A Fool’s Errand: The Midyear Review (Part Two)

Previously I published a list of some of the games I’ve played in April and May. Now we’re closing out my mid year games.

The Last of May

Carcassonne

Carcassonne was possibly the third ‘golden age of board games’ game that I played, after the Buffy board game and Settlers of Catan. Out of all of them, it’s aged the best. It’s a nice, simple tile-laying game where you build cities, roads, cloisters and place farmers. Emma and I played with one of the expansions from a massive Big Box edition which my brother bought me for my 40th. I was trounced, mainly by farmers, although I’m sure I’ll get a rematch soon.

That meeple’s not sleeping, he’s a farmer.

Above and Below

This was the first Ryan Laukat game I owned, having been convinced by someone pitching it to me in a ‘trailer voice’ at Dragonmeet. I then didn’t play it for a bit over a year, then took it to CabinCon where it was a surprise hit.

A&B mixes worker placement and story elements as you assign villagers to recruit more help, construct buildings, harvest materials or go on adventures. Everything looks lovely and the game never outstays its welcome. If there’s one criticism I’ve got, it’s that the game possibly lasts one fewer turn than I’d like as you can’t quite get enough of both the construction (short turns, limited things which you know you’ll get) or story (fun narratives, a bit of a gamble on what you get). It’s definitely an early game, compared to the finesse behind Near & Far and from what I gather, Sleeping Gods. I still enjoy it.

Our villages, all around the central tableau, all illustrated in lovely Ryan Laukat art.

Pandemic

This is another game like This War of Mine, where I needed to wait until Emma wasn’t around to play it. She’s played Pandemic twice and beaten it twice, so she intends on never playing it again and risking that 100% win rate.

Lee and I played Pandemic for the first time since the… you know, the pandemic. It feels odd doing it now, but it’s still a fantastic game. The world is covered in little coloured cubes of disease and you need to remove them, along with researching cures. I love the ‘In the Lab’ expansion, which lessens the amount of cards you need to cure a disease, but also involves a separate board where you’re actually analysing and processing the disease into a cure. It’s tricky to do, but also very satisfying when it works. I had the Generalist, giving me extra actions which I mostly used in the lab, while Lee was the Medic which was a role he did really well with.

My generalist, trying to clear the disease from Europe.

June

Lords of Waterdeep

This fits into the category of games I like, but am not good at. It’s a fairly simple worker placement game themed around Dungeons and Dragons, with some preposterous names for locations and people, filled with unnecessary consonants and apostrophes. It’s pretty nerdy-looking and that’s the one issue with trying to sell this otherwise great gateway game to folks. You place your agents, gather adventurers and send them on missions, after which point they won’t come back, so you need to get more. You’re basically like a high fantasy recruitment agency.

Some rare, less stupid sounding buildings.

Coup

This used to be a common pub or lunchtime game for me. It’s a bluffing game with a tiny deck and some cardboard coins. Set in a cyberpunk future where people scheme and backstab each other, you play rounds by announcing what ability one of your two facedown cards has and using it. People can call your bluff and if they’re right, you lose a card; if they’re wrong, they lose a card. It’s all nice and simple on the cards, but the play of it is in the minds of everyone around the table. Am I lying to you? If it’s me, then probably.

Eight Minute Empire

I remembered liking this more when I last played it. An early Ryan Laukat game where you move cubes on a map out from a central location, trying to control areas and collect sets of resources. It didn’t go down so well with two players.

The tiny world we’re trying to conquer.

Nemesis

Here’s a big addition to the collection from Kickstarter. Nemesis is basically Alien, but where you’re all shady bastards with ulterior motives. Your mission is to escape the ship alive, but also you’ll have two other mission cards which are private. They could be nice, or they could demand that you kill someone in the crew. Once you see the aliens, you discard one of the objectives as priorities shift.

I was an engineer, and by the time the aliens hit, I decided my mission was to get the ship to Earth. A nice idea, only Emma was working to drag a corpse into an escape pod and bail, which meant she wasn’t any help. She only saw a hatchling briefly and otherwise managed to wander through the ship repairing things until she could leave. Lee was a soldier and had the worst luck fighting an alien while I used a jury-rigged flamethrower to get rid of them. I ended up setting the coordinates of the ship to Earth and having to hit the jump without even checking if the engines were okay. They weren’t and I was battered to pieces inside my cryo pod. Better luck next time.

Our ship, mostly explored and with the soldier failing to keep an alien away.

The Hare & The Tortoise

This is a neat little racing game, where you’re gambling on fairytale animals like the titular hare and tortoise. You each play cards from your hand until there’s enough of one animal’s suit or enough in total, then the animals race ahead. I really don’t care for Camel Up, where you’re also gambling on animals, but this feels like there’s more agency in what you do. It’s also really short, so you can get a couple of games in before starting your game night.

I was backing the big, bad wolf in this race.

Tsuro

A tile-laying game about sliding your stone down paths and trying not to go off the edge. It’s really simple and best with as many players as possible. We’d been saving this for when there were more players, and it was the right choice.

All of us, sliding towards our doom.

Dixit

A game about interpreting surreal art cards. You say a word, a quote, a film name, anything really, as long as it kind of works with your card. The other players put similar cards into the pile, You shuffle them all up and hope that some, but not all, players, guess your card. If everyone does then you’re too obvious, and if no one does then you’re too vague. I love the challenge of being just right with the guesswork. I also have a number of expansions, which means there are still cards now which I’ve never seen before.

My hand of cards.

Anomia

I knew I’d have to get this over with. I like Anomia, but it’s best when everyone’s of a level. The problem is that my partner is like Johnny Five when it comes to reading, and she aces games like this or Dobble to a point where it’s just brutal. This is the first time in years I’ve played her at it and I waited until we were at the Dice Saloon with friends, so my humiliation wouldn’t be alone. I don’t know if she was just being merciful with us, but when she won it wasn’t by as much as I’d expected.

Marrying Mr Darcy

I love a good bit of regency drama and Marrying Mr Darcy is the more flavourful of the Austen-based games I own. You play one of the women from Pride & Prejudice, seeking to secure proposals from a series of gentlemen. Each of them scores different amounts, so Mr Collins scores little for anyone but Charlotte Lucas, for instance. The gameplay’s really simple with drawing events which might increase your character traits, get everyone to a party and so on. The thing is, this isn’t just a game about getting married, but you also need to become a better person, you even get scored for that.

We had an impressive three failed attempts at getting proposed to, and one happy marriage (Col. Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy). Our old maids still scored a good amount of points, though.

Caroline Bingley was a right menace.

[Redacted]

I love spies, so I bought this years ago at a bring and buy. It looked a little tricky and the tutorial level needed four players exactly, which was not a number I normally had at my table.

We finally played it, with two pairs of players trying to figure out who their teammate was in an embassy. There’s a whole rock-paper-scissors-nothing-handshake conflict and friendship match up system. It’s not great and it’s going on the bring and buy pile.

A dramatic confrontation or some awkward shuffling back and forth?

Jazz

This is a very silly game, where you play cards with phrases like, ‘bop’, ‘bee’ and ‘scoodily’ on them. You need to remember every card played in the chain and add one more, or play an Extended Solo to get away with ditching every played card to start a new stack. Despite having an abysmal memory, I still find this good fun.

Herbaceous

A lovely little set collection game about making herb gardens. You have four different types of sets you’re trying to make, so you can’t just collect all of one thing. On your turn you draw one card and pick whether it goes in a communal lot or your private garden. Whatever you pick, you then draw a second card which goes in the other place. It makes for tricky decision making as you take some lavender, only to see some sage which you’d want even more end up in the community garden.

My herb garden.

Quarantine

I’ve not had the best experiences in hospitals, but they’re great things to have and an interesting theme for a board game. In Quarantine you’re building your own hospital with four different coloured wards for different types of patients. The patients are cubes drawn out of a bag, although there are also grey cubes, which are infections you us on your opponent if possible. There are special rooms which you randomly choose at the start of the game and a bidding mechanic which felt more fiddly than it needed to be. This is a good idea, not executed brilliantly.

My hospital and it’s ever-growing queue.

Mansions of Madness

Another Arkham Files game, although this one’s way more Ameritrash. You have miniatures for investigators and monsters, board tiles and an app running you through a mystery. The great thing about the app is that it allows the game to mess with you and hide things. As long as you embrace the flavour, it can be very evocative. We were running around the streets trying to sabotage parade floats while figuring out the nefarious intent behind an upcoming ceremony. The first half barely had any monsters, just people and objects to interact with. The second half rebuilt the board from streets into an estate and things got way more tense. We managed to perform a rescue and escape the party, having made the faux pas of murdering a few who turned out to be cultists.

Time for a quick break at a café.

Junk Art

This is a dexterity game about placing oddly-shaped blocks on top of each other in one of several different challenges. This was mine, Lee’s and Emma’s first board game back at the house of our friends, Steve & Nicky. It was a chaotic mess and great fun to get in the mood for an evening of games.

People! We board gamed with other people! How exciting!

Catan

This is one of the earliest ‘Golden Age of Board Games’ games which I played. It’s gone I played for well over a decade and feels like it’s in the collection more as a historical artefact than anything else. Carcassonne has a similar legacy and holds up, so does this?

Kind of. It’s a bit random, as players roll dice to see which hex tiles on our island generate resources. You even get the odds on the tokens on top of each hex tile in order to help figure out where to place your settlements. We saw so many 4’s, 8’s and even 12’s on two six-sided dice. It was a weird game, just for the skewing of the resources. Still entertaining, but also a little frustrating.

This bastard robber kept getting moved to my field.

Ca$h & Guns

This is a very silly game, despite having everyone point guns at each other. You’re criminals divvying up loot after robberies, using foam guns as a kind of game of chicken to see whether people will back down. Over eight rounds you’ve got three ‘bang’ cards and five ‘click’ cards, so you might have someone pointing an empty gun at you and just have to figure out whether that’s the case. There are some ways of modifying this, but it’s a nice, simple game and I always love striking daft poses with the guns during that part of the round.

The dramatic stand-off

Magic: The Gathering

I’m a recovering CCG addict. I still buy Living Card Games which remove a lot of the random elements of them. This is only a good thing and far less costly, although… (stares at Lord of the Rings LCG collection). Anyway, I sold my Magic: The Gathering collection by weight years ago, rather than comb it for anything of value.

