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Review: Detective Club

Quintin Smith14 comment(s)

Ben: Picture the scene: you are in an art gallery. The curator asks you to pick two paintings that match a specific word. They won’t, however, tell you what that word is. You run off and pick two different paintings; one of a horse, the other of an apple in a window. The curator then tells you the word they were thinking of was “escape”, and asks you why on earth you picked those two paintings.

Welcome to the most unusual club in the world!

Detective Club is a party game that sees 4-8 players trying to match fabulous picture cards to different words. Each round, a different player will choose a word, write it on all but one of the adorable tiny notebooks the game comes with, shuffles them, and deals them out. Can you see where this is going?

The player who chose the word then takes a a card from their hand that represents the word they’ve chosen, and places it on the table.

The other players then look at the word that’s been written on their notebook, and collectively laugh, frown, squint, or all of the above (or they just pretend to if they received the blank notebook, but more on that later). You then go around the group, with everybody playing a card from their hand they think matches the chosen word, until each player has two cards in front of them.

Let’s be clear before we move on; these cards are as gorgeous as they are dreamlike (‘very’ on both counts). If you’ve seen the abstract artwork of Mysterium or Dixit, you’ll know what to expect here. There’s genuine joy and intrigue as each player lays out another beautiful image in front of them, and players crowd round to pick out all the different aspects of the picture. This not only creates a pleasant tingle of excitement amongst the group, but also gives the Conspirator crucial thinking time.

Remember, one of the notebooks handed out is totally blank, meaning one player has no idea what connects the other images. As such, they are desperately scanning each picture to pick out a theme.

Do these cards all depict travel? Regret? Sponges? The images are so abstract and surreal it’s never entirely clear. The Conspirator has little time to think, as once everyone has placed a second card the first player tells everyone what the word is and why they played the cards they did. What happens next made both me and Quinns laugh out loud when we read the manual. Quite simply, each player then has to explain how the cards they chose match the chosen word. If you only found out what the word was 15 seconds ago you better do a good job at convincing your fellow detectives that you had a detailed plan all along.

This gives Detective Club a gentle element of hidden identity games. Once everyone has explained their pictures they then interrogate each other and try to find a weak link. Of course, normally a detective is trying to find out if a fact is true or not. Detective Club feels more like the Annual Art Critics Arguing Convention. You start to question; does that look like a tunnel, or a worm? You have fantastic moments where you have the realisation that a person isn’t lying, they just have such a weird imagination they see images completely differently.

This is where the strangeness of these images comes home to roost. You can be one of the players who knows what the chosen word is, but not have a single card in your hand that represents that idea or concept. This leaves you looking for increasingly abstract interpretations, like a 17 year old who has just discovered jazz and won’t shut up about it. Of course, a tenuous explanation makes you look guilty even if you’re not.

Once everyone has voted on who they think the Conspirator is with the placement of an excellent little magnifying glass, everyone reveals, and scores points if they guess correctly or, if they’re the Conspirator or the first player who handed out the notebooks, they score only if less than two players identified the conspirator. After all, crime doesn’t pay. Unless people don’t know you’re guilty, in which case apparently it does.

The pace of Detective Club is just right for a party game. There’s hardly any downtime, as spending time thinking is easily read as the actions of the guilty, so the structure of the game gently pushes players to act impulsively rather than overthinking each card. The only time there’s dedicated thinking time is when the first player is choosing and writing out the word. However, in a subtly efficient piece of game design, this is when players draw new cards, giving them a couple more pieces of art to admire.

Detective Club also gets massive points for being a very visual game, which makes it much immediately more inclusive. The version we had was French (which we barely speak), and after we’d learned the basic rules we never referred to the manual once.

The only major criticism we have of Detective Club is around which groups it plays well with. Whilst the mechanics are simple and can be explained in a few minutes, there is a natural tendency for quieter detectives to be drowned out by their louder colleagues. That said, this is a common issue for a lot of similar games, and Detective Club somewhat mitigates this by encouraging players not to over-analyse their own artistic choices. In our games the more a player tried to explain their choices the guiltier they sounded. The fact that everyone gets a turn choosing words and the Conspirator is random each turn also keeps everyone involved.

Detective Club might remind people of Spyfall, as both are games of trying to root out an impostor who’s missing the information that other people are. Whereas Spyfall relies on questioning one another and a somewhat artificial time limit, Detective Club is simply a case of playing two of six cards and hoping you can talk the right level of nonsense. It’s a significantly more relaxing experience. There are fewer cunning plays to be made, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Getting 8 people to concentrate on rules explanations and advised strategies is about as easy as getting 8 people to remember details of each others’ holidays. From 5 years ago.

