Winsome Lose Some

Winsome Lose Some

Before anyone leaves a comment: the title of this week’s comic is not a typo, it is a poor attempt at wordplay. You may not find this to be a preferable alternative.

Second note on this week’s comic is that I think Aileen really knocked this one out of the park. Since we moved house we now have a separate office space, so I don’t usually see the comic artwork until is it complete. Previously, due to a shared living/work space, I would get to see Aileen producing the artwork all week. I love not seeing it until it is complete, as it’s always an exciting surprise. She is really good at adding detail that I never thought of in the script, which is a constant delight. Opening up the art file to letter it is becoming a highlight of my week.


Arkham Horror LCG is designed as a campaign game. You play a scenario, note down your results, and then play the next scenario, carrying over your successes/failures so that they have a continuing impact. Your character can be injured or traumatised, bad guys you fail to kill will turn up again, and much more.

The interesting thing is, though, that you don’t play a scenario until you ‘win’. Each scenario has a variety of end conditions, including the investigators ‘resigning’ whenever they feel they have done enough, or from fear of not surviving. The consequences of a scenario ending this way will still carry over, essentially forcing the players to live with their defeat. Instead of chasing a victory, you find yourself taking whatever kind of win you think you can get. That can be as simple as surviving.

Forcing players to accept defeat, and to deal with it, rather than giving them the opportunity to try again and do better is not something that games do very often. In Pandemic Legacy, you get a second chance in every month, after which you move on regardless. A defeat stings, but the game doesn’t acknowledge it to the same extent as Arkham. It just adjusts the difficulty in your favour until you find a winning level. Which is a brilliant mechanic, but an altogether different feeling.

In Arkham, you have the option of replaying a scenario as often as you like, so accepting a less-than-perfect game is the player’s choice. Putting it in your hands is humbling, and frustrating-as-hell. You have to take the defeat, and carry it with you. You will not be a perfect hero, you will just be good enough to get by, and hopefully do more good than bad.

The video game L.A. Noire is the only other instance of this that I can think of. If you failed a case in L.A. Noire by accusing the wrong suspect, the game didn’t restart and make you replay the case. You got chewed out and demoted. It was horrifying and brilliant, and it made me love the game.

Noir is not a genre filled with clear-cut heroes and world-savers. And in allowing you to fail, L.A. Noire became the most authentic noir experience it could be. Similarly, in the works of Lovecraft, you won’t often find heroes. You will find failures, cowards, and people unable to deal with what they have seen and experienced.

Of course, facing down an Elder God with pistols and a book of spells isn’t exactly faithful to the source material. But the Arkham Horror LCG makes up for this by putting its players through hell, and making them really feel like they are fighting against forces that cannot be easily defeated. This flavour, this feeling of struggle, makes it Fantasy Flight’s best take on Lovecraft yet.

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Arkham Horror Horror

Arkham Horror Horror

Not the most original of comics, I know. We haven’t actually had the opportunity to play many games at all these past few weeks – besides one game of Arkham, it’s just been Pandemic Legacy. And while Pandemic Legacy is one of the most tense, exciting, brain-burning, and brilliant board game experiences we have ever had, it has had more than its fair share of coverage in our comics already.

By the way, if you are playing Legacy, and have gotten past April, check out this old comic of ours. We made it just after Pandemic Legacy was announced, and only just realised how inadvertently prescient it was.


Meanwhile, in Arkham … much like Fantasy Flight’s flagship LCG Netrunner, it took us a few games of the Arkham Horror LCG to actually get our head around the rules, how it plays, and how you need to play it to stand any chance of winning – or even surviving a scenario.

The gameplay is not that complicated, it’s just that the mechanisms are not that intuitive. The rulebook is also written to cater for years’ worth of expansion, and new mechanics, so by necessity it is more detailed than it needs to be for just the core set, even including several timing charts. There is a quick ‘learn to play’ guide, which is useful, but at the same time won’t take you very far.

