Friday 31 October 2014

Review - Ghost Castle (a.k.a Which Witch?)

Ghost Castle

Ghost Castle
Published by MB Games
Designed by Marvin Glass
For 2-4 ghosts and goblins, aged 6-12 years

Ghost Castle box
Those kids on the box are having a great time.

Sometimes in life, you are presented with a very narrow window of opportunity.

Sometimes, that window is so narrow, you're really only going to be able to take advantage of it if you are Tooms from The X-Files.

Sometimes, that window is so incredibly narrow, you wonder if it is really a window at all, or just a crack in the plasterboard, or maybe one of those squiggly lines you sometimes get in the corner of your eye.

Take, for example, the game of Ghost Castle (or Which Witch? if you ain't from round these here parts), a roll-and-move horror-themed board game with an age range so focused it could burn a hole through the box: 6 to 12 years.

I'm not sure why MB Games felt the need to make the age range so specific. It really doesn't need to be. Sure, the game has a spooky theme and small parts (most noticeably a glow in the dark plastic skull), but my three year old daughter loves this game. And sure, it is effectively a skill-free game of luck with nothing to keep older children particularly interested, but I still enjoy watching the misfortunes that befall my character as I move around the haunted castle as long as my daughter is there to enjoy those misfortunes with me.

So, yeah... I'm taking a sledgehammer to this window and busting it right open to allow all the ghosts and goblins to spill out. This is a family game.

Age restrictions be damned.

Having said all that, what is Ghost Castle actually about, and is it any good?

Ghost Castle board game
The board in all its glorious gloriousness.

Well, I was first introduced to this game when I was a wee lad, and it immediately gripped my imagination like a skeletal hand and refused to let go. It charts the misadventures of a group of young children who foolishly seek refuge in a haunted castle. Over the course of the game, they move around the gloriously illustrated, three-dimensional board, seeking to close the coffin at the top of the tower to lay the malevolent spirit to rest.

It is a great idea for a game, made greater still, of course, by that three-dimensional board loaded with awesome traps.

On each turn, players roll the dice to move along a fixed path. They then spin the spinner. They may get frozen with fear (in which case they get a groovy fear mask that clips over the top of the playing piece and they cannot move again until spinning a foot result on the spinner), or they may get to drop the spooky skull into the coffin at the top of the castle, activating one of four traps.

Ghost Castle frightened child
You've got something on your face, Dude.

In the first part of the board, there is a suit of armour with a battleaxe, and if the skull lands here, the axe falls, squashing anyone who is about to enter the castle.

In the second part of the board, there is a wobbly floor. If the skull lands here, players get shaken off their feet.

In the third section, there is a magic mirror behind a hanging skeleton. If the skull lands here, anyone in front of the mirror teleports through to the other side. Anyone already on the other side gets booted up the bum by the skeleton.

In the fourth section, there is a long staircase. If the skull lands here, it bounces down the stairs knocking everyone over.

In each case, falling foul of a trap sends you back along the path to a designated checkpoint. Just like in an old-school platform video game.

It's all very silly, and great fun.

And frustrating.

Ghost Castle pawns
Mom! We found something in the garden!

You see, there is absolutely nothing you can do to avoid any of those tricks and traps. You roll and hope, spin and hope.

And you lose hope.

Games can be brutally quick, or agonisingly slow. There is no way to tell.

Honestly, as games go, it really isn't very good.

But it is so cool.

When I was a child, I spent hours playing this game, studying the fantastic artwork in each of the four zones.

At the start of the game, you are outside, in a haunted forest. There is a stream trickling into the distance beneath a baleful moon. The trees have faces. Wolves howl. Bats flutter.

Ghost Castle board
Have I ever told you trees creep me out?

So the children run, terrified, entering the haunted hallway beyond the portcullis, where ghosts swirl like mist, and the corridor seems to go on forever.

Ghost Castle board
That isn't Casper.

If they make it through there, they descend into the store room, where vampire bats swoop and chitter among the shelves of rotting books and poisons.

Ghost Castle board
I like big bats, and I can't deny.

Then finally, they reach the basement with the staircase leading to the roof. Here, giant rats gnaw on bones, and a phantasmal hand gropes in the dark.

