A Fool’s Errand: Over the Hill (Part Three)

We’re in the final quarter of the year now, and my quest to play every board game in my collection has had some highs and lows. Some games have needed to be ditched due to quality or the realisation that I’ll never get them to the table.

I’ve had the benefit of the Dice Saloon opening up again and booking in tables with friends for board game afternoons. I’ve also had the problems of forgetting to add some games I own to the list (Small World & Smash Up), forgetting the enormity of this quest and getting new games for my birthday.

The final quarter has National Novel Writing Month as a potential delaying issue and the random factor of CabinCon (an impending mini-con with some friends). I don’t know whether it’ll be a good place to play a ton of games on my list, or whether it’ll lead to me getting distracted with other peoples’ games instead. I hope the former, my partner reckons the latter.

Without further ado, let’s crack on and see what I’ve been playing:

July

Elder Sign

The last of the Arkham Files games which I hadn’t played this year. This is a dice rolling game where you try to solve mysteries by matching symbols you’ve rolled against requirements on cards. The expansions made the game into a bit more of a story and in this case, it was a tale of research in Cairo and expeditions out in the desert to find ruins. I liked the back and forth flow, which felt more of a connected story than the classic Elder Sign. My partner doesn’t care for dice rollers and my luck is terrible, but it’s still good fun to play when she’s not round.

Kill Doctor Lucky: The Director’s Cut, Secret Tijuana Deathmatch, Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition & Save Doctor Lucky

My first ‘board game day’ at the Dice Saloon was a Cheapass Day. We didn’t get all the Cheapass games I own played, but four’s a good start on them. Kill Dr Lucky’s an all time classic in Cheapass games, and while there’s a later edition of Captain Park, I like this one with the board. It gives everyone a good excuse to tell an obvious tall tale about their exploits abroad when in truth they’ve been hiding in cafes for the last few months.

There are nicer versions of Kill Dr Lucky, but this is a very charming set I still love.

Secrets

This game’s a social deduction game which is shorter and more fun than I remember. Two teams of spies need to score higher points than each other, while a pacifist wants to lose harder than anyone else. You don’t know who you’re helping or hindering and sometimes, you’re the only one who doesn’t know your hidden identity. It’s confusing, but in a really fun way.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery

I’ve only played this game after a few drinks until this time. It’s not the best either looks-wise or mechanically, but it’s still good fun. You buy cards at an auction, then someone hosts gladiatorial battles and picks a couple of players to send a fighter out. You carry out underhanded behaviour with poisoning and backstabbing, and then the fight plays out in a frankly boring fashion. There are some great and mediocre parts to the game, evening out to what is a pretty fun time.

A two-on-two gladiatorial finale!

Happy Families

This was one I found in a drawer and realised had to go on the list. I smuggled it to another game night and we played it before Near & Far just to get it out of the way. Then I got rid of it.

Near and Far

I love Near and Far, but rarely get it to the table. You can have a pretty casual campaign of it and that’s what’s happened with us. We only realised halfway through that we’d already played the map we were on, but still enjoyed it anyway.

You are all adventurers wandering through a map having stories and pitching tents before returning to town. Red Raven’s games are like Scythe in that they’re a kind of medley of mechanics. I like them, but I get when people don’t engage with it.

One day we’ll press on with this. As a sheer coincidence, I may have preordered the sequel game, Now or Never.

My adventurer at a camp.

Railroad Ink Challenge: Lush Green Edition

I love Railroad Ink. I’ve been glued to the app version for a while now. This version was a birthday present from my partner and is a cool green colour, with a forest expansion on it. There’s also a set of challenge cards which along with the special buildings on the map feel like essential additions. I’ve already mentioned the original and this totally replaces that, quality-wise.

Parks

Emma bought Parks from Dice Saloon as she’d been tempted with how pretty it looks. It feels like a bit of a Tokaido-style experience of having a bit of a wander. You try to collect things like water and sun, cashing them in to collect parks from a set on the board. The locations you walk through change gradually over time, but you get a kind of familiarity with what’s on offer and what you can do. It’s a very beautiful game and simple enough that I’d be up for teaching it to folks unfamiliar with board games.

