Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter is a thematic zombie survival horror game about a colony of survivors trying to outlive the cold harsh winter while ravenous zombies are beating up against their barricades. Like in any good zombie genre fiction, the real monsters aren’t the walking dead outside, but your friends. You all have to be a bit of bastard to survive, but one of you might be want to see the colony fail and is actively working against it.

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Mechanically that means you have a common objective (find a cure, survive, etc.) and a private objective that you need to achieve. My private objective was ‘Going home’ and required me to get two jerrycans, a can of food, and a weapon. I had to reach both conditions in order to win the game.

The traitor is working against the common objective, but also has a private objective he or she needs to achieve, which means it’s often better for them to remain dormant for quite some time. Just another hardworking member of the community. The silent type, keeps to himself. Nothing to see here, move along!

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Turn based slog

Play rounds start with a crisis card that will stick around for a full round and needs to be dealt with by the end of it. To do this players offer up scarce item cards from their hands. A round sees everyone rolling dice, the outcome of which will limit your available actions (searching and finding item cards, fighting zombies) for this round. Then everyone does their actions one by one in what can be quite a lengthy process.

Much like in Arkham Horror or others of its ilk, this is where the game turns from an epic story into a miserable sprawl as you wait for your turn to be cool. Technically, the threat of a hidden traitor should make other players’ turns more interesting: why did they choose to go to the hospital? Why did they risk infecting people? But in practice you just find yourself faffing about while other people agonise over fuel and frostbite.

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Narrative awesomeness

A neat flourish is the crossroads card that is drawn during each person’s turn. It’s an encounter card like you would have in Arkham Horror, except each crossroads card has its own condition that may or may not trigger on your turn. One might trigger if a certain character is in play, or if you have a character in the colony, or if you go to the hospital.

If it does, you get treated to a story bit that usually ends with a choice of both moral and mechanic consequences. In our game, we had the choice of taking in a survivor called Fat Earl who would eat all of our food OR we could give him a different reception and *gain* five food. Ah, tasty, tasty Earl. These story nuggets are all very well written pieces of genre fiction and terribly good at hitting the right tone. They add on to the different and very varied characters perfectly. My trucker character actually died during a crossroads card because he was having a heart attack and no one wanted to take the risk of carrying to the hospital.

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Wot I think

The kind of thematic narrative game my roleplay friends go bonkers over, and that Jan and me only like in well-measured doses. It can be fun if you get into ‘cooperative puzzle overmind’ mode where you focus completely on all the ticking gears in the puzzle. But otherwise you are just looking at a long night of eating pretzels and waiting around.

Add to this that hidden traitor is my second least favorite mechanic. Though, in this game it seems to be handled a lot better. It’s fine to cooperate nicely and then suddenly turn on people at the very last moment. And when you do get found out, you don’t have to uselessly hang on in play but you get a different objective. Which might be to kill the other colonists, or to do a 180 and go back to helping them! Leaving everyone guessing as to what you’re doing. That doesn’t sound so bad. Still, to me it doesn’t add much either.

So, all in all, there’s some nice improvements to the thematic coop genre. But the narrative swooshes don’t compensate for the slow pacing, and the  hidden traitor mechanic doesn’t add much to sway the balance. I haven’t played either enough yet to be sure, but I think I prefer City of Horror: fast, genre savvy, and everyone is a traitor.

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Shadows over Camelot

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Jan got a few ‘many player games’ for this birthday last year, one of which was the famous Shadows over Camelot. It’s a co-op with a hidden traitor, a bit like Battlestar Galactica. It was our first game, though, so we played with loyal knights and no traitors.

The game is basically about working together to fulfill quests at different parts of the board until you win the game. It never felt very hard, and thus never felt very interesting. The cool thing about lots of co-ops (like Pandemic or Ghost Stories) is that they always feel really tense – even if you’re doing ok. You have the feeling of swimming against the tide in a heroic last ditch effort. Here it mostly felt like we were just floating along.

You are supposed to communicate with the other players only in flowery courtly prose, not in direct terms. So “I have trained men for you, my liege, but they are as of yet unseasoned in the reality of war”, instead of “I have rank 2 troops that I can give you”. But it was late at night so we didn’t want to make the game any longer than it was. I can see it have fun game+roleplay potential with a group of Arthurians, but other than that I wasn’t too excited.