I kept a boxed set of eight pro-tour decks, just in case the mood struck me. Back in the day I played a lot of Magic and I realised during a tournament at Sussex University that it was bringing bad things out in me. I didn’t like how spiteful and competitive I’d become in tournaments; going less for the win than for the pain. I quit.

Going back it seems quite simple, and the 1996 cards are almost certainly broken by today’s standards. Emma liked it even less, leading to a rant possibly longer than the game itself. I’ll probably not return to this.

I’m kind of pleased the magic wasn’t there for me this time.

KeyForge

Following up on Magic, we tried one of Richard Garfield’s more modern games and it was a pure joy to play. In KeyForge you’re building up a line of creatures from three different factions, trying to reap enough Aember to open three locks. The thing is, both players in this game are trying to do this while stealing from each other, or using their creatures to fight one another. It’s a constant game of keep-away and feels at times almost like the reverse of a lot of games. You’re not fighting each other and fighting’s often not needed at all if you can steal and reap fast enough.

The other thing about this game is that your decks are unique. They’re made using random algorithms so that no deck will be the same. They each contain three factions and on your turn you pick one, which is the only one you can play, use or discard cards from. It makes for some interesting moments, although sometimes your deck just doesn’t work well enough.

My line of characters, who sadly didn’t have anyone to fight at the time.

Micro Play-Break: Castles

When I was first discovering Kickstarter games, I backed a couple of really tiny ones. This is a tower defence game, where you’re hiding a king, princess and catapult behind three walls and your opponent is doing the same. You both send knights out and there’s a chart to see what happens with each combination of choices. It was alright, but a small novelty to play once and that’s it.

Takenoko

Emma lent Takenoko to a colleague on the promise that it would be back in time for this challenge. Luckily, that time was now, so we had an Antoine Bauza evening.

This game features a bamboo garden and a poor gardener trying to grow his crops while a hungry pander eats it. Each player plays through this life cycle with goals of planting certain patterns of bamboo, growing different coloured pieces of bamboo to certain heights, and also eating bamboo with the panda. It’s really nice and simple, and the conflicting goals make for players treading on each other’s toes or having to build things up just to knock them down. It’s cute as hell, too.

Gardener Vs Panda.

Tokaido

The other Bauza we played is one I love even more. Tokaido is a game about having a lovely walk in Japan. You each wander along a road, meeting people, buying souvenirs, donating to temples, painting the landscape and more. The turn order is really interesting, with the player at the back being the next in turn order, but when you go you can move as far as you want. It’s fun and gorgeous. That, and I every time I went to a hot spring I saw the monkeys, so that was good.

The start of our journey.

What have I learnt?

I’m beginning to get a bit more merciless with being willing to cull some games. Eight Minute Empire would normally star in the collection, but I’m fine getting rid of it even with my love of Laukat.

A bunch of the shorter games are gone now, which is worrying. I’ve still got most of my Cheapass Games to play, so I’m thinking I’ll try and arrange a specific themed day. There are all the ‘talking bullshit’ games, too. I’ve also got Hack and When Darkness Comes, which I’ve barely played and haven’t gelled with the rulebook for. They’ll be a bit of a challenge.

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A Fool’s Errand: The Midyear Review (Part One)

It’s now halfway through the year and I’ve been keeping pace roughly between board games played in my collection and the year’s progress. With lockdown it’s been tricky, especially for three player games when there are few times everyone in the house has been available at the same time. Between my partner’s dance classes, my lodger going out to see his family and my own RPG nights, the logistics are a bit tricky.

I’ve been able to tag in other people now that things are a bit easier, even using the Dice Saloon for a few games, which has been a real joy to revisit.

I wrote up my previous list thinking I was done with games in March, but a few snuck through at the last minute, so we’ll start with those.

The Dregs of March

Love Letter – Legend of the Five Rings

I own a few copies of Love Letter, and my partner bought me this set, knowing how much of a fan of Legend of the Five Rings I’ve been. This is from the AEG days of the game, so the art’s a little dated, but there’s something kind of familiar about it. The mechanics are unchanged from Love Letter, it’s just a reskin, but of a fun game. I’m disconnected enough from this era of L5R that I don’t know whether these are canon characters or just examples of people at court in Rokugan.

A much more stern-looking guard than the normal Love Letter ones

Tiny Epic Galaxies

My first ‘Tiny Epic’ game of the year. My opinion on them varies, but this basic dice chucker’s quite nice. You have your faction who develop culture and power, using them to add planets to their number. Each one has an ability which anyone can use with one of their ships, but once you’ve acquired it then that ability’s your’s alone. There are ways of rerolling or merging two dice into a result of your choice. It’s nice and simple.

My galactic empire. It’s a bit less impressive when it’s so tiny.

The Metagame

It feels like the sun has set on the ‘talking bullshit games’. I’ve already made my opinion on Cards Against Humanity clear (oh god, I’ve still got that to play). Most of mine I’ll try and arrange to handle in one evening like ripping the plaster off.

The Metagame is one of the only ones I’m still a big fan of. It’s actually several games, although with the amount of people in my house and Lee reticent to play such games, there was only one I could really do. Timeline is a fun game using Metagame cards to try and guess at where in a growing timeline a card read out by your opponent goes. As play continues, the timeline gets tangled up, and the cultural items seem odd, having the start of history being the concept of unicorns and the end being Dirty Dancing. I’ll hopefully get to play other Metagames in the future.

The start of our timeline.

April

Love Letter – Z-Man Games Edition

Love Letter’s licence was bought by Z-Man Games a couple of years back and I was originally going to leave it, but the copy in my bag was horrendously water damaged from a storm. This version has some lovely tokens and a couple of new roles which are good fun. It also goes up to six players which wasn’t necessary in the plague times, but is nice for a quick game with friends.

The two new roles are:

The Spy, who adds a new bit of tactics where you play a spy for no effect but gain a point if you’re still in the game at the end of the round and no one else has played one. There are two spies though, which could be a problem.

The Chancellor who looks weirdly like Kieron Gillen. He lets you draw a couple of cards, keep one and put the other on the bottom of the deck, helping your ability to figure out what people might draw.

This was played on a train, which along with a pub is one of those perfect places to play Love Letter.

Detective: City of Angels

I’ve been playing Detective in solo mode for a a couple of games to get as much use out of the scenarios as I can. If you run it with a group, it can’t be replayed as they’ll know the outcome of the mystery. I plan on trying it with the GM or “Chisel” role, so I figure I can solo the whole thing and then run it for others.

This scenario I played was ‘Bloody Christmas’ which I got stuck on for a little, going between people with perfect reasons to commit a murder and some awkward leaps of logic to get things done. I do like the sense of continuity with the city so far, and running it for players will probably go easier.

Ticket to Ride: City of London

Ticket to Ride is a nice enough game and I always forget just how quick the express version of it is. This version has cute little buses instead of trains and networks which score you bonus points instead of the longest route. It’s fun and super-quick if you’re warming up for the evening.

Laaahndan

Artifacts, Inc

My first Ryan Laukat game of the year. Artifacts, Inc is a nice little game where you’re building a tableau of locations, people and dig sites. You uncover relics and sell them to museums or private owners, or you can ignore all of that and go diving to gamble on whether you can unearth underwater treasures.

It’s always easier and more fun than I remember as you buy cards, sell your finds and try to level up your cards. I need to get it to the table more often.

We’re going exploring!

The Table is Lava

Another fun opener, this is a game about flinging or flicking cards onto a table and placing meeples on the ‘islands’ you create while trying to knock other peoples’ meeples onto the ‘lava’.

I like dexterity games despite my lack of it. I’ve realised that balancing’s alright, but flicking’s a real problem as I can’t control how much or little power I put into it. This means I tend to toss my cards onto the table and have to adjust my aim accordingly, compared to Lee who flicked his cards like vicious bullets taking down meeples as he went. This often overshot, toppling meeples but not getting his cards onto the growing island. It does make an interesting-shaped island by the end of the game.

This may look like a mess, but it’s a game.

Cthulhu Wars

I don’t like Risk. I think that’s where my ambivalence towards a lot of ‘dudes on a map’ games comes from. This gets that kind of world board and huge number of plastic units, but changes it up. In Cthulhu Wars, the apocalypse has come and eldritch horrors duke it out to see who gets to be the one to actually end the world. The miniatures are toyetic and chunky, all in bright colours denoting the factions.

My brother watched the Shut Up & Sit Down video about it and on a wonderful whim, decided to buy me a copy one Christmas. I’ve only played it a couple of times and like Root, it feels like it’ll take a number of goes to master. This time I played the forces of Cthulhu, but Emma’s Nyarlathotep faction flew all over the board and drained mine and Lee’s resources so we couldn’t afford enough of our forces to fight back. Lee had the Shub-Niggurath faction which was supposed to help out with his tendency to turtle in games. He left some of his Dark Young to hold some gates and didn’t quite manage to get his faction working. Better luck next time.

A battle of the elder gods.

A Touch of Evil

An Ameritrash game is one where the theme’s high and the production often follows suit. Flying Frog’s trademark is exactly this, with the added unique look of the characters on all the art being shown in photographs of people in costume. It’s a bit odd, but works perfectly for a game based on things like the Universal Monsters, Hammer Horror and Sleepy Hollow.

We played a bunch of monster hunters roaming around a spooky village, trying to gather clues about where a Headless Horseman is, and who we can trust out of the shady village council.

Gameplay consists of rolling to move (I know, bad) and then taking an action, which could be investigating one of the locations in or out of town. It’s a game where you know how much you can arm yourself, but you’re never quite going to be as ready as you’d like when it’s time to face the monster. My vagrant was great as collecting event cards to play, but shunned in town. We started with some terrible luck, seeming to constantly get waylaid in fields in the middle of nowhere, but by the end we were an incredible monster-fighting team. One day I’ll get some expansions for this, but it’s pricy enough that I normally just keep an eye out at bring and buy stalls.

Such glorious Ameritrash!

Arkham Horror: Third Edition

How did I get this far through the year without playing this? I guess there are enough other Arkham Files games I play.

Arkham Horror Second Edition was the most accurate simulator of being a Lovecraftian protagonist in that you were an insignificant speck relentlessly flinging yourself against the unknown which didn’t really care what you did. There was disconnect between the characters and the boss, the task you had to do was pretty samey and the expansions just made things more complicated.

