June was a pretty good month for the gaming challenges.
In the 10 of 10 challenge, we took the penultimate step, with a 9th game reaching a 9th play-through.
Bananagrams is very much at the lighter end of the gaming spectrum, and to be honest, the game we play isn’t really Bananagrams. “Take 2” was introduced to me as a student by a housemate who liked words, but couldn’t be bothered with the time investment needed for scrabble.
The rules for take 2 are simple:
- Take the tiles from a scrabble set / Bananagrams / any other game that gives you tiles with a single letter on, in quantities that reflect common English usage. Place them all face down in each reach of all players.
- Each player takes 5 tiles.
- Shout go! – everyone turns over their tiles, and arranges them in to word.
- When you have used all your tiles, shout “take 2” – everyone takes two more tiles.
- Once all the letter have run out, the first person to use all their letters wins. Or possibly not. It’s not really a “winning” sort of game. Kudos can also be gained for having the best words.
What you’re building, is essentially your own mini scrabble board – just that you can dismantle and rebuild at will, and it’s separate from everyone else’s board, so you don’t have the “I don’t want to open things up too much for others.”
Bananagrams came out a few years ago, providing the letters in a convenient banana-shaped case, re-labelling the game with banana-themed words (“split” to start, “peel” to take more etc), and the rather dubious “dump” rule which allows you to get rid of inconvenient letters, ensuring that the game always ends with the Zs, Qs and Xs in the middle – we bought it for the portability, and ignored the rules changes.
As this game can be pretty quick, especially with larger groups, I’ve logged each session of Bananagrams as 1 play, otherwise you could easily reach 10 plays in an evening. If I manage to reach 10 of 10 early enough, I could see this getting pushed aside by another game by the end of the year in terms of feeling like a “proper” game, although I expect it to be on our table for many years yet.
The Chasing Pack
The question of which other game(s) will make it to ten plays by year-end is an interesting one. There are more and more games pushing into the 4 or 5 plays area, and 1 or 2 going onwards to 6. So far, Pandemic is the only one of this trailing group to make it to 7 (8 if you count Reign of Cthulhu, but I think that really needs to be treated as a separate game). Overall it feels like it can only be a matter of time before this group reaches critical mass, and some of these games get pushed out of the middling single-digits, and move onwards towards ten (we are still only half-way through the year, don’t forget).
A Kick in the Teeth for the Late Arrivals?
Back in January, Apocrypha, had seemed a shoe-in for one of the slots on the 10 of 10 list. A Pathfinder-like game, with enough tweaks to distinguish it from its sibling (less linear game-play), more fragmented character development, and a different approach to dice-pools, I felt confident that as soon as it arrived in April, it would hit the table, and reach double-figures within a month.
However, April was the release estimate before the Kickstarter campaign started, and we unlocked a massive number of stretch goals – it turns out that making twice as much stuff takes twice as long…
The developers have been very up-front about the delays (although I failed to notice the initial message) and I’m still looking forward to the game when it does land, I’m just not certain it’ll be particularly early within this year.
I’m also waiting for Kickstarter copies of Numenera (made by the Apocrypha guys, I backed this around Christmas time) and Mistfall: Heart of the Mists (won this through a BGG contest!), but as those both had estimated dates fairly late in the year (November I think), it might be 2017 before these get their day in the sun.
13 of 26
Where I feel like I made real progress in June, was with the unplayed challenge, with 5 games coming off of the list one way or another, although the pre-Expo clear-out did reveal one or two games that I’d forgotten I owned when I did the start-of-year (or was it end-of-last-year?) count.
Loot and Memoir ’44 both made a return to the gaming table, whilst Boku, LeCardo and Nazgul went to the UKGE Expo Bring & Buy sale, never to return.
I like to think of myself as someone who takes care of their games. I’m sure my wife and the friends who game with us most regularly would agree, although I’m not sure “like” would be the word they’d use (I get very annoyed with people who get sticky hands all over things).
This level of care will hopefully give you some kind of idea of just how much play Memoir ’44 has had, back in the dim and distant past (probably around 2010). The edges of the cards are white, and the dice have had their symbols almost entirely worn away.
