Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper and West End Adventures

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper and the West End Adventures (Amazon) is a series of cases that continue the investigations of the original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Space Cowboys (of T.I.M.E. Stories and Splendor fame) are updating and redoing the original releases. In this game, the West End Adventures are updated versions of the 1995 expansion to the original game with four completely new adventures centered around Jack the Ripper. The original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective will be released as The Thames Murders and Other Cases later this year.

The Game

Similar to the original, 1-8 players work together as a team of “irregular” investigators working with, but also competing against, their boss Sherlock Holmes. Each case is contained in a booklet with an introduction, several locations with associated text, case questions to test how well you did, and the solution provided by Sherlock to measure yourself against. Each regular case utilizes a large fold-out map of London along with newspapers and a directory. The Unlike the original, Jack the Ripper cases are all linked together in a series and have a map of White-chapel included. 

An introduction is read aloud at the beginning of each case. The players are encouraged to explore the provided materials and come to a consensus on which location to search. The map has dozens of locations to visit in the course of your investigations. You will gather clues, visit locals who may provide information pertinent to your case or red herrings to lead you astray. Each location moves the team closer to solving the mystery new leads which in turn lead to new locations. Once the group has determined they explored and followed enough of the leads, they can move onto the questions for the case. There are a total of 200 points that can be earned from solving the primary case and any peripheral mysteries that may have been uncovered as well. Time is of the essence, so visiting too many sites and spending too much time can affect the final score.

Sherlock_Holmes_Consulting_Detective_02_2000x1333.jpgAfter the questions, the score is tallied and you compare your results to Holmes’ solution. However, the solutions provided by Sherlock require so many ridiculous logical leaps that it really only serves to prove to the players how intensely smart Sherlock is. You can ignore the score, and laugh at the result that Sherlock comes up with.  

Each case is a one-shot experience and with 10 cases supplied in the game. At 90 minutes a case, it more than provides enough value for the cost. At first glance there is very little option for replay-ability but having one person moderating the game (who knows the solution) can be fun to attract new players. It was also fun to allow new players to work through the game and provide an occasional hint.

Comparing this to T.I.M.E. Stories, I prefer the lack of game mechanics in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. There is little set up, lots of reading, and plenty of discussion about what to do next. You can move from place to place, examine clues, develop leads, gather materials, and pour over the map and newspapers provided. Both games are certainly on rails but I find the streamlined experience of Sherlock Holmes much more enjoyable.

This is a gaming experience tailor made for bookworms! It reminds me of the experience of reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book with the added benefit of being able to share the experience with more than one person. Honestly, I never got to a good ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book without cheating and I have never get even close to Sherlock’s solution in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Nor should I! Most of the fun is the disbelief of how he actually solved the crime and your own floundering steps towards a solution. You don’t get better as you play but you do get more creative in your solutions as you try to make the same logical leaps Sherlock makes.  

The Endgame

Take your time. Have a drink. Forget about the score. Explore possibilities with your group. Laugh at the red herrings and gloat over someone’s totally lucky guess that ended up being correct. It is totally OK to cheat at this game. If you can’t answer a question, go back and retrofit an answer. See where you went amiss.

This is a great introduction to RPGs for people who never even thought about playing an RPG. Let me be clear, it *isn’t* an RPG but it has that feeling of group cohesion, discussion and discovery. It has the added bonus of being played without a moderator and if you really wanted to toss in some characters, it wouldn’t be too hard to find some mystery tropes to include. They would have zero effect on gameplay but could make the experience even more immersive.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is an overlooked gateway game that no-one ever mentions. And it should be right alongside with Splendor, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic. It is a small jump into Fiasco if you want storytelling or into Letters from Whitechapel if you want to get a bit more mechanical. The theme is familiar and immersive to most. The mechanisms are simple to practically nonexistent. It plays with little setup or rules explanation. 