After a brief aside in the world-travelling Eldritch Horror, the same set of mechanics have evolved and arrived back in Arkham. This feels narratively a lot tighter, taking some of the better elements from the Fallout board game to create a numbered index to lay out the unique aspects of each scenario and shuffle clues into the top of any location deck where they’re present. There’s still a repetitive gameplay loop where you’re clearing ‘doom’ from spaces and vacuuming up clues to turn in, however it feels almost closer to Pandemic here. We played a scenario which took us to Kingsport where we had to find a way into a cult. Emma did a whole side-quest which turned out to be really useful, and while my first character died, I was able to have a replacement appear near the end to help win the day. I love that aspects of this game like the infiltration and the quality of your victory or loss can vary quite wildly, making repeat plays a joy.

Arkham, in glorious hexagonal form.

Lost Legacy: Flying Garden

This is a spin-off from Love Letter and takes the same mechanics, then remixes them. Instead of trying to keep the highest card by the end of the round, you’re trying to hunt down a card which could be anywhere; in your hand, in your opponent’s, or in the Ruins (a set of unused cards which may grow).

Flying Garden’s one of the more basic versions and one of my favourites for it.

May

Snap

There’s a type of game in my list which is here because it was already in the house, rather than because it was in my collection. Boggle, Happy Families and Tell Me exist with this game.

Snap’s… well, it’s snap. It’s exactly what you think. Emma is a beast when it comes to reflex and matching games like Anomia and Dobble, so I expected to get trounced at this. I managed to get a few good plays in, but still lost in the end.

This copy’s gone now, I think, from a neighbourhood sale.

The snap stack.

Star Realms Frontiers

This is yet more Star Realms. It’s a bigger set than the others in order to work with up to four players. There’s also a boss mode, for solo or co-operative play. This time, Emma and I went for classic mode and I had a good innings, but lost in the end.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits

This is a lovely, fun little game about building trees for spirits to inhabit. You play cards with branches and features like caterpillars or stars on them, scoring points for each chain you can make. Players have a set of kodama who each have different scoring criteria. Some work well with the trunk of your tree, some are simple and others are tricky to get completed. It’s a little swingy, but more interesting than the junior versions of the kodama which also come with the game.

My kodama’s tree.

This War of Mine

I enjoy this game, although I’m not sure if that’s the right term to use.

This War of Mine is based on the video game which is a kind of grimdark version of The Sims, set in a squat in a city occupied by a military force. Your characters and most people you encounter won’t be part of any military. They’ll be desperate, needy and sometimes violent.

Emma didn’t care for the theme, which is understandable, so Lee and I spent an afternoon playing this when she was away. It’s a long game and we had a really good start, realising some rules we’d missed about the scavenging phase. Unfortunately the trauma of the group snowballed and while they managed to survive the first death, the second caused the third pretty much right away.

Despite how grim it can be, I enjoy the gameplay loop of building your home during the day, then scavenging at night. The book of scripts is huge and provides some nice moments as well as horrific ones. Next time I think we’ll try a scenario as I gather they’re shorter and hopefully not quite as hard.

One of our lads out scavenging while the other guards the house.

Ticket to Ride: Europe

Emma and I saved the larger Ticket to Ride I own for when Lee was around, as it’s always more fun with more players. Ticket to Ride: Europe adds a couple more mechanics than the original game, which I’ve never actually played but feel it would be a real step back from here.

You’re all collecting sets of coloured cards (also with symbols for the colourblind), then cashing them in to lay your trains down on spaces on the board. You’re aiming to make connections between stations across the board and score some extra points for the longest trail across the board.

I had some great connections which let me focus on one area of the board, but lost steam near the end, gathering up some moderate tickets I could make without ever seeing any of the long ones. Emma managed to get some big tickets and rush ahead with the longest connection.

Our rail networks.

Thunderbirds

I backed this board game on Kickstarter, despite not really being much of a fan of Thunderbirds. It’s by Matt Leacock who made Pandemic, and has some similar DNA. Thunderbirds is a bit more of a puzzle, as you’re dealing with a constantly growing group of threats which need particular matches of characters, vehicles and modules. You’re rewarded with tokens which give you instant bonuses or can be saved up to foil The Hood’s schemes. It has as many ways to lose as Pandemic and can get tense, but is a bit lighter, partly thanks to the style of the game. I went against my better judgement and took John Tracy, who I normally bully relentlessly even though he’s a small bit of plastic. I don’t feel proud about what I did, but it really did help with any space-based problems.

Tracy Island, and the world behind it.

We Didn’t Playtest This At All

Like a lot of people, I used to enjoy Fluxx. It has some good ideas, but can meander for way too long. I’ve often said that descended from it are two games; Red7 for the rules element, and We Didn’t Playtest This At All for the chaos.

This is a game which can last anywhere between thirty seconds to five minutes. To win, you win. The cards will tell you how to do that. Like Fluxx, you draw a card and play a card, but they might have you throwing rock-paper-scissors, guessing numbers, pointing at your nose or even balancing the game box on your head. It’s better when you have more players, but was an easy game to cross off the list with Emma.

Cockroach Poker

This is another game best played with a group. And in a pub, although the last time that happened, a friend accidentally got one of my cards wet. Until I remembered which card was destroyed, it was fine. Now we’ve replaced my copy with Cockroach Poker Royal.

This game is all about lying. You play a card face-down and say which creepy crawly it is out of eight (or whether it’s a ‘royal’ in this version). The other player can believe you or say they don’t. If they guessed right, you get the card, but if they’re wrong then the other player gets it. The game ends when anyone gets four of a single suit, which makes them lose. With more players, you can pass it around the table, extending all the lies. It creates some lovely tension.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars

Emma and I went on holiday to Northumbria for a week and spent a couple of evenings playing a scenario from the latest Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective set.

It had been a while since our last time playing this, so we were a little rusty. The scenario was a real bastard, with a lot of train times to figure out as an extra mechanic. One set of leads seemed to only tie back to the person who we got the leads from, which was frustrating. We managed to do tolerably in the end, but this took two evenings as we gave up part way through one of them in frustration.

Lost Legacy: Second Chronicle: Vorpal Sword & Whitegold Spire

While on holiday I took two Lost Legacy packs along to play on the train with Emma. Vorpal Sword was entertainingly vicious, but would really be better served with more players. Whitegold Spire was almost the opposite and frustratingly passive about everything. I didn’t realise until checking on BGG that there are several more, but in this second pair of Lost Legacy games it felt like the innovation was already wearing away.

I don’t have photos of the last couple of games, so here’s a castle instead.

This has been quite a long list, so I’ll put up a second part to it soon.

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A Fool’s Errand: First Quarter Report

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I do love a good challenge. Just as 2020 was ending, my partner, Emma, asked whether it would be possible to play every game in my collection in a year. I saw that as a challenge and started a list.
Welcome to the my latest stupid self-imposed task. I’ll be reporting in throughout the year to show my experiences, whether I’ve found any forgotten gems and what I’ll be getting rid of. Also the logistics of trying to play every game during a year where we’re all still in lockdown.

As the most organised least organised person around, I use Trello to manage my writing, but now also a massive checklist of board games. I played a few on New Year’s Eve, but those wouldn’t count. It would only be everything from January 2021 onwards.

Even though we’re in the fourteenth month of 2020 at time of writing, I’m incredibly blessed by having a girlfriend and a lodger who both play board games. That’s going to help with most of the games on my list.
There are a number of solo games, which will be easy enough to complete, as I’m not locked into anyone’s schedules for those. For any two or three player games I’m having to deal with the willingness of Emma and Lee to take part. There are also a number of games which have to have four or more players, which I’m just putting to the back of my mind and hoping to play in a hypothetical post-lockdown time.

I’ve excluded a number of games: Legacy games which I’ve already started with other groups (Betrayal Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, Gen7). I’m not including ‘classic games’ which I’ve generally inherited like chess, dominos, boggle and Tell Me. If I get enough of a headstart on things, I may add them in but they’re not essential for this task. Then there’s Cards Against Humanity, which is shit, but it’s still in my collection. It’s there mainly for sentimental reasons as there’s a CabinCon expansion which was printed especially for it, and my writing group made a ton of custom cards over the years. My partner helped take out the worst offenders, so I’ll have to suck it up and play to rule, so the first person to ten points finishes the game, then we can get on with our lives.
I’ve managed to not go through a week without finding a game I’d not logged in my checklist, leaving me now at 178 games (oh, Past Charlie… you fool, how this will change – Present Charlie), with another few due from Kickstarter later this year. This will also help my self control in buying new games, as that’ll also add to my task.

January

Hue
This is one of a bunch of tiny card games which are about the size of a pack of gum. They’re of varied quality and while my partner and I saw them in Cardiff, it took a little research to decide upon Hue to pick up. It’s a little colour-matching game, where you play the cards in your hand with three colours in each. You score according to the last card in your hand, and for a tiny game there are a bunch of little, fun gimmicks to shake it up.

Ganz Schön Clever
This was possibly the game of 2020 for my partner and I. It’s a roll and write game and despite being a big sucker for theme, sometimes a game has so little theme, it circles all the way round and breaks through my defences. You roll dice, pick one to fill in a space on your sheet, trashing the rest and giving your opponent one choice at the end of the round. Each set of boxes have different requirements and benefits. It’s really simple, really neat and gets that kind of ‘bingo’ compulsion of crossing things off.

I didn’t do well in this game, but it’s so compulsive checking things off that I really didn’t care.

Scythe
We finally started Rise of Fenris last June and have been slowly working our way through it. I love Scythe and I was good at it, before I started going out with Emma. Since then, she’s thrashed me most times. When people at CabinCon acted like she was probably new to board games, she leveraged that and beat them. I ended up coming a solid third every single game of Rise of Fenris and I’m adult enough to admit I got a bit huffy about it. We played the last module early in January and I had a much better time. I realised it was because games five through seven of Rise of Fenris felt like there was nothing I could do to catch up. Between upgrades and faction abilities which really emphasised speed, and endgame triggers which happened before I could really do anything, I was peeved. The last game was still a loss for me, but I didn’t care as it was really enjoyable. I managed to get a lot done, and I realised that’s the difference. If I can lose, but still have done things, interacted with the systems, then I’m good. We’ll return to Scythe at some point, I’m sure. We all love it in the house. We just… need a break from it.

Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition
This was my first roll & write game, which I played a lot, then put away for ages. Like Ganz, this is a game where you roll some dice and jot things down, but in this game it’s railway tracks and roads, trying to make connections. We played using the river expansion which I managed to do some fun things with. This is another solid keeper, even though the dry erase markers may need replacing as some are in bad condition.