Ghost Castle board
Dem bones.

The art is creative, inventive, spooky, and an absolute joy.

It is just a shame it is tagged on a basic roll-and-move game, because the theme, and those skull-activated traps, deserve better.

Ghost Castle spinner
It looks like a spiders web!

As it happens, Ghost Castle is not the only game to make use of the haunted, three-dimensional, trap-filled board. There are at least a couple of Scooby Doo games that work on the same principle, and Waddingtons made a nice Goosebumps game called Terror in the Graveyard; but they aren't quite the same.

Possibly because I never got to play them in that oh-so-narrow window of opportunity when I was an impressionable young child aged 6 to 12.

Possibly because I never got to play them when I sat in my darkening bedroom, rolled dice, and wished that the phantasmal hand reaching out of the crack in my plasterboard wall was nothing more than a squiggly line in the peripheral of my vision.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Review - Felinia


Published by Matagot
Designed by Michael Schacht
For 2-4 players, aged 10 to adult

Felinia box
"There are no cats in Felinia..."

I don't like cats.

I am more of a dog person.

I actually share my home with a dog. Apparently he is quite a rare breed: A tri-colour merle border collie. The dog is an idiot, and if he is representative of the breed in general, it is no surprise they are so rare. Playing in traffic and wilfully throwing yourself off cliffs is going to thin the population out eventually.

But I love my dog. He doesn't creep me out.

Cats, on the other hand...

There is something wrong about cats. The way they move about, detaching and reattaching themselves to shadows. The way they look at you. The way they just turn up in places where they shouldn't be.

Like on the box art for Felinia.

Felinia is a game about trading in the Mediterranean. Except, it's not based in the Mediterranean, and the people doing the trading are cats.

Cats in hats.

If I had a pet goldfish he'd be quite upset.

Just take a good long look at that box art: Cats, standing upright, dressed as humans. That's pretty weird. But then look at their hands... Human hands!

You are now entering Lovecraft country, please drive carefully.

The strangest thing about the cat concept is that it has absolutely no bearing on the game. But I'll be honest, it doesn't really matter. This is one of those dry Euro games about trading, and theme is pretty much irrelevant anyway. I guess the designers thought they might as well slap some whacky cat folk on the art. At least it makes a change from stern chaps in hats.

Forgetting the odd not-quite-a-theme, this is one of those good old-fashioned games with tried and tested mechanisms that all gel together in a very slick way. It doesn't do anything exceptional, but it has a nice flow, and none of the rules are particularly tricksy. There is even a set of basic rules for people who don't feel up to the advanced rules straight away (although most gamers can safely skip the basic rules, because they are a bit... you know... basic).

The aim is simple. Players are traders trying to set up trading posts on a newly discovered island full of cat people. Of course, these cats are not interested in kitty litter and mice; they want rare books, fine wine, luxury clothing, glassware, and... precision watches?

I'm not making this up.

It's in the rules.

Precision watches.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. Forget it.

Felinia board
The big empty bit is where the boats go.

So, on your turn, you have three actions. You can use each action to acquire money, or to bid in one of several different marketplaces for a limited selection of items. That doesn't sound very exciting, but it is actually a little bit of distilled genius.

You see, players take it in turns going round the table using one action at a time. If you use your first action to gain money, you only get one coin, if you use your second action you get two coins, and if you use your third action, you get three coins. So, using early actions for money doesn't seem worth it at first, but it actually is, because you are postponing your bid in the marketplace. Postponing your bid gives you a better chance of winning the items you are interested in.


Because bids in a marketplace are resolved in reverse order, so the last person to place a bid marker in the marketplace gets first dibs, and can snatch away items that other people wanted. But here's the kicker... The price of items in the marketplace is determined by the number of bid tokens stacked at that marketplace. If you place your token on a stack of three other tokens, you get first choice, but you have to pay four coins to get the item you want. And, of course, if you postponed your bids with your early actions, you won't have four coins.

Felinia bidding
Things are getting expensive. I just don't know what the "things" are.

Do you see how cool that is?

