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Polterfass - push-your-luck and blind bidding walk into a bar...

Martin G
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I just bumped my rating of Polterfass up to 9 after my 8th play, making it the game for which my rating exceeds the BGG average ‘geek rating’ (5.7) by the largest amount. That seems like a good excuse for a look at what makes this game so excellent – which in a nutshell is the way it expertly combines blind bidding and push-your-luck.

Blind bidding

Blind bidding is a commonly-used mechanism for assigning or dividing up a bounty issued by the game. For example, the tiles in Raj or the cheques in For Sale. It creates a dynamic of double-think, with the players’ trying to read each other to offer up the perfect bid.

The first clever thing Polterfass does is have this bounty offered up by one of the players, with the others placing their bids for how much they want. Thematically, the players take turns being ‘innkeeper’ choosing how much beer to serve to the other players. The ‘customers’ place their order using 1 or 2 bidding cards that range in value from 0 to 7 (so each order can be from 0 to 13). If the total orders can be satisfied from what the innkeeper served, they each get what they wanted and the barman gets whatever’s left.

But in a crucial prisoners’ dilemma twist, if the customers order MORE than what was on offer, the barman gets everything for himself. And in that situation, the greediest customer is also punished by paying the value of their order in points to the least greedy player. The game is played as a race to 75 points so you most definitely do not want to be going backwards.

Now, if the barman simply told the other players how much he was offering before they placed their bids, there wouldn’t be much to think about here. Each player would have a strong incentive to take their ‘fair share’ of what’s on offer, leaving nothing for the innkeeper. Defecting from that strategy and causing an over-order would leave the innkeeper profiting massively, while you give up points to the other players.

Push-your-luck

Enter the push-your-luck half of the game!

Push-your-luck is often implemented as a series of individual contests between player and game, with how far you want to push depending on your position relative to the others. For example, you take more chances in Can’t Stop when another player is on the verge of winning. It’s mostly about individual calculations of risk and reward.

But in Polterfass, the asymmetric setup of each round means the innkeeper is pushing his luck against the other player’s blind bids. Here’s how it works.

The serving the barman offers is determined by rolling delightful ‘dice’ that are actually barrels. Seven white barrels have a number between 2 and 9 on either end (each totalling 11). They are all rolled together on to a beermat from a dice cup, but only barrels that ‘stand up’ count. The barman can choose to re-roll all barrels that landed on their side in the hope of serving a bigger quantity but if he ever has a roll in which no barrels stand up, he pushed his luck too far and goes bust. That’s disastrous, because he scores nothing and all the other players get whatever they ordered.

There are also two brown barrels, each with a ‘cancel’ symbol on one side and a ‘double’ symbol on the other. These are applied to a white barrel of the barman’s choice, and a standing brown barrel can also be optionally re-rolled (unlike the white barrels which are ‘locked’). This gives the barman sufficient latitude to tailor the amount he offers, though he’s still dependent on the whims of fate.

OK, so now we have an asymmetric setup in which the barman tries to offer either:
1 a LOT more than what the customers have collectively bid for, keeping the remainder for himself; or
2 a decent serving but just a bit less than the customers have ordered, drinking it all himself while the greediest player is penalised

Meanwhile the players have to second-guess which of those routes he’ll go for and how much they should order as a result. Go too low and option 1 becomes very profitable for the barman; go too high and 2 does!

Putting it all together

If the customers all placed their order before the barman started the push-your-luck rolling, the game would work but there’d be too little to go on for either the customers or the barman to make really interesting decisions. The final crucial ingredient is that the barman gets one guaranteed roll (he re-rolls until at least one barrel stands up) which everyone sees before placing their orders and only then does he decide whether and how far to push his luck.

The best way to illustrate how all this comes together is with an example of what the players are thinking. Let’s say the innkeeper rolls 9, 5, 2, cancel. If he sticks, he could offer 14, 11 or 7 (the cancel has to be used on one of the barrels). Your turns as barman are the only time you can score more than 13 points in a turn so 7 would be slim pickings even if the customers bust – the least greedy customer might even outscore you. 14 is a decent reward though, and without the risk of pushing your luck...

