A special post for the 3rd International Tabletop Day
“What’s the deal? Spin the wheel, If the dice are hot…take a shot, Play your cards. Show us what you got…” – Rush – Roll the Bones
When I was a Little kid, whilst my mates wanted to be astronauts, soldiers, racing drivers or policemen, I had my heart set on being a board game designer. Only at the age of 13-14 I discovered computers and then wanted to be a Computer games designer. This came from always playing and making up games. From the standards Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo through to subbuteo, test match cricket and trivial pursuit . Later I would discover D&D (needs a separate post) and games like Battlecars, Kings and Things and early Warhammer. And here I am years later, still obsessed with games which are a little more expensive. Lately the evolvement and accessibility of European and American type games has exploded, with an amazing range of games available from specialist shops like Travelling Man and Forbidden Planet and also oddly Waterstones. One of the key ways of discovering games is through blogs and dedicated websites, such as Dice Tower & Game Board Geek.
One such channel Geek & Sundry played its part with a show dedicated to games called Tabletop presented by Will Wheaton. Each week a game is explained and played with Will and 3 friends. You see the gameplay, some of the strategy and the fun to be had. It doesn’t score or judge the game (leaves it up to you). Now in its third season, the range of games played is huge. Some games I already had (and was great to see being played… munchkin) and others I needed after seeing (Lords of Waterdeep). Such is the programmes popularity and its raising the profile of gaming, that the term the Wheaton effect was coined for games which had recently appeared and then went out of stock. At one point Tsuro became an extinct product in the UK after appearing in one episode. Many of the games I will talk about below, have been reviewed.
In 2013, Tabletop announced the first Tabletop day, and its development is described on the website as “International TableTop Day” was founded three years ago as a way for the world to celebrate tabletop gaming together. Every spring, fans host thousands of events all over the world and every year, the event grows. TableTop Day 2014 was celebrated in 80 countries, over all 7 continents, and had over 3,000 events in total. 2015 is going to be even bigger!”
We missed year 1 but by year 2 we were prepared and played a range of wonderful games (Tsuro, Unspeakable Words, Dix-it, Totally Renamed Spy Game, Ice Towers, Study in Emerald & Lords of Waterdeep) with a great group of people. Game get togethers are not about winning games (always) or proving who has the best game. It is about spending time with fab people around the table having fun, having face to face discussion and sharing a great experience. If it includes alcohol and food all the better. These evenings are always relaxing, a laugh and a pleasure and that’s why we have these game nights so many times a year. Although Tabletop Day is kind of special.
So this is my tribute to this great day and hopefully it will make some of you think about trying one of these out. Here is an introduction to my 20 favourite games at this time. As always with these lists there is a number of proviso’s. It is difficult to pick only 20, and if you ask me next week it will have changed. I do not pretend that these are the greatest games of all time but mainly these are games I (and my fellow gamers) seem to enjoy. Infact I have went mainly for accessible starter games. The list is also in no particular order. In fact I am using the twenty sided game dice to choose the order. So lets start with….
1: The Settlers of Catan: You and your fellow gamers are on an island which has been randomly created. The island is rich with resources (Brick, Wood, Sheep, Wheat and Stone) with some areas more abundant then others. The aim is to build roads, villages and Cities from the resources and scupper the empire building of your neighbours (and avoid the robber). Great game for its ever changing board, for trading/bartering and for giving the world a legitimate Geek innuendo line.
2: Carcassone: Numbers 1 and 2 on this list are genuine entry level european games. In carcassone, players take turns placing tiles to create cities, roads, fields and temples. They place Meeples to control these elements. Once a city/road/temple is completed a score is given. The continual scoring during the game gives an impression of who is winning, but always the final count up brings surprises. Comes in many variations including Winter and Ark of the Covenant.
3: Arkham Horror: HP Lovecraft Cthulhu board games are in abundance at the moment but Arkham Horror is possibly the Great One of the cult. Huge is its size (especially with add ons) and in the time required to play. It provides an intense co-operation gameplay which plays on crisis, pressure and the un-nerving knowledge that the big bad will turn up at some point. Usually we are all doomed but I look forward to playing the full game again up in Scotland.
