What Games Should I Get? July Edition

Unlock! – These are “escape room” themed cooperative card games which require a free app and play up to six people. Each game provides an immersive and tense escape experience with very few components. Each deck consists of only 60 cards which, along with the downloaded app, will detail as set of puzzles, rooms and objects the players interact with during the game. The rules are minimal with the companion app providing a timer, prompts, and hints throughout the game.  You progress through the game by locating numbered cards from the deck whenever you enter a room. Each room will have numbers sporadically located within it. As you search through the room, you find the correct cards and combine them in order to unlock other cards and more puzzles. It is very much feels like a streamlined and simplified version of T.I.M.E Stories. There are currently three available which I listed in order of preference. Which alternatively, is also listed from hardest to easiest.

  1. Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse This actually splits the group into two different teams and my favorite.
  2. Unlock! The Formula Simpler than The Island of Doctor Goorse.
  3. Unlock! Squeek & Sausage Weird.
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Image credit: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/3301603

The Lost Expedition: A brutal and unforgiving cooperative game in the vein of The Grizzled but with more of an adventure/exploration element. Based on the book, The Lost City of Z, The Lost Expedition delivers an immersive and exciting experience for a variety of gamer types. You can play solo. You can play cooperatively with a team or competitively in a head to head two person race to the end. The goal is to get at least one member of your team of three adventurers through the dangers of the jungle and to the ruins of El Dorado alive.

Players need to strategically determine their path through card play and discussion, and then make decisions on how to best manage their resources (food, ammunition, and health) while keeping at least one party member alive to reach the goal. Players guide the entire team through the jungle rather than choosing an adventurer to play so player elimination is not an issue nor does the death of an adventurer end the game. The card art is beautifully done by illustrator Garen Ewing. The gameplay is satisfying barrage of hard choices, tough mitigation, and a challenging puzzle that can be played repeatedly.  What was pleasantly surprising and certainly an indication of Garen Ewing’s ability and Osprey Games’ artistic direction was the diverse and inclusive representation of the native cultures of the region and within the team of explorers.

Century Spice Road: Players are leading competing caravans to the Mediterranean sea. You will be trading spices and contending with each other over trade routes in order to gain the most wealth and win. If this sounds similar to Splendor, you are correct. It is but with a bit more added complexity. The amazing card art is from up and coming board game artist Fernanda Suárez who is better known for her work on Dead of Winter and Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, both from Plaid Hat Games, and her illustration in the Pathfinder RPG from Piazo Publishing.

The gameplay is simple. There are two rows of cards: Market Cards and Victory Point Cards. On your turn you can purchase a market card and put it in your hand, trade or sell spices by playing a market card from your hand, gain a point card by meeting their requirements, or rest and take all previously played cards back into your hand. Basically, you are using cards to add, upgrade, or trade the spices in your caravan in order to purchase cards for points. If your copy of Splendor is constantly getting play and never on the shelf, consider Century Spice Road.

Cottage Garden: This is from Uwe Rosenburg, the designer of Agricola and Patchwork.  Similar to Patchwork, Cottage Garden, is a tile placement game where you need to place tetris-style shapes to score points. I learned recently that this style of game is called  Polyominoes where “geometric figure formed by joining one or more equal squares edge to edge.” <gif> Unlike Patchwork, which only plays two players, Cottage Garden will play up to 4 and is a much simpler game. You will be placing shapes (flowers) on your personal grid (flower bed). Players each have two flower beds. The goal is to fill them as efficiently as possible, with pieces pulled from a central nursery board. Flower tiles of different shapes will be present on a grid. Flower pots (small squares) can also be pulled to fill in any gaps that my start to pop up in your garden. Cats can be earned later in the game which serve the same purpose as flower pots, albeit furrier. This game has cozy, calming, veneer which hides a tense puzzle that may cause your brow to sweat. Cottage Garden, like the adorable cats within, can soften the most hardened gamer and still purr when an emerging gamer tentatively approaches.

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Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikkosaari/31232668856

CLANK!: The current hotness when it comes to deck-builders. Players are thieves breaking into a castle and then sneaking through a dungeon to snag artifacts, treasures, and secrets. However, there is a dragon down there and if you make too much noise, it’ll wake up grumpy. The more treasure you take, the more noise you make! Each player starts with a deck of basic thieving abilities (burgle, scramble, sidestep, and stumble) which will be improved as you play by purchasing new cards and then shuffling them into your deck. Cards have boots, skill numbers, and swords which allow you to use devises, fight monsters, and move through the dungeon. However, some cards also cause you to gain CLANK! And Clank! will attract the ire of the dragon. If your library has Dominion and would like a deck-builder with more pizzazz, go for Clank!

Near and Far: This is a storytelling adventure game where you are exploring across several maps. It can be played as a campaign, as a character adventure, or as an arcade (without the storytelling). So much variety in this game. If you wanted one game for the more strategic player, go for this one. My first looks are here.

Kingdomino: In this Spiel des Jahres nominee, players compete build the best kingdom. Each kingdom is basically a 5×5 grid of dominoes. At the start of the game, each player starts with a single square and will build outward with dominoes. If they play well, they will end up with a combination of 12 dominoes on their grid. Real quick, let me explain that each “domino” is divided into two different landscapes on one side an numbered 1-48 on the other. At the beginning of a round, dominoes are drawn and placed on the table in numeric order going from lowest to highest and then flipped to their landscape side. Each player gets to pick a domino and places their worker on it. Another column is drawn again and placed in a similar way from lowest to highest and then flipped to their landscape side. Players then collect their tile, place it in their kingdom, and move their worker to a new domino. This continues until all dominoes are exhausted.pic3301603_lg.png

The choices are simple, the game is inexpensive, and it can be taught and demoed easily from a service desk. If you like Carcassonne, but would like something that played a bit faster and doesn’t have that obnoxious, farmer rule, this one is an easy purchase. It should win the Spiel des Jahres this year so it’s a great family game. I’d get one for each branch in my system.

First Looks: Near and Far from Red Raven Games

In Near and Far, 2-4 players are competing explorers roaming the land in search for the Last Ruins. To accomplish this, the players travel across several maps (and game sessions) hunting for treasure, discovering artifacts, setting up camps, and completing quests. There are two broad choices what to do on your turn: Stay in town to prepare or go out adventuring. You prepare by taking an action on the town spaces such as recruiting adventures (Saloon), collecting food/money (Farm/General Store), working the mine for precious metals (the Mine), getting a pack-kiwi (Stables), etc. Once you think you are properly outfitted for a journey, you head out into the wilds. The better you prepare, the further you can travel. Or maybe you want to just take a quick jaunt and return immediately into town. Will you focus on battling threats, courting the locals, discovering relics and treasure, completing trade routes, or quest-quest-questing until your little lizard heart’s content? Either way, Near and Far provides an experience that is worth delving into.

If you are familiar with Ryan Lauket’s earlier game, Above and Below, then you know that the spiciest part of this particular game will be the book of stories you read when questing. At the beginning of a game, several quest tokens are placed randomly on the map. When you arrive at one of these quest locations, a story is read from the book and you are given options on how you wish to proceed.

