15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
3rd November 2020
It's a Tuesday and I'm not at the Woking Gaming Club, I am however in Woking, in Simon's converted home-office for what would be the last time I play a game with a friend in person before lockdown 2 began.
It was an unusual setup, two us were in Simon's office and Colin was dialling in via Zoom, able to view the game through Simon's phone which was clamped above the table.
Tonight we played Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the little sibling of Gloomhaven. Like Gloomhaven, it's a cooperative RPG with a legacy element.
Caveat: This blog post may differ a little from the ones I normally write. When we played the game, a number of the components were not used, instead they were replaced with an app, it also allowed Colin to remotely log into the app and see the same information we did. Additionally, both other players were very familiar with the game.
What's in a game?
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion comes with a lot of components and a lot of cards.
What art there is on the components is good and the components are of a high quality.
How's it play?
The game follows the paradigm of an RPG; there are a series of linked scenarios that form a campaign. As characters progress from scenario to scenario, they accumulate experience points and become stronger. Characters are persistent and they and their progress carry over between scenarios.
There are also legacy elements here, decisions that players make during the game will have some sort of effect later on.
The setup is fairly quick and simple, mostly because the game uses map books instead of tiles.
On to playing
In each round, the players will choose 2 cards from their deck to play. Enemy behaviour is dictated by the game.
A scenario will end when its win/lose conditions are met.
If the players win the scenario they gain experience points, characters gain experience points according to the scenario. Additionally; certain action cards grant characters experience points when played, these are added up as well.
When a character acquires enough experience points, they will level up and gain whatever benefits it confers.
During the game, enemies that are defeated will drop treasure. If characters collect these treasures, they gain gold after the scenario ends.
Gold can then be spent to acquire more or better item cards.
Next, there is an encounter as determined by a randomly drawn city card.
After this, players are given the choice of what scenario to attempt next. This may involve adding a sticker to the map or some other legacy type action.
There's a lot to think about here.
There's a lot of components to the game too and it might be a bit fiddly. But it seems to me that most of this occurs during setup. I can't imagined how much setup the full Gloomhaven requires without the map books?
The character-gameplay is actually pretty straightforward, simple to learn and goes smoothly enough.
Enemy behaviour may be a bit trickier and it probably pays to have some one who is familiar with the rules (As we did.) when playing.
The action card mechanic was pretty well implemented, it not only gives players options and a bit of flexibility, but meaningful decisions to make.
The rest mechanic is also a good addition, it forces players to act, be decisive and deters them from trying to play overly safe and spend too many turns resting to regain hit points.
Since a character deck only has 10 cards, it means that a plaery will empty their deck in 5 rounds. Then they have to decide to discard 1 card and miss a turn, or discard one at random and continue, which can be a hard decision.
Now you have 9 cards and only 4 turns before facing the same dilemma. Additionally, some cards are discarded when use and so on.
All of this serves to create sense of urgency, a need to complete the scenario before player decks become too depleted. Players will want to minimise the time they waste carrying out long rests.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag.
There are a good number of special moves, conditions and effects that play a role in combat. The four different characters can feel different in combat because of it.
I dislike the cancel result on the combat deck that waste an attack, I imagine that if a player has set up a powerful move using a card that gets discarded - only to have that entire attack negated, it must feel gutting.
I'm not sure how I feel about using individual decks as a randomizer for combat, I can see the appeal of having a customisable individual randomizer for each player, but it seems like having components for the sake of having components. It works well enough, but I'm sure a similar effect could achieved with a single bunch of dice that are collated for individual rolls.
Gloomhaven/Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion are 2 games that are sort of chasing a board game holy grail. These are games that are trying to an give RPG style gameplay and experience, but without a GM.
It's a tricky goal; too simple and it becomes bland and repetitive, too complex and the game gets bogged down in rules, rules exceptions and components.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion seems to straddle that line fairly well.
