Posted on

Review – Isle of Skye: Journeyman

Quinns: Two years on from Paul’s bucolic Isle of Skye review (ft. his family cookie recipe), Matt and I have finally taken a stroll through this game’s wonky Scottish islands. And you know what? We’re both as charmed as Paul was. Isle of Skye is a sweet, rich game of buying and selling squares of land like so much dense shortbread, and I’d recommend it to anybody.

As this site’s #1 expansion fan, I’m thrilled to say that today we’re looking at Isle of Skye’s first expansion! It’s Isle of Skye: Journeyman. With it, no longer are you just mapping an island. Journeyman adds a wooden “best mate” who waddles around your island, diligently studying everything from cows to ponds.

But the first thing to say is that this expansion changes the tenor of the experience faster than a fart at a funeral.

Before the expansion, Isle of Skye was a game you could teach in a couple of minutes. With the expansion? Not so much!

As if Journeyman was setting out to parody German-style board games, the expansion gives every player (a) some cubes, (b) a victory point multiplier and (c) a player board slathered in iconography.

Fortunately, this looks more complicated than it really is.

Each player’s board has three tracks, each representing a profession that their best mate can progress in. By pushing your cube down the middle “merchant” track you (the player) get more money. The bottom “herald” track gets you victory points, and the top “warrior” track is the least rewarding, but you can advance down it for free whenever anyone buys a tile from you.

To make headway in each profession, Journeyman adds a new phase to every turn of the game. When players all expand their islands with new tiles they’ve acquired, they now also place cubes on their isle as waypoints, and send their little journeyman scrambling o’er hills and dale so that they reach one of the landmarks they need to progress in any of the three tracks.

Perhaps you need to visit an ox. Easy! But what about when it tells you to visit a complete area of pasture? Do you even have one of them? You can always skip a requirement by returning your best mate to your castle so they can be tutored, but this gets more and more expensive. You’re also trying to reach all of this with a limited number of movement points. Eek.

But you want to persevere past all of these obstacles, because the rewards are massive.

And lo, with the need to supervise this outdoorsy toddler of yours, the speedy game of Isle of Skye becomes 20 minutes longer, and every decision is made twice as tricky. Which tiles should you buy? How much are they worth? Where should you put them? What track are you trying to prioritise?

In this sense the expansion is transformative. Where Isle of Skye was a neat, substantial gateway game, the first expansion turns it into something that even veteran players will frown and tut over. The game is born anew! This makes Journeyman perfect if your group is ready to transition into a heavier game. Alternatively, you could buy it for the added flexibility of being able to make Isle of Skye a more involved game when your friends feel so inclined. That’s very nice.

But in another sense, Journeyman isn’t so different. It understands the appeal of the original game. Your quaint little island is now brought to life by this person racing along its roads, or paddling slowly across its lakes (even if marching across your own personal player board is comparatively drab). And the core of the game – trying (and failing) to assign prices to your tiles like a shopkeeper who’s just hit his head – is still the silly heart of the experience.

The thing is, in taking a game that’s so excellently breezy and weighing it down, I wouldn’t want to play with Journeyman every time. But actually, that’s quite a cool thing!

We always say we like games where when you finish them, you want to try them again with different player counts. Isle of Skye already had that, and now playing with the expansion makes me want to play the simple base game again, which makes me want to try the expansion again, which makes me want to play the base game, which makes me OH MY GOODNESS I’ve gone SCOTTISH CRAZY

Quick Matt, you talk while I have a restorative mug of scotch.

Matt: I too, have gone “Scot-Mad™”. There’s little to be said here that you haven’t already deftly covered, but I must say I was quietly surprised by how smooth this expansion is. Additional options didn’t cause too much brain-freeze, instead just offering alternative directions to pursue. The depth provides more room for savvy players to race ahead, but equally, it makes it harder for anyone to have a terrible turn: you didn’t get the tile you needed to finish that road, but at least you can progress on a couple of those tracks. In a game which frequently offers literal dead ends, this expansion tidies-up as much frustration as it adds. Very neat!

Frustration makes it sound worse than it is, though. Funstration? Is funstration a word? Half the joy of Isle of Skye is in the moments when plans go pear-shaped, and the additional factors that Journeyman adds makes the tile-selling component of the game even less predictable. Trying to loosely keep track of everyone’s plans is tougher than ever, leading to some spectacularly misjudged pricing. Oh gosh, it’s good! What a very good game.

Except for the road tokens.

Being able to place new roads on your island is a fantastic new mechanic, but oh my, it rubs my design brain up the wrong way. You’ve got discoloured, three-dimensional straight roads lying higgledy-piggledy on top of curving roads. There’s no way to line them up straight, no matter how much you nudge them around with your fingernail. Argh!

Quinns: You know there’s a second expansion coming out this year, right?

Matt: Sounds great! I can’t wait to try it.

Quinns: Let’s assume it’s like this expansion and makes you want to play the game again, but with a different setup. Hang on, let me upload something.

Matt: Oh no, Quinns, we talked about this

Quinns: It’s a science chart I just whipped up! Look, the red circle is the base game, right? The green circle is the Journeyman expansion, and the blue circle is the 2nd expansion. Look! There will be four ways to play if you play with some expansions and not the other! FOUR WAYS TO PLAY! And of course, this chart DOESNT take into account wanting to play with DIFFERENT player NBUMBERS

[At this point in the review, Quinns needed to be sedated for his own safety.]

Matt: If you’re interested in more games from designer Mister Pfister, why not check out our review of Great Western Trail, his biggest and most highly-praised game. Then you could read about Mombasa, which Quinns and I didn’t like as much, or you could dip into the archives for our old review of one of his first published games, The Mines of Zavandor.