Through this choose your own adventure type mechanism, Near and Far does a far better job incorporating narrative into the game than in Above and Below. In Above and Below, the stories felt random and disconnected. While this gave some interesting diversions to an otherwise static eurogame, they didn’t provide much more than that. With the character and campaign modes in Near and Far plus a neat little keyword element, players can experience a much more cohesive narrative. It still isn’t the central point of the gameplay (you can play a game with very little storytelling) but it sure as hell feels like the keystone of the discovery experience.

I think the team at Red Raven went the distance in providing a game that will appease a wide range of player needs. Arcade mode for those that prefer the gameplay over the narrative elements. Campaign and Character mode for those that want a more engrossing, immersive, and overarching experience and/or character development. The only thing lacking are options for solo or cooperative play (where, honestly, I think this game can shine). I’ve found myself silently wishing we were all somehow playing together rather than against each other. Luckily, you can find both fan-created variants online.

Overall, Near and Far is a lot to digest and this review is far from comprehensive. After a few plays, I am anxious to play more but still prefer the city building aspects of Above and Below over the route building and exploration of Near and Far. However, I have not gone through the campaign mode yet and I fully expect that it will completely convert me. That said, the arcade mode removes the stories entirely and instead provides a small event deck for single map, non-campaign play which I think I will prefer in the long run.

Another small issue is while Above and Below plays well for the entire player count, Near and Far is best and probably only recommended at two players. Three or four drags the game out too tong for a competitive game with too much down time between turns. If three players are taking long journeys and you are getting food at the farm, you are left with very little to do even with occasional quests. With two players, the gameplay is quick and snappy. The narrative in Near and Far is engrossing, while Above and Below was disconnected and bordered on silly. I think the improvement in writing at team Red Raven is obvious.  Additionally, the character design is a diverse, representative, and respectfully depicted. Armor and garb is appropriate and non-sexualized and it is obvious Ryan took time and effort in ensuring this game is welcoming and accessible to a wide-array of players. 

Kickstarter Preview: Samhain

Samhain is a new worker placement game on Kickstarter. It is the First Century B.C. and Julius Caesar is knocking on your door with a couple of legions of his friends. It is the Night of Samhain, and deep in the forest, the Celtic tribes are preparing by pleading to their gods for aid.

In Samhain, each player is a leader of a clan and hopes to bring their clan into power and be placed in charge of the resistance against Rome . In order to appease the gods and prepare you need to place clan members strategically. Each god has specifics needs, requirements and gifts. And they can be fickle…

The village consists of 15 cards which belong to the influence of five temples. Each temple and the cards associated with the temple represent one deity. As you visit and take actions on the cards in each temple’s region, you gain influence in those temples. At the end of each round, points are scored for those players controlling the temples. Romans know how to breed distrust and have attempted to bribe each clan in the form of gold and resources in order to corrupt them or lead them into disarray.

Set up for Samhain is simple. Shuffle and deal out the five temple cards. Then shuffle and deal out the fifteen village action cards next to its corresponding temple card. The result is a 5×3 grid of action cards with Temple cards making an additional column. Temple cards are not visited by your workers. They are used to track the devotion to each deity. Each action card has two possible actions — one light and one dark. Each temple has two tracks —  one light and one dark. Both will be needed to win.

Each player gets a certain number of workers and during the set-up of the game will be placing them onto action cards. Players also receive two of each resource (gold, wood, and stone). These will represent the Roman attempts to bribe or corrupt your tribe. Resources are kept secret and need to be managed carefully. As at the end of the game, if you do not have at least the same number of resources as you started, you will be considered corrupted by the Roman bribe, lose the game, and never be invited to St. Patty’s day ever again.

When players set out the initial placement of their workers, the first clan member to be set on a card earns two devotion points on the corresponding temple. Each of the following will only earn one devotion points. The number of starting workers depends upon the number of players. In a four player game, each player starts with two workers to place. The player can determine whether they wish to  place their devotion points on the light or dark track and place a cube there accordingly. The next player will place their first worker on any action card and two devotion points on the appropriate temple card and track. This continues until all starting workers are placed.  

Samhain is played over 4-6 rounds depending upon the number of players. Each round alternates between daytime and nighttime. This determines whether you take light or dark actions on the action cards. Thematically, I assume that each deity has a light and dark aspect and depending upon your need you will pray to the one most helpful to you. On the daytime turns, players can take the card’s light action. On nighttime turns, players will take the dark action. Players can also take the “off” action for the cost of one MP (a resource, devotion point, or one victory point). So a light action can be taken at night with a cost or a dark action taken during the day.   

The game is played in two phases.

Action Phase: Players must select a worker to move (optional) and activate (mandatory), resolving an action and then exhausting the worker. Once all workers have taken their action (or penalty for not being able to take their action) they can add new workers to the board or pass. When taking an action, players can move to an adjacent card or stay put and then take the light or dark action. Once the cost of the action is paid and the effect resolved, any other players also on that tile resolve the same action. 

To expand your clan you spend MP equal to the amount of workers out on the board plus one. So, if you had three workers and the board and wanted to add a fourth, it would cost 4 MP. That could be any combination of four resources, victory points, and devotion points.

Throughout the activation phase of the game, players will collect will-o-wisp cubes due to penalties or the actions taken on the cards. Once all the cubes are collected, the will-o-wisp is activated and the player with the most has to sacrifice a worker and place them in the graveyard. Then all the cubes are returned to the supply with an additional MP for each cube.

Once the round is done and everyone has passed the end of round phase begins. Players score points according to their position on the devotion tracks. On daytime rounds, you score the light track and during nighttime rounds, you score the dark. The leader on each track earns 2 victory points. No points are earned for a tie. The round marker is advanced, the first player token is passed to the player to the left, and all workers and items refreshed for the next round.

The End Game

My first impressions of this game are mixed. It feels as if the entire game hinges upon the player’s initial placement of their clansmen on the board rather than . Players need to be able to examine the layout and then find the optimal spot to start, essentially having 2-3 moves planned already in succession. Outside of that, the entire game feels like an endless repetition of moving and then activating. The will-o-wisp mechanism was interesting and provided some press-your-luck entertainment which reminded me of the arrows in Bang: The Dice Game. Not enough to redeem the repetitive game-play though. The tighter resource management was also an novel mechanism. Each player is provided with a starting set of resources but they need to be sure they end with that amount or lose the game automatically. While the mechanism was neat, I didn’t like the instant lose for not managing your resources well. Similar to the initial set-up, Samhain is unforgiving to new players and you will likely find yourself elbows into a game and realize there is no way to get the resources needed to avoid end game elimination.

Like many Kickstarter games, Samhain shows potential but is underdeveloped and came off as uninspired. It feels like the designers tried to streamline a 90 minute game into half that time and somewhere along the way lost whatever made the game interesting. However, the price point is low enough to take a chance if you are enamored with the Celtic theme, then go for it. Otherwise, pass on this one and hit up Minerva from Pandasaurus Games instead. It is pricier but the resource management is more forgiving, the tile placement is satisfying, and you get to play the Romans.