...but the customers know that! Perhaps they’ll order in the range of 4-5 each, soaking up all your points? So maybe you should try to catch them out with a just about satisfactory 11? Or maybe you should re-roll the cancel and shoot for the 20s, keeping the excess…

...but maybe the customers have anticipated you’ll ‘go big’, either because you’re behind in the scoring or have a risk-taking reputation. There’s a sort of rock-paper-scissor relationship between the innkeeper and customer choices, but also between the customers, since you absolutely don’t want the negative points for being most greedy.

Is it for me?

The best way to know if you’ll like this game is whether that Vizzini-like reasoning sounds enjoyable to you or like so much random nonsense. Polterfass only works with a group that all buy in to attempting to read and outguess each other. It’s not a bluffing game (although the bids are hidden, the customers have no way to influence the outcome of the round after they are placed) but it shares some of their traits.

Technically it’s a 3-6 player game but it doesn’t scale particularly gracefully. With three, it’s too easy for the innkeeper to roll in excess of what the customers can possibly order. With six, there are too many players to try to read, and the customers’ ordering strategies will tend to average out to a middling bid. But with 4-5 players willing to engage in the necessary mind games, it’s a barrel of laughs with the perfect atmosphere, components and theme to be played in the pub over a few pints of the real stuff.

(thanks to Joe and Steph for images)
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Fri Sep 8, 2017 11:06 am
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"Psychic backgammon": the lost gem you probably already own

Martin G
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Two of my favourite discoveries this year have been Joli Quentin Kansil's clever word games What's My Word? and Montage. I've long wanted to try his obscure backgammon-tricktaking hybrid Marrakesh and finally found a reasonably-priced copy on German eBay. Of course I could have just made my own... and so could you!

What you will need is:

- a backgammon set, as the game is played on half of one, using 6 counters for each side

- two decks of standard cards, from which you assemble two copies of 1-6 of each suit, plus one queen of each suit to make up a 52-card deck

- a few extra dice, as you roll six to determine the starting position of your pieces (though really one die rolled 6 times would work too!)

- a few chips of a third colour as 'null chips' (though actually you could use the dice for this too)

- these rules: http://verbavolant.com/games/marrakesh/Marrakesh_full_a4.odt (better formatted than the versions on BGG, though they could probably still use a re-write)

Rules


The game is based on the bearing-off phase of backgammon - both players start with 6 counters in their respective home area (allocated by the dice) and race to remove them from the board. But instead of bearing off with dice rolls, you do it with cards (the Ace to 6 represent numbers of pips).

Each round (of which 12 make up a game), the players are dealt 6 cards each and play six 'tricks', with the winner getting the numbers on both cards played to move pieces with. But the big twist is that the lead card is always played face-down, which makes it feel less like trick-taking and more like mind-reading!

The trick-taking is also unusual in that the winner is determined by a ranking of suits, with the number playing no role. Spades beat Hearts and Diamonds, Hearts beats Diamonds and Clubs, Diamonds beat Clubs and Clubs beat Spades. And best of all is if you manage to match the suit of your opponent's face-down play, in which case you draw a third card as a bonus 'roll'.

Like backgammon, 'doubles' (number matches) are really valuable, being worth 4 instead of 2 of that number. And if you are lucky/psychic enough to match both suit and number, you get that 'roll' 6 times, plus your bonus card 4 times - potentially devastating!

Importantly, you only get three opportunities to bear off your pieces. Once you've won three tricks, any future wins instead let you give a 'null chip' to your opponent.

The scoring system has the pleasant baroqueness of a traditional card game. There are points for both offense (bearing off fast) and defence (stopping your opponent doing the same). Offensively these range from 'Pips' (one point for the player closest to bearing off if neither make it all the way) up to 'Backgammon' (12 points for all six pieces off in a single trick). There are also bonus points for bearing off in particular patterns, for example 2-2-2 is a 'Casablanca' worth 6 points.