Instead, you’re better off thinking of Detective Club as a more grandiose version of A Fake Artist Goes to New York. Both games are excellently simple hidden identity games without the intense pressure that usually defines the genre. But where A Fake Artist is a masterpiece of simplicity, breaking out Detective Club feels more like an event.

You’ll likely already know if you have friends who would enjoy Detective Club. If you’re the kind of social group that has as much fun arguing about a film as watching it then you should definitely investigate it. If you have a group that would prefer to sit in quiet contemplation as they mastermind a complex strategy them may find it a touch too raucous. The psychological to and fro combined with increasing levels of pseudo-artistic interpretation are a huge amount of fun, and definitely worthy of a recommendation.

If you’re still unsure, try reading this review and deciding if I actually played Detective Club, or if I’ve only read the manual and I’m actually bluffing it. Spoiler: I did play Detective Club and it’s a blast.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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Impressions: Yomi

Quintin Smith12 comment(s)

Quinns: The people have spoken! After our glowing review of Combo Fighter on Friday, Shut Up & Sit Down was besieged by comments asking what we thought of Yomi, a well-liked 2011 game with a very similar foundation (as well as a teeming crowd of 20 playable characters).

We hadn’t played Yomi when we filmed the Combo Fighter review. Today, I can announce that we have played Yomi, and can provide some official SU&SD impressions!

So let’s start here: Holy kittens, Yomi is *bizarre*.

Like Combo Fighter, Yomi is a fighting game that sees players simultaneously selecting a card, revealing, and then one player wins the rock/paper/scissors battle. Like Combo Fighter, winning a round in Yomi then lets you play more cards from your hand in a bruising combo.

…But unlike Combo Fighter, which has strikingly clean cards and cardplay, Yomi has the busiest cards I have ever seen in a game. Cards so busy that they probably have three phones and a heart condition.

There are fifteen different features you might find on these cards, but also note that every card is double-ended, meaning that there can be upwards of 20 pieces of relevant info on a single card (as well as a picture of your character in one of three different art styles that is upside-down half the time). Fan out your starting hand of seven cards, and you’re potentially staring down the barrel of more than 100 pieces of information.

You can also see a “Joker” on the left up there. That’s because every fighter deck can also be used as an ordinary deck of playing cards! This is a design decision that it both amazingly awkward and semi-elegant. It’s awkwalegant!

However, where Yomi benefits from this deluge of data is in presenting players with an absolutely excellent hand management game.

Where in Combo Fighter players always draw back up to five cards, in Yomi you draw just one card a turn, but you can draw an extra card if you play an unambitious “Normal” attack or a successful block. In fact, block cards always return to your hand unless they’re countered with a throw.

What this means is that players who aggressively extend their combos are also thinning out their hand of cards (and available options) for future turns, while players who cautiously stockpile cards will have an easier time utilising Yomi’s rules to do with forming cards into poker-style pairs and straights. Since a game of Yomi takes three or four times as long as a round of Combo Fighter, this system gives player plenty of rope to hang themselves should they go in for the kill too early or too late, which is a lot of fun.

In 2010, beloved board game reviewer Tom Vasel said that Yomi was one of his favourite games to play, and after trying it myself I can’t say that I’m surprised. The peculiarities of each character and how to pilot them through this thought-provoking puzzle made me want to stick with a single character and hone my skills, but it was equally tempting to crack open a new deck and see what it was like, and that feeling of being spoilt for choice is a sure sign of quality.

I don’t think the array of teeny text on the cards has aged all that well, the horrible male gaze art definitely belongs in the past (my gosh, it’s even seedier than the video games it’s emulating), and it’s hard to teach Yomi’s array of unusual rules without sounding somewhat demented, but the game itself shines through all of this bad weather. It’s just a very strong design.

That said, it’s also crystal clear what Combo Fighter does better. It’s profoundly ironic, but Combo Fighter is actually a better example of “Yomi”, the intangible mind game of “predicting your opponent” that was coined by the designer of Yomi, David Sirlin.

In our video review we described Combo Fighter “as if Inception took place in an alley at 2am”; it’s a game where at least 5 of the 10 minutes that a round takes is spent inside of your opponent’s head. By contrast, in the actual game of Yomi both players are presented with a haystack of information and the complex hand management game that’s mostly hidden from your opponent, which means that while prediction is still part of the game, it’s harder for both players to derive satisfaction from the outcome. Did you actually out-think your opponent there? Or were they half-expecting to lose, instead choosing to play sub-optimal card so that they could keep building a straight? Where Combo Fighter creates a painful impact with each flip of a card, flipping two cards in Yomi creates a lot of reading and the question of whether the losing player wants to deploy a Joker for the Rewind Time feature.