Our hikers about to set off.

August

So there was a slight hiccup in August which was all of my own doing. I saw that the British Heart Foundation shop near me had a massive influx of board games. I mean MASSIVE. Listening to the Dicebreaker podcast, I’m wondering if this was part of their big clear out as they said they’d sent a ton of games to a local charity. I picked up a couple of games which isn’t great, as I have enough as it is, but I couldn’t help myself. I did return there afterwards in case there was more, but a lot of board game nerds reside in Brighton and picked the place clean. If there’s anything in my defence, I did play both the games I bought between August and now.

The Fox in the Forest Duet

Another game Emma bought, this is a two player trick-taking game. We played it on a train and it was a nice back and forth. As you’re trying to collect tokens without communicating who’s pushing and who’s pulling the fox. We came close to success… I think. We’ll have to give it another go and see if we can beat it. Compared to …And Then We Held Hands, it felt like it was replayable.

Star Realms

Somehow we hadn’t played the vanilla version of Star Realms. I love it, even though Emma does tend to beat me at it. This version’s the same as the previous versions I’ve covered, but with slightly different cards. They’re all fantastic.

Coin Age

An area control game played with spare change and a card. I found the card and rules and we lucked into having the right coins in my wallet, so Emma and I played it on the train. It was nice and simple, although I might have to find another copy of the rules which I can either sleeve or laminate.

A coin-based area control game which fits in a wallet.

Fort

This is a fun little deckbuilder about kids building tree forts and the kind of fluidity of childhood friendship. You each have different suits based on shovels, skateboards, water pistols, crafting glue, crowns and books. Unlike so many deckbuilding games, you actually care about what everyone plays. When you play a card, other people can potentially follow one of the actions on it. Not just that, but any card you don’t play on yours or other peoples’ turns ends up in your yard where anyone can acquire it on their turn. Sometimes you end up making a rubbish play, knowing that it’s safe from being stolen by other players, or eagerly add one of their cards to your deck to mess with them even if it goes against what your deck does.
It’s a real joy, chaotic, messy and more interesting than a lot of deck builders.

Game of Blame

This is a pretty simple card game about avoiding blame form a queen in a fantasy land plagued with problems. You have a role which acts as a suit, and a special ability they can use. As the game goes on, you lay down some cards and the amount you play into a blame pile causes different things to happen. If you play one card then you draw a card, if you play two you can switch roles and if you play three then you accuse someone of being to blame for everything. You and that player check the stack and whoever has the most takes all the blame cards. Whoever has the most as the end of the game is at fault, which makes this a glorious, messy game. People switch hands, roles and desperately try to keep the blame from hitting them hardest.

Shifty Eyed Spies

Speaking of glorious messes, this is a fun spy game. You have a spy and location card. You need to wink at the spy with the same identity as the card in your hand, then they need to nod at the location in theirs. One of you calls out the match and you both get a point. The problem is that people can call you out if they see a wink or a nod.

You’d think this would make the game hard, but here’s the secret: humans are incredibly fallible. I love this, as people will accuse each other wrongly fairly often, and you’ll be spending ages getting away with winking at one person without even them noticing.

King of Tokyo

This is a simple, fun dice game. I mentioned earlier that Emma’s not a fan of dice-chuckers, which is true, but this is a simple game where the rolls just add things, instead of having players trying to get a specific result. You’re all big monsters trying to lay waste to Tokyo. you gain powers while you do it, and smash apart buildings or vehicles as you go. It’s light, fluffy fun.

Cthulhu!

Tell Me: The Grand Quiz Game

This is a family game which we used to play when there was a spare bit of time before a party, or sometimes if there were only a handful of people left but no one was going home yet. It’s a simple spinner and deck of cards with questions. It didn’t go down great with Emma and Lee, but it’s a kind of non-game game. It’ll be sticking around for sentimental reasons.