Although as I mentioned above, we did use an app to facilitate play. It did have the advantage of allowing a player to join in a board game where he played over zoom!
Maybe this is the way to go, where an app does the GM heavy lifting, I've seen at least one game that requires an app, no doubt there will be more games that do that.
But this raises the question of legacy, an older game can (And probably will.) be rendered obsolete if the companion app becomes unavailable.
Overall though; I was happy enough to play it and will be continuing with the campaign I joined.
6th October 2020
For the first time in nearly 7 months we're in Woking at 'The Sovereigns'. The last we were here was the 17th March!
The Woking Gaming Club isn't really back up-and-running yet, but a few of us have raised our heads above the parapets to wave the flag and of course; play some games.
The first game of the night was 'Medium', a light word-association card game.
What's in a game?
How's it play?
Before play begins the deck must be created, the number of cards used depends on the number of players. The deck is shuffled and the 3 crystal ball cards are shuffled into the bottom third of this deck.
6 cards are then deal to each player.
Finally, the scoring tokens are laid out with the scores face down and the 1, 2 and 3 numbers displayed.
Play continues until the 3rd crystal ball card is drawn, which triggers the endgame. The game then continues until the current round is completed and all players have had an equal number of turns.
Each player then tallies up the scores from the tokens to their left and right, highest score wins!
There's not much to say. As you can see from above, Medium is a light game that may appeal to casual players, it is a game that can be quickly learnt.
It's not a deep game either, random chance can play a part and sometimes you'll get 2 words that have no obvious commonality. There is some room for strategy in Medium though. The player that goes 2nd will have the opportunity to play a hopefully suitable second word.
We didn't play the game extensively, but it seemed if a common word wasn't guessed first time, the 2nd and 3rd guesses weren't going to be any better.
It's a strangely stressful game, I think it's because your guess will also affect your partner's score.
Conversely; when it's not your time, observing how other people play is fun.
One potential issue was the scoring, each 'level' of scoring has a 1-point variation in its score and some people are not fond of it. We house ruled it and used the other side of the tokens for scoring, a successful first guess would get 3 points, down to 1 for a successful 3rd guess.
If you like somewhat stressful word-association games, then you might like this. Easy to learn and play, it's a reasonable little filler game.
10th November 2019
Gaming Sunday continues at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking.
Next up was; 'Legends Untold'. Legends Untold is a sort of hybrid card game RPG. The players take on the roles of nascent heroes thrust into adventure by circumstance.
These heroes will form a party and explore either caves or dungeons, whilst the role of 'GM' is played by various decks of cards.
There are 2 Legends Untold games, 'The Weeping Caves' & 'The Great Sewer'.
What's in a game?
Legends Untold packs a lot of cards into a relatively small box. These include:
How's it play?
The setup for each game depends on which scenario card is used. The scenario will tell the players the number of card to put into each of the game's decks.
The game is divided into 4 phases.
Time and events
As explained above, the scenario will determine how big the event deck is. A common size is 6 cards.
Legends Untold has lots of different types of tests. Lots of them.
Like I said, lots of types of tests.
There are 2 types of trap. A normal trap which is encountered when drawing a card from the obstacles deck and a booby trap drawn from the adventure deck, either before combat or when searching.
Combat in Legends Untold occurs over a number of stages.
Each scenario has its own victory or defeat criteria.
Generally, if all the PCs are knocked unconscious, it's a defeat.
Legends Untold includes rules and components for a campaign. The campaign is about saving the refugees of an invasion
During the campaign, PCs will increase in level as it progresses. Additionally, the results of a scenario will have some impact on later scenarios in the campaign. This includes rating the players on how many refugees they managed to save.
It's sort of like a legacy game but without being asked to rip up any cards!
There's a lot to think about here. The game certainly packs a lot of stuff into a small box. But is it good stuff?
