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No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will cramp his style.

Luke
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West Footscray
Victoria
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Wiz-War (2012)



Imagine it's the weekend and you can do anything you want to unwind. You've had a long-hard week of serving people cheeseburgers, walking the dogs of the rich and famous or sitting at a desk explaining to the same person for the twelfth time that week that the reason their computer won't turn on is because they haven't paid their electricity bill, and now you need to relax.

Maybe you go for a walk. Maybe you visit some friends and go out for lunch. Maybe you crawl under your house and eat dirt while quietly sobbing. Unwinding is something everyday folk just need to do.

Now imagine you're a wizard. You've spent the week making potions to turn people's skin blue, probably messing with mystical dragon poop and conjuring fire out of nothing. How would you unwind?

Would you read a book? Maybe spend some time growing your beard? Maybe going out for a drink with some other wizards, the only other people in the world who could even begin to understand the burdens of being a powerful wizard? Or would you enter a dark labyrinth in a gladiatorial contest to murder your friends just for fun? If you like the sound of the last one, this game is for you.

Forget Merlin, forget Gandalf, forget Harry Potter, these ain't your granddaddy's wizards! Welcome to Wiz-War! This classic game, recently reprinted, pits two to four wizards in a maze full of portals and treasure chests, and soon to be full of rubble, blood and dead enemies. Your objective is to obtain a whole two (2!) victory points. You can gain a point by either killing an enemy wizard (in which case you claim his SOUL and somehow turn it into a victory point), or by retrieving an enemy treasure chest (of which each wizard has 2) and bringing it back to your home base, located inside the maze.

Of course, this isn't an 'mute old men shuffling around in the dark, getting lost and not making eye contact' simulator. That's the home that my grandpa lives in. The wizards get a HUGE card deck (150 cards) which represents spells from 7 different schools of magic. This is what turns you from a grumpy old man into a DANGEROUS grumpy old man. There are also some generic items (with magical properties) in there too in case you need something silly like a throwing knife. At the start of the game, you and your wizard frenemies are supposed to decide on just 3 schools of magic to use during the battle. I guess it's supposed to represent how specialised wizards are, but I see it as a wimpy 'rules of war' type thing, which wizards are way too cool for, in my opinion. So I play with all of them. Here are the schools, briefly summarised.

Cantrip: all-around general purpose run of the mill spells and items. This is included in every game.
Alchemy: Potions and weird gemstones
Conjuring: Making weird stuff like giant stones, walls of FIRE and homunculi
Elemental: Using fire to melt people's faces, and water to drink when you're thirsty
Mentalism: Messing with people's heads to steal their cards or move them against their will
Mutation: Turning into stuff, like a werewolf or even mist!
Thaumaturgy: A mixture of all of the above but with added versatility.



In addition to this, there are a whole bunch of types of spells (which determines when you can play them), a spell type which indicates how it is cast (and how long it lasts), and a target type which determines who/where/what you can cast it at (door/wall/wizard who looked at you funny). Don't even get me started on cards that double as an energy source which you can use to power other spells to make them stronger. The rules are numerous, initially difficult to understand and prone to causing arguments, but once you've gotten the hang of it it's actually quite fun.

On your turn, you can move, cast spells from your hand and then draw cards. If you like, you can also punch a wizard should you happen to get close enough (or are just passing by him in the maze and don't feel like, for example, melting off all his skin).

As is standard with the designer of this game, FFG, the game comes with approximately 1500 small cardboard tokens, most of which I still have not used despite playing the game 15 times (unlike the treasure tokens which already look as though a dog has chewed on them). Also in FFG fashion, the rulebook is confusing in a lot of ways and I had to resort to the BGG forums to find rule clarifications. However, unlike FFG standard, there is only ONE deck of cards. I had to double-check the manual to make sure there wasn't some sort of mistake.

