Saturday 30 April was International Table Top Day (ITTD), a day of celebration for table top games of all sorts: board, dice, card, miniatures, RPGs, even Monopoly. ITTD is truly global in scope and is observed in most sovereign states and territories around the world – with the exception only of North Korea, where it goes by the name “Glorious Table Top Simulation of Supreme Leader’s Righteous Victory Over Capitalist-Imperialist-Aggressor World.” Rigorously choreographed tournaments of Twilight Struggle are televised direct from Pyongyang into every home and workplace, using a modified version of the rules where the role of the Soviet Union is replaced by North Korea and the United States represents the rest of the ‘Capitalist-Imperialist-Aggressor World’. This is followed by spectacular show trials in which any North Korea players who are unpatriotic enough lose the game are shot, and any Capitalist-Imperialist-etc players who accidentally win are also shot. It’s a rating bonanza!
The Games vs Play crew celebrated ITTD by going down to Gatekeeper Games, an FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) situated in sunny downtown North Fitzroy. Since opening in early 2015 Gatekeeper Games has become quite a hub for tabletop gamers in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. Certainly every night when I cycle past the store on my way home it’s packed full of people. I popped past Gatekeeper on the Friday night before ITTD and spoke with Simon Waugh, one of the friendly owners of the store. He explained that their ITTD would be a day of casual gaming. People could come and go as they like, with the option to use the in-store games library or bring their own. Just don’t set fire to anything and try not to knock over the Malifaux table (see pic below). Other than that everyone was welcome, even bloggers of dubious online publishing skills such as yours truly.
In total there were at least 60 people crammed into the store at the gaming peak of the day. There was even a line for the toilets – if only all nightclubs were like this! Simon and the team at Gatekeeper Games did a great job organising the event, and we’ll definitely be back for more gaming. One of the aspects of tabletop gaming that I like best is that it’s a real-world, face-to-face culture, and events held by FLGSs like Gatekeeper Games just serve to strengthen the ties within the gaming community. But to wrap up, here’s what the GvP crew played on International Table Top Day – five games in about five hours, which incidentally brings our tally for Peter’s Challenge to play “50 Games in 50 Weeks” to a total of 29 unique games for the year. That’s 21 games to go, and it’s only May!
I was drafted into a demonstration game of Malifaux within minutes of walking into the store. The Malifaux table had been set up in the back room at Gatekeeper Games, which surprised me somewhat, as I thought this was where they must keep their troop of indentured meeples who do the cleaning up after gaming events (go past the store after midnight and I swear you’ll see the little meeples vacuuming and folding away chairs).
The Malifaux team – Ralph, Fyfe, William and Emma – were super helpful in showing me the ropes of the game. Actually that’s not completely true, because Emma herself didn’t intend to play. Instead she told me that she drew more satisfaction in painting the wonderfully characterised miniatures that are central to this game. I reckon this artisanship-like approach to gaming is both admirable and probably fairly unique. There’s so many different ways to get involved in the world of games, which is what we love to see here at Games vs Play.
Malifaux itself is a skirmish miniatures game with a deliciously dark, steampunk setting. I just loooove that ruined church up on the hill that was the centrepiece in the scenario we played. Though the rules are fairly complicated – Ralph and Fyfe did a great job of explaining the basics to myself and Peter – I really liked it. Malifaux wouldn’t be for everybody – it’s basically a wargame, though with some innovative Eurogame-influence mechanics such the use of cards to generate randomization instead of the traditional polyhedral dice – but there’s a part of me that really wants to play a game where you don’t have to worry too much about different scoring tracks, where fluid tactics count more than long-range strategy, and where popping up from behind an overturned barrel and shooting your undead leprechaun’s musket at point-blank range at a Gothic cowboy is a perfectly acceptable move. If I wasn’t raising my own crew of berserker gremlins i.e. my young family, I would be seriously thinking of spending more time playing games like this. If you want to hear more about Malifaux from someone who knows what they’re talking about, check out Ralph’s 1-Mintue Review of the game on the Games vs Play Facebook page.
