April was an odd month for gaming in our house: some of the staples fell eerily quiet, with neither Lord of the Rings LCG nor Dice Masters making it to the table, and Pathfinder scoring a new low of 5 games. On the other hand, this did give a bit of an opportunity for some other games to enjoy their moment in the sun…
10 of 10
Slightly surprisingly, the only game to make it on to the 10 plays list for April, was a brand new purchase. Zombicide is still getting a lot of love right now, but with the prospect of a short holiday, travelling by budget airline in the mix, it didn’t seem like a particularly sensible thing to try to pack.
Instead, enter Zombie Dice. It’s another Zombie-themed dice-chucker, but very much at the light, quick, and simple end of things. You are a zombie: you like brains, you do not like being shot. Each turn you draw 3 dice at random from a cup and roll them. The dice can give you one of three results: a brain, a shotgun blast, or some footprints. You keep shotguns and brains, and re-roll the feet, taking extra dice from the cup where necessary, so that you always roll 3 at a time. It’s a push-your-luck game, where you can cash out, taking the number of brains you’ve already eaten, or keep pushing in search of more brains, but risk getting 3 shotguns which signals instant turn-end with a score of 0.
I’d played this game in the past, but never actually bought it. Having finally done so, I’m glad we did: it’s so straightforward, really quick to teach or play, and with enough of a random element that anyone can win. There is a bit of strategy involved – the dice come in 3 colours: green (more brains), yellow (average) and red (more shotguns), so when deciding whether to stick or twist, you need to factor in the colour of dice you’re re-rolling/likely to draw, but it’s certainly not just a game you can reduce to an equation.
There are a few other games ticking along to 4 or 5 play-throughs, which might make 10 by year-end, but nothing too close at the moment. Pandemic remains on a quietly respectable 4.
4 of 23
Where April did make some real headway, was with the unplayed games of the previous year, with no fewer than 4 different offerings breaking their duck.
First up, was Dixit, a game which was starting to feel cursed after repeatedly making the journey out of the house, and not managing the final few feet to the table. Dixit works best with big groups, and is as much about the people playing as the game components themselves, as people try to create or matches phrases for some truly bizarre pieces of art. As I said, this one really wants a group of half-a-dozen or so, which means it’s never likely to get massive numbers of play-throughs, but it fills a sufficiently different hole to other games that I can’t see us ever getting rid of it.
In much the same way that Zombie Dice owed its April popularity to a foreign holiday, being able to slip easily into the corner of a rucksack, was also a key positive for Pirate Fluxx. For those who haven’t played it before, Fluxx is a game which starts with a simple “draw one card, play one card” ruleset, and no way to win! As rounds progress, players can add new rules, and ultimately “goals” which define the victory condition – generally, this will involve having a specific set of “keepers” – item cards which you play in front of you: these may have bonus abilities or may just be a step on the circuitous road to victory. The fun of Fluxx comes in the thematic element, and the pirate edition is certainly a good option, but the ever-changing nature of the rules makes it hard to predict game-length with any certainty, and it has a dangerous habit of running too long for a fairly light experience.
When I first put together the list of unplayed games for 2015, I was quite surprised to find Discworld: Ankh Morpork on there – I know that we lent this to friends a couple of times last year, but was surprised that we hadn’t actually played it ourselves. Ankh Morpork definitely feels like it was a labour of love for someone steeped in the Lore of Pratchett’s biggest city, and there are many nice thematic touches if you can remember the books well enough (there are so many I haven’t read in years, that I’m a bit hazy on some of the details).
The hidden / variable victory conditions certainly give this game a lot of replayability, although I did put together some custom role-cards a few years ago, when we found that the generic Lords (who just want control of city districts) were dominating the games too much: they represent 3 of the 7 hidden role-cards, so there’s always a high likelihood that at least one player will be one of them. We played the game as written this time, and I must admit, I didn’t enjoy this game as much as I remembered. Rather irksomely, I found myself burdened with a particularly irritating card on the very first turn, and a lot of the time you’ll find your actions being blocked by other people, purely as an unintended consequence of something else they were trying to do. I think our session probably suffered a bit from everyone being slightly rusty on how things work, and it’s definitely still a good game, so I hope it makes it out again soonish.
Last of the games to exit the “unplayed” pile, was Elder Sign. Often known slightly derisively as “Cthulhu Yahtzee” I was particularly surprised that this one had stayed in the box for so long, as it can be played solo and, indeed, all the 3 games I played of this in April were solo attempts.
Elder Sign certainly isn’t a perfect game, and I think it suffers a lot from pulling in different directions – the art and flavour text are definitely trying to paint a thematic, immersive picture of Lovecraft’s New England, at the same time that the limited mechanics (there are [essentially] only 4 possible dice-symbols, however you distribute them) are pulling you towards a much more limited, mechanical experience. It also has a large element of randomness involved and the “Yahtzee” comparisons seem to point you towards a short, filler-type game, whereas Elder Sign is actually a fairly long game, certainly compared to the amount of physical material which comes in the box.
Finding a Lovecraftian game that offers enough theme to be interesting, yet is accessible enough for friends who don’t know the setting, and is of a length to make it viable has been an ongoing challenge for a few years. I’m optimistic about Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, coming later this year, but for now, Elder Sign definitely feels like the best option, and hopefully we’ll manage some multiplayer games soon.
Already a third of the way through the year, I’m glad I decided to start doing these little reflective pieces on what we end up playing: the year has already taken a very different track to what I would have predicated back in January, but we’re still having fun, so that’s got to be a good sign.