to. See later for more details.

The overlord turn

The overlord has the following phases.

Dark blessing phase use fear generated in previous turn to pay for the offerings you made last turn.  They have to pay the highest bids first – if a bid is not completely paid then the fear is still paid but the bid is discarded.  Take a reward in terms of terror.  In case of draw both get the next level down.  If a dark god is not given at least one fear then the overlord lose one terror.

Bid Phase – the overlord keeps track of the deals made, records the expectations, and takes as many offering counters as the total expectation of all the minions.

Deployment - the overlord places their offerings at the Altar.  They do not need to use all of their expectation – but any unused expectation is lost.  They can not bid more then the expectation they have been given.

Alignment – The overlords take 6 random colour cards and plays mastermind against a set of 4 mastermind games simultaneously.

 Report back – the overlord gets the fear generated, and delivers rewards/punishments to there minions.

Rewards and punishment.

If a minion delivers exactly what they promised then they automatically gain one favour.

In addition the overlord can give out certain rewards and punishments if certain conditions are met – however it is always the overlord choice if they choose to administer the punishment or reward even if the conditions are met.

Each punishment or reward can be administered only once per turn no matter how many minions meet that condition – but a minion can have receive multiple punishments and/or rewards in a turn.


Name: You failed me
Condition: Deliver less fear then promised
Effect: -1 favour

Name:  My trusted right hand
Condition: The controller of the 1st legion delivers less fear then promised
Effect: -1 Favour

Name: Nothing!
Condition: You deliver no fear at all
Effect: -1 Favour

Name: You promised much......
Condition:  You deliver 3 less fear then promised
Effect: -2 Favour

Name: The lash....
Condition: Because the overlord wants to
Effect: -1 Favour

Name: Under promising is under performing
Condition:  Deliver 3 more fear then promised
Effect: -1 Favour


Name: Less is more
Condition: Deliver more fear then a stronger legion
Effect: +1 Favour

Name: Nothing succeeds like success
Condition: Deliver the most fear
Effect: +1 Favour

Name: Over achiever
Condition:  Deliver more then fear then expected
Effect: +1 Favour

Name: You have pleased me
Condition:  Because the overlord wants to
Effect: +1 Favour

Whimsy Sheet

Each minion will have a whimsy sheet.  Instead of using there strength in locations they may tick off one box for each strength not used in a turn.  When the cost is fully paid then the minion receives the listed advantage.

Bonus Favour

1 Strength  = 1 favour

2 Strength = 1 favour

3 Strength = 1 favour

4 Strength = 1 favour

5 Strength = 1 favour

Spy Network

1 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

2 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

3 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

4 Strength = choose one human/elf/dwarf spy

2 Strength = one wild spy

3 Strength = one wild spy

4 Strength = one wild spy

Minion Token

3 Strength = minion token is 2 strength

4 Strength = minion token is 3 strength

5 Strength = minion token is 4 strength

6 Strength = minion token is 5 strength

Thus endeth version 0.03 - which I think is a full version.  Not the intentions, not the direction of travel - but the everything you'd need to play test it written down.....  Which is nice.  I'll do my best to get this done and taken to Stabcon where we can do a micro test if nothing else.

While working on this I had a few ideas of things that might work - and rather then add them in - I've just written them down here so I don't forget them.

  •  Overlords can go into debt with the dark gods, paying more fear then they have.  Best pay that back before the end of the game....
  • In addition to claiming fear - minions also claim victories (high results).  Minions bid so much fear and so many victories.  Very perudo but hey - I like perudo.   

Friday, 12 December 2014

Top ten board games

So I got asked for my top ten board games something I’d never really considered – seems a bit of an omission if you ask me…..

Things is a top ten implies a strict progression – 10 being better than 1. But my enjoyment of a board is very much linked to the people, the time and the mood. If it’s 11 o'clock at night, and I'm slightly drunk, then maybe now is not the time to start an epic (for those people muttering Midnight Britannia under their breath I said maybe.....); conversely if there are 4 of use, it’s ten in the morning and we've no plans then cracking out the vile combo generator is not right either.

So there is no numerical order in these games – instead it’s goes party games, gateway games, and gamer games.

