Silent But Deadly

Silent But Deadly

Magic Maze is a co-op game where talking amongst players is not allowed.

It is the only one of this year’s Spiel Des Jahres nominees that we have played, so we can’t say whether or not it deserves to win above Kingdomino and Race to El Dorado. Having spent just one frantic, fraught, evening playing it though, I can say for certain that it at least deserves the nomination that it got.

Ostensibly a co-op, Magic Maze will nonetheless have you so furious at your friends that the game’s ‘no talking’ restriction is all that stands between your group and forever fractured friendships.

While playing, you control four cookie cutter adventurers – mage, dwarf, elf, barbarian. You will be laying out tiles, and navigating the heroes through them to pick up items and make it to the exit.

In a brilliant twist on a well-worn theme, though, you are not navigating them through a dungeon, but through the local mega-mall. Your down-on-their-luck adventurers lost all of their equipment on their last adventure, and are forced to shoplift in order to restock. So instead of orcs and dragons, you have to navigate security cameras and guards.

Where the tension (and fun) comes in, is that while everyone is collectively controlling all of the adventurer meeples, each player is restricted to certain actions. One player can make them turn right, another left, another backwards, another up the escalator. While you can all see what is happening on the board, there are four adventurers, simultaneous play, and a sand timer.

And you can neither talk nor gesticulate to your fellow players. There is a marker that you can place in front of a player to hint that they need to do something, and you can ‘stare meaningfully’ at someone. But that is it.

Chaos ensues – although this doesn’t even begin to describe the scene, as you repeatedly slam down the player marker in front of someone who hasn’t seen that the mage needs to go back two spaces to continue on his path, because that player is focused on the elf and moving them away from where you think they should be going.

And as you repeatedly slam whack that marker on the table in front of them, their confusion goes to frustration, and you haven’t even noticed that someone else is staring balefully at you because you are paying no attention to the barbarian and the timer is almost up.

Not speaking leads to a lot of barely contained non-verbal utterances of mixed and heady emotions. To an outsider, I suspect our game sounded like the zombie apocalypse. In fact, when one of us called to check where our pizza delivery was, the alarmed lady on the phone actually asked him if everything was OK.

It should go without saying that I thoroughly recommend Magic Maze.

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Megabytes of Madness

Writer_smallerRobo Cthulhu

In actual fact, we did make a comic without having played the game. With a weekly schedule, and a limited budget, both time-wise and money-wise, this is often necessary. I would feel bad if we were reviewing a game on these terms, but as all we try to do is add some more humour to the hobby we all love, I feel it’s OK to poke some fun at games from a distance, particularly as we try to keep the comic topical.

I did read and watch a number of reviews on the new edition of Mansions of Madness, and oddly, I can’t seem to get a clear handle on whether or not the game improves on its first, original edition. It’s a game I have long wanted to play, so I was very curious about the new edition, and the changes made. Replacing the role of dungeon master with an app is actually a great idea for a game like this. Obviously, this could never be done with an actual RPG, but with the more limited scope of a board game, it is altogether more feasible. Fantasy Flight Games tried and succeeded in their first app-driven game, XCOM, which runs brilliantly, and fits thematically with being run by technology. Having an app to inject added chaos into a real-time game by timing events, interrupting players and throwing random spanners into the works is actually a brilliant conception.

Mansions of Madness doesn’t quite seem to work like this, though, and appears to simply replace the role of games master with an app in order to make the game fully co-operative. There don’t appear to be any integration issues (unless you count hyperbolic, unfounded, apocalyptic fear), and the game apparently runs smoothly. The issue seems to be with replayability, and the number of scenarios given with the game – which is a sparse four. There are add-ons and expansions, of course, but they seemed to be priced closer to full games rather than expansions. They are of course chock full of tiles, cards and miniatures, but that doesn’t really take the sting out of it for me.

Having said all of this, what I have written above is not a review, nor should it be regarded as such. This is not a game I have played, but while it is not really on my purchase list, it is still certainly a game I want to play. I enjoy Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, and Mansions Madness takes these games further, crafting a more immersive, spooky and mysterious play experience, all of which are steps in the right direction as far as I am concerned.

In the meantime, we have plenty of other games to fill the dark evenings in the run up to Halloween – Ghost Stories and Mysterium being top of the list in that regard.

Anyone played Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition? And more importantly, what are your recommendations for a good night of spooky gaming?