Before I Kill You Mr. Bond (Director’s Cut)
This is a classic Cheapass Game, and one you won’t be able to get in this form. I’m keeping it because of this reason. Cheapass made super low budget games with extremely variable outcomes. This one is about building lairs, trapping spies and taunting them. It’s fine, and with three players it was pretty short. I have a later edition, after Fleming’s estate probably got a bit threatening. I’m sure there are changes, but we’ll see what those are later in the year.

My hand in Kill Dr Lucky, with some spies to catch and monologue ‘doubler’ cards.

Zombie Dice
This is a short dice chucker. Emma’s not a fan of dice games, but this is fairly quick. You play zombies looking for brains, but also trying to avoid survivors with shotguns. We didn’t play it for ages as the rattling of the dice in the tube the game’s stored in used to drive my dog nuts.

Arkham Horror: The Living Card Game
Arkham Horror is possibly my favourite Living Card Game. We finally finished the Dunwich Legacy campaign which was on hiatus initially so Lee, my friend Steve and I could finish Pandemic Legacy, then when we started gaming with Emma and Steve’s wife Nicky, this meant we had too many players for this game and a specific combination to aim for. Instead we played Charterstone and Legacy of Dragonholt.

Jim Culver, Agnes the waitress standing in for my character Zoey, and Arkham mainstay Jenny Barnes.

In this game we play investigators searching for clues and trying to stop eldritch horrors. We had stepped through a portal to another realm at the end of 2020 and had to deal with being in a strange dimension beyond time and space for the finale. It was really good fun, and we’re already looking at starting the next campaign.

Hostage Negotiator
I love a bit of Hostage Negotiator, and I ran through the campaign mode recently, which I’ll report back on at some point in the future. I had a morning to solo a couple of games, so I grabbed one of the abductor packs I’d not opened yet (I think I’ve still got two after this) and gave it a go.

I took the negotiator deck I didn’t use in my campaign and tried to take down an influencer whose hostages were also worryingly loyal fans. It was tricky, but I still managed to fight through and stop her in time.

Raxxon
The virtual UK Games Expo had a lot of tie-in sales from online stores, so when I saw Raxxon in Leisure Games’ sale, I had to pick it up. Admittedly, this was less for the game and more for the promo cards for Dead of Winter, which is a game I love.

Raxxon’s about people trying to quarantine folks and hide them away safely during the viral zombie outbreak which would later cause Dead of Winter. My partner did not want to touch this game and I totally get that. Luckily there’s a solo mode.

The game was a neat little puzzle with some light nods to Dead of Winter, from cameos to placement of action tokens (instead of DoW’s dice) and story cards which won’t always trigger, but might. You have a growing grid of survivors and potentially infected or undead people, then you need to manage the logistics of your actions to evacuate some people, destroy the zombies and not cause the Umbrella Corporation-ish Raxxon to step in.

Raxxon, Raxxoff.

Film Frenzy
In our house we have film nights on Fridays, so I managed to incorporate this challenge into it. Film Frenzy is a card game you play during an action movie. We chose Doom as the film to watch. The one with The Rock. It wasn’t a very good film; definitely at the Resident Evil level of video game adaptations. It worked pretty well for Film Frenzy, where you play a card to score points when a trope, character or item appears. There are ‘pause’ cards to flush and redraw your hand, and ‘rewind’ cards to play a card for something in an earlier scene. It’s fairly mindless, but fun.

My hand of cards early in Doom.

Doppelt So Clever
This is the sequel to Ganz and a bit more of a brain-burner. It’s really enjoyable and a fresh challenge. I gather there’s a third, but I feel I should get better at this one first.

Azul
A tile-laying game which feels like it could almost be a phone puzzle game. It has the most beautiful, tactile playing pieces which you take from sets in the centre of the table, trying to pin your opponent into having to make bad choices or possibly ‘breaking’ their tiles if they can’t place them. I thought I did well and hadn’t noticed Emma racking up several columns full of tiles before ending the game. Still, I don’t care, it’s too pretty a game to have a problem with.

Early in the game and only a few of these fancy Starburst-looking tiles are out.

7 Wonders Duel
I like 7 Wonders, although I rarely manage to get it to the table. Duel is the two-player version and plays really quickly. It’s a nice little game, adapts the core gameplay loop and simplifies it a bit. Like my last game of Scythe, I lost but got to do a lot of things. I very nearly won through military might (a way of winning which immediately ends the game, instead of going to endgame scoring), but alas, I was unable to by a card.

Hive Pocket
This was one of those games I dreaded playing but would have to get out of the way. I like the idea of Hive, but I don’t have a good tactical brain. We played a couple of games and I sucked each time.

The nice little playing pieces with bugs on.

Treehouse
Another tiny game, this is a Looney Labs joint from before the pointy pyramids were restricted as far as import to the UK. It’s a game about matching a pattern of pyramids in the centre of the table. You have your own set and roll a die which says what you can change. The fun trick here is that you can change your stack or the central one. It’s a keeper for being a short game which takes up little space. Also I think I have other pyramid games which work using the components.

Undo: Curse from the Past
This is a puzzle game I bought at AireCon as Emma and I had enjoyed Exit and Unlock. I think Exit still wins the system which we engage with the most, but this one was entertaining. You’re aware of a death and have a limited number of actions to travel forward and backwards in time, changing things despite your lack of detailed information. I’ll be giving it away to a friend as there’s no replay value in it.

Devil Bunny Needs a Ham
This was a Cheapass Game which I bought at GenCon UK after enjoying Witch Trial and Kill Dr Lucky. I’d not played it as it looked a bit like arse and was so small I’d often forget I had it. The game’s two bits of card and you provide your own tokens. You need to reach the top of the building and roll dice to move either or both of your two pawns up. The problem is that Devil Bunny might dive down and knock the highest token down. It’s got some good risk-taking elements.

The cheap board, with some Arkham Horror tokens and a robot sculpture from a local artist as Devil Bunny.

Fluxx & Cthulhu Fluxx
Fluxx is not a very good game. I enjoyed playing it when I was younger, inexperienced, more foolish. I did… things, trying to get Fluxx promos; sometimes ordering other Looney Labs games, sometimes dancing for Andrew Looney at a convention. I’m not proud.

Ultimately the gameplay loop of Fluxx is still a solid one. You draw and play a card, but then you also change up the rules as you go. It feels satisfying to make moves and entertainingly silly when you’re drawing five cards, playing the first one randomly, then playing two more and change up the entire board. The problem is the goals and the ability to keep any attempt at winning out of the way until someone lucks into victory. It needs some other mechanic to help force an end to the game somehow.

I still have my copy of the core Fluxx (I think it’s a couple of editions old now). It has a lot of promo expansions; the Treehouse, The Traitor, 10th Anniversary, Christian Fluxx, Jewish Fluxx, a signed Andy Looney card and a number of others. I used some blank Fluxx cards to make goals for the keepers which came up the least amount of times in my deck, to help make victory a little easier.
Like Before I Kill You Mr Bond, this is in my collection mainly for sentimental reasons more than anything else.

My promo-filled Fluxx deck, featuring Wil Wheaton.

Cthulhu Fluxx is similar, but it’s one of the more playable expansions due to the amount of Ungoals, the investigator symbols and doom symbols in the deck. Emma and I braced ourselves and played them both in one sitting to get them over with.

6 Nimmt
This is a game I’ve had for ages and really love. Like Ganz Schön Clever, this is a theme less game, but a fantastic one. You have four lanes of numbered cards and each simultaneously play cards from your hand, trying to have them enter the lanes but not be the sixth card in there, or you score all the cards which in this game is a bad thing. You play through ten rounds, often trying to outguess your opponents or to corner them into making increasingly bad choices. For years I thought my ancient copy was missing one card, but it turned out to be missing about nine or ten, so Emma bought me this one a few years ago. It’s still a cracking game.

February

Love Letter
This is a game I have multiple editions of and yes, I’m trying them all. To start off with, we tried the Star Wars themed version of Love Letter which my friend Glen created and gave away in a charity stream. He gave me a copy, along with an X-Wing Tie Fighter pilot card for the generic academy pilot I’d named Kenneth Academy-Pilot and made a backstory for on my second ever game. His surname was double-barrelled and he’d felt pressured into the job because of it. Somehow, despite being an incompetent wideboy, he outlived Darth Vader in that game.
Still, this was Love Letter. Even as a two player game, it’s great fun.

Marvel Champions: The Living Card Game
Last year we played through the Rise of the Red Skull campaign box for this living card game and it really made it come alive. We revisited it to try out some of the heroes we’d not seen in action before, and to fight the Wrecking Crew; four construction-themed villains who we had to take on all at once.

The Wrecking Crew. So many villains I had to steal Lord of the Rings life counters for it.

Emma played Hulk, who was dispensing a ton of violence and then dumping anything which wasn’t played, so she was doing her best to clear her hand every single round. I played Black Widow and kept laying down preparation cards in order to have them trigger and help us out in time. It was okay, especially as I like thwarting enemy schemes more than I like punching things. BLack Widow was still pretty good at punching things, luckily. Lee played Captain America, a favourite of his.

This is still a good game, I’ve still got some characters unplayed and we’ll be playing more of it even though it’s crossed off the list.

Lost Legacy: The Starship
The sibling to Love Letter, Lost Legacy does some really interesting things with the same base mechanics. You’re not just looking for a high value card, you’re trying to identify where an artefact is; either in someone’s hand, your own hand or the ‘ruins’ which is where a normally excluded card goes in Love Letter. The Starship set involved manipulation of the ruins and some basic attacks on one another. The other Lost Legacy games add new mechanics, but there’s something simply and fun about this one. I’ll be trying the others I have soon.

Paperback
Where I dreaded Hive, Emma dreaded this. It’s a deck-building game where you’re buying letters to add to your deck and then trying to make words each round to buy more letters. It has a satisfying gameplay loop and it’s just fun playing with words. I have an app version of it which has some real login problems for multiplayer, but is pretty chilled to just make words with. Hopefully this means Emma will play it again and I’ll be able to reclaim my crown, as this was the first Paperback defeat I remember having.

So many letters…

Ground Force
This is a weird one. I’ve reviewed a lot of bad licensed board games on Who Dares Rolls and this has been the only keeper in the collection. You have a wrecked garden made of nine cards, then you gather resources either from the garden centre (deck) or cheaply from the recycling (discards). Anything you build with becomes resources the other players can potentially use, so you need to be careful what you play and what you take. It feels like a fixer-upper of a game, but it’s still good fun.

