And at long last, the moment you have both been waiting for. Yes, it’s the final stage of the award so exclusive that most of the designers and publishers nominated have no idea that it even exists. This really is a hipster award. So, without further ado, I give you the final of the 2016 TaG Award, and present the finalists, which have made it through a rigorous and exhausting selection process to get this far: Dragonheart and In A Bind.
We played Dragonheart first. To be fair, Miss B started off with a shocking hand, which I later found out included four of the ship cards, which just isn’t a happy way to get going, take my word for it. It’s the sort of hand I seem to always get when playing the game online. Her fortunes picked up as we went along, but I ended up with a comfortable win in the end.
Then, of course, we came to In A Bind. I removed my glasses (only fair!), we shuffled the cards, and then got going. A couple of minutes later my cards went everywhere and Miss B was giggling at my ineptitude. So we had another game, this time using In A Bind Junior, an alternative set that replaces some of the trickier cards with nutty stuff like making animal noises when someone draws a card, and I managed to get my revenge, so we had to have a decider (best of three), which Miss B won. I consider myself a winner, though, having managed to avoid any cricks or strains from putting myself into awkward positions.
I will now hand you over to our head judge, Miss B, to report on the results of her deliberation…
These are things I think make a good game:
-a bit of a challenge
-a bit of a laugh
And In A Bind has all 3. Dragon heart is a good game and came very close to winning because of the thinking you have to do and neat ideas in it. Overall In A Bind won because of this. 😀
Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the winner of the 2016 TaG Award: In A Bind.
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…
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’ve been struggling to find time to finish off the awards process this year. This is partly because (as I have mentioned before) one of the finalists, Catacombs, is a big game in just about every sense of the word. It takes more setting up than most, and can take longer to play than most of the games we have in our current repertoire. But at last we found an afternoon and got on with it. And here we have our report of this year’s grand final between the behemoth of cardboard and wood, Catacombs, and the feel-good Pratchett game, The Witches.
First up was Catacombs, which we played in our currently-standard form of running through two preparatory rooms, followed by the healer and merchant rooms combined and then the catacomb lord’s lair for the big boss fight. We decided to up the ante in this game by using the next boss in difficulty: Shargila the Gorgon. I had fun with centaur archers running around and taking pot shots at the adventurers, while Miss B hurled fireballs around while her wolf companion run amok. I am pretty sure we still get quite a few rules wrong (the rulebook is probably the weakest part of the game, which is a real shame), but this being something akin to a roleplaying game rather than a real competition between us, we tend to just go with what seems fun.
When we got to the final battle, I was very impressed with how philosophical Miss B was when I started using Shargila’s mega-power of petrification: a one-hit kill weapon, but using it can leave her wide open to counter-attack. I managed to petrify two of the four adventurers before the last two managed to incinerate the gorgon with a volley of giant fireballs.
I wasn’t able to get a thoughtful critique of the play experience from Miss B as she was too busy with her victory dance.
We cleared up, grabbed fresh drinks, and then set up our second game, The Witches.
The game officially has a phase of drafting the different characters, but Miss B always wants to play Tiffany Aching (natch!) and I’m happy to let her have that when it is just the two of us playing. I randomly took Annagramma Hawkin with her boosted magic capability at the game start.
Having played the game a few times now, The Witches flows really quickly, with the simple structure of turns going nicely, and there being some fun decisions to make most of the time: off over here to deal with those elves, then jump on the broomstick to visit another witch for a cup of tea. An, yes, having a cup of tea can be a critical part of the game, and one which I exploited rather more this time than I have in the past.
Miss B also had fun this game, but I think moved on to dealing with the harder problems a little too soon and had a couple of turns of having less useful cards in hand, leading to a couple of frustrating turns. To be fair, the game is such that no card is useless, but it can be infuriating to battle some elves and be forced to run away due to some poor dice rolls, only to draw a frying pan card (a mighty weapon, greatly feared by elves) right afterwards.
We hadn’t even started putting the game away before Miss B announced, “Catacombs wins!”