 

Why CAH is not included in my public library collection

Recently I was lambasted as “pro-censorship” and compared to homophobic bakeries when I attempted to explain why my collection development and selection criteria would not allow for Cards Against Humanity [CAH] into the public library’s circulating collection or would be played at any of our public board game nights in the library.

This interaction occurred on Facebook, spilled out onto Twitter, and eventually nestled in for the night in my gmail spam folder so I didn’t expect much from the interaction. This interaction was not with patrons of the library system (update: I no longer work for the library system that utilizes these collection development criteria so I feel comfortable discussing them now in this context) or those connected to my library system in any way. It was with a couple of entitled trolls that felt like “putting a public servant in their place” by insisting that an offensive and age-inappropriate game should be included in the library’s juvenile collection. The interaction did highlight how much the general public is ill-informed of how public library collections are developed, curated and managed. This is certainly the case with non-traditional collections such as board games.

Let’s open with the fact that Cards Against Humanity is a veritable tool box which enables players to engage in casual racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and sexism in the comfort of their own home with a close group of friends or family. It is billed and marketed as a game for horrible people so it should come as no surprise that it is, in essence, an activity designed specifically to be offensive. The goal of the game is to offend, to make people uncomfortable, embarrassed, and ashamed. This can be perfectly fine in a private gathering but I have seen several games of CAH and I can almost guarantee people who look at the cards and the resulting combinations and state, honestly, “I have no interest in saying that.” Why? Because Cards Against Humanity is deliberately marketing dehumanizing concepts with a barely perceptible wink and a nod. It isn’t satire and it does nothing to follow-up or learn about the prejudices and stereotypes it so flippantly utilized. 

When engaging in a game we create a social contract. This contract allows for certain things (lying, for example) that would ordinarily be considered impolite or socially inappropriate. We agree that certain mundane things suddenly have value (cardboard chits, “victory” points, for example). We agree to suspend disbelief, create an immersive experience, and in the case of most library collections we agree that the space we are creating is welcoming and safe for all library patrons.

For the public library the prejudices and stereotypes expressed in CAH are not acceptable and the expression of so much casual hatred isn’t appropriate to the collection and selection criteria I’ve developed and the library board accepted. If you are a librarian reading this, your criteria may be different. To aid in developing your own board game policy, the sections below will discuss the original goals, intents, criteria, and maintenance of  the board game collection at my (former) library system and will explain exactly how CAH fails to fit in that collection. It doesn’t fit due to my disdain and dislike of the game. It doesn’t fit because I developed parameters that excludes many games. Some are excluded due to the complexity of a game, the collectible nature of a game, the unoriginal nature of a game’s mechanisms, etc.

There are certainly games in the collection that I do not enjoy but still play an important role in the collection because of elements of the game-play, the thematic elements of the game, or certain innovations of the game that makes the collection richer. CAH adds nothing of value to a collection when other games do much better while still being accessible. 

CAH does not meet the goal of the collection:

The board game collection

“will consist of a variety of games with a diversity of inner-game mechanisms and themes that will be appropriate for family use as well as for use in after-school programs, school and independent gaming groups.”

The emphasis of the collection is on family use. Board game publishers provide an appropriate age range based upon the thematic elements and the strategic depth of the design right on the box. In the case of the library’s collection, we are focused on family games and those games appropriate to a wide range of ages. This range includes games starting with 4+ (in the case of HABA games such as Rhino Hero or Animal Upon Animal), 8+ (e.g cooperative classics such as Forbidden Island and Pandemic), 10+ (in the case of most “gateway” games on the market such as Ticket to Ride and Dominion), and 14+ (as is the case with most war-games, heavier Euro games and other longer, or more thematically dense, strategy games). Games strictly marketing to adults and with ages listed as 18+, such as CAH, Secret Hitler, Risk: Game of Thrones, or the NSFW version of Exploding Kittens, are outside the scope of the collection. I’ll also admit that in the case of an academic library looking to explore board games, these may have a potential place in the collection since the mean age of users is about 25 years according to the National Center for Education Statistics

On the topic of Risk: Game of Thrones, games with an adult intellectual property such as Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, or The Walking Dead are generally outside the scope of the collection even where the manufacturer’s suggested age is appropriate. As I will discuss more below, the collection is not designated as an adult (18+) collection and it is housed in our juvenile collection. This means that when searching our catalog or browsing our collection, parents can expect that the themes will be appropriate to the age to an age ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade. None of the above IPs are marketed for, or meant for, families. In order to include some games that *would* appeal to adults we go with games that provide innocuous or more general themes — Robinson Crusoe, The Arabian Nights, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, Dead of Winter, and T.I.M.E Stories are all included with the express idea that adults will be the primary consumers of those games. A case can be made for Dead of Winter (14+) and T.I.M.E. Stories (12+) to be included despite their adult themes when the innovative elements of the games are considered. 

The collection will consist of mostly designer or hobby board games and avoid mass-market games (those readily available in toy stores or “big box” stores such as Target or Walmart) or niche games.

In recent years, more stores have started carrying modern board games and this element of the collection development policy is growing obsolete as it is getting trickier to to delineate between where games are being sold. Many big box stores are carrying some hobby board games

Edit: With the current trend of Target Exclusive games, I may rethink this element of my collection development standards in the future. Games such as Codenames: Deep Undercover would likely not make the cut but Ticket to Ride First Journey may. There would be a case for each of them even after having several copies of Codenames and Ticket to Ride. 

The board game collection will also focus on games that include rules in numerous languages to meet the needs of our growing communities as well as games with limited text (more iconography) to provide material for patrons with limited sight or colorblindness. The board game collection is meant to provide recreational material which also challenges, enriches, educations and thrills an audience new to the hobby as well as patrons well-entrenched in the hobby game market. The collection criteria gives preference to games with limited text to allow for non-English speakers to have the same access to the games in the collection as English speakers. This generally would negate a particular game, especially story-telling games but preference is given to games that provide rules in different languages and are relatively language independent.

The collection will consist mostly of what is termed “gateway” games which are relatively simple to learn and teach, quick to set-up and play, accessible to a wide demographic of players and provides an atmosphere of fun and variety. While this definition of scope seems rather subjective, the term “gateway game” is well-established in the hobby to refer to games that provide an entry-level experience into modern board gaming.

Due to it’s themes, CAH would fail at this criteria. The themes are divisive, provides no sensitivity, context, or understanding of the topics it exploits, and does not provide equitable access to the hobby. The theme is a roadblock and CAH is a needless hurdle to patron’s exploring the collection. That said, the mechanics of the game are very simple and would be easy enough to learn. For this reason, the originators of the game mechanism — Apples to Apples — is included in our collection and continues to be a popular party game selection for adults and children alike. Also other Apples to Apples knock-offs such as Superfight would probably make the cut since they add some mechanical element to the original game.