Defensively, you score one point for each null chip assigned to your opponent with bonuses known as 'Fezzes' for restricting your opponent to zero or one pieces borne off on each of their 3 tries. The aforementioned Queens help here, since they act as a 'zero' roll which you hope to stick your opponent with.

My thoughts

So what does Marrakesh feel like and who would it appeal to? For me, it has some of the characteristics I enjoy so much in Cribbage. The first time you play, it'll seem completely random - how am I supposed to compete when I get dealt a 2-point hand and my opponent a 20? And luck certainly is a significant factor, especially with the sometimes-enormous matching bonuses.

But, as with Cribbage, over the three games I played this weekend, little tricks started to reveal themselves and rookie mistakes became apparent. The asymmetry of the starting position is part of this (it means you can play numbers that are more useful for you than for your opponent), and so is the memory element. There's a reshuffle only after each set of three hands, so by the third of a set you'll know which cards are gone and which remain. You also have some freedom in how you play your rolls, with an eye on achieving the bonus pattern scores.

To get the most out of Marrakesh, you need to play with an opponent who will appreciate these subtleties (rather than writing it off as random nonsense) but who will also laugh heartily when they get backgammoned by a lucky match. You also need to buy into the 'ESP' element of trying to read and bluff your opponent, so to me it seems perfectly suited for a pub game with a good friend.
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Tue Aug 29, 2017 2:27 pm
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First look: Time of Crisis

Martin G
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Most of my gaming since Effie was born has been of the short and light 'tapas gaming' variety, and I'm fine with that! But occasionally it's nice to get stuck into something more meaty. Joe has been lobbying hard to get his recent acquisition, Time of Crisis played and several positive mentions from geekbuddies had increased my interest. Four of us got together on Saturday night to take it on - the others had a couple of games under their belts already while I'd made a detailed study of the rulebook.

For a 3-hour GMT game, it's not terribly complex, though there are a few little details to keep track of. The setting is the crisis in the Roman Empire in the third century AD, with internal strife seeing a rapid succession of emperors while the borders were assailed by various barbarian hordes. The players represent rival Roman dynasties staking their claim to the provinces and attempting to take their turn as Emperor.

Mechanically, it's very much a hybrid of a Gerdts-ian Euro and a card-driven war game.

The Euro engine is a sort-of-deck-builder strongly tied to the action on the map. The currency for buying new cards is provided not by the cards you play but by your political control on the map. The biggest break with standard deck-building is that you don't draw your hand randomly, but select it from your draw pile, leaving the unchosen cards for a later turn. But you do the selection at the end of your turn, anticipating which cards you might need after all the other players have done their worst.

As for the cards, there are only 9 different ones arranged in 3 colours (corresponding to senate, military and populace) with the more expensive ones giving more action points to be spent on a menu of actions from each colour. This means that as the decks ramp up, players have more and more action points to spend and hence longer turns, though this is mitigated by some of the actions getting progressively more expensive.

On the wargame side, elections and combat are both resolved with dice-chucking, different units scoring hits for different rolls (3-6, 4-6 etc). There's a nice twist of 'exploding sixes' - a 6 counts as a hit and a re-roll, so it's possible to end up with more hits than dice, allowing unexpected underdog victories. Joe once managed to roll 7 hits on 2 dice!

There's also a 'crisis roll' at the start of each player's turn which manages the unpredictable barbarian invasions and occasionally throws up an event card. This is definitely a game of tactical response as well as long-term strategy, befitting the setting.

I really enjoyed it! Three and a half hours flew by without a dull moment. Although other players' turns can get long, you're constantly invested in their outcome even if they are not directly battling you.

The theme comes across really well with lots of nice details being added by the special events which appear on the cards alongside the action points. You can build amphitheatres to pacify rioting mobs, you can recruit barbarians into your army, you can even establish a rival empire with its own power base. Points can be achieved in each of the three domains -- by political control of provinces, military conquest or by placating the masses with grand improvements.