The only downside of this particular iteration is that the theme of the Jack the Ripper cases can be off-putting. I have this same issue when I introduce Letters from White-chapel to some gaming groups. It is just a whole different level of dark from the classic Holmes mystery.This sequence of linked cases is bloody, historically accurate, and can be tough to stomach. Something about the jump from a purely literary affair to the reconstruction of actual horrible events of real victims may be too much. As a simple test, if your group would be down with From Hell or the Ripper Street TV series then they may be ready for this. My recommendation is to play the West End cases first and move into the Jack the Ripper cases only if this level of darkness is appropriate to your group.

My recommendation is mixed. If you are worried about the grisly nature of Jack the Ripper, get the original Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective if you can find it or you can wait for the Space Cowboy’s re-release of the original as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases. If you don’t have an issue with the visceral nature of the Ripper murderers, go for this collection.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, 4-12 players are attempting to solve a murder and just arrived at a crime scene loaded with clues and potential murder weapons. Players need to sort through the clues with the help of their forensic scientist. Everything seems simple enough except that the murder is standing in their midst and in uniform. Players will need to suss out what the forensic scientist is hinting at, find the murder, and protect their start witness before three rounds of play elapse.

Start the game with determining who will be the Forensic Scientist. The Forensic Scientist is presenting hints so they should be the most experienced player (or at very least the one who read the rules already). Similar to the ghost in Mysterium, you have an oddly mute forensic scientist (who in my head-canon has such a strong case of social anxiety) who is unable to speak to the investigators and instead just points to their notes.

Everyone else is randomly given a roles: Mostly Investigators plus one Murderer, and in larger player counts, a Witness and an Accomplice. Everyone except the Forensic Scientist is dealt a hand of four clue cards and four weapon cards which are displayed in front of them. Similar to Werewolf, the forensic scientist has everyone close their eyes and then asks for the Murder to open their eyes and point to one of their weapon cards and one of their clue cards. This is the information that the Forensic Scientist must relay to the investigators. The Witness gets to see who the murderer is but not their murder weapon or clue and wants to survive and remain hidden. The Accomplice gets to see who the murder is and wins if the murderer gets away.  

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Investigator, Murderer, Forensic Scientist roles and for higher player counts the Witness and Accomplice.

The game is played in three rounds. The forensic scientist has to place bullets on the six random tiles. Two tiles (“Cause of Death” and “Location of Crime”) are always used with four additional “Scene” tiles. Placement of the bullets will hint at the murder weapon and the clue and thus the identity of the murderer. It is best to place these slowly so players can discuss the clues and help guide the investigator to the next placement. Each player (including the murderer) then gets to make brief presentation about their opinions on the case and can once per game make and attempt to solve the murder by announcing “I plan to solve the murder” and then pointing to one murder weapon and one clue in front of one specific player. If you guess correctly, the investigators win! But if you guess incorrectly, you turn in your badge and are unable to make a guess again. However, you can still partake in the discussion on how others can make their guess. This continues for three rounds with the Forensic Scientist adding one new “Scene” tile to replace an older one of their choice.

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The Location of Crime (green), the Cause of Death (purple) and four Scene tiles.

If playing with the Witness, and the correct weapon and clue are guessed, then the Murderer gets the opportunity to guess who the witness is to win the game.  

Deception is to The Resistance what Mysterium is to Dixit. It takes an enjoyable activity and adds a subtle layer of mechanics on top to create a more salient game experience. All this while retaining a quick set-up and pleasant flow of play. The tension and distrust from other social deduction games such as The Resistance or Werewolf is present but not overwhelming. You have an experience where players are working together but always glancing slightly askance at each other rather than heavy bluffing and accusations.

Deception places the emphasis firmly on the deduction part over the social part of social deduction games. Discussion more often revolve around what the Forensic Scientist is trying to hint at over whether someone is lying or not. It just feels gentler and more about subtle misdirection over outright argumentation. The murder can slink into the background and let everything play out while gently nudging people in the right or wrong direction.

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A handful of clues and a smattering of Investigator badge tokens.

The Endgame: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong can play a large group easily and the set-up is minimal (especially when compared to Mysterium) and I prefer it over Werewolf or The Resistance since the game-play is less “social” and the discussion a bit more gentle while still tense.  

