Hot on the heels of the first game-off report, here we have the second. We already know that In A Bind has reached the final, so now we need to find out the second finalist, from the pair of very different card games, Dragonheart and Murder of Crows.
Our first play of this session was Murder of Crows, a game where you are trying to play cards in front of yourself to spell the word “murder”, with different letter cards having special effects when you play them, and the winner being rewarded by getting to read out a short (and bizarre) murder story formed by their cards. This is really neat (and has the mother-in-law seal of approval), and our game followed the usual pattern of stealing cards from each other and good-natured growling. And a win to me!
Dragonheart takes a bit longer to play, but is a really cute card game where you play cards onto spaces on a well thought out board which has a layout that graphically reminds you of the effects of the various cards. Playing the right cards allow you to take other cards off the board to add you your score pile, but then provide opportunities for your opponent. Plays of this game tend to be full of swings and roundabouts as passages of play are profitable for one player for a while before the other gets a period of doing well — though once in a while one player just has a stinker and never seems to get a break. This time we had a pretty close and dynamic game which ended up with Miss B getting a pretty decent win.
So which game will progress to the final. Over to the head judge…
Dragonheart won this time, but this play was also very close. Murder of crows is fun though. I like the way it tells a murder story at the end of the game.
So, the grand final for 2016 will be between In A Bind and Dragonheart. A daft, physical game versus a game of cagey manoeuvring. Should be good…
With the runners and riders all lined up, it’s time for me to finally let both of you in on the results of the first game-off for this year’s TaG Award. Actually, the runners and riders have probably all gone home by now, so I’d better just get on with it.
Our first match was semi-randomly selected to be Apotheca and In A Bind, so a largish box full of really shiny things versus a very small box full of more silliness than you would imagine possible.
We played In A Bind first. I usually have the great advantage of wearing glasses (which is massively unfair — if you play the game you will soon find out why — but we now treat it as a balancing mechanic to help me out) but this time I was without, and that is my excuse for the embarrassing degree of my loss here. On the plus side, losing at this is usually funny. Sometimes even for the loser!
Apotheca is a much less crazy game, to say the least. Now we have played it a few times, Miss B is really getting the hang of visualising the effects of the more complicated apothecaries and making some really cool moves. Just by way of a reminder, you get access to some very basic moves all the time, but can “hire” apothecary cards which allow you to do a load of unique special moves, and then you lose the use of these special moves as you gain points towards victory. It’s a very clever dynamic. I got to win this one, just.
So we have a featherweight taking on a middleweight, in terms of box size anyway, with both games being very clever and enjoyable in completely different ways.
Over to Miss B for the judging…
It was a really close competition. Apotheca is a really good game though personally I prefer In a Bind because you do more stuff, and that’s more my kind of game.
And we have our first finalist for this year. In A Bind will be competing against either Dragonheart or Murder of Crows for the title. Next time we’ll find out which…
September wasn’t a bad month for gaming, with a respectable 24 plays of 14 different games. The highlight of the month was the games afternoon we hosted. We didn’t have quite as many people as last time, but we had a nice houseful, with two tables of games running for a fair bit of the afternoon. Thanks to everyone who came, played, shared food, and took photos!
The games that we played multiple times were led by traditional counter-flipping game, Tiddlywinks, and house favourite (though not played so much this year), Dobble, each with three plays a piece. We also played Array, Codenames Pictures, Magic: The Gathering, Push It, Spyfall, and Yardmaster Express twice each.
Array was a gift brought back by S on a recent trip to the USA which, unfortunately, we found unenjoyable using its intended rules (“We don’t have to review this one, do we?” asked Miss B — no, we don’t), but we gave it a second play with some alternate (speed play) rules that we made up on the spot and had a fun time. Codenames Pictures was also a gift, this time from some of our visitors at the games afternoon, and I think we actually prefer it to the original Codenames, which is great in its own right (and won this year’s prestigious Spiel des Jahres prize).
Which brings us to the running totals for the year… Well, Push It has pushed its way into the lead with 12 plays, nudging ahead of BraveRats, still on 11. In a Bind is still on 9 plays (though Miss B has played a few more times without me), alongside 6. Then there is a gap before we hit Dobble on 6 plays and a whole heap of games with 5 plays.
So we are now three quarters of the way through the year. We’ve played a fair bit less than last year, and it has been a bit patchy, but that is fine. You know that whole “training a gamer” thing? Well, I think I am finally getting trained properly. Sometimes I’ll suggest playing a game, and sometimes the idea is accepted, but increasingly we get situations when Miss B comes in and points out a game that we haven’t played for a while and fancies having a go at.
Patience is rewarded.
I’m running massively late with this, but at last I would like to announce the shortlist for this year’s Training a Gamer Award (formerly the Golden Thingummy).
In case you haven’t been reading this blog in previous years, each summer Miss B and I choose a set of four games (Miss B chooses two and I choose two more) that we enjoy and want to play a bit more. These games are paired off so we can have two “game-offs”, playing a pair of games in one session so we can decide which we enjoyed most on that occasion. The winners of each heat become the finalists for one more game-off to decide which will win the prestigious and sought-after TaG Award.
Last year was won by flicktastic dungeon crawler Catacombs. What will get the laurels this year?
Miss B’s first choice was instant, the game of contortions, In a Bind, which she introduces to friends and visitors whenever she can. Her second choice surprised me a little as it is something we haven’t played for quite a long time, but she really fancied breaking out Dragonheart, which we used to play a fair bit a few years ago.
