Monthly High Five - March 2019

WHAT IS CARDBOARD REALITY’S HIGH FIVE?

The High Five is a monthly piece where we talk about five of our board gaming highlights from the past month. Then one member of Cardboard Reality will deliver the “down low” at the end of this piece, covering a poor board gaming experience from the past month. Enjoy!

The High Five

Monikers

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James - My days of “party gaming” are mostly now reserved for holidays with family, or the occasional but infrequent time when I may have a social get together with non gamer friends. I’ll pull out A Fake Artist Goes to New York, or Telestrations, and usually just hope that nobody brought along Cards Against Humanity. Recently I picked up Monikers, or specifically the More Monikers standalone expansion pack from 2018, hoping it might slot into those same kind of get-togethers, and maybe even convert some of CAH’ers still out there in the wild. I got the chance to play it a few times this month, and it was a wildly successful and hilarious good time that required no components other than a small deck of cards.

In Monikers, you’ll form 2 teams and curate a deck of about 50 cards with your friends (say I deal you each 15, and you need to pick 10 to add to the final deck) so you head into each round with some knowledge about at least some of the cards. Each card has a bold heading at the top—it may be a famous person, famous slang term, or a notable person, place, or thing. Many of the cards are pop culture based, and some do venture into the risque, but mostly not downright offensive territory that Cards Against Humanity lives in. You’ll then play 3 rounds, alternating teams and alternating the clue giver on each team. Your goal is to have you team successfully guess as many of the bold titles on top of your cards. However, each round operates under different and strikingly simple rules:

Round 1: Say and do anything. You can even read the flavor text off of the card if you have no idea who Steve Urkel is.

Round 2: Say exactly one word.

Round 3: No words, only actions. You know, charades.

If you successfully guess a card, your team keeps it. If you pass, set it aside and it reenters the deck for the next clue giver. You’ll continue alternating until the deck is empty, and then move on to the next round. The fun comes in as you progress into the deeper rounds, as you’ll be tasked with not only remembering what cards had come before, but also trying to connect the single word or action to that specific card. Many of the terms and phrases are vague and intertwined enough that you often have trouble spotting the difference between “John Doe”, “Necrophilia”, and “F&#!, Marry, Kill.” Monikers was a great hit for me both with my game group and casual group of friends as well. It puts you on the stage and requires you to use some creativity and cleverness in order to succeed and have fun, versus a game like Cards Against Humanity, who’s creativity and “cleverness” lies simply in the outlandish words on the cards - and most anyone who has played that game a couple times will tell you—it wears off and gets old, sometimes quickly. Monikers may require some curation to play with family at the holidays depending on your demographics, but I’ll definitely be bringing it along as a new great party game.

Mage Knight

Nick - Long before I played go, Alchemists, 18xx, and Hannibal my all time favorite board gaming love affair was Mage Knight by Vlaada Chvátil.  Full of adventure, dragon slaying, monastery burnings, puzzles, and city sieges—it was the first monster of a game to grace my table.  The exploration and theme initially drew me into the game, but the rewarding puzzle and leveling up mechanic has definitely kept me coming back.

However, Mage Knight isn’t a perfect game.  Beyond the surface there is one glaring and substantial issue: the game is littered with hard-to-remember fiddly-as-all-get-out rule checking.  Combat is especially cumbersome, presenting the player with questions like, “what does brutal mean? What about assassin? Toughness? Poisonous?  Swiftness? How does fortification protect the enemy again? How does cold fire attack work? Do I have to move into the enemy token’s space to trigger combat?  Do I gain or lose reputation for this battle? These questions just scratch the surface of the rule checking you may need to do in this game and you will inevitably cheat your way to victory on occasion only to find out that you’ve miss-played a key rule throughout the session.  Because of this, Mage Knight and I have a love/hate relationship.  But usually once a year I feel a sudden urge to play it.

Enter my play with Dylan a few weeks ago.