She went on to say that it was just because of the fun from these plays and that it’s not anything wrong with The Witches, which is also great.
I asked if we should take a photograph to commemorate the result. “I know what to do!” she said and ran out of the room. A couple of minutes later she reappeared, stuck a smiling face and a medal onto the Catacombs box, grabbed the camera and started taking pictures.
And so, I give you the winner of this year’s TaG award: Catacombs. Well deserved by a great fun game.
This year’s TaG award has been progressing a little slowly, partly as one of the shortlisted games is one that requires some logistical effort to get to the table and we needed to have the time and space available at the same time that Miss B felt like playing something that would take more than a few minutes. But this weekend, the day arrived when we could play both Catacombs and Lift Off in the same session.
The problematic game here is, of course, Catacombs, as a full game would probably take us something like two hours, plus setting up the copious quantities of components and putting them away again afterwards turns this game into a major (though really fun) undertaking. We have decided to trim the game down to just three rooms (roughly half the normal game) for our normal plays. This makes the game far less challenging for the heroes than it would normally be, but in the case of Catacombs, the aim is definitely more to have fun than it is to win, so if we can have fun in a manageable time then we all win.
As you may remember, Catacombs is a dexterity-based dungeon crawl game. One or more players control a team of adventurers, represented by wooden discs, who fight their way through a series of monster-infested rooms by flicking their discs at other discs representing the monsters. Add a smattering of special abilities and there is space for a load of fun to be had.
For this particular play we opened up one of the expansions that we got from the Kickstarter project, “Chicks in a Catacomb”. I can’t stress just how cool this little expansion is, largely because it goes so strongly against the way fantasy games usually go. In most games where there are individual characters, there is often a single, token female. Runebound 2nd edition is better than most, with three female characters available, but this is out of a total of twelve, and I won’t go into the appearance of the women. The base set of Catacombs has six playable characters, two male, two female, plus one undead and one chicken (yes, really), both of uncertain gender. The Chicks in a Catacomb expansion, despite its less than PC title, adds four new female characters which all have unique awesomeness to them. Miss B very much approves, as do I.
As usual, I was the Overseer, controlling the monsters against Miss B’s all-girl team of adventurers. We had a really good time with this, and I was really proud of the way Miss B dealt with failures at various times. It wasn’t long ago that we might have got very close to tears if things went wrong, but not this time. Though it must be said that it never really looked like the adventurers would fail this time. And eventually the evil sorcerer Vasesak was defeated.
After a load of packing stuff away and a short break, we got Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet out for its first play in some time. It was also a game we got from a Kickstarter project, but it is a lot lighter than Catacombs — though the box is even more dense, thanks to the generous quantities of cardboard inside.
By way of a reminder, Lift Off! is a game about trying to help aliens escape from their home planet, which is going to explode very soon. You collect cards which allow you to access four different lift off points (from a sizable selection, which vary from game to game) and, hopefully get off the planet; each lift off point has different (generally simple) rules dictating how it works, and sometimes you have to cooperate with your opponents to, well, lift off.
The game is very much a family game, with very simple rules and some of the cutest presentation of a boardgame I have seen, from the lovely board graphics to the absolutely adorable “alieneeples” that you have to rescue.
This time we were chugging along, having a nice time (which got a little bit weird when one of the lift off points, the Star Gate, suddenly vanished to be replaced by a teleport pad) when Miss B suddenly, without warning, sent the “Garglore” (a monster that gets in the way of launches) to the satellite station, preventing my guys from escaping and allowing hers some extra time to secure the win. It was a well-timed play that she was apologising for for the rest of the game, despite me telling her that it was a totally cool move and it was not only OK but really neat that she did it.
So, an eight-year-old that makes killer moves but feels remorse for them.
We got through the game pretty quickly and as we were packing up, I asked Miss B which game she thought was the winner. There was no hesitation before she announced that Catacombs had the edge. She clarified that it was pretty close, but not as close as last time, so she didn’t feel that we needed a formal scoring system like we used in the first game-off. She did say, though, that Lift Off! is definitely great and that we should play it more often.
