This Barbaric Paradise

Boardgaming in London

1 , 2  Next »  

Recommend
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

December 2021: The Fox in the Forest and The Fox in the Forest Duet

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
And so the Year of Animals, which also turned out to be the second Year of Novel Coronavirus, draws to a close. As with the Year of Knizia, I decided to end on an easy one, something I'd played before and knew reasonably well, and also something I could bring to my partner's family's house for Christmas without requiring a separate suitcase and three uninterrupted hours. But on choosing The Fox in the Forest it was obvious I should do Foxtrot Games' co-op sort-of-sequel The Fox in the Forest Duet as well, for a month with almost as much Fox as Final Destination in a Super Smash Bros Melee tournament.

From gallery of flahr

I'm seeing double here: six foxes!


You can definitely tell that the competitive version is the older (and not just by looking them up on BGG and comparing the dates). The cooperative version feels like the adaptation of the previous game's system that it is, both in terms of the newly bolted-on aspects (the new pawprint symbols on the cards and, obviously, the board), and of the fact that, frankly, the art's not as good. But my rudeness aside, the changes are smooth and the team (Duet's design is credited to the studio as a whole) have done a good job of turning the basic mechanisms of the original to use in a co-op.

From gallery of flahr

We finally won on the easiest difficulty at the third time of asking, which probably bodes well for the game's challenge factor.


Of the two versions, I'd only played The Fox in the Forest before, six times; the two versions got three plays each this month. The original is still a fine two-player trick-taker, with just enough hidden information and hand manipulation to prevent it being a dry exercise in calculation. It's got beautiful art and tense decisions. In recent plays I'd been finding that your opponent 'going humble' (taking three or fewer tricks, which yields 6 unanswered points for them because you were 'greedy') seemed less a convincing threat and more something that just had to be worked around, and that with most hands I could fairly safely pinpoint four 'losers' in my hand to negate that risk. Pleasingly, in one of this month's games, aiming low did come off and was vital to my win; in the last of this month's games it completely failed, possibly because I was attempting to take treasures at the same time, but at least those two experiences combine to suggest that maybe the game wasn't becoming quite as one-note as I thought it might be.

Board Game: The Fox in the Forest

Funnily enough, this is also what it will look like if I ever form a band.


Duet was a bit harder going. From discussion it seems like I'm not the only one to bounce off it - I'm not saying I want to win a cooperative game on the first try, even on the lowest difficulty, but traversing the forest searching for gems felt like an impossible mess, with way too many paws on all the cards and much less interaction with the leftover cards than in the versus game. (If you haven't played: the winner of a trick sums the paw values of both cards and moves the team's tracker that many spaces; many cards have 2 paws and a couple 3, which on a board of only 11 spaces is a pretty big deal.) But I'm glad to say that the remaining plays went better and I enjoyed them much more. For one thing it became apparent that, despite the linear board, you couldn't merely sweep from one side of the track to the other, completing spaces one-by-one; it's much swingier than that, with the generally high movement values forcing you to make big steps back and forth across the board, hoping to land in the right places on each new hop, and that in turn means you generally want to swap the lead between you rather than have one player guide the other pace-by-pace for the whole round. (If I knew anything about dancing I'd come up with a clever comparison but I zoned out about halfway through Showtunes Week of Strictly.) That makes the game feel cooperative in a way which I think is a pretty impressive achievement.

From gallery of flahr

Studiously not mentioning how we lost our second game after I played what was possibly the only card in my hand that would not lead to us winning.


So all-in-all December has been a successful month of vulpine veldt-ery, and the foxes a worthy addition to the month-by-month menagerie alongside hippos, rats and oxen, dogs, a dragon, ravens, bees, a lobster, chickens, snakes, cats, and Nessie.

I have a theme picked out for next year, about which I will be intentionally vague since the preliminary lineup is a bit more ambitious than this year's and I need the flexibility to sub in Win, Lose, or Banana where necessary. All that remains of the Year of Animals, then, is to bid you a fauna-d farewell and to hope we meet again in 2022. Adieu, adieu, adieu!
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Fri Dec 31, 2021 10:50 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

November 2021: Hare and Tortoise

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
I think you definitely have to respect Hare & Tortoise: first winner of the Spiel des Jahres, a product of the fine designer and writer David Parlett, and an intriguing stab at a no-/low-randomness race game where the variation comes from the shifting and diving of the peloton of racers rather than the roll of dice.