By now Peter’s friend Stefi had now arrived, so we had a 3-player game of Splendor. I’ve blogged about Splendor in my post on OzBunnyCon 2016 where I gave a less than stellar review, but this time around I enjoyed it a lot more. I guess that’s pretty much the standard experience when playing a game for a second time, as the gameplay and strategy will seem clearer. But I think this was also a more evenly-matched game between myself, Peter and Stefi, with the lead changing a few times and the three of us finishing with just one VP between each player. I mean, everyone loves a closely-contested game over a foregone victory, right? (Unless of course it’s you who’s doing the winning.)
Ren and Michal joined us after their classes had finished, which meant we had a five-player game of Hanabi, a co-operative card game where players strive to put on the most successful fireworks display ever. Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks, and I’m guessing the French designers of the game went with a Japanese theme rather than Spanish purely because los fuegos artificiales didn’t quite fit on the box.
The catch is that everybody else can see your hand of cards except for you. Working together, the players have to deduce from looking at each other’s hands the correct order in which to lay down their cards without accidentally setting off the cache of fireworks. Note to self: this would not be the optimal way to organise an actual display of fireworks … In most cooperative games the players are working against the clock to prevent some situation from escalating – the original Pandemic and games like Elder Sign or Shadows Over Camelot do this well. Hanabi is different in that the players are competing against the game to achieve a perfect score of 25. With much exaggerated facial gestures and carefully worded clues, we managed to get a score of 18 – not bad considering three out of five of us had never played the game before. But even more importantly, Hanabi earned us another flag on the map for Marianne’s Challenge of “Around the World in 80 Games.”
I can see how it would get exponentially harder to nudge your score closer towards the magical “25”, but it would be addictive fun nonetheless. Somewhere in the world there must be a Hanabi tournament taking place right now. Probably in Japan, where I’m sure it’s called Los Fuegos Artificiales instead.
Marianne arrived just in time to start a round of Timeline. which IMHO is almost a more of a bluffing game masquerading as a trivia game. “Which Swedish king led a coalition of Protestant forces to victory in the year – GOTCHA!”
Well, it doesn’t quite work like that. Each player is dealt a hand of cards that show some historical event, discovery or invention – like, for example, “The electric guitar is invented” or “The discovery of vanilla beans by Europeans.” The correct date is out of sight on the back of each card. Using your extensive knowledge of the history of vanilla beans, players take turns laying out their cards in what they hope is the correct chronological order. The first player to empty out their hand wins. Simple! Well, kind of. Mostly.
The key, of course, is to get the cards in the right historical order. But even the most hardcore trivia nut is going to have trouble knowing when most of the events in Timeline took place. So, inevitably players have to guess where their cards go and hope no-one knows history better than they do. The way to get ahead in the game is by calling the order of the cards wrong – in which case the current timeline is discarded and the last player before you called the timeline wrong has to pick up an extra card. I found this mechanic a little odd, as it seemed to mean you could only influence the hand of the player that immediately preceded you. If anybody’s heard of some mods that open up the play of the game a bit more, let us know.
Codenames was one of the breakout games of 2015, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. A word-association game that works a bit like a verbal version of Charades, at the start of the game twenty-five cards are laid out on the table. Each card has a single word printed on them, like “Robin” or “Theater”, and is secretly coded red, blue, beige or black. Only two “Spymasters” – representing the “Red” and “Blue” teams respectively – know the colours of each card at the start of the game. The Spymasters have to think up one-word clues that point to the cards on the table, while their teammates try to match the clue with the words of the right color. Beige cards are innocent bystanders; the single black card is an assassin that you want to avoid at all costs.
Codenames succeeds because it’s a light game that’s easy to play and relies on a lot of discussion within teams. But once again my pronounced leanings towards more immersive, thematically-rich games means that I’d probably choose a deduction game like Mysterium over Codenames, which has broadly similar game mechanics but is set in a remote Scottish castle during a seance (of course it is!). I did enjoy Codenames, though, and would happily recommend this game to any ASIO or the CIA operatives if they ever came knocking at my door.