So, we now know this year’s finalists: Catacombs will be meeting The Witches to decide the 2015 TaG award winner.
The day of the first game-off for this year’s contest arrived and Miss B selected the games to try, following the usual tradition of taking one of the games selected by her and one of mine. And so, we settled down for an afternoon playing The New Dungeon and The Witches.
Our first game was The New Dungeon, which is a fairly lightweight dungeon crawl game that we first played over three years ago and have enjoyed playing from time to time ever since. The game has been through a number of editions (ours is from the late 1980’s), and is actually still in print as Dungeon!
Anyway, the game involves moving your character around a subterranean complex, investigating rooms, rolling dice to fight monsters, and amassing treasure. When you have amassed enough treasure (the target amount depends on which character you take, as some are far more powerful than others) you return to the start space in order to win. Miss B has decided that she likes playing a wizard, which is a very powerful character, allowing you do get deeper into the dungeon more quickly, while I usually play a paladin, with healing powers; these two characters having the same treasure target, but different styles of play.
On this occasion I managed to make a great start to the game and soon got myself two thirds of the way to my target, while Miss B was struggling to progress. Then everything changed when I got unlucky and failed to kill a monster. Not a problem, I just needed to roll a pair of dice to see if I was wounded. Anything but a double-one and I survive, but take varying degrees of penalty, any of which are only a minor inconvenience given my healing powers. The roll, of course, was snake-eyes! That made me drop all of my treasure and go back to the start. I then spent several turns trudging back to face the same monster, only to fail again and roll another double-one. So Miss B strolled in, lobbed in a fireball, picked up all my lost treasure, and was just a couple of rooms away from a win, which she easily sorted.
That second death was actually just hysterically funny and had us both giggling for some time.
Once we had recovered from that experience, put the game away, and had a cuppa and a snack, we got out The Witches: A Discworld game. This is a game that is much newer to us and we only played for the first time earlier this year. In this one, players are apprentice witches wandering around the environs of Lancre from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, trying to deal with an array of problems that range from simple issues like pregnancies or sick pigs to nasty threats like vampyres or elves. The game is actually about visiting a location and rolling dice to see if you can overcome a challenge, so has that in common with Dungeon, but in this case you can play cards to help yourself in assorted ways, and I think the game evokes its theme pretty well, including making it so that witches periodically end up stopping to take tea together (to everyone’s benefit). As a sad note, I heard recently that Martin Wallace and Treefrog Games have now lost their license to produce Discworld games so this game (along with its sister game, Ankh Morpork) is extremely unlikely to even get reprinted.
This game didn’t have anything like the laughter that we had during our play of Dungeon, but we had a lot of fun working together to ensure that the problems were kept under control (there are a couple of ways for everyone to lose — something that really winds up some gamers, but this is much more of a family game than a real “gamer’s” game) and trying to engineer a situation to invoke the “power of three”, where if you have cards for three different adult witches to help you, you can automatically deal with any problem, however dire. Neither of us managed to do this in this game (B nearly did at one point, but then didn’t need to), but it’s great trying to get it lined up.
So to the verdict…
Actually, this turned out to be a lot trickier than expected as Miss B said that both games were really good and she couldn’t choose between them. It was actually a couple of days of thinking before we finally agreed on a plan to give scores for each of the games on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of a number of different categories. Then we could add the scores up and see if we had an overall winner. For each category we had a short discussion and then Miss B assigned scores.
The categories, as chosen and recorded by Miss B were: “Funnyness” (a comfortable win for Dungeon), “Thinking” (won by The Witches), “Artwork” (again The Witches), “Easyness” (taken by Dungeon), and “Howmuchplayagainwantability” (narrowly edged by The Witches). Once the scores had been totaled and not independently verified, it turned out that The New Dungeon had a creditable score of 39, but The Witches had won by the narrowest of margins, with a score of 40.
I am therefore delighted to announce that The Witches is this year’s first finalist.