Monday, 18 July 2016


Why Am I Buying So Many Games? - A Brief Reflection

I can't help but notice that I'm buying a lot of games recently. You may have noticed it, too. Of course, I have a lot of old games, from the classics like Monopoly and Sorry! to Clue and Snakes and Ladders. I played these games when I was a child, I used to think that I would play them with my children, too, but I have come to realise that they are, in fact, appalling. It's surprising that I actually even made it out of childhood with games like that. This is probably why I became a TV addict, although having a TV in the kitchen when we were eating breakfast, lunch and dinner probably also helped with that! Some of the games that I bought later in childhood, like Heroquest, The Knights of Camelot and Chaos Marauders still stand the test of time, at least somewhat. They were more complex, more engaging and the artwork was better.

So, why not just play those games? Why is it, for example, that in the last week or so I've bought Castle Panic, 7 Wonders, Castle Assault and Star Trek Panic? Why do I have even more games pending? This little vignette explores why....

Firstly, there is a deep, existential gnawing at my soul that exposes a chasm of nothingness and the futility of my life. So, since my life is meaningless anyway, why not spend it playing games since they bring me joy and help me forget my ultimate cosmic insignificance?

Secondly, Games now are insanely good. I remember reading an article from that bastion of quality British journalism known as the Daily Mail that spoke of the imminent end of board games and that given the quality of computer games nowadays, no-one would want to play games like Monopoly that just results in table-flipping and divorce. Well, that's true, Monopoly is kind of a bad game, but the author of the article was obviously totally unaware of how Kickstarter has revolutionised the board game industry and has helped bring truly extraordinary games to the fore. This is, without question, the golden age of board games. Contemporary game design - and I mean the actual mechanics as well as the actual visuals of the game - are really wonderful nowadays. It's like owning art, but art that you can actually engage with on a physical level and not just a visual level.

I would say that Ghost Stories is one of the most beautiful games that I have ever seen. It's also insanely difficult, which makes beating it incredibly rewarding. It's challenging art, and not like the sex bed by Tracey Emin challenging art.

If you don't believe that we're in the Golden Age of board games, take a look at this beauty. This is part of the description of game play of a forthcoming Kickstarter called Planetarium. Look at the artwork on that card! And look what it is - it's a game about planetary formation that teaches science as you play. It's not just art, it's actual educational art that engages you. Instead of going round and solving who killed whom by a dull process of elimination, or instead of rolling dice and sending other players' pawns back, or instead of building hotels and charging people rent, this game has players being planets that have to develop. You're not a human (see, for example, Wiz-War), or an orc (see Chaos Marauders) or a vampire (see Fury of Dracula).... you're a goddamn planet! Just conceptually that's mind-blowing, and that's even before you get to the game mechanics and artwork. If you can think of a concept, there's probably already a board game about it. That is what I mean by the Golden Age of board games.

Thirdly, co-op games. I never knew of such things. Games where you can work together against the game? Brilliant! I've actually seen someone flip a Monopoly board before. Why do people continue to expose themselves to such ruthless interplay? Why would you invite friends round just to simulate taking all their money? How is that a positive social experience? Co-op games avoid this entirely by ensuring that all players win (or lose) together. And my enjoyment of co-op games is not just because a certain person I've known very well for the last fourteen years or so *cough* *cough* hates to lose, but because honestly it's really nice to sit with someone or even with a group of other people and try to overcome a difficult challenge together. When four of us won at Ghost Stories for the first time, we were truly overjoyed. We felt like we had really achieved something together.
Dead of Winter is a spectacular Co-op game. This isn't my copy. This isn't even my house. If it were my house, the table would have matching chairs. I share this photo to remind myself that just because someone else may enjoy the same game as me doesn't mean that they have good taste in furniture.

Fourthly, TV is really bad. It really is, especially in America where there are commercials about as often as you breathe. And not even clever English commercials. They're just bad. And while a good film is fun here and there and while Breaking Bad was obviously a ridiculously good TV show that everyone should watch, I really don't want my kids growing up to be telly addicts like I was. I wasted so many years watching so much junk as a child. I would much rather my children read books, draw and play board games - spend leisure time thinking, learning, adventuring, maybe competing against each other and maybe sometimes working together. So, I'm stocking up on a variety of games that we can play as a family, that the children can play by themselves, and that Jenny and I can play by ourselves or with friends. It's basically an investment in family.