But as I say, overall I was very pleasantly surprised by Yomi, and I certainly wasn’t expecting our review of Combo Fighter to lead me to another great game!

That said, despite some similarities Combo Fighter and Yomi are meant for two very different audiences. Combo Fighter is a light bit of fun that I could teach to anybody. I also think it best captures the spirit of fighting games, which is an endless cycle of “What’s happening,” “Oh my gosh that was awesome,” “Oh crap I’ve lost”. It’s a AAA game for reasons of art, attitude and accessibility, and it’s the box that I’ll be keeping in my collection.

By contrast, Yomi is for people who like their games to have serious staying power. It’s for competitive folks who want to get down and dirty in a rich lil’ system, and it better simulates the technical complexity of fighting games. Where in Combo Fighter you’ll have figured out what makes two characters special within five minutes, in Yomi learning the fundamentals of two characters might take two hours. If you want a 1v1 game that’ll keep you and your roommate or partner scratching your head for months, I think you could do a lot worse than Yomi.

If you’re interested, Yomi appears to still be available from Sirlin’s own site, where you can also download Yomi as a free print’n’play (which you could totally stick onto a normal deck of cards!). It’s also available digitally on Steam and iOS, in case you’ve always wanted a fighting video game, in card game form, in video game form.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m heading off to sit in my office with the curtains drawn and my hands over my ears, so that I can ignore the small group of people telling me to try Exceed instead.


The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 16/09/19

Quintin Smith38 comment(s)

Ava: Hlph um kumphlll. Mummph blumph fulmph bugublfu

Quinns: What was that, Ava?

Ava: *large tearing noise and a series of ragged gasps* Help me, Quinns, I’m stuck inside this baseball!

Quinns: …

Ava: It’s an allegory, Quinns, and a warning that this week’s games news is a bit more inside baseball than usual.

Quinns: I can just about understand that, but how did you get in there!?

Ava: Never doubt my commitment to a bit, Quinns. Also, I’m sorry I ruined your baseball.

Kickstarter’s Brooklyn offices.

Ava: It’s impossible to ignore the big news this week, which is that Kickstarter has been accused of union-busting after three employees were sacked in rapid succession. The workers say there’s no clear reason given for their firing, and it’s hard to ignore the common factor being union organisation. Over a hundred Kickstarter creators (this site included) have signed an open letter in condemnation of the crowdfunding company, standing in solidarity with the fired workers and the rest of the union.

Quinns: It’s certainly a reminder that beneath all of the glossy PR, Kickstarter is still a tech company. SU&SD will be monitoring the situation closely, and we’ll be thinking twice before using the platform for any future projects.

SU&SD has a strange relationship with Kickstarter. It’s the source of a couple of fun news stories a week, yet we often find ourselves warning people away from the most hyped projects. Despite this, there’s no doubt that Kickstarter has helped bring new voices and unusual projects into the world, so it’s hugely disappointing (if predictable) that a company that theoretically supports grassroots projects appears opposed to the rights of its workers.

Ava: Of course, I would point out that a company that uses its platform to extract a percentage from as many people’s creative labour as possible is a precise definition of exploitative capitalism, but so is pretty much all labour in our economic system!

Ava: Back to news about actual board game boards. Days of Wonder has announced the destinations for the seventh(!) map pack of the enormously successful Ticket to Ride.

Ticket to Ride: Japan and Italy offers two new maps, each with their own special features, and some of the most adorable little bullet train minis we’ve ever seen. Look at that lovely snub nose locomotive. I’ll take ten!

Quinns: You can’t, I’ve taken them all, they are mine now

Ava: Quinns’ bullet trains are (were?) part of the Japan map, representing a joint infrastructure project that players can contribute too, but are then shared by everyone. If you do the most work on the bullet train network, you’ll be rewarded, but drag your heels and you might find yourself losing points. It’s a nice little twist! Italy will have you touring the country’s regions to gather bonuses, whilst wrestling ferries over stormy seas.

Quinns: Chrono Corsairs has been announced by Tasty Minstrel Games, and it will be the greatest board game ever made.

Ava: Are you sure about that? It sounds like someone fell asleep drunk in front of Time Bandits and woke up to find themselves shaping mashed potato into the shape of a game board.

Quinns: Ava, how dare you. Sometimes a games writer has to pin their colours to the mast. Chrono Corsairs is a game of several pirates crews trying to collect the most treasure on Ouroboros Island, where time forever loops, and when it releases I will never need another game ever again

Ava: I can’t hear the word ouroboros without thinking of the Red Dwarf bit about it being a baby in a cardboard box called ‘our Rob, or Ross’.