The primary game mechanism in Apples to Apples (and later cloned by CAH) is two decks of cards: one is a Thing and the other deck is a Description. Each round, one player draws a Description card from the deck, then the other players each choose a Thing card that best matches that description and plays it face-down on the table. It is very simple and, honestly, a great mechanism. You can also see similar permutations (and evolution) of this mechanism in the party game Dixit (also in our collection) and Mysterium (included as a version of Dixit with more appeal to older children and adults). Why are those games in our collection and not CAH? The theme aside, both Dixit and Mysterium took the Apples to Apples mechanic and expanded upon it. Both games add new elements as well, making the experience similar but more robust and complex. There was growth in the mechanism apparent in those games. CAH simply cloned the mechanism of two decks and then added offensive words. But can’t Apples to Apples also be offensive if played that way? Of course, it can. However, CAH’s sole purpose, as stated above, is to be offensive. There is no choice for the players. The game is on a set of rails that drives it to be offensive and limit’s it’s audience.

Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends. from manufacturers website 

Since the scope of the collection is primarily to introduce and attract patrons unfamiliar with modern board games into the board gaming space. A game that states it is made for established groups friends or groups with a history is not appropriate. Enjoyment of games is hinged upon established relationships and boundaries. The boundary of the game — the “magical circle” (Huizinga, 1955) is the area, agreed upon the players beforehand, wherein all play exists. This circle can be overtly or intrinsically agreed upon by the players and determines the expectations of play. This contract is represented by the library system’s policy towards programming where patrons have the expectation of a safe, secure, and welcoming space to play and explore — this is the circle and the contract we have with patrons. While I agree with proponents of CAH that play is a form of ritual which is distinct from reality (I’m not *really* racist…), I do believe that the consecrated area of play within the library can not be removed from the library itself. There is no safe space for casual or overt racism, sexism, homophobia,  or trans-phobia in the library space. The library is, and always will be, a microcosm dedicated to community and accessibility — it is a safe space and the magic circle within the library is the same. While CAH may offer some amount of catharsis (an element of the magic circle) it only does so when the boundaries are agreed upon by those playing the game, generally a group of close friends. The boundaries the selection criteria and the library’s policy provides for is not an open forum where anything goes. There are specific expectations of behavior that are meant to be followed in the library. These expectations are not aligned with the boundaries of behavior apparent in CAH.

CAH is not controversial, it is offensive

The issue of controversy is often convoluted with the issue of offensiveness. To clear this up I would like to list a couple of comparisons to illuminate the difference. First of all, CAH is offensive and it’s controversy manufactured in order to sell games. In a similar vein the game War on Terror is a game which is purposely offensive while a game like Labyrinth: The War on Terror or A Distant Plain approach the subject of terrorism and warfare in a sensitive manner. While most controversial games will not make it into the collection, I do give these games consideration. In the original pilot collection I had two games which featured controversial topics: Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Tammany Hall. In Freedom, you are working cooperatively with a group of abolitionists to help bring an end to slavery. Players have to make difficult choices between moving escaped slaves to freedom and monitoring influence and funds to keep the abolitionist movement alive. It creates a tense experience and can trigger painful emotions.

In Tammany Hall players are working as politicians during the Reconstruction period of New York. They help immigrants settle into boroughs in order to collect political favors, make alliances and gain power in time of Boss Tweed and the power of Tammany. Both games are controversial but the play that evolved from Freedom was one where players worked together to balance ideology, humanism, and practicality in order to free slaves and in Tammany Hall, play tended to evolve into temporary negotiations and meta-gaming and the plight of the immigrant population was not addressed. Both are great games (and I have both in my personal collection) but for the scope and purpose of the library’s collection, Freedom was an obvious choice. Even then, I have had patrons complain about the perceived disconnect between games, play, and the issue of slavery. Generally, I reserve Freedom as an educational game or “serious” game for schools, homeschoolers, or parents looking to create a more experiential understanding of the time period. 

Cash n Guns is another game that has similar issues in potential placement in the library’s collection. Two issues stand out with this game when it was evaluated. The mechanisms where players point toy guns at each other in a classic Tarantino-styled stand off (think the culmination of Reservoir Dogs) was not considered appropriate for the juvenile collection. This wasn’t due to the toy guns and game mechanisms themselves but with the insensitivity that the theme of violence was handled. The juvenile and teen print collections certainly include books which approach the topics of gun violence and crime, however, they do so with a respect for those themes. Cash n Guns does not. Secondly, both editions of the game features artwork which feature hurtful stereotypes that would not be appropriate for the collection. Three games were considered instead of Cash n Guns which provided a similar feel (and all ended up with a western theme) — Flick ’em Up, Bang: The Dice Game, and Colt Express. We have room and budget for one and it is a tough choice. All three are gateway games and provide a western theme (complete with guns and violence) but without the racial stereotypes that are utilized in Cash n Guns. The selection criteria will help us choose which game to include.

Letters from Whitechapel is an amazing “one against many,” hidden movement cooperative game where one person plays Jack the Ripper while the rest of the players are investigators trying to sniff out the location of Jack’s hideout. The game is thematically violent and features “the wretched” — those victims of Jack who are murdered at the start of each round and provide the starting point from which to deduce Jack’s location. I am a fan of this game and think it creates a tense and unforgiving experience for Jack and an exciting (at times frustrating) experience for the investigators. However, the theme is too mature for a juvenile collection so it isn’t included in our collection. We do however, include the game Scotland Yard from which Letters from Whitechapel borrowed (and expanded upon) the hidden movement mechanism. Robbery/heist replaces the Jack the Ripper theme with police attempting to ascertain the location of a thief (Mr. X) in London. This mechanism is also utilized in the games Fury of Dracula and (my personal favorite) Ghost Chase. However, their is only so much room for the collection and many examples of innovative game mechanisms and themes to display so we stuck with the one that provided the most general appeal — Scotland Yard.

CAH isn’t appropriate for a children’s collection.

Semantically, the board game collection is cataloged as a “Juvenile Non-Book” which means that all board games are housed in our children’s collection — not our adult collection. The insensitively handled themes in CAH would not be appropriate. Themes such as racism, colonialism, slavery, and other sensitive or controversial topics can be elements of games in the Juvenile collection. These topics are certainly covered in the print juvenile collection. Games such as “Freedom: The Underground Railroad,” “Tomorrow,” or “San Juan” all cover some difficult topics. However, offensive and controversial are not interchangeable. Controversial topics should be addressed in the collection where both designer and publisher respect the topics they are attempting to tackle in a manner that encourages critical thought and growth. It is impossible to state that CAH has respect…of anything other than promotion of their product. Even the people behind CAH are not “horrible” enough to state that it is a good fit for a children’s collection.

Let’s move on past the goals of the collection into the selection criteria. These are the criteria librarians use to determine whether a game is appropriate for the collection. As with many things in a library, space and resources are limited and not every game (even some amazing ones, do not get included in the collection). 

CAH does not meet the selection criteria of the collection.

