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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Ups and Downs

Writer_smallerAbove and Below

It took three games of Above and Below before it really clicked with me.

I realised afterwards that with each of my first three plays I was essentially adjusting my expectations until they matched the game I was actually playing. When they did, when I understood its weight, and where on the spectrum it fits, I loved it.

Above and Below is a worker placement, village building, gorgeously illustrated game whose unique selling point is the addition of a storytelling element. Shortly after breaking foundations on your village, your would-be real estate development moguls (villagers) discover a network of caves directly below the site. When acquiring new buildings in the game, you can choose to do so either above ground or below. If you choose below, you first have to send some brave, lantern-bearing explorers (villagers) into the system of caves to find a good spot for an underground outpost. At this point, you randomly determine a, well, a random encounter from a generous manual that comes with the game. This will give you several options that will test both the attributes of your villagers, and often your own morality (or lack thereof). Bargain with the blind merchant, or beat him up. Help rescue the fish boy, or ignore him and grab the tempting looking locked chest.

On first play, the story-telling element seemed light, a little too random, and often not worth the effort it took in terms of in-game resources. Meanwhile, the worker placement, village-building aspects didn’t seem to offer enough depth or options to really satisfy me. It seemed too light to be engaging, and too limited to warrant much replay.

The second time we played, I had already adjusted to the (really quite short) limit of 7 rounds in the game, and changed my strategy accordingly. A resounding defeat to Aileen in that game taught me quite a lot about the victory conditions, and exactly what mattered and to what extent.

Game three was with three players, which definitely added to the experience. More people meant the resources were cycled through a lot quicker, and a lot more then became available in their place. By then I had also learned that the storytelling was not in and of itself an overly important part of the gameplay. While it was arguably what got the game so much attention in the first place, it’s a simple enough mechanic, the trick to which is just to allocate the correct amount of resources (villagers) to it. It is merely another place to put a worker, albeit one that adds a lot of colour and welcome humour to the game.

Above and Below is a much lighter game that I first thought, but it knows this, and the tight round limit means it never outstays its welcome at the table. There are multiple paths to victory, and a variable set-up and randomly drawn buildings and resources mean you will have to adjust how you play, each time you play. It’s easy to learn, and easy to teach. The artwork is amongst the nicest in our collection, and the storytelling aspect, although slight, adds a fun dimension to it. In short, it’s a gem of a game that engages without taxing, and it’s one that I’m very eager to keep on playing.

And in case anyone is wondering about our own morality, somewhere in a dark cave underneath an innocent looking village there lies a blind merchant, robbed of his wares, hoping to find help before the fish people find him. And Aileen will try and tell you that she is the nice one…

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