For those of you attending, it’s gonna be fabulous. For those not attending, I’m here to say that our content schedule for the next couple of weeks will be a little spotty. Keep an eye on the SU&SD Instagram for any hijinks that occur, and expect the occasional written article, but probably no more than that.
But fear not! We’re going to return with all kinds of recorded shows, unusual jetlag-infused videos and tales of games big and small.
Thank you for your patience, everybody. See you on the other side!
Ava: Welcome to the news, my greedy little fact-hounds. You’ve arrived to find me waist deep in an ethical quagmire. My news-galoshes are brimming with nuanced political mithering. How troubling.
Last week we reported on the alleged union-busting of Kickstarter, and stood in solidarity with the unionised workers. Obviously we still do. But this week sees the biggest glut of exciting-looking kickstarters I’ve seen in months, and it feels cruel to punish the creators of those projects for picking the platform as this skulduggery emerges.
Former Kickstarter worker Clarissa Redwine had a strong twitter thread about the escalation of the fired workers resistance into a federal complaint, and has highlighted that they aren’t asking creators to boycott, and so it follows they aren’t asking potential backers to snub those creators (or asking media folk to steer folk away).
We’ll keep on monitoring the situation, and if you do back any of these tasty looking projects, you may want to think about how you can communicate to Kickstarter your feelings on the situation, and your solidarity with the workers.
With those caveats thoroughly emptored, it’s my first duty it to jump on the hottest board game inspired story machine of the season: Root The Tabletop Role-playing Game.
Root’s cuddly class war was one of the most hyped and broadly adored games of 2018. An asymmetrical woodland wargame featuring stick-in-the mud dynasties, industrialist cats, and an insurgent alliance of militant muppet miscreants. The politically convoluted forest was all brought to life by Kyle Ferrin’s adorable illustrations. Those illustrations are also the star of a role-playing system that will have players as roguish vagabonds, travelling from clearing to clearing, interfering with and getting caught up in the schemes and dreams of the board game’s slowly unfolding war. It feels like a well chosen perspective on the setting, and there are promising promises of a political sandbox type system for a GM to pull you through.
Perusing the Kickstarter forces me to admit I’ve no idea how to tell if something like this is going to hit the mark or not. Role-playing systems are fiddly beasts, and it’s very hard to get the correct blurring of system and background. Don’t forget about those caveats before you wind up waist deep in fancy bindings and optional bonus bits. The lack of solidarity isn’t the only reason we warn people to be wary of Kickstarter!
It’s another role-playing game! Oh no! I’ve been left on my own too long!
Heart’s beating heart is a variation on the ‘resistance’ system that powered Spire. Heart takes its players underneath that monstrous tower and into a byzantine amorphous underworld populated by impossibly imaginative terrors and weirdnesses. Beautifully illustrated by Felix Miall, you’ll enter a world of junk mages, vermissian knights and, and I cannot stress this enough, something called deep apiarists. Your characters could end up fighting mirror spiders, an intergenerational dance virus, mad trees, knife cults, carnivorous pubs and owl hives.
Honestly, the lore here is so sodden with ideas that I feel like if I could keep a tenth of this world in my head for long enough to run a game, it might just be the most thrilling thing I ever did. On the other hand, I might never be able to sleep again, so it’s a bit swings and roundabouts.
Mint Co-operative is the latest in a series of games about mints in little metal tins. It follows the tiny footsteps of Mint Works and Mint Delivery (a worker placement and pick up and deliver game, respectively).
The latest iteration is co-op game in which, and I cannot believe I am writing this, you attempt to save the suburbs of Mintopia from the threat of gingivitis. You’ll be saving the city from being overrun by bad breath, using only a tinful of not actually mints and cardboard.
This series baffles me slightly. I ended up buying the first two during the second Kickstarter, utterly enthralled by the cheapness, compactness and tidiness of the designs. It’s a cute bargain, what’s not to like? But despite reports they are sharp, simple but strong distillations of the genres they spring from, they gather dust on my shelves. I can’t find the motivation to learn or teach them. Beyond the size, I can’t see the hook, the story I’d tell someone to encourage them to play, and that’s so important to me.