The board comes in four square pieces (one for each wizard) and is double-sided (one side designed by FFG and the other is from the classic Wiz-War which was probably designed by wizards considering how old this game is). It's also laid out randomly at the start of the game so the board is usually different each time you play it. Portals are also on each edge of the board so you can travel quicker from one side to another.

Here's how a typical turn looks:

-Move one space
-Cast a spell to eat the nearest wall, gain 2 life, and walk through it.
-Cast a wall of fire behind you so no-one can follow you.
-Cast a spell to teleport through the door in front of you and grab the enemy wizard's treasure.

Sometimes it looks like this:

-Spot a treasure about 9 spaces away, can't get there this turn (you only move 3 spaces per turn)
-Cast a spell to let you pick up treasure without ending your turn
-Cast a spell to turn into that stretchy dude from the Fantastic Four and grab the treasure from where you are standing.
-Cast another spell to throw the treasure in the opposite direction, through a portal to land on your home base and win you the game.

Sometimes the sheer joy you experience when pulling off an amazing combination makes the entire game worthwhile.

And sometimes it looks like this:

-You cast a spell at a wizard that would deal immense damage and kill him. He responds by casting a Lightweight counterspell to absorb your spell's damage and use it to move himself away from you halfway across the entire map, and you never see him again.

Or this:

-You are trapped in the dark. Punch the nearest wall. It does no damage. Everyone laughs at you. Draw some more cards and hope you get a good spell to help you escape.

That's what happened to me in a recent game. I mistakenly wandered into an alcove to grab a piece of treasure. Another wizard ran past and put a gigantic stone block at the entrance of the alcove so I couldn't get out. Normally this sounds like every player's worst nightmare, but I giggled with glee. No-one was going to free me so I was safe, the game had just started and the three other wizards were going to battle it out while I sat in the dark and planned. When I finally escaped from the alcove the other three wizards were almost all dead. I came out guns blazing with a handful of awesome spells I'd been saving to exact my revenge.

I still didn't end up winning, but it's still a good story!

Regarding the game overall, it's very enjoyable. It does suck to get a handful of dud cards but it's still enjoyable to play even when you're stuck in a dark corner, crying and picking your nose (a bit more like Harry Potter in that instance). I'd really like to try a co-op variant where two teams of wizards take turns drafting from the various magic schools and then having a West Side Story-style fight, only with every jazzy finger-snap, a fireball would fly across the labyrinth.

Highly recommended!
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Tue May 1, 2012 11:49 am
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We're IN HIS MOUTH!

Luke
Australia
West Footscray
Victoria
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King of Tokyo (2011)



I’ve never really enjoyed games where dice-rolling features heavily as the primary mechanic, mostly for the following reasons:

Firstly, it’s tedious. You often have to add them, subtract one from the other, add two of them together and multiply by the value of the third dice, interpret the random symbols that the designers under the dice, or experience the exciting meta-games of “where the hell did that dice go, I rolled it off the table” or “the dice is not resting completely flat, I want to roll again” (otherwise known as “that’s not a favourable roll for me and I’m a competitive jerk”). I swear, there is always one person who throws dice into the air every single time as though they’re doing an important coin toss at the Superbowl, or they want everyone to stare at the ceiling for 3 seconds while the scratch their butt.

Secondly, it hands over the game to the almighty god of CHANCE. The term ‘dice hate me’ exists for a reason. I’m not saying all dice games are bad, some of my favourite games feature dice but it is usually not a prominent part of the game or can be mitigated by smart gameplay (such as alignment rolls in Twilight Struggle) or can even add to the theme of the game without blatantly affecting the outcome of the game (such as Descent, or trying to catch a train in Fury of Dracula, come on Express Train – damn it, delayed by papers!). Probably the biggest offender of all besides Snakes and Ladders is Monopoly, where for some reason people never seem to land on your properties until you’re in the bathroom, in which case your friends will play faster than ever before (especially the ones who usually have extreme analysis paralysis). And don’t even get me started on Risk, where your 30-man army can be whittled down to nothing by a single enemy unit. It must be a CIA project to crossbreed Macgyver, Chuck Norris and Robocop. Note that the same can be said about random card draws.