The exploration mechanics are quite good. Choosing to follow light or dark routes both have advantages and disadvantages. I like how the readiness rules interact with traps.
I like the event deck and how it works. I like how as the event deck gets smaller, events become more common. It gives players the feeling that they are working against the ticking clock.
Decisions regarding the spending of time become very important.
I like how talent cards are also used as hit points. It removes an extra element of bookkeeping from a game that already has a lot of things going on.
Losing an ability when wounded makes you feel weaker.
When PCs gain levels, they gain additional talent card, thus they also gain more hit points.
But perhaps there are too many character stats and thus tests related to them. More often than not, I found that stats became irrelevant, because across all the characters, they always tended to be someone who gave a +2 bonus.
Not only that, there are so many rules regarding tests, that the rule book is never closed.
I understand need for variety and the need to make all PC stats relevant. But tests could use some streamlining. In my mind more complexity does not equate to more depth.
Combat is equally clunky. It's quite confusing that ranged and melee combat are the same but also different. In melee , it's good that both attack and defence are resolved in a single roll. But why couldn't the same philosophy be applied to ranged combat? I know that the game needs to differentiate between PCs and foes who do and don't have ranged attacks. But I feel that combat needed more work, more testing and more streamlining.
Finally, the setting is quite uninteresting. It's pretty generic and uninspiring. Because of the I found it hard to engage with the game. Perhaps it as the steep learning curve. Or perhaps it's because I've played quite a lot of RPGs over the years
However, it's quite an ambitious game in its own way. I'm not willing to write it off without trying it another couple of tries.
27th October 2019
Sunday at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking and our gaming continues.
The final game of the day was 'Forbidden Desert', the second game in the 'Forbidden series' of co-operative games.
'Forbidden Desert' is a co-operative game of exploration.
The players are a band of adventurers and explorers, scouring the desert (Which I guess is a forbidden?) for the remains of a legendary flying machine. But during your trip, a ferocious sand storm forces your helicopter to crash in the remains of a lost city. The only way to escape the desert is to fly back out of the desert. Your helicopter is a wreck, so your only hope of survival is to find and reconstruct the flying machine before the storm and desert spell your doom!
What's in a game?
'Forbidden Desert' comes in a natty tin box, the game's components are good quality with some nice artwork.
How's it play?
During the active player's turn, they have 4 actions that they can perform (in any order and repeatedly.). These are:
Once the active player has completed their 4 actions, the storm gets to act.
Cards are drawn from the storm deck, the number drawn depends upon how severe the storm is, this ranges from 2-6 cards. There are 3 types of storm card.
Gear cards are all beneficial for the players and can be played at any time by the owning player.
If the players manage to retrieve all 4 missing parts of the machine, all manage to reach the launch pad at the same time and the launch pad is unblocked. Then the players win the game. As the adventurers escape in their new flying machine.
Forbidden Desert has essentially 2 timers running, the sand tokens pouring on to the tiles and the strength of the storm (Which also increases the rate in that sand tokens appear.).
Water is a resource that must be managed.
Players are faced with the choice of being prudent to preserve their water levels, acting to manage the sand token levels or having to work towards their objectives. Especially since the storm can move the game area about which can cause big problems or be an opportunity to exploit.
I think the key to doing well in Forbidden Desert are the characters. Each character has their own special ability. Remembering to utilise these abilities and working them into any strategy used vital in my opinion.
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game in which the players play against 'the game'.
Games of this type must balance strategy and randomness in order to be good games.
Too much strategy and once the players learn the game's systems, they'll learn to rinse it every time.
Too much randomness and player decisions become meaningless as their fates will be left to the whim of luck.
Forbidden Desert manages to straddle this line pretty well and is one of the better examples of this type of game.
12th July 2019
Friday gaming in lieu of WFRP continues with the 3rd game - 'Pit Crew'
We've all seen it, when a racing car pulls into the pits and the pit crew goes mental changing the tyres and refuelling the car.