Perhaps the absurdity of the us versus halitosis narrative will nudge me over the edge on this one, but even after hearing the phrase ‘periodontal peril’ it never quite got me from a chuckle to an actual laugh.
Matt and Quinns got very excited a few podcasts back about Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid. A sharp little co-operative card combo beast battler, that might be more ‘how you remember something from your childhood’ than ‘how something from your childhood would look if you watched it now’.
The game is already back on Kickstarter with a new season’s worth of expansions and Zeo-faffery. A slightly different generation of high-kicking brightly coloured heroes will add new a range decks to play with, alongside some extra evil nasties to fight. In a game of unique decks and interlocking powers, that’s a lot of possibility to bring to the table
I honestly can’t make head nor tail of what you actually get when you back this project, but my word there’s a lot of it. It also appears to cost a tremendous amount of money, so there’s some big question marks for anyone not readily able to drop a few hundreds of dollars down a garish nostalgia hole.
And here’s the real reason I couldn’t bring myself to ignore Kickstarter this week. While I’m furious at the possibility of union busting behind the scenes, I’ve always believed there’s so much merit in a system that can bring marginalised voices to wider audiences.
Nunami, made by Inuit designer Thomassie Mangiok (no relation to recently-reviewed card game Inuit: The Snow Folk), is a game about human roles in ecological systems, and exactly the sort of thing that I find most valuable and exciting on the platform. Representing an Arctic environment slowly filling with a shifting landscape of animal life and humanity, the game looks like a pleasing little abstract aiming to present a unique perspective on the world. An unusual modular set up should guarantee some variety, and I’m really charmed by just about everything happening here. Lovely!
Finally this week, we turn away from Kickstarter look at the other ‘biggest website in the industry’, Boardgamegeek, with a lovely visualisation of how their top 100 has changed in the last year. I love pretty intersecting lines, and it’s curious to see how quickly or slowly things have moved around the rankings. It’s a lovely snapshot of the ever shifting hype patterns from the slice of the board game community BGG rankings represent. Thanks Peter Jezik for making a pretty and intriguing thing (and also, I’m really sorry that my first question is ‘can you do it again for the last decade please?’)
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.
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 malegazeart 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.
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.
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.
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.
[Tactics and Tactility is our column about the feelings, details and pleasures of tabletop gaming. This week we’re looking at Songbirds, and nasty little puzzles.]
Ava: There’s a specific sort of puzzle that takes you by surprise. You hear some rules, you start making gentle moves, pushing towards one path or another, placing pieces, making choices.
Then things start to tighten. The points and the prize and the folks sat beside you suddenly crowding in. Everything matters.
And it’s only going to get harder.
Songbirds is a beautifully sweet game of finding your favourite bird and hoping it’s eaten the most berries.
Except actually, Songbirds is a ruthlessly cruel game about second guessing, outmaneuvering, and slowly being left with no options whatsoever.
Each card played on the table makes the outcomes of the game more certain, and gives you one less option. You start with a hand of cards, and watch all those lovely birds slowly fly away. Soon you’ve abandoned a suit that is doing too well. You’ve left yourself with only the biggest, most muscular birds, when what you need is a deft little flutter.
Every turn you have less options, more information. Every move takes you closer to having to decide what you’ll end up with. What this grid of ugly numbers and pretty birds adds up to.
It’s a slowly closing vice, a gently cranking grip that’s not going to let up until somebody has won.
Azul has this too, your first moves are carefree and gentle, but every success closes down your options, makes you more likely to fall into someone’s trap, more likely to drop a huge pile of tiles on the floor.
Arboretum is a different sort of vice. Each turn giving you two agonising decisions, what to play is nearly easy, but what to discard? What hope to throw away? What opportunity to pass up? That’s mind-numbing.
This sort of slowly closing space is the fundamental structure of roll and writes. Welcome to.. is not really about building, it’s about crossing off options. Making choices that fundamentally reduce what you can do next. Even yahtzee has this. The tricky decision of which door to close permanently to yourself, knowing the probabilities, but not the future.
It’s all traps we build for ourselves, and that slowly closing maw is gripping.