A 4 track EP (little album for you younger folks) based on some favorite board games – A Worker Placed

A Worker Placed is a four track album where each track is inspired by a current favorite game. You’ll find Love Letter, Gravwell, A Feast for Odin and Tokaido all represented.

It’s only available on Bandcamp at the moment but you can stream it from the site for free, or spend $2 to download all four tracks.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2550132442/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/transparent=true/

Coldwater Crown satisfies as a light to medium Euro with a rich theme – fishing!

Coldwater Crown –  1-4 players, 40-90 minutes, from Bellwether Games.

Looking for a light to medium Euro with a fairly unique theme? Coldwater Crown is just what you’re looking for!  In this game players are taking part in a fishing tournament where they compete to get the highest weight fish of various species from three geographical locations: the river, lake and ocean shore.

Setting Up

To get things started, players will place the main play board on the table and each grab a tackle box – which is a player board that looks remarkably like a tackle box. The main board has three fishing zones, the Lake, River and Shore. Each zone has a spot for four Fish cards and the appropriate deck – they’re also color coded. The decks are shuffled and the sixteen cards are placed on the board. Each card has a picture of the fish, and the potential weight (3-10 lbs. for example). Each of these four spots is also divided into one of four zones, 3,4,5 and 6.

There are also a series of spots on the board for various trophies. The Small Species Challenge trophy, Master Angler challenges, Mystery Weight challenge, trophies for each zone, first to 8 species and first to 12 fish. These spots are filled with the appropriate trophies (based on player count). You’ll also take four double sided Angler tokens and place them with the 1 side up on three of the six fishing zone spots. Last, take at random one of the colored Tags and place that on the Tag space on the board.

Along side the main board, the Master Angler cards will be shuffled and then placed. 4 face up cards next to the face down deck. There are also a series of Bonus tokens placed face down, with each player taking a random token to start out with.

Once the board is set up, players will take the bag full of bait – colorful plastic crystals that correspond to the six colors of the fishing zones, and fill up two zones on their Tackle Box player boards. Zones 3 and 4 each get 3 or 4 tokens. When filling your zones, you’ll always add Bait tokens up to the zone number (so zones 5 and 6 will get 5 and 6 tokens, respectively).

There is one clear Bait Token, which will go into the bag once all of the players have filled up their zone 3 and 4 spaces.

How to Play

At it’s core, Coldwater Crown is a fairly simple take on worker placement. You place a ‘worker’ and you take a ‘worker’, which for this game is your Angler Token. It’s where you do this and the actions that you get from doing this that give this game all of it’s interesting decisions and complexity.  Each Angler Token has two sides, like a coin. A 1 and a 2 side. This will determine what kind of an action you can take, with the 2 generally being more powerful (but not always more strategically appropriate) side.

Next to each of the three zones, are two color coded spots where you can place or remove an Angler Token. There’s also the Harbor spot where you can do the same. On your turn you’ll take two actions. First, you’ll take your Angler Token and place it on the board with it’s current side face up. At the start of the game, this is the 1 side. Second, you’ll remove one of the Angler Tokens already placed on the board (not the one you just placed) and flip it over. That then becomes your Angler Token. Each time you place or remove the token, you’ll take the appropriate action.

If you place this on one of the six colored spots next to the Lake, River or Shore zones, you’ll be able to do one of two things. If the token is on the 1 side, you’ll remove 1 Bait Token of that color (red, blue, yellow, black, green or purple) from each of your Tackle Box (the player board) zones. If the token is on the 2 side, you’ll remove all of the Bait Tokens of that color from any one zone on your Tackle Box.

If you remove the last Bait Token from that zone, you catch the fish from that same zone on the game board. How do you determine which zone? The Lake is red and blue, the River is yellow and black and the Shore is green and purple. If you removed the last Bait Token from your Tackle Box in zone 3, and it’s a purple Bait Token, you’d catch the Shore fish card in the zone 3 spot. Bait tokens are placed in a discard pile. The first person to draw the clear bait token will trigger the bag to refill with all of the tokens from the discard pile (including the clear token).

