Saturday, June 25, 2016

Board Game Review:Ghost Stories

Today is the day when I review another board game. For this outing, we'll look at a fun little co-operative board game. The name of this game is Ghost Stories, but don't be fooled by that name: it has nothing to do with sitting around a campfire trying to scare your friends. Instead, players are taking on the role of Taoist monks trying to defend a village that is being besieged by demons. It's hard, and it's maddening, and it's oh so much fun. But let's do this properly: I'll start, as always, with the numbers.
Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Gameplay: 1 hour

Congratulations, young Taoist monk! A nearby village has asked for help in fighting off the minions of Wu Feng, the lord of hell. You have been selected as one of four who will undertake this righteous mission. You and your three companions each have special abilities that will allow you to be successful in this quest. But remember, this task will be a difficult one; you must judge carefully how best to proceed with your quest, and use your resources carefully. The villagers will assist you as best they can, but remember as always that it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of the village!

The board is made up of four small player boards and nine village location tiles. The tiles are arranged randomly in a 3×3 square in the centre of the table, and then the player boards are placed along each side. The monk figurines move from one village tile to another, and may either engage the demons in combat, or take an action to give yourselves some benefit. On a player's turn, he draws a demon card, which comes in one of five colours: red, green, yellow, blue (the same as the players' colours) or black. If the demon is not black, it must be placed in one of the three card spaces on the correspondingly coloured player board. Black ones go on the player board of the player who drew it. Each demon has one or more special ability. Some cause more demons to be drawn immediately, others prevent a monk from using his power, others require you to roll a curse die, and still others are able to haunt the village, causing a village tile to be flipped and its ability lost.

Ghost Stories in progress. The nine village tiles are in the centre, and the four player boards are arranged along the sides. The player pieces are on the village tiles, with some demon cards on the spaces of the player boards. There are tokens and dice on the table nearby.

After drawing a demon card, placing it on the board, and implementing any 'upon summoning' effects it may have (as well as the recurring 'beginning of turn' effects of all demons already on the board), the players are allowed to move to an adjacent tile and either take an action or attempt to banish a demon.

Taking actions: each village tile offers you an action. You can take the action permitted by the tile on which you are currently standing, including unhaunting a flipped village tile, gaining a Tao token, resurrect a dead Taoist, or take a Buddha figure (which can be placed on a player board to immediately and automatically banish a demon placed on that space later on).

Banish a demon: If you are on a village tile adjacent to a demon (or, if you're on a corner tile, you may be adjacent to two demons, and can attempt to banish both simultaneously), you may roll to try to exorcise that demon. The game comes with four dice, and most Taoists roll three of them to try to banish demons (the green Taoist has as one of his possible powers the ability to roll all four dice). The dice are marked with colours on each side. Demons are rated by how many icons of their colour it takes to banish them. For example, the 'Sharp Nails Mistress,' which is a red demon, has a single icon on the card. Thus, it requires one red icon to banish. On the other hand, the 'Green Abomination' card, which is (not surprisingly) a green demon, has four icons displayed on the card. So it takes four green icons to banish. However many icons are required, the Taoists can gain enough either by having them show on the dice or by spending Tao tokens of the appropriate colour.

In other words, to banish the 'Sharp Nails Mistress,' the Taoist rolls three dice. If at least one of them comes up red (or white, which is the wild colour), the demon is banished. If none of the dice give you the needed colour, then the Taoist would have to spend a red Tao token (assuming he has any). In this way, the 'Green Abomination' demon is much more difficult, as it's very unlikely that you'll roll green and/or white on all your dice, and even if you do, you'd still need to spend a green Tao token to meet the required four (unless you're playing the green Taoist who can roll four dice, and even then, it's still improbable that all four will come up green or white).

During setup, one of the Wu Feng cards is chosen at random and placed, unseen, eight cards from the bottom of the demon deck. The Taoists must keep the village safe and avoid allowing any player board to be overrun until Wu Feng appears, and then whatever incarnation Wu Feng takes, the Taoists must defeat him before he gains enough strength to overwhelm the village and trigger armageddon.

The game continues until one of several things happens:
  • All four Taoists are dead. The players lose.
  • Four village tiles are haunted (flipped face down). The players lose.
  • The demon deck is exhausted. The players lose.
  • The incarnation of Wu Feng is banished. The players win.
There are a few more details that I haven't mentioned, like the Qi tokens (which are basically the Taoists' life points) or the Yin-Yang tokens, which allow a player to take an action from any tile even if they're not on it, or to unhaunt a village tile. And I've only just briefly mentioned in passing one of the special powers that each colour Taoist has. But the above is a fairly accurate description of the game, and is enough to give you a basic idea of how the game works.