The WWII version of Richard Borg’s Command and Colours system, this saw a fitting return on D-Day as we re-enacted the landings on the beaches of Normandy, and I got absolutely wiped out by the Germans holding the beach. It’s a really good simple, thematic game, that does an excellent job of capturing the fog of war in a straightforward, and unambiguous way. It got pushed out of the regular cycle at a point where I was playing a lot of Flames of War, and the later expansions do complicate the game to a point where it loses some of its charm, but the stripped-back experience is still a good one, and I hope we’ll see this again.
Loot is a fairly light card game, in which you want to capture Merchant ships with your pirates, and you don’t want your opponent to capture Merchant ships with their pirates. Each turn you can play a merchant ship (sending it out upon the seas) play a Pirate ship or a special card to attack (or defend) Merchant ships that are already sailing, or draw cards. If your merchant ship has not been attacked, or you are the player with the strongest force attacking a merchant ship at the start of your turn, you can take the ship. Otherwise, the battle carries on for another round.
This one comes with a Mensa Select sticker on the box, which is a clue that there’s some hidden depth to it. The Merchant ships have different values, so you have to gauge which ones are worth fighting over, and which aren’t. The Pirate ships also come in 4 different colours, and you can only attack a Merchant with Pirate ships or captains (trump cards) of a single colour, so there’s strategy here too.
This one can be played with a fairly varied group size – both our games were with two, which I don’t think is the ideal number, so I might try to wheel this out again with a larger group. As a two-player though, whilst I’m not planning on getting rid of it, I can’t see it becoming a particularly regular choice.
Aside from having the dubious distinction of being the pseudonym of possibly the worst-named game ever, Boku is an abstract 2-player strategy game. I can’t remember when I got it (possibly my mother found it at a car boot sale, or similar) and I don’t think I ever had any intention of playing it. LeCardo was a light and simple word-game the size of a deck of cards, which was “fine” but really had nothing to draw us back to it. Moving these on to the Bring and Buy was fairly easy.
Nazgul was a trickier matter – for one thing, it was a very generous and unexpected leaving present from a group of friends at our last church. It’s also Lord of the Rings themed, which is generally a major positive.
Unfortunately, Nazgul is an almost perfect example of all that’s wrong with Wiz-Kids games. It contains 5 Nazgul Heroclix figures, and ties in to a popular franchise, complete with movie stills as card art. If you’re Wiz-kids, that is enough to constitute “a game” and can be put in a box and sold to people.
In reality, the rules are incoherent: half the time, you simply don’t know what you’re doing. The strange way that locations work means that you spend half the game discarding cards off of the deck until you find some that are applicable, and at the end of it, whilst you can do things to stack the odds slightly, everything boils down to pulling some very plain cubes out of a cup.
There’s also a disconnect in the theme. Playing the bad guys can be fun – there are loads of games which do that, and many of them successfully take the idea that the Heroes cooperate, but the baddies backstab (Compare Marvel Legendary for how to do this well). The trouble is though, the Nazgul are not exactly your typical in-fighting henchmen. Tolkien is fairly explicit in describing how utterly their will is subdued by the power of the ring, so the notion that the Wraiths are competing for “glory” “prestige” “favour” or the like is just a bit odd.
I think there’s definite mileage for someone to make a Tolkien-themed semi-cooperative game, but it needs to be about Orcs, not Nazgul. Add in some nice art rather than movie stills, and designers who believe in play-testing and proof-reading (maybe Fantasy Flight could pick this up, they seem to have various LotR licenses), and we might just have a decent game on our hands.
In the meantime, Nazgul has hopefully gone to a better home. I’m sure there’s a Heroclix player out there who can make use of the figures, and for me it’s freed up a bit of shelf-space and a bit of cash, which is ideal as June has been the month where the second wave of Zombicide: Black Plague expansions become available, and I was suddenly alerted to 3 really interesting-looking games on Kickstarter (sadly at $100 each, all 3 was never a realistic option, but at least I know I can go all-in on one of them).
As a final footnote, I just want to quickly mention UK Games Expo, which fell in June, and is the home of all things gaming. As I was working all weekend, I didn’t play that many games, despite explaining the rules to Puerto Rico more times than I thought possible. Although several of the games I played were quite good, there was nothing that particularly compelled me to take it home (Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu doesn’t count as it hasn’t been released, and taking it home would probably have got me arrested…) so I returned with only a couple of expansions and one new little game which I’ll talk more about in a few weeks when I do a review.