There’s also the Harbor spot. If you place or remove an Angler Token there on the 1 side, you can either refill any one zone on your Tackle Box, or take one Master Angler card. If your token’s on the 2 side, you can take two of those actions.

Each of the fish cards has, on it’s back, it’s actual weight and a tag with a color and time. These are important for breaking ties and in the case of the tag color, could be worth extra points at the end of the game.

In addition to the fish you can catch from the three zones, there are Master Angler Challenge fish you can catch. One of the actions you can take from the Harbor space is to claim a Master Angler Challenge card. Once you’ve claimed a card, rather than discarding your bait into a discard pile, you can place it in the appropriately colored spot on your Angler card. Once the card is full, you’ve caught that fish and the card is yours to score. If you clear out the bait from zone 6 on your Tackle Box, you can either catch the fish in that zone, or take the top fish off of the deck.

The bonus tokens (there are 4 different types) can also be played during the game to change around your bait or help decide which specific fish is caught. Each time you clear out all of your Bait Tokens from zone 5 of your player board, you claim a new bonus token.

The first player to 12 fish caught from the Lake, River or Shore triggers the end of the game. From there points are totaled up and the player with the most points wins.

How to Win

There are several challenges going in during the game which will award players trophies, which are worth points. There’s the Mystery Weight challenge, where if you catch a fish that is the same weight as the face up trophy, you can claim that trophy. The Master Angler challenges awards trophies for 3 of a kind or 4 different species caught. The Small species challenge awards trophies to the first players to catch one each of the three small fish species. The first players to catch eight different species of fish from the 3 main board zones gain a trophy and the player to trigger the end of the game by catching 12 fish also gets a trophy.

In addition to this, each Master Angler Challenge fish that you successfully catch is worth one point at the end of the game.

Finally, each player will take one of each species of the heaviest fish from each zone and add them up. The player with the most total weight from each zone claims the top trophy for that zone, with other players getting trophies worth less. Also, each fish submitted at the end of the game with the same colored tag that was placed on the board during setup will score an additional point for that fish. It’s possible to get the smallest trophy from a zone but still score more points if you happen to have all the right tags.

The player with the most points after all trophies, tagged fish and Master Angler cards have been added up wins!

Why You Should Play

If you’re looking to a light/medium Euro style worker placement game, with some interesting strategic choices, Coldwater Crown is a great choice. If you happen to like games that feature really interesting themes, a fishing tournament is, as far as I know, unique to this style of game. Add to that a fun time, with fairly quick turns and a solo mode and it’s hard for me to say no to this.

I am not a sports fisher by any means but I find this game to be very unique and more importantly, fun! The real challenge lies in taking your randomly distributed Bait Tokens and making them work in a way you want them to. You’ve got to plan where you’re placing and taking your Angler Tokens to maximize your chances of getting the fish you want by discarding that specific color of bait from each zone. It’s more challenging than it looks but in all the right ways.

The game itself is beautiful to look at – the illustrations are great, the tokens, boards and trophies are nice and chunky and fun to handle I do with the cards had been a bit thicker but that’s really my only complaint when it comes to components.

That being said, there is a bit of randomness involved and you’ll find that the main board changes a lot between turns as each player manipulates their Angler Tokens. If you prefer straight up, zero luck games this may not be the best choice for you. Personally, I enjoy this one quite a bit though – the luck element is interesting enough that no two games play the same, and can be mitigated fairly well by bonus tokens. You’ve got to be able to adapt your play to the lot you’ve been given though.

I think Coldwater Crown is a great way to introduce players new to Euro-style games and/or worker placement and set collection. There are a lot of folks I know for who this will appeal to them a lot more than say Lords of Waterdeep. The mechanics are if anything a bit simpler and this game can be taught in 10 minutes or less. It has the added bonus of attracting lots of attention wherever I’ve played it. Look at all those fish!

All in all I can very much recommend this game. It’s been a joy to play and has quickly climbed the ranks of my games for both gateway Euros and games I just enjoy playing at any time. Also of note, my 11 year old Luca thoroughly enjoys this one as well – it’s on of the few euros she requests on a regular basis. With it’s quick turns, it’s a fast game to pick up and is great with very little downtime while other players are taking their turns.