Now if you’ll all excuse me, I need to drag Quinns to his recovery cot.

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

Posted on

A Single Games New(s)! 05/03/18

Quinns: Hi all! We’re not doing a full Games News today as Paul and I both happen to be moving house, but I thought I’d scribble something about this week’s top story.

Batman™: Gotham City Chronicles is the smokin’ hot, spandex-spangled new Kickstarter that launched this week, and at the time of writing it’s raised some $2.5 million (plus shipping). It could end up being one of the biggest Kickstarters of all time.

That’s hardly a surprise. Not only is it offering more than 100 Batman-related miniatures and something called a “Bat-Tablet”, it’s also the sequel to Conan, which we reviewed and loved. Kickstarters this exciting are as rare as bat’s teeth. Not only that, publishers Monolith have stated that unlike Conan, Batman will only be available through Kickstarter, so the pressure’s on! Should you buy it?!

Speaking personally?

…I’m afraid that I’m not 100% sure you should.

When we reviewed Conan, we said that while the game and production values were killer (pun intended), we were disappointed by the number of scenarios in the base game, concluding that you might want to hold off until Monolith proved they were invested in supporting the game after release.

Since then, Monolith have failed to deliver any more than the bare minimum of ways to actually play their game. Compared to other action-packed games like Gloomhaven, which offers hundreds of hours of plot and progression, or Imperial Assault, which Fantasy Flight have supported in just about every way imaginable, Conan’s online scenario database looks positively malnourished, especially so if you’re looking at it with an eye to using your stretch goal miniatures. Won’t somebody spare a thought for the poor stretch goal minis?! 16,000 plastic scorpions, or 80,000 plastic mummies (since each backer got five of those), gathering dust the world over.

Worse than that, some of the scenarios they released were simply unbalanced for one side or the other. Monolith’s somewhat mercenary attitude can also be seen in the smaller expansions they’ve released for Conan, which are I found very silly. Who wants to spend $25 on ten crossbowmen that are only used in two scenarios?

Batman will ship with 10 more scenarios than Conan, and Monolith have said that they’ll do better with regards to balance, but those seem like small improvements that barely keep pace with improvements in board gaming in the last few years.

Speaking as someone who loves Conan but hasn’t taken it out of its box in a year, what Batman sorely needed was an exciting reason to get the game out, week after week. A story mode, a campaign, tools so that players could easily design and share their own scenarios. Something, anything stating that this won’t be another dramatic but secretly impractical toybox.

I’m loathe to post a Games News which is just me displaying the nerviness of a wild deer. It sucks. Shut Up & Sit Down is supposed to be all about positivity and showing off all that board games can be… but I think sometimes that means taking steps to ensure that people don’t get a little burned, especially if money’s tight for you. I might not even be broadcasting this warning if Batman was the same price as other glossy Kickstarters like Conan or Rising Sun, but this is even more expensive. It’s $140 plus some $20 shipping.

I also might not be posting this if Monolith were bringing this game to retail, but in stating that this game will only ever be on Kickstarter, I feel like they forced my hand.

So, if you’re just backing Batman to get the cool miniatures, or you’re excited to design scenarios yourself? Awesome, back away! But if you’re backing it to get a great game that’ll hit the table again and again? I worry that you’re taking something of a risk.

There are some disappointed Conan backers out there, is all I’m saying. And a lot of dusty mummies. Ooh, and if you want a tried-and-tested Batman game, do at least check out the excellent Batman Miniatures Game first!

Anyway, what I’d REALLY LIKE is if this news post didn’t cause a comments thread choked with arguments and negativity, so please, help a guy out- what fun stuff did you get up to on the weekend, everybody?

UPDATE: Thanks to Monolith, who have taken the time to respond to this post. Their statement can be found in full below, though we’ve added links where relevant.

First, we would like to thank SUSD for giving us the opportunity to respond and we want to highlight that this is not in regards to opinions expressed in your article. We just want to address a couple of items presented as facts.

The point of the article is to help SUSD readers to decide whether they should back Batman or not.

It starts by saying that with Conan “game and production values were killer”, and continues by saying that we “failed to deliver any more than the bare minimum of ways to actually play the(ir) game”.

It is mainly this statement we would like to refute.

Since early 2017, we have been regularly posting new scenarios on our website. We currently have 18 new scenarios on top of the 8 from the core box. That is around 1 new scenario per month, and it is not over as we continue to publish them regularly, allowing Conan owners to play all their miniatures, making Conan even less of a “secretly impractical toybox”. We published a new scenario less than 2 weeks ago, sending updates and posting on our Facebook page to let people know.

We have successfully launched another Conan Kickstarter campaign offering these new scenarios with additional fluff compiled in a nice booklet, something that was requested by Conan fans.

We also created a website dedicated to the Conan game called The Overlord, gathering close to 10,000 members in English and French. This community has been and continues to be excellent and active, creating dozens upon dozens of fan-made scenarios. In fact, we decided to thank them by offering, for free, 2 [physical] compendiums which compile these fan-made scenarios, lore, and painting guides. The only thing fans paid was the shipping fees to their country. We commissioned some of the content and all of the editing, layout, and printing. This added even more content to the game.

Finally, we are going to launch a new Conan Kickstarter campaign next year, offering the first game for those who missed it, adding new expansions to continue exploring the Conan universe, and bringing back some of the improvements made in Batman.

Speaking of Batman, the article states that the game “will ship with 10 more scenarios than Conan”. It is actually 13 more and counting. These 21 scenarios directly include the core box content and the unlocked Stretch Goals.