Party Games 

Cards Against Humanity – which I like to describe as a vile game for vile people and which I've brought for my as a sixteenth birthday present because she so enjoyed getting her mother to say the most deeply unpleasant things she could.

I've seen it argued that it’s not a well-designed game – and it’s a fair point – but it’s still a fun game which manages to make everybody feel like there group has the most twisted imaginations ever.

The Great Dalmuti - is a game I've played so often and so drunk that it’s been proved I can explain the rules clearly and coherently while a bottle of port (and more) to the wind.  It’s a simply trick taking game that is elevated into a storming amount of fun due to the fact that it is unfair and allows the people doing well to order the other people around ‘do fetch me a drink….’

Aye Dark Overlord – one of you is the evil overlord, the rest of you are there minions, you were given one job, and you have failed.  That’s the start of the game – as you try and fast talk your way out of trouble and somebody else into it.   A story telling game of brilliance where we throw more and more of the rules away each time that has left me closer to passing out more than once.  Word of warning – it is very dependent on the group you play with and as it’s about the journey rather the destination you are not really able to skip over other people.

Gateway Games

Lover Letter – this one could just as easily have been put in the party games section but it’s a little more involved and deduction based then the party games.  That’s not to say it’s complicated – far from it – there are 16 cards in the game and they all say what they do on them.  But as you try and make sure your love letter gets to the princess and your opponents letter is goes nowhere then it's got a little more focus on   winning or losing then the pure party games.

Settlers of Catan – an absolute classic of game design for a reason.  The game most likely to end up replacing monopoly as the game every family has a copy off.  Roll dice, get stuff, build your settlements and maybe steal a little bit of stuff of people.  I'm a bit of a purist and tend to play with just the basic set – I know there are expansion but the basic set is so well designed and balance why change it?  Introduced a whole generation of gamers to the idea that compelling game play could come from indirect competition for resources and trading.

King of Tokyo – you are a giant monster, you want to destroy Tokyo, other giant monsters want to stop you, crush them!  Often described as gamer yahtzee it’s basic mechanic of ‘throw and reroll and reroll to see what you get’ is easy to grasp while the power cards add an element of replayability and depth as you try and work out which broken combo of cards you want to unleash on your foes.  All while trying t push your luck as to how long can you stay as the king of Tokyo.  I will say I don’t own this game – but I've come damn close a number of times.

Heavy weight games

Most of these take an evening to play, require a reasonable amount of rules explanation and generally involve a certain amount of thinking.

Britannia – Yes I know it’s 8 hours long, yes I know it plays with exactly 4 people which is annoying , and yes I know it very luck based and involves throwing tons of dice often to no damn effect; but it gives you the whole scope of British history from the Romans through to the Normans.  It’s great to win, and it’s great to see some really messed up history ‘We call this Pictland’ or ‘Well that’s the last Saxon dead – murdered by the Welsh’ or ‘What do you mean William the conqueror died under Jutish axes on the southern coast – who the hell are the Jutes?’.

Caverna – you are dwarves, you need to make the best dwarfish home you can.  So send your dwarves out to mine, farm, adventure, and furnish in this fabulous and smooth worker placement game.  I know I said I preferred Glass Road before and that is still brilliant – but Caverna is winning me over……  Tiny little wooden sheep after tiny little wooden sheep……

Trajan – there’s a bit playing Trajan where your brain breaks and you think you can see through time and space, see through to the underlying code of the universe and manipulate it to your will.  Don’t worry that’s perfectly normal; it’s also utterly false as you’ll discover in 4 turns time when you realise you've fucked up.   It’s paper thing Roman theme puts some people off but for me it’s unique mancala (move token between pots) based action sequence makes it shine – and when you pull off a clever turn spanning combo to really grand effect it makes you feel like the king of the world.  I don't own Trajan but I want to.  I so want to.

Brass - the industrial revolution, spin, ship, mine, and railway your way to the top as the best and most efficient capitalist oppressor you can be; all set in in sunny Lancashire.  Use of a deck of cards manages to give you almost unlimited freedom but restrict you just enough or to put it another way you wander why the cards were ever included right up until the point they block your awesome move.....  I did almost pick Tinner Trail by Martin Wallace but I've played Brass more and it's definitely the more famous of his games.

So there you go - my top 10.  Tell me why I'm wrong and what I missed off that has to be on this list or I am a no nothing