Postpone your bids, and you get first choice, but you have less money and everything is more expensive. Bid early, using later actions to collect money, and you will be minted; but you may not be able to buy any of the products you want.

The game's central mechanism is like a precision watch.

Cats would love it.

After players have made a purchase, they have the chance to board one of several cute little three-dimensional cardboard boats. Each boat has a token on it defining requirements of goods to get on board, and if you have those goods, you can reserve your space.

Felinia boat piece
One of the boats, awaiting a new cargo token.

When the boat is full, it sets sail to the newly discovered kitty continent, where players move their meeples to a position to gather a few scoring tokens.

This second bit of the game is less interesting than the first bit. It is a combination of resource management (players can expel food items purchased at the market to move farther), exploration (drawing mysterious location cards that grant victory points, and claiming victory point tokens that score at the end of the game), and area control (grouping meeples together into a big colony scores more points).

It's all been seen before. It's all very clever. It just isn't as clever as the bidding bit.

The problem is, the bidding is tense, and every player is involved. There are genuine scuffles to get the right goods at the right prices, and being the player at the bottom of the bidding stack, watching as everyone else buys the goods you need, is agonising.

In the second part of the game, players take turns moving on the island, while the other players watch. There is a small amount of opportunity to screw with other players, by taking an area of the island they wanted, but it is much more a case of each person trying to maximise points rather than worrying what everyone else is doing.

Felinia meeples
They don't even look like cats!

The first half of the game is great, the second half is okay. And it all ends in a big points salad, as you would expect, with people counting up their tokens, working out their multipliers, and adding in points for leftover resources such as food.

I like it.

I'm not usually keen on this sort of game, but I like this one.

I can't keep it though.

In fact, I've already got rid of it.

You see, it's those five different types of resources that players are vying for throughout the game: They are colour-coded, and some idiot (possibly the same chap who decided cats would be cool), chose the colours green, rust, taupe, dark, and night time. Worse yet, the symbols on the boats reflecting which goods are required are coloured wooden crates without any kind of iconography on them.

And I'm a wee bit colour blind.

I literally cannot tell apart the resources.

Felinia tokens
I have no idea what colour these tokens are.

There is nothing more frustrating than having to stop the game each round to ask the other players on the table which goods are displayed on the boats. Not only does it grind the game to a halt, but quite often it draws attention to what goods you have, and what goods you still need, leading to a situation where everyone else does everything possible to stop you.

And that's a shame.

This is a game that does so much right. Everything, in fact, except the artwork.

Now, you'll have to excuse me. I need to scare off several cats that have gathered on the front lawn.

One of them is wearing a watch.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Review - Take the Cake

Take the Cake

Take the Cake
Designed by Anja Wrede
Published by Gamewright
For 2-4 players, aged 4 to adult

Take the Cake game
To quote a friend, "Everyone's cake is favourite chocolate cake."

Recently, I was watching a children's television show called Bing with my daughter. Bing is a cute black bunny, and in the episode we were watching, Bing had found a balloon. He was playing with Balloon, and having lots of fun, when suddenly Balloon popped. Bing desperately asked for someone to "make Balloon big again," but he had to face the fact that Balloon was never coming back.

To ease Bing's sadness, his friend Flop suggested putting Balloon in the "bye bye" box, where it would always be safe. And it was around about this time that I figured out what this cartoon was really all about.

After Bing had put his balloon in the "bye bye" box, he drew a picture of Balloon on the top so he would always remember it and the happy times they shared. When Flop asked Bing what Balloon was doing, Bing said he was happy, and "floating up and up into the sky."

I do not think I have ever seen a television show that treated children with such respect. It took concepts of death, loss, burial, denial, and even certain religious beliefs, and condensed them into a ten minute show that made such big, impossible subjects something that children could relate to in their own way.

The creators of Bing have a talent: An ability to talk to children, not to talk down to them. It is an ability that I hugely admire, and which I often find lacking in the world of board games.

All too often, you see companies churning out horrible roll and move board games that show an incredible lack of respect for their young target market. They just stick a much-loved cartoon character or book hero on the cover, and pass it off as a "must have" family game. But children are not stupid, and they should not be underestimated. They want to be entertained just as much as adults, and they deserve games that have been created with the kind of love and dedication that we demand ourselves.