As of today, Coldwater Crown is available to purchase directly from Bellwether Games and should be arriving at your FLGS as well. It will be available on Amazon in July (according to Amazon).

Total Confusion 2017 – This one goes to 11

There’s a peculiar thing about this particular convention – every single one I’ve attended has been the best one yet. That’s not bad, by any means – in fact, it’s great! Turns out Total Confusion 31 continues this streak with some new faces, some new friends and a hell of a lot of gaming. For that reason, this is going to be a long post!

I’ll take a look at this convention day to day, but first let’s look at the basics. Total Confusion bills itself as “New England’s Largest Gaming Convention” and they’re not wrong. While other conventions may draw many more attendees, Total Con is the largest convention dedicated entirely to the art and science of playing games. When I first stepped into the new location on Wednesday afternoon, there were already 20-30 people scattered about gaming. Now the convention doesn’t officially start until Thursday morning but I know folks showed up on Tuesday evening with the intention of getting in a full day of gaming before getting in a 4 day weekend of gaming. That’s awesome.

This is just the Board Game room. There’s a lot more to this con!

What’s always awesome

Have you ever gone to Gen Con and off in the distance seen someone like Tim Kask or Mike Pondsmith – maybe attended a talk they’ve given or an event they’ve hosted? Here at Total Con, you’ll just bump into them in the hallway, or in the game room – or jump into one of the games that they are running! The guest list for this convention never ceases to amaze me. Some the highlights? John Wick, Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, Mike Pondsmith, Cody Pondsmith and many, many more! Your chances of just bumping into someone amazing are great! This year we also had a few folks just drop in – like Stefan Pokorny of Dwarven Forge and author R.A. Salvatore. You really never know who you may be talking to – or better yet, gaming with! For a New England con, I think this alone makes Total Con a unique experience. And that’s not counting the huge number of gamers like you and me who are always willing and ready to have a great time.

So many awesome people!
Tim Kask, Stefan Pokorny and two con attendees play Ticket to Ride

What was new

This year, Total Con moved venues for the first time in well over a decade. The Best Western Royal Plaza Marlborough, MA. It’s not the first time Total Con was at this location but it’s been a while. The change in venue offered two very important differences over the last hotel. There was more than adequate parking and there was a more than adequate number of rooms. These two things made for a huge difference from the last few years where attendees who both wanted to stay on site or drop in for a day had the easy ability to do so.

Wednesday Evening

The new venue also offered a much different layout, with board games, mini’s, the computer games room and the young player’s area being on one side of the hotel and RPGs being in another. This did result in a little bit less mingling, but also a lot less crowding. On the whole, I think it was a good thing. In fact, a day or so after the con wrapped up, even though official numbers aren’t out yet, the TC Facebook page posted:

TotalCon 31 is officially in the record books!!! With all the big changes going on, we expected a bit of a drop, instead the convention grew again!!! The convention surpassed every bench mark it set as a goal. That credit goes out to every volunteer, industry guest, game master, performer, vendor, exhibitor, and podcaster that was in attendance. The TotalCon team may provide the framework but the passion, creativity, and heart you bring to the table is what gets folks excited and what keeps bringing them back year after year. And now to see folks jazzed about creating new events for 2018 is AWESOME!!

Wednesday

Since my wife is on staff for the convention – and Total Con didn’t officially kick off until Thursday morning, Wednesday is always an interesting time. Generally my wife and I go into the airport a few times to pick up several industry guests being flown in from the mid-west or west coast. Generally for us this is a day of greetings, getting folks settled into the hotel and whatnot. We ended up in the hotel bar that evening, as we so often do. It’s our chance to see convention staff members we don’t get to see all that often, greet incoming guests and psyche ourselves up for a lot of uptime and not a lot of sleep.

Thursday

My Thursday started with being interviewed for And Now A Word From a Gamer – a new documentary that was filmed almost entirely at Total Confusion. Hopefully we’ll all be able to see the final film at Total Con 32 (and also everywhere else!)

