Hello again, you beautiful board gamers and fantastic table toppers. Welcome to another edition of Red Hot Board games, where the folk at Big Red Barrel talk about all the fun games they’ve been playing over the last month and any upcoming games that have us all excited!
One day I opened my twitter and all the sudden and without any warning my feed was flooded with Kittens, exploding. Everywhere! I have diligently satisfied my curiosity by clicking on the link to kickstarter page to immediately see that the project has already been backed, moreover, it was swimming in money. At that point I had very limited knowledge of Oatmeal and although the other names attached to the project were more than impressive, I have shrugged it away as just another ‘hit of the moment’ project. I tend to be a little bit vary of the games that rely on their artwork, rather than mechanics to keep people interested. This is one of the reason why I have been a fan of Munchkin exactly the same amount of time it took me to look through all the cards. I have equipped my elf with some snazzy crazy gear, giggled to myself, enjoyed one game, snoozed through the next two games and never picked up Munchkin again. Exploding Kittens looked like Munchkin 2.0 to me, so I did not back it.
Months later, our own BRB’s Coleman has brought his two copies of the game for Table Top Tuesday. I had a tiring day and was ready to play a silly quick game. By the end of game #4, I started regretting not backing the kickstarter in the first place, because the game was fun. It was silly, like I have expected, and frankly what else could a game where kittens explode things be about? It was also quick and I have exploded lots. The mechanics were simple and easy to understand, yet they were also solid and you didn’t have to do any head-maths every turn, which is always a bonus. I have laughed loads at the cards, and the card where a tuba is stuck in someone’s butt, still amuses me, even though I have seen it about a hundred times. Will the artwork jokes loose their novelty in time? Most probably. However, even when I will get tired of the cards, I think I will still enjoy a mixture of luck and ‘messing other people up’ style of the game. I will be picking up my own copy of Exploding Kittens as soon as it hits the retailers.
Forbidden Desert was a feature game for the TableTop Tuesday a few weeks ago. Its predecessor, Forbidden Island, was one of the first board games I played and was my first major addiction. Forbidden Desert, unsurprising, is a very similar game. Except this time around you and your friends instead trying to avoid collectively drowning on the quickly submerging island, are trying not to drown in sand or get burnt under the unforgiving desert sun. It is still a cooperative game where each player chooses a role with their own special abilities that can contribute in the sun digging adventures. And you will be digging a lot because you need to find parts of the steam punk flying machine with sun watch and a propeller that hopefully takes you away to somewhere with ice and chilled cocktails. Oh, and shade!
Having escaped the Forbidden Island successfully many times, I optimistically chose ‘elite’ difficulty for out first game. Obviously, it went spectacularly bad. Not only we have not managed to find a single part of the steam punk flying machine, but we were also surrounded by rapidly growing dunes of sand and two of the explorers had died from the dehydration. Despite this, we still had fun and by the end it didn’t feel like we ‘wasted’ a game. I didn’t seem to have any particular advantage through my previous experiences in Forbidden universe and this game had enough new mechanics to make it challenging, and most importantly interesting to play.
I also want to give two other board games a very quick mention, as I am planning on reviewing both of them at a later stage. The first game is probably better known, and it is the most relaxed competitive game I have ever played – Tokaido. Simple, incredibly pretty and easy to explain to others, this game takes about 30-40 minutes to play. During this time you will go on a trip through Japan visiting hot-springs, buying souvenirs, drawing beautiful scenery and having interesting encounters.
The second game is probably less familiar, but is equally fun – Nefarious. In this board game, players compete with each other in creating mad and so absolutely amazing inventions, like for example a space elevator. Let’s face it, everyone needs an elevator to space in their life! Essentially a card game, the mechanics of this game also take advantage of meeples that could be used to spy on other opponents and gain you more money. Also every game will be slightly different, as at the beginning of the game two twists are chosen out of the deck. The rules of the twist can influence the playthrough quite significantly and some combinations of twists can be particularly hard.
Red Hot Board Game articles usually concern themselves with the games that our writers are currently playing and enjoying. However, with the biggest US tabletop gaming convention, Gen Con, having taken place at the beginning of August and with the silly season for boardgames about to kick off in the run up to Christmas, I thought this would be an ideal time to be a bit more forward facing and take a look at some of the hottest games that will help melt your way through the cold winter months.
Codenames is perhaps the game to be getting the most buzz following its appearance at Gen Con. A party game of hidden roles and identities where two teams headed up by rival spymasters attempt to deduce whom is on what team, just from the one word clues given by the spymasters that relate to different words on the board. Sounds like a game of Scrabble went undercover and disguised themselves as a game of The Resistance! Sounds like a great fit for a futureTabletop Tuesday, just tell no one!
Mafia de Cuba is a a similar sounding deduction game that is getting a lot of post-Gen Con buzz. Players pass round a cigar box of “The Godfather” and can chose a different player role. They can chose to remain a loyal henchman, be a driver or act as an undercover CIA agent by taking one of the player role tokens from the box or betray The Godfather by stealing one of his precious diamonds! Again sounds like a quick, fun party deduction game.
And now for something completely different! Flick’em Up is a game that has been on my radar for a while and was glad to see it attract a lot of praise from Gen Con. A Wild West themed dexterity game where you can chose to be an outlaw to rob banks, free prisoners and attack the innocent or side with the law, become the Sheriff and try to protect the innocent. This town ain’t Flick’em Up for the both of us!