I love to be crushed by a puzzle. I love to remember just how cruel a game is. I love to be dragged through a series of decisions, regretting each one, and hoping that I’ve made the right call. I like it when old moves leer up at me, make me remember what I had hoped for, what I had wished for, what I didn’t get.
A good puzzle reveals itself in stages. It unfolds before you, opening out into more and more interesting possibilities.
A good puzzle gets crueler at every step, slowly closing up around you, until you’re trapped in impossible decision after impossible decision.
A great puzzle does both. It lets you do it with your friends. Beautifully crushed together, like something out of a Smiths song. Except not tedious.
There’s something about being caught in a trap together. Something about watching your friend’s mind crumple up at the same time as yours. It’s hard not to laugh when you realise everyone at the table is close to crying about which bird, tree or mosaic to place next.
Games make you feel things. Some mix of camaraderie and frustration and hope that sets your heart just a little bit on fire. And that’s exactly what I’m here for.
Anyone fancy a game? It’ll only crush you a little. I promise.
* * *
So, folks, which games make you squirm and squeal as the walls fall around you? Which games let you make easy decisions early on, and pay for them later? What’s the most vivid noise you’ve made when you’ve realised your mistake?
Kylie: Inuit: The Snow Folk is a deeply alluring card-drafting strategy game that sees 2-4 players vying for the title of the greatest leader of the Snow Folk.
First up, let me take you on a tour of the rules. Inuit is a breath of fresh air as far as rules go – it’s incredibly simple. On your turn you’re going to draw a card from the deck and place it face up in the middle of the table. This communal area is known as theGreat White.
You can then optionally turn over some more cards before finally choosing to take one or more of the face up cards and putting them in the relevant space on your player board. The game ends when the polar nightfall card is drawn from the deck and whoever scores the most points wins.
That’s it. Rules tour is done.Phew!
The heart of this game is obviously the cards themselves. As leader, you will be hiring Inuit and placing them within certain occupations for the good of your tribe. The more Inuit recruited to each occupation, the stronger that action becomes. As you can only activate a single occupation per turn, you need to think strategically about where you’ll place each Inuit you bring into your village. These villages are represented by colourful individual player boards with slots outlining the different occupations for the Inuit.
The occupations essentially determine what cards you can take from theGreat White.For example, the Whaler, Bear Hunter and Seal Trappers allow you to collect additional orcas, polar bears and seals. Shamans allow you take rite and spirit cards which have game-altering effects. Elders allow you to recruit the Inuit into the occupations in the first place, and Warriors allow you to ‘defeat’ other Inuit out in the Great White and take their weapons. All of these actions help in your efforts to score points. Scouts on the other hand allow you to add more cards to the Great White at the start of your turn.
Now, all of this sounds fine, right? Fine, but kind ofbasic. Where’s the tempo on this? Well, if we peek beneath the ice cap we see that this game is a lot deeper than you can initially see.
Let’s talk first about the Inuit. Each Inuit card represents a human being. They all have names and tribes which they belong to, represented by the colours on the player boards. You can hire an Inuit from any tribe to work in your village but they’ll always remain loyal to their own tribe, meaning at the end of the game they’re going to be worth negative points if they don’t match your tribe’s colour. Now, you could just not hire any other Inuit and handily negate any point deductions, but the more Inuit you hire the more cards you can sweep from theGreat White. And this, my friends, is where the game begins to come into its own, and it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the decisions.
Inuit is all about tricky little choices. Every turn and every decision is risk versus reward. It’s about trying to strike a certain amount of balance so you can always take something on offer whilst simultaneously trying to specialise in areas that rival villages have neglected. It’s about keeping options open, whilst recruiting enough Bear Hunters to make sure you’re ready to clean up when all those high point polar bears come strolling into theGreat White.
In order to do that, though, you have to have Inuit employed in all the right places, which sometimes means avoiding that shiny four point polar bear so you can prepare for the bears arriving later. But this is a risk! What happens when an opponent starts handing out bear-poking spears to a wave of new recruits? Are the bears still worth it? Should you specialise in seals instead? They’re worth less points, but there’s more of them? But, what about them bears? And what about whales? And I haven’t even thought about the spirit cards? But bears?