From there I went to the first game I was running all convention – Above and Below. I love Red Raven games and Above and Below may be my favorite (with Islebound a close second). It was fun to teach three other folks the joys of cave exploration.

After that I did what I’ve done every year for the past three years. Help set up, move crowds through and then take down Sal’s Traveling Flea Market! This is a pretty sweet event where over 800 games and game related products were brought in. A whole bunch of ’em sold too.

Finally, after the flea wrapped up around 11, I found myself with my wife and the head of con security in the board game room with a quick game of Splendor.

Friday

This was my big day. I was running games in all but 2 slots, which worked out to roughly 11 hours of planned gaming (and in reality about 15 hours of actual gaming).

The morning started off with an event I called Territorial Disputes. I brought a number of small, area control games and had fun playing them with three folks I’d never met before. I brought Age of War, Eight Minute Empire:Legends, Guilds of Cadwallon and Tiny Epic Galaxies. We ended up playing War several times and Guilds once but didn’t have time to make it to the other two games.

From there I got to introduce six folks to Cutthroat Caverns – my all time favorite take-that style game. While I had originally intended to play as well, I had a grand time running the game (as it was entirely full with no space for me)!

Then on to the first big event of the day for me. Scythe. Taking two slots from 3pm to 7pm, it had sold out in pre-reg. Strangely, only 2 of the pre-registered folks showed up to play. That was fine though as three more players materialized seemingly out of thin air. One had to leave mid-game, which gave me the opportunity to allow a 6th person to jump in whom I taught on the fly. I. Love. This. Game.

I had a 2 hour break for dinner, roughly 20 minutes of which I spent in my room relaxing with my wife. Then it was down to the bar/restaurant where I secured two tables for dinner and for my next event. Kids Games for Adults – 2 Drink Minimum. I’d call this game a stunning success. It helped greatly that a pub game event had just ended and we attracted a few of those folks to our table (along with their pub games). I have never, ever laughed so hard during a gaming event. We played a six player version of Loopin’ Chewie (that I modified with 3D printed parts), Villa Paletti, Pairs, Animal upon Animal, Skull, and finally several rounds of a terrible game (which I loved) called Midnight Party with Hugo the person eating ghost. We literally closed the bar down with this event – they turned out the lights on us. It was amazing.

 

I will certainly be running this event next year – in fact I’m hoping to team up with Mat who ran the pub games event so we can have one epic night in the bar gaming our little hearts out.

Saturday

This was my lighter day. I’d purposely not scheduled any games as Luca was going to join us for the day. After touring the con a bit, we settled on a copy of Ice Cool from the Vendor’s room (the awesome folks at Crossroads Games). It’s a fairly simple, dexterity/flicking game where you attempt to get penguins through different doors to capture fish tokens while one player is trying to get your little penguin school ID card. Players switch off as the penguin attempting to capture the others. The physical (and graphical) design is amazing, and the physics of the game are a lot of fun too. I’d play this one just about any time. We played it at various times during the day with various people.

Then we bumped into our buddy David (who’d entertained us at the Granite Games Summit) and he introduced us to a bunch of cool, smaller games. We played Stack, Kingdomino (a surprisingly fun filler), and Mint Works – a tiny little worker placement game in a mint tin. Lots of fun!

From there we went to the all-con-long Paint and Take event. You paint a mini and then you take it. This has been a favorite of Luca’s in the past years and this time I joined her. Loved it!

Luca and I also got to demo her game Candy Crash and got some great feedback!

From there I got to relax a bit, grab dinner with my wife and some other convention staffers and then headed into the board game room to see what was what. I played a pick up game of Tiny Epic Galaxies, Played several rounds of Spyfall (finally!) I had a fun time also teaching Guilds of Cadwallon whilst playing Tiny Epic Galaxies. Something I’ve not done before. It must have been okay because I won TEG by a decent margin.

Later that evening I had the privilage (as I have for the past 6 cons) to attend an industry guest party. It was, as always, an amazing time filled with amazing people who I never would have met were it not for Total Confusion. I also found out that John Wick has a much, much better angry face than I.