The article also states “I might not even be broadcasting this warning if Batman was the same price as other glossy Kickstarters like Conan or Rising Sun, but this is even more expensive. It’s $140 plus some $20 shipping”. Batman is indeed $140, which is $5 more than the King Pledge of Conan that offered similar content, more than 3 years ago.

I believe we proved that we are not the kind of company that releases a game and then moves on to the next, leaving the previous one to die.

We believe that a game does not exist without a community of gamers. It is something we supported with Conan, and that we will support with Batman.

We hope that this response gives you a better sense of what Monolith does as a publisher regarding the support of their games.

Thank you.

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

Posted on

Review: Battle for Rokugan

Paul: I can’t remember the last time I angered so many people so quickly. The last time I broke so many promises, stepped on so many toes, turned on so many friends. Maybe I never have before. Maybe a board game has brought out the very worst in me. Maybe my ambition has finally overcome my morality.

Was it worth it? Was all the bloodshed, backstabbing and brutality justified in service to my thirst for cardboard conquest? Would I do it all again? I just might, so take a seat and let me tell you all about Battle for Rokugan.

First, I just can’t go on without acknowledging that this game has a very obvious ancestor, the aged but still healthy relative that is Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Veteran readers may remember that we reviewed this nearly six and a half years ago, a time so far back that I couldn’t tie my own laces and Quinns had never been out of Hammersmith. We’ve enjoyed it over the years and its bald butchery remains beloved by many, but against more contemporary titles it’s both overlong and overwrought.

So like a fussy teen trying to ditch uncool dad, Battle for Rokugan distances itself from its forefather as much as possible. It has a much faster playing time, with a full game of five ending in two hours or less, it adds a bunch of simple powers and variables and, much to our surprise, it also ditches the gloss and the plastic.

While Game of Thrones: The Board Game looked appropriately ostentatious, with its marbled knights and elaborate art, Battle for Rokugan has this sort of pastel, washed-out feel. In all honesty, when I first unfolded this map of gentle patterns and light tracing my hindbrain yelled “YOU ARE LOOKING AT A SHOWER CURTAIN.” It doesn’t help that the cardboard tokens used for things like armies, navies and territories are all flat and greyish. It’s not that Battle for Rokugan is an indistinct game, as you can tell what’s going on most of the time, but it does feel like it’s trying extremely hard to be as gentle as possible.

But don’t for a moment let this timidity of tone trick you. Three to five players crammed into the continent of Rokugan is less a knife fight in a phone booth than it is a katana party in a corner cabinet: fierce and furious from the start.

After deploying to their clan’s starting areas, plus ANYWHERE ELSE on the map they like, each player draws from a pool of face-down tokens that represent different strength armies and navies, as well as special actions. Squirreling half a dozen behind their screen, they may find themselves looking at a diplomacy token, a two point navy and a few one point armies, as well as their blank bluff token. Each clan’s token pool is very slightly different, with the brave Lion clan boasting the only six point army, or the conniving Crane having an extra diplomacy token, but I wish there was more variety to these. They’re almost identical.

These tokens are both the attacks and special actions they can take that turn, but also the tiny cogs that turn the wheels of this game, the foundations upon which everything else is formed. If these tokens show high-value armies, these will do great defending a home province or striking out to new lands. Navies can attack distant coastal regions. Stealthy shinobi can be deployed anywhere, attacking from within as if they had burst out of the ground. And, of course, the objective is to conquer provinces to score points, which some being more valuable than others.

Conquering a province is as simple as deploying attackers with higher values than those defending but, since everyone is taking turns laying those tokens face-down, it’s impossible to know exactly how powerful anything might be. Then there’s that bluff token, which has no value at all but looks exactly like an invading force or a sneaky shinobi. Once everyone has deployed their tokens, they’re revealed and resolved, an inevitably enraging experience. One player has fortified a province that was never in danger! Another has wasted their most powerful against a weakling opponent! It’s a quick resolution as each player deploys just five tokens, retaining their sixth.

Just five! Five randomly-determined actions across all of Rokugan per turn, actions you may even resent. Compromises. Right from the start, this game doesn’t so much demand its players make hard choices as make downright hair-tearing ones. Did you want to seize the eastern isles? Sorry, you didn’t draw any navies. Or defend against a massive attack from the south? Not with armies as tough as tall grass. And once those tokens are played, they’re discarded. Only your bluff returns to you so, every turn, it’s now or never. Over and over.

While some players are going to see this as an ongoing challenge, others are going to find it immediately frustrating. Randomness aside, five tokens hugely limits your ability to both attack and defend, meaning you’re both perpetually vulnerable and restricted in your ambitions. There’s a constant feeling of fragility, everyone remains a target and there’s always something exposed.

Good.

It’s almost impossible to turtle, to play in a way where stack up your defences, but so too is it impossible for anyone to steamroll and to construct long, elaborate strategies. The game changes turn by turn, new plans developing as new tokens are drawn. You almost can’t help but turn on your neighbour, break that tacit agreement you had or suddenly launch a surprise attack at the other end of the board. “My tokens forced my hand,” you say. It might even be true.

If this alone were Battle for Rokugan, it would already be an interesting proposition, but there’s a little more pastry on this pie. My favourite mechanic (in not just this game, but perhaps any I’ve tried in months) is a simple rule stating that, when a province is successfully defended, its defence value increases, as does its points value to the player who holds it. Like so:

Fail in an attack and you not only embolden the defenders, you also award your opponent a point. Choose your strikes carefully.

Then there’s everything that doesn’t involve fighting. Playing a diplomacy token prevents anyone from attacking into or out of that province for the rest of the game. Shinobi can attack distant regions, sure, but combine them with a raid token and they can put them to the torch, razing a province for the rest of the game.