We're hoping to schedule another game soon.
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Thu Aug 17, 2017 9:51 am
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New to me July 2017

Martin G
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Wibbell - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


Wibbell++ is a new game system consisting of a deck of cards each marked with two different letters of the alphabet. So far I've only played Wibbell, but the deck comes with rules for 5 games and many more are to follow on a dedicated website.

Wibbell itself is a speed wordgame with a clever catch-up mechanism. At first two cards are turned face up, and the first person to shout a word which includes a letter from each card gets to take one of them. The central card is replaced and the process repeated. But now the player with a card in front of them has to come up with a word containing a letter from all three cards, while everyone else still only has to use the two central ones. So the better you do, the harder your task becomes. Fun!

Santo Domingo - 2 plays -  6 
First Published 2017


Santo Domingo is a very simple simultaneous-selection double-think game - kind of a microgame version of Havana or Libertalia. Not bad, despite the thoroughly underwhelming setting and art.

13 Minutes: The Cuban Missile Crisis - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017



I wasn't sure about 13 Minutes: The Cuban Missile Crisis. 13 Days was already highly abstracted and I think this microgame version might go too far for me. Seems like it could be interesting if both players knew the cards, but I think I'd rather play Khmer or Hanamikoji than put that effort in.

Honshu - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2016


Honshu didn't particularly impress. It's billed as a spatial trick-taker but, like Pi Mal Pflaumen, it's closer to an auction, and a slightly limp one at that since there isn't much differentiation between the items bid on. The individual puzzle part of it is quite neat though - 'patching' cards over and under each other to build a city.

W1815 - 2 plays -  5 
First Published 2015


I thought I was going to like the highly-abstracted 15-minute wargame W1815, but I didn't really. I'm sure it's clever if you know anything about the battle it's simulating (Waterloo) but I don't, and am not really interested in learning.
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Wed Aug 2, 2017 12:03 pm
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A Kickstarter worth backing

Martin G
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A few years ago I read the wonderful book The Well-played Game: a Player's Philosophy by 'guru of play' Bernard de Koven and was inspired to write this blogpost: Playing to win or playing to play?. It (along with the discussion it generated) is one of my favourite contributions to BGG. Bernie happened upon the post too and we had a follow-up email discussion that I still treasure.

Today I learned that Bernie has been diagnosed with lung cancer and has only months to live. His typically inspiring announcement is here.

Quote:
If you want to do something for me or because of me, grieving is not what I need. What I need is for you to continue your play/work however you can. Play games. Play the kind of games I like to teach - you know, those "funny games" - harmlessly intimate, vaguely physical games of the semi-planned, spontaneous, just-for-fun ilk, basically without equipment, or goal, or score or reason, even.

Teach those games to everyone. Play them outside, these games. In public. With friends. And strangers. As many as want to play with you.

Make up your own games. Make them up together with the people who play them. Play. Teach. Invent. Play some more.

Also especially - look into this playfulness thing too. Deeply. Because we're not talking just games here. We're talking about how you can let yourself be as playful as you've always been, how you can be playful almost anywhere with almost anyone, how you can invite people to be playful with you, in school and office and in the checkout line: all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities from all kinds of backgrounds.


In his last months, Bernie is working on a legacy project - a game, of course - and it's now up on Kickstarter.

Quote:
We’re going to make a game together. A game about legacy, evoking what it means to pass something on to someone else. And a game as a small legacy of our conversations.

Brilliantly, beautifully, we don’t know what the game will be just yet. As you never do, until you start making it. But perhaps, if you like, you can imagine receiving a parcel in the post, and opening it up, without knowing just what you will find inside.


I can't think of a more fitting tribute.
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Tue Jul 4, 2017 10:12 am
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New to me June 2017

Martin G
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Another nice month of new games - I enjoyed all of these.

Montage - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 1973


Having been impressed by Joli Quentin Kansil's What's My Word? I was keen to try his other 70s word game and got a copy on sale.

It's a partnership game in which you are trying to communicate a word to your partner by giving a clue up to 5 words long, hoping your opponents won't guess it first. But you don't get given the word on a card, you have to come up with one that fits on the crossword-grid board. And on the grid, letters aren't shown directly but represented by five colours which each correspond to a group of 5 or 6 different letters. Successfully guessing words lets you fill the space on the grid with your team's chips, with the winners being determined by area control.