My real garden’s probably as much of a fixer-upper as this one.

Eldritch Horror
This was an attempt to play one of my longer games. Eldritch Horror’s a game of exploring the world, having weird encounters and trying to stop unspeakable horrors. In our game, Emma also played a librarian who was firing mind-lasers from the dreamworld to destroy cultists popping up throughout the world. Just like Lovecraft would have wanted.

It’s a game which sings at three players and while Arkham Horror Third Edition distils it into a tense narrative ride, there’s something a bit more chilled about the bigger scale and pace of this game. It’s why I’ve kept them both.

Skulls of Sedlec
Emma saw a game with skulls being reviewed on Shut Up and Sit Down, so we now have a game about skulls. Specifically you’re trying to build a catacomb with a pyramid of skulls, all of whom need to be placed in certain ways. Nobles want commoners underneath them, criminals want to be next to priests and priests want to be alone on each level. It’s a Button Shy game, so it consists of 18 cards and has a tiny expansion. It was a neat little game.

My tower of skulls.

Star Realms: Colony Wars
I have multiple Star Realms games, so like Love Letter and Lost Legacy we’ll play them all as different entries.

Star Realms is a really simply deck-building game about space. You have a tiny deck of spaceships you’ll be playing to generate money to buy ships and lasers to shoot your enemy. You buy better ships, shoot the enemy for more and try to synergies the abilities of the four factions in the game. One heals, one destroys cards to remove bad cards from your deck, one does exceptional damage and one draws you more cards or discards your enemies’. Really nice and easy.

Bargain Quest
This was a new acquisition, so I’ve added to my list of games I need to play this year. It’s a fun little game about high fantasy retail. You put out an item in your display to tempt adventurers and sell them things. You can sell them garbage or useful items before they run off to either fight and win, returning with money, or they die and are replaced with new customers. There are some fun moments of mercenary thinking in this game, and all looking at a mage, realising none of us have the items which will allow her to survive this bandit. It was bought from a friend and has an expansion, so even though it’s crossed off the list, I’ll have to try it again sometime this year.

The prime item in my shop; a fancy crossbow.

String Railway
This was bought at my first UK Games Expo and I’m really pleased I’ve got it as it seems tricky to track down. String Railway is a game where you build a railway using drawn cards and bits of string, in a world bordered by string, containing a string mountain and a string river. It’s adorable.

I wish this was in print to recommend to folks.

Viticulture
I like Viticulture, even though I’m sure there are better worker placement games. There’s something about the gentle pace of planting vines, harvesting them, making wine, letting it age and selling it which I find quite satisfying. It had been a while since we played, but we’re so familiar with it that I added an expansion we’d not tried; arboriculture. We could make apples, olive oil and tomato sauce. Those mechanics weren’t really encountered too much, and I doubt I’ll bother going back to them unless someone asks.

It’s time for wine!

Villagers
This is a neat little game about building tech tree looking sets of villagers from people passing by on a road. They’re all cards, and you’ll be taking turns drafting visible villagers or blindly drafting villagers who you’re aware of the type (hayer, miner, etc) but nothing else. It’s an interesting game and you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot with the amount of points you rack up at the middle and end of each game.

Root
This is a game I love, but it’s been so long I managed to mess up some rules. You play adorable little animals represented by wooden pieces, while they asymmetrically have ways to slaughter each other and win the game. Lee played the Marquis de Cat who controlled most locations to begin with and need supply lines to harvest the forest, eventually filling it with their buildings. Emma played the Underground Duchy who were trying to sway over their ministers while sending groups of moles out through burrowed holes. I played the Corvid Conspiracy who laid traps and hid, hoping for them to go off.

Adorable creatures all fighting to the death over a forest.


The factions were fun, but we definitely need more games to get used to each faction and make sure the rules are right next time.

My army of crows

Tyrants of the Underdark
This is a deck-building game like Star Realms, but you’re playing cards to buy cards and also to place units on a map of stupidly-named places in the underground locations of the Forgotten Realms. You have spies who can infiltrate places and neutral people to kick out of some places before one faction or another takes hold. Each faction consists of an interesting set of monsters; we used aberrations and dragons this time. The dragons were pricy but gave big victory point boosts for certain requirements. The aberrations messed about with discarding cards, using spies and being tricksy bastards.

Rhino Hero
This is a neat little game where you’re trying to empty your hand by building levels on a skyscraper. Sometimes you’ll need to place a wooden rhino hero pawn, or force someone to take more cards, reverse order of play and so on.
The first game was over far too quickly when Lee knocked over the tower after nervously trying to place the rhino. The second game was far more impressive all round, although Lee still ended up toppling the tower.

The precarious tower from Rhino Hero.

Catch the Moon
This is another dexterity game. For a dyspraxic person I do quite like them. It’s flicking games I can’t manage.

This game has you rolling a dice which will tell you how to place a ladder into a tangled knot of existing ladders. It’s really light and really good fun. The structure can move and shift as play goes on, and the result challenging players to try and beat the highest spot on the structure is really tense.

A tangle of ladders, shortly before a bunch of them fell off.

March

Last Will
This was a game I bought in a bring and buy shortly before lockdown. We’d played it once before and it was a joy to go back to. Last Will’s a game where you’re all wealthy people trying to lose all your money as quickly as possible to be able to cash in on your rich uncle’s will. I blazed through my money but had a lot of property to juggle getting rid of without gaining money. Emma barely beat me. It was a fun time, and I might just treat myself to another game if I’m ahead in this challenge.

Safari Jack
I bought this in my blitz of grabbing any of James Ernst’s Cheapass Games but never had the heart to play as it looked like it might be bad. It is, and not just because of the theme of butchering animals. It’s a lot less bad than I expected, but still pretty poor. You move around trying to hunt beats while laying tiles and beating other hunters to the chase. This is on the ‘to sell’ pile.

Some Cheapass games have a charming look to them, this one really didn’t.

Forbidden Island
A neat little co-op game where you’re recovering artefacts from a sinking island. Emma and I are pretty good at this now, so despite a long time away, we aced it on normal difficulty. If you want to train people towards Pandemic with a bit of a simpler game, this is it.

The island halfway submerged in the water.

Islebound
I’d only played this once despite loving Ryan Laukat games and was bought this for my 40th birthday. You sail around an archipelago, winning islands over by force or diplomacy, buying and selling things. The crew tokens are all lovely and you end up wanting the best for the little bird person or the sailor who’s definitely Ryan Laukat. I lost, but it was close and I got to play with all the satisfying interfaces the game has. I love that with Red Raven Games, as they (like Scythe) are a fun medley of different mechanics.

Lovely Ryan Laukat art!

Romance of the Three Kingdoms Card Game
I love the Romance of Three Kingdoms and really wish this could have been good. Like Safari Jack this is a game I’ve owned for ages and never played. It feels dated, but like it would have been bad in the past, too. The rulebook was badly translated so while Emma learnt the rules, I had to find a better translation on BGG but that didn’t help. You have people and diplomacy or fight your way into controlling regions, but both stats have nothing to differentiate between them on characters.

Fights are basically ‘rock, paper scissors’ with character elimination and minimal ways to influence that. We cheered each other on in the hope someone would win and finish the game quickly. It could have lasted from 20 minutes to two hours and fortunately we were done in just under one.

A bad translation’s forgivable, but a bad game is not.

Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game
I used to be a CCG addict, so Living Card Games are a controlled method of still getting that high. I love the LotR LCG, although Marvel Champions and Arkham Horror are my preferred ones these days. We’d been watching the extended Lord of the Rings movies and decided to give this a go. It still rocks.

You each take three heroes on a quest, which in this case was rescuing a kid who was trying to commune with the dead. We had some good fighting abilities, but were up against ghosts. This was one of those games which reminds you why you fell in love with it in the first place.

These bastard ghosts hiding in our wicker staging area.

Lunch Money
From good to bad. Lunch Money is an ‘edgy’ card game about schoolyard violence, applauded for its dark photography. It’s a simple game of attacking each other to remove points and would be fast, but no rules are on the cards and there are a ton of special cards to deal with. It was twice as long as needed and just a bit unpleasant. This one’s getting sold.

Coloretto
I always forget how nice this game is. You have [player] amount of rows and fill them up with colourful chameleon cards which have textures on them which would help colourblind people. You have to draw and add cards or take them, meaning you’re likely to get very little of what you want, or a lot of potential chaff. Only three colours score you points, the rest remove them.
It’s somewhere between the train cards from Ticket to Ride and 6 Nimmt. This game’s short and neat, I hope I don’t forget it exists again.

A very basic, but pretty, game.

Seven Dragons
This is a Looney Labs game which we still love. You’ve got some old Larry Elmore art and a simple mechanic where you’re placing cards and trying to get a run of seven of your colour. The thing is, the colour you need to win changes through the game, as does the central card. It’s tricky and great fun. Annoyingly it’s out of print, although I’ve had friends who have bought German copies as those were easier to find and you can download the English rules.

So many dragons. How many? Seven. Seven Dragons.

Ludo
There’s a category of traditional games in the house which are still on my shelves and I’m not entirely sure why. This was a present, if I remember correctly, but it’s been at least 30 years since I last played Ludo. We gave it a go while watching things on TV. It’s a bit of a ‘nothing’ game. God, this means I’ll have to play Snap one day this year.

My tiny magnetic Ludo.

Beer Money
This is Lunch Money but with drunks instead of children. I think they’re pretty much the same. This one didn’t learn from the last set, but there wasn’t an expansion, so we had less cards to deal with.

The photography was like 90% of the marketing here.

Marvel Legendary
This is a pretty simple deckbuilding game where you generate buying and punching energy, then try to stop villains from running amok in New York. The character cards, villains, masterminds and schemes all change the simple rules quite heavily. Lee and I played through a couple of scenarios from a massive BGG scenario list which emulates different storylines. We played through the Days of Future Past and Infinity Disc. We won both games which is good, as we’ve had a bunch of losses which I am chalking up to only doing this two player and having less resources to play with.

The Days of Future Past.

What Have I Learnt?

I’ve got a steady pile of games to get rid of, and there are some gems which just get forgotten about between the Cult of the New and constant staples like Marvel Champions and anything Arkham-flavoured.

We’ve got a few more little filler games we can turn to instead of the usual few. The old games I bought and didn’t play for fear of them being bad were indeed bad. This doesn’t bode well for When Darkness Comes…, which is one of the next ones I need to read up on and run.

