Come on in for the latest Next of Ken, where I've got Oscar non-thoughts, a gameplay preview of my recently acquired Print-n-Play version of The Thing, I don't really review We Didn't Playtest This Either, I do review Fealty, and a session report of Catacombs. Man, that's like a buffet of reheated canned green beans...so join us, won't you?
If there's one thing in your life that you'll never forget, its that we're dead in the future but we're not dead yet
I'd love to offer you my Oscar thoughts, but the sad fact of the matter is that this is the first year I hadn't seen a single Best Picture nominee since 1987 (basically, the first year I would've care about more "grown-up movies.")
We did watch some of the presentation off-and-on, and Billy Crystal was a nice change of pace from last year (James Franco, WTF?)
The Artist was the big winner, and it looked exactly like the sort of movie the Academy likes to give itself pats on the back and/or handjobs for making. No, I'm not at all cynical or jaded about this process, honest.
The only one of the nominees I was even interested in was Moneyball. Hey, I'm a baseball fan. And there's the whole man-crush on Brad Pitt thing, right? So I'll Redbox that one. The rest? Feh.
(Funniest moment of the broadcast for us was when Brad Pitt--with his longer hair and goatee--was onscreen and our 8-year old son said, "Look! It's Thor!")
Seperated at birth? Verily
Everybody was Remembering to Forget They Had The Chills
I recently picked up a copy of Mark Chaplin's unauthorized Print-n-play game The Thing, based on John Carpenter's horror classic. I was participating in a Math Trade on Boardgamegeek when I saw it listed. I'd had no idea it existed before that, but after researching it I knew I had to have it.
The only real way to get it is to order it from Artscow, but as it is made up of numerous cards, getting it printed costs about the same as a regular boardgame (especially if you want his "The Things" expansion that he also developed, and was included with my bundle.)
This is probably the first "hidden role" game I've seen where one player starts out openly as an evil player, and has the ability over the course of the game to infect other players. Even in Panic Station, the Infected Player is a secret, and that's actually the whole point of the game, for him to infiltrate and convert or kill the other humans.
There are 12 characters in the game, all of them the prominent and minor characters from the movie. The human players (1-3, up to 5 with the expansion) select one character each, and the remainder of the cards are "NPCs" that stay in the center of the board.
Characters have skills, and over the course of the game events and tasks will come up requiring their skills. Human players will assign characters to help them overcome these obstacles, all of them drawn from the plot of the movie. Skills and abilities allow characters to roll a number of dice, looking for enough successful results to overcome the challenge. Often if they fail, there can be some pretty nasty consequences.
However, during the game, the Thing player is seeding these NPC characters--and, potentially one of the player characters--with "Infected" cards. The Thing player actually has a limited selection of these, but also have cards that are played like Infection cards but actually say "Human" on them. If players use infected NPCs to help them with tasks, the Thing player can let them do their work, or else reveal them as Infected and attack the players.
The endgame consists of either the Thing accomplishing his construction of his ship, the killing and/or assimilation of all characters, or the players surviving all of the encounter cards before reaching the Final Confrontation. At that point, they will face at least the Thing player in battle. Then, the Thing player can reveal Infected characters to continue the fight.
Once all the fighting's done, the players have two choices--"Burn" or "Wait and See." If they choose "Burn" at at least one unrevealed Thing is left, then the players win. If they "burn" and everyone left is Human though, they lose (as they've just killed innocent humans.) However, if they "Wait and See" and everyone left is Human, they win the game. If they "Wait and See" and a Thing player is left though, that means they've allowed one to escape...and woe be it to the Human race.
The card graphics are a little rough, being taken from stills from the movie. They're not at all DVD quality grabs, and definitely look more like they were ripped from VHS. That may have actually been the intention, I'm not sure. What's awesome is that the graphics and flavor text pull no punches. The cards are filled with violent and gory images from the film, and with card titles like "You Gotta Be Fucking Kidding" and "I Just Cannot Believe Any of This Voodoo Bullshit!" it's definitely a game aimed squarely at adults.
I've been over the rules several times, and it looks like a nice blast of paranoid fun.
You're gonna have to sleep sometime, MacReady
I'm actually kind of surprised no one has tried to cash in with a licensed The Thing game, either by buying up this one or developing something new. The themes of The Thing have been pretty rampant in so many games as of late. The whole notion of Battlestar Galactica is the enemy who walks among us and looks just like us, and Panic Station is basically The Thing with different skin (appropriate!) With the prequel that came out last year, you'd think some company would want a piece of the "real deal." Who knows, maybe the licensing fees are too expensive.
I'll report back to you on this one. The fact that it's this type of game but playable by two people is pretty intriguing and impossible in other similar games. The setup is one Thing, one Human, with the ability to infect the Human player removed. I'm guessing that it becomes more of a tactical guessing game at that point, but still, that's pretty cool.