As if all that wasn't enough, the whole process of a turn (selecting a spot, choosing a word that fits, cluing and guessing) must be done within a minute and as soon as that is over, the next turn starts! It makes for a unique rush of frantic creativity. Also neat that it has elements of both word game (where meaning matters, like Codenames) and letter game (where it doesn't, like Scrabble).

Cobras - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


Everyone who knows me knows I love a trick-taker with a twist. This one also has a great thematic premise in the 'cobra effect': to reduce snake numbers, the authorities offer a payment for each dead cobra turned in. But this encourages the locals to breed cobras to claim the payment, which works fine until the authorities find out and cancel the payments.

In the game, you acquire cobra tokens each time you lose a trick and turn them in when you win one. The scoring schedule gives increasingly good rewards for turning in up to 7 cobras at a time but punishes you hard if you overshoot and even worse if you still have them at the end of a hand. So it's a game of timing when to lose and when to win, with plenty of dickishness too, winning a sequence of tricks to force your opponents over the limit.

NMBR 9 - 2 plays -  6 
First Published 2017


Polyominoes seem to be in right now, which suits me as I like spatial games. NMBR 9 is of the true-multiplayer-solitaire 'bingo' family, like Take It Easy and Karuba. It's a quicker teach than either of those and I enjoyed the simplicity of the premise. I'm not sure how much of a learning curve it has though - I more than doubled my score from 1st game to 2nd once I'd appreciated how important not leaving holes is.

Bärenpark - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


And more Tetris pieces. This one is most similar to Cottage Garden and Patchwork, with each player acquiring pieces from a common area to accommodate in their individual board. Phil Walker-Harding really knows how to make a smooth-playing game and I liked Barenpark much more than the fiddly Cottage Garden. But with that smoothness can come a feeling of too much balance. It's hard to see how players will ever end up far apart in scoring, unlike in the superior Patchwork.

Movable Type - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2016


Finally another word (or rather letter) game. It's very simple - each of the first four rounds you draft a hand of 5 letters and then make the best word you can with those plus 3 common letters. The scoring order of words determines the order in which you draft from the played cards into the hand you use in the fifth and final round. Best word that round wins the game.
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Fri Jun 30, 2017 10:20 am
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Q2 2017 review

Martin G
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 136

Distinct games: 58

New-to-me games: 21

Dimes: 2 - Jump Drive (24), Hanamikoji (11)

Nickels: 5 - Fuji Flush (8), Insider (6), Innovation (6), Crokinole (5), Flamme Rouge (5)

Another great quarter of gaming! In addition to my regular Tuesday nights, I had a visit from an old friend and a trip to LoBsterCon plus a bunch of lunchtime gaming (mostly the two dimes above).

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 6 - Hanamikoji, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases, Insider, Jump Drive, Montage, Polterfass

Removed: 0

Owned: 176 (excluding expansions - up from 170 at end Q1)

Unplayed: 2 (Pax Renaissance, IOTA)

Failing to learn Pax Renaissance was my one disappointment from LoBsterCon. Slight splurge on the acquisitions but I'm really enjoying all of them and got some good bargains.

Best new-to-me: Lots of good ones! Hanamikoji and Jump Drive have both been getting lots of play but Flamme Rouge and two excellent word games from Joli Quentin Kansil (What's My Word? and Montage) also deserve a mention.
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Fri Jun 30, 2017 9:01 am
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New to me May 2017

Martin G
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Another good month with no stinkers!

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases - 1 play -  8 
First Published 1981


I've been wanting to try this for years and it didn't disappoint. It's not so much a board game, more a piece of interactive fiction. I read out the clues and kept track of all the names while Sarah did most of the actual detective work! We managed to solve the first case, albeit with a pitiful score. I don't think score is really the point of this one though; the better you score, the less of the game you get to experience.