I really enjoy this game. Like most co-operative games, it's very thinky-thinky, and keeps the players on the edge of their seats as the suspense grows. It has a strong theme, interesting mechanics, and is just generally a lot of fun. I personally recommend it. But that's just my opinion; you should give it a try and decide for yourself!

So I'll leave you with that for now. Next week, we continue our overview of the classic World of Darkness. So you can look forward to that, and until then, remember to

Game on!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

An Overview of the Original World of Darkness (part 1)

In 1991, Mark Rein•Hagen's game Vampire: The Masquerade was released. This game took the roleplaying community by storm, and soon was one of the most prominent RPGs in the hobby. It was the first of five games planned by Rein•hagen, who intended to release a game about werewolves next, followed by one about wizards, one about faeries, and one about ghosts.

The order and specifics changed a bit; the game about wizards came to be known as Mage: The Ascension, the one about ghosts was named Wraith: The Oblivion and was moved up to be released before the one about faeries, and that final one came to be known as Changeling: The Dreaming. But all five of those games were released:

  • Vampire: The Masquerade (1st edition 1991; 2nd edition 1992)
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse (1st edition 1992; 2nd edition 1994)
  • Mage: The Ascension (1st edition 1993; 2nd edition 1995)
  • Wraith: The Oblivion (1st edition 1994; 2nd edition 1996)
  • Changeling: The Dreaming (1st edition 1995; 2nd edition 1997)
All five of these games were set in the same world, known as the World of Darkness. It was a 'gothic-punk' version of the real world; similar, but a little bit darker, a little bit more hopeless, a little bit grittier. With the publication of the first edition of Changeling, Rein•Hagen left White Wolf Game Studios. The company then started releasing new game lines set in the same World of Darkness:
  • Kindred of the East (1998)
  • Hunter: The Reckoning (1999)
  • Mummy: The Resurrection (2002)
  • Demon: The Fallen (2003)

Vampire: The Masquerade

Players take on the role of a vampire. The first vampire was Caine, who slew his brother Abel and was cursed by God. Caine learned to make new vampires, by draining a human of his blood and then giving him some of his own. Caine was amazingly powerful, but his childer were slightly less so. Each generation removed from Caine made a vampire less potent, leading to those of the 14th generation being so weak that they were in many ways less powerful than the humans they had been before being embraced.

An important aspect of the game is that characters (who, for the most part, are between 8th and 13th generations) have an inner 'Beast' against which they must struggle. In much the same way as humans have their id (the base impulses of desire and anger, usually generating from the more primitive portions of the brain) which is often at odds with their superego (the loftier part of the psyche, striving for noble goals like peace and beauty, from the neocortex), vampires have their Beast and their Humanity. If a vampire loses control of himself too often (succumbing to fear, bloodlust, or otherwise 'becoming an animal'), he would eventually become a mindless monster, incapable of advanced cognition or communication. To counteract this, most vampires strive to hold on to their Humanity as best they can, whilst acknowledging that they must commit inhumane acts (drinking blood, often resulting in the death of their victims) merely to survive. One sect of vampires, however, known as the Sabbat, reject this view of immortality, choosing instead to revel in their monstrous nature. They eschew their Humanity, but they do need to maintain some sort of mental discipline in order to avoid succumbing to the Beast Within; to this end, they have established a series of 'Paths of Enlightenment,' such as the Path of Cathari, the Path of Caine, the Path of Power and the Inner Voice, and the Path of Honorable Accord. Each path has a list of 'sins,' which must be avoided, and ideals towards which adherents strive, in order to stave off the loss of mental control.

In short, it's a game about playing inhuman monsters who struggle to rise above their monstrosity, at least to a certain degree.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse

Players take on the role of a werewolf: a race of beings that can take the form of a man, a wolf, or several shapes in between. These creatures reproduce with either humans or wolves (and, occasionally, with each other, but any such offspring are sterile and have some sort of deformity, so such cross-breeding is forbidden, though it does happen on occasion). The Garou, as they are known, are warriors fighting on behalf of Gaia, the Earth-Mother, trying to protect her from the powerful spirit beings known as the Wyrm (the force of corruption and decay, symbolised by toxic waste dumps and similar places) and the Weaver (the force of stasis, calcification, and stagnation, symbolised by overly-developed cities with no soul). However, the Garou (as a result of fighting a two-front war and often being at odds with one another, as well as their tendency to try to fight in a literal, physical sense against beings that are purely spiritual) are losing this battle, and the Apocalypse is a near certainty.