From gallery of flahr

The 2010 Gibson Games edition, which is what I have, also has a gorgeous board, on which the race's trail runs from Land's End to John o' Groats. It would be fair to say that my photography does not show off Simon's art to its fullest potential.


It's got two types of animal in the name and I hadn't played it since 2015 (!), so it seemed like a good candidate for November's Year of Animals game; while it was a good month for gaming in general - mostly because I threw myself into online boardgames more than I have before - it wasn't so good for H&T and I only managed to play it twice, both two-player. My two pre-Brexit games were with three and four. Two seems to be regarded as an inferior count but I thought it seemed fine - it's a lot easier to manipulate where your own pieces sit in the player order (that's an important part of the game, you can earn fuel to move around the track by successfully predicting where you'll be ranked come your next move), which I guess removes some of the tension but also might offer more scope for 'clever play'. I regret not having the chance to play it with more though.

Board Game: Hare & Tortoise

These look like normal chairs rather than tiny chairs.


Will I play it with more in the future? No, I don't think I will; for the second month in a row this has moved into the "thinking of moving on" pile, and once I find time to enter it into this month's UK Maths Trade I will. (Not even any resistance from my partner this time.) I respect it, sure, but it's never lit anyone's world on fire when we've played it, and if there's other things I think I'd always prefer to play in its place (especially at the hotly-contested three and four counts) doesn't that raise the question of what it's for?

I do have frustrating little gripes with it, too. Not that it's dry or mathsy - that describes plenty of games I like. But, for one, the legacy of whichever original publisher insisted on the addition of the Hare squares so that the game could have dice in looms irritatingly. It's not the addition of randomness that irks me, but that it's very unpredictable randomness - I used to precis the cards as "they're not good if you're leading, but they are good if you're trailing", but a lot of the time they're not actually that good if you're trailing either, so your best strategy is often to just avoid those squares entirely. And while I've not tried any of the variant rules for Hare spaces, none looks particularly elegant or purposeful to me; I don't think my opinion on the game would likely be turned around by them.

Another minor puzzlement is the rule about having to have a certain number of carrots or below in order to cross the finishing line. Having to get rid of all your lettuce on the way round makes sense as a goal (well, maybe it doesn't make thematic sense, exactly, but it's a graspable and tractable aim). But to me, the restriction against having too many carrots left over feels like a double punishment: surely the reward for being efficient in going around the board should be that you get to the end faster without having wasted time picking up carrots you don't need? I don't think there's a degenerate strategy that would otherwise be possible involving just sitting somewhere accumulating carrots before leaping over the line in one bound - not a winning one, anyway; I'd appreciate comments on the speculated purpose for the rule. For me it just adds a bit too much mathsing out in the endgame and the potential for some anticlimactic turns of chewing before the grand finale (I'm aware the answer to this criticism is probably 'git gud').

From gallery of flahr

For filing purposes we're putting this game under 'the Loch Ness Monster'. Sorry, Cryptid, you're out.


Well, that's November over with then: the cold and the dark and the drear are well setting in. I'm not sure how much cause for optimism there is about December - in boardgaming or other terms - but I guess I'll see you on New Year's Eve and we can pick our way through the dolour together then.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Tue Nov 30, 2021 11:35 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

October 2021: Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
I'm happy to admit that this is comfortably the most tenuous entry in the Year of Animals thus far (and probably in toto). But you can't deny that Flash Point: Fire Rescue does have a pet cat and a pet dog among the potential victims, and frankly you also can't deny that my partner's desire to rescue the cat or dog is much higher than their desire to rescue any of the people.

Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Veteran and Rescue Dog

The game might be a less tenuous Year of Animals entry if I had the Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Veteran and Rescue Dog expansion, but it's not easy to get hold of and might make my partner unwilling to play any other boardgame ever.


But it's a pick which fits the rules of the Year and more importantly it's a game I acquired a while ago, played once, and hadn't played since, so it seemed like time to give it another shot. As it happens I only ended up playing it twice more, for a variety of reasons. One reason not to dismiss is that I spent a lot of my free time this month playing the extremely good Nintendo Switch game Metroid Dread, and I'm hardly going to cry about that.

Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue

There IS a lot of backtracking in Flash Point too, but you don't find any upgrades while exploring. Power Bombs might be counterproductive.