Tales of the Arabian Nights

One of the longer games left on my list, Tales of the Arabian Nights is a kind of epic, competitive Choose Your Own Adventure style game. There’s a lot of chaotic choices and swashbuckling. I think we all ended up in prison at some point here, but also had some fun tales as we explored the world. It’s not getting a new printing anytime soon as there are some dated, relatively problematic elements. I’m curious to see if it’ll get a working over or a brand new game with the same system. I kind of want an Ancient Greece version of this at some point.

The world, as we start setting out for adventure!

Fresco: Big Box

A worker placement game about painters all contributing to a church ceiling’s painting, trying to impress a bishop. The big box has some expansion components which I always include, such as painting portraits for people, extra colours of paint to mix and a couple of other things. I love that you get cubes of paint and mix them into different colours. This is a close cousin of Viticulture, mechanics-wise. It’s a little simpler in some ways as the route from paint to other paint to victory points is a bit simpler than vines to grapes to wine to victory points. I love them both and don’t want to have to fight over who’s the favourite. I’ve enough space for each of them in my collection.

Fresco’s wishing well and the adorable coins with dry and submerged sides.

Escape the Dark Sector

The first of my charity shop finds and one which was able to play solo. A very retro-looking card game where you are woefully under-prepared people trying to escape from a space prison, negotiate or fight your way past problems and face a final boss before leaving. The health of each character is tracked on a fake heart rate monitor slip which is pretty neat, and each playthrough uses maybe a third of the deck, so I’ve exiled the cards I’ve used and the next game will be entirely different.

One of my characters and their gear.

Gretchinz!

This is a Warhammer universe game, but I always liken it to a kind of busted MarioKart. You race these cute little karts down a racetrack by rolling dice in a manic fashion and when someone’s got what they want they yell WAAAGH. The other players then have to make do with what they’ve got. You can swerve left or right, attack each other or attack the very ground. It’s fun, although I felt like I was way too slow at rolling dice this time.

Night of the Grand Octopus

A fairly short game about gathering resources for your cult. You decide where to send your cultist and monster, either gathering an item, blocking someone from getting one or having to negotiate. It’s okay and benefits from being short as it’s mainly a game about blocking people from doing things and I could see that getting old fast.

Two monsters both around some books.

Knights of the Dinner Table: HACK!

An ancient card game based on the Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip. I loved it when I was a young roleplayer and I’m guessing it’s aged quite a bit over the years. I remembered this being better, but in the end we were all happy when the end conditions were lucked into.

The end, blessedly near to the start.

Arctic Scavengers

This is the game which got Dominion removed from my collection. It’s a deck builder by the same designer, but with more theme and a fight at the end of each round after the third. It creates some interesting challenges such as the gamble of scavenging a ‘junk’ deck, thinning your starting deck of refugees by exiling the people who aren’t helpful with the tools you’ve got, and electing not to play cards during your round so they can contribute to the knife fight at the end. It had been a while since we’d played it, so I avoided the expansions, but the ones I’ve got are good fun.

Disqualified: Renfield

I had this on my list, but it’s already been in my ‘to sell’ pile for the year, so I’ve scrubbed it from the records.

September

Phew, okay, we’re almost done with the quarter, and to a point where I’ve been a bit more vigilant in playing more games.

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile

My brother’s birthday present was Leder Games’ Oath. It arrived in September and we gave it an initial play. It’s a game with persistent elements which will update after each game. Five of us played the four player scripted tutorial with mixed results. I think the amount of text in the tutorials and the time taken with it all confused a couple of players, but I really loved the sense of the world gained just through the art and the mechanics. Emma was the chancellor and only descended from the throne long enough to beat up Lee and Steve in a junk yard, while I was fighting bandits in an inn on top of a buried giant. I can’t wait to try this again, which I think will be smoother post-tutorial.

The lovely board
Some of my people.

High Society

A quick, simple bidding game about being decadent, but not TOO decadent. You bid on some lovely art nouveau cards with values on them and whoever has the highest score wins, but only if they’ve not spent the most money and proved themselves to be a wastrel. I was doomed pretty early on despite having the highest value card.