Here’s a province that I razed earlier!

Everyone drawing these tokens at random means you have no idea when part of the board might suddenly be obliterated or locked down for good. Your own fortress, with its defensive bonus and point value further bolstered after repelling multiple attacks, could burst into flames in the final turn. THIS IS HORRIBLE.

And no, not everyone is going to like this. Sure, it means everything remains tense and uncertain until the final token is flipped, plus it also allows for wild swings in power and control, but it does mean Battle for Rokugan is as much a game about adapting to chaos as it is about forming any grand strategy.

Each player sits on a secret bonus objective that is also as random as anything else. One gives you an impressive six extra points if you control a province that may have already been your well-defended capital when you began. Another awards you ten if you control one province in each of the game’s coloured territories. You’re quite right if you think that one of these may be disproportionately easier to achieve.

But my problem with Battle for Rokugan isn’t that it’s very core is randomness and chaos, it’s that I just think there are other games of area control and conquest that do combat or or deception or asymmetry better. Apart from small powers and slightly different token piles, Battle for Rokugan barely distinguishes its factions, while its central mechanic is the very antithesis of strategy. You can win because someone else had a moment of powerlessness, or lose because a failing opponent pulled a lucky draw. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this unpredictability and I do very much like this game, BUT (and this is a mighty interjection for which you should brace yourself)…

I juuuuuust don’t like it as much as its rivals. There’s our evergreen excitement for Inis and its cousins, Kemet and Cyclades. Inis’ card drafting is a better way of combining both randomness and control, knowledge and ignorance, while Cyclades and Kemet’s huge variety of unusual powers and possibilities make them as replayable as this game’s unpredictable hiccups, but with more grace and dignity. Chaos in the Old World, though not one of Shut Up & Sit Down’s very favourites, really doubles down on asymmetrical warfare. And El Grande, if you can find it, remains the imposing monarch of the area control genre.

BUT (and here comes that mighty interjection again, returned like a shuttlecock serve), Battle for Rokugan isn’t just more affordable than all of those games, it’s damn good at what it does. It plays fast, it plays loose, reckless and relentless, and it will absolutely get everyone around the table animated, angry and angsty about their armies. While it’s not the finest example of its kind, which means I don’t want to give it our coveted Recommends badge, it’s a strong and distinct addition to the genre.

So if you’ve already bought everything listed above, if you just must have more games of this type and and if you insist on spending more money, it’s what you buy. Battle for Rokugan isn’t a wargame I’d tell anyone to get first but, but if you absolutely demand more, it’s the one you get next.

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

Posted on

Games News! 26/02/18

Quinns: Paul, there’s so much Games News to unload off the Games News truck today. We have to get it in before it spoils in the sun.

Paul: Oh NO. These headlines are supposed to be refrigerated, this story isn’t packaged properly, this one has started leaking…

Quinns: Huh, here’s something interesting we don’t usually put on the shelves, a tale of a Kickstarter gone sour and plagiarism accusations. We don’t usually start off the news with high drama, but I’m not sure this is a story we can ignore.

Last week publisher Leder Games announced that it was cancelling the forthcoming asymmetric science fiction game Deep: Enemy Frontier, retaining “title, theme, and art assets,” but returning the design itself to designer Samuel Bailey. But things took an unexpected turn when Bailey replied to Leder Games’ post on BoardGameGeek to state that he was not only entitled to the rights of the game, but also that Leder had “stolen” his ideas and implemented them in the forthcoming Root, which raised $600,000 on Kickstarter last year.

The discussion quickly descended into both parties publicly accusing each other of dishonesty and, as yet, hasn’t yet seen any resolution.

Frankly, with open playtesting being so commonplace within the board gaming scene, it’s a testament to the decency of the hobby that these disagreements don’t occur more often. Here’s hoping all parties are able to find a resolution.

Paul: In brighter news, we have a welcome new twist to a very, very old theme, with Axis & Allies and Zombies, a game title I never imagined I’d ever be typing, yet here we are. Dungeons & Dragons creative director Mike Mearls is one of the design team who has added the undead, plus chainsaw tanks, to Axis & Allies, the venerable and sometimes plodding game of grand strategy.

I can’t say I’m immediately leaping at this, but Quinns was immediately curious. Still, if it really does breath some new life (or death) into the slightly stodgy series, we’re all winners.

Quinns: Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, can you believe that a D&D supplement has now raised over a million dollars on Kickstarter? By itself? And a supplement that’s so… generic? Strongholds & Followers is an add-on that includes rules and background for building your own castle, with some of the funds raised also going toward studio space for designer Matt Colville to livestream his next campaign.

Really, I just wanted to include this story as a bellwether of how popular D&D has become.

Paul: It’s now got to over a million pounds. Which I think means, uh, twenty million dollars? Oh wait, Brexit happened, so the pound is now worth… a handful of grass? I can’t tell any more.

Anyway, I’m unabashedly keen to see something like this brought into the world as D&D has always been vague about the strongholds and properties that high-level characters can own. How do those work? How do you build them? Yeah, I can see myself getting something good out of a book like this and really enjoying the sort of play it’s angling for, so I don’t mind the genericness as it fills a gaping hole. But also… Nope! I too cannot believe how much money it’s made already. Clearly a lot of people want those castles. So many people.

Quinns: Right? If readers of SU&SD would like to fulfil their dreams of property ownership, I’d like to recommend REIGN or Houses of the Blooded, two RPGs dedicated to playing powerful nobles from the get-go.