The board game collection will be based on the following criteria:

  • Games will be from reputable and reliable board game publishers. — CAH is a self-published game and does not meet this criteria. While I would not discard a potential game to the collection solely on this criteria, it would have to meet some other criteria. A good example of a self-published game that would make our collection is “Paperback” by Time Fowers because it meets other criteria such as innovative use of a mechanism (in this case melding a deck-building into a word game). 
  • Games will be available (or have available) multi-lingual instructions. — CAH is solely in English so does not meet this criteria. Again, no one criteria would mean that a game is ineligible for the collection but preference is given to games with multi lingual rules (or access to those rules) or those that use little to no text. A good example is the game “Alhambra” which has rules in several languages and the game itself uses no text. This makes the game accessible to ESL, or non-english speaking patrons.
  • Games will range in player count but 2-4 will be the preferred. — CAH does pass this criteria with it’s large player count.
  • Games will be easy to moderate in difficulty to learn. — CAH is easy to learn.
  • Games will have a limited amount of pieces. — CAH is made up of cards. The cards can be removed with little affect on gameplay.
  • Games will feature innovative or unique mechanisms. — CAH fails this criteria since “Apples to Apples” is already included in the collection and CAH is a clone of “Apples to Apples.” Similar situations arise with deck-builders that are similar or clones of “Dominion.” Other deck building games such as “Ascension” or “Arctic Scavengers” are similarly clones of “Dominion” and would not be included in the collection. The collection would be open to deck-building games like Trains, A Few Acres of Snow, Paperback, or Valley of the Kings which use the deck-building mechanism in some interesting ways.
  • Awards winning games (Spiel des Jahres, Origins, Dice Tower, Golden Geek, Mensa Select) will be given precedence. — CAH fails at this criteria.
  • Card game and board games are acceptable. — CAH is a card game.
  • Games will not be “collectible card games” [CCGs] or “living card games” [LCGs]. — CAH is not a living card game.
  • Cost and availability (games should be “in-print”). 
  • Games will not be directly purchased from crowdfunding sites (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo) — This is not an issue with CAH but was an issue (among other issues) the game “Secret Hitler” which was also published by the CAH folks.
  • Preference will be given for “gateway” games. — CAH fails this criteria.
  • Critical reviews from reputable sources. — CAH fails this criteria.
  • Preference will be given to games of some social or educational merit. – CAH fails in this criteria.

CAH does not meet the usage expectation of the collection

As a library event (which means that the room can be reserved without the standard $20 an hour fee which is applied to non-library groups) the board game nights are open to the public. This includes families and young adults, walk-ins, staff, etc. Anyone can attend at no cost. In an effort to maintain an environment that allows all patrons to utilize library events and materials, the library board has adopted a policy concerning children in the library as well as a rather strict meeting room policy. These are the policies I refer to when planning events. Children age 11 and under must have a parent/caregiver in the same area of the library as the child. If the caregiver is a minor, they must be at least 15 years old and must have emergency contact information. Generally, at board gaming events, family groups rather than groups of children are interested in attending. They are more than welcome to attend as long as the parents are responsible for the children playing. Inter-generational gaming and programming is a goal of the library systems and we work to create an atmosphere at our events appropriate to families. CAH does not add  

 I do promote the event primarily to adults and that is generally who attends. What would not be allowed are parents just dropping off kids to game night. Young adults ages 12 through 17 may use the library and attend events on their own without a parent or guardian. Parents, however, are still responsible for their actions. All young people (children or young adults) will be subject to the same behavior polices as other adult library users. Solo teens are a rarity though due to the time the events are held. I used to have two teens that attended events at the Upper Darby library when I was there and they certainly added some personality to the group and were expected to follow the same behavioral policies as the rest of us.

Board in the Stacks: Herbaceous

Herbaceous is a simple set-collection card game where players are competing to pot herbs by strategic placement, and the swift collection, of sets of cards. Each player has exclusive access to their personal herb garden and shared access to a community garden. The only thing that could make this any more country is if Mary Berry came in, poked my herb biscuit, and then commented on my subtle (but well-formed) layers.

English baking aside, the turns are simple. They consists of two parts: First, a player can optionally pick up herbs from both their private and/or the community garden and place them in one of four containers for points. The only restriction is that every card picked up must be potted into the same container according to that container’s specified restrictions. Each container can be filled up only once so players need to be wily when they decide to pot on their turn. Remember kids, please pot responsibly.

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The normal herbs which are all gorgeously rendered by Beth Sobel.

After taking the option potting action (or not), the player must plant some herbs. They will draw a card and place it face-up in either the community garden or in their personal garden. Then they draw a second card and place it in the location not chosen. Basically, at the end of a turn, one card is in the communal garden and one is in the personal garden. In the team version of the game, three cards are drawn with cards placed in the community garden, your private garden and one card is placed in your partner’s private garden.  

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The community garden, my private garden and the draw deck.

The goal is to fill as much of your containers as possible. Each player has the same set of four containers: The Glass Jar can fit three herbs and is the only place to pot the Special Herbs which provide bonus points and ownership of the prestigious Herb Biscuit; the Small Pot can collect 1-6 different pairs of herbs; the Wooden Planter can accommodate 1-7 different herbs; and the Large Pot fits 1-7 herbs of the same type. The game ends when everyone fills their pots and/or are unable to pot anything. You score the amount of potted herbs for each container, any bonus points from the Herb Biscuit and special herbs, and one point for each unpotted herb in your personal garden. The Herb Biscuit is awarded to the first player to get the three special herbs (Chive, Mint, and Thyme) potted in their glass jar.

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The three special herbs that provide bonus points but can only be potted in the glass jar.

Since it will be mentioned at least once during a session of this game, none of the herbs in the game are hallucinogenic and the bonus Herb Biscuit is not *that* type of edible. But this would be a wonderful expansion to the game if each player could have a secret garden where they grew … other things.

The End Game 

Herbaceous is a delightful combination of gentle push your luck and set collection. It thrives in low light and casual environments. It doesn’t ask too much from you and you don’t really want too much from it. Set collection is a slightly overdone game mechanism and I am surprised that it works so well here. If it were too simple, it wouldn’t be engaging but just barely ramping it up with the different containers made it more compelling. It also paired nicely with the push your luck mechanism. Players will be aware of which pots the competition is going but someone snagging a couple of the cards you want will slow you down without completely wiping you out. It is never overwhelming an overwhelming experience with most games ending with a fairly tight spread of points.

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The much contended for Herb Biscuit. The bottom is not soggy and herbs are well-dispersed.

You are making very simple decisions. Do I want to pot right now? y/n. Then the decision is simply community garden or my garden. That is it → Pot? y/n and then My Garden? y/n. This entire game hinges on those two questions. Additionally, my version of the game came with three Flavor Cards (Peppercorn, Cinnamon, and Star Anise) which when added to the deck provide some additional actions when pulled. These were meant to ramp up the player interaction. However, the game didn’t need them and I prefer to play without them.

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The Flavor Expansion that didn’t really add much flavor.

