For the first Tuesday board game night of 2011, I led off with two rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill — still waiting on those replacement tiles, Wizards of the Coast. The first game went much too quickly and swung straight to the traitor’s favor. The second was much longer, during both the exploration and haunt phases, eventually being won by the heroes. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the exploration phase takes, the more likely it is the heroes-to-be will find the items and rooms they need to defeat the traitor. In that second game, two of the three heroes also had the advantage of being able to hide in the basement from a pack of demons for a while, building up stats and gear.
After that, Shelley produced a series of card games from her bag: Mow, Aquarius and You Robot, the first two of which came fresh out of the wrapper, so those were a learning experience for all of us.
“‘Mow’ is French for ‘Moo,’ I Guess”
Mow is a sort of bidding game, for lack of a better description. There’s a deck of cards, each of which has a cow on it worth so many points. Some — most — cow cards also have a number of flies on them, which are worth negative points. The first player chooses a card from their hand with a numerical value higher or lower than the one on the table, placing it to the right or left, depending on whether the value is higher or lower. The next player does the same. A line, or herd, of cows slowly forms in this way. Every card played has to go at one or the other end of the line, so it becomes increasingly unlikely a player won’t have a sufficiently high or low value card to add to the herd. When someone can’t play a card, they take the whole herd into their score pile. Once the deck of cards runs out, the game’s over and all card values are added up. I think the cards in hand don’t count for negative fly points. There are also some acrobatic cows, which can insert themselves in the middle of the herd or play on top of cows of the same value.
The two strategies that leaped out at me during play were to either play conservatively, putting down cards that were close in value to those already in the herd, or aggressively, playing high value cards, making it less likely the next player would have something suitable to play. The downside of the aggressive choice is herds turn out smaller and less likely to have an abundance of flies to drag one’s score down.
I Will Not Make a Joke About Dawning Ages
Aquarius is a Looney Labs game, with Andy Looney’s trademark graphic style all over it. It’s a pattern matching game, in which players connect cards showing a mixture of panels of elements — fire, water, earth, air and space — together. There are several layouts of cards, such that one might be divided into four panels, each one with a different element, one larger panel with one element, and anywhere in between, as well. Whenever a card is played, an edge of an element has to touch the edge of a like element; fire to fire, water to water and so on. The goal of the game is for a player to link seven panels of the element whose goal card they currently hold in secret.
Yes, the goal they currently hold. This is an Andy Looney game, after all. In addition to the element cards, there are also cards that cause two people to trade goals, make everyone pass their goal around the table, trade hands and other fun stuff like that. It can also make the game time-consuming, as not only do players block elemental chains, but they slowly figure out who’s holding which goals as they shift around the table, as well as from who’s adding to which chains of elements. I liked Aquarius, but by the time someone finally won, we were pretty much done with it, given the mental rewards of playing the game versus time invested.
Finally, we tried You Robot, which Shelley likened to charades. And it is, a bit. In reverse. Played in teams, one teammate is a mad scientist who has built a robot. The other teammate is the robot. The mad scientist has a limited number of instructions it can give the robot. These instructions are in the form of six pictures: the robot itself, the robot’s head, the robot’s arm, the robot’s hand holding a rod, an arrow and a pair of circular arrows pointing at each other. Using only these cards plus the word “stop,” the scientists try to instruct their robots to take a particular position: sitting in a chair, kneeling in a praying position, making glasses out of their eyes, and so on.
This is bound to be a fun party game, with or without the lubrication of alcohol. As it was in the setting of Quarterstaff Games’ play area, a good bit of my enjoyment came from being the table of people getting up and moving around in funny ways while everyone else played more conventional board games.
Elsewhere that evening, there was a marathon series of Small World games, one single mind-blowing struggle after Hastur in Arkham Horror and a merry-go-round of Dominion, 7 Wonders and Fantasy Flight’s new version of Civilization.