I also have a few standby games which are either really short (Tsuro) or all time favourites (Skull & Barenpark) which we’re saving for a special occasion.
At the moment I’m on track, but we’ll check in in the middle of 2021 to see whether I can get 50% of my collection played.

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Explosion High is now on Kickstarter!

I’ve been busy yelling all over social media about Explosion High being on Kickstarter that I’ve forgotten to make a post on my own blog about it. To be honest, this poor blog’s been so neglected that I only remembered when I had the notification for it’s renewal. With that in mind, here’s the announcement…

EXPLOSION HIGH IS LIVE ON KICKSTARTER!

“Join gods, aliens, sidekicks and a flying shark with robot arms as they navigate the highs and lows of a school run by a mad scientist!”

Check out this amazing cover!

Woo!

[Runs around in circles flailing arms, hyperventilates, lies down for a few minutes and then returns to keyboard]

I am so proud of this comic and everything that ‘s been achieved from the near manic state which I achieved to finally get the script finished, Matt Hardy’s persistent support and threats and the artists who coped with me randomly posting questions about whether “Dr Mousefist” should have whole mice for hands or like, giant mouse heads. I also realised later on I have a “Professor Mousehouse”; a large man filled with evil mice who speak through him. I’m still not sure which I’ll use… possibly both and then there can be a mouse-themed double act of teachers. So yeah, that.

You can see some art on the campaign page and shh… here’s an exclusive page by the Najestic Norrie Miller (sorry, I couldn’t think of a superlative beginning with N just then, so I’ve worked with what I’ve got… all the writing got used up when I made the comic, apparently).

Some backers will even get the script which gives the name of this glorious T-Rex!

The comic hit the funding level of £2,000 last Sunday and is currently well on its way to unlocking the first stretch goal. If you’re somehow one of the people who read this blog and haven’t checked it out yet, please go over to explosionhigh.com where you can back a digital copy for only three pounds. For a little more, you can get a physical copy which you’ll be able to hold in your hands, along with a lovely sticker of my sweet boy Skyshark and a print by Gustaffo Vargas which is based on the music video for Smash Mouth’s All Star, which is scientifically proven to be one of the best music videos of all time.

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Who Dares Roles: Zinequest Zine-Fest

It’s Zinequest 3! Zinequ3st? Either way, it’s the start of a month of fascinating, weird projects on Kickstarter. I’ve recorded a video about two projects I’ve backed, several active ones I’m interested in and some which have since come out. I also talk a little about This Person Should Not Exist, a game about strange anomalies and drawing on a copy of Where’s Wally.

My video is here and the show notes have links to every project:

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Who Dares Roles: Cyberpunks and Missing Teens

My second video for Who Dares Roles ran a little long, but covered a good amount of RPG content. My copy of Alice is Missing (which I’ve now had a chance to virtually play and will review after another playthrough) arrived.

In addition, my preorder for Cyberpunk Red showed up and I’m still in the process of reading it. There are some potential issues, but I’ll have to cover those in some future content, either written or in video.

Before picking up Cyberpunk I actually bought a micro-RPG called CBR+PNK which is a micro-system Forged in the Dark, where cyberpunks go on one last heist together. It’s trifold booklet-size so I did print out a copy to show off.

There’s a bit more news and a little more to show off, too, so if you’re interested, check out my video here:

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Who Dares Roles: I make videos now!

Hey, I’ve started doing something new for Who Dares Rolls. Yes, I’ve pivoted to video. I write reviews and general chatter about indie RPGS as well as the occasional board game. Until recently we had a podcast, but busy schedules and other issues led to it going on hiatus.

I still wanted to talk about RPGs and as Mike’s been having a lot of success waffling about games (as well as old man popular culture) , I thought I would try my hand at it. When Mike gave a list of comics which would make board games I disagreed with, I decided to test the video waters by making a response. It was an excuse to talk about comics and about hypothetical board games and hopefully it went alright:

I also appeared on the “What’s Hot in Indie RPGs” 2020 video conference. I had a prerecorded bit saying about the game which most wowed me in 2020 (Trophy Gold) and the game I was most looking forward to in 2021 (World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game Pasión de las Pasiones). I was really pleased and surprised to be invited on by Epistolary Richard who hosts the panel each year and ran the first ever game of Monsterhearts I played.

All of this has led to me starting a regular feature for Who Dares Rolls. Every couple of weeks I’ll be posting up a video which will be edited by Mike B. The general format is a bit about what I’ve played, any interesting new RPG acquisitions and any news.

In addition to this style of video, I’ve got plans for some deep dives into individual games I’ve run or played, and the bibliography of some indie publishers who I’m a fan of. I know this first video’s got a slight sound difference thing going on, but I’m working on things like sound and lighting (as is Mike). If there’s anything people want to see or hear about in the world of indie RPGs, let me know!

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Coming Soon: Explosion High!

Our lovely cast of Explosion High! They’re all a total mess!

I’ve mentioned here before that I’m working on a comic called Explosion High. Well, it’s looking a lot more real now. The first issue’s script was written last year in a couple of sittings, the main one of which felt like I’d been struck by a manic energy lightning bolt. Hopefully that energy if visible here.

The project’s almost all done and I’m gearing up for the Kickstarter project which I’m aiming to get launched at the end of March. I’ll be sharing some more information about that as soon as I’ve nailed more details down. The good news is that the provisional details are all verified, which makes it feel worryingly real.

Mike Armstrong’s been on this comic with me since the early days. I think I came up with the concept and sat on it for a while before speaking to him, but Mike’s been pivotal to the designs of the cast. We were friends in sixth form when we were trying to be a comic company called Awesome Comics. We have similar foundational influences and while I’m sure our tastes have diverged over the years, we get each other with this kind of concept. I’ll be pulling down the old Explosion High site at some point, but we tried making this a webcomic back in the webcomic days. This is a quite different beast, but the core concept is still there. Mike’s drawing the third story in the book, and helped with the core cast designs.

Debora Lancianese is an Italian comic artist who I saw after most of a year of hunting for artists for projects. Her work was perfect for this kind of an energetic story, and her colouring was amazing. She both incredibly fast at drawing and incredibly good. There were a few changes which had to be made during the process which she took on board as she went. She also coloured Mike’s pages which added a real sense of continuity to the two stories.

After talking to Matt Hardy of Mad Robot Comics, he suggested something I never thought possible; hiring Norrie Millar and Faye Stacey of Vehi-Kill fame. I’m in the privileged position of being part of the Mad Robot Comics writer’s brain trust. I get to see some of the works in progress from the other writers and the art for Vehi-Kill always looked sumptuous. The bombastic art and gorgeous colours were perfect for Vehi-Kill’s chaos and actually also for Explosion High. Fortunately as Norrie and Faye were almost done with issue three of Vehi-Kill, I was able to get them on board for the first story in the issue. It’s bigger and madder than the others, so getting some folks like these is great. Norrie’s also made the cover which I’ve now seen and looks gorgeous.

For the first time, the Explosion High logo, against a suitable backdrop

In addition to the artists, Mad Robot Comics alum Rob Jones created the logo and has agreed to letter the comic, as well as handling the layout of the interior. I’ve dealt with Rob on my previous projects and he’s a real star. I admit I even wrote some of the sound effects in the script specifically wondering how Rob would handle them.

Then there’s Matt Hardy. He’s the brain behind Mad Robot Comics and the person who’s helped me actually focus enough on one project long enough to get it finished. Okay… two, but the other one’s still needing an artist. Alright, four, but one’s benched and the other’s still on the bubble. Either way, he’s pushed me onwards, given me encouragement when I’ve needed it and a poke with a stick when I’ve needed that, too.

If you check out the #explosionhigh hashtag on the social media platform of your choice (as long as it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or an alternate universe where Google Plus still exists) then you’ll be able to see glimpses of preview art for the project.

I’ll be posting a bit more over here about it, especially when we get closer to the launch date!

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The Top 36 RPGs I Played in 2020, in Alphabetical Order – Part Four (Nice Marines to The Yellow King)

Okay, home stretch now. Here are the final games I played this year, covering us pretty much to the present moment. There might be one more session of play before the year’s end, in order to finish Warmer in the Winter, but that’s it for me for 2021.

Nice Marines

A couple of things from our page of session notes.

My knowledge of Warhammer peaked around ages 12-14, which I feel are the optimal ages to be a Warhammer nerd. When my friends in their thirties were all getting back into it, I didn’t really follow. I barely painted my units but I did name them. My brother came up with backstories for minions in Heroquest. I moved from Warhammer type games to RPGs as that helped me get what I wanted from that world, not miniature combat.

What I mean when I say all this is that I knew I was going into a losing battle with Nice Marines. My players would inevitably know far more than I did, but I’d be open with them about this and plough on through.

Nice Marines is the sole Grant Howitt game I ran this year, about space marines who saved a planet from alien forces and then the people who are there to help the recovery efforts don’t show up. With inspectors on the way, the space marines have to help rebuild, despite being made only for killing.

I only had two players, but they went in with gusto, helping and often breaking everything apart as they went. Whole buildings were toppled during the rebuilding efforts, one of the group put a hand through a diplomat while trying to reassure everyone and they will never get stains out of the Rhino the brought along.

Night’s Black Agents

Photo of Split’s convention setup by Graham Wilkes.

I’ve never played or run a Gumshoe RPG before, but I had Yellow King on my 2020 Bucket List. A friend, Split, was going to run Night’s Black Agents at AireCon and realised I could learn the system at the hands of a friend.

NBA felt a little like going back to my Spycraft days, with a lot of planning and scouting out places. The character sheets were all nicely designed and presented so we knew how to make use of everything. It started out light enough with some basic investigations, a bit of light breaking and entering, then a fight against a terrifying vampire in a graveyard. For a one slot convention session, it felt like we got a lot done.

I mainly know of the system from Trail of Cthulhu as an alternative to systems where the group might get stalled by the system. Players have Investigative Abilities which automatically give a character any relevant clues when they see or unlock them. There are also General Abilities which are for anything non-clue-based. Unlike Yellow King this has abilities called ‘Cherries’ (I admit I’m not 100% sure why they’re called that) which are extra abilities.

Later in the year when the Bundle of Holding came out for The Dracula Dossier, I ended up buying it because of my experiences here and a love of the concept of a sandbox game using Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a player resource to find clues.