 

Arkham Horror

What’s it about?
You wander around Arkham trying to defeat an evil elder god bent on ripping the world apart. And flop around a lot.

Flash verdict
7/10: I really like Arkham Horror. I has that massive feel to it and it’s evocative of a roleplay experience. It can turn into a shared epic or a funny experience that I like. It’s slow churning can start to grate though, so it’s really a game we only bring out once or twice a year. If it ever came out on iPad I’d probably play the shit out of it.

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Is it pretty?
Yes! The board is nice and there’s cute tokens and nicely made cards. 
Also: very detailed & huge. Biggest game is bestest game?

How boring was the explanation?
Pretty damm boring. There’s so many little things that need to be explained. The explanation isn’t enough either, you need to refer back to the manual many times.

How long and/or boring is it to have to wait for your go?
Hmms, that can get pretty bad, especially when combat starts happening and you’re delayed in some outer world. The main problem is that it’s hard to stay psyched about everyone else’s turns for the whopping four hours the game can take to play. 

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How’s the flavor?
Very good! With a bit of leniency you can make up a nice story to go with your investigator’s experiences. The addition of background stories and goals are awesome and transforms the game from an epic adventure into an angst-filled desperate need to succeed.

How internally consistent is the flavor?
Pretty good! I can’t think of a single internal consistence flaw.

Is it still fun if you suck?
Well you can’t really screw up very much (basically the only skill you need is knowing how the game works, and that can be tough), but you can get screwed pretty bad. You can get a bad case of skipped turn limbo, you can also get an underpowered character (there’s quite a bit of variety in poweredness) or get stuck in a boring board where nothing happens. 

Is it fun to play with people who know everything about the game when you don’t?
It’s the best way to learn, but it’s annoying to have to ask where the location is, what this mechanic does, how combat goes, what this ability does over and over. It’s a gap that, unlike portals to outer worlds, is hard to close. Then again, even the pro’s have a hard time keeping all the details straight at times.

Can you play it with your non-gamer family to pass the time?
Uh no.

Does it play well with two?
Yeah, I think so. I really want to try it out sometime (mostly so we can study the mechanics a bit)

Is there anything irrationally fun or annoying about it?
Fun: Roleplaying your character can be very amusing, or when the cards tell a story all by themselves that fit perfectly. It’s fun to try out all the characters.
Annoying: Skipped turns are the worst mechanic in gaming ever.

Spaceteam: A cooperative shouting game for phones and tablets

We played quite a few games this weekend, but the most outrageous fun was had with Spaceteam. Which isn’t even a boardgame, but it’s not far off, so I’m including it here anyway.

Do you like pushing buttons and shouting at your friends? Do you like discharging Clip-jawed Fluxtrunions? If you answered yes, or no, then you might have what it takes to be on a Spaceteam!

Fortunately I don’t have to tell you what the game is about, there’s a nice trailer for it!

And that’s it! You shout incoherent technobabble commands at each other, and your friends twist the appropriate knobs while shouting commands back at you. If no one is following your command, the appropriate lever is usually at your own screen and you have to interrupt your shouting to sheepishly whisper “Oh, that’s me”.

Levels get harder and harder as you have to dodge wormholes (done by everyone flipping their screen upside down at the same time), wading through space ooze and frantically trying to keep the interface in place. We haven’t made it past level 9 yet, and we’ve had tons of shouty fun along the way.

This we’ll see quite a lot of play in the coming weeks/months!

Mansions of Madness

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Jan says: On friday, or Tabletop Day, we went over to a friend and we played Mansions of Madness. This was the first time we played it and we enjoyed it quite a bit. We managed to get everyone assigned to important jobs, with me killing cultists, while one was on puzzle solving and another on gathering clues. In the end my character got stuck between two fires, another died from a failed levitation spell, and then Jules gathered up all the pieces managed to win the game for us.

pic1869278_mdI did! I quite liked how everyone could do something important during Mansions of Madness, though it was both funny and frustrating to see the person who was least into puzzling having to solve all the puzzles (because her char had the highest INT) without our help! Also, I assume there’s often one ‘quester’ since every clue gives you the item you need for the next clue.