Here’s where the scouts come in. The scouts add to the shameless push-your-luck element of the game that helps to elevate your turn and up the tension. The more scouts you have, the more cards you can add to theGreat White. This allows you more of a chance of getting a set of cards you want, but might also open up choices to the next players. Whilst scouts can seem risky, they’re altogether exciting. Do you have the nerve to pull another card? What’s it going to be? Is it worth it? What about another?
There are a multitude of ways to score points and lead yourself to victory but ultimately you need to learn to go with the ebb and flow of theGreat White. And that’s what’s so pleasing about Inuit. The decisions you make are limited to just the few cards scattered across the centre of the table at the time. Subsequent plays of the game let you know more about the cards in the deck, but in the long run there are no guarantees of the order in which they’ll appear. Some games that rely on ‘luck of the draw’ can feel too aimless and fluky, but the speed and light weight of Inuit alleviates much of this. It’s easy on the rules but the decisions are still punchy enough to keep you around. Every turn still feels taut and every choice feels impactful.
Inuit also comes with a couple of ‘expansion’ modules which you can add in as and when you fancy them. These additions are a bit of a mixed bag, though. Conflict cards, for example, start a ‘war’ between two tribes. Whilst this offers players a different way of scoring points, wars can feel a little forced when they break out due to a certain card being drawn. Also, for such a clean-cut family-friendly game, wars feel a little out of place. Another module adds season cards – ongoing effects or minor tweaks to game rules that come and go as the deck depletes, and offer a welcome level of variety to more,ahem, seasoned players. Overall though, the expansion modules are a lovely added bonus.
Inuit is ultimately a charming and welcome addition to my collection. But there’s just one thing… Please, can we take a moment to talk about the box size?
This might seem pretty pedantic to some – after all, who cares about a box if the game is good? But hear me out here, it’s a problem when the box isthatbig and the game is effectively a deck of cards.
Inuit is a light, fast-paced cardgame much like the recently reviewed Piepmatz. It’s a palette cleanser between bigger games, often playing in as little as 30 minutes, even at four players. But this box signifies an expectation of a much bigger, more strategic, and ultimately deeper game than what’s actually there. This isn’t so much about practicality or storage as it is about perception. This box belies the weight of the game and shoots itself in the foot because of it. The box matters here because this could become a much loved, well-travelled small box card game and instead it might be passed by. And that would be a damn shame.
This isn’t a richly thematic game, but there’s plenty here which helps create a story, one that’s not only beautifully illustrated but that’s been handled with a lot of care, honour and respect by the developers, something that’s clearly spelled out in the publisher’s note at the beginning of the rulebook.
In their own words, this game isn’t a simulation of Inuit life but more of an appreciation for a culture and people. This admiration is very apparent from the overall feel of the experience, and the game does a wonderful job of evoking a small sub-section of Inuit life.
Ben: Oh jeez, I’m introducing the news. Please don’t let me break anything. They never let the intern pilot the Enterprise.
Ava: Luke Skywalker was basically an intern when he got a pop on an X-Wing, and he blew up an entire ‘that’s no moon’. Dream big, Ben! Blow something up!
Ben: Hello! It’s time for some gaming news! If you’re ready for it, great, if not let me know and I will tip you out of bed and shout news in your face until you’ve had your fill or I get tired.
Ava: That’s the spirit!
Quinns popped The Fox in the Forest Duet in the news doc, and I immediately wanted to mock him for being excited that one of his favourite two player games was getting a new two player variant. But then I actually looked at it and it’s a co-operative trick-taking game, and my word I’m already enthralled by the possibility.
This game is a follow up to a lovely trick taking game of special powers woven with a fairy tale narrative to nudge you and your opponent into a ruthless game of trying to win just enough, but not too much. Duet adds a shared board to the game, a forest you’re trying to navigate by winning tricks. Details are sparse, but there’s the potential for something lovely here. Trick taking games sing when you’re given plenty of reasons to not want to win, and working towards a co-operative goal without (presumably) being able to communicate is a smart way of doing exactly that. Fox in the Forest was stunningly well balanced, so I’m really excited for this one.