End of the day, Herbaceous is a welcoming and simple game with amazing artwork that plays well for emerging gamers but will likely bore most experienced ones after a couple of games. The slim ruleset and easy mechanisms will attract new players and the quick gameplay requires minimal investment. While the gameplay is fine, it would shrivel up and blow away in the wind without Beth Sobel’s delightful artwork. Her work can be found in some of my favorite Stonemaier Games such as Viticulture and Between Two Cities. It matches the theme and fits the mood of the game perfectly. The warm colors and breezy hues give the game a relaxing appeal. The game would be unpalatable with any other artist.

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Four containers to fill with herbs and a well-stocked private garden.

Board in the Stacks: Shahrazad

Shahrazad is a solo/2-player cooperative game from Osprey Games where you are building a tableau of tiles representing an ongoing series of tales told over several nights. The theme of the game is loosely based on the story of Shahrazad whose quick wit and storytelling prowess kept her alive for 1,001 nights and won her the hand of a formerly homicidal king. Yay for happy endings. Despite the storytelling theme there are no actual storytelling mechanisms in this game. Each “story” is represented by placing a series of tiles of the same color together with the tile’s number increasing as you progress the plot from left to right. If the numbers do not increase, you lost the thread of the story and will lose points at the end of the round.

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At the beginning of a turn you choose from two tiles to place on the tableau. The deck of 22 numbered tiles is shuffled and each player has a hand of two tiles to place. Tiles can be placed in an empty area in the tableau or they can replace an previously placed tile. When replacing a tile, the older tile goes back into your hand. For placing a new tile there are a few simple placement rules. Each tile needs to be placed adjacent to a tile on the table. The tile should be placed either above/below or halfway down the side of an existing side. Each column can only support three tiles (four in the solo game) so your stories need to progress as you branch out to the sides, trying to keep tiles in ascending order from left to right.

When the deck is exhausted, your story is told and you get to score to see how well you did. To score you flip over any placed tile that doesn’t increase numerically from left to right (any tile with a lower tile to its right). Then you flip over any tiles that don’t make a continuous uninterrupted arc from left to right (color doesn’t matter just yet). Now you find the largest set of tiles in each of the four colors, add up the results and subtract one point for each flipped tile and any gaps between tiles. If the resulting score is positive you play another round with any flipped tiles removed from the game. A negative score means the king was displeased with your story and you were killed. If positive, you go for another round and your final score is tallied after three rounds.

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The Endgame

Osprey Games continues their run of quality two-player games. The asymmetrical card game The The Ravens of Thri Sahashri and the competitive abstract game Agamemnon came on strong in gameplay and were both lacking in the art. Agamemnon was too minimalist and Ravens used an anime art style that just wasn’t as engaging. In Shahrazad though, the tiles are gorgeous. The artwork is beautiful and including several international folk tales, inspired by a traditional tarot deck (it was originally published in 2015 as “Tarot Stories” in Japan) all set within a middle-eastern aesthetic. The whole thing is just gorgeous.

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There is some conversation on whether this game shines better solo or as a 2-player cooperative. For me, it is made to be played solo and the 2-player game feels more like a variant — albeit, a successful one. However, the communal elements of the two-player game are satisfying. Given the field is relatively wide, I do enjoy the shared puzzle of Shahzarad over say the cooperative journey into frustration that is …and then we held hands. The placement rules are simple enough to provide a comfortable decision space without evoking any real stress.

Bottom line, Shahrazad is a beautifully produced puzzle with simple mechanisms, gorgeous art, and an accessible theme. It plays and teaches quickly. Rounds move progressively quicker and don’t tend to stall. It’s a perfect date game as long as you ignore the whole homicidal king thing.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures

pic3238299_mdSherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper and the West End Adventures (Amazon) is a series of cases that continue the investigations of the original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Space Cowboys (of T.I.M.E. Stories and Splendor fame) are updating and redoing the original releases. In this game, the West End Adventures are updated versions of the 1995 expansion to the original game with four completely new adventures centered around Jack the Ripper. The original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective will be released as The Thames Murders and Other Cases later this year.

The Game

Similar to the original, 1-8 players work together as a team of “irregular” investigators working with, but also competing against, their boss Sherlock Holmes. Each case is contained in a booklet with an introduction, several locations with associated text, case questions to test how well you did, and the solution provided by Sherlock to measure yourself against. Each regular case utilizes a large fold-out map of London along with newspapers and a directory. The Unlike the original, Jack the Ripper cases are all linked together in a series and have a map of White-chapel included. 

An introduction is read aloud at the beginning of each case. The players are encouraged to explore the provided materials and come to a consensus on which location to search. The map has dozens of locations to visit in the course of your investigations. You will gather clues, visit locals who may provide information pertinent to your case or red herrings to lead you astray. Each location moves the team closer to solving the mystery new leads which in turn lead to new locations. Once the group has determined they explored and followed enough of the leads, they can move onto the questions for the case. There are a total of 200 points that can be earned from solving the primary case and any peripheral mysteries that may have been uncovered as well. Time is of the essence, so visiting too many sites and spending too much time can affect the final score.

Sherlock_Holmes_Consulting_Detective_02_2000x1333.jpgAfter the questions, the score is tallied and you compare your results to Holmes’ solution. However, the solutions provided by Sherlock require so many ridiculous logical leaps that it really only serves to prove to the players how intensely smart Sherlock is. You can ignore the score, and laugh at the result that Sherlock comes up with.  

Each case is a one-shot experience and with 10 cases supplied in the game. At 90 minutes a case, it more than provides enough value for the cost. At first glance there is very little option for replay-ability but having one person moderating the game (who knows the solution) can be fun to attract new players. It was also fun to allow new players to work through the game and provide an occasional hint.

Comparing this to T.I.M.E. Stories, I prefer the lack of game mechanics in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. There is little set up, lots of reading, and plenty of discussion about what to do next. You can move from place to place, examine clues, develop leads, gather materials, and pour over the map and newspapers provided. Both games are certainly on rails but I find the streamlined experience of Sherlock Holmes much more enjoyable.

This is a gaming experience tailor made for bookworms! It reminds me of the experience of reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book with the added benefit of being able to share the experience with more than one person. Honestly, I never got to a good ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book without cheating and I have never get even close to Sherlock’s solution in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Nor should I! Most of the fun is the disbelief of how he actually solved the crime and your own floundering steps towards a solution. You don’t get better as you play but you do get more creative in your solutions as you try to make the same logical leaps Sherlock makes.  

The Endgame

Take your time. Have a drink. Forget about the score. Explore possibilities with your group. Laugh at the red herrings and gloat over someone’s totally lucky guess that ended up being correct. It is totally OK to cheat at this game. If you can’t answer a question, go back and retrofit an answer. See where you went amiss.

This is a great introduction to RPGs for people who never even thought about playing an RPG. Let me be clear, it *isn’t* an RPG but it has that feeling of group cohesion, discussion and discovery. It has the added bonus of being played without a moderator and if you really wanted to toss in some characters, it wouldn’t be too hard to find some mystery tropes to include. They would have zero effect on gameplay but could make the experience even more immersive.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is an overlooked gateway game that no-one ever mentions. And it should be right alongside with Splendor, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic. It is a small jump into Fiasco if you want storytelling or into Letters from Whitechapel if you want to get a bit more mechanical. The theme is familiar and immersive to most. The mechanisms are simple to practically nonexistent. It plays with little setup or rules explanation. 