But frankly the more important reason - and the reason confirmed by this month - is that I don't really enjoy the game that much. I don't have anything against co-ops per se, though it's true that, for instance, I've never felt keen enough on Pandemic to own it. But playing through the simplest version of Flash Point seemed a particularly rinse-repeat matter - even with the increasing damage to walls and spreading fire it never really felt like there was much of an arc to the game - and adding in specialists and hazmats for the second game didn't inspire confidence that the full game would feel more interesting, just more complicated. (We didn't get as far as hotspots but from my memory of the game's forums I don't think even people who like the game seem to be that fond of them.) And similarly I'm not sure I felt that I would like the system any more at higher difficulty levels - that is to say that I'm not sure 'losing some of the time' would be the innovative addition that would make the game fascinating.

Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue

These are better cubes than the ones in Terraforming Mars. See, it's not all whinging.


You might well, quite reasonably, ask: well, if you didn't think you'd like it, why did you play it? (This month, I mean; when I bought it and played it the first time I did think I'd like it.) I can handwave and say that I thought adding in some of the steps that take it from basic to advanced, or playing it two-player rather than with three as previously, would improve it; but frankly I think there's no harm in attempts at reevaluation once in a while. I used to be religious about listening to new music, especially prize shortlists like for the Mercury, and when I'd moan about how crap the new Ed Sheeran or Adele albums were (plus ça change) people would say, well, life's short, why do you bother listening to them then? But my philosophy has always been that you'll never know until you try - and, after all, I can say that there are Ed Sheeran and Adele songs I do actually quite like (only one each, let's not go crazy here), and I've made complete turnarounds on music before: most notably, the excellent album xx by The xx almost revulsed me at first listen.

So even if ultimately exploring ZDR as the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter was by far the more pleasurable experience of the month, I'm glad to have given Flash Point another shot. And hey! It might be the first example of me actually deciding to get rid of something as the result of a Year month! That's a result, right? ('Year month'?)
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Nov 1, 2021 12:00 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

September 2021: Great Plains

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
I'm aware that there's a certain irony in following a blogpost which mentions that I am meant to be getting rid of some of these games with a blogpost in which I detail playing a new acquisition. Oh well! You can blame Martin's new old-school Euros geeklist and the the newly-minted Old-School German-Style Games guild for that - and given that Great Plains has animals not only as the player sides but also as special power tokens within the game, how could it not be suitable?

Board Game: Great Plains

In the context of my Instagram feed, it's not hugely obvious where Castles of Burgundy ends and this begins.


My opinions on this one have definitely varied over the course of the month. First impressions were good - the rules are very simple, with the only hairy point being (appropriately) when you can and can't use bear tokens, and that's not too difficult to internalise once it's been explained fully. A couple of games in, though, its abstractness began to rankle on me.

Board Game: Great Plains

Replace the little animals with coloured stones and, damn it all, I've been tricked into playing Hex again.


Now, this is a bit odd because I love abstracts. Maybe this was a case of dashed expectations - although it's not like there aren't old-school Euros that are essentially abstracts (most famously, Through the Desert). But for whatever reason, in this case, it felt a bit lightweight and flimsy and as if, well, if I wanted this kind of thing I should just go and play Hex instead.

Fortunately the feeling passed with more plays. Part of it is that Great Plains is just so quick - by the end we were turning it around in just over ten minutes (not including setup, though that's hardly arduous). I'm not saying we were playing it mindlessly - though I'm sure I wasn't thinking about my moves as much as I could have - but once you reach that stage with a game it's difficult to begrudge it much. What else was I going to do with that time, watch one-third of an episode of Corrie?

There are other neat touches. The special power tokens are limited in number, which makes trying to collect them all to deny your opponent access to them an option - though of course as soon as you use one it's returned to the supply for your opponent to get their greedy mitts on, a similar dynamic to a key one in Onitama. The modular board is a familiar sight in modern games to prevent them becoming too calculable, but in this case I feel that the board setup does affect the underlying feel of a particular game, too: there may be one, two, or no big meadows to fight over, and the layout of the caves (players' potential starting positions) might provoke a centre vs edges fight or something more cagey and intertwined. And the special powers are well-chosen to add spice to the base of pure placement: horses and eagles let you get to the juicy meadows you want faster and, more crucially, make it difficult for your opponent to cut you off for good; and bears allow you to push other pieces off of meadow spaces (or even the board entirely), meaning that without heavy investment ownership of the largest, point-yielding meadows doesn't feel entirely safe until the end of the game. (I will mention in passing that the bear tokens mean my win rate at Great Plains is heavily goosed up by my partner's unwillingness to be unnecessarily mean - if neither of you fancy nicking the win in the last turn by kicking your opponent's fox right in the brush, this may not be the game for you.)