Weirdly enough, even with all of the rule checking, Mage Knight is surprisingly easy to pull off the shelf without needing to frustratingly re-learn how to play.  Perhaps this is do to the theme’s integration within the mechanics and the very memorable hand management.  Regardless, I’m currently smitten with Mage Knight and it has re-entered my good graces.  This past play was an absolute blast. Dylan enjoyed discovering the game for the first time, and for me, playing the game felt like revisiting an old friend.  If you enjoy generic fantasy themes, exploration, leveling up, and puzzling hand management, do yourself a favor by looking into this classic.

CO2: Second Chance

Joel - Vital Lacerda.  Enough said. Okay maybe not quite, but CO2: Second Chance definitely delivers on its interwoven mechanics much like his other games.  As you know, I have been into Vital Lacerda games for awhile now, and have played most of them.  Though, I never had the opportunity to play the original, so when the Kickstarter came around, I wanted to make sure I snagged a copy.

I am not usually one that enjoys playing games solo.  I usually just use it to learn the game, though I play multiple players in most cases.  With that being said, when I went to learn CO2, I did my usual setup of the game for two players.  However, as I was reading the rules, I realized that I could just play it solo and would get pretty much the same experience, thereby being able to still teach the game but only play one player.

This turned out to be a great experience.  I was able to play through the full game and lost track of time late into the night.  I ended up making some mistakes that I felt assisted me in winning the game, so I did not feel quite right about it.  I wanted to try again though. So much so that I ended up setting it back up just a few nights later to play again by myself.  That does not happen very often. I am usually playing games partially for the social experience, but something about this drew me back to it, similar to Leaving Earth.

Looking forward to playing this again with more players, as I definitely can see how the collaboration could make things that much more interesting.  The decision space and nature of the game really feels like it lends itself to being played cooperatively. That being said, I can also see the competitive game getting pretty cutthroat at particular points.  One thing is for certain, as I stated above, this is undoubtedly a Lacerda game.

Maria

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Scott - The highlight or this March’s game nights was my play of Maria. Maria was released back in 2009 by Histogames and was designed by Richard Sivel, who also designed Friedrich and Wir sind das Volk!. After just my second play I came to agree with this game’s spot on the BGG top 100 wargames where it sits at number 9.

Maria is a game strictly for 3 players which is pretty unusual, but it is an important part of the player dynamic. The game seeks to portray the War of Austrian Succession. One player controls Maria of Austria, one player controls France and Bavaria, and the final player controls Prussia, the Pragmatic Army, and Saxony. The board is divided into 2 theatres and only France and Austria are allowed to move between the two. Even though The Prussian player controls the Pragmatics, the Pragmatics are actually allied with Austria, the Prussian player’s enemy. The Prussian player wins if either the Prussians or Pragmatics win and so he is trying to achieve victory with the power that hurts the front-runner of France or Austria the most. This tightrope balancing act between the 3 players trying to achieve victory, without accidentally weakening an enemy to the point their own “ally” runs their shared enemy over, stealing victory, creates a satisfying tension that runs through the course of the game. This along with the abstracted battle resolution using cards in 4 suits that match up to map sections, and few pieces on the board, make this a clean, engaging, and very replayable war game that I look forward to playing again.

7th Continent

Dylan - This month, I’ve experienced one of the biggest changes of my life. My wife and I quit our jobs and are traveling multiple hours a week for her new job opportunity. We stay out of town for nearly half of the week, leaving me a very specific time to get games in with the co-hosts and others in the game group. And with having some difficulty finding other gamers in our temporary work location of South Bend, I have turned to solo games to fill a bit of my board gaming “needs.”

At GenCon 2017, Scott and I had the chance to demo the Kickstarter-hit The 7th Continent and both enjoyed the ideas it introduced to board gaming. I wavered on backing it multiple times, and now I’m really regretting not pulling the trigger after playing a friend’s copy seven times in March.

Each time I set out card “010” to start the adventure, I’m learning more and more on how to handle what happens to the cursed. See, as I’ve explained to others, this is almost a video game experience, learning where to go and how best to manage the action deck, the life blood of the character/party. At the GenCon demo, each step on the starter island was slow and deliberate which enhanced my curiosity. Now, watching those first few cards pass by is close to being a speedrun.

