Nov 5, 2014

Ticket to Dixit: Tales of the Arkham Hill

Erik Zaring may currently be busy preparing the huge and beyond lovely fifth episode of The Dream Machine, but he's also a most generous Patreon supporter of mine and has mentioned he enjoys reading all about board games. Well, here's your patreon-powered feature article dear sir!

2014 has been a hellish year so far and one of the things that did actually help keep spirits up was playing board games with my wife and a selection of close friends. Now, don't get me wrong, I do love board games no matter what, but I just never really expected the enjoyment they provide to be this, well, this therapeutic.

What follows, then, is a piece on the five games we've played the most this year. Not my five favourite ones nor the best ones to be released during this year, just the five we played the most. And, yes, I too wished we gave Space Hulk or Space Alert more time, but was usually voted down. 

Betrayal At House On The Hill
Picture courtesy of Wired
Betrayal At House On The Hill is probably the most versatile game I have ever played and a rare game that balances cooperation with the chance to be incredibly nasty to other players. But that reads like a review, doesn't it? Well, I frankly wouldn't like to review anything here; merely let you know that despite having explored the halls of the spooky titular house a couple dozen times at least, I'm still nor bored of it.

The game, you see, always begins the same way. Each player chooses a character and goes around exploring the house by randomly revealing tile after tile of rather exotic rooms -- that may include an indoor graveyard and a conservatory--, picking up items, trying to improve their stats, discovering secret doors, gathering omens and running into events. These events usually require you make a skill check or decision and provide the plot bits for the first part of the game. 

Also, they can randomly create some lovely little stories. In one game, for example, my character run into his future self who kindly provided him with a truly handy item, only to eventually run into his past self and return said item.   

As for Omens, uncovering those usually provides with a powerful ally or artifact, but can also lead to a haunting, which signals the beginning of the second, main phase of the game. According to when, how and who ran into the Omen, one player (usually) gets turned into a traitor and a scenario is chosen that will determine whether said traitor or the rest of the investigators win the game. These scenarios also happen to be where Betrayal At House On The Hill truly, brilliantly shines.

They can be about anything from a witch trying to conclude a ritual and beating Death at chess to having the traitor turn into a huge serpent and stopping the whole house from lifting off into outer space. Impressively each scenario comes with drastically different rules and condition and even a well written bit of plot to round things up.

So, yes, that's hours upon hours of fun exploring all kinds of B-movie horrors, scheming and manipulating opponents and comrades.  

Image stolen from Shut Up & Sit Down
Dixit is my main board gaming recruiting tool. It is, after all, absolutely beautiful to look at, extremely easy to get into and (with the expansion we grabbed) can easily accommodate up to 12 players. Hell, even my mother tried it and almost enjoyed it, which should probably classify as a miracle.

And it helps break the (non-existent) ice at (small) parties, as people are bound to say ridiculously outrageous thing when playing it. 

Playing, in case you are wondering, consists of picking a card from your hand and describing it to the rest of the players. This description could be anything: a single word, a movie title, a little story, an obscure reference only a few will pick up, anything at all, as long as it ensures that at least one of the others figures out which card you've described. Make the description too blatant for everyone to guess right though and you'll lose. 

Intrigued? Good. Moving on then to...

Arkham Horror
Straight from the now defunct GameSetWatch
Fantasy Flight's definitive classic, Arkham Horror, is as close to a full blown, strategic, narrative heavy RPG as a board game can ever get while still remaining a proper board game and I love it for this and a million other reasons. It may also be a game that tends to last for several hours and one which comes with a brutal, built-in, analog, wise yet bonkers A.I. that controls them roaming monsters and keeps opening inter-dimensional gates at the most inappropriate of places, but still, and despite the initial complexity, everyone seems to, handily, love it too.

I suspect this could either be due to Arkham Horror being a stunning game that captures Lovecraft's desperate style of cosmic horror or to the fact that us humans simply enjoy attempting to banish Nyarlathotep from 1920s New England towns. Or, if we are really lucky, Hastur.

In case you've been wondering how the game actually plays, well, you can always read this little PDF instructions booklet or bare with me for a few more words while keeping in mind this is a game I quite adore. And have been doing so for almost five years now.

Arkham Horror is a collaborative affair in which 1 to 8 investigators run around Arkham trying to close dimensional gates, travel to such places as the Plateau of Leng or the Dreamlands and battle a huge menagerie of lovecraftian beasties. Oh, yes, and have dozens upon dozens of mini encounters while trying to gather clues (the game's most important resource), keep their sanity, learn spells, recruit allies and possibly becoming the town sheriff. Sounds overwhelming? It really isn't. It's quality time in a box.   

Tales Of The Arabian Nights
An image from Stargazer's World
Did you know that I'm working on a CRPG of epic proportions with Kyttaro Games and a team of amazing writers, designers and artists? Well,  I am, and the Tales Of The Arabian Nights game was my initial inspiration for it. A game that's been doing demented storylets for ages and the only board game to ever have me change sex, spend years in jail trying to fast-talk my way to freedom, cajole me into making a powerful djinn enemy and allow me to attempt to enter a camel and drink the rain.

Yes, it's all about crafting wonderful, absolutely weird and brilliantly written stories in the world of Sinbad and Sheherazade; the world of One Thousand And One Nights.

Tales Of The Arabian Nights comes with a huge book sporting literally thousands of stories and variations. Every round you will draw an encounter card, say a lion or a princess or even a storm, and then you'll have a set of action-verbs (determined each time) to chose from: pray, drink, enter, hide, fight etc. Your response will lead to a bit of story and you losing or gaining something and, quite frequently, to increasingly surreal other stories. Much hilarity ensues, though, admittedly, what with each character having skills, you could also attempt to play sensibly; tactically even.

Am I making sense? No? Okay, then do please have a look at this and all shall be clear. 

Ticket To Ride
Image slightly borrowed from Blog, She Wrote 
This one I stopped playing. Yes, I did and I know it's considered to be a masterpiece of elegant design, but I think it simply overstayed its welcome especially after I won 10 or so games in three days; in a row.  

Still, Ticket To Ride, even though slightly on the more casual side of gaming, is a beautiful game played on a beautiful board with tons of plastic little train wagons. It can get quite tactical too and is not as random as it looks, but it's definitely not something to be played each and every day. And, yes, I do know that the satisfaction of connecting Madrid with Kiev can be immense.

Besides, building your railroad empire will definitely help you get European geography if you are in need of a reminder. Should also work on children if you are training them to be travel agents. 

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  1. Let's embark on our faithful "What the Duck" spaceship in Space Alert and kick some alien butts!