Although the Garou are able to enter the spirit world and interact with spirits, they are largely combat monsters, as every one of them has the inherent ability to shift into an eight-foot tall wolf-man form, with massive bonuses to their strength, claws and fangs, and an adverse psychological effect on any humans that may see them.

To Be Continued...

This post is growing longer than I expected. I shall finish it up in two weeks, after next week's normal board game review. Please try to be patient until then. ☺️ In the meantime, go out, play more games, have some fun, and remember as always to

Game on!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Large Group Games

The Dork Spouse and I haven't had a board game night at our house in several months now (with the exception of that dinner party the Dork Spouse hosted some weeks ago as a thank you to some people who helped her out at a big event). There are many reasons for this; we're super busy with other things; we're currently on Smart Hours for the summer which makes timing difficult, many of the people we invited often don't show up, etc). But one thing that always bothered me about Board Game Night when it did happen was that, on those few occasions in which more than a couple of people showed up, there are not very many games that accommodate a large number of players.

In our current inventory, the following games are the only ones that permit more than six players:

  • Bananagrams (2 or more)
  • Cards Against Humanity (2 or more)
  • Citadels (2 to 8)
  • Gloom (2 to 7, if you don't mind slow game play)
  • Tsuro (2 to 8)
  • Uno (2 to 10)
  • Pictionary (3 to 16)
  • Slap .45 (3 to 7)
  • Superfight! (3 to 10)
  • Winter Tales (3 to 7)
  • Apples to Apples (4 to 10)
  • The Resistance (and Avalon) (5 to 10)
  • Guesstures (4 or more)
  • Werewolves of Miller's Hollow (8 to 18)
That seems like a fairly lengthy list, but when you stop to consider that some of them are games that people aren't likely to want to play (like Uno; who still plays that game?), or are joke games that are fun for a few minutes but then are cast aside for more interesting games (like Slap .45). Some of these games are vastly overplayed (I, for one, despise Apples to Apples, but other people can't seem to get enough of it; Cards Against Humanity is fun on occasion with the right group of people but I wish other games were as highly prized as this one), and others get played little, if at all (I've still not played Winter Tales).

The vast majority of games are for two to four players, or possibly two to six, with a sizeable portion of that being for two players (especially the 'classic' games like chess, checkers, backgammon, hnefetafl, go, mancala, etc).

Part of the problem is that, with a large number of players, games can take a really long time. Multiply the average length of a single turn by the number of players, then by the average number of turns in a game, and you'll have an idea of the total length of a game. Obviously, the larger the number of players, the greater that total will be.

Some games have innovate ways of combating this problem. Some games have turns work in phases, so players aren't waiting as long between actions (such as 51st State, where all players participate in the Draft phase, then all players get a simultaneous Production phase, then players take turns taking actions in the Actions phase, followed by a simultaneous Cleanup phase). Other games have elements of a player's turn that involves other players (like Settlers of Catan, in which the production phase can produce resources for any player, not just the current player, and the main player can trade with any player). Other games dispense with turns altogether (like The Resistance and The Resistance: Avalon, where everyone is involved in the action at pretty much all times). There are even some games that have been modified for massive groups (like Giant Magic: The Gathering groups of 50 or so people, in which ten people are taking turns at the same time, with four people between them and the next person in the group taking a turn at that moment, and players being allowed only to target the player on either side of him).

I think we need more game like this. Games are, after all, supposed to be social activities. How can we say that they are truly social if it's hard to involve more than six people at a time?

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about. I'm always on the lookout for more games that can accommodate larger groups. There are a few I've heard about and am looking into trying, like Two Rooms and a Boom, One Night Revolution, and Codenames. But for now...

That's all for this week. Join me again next week! And remember,

Game on!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Board Game Review: Coup

Here we go with another example of a misnomer: Coup is not actually a board game, but a card game. No matter, though; I shall review this amazing fun and easy (and very quick!) game. Prepare for political upheaval: we're going into the world of The Resistance again to take a look at a truly enjoyable game called Coup.