Pit Crew is a 'team-based' card game that attempts to emulate this frenzied burst of activity by being a 'real-time' game.
How does this work? Well let's get to it.
What's in a game?
Pit Crew is a team based game and players will be in up to 3 teams of 1-3 people each. Thus the game supports 2-9 players. Components include:
How's it play?
Firstly, all players are split up into teams of up to 3 each.
Each team is given a car sheet and each team is dealt a hand of numbered cards (Split between the team players.).
The objective of Pit Crew is to change the tyres and refuel your car as a team and then race it around the track on the game board. All of this is done in real time!
To change tyres, the team must play 4 cards next to each tyre.
In order to refuel the car, multiple cards must be played on the refuelling number on the car sheet. The combined values of all of these cards must equal the value on the car sheet. Thus if the car sheet has a value of 23 for refuelling, then playing a 6, 4, 10 & 3 would equal 23.
Exiting the pits
Once all 4 tyres and refuelling has been completed, the car can exit the pits and enter the race.
However there's a little twist here. The better the pit change, the quicker the car comes out of the pits (The more spaces it moves.).
How is this calculated?
This is where the colours of the cards come in play.
If the cards used to change tyres are of a certain colour combination, then the car gets a bonus when leaving the pits.
The same is the case for refuelling.
Conversely; if the cards played on the tyres or fuel are the wrong numbers, then the car will suffer a penalty when leaving the pits.
If the penalty is bad enough, the car might crash out of the game!
Once a car exits the pit lane and begins racing, the team rolls a die to move. This rolling is real time and the quicker they roll the dice, the more they can move.
However once all cars have exited the pits, real time rolling ceases. From now on all rolling is done in turn order until the race is completed.
A game consists of several races. After a race is completed, each team is given a 'bonus' card.
Bonus cards confer random special abilities that can help a team or be used to hinder an opposing team.
Once all the races have been run, the team that has won the most races wins.
Pit Crew is a small, quick and easy game to learn. Which is good, because stopping to query the rules in the middle of a real time game could prove tricky.
This is the first real time tabletop game I've played and I've always been a bit suspicious of the concept. But Pit Crew was fun. I think this partially because each team plays separately and does not interfere with each other during the real time phase of the race. You have your teammates to consider!
Pit Crew is a cooperative game about completing tasks quickly, but accurately in a team. The Pit Crew theme fits it very well.
I think that Pit Crew is a game worth trying.
9th July 2019.
Tuesday is here and so is gaming night at 'The Sovereign' in Woking.
Elder Sign is a co-operative game where the players take on the role of intrepid investigators, driven to uncover the conspiracies that will bring about the end of the world without descending into mind-shattering insanity.
What's in a game?
Elder Sign is a push your luck game with some dice and a lot of cards.
Investigator's have 2 stats, health and sanity. You don't need me to tell you what happens if either reaches 0.
Investigator's also have a unique special ability each and some starting equipment.
The ancient one card contains some pertinent information.
There's a timing track that shows how close the ancient is to appearing.
There's also information on what happens if the ancient one appears and how to fight it.
There's a 'elder sign' track. If the players accumulate enough elder signs, they can prevent the ancient one even appearing.
Location cards contain multiple tasks. These take the form of rows of symbols (That match the symbols on the dice).
Each location card lists 'rewards & penalties'.
One of the location cards is the 'museum entrance'. Characters can be placed on this location card to rest & recuperate.
How's it play?
Before playing, a little setting up needs to be done.
The basic premise of the game is that the investigators complete the tasks on the location cards and to earn resources and elder signs. These can be used to win the game. But in the meanwhile, the clock is ticking...
When a player has their turn; they move their marker to a location card and try to complete one of the tasks on the card.
Each task will contain a number of symbols. The active player rolls the dice, any of the dice results that match the symbols for the current task are placed on to that task on the card. If all of the symbols are matched by dice results, then that task is completed.