Board Game: Great Plains

It's a new enough game that there's really not very many pictures of it in the BGG database, even including the one at the top of this post that I actually took.


Good times in the end, then: less vulgar and more vulpine; less anguish and more anguine. We're officially chalking this one up under snakes, and they've done a pretty good job - good enough, at least, for it to reach the 10-play mark (thanks to two plays on the final day), and for it not to be leaving my collection in the same month as it joined it.
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Thu Sep 30, 2021 10:16 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

August 2021: The Castles of Burgundy

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
I'm as aware as you that recent months on This Barbaric Paradise have been, well, a bit full of mithering, so I'm pleased to report that August has gone much as I would have wished - well, I suppose I didn't win the lottery and I didn't form a band with Mike Batt & Rose Matafeo, but you all know what I mean.

From gallery of flahr

Stage one: all urban areas completely full.


I'd played The Castles of Burgundy before: a couple of rather desultory plays after first picking it up, after which I let it get dusty without much interest (probably because I kept losing); then it had a slight resurgence as a good game to take on holiday and unwind with in the evenings; but this was the first time I'd really played it seriously, as indicated by the fact that these games included the first time I've ever played it on a board other than the 'beginner' Board 1.

From gallery of flahr

Stage two: desperate hardscrabble failure to complete all urban areas.


After five games of it in the Month, then - all two-player - what do I think? There's certainly things to like about Cobbie, as no one calls it - while there's a lot of up-front learning (and having to remind my co-player exactly what all the different buildings and knowledge tiles do), the flow of the game is pretty fast and simple, and as with all of these types of game there's a certain satisfaction in building up your board. It's famously a 'point salad' but there certainly is some worth in denying certain high-scoring tiles to your opponent (especially if that means stopping them completing an area - see image above) and manipulating turn order to make sure you always have the upper hand.

From gallery of flahr

Stage three: remember it's the Year of Animals, not the Year of Built-Up Urban Areas. (Though purists should note that, despite their absence from any of these images, this month is officially credited under 'chickens'.)


But certainly the focus on the game has thrown some of its flaws into relief as well. With two there's an element we'll call "the Keyflower Phenomenon" - half the tiles in the box don't show up in each game, and in a game where so much can ride on a particular knowledge tile or a particular animal or building type being available, that adds a not insignificant element of 'draw luck'. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing - you could say it means you need to plan more cautiously, you could say it adds a 'push your luck' element to the game, you could say a whole bunch of things - but it is worth noting it exists. The Cobster (as no one calls it) also has a weaker arc to it than some other games, though one does, I'd argue, exist - ignoring the handful of 'engine-building' knowledge tiles that slightly increase your capabilities, the bonuses for completing whole connected coloured regions (bigger for bigger areas, smaller for completing them later in the game) encourage the cheaping of small regions early on and steady progress to finish a huge area in the last phase or so. But this aside, one is fundamentally doing much the same thing five times in a row, five times in a row. Doing that five times in relatively quick succession got a little wearing.

Those caveats aside, I enjoyed my time with The Chrises de Burghundy (as no one calls it), and given how much my partner enjoyed it too I don't think the Month was in any sense a disappointment. And what's the point of the Year if it doesn't mean getting some games I've had for ages to the magical ten play mark? Well, getting rid of some games, ideally, but - to repeat myself - you all know what I mean.


I don't think I've mentioned it before, so I will take the opportunity of a game that kind of involves building cities to mention that this blog's title is taken from a lyric in "This City" by Érica. I think it's one of the finest songs about London there is, despite actually being about somewhere in South America, I assume.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Tue Aug 31, 2021 11:05 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

July 2021: Magic: the Gathering

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
This month's game selection was a bit last-minute and on-the-hoof, which I think shows - along with the general oppressiveness of July, in terms of both the heat and the situation - in it being a pretty unsuccessful month.