Ben: Maybe it’s my brutally competitive side, but I find small box co-operative games often feel a bit too wooly. They’re normally a bit too quick and small to feel like you’re achieving something epic, and when I’m playing a 2 player card game I usually want a tight 1 on 1 experience. That said, I love anything with foxes (forests, Starfox, Fox’s biscuits, 20th Century Fox, Ultra-Fox), and the art is gorgeous, so I’m certainly as curious as a fox near an unopened bin.
Ava: Stop right there. What on earth is an ultrafox and how can I meet one, and hug one, and call one George?
Spies and Lies: A Stratego Story is a game that takes some of the conceits of Stratego, a classic chess-like game where your pieces’ strengths are hidden from your opponent, and turns it into a bluffing game of cards and mathematics. You and your foe play cards opposite each other, following strict numerical rules and indicating which cards fall within certain thresholds. The cards then face off against each other. It sounds like a smart idea, but I’m worried I’ve got sucked in because of the connection to Stratego, which was one of the first games I fell in love with as a kid.
It was a summer trip to France with my extended family and an attic filled with the sounds of a Weetabix tape of eighties pop hits. The small stack of games we found included Stratego and Escape from Colditz, and while the latter took eight hours and I’m pretty sure my big brother was a bit too excited to get to be a nazi, Stratego was a tight, ruthless and easy to comprehend game of deception and mischief. I’m not sure if it still holds up, but it sure fills me with nostalgia.
All of which amounts to, don’t listen to me when I fall for ‘A Stratego Story’ as a marketing line.
Ava: Come and have Azul if you think you’re hard enough, because the beautiful and mostly abstract tile laying game is getting a third iteration following Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, this time set in a summer pavillion and with the tiles shaped like diamonds! The same tile drafting mechanics of the original Azul lie at the core of Azul: Summer Pavilion, which adds several round rosettes to place pieces on with bonuses for connected tiles of the same colour. Each round will make one colour wild, so presumably you can create unexpectedly different chains each turn? There’s some curious ideas there, but I do wonder if the bottled lightning of Azul is too tough a trick to pull off twice.
Ben: I’m a total sucker for a strong theme, particularly one as unique as Azul’s. That said, designer Michael Kiesling’s dedication to educating people about 16th century Portuguese architecture borders on creepy (I spent 5 minutes trying to beat Ava’s Azul pun and couldn’t, so let’s pretend I came up with something great).
Ava: Ever since Mysterium twisted Dixit’s dreamlike card associations into a mystery solving machine, there’s been a gamut of games asking players to solve mysteries with one player giving vaguely frustrated clues to the rest of the table.
Paranormal Detectives is building hype at the moment, and will have one ghost player helping the titular investigators solve a crime using one of nine different confused methods of communication. Ranging from ‘arrange this noose in an appropriate shape’ to ‘trace the answer on my palm’, I’m unclear whether this is far too many ideas, or just the right amount of too many ideas. Time, and the answer I inscribe upon your palm, will tell.
Ava: For the second week running, we’re covering something from Magic Maze publishers Sit Down Games. Does anyone know what the statute of limitations is on the ‘no relation’ joke?
House Flippers is a real-time sand timer-spinning real estate market, that will have players racing around the board to profit from buying, repairing and selling buildings. Sit Down is on the road to a reputation for the weirdest takes on real time games. This is certainly more straightforward than the knot-tying Wormlord, but the fact that that’s a phrase I had to write at all indicates a willingness to go weird that I quite admire.
Ben: There’s something distinctly bourgeois about literally watching sand trickle down until your hardworking tenants have to cough up on rent day. It’s now got me genuinely worried that my landlady has a huge 30 day sand timer with my face stuck on it that she just sits and watches, gleefully laughing as I run out of sand.
Actually, scratch that. If doing podcast #99 has taught me anything, it’s to not start a conversation about sand on this site.
Ava: I got a bit over excited about this because Magic designer Richard Garfield plus incredible artist Ian O’toole plus the world’s second best Jeopardy player sounds like a terrible Ocean’s Eleven but for games.
Unfortunately, I can’t see much that makes kickstarter trivia game Half Truth more interesting than asking questions out of a book. The conceit is that you are given multiple choice questions with three correct and three wrong answers, and you’re encouraged to sometimes double down and aim to get two or three answers instead of just one. I imagine there’s an amount of goading and frustration there, but I can’t see it singing. On the other hand, I don’t think I’m in a position to argue with Richard Garfield about what makes a game good. It’s not far off hearing about a new James Brown song and saying ‘hmm, doesn’t sound that funky to me’.