Paul: In the early days of Games News, I remember sometimes struggling to find stories or announcements that really excited me, but now I feel like each week is a flood that I can barely stay afloat in. BoardGameGeek’s impressive convention coverage is always full of interesting titles, but what particularly appealed in their roundup of new games at the New York Toy Fair was Nyctophobia. It’s described as a “cooperative tactile maze game” where a team of blindfolded players have to feel their way toward their car before a murderous axeman, controlled by the only player allowed to see, catches up with them. I’m not sure if that’s funny or terrifying or both?

Quinns: aaaa paul there’s also blindfolded twister

Paul: That is definitely something I only want to play with friends.

Quinns: I think one of the shapes you have to find is… a rasher of bacon?

I’m more intrigued by the above. Following on from Games Workshop’s modest new edition of Necromunda, they’ve announced an introductory version of Blood Bowl called Blitz Bowl and something called Space Marine Adventures: Labyrinth of the Necrons, a small co-operative adventure for 1-4 players.

I’m really tickled by that name. Space Marine Adventures! That’s a tone I might expect from a Lego game. But then, the Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been a bit of a Trojan horse. Kids get interested in it because of the loud guns and big shoulderpads, and then as a teen you graaaadually realise that the Space Marines are the monstrous right hand of a fascist government and can absorb the memories of dead people by eating them.

Speaking of news stories in Tweet form, over the weekend Portuguese board game convention Leiria Con tweeted a photo of another expansion for SU&SD favourite Concordia, Concordia: Venus!

What will the goddess of love and prosperity mean for this superb game? At the moment we have absolutely no idea. But Concordia: Salsa was a fine expansion indeed, so I’ve got a lot of hope.

Speaking of Salsa, holy crap, have you seen the cover of the second edition compared to the first edition that we reviewed? Thank goodness these boxes now look as good as they play.

Paul: Ew. Oh hey! Here’s some good news. Azul just won the As d’Or grand prize, which I think means… the golden bottom? It’s France’s Game of the Year award, anyway, and Azul out-pedalled Flamme Rouge at the last moment and I can’t think of a finer honour for one of last year’s best games.

Quinns: Absolutely. It’s wonderful to see Flamme Rouge getting some attention, too! It’s such a great game, now expanded with a free app and a lovely expansion, Flamme Rouge: Peloton, which we talked about in podcast number 69. People have gotta check it out.

Paul: You just want more people to buy it so the designer can release the other two expansions that he’s designed.

Quinns: …That is true. I’m the worst.

If you missed our reviews of either of these fantastic games, you’ll find them here and here.

Finally, here’s something I enjoyed this week. This Atlantic article questions whether dice were once seen as instruments of the Gods.

Essentially, a new study on the evolution of ancient dice tells us that at certain times and in certain places it became less important to people whether their dice were cubic or not. This leads some modern historians to conclude that to these people, the roll of a dice was considered divine, and not random.

The history of games and mysticism is more tangled than a lot of us might expect. When I was reading The Tabletop Gaming Manual this month I was delighted to find out that we don’t know if the Tarot (the game) inspired Tarot (the divination method) or vice versa. And of course, Snakes & Ladders began as a philosophical tool.

At some point, this hobby became more science than magic. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a little of that back?

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

Posted on

Podcast #73: The 2017 Pearple’s Choice Awards!

Who’s this, arriving fashionably late in a limousine? Why, it’s only a new podcast discussing the winners of the 2017 Pearple’s Choice Awards!

Quickly, cinch up your black tie or crawl into the nearest dress before joining us on a discussion of the best games of last year. There’s reflection on Gloomhaven, Sagrada, Inis, Captain Sonar, Fog of Love, Azul, Consulting Detective, Twilight Imperium 4th edition and so, so much more.

You also get to hear the team collapse in on themselves like a dying star when exposed to the madness of the Best Expansion category. Just what is an expansion for?!

Huge thanks to forum user clg9000 for organising such a fun event. If you’d like to join the SU&SD forums, you’ll find them right here.

New podcast feeds (if you’re missing episodes 71, 72 and 73 try these):

iTunes
Google Play
RSS for your favourite player

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

Posted on

Review: The Fox in the Forest

Quinns: The Fox in the Forest is the best small-box card game I’ve played in two years.

That’s a pretty momentous statement, right? Well, now we’re going to lose all of that momentum as I plunge this review-car up to its axles in mud, because Fox in the Forest is a trick-taking game.

The board gaming scene has a habit of not explaining what “trick-taking” is, probably because it’s a huge pain in the ass to teach. But we’re going to do it, here and now, in SU&SD’s famous spirit of accessibility. We can through this mud together, reader! You get in the driver’s seat, I’ll get out and push. Just stick with me! Now, feather the accelerator! The ACCELERATOR! That’s what we call the gas pedal in England do it oh god the mud is in my shoes

IMG_2497

In a trick-taking game each player holds a hand of cards. To play, one player first “leads” the trick by playing a card from their hand. The other player must then play a card of the same suit from their own hand.

So in the 2 player game Fox in the Forest, if I played a 6 of Moons, you’d have to play a Moon too, if you have one. The person who played the higher Moon “takes the trick”, meaning they take the cards you both played and put them in a little pile.

In Fox in the Forest this is a good thing, because at the end of the round you get points depending on how many tricks you won. Winning a trick also lets you lead the next trick, forcing your opponent to play something else.

Think of it like fishing. You examine the scene in front of you, throw out some bait, and try to catch your opponent.

IMG_2498

And here’s a tip! By laddering the tricks you’ve won (pictured above) you’ll look like a stony pro even if you have no idea what you’re doing.

Since you’re both dealt 13 cards at the start of a round and you don’t draw new ones, this results in a narrowing possibility space as you play cards back and forth until the 13th “trick” is you both just dropping your 13th card on the table and seeing who takes it.