If the task is not completed, the player has the choice to fail the task or continue rolling.
If the player chooses to continue rolling, they take the remaining unmatched dice -and discards one- and rolls them again. Thus repeatedly reattempting a task will eventually deplete a player's dice. If a player is ever in a situation where they do not have enough dice to complete a task, then they fail that task.
When a task is failed, voluntarily or otherwise. Then the active player suffers the penalties listed on the location card.
If a task is failed and a 'terror' result has come up on the dice, then the active player suffers an additional penalty.
When a task is completed, all the dice are returned to the active player.
If another task is available on the location card, then the active player may attempt to complete it.
If all of the tasks on a location card have been completed, then that location has been completed! The active player takes the listed reward and returns to the entrance.
When a player completes their turn, the clock advances. When the time reaches a certain point, it will cause the ancient evil to be spawned.
There are more rules:
There are rules for suffering terror.
Rules for monster appearing.
Rules for using weapons, equipment and spells.
Rules for going into otherworldy locations.
Rules for clues.
Rules for environmental effects that affect the game and so on.
If the players accumulate enough elder signs, they win the game.
If the ancient one appears, then the players must battle it. This involves rolling dice much like completing tasks. If the players succeed, then the ancient one is vanquished. If they fail to defeat the ancient one, then the players all fail and it's curtains for the earth!
Elder Sign is a push your luck game.
I played for the first time a few years ago with 2 other players and found it a hugely frustrating experience.
However, when I played it recently with 5 other players, it was a lot less frustrating. I guess watching other players getting luck as bad as mine is cathartic!
As a co-operative game about struggle against cosmic horror, Elder Sign is an OK game. It handles its theme well enough as you investigate the museum looking for ways to impending doom against the clock.
But I have small issue with the push your luck mechanic of Elder Sign.
With a push your luck game, you need a reason to 'settle' and a reason to... well 'push your luck'. The priorities of these reasons may shift according to the situation, but they need to always be there.
But when playing Elder Sign, sometimes it feels like that it's pointless to settle. Player's will suffer the same penalty, regardless of whether you choose to fail or are forced to fail. You only risk suffering terror if you push your luck - and that's not guaranteed. So it feels like there's little reason to not push your luck.
It's a small criticism, I know.
So would I play Elder Sign again? Going by past experience, I feel the game gets better with more play (Although that's true of the majority of games IMHO.) and Elder sign goes up to 8 players!
So with 4+ players, I would try it again.
25th June 2019.
Tuesday night gaming beckons at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking.
The evening was kicked off by the word game 'Just One'.
Just One is probably the best cross-over game ever. This is a co-operative party games that anyone can learn and easily play.
What's in a game?
The game comes with the following components.
That's it, all these components are plain and purely functional. It's like someone made a game out of the crap left over at then of a conference or something similar - well except for the deck of cards!
How's it play?
Firstly the deck of cards is shuffled and 13 cards are dealt face-down into it's own separate draw deck. The remaining cards can be placed back in the box, they are not needed for the game.
If the clues were 'Sylvester', 'Sylvester' and 'Whiskers'. Both iterations of 'Sylvester' would be erased and removed from the round and only 'Whiskers' would be left.
My only gripe about this game, is in the selection of words. Some types of words are a lot easier to get clues for.
'Cat' for example is easy, I can think of lots of possible clues.
'Panther' on the other hand is a lot harder to think of clues for. I think of 'Black', but that's about it.
Just One also has a little more nuance to it than what you would expect.
The rule about removing duplicate clues is what makes the game in my opinion. Going for an obvious clue risks having 2 or more clues removed from the game! But going for something too obscure risks muddling the clue.
But overall all, Just One is party game that's for up to 7 players, that is also co-operative and is easy to learn.
What's not to like?
28th May 2019
Tuesday gaming continues at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking.
I had told Matt how brutal and unforgiving Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth was. But he remained pretty skeptical about it and was intent on trying the game.