Ben: What do you mean I can’t pull shiny cards!? Pfft. A lot of my family switch off the second I start talking resource management, but finding out who is the smartest is something that they can immediately get behind. Half Truth will either be a Christmas hit at the Winterton household, or cause innumerable arguments. Or both.
Having looked at a lot of these diaries, they tend to follow a very standard format of dodgy prototypes with numbers and letters on, tales of failed designs and bits that had to be sloughed off and dead ends and publisher meetings and years of refinement. That makes it kind of hilarious to read Tom Russell say ‘yeah, the whole thing popped into my head while I was stuck in some mild traffic and it was pretty great and didn’t need changing’. He doesn’t even sound smug about it, he’s reasonably bewildered by the fact.
Creativity is weird folks! Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking they know how it works.
Quinns: Finally, The Board Game Book: Volume 2 is now on Kickstarter! We covered volume 1 of this unusual almanac when it was crowdfunded last year. Essentially, you’re paying for an enormous tome summarising the year in board games, stuffed full of interviews, observations and a dazzling array of professional photographs.
In all honesty, the team behind The Board Game Book do their job so well that leafing through Volume 1 fills me with anxiety. So many beautiful games! Could the team at SU&SD not have covered just a few more?! We left so many behind…
No. No time for tears. Shut Up & Sit Down will do what it must, and The Board Game Book will be there to pick up the pieces.
Quinns: Sorry I’m late to the doc, Ava. I put too many news-chillies on my news-pizza last night, and it has caused problems with my ability to use the news-toilet.
Ava: Hey! Adding the word news to everything is MY thing. Let me make you some news-peppermint tea, while you decide if you need any news-ointment for your poor, spicy news-bum.
Quinns: I thought I’d put you on the back foot by talking about my body, but I just feel like I’ve opened Pandora’s Box. Which isn’t the only thing that’s been opened this morning, let me tell you.
Ava: THAT’S ENOUGH OF THAT! TO THE NEWS.
Ava: I’ve got a soft spot for French visions of the future. I went to a preview of The Fifth Element on my 13th birthday and I thought it was the best thing in the world. A few years later I played Beyond Good & Evil and loved it like a pig in fart-powered jet-boots loves his photo-journalist niece.
All of which means I’m predisposed to be warm to Paris: New Eden. Due out at Essen from Matagot games, this game has you drafting dice to try and survive in an overgrown post-apocalyptic but quite cosy looking Paris. With trees climbing up the Eiffel Trellis, you’ll be recruiting survivors, chasing objectives, and fulfilling secret missions. It looks pretty, but it’s only the art that’s currently setting it apart. I hope the game itself is as charming as Bruce Willis in a rubber vest.
Quinns: I am very enamoured of the question “What if the apocalypse was alright?”
Ava: I’m looking forward to greeting the end of the world with a laissez-faire ‘mais oui’.
Ava: Ooooh. Now this is a thing I’m conflicted about!
The Mind is probably my favourite find of last year. It’s the perfect blend of simplicity, theatre, drama and pulling faces. It’s a delight, it’s elegant, it’s smart, and all that from a game as simple as dealing from a deck that goes from 1-100 and saying ‘we’ve got to put these cards in order, but we can’t talk about it’. It’s a game I can have people playing within thirty second of having suggested it, and that can be understood and enjoyed by anyone but the most stubborn fun-haters.
So obviously I’m excited that Wolfgang Warsch is following it up with The Mind: Extreme?
It’s not obvious. At least half of what I love about The Mind is its simplicity. The idea of tripling the length of ‘the teach’ just to make it harder for people to win a game I’ve never won? Adding a second deck, and some complexities about whether you should be going up or down and some complexities about whether you should be playing the cards face up or face down? It all sounds really interesting, really challenging, and entirely not for me.
That said, if you’re part of a more coherent gaming group than mine, and you’re so synched up with your gang that you need to throw a few wrenches in the works? This might be perfect for you. For me, I’m happy with the game I’ve already got. One I know I can throw at people and have them groaning and cackling and thinking they’re geniuses in equal measure.