Since Fox in the Forest only has 33 cards in total, you’re partly playing a simple gambling game where you’re guesstimating what cards your opponent is holding.

Where things get crafty is if you can’t follow a trick, like if I led the trick with the 6 of Moons but you aren’t holding any Moons. You can then play any card you want, with varying results.

IMG_2505

In Fox in the Forest, one final card is dealt face-up in the centre of the table at the start of the round. In the above picture it’s the 10 of Keys. This is the trump suit, and it always wins. So in the above pic, if I lead a trick with the 6 of Moons and you couldn’t follow it and played a 1 of Keys, you’d win the trick.

But maybe you don’t want to! Because now, finally, I can do my magician-like reveal of the rule that powers Fox in the Forest and makes this back-and-forth so exciting. Remember I said that you get more points if you win more tricks? That’s true… unless you win 10 or more of the 13 tricks, at which point you become “Greedy” in this fairytale, you get 0 points, and your humble loser of an opponent gets the maximum of 6 points.

IMG_2504

So each round of Fox in the Forest starts with an awesome question: Look at your hand. Are you going to play to lose? Suddenly, even the act of following a trick that you know you can’t win becomes interesting, because you could ditch a low or high card, depending on whether you’re going to put up a fight or collapse like a wet paper bag. And what makes this even more fun is that the game’s probabilities are so tricky and the penalties for missing your goal are so severe that players will switch their goal all the time.

You might both start off trying to lose, then both switch to trying to win, only for one of you to bail and go back to losing. And never mind your own plan, you’re also trying to figure out what your opponent is doing since that dictates how you should be playing. Every decision in Fox in the Forest is as sweet and chewy as so much fudge. Everything is in your control, but nothing is truly knowable, and this kittenish struggle perfectly fits the intrinsic coyness of holding and playing cards.

As an object, Fox in the Forest is a perfectly pleasant game to go through the motions of. Spiritually, it’s a disrespectful slap fight where rounds will often end in a player utterly embarrassing themselves, but where they have to laugh, because it was always their fault.

Players have this sense of control over their destiny because 6 of the 11 numbered cards ever-so-slightly tweak the game state. Vitally, none of these powers are particularly aggressive; there’s nothing that’s going to spoil the laid-back atmosphere. Instead, the powers let you play.

IMG_2501

The number 7 cards are my favourite, the “Treasure”. Winning a trick with a 7 in it just straight-up gives you a permanent point, but 7 is such a deliciously low number that it’s hard to lead a trick with a 7 and win. So you might want to hold them back until the end of a match when players have used all of their high numbers, but the longer you hold them, the more likely it is that it’ll be forced out of your hand by an opponent leading the trick.

Or what about the Fox, little number 3? They let you swap the Trump suit card with a card from your hand, a powerful ability, one with more depth than I first imagined. In “swapping” the cards you need to consider the card you’re picking up. And while having a lot of, say, Bells, and changing the Trump suit to a Bell is a nice play, in putting a Bell down there you now have one less Bell to play with. Are you sure your opponent doesn’t have more?

But I don’t want to make this sound overly complicated. Figuring out the good plays in Fox in the Forest isn’t so hard. What’s hard is figuring out precisely when to play each card in this 13 step dance you’re doing together. When do you throw out the treasure? When do you change the trump?

Perhaps too often Shut Up & Sit Down praises games that play like soldiers in the service of simulation or innovation. Games that come stomping into our review stack and make everything else look like toys. THIS is the next big thing! Pay attention to ME!

Fox in the Forest is something so much more subtle. It’s not trying to be big, or clever. It’s trying to be nice. And while that’s common, the level of success here is not.

Mind if we take a little diversion?

7960d0d8db2811e5be85f23c91709c91_1456340258

There was a micro-backlash two years ago when I reviewed Archaeology: The New Expedition (pictured above). A few people bought it only to discover, to their horror, that whether they won or finished last was down to luck. Like the titular excavator, these people dug their hands in the sand and came up with nothing of value. There was no control. No game. Or rather, the game in Archaeology is often little more than gambling.

But that was precisely the point!

Take a stroll through Pagat.com’s list of the most popular card games sometime. You might be shocked at how many of them are inane exercises in random chance. But if you actually work your way through that list, there’s no denying the quiet alchemy in each of them. There’s an ineffable yet gentle tension. They leave room for conversation. Mistakes and victories might be down to random chance, but they feel human. For want of a better word, I’m going to summarise all of these little pleasures as “card gameiness”, and I’m going to point out that some games are rich in this comfortable magic, and others aren’t.

In other words, some games are just nice to sit down with and see what happens. Do you get me?

IMG_2502

Fox in the Forest is anything but inane. It’s a witty, taut little contest that you can pour thought into, if you so choose. But it also has the supreme ease and cosiness that unites so many classic card games, a trait I only now recognise in the supreme Mundus Novus, which we reviewed in 2012 and I still play to this day.

This has been a rambling, challenging review for me. Fox in the Forest is an inscrutable game to try and pick apart. The question as to whether you should buy it, though, doesn’t have to be so complicated.

You should buy The Fox in the Forest if you love the quiet moments in table gaming as much as the loud ones. You should buy it if you think you know why, for 500 years, humans have been inseparable from playing cards.

And maybe you should buy it if you just like pretty foxes and handsome woodcutters. As I said, it’s a gentle game. You can put as much thought into it as you wish.

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

Posted on

Games News! 19/02/18

Paul: Welcome to another tub-thumping edition of Games News, the only board games news anywhere that features FIREWORKS and PYROTECHNICS and a ten meter CATHERINE WHEEL-

Quinns: paul you’re on fire

Paul: ON FIRE WITH EXCITEMENT about CASTELL and LOWLANDS and even HARRY POTTER.