4: Tsuro: From one of the most complicated and long game, to a game so simplistic and quick. A beautifully well made game, from its opaque bamboo front sheet, its red bond gatefold rules, the Phoenix pictured game board, the thick cardboard pieces looking like clay tiles to its distinctive coloured dragon pieces. SO simple to play. Each dragon starts on the edge of the board and in turn places a tile. Each tile details 4 paths linking the 8 points around the piece, meaning they all join up. The dragon follows the path, hopefully avoiding falling off the board or hitting another dragon. Sounds easy… its not
5: Lords of Waterdeep: In Role playing games, as adventurers we are used to being asked to do quests from those in power. In Waterdeep, players take the role of the Lords within a D&D game, who need to complete quests by collecting the appropriate adventurers (Warriors, Thieves, Mages and Priests). This is a worker placement game (ie… you have a couple of agents you place to do tasks like gathering adventurers) where there are numerous choices to be made and you find yourself constantly blocked. Again the final scoring really changes the games especially with the secret lord quest type multipliers.
6: Dixit: Universally loved game in our groups. I was drawn to it on the basis of its artwork. A deck of cards with seemingly children’s book illustrations (later decks get a little more disturbing but equally beautiful). Each player has 6 cards. Someone takes the role of the storyteller, picks a card and comes up with a word, saying, noise, song which describes it. All other players give a card that corresponds, these are placed out and players vote on which is the storytellers card. Key is not being obvious and knowing your fellow gamers. Points are given out and marked by fab rabbit pieces. Always baffling, beautiful and a pleasure to play.
7: Formula D: I am not sure whether I have actually completed a game without crashing out but I love the genuine thrill of taking part in a grand prix. Some will say it is a game which is based on lucky dice throws but there are real tactics in picking the times to go up in gears and risk using the bigger rigged dices (such as the D30)… And then realising that you have landed in a hairpin corner where you have to stop three times, and you have one one brake left. Welcome to the tyre wall.
8: Ticket to Ride: From racing driver to train company mogul. Played on a large map of USA, Europe, Asia (amongst others…), Players vie for routes by collecting tickets from one city to another. Tracks are marked by different colours and amounts of carriages, requiring players to collect the appropriate coloured train cards to control that stretch. Once a ticket route is completed the players collects those points. Blocked routes are inevitable and unfinished ones are deducted at the end.
9: Roborally. If I had a nemesis game, this would be it. Programming robots to collect flags shouldn’t be this hard, but lasers, pits, bumpers, crushers & the dreaded conveyor belts block the way. Then there are the other players who nudge you off course “accidentally”, whilst you still struggling with recognising left & right (cue the Kylie Dance). By the way Penalty shots are mandatory.
10: Quirkle: Colourful simple geometric shape domino like game where you place tiles to create rows of the same colour/different shape or same shape/different colour. Get a row of 6 its a Quirkle & double points. Sturdy tiles & linen bag means that this can be played anywhere (pub)
11: Tokiado: What’s the Rush. This game simulating the journey from Edo to Kyoto, promotes a relaxed slowed down approach of painting scenery, visiting bathhouses and temples and eating good food. This beautiful relaxing game seems passive but is actually very strategic.
12:Gloom. A game for storytellers & those who can remember characters convoluted backstories. Each player controls a dysfunctional family. The game has a clever overlaying card mechanism each showing bizarre experiences that either makes your family members unhappy or happy. Remember amongst the fab storytelling, you need to make your characters unhappy as possible and then kill off your family.
13: All Creatures Big and Small: No Christopher Timothy in the box. Essentially Agricola lite without the families & starvation. Another worker placement game where you build a farm & keep as much livestock as possible. Make sure you have enough space before the breeding phase happens. Only 8 rounds long but a great 2 player game.
14: Splendour: At our last gaming session, Chris brought this game of jewel crafting & we all thought it played great. Collecting gems, craftsmen, delivery methods , sellers and finally patrons continually builds up throughout the game. Has got also very good poker chip like Gem pieces.
15:Munchkin: ‘Kill the Monsters, Steal The Treasure, Stab your Buddy’ it reads boldly on the box of this zany, fun game. You start as a level 1 character with no race and no class (mandatory joke) and need to get to level 10 by defeating monsters usually with terrible pun names. My personal favourite is the drunken avian ‘Tequila Mockingbird’. As monsters are defeated you gain treasures which improve your character. Everyone starts nice and helpful but by level 8, it is brutal with players actively playing against each other. Comes in a number of flavours Bites, Fu, Cthulhu, Good/Bad/Ugly, Conan, Space, Super, Zombie, Apocalypse, Booty, Impossible, Legends et al which you can join them up and have a Space Marine Halfling.