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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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Escape: Stress of the Temple

Writer_smallerTaco Tuesdays

Gen Con this weekend means a couple of things. Firstly, it does mean a dip in traffic to our site as regular viewers instead enjoy a magical weekend of gaming – or just spending money on so many new games – and we stay at home and try not to be too jealous.

On the flip side, we do stay glued to Twitter mining a wealth of tweets to find what the most exciting new games turn out to be. While we will undoubtedly have to wait months to actually get our hands on them, it’s always fun to see what sells out, what gets people excited, and what hidden gems are unexpectedly uncovered.

As well as spending too much time on Twitter (and maybe Pokemon Go) over this weekend, we will finally have some time to play some games, as our schedules have at last aligned. Obviously, I’ll be hankering for some X-Wing, but also looking to maybe finally road test ‘And then we held hands’ or maybe ‘Tokaido’ or ‘Thunderbirds’, or any other game from our ever longer list of unplayed purchases. Who needs to go to a convention when we already have stacks of unplayed games at home?

I do actually love Escape: Curse of the Temple, but it has been known to cause stress, anxiety, broken friendships, confusion, sweating, swearing, game fatigue, dice hate, frustration, and existential dread. Other than that, I thoroughly recommend trying it. It’s only ten minutes long, and there is no turn structure. Everyone rolls their dice, moves around the board and shouts at everyone else to help them out. It’s a co-op game, but a more shouty, chaotic co-op than you might be familiar with. After a couple of plays, a group can get the hang of it and manage it with a lot less stress. It’s just convincing people to go again after the first time that can sometimes be the problem…

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The Bothan Method

Writer_smallerImperial Assault

We’ve been talking a lot about giving roleplaying games a try. Our group has not managed to get anything organised though, which has led to a lot of thinking about DM-ing.

The ideal scenario is an experienced player takes on the mantle of DM and runs the game, allowing us to try roleplaying without spending ages struggling to find our feet with a type of game that has so many differences to board games. But neither myself or Aileen have that experience, so lack a good place to start.

After some research, I decided to order an RPG called ‘Fiasco’. Games of Fiasco are done in one session, and are run without a Games Master of any kind. It’s only just arrived, but it looks great, so hopefully more on that in weeks to come.

Imperial Assault, which this week’s comic is about, is something of an odd halfway house where the issue of a Dungeon Master is concerned. While it’s obviously a board game, and not an RPG, it does fall to one player to ‘run’ the game, and the campaign.

But that player is also the Imperial player, and is not just running things, but playing competitively against the Rebels. Levelling up the same way, rolling the same way, fighting in the same battles, just on the side with all of the Stormtroopers.

More than one review I watched or read of Imperial Assault mentioned this issue: It’s a tough balance for the Imperial player to strike, and one that can make or break the game for the entire group. If they are too aggressive there is the risk that they can run rampant over the Rebels. But obviously they too are looking to win in any given game, so it falls to the Imperial player to get that balance right, in the same manner it falls to a Dungeon Master to create the best experience for their players.

Pertaining more directly to the comic, the game also creates a weird situation where it is 4 players against 1, where planning is really important. If the Rebels don’t work together and plan their assault, they don’t stand a chance.

But you’re effectively left planning things in front of the Imperial Officer who is trying to stop you. It’s a bit much to get up and leave the room in between every turn (and that would be pretty crappy for the Imperial player), so it’s something we’re still figuring out. Hand signals? Time will tell.

For now, I will say that Imperial Assault is an absolutely cracking game. It’s an excellent co-op (for the Rebels) it’s tense, and seems as well balanced as Pandemic. All of our games have come down to the last actions of the last moves of the last turn.

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Not the real Ghostbusters

Writer_smallerExorcising ghosts

More than a few villages have fallen to haunt, damnation, and ruin thanks to our inexpert fumblings and rookie mistakes in Ghost Stories. Yet on we troop, promising deliverance to the unsuspecting villagers that put their salvation in our amateur hands. Night after night, time after time. I think Ghost Stories might actually be more difficult than Pandemic, and not just because of the random factor that is introduced by the inclusion of dice. It’s just a damn hard game.

Love it, though. It’s a tense co-op that forces the players to think ahead and work closely together from the very first turn. And as I mentioned before, the unusual theme and gorgeous artwork mean it’s a game that I will always be happy to play (and probably lose).