The only downside of this particular iteration is that the theme of the Jack the Ripper cases can be off-putting. I have this same issue when I introduce Letters from White-chapel to some gaming groups. It is just a whole different level of dark from the classic Holmes mystery.This sequence of linked cases is bloody, historically accurate, and can be tough to stomach. Something about the jump from a purely literary affair to the reconstruction of actual horrible events of real victims may be too much. As a simple test, if your group would be down with From Hell or the Ripper Street TV series then they may be ready for this. My recommendation is to play the West End cases first and move into the Jack the Ripper cases only if this level of darkness is appropriate to your group.

So this makes my recommendation mixed for libraries. Even most adult groups of emerging gamers have been concerned over particularly dark themes. If you are worried about the grisly nature of Jack the Ripper, get the original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective if you can find it. Or you can wait for the Space Cowboy’s re-release of the original as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases.

“Building a Better World” with City Building Games

I’m a bit over the Summer Slide so lets talk about what board games fit right in with this summer’s theme of “Building a Better World.” In the following three posts I will dive into three different topics: City Building, Environmental, and Farming, which meet the summer’s theme. Each topic is divided into Beginner games, Intermediate games, and Advanced games. These divisions are not meant to make a statement about player ability or experience but, instead, describe the games according to game length, amount of set-up, length of rules, and diversity of mechanisms that each game exhibits. Honestly, my sweet spot is right between the Beginners and Intermediate games.

City Building:

In a city-building game you are constructing a city or some other municipality (or even just a home) with some objective in mind. I’ve broadened this concept to building homes and even tree houses. The concept is all the same.

Beginner:

pic2337577_md.jpgCarcassonne (Amazon) is the iconic tile-placement, city building game which is lodged firmly in the gateway category. The rules are simple: You draw a tile and then you place the tile. In the original game you are building cities, roads, monasteries, and farms. The larger your land-form, the more points you score. The placement rules are simple (cities have to connect to cities, roads to roads, grasslands to grasslands). Once a tile is placed, you have an option of placing a meeple on it to show ownership over it. Once a land-form is completed, the owning player scores it.

Maybe you already have Carcassonne and looking for something new? Luckily, the Carcassonne family of games has a huge amount of variety: My First Carcassonne which features simplified rules for the younger crowd; Carcassonne: Amazonas has players exploring the Amazon and discovering animals and tribes; Carcassonne: South Seas you place meeples to gather and ship goods; In Hunters and Gathers, you are exploring untouched forests, rives, and meadows to hunt, gather, and fish! The Carcassonne family of games generally play 2-5 people, aged 8+, in 30-45 minutes.

pic2375542_md.pngIn Best Treehouse Ever (Amazon), players are drafting cards and building rooms to create the best treehouse ever! Cards are placed according to a few rules. New rooms must be supported by two branches, the must touch a room of the same color and they must not cause the tree to tip over. You have three weeks (rounds) to build your treehouse and each round you place five rooms  so we are talking one heck of a treehouse. At the end of the round, players can tweak with the scoring by placing game-changer cards which increase the points for certain types of rooms. The rooms are silly, and the gameplay is surprisingly strategic for such a quick game. It plays 2-4 humans, aged 8 and up, for 20 minutes.

pic3176771_md.jpgIn Dream Home (Amazon) you are scaling back a bit from Quadropolis and building your perfect house and competing with your neighbors to have the *best* house. Each player starts with a basic McMansion tableau with 12 empty rooms to fill; five on the second floor, five on the first and two in the basement. Players take turns choosing from a pair of cards from the market. Each pair will consist of one room and one resource (helpers, handy-persons, architects, tools, etc.) to use in building their home. The room gets placed according to some simple rules, and the resource can be used immediately or later to score more points. You can expand rooms for more points (a playroom is nice but a huge playroom is even better), and add decor to provide the perfect finishing touch. It plays 2-4 players, aged 7+, in 20-40 minutes. This was also one of my picks for best games of 2016.

Intermediate:

pic1992476_md.jpgIn Machi Koro (Amazon), you’ve been elected Mayor and your new constituents want it all! In order to build these you need to develop big working from the basics (you are starting with a wheat field and bakery). On your turn you first roll your dice and depending on the result different cards are activated. Blue cards can be activated on anyone’s turn. Green cards are activated only on the active player’s turn and Red cards are only activated on other players turns. After the roll and the cards are activated, the active player can choose to buy a new card from the market to place into their town. It is random. It is mean. It also has a few exapnsions and a Target Stores Only edition. It plays 2-4 (5 with the Harbor Expansion) players, aged 10+, in 30 minutes. I placed this in the intermediate category due to the amount of direct player interaction and capacity for vindictive city building. Basically, this game can be as mean as you want it to be and it certainly is never fair.

pic2840020_md.jpgThe same people who brought you Ticket to Ride are bringing you Quadropolis (Amazon) where you are the Mayor. In order to bring your city into the modern age and meet the specific needs of your constituents, you will need to determine a strategy for what direction your city will develop. At the same time you will compete against adjacent cities. You will need residential buildings, shops, public services, parks, harbors, and factories to provide the most efficient infrastructure and to elevate you to the mayor hall of fame (that doesn’t actually exist). Players will vie for the perfect building to construct and then allocate the right amount of people and energy to each to score the most points. It plays 2-4 players, aged 8 and up, in 30-60 minutes and is a great step up from my personal favorite game of all time, Alhambra.

Expert:

pic1418335_md.jpgIn Suburbia (Amazon), you are working to take a small town and develop it into a powerful metropolis. But this is no easy feat. Players buy tiles from a real estate market and then place in their borough. The building tiles add residential, commercial, civic, and industrial areas to your town as well as provide additional benefits. Unlike many of the games previously discussed, the placement of the tiles is exceedingly important as building tiles can effect each other and the tiles of other players. Experienced players can develop combinations of tiles that will be devastating to newer players. As you build your town’s reputation, the population will grow and income will increase. Your borough will grow but so will the cost to maintain it. The planning and interaction in Suburbia feels a lot like SimCity™ if it were a board game. It plays 1-4 players, aged 13+, and games last for 90 minutes. Expansions add additional building tiles and room for a fifth player.