Strangely enough, these don’t bother me. Maybe because of the pretty pictures and text inform me of failure instead of black dots mockingly laughing at you.

I think there’s a third reason but I can’t remember it right now.

A short while ago, I was drafted into a game that was all about dice. That game was called Greed. A simple rundown of the game is that it’s dice-rolling combined with pressing your luck to get better rolls, you either win big, lose big, or aim for mediocrity and hope that everyone else is unlucky and goes home crying into their hands. Despite requiring consumables to keep track of the score (a post for another day) and the fact that I somehow won (I don’t win anything), it was very enjoyable. So when I heard about King of Tokyo, I was very excited.

A game where I can not only roll dice in a press your luck fashion, but I can also be a gigantic monster and beat up other players? I’m in. In King of Tokyo, you have one huge cardboard character who starts with 10 life and you’re trying to either accumulate 20 victory points or eliminate all other players. It’s a king-of-the-hill type game that lets you risk your life for greater rewards and faster victory, along with risking your dice rolls.

On your turn, you roll 6 chunky dice. They’re about the size of ice cubes and they feel AMAZING to roll. The six dice are identical but have 6 different faces. You get an initial roll of all dice and you can keep or reroll any or all of the dice twice more. After three rolls, you resolve the values of the dice. The dice values are:

CLAW - does 1 damage. More detail later.
HEART - heals you for 1 life.
ENERGY BOLT - gives you 1 energy (currency).
1 – gives you victory points if you have three of the same number.
2 - gives you victory points if you have three of the same number.
3 - gives you victory points if you have three of the same number.

The king of the hill stuff means your monster is either inside Tokyo (ie. on the board, with all the other monsters standing on the table outside the board, possibly saying unkind things or gossiping about you) or outside Tokyo with the rest of the riff-raff. You can only enter Tokyo on your turn either at the start of the game or when you damage another monster and they leave and be wimps. If you’re outside Tokyo and you roll a claw, you deal damage to the player inside Tokyo. However, if you’re in Tokyo, survived until your next turn (which also rewards you with victory points) and you roll a claw, you deal 1 damage to EVERY PLAYER NOT IN TOKYO.

Everybody in the game will usually be beating down on you trying to get you to leave Tokyo, but if you hang in there you can potentially destroy them all in one roll. It’s excellent, watching the player you’re about to damage wilt as you somehow roll 5 claws and take out half of their starting life in one go. You also get extremely tense and stare at every dice roll when you stay in Tokyo and someone is oh-so-close to rolling enough claws to kill you. It’s often improbable, but the risk is extremely entertaining even when you’re the one being destroyed.

For the energy bolts, you can use them to buy from a market of superpowers/abilities on your turn. Some of them just give you victory points or basic powers while others are so game-breaking that you’ll see people attempt to forgo all attempts to do damage just so they can buy a JETPACK (or buy the ability to roll EXTRA DICE), again adding to the risk side of the game when it comes to deciding whether you want to knock out the big guy in Tokyo or push your own agenda and let the other players deal the damage.

So the game becomes (at least for me) a big bragging contest. “You can’t hurt me, I am INVICIBLE- ow… okay, I’ll yield!” It’s also a very brutal game. After teaching the game to a group of new people, they promptly beat me down and knocked me out of the game within 5 minutes. Again, it’s likely due to the dice rolling but I didn’t mind. The game only takes 15-20 minutes, at any rate.

The components are cheesy and awesome. Big, cartoony cardboard cutouts represent the monsters, the energy cubes are transparent green Jolly Rancher cubes (they’re also inedible, by the way), and the dice look so cool they need those child safety warnings on them (so your child doesn’t grow up wanting to be a King of Tokyo die).


Note: the dice don’t glow in the dark. I know! I was disappointed too!