16: Camel Up: If you have a strategist gamer in your group, who constantly wins games requiring planning, then this game will provide a great leveller. This game of gambling on Camel races is so unpredictable that it makes strategy pointless. You can try to be calculated about betting on each leg or on the outcome of the race but chaos is always around the corner. Very fun game from the pyramid dice tower and unique camel meeple stacking system. Bet on the last camel half way around, honestly, it probably will win.
17: Cycling Party: This is one of the first Kickstarter games I received and is essentially Formula D on bikes. There are a few unique differences, you have a team of cyclists who take on different roles (sprinter, climber…). There is different roll type for hills, the flat, for being in a peloton, a pace line or as a single rider. The best element is that you design the race through the placement of the hexagonal road pieces. So you can have short or long stages, flat or hilly stages. Meaning the design element is endless allowing you to create a tour. Invest in a big table.
18: Unspeakable Words: A Cthulhu word game where players are dealt cards and make words. These are scored not in the Scrabble way of unusual letters scoring highly but on how many internal angles are there in each letter. Now the Cthulhu element kicks in, whatever you score you need to roll under with a D20. If you fail you loose sanity by giving up a cute little Cthulhu. These markers will inevitably end up in a pyramid or a conga line. Once you are down to your last sanity, you’re considered insane and the fun starts. You can make up words and definitions and as long as you pass the sanity check, you continue in the game.
19: Alhambra: Budding architects will like this lovely designed game of collecting money, buying buildings for your alhambra and building from an inner courtyard. There are a number of clever elements such as rewards for playing with exact money, the different levels of building and the need to build continuous walls without boxing yourself in. I love the randomness of scoring in the game where the first two score points are randomly found in the money deck.
20: Chrononauts: Finally number 20, shows that games can take very difficult concepts and somehow make a great game out of it. If you could travel in time, what would you do? Stop the Titanic from Sinking? Assassinate Hitler in 1936? Stop Kennedy’s assassination in 1963? In Chrononauts you can do all of these and see how the timeline changes. This is achieved with 32 timeline cards, with lynchpin cards (major moments to change) and ripple cards (the aftereffects). For example, stopping Kennedy’s assassination creates paradox’s where history can be changed. For example in 1968, Vietnam Peace accord is signed or 1969, the Russians are the first to the moon. Each player plays a time traveller from a different timeline who has to replicate the 3 events to get home or collect certain items through time. Games are sometimes chaotic but always fascinating.
So thats the 20, needless to say there are many more games that I could have mentioned and would recommend. Games that were close contenders – Small World, King of Tokyo, Mansions of Madness, Takenoko, Fluxx, Zombie Dice, Castle Panic, Study in Emerald. Classics – Kings and Things, Battlecars, Car Wars, Bloodbowl, Runebound, Space Hulk. Big Classics I have not played yet – Agricola, Caverna. Bizarre games that I possibly couldn’t explain – Ice Towers, Ninja Burger, Buntu Circus. Games that I have just got and not played fully – Bullfrogs, Brewcrafters, Bruxelles 1895, Shipwrights of the North Sea. There are so many more..
The paper engineering project element started with an idea to create a Settlers of Catan like island with the hexagonal tiles with their images being the games and using the dice resources numbers as a guide to how good the game was. This was far too complicated, so I have went for a “simple” die design. The D20 is an integral part of D&D play as well as many board games. Along with the criminally underused D12 it is my favourite dice, mainly for their look and their ability to roll. Creating a D20 also allowed to set a list limit which whilst not small is not too big.
The Icosahedron was created through a design found in a template book ‘Make Shapes 1’ by Gerald Jenkins and Anne Wild. I photocopied the design straight onto bright red card and started the long process of cutting and scoring. It was important to get this accurate if the polygon was going to look good. The edges around the 20 equilateral triangles were carefully folded and then a systematic approach was used the piece it together. I was grateful that the design was well labelled. The plain icosahedron looked great but I was a little worried that it would be too small and the subsequent pictures would not work. I shouldn’t have worried.
The next step was to create a template of one of the triangles only slightly smaller. Images were printed of all the games and the template was used to highlight a part which would be recognisable. These were cut out and then “randomly” stuck on the faces of the polygon (there was some decisions to separate similarly coloured images). The smaller triangles leave a separating red edge around all images. I really like the game die and it may come in useful if we ever get stuck on what to play next.
So on April 11th, I will be sitting down with friends playing fabulous boardgames (and probably getting beaten) and having a great fun time. Do yourself a favour and for one hour on Saturday, switch off the TV/Playstation/X-box and play a board game (any game) with family and friends.