We played it 3 times, 3 times... How did it go, it chewed us up and spat us out like so much cheap flavourless chewing gum.
"Well, it's your funeral." Is what I should have said to Matt. In reality it was all the players' funerals.
You can read my thoughts about it here & here.
14th May 2019.
Tuesday has rolled around again and that can only mean gaming night at 'The Sovereigns'
First game of the night is Mysterium'. Mysterium is like a ghostly version of Cluedo.
It's quite unusual in that it is both an asymmetrical and co-operative game.
One player takes on the role of the ghost of a murder victim.
All the remaining players assume the roles of psychics or mediums.
The game takes place during a 'seance' in which the ghost will feed all the other characters with confusing and strange imagery, hoping they will figure out the murder
The ghost player knows who their murderer is and is trying to communicate this to the other players.
What's in a game?
The ghost player sits behind a screen which contains information pertinent to them. The ghost player also keeps a deck of cards behind the screen.
Each of the other players is given a character to play in the form of a character portrait printed on what can only be described as sort of 'pocket'. The art for the characters is good and makes them look suitability exotic for people that can communicate with the dead. Each player is also given a meeple.
Markers are set out for the 3 different clue types. These represent the classic Cluedo cards for person, location and weapon.
The game also has a vintage looking clock which serves as a turn counter.
Before the game starts the ghost player determines who the murderer and suspects are.
The in line with each respective clue marker they layout a number of cards (dependant upon difficulty). Thus next to the person marker, they would lay the murderer, suspects and innocent people. Next to the location marker, they would lay the murder site, suspected sites and unrelated sites - and the same for the murder weapon.
And now you're pretty much ready to go.
How does it Play?
The ghost player is trying to provide the other players with the information on who the killer is, where the murder occurred and what was used to do it. But cannot talk to the other players at all.
Every turn, the ghost player draws a number of cards from their deck. The ghost play can give them to the other players. These cards contains all manner of strange and weird imagery.
When the ghost player gives other players these cards, they are trying to get them to pick the correct clue card.
For example; if the killer was a fisherman, you might give them a card with picture of a boat or a fish or even the colour blue.
So once the psychic players have received cards from the ghost player, they have to use them to try choose the right card. When they have selected what they feel is the right card, then they put their meeple on the card.
Once all the players have done this. The ghost player will indicate if they are correct.
If a psychic player is correct, then they take the clue card, put it into their pocket and move their meeple on to the next set of clues.
If the player's guess was incorrect then they stay on the current set of clues.
Play proceeds until all psychic players have 3 cards in their pockets, or time runs out, (In which they all lose.).
If all the players manage to get their 3 clues in time, the play proceeds to the epilogue.
During the epilogue, all the clues for all the characters are revealed. The psychic players now have one attempt to guess who the killer is from all the available clues.
If they guess incorrectly, everybody loses.
If they guess correctly, everybody wins.
I've glossed over the rules somewhat, but the gist of it is there.
Apparently, the game can involve using a secret voting mechanic when making choices. But all the players I spoke to prefer the idea of open discussion when making choices and I have to agree. The group discussions add a lot to the game in my opinion. This makes the game a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience.
The art on the cards is a mixture of weird and wonderful imagery, highly detailed and allowing the ghost player a lot opportunities to use them as hints and clues. In fact the whole look of the game and it's art direction is moody and evocative. I like the clock as the game timer.
I also like how the game manages to be both asymmetrical and co-operative. Quite often asymmetrical games can be a lonely experience, (As anybody who has played the prison guard in 'Escape from Colditz can attest.), but Mysterium changes that dynamic.
I think this is an entertaining game and one to be played socially. It's also straightforward enough that anyone can join in a contribute.
Finally, now everyone is on the same side and you can watch the ghost player try to keep a neutral expression when you are about to make a stupid choice!
I play, I paint.