As always, we start with the numbers:
Strategy: 3
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 15 minutes

This game is set in the world of The Resistance. I've not reviewed that game here yet, but it's the basis for The Resistance: Avalon, which I have. However, unlike in The Resistance, this game has you playing a member of the evil totalitarian government that Resistance members are trying to overthrow. The object of the game is to eliminate all your political rivals by destroying their influence with the government agents.

This game is very much a bluffing game. Players take actions, most of which require you to have a specific card in your hand, but you don't play that card when you take the action. Instead, your opponents must decide whether to believe you when you say you have that card, or else challenge you to prove it, running the risk of losing their own influence.

Here's how it works:

The game consists of fifteen cards, player action cards to help players remember what actions they may take, and tokens to represent currency. There are three copies each of five cards, each representing a government agent. These include the Duke, the Captain, the Contessa, the Ambassador, and the Assassin. Each card grants you a specific action.

Players receive two cards. These represent their influence, the amount of control they have over politics, as well as granting them their abilities. They also start with two credits.
four players sitting around a table, looking animated at the current events of the game, playing Coup. There are cards and tokens on the table, with a bowl of spare tokens in the centre.
This image by Josh Freeman (Board Game Geek username ObeyMyBrain) made available under a CC by-nc-sa 3.0 license.
On a player's turn, he may take one action. There are three actions that any player may take which do not require you to have a specific card:
  • Income - take one credit token from the bank.
  • Foreign Aid - take two credit tokens from the bank (this action may be blocked, however; see below).
  • Coup - spend seven credits to cause a player to lose one influence.
When a player loses influence (i.e., through the Coup action listed above), he turns one of his cards face up in front of him. That card is out of the game, and can no longer be used by any player.

In addition to the three free actions, there are four actions that can be granted by a card in your hand:
  • If you have the Duke card, you may perform the action Tax, which allows you to take three credit tokens from the bank.
  • If you have the Captain card, you may Steal, which allows you to take 2 credit tokens from any player (this action may be blocked by the Ambassador or another Captain).
  • If you have the Ambassador card, you may Exchange, which allows you to draw two cards from the deck and mix them with the cards you currently have. Choose which one(s) you want to keep, then return two cards to the deck, which is then shuffled.
  • If you have the Assassin card, you may Assassinate, which means you spend three credit tokens to cause another player to lose one influence (this action may be blocked by the Contessa).
As has been mentioned, some of these actions may be blocked. A player with the Duke may block another player from taking the Foreign Aid action; a player with the Ambassador or Captain cards may block another player from taking the Steal action, and a player with the Contessa may block another player from taking the Assassinate action. In none of these cases do you have to be the target of the action you are blocking; that is, a third player may block the action of the first player against a second player. So if Johnny were using the Assassin to Assassinate Susan, Thomas could choose to use his Contessa to block Johnny's action.

Here's where the game gets interesting. As mentioned above, you don't reveal your cards when you take an action. Thus, it is entirely possible to bluff! If a player is taking the Tax action, the other players may choose to challenge that action. So you have to decide, in most cases, whether to believe that the acting player actually has the card that he's claiming to have which will allow him to take his current action. If someone decides to challenge an action, then the acting player must reveal the appropriate card. If he has that card, then the challenging player loses one influence (the acting player, now having a card in his hand that everyone has seen, must replace it with a new one from the deck, so that nobody know what cards he has).

If he does not have that card, however, he loses one influence!

The same is true for blocking actions. If a player chooses to block an action, then another player can challenge that block! In the same way, the player must show that he has the correct card or lose an influence. So, for example, if Johnny uses the Assassinate action to cause Susan to lose an influence, and Susan announces that she will block with her Contessa, Johnny may decide to challenge Susan. If he does, Susan reveals her Contessa card (which she must then trade out for a new one from the deck), meaning that the Assassination action is unsuccessful, and Johnny loses an influence for his failed challenge. If Susan doesn't really have the Contessa card, however, then she loses an influence for being successfully challenged (and the Assassination action continues, causing her to lose a second influence as a result of the original action).

When a player has lost both of their influence cards, he is out of the game. The last player left is the winner.

This is, in my opinion, an awesome game. It's tense (which is part of what often makes a great game in my estimation), it's quick and easy, it falls firmly in the 'Social Interaction' category of my favourite games, and it's generally a lot of fun. I highly recommend giving it a try.

But, as always, don't take my word for it. Look at my ratings above and decide for yourself!

I will leave you with that for now. I'll see you here again next week, and remember as always to

Game on!