I know you’ve all been champing at the bit waiting for another session report… well, wait no longer my impatient friends! My brother in law visited for the weekend and Saturday was an epic day of analogue gaming fun. Allow me to relay the events…
The first game up was a relatively new effort. Five Tribes, designed by the incomparable Bruno Cathala and published by the ever excellent Days Of Wonder in 2014 is a game based around the mechanics of the ancient African game Mancala.
In Five Tribes players are competing to have the most influence by claiming vacant tiles and employing viziers and clerics to their cause. At the start of the game a 5×6 grid of square tiles is laid out and upon each of these are placed 4 meeples drawn randomly from a bag. These will be in a mix of colours (five, one for each of the titular tribes).
On a player’s go they take all the meeples from one square and drop them off, one at a time, on subsequent squares and wherever they drop the final meeple they take all of the same colour and use the action of that specific tribe (ie, red assassinate other meeples from squares or in front of players, blue earns money, green buys goods, white buy djinn etc). They also take the action of the specific tile where they finished their turn. This may be buying goods, buying djinn (special action cards and worth additional VP), placing palm trees (VP) etc.
Once there are no more legal moves to play, or a player has placed their final camel (to control a tile for VP) the game ends, everyone finishes their final turns and scores are totted up.
Awesome game… a bit prone to Analysis Paralysis as it is intensely tactical, as people routinely mess up your planned moves. However, it’s a really aesthetically pleasing game, plays relatively quickly and is lots of fun.
Another game by Bruno Cathala that has recently come into my possession is Abyss, which was also published in 2014. In this game we are underwater types recruiting sea creature lords and allies for influence in the Abyssal Council.
The theme is relatively paper thin, but the artwork is terrific. The mechanics revolve around set collection and hand management. Each round players have one action from three possible moves. They can ‘explore the depths’ which means recruiting allies to form your hand (these will be from one of five different races – crabs, seahorse, shellfish, squid or jellyfish). Each card has a different numerical value. The second action is to ‘request aid from the council’, which basically means take all cards from one race which have not been claimed while exploring. These will tend to be of a lower value, but there will be lots of them. The third action is to recruit a lord (one from a set of six face up at the bottom of the board). Each lord has different affiliation to a race and specific costs in terms of card value and race types required for their recruitment.
There’s more to it than that, but as soon as a player recruits their seventh lord the end of the game is triggered. Everyone takes one final turn (other than the player who triggered the game end) and scores are totalled up, much as in Five Tribes.
A really great looking and relatively simple game which grows on you with each play.
My brother in law is a big Cthulhu mythos fan. We’ve previously played Eldritch Horror with him, which was a long and relatively complex game. Elder Sign is basically a dice and card only version which plays a lot quicker and more simply.
Each player has a unique investigator, who will also have their own unique ability or power as well as a different sanity and health score. At the start of the game you randomly choose the Great Old One you’ll be attempting to defeat and laying out six location cards.
Each round players will move to locations in order to try and defeat the investigation tests required there to claim the rewards (items, clues or Elder Signs which are used to defeat the Great Old One). To do so they roll their dice (including any extra dice permitted by item cards) to match the symbols on the location cards. If they win they claim the location card as a trophy (used to heal or claim items later) and any rewards granted by that location. If they fail then whatever penalty is on that location applies – this may be monsters spawning or deductions to sanity and/or health.
You keep going, if you can, until the Great Old One is defeated (you find enough Elder Signs to banish him).
Pretty good – I’m not big on the Cthulu mythos myself, but the games are very thematic, tend to have great components and artwork and the gameplay itself is never overly complex.
Among The Stars
Time for a little bit of lighter fare… this one is a card drafting set collection type game. The theme is that we’re all building our own space stations using a combination of different room types from the deck.
Each round players are dealt a hand of six cards – you pick one and pass the rest on to your neighbour (left or right, depending on round number). You also get ten monies for use in building said cards on your space station.
With the card you pick you can do one of three things – build it (pay cost in money and claim points and bonus, if applicable), discard it for three monies or discard it and build a power reactor (some rooms require power to build them – white cubes in the picture).
There are a range of five different types of card and on those cards will be victory points and either an immediate bonus or an end of game one. There are also three randomly drawn end of game shared goals to compete for (most of one type of card, first to 50 points, most money at end of the game etc).
To add a bit more variability there are also different races who have different abilities. Annoyingly mine this time was one where I get more money at the start of each round than other players, but I can’t carry it forward at the end of each round and can’t earn more money from discarding cards.
Nice artwork, good theme, light gameplay… I liked this second play more than the first… still not sure though, myself.
Betrayal At House On The Hill
My brother in law is a big fan of story led games, so he wanted to give this a go – I’ve spoken of this in the past and many of you are aware of it already.
This time we went up against Dracula and his bride, which was fun. Thankfully I quickly found the spear and killed them in quick order. Shame really, cos it seemed too easy really.
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Now time for the main event. BIL brought along his unplayed copy of this storytelling game. We almost left it too late, as we had been going all day and our attention was wavering… but this was what we were looking forward to.
In this game each player chooses a character (Sinbad, Ali Baba, Sherehazade etc) and is drawn a random quest. You set up your quest tokens on the board as required by your quests, or not as in my case, and choose for yourself a winning score of story and destiny points (to an exact figure of 20 – so I chose 8 destiny and 12 story points). First player to get to their score and return to Baghdad wins the game.
Players move according to their wealth (all start on poor: 3 by land and 2 by sea) and at the end of the movement you draw an Encounter card. That card tells you who you’ve met (let’s say “Beggar” and which chapter of the book to check – in that chapter will be a range of 1 to 12 options. The active player rolls a die and adds the value of the location they are on to it. So 4 on the die and a 2 value spot on the board = 6. The storyteller for that round reads out option 6 (lets say this is “Lazy”) – so the player has now encountered a Lazy Beggar – they then get to choose, from a set of actions, what to do with that Lazy Beggar. The options for this round may be something like Aid, Beat, Follow, Hire etc. Once the player chooses their action the storyteller matches this against their matrix to find which story chapter in the book of Tales of the Arabian Nights to go to and the encounter is read out.
Sometimes it’s just a random encounter and the player is given some story and/or destiny points, moving their tracker up the board. Sometimes the encounter can make use of skills the player may have, such as Seamanship, Weapon Use, Luck, Bargaining etc. The player can choose to use this skill, or not, to affect the outcome of the encounter.
It’s a really random kind of game, but it’s very funny and thematic. I ended up with HEAPS of status effects which were really annoying. For instance, my first quest was to find my love – once achieved I married her and set up my home in the city nearest the space I was currently on. As I now had the Married status, whenever I finished a turn in another city I had to return home (and attempt to make babies) before being able to finish a turn in another city. Unfortunately, the next encounter I had also made me an outlaw, so whenever I returned to my home city I’d also be arrested and gain the Imprisoned status… *sigh*
Genuinely fun activity disguised as a game – if you’re into random silliness and you’re in the right group this is a hit.
Unfortunately, everyone was too tired after we finished this to have a go of something else, so reports on the pirate racing game Jamaica and others will have to wait for the next of these… and if you’ve made it this far without binning me off… well done and thanks!