Unusually for an LCG (Limited Card Game, if you are unfamiliar with the term, it means that instead of random boosters to increase your collection, the game uses set decks of new cards released regularly), it is a co-op game. Two players fight their way through a nightmarish stew of Lovecraft-ian settings, monsters, and horrors, all distilled into one convenient encounter deck.

The thing the game does so well, though, and what ultimately broke our resolution to never touch either CCGs or LCGs, is that each time you play, you are playing through a story-driven scenario. It is guided by ‘Act’ and ‘Event’ cards, which tell the story, and also time the game. The clock is always ticking, as you race to discover clues and fend off winged ghouls. Each expansion (typically around 15 LCEs (Local Currency Equivalent)) gives you another scenario to play through. They include cards to add to your deck, which allow you to level your characters up between sessions.

Deck-building, co-op, and campaign games are my three favourite types of game. So, despite the collectible nature of it, I was never really going to be able to resist its siren call, which could have been designed specifically to lure me onto the rocks of excessive acquisition and poverty. Collecting further expansions to continue the story of your investigators is fine though, great even.

The issue I have is with the assortment of cards with the base game. The core box provides five investigators, and cards to build decks for two of these investigators at a time, but only in select combinations. You can play Roland Banks and Agnes Baker, for example, but you can’t combine Agnes with Daisy – they use a similar card type in their decks. Even this I am fine with. Five investigators is generous, as is allowing all of the deck archetypes to be played with straight out of the box.

The issue is with the deck-building. If you want to go even slightly beyond what is suggested and craft a custom deck out of the core box, you will very quickly hit a brick wall, and the only way around that obstacle is to buy a second copy of the core set, something I will not do out of principle. I am willing to buy future expansions (there are already a lot) and over time, this will allow me to customise my deck. With time, I will have a wealth of options. But having basically no options out of the box feels like it’s just asking players to go for a second core set, and that can’t help but feel a little dirty.

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Girl, Interrupted

No new comic this week!
Sorry everyone – we just moved house and I have only just put together enough office/desk space to write out this post. Comics will (should!) resume next week, once we have unpacked and are back to our normal routine. Hopefully one that doesn’t involve rummaging around in boxes for twenty minutes just to find a knife to butter some bread to eat only to realise you have no idea which box the bread, butter, or plates are in…

Girl, Interrupted

Once Upon a Time is a game we have owned for years and never played. It’s my fault we never played it, if I’m honest, so I was pretty embarrassed to discover how great it was when we did actually play it.

As the name suggests, it’s a storytelling card game. In fact, having been originally printed in 1993, it might be the original storytelling card game? Anyway, it consists of a deck of cards that each lists a standard fairytale element or trope: a crown, a monster, a kingdom, a knight, a stepmother, a princess, and so on.

You are dealt a hand of these cards, along with one ‘ending’ card – something along the lines of ‘and then they married and lived happily ever after’. Sprinkled in amongst these are some ‘interrupt’ cards in different categories – time, place, or person.

One person begins telling a story using the cards from their hand, until they get stuck or interrupted by another player with an interrupt card, or a player that has an element that they mentioned. That player then continues the same story, but now they try to integrate the cards from their own hand, until they get to their ending, or are interrupted. Simple, and altogether brilliant.

Once Upon a Time is one of those great games that provides a simple framework of rules that allow the players to make the game, and make it as fun as they like. The hand of cards you are dealt is small, so the game doesn’t drag on, either. The situation as described above is only one of many ways that the game provides for laughter and ridiculousness, as the story gets dragged in wildly different directions depending on who is telling it. Although it’s quick enough to be a filler game, I think its true place is as an opener. Something to warm up a group before a longer game, or even RPG.

RPGs are something we are still eager to explore, but thus far, our group has only had a few games of Fiasco. Brilliant as that is, we are looking to dive deeper. We have Pathfinder and Ten Candles, so now what I am looking for are resources for running a good campaign. Story and play ideas for a Games Master. If anyone could recommend a good podcast, article, website, or anything else, I would greatly appreciate it.