I added recent favourite Apotheca to the list as I think it deserves a few more plays and is probably at its best with two players. My second game is one that we haven’t covered here before, but Miss B did express interest in while we were discussing the award: a cute card game called Murder of Crows.
So we have four contenders, two new and two not so much. Coming soon: the game-offs.
We did pretty well for games in August, with a games afternoon with another family as well as a couple of father-daughter games afternoons throughout the month. We even got started (a little late) on this year’s Training a Gamer Award, so you can expect the reports for that to be forthcoming over the next few weeks.
Our total for the month was 28 plays, with 15 different games. This is well down on last August, but only beaten by two months this year. We had several games with multiple plays, top of which was In a Bind, with 6 plays, followed by Apotheca, Hey That’s My Fish, and Yardmaster Express, with 3 plays a piece, and 6 and Win Lose Banana each on 2. That latter game (WLB) is a bit bizarre (to say the least), requiring exactly three players and being a game that seems entirely random at first, but then turns into a game of psychology after a few rounds.
I think my highlight of the month was trying out Railways of the World, which I had been wanting to play for some time and then managed to acquire a copy on the cheap, then had a great opportunity to play it when we had a visitor over. We made a couple of minor tweaks to the rules to make it a little more accessible for a first play with kids, but after the rules explanation, the game flowed really well and we all enjoyed it very much.
For the year, BraveRats maintains its lead position with 11 plays, followed by Push It with 10, both unchanged from the previous month. But now we have 6 and In a Bind, right in the chase, each with 9 plays, so it looks like the race is well and truly on at the moment. There is nothing else we have played more than 5 times so far yet this year.
Apotheca is one of those games I acquired from a small, indie game publisher via Kickstarter, which sat on the shelf for a couple of months before we got around to playing it. It is essentially a lightweight abstract game but, boy, is it beautifully produced or what?
So basically this is a game where you win points by getting three potions of the same colour into a row on a four-by-four grid. On your turn, you either add face-down potions to the board, turn potions face up and earn yourself gems, use gems to hire apothecaries (gain cards that grant special abilities), or use the apothecaries you have hired to move potions about — and they all have different movement options available. When you have managed to make three rows of three, you win, but the twist is that when you score a row of potions, it means you lose access to the ability of one of your apothecaries.
That’s about it.
Over the last couple of years, Miss B has been getting pretty keen on abstract games, and regularly beats me in games like Balanx or Mijnlieff, and also really likes games with great artwork, so this was one I was keen to try with her. Eventually the right moment came along, I suggested Apotheca, she took a look, and readily agreed. So far we have played a few games and she has won all but one of them, and she is keen to play it pretty much any time now, so I think this is a game that we might actually get past that sought-after ten play mark, and reasonably quickly too.
I’ve not yet played Apotheca with adults, but it does have a reasonable solo play mode, which is nice. It also has a variant for two teams of two, and an asymmetric version where one player is the “Master”, who is pitted against a team of up to three apprentices. We’ve not tried either of these modes, but they look fun and I’m hoping to give them a go some time. In general, I’m very pleased with this purchase, despite the fact that it could have been made so much smaller and cheaper; I’m kind of glad it wasn’t, as the game as it is is such a lovely object. But my opinion doesn’t matter in this blog. It’s all over to the boss…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9½): “Apotheca is a brilliant game. I like that you are collecting potions for your apothecary. I would give it a 95% rating.”
The game: Apotheca (Knapsack Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.
One of the game designers at the London playtesting meetups that I attend when I can created a little game called In a Bind, which she Kickstarted a while back, then I ended up playing at a games day earlier this year, and buying a copy at UK Games Expo. It is, for me, one of those little games that just needed to be in the collection as it is small, fun, and takes about 5 seconds to teach to just about anyone. Miss B was more than happy to give it a go when we got our own copy.
I have heard In a Bind described as “Twister the card game”, which isn’t too far off the mark. It comprises a deck of cards, each of which has an instruction, like “This card on left shoulder”, or “Right pinky pointing down”, and when it is your turn, you draw a card, read it out loud, and then comply, while still complying with instructions from previous turns. If you can’t follow an instruction, or stop doing one later on, you are out of the game. That’s it.
Miss B immediately took to the game, and has wanted to play it over and over again. In fact, I’m pretty sure she has played it a load more than me, as she has played it with her friends, relatives, and anyone else who will give her the time, even after I have run out of the necessary energy. There is actually a junior version of the game available now, which I believe loses a few harder cards, but includes some other twists like cards which require you to make an animal noise when anyone draws a card, and other such daftness. We’ll have to pick up a copy of that when the opportunity arises.
Officially the game is for 3 or more players, but it works just great for 2, and Miss B even enjoys it as a solo challenge, where you just draw cards and try to beat your personal best. The biggest problem with this (other than that a codger like me can end up with a cricked neck) is that the cards can end up getting a bit battered from the inevitable mistreatment, but frankly I don’t care. This is a game that may get destroyed by play, but I’ll be more than happy shelling out for a replacement later on, if necessary.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9½): “In a Bind is a really fun game to play, though it can sometimes get quite uncomfortable! I would rate it a 10/10 because it is really funny to watch and play.”
The game: In a Bind (Stuff By Bez), 3 to 10 players, aged 13+.