Jane Austen’s Matchmaker: Chapter Two

I always forget how fun and potentially brutal this game is. You and the other players are people arranging matches between characters from Jane Austen’s novels. They each have four stats and a preference for one of them in a partner. You put forward a match and if the other person agrees, you dice off and gain prestige based on one of the four stats. Two of the sides of the d6 have the ‘preference’ symbol on, so if your match prefers Charm, for instance, then they’ll score that 50% of the time. It’s a tricky game of trying to make matches which will benefit you and get them agreed. This second edition adds people who will give approval to your matches or venues to meet in which are just enough extra flavour to add some fun complexity to this game.

A game of odd Austenian ships.

Obscurio

The last of my charity shop purchases, this is a bit like Mysterium, but I’m keeping both in my collection. You’re all wizards trapped in a magic library, trying to get out. One player is a magic book who can’t communicate as they’re a book. They use lovely images to try and indicate which door is the correct one, while a traitor will try to help mislead the group and keep them trapped for all time. A short game with some fun moments of tension.

Bunny Bunny Moose Moose

I love the idea of this game more than the play of it. The active player reads a poem while drawing cards with bunnies and moose on them, each with ears or horns in different configurations. At a random point a hunter will appear and everyone has to freeze. Their bunnies and moose move according to which animal you look like, or not at all if you’ve mixed it up.

The comprehension’s never been great with the teach or the end results, so even though I like this game, it’s going to leave my collection.

Our racers all over the place on the track.

Colt Express

A Wild West train robbery game where players program in an order for what their bandit will do, but then chaos will inevitably erupt as people don’t always know what each other are doing. It’s a mess, rendered beautifully into three dimensions with cardboard trains.

The three-dimensional train and a bandit hiding from the law.

Nanofictionary

I bought this at Dragonmeet after a really fun game with the Looney Labs staff and some friends, then proceeded to never play it again. It’s aged better than I thought. Players draw and play cards, collecting plot elements or stealing them from each other until they reckon they’ve got components for a story. They read out a 50 word/30 second story and then we hand out awards. Whoever has the most awards and the most cards in their story wins the game. Nice and simple. I think like Seven Dragons, this is one which will last in my collection.

Sheriff of Nottingham

A bluffing game where you’re merchants bringing normal trade goods or illegal items and even Merry Men into Nottingham market! One player’s the sheriff and chooses whether to inspect people’s bags for illegal goods or not. I love this game and the Merry Men expansion really helped encourage people to risk illegal plays for better payouts.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York

This is a drawing game where you’re all given a prompt and have to draw something line by line, person by person. The thing is, one of your group’s a big old phony and not a real artist. They have to pretend like they know what they’re drawing and you need to guess who the fake is, all in two rounds. The game’s a minimalist masterpiece, both from the design, mechanics and the ‘gallery’ of weird collective images previous players have made.

Bang!

Bang! is not a fair game. It’s a WIld West shootout where a sheriff is trying to uphold the law without knowing who’s on his side and who’s a crook. The variable win conditions aren’t balanced and the cards can really swing victory or failure. Still, it’s good fun and part of it is the sting of the unfairness. I’ve played a sanitised, ‘balanced’ version of the game and it just felt toothless.

This playthrough felt a little disappointing as a first time sheriff was incredibly alpha playered and pretty much let someone who did turn out to be the deputy run a lot of his decision-making. I was an outlaw aiming for a confident display of solidarity with my other outlaws, but Emma bailed and I was put in prison, so my plans were for nothing.

I fought the law and the law won.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Another bluffing game, with the contrived idea that you’re all trying to solve a murder, but one of you actually did the murder. The Forensic Scientist for whatever reason cannot actually communicate with the group aside from placing bullet tokens on some tiles to indicate which murder weapon and means were used in the murder. I had a rare game where I wasn’t the murderer, and even managed to figure out whodunnit.