On a final note, we are in the process of moving house at the moment, and I’m not yet 100% sure we will be in a position to put up a new comic next week. As well as time constraints, we literally might not have a desk and internet to actually make and put it up. Fingers crossed we will figure something out in the meantime, but apologies in advance if we don’t.

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Levels of Strategy

Levels of Strategy

I had wanted to play Rhino Hero for a long, long time, and had built up really high expectations for it. Luckily, and unusually, it absolutely lived up to those expectations. This game is great.

Ostensibly, it is a kids’ game (ages 5+) so the premise is simple. Each player gets five cards, and the first player to get rid of all of their cards wins. You get rid of your cards by adding them to the ever-growing tower. You first lay down horizontally one or two folded cards to form ‘walls’, and then add a card from your hand as a ‘roof’ to the walls. This roof will have markings on it instructing the next player on how they must place the walls on their turn. And so the tower goes up, and up, and up.

Some cards instruct players to pick up an extra card, reverse the order of play, or most interesting of all, add the eponymous Rhino Hero to the tower. He takes the form of a solid wooden meeple. Exactly the kind you don’t want to have to balance precariously on a tower of cards that might be 10 layers high.

The first player to use up all of their cards wins, but more likely, and more often, the game ends when the tower collapses. In fact, in quite a lot of games, I have never actually seen anybody manage to place their fifth card. When the tower collapses, once you are done making fun of the person who collapsed it, you gather up the cards and play again. Because how could you not play again?


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…And Then We Held Hands

Writer_smaller…and then we held hands

“…and then we held hands is a non-verbal cooperative game about two people and their failing relationship. The two players must cooperative in order to achieve emotional balance within and between them. The players’ perspectives change as they dance around each other, trying to fix what is broken”

“They must cooperate by “reading” each other’s intentions and by trying to help each other avoid being stuck, which would cause the game to be lost.”

Intimidating, right? I mean, I’m not kidding. This sat unplayed on our shelf for months, not because of the usual reasons games go unplayed, but because we were afraid of the damned thing. What if it judged us and found our relationship lacking? What would we do? Would we have to break up?

The game comes in such an unassuming little blue box, I don’t know how they managed to make it feel so disquieting. It’s like an emotional TARDIS.

As it turns out, it is not at all weighty to play. Although it’s wrapped in a heavy theme, playing it feels more like a light, refreshing breeze. You basically have to move around a board by discarding ‘emotion’ cards to move to their matching nodes. You have to reach a series of goals, and then meet in the centre. The cards you use to move can belong to you, or your fellow player, but if you don’t carefully assess their own board position as well as your own, the cards you take could result in your partner being unable to move, thus losing the game (for both players).

It is ‘non-verbal’ in that you are not allowed to discuss the game while playing it. No hints, no tips, no strategizing. Instead, it is up to you to look out for your fellow player at all times, and think ahead with them in mind.

While the game allows, and even encourages discussion of other topics while playing, I find I love the silent consideration and peaceful play that it can bring to the table. Topping this is the satisfaction it brings when you are playing in sync with someone else. When you know they have seen the move you have seen, and have avoided the traps you so badly wanted to point out to them. When you know you are working in the same way, towards the same goal, without the need to communicate, it’s a unique experience.

The game is not complex, but does have varying degrees of difficulty. While we have yet to explore the higher difficulties, the calming, bonding play experience that it delivers in the standard mode is enough to make me very glad we conquered our fear of its Sauron-like Eye of Judgement, and discovered the strength it can make us feel.

The game is a flagship for the diversity, brilliance, innovation, and beauty of modern board games. While we have yet to explore its longevity and replayability, I do still recommend tracking this down.




It’s also very pretty. Check it out on BGG:

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Taxation tyranny

Writer_smallerGuest comic 1: Taxation tyranny

Joe Griffin has featured before as a guest creator, colouring this, and also this, comic. This time, he’s writing, drawing, colouring and lettering the comic. It’s polymath multi-talented guys like him that put guys like me to shame. Thanks Joe, you’re a real pal. Seriously though, Joe’s work is getting better and better all the time, and I was delighted he was able to do more than colour this time around.