"I'm thinking a leader should be someone more even-tempered, Childs."
See Everyone on Nursery Puppets Dancin' Around On Strings
I reviewed the base game for We Didn't Playtest This At All several months ago, ending up scratching my head after 10 games that all ended before everyone had a full turn. Seriously, it never made it around the table. It generally took longer to gather up the cards, shuffle, and deal them than it did to actually play the game.
So it was with great trepidation--but extremely lowered expectations--that I approached the expansion We Didn't Playtest This Either. I had a feeling that maybe I was just not approaching this with the right frame of mind; either that, or the quick "you win!" gameplay was some sort of brilliant meta-commentary on the task of playing to win. It could also be treatment for carpal tunnel as you shuffle the deck every 30 seconds. I have no freaking idea at this point.
Or maybe I just don't get Kittens attacking the draw deck and Pirates and Meteors sitting in people's hands while the second player wins the game because they were wearing a pink shirt.
So my wife and one of our sons dug in for the expansion. When I say "dug in", we sat down, dealt the cards (this deck can either be played standalone, or with the other cards), my son played a card, then I played a card, and won.
I get that the cards are funny and chock full of in-jokes. In fact, reading all the the cards and their flavor text is actually pretty damned funny. You get references to Portal (the cake is a lie!), George Bush, wordplays like Balm/Bomb, Star Wars, and even its riffs on its critics ("This card is broken in 2-player! *SMASHES THINGS*")
That's the thing with this game. It is obviously a self-referential...something. A game for gamers that really isn't a game, it just has the pretext of one.
I am going to do one of three things with this game:
1. Appreciate it from afar, as the fourth-wall breaking metafictional card game of sheer genius...but don't touch, NEVER, EVER touch.
2. Use it as a quick way to break ties/allow someone to choose the next game/decide who punches who in the nuts.
3. Play it with "lives" as I've seen suggested elsewhere, where everone has three lives, loses one when they "lose", gains one when they "win", and players battle to be the last one standing.
It's cheap. It's good for some laughs. As written, the game portion takes approximately one minute or so. You can use it as a conversation piece ("Alright, if I win at this game, you have to sleep with me.") That's all I've got for We Didn't Playtest This Either. I don't know.
We Walked the Waves and Sank
A review copy of Fealty arrived from Asmadi Games recently, so my wife and I broke it out for a test drive. It definitely had the look of "couples" game to me.
First up, this is definitely mostly abstract with a very light brush of theme, where players secretly and simulatneously choose the placement of some of their pieces based on what cards they have in hand. Each player has a very small deck of cards with a card for each of your nine pieces. Each piece is placed on the board, which consists of an arrangement of a selection of double-sided boards. These boards are grids, with squares representing fields, forests, roads, or cities, and sometimes even combinations of each. Because there are several of them and they're double-sided, plus the fact you can arrange them in different directions, you can get many, many different combinations out of this.
The pieces all have the ability to "claim" certain territories on the board with influence markers (read: VPs), though the rub here is that they don't claim them immediately. The entire end or scoring phase of the game consists of players using their pieces to claim the territories around them. So your Knight, for example, can claim any Terrain type within one orthangonal square of his placement, whereas a Guard Post can claim only roads but can do so up to 2 squares away.
Each piece has a speed, and speed matters both for playing and for scoring. The low-numbered pieces are faster and are placed and get to score first, but they often have much smaller ranges than their slower, more powerful counterparts.
There's also quite a bit of gaminess here as each board may only have one player play on it per turn, so a faster piece may select a spot on one of the boards just to deny a slower piece a prime spot.
Oh, and did I mention you can't play a piece in either a row or column that you've placed one before? Yep. The rules come up with some cutesy names for these previous two rules ("Cooperation is hard" for row/columns, and "Speed chooses the field" or something similar for the one player per board per turn thing.)
So as you play, your available choices will continue to narrow, both in terms of where your opponent might force you to play as well as not being able to put duplicate pieces in rows and columns.
These cards/pieces do have special abilities, however. Many of them allow you to move another of your previously played pieces; you don't have to obey the row/column for moving pieces, so this is a great way to open your options back up.
Once all players have played all but one of their cards, the main part of the game ends and scoring commences. Once again in speed order, the players claim terrain with influence markers. You're not allowed to trace a path through an opponent's piece, which is where things get tricky and a lot of blocking takes place. So while your slow pieces have these huge claim ranges, often by the time their turn comes to claim they will find their pickings a lot more limited--or worse yet, completely blocked by your opponent. Also, if two pieces of the same speed want to claim the same square, the closest wins ties, with no one claiming the spot if the distance is also tied.
Cities themselves are a highly contested terrain type, as each of those get two influence markers when claimed. A great deal of the gameplay is going to boil down to who can muscle their way into claiming more cities.