World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game Pasión de las Pasiones

My attempt to unpack what the players created, along with a really awesome pen a couple of players gave me as apparently it suited my GM style.

Like Last Fleet, this used a QuickStart version of the game as it was only just done through Kickstarter when I ran it.

Pasión is Powered by the Apocalypse, but it does some fantastic things with it. You don’t have stats, but you have questions you ask. Each ‘yes’ you say is a +1 to your roll. Two questions are from the move you’re doing and one from your playbook. El Caballero has, “are you handling things without guile and head on?” This means that whatever you do, that question is valid. You also get props, such as an eyepatch or a horse.

I don’t know anything about telenovelas and a decade of watching Eastenders when I was younger didn’t really match up. Still, the mechanics and the writing of the preview rules really helped set the tone and allow me to do the same for my players.

The story we told involved an illicit dog-breeding operation and the trial for the murder of El Caballero’s police horse. There were strained reunions, evil twins who swapped eyepatches and a really tense date at El Jefe’s apartment where both players were constantly lying to each other and trying to coordinate their own schemes. Our group turned it into a bit of a Fiasco at times, but there were some spectacular moments of love, rivalry and revelation which had the whole group shouting in excitement. I feel sorry for the tables near us, but also proud of what we achieved.

Quest

Summersea, from my Exodus campaign setting and the adventure, “Dude, Where’s my Wizard?”

This was an interesting one. When D&D was going through yet more controversies and even the co-author of Dungeon World was acting objectionably enough that I didn’t want to run that anymore, I started looking at alternatives which weren’t as heavily descended from D&D. This meant no OSRs as they were in dialogue with D&D as much as Dungeon World. No Pathfinder as that’s basically still D&D. I remembered a Dicebreaker video about Quest.

Quest is a very simple RPG which uses a lot of fiction-first techniques as well as a very simple unmodified d20 roll for resolution. Characters have role-based abilities which help keep everyone unique and give them interesting rules to add into the fiction. The book looks lovely, has nice art and intends to not be the only RPG a person ever plays. As some streamers moved from D&D to Quest, the company involved got a bit more attention. They had made a couple of tonal choices with abilities which didn’t gel with the look the company and the game book were going for. The Adventure Guild put up things like free copies for teachers and a discount on the physical version if you buy the PDF. There was a little criticism about how people were treating Quest like it was to be the new D&D and that leaving D&D on racial grounds to then go to another RPG by wealthy white men was a bit odd. These are valid criticisms and it’s been reassuring to see Quest answer with their open source system that anyone can take part in and they’re helping promote, as well as stated in their book mentioning that there are other RPGs for people to move onto after Quest. It’s all a start, which is something.

I ran a couple of one-shots and a two-parter with my regular group. As a first role-playing game to teach people, it’s wonderful. It moves smoothly along, gives GMs the right kind of resources and stays out of the way until the rules need to be engaged with. I can see it also being perfect for streamers in the same way.

For someone coming from D&D there’s a little learning (and un-learning) to do. For someone coming in with no knowledge it holds your hand nicely and if you’re used to indie RPGs, this will feel a little bit basic without any third party resource to help with adding a bit more complexity.

The first games I ran were connected one-shots, with the group having to chase down a flying castle. The first session had skeletons raining from the sky and building catapults to try and get back up there. The second session had the group break into a lord’s grounds and his magical beast hunt in order to use a shortcut to the flying castle. They fought off some terrifying swanbears and made their way to the castle. It turned out a storm elemental had been caught up in a lightning rod and was shaking the castle, knocking the skeleton guards down to the cities below.

The two-parter was a hunt through a mage’s festival to find a brick wizard who’d been on a bender there. The group made some fun characters and stormed through the tourist traps, revelries and the elusive brick wizard who had been up to no good.

I found both sessions of Quest really allowed me to engage my imagination and let everything go wild. I don’t know how it’d fare for a campaign, but it’s definitely what I’d want to use for my Exodus campaign setting in the future.

Squamous

I love this screenshot of the group’s immediate reactions to seeing a monster and the horrendous failures that followed. This is when it got a bit messy.

I mainly know Scott Malthouse from his solo games Quill and English Eerie. When I saw he had written a super-light cosmic horror investigation game, I was curious. I love Cthulhu Dark which is a similar creature, but where that focuses on the nihilistic horror, Squamous focuses on investigations. It’s no slouch when it comes to horror, either.

I ran a one-off session using the adventure in the back of the book and we managed to have some atmospheric fun with some terrifying moments near the end. I’ve got a review mostly written which I’ll be publishing soon, and my next experiment with the system will be running a premade Call of Cthulhu adventure using this system.

Trophy Gold

I’m not going to post any spoilers, so here’s the cover for Hester’s Mill, which fucking slaps. Go, get Trophy Gold and run or play this.

This was a game I really wanted to run all year. I loved Trophy Dark and went all in on the Kickstarter, but I was a little uncertain how Trophy Gold worked. I bit the bullet, ran the game and it was one of those experiences where the mechanics all fall together and spell out, “This is the good shit”. It was one thing reading them, but seeing them in play was fantastic.

Trophy Gold is a narrative take on desperate adventurers looting dungeons for gold. It adds a fantastically dark tone and ‘push your luck’ mechanics which encourage adventurers turning over every rock, knowing that trouble will lie under a lot of them. I’ve only run one incursion for the game, but it was the kind of situation where my players kept asking for another go at it, sure they’d be able to uncover the secrets of the place and leave with profit.

In Trophy Gold, you have debts and you need to pay them every time you go back home or your character’s out of the game (dead, in debtor’s prison, it doesn’t really matter). So you need some money automatically, but the more you stay, the more likely you are to find some kind of unspeakable horror that will harm you, the dark forces of the dungeon may murder you, or worse. Trophy Dark was a sublime system and this is a worthy companion. I have a review mostly written of Trophy Gold which I’ll post up soon, and I want to try a campaign of it next, to see how people survive a few incursions.

Warmer in the Winter

Our main cast for Warmer in the Winter.

This is another game from my 2021 bucket list. I’m not much of a Christmas romcom person, but I love the idea of trying to mechanise the tropes and beats of a romantic comedy into a roleplaying game. This is a beta, so it’s not finished and a little barebones, really helped by knowledge of Monsterhearts and Kids on Bikes.

Players take on roles like, “The Beloved” and “The Rival”, then play through a story, gaining and losing Heartstrings on each other, even Wishing on a Star in order to find out details about a person or a situation.

I’ve only played the first half of a story, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish that off before the year’s done. We have a stressed journalist having to return to her hometown in order to write a puff-piece about small town Christmases. The hometown hero and her ex, is trying to save the local ice rink. The rival is a factory owner looking to expand his domain and the youngster is his daughter who has been all-but-adopted by the hero. We had a supernatural character filled with festive cheer; in this case a haunted snowman. It transpired as we prepared everything, that the snowman’s ghost was actually the rival’s dead wife. She’s been trying to direct the journalist and the hero to work together to save the rink and possibly, remind the rival about the meaning of Christmas.

It’s light fluff, in a good way. Once the story’s done I’ve promised the designer I’ll report back, and I might turn it into a preview of the game for WDR.

Weave

This is literally part of the character sheet. How goddamn adorable is this?

This might be the first RPG I ran this year. Weave is a diceless RPG which involves colouring in patterns. You play a band of young magicians on a pilgrimage to find out about magic, which is all cast through weaving. Communities have items of clothes or accessories which are culturally relevant to them and by interacting with people, even solving problems, the group are able to learn about the item, then create a kind of representation which will gift them a spell.

I ran a few sessions and it felt relaxing, even with the problem the group had to face of wolves threatening any of the local farmers and the young mayor being too much of a drunk coward to fend them off as local customs dictated. One of the group spent most of his time working with a blacksmith, another one helped out the tanner, and they soaked everything in before moving on. Tonally it felt like if Avatar: The Last Airbender was about clothes, and a bit Studio Ghibli-ish. Admittedly discussions between myself and another player about Flying Circus had us tagging that whole aesthetic into this game.

I was certain I’d reviewed Weave, but apparently I didn’t. I’ll have to remedy that.

Wreck This Deck

A water demon, going in the freezer. Once it’s slowed down, I can deal with it.

The second journaling game I’ve got, and I need to do more with it. Rather than typing it out and transcribing, I’m trying to write straight to a notepad and keeping things sparse, keeping them sketchy.

Wreck This Deck is a game about people who trap demons in playing cards. You need a deck you’re fine ruining, a journal and a pen. There are different actions you can do to prompt entries, cast spells and capture demons. Some involve shuffling and drawing from the deck, others involve picking specific cards and doing things to them.

I made Kind, who I’ve not specified much about at the moment. They hang out at The Level, a patch of square grass including a skate park. They look after the skaters, the people passing through, the dog walkers and most importantly, the dogs.

So far, Kind’s been keeping an eye on a pair of community support officers who have been bothering some of the locals in the park. By cutting an eye shape into a card, Kind could see a strange influence over them. Kind followed the officers to a building site on Market Street, only to find them talking to a demon who got stuck in a hole. When the underground river down Lewes Road flooded, it washed in.

I wasn’t sure what to do for the capture and after a bit of thought, I decided to chuck the card in the freezer. I warned my partner what I’d done and subsequently lost the card. After a bit of a search it had been stuck between shelves; the demon probably didn’t want to be caught. Still, I recovered it, then steamed the card and the demon was left inside.

I need to carry out another draw to see what adventures Kind can get up to. I like how this game gets you to think creatively with not only the tarot-style interpretations of the cards, but also what physical actions to carry out. It reminds me of the weird transgressive joy felt when I first played Pandemic Legacy. You’re not supposed to rip up a card in a board game, but we did. That was exciting, and there’s something kind of fun about ripping, burning and cutting cards in this deck.

The Yellow King

A collage from my Yellow King presentation to my players.

Finally we have one of my roleplaying white whales. The Yellow King isn’t just one game, it’s four. Also it’s a system I’d never run or played at the start of the year. I’ve no idea why, but the three-column layout that Pelgrane Press use on their big books is something I can never get used to in PDF. Fortunately this game had a one column layout on four smaller books in a slipcase which also doubled as a fold-out GM screen.

The Yellow King is based on Robert W Chambers’ short stories and specifically not HP Lovecraft’s interpretations (and especially not August Derleth’s). It’s a game of weird, existential horror, starting out in Belle Époque Paris. This sent me down a lot of research holes both in art and weird art horror.