Insider - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2016


A social deduction game I really like! This is essentially 20 Questions with a hidden role. The 'master' and the 'insider' both get to see the secret word, then the group (including the insider) ask questions with a yes/no/don't know answer to the master to try to guess it within 5 minutes. Once it's guessed, the players vote for who they think the insider is - if they get it right, they win, otherwise the insider wins.

I was insider in the first game and it's a really tricky balance of trying to steer things in the right direction without giving yourself away. I ended up having to 'guess' the word myself and got unanimously voted for. I was worried this would be a common pattern but in the second game the insider did a brilliant job of framing someone else.

Hit Z Road - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2016


This recent Wallace game had completely passed me by (zombie theme, terrible name) but it's been played a few times by my group recently and sounded quite fun. I liked it! Players have to survive over the course of 8 rounds, each round bidding to select the best (or least worst) set of two encounter cards. But the resources you bid with are the same ones you need to fight off zombies AND the resources you have left over at the end make up a big chunk of the scoring. Zombie combat is resolved with handfuls of dice (to cheers and groans) and it's entirely possible to be eliminated before the end. It's not a long game though, and we only had an elimination on the last round.

Stich-Meister - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2010


A fun trick-taker in which the rules change each hand. I knew what kind of a game it was from the rule-reveal in the first hand. With almost no brown cards, I tossed in 'every brown card you take is minus 1 point' and was delighted to see someone else had picked brown as trump... until I read the final rule card: 'for this round, negative points become positive and vice versa'.

Pucket - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2003


Frantic and amusing dexterity challenge.
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Thu Jun 1, 2017 10:33 pm
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Categories of short games

Martin G
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I recently got into a conversation which started with a geekbuddy referring to Ra as "Knizia's party-style-tile-auction affair". I questioned 'party-style' and the subsequent conversation went:

John Rogers wrote:
My reference for party games is, kinda weird. I play them rarely if at all and I tend to combine party, filler, and light games together as a block. Players are typically laughing, joking, not thinking too hard, they are easy entry points for non-gamers, and typically less than 60min sessions.


qwertymartin wrote:
Hmm yeah, different points of reference for sure. You just described 90% of what I play and I'd divide it into at least three different categories


John said he'd be interested in a breakdown of my major categories with examples. In the end I came up with seven and even that only covered games up to 30 minutes which support more than 2 players!

Here's what I came up with:

Party games
Focus on an activity that promotes conversation/socialisation, winning is rarely important, support large groups and teams. e.g. Cards Against Humanity, Say Anything, Time's Up.

Social deduction games
Focus on deception and logic, involve a lot of talking (about the game), hidden roles. e.g. The Resistance, Werewolf, Spyfall.

Super-light/pub games
Very lightweight (1 minute explanation) card/dice games, usually support large groups, push-your-luck and bluffing common. e.g. Perudo, Pairs, Skull & Roses.

Standard fillers
Feature mechanics seen in bigger games (auctions, drafting, set collection) but lighter/shorter, usually support smaller groups than party/pub games, e.g. For Sale, Coloretto, No Thanks.

Super-fillers
Short medium-weight Euros which have much of the decision space/arc of a longer game. e.g. Dominion, 7 Wonders, RFTG.

Traditional-inspired games
Suits and numbers card games including tricktakers, usually played in multiple hands. e.g. Sticheln, Diamonds, Wizard.

Light AT/'beer & pretzel'
Emphasis on theme and take-that interaction. e.g. King of Tokyo, Cash & Guns, Munchkin.

I noted that there's lots of crossover between these categories, but do they seem similar or different to the way any of you think of this class of games? Anything obvious I've missed?
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Wed May 10, 2017 11:40 am
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New to me April 2017

Martin G
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April was my best month of gaming for ages, featuring not just my first LoBsterCon for 18 months but also a visit from an old friend and long-time 2p gaming rival. Many old favourites were played but it was none-too-shabby on the new-to-me too: eleven games and only one dud.

Flamme Rouge - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2016


Good reports from geekbuddies had put this on my radar and I was impressed with the designer's 13 Days too. I played it every week in April and was really impressed by the way the dynamics of a cycle race emerge naturally from a pleasingly simple set of rules.