Quest

The new, shorter version of Avalon. This was really interesting, as the rules felt a little sparse and I wasn’t sure whether it would be any good. You have the Loyal Servants of Arthur trying to succeed at missions while Morgan Le Fey and her Scion are secretly working against you. This version cuts a while round of pre-mission voting out, halving the game time, but changing up where and what the arguments are about. The leader of the mission can only ever lead once, which creates some interesting logistical factors, and they have to put a token on someone to make them play a success card on a mission (unless they’re Morgan). Emma made a really good play as Morgan, letting me know she was evil, but implicating me as the secret baddie. I had to fight against that reputation and luckily good won, despite that play.

Dark Moon

Another traitor game. This one was made on BoardGameGeek as ‘BSG Express’, a micro version of a game I adore. It plays out in a fraction of the time and really keeps the pressure on. We had an obvious traitor, but the loyal player actions managed to cast their obviousness into doubt just enough to help them win.

Our wreck of a space station.

Forbidden Desert

I think I prefer this to Forbidden Island. You have to navigate shifting sands which build up, blocking your way unless you clear paths while trying not to dehydrate from the sun. We had the worst luck with finding parts of the airship to help get us to freedom. Despite some good plays, one of our team was stranded out in the sun without enough water.

So much sand.

7 Wonders

A card-drafting game, where you’re all trying to build your civilisation through three different ages. It’s short and simple enough, with some fun decisions to make with the ways you’re going to score and what you’ll do with the things in your hand. It’s a little too complex to be someone’s first game, but it’s still fairly light.

Rampage/Terror in Meeple City

This game is some joyous chaos. You have a city of buildings held up by little meeples and you play monsters who are there to wreck it. The game had to change its name as it is basically the old Rampage video game in tabletop form. You flick discs to run at things, blow buildings down, fling vehicles. It’s all very silly and tactile. I was, of course, the best monster.

The monsters rampaging over a ruined city.

Red7

An incredible short card game. I’ve talked about Fluxx before and this feels like the smarter cousins to it. You all have a hand of cards with a colour and number on each of them. There’s a rule in the centre of the table, a card in front of you and on your turn you must be winning according to that rule. You can use the cards in your hand to add to the tableau in front of you or to change the rule, or both. If you run out of cards or can’t win on your turn, you’re out. It’s fast and gets you thinking in interesting ways. There’s an advanced most with extra actions, but I’ve played it once and never felt the need to do that version again.

When Darkness Comes…

No.

No.

Munchkin Deluxe

When I get salty about running dungeon crawls I basically end up describing Munchkin. You boot open a door, kill a monster, get some treasure and that’s it. Munchkin’s an odd one as it replicates that cycle of role-playing, but I’ve had my least fun games with roleplayers as they defensively tank, turtle, make incautious plays and end up causing the game to go on too long. I’ve had good games of it where it’s not been frustrating, but not enough to keep the game.

Smash Up

This is a neat game idea; you smash two decks together to make one combined deck, then you fight. The problem is it’s not actually a great game once you get past the excitement of ‘I’m combining pirates and dinosaurs’.

Small World

I often forget I have Small World and put it in the same camp as your Munchkins and such. It’s a great little area control game on a map that’s too small with fun abilities and minimal dice-based randomisation. There are random combinations of species and adjectives which people pick from, adding abilities together and trying to conquer the area with them. You stretch out your resources and when they’re too thin you send them into decline, then pick a new combination. This is the smashing up of things which works.

The Small World is not enough.

Space Hulk: Death Angel

I’ve been increasingly realising how many games I’ve still got to play, so I played this in solo mode on a lunch break. My Warhammer days were pretty much ages 12-14 and I never really kept up with it. This is a Fantasy Flight co-op game which is basically Aliens but where the marines are walking tanks. It’s fairly light and simple, although my confidence was bolstered ages ago when I won my first game and then I lost consistently every game afterwards. I don’t know if solo’s a little easier, but I managed to beat the game with only a few casualties from my squad.

My walking tanks doing their thing.

Conclusion

Well, I’ve got a quarter of the year left and at this point I was a little over two thirds through my game collection. I need to make more of an effort if I’m going to get everything played and I’m already feeling a bit more merciless with what I’m keeping.

Railroad Ink Challenge, which I’ve been loving.
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