The next game I have not heard much about from Gen Con, but I have heard some generally encouraging comments from sources I trust (such as friends of BRB, Dog and Thimble) about the next launch from Plaid Hat Games (the publishers behind the excellent Dead of Winter and my current gaming crush Specter Ops.) Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn is essentially a (semi-)self-contained Magic:The Gathering style game. Players duel using their Phoenixborn demi-Gods with their party of followers equipped with spells, hoping to consume the ashes of their rival Phoenixborns and fulfil the prophecy!
Blood Rage is the next incoming title from Erik Lang, creator of a number of notable games including XCOM:The Board Game and, one of my favourites, Dice Masters – also happy to report that as well as being a talented game designer he is also a very, nice friendly man, which makes me like his games even more! Blood Rage sees you take control of you own clan of Vikings, desperate to find a glorious demise in battle to help find their place in Valhalla now that Ragnarök is upon them! I do not think I have ever been more disappointed to have missed a Kickstarter campaign, but am looking forward to its general release.
Two more games that are on the way soon that have been on my Big Red radar since their vastly successful Kickstarter campaigns are the Thunderbirds and Ghostbusters board games. Both may appeal to me slightly more due to the licence they are using. From all accounts it sounds as though for as good as “bustin'” makes me feel, it sounds as though Thunderbirds is the mechanically better game. F.A.B!
Over the last few months I’ve immersed myself even more into the weird world on tabletop roleplaying games. I recently reviewed the fantastic Fiasco, and have fallen in love with this quirky little sub genre of role-playing games – the story game. I purchased a copy of Durance, another GMless roleplaying game by the creator of Fiasco, Jason Morningstar. Whereas Fiasco can basically be about anything, a game of Durance always focuses on the same sci-fi story – life on a prison planet colony.
Essentially Durance, is about the colonisation of Australia in the 1700s but with a, reasonably thin, veneer of science fiction coated over the top. At the start of each game players go about creating their planet and the prison colony they inhabit. Ideally the colony and planet will be a perfect combination of paradise and order. Everyone will have enough to eat and society will be fair and just. Of course this is never the case and instead as a group you pick what good things your planet does have and all the bad things it unfortunately has as well. Perhaps the atmosphere is breathable but the climate is awful, freezing cold at night and unbearably hot during the day. Perhaps water is plentiful, but strange native life lurks in the shadows waiting to steal it away from you. Maybe the colony itself is ordered and well planned but justice is absent and the prisoners are packed together like sardines in a tin can.
Once all this is done each player takes up the role of two characters, a convict and a free colonist living life on this terrible planet. Just like in Fiasco, the game is told through a course of scenes with each player taking turns to shine the spotlight on some interesting aspect of colonial life.
“What will the Governor do when the food runs out?”
“What will the Captain of the Marines do when he finds out his sister has escaped from jail?”
These questions are answered in character and slowly but surely an exciting, and excruciatingly dark sci-fi tale emerges. Also similar to Fiasco, the whole game is incredibly simple. Every decision is made using just three dice. Whenever a scene involves some for of uncertainty these dice are rolled to resolve the situation. Perhaps the scene will end in brutal savagery or maybe in an act of pure indulgence. Rolling the dice also introduces the possibility of random events which interrupt the story and cause completely unexpected plot points to appear. Maybe the natives rise up and attack the colony? Maybe an abandoned transport ship lands on the planet carrying some terrible plague?
Durance has a very different pacing that a game of Fiasco, however. Fiasco feels like a movie with a very clearly defined end point. Durance, on the other hand has no such end point and can go on for as little or as long as you like. Each game feels more like a tv series or a great sci-fi novel. It’s a very different experience and from the few games we’ve played we’ve created some fantastic stories.
The other rpg I’ve played recently is Dread, another quirky game this time all about horror. In a sense it’s a more traditional rpg. There’s a GM who creates, narrates and arbitrates the story. Each player controls a character and describes their actions, with a basic character sheet that defines what they can and can’t effectively do. The big twist, or I guess selling point in Dread, is that the game requires absolutely no dice.
See whenever you come across anything in the game that your character might struggle to achieve, be that killing a zombie, breaking into a car, staunching a wound or…anything really instead of rolling a dice you turn to the the “tower”. All tests are replaced with a pull from a Jenga tower and therein lies the dread. At the start of the game, when the tower is complete everything is easy and almost without risk but before long even the smallest of tasks become a life or death event. Whenever the tower is knocked over the character in question simply dies, or at least leaves the game in some relevant way. It’s a really interesting twist on traditional roleplaying and adds all the tension and pacing of a horror movie. Everything starts off calm and then slowly the tension builds…before a character is brutally murdered and the tower resets and you revert to relative peace for a while.
I enjoyed my first game of Dread but I did have a few concerns. There’s a bit of a disconnect between what your character can do and how good you, the player, are at Jenga which isn’t present in dice based role playing games. We had one situation when an ex-SAS soldier was fighting a retired priest and, despite the obvious divide in ability of these characters, the fight just played out as a protracted game of Jenga. Another complaint is that this game has player elimination and it can be a bit depressing if you’re the first character to kick the bucket and then spend the rest of the game just watching. A clever GM can use dead characters, perhaps as zombies or werewolves (or whatever horror tale you are currently telling) but if you die early on it can be a pain. All in all though it was a great game and I definitely want to try it again….perhaps this Halloween!
Tags: Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, Big Red Board Games, Blood Rage, Codenames, Dread, Durance, Exploding Kittens, Flick'em Up, Forbidden Island, Ghostbusters, Mafia de Cuba, Nefarious, Thunderbirds, Tokaido