Sunday 6 October 2019

Review - Caper

Designed by Unai Rubio
Published by Jumbo
For 2 to 4 players, aged 12 to adult

Caper, a card drafting game for thieves

As a father of two, I spend a lot of time playing with LEGO (and yes, I'm going to neatly sidestep the fact I'm using my children as an excuse for playing with LEGO as if I didn't play with it before I even had kids). Children have a very particular way of playing with any kind of construction toy. They like to build towers; but they aren't towers that just go up. They go up, and out, and around. Bits hang off, the sides, and extra bits get bolted wherever they fit, often in complete defiance of gravity. The result is something unique, experimental, incredibly fragile, and messy. If it stands up, it's a bit of a miracle.

Caper, which was kindly provided for review by Jumbo, reminds me very much of playing LEGO with the kids. It's a two-player card game (with tagged on rules for three and four players that significantly change how the game works) combining set collection, card drafting, resource management, gotcha mechanisms, and area control. And it's all smothered with a thick layer of incredibly obscure language-independent iconography that requires it's own supplemental rules book to explain.

It's a LEGO tower. It's a bit of everything. And the fact it still stands up is a testament to the designer.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Review - Overbooked

Designed by Daryl Chow
Published by Jumbo
For 1 - 4 frequent fliers, aged 8 to adult

Overbooked board game box art

I'm not a frequent flyer.

I mean, to the point where I had to check it wasn't spelled "flier." Which it is, apparently. Apart from when it's not.

I got confused.

It's not that I hate flying. There's something incredible (magical isn't really the word) for that moment you hurtle down the runway, and the plane leaves the ground, and every fibre of your body is screaming, "This is against God." Flying is, perhaps, the ultimate testament to humankind's achievements.

But flying comes with its own baggage, and as someone with anxiety issues, I can't think of anything more stressful than airports: Dragging your case into the overcrowded foyer, the sinking feeling you get the moment your luggage disappears from sight on the conveyor belt, the pre-flight, nerve-killing, slightly overpriced drink at the bar, your last desperate patting of pockets to ensure you have your passport, and the waiting.

Just so much waiting.

Every step of the process is an individual agony to endure.

And so it's with some surprise that I can report someone, somewhere, somehow, has managed to take this most arduous element of any adventure and transform it into something truly enjoyable. That someone is games designer Daryl Chow. The somehow is his really rather lovely game, Overbooked. And the somewhere is my house (since I received a copy from the publishers for review and sometimes the world is awesome).

Sunday 30 June 2019

Review - Detective Stories Episode 1: The Fire in Adlerstein

Designed by Alexander Krys
Published by iDventure
For 1 or more players, aged 13 to adult

Detective Stories Episode 1 The Fire in Adlerstein

Sometimes people ask me why I love board games so much. To this question, I invariably proffer a raised eyebrow and a vaguely dismissive response along the lines of, "Everything."

And "everything" is true, of course.

But the one thing that really makes board games so special for me is their capacity to tell stories, or more accurately, their provision of the tools you need to craft your own stories.

The notion of a game as a storytelling device usually suggests a strong theme, and I absolutely love thematic games; but the simple application of theme alone isn't the same as good storytelling. Reading a few lines of text off an item card, or flipping an "event" card as you enter the next room of a dungeon, is only the window dressing. The story isn't what you read or see or do; it's what you feel. A truly great game knows this, and weaves narrative within the mechanisms, making them so intrinsically linked it's impossible to play the game without truly experiencing the world the game seeks to create.

When I think of games that blend story and gameplay seamlessly, I think of Tash-Kalar, Dungeons and Dragons, Winter TalesFireteam Zero, and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. And I think, perhaps in time, I may be able to add Detective Stories to the list.

Thursday 9 May 2019

Review - How to Rob a Bank

Published by Jumbo
Designed by Prospero Hall
For 2-4 players, aged 10 to 99 years

How to Rob a Bank

I think most parents would like their young children to be interested in board games. After all, gaming promotes a range of important life skills, including mathematics, logical thinking, and social interactions. But I imagine the desire to have gamer kids is strongest among parents who are themselves gamers, with the ultimate goal being to play games with the whole family without having to endure the likes of Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly Junior.

Friday 19 April 2019

Review - AvP: The Hunt Begins

Published by Prodos Games Ltd
Designed by Jarek Ewertowski and Grzegorz Oleksy
For 1 to 3 players, aged 12 to adult

AvP: The Hunt Begins

Recently, I was approached by a website asking if I would write board game reviews for them. It was a huge honour, but I had to decline. You see, although they said they loved my style, they would insist that I make a few changes to adhere to their particular company direction. Namely, they wanted me to break reviews into sections with headers, give standardised ratings for each element of a game (art, components, replayability), give a final overall rating, and then include a list of recommendations for other games the reader might like.

Now, in my day to day job I frequently have to produce content based on different client style guides, and that's no big deal. But board games are my passion. Reviewing games is a chance to do things my way. It isn't something I do to make a living; it is living.

I don't want to break up my stories with sub-headings. It would be like breaking up a Curly Wurly. It might taste the same, but it wouldn't be curly or wurly anymore, and that's kind of the point.

I don't want to give numerical ratings to anything because they're just arbitrary numbers that don't really mean anything. A nine to me might not be a nine to you. Besides, the reason I would rate Space Hulk a nine out of ten isn't the same reason why I would rate Tash-Kalar a nine out of ten. I just don't define games in that way.

But most of all, I don't want to give people recommendations. How could I possibly tell other people what they would like when I can barely figure that out for myself? I mean, I like what I like. Except when I don't. There are countless games in the world that look like they should be exactly my sort of thing, but which I end up disliking anyway. When I do like something, often I'm not really sure why.

Take AvP: The Hunt Begins (Second Edition) for example. It is maddeningly flawed, but I find it deeply engaging. It is overly complicated and fiddly, with a rules book that seems like it wants to actively dissuade you from playing, but I enjoy every second I'm playing it. I honestly don't know whether I could recommend it to anyone; but I love it.