Fifthly, I have a compulsive spending problem. I like to hoard things, which is something that goes back to my childhood. It makes me feel secure - I feel safe surrounded by my games. Not surrounded like I would go to bed with my miniatures if I could, although, come to think of it....

Sixthly, community. It's the reason I got into X-Wing (and also partially the reason I'm slowly extricating myself from it as the community changes), it's the reason why I'm into Blood & Plunder now, and indeed to some extent Zephyr as well. These games have communities, generally of nice people. Not always, some are screaming racists and anti-semites ("not all Nazis were bad" said one gamer to me recently) but I've made some real friendships as a result of some of these games. I had a social group even before I moved to America, thanks to X-Wing and the Facebook group that I set up. That's an amazing thing.

And finally, games provide a roller coaster of emotions. Yes, so do books, but books take a long time to read and a game only takes hours or sometimes only a few minutes (Spaceteam, for example, lasts about five minutes per frantic game). Yes, so does TV but you're not as involved in a TV show as you are a game. You don't control what happens on TV so you can never get the same sense of personal drama. The tension I felt as Dracula running away from four vampire hunters, the exhilaration of making a good shot at Flick 'Em Up, the drama of a bad die roll... with good games these emotions are unparalleled.

I've shared this photo before and I'm sharing it again. Why?
Because my sheriff shot two men in one round and that was AWESOME!!!!!

If the game is good and the person or people you're playing with are good gamers, then you can really get into a game and really be there. I've searched dungeons, I've shot villainous cowboys, I've battled ghosts, I've put out raging fires, I've fought light-saber duels and flown X-Wings and TIE-fighters, I've sucked the blood of hapless humans (not really, it's not kosher), I've withstood massive Roman sieges, and much more... and all from the comfort of my own home with friends and family. And that is why I keep buying games, because games are awesome. And that is why I review games in this blog, so that you, dear reader, might also share in the best of games and have the best of times with friends and family.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


I like to mix up the reviews on this blog to provide a different kind of game every once in a while. But what if you have a particular game you want reviewed? I'm a man of the people... I can respond to such requests. If you want me to review a particular game, all you have to do is become a follower of this blog and then post a comment on this thread of the top 5 games that you would like to see reviewed before all others.
Here's the long list of games that I've got, or that are due to arrive in the next year....
Dead of Winter - 84%
Jailbreak - 78%
Flick 'Em Up - 75%
Red November - 65%
Candy Land - 14%