Now for the problems with the game. Let me first off disclaim the below by saying that I hate adding house rules for games. Between Richard Garfield (this game’s designer) and I, only one of us is actually a game designer and the other pays game designers to bring joy into his life. Also, this is the first game I’ve ever seriously considered house-ruling, but in a sensible way, unlike some other people I know. Everyone gets 2 free properties at the start of Monopoly? Those kinds of people probably deal out the chess pieces randomly onto the board too.

In a 4-6 player game, no-one wants to stay in Tokyo. People will often yield at the first damage they receive, go back outside the board and collect money, victory points and healing (you cannot heal inside Tokyo) with reduced risk of damage. They will also sometimes avoid doing damage to a player just so they don’t have to enter Tokyo if that player yields. I’m not sure if this is just my experience with the game (I often just stay in Tokyo to make taunt other players but still feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot when doing it) or just a mistake that new people make, but it happens quite a lot. I believe this is why they implemented the additional Tokyo Bay spot for 4-6 players (so two players occupy Tokyo), just so the king of the hill wouldn’t be beaten down so badly. I’ve played it about a dozen times and always find that people often don’t even make it back around to their turn before yielding.

Some possible house rules that might fix it include awarding more victory points for staying in Tokyo until your turn comes back around. At the moment it’s a measly 2 points, which you can easily get in many other ways. Pushing it up to X points, where X is the number of players minus 1 (to a minimum of 2 in a 2-player game) would be sufficient. Another option is to double the reward for energy bolt rolls while in Tokyo. Thematically, it could be explained by saying that you draw additional energy while inside the city due to electricity cables or whatever. I don’t believe letting people heal in Tokyo is a good idea, it seems as though it would be far too easy to stay in Tokyo while people try to kick you out.

The second issue I have is that abilities cost too much. Some of them cost 8 energy cubes which can sometimes take many turns to accumulate. The powers are very interesting and varied but I’m lucky to see 4 powers purchased per 6-player game. This also has the side effect of no-one wanting to pay 2 energy to discard the powers on the market and turn over three more, energy cubes are so scarce that no-one wants to spend them in case it gives the next player another advantage, and spending them often leaves you with insufficient energy to buy whatever comes up. I heard Richard Garfield said this was by design to increase game replayability, so you would play the game 15-20 times and still see unique powers. I agree, the game would be much less enjoyable and harder to play if every player had 3-4 powers they had to keep track of (and they are so varied). I’ve seen a variant where everyone gets dealt out a random power and each player receives energy to equal the value of the highest power given. I might give it a try next time and see how it goes, but I probably won’t given my distaste for house-ruling.

The third issue is that I want a little cardboard city to throw around and destroy while I’m in Tokyo. I would fling them at other people’s monsters and yell things.

This game really is dice-rolling at its best, and I always like to bust it out whenever I want to feel like the big monster on campus. I heartily recommend it.
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Thu Mar 15, 2012 11:19 am
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There is only room in the lifeboat of your life for one, and you always choose yourself, and turn your parents into whatever it takes to keep you afloat.

Luke
Australia
West Footscray
Victoria
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Lifeboat (2002)



I like games that have player conflict. Not ones where your grudges are all settled by a roll of the dice or a dropping of a card. Games that bring the conflict off the board and cause you to look at someone sitting across from you, just wishing a pack of wild dogs would burst through the door and mutilate them right there and then, all because they moved a small wooden block 5 centimetres to the left of where you put it. (NOTE: I’m not talking about those times when someone brings along a game they’ve just purchased and never played and presumes they’re just gonna ‘read the rules now and play through it, it can’t be that difficult’. That’s probably a valid justification for murder) Because really, no-one gets that enraged about the positioning of their inanimate object unless they’re 3 years old or an anal-retentive feng shui enthusiast (or both). It’s these types of games I find myself most comfortable playing, because of the personal interaction that they create. So when I came across a card game called Lifeboat, I was interested in trying to see how many friendships I could end in a single night.

