In this Rapid Review, I sat down with a couple of games I thought worked well at pubs. To test them out, we had a couple of drinks, swapped some stories and lied about the old days. All the games played fast and are easy to learn with relatively few components to worry over or spill drinks on. They also still looked nice when that cursed burning orb of light rose in the sky.
These reviews are meant to be small (although slightly blurred through a haze of smoke and broken dreams as I drank through each of the reviews…) snapshots into the game’s theme, how they play and in what type of atmosphere they work best. The games are listed by player count with the first game a solo/two player game followed by a two player game all the way up to a 5+ player game.
Today’s games are Dungeon Heroes from Gamelyn Games, Pinata from Rio Grande Games, The Council of Verona from Crash Games, Sushi Go! from Adventureland Games and Citadels from Fantasy Flight Games. Each game is recommended and go well with a beer chaser.
Dungeon Heroes (1 player) from Gamelyn Games
My first pick is a game played solo. And, lets face it, if you are drinking alone then it is all downhill and you may as well play some games during your deep, dark descent into depression. That aside, Dungeon Heroes is a beautifully produced game with some of the most delightfully designed dungeon-themed meeples I’ve ever seen. These wooden figures will sure to be a conversation starter with local pub patrons and the envy of that cute ginger in the corner. Was the ginger looking at you? Yes. Oh yes, indeed. The ginger was. On top of that, you have dice, beasties and the classic Warrior, Wizard, Cleric and Rogue classes (each corresponding to different die – a d4, d6, d8, and a d10) a small game board and a bunch of tiles. Buy that ginger a beer, and get your party ready for a dungeon crawl!
The box and components are as sturdy as a bar-room bouncer. These things could be used in a bar-fight as a weapon or, in a fit of desperation, vengefully flung through the front window after you are bounced for a poorly-aimed Flaming Hands in the bathroom. On the board you place the tiles representing treasure, actions, traps and monsters. I should mention that, much like life, this is a two player game with a rather strong solo variant. So if that Ginger is still game, you may have a partner. But let’s face it, [s]he is far out of your league. Now pay attention.
In Dungeon Heroes you explore a dungeon, collect treasure, dodge traps and fight beasties in a fast 20-minutes. It is so engrossing that you could possibly forget that you are drowning your sorrows in a bar, alone, with a constructible game. However, in the hands of the truly delusional or seriously confident, this game can be a blast anywhere.
The goal is to move the four heroes (Warrior, Wizard, Cleric and Rogue) through a matrix of tiles placed either by a second player or randomly selected by your alter-ego. If you play with an opponent, she determines where the tiles are placed in the dungeon and will control the monsters as they attempt to seal your fate. On the side of good, each hero has special abilities and use their dice to track their health throughout the game…so no dice-rolling (so at least you have that going for you).
True to their roots, the Warrior kills monsters, the Wizard magically reveals tiles, the Cleric heals and the Rogue can disarm traps. Your goal as the hero is to utilize your abilities in the most efficient manner to explore and gather enough treasure to win. In the solo variant you will be basically playing with yourself and alternating between the heroes and the dungeon. While playing the heroes, you will take up a total of 8 actions (with no more than two actions per hero). When playing the dungeon you will reveal tiles and revealed monsters will act in accordance to certain priority rules. The game is won if all four treasure tiles are acquired or lost if your peeps die.
Bottom Line: If people can play freaking Love Letter in a bar and not get pummeled to death with broken hearts and missed opportunities, then you can play a damned dungeon crawl and this one is well-themed, well-constructed, simple and fun. The type of bar best suited would be “The Corner Bar” or whatever dank, dark place the sad people in your town drink.
Pinata from Rio Grande Games (2 player)
With it’s colorful theme this two player card game is perfect for Cinco de Mayo (or any other culturally appropriated holiday) and pairs well with margaritas and fancy fruit. In the box, you will find a bag of multi-colored wooden candy tokens, four 2-sided sturdy cardboard tiles featuring the image of an intact (and likely naive) pinata as well as a set of cards featuring a color, a number value and a brat wielding a stick. The game sets up in moments and plays quickly. My only regret that this is a two-player game and doesn’t support four players. Perhaps a variant could be concocted after the requisite amount of tequila is imbibed.
Oh! And the candy…is delightful! Each looks like an individually foil wrapped bit of salt-water taffy. Each is in a corresponding color matching the cards dealt out to players (green, purple, pink, red and yellow). At the start of the game, the four tiles are placed in a line between the players. Each tile displays a large number representing the amount of candy pulled from the bag and placed on the tile (inside the pinata). The color of the tile (blue or orange) depending upon which side is placed (it doesn’t matter to start with) determines whether the goal is to achieve lowest numerical amount on the cards or the highest in order to collect the candy.
The players are dealt out eight cards (the cards consist of the five colors plus white – the wild cards) and then take turns playing cards on either side of the tiles matching the color of the candy on the tile. When both sides of a tile have cards equal to the color and amount of candy, you add up the numbers. Depending on the color of the tile, the person with the highest or lowest sum will win and gather the candy on the tile. The tile is then flipped and play continues (make sense? If not, tequila will help you. Tequila is the only one who really understands you). After a player plays a card and resolves any candy grabbing, they draw back up to eight cards. When one player gathers enough candy to win three of the five displayed “medal” cards, that player wins.