Armadora - small, cute magical conflict game
Balancing Beans - children's solo puzzle game that subtly teaches algebra
Battleship - classic game
Bohnanza - card game involving beans
Carcassonne - popular tile-laying game
Castle Panic - cooperative game to keep monsters out of your 3-D castle, with expansion
Chaos Marauders - old school card-laying battle of orcs
Charades for Kids - it's charades, but for kids
Chess - classic game
Chutes and Ladders - please don't make me review this. Candy Land was bad enough.
Clue - classic game
Dark Tower - 1980s classic board and electronic combo
Dead of Winter: The Long Night - sequel to the above
Dinosaur Escape - cooperative game for kids
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! - competitive game for kids based on a popular book
Dungeon! - classic 1980s dungeon crawl
Dungeons & Dragons Attack Wing - modern miniatures game
Elementos - super simple portable two-player game
Engineering Ants - cooperative kids' game with a twist
Exploding Kittens - super-successful Kickstarter card game
Flashpoint - cooperative game of firefighters, with expansions.
Fleeced! - Wallace & Gromit rustle sheep
Friday - solo card game in which you try to help Robinson Crusoe survive
Fury of Dracula (3rd ed.) - Semi-cooperative game in which players try to hunt down Dracula
Ghost Stories - Extremely difficult but beautiful cooperative game, with expansion
Heroquest - classic table top game, with expansion
Hey, That's My Fish! - penguins compete over diminishing resources
Hi Ho! Cherry-O! - children's game
Hoot, Owl, Hoot! - Cooperative game for kids
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes - Not a board game. One player uses a computer to describe the bomb while others try to help them defuse it.
Kings of Israel - Like Pandemic but with Biblical Prophets and some excellent twists
Knights of Camelot - Old school 1980s TSR game where you gather experience by performing quests
Let's Go Fishin' - children's game
Lord of the Rings Living Card Game - Extremely difficult cooperative game for one or two players, with expansions
Lord of the Rings Risk - Like Risk but different
Make Your Own Opoly - Monopoly but you design the board
Mice and Mystics - Cooperative fantasy game of mice battling cockroaches, cats, etc
Monopoly - classic
Monopoly (Star Wars) - classic trying to be better
Monopoly (Transformers) - classic trying to be better
Monster Factory - cooperative or competitive kids' game of tile laying to create fun monsters
Pandemic - modern classic resource management game
Pop Up Pirate - stick swords in a barrel until the pirate pops up. Great for pirate parties
Race To The Treasure - cooperative game for kids trying to reach the treasure before the ogre
Rush Hour - children's solo educational puzzle game
Scrabble - classic
Sentinels of the Multiverse - cooperative card-laying game to defeat various villains
SET - annoying matching game that hates colourblind people
Slapjack - kids' card game that teaches local animals
Socialism! - An add-on that makes Monopoly nice
Sorry! - simple classic game with a merciless twist
Spaceteam - mega-fast paced cooperative game trying to repair a rocket before it falls into a black hole
Spot It! - matching game for kids or adults
Star Wars: Empire vs Rebellion - Part Poker, part blackjack, part something else, all in the Star Wars universe
Star Wars: Epic Duels - modern classic miniatures game that spawned a thousand fan decks
Star Wars Miniatures Starter Set - don't make me review this, please. The game failed because it's so dull.
Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures - the biggest-selling miniatures game in America today, and for good reason
Stratego - classic wartime strategy game
Terror in Meeple City - dexterity game of rampaging monsters
The Battle of Balaclava - old school board game attempting to recreate a disastrous battle
The Ladybug Game - children's game
The Mystic Wood - classic TSR, search the wood, solve a quest and leave before anyone else
The Siege of Jerusalem (2nd ed.) - extremely complicated game recreating the Roman siege of 69C.E.
Toss Across - Noughts and Crosses (aka Tic-Tac-Toe) with beanbags
Twister - classic
Wiz-War (8th ed.) - Wizards duel to the death, or try to steal each others' treasure
Yahtzee - classic
Zombies!!! - Before Zombicide, Dead of Winter and all the others, there was Zombies. Features the grossest artwork of any game.

It's funny. Listing them like this shows me that I've really spent a lot of my life playing games....

Then There Were None - animal extinction game for older children
Captain Sonar - co-op team game of tense submarine combat
Castle Assault - solo or 2-player game of....ya know... assaulting castles
Ivor the Engine - Kids game based on the BBC TV classic
Legends of Andor  - stunningly beautiful cooperative game
Star Wars: Imperial Assault - one of the highest rated games of all time
7 Wonders - The highest rated family game on BGG. Ancient city building.

Bloc by Bloc - Cooperative game of contemporary urban insurrection
Blood & Plunder - 28mm historically accurate pirate game
Conan - Insanely popular Kickstarter semi-cooperative game
Imploding Kittens - The expansion pack to one of the biggest Kickstarters ever
Joking Hazard - offensive card game by Cyanide and Happiness
Planetarium - beautiful planetary formation game, all sciency and stuff
Scuttle - pirate car game for kids
Zephyr: Winds of Change - Cooperative Steampunk dirigibles game

Don't forget - follow this blog and then post a comment below to try to influence what I review soon!

Monday, 4 July 2016


CANDY LAND, Hasbro, 2014
"A Sweet Little Game for Sweet Little Folks"

4+, 15-30 minutes, 2-4 players

According to the nostalgia sheet included with this game, Eleanor Abbott created the game Candy Land while she was a patient in a San Diego hospital back in 1948. She was a retired schoolteacher afflicted with polio. Seeing the number of children who were suffering from polio at the time, she decided to created a bright, fun, colourful game. 

"Who wouldn't love to dream of visiting a land with Gumdrop Mountains, Peppermint Stick Forests and Ice Cream Float Seas?" Well.... me. And anyone else with half a brain. I get it. If you're stuck in hospital in the nineteen fifties with nothing to do and you really don't have much of a brain to play an in-depth strategy game, then a game that is totally dependent on luck might just be for you. But that's different to releasing it on the mass market in the twenty-first century. There was never a reason to inflict this game on the rest of us, and certainly not in today's market.

I honestly think this might be a strong contender for the Worst Board Game in History. Here's how you play...