In mid-June I watched a video of Mark Rosewater's GDC talk Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons. I'm very much a dabbler when it comes to Magic: The Gathering - in the Before Times I attended a draft at a friend's house a few times - but that hasn't stopped me from being aware that Rosewater's writings (in the talk and in his blog) are a pretty admirable resource on the philosophy and pragmatics of game design. One thing led to another and when I saw that Magic: The Gathering – Unsanctioned was available as a box set (and a fairly reasonably priced one too), I resolved to snap it up and use the presence of the Rock Lobster as an excuse to make it July's game.



A truly sensational piece of music, although if Wikipedia is to be believed it may have been indirectly responsible for the death of John Lennon.


My fundamental error here was - despite being aware of the general nature of Magic's silver-bordered cards - believing that the self-contained, prebuilt nature of the Unsanctioned set would make it a reasonably good place to jump in; a rather Blue Moon Legends-like experience (although, er, not in deepness of serious strategy). This was compounded by the only slightly less fundamental error of thinking I'd played Magic with my partner before. It turns out that I had not, and it furthermore turns out that the Unsanctioned set is really not a very good set to teach Magic to someone with.

External image

Reader: it was six.


We had another game later in the month with some decks built during attempts to play semi-seriously against a friend in the Dragons of Tarkir block: fortunately this time my partner got the better of me, thanks in part to having the deck that hadn't been built by me. I also spent a bit of time exploring Magic: The Gathering Arena (which, last time I played it, was Magic Duels), and on an orthogonal trip into the Pokémon Trading Card Game's own free-to-play offering. I can tell you they both feature some pretty melodramatic sound effects.



Apart from the regrettable endorsement of genwunning this is a pretty good song too.


Alas, acquiring the diversion into 'actual' Magic meant a bit too much effort to put in considering what a doldrummy streak the Year seems to be on at the moment. I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to reverse the trend in August: choosing a game that supports two or three and forcing people to play it with me in the pre-TOTP slot. Onwards and upwards!
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Sun Aug 1, 2021 12:50 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

June 2021: Hive

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
Oof! I knew it would be a busy month, with both my partner and myself switching jobs and lots of other life admin impinging on us - that was why I choose something so quick and easy to fit in. But we still only ended up playing it twice!


Board Game: Hive

Clacky, clacky Bakelite.


I speak, of course, of the venerable modern abstract Hive. I've had it since 2014 and it's seen 17 sporadic plays since. But don't let that trick you into thinking I'm any good at it. Among other things, I have a philosophical aversion to reading about strategy in board games, especially abstracts. It's not out of worry that they'll turn out to be too shallow to enjoy any more at that point - no fear that I'll discover One Weird Trick which renders them trivial - but just ego; if I can't discover a pattern from first principles I don't want to be told it.


Board Game: Hive

I think I know enough to say that Black's position isn't looking good here.


While that works out alright for, say, Slitherlink puzzles, where I've derived a great deal of joy from suddenly realising there's a general pattern I can apply from then on, for abstracts the usual result is that I end up fumbling around the very bottom of the metaphorical mountain of play, unwilling to bootstrap myself up to the higher, er, metaphorical slopes and, um, metaphorically... ski around up there. Or something.


Board Game: Hive

I discarded the box ages ago because the game (at least the edition I got) also comes with a zip-up plastic bag that everything fits in instead.


There's a Go proverb, "lose your first 50 games as quickly as possible". I believe the spirit of it is that for those first games as a complete beginner, it's not even worth trying to think through your moves, or even review games afterwards to see where you went wrong - it's just a matter of developing some sense of the shape of the game. Perhaps after 34% of 50 games of Hive, then, I shouldn't be too disheartened that I don't make any fewer mistakes than I did at the start. And I suppose I can maybe phrase a few loose heuristics - try and move your queen before it gets pinned; keep ants for later because they're so powerful; it's fun to put a beetle on your opponent's queen to enable you to just place pieces adjacent to it - that, well, might not actually be very good but surely they're better than nothing, right?
Twitter Facebook
3 Comments
Wed Jun 30, 2021 11:20 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

May 2021: The Ravens of Thri Sahashri

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
Now this is a game that's been on my shelves for rather a long time - I picked it up at the Osprey Games stand at a UK Games Expo, and since there hasn't been one since 2019 that already puts it as a minimum two-year resident. As you can imagine, the main hurdle here was that, frankly, it's not an easy game to learn - a problem exacerbated by the fact that it's very asymmetrical and that you're not really supposed to communicate during the game (so it's not like the teacher can tell the other player what to do).