Bottom Line: This game feels like a celebration, plays well, and just screams “Fancy Drinks!” and “Hola!” The type of bar would be Mexican Chain Restaurant (On the Border, Don Pablos or any place that serves tacos in conjunction with beer).
Council of Verona from Crash Games (2-4 players)
Council of Verona – the thinking woman’s Love Letter. More cards. More bluffing. Tokens that actually mean something. More drinking with the right amount of house-rules. This inaugural edition from Crash Game’s “Pub Series” has thirteen cards and 4-6 tokens (depending on if you use the “Poison” expansion – which I recommend). The game starts with a drafting of cards from each player until everyone has three cards. On the table you set up an area for the “Council” and an area for “Exile.”
The players are playing member of the Verona citizenry who are sick and tired of all the familial squabbling and bloodshed between the Capulets and the Montagues. Gawd! They just won’t stahp! In his supreme wisdom, the Prince of Verona has ordained the players worthy enough to people a “Council” to avoid further bloodshed. Because, you know, Verona doesn’t have a SWAT team and a brig.
Each player takes turns playing a card. The cards represent characters from Romeo and Juliet; each with an Ability or an Agenda. If a character has an Ability, when that card is played, they may use the ability (such as moving someone from exile into the council). If the character has an Agenda, it will provide a goal, which when completed can potentially earn the players points, but only if they place influence on those cards. The player can then choose to place one of their Influence tokens on any card. Each card has room for three with some slight modifiers. Players may also place a Poison or Antidote token which look identical to the Influence tokens in order to poison or save an agenda. If a person is dead then their agenda could hardly matter anymore.
The game continues until all the cards are played and then the players have an option of placing any remaining Influence tokens. When the Agenda conditions on personage is successful, the Influence tokens are then turned into victory points.
We’ve played this simple game a few times and use the following house rules. The Poison will not only kill a personage but will also require any Influence of that personage to take a shot. Antidotes do nothing to counteract the shot-taking effect of the Poison token. Abilities can be used more than once. Players may expend an Influence token to gain the use of the ability of one card on the table. The token remains on the card and the card’s ability can not be use again.
Bottom Line: Quick, Literary and Nice but required some tweaking to make it playable. If your bar has handlebar mustachios, scarfs and multi-grain, all-organic, triple-fermented, double-spiced, dry-hopped, craft-brews served in the appropriate styled glass then Verona is the perfect pub game for it. Those scarf toting hipsters probably play only designer games anyway…
Sushi Go! from Adventureland Games (5 players)
If you have a larger crowd and some time between rounds of drinks, Sushi Go! is a sweet and saucy little card drafting game that will keep everyone smiling (or that could be the sake).
During three rounds (of drinks), players are dealt cards, review them and then place one card in front of them face-down. The card is flipped over simultaneously and then the remaining cards are passed to the left. Real fast! Pick up cards, choose one, play it, flip it and pass the remaining to the left. Once all the cards have been played and the round is over, score your points on this amazing little two-card “tray” score-keeper, discard your played cards, retain any played pudding cards in front of the player (these are scored at the end of three rounds) and deal again! After three rounds, you score those pudding cards, finish your drinks and move on. It is the perfect pub game.
The cards are insanely cute (with the exception of the Wasabi card which looks like a pile of green poo) and I would love spend a night with the tempura twins. Some cards (the nigiri) can be scored individually when played or played on a Wasabi card are multiplied by three. Tempura and Sashimi need to be collected in sets to score. Dumplings score more points, the more you collect and sushi rolls score depending upon who has the most and second most.
Especially fun are the Chopsticks cards which allow you to play a second card during a later hand. When you decide to activate your chopsticks, do the following – play one card as normal and before everyone reveals, play your second card and pass the used chopsticks to your left with the rest of your hand. If you get passed a Chopsticks as your last card, then you are required to take a shot.
The pace is quick. The art is fun and it takes 2 minutes to teach the game. You also do not have to be entirely sober to play.
Bottom Line: This my favorite fast pub game. I love it. You can play without thinking and chit-chat. What is the best type of bar to play this one? Sushi bars, Japanese steak houses or any place with a drink called a “Flaming Samurai.” Kanpai! Buy shots for your chef and avoid the Uni and Konowata.
Citadels from Fantasy Flight Games (5+ players)
Treachery and murder go together with drinking and boozing like … well … drinking and boozing. Citadels is a game of roles where players secretly choose, each round, which personage they will be for that round via a draft (similar to Sushi Go!). This is one of the most devious elements of Citadels. As you choose during the draft, depending on your placement in the turn order, other players will get an idea of who you potentially are and start scheming and plotting from the beginning. While the ultimate goal of creating and maintaining the most glorious of cities. A player, on their turn, can take two gold from the general supply or take two district cards from the deck, choose one, and put the other on the bottom of the deck. Then the active player can build a district (paying the gold on the card) and perform their character’s ability. The roles provide players with some devious abilities such as killing another character (Assassin), stealing money from a character (Thief) or destroying another player’s district (Warlord).
Bottom Line: Like a shot of whiskey, Citadels can be cruel but can burn for a while afterwards. The game is adversarial with a goodly amount of bluffing and skill. More important it is also fun and fast with few components and plenty of player-interaction. Enough to keep any table active and loud. This one is good for old man or redneck bars. Just look serious and try to puff yourself up to twice your size, like a lizard.