Quinns: Paul you’ve never been excited about Harry Potter. What you should care about is human towers!

pic3959269_md

Did you know that there’s a Catalan tradition of building human towers, no kidding, that are multiple people high? Now you can recreate those in Castell, travelling from festival to festival and growing a team of expert tower-humans, your mission to create the ultimate people pile.

That’s pretty terrific, right, both as a concept for a game but also as something that actually happens?!

Paul: I’ve actually been in the middle bit of a three-layer human pyramid and that was more than enough for me. Everything wobbled the whole time so, as far as I’m concerned, these people are GODS.

pic3956039_lg

Quinns: You know what I’m nosy about? Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, which is such an unusual concept for a game.

In a combination of worker-placement and detective work, one to four players together try to recover the missing memories of a man who seems to be terminally ill, gradually revealing his mysterious past and the story of how he got to where he is now. It’s like board game designers never, ever run out of amazing new concepts.

Interestingly, Holding On is also the next project from Rory O’Connor, of the ubiquitous Rory’s Story Cubes.

He’s gone a lot darker for his second project, eh? Rory’s Gory Story.

Untitled-1

Or do your tastes run a bit more traditional? This week I was ogling Lowlands, a pretty-looking game of sheep, floods and fencing announced this week by Z-Man.

I always liked the fenced farm animals you get in Agricola, but breeding animals in that game was like a single breezy spot in a gruelling two hour hike. I’m thrilled to see the same idea getting some TLC in Lowlands, with players deciding how best to shape their paddocks before adding tiles like Feeding Troughs, Orchards and Breeding Farms.

There’s also this line in the description: “Adding expansions to your farm will unlock new options and score you victory points, but helping to build the dike that collectively protects all players is also rewarded. No matter what, the tide will rise and, if the dike isn’t high enough, it could rush in and sweep away your hard-earned profits.”

Does that mean your sheep will get swept out to sea like little cotton balls? The horror!

pic3986385

Paul: You want something even more familiar? Let’s talk about the new HARRY POTTER MINIATURES GAME! Announced a month before a Kickstarter campaign next month, this elaborate wand-wiggler has players running around famous Potter locations as they cast spells and complete quests.

Naturally, it features all your favourite characters, like Luna Lovegood, Sirius Black and Dwight Eisenhower, and it looks nothing if not fancy and filigree. It’s also from Knight Models, publishers of the excellent Batman Miniatures Game, so it stands a chance of being a strong one.

Quinns: Paul, I’m picking up that you don’t really care about Harry Potter.

Paul: I don’t all that much, but I like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith. Is Maggie Smith in this? Can she be in more board games?

Quinns: I’ll tell you what games she’s not in–

Paul: BOOOO.

Quinns: And that’s Coimbria and Reef. These are two games from Plan B that I’ve been ogling in the Games News this year, and The Dice Tower only went and posted first impressions of them both this week.

[embedded content]

[embedded content]

Quinns: I don’t know about anyone else but now I know more about these games I feel both Releefed and Coimforted.

Paul: Ow.

pic3979852_lg

MOVING ON to some Kickstarters this week, Aeon’s End: Legacy is the third in the deckbuilding series and, as you’d guess from the name, indulges in the now familiar legacy format. You can build a character over a campaign, make enemies, grab gear and do your best to defend Gravehold from THE NAMELESS.

But if they’re called THE NAMELESS, they still have a na- You know what? I think a deckbuilder could be a strong format for a legacy game and a great way to watch both a campaign and a character grow, gradually revealing more plot, enemies and items, while also giving you the opportunity to buff yourself until you’re blue in the face. I don’t know much about the world of Aeon’s End but I can absolutely see all the potential in a game like this and wait am I getting excited?

Quinns: Last time you asked me that it was a rumble from a passing lorry. This time? Perhaps not so much.

I talked a bit about Aeon’s End in my 2016 Corner Awards, describing it as a “Greatest Hits” album of deckbuilding. I’ll give it this- Clank! gets all the attention as a fantasy deckbuilder, but I preferred Aeon’s End and I think you might too.

6b3264c70ca0710d9621647f48d0f039_original

Paul, you put Blinks into the Games News document this week, but… what exactly is it? Is it an actual game, or a framework for a bunch of games? It looks like tiny digital hexes which you have to buy more of if you want a bigger and better experience.

Paul: I… am not entirely sure the answer to either of your questions now! I thought this was unusual because all these little gadgets clearly click together to make a game, but, like playing cards, can also be used to play a bunch of different games. The more you have, the more you can play except WHOA this gets expensive quickly.

Still, I think I wanted to mention it because it reminded me of something called the ePawn Arena, a failed Kickstarter we covered three years ago. Like that one, Blinks look like it might not do hugely well, and I think while I think it’s terrific when people have ideas for these inventions that can serve as the foundation of something, if you forget to show people something they can actually do with it, they don’t really know what they’re buying. Does that make sense?

Quinns: It does, Paul. It does. The number of Blinks pictured in the above photo would cost me more than $200. At that price I’d like to know a little more about what I’m getting.

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

Posted on

Review – Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant

Think you’ve seen it all? THINK AGAIN.

Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant might have a silly name, but this hybrid sci-fi/negotiation/economic game is no joke. Whether you’re playing space-wasps, space-squids or space-school teachers, it’s going to demand every ounce of intelligence you can muster.

Have you got what it takes? There’s actually a good chance you don’t.

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

Posted on

The Best Board Gaming Books! (According to us)

Quinns: Books! They’re like very long board game manuals without a game.