What's My Word? - 2 plays -  8 
First Published 1972


I'd played an app version (vs. AI) of this ages ago, but a geekbuddy kindly sent me a couple of laminated score sheets and I introduced it to my wife. It's essentially Mastermind with words and it's very clever indeed. Just as I prefer a good crossword to Sudoku, the word element takes this beyond a dry logic puzzle. Print out a sheet and try it today!

Hanamikoji - 5 plays -  8 
First Published 2013


Another one a geekbuddy hooked me up with, bringing a copy over from the US for me on his first trip to Europe. This is a great 2p battle of wits - reminiscent of Battle Line but with added mind games, and certainly elegant enough that it could be a Knizia (high praise!).

High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2016


I picked this up in the US at Christmas but hadn't managed to get it played until now. It was a perfect fit to try with my wily and CDG-loving friend Matt.

It's a card-driven game where the two players represent the prosecution and defence in a trial and it feels very thematic. The jurors each start out with hidden traits, and in the jury selection phase you get to peek at or reveal some of these and then decide which jurors to excuse because they are unlikely to be predisposed to your side.

The main part of the trial then involves taking turns playing cards for either their event or for action points, which are used to influence jurors directly or to move various tracks corresponding to their traits (e.g. Protestant or Catholic, English or French). You also stash a handful of (hopefully strong) cards for the summation phase when final arguments are presented. In the closing deliberation phase, jurors you've already persuaded to your side can influence others, and then the final score is totalled up depending on the jurors' traits and positions of the corresponding tracks.

It's surprisingly simple and fast-playing once you get going. I think we were done in not much more than 45 minutes and hardly had to refer back to the rulebook at all. I stockpiled events for the summation phase that allowed me to present strong evidence of insanity, but when we totalled up the juror scores, Matt had achieved 103, when 100+ is required for prosecution. And by such a slender margin, Louis Riel was hanged!

Victory Point Games are soliciting designs for other famous trials using the same system and I can really see that working well. Scopes Monkey Trial please!

Das Motorsportspiel - 1 play -  7 
First Published 1995


A racing game that actually feels like racing. The dice allocation mechanism is clever enough, but setting the whole thing to a timer is genius and produces inevitable and hilarious screw-ups. Too bad it's been out of print for years.

Jump Drive - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


Joe taught me this as a lunchtime game, describing it as 'Race for the Galaxy in pill form'. That's a perfect summary. It's (even) less interactive than Race but still has the cardboard-crack addictiveness of the combo-building. I don't imagine it having a particularly long shelf-life but it packs enough punch for a 10-minute diversion.

Wettlauf nach El Dorado - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


I was intrigued by early reports of Knizia's deckbuilder and had the chance to play at LoBsterCon. I enjoyed the way the deckbuilding feeds into the board-play and the market mechanism is a nice compromise between 'you can buy anything' and random availability. I had ordered a cheap copy from amazon.de which got cancelled and will keep an eye out for the English version, but it doesn't solve the issue I often have with deckbuilders of your own turn being a lot more fun and involving than anyone else's.

Mask of Anubis - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2016


wow This is the one in which you download a smartphone app, insert the phone into an elaborate headset to create a VR viewer and then take turns to describe different parts of maze while the others frantically try to reconstruct it with tiles. Not sure I'd want to play it often but I definitely value uniqueness.

Rukshuk - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2006


A dexterity game with the most unusual pieces I've seen - very irregular ceramic blocks colour-coded by difficulty. It's played as a multiplayer solitaire, all racing to complete a structure that best matches the target card. Fun but hard!

Cartagena - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2000


I'd somehow missed out on ever playing this venerable game. Turns out to be gamer Candyland, which is no bad thing! A fun, elegant race game.

Don't Mess with Cthulhu - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2014


And finally to the one dud. I just don't get social deduction. As I said at the end, I just don't really feel like I've played a game. Still, it was quick and harmless, and played in good spirit with good company.
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Tue May 2, 2017 2:49 pm
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