Which brings me to Take the Cake, a cute little filler game for children aged four and up.

My daughter's godfather, who is one of my best friends and part of my regular gaming group, purchased Take the Cake for my daughter for Christmas in 2013. She was only three at the time, but she had absolutely no problem with the rules, and we have played countless times since she excitedly unwrapped it.

It is a good game.

Not a good game for adults. But a good game for children.

It is a game that is colourful, tactile, engaging, fun, and educational. It combines everything you would hope to see in a children's game. And yet the game is about as simple as games get.

Players are aiming to decorate a series of cupcakes, each represented by a card. The cards show cupcakes with a variety of different coloured "sprinkle" shapes on the top. For example, a cake may have a single purple circle, or it may have a white cube, a green triangle, and a pink circle. There are 16 cupcakes in total, with four in play at any one time.

On his or her turn, a player rolls a dice. This results in a number between one and three, representing the number of times the player gets to shake a plastic cupcake filled with wooden shapes of different colours.

Take the Cake cupcake
The cute plastic cupcake and "sprinkles."

Shaking the cupcake causes some shapes to fall out, and the player then matches those shapes with shapes depicted on the cards. If a player manages to complete one or more cards, the player takes those cards, and replaces them with new cards from the deck.

Once all the cupcakes have been decorated, players add up how many cakes they have to determine the winner. In the case of a tie, players add up the "sprinkles" on their cakes to determine who is the winner.

Like I said, it is a very simple game.

But for young children, it is absolutely perfect. Shaking the shape dispenser is pleasantly tactile, and the children have to count the number of shakes to ensure fair play. Additionally, the pattern and colour recognition element is ideal for children much younger than the four and above age suggested on the box.

And then there are the choices.

Not many choices, admittedly. But choices.

For example, is it better to score two cakes with one shape on each, or one cake with three shapes on it? The higher value cakes are better for the tie breaker, but if you get enough low value cakes, then there won't be any need for a tie breaker.

There are also plenty of situations where children have to figure out how to place shapes to make it as difficult as possible for other players to finish the cakes, an element of the game that is even more enjoyable when you consider that certain shapes (cubes) are easier to get out of the plastic cupcake than more complex shapes (stars).

Take the Cake cards
The cupcake cards.

There is nothing incredibly deep here, but there is just enough of everything to make it a fun and engaging experience for young gamers. The designer has taken something as big and impossible as modern games, and created something that children can relate to.

And adults too, I guess.

Of course, adult gamers are never going to play this without children; but I have played Take the Cake for hours with my daughter. One day, she will be too grown up to play it anymore, and we will relegate it to the "bye bye" box.

But we will always have those  happy times to remember.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Review - Warhammer Quest

Warhammer Quest

Warhammer Quest
Designed by Andy Jones and Gavin Thorpe
Published by Games Workshop
For 1-5 players (or 2-4 if you believe the box), aged 12 to adult

Warhammer Quest box
Glorious gaming goodness, or an outdated dinosaur?

Some out of production games demand a reprint.

Some games deserve to be repackaged, updated, and made available to the masses so people do not have to pay obscene prices on eBay.

Some games are so timeless and superb that they should always be in print, and the world seems incomplete without them.

Guess what...?

Warhammer Quest isn't one of them.

Now, don't get me wrong; I would buy a new edition of Warhammer Quest in a heartbeat. But that purchase is grounded firmly in nostalgia, because I was there in 1995, when Games Workshop launched the game on an unsuspecting market. I was there when that barbarian first took up his lantern and strode bravely (foolishly) into the dark depths of the mountains in search of fame, wealth, and (most likely) a horrible death involving pointy things.

I was that barbarian.

For several years, I had some of the most fun that I have ever had playing board games thanks to Warhammer Quest. Every weekend, my group of friends would come over, and we would explore dank mines, unearth fabulous riches, and slay foul fiends, for no other reason than "they were there."

Warhammer Quest contents
The box is chock-full of stuff.

But eventually, something happened.

I went to university.

One of the last things I did before I went was to sell every board game in my possession, including classics such as Heroquest, Space Crusade, Warhammer Quest, and Necromunda.