Unusually for a game I love so much, though, I don’t have that much of an interest in the expansions. I’m curious, sure, but I don’t see how the game would benefit from them. They seem to throw so many additional elements into the mix, and it just doesn’t need that. There is always enough going on to engage everyone at the table. Maybe once I feel I’ve mastered the challenge of the base game they will seem a more exciting prospect, but that could be a long time coming…

The comic this week is, I think, the best work Aileen has done in a while. Post-holiday, we have some more time to play board games, and work on comics, which is exactly what we both want to be doing. The extra time will allow us to have more fun with the comics, too, taking in some silly, outlandish settings and stories. Over the course of Tiny Wooden Pieces, Aileen’s artwork has improved dramatically, and I’m delighted she is actually getting to show that off now. So here’s to a nice, long, uninterrupted run of comics from us for a while. As long as her college dissertation, moving house, lingering jetlag, global warming, ghosts, the awful economic landscape of modern Ireland, and/or goats don’t interfere with our holy work.

It doesn’t make the news very often, but you’d be surprised at what a constant problem goat attacks are over here.

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The great game

Writer_smallerWelcome return

And we’re back!

Firstly, I want to extend a really heartfelt thanks to the brilliant creators that kept Tiny Wooden Pieces going while we were away. Dave, Hayley & Joe did an exceptional job. Without such talented friends to fill in for us, we would really be stuck. I think the work they are doing is getting better each time, to the point where I’m really excited to see the ideas and comics come in from them.

While we were in Boston we got to spend an evening in Knight Moves Board Game Cafe in Brookline. We had extended an open invite for anyone to come along and say hi, and we met some really great people. So I want to thank Kevin, Ivy, Rose and Jennifer for coming out and playing some games with us. We had a blast, and you were all really great fun to game with. Which is probably the best thing we can possibly say about a person.  And one final thanks goes to Devon, the owner of Knight Moves. He’s running a fantastic establishment, and we hope to have the opportunity to visit again some time.


21 Comments on The great game

Playing the long game

Writer_smallerIt was the policeman all along…

I am figuratively dying of a headcold right now, so this will be brief, and minus my usual sparkle. You all love my usual sparkle, right? … right guys … ?

Mysterium is amazing. If you’ve never heard of it/played it, the theme is cluedo, but the central mechanic is Dixit. One player is a ghost, sending surreal, abstract ‘visions’ to the other players to point them toward clues as to who was behind a decades old crime. The ghost is limited to visions, and can’t talk or otherwise communicate to the other players, or ‘psychics’ in game terms. There is a little more to it than that, but that’s the core idea. Haunted mansion. Solve the murder, free the ghost. We’ve all been there.


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Season’s greetings 2015

Artist_christmasHappy Christmas

Christmas is a busy time for us all, and even folks at the CDC need some time to kick back and relax. Speaking of which, I am eternally grateful for our amazing guest comics over the past three weeks – if you haven’t seen them yet, check them out here, here, and here. There’s no way I could have put a comic out each week, what with end of semester assignments and working in an exam hall – but those busy weeks made it especially nice to come back for this week’s Christmas special.

And now that Christmas is here, hopefully we might actually get back to playing some games again. And after seeing the new Star Wars, we are both dying to play X-Wing again. We started watching Rebels too, and I can’t wait until the Ghost Expansion Pack comes out with Wave VIII – I love those characters and I love that ship. In the meantime though, I’ll happily settle for dashing ace pilot Poe Dameron . . .

So that’s it for 2015 folks! Have a wonderful Christmas, play lots of games, and see you in the New Year!

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After reading the comic, I was afraid it would come off as sarcastic, or cynical about the seemingly universal praise and attention that Pandemic Legacy is receiving. Let me be clear. I am, in real life, and not just in comic form, just this excited for Pandemic Legacy. I am an excitable person. Pandemic still ranks as one of, if not our actual favourite game, and the Legacy system is a brilliant way to really bring the theme and knife edge tension of the game to life.

Our Risk Legacy campaign is technically still ongoing, but only just. I’m not ready to call Time of Death on it yet, but it has been on life support for a while now. I don’t want to give up on it, but getting the group together, and putting Risk Legacy in front of every other game is increasing difficult the longer it goes between games. We may have to just start Pandemic Legacy and leave Risk in suspended animation.

Brief blog post this week, but on a final note, myself and Aileen will be taking a few weeks off over Christmas. However, we have an exciting plan brewing to keep the comics coming while we fatten ourselves on seasonal treats, oversleep, be merry, and try to peel off the couch long enough to set up a board game or two. So the website will update with new comics all over Christmas, even as we take some time to recharge our batteries and figure out some improvements for next year.

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