A Few Hints on Organizing a Game Night

  1. Teach: Be prepared to teach at least one game and demo them all.
  2. Volunteers: Have at least one volunteer/staff per 4-5 players. If players are experienced, then one volunteer/staff per 8-10 players.
  3. Families: Encourage families to attend and play together. Make it an inter-generational event.
  4. Multiple Copies: Provide multiple copies of game you are teaching.
  5. Partner: Local Gaming Groups, a Friendly Local Game Store, other libraries.
  6. Scaffolding: If you plan on multiple events, teach a new game each event and have multiple copies of games previously taught available.
  7. Classics: Provide classic games. People love them. They are inexpensive. They have no zero barrier to entry.
  8. Open: Play in open areas in the library if possible. Encourage spectators. A crowd makes everything better!
Featured image is of the Yick Cheong Building, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong taken by Flickr user aotaro 

Board in the Stacks: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, 4-12 players are attempting to solve a murder and just arrived at a crime scene loaded with clues and potential murder weapons. Players need to sort through the clues with the help of their forensic scientist. Everything seems simple enough except that the murder is standing in their midst and in uniform. Players will need to suss out what the forensic scientist is hinting at, find the murder, and protect their start witness before three rounds of play elapse.

Start the game with determining who will be the Forensic Scientist. The Forensic Scientist is presenting hints so they should be the most experienced player (or at very least the one who read the rules already). Similar to the ghost in Mysterium, you have an oddly mute forensic scientist (who in my head-canon has such a strong case of social anxiety) who is unable to speak to the investigators and instead just points to their notes.

Everyone else is randomly given a roles: Mostly Investigators plus one Murderer, and in larger player counts, a Witness and an Accomplice. Everyone except the Forensic Scientist is dealt a hand of four clue cards and four weapon cards which are displayed in front of them. Similar to Werewolf, the forensic scientist has everyone close their eyes and then asks for the Murder to open their eyes and point to one of their weapon cards and one of their clue cards. This is the information that the Forensic Scientist must relay to the investigators. The Witness gets to see who the murderer is but not their murder weapon or clue and wants to survive and remain hidden. The Accomplice gets to see who the murder is and wins if the murderer gets away.  

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Investigator, Murderer, Forensic Scientist roles and for higher player counts the Witness and Accomplice.

The game is played in three rounds. The forensic scientist has to place bullets on the six random tiles. Two tiles (“Cause of Death” and “Location of Crime”) are always used with four additional “Scene” tiles. Placement of the bullets will hint at the murder weapon and the clue and thus the identity of the murderer. It is best to place these slowly so players can discuss the clues and help guide the investigator to the next placement. Each player (including the murderer) then gets to make brief presentation about their opinions on the case and can once per game make and attempt to solve the murder by announcing “I plan to solve the murder” and then pointing to one murder weapon and one clue in front of one specific player. If you guess correctly, the investigators win! But if you guess incorrectly, you turn in your badge and are unable to make a guess again. However, you can still partake in the discussion on how others can make their guess. This continues for three rounds with the Forensic Scientist adding one new “Scene” tile to replace an older one of their choice.

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The Location of Crime (green), the Cause of Death (purple) and four Scene tiles.

If playing with the Witness, and the correct weapon and clue are guessed, then the Murderer gets the opportunity to guess who the witness is to win the game.  

Deception is to The Resistance what Mysterium is to Dixit. It takes an enjoyable activity and adds a subtle layer of mechanics on top to create a more salient game experience. All this while retaining a quick set-up and pleasant flow of play. The tension and distrust from other social deduction games such as The Resistance or Werewolf is present but not overwhelming. You have an experience where players are working together but always glancing slightly askance at each other rather than heavy bluffing and accusations.

Deception places the emphasis firmly on the deduction part over the social part of social deduction games. Discussion more often revolve around what the Forensic Scientist is trying to hint at over whether someone is lying or not. It just feels gentler and more about subtle misdirection over outright argumentation. The murder can slink into the background and let everything play out while gently nudging people in the right or wrong direction.

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A handful of clues and a smattering of Investigator badge tokens.

The Endgame: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong can play a large group easily and the set-up is minimal (especially when compared to Mysterium) and I prefer it over Werewolf or The Resistance since the game-play is less “social” and the discussion a bit more gentle while still tense.  

Kickstarter Preview: Tesla vs. Edison: Duel

In Tesla vs. Edison: Duel, now up on Kickstarter, you take the role of a notable inventor of the era battling for control over three regions – New England, New York, and Out West. These regions are controlled collecting stock shares, complete projects for each area, and racking up your propaganda. The game is played in three rounds. At the end of each round bonuses are gained for control of each region and at the end of the third round you tally up your points and the player to control the majority (2 out of three 3) of the regions, wins.

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The three regions in the correct order. Order is important.

At the beginning of each round players draft a hand of three Assistant cards. Depending on your inventor’s instant win condition and your own strategy, you choose a card and pass the remainder to your opponent. You continue picking and passing until you have a completely new hand. These assistants are historical figures has two abilities that can take when you play the card. They can allow you to claim projects, acquire stocks (or sell one for a free action),  advance a technology (you steal a tech from your opponent), increase PR, or limit a region to AC or DC (which limits which projects can be claimed to an area).

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Quick comments: The icons were much simplified in the version I previewed to great and wondrous effect.

On their turn, each player takes a turn and plays a card in front of them. That card has two actions. You can take those actions plus any free actions in whatever order you wish. Free actions are earn by selling stock or hitting certain PR achievements. Once all cards are played, you tally up points for each region in a specific order (New England, New York, Out West), the player with the point majority in each region gets a bonus which can affect the majorities in the following regions. Then check to see if the instant win for either player was achieved.

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You always play one AC versus a DC. I love how Edison bucked the whole “crazy mustache” craze.

I’ve been on a roll lately with two-player games and am nearly at the point of saturation. But since Tesla vs. Edison: war of the Currents was one of my best games of 2015 I was excited to try their two player version. Artana Games (formerly Conquistador Games) always excites me with their innovation and JR Honeycutt (who I still think should design a M.A.S.H. game) is amazing, so I’m game.

First off, if you expecting something as deep or intricate at the original Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents, you will be disappointed.  Just like another popular “duel” game {ahem, 7 Wonders} it is a very different game from it’s progenitor. It is very much the younger sibling — shorter, simpler, and adorable. While War of Currents can be slow and ponderous, Duel is quick and whip-fast. The decisions space is limited in comparison but that limitation makes those choices tense and meaningful. There is a nice push and pull as you can you vie for ownership of the three regions, associated technologies and much needed stock shares, and the no AC/DC are vicious. I particularly like the ability to quickly snag technology. This can be devastating to your opponent if you pay close attention to which stocks they are collecting and a good memory of the cards drafted.

duel

In the review prototype I played, I only had Edison or Tesla to choose from but I really liked the addition of their individual instant victories. Without these, you get a simple set collection, area majority game but by adding these requirements, you need to be acutely aware of exactly what your opponent is doing and work accordingly. Interestingly, this came out mostly in the card drafting element at the beginning of each round. Know your opponent, know your skills and draft accordingly. It added most of the strategic bulk to the game.

Iconography is simple and the card design is wonderfully easy to parse with new players. It sets up faster than 7 Wonders Duel or Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small and plays quicker. I do think that some individual player powers would have been a nice addition or variant to the game and is a missed opportunity. That said, I have enjoyed seeing some of the development of this game where mechanisms and iconography have been streamlined while maintaining the same level of strategic depth.

Tesla Vs. Edison: Duel is already funded so get on board now.