Lifeboat puts you on a tiny rubber lifeboat with 3 to 5 other unfortunate souls who are all trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. You choose a character who comes with a special ability, a Size and a survival value. Characters include a stereotypical Frenchman, a posh man and lady, and a midget cleverly disguised as a child (possibly just to get onto the boat).



Seriously, look at him. He looks like a seafaring Oompa-Loompa.

On top of that, you have a secret lover and a secret rival. You would think after a catastrophic sea disaster people would just buddy up and work together but alas, this is not the case and we’re never told why. Perhaps they’d all just finished a cut-throat game of Cosmic Encounter or their sinking cruise liner interrupted a game of Scrabble where Kevin was about to challenge another word for the 15th time that evening. Yes, Kevin, ‘FEBRUARY’ is really spelt like that, you’ve just never seen it written in full before because the extent of your literary prowess is in the form of an iPhone touchscreen keyboard and you really need to conserve those letters. In any case, you all hate someone on the lifeboat and love someone else on the boat.

At the start of the game, you get two random cards which tell you who your lover and rival are. You are awarded points for your lover surviving until the end and points should your rival meet an untimely demise. You also receive points if you collect certain equipment along the way, such as jewels and cash. In a hilarious twist, you can love and hate the same person (perhaps you’re married to them), and you can love and/or hate yourself which results in strange scoring strategies in which you get points for EVERYONE YOU KILL. Also, the person you secretly love could secretly hate you (also married). You could be the only homicidal maniac on the small tiny boat which would normally feel awesome, but it’s likely people will rise up together and beat the snot out of you for even looking dangerous. Lifeboat is so, so cruel.

So, you all sit in a nice orderly line in this lifeboat. At the front of the boat sits a box of provisions/items (deck of cards). At the back of the boat sits the equipment to steer the boat. At the start of every turn, the person at the front of the boat draws provisions/items equal to the number of players, takes one and passes it to whomever is next in line on the boat (not clockwise around the table), so positioning is important.

Going from the front of the boat to the back (screw the nautical terms), each character can do one of the following:

NOTHING - self-explanatory, but is not necessarily the choice of wimps, unconcious people and people in the bathroom and who have been in the bathroom for far too long to be considered polite.

ROW - draw two navigation cards (these sit at the back of the boat), choose none, one or two and put them face-down in a separate pile. This forms the navigation deck, which determines many fun things at the end of the turn. If you row, you may become THIRSTY later.

CHANGE SEATS – ask someone nicely to switch seats with you. Tell them it’s slightly more shady over here and you want to work on your tan. Bribe them if you like, or you could just demand they move because you don’t like their stupid face (if they’re your rival, you might want to provoke them into fighting you). If they refuse to swap, you FIGHT.

MUG SOMEONE – point to a provision/item someone has (this could be an item they have played face-up on the table or a random one from their hand) and say ‘give me that’. You can add in a ‘please’ if you want, though demanding is a lot more fun. If they refuse, you FIGHT.

USE AN ITEM - some items/provisions you have to spend your turn to use them, as described on the cards themselves

Naturally, you do the above to try and improve your position. Keep in mind only one person can win at the end, so don’t help your secret lover too much or give them special treatment.

FIGHTING is great. When a fight occurs, the two parties state their case and then it’s ON. People are joining sides to protect their lover or give themselves a chance to shank their rival, pulling weapons out of their socks and generally posturing to look like the big dog to be scared of. Once you join a side, you’re committed to that fight, even when the big, burly captain and his first mate join the midget and pull 2 metre long gaffing hooks out of their underwear (seriously how did they do that!?), boosting their size in the fight. Biggest combined size wins, the losers take 1 wound. If the offensive party won, they get what they asked for. In addition, all fight participants may become THIRSTY. Looking menacing is hard work, after all.