If I think about that too much, the world goes a bit dark and I need to have a sit down.

I sold the games because I thought going to university meant growing up, and growing up meant I wasn't supposed to play board games about dragons and goblins anymore.

And I needed money for beer.

Like that barbarian and his dwarven ally, descending into the darkness of the dungeon, I was lost.

And a little bit tipsy.

But by the time I had finished university, I had started to realise that selling all my games was a mistake (as was drinking all that beer), and now I know what it truly means to grow up. I have a wife, a child, and a mortgage. I write about goblins and dragons for a living. I play with LEGO. I make my daughter laugh by doing monkey impressions.

I am definitely an adult, but I have no intentions of ever growing up.

So, since the "wilderness years" of my youth, I have spent a long time trying to reacquire the games I gave away, and Warhammer Quest was always top of the list. However, the copy I now own was not one that I paid through the nose for on eBay. It is not one that I managed to find incomplete at a car boot sale.

It is a copy I was given.

By someone I don't actually know.

"Out of the blue," a user on BoardGameGeek contacted me and offered to give me a copy of Warhammer Quest. He wouldn't accept any money for it (not even for postage). He simply wanted to do something for a fan of the game.

It is genuinely one of the nicest things that anyone has done for me.

So, bearing that in mind, I feel a bit bad when I say, Warhammer Quest isn't really very good.

I mean, the game has stunning miniatures, dozens of quests, stacks of replayability... and I love it. But I know it isn't very good.

I'm not blind.

The fact that nobody I introduce it to seems to like it makes it obvious that my love is rose-tinted with nostalgia. And I'm okay with that.

Whether you are is another matter.

Warhammer Quest rules
Rules and Adventure booklets.

Warhammer Quest arrived at a time when Games Workshop was going through a garish phase. The artwork was bright and cartoonish, and lacked the dark style that made Advanced Heroquest such a compelling proposition. Furthermore, Games Workshop was just hitting its stride for making everything over the top: The massive wings on the dwarf helmets, the barbarians wielding two-handed swords and battleaxes simultaneously... The skulls.

So many skulls.

A lot of the ominous, dark, despairing overtones that were prevalent in the Warhammer world were nowhere to be seen, and instead there was this slightly watered down cartoon style that was at odds with the gritty theme. A bit like that Saturday Morning Watchmen parody.

But while the style may not have been to everyone's tastes, one thing is certain: Warhammer Quest was pretty good fun. It created a vivid world, populated with bizarre creatures and equally bizarre heroes. It created adventure.

Warhammer Quest heroes
Our intrepid heroes. Also known as "meat."

It also helped to crystalize certain gaming concepts that now seem commonplace, but which at the time were far from the norm.

For a start, the game was fully co-operative. This was not a tagged on co-operative experience like the one seen in Advanced Heroquest. This was actually how Warhammer Quest was designed straight out of the gate.

Playing without a dungeon master was completely feasible.

Dying horribly due to the ridiculous amounts of randomness was also completely feasible.

Games Workshop had created a game that presented a series of random events without the need for a dungeon master. It most certainly had not created a game with artificial intelligence. A brave party of adventurers could enter the first room of the first game and get smashed to pieces by three rampaging minotaurs, or the same party could wander empty hallways until accidentally stumbling on their objective without getting so much as a scratch. A random encounter could create a cave-in that brought the game to a premature end, or it could unearth a magical weapon so powerful those three minotaurs were nothing more than walking hamburgers.

The game was as wild, ridiculous, and unpredictable as the world in which it was set.

For someone who enjoys a heavy dose of theme in any game, that is absolutely perfect.

And absolutely frustrating.

Warhammer Quest cards
Random treasure, random events, random dungeon... Random.

Another thing that made the game stand out was the modular board, with individual room and corridor tiles linked with plastic doors. Modular boards were not unique to Warhammer Quest (again, Advanced Heroquest had got there first), but determining which tiles and monsters to place based on random card draws made it all seem fresh and exciting, while the doorways and visually appealing tiles made everything pop.

But what really made the game stand out was its generosity. The kind of generosity you wouldn't see from any company these days, let alone Games Workshop.