Now I’ve got a good 23 years’ distance from the bullies at my school, I’m freely able to say that I think books are nice, and today on the site I want to recommend the board gaming books that I’ve had the most fun with. There’s fiction and non-fiction, controversy and aliens, a Go master at the end of his life and a 21st century designer at the peak of his powers.

But best of all, each one has helped me to understand this ancient hobby a little better.

The Player of Games / Iain M. Banks

2012-01-27_image1

Matt and I both fell in love with this sci-fi novel when we read it as teenagers and it more than holds up today. The protagonist, lifelong game player Jernau Gurgeh, agrees to travel to an alien system where a fabulously complicated board game determines your place in society. Jernau’s mission? To compete in the tournament as a foreigner and perhaps spare the galaxy an ugly war.

The “game” in the novel is probably most similar to Diplomacy or Civilization, but the real delight comes from Banks’ ability to exaggerate contemporary games. To this day I’m still in love with the image of a desperate Jernau cradling an organic playing piece, trying to somehow “know” it. Though secretly, the games Jernau plays are just part of a larger contest…

If you enjoy Player of Games (and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t), the author’s early works are all treasures. Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons are stellar sci-fi, and The Wasp Factory is a great place to start with his contemporary fiction.

The Master of Go / Yasunari Kawabata

IMG_2483

There’s no word for it in English, but The Master of Go is “fiction-ish”?

In 1938 author Kawabata was a reporter present at the final game of an aging Go master. It took a staggering six months for the game to end and the master died soon after. The Master of Go is a gently fictionalised account of that game, even including occasional diagrams of the board state (which mostly serve to show how hellaciously inscrutable Go is).

The Player of Games is fun to a modern gamer because it’s evocative and recognisable. The Master of Go is almost the opposite- the Go board depicted in this book is a dark, old, bottomless abyss with no parallel in gaming today. Compared to Player of Games, the Master of Go is literally stranger than fiction. The 2,500 years that Go has been around for have allowed the culture of the game to evolve into something almost unknowable.

None of which means that this is a hard book to read, mind you. It’s a short, sweet little novel. Consider it required reading if you’re interested in board games, not because you can see the contemporary hobby in it, but because you can’t.

Or I can’t, anyway. Maybe your favourite board games involve more death and anguish than mine.

GameTek: The Math and Science of Gaming / Geoff Engelstein

IMG_2486

Ah, the perfect gift for that special poindexter in your life!

Geoff Engelstein might be best known as the designer of whimsical games like Space Cadets and Pit Crew, but he’s also a professor of board game design at New York University and a true fountain of wisdom. Don’t be misled by this book’s phlegmatic title. I was giggling aloud as I popped each new page into my brain like so much candy.

From why games need good endings, to the mathematics behind card shuffling, to how chess players are ranked (and why that’s a problem), every page of GameTek has a new secret it wants to share with you. It’s half pop science book, half incorrigible gossip, and I love it. If Geoff writes another book I’ll be buying it on day one.

GameTek also has a fun appendix of recommended reading, which led me to…

Dice Games Properly Explained / Reiner Knizia

IMG_2485

Engelstein lists a few “catalogue of games”-type books in the back of GameTek, but this collection of dice games by Reiner Knizia (the designer of Ra, Tigris & Euphrates and more than 600 other games) is far and away the best.

It’s not just that Knizia showcases these games in a manner that’s concise, yet colourful, with all sorts of little remarks as to strategy, history or what makes the game fun. What makes Dice Games Properly Explained so exciting is that this is a whole genre of games that nobody plays anymore. When I got to a bluffing game called Little Max I was laughing out loud just reading the rules. When I got to the section of betting games, the book had me fantasising about a game that might let me turn my living room into a casino.

If you’re an amateur designer there’s no time to waste. Buy this book and rip one of these games off immediately. We can’t let all of these ideas fall by the wayside!

Playing at the World / Jon Peterson

IMG_2484

An order of magnitude longer than any book on this list, Playing at the World is a heroic document on how wargaming in 1780 evolved into Dungeons & Dragons and the dawn of roleplaying in 1977.

The book can be quite academic so you might have to skim-read sections that don’t interest you, but I found myself interested in pretty much all of it. From the chapter on how the medieval fantasy genre came about (which is book-length just by itself), to the history of Diplomacy and “playing roles”, to the struggles companies had in trying to sell Dungeons & Dragons, I found myself continually charmed by the people Pererson depicts.

This book also made me realise that D&D can be found in the DNA of most modern games, which makes all of the missteps and weird evolutions that the game went through particularly juicy. Our nerdy world could have been so different if that had taken off instead, or they’d stuck with that idea instead of this one!

Incidentally, if you’re interested in a similarly good book about the early history of video games, Replay by Tristan Donovan is my favourite. I had so much fun reading it.

Tabletop Gaming Manual / Matt Thrower

IMG_2487

Finally, here’s a curiosity written by none other than Matt Thrower, a freelance reviewer for this very site!

Haynes is a UK publisher of hardback “general interest manuals” for everything from cars, to pigs, to the Millenium Falcon, to nuclear weapons. This year they commissioned one for Tabletop Gaming and Thrower did some sterling work.

In 183 full-colour pages the book takes you on a tour of the entire hobby. The first couple of chapters are a breakneck sprint through the history of games, and after that the chapters cover everything from where to play games online, to how to store games or paint miniatures, to how mathematics fit into the hobby or how small publishers make ends meet.

If you needed to explain this entire hobby to aliens, or perhaps your parents, this is the book to get. Although I think the final line of this manual could have sufficed as the entire book: “So long as you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”

What are your favourite board game books, everybody? As tangential as you please.

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