I learnt a bit about Yellow King and Gumshoe by watching some Actual Plays on Pelgrane’s YouTube channel and playing Night’s Black Agents at Airecon. I used Kanka to start setting up a space with all the locations and NPCs which I might use, including having AI Gahaku change the photos of actors into weird painted versions.

As an example of the ‘painted’ faceclaims, here is Jason Mantzoukas as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

I’ve only had a couple of sessions, which was an extended session zero. We made characters and a bit of the world, then ran through a short investigation as the group had to rescue Henri Toulouse-Lautrec from a debt collector who was going to give him a sound beating. They went from Le Veau Gras, a student haunt, to Moulin Rouge and then the Olympia Music Hall where they saw Henri in a private booth where he’d locked himself in while the gangster’s goons clambered up some shaky scaffolding to get to him.

My extremely intricate and complex scene layout.

The fight mechanics had looked weird and potentially clunky, but was actually really nice and simple. I feel like I’ll need to remind the group how it works, but so far I’ve been enjoying the system and look forward to seeing how the rest of the campaign goes. I’m kind of hoping that we’ll get to play all four campaigns over time, but we might need to have a gap between each of them to play something else.

And that’s it for 2020. A lot, as it turns out. I’ve no idea how many more or less I played last year, but in an overall stressful and weird world, roleplaying games have been a wonderful refuge.

There are three games from my 2020 bucket list which I wasn’t able to get round to:

DIE: I read this on the way to AireCon and it looks fascinating. I’ve loved the comic it’s based on and meta-fiction in general. I know it can be run online, but it feels like it’d do a lot better in the real world, at least for the first time trying it. It probably won’t be on my 2021 bucket list, but I still want to try it.

Good Society – I love a good period drama and this looks like an incredible game. I can’t help but feel it’ll be a really hard sell on my main weekly group. Hopefully I can pressure my writing group into a few sessions of it, as they like Regency era fiction.

Quietus – This one’s on me. It’s a melancholy horror game for 1-2 players. I should have had it in my back pocket for times when I only had one or two players as that happened more often than not this year. I’ll try and get it ready to go in 2021 in case I get a chance to try it.

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The Top 36 RPGs I Played in 2020, in Alphabetical Order – Part Three (Green Dawn Mall to Masks: A New Generation)

My list of RPGs I played or ran this year continues, with a few I’ve reviewed, a few I haven’t and some general fun experiences to share.

Green Dawn Mall

Our Jamboard map of the mall.

This was part of Zinequest, and I regret not backing a physical copy now. Green Dawn Mall is a crawl through an increasingly weird shopping mall that might connect to all malls and might even be self-aware. I ran a game which lasted a couple of sessions (two and a bit thanks to cursed technology), starting with a friend of the players who had apparently gone into the mall to find an ointment which would help her become a dinosaur as she really loved dinosaurs.

The gang started out cautiously, despite my initial reading of the player agendas which encourage being proactive. After quickly fleeing Sammy Skates and the roller disco, they made their way to an aquatic-themed section of the mall and met a life-sized starfish. Things escalated from there as the group reached ‘The Dad Zone’ where a mannequin family hunted them, ‘The Fun Zone’ where one of them saw the giant rats who were running the lost and found, as well as some creepy toys trapped inside a plastic mountain trying to get out. There was a brief car chase, fleeing one of the courts in the mall and eventually they found their friend trapped in a hole under the chemists. It was surreal and weird, without being scary. As an alternative to dungeon-crawling, I heartily recommend it.

My full review of Green Dawn Mall is here.

History Dig Live!

Our dig site, picked from a selection we had on Jamboard.

When I was a student, I spent my wild evenings prepping RPG sessions with a dog by my side and Time Team on the television. It was a nice, gentle watching experience originally on because it might help me map out dungeons and then for its own sake.

History Dig Live! is an RPG which uses that sort of energy. Players are either archaeologists with a light quirk or two, and a lovable television personality who’s presenting the show. The active player presents their ‘find’ and then everyone comes up with their theories on what it means. You follow this up with a flashback to a secondary character set in the past, living their daily life. This adds context to the find and answers some of the theories even though the people in the present may not know. It also provides ammunition for the next players’ find.

Our show was an attempt to see if the area we were digging in had any religious significance. It looked for the most part like a market, although there was a bit of an eccentric nearby who was both a bit of a rabble rouser and a helpful community leader. Some local re-enactors got to make their own version of what the old market would have been and my character narrowly avoided falling in some mud, so all in all a good time.

I haven’t reviewed History Dig Live, but it is able to be watched on whatever Channel 4’s calling their app this week. I recommend it.

#iHunt

Our zone map for Jellyfish Bay.

I loved Hunter back in the day, and this felt instantly like a modernisation of that sort of play. You are millennials (and the book very generously stretches back to 1980 for that definition) and you are one of the first generations to earn less than your predecessors. Rent is a nightmare, as are medical costs (the default setting for this is in California) and you have to supplement your income with a side-gig hunting monsters. The iHunt app allows hunters to take on monsters for money, although sometimes the reasoning behind it can be a bit shady. The game uses a modified version of Fate with a few differences here and there, and the book is designed gorgeously. I read through it in a sitting when I first got it, and subscribed to the iHunt Patreon in order to get the regular zines they put out.

I ran one session and sadly didn’t get to finish off the story. I used Jellyfish Bay from one of the zines and quickly made from pregenerated characters. I only had a couple of players, but they had fun trying to work out what was going on, what the job really entailed and making connections. There were some ghosts of shitty teens in a closed down mall, some snooty yacht owners keeping an eye on them and some family drama going on. This is definitely a game I want to return to, at least to see how the progression mechanics feel in play, and for more monster-hunting fun. I’ve not reviewed it, but I live-tweeted my read through and might turn that into a thing if I don’t get a chance to run enough to review soon.

Lasers and Feelings

I didn’t have a picture, so here’s the logo.

This is a rare game that I’ve played but never run. Gareth, who started out part of the fortnightly one-shot gang and ended up one of my weekly players ran a game. We were trying to deal with a weird anomaly and used some of our shakiest Star Trek style logic to work our way out of the problem. Some people from the future were messing with it to try and get a message to us to stop a species in our equivalent of the Federation to stop mucking about with time or they’ll break it. Due to session length, we pretty much fixed the problem and resolved to stop any playing god with time.

Last Fleet

The fleet, on index cards.

This was a game of Last Fleet using the beta rules provided by Black Armada during their Kickstarter campaign. It’s a Powered by the Apocalypse version of Battlestar Galactica and the adaptation worked perfectly in having the mechanics reflect the themes of the show. The playbooks used star signs and my group decided to use their own ones to decide which to take.

The game was a fairly short one, with our Scorpio (the Baltar playbook) waking up in an unfamiliar crew quarters with components to make a bomb, just before one went off. The panic grew as the rest of the crew found out there were multiple stolen explosives and had to do shipwide searches through the fleet. Our traitor escalated things in trying to cover up their involvement, but did manage to help save the day and cover their tracks (the playbook does a good line in you sabotaging things before the start of the session and dealing with the outcome in play). The command characters never actually met any of the other characters face to face, but their impact was still felt.

One highlight was when someone used a move where they simply watch a situation unfold and are unable to help. Our captain simply watched out of their window while pouring a glass of wine from one of the few remaining bottles. This gave the person they were watching a bonus, but acted as a nice cut in the action to where the others were and what they were doing, even if it was nothing.

I wrote a preview for Who Dares Rolls found here. I also accidentally forgot and wrote a review of the final book, which I’ll check through and post online if it doesn’t cover too much of the same ground as the preview.

Legacy of Dragonholt

Legacy of Dragonholt, enjoyed with a Jura… possibly?

I was torn about whether this counted as an RPG or not and I think that even with the light touch it had, it kind of does.

My board game group loved doing a campaign of Charterstone and had done a few one-off games while trying to figure out what to play. A Dice Saloon Bring & Buy provided the answer in Legacy of Dragonholt. Set in the aggressively bland world of Terrinoth, this is the closest I’ve come to caring about it.

The story works somewhere between a Choose Your Own Adventure and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Each character has skills and takes turns making decisions in game, flipping their action marker over until everyone’s had a go. It’s a bit of a clumsy way of managing multiple players, but after the tutorial it was easy enough to get into character. I was a surly dwarf who moved to the seaside, only to have the waves claim his home. He hated the water with a passion and excelled at archeology, even underground. The game uses a big book for the main village and you unlock adventures to go on as you play.

This game has stalled due to lockdown, but hopefully we’ll be able to pick it up when my board game group can meet again.

The Machine

I forgot about The Prestige when I made my character, but he totally would be a character from The Prestige.

This is one of the solo RPGs I played this year. I saw a review on Dicebreaker which made it sound really interesting.

I played Morvo the Magnificent, a magician who found a strange box in the home of a rival magician who seemed to have simply vanished. The more my character tinkered with the machine he’d found, the more it helped with his tricks, but there seemed to be problems with it.

The Machine is a game of ambition and hubris, ending inevitably with the downfall of the character writing in the journal. I typed up my encounters with The Machine, so all I need to do now is transcribe it and send it to a friend to continue the story with a new character to find The Machine. There are quite a few entries to transcribe and writing legibly is something I take incredible difficulty in with my abysmal coordination. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish this, send it off and let the story unfold before eventually returning for me where I can report back to Who Dares Rolls.

Masks: A New Generation

I scattered a ton of comics about young superheroes on the game table as inspiration for my players.

I keep forgetting that I got to run Masks this year! It’s one of my favourite RPGs and my weekly group didn’t have the third season of our campaign in 2020 (probably in 2021, depending on which games we decide are in the roster).

There were more people who took up the offer of a Masks game than I expected, so I was able to enlist a friend to run a second table for me. My scenario involved some quick character creation, then world building of what an alternate near-future Brighton would entail. The story began on West Pier II: The Sequel, for a fresher’s fair the group had to attend as security for. A gigantic seagull attacked the pier, along with some goons with rat, squirrel, pigeon and seagull masks (the Verminions). The crew fought off the giant seagull and chased the Verminions through the city until they reached the underground lair of a criminal seagull who had size-changing powers. His name was X-Carded by a player, which was I think the second time I’ve ever seen it used. Still, no questions asked I quickly renamed the enemy to Steven Seagull.

The story ended with the seagull defeated and the Verminions gainfully employed by one of the heroes. It was short, sweet, a little violent and as ludicrous as I’ve come to expect from Masks games.

I reviewed Masks here.

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