It shipped with over 90 incredibly varied miniatures, the doorways were huge chunky bits of plastic that clipped the lavishly illustrated tiles in place, and there were five different objective rooms, each with six different missions. Combining those different missions with the random dungeon generation system, and the random monster allocation, meant you could play Warhammer Quest every day of the week without ever seeing the same game twice.

Warhammer Quest snotling
Snotlings and spiders were always my favourite.

Furthermore, you could play it solo, or you could play it with up to three other friends as a co-operative game. Get bored of that? Then introduce a dungeon master player, and flip open the included roleplaying book: An epic tome almost 200 pages long, with rules for linking games into a campaign, visiting towns, and levelling up your characters. It even had complete rules for including every damn creature that Games Workshop ever made a miniature for... except fimirs...

I miss fimirs.

Warhammer Quest roleplaying book
The roleplaying book: a game within a game.

Back in the day, most of our time in the Warhammer world was spent Warhammer Quest roleplaying. I was the dungeon master, and I took my friends through a series of elaborate stories that I spent hours creating. I have never played a "proper" roleplaying game, but Warhammer Quest was just the right dash of roleplaying in a board game setting, and I embraced it totally. And even now I think this is probably the best way to play the game, because the purely co-operative game out of the box is so random it can get to the point of farce.

Right from the start, randomness is ingrained in everything you do. You roll a dice to determine how many wounds your character has, and the wizard rolls to see how many power tokens he gets, so you could get hosed before you even set foot in the dungeon.

Once the game is underway, each turn you start by rolling for the "winds of magic," which could make your wizard a super-powered monster-killing badass, or could result in your wizard's wand going droopy while a horde of monsters ambush you (yes, just at the point you need the magic the most). Then you move (thankfully there is no rolling involved), and whack any monsters that are loitering (more dice rolling). Next, the monsters get to whack back (even more dice rolling). Finally, heroes adjacent to unexplored doorways have the option of drawing a card from the dungeon deck to generate a new bit of the maze.

Warhammer Quest spells
Just a few of the spells your wizard will fail to cast.

Exploring is fun. Rooms start empty, but when the heroes step inside you draw a random encounter card. This usually results in the arrival of some monsters; however, sometimes you get an event instead. It is all very slick and fast-paced. It is also dice heavy, and almost completely devoid of real choices.

That's not to say there are no choices at all. You pick the monster you want to hit in a fight. You pick where you want to move. You pick when to explore. If you have special items you pick when you use them. And yes, as the game goes on, and you get more special abilities and more items, the choices become more interesting. But let's face it, this isn't Chess, and it doesn't pretend to be. This is fast-food gaming at its best.

It is also very much a product of its time. There aren't even any female characters.

Ultimately, the game is nothing more than a string of random encounters and dice rolls. You draw a card to place a room, draw a card to populate the room, roll on charts, roll to attack, roll to determine if you are ambushed, roll to determine how much magic power your wizard has for the turn. You roll, and you roll, and you roll.

And nine times out of ten, you get rolled.

But if your heroes beat the odds and survive for a few adventures, they start to power up. They get some good weapons, and they boost their statistics. Suddenly the dungeons seem less dark, the monsters less fierce. At that stage, you aren't exploring dungeons anymore, you are pillaging them. You have to start feeling bad for the monsters.

Warhammer Quest monsters
One of many monster charts.

The game flip-flops from one extreme to the other. Balance, after all, was never Games Workshop's primary goal. The aim here is to create stories; to generate wild campfire tales to entertain your friends while you chug mead. This is a game where the journey is more important than the destination, and where the excitement of a dice roll is more important than any deep strategic thinking.

This is a game where your elf is down to his last hit point. He is bleeding, desperate, alone... The wizard is already dead (the wizard is always dead), his fresh blood staining the flagstones in the flickering light of the fallen barbarian's guttering lantern flame. And the dwarf is in a heap of broken chainmail, tangled in his own beard.

The enraged minotaur lunges. The elf dances out of range. He notches his arrow. He draws aim.

He fires...

You roll the dice...

Warhammer Quest minotaurs
There may be trouble ahead.