Once all the claiming is done, tally up your influence on the board, high score wins. That's pretty much it.
I didn't mention the fact that the pieces are double-sided, and there are actually two sets of cards per player. The "missives" are the default side (all their speeds end in 0) and are generally simpler to use, while the "Sun" side (with speeds ending in 5) are considered to be more advanced and have vastly different powers than their counterparts. Between the mix of boards, pieces, and cards, you've got a large amount of replayability right out of the box. I found this variability very cool.
We squeezed in several games of it as once you get the rhythm down, the game plays pretty quickly. It is definitely a brain burner as you have to essentially be able to visualize the layered scoring at the end, building the board as you go. What looks like a sure play early in the game can end up being worthless as faster pieces position themselves to gobble up premium spaces.
It is definitely very dry. The theme is lightly dusted on for sure. I mean, okay, Rangers claim forests, Guard Posts "watch" the roads, but...yes, very thin theme.
I like it for what it is. It's certainly a game with a hell of a lot more choices than something like Kingdom Builder. You will smoke your brain as you work your way through piece placement, continually envisioning how the pieces on the board will affect each other come scoring time.
I also really dig the fact that you get several different layout possibilities with the double-sided boards, of which you get six. You use one more of these boards than you have players, flipping or spinning them as you wish, just so long as the roads match up.
The cards are of nice quality, and the pieces are of relatively thick cardboard, but this is one time I do with they'd gone with wood and stickers for a little more durability. The cardboard isn't bad, but wooden discs would've been great.
I expected my wife would really take to it, but she sort of gave it the "it's okay" shrug. I think the spatial nature of the scoring was more thinky than she expected from a game like this.
It's a pleasant enough game that will tax your noggin. If you're not into this sort of game, I'm pretty sure this one doesn't do anything that's going to draw you in, but if you have any affinity for area influence games the delayed speed of scoring might be enough to give you something new to work with.
Enjoyable, but the very definition of "solid 7." It's clever and certainly better than a lot of abstract Euros in its class.
Pendulum Swing Through Tantrum Slits
Catacombs was a game that several of our fine readers went on and on about in theforums, but I was a cranky bird, just not understanding why you'd want to combine a flicky game with a dungeon crawl. To me, that made like zero sense, like, "how is that even a thing?"
I had similar reservations about Ascending Empires, of course until I played it. Then, my eyes were opened to the fact that yes, these kinds of games can make sense and actually be fun.
Since my brother purchased Ascending Empires, I decided I would buy Catacombs several months ago, but it only made the table very recently. As is the standard for games like this (seriously, it ought to be a clause in the rulebook), as owner I took the role of the Overlord, while my two brothers nabbed two heroes each and set off into the dungeon.
My evil avatar was chosen randomly and ended up being the Gorgon. Which was cool and all; her power to instantly shattered "stunned" heroes sounded freaking awesome. However, what wasn't awesome was that for the next half-an-hour, these tanked-up heroes were killing machines. Even my big-bad double-sized trolls were just getting destroyed.
The best I could manage was to use my wandering monster (the Skeletal Archer) to hang back and ping at the heroes and annoy them as much as he could. He ended up being the VIP until the Boss Room, and at least twice he was the last monster standing before the do-goodniks caught up with him.
Everything changed in the last room.
The Gorgon boss room had beasties in full force, and I was managing to finally do some sizeable damage to the heroes. Even so, my critters were starting to fall at an alarming rate. The Barbarian then made the fateful decision to finally go berserk.
I know what you're saying, Catacomb vets--"that's suicide!"--but the Barbarian killed three monsters and his ending position was such that the Gorgon was half a board away and would have to thread two pillars and two monsters to hit him with her gaze.
Guess what I did next?
If you said, "Nailed that shot", well, you'd be correct. The Barbarian shattered into a thousand pieces, and all that was left to do was mop up his already wounded buddies. I think the Gorgon finished with only having taken one or two hits.
To my surprise, when the game ended my brothers were grumbling about how'd they'd been having a very tough time as I'd chipped away at them all game. It was funny, because myopinion had been the opposite--that their super-powerful heroes were carving through my monsters like butter. Non-boss monsters can only ever have 1 or 2hp, so they die pretty quickly.
Still, I can see their point. Since I have the boss room at the end, I can afford to be more reckless and aggressive with my monsters early on, just trying to land as much damage as possible.
Anyway, I really enjoyed playing the Overlord, now I need to get in some Hero time to see if the game is as much fun from that perspective.
(Is it just me, or does the Wizard end up having all the cool shit to do?)
An early thumbs-up for me for Catacombs. It's definitely one I'm itching to play again, and soon.
And that's going to do it for this even more train-of-thought than usual edition of Next of Ken. Until next time, think about this--you just know Heimdall was watching Natalie Portman in the shower, that sly dog. On that note, I'll see ya in seven. Ish.
Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff. When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapours.
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