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+.
July was another pretty quiet month from a gaming point of view, with 14 plays of 10 unique titles. Oddly, only one of the games we played got played more than once, and the beneficiary of this attention was BraveRats, with 5 plays, which it now occurs to me we haven’t yet done a write-up of, so I’ll have to have a word with Miss B for an official verdict. This is a game that we love playing on trips to coffee shops, as it is quick, takes up little space, and Miss B somehow manages to beat me almost every time.
We had a really nice afternoon one Sunday when another family came around for an afternoon of gaming, which meant we got to play a few great games, including Tokaido and Scotland Yard.
So, for the year, BraveRats has edged into the lead with 11 plays, just a nose ahead of Push It, with 10 plays, and a gap before 6, which has had 7 plays.
We’re into the summer holidays now and Miss B has got into the idea of having another TAG Award contest, so I think we will be having a go at doing that over the next few weeks, plus we are building up a list of “we should really write that up” games, so hopefully we’ll have a bit more content coming really soon. Watch this space. 🙂
June was our lightest month of gaming since I started keeping records at the start of 2013, with a mere 8 plays of 6 different games.
This may seem a little weird given that we went to UK Games Expo at the start of the month, but a lot of the day where we were all there (I had been at the Expo for two days already by the time S and Miss B joined me on the Sunday) was taken up by Miss B occupying the roleplaying tables in the family zone, a complete highlight of her year. This time she played in one game set in the world of Peter Pan (and a sequel to a game she played last year), and one based loosely on the Night at the Museum films.
This year’s Expo was nearly twice the size of last year in terms of attendees, and I think about twice the size in terms of floor space. It was an amazing event and highly recommended, the family zone is absolutely awesome, and the availability of food and drinks was vastly better than previous years. We can’t wait for next year.
Anyway, we only played two games more than once: Miss B’s favoured abstract Strategy game, Balanx, and new-to-us In A Bind, which is a hilarious physical game (it has been described, with some justification, as Twister the Card Game) which Miss B is rather taken with and I expect we’ll have a write-up on it pretty soon.
That doesn’t change our stats for the year at all, so we still have Push It our most played game of the year so far with 10 plays, followed by 6 with 7 plays and BraveRats on 6. (For some reason I am reminded of the old jokey football scoreline: East Fife 4, Forfar 5.)
Onwards. We’ll be into the school holidays in a couple of weeks or so, so it will be interesting to see if we get more played then.
Oops! I was late last month, and even worse this time around. Must do better.
Anyway, Miss B and I played 14 different games in May, with a total of 20 plays, so our least gamey month so far this year in both respects. But one of those games was the enormous Runebound, which we played across two days, so that makes up for it quite a lot.
Our multiple played games were 6, Murder of Crows, The Metagame (playing in “Timelines” style), and Treasures of Atlantis (one of my own designs and still a work in progress), all on two plays a piece, and former favourite Sleeping Queens, back from the Twilight Zone with three plays.
That leaves our annual totals with BraveRats steady on six plays, 6 on seven plays, and our first game to get into double figures this year, Push It on ten plays.
So we’ve been slowing down a bit, but the games come out from time to time and they are still fun. We are still getting some new games in as well (see The Metagame and Murder of Crows above), so there may well be some more write-ups coming. Right now it’s all about going with the flow.
The latest in our ongoing series of reports on Lego games is on Magikus, one of the smaller games in the series, which is about collecting ingredients to make a magical potion. The first person to get the full set of four ingredients gets to put them into the little cauldron that comes in the box and, according to Miss B, gets to choose what spell to cast on the losers.
The game is very simple: there is an owl piece, which you position on the edge of the rack of spell ingredients, so it lines up with one of the rows or columns, then you roll a die. If the die shows the colour of an ingredient that is still in the row or column that you chose, you take that ingredient; alternatively a white result on the die allows you to take anything from the row or column, and a black result allows you to steal from another player. If you end up with a set of the four different ingredients, you win!
So that is it. There is a strategy to find here, but it is obvious to most people. I think this has a problem that is common to most of the Lego games: the game design is awesome for younger kids, and not bad for a parent to play with the kids, but the components are just too fiddly for the ideal age range. That said, we had fun with this, and Miss B just loved imagining herself making potions at Hogwarts, even though she got frustrated a couple of times when she forgot to move the owl before moving. (Easy fix: no problem, just move the owl and then roll again.)
Plus, of course, it’s Lego. We now have a bunch of Lego skulls that we can put onto minifigs if we want to! 🙂
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9¼): “Very silly. It is a bit more difficult because you have to move first and then roll, which is not what most people would do by natural instinct. I would give it 10/10, but because of the dice rolling flaw I will give it a 9/10.”
The game: Magikus (Lego), 2 to 4 players aged 6+.
You may remember a while ago we had a guest post by game designer, publisher, reviewer and all-round nice guy Edo Baraf. Well, a while after that he ran a Kickstarter project for a storytelling game that he had co-designed, called The Siblings Trouble which is pretty much The Goonies: The Game. The idea is that you and your siblings are having an adventure in some relatively mundane location (the game is subtitled “Backyard Adventures”) which can be the basis of a fantastical story, and our copy turned up earlier this year.
So the basic idea is that you take it in turns to flip over a series of cards, each of which represents a location, monster or event, and you have to incorporate the card into a narrative that you are building. Is that troll really a troll, or is it just the janitor from the abandoned amusement park? You just interpret each card as you wish, and sometimes you need to roll a die to determine what happens next — and, of course, you need to work whatever the outcome of the die roll is into the story.
There are other rules, but I don’t think they really matter. The main thrust of the game is to tell a story of encountering dinosaurs in the forest or renegade robots in the junkyard, where you save the day with a bit of string and a bag of marbles. From that point of view, the game is utterly charming, a charm which is helped greatly by beautiful artwork and excellent production values.
We’ve played the game a handful of times so far, but only with the two of us playing, and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. Hopefully we’ll rope some others in some time and see how it goes with more people. There are a choice of characters to play (with alternate gender and race variants for each), plus four different locations to adventure in, and a way of building an adventure deck to make for a different game each time, so we’ve mixed stuff up a bit each time.
To be honest, I don’t imagine playing The Siblings Trouble in an adults-only group, but to do so is missing the point: this is really a family game, and it’s a good one. But, of course, it’s what Miss B thinks that counts around here…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9¼): “This game is very interesting, because you can never really predict what is going to happen next. I love the way that you make up the story with only a little bit to guide you. The characters’ powers are especially funny! I will rate it 10/10 because of all the great ideas merged together.”
The game: The Siblings Trouble (Pencil First Games), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.