Ava: I’m opening the pool by betting ‘The Game of Life: Extreme Reality’ is going to be the one that breaks you.
Ava: And the award for ‘Ava’s search term of the week’ goes to ‘Sit Down Wormlord’.
Wormlord is coming soon from Sit Down games (still no relation), and appears to be some combination of four player chess and a knot-tying workshop. I’m utterly bewildered by the prospect of a real time game about tying shoelaces and untying your opponents knots. There’s not enough information available yet to find out how this actually works, and if it’ll be as tedious as doing your shoelaces for the hundredth time in a day, ,ut I do know that it is called WORMLORD, and that’s quite enough for me.
Quinns: I don’t want any more worms on this site. I delivered 4,000 carefully-chosen words of analysis and jokes in my Dune review and all the comments said was that they liked the 10 seconds where Matt was a worm.
Ava: Yeah. But I don’t know if you saw Matt’s worm costume? It was pretty cool.
Quinns: IT WAS A SLEEPING BAG
Ava: You know what you need to cut through a gordian knot like the above? You need a lovely pair of scissors. And scissors are exactly why we’re excited about ClipCut Parks, probably the world’s first roll’n’snip.
As in a roll’n’write game, you’ll be rolling some dice to determine your options on everyone’s turn. What marks this out, is that instead of scribbling, you’ll be snipping out little squares of paper covered in landscaping features. The dice tell you how long your cuts can be, and you’ve got to figure out ways to let free the squares you need to build the parks your bosses have asked you to. It’s a weird little twist, and I haven’t seen a physical puzzle like this since the folding mat game Fold-It (and the other folding games that followed it). I’m not entirely convinced the puzzle will be sharp enough, but I’d sure like to find out whether it’s running with scissors, or falling over whilst running with scissors.
Pànjūn will add 4 optional modules to the game of feudal Chinese bribery, and while I love Gùgōng, I’m more than ready for a few complications. “The Peasants Revolt” and “The Summer Palace” will each be new locations that fit alongside the main board, broadening the game considerably, while new gift cards will allow players to offer officials a ludicrously expensive pair of jade knives… as well a new “zero” card representing total trash.
Pànjūn also comes in a very pretty box.
At the time of writing, Gùgōng is competing with Pipeline to be the best new eurogame we’ve played all year, and it’s hard to imagine two more different games. The former is a delightfully colourful patchwork of fruit, paper and jade, and the latter is a shockingly grey capitalist behemoth. We’re also hearing very good things about Black Angel, another eurogame with fascinating presentation.
It feels like 2019 is the year that show-stopping eurogames realised that it’s nice to *look* nice, and I’m loving it.
Ava: I’ve been ducking out of writing about Merchants Cove for a few weeks, because the only reason it intrigued me was the lovely cardboard dragon boats. But a game cannot float on boats alone, and as the game has sailed through it’s targets, I’ve been wondering if I’ve missed something.
On closer inspection, Merchants Cove appears to share something of Root’s passion for asymmetry, with each player taking a different merchant, and their own entire minigame. You might be matching coloured marbles in the alchemist’s lab, drafting dice in the blacksmith, or pushing your luck as a wandering pirate. All this is attached to a core system of trying to get the right goods for the visiting adventurers.
This could really float *my* boat, but I’m very reluctant to give it a concrete endorsement, as that’s so many moving parts that need to be well-oiled. Root’s asymmetry worked for me because the core of the game could be taught surprisingly quickly, and every faction had the bulk of their rules spelled out in front of them at all times. Root’s been notorious for splitting opinions, and that’s after going through an obviously solid polishing process. I hope Merchants Cove gets the same, and comes out as shiny as one of those easy to bump off alchemical marbles.
Quinns: I read this whole Kickstarter with increasingly disbelieving sputters. If I was wearing a monocle it would have popped out and fallen into my tea. This is very, very ambitious. Designer Carl Van Ostrand is making six distinct games that all fit under the umbrella of a bigger game. Most designers are lucky to design one good game!