It doesn't matter what the outcome is. You may snatch victory from the jaws of a minotaur, or the minotaur may be chewing on more than the cud tonight.

But it really doesn't matter. Because winning doesn't really matter.

All that matters is having fun, creating stories, laughing with friends, and rolling dice.

This is not a game about winning. This is a game about adventure.

This is THE game about adventure.

Sometimes those adventures are brutal, always they are random and chaotic; but only very rarely are they boring.

But if you can't get into that mind set, if you sit at the table looking for the tactics and strategies that just aren't there, you are going to be disappointed.

And if I'm totally honest, if I was sitting down today to play for the first time, I would be disappointed too.

Warhammer Quest in action
A staged game in progress.

But I don't want people to get the wrong idea. I love Warhammer Quest, and I would love to see a new edition hit the streets. I would throw money at my computer so fast the screen cracks. This is the dungeon crawler to which all other dungeon crawlers are compared, and with good cause. This game was groundbreaking in some ways. It was exciting. It gave you exactly what you would expect from a game of high adventure in a world of magic.

Warhammer Quest orc
He has a lovely smile.

I have never found a dungeon crawling game that fills me with such a sense of childlike wonder.

But do I really need a new edition?

Do I absolutely, positively need it?


No, I don't.

Blood Bowl, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter...

Friday 3 October 2014

Review - Interplay (a.k.a Puzzler)


Interplay / Puzzler
Designed by Philip Shoptaugh
Published by Philip Shoptaugh Games
For 2 players, aged 8 to adult

Interplay game
So sexy...

I don't really get days off. However, sometimes I get days where I do something I want to do, completely ignoring all the vitally important things I need to do. I usually suffer for those days in the long run.

But what do I do on one of these near-mythical not days off?

Well, anyone who has taken more than a casual glance on the Always Board games collection knows the answer: I hit charity shops and discount stores in search of rare, out of production, and obscure board games.

Because I'm weird.

Luckily, my wife is weird too... Just don't let her know I said that. If she is out and about on one of her not days off, she will also visit charity shops and discount stores. And it is thanks to my wife that I have in my possession, a little oddity called Puzzler... er... Interplay.

No, Puzzler.


Definitely Interplay.

I think.

This is actually a very portable little travel game. It comes in a hot pink (sexy) plastic case, with Puzzler printed on the front; but when you open the lid you are presented with rules and plastic components for the game Interplay.

Puzzler is Interplay
Wait... What? Interplay? But I thought...

So, Puzzler or Interplay... Is it any good?

Actually, kind of...

It's a two-player abstract game in which each player has 18 playing pieces with which to make a winning formation. These pieces comprise 10 narrow pegs, four hollow cylinders, and four solid cylinders.

On your turn, you simply place any one piece on the board. You can place a peg in any empty space, or inside one of your opponent's hollow cylinders. Similarly, you can place one of your hollow cylinders in an empty space or around one of your opponent's pegs. Obviously, solid cylinders can only go in empty spaces.

Once all of your pegs are in play, you can move them around on the board; and once all of your cylinders are in play, you can move those around the board too.

Your aim is to create one of three formations, each comprising five of your pieces in a straight line. Formations always have a peg at either end, but have different combinations of cylinders and pegs in the middle.

Interplay travel game
Up, up, and Interplay.

Of course, the most interesting aspect of the game is that it is possible to share a space with your opponent, and when this happens, each piece counts for the respective player. This makes blocking formations more difficult than you might think, and it is not uncommon for games to end quickly if one player (i.e. me) gets caught out doing a stupid move.

And... Yeah... It's okay.

It would be perfect for taking camping (not that I would ever go camping), or for playing in a bar (not that I would ever play games in a bar), as there are no cardboard components to get damp. But a game that isn't soggy is dry by definition, and this game is as dry as it gets, even by the standards of most abstract games.

That being said, I'm not really a pure abstract kind of guy, so I'm not the target audience; but with games like Hive, Chess, Shing Shang, and Pentago on my shelf, Interplay just isn't going to get much of a look in.

I would say it is mildly distracting at best, which for a game in hot pink packaging seems to be the biggest crime of all.