Quinns: Essentially, Chrono Corsairs is an iterative programming game. Each turn players all place a new event card in the timeline, and then you play out these event cards, reset the board (but leave the event cards!) and add another action to the queue. I’m being silly up above, but I actually think this sounds like an elegant way of modelling Hollywood timeline-twisting shenanigans.

Ava: Some other pop culture reference masquerading as a joke.

Quinns: How about, “So it’s Primer meets Robo-rally?”

Ava: *Celebratory air horn* We’ve got a news!

Quinns: I was pretty excited this week when I got an email from Askhan Javaheri, CEO of Iranian publisher Dorehami Games. He wrote with information about two new games, The Last Station and Two Khans, and both sound like intriguing prospects.

Ava: The Last Station tickled my wick quite emphatically by promising a storytelling social deduction game set in Veresk, the last train station before Tehran. The outlaw Marvan is being sent to trial, and some players will be trying to rescue him, while the rest try to keep him at the station until the train is ready to take him to his trial and execution. Players will have secret roles with some shared information, but it sounds like a more narrative concept than most Werewolf-alikes. Your character is not tied to your secret faction, and you’ll play through a series of events to attempt to uncover who is who, and what will happen in a slowly escalating confrontation. It sounds like a lark, and the art is gorgeous.

Two Khans looks like a deductive version of the Spin Doctors’ ‘Two Princes’, with two teams vying to kill competing heirs and leave their chosen Khan as the holder of the throne by dawn. Again, it feels like a nice twist on social deduction, and I’m keen to find out more.

Please get in touch, publishers from further afield! It’s lovely to hear from you!

Quinns: I am *so* here for Iran joining the international board game scene. I was lucky enough to do a lot of travelling when I was younger, and Iran was the friendliest place I’ve ever been. Even if part of my sightseeing was this “Tower of Silence”, which I believe arrived on Earth from the Dark Souls universe.

Ava: It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of historical games, and all the best details of history come from people who have lived near to it. All history is local history to somebody. I really hope we can start a trend for regional publishers making games out of weird little incidents we’d never otherwise hear about. More perspectives always means better angles!

Ava: Perhaps you thought legacy games were over, but maybe it’s just time they learnt a new trick or two. You’ll get this joke in exactly one more sentence, I promise.

Trick Legacy will take you on a tour of some of the most popular trick taking card games, using two perfectly normal decks of playing cards and a fantasy ruleset that changes as you play. It sounds like a campaign version of our card games that don’t suck series, and that alone is an intriguing prospect. The subtleties and peculiarities of trick taking games is a subject I could get lost in for hours, and the chance to play through that discussion as a legacy game is something I never expected to be offered.

That said, it might all be bobbins, and for trick-taking games I already have Skull King, The Fox in the Forest, and as many games as I can throw a standard fifty two card deck at.

Quinns: I’ve never been simultaneously so repulsed and so onboard as I was watching this short explanatory video. I think you’re dead right that this game faces some humongously stiff competition. Just a couple of weeks ago I discovered the fantastic Tournament at Camelot, which is also a trick taking game of fantasy combat that threatens to spiral into madness at any second. But equally, a legacy game that modifies a 52 card deck is SUCH a good idea, and in this one I can play a skeleton

Ava: That video is incredibly off-putting. I was quite heartened that they’ve found a way to get out of the replayability problem of Legacy games, in that actually you can reset the game with two standard card decks, which is the cheapest reboot kit I’ve ever seen.

Quinns: Why do they *sell* those reboot kits? Can you imagine anyone finishing a legacy game and going “You know what? Let’s reset this baby up a notch and go again!”

Ava: I imagine it’s one of those things that you only manufacture two of, so you can claim you’re selling it, so that people feel reassured that they could reset it if it came to that? Answer the perceived criticism, knowing you don’t actually have to fix anything? Maybe they’re all just empty boxes.

Ava: Heading back inside that baseball, Nathan McNair of Pandasaurus games has had a fascinating dive behind the scenes of publishing probabilities reblogged onto boardgamegeek. He’s talking about “the Superstar effect”, and how the risks of publishing and distributing games cause scarcity and gaps in demand. It’s an interesting read, especially in light of Stonemaier Games’ Jamey Stegmaier announcing that he feels damned whatever he does, while discussing the accusations of artificial scarcity around Wingspan and Tapestry. It’s a cutthroat world inside that baseball, I’m glad I’m mostly on the sidelines, and not being pitched past the stiff wooden bat of potential success, into the waiting leather glove of over-eager, impatient fans.

I know absolutely nothing about baseball, by the way.

Quinns: Whoever thought inside baseball was a good idea? There’s hardly enough room to swing the bat and you’ll get mud on the sofa.

Ava: But at least it’s easier to get…..A HOME RUN.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down