But I can’t pretend that I’m not in love with the idea of everyone fretting over distinct minigames, which is something we haven’t seen since the excellently silly Space Cadets.
Ava: Space Cadets didn’t even need to balance those games against each other, as it was a co-operative affair. I’m very worried that someone’s going to feel like they drew a very short straw when they realise they’re getting screwed by an entirely different machine to everyone else.
Quinns: Yeah. Then again, there’s something exquisitely funny about taking an action on the main board that causes your friend to have a bad day at work, when you don’t even understand what they do for a living.
Ava: Let’s hope it gives us all the right sort of groans. Unlike those chillies.
My grandmother passed away. Her funerals were today, but here I’d like to talk about the most important thing I couldn’t spend too much time on in her eulogy: her love for Dungeons & Dragons. #DnD
Ava: And while Quinns is hiding in the bathroom, I’ll sneak in a little heartwarmer of a story. Antoine H took to twitter to expand on a eulogy he gave for his grandma, and how she got into Dungeons & Dragons at the tender age of 75. Everything about this story is lovely, and it is inevitable you’ll tear up at the parting words: ‘Never change, never loose your family spirit, and keep on playing Dungeons & Dragons’.
Quinns: Oh my goodness. I’m not crying, you’re crying
Ava: Some games begin with a ritual. An incantation of instructions that call forth the playing field.
Some games have an exchange of secrets. Something hidden. Choices to be made, information shared, and not with everyone, not by everyone.
When this happens, we do something incredibly simple, incredibly mundane. It’s an unusual enough social ritual that it brings magic, uncertainty, dread and wonder.
Sometimes, when we play games, we close our eyes.
I’m playing Just One, at the local pub, and it’s my turn to be led towards a particular clue with the help of the other players. I pull a card, call out a number, and wait while everyone thinks and scribbles. When everyone’s ready, I close my eyes…
Plunged into darkness of your own free will, your senses come alive a little and you take a mental step back. You think about how odd you must look, eyes closed, surrounded by a cluster of folks showing tiny whiteboards to each other and nodding approvingly, or grunting with dismay. You think about how you look, and you hear everything. Each person’s reaction is a glimmer of hope or worry about what you’re going to face when you open your eyes.
I open my eyes and see some words written before me, and a couple of blank slates. I make a guess, and we all grin at our cleverness.
Board games are full of strange rituals like this. Gestures and actions and movements that look different from the outside to how they feel. Moments imbued with weight and importance. Closing your eyes is an act of vulnerability, an act of trust. So is playing a boardgame.
A friend of mine tells me that whenever he’s at a gig and he finds himself thinking about the people around him, or his plans for tomorrow, or his aching shoulders, or whatever mundane distraction is tugging at that moment. He shuts his eyes and listens. He tries to put the music back in command of the moment. There’s something powerful in closing your eyes.
The most common closed eye moment in games is the beginning of a social deduction game, like Werewolf or The Resistance. The long chant from one player as they bid certain roles to open their eyes, look for their friends, indicate arcane powers with thumbs and fingers, and close their eyes.
It’s often full of giggles. A whole table full of people with closed eyes is an unlikely thing. The sound of one voice giving very particular, quite theatrical instructions is inherently giggle-worthy.
But it’s also the intensity of the moment, the weird, powerful hum of doing something strange. At its simplest, you are sitting with people, and then shutting them out. You are losing a sense temporarily, voluntarily. You shut out the world to make something particular happen.
Wrapped in that darkness, you cast the spell that makes the game happen. Hear the words that empower or disempower you. There are secrets in the dark, it’s nerve wracking and confusing, and all part of the fun.
And when you open your eyes, you smile, relieved, and wonder who amongst you has changed in the night. What did you miss out on, what’s changed?
It’s just a little scary. Stepping out of the world for a moment.
Board games are an agreement to step into a shared world. To turn a table into something that doesn’t follow the usual rules of the world. With your eyes closed, you open up a whole new world of possibilities, and you stop, and you wonder, and you play.
If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
So folks, what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened when you’ve closed your eyes during a game? When the lights have gone out, what’s made you giggle or worry? Also, if you aren’t sighted, how do these bits of games work for you? I don’t want to just focus on abled experience, even if the above obviously has.