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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