As for mechanics, the vast majority is hand management and push-your-luck through RPG-esque skill checks. Have to climb a cliff? You draw cards from the action deck. You must draw at least the number listed on the map card. But if you expect to succeed through stars on the cards, you should either draw more than the minimum, lower the number of uses of crafted items in your inventory beforehand, or play a card from your hand after-the-fact to secure a success.

While everything in The 7th Continent is portrayed via cards, I’m thrilled by the theme that is packed in every item, piece of the map, flavor text and event that happens. And every game has been different. While I am beginning to piece together the full picture of this cut-up board, the fog hiding each card has a slim chance of being the same as before. You learn what those are as well, but there are times when the same event can be a minor annoyance or the death to the explorer. There are even the possibility of getting to have a numbered event happen to you and find out there is more than one card for that individual number. The first time you draw a number you’ve seen before, but it’s not the same card is a shocker.

I really hope that this game comes back to Kickstarter one more time. I know I’m making those that can’t get it salivate, seeing that copies on the aftermarket can be $200 over the original KS price. But this is a game that deserves to be owned or played by more than the backers or those that can afford the far-too-high prices people are naming. Bruno Sautter and Ludovic Roudy have a serious masterpiece on their hands (also, fantastic art from Mr. Roudy--publishers, get his art on more games). Gamers need to play The 7th Continent. It is maybe the best narrative-driven solo game.


The Down Low

Labyrinth

Dylan - Sometimes a game really isn’t for me and sometimes I’m quick to make assumptions. When I acquired Labyrith: The War on Terror, I had in my mind this was the second coming of one of my favorites, Twilight Struggle. A card-driven wargame on a world scale? Sounds close enough!

But in reality, sound and feel are two totally different things. On paper, the gameplay for Labyrinth is quite thematic. Both sides are using operations points based on the stability of a country’s government. The American side must use operations points based on the number printed on the stability chit (Ex. If a country is in a poor state, they must use 3 OPs to do an action in that country). As for the jihadists, they look at the same stability chit, roll dice based on the number of OPs they’re playing, and must roll the number printed or lower to be successful.

The sides are asymmetrical, so it make sense that their requirements to do things are different. Continuing with the sides being asymmetrical, both sides have different actions. The Americans are sending out troops, bringing them home, disrupting the jihadist seeds and plots, and converting the world view on the war to side with the US. The Jihadists are recruiting to their cause, hopping from nation to nation, plotting in countries about the world, and committing jihads. Like I said, both are thematic on paper and make sense as you read this.

But there are some things that get in the way of translating it to a fun experience.

Like many asymmetric games, I constantly wondered how the other faction was able to perform certain actions. For example, when I was moving troops from the troops track to the board and vice versa, Scott was asking how I did it. While it seemed like an obvious answer, with Scott having to roll dice to get his people from one place to the next, it was a totally valid question. And there were many other times where that happened, particularly in the beginning.

The rulebook was flat out bad. The rules are laid out in a way that confused me. Like many wargame rulebooks, it references things that haven’t been mentioned until 4 pages later. I generally credit myself to being a decent teacher of games. But Scott and I both agreed that this was maybe my worst teach. With having two sides that play 100% different, I can’t teach the game and then talk about the differences. You have to talk about each and every system the game has to offer, some which never will be touched by one of the players (World stance on the war, US stance on the war, troops track, funding track, resources, regime changes, cadres, etc. etc. etc.).

Maybe the final straw in our experience is that the game is more frustrating than fun. Each time Scott was rolling to see if he could succeed he failed instead ending his turn. A turn of doing nothing really makes for a poor experience. When I have to spend 3 OPs just to remove a plot chit, all that does is slow my turns to a halt.

All in all, this isn’t a game for me. While many wargame purists don’t mind the simulation feel or luck-driven checks, I am not one that enjoys that in my combat driven games. And really, there is very little combat in this game. Maybe that is where it is most like Twilight Struggle…

Nick NorthcuttComment