The Candy Land board is a smorgasbord of colour, on which apparently only Aryan children run about in an attempt to get diabetes. There are no dice in this game, instead there's a selection of cards each with a coloured square on. When you pull a card, you move onto the next square with that colour. Pull a card with two coloured squares and you move onto the second square of that colour. Sometimes you can follow a cut-through, like the Rainbow Trail, which is basically like a ladder in Snakes and Ladders. [For American readers, Snakes and Ladders is Chutes and Ladders. Don't get me started. I'm not in the mood after playing this game.] 

Sometimes you land on a square with a dot on. If you do, you've obviously entered some kind of sugar coma and can't be woken from it until you draw another card of the same colour. That's right - in the middle of the game you can just sit there. For turn after turn after turn. Stuck in hospital with polio? Want to escape to a land of sugar and fun and colour? Tough. Sit there and don't move until you randomly draw a card with one particular colour on it. Having fun yet? No? Then let's add another element. Let's take the Snakes/Chutes from Snakes/Chutes and Ladders and make them even worse. That's right, kids. You can be one square from the end and you can randomly draw a Candy Hearts card that takes you all the way down the board to the square right near the beginning with the Candy Hearts on. Feel like you're going nowhere in this hospital? Here's a board game to simulate your ennui. Did you get the Ice Cream float card? That's great. And yet totally meaningless because through absolutely no skill of your own at any random time you can be demoted to the back of the pack. Feeling like life is unfair as you lie there randomly afflicted with polio? Of course you do. So we've made a game that truly simulates the random cruelty of your life. We know, we know, Snakes/Chutes and Ladders at least controls how far you descend and also deliberately spaces out the rewards and punishments to create a luck game that's at least slightly balanced. But why should life be fair? Let's raise your hopes with random luck draws, so that you can dash ahead of your friends with the Ice Cream Float card only the next turn to have your hopes crushed with the Candy Hearts card. Welcome to hospital life.

And what about game design? Sure, this game is designed for children aged 4 and up, so we're not exactly looking for complex game mechanics. Yes, having a square on a card and moving it along is fine. If you're 4. And are living in the 1950s where the height of child entertainment is a stick you found in the garden. For the rest of us, particularly those of us who have played exciting contemporary board games with young children, it is mind-numbingly tedious. But let's keep it simple. Let's imagine we're a very sick 4-year old in need of something simple. The rules say that if two characters land on the same square, they share it. Really?

"Hi! We're forming an unhealthy obsession with sugar. Want to join us?"

They don't bloody fit!!!! How the hell can they share the square when they don't even bloody fit?!? 

Truly, it's hard to find ways for this game to get worse. Perhaps only if there were a sequel where the characters have eaten too much sugar that they are now too obese to move meaning that you can draw cards all you like but the playing pieces are just going to sit at the starting square until the players themselves stuff their faces with junk food and spew like some Roman banquet so that their pieces move to the square with the main colour evident in their vomit.

If someone gives you this game, assume one of three things about them - (1) they don't remember how appalling it is, (2) they suffered from polio as a child and they're trying to open up to you about their experience, or (3) they loathe you with a deep, profound hatred.

By the way, polio isn't funny and vaccinate your children. Seriously. In fact, maybe Hasbro should distribute this game to every anti-vaccination family around the world and force them to play it until they realise that highly infectious transmittable diseases are horrifying and unnecessary, which is also a perfect description of this game.

Time for our ratings. I think you can guess where I'm going with this.

Accessibility: 5/5 - The rules are ridiculously short because there's nothing for you to do in the game. Just pick up a card and move your piece accordingly. 
Design: 0/5 - Yes, it's brightly coloured but so is a paint pot, the pieces are too big for the squares and the game is totally random.
Depth: 0/5 - The shallowest game I have ever played. There is absolutely no skill involved at all. You are a passive pawn of chance. You literally have no input in this game at all.
Replayability: 0/5 - Seriously, why would you play this game twice? Nothing in this game is compelling in the slightest. If you give this to a child, all you're doing is teaching them every time they play that life is fickle and that nothing they do will change their future.
Availability: 5/5 - That's right. Potentially the Worst Board Game in History is readily available on today's mass market. It wasn't consigned to history. It's not a museum piece. It's a piece of crap that parents and grandparents still buy children today because adults are obviously cruel and want to dash the hopes of their children from the earliest possible age. If a child asks you for this game, realise that they think you are evil. And if you buy it for them, you just might be.

Final Score: Just because young children seem to enjoy this game because they have yet to learn of better things, I reluctantly award this game double figures. 14%