External image

Not that kind of raven.


But the Year of Animals provided a good excuse to give it a try, so I found some rules explanation and playthrough videos (I think one of them didn't even have any mistakes in) and after some research I was ready to explain it to my partner and we could have a go.

External image

No, not that kind of raven either.


It's an interesting game. As I said, it's very asymmetrical - one player is doing most of the moving of cards around, putting them together in a kind of spatial puzzle to form the 'atman', a pool of cards from which the other player chooses one to take and add to their 'dream', wanting to fulfil certain conditions as they do so. Fortunately the actual flow of the game once everyone knows what they're doing is pretty straightforward (especially for the second player, dubbed Ren in the game's lore) and after the lengthy rules explanation at the start of game one we didn't need much in the way of reminders for games two and three.

Board Game: The Ravens of Thri Sahashri

Feth, Ren, and the titular ravens.


Our first two games were at what I'll call 'Level 0', the third at 'Level 1' - the Osprey edition of the game comes with three envelopes, each (presumably) containing additional rules, to advance the challenge of the game once you've beaten it at a particular level. (I am led to believe that 'Level 1' corresponds to the base rules of the pre-Osprey edition, which took some of the shine off beating 'Level 0' without much trouble.) We came quite close to beating Level 1 at the first try but for an act of instantly regrettable stupidity from me as Ren - I activated a poem card power to discard some unwanted cards from the atman, realising too late that this had the effect of splitting the atman and forcing me to discard some actually quite wanted cards as well. When combined with the fact that I'd wasted the card power that we'd need to get out of the jam on a now counterproductive flourish (taking some cards out of the discard pile so that ravens wouldn't eat them, thinking the dream would end before they were drawn again) things spiralled downwards into ignominy. It's infuriating that we haven't had an opportunity to right that wrong.

Board Game: The Ravens of Thri Sahashri

Caw caw and indeed caw.


It's a shame in general, in fact, that I've not been able to play again, simply because it means I've only played as Ren once. One potential flaw that some commentaries on the game bring forward is that Ren's role involves a lot of downtime, waiting for Feth (the other role) to do all the push-your-luck and spatial puzzle stuff before Ren can actually select a card from the atman. And that is a fair point. But the Ren role also involves being in possession of information that you want to communicate to the other player (especially in the third dream) without any hugely obvious and unambiguous ways of doing so. At 'Level 0' this isn't really an important aspect of the game, but the extra rules of 'Level 1' make it more vital, and I imagine that only increases as the seals get broken.

Board Game: The Ravens of Thri Sahashri

One downside is that the whole spatial puzzle aspect makes the game quite difficult to fit on our comically undersized occasional table.


So in summary it's been good to finally crack Ravens open after so much time; but more than most Year games it feels like my engagement with it so far has been disappointingly superficial. But - that's what the future's for, isn't it?
Twitter Facebook
3 Comments
Tue Jun 1, 2021 3:38 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

April 2021: The Field of the Cloth of Gold

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
Nestorgames isn't the only publisher from whom I am prone to making excessive orders; last Christmas my Hollandspiele order, via Second Chance Games, included The Field of the Cloth of Gold. I'd played it online against
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
flag msg tools
badge
Don't fall in love with me yet, we've only recently met
Avatar
Microbadge: Babylonia fanMicrobadge: Babylonia fanMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: Babylonia fanMicrobadge: Babylonia fan
before but I wanted a physical copy, if nothing else to bring back those memories of learning about the Tudors in primary school, usually every year.


Rule 1 of choosing music for blogging is, of course, 'avoid Sting wherever possible'.


The Field of the Cloth of Gold is an explicitly minimalist take on 'old-school Euro design'; from a small palette of actions, two will be available to you on each turn, and every action results in a tile being given to your opponent, which will probably be worth points to them in the future. So there's already an example there of a fundamental tension, choosing a good action vs giving your opponent a good tile; but similar tensions appear recursively throughout the game. Most of the tiles score once and are then discarded*, but one (gold) sticks around and is worth points at the end of the game - often a lot of points. But the amount of points for each gold tile is inversely proportional to the number of in-game points you scored, so that adds another tension between scoring points during the game vs not scoring points so as to get more points overall from gold scoring at the end. And then that adds a new dynamic to the decision of what tiles to give your opponent - because you might find yourself wanting to devalue their gold tiles by giving them gifts that force them to score when they don't want to. Phew!