For more of his work, check out and like/heart his hip social medias:

The Great Dalmuti is a game I have never actually played. I have heard good things, though, and I’m sure it’s been recommended in the comments here at some point. It was interesting to see a comic done about a game I was not familiar with, but I think Joe does a good job of giving enough information to make it work with or without knowledge of the game itself.

As we’ve been mentioning for the past few weeks, we are currently on holiday in Boston We will be hanging out at Knight Moves board game cafe in Brookline. So if you are around, come meet us! We will be there all evening on Tuesday the 3rd of May. We should be there around 7 or 8PM (we will confirm the time here and on Twitter) and we intend on staying until close (11PM) Directions and details can be found here, if you are going to come along, do let us know in the comments or Twitter.

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Click track confusion

Writer_smallerClick track confusion

Those of you that play Netrunner are probably shaking your heads right now, or nodding in sympathy with Aileen. But, honest to God, this gets me every time we play. So you can just imagine how well I handle the actual game itself. I do think I kind of love it though. I think.

Netrunner looks similar enough to an ordinary, garden variety collectible card game. You draw cards every turn, and then play those cards based on the resources you have. You grow stronger each turn as you play cards. This continues until you defeat your opponent. But a closer look shows that while Netrunner appears to be similar, this is merely familiar skin stretched over the exoskeleton of something wholly new, different, and not a little intimidating. It’s a game of careful resource management, planning and strategy – not just in the deckbuilding element, but in the gameplay itself. It’s a game of cat and mouse where the mouse is just as likely to turn on the cat. The gameplay is quite mechanical and rewards cautious thinking. But equally, it relies heavily on bluffing and misdirection. I didn’t know what to make of it when I started, and to a certain extent, I still don’t. The game is utterly unintuitive. It doesn’t ‘click’ halfway through your first game. Not in the least. The elements that make it up don’t necessarily interlock in the manner in which you would expect. Both sides have several paths to victory, and I never have any idea which path to follow. And that’s after more than 10 games.

Of course, that is not to say the game is not well designed. It’s brilliant. It is a compelling and evolving deck builder that is built with scaffolding raised by none other than Richard Garfield, the Father and Founder of Collectible Card Games. And it’s the highest ranked card game on Board Game Geek. It rests just one spot outside the top ten, in fact. Despite its odd form and a learning curve that would make a statistician cry, it gets its hooks into you very quickly. It is puzzling and tense, gripping and dramatic. I am certain its design is brilliant, I just couldn’t explain how.

We keep dipping in and out of it, but never stay long enough to immerse ourselves in it. Always too many other games to play. Also X-Wing. Still so much X-Wing. X-Wing is, in fact, looking to be the game I have played the most of in a long, long time. And despite this eating up time I would love to spend on Netrunner and countless other games, I can’t say I actually mind. Not at all.

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Coup Coup

Writer_smallerCoup Coup

Hanabi got its hooks into me over the weekend.

My little brother arrived home with a bag full of games for us, including Coup (as witnessed above), Hanabi, and some add-ons for Star Realms and Netrunner. Coup was good fun – it’s a lighter Mascarade that’s quicker to play, a really good opener for an evening.

But it was Hanabi that really left an impression on me. I love games that tell stories, and I’m beginning to understand that I also love games that engage me in different ways as well. After being on our shelf longer than almost any other game in our collection, Pandemic is still one of our most played games (yes, we’re fairly new to this). Pandemic is as much as puzzle as it is a game, and it is a fiendish one. Planning ahead and coordination between players is as essential as striking a balance between keeping the infections at bay and gathering resources to ultimately cure them. It’s not a game where players idly chat in between turns. During a game of Pandemic, everyone is talking, and thinking about the game. It’s tense, engaging, and I love it.


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The problem of choice

Writer_smallerThe problem of choice

So when I said last week I was super-busy with work and other terrible non-comic things and would have a blog post next week, I of course didn’t meant this week. I meant next-next week. Have some much needed time off coming up, so I can recharge my batteries, put more time into the comics, and play some games.

What’s everyone been playing?

What should I play?

Can I be in your gang?


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