Once everyone has had their turn, you have the Navigation phase. The person at the back of the boat takes the small navigation pile, picks a card from it and resolves it. The card can do one of more things, and determines A) who goes overboard this round (loses all face-up/played items and takes damage) and B) who suffers from thirst this turn (people who fought, rowed, or just simply if your name is on the card). If you’re on the card, you take 1 Wound, or multiple if your conditions are met multiple times (e.g. if you fought, rowed and your name is on the card, you would take 3 Wounds). Some characters are extremely weak and 3 Wounds would knock them unconcious, which is a real pain because it allows people to chuck you overboard just for a laugh. Other characters are ridiculously strong and can take a lot of damage. Hopefully the person who secretly loves you is watching your back and will patch you up. If you’re unconscious, people can just steal items from you or change seats with you and you can’t fight back. If you go overboard or somehow take an additional wound, you die. Once all thirst has been resolved, start the next round from the Provisions phase.

Once four birds (on the navigation cards) are resolved, that’s the end of the game. You tally up your points and whoever has the most is the winner.

So, how is it? Honestly, not bad. I’ve made a few rule mistakes when teaching the game which severely unbalanced it but it seems to be more enjoyable with each subsequent play, particularly when two well-armed bullies are siding with each other continuously. I like to address this by explaining to them that there is only one winner in Lifeboat, and then I poke them in the eye.

Theme-wise, the game is great, but it can get confusing sometimes. The Wound tokens are the same tokens you use to mark potential thirst for the Navigation phase at the end, determining how many wounds everyone takes is an needlessly complicated process. The single-token thing was likely done to save costs but I think I’m going to introduce some different tokens to help clarify it. The items are varied and interesting but it seems like it’s very easy for some characters to die which I don’t find terribly appealing, and is probably the worse aspect of the game. It’s common that sometimes you’ll think someone has your back, but they will usually let you die and laugh in your face. Sometimes people won’t join your fights because you’re a dainty lady with no weapons and you’re fighting the captain who for some reason is choosing to use his flare gun to shoot you in the face instead of using it to send for help. Your rival will go overboard and you’ll cackle with glee as you throw a bucket of chum over the side, causing them to take an additional Wound. Tenuous alliances are formed and are usually ended when someone finds out you have a first-aid kit or a gun.

Lifeboat is chaotic and hilarious fun but requires you to interpret the rules your own way often. Regardless, I’m looking forward to throwing my friends overboard again as soon as possible.
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Tue Mar 6, 2012 9:40 am
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A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

Luke
Australia
West Footscray
Victoria
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Toc Toc Woodman (2008)



Toc Toc Woodman is a game in which you play a lumberjack with more job security than the crazy Russian guy who lives in the International Space Station (I always think it's Peter Stormare, thanks Armageddon). I say this because you, Mister Lumberjack in Toc Toc Woodman, actually have no interest in chopping trees down. Your objective is to strip the tree of its bark without taking any actual wood from the tree, leaving it instead for your poor lumberjack enemies/brethren.

In this game, which is kind of like Jenga, a tree is vertically assembled using nine beige (yuk) plastic discs stacked on top of one another. They form the centre of the tree, the wood. Each of these discs also has four slots for brown pieces that loosely fit to each core. These represent tree bark. The objective of the game is to take turns hitting the tree with a little plastic axe (it's about the size of an axe that you would use to behead mice, for you serial killers reading at home) so that bark falls off the tree. Each piece of bark is worth one point, but BE CAREFUL because if you knock any of the beige discs out so they fall off the tree, it will fly approximately 30 metres in a random direction (along with 18 pieces of bark) and the owner of the game will tell you to find the piece because he only just got this game and of course the stupid disc has gone under the couch and why oh why are we playing this game in a room with brown and beige carpet in the dark it's impossible to find anything on this floor and I don't know how many pieces of bark are missing but maybe they won't notice as long as we don't play another game after this and just chuck it all back in the box before he notices it's missing half the pieces.


Not pictured: 3 other people trying to find the resonant frequency of the table by screaming at various pitches.