All that means it's difficult to get a handle on quite what the game is 'about', heuristically, straight away, and I definitely felt as if my fundamental aim was different over the course of the month's five games. Which is a good sign, of course, for the game's depth, although I have also been wondering how much of the game is a matter of what order the tiles (particularly the golds) come out of the bag in. But then, it is a twenty-minute filler, so what can you expect, eh?

Board Game: The Field of the Cloth of Gold

RAAAR!


This is a Year of Animals post so I should talk about the dragon. As well as vital historical accuracy, the dragon provides a mechanism for blocking another action space by moving one of your pawns to its action space. Since the gift tile associated with that action space still goes to your opponent, though, and since the space only remains blocked while your pawn is present on the dragon space, what this amounts to is that you can go to a space without performing its action, which would usually be to score you points. In a game so much about managing one's position on the score track, that is doubtless vital (though I don't think I've ever managed to do anything particularly clever with it); arguably it is less aggressive than one would expect from a big-bellied scaly beast, but the rulebook only ever states that it has a "terrible visage" and doesn't say anything about its character.

Board Game: The Field of the Cloth of Gold

Not my photograph, not my tablecloth.


I've enjoyed The Month of the Field of the Cloth of the Gold; its short length and simple nature make it a good candidate for playing multiple times in a relatively short space of time, and while I do feel at risk of feeling like I've 'played it out' at some point, I don't think that point has really arrived yet. (Which is a shame in some ways because it's nice to conclude you can get rid of things with no qualms. Maybe next month...)


"Are you a fan of Spandau Ballet, Cloth? Of "Gold"?"


*footnote to acknowledge the purple action space
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Fri Apr 30, 2021 10:54 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

March 2021: Puppy Park

Frederic Heath-Renn
United Kingdom
Islington
London
flag msg tools
235689KA
badge
Content Generation For A New Generation
Avatar
Microbadge: I love trick-taking gamesMicrobadge: I love old-school German-style gamesMicrobadge: The Legend of Zelda fanMicrobadge: Modern abstract games fanMicrobadge: Japanese Hipster Games fan ―君は知らないだろうが
I made a sizeable lump of nestorgames orders, prompted by the news that production changes were going to send the games that used acrylic mousemat-style pads out of print. And since my partner is very fond of dogs it seemed like it would be a shrewd move to get a hold of the relatively new dominoes game Puppy Park while I was at it - and indeed their first sight of the nattily beneckerchiefed Shiba Inus provided by the expansion made it clear that this was going to be this month's game whatever I intended.

Board Game: Puppy Park: 3-4 Players Expansion

They do look stylish, I'm not denying it.


Briefly: we have a complete set of hexagonal dominoes showing 7 different breeds of dog (one more than you can proxy with an Ingenious set, very sneaky) - or 8 with the expansion, which adds those shibes; you take turns placing them and if both dogs on the domino you just placed match with adjacent dogs on the board, you call out "Ingenious" and get an instant bonus play of another tile, and so on. Whoever places all their tiles first is the winner.

It is a combinatorial abstract, for those that care about such things - everyone's hand of dominoes is dealt out face-up before the game starts - but definitely one of the more opaque ones. And I'd say that in the (albeit only three) plays of it this month I haven't really got a handle on it. Because you can place a matched domino on top of the matching dogs as well as adjacent to them, it's often quite difficult to interfere with what an opponent can do - from rough memory, you can only really do something clever to stop your opponent making a match about once a game, twice if you include the one-per-player once-per-game doghouse that you can place on a dog to block it from any future matches. But it's a short enough game that when you do so it's probably a significant enough move that it wins you the game, so does that mean the rest of the game playing out in relatively rote manner is forgivable? Maybe the expansion tree and poop tiles (which we didn't play with) add that extra level of control to spice up the rest of the game?

Board Game: Puppy Park: 3-4 Players Expansion

At least someone's happy.


It was another month with a more-or-less gameless back half, so, sadly, I can't really come to any conclusion about Puppy Park, and I can't say it really grabbed me enough to make me want to come back outside the structure of the month to investigate it again. Onwards and upwards, then. Well, onwards, at any rate.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Wed Mar 31, 2021 10:00 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

1 , 2  Next »  

Subscribe

Contributors