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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