Seriously though, the game is fun. It takes approximately 30 seconds to explain the rules to anyone, except to that one friend who always seems to be on his phone as soon as it's not his turn. Honestly, who could you be messaging on Facebook at 2am on a Tuesday morning? In addition, the game only takes about 3 to 4 minutes to play. Less if it's your first time playing and you invariably end up hitting the tree way too hard, netting you a grand total of minus 90 points. Even less time if you do what I do and attempt an axe throw in an effort to look cool.

Regarding the theme, I'm not sure what kind of future this is where tree bark is worth more than the wood of the tree itself. If I were a lumberjack and I came back to camp with just bark the foreman summarily execute me. Then again, if I were just carrying bits of bark and my friend was carrying a whole slab of a tree I'd think it were pretty funny, and it would save my arm strength for whatever burly men do in the woods together at night (they play boules, you pervert). Or maybe the game was made in North Korea (the box doesn't specify which) where tree bark is the primary food source (Carcassonne meeples are for dessert).

As mentioned earlier, it's a lot like Jenga. The developers really should have gone a full Jenga clone and made the components out of wood. I like the game a lot as it is but wooden components would be amazing. I would get some wood and carve some myself, but I'm not actually a lumberjack. I just pretend to be one. Even if you are a lumberjack, I heartily recommend this game, if only to see how easy your job could be if you just stopped working so hard.
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:12 am
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It feels good to be a bean farmer…

Luke
Australia
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Victoria
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Bohnanza (1997)



Growing up as a kid, I wanted to be a bean farmer. Well, my first preference was to dig up dinosaurs, followed by becoming an astronaut, then firefighter. But after all that, I just really wanted to be a bean farmer. If you’ve never met a bean farmer; there’s a very good reason for it. They keep it a secret because of all the money they make and the women they get. It’s that glamorous. So when I had an opportunity to play Bohnanza recently as well as teach it to a group, you can bet I was excited.

In Bohnanza, you and one to six other people enter the lucrative world of bean-farming. The objective of the game is to make more money than everyone else after you’ve run through the deck a certain number of times. In front of you are two invisible bean fields that you can use. Why do you only have two fields? I don’t know, maybe you’re a really crappy bean farmer, or it’s the start of your career. If so, this would be the equivalent that making Youtube videos of you singing is the start of a music career. Will you be successful? Who knows. Luckily for you, everyone you’re playing with is an equally-terrible bean farmer.

In your hand there will be cards with pictures of beans on them. You plant and harvest these beans to make money. For some reason these beans are anthropomorphised, which to the layman means they have faces on them. They’re also doing stuff in the pictures, like farming (whoa dude, meta), engaging in fisticuffs (okay..), puking their guts out (haha) or smashing out a million-dollar deal on Wall St (seriously). In any case, it’s supposed to make the game cute but it just makes me feel bad when I turn harvest these living, breathing beans with personalities to turn them into sweet, sweet currency. But enough about beanocide, let’s get to the game itself.


These are some pretty wacky beans. Hungarian version pictured

One of the unique aspects of Bohnanza, and the one that people always say “really?!” to when you explain it to them, is that your hand order never changes. The order you draw cards is the order that they stay in your hand, no exceptions. Each field you have can only support one type of bean at a time. In addition to this, on your turn you are forced to plant the first bean at the front of your hand, no matter what it is (you can also plant the second card in your hand if you like). What if your fields are full of soy beans and green beans but the game is telling you that you have to plant that red bean right now? You have to harvest that bean field right now to make room for it. You might even make no money for the merciless slaughter of 2 blue beans that are just trying to have a peaceful Wild-West shootout (yep). Suddenly, bean-farming doesn’t feel like a rock star profession at all. How do you prevent this type of nonsense from happening?

