Christmas Miracle Board Gamevaganza

Winter break was a glorious time for games in the Hendriquist household. I was able to introduce M to a game I had played as a child, we discovered we had been playing Camping with Sasquatch almost entirely incorrectly, and we got to play a game we’ve been wanting to but have never been able to rustle up a third person for. Plus, my sister combined all my Boss Monster cards into the snazzy lunch-box-esque carrying case (except for Crash Landing, which I swear was in the board game bookbag but which we were unable to locate at the time and which I haven’t bothered to look for since returning home). I still have yet to play Catan, which is certainly interfering with my life goal of competing in the national Catan tournament (but there’s still time to train before the 2019 Lexicon competition, if I can find a consistent third player!), but there’s always spring break for that. The rundown is below, starting with the game we played for the first time, Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham
The gist of the game: You are but a poor merchant trying to get to market. You may be carrying legal goods, contraband goods, or royal goods (a special kind of contraband). The Sheriff’s job is to confiscate contraband. Each turn, a player is the sheriff while the other players try to outwit the sheriff and get their goods to market. Players can bring up to five goods to market (and must declare the correct number), but can only declare legal goods, and can only declare one kind of good. Merchants can bribe the sheriff with money or goods to make it through without an inspection. If their bag is inspected and they were completely truthful, the sheriff pays them a penalty. If they were not truthful, they must pay a penalty for each undeclared item, and untruthful items are confiscated.

Color commentary: I have discovered that bluffing games are not for the faint of heart or cultural Catholics. As someone who generally has little reason to lie, I’m not accustomed to doing so, and essentially being forced to (if you want to win the game) was a little anxiety-inducing. Combined with M’s, ahem, enthusiasm for playing the sheriff (poking bags, soliciting bribes and upping the ante), it was a little stressful, but still fun. (M says he would have been a great guard in the Stanford Prison Experiment.) The game theory nerds quickly realized that a mixed strategy of some truthfulness and some deceit would be most effective, but that the specific mix would be determined in part by the personality of the individual players (note: I am a sucker). The art on the player boards is fun, and there’s a nice mix of types of goods. Plus we got to use my mom’s automatic card shuffler, which provided almost as much entertainment as the game itself.

Revisiting games at least one of us has already played

ASAP
In a game apparently reminiscent of Scattergories (but I don’t know this for sure, because I’ve never played it, but conveniently received a copy of it for Christmas this year from my best friend from high school), players move around a board of various categories. When a player lands on a category, they flip over the first card in a deck of 26 letter cards. The first player to name something in that category beginning with that letter “wins” the category and is the next player to advance. It’s essentially a game of quick thinking. Highlights of this go around were none of the four of us being able to think of an ice cream flavor that begins with the letter V (basically everyone else we posed this challenge to identified vanilla within about half a second), but M declaring Yul Brynner to be an actor starting with the letter Y without missing a beat, and certainly without being able to contemplate the category/letter combination for more than a fraction of a second. A friend we were playing with thought she could modify the game slightly to be a great tool in the language classes she teaches. I personally wonder if any categories would be different if the game were re-released today (the rock/mineral fad seems to have faded somewhat, for instance, although M is wondering if such a fad ever existed), but since I’ve played this off and on since I stole it from my sister in the mid-1990s, the replay value is high.

Boss Monster
Poor M. He didn’t play video games as a child, and thus the premise of heroes trying to make it through a castle (or the twist, playing the boss and trying to kill the hero) is not intuitive. (M does acknowledge wasting his youth reading and watching television, but accepts that the die has been cast.) Nonetheless, we played this with my sister for a few rounds and had a fun time constructing our dungeons (with cards mixed up from all three “main” games: Boss Monster, Boss Monster 2, and Boss Monster: Rise of the Mini Bosses, plus the expansions: Paper & Pixels, Tools of Hero-Kind, and Implements of Destruction) and trying to slay heroes. I will say this: the Epic Heroes sneak up on you quickly. Not to mention the dangers of having players tie for the most “types” (Mage, Thief, etc.) in your dungeon so that a glut of heroes builds up and then ends up being dispatched all at once, which may allow a player to win on a single turn even if they’ve been lagging prior to that. I think the replay value is higher with all the games and expansions mixed in, as that creates more variety and possible combinations. Plus we got to use the card shuffler again!

Camping with Sasquatch

As it turns out, you’re only allowed to have one trick of a given suit going at any given time. This certainly dispenses with the strategy issue M and I had the first time we played. Also we scored incorrectly previously. And my sister had the clever innovation (not included in the instructions, which were silent on this issue) of having us draw a card whenever we couldn’t play a card. This also had the benefit of prolonging the game, which always seemed to end so quickly when it was just the two of us (granted, we were playing with my mom and sister, which would have lengthened the game anyway, but this feature had a greater impact, I think). We’re still trying to sort out the slapjack-sasquatch mechanics, but now that we have the rest of it accurate, we can puzzle our way through that and develop ancillary rules as necessary. Also, the game is better with a card shuffler.

 

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SeaFall (IronWall Games, 2016)

SeaFall 2

Gist of the Game: It comes in a large box. In the box there are many pieces. There is a long instruction manual. The makers provide a 45-minute “Getting Started” video online.

Color Commentary: Given that I strained a muscle in my legs squatting over my printer/copier to copy the 289723879247348934-page instruction manual, I should have suspected that maybe this game wasn’t going to go as well as some others we’d roped people into playing with us. We were going to play-test it for use in a class I was going to be teaching, and convened a special game night for that very purpose. We opened the box, peering inside like frightened children. The sheer magnitude of what lay before us was overwhelming. When the four of us began looking through the rules, we couldn’t make sense of them. We couldn’t even discern a basic objective. All I remember is that there are seasons within the game. Seeking guidance from those with more gaming prowess than ourselves, we took to the internet. What we found was a 45-minute “Getting Started” video, which I think was distinct from a video actually teaching you how to play. I think it was concerned only with getting everything set up. We gave up, ate Thai food, and played Guillotine instead.

Camping with Sasquatch (Lethal Chicken Games, 2018)

Played: November 25, 2018

The gist of the game: A self-described cross between rummy and slapjack, Camping with Sasquatch involves creating sets of cards. Sets can have three identical cards or three different cards within the same category (Ghost Stories, S’mores, Camping, Swimming, Hiking, Tippy Canoe, etc.) with Sasquatch cards used as wild cards within a set. The artwork is magnificent, game-play is quick, and start-up learning curve is not especially steep.

Color commentary: This is a fun game where strategy is light but not non-existent. At least with two people, the strategy seems to be a miser, only adding to sets if you can complete it at the same time (a set consists of three cards). Otherwise, it always seems to be in your best interest to just start a new set to prevent the other player from taking it. Additional play, and additional play with additional players, should help determine if this is the case. Especially with the 5-point bonus for being the first to run out of cards, accomplishing that feat may well offset any sets you miss out on. In each of the games we played, the player who ran out of cards first always won, even if they had not captured any sets.

The publishers say it is for ages 8 and up, but individuals a couple of years younger are likely to be able to play and enjoy the game, especially with the guidance of older players.

The game is also designed for 2-8 players, and more fun may be had with more than just two players. There are 128 cards, and with only two people starting with initial hands of 7 and drawing one, playing two, not that many cards get cycled through.

Estimated play time is 10-20 minutes, which was accurate, even for the first game. Combined with the gentle learning curve (we figured out the flow in just a couple of draws), this can be a quick filler game even if there’s not time for a more elaborate game.