Well, if you’re my friend Adam (name changed), you take the card you don’t want to plant and you hide it under the table. In reality (meaning this virtual world of bean-farming), you’re supposed to trade the card away before it gets to your turn. There are approximately 80 different chances to do this during a game, Adam, because after you’ve finished planting their beans on their turn, you reveal the top two cards of the bean deck and an open trading phase begins. Let’s say you turn up from the deck a red you don’t want and you need blue beans (because the other player seems to be planting red beans so it’s in their interest), you can offer a trade for it (and throw in a couple of red beans from your hand too to sweeten the deal). If he accepts, BAM! You right away plant your new blue bean and increase your harvest and it’s not even your turn. How sweet is that? You’re the best damn bean farmer in the whole world.

So once you’ve (hopefully) traded away the two open-market cards (and offloaded some other rubbish cards from your hand), you plant your new acquisitions and then draw three new cards and put them at the back of your hand.

Of course, your opponent plants the red beans you gave him too, but you didn’t realise that red beans are actually worth more in the game when harvesting, did you? So foolish! This is where the wheeling and dealing comes in. Beans are worth more than others upon harvesting depending on how many of them are in the field. These details are all written on the card, along with how many of that bean type are in the deck. That means if someone else is trying to muscle in on your red bean territory you will either need to A) quit and go back to your crappy, low-paying job performing brain surgery at the hospital, B) find a way to convince other players to give you their red beans instead of the person, who may or may not be a bedwetter, sitting opposite you, or C) steal their bean cards when they go to the toilet and then blame Adam. Everyone thinks he’s a shady character anyway.

And so forth. When you harvest beans you get gold, which does not come in the form of nice little plastic gold pieces but instead involves turning over some of the bean cards you’re harvesting to show the gold piece side instead of the bean side. This is probably a clever production-cost-reduction-thing technique, but I think it’s something done by the original developers to make it easier to cheat for balance since it means not all of your bean cards go into the discard pile (awaiting the next shuffle) when you harvest them. For example, if you somehow by sheer luck, stupid opponents or someone who doesn’t bother to shuffle the desk when they first bring it out (this is usually the one), create a field of 4 Cocoa Beans and harvest it for 4 gold, you’ll likely never see those beans appear again in the desk unless you spend some of that money later. But why would you do that?

The objective of the game is to have the most money at the end, which is fair enough. Luckily you can spend money too! While rock stars might spend their money on booze, private jets and guitars made of frozen wine, you have all the luxuriances of bean farming available to you. Meaning the only thing you can buy is a third bean field thus elevating your status from “unknown Youtube bean farmer” to “Wikipedia page-having [that you didn't create yourself] bean farmer”.

The game is distilled trading down to its basics, and I think it’s an excellent game. It’s pure, not fluffed up with pretty coinage or additional mechanics, and it’s ridiculously simple to play. As someone who doesn’t enjoy trading games that much (because there’s usually some jerk with an Super Economics degree who beats you all at Power Grid consistently), I think Bohnanza is a lot of fun. You’re never really sure who’s going to win a given game (this may not be a good thing), but it’s a good time for friends to sit around, extort one another and demand that they hand over all the Stink Beans in their hand or else you’ll tell everyone why they were really at the doctor last week.

As a final point regarding the theme, it’s fun, basic and not necessary to enjoy the game. Planting and harvesting a field of beans is as simple as putting down or picking up cards. Buying a bean field involves throwing a few cards into a box. This really did not meet my desires of bean farmer dreams as mentioned at the beginning. I felt like less of a bean farmer and more like a bean farmer’s accountant, or a mogul who sits in their million-dollar mansion, surrounded by bean fields and slaves screaming “PLANT MORE CHILLI BEANS”. I wanted to be a real, getting-his-hands-dirty bean farmer. I wanted thirst, hunger and back cramp mechanics during planting and harvesting that necessitated half a dozen dice rolls. I wanted you to have to go to a market and try to sell your single crappy chilli bean because Adam wouldn’t accept your donation of a blue bean despite having a corner on the blue bean market and he really could have used them but no, he wanted to make you plant it and everyone else thought it was so funny. I hate you, Adam.

But I love being a bean farmer.
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Wed Feb 15, 2012 3:48 am
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