Sunday

Ah Sunday… a day of winding down and doing nothing. NOPE! Not at this con! Sunday morning I ran my Prototype Workshop. This Sunday we had five prototypes to go over and it was a lot of fun seeing a ton of creativity and good games before they make it to publication. I fully expect to see at least a few of them in game stores in a year or three!

From there I was going to run a Bohnanza game but didn’t have enough folks to do it. So I wandered back into the vendor hall, bought a few things, wandered back into the board game room and was almost immediately scooped up for a game of Vast: Crystal Caverns. This is a very cool, very asymmetric game in which players take on the rolls of the Knight, the Goblins, the Dragon, the Thief and the Cavern itself. I played the Cavern. Very interesting game! I was a bit burnt out at this point (it’s 2pm on Sunday after all) and didn’t play at my best but still very much enjoyed the experience.

Remember how folks were at the hotel a full day early to game? Well here’s the board game room at about 4:15pm on Sunday. Still stuff going on!

From that point on I was pretty much toast. I’m lucky not only to be invited as a guest but that my wife is on staff which means I get to see the after party (full of pizza) and hear how all of the staff experienced the convention. From there it was a quick ride home and a short dive back into reality.

In Conclusion

I had a fine time. Total Confusion remains one of my favorite times of the entire year. As always, a huge thanks to the fine folks who make Total Confusion the best. The amazing staff and volunteers, the awesome guests and everyone who comes out to play! If you are anywhere near the area next February, I cannot encourage you enough to get out – even for a day – and play with us!

I played a bunch of fantastic games, ran some fun events, met a ton of great people and loved every minute of it! Special thanks to those who brought their prototypes to the workshop – some very interesting ideas! And to my friends at the con – those I met six years ago to those I met this weekend, you are the best part of this whole experience!

Here’s a semi-annotated gallery of most of the pictures I took at the convention – not all of which made it into the posts above. They may be a little out of order. Enjoy!

Three Ring Circus: Automobiles

If tracksuit bottoms are “give up on life” pants, then I am at the stage in life where I drive “give up on life” cars. I’m past the need for speed BMWs and sporty VWs, instead I like my cars to be tax efficient and thrifty.  With this in mind it is appropriate that I have found a car racing game that doesn’t like waste and even gives you a hybrid option.

Automobiles is a racing game with a difference, because you’re building the engine that drives your car as the race goes on. It’s a bag building game, where you are drawing coloured wooden cubes to drive your car around the circuit. It plays from 2 to 5 players, with the game time dependent on how long you want to make the race.

The game comes in a pretty big box.  Inside there’s a double sided board with an oval circuit on one side and a more Formula 1 style track on the other. The rest of the components are; two plastic cube trays to hold the 10 different colours of cubes, 5 bright red bags, player boards and a slim set of cards. Finally you have a wooden car and lap marker for each player.

Setup

Set up for the game is very quick when compared to a deck building game because the cubes act as a proxy for different cards sets, and this means that you won’t be pulling cards out of a box for fifteen minutes.  Once the board and cube trays are out, all that’s left is to select a set of action cards to use.  There are four cards for each of the five colours and they are themed around; gears, garage, pit, handling, performance and engine.  So you might get the green Gearbox card, which lets you move the same number of light grey spaces as your race position, (and one extra if you are last), or the blue Rotary engine, which moves you as many white spaces as you have different colours in your discard area.  The game has suggested combinations which will keep you going for a few games and, after that, you can go wild.

Every player has a set selection of cubes in their bag at the start and these are added to with a one off buying phase. How much you get to spend depends on grid position. How you spend them is up to the player, upgrades or gears?

Play

Over the course of the game you will be building a bag of cubes and drawing from it to propel your car around the track with increasing speed and efficiency.   

You draw 7 cubes from your bag at the end of your previous turn so you have time to think about what you’re going to do.  

The race? It’s in the bag.

The rules split each turn into 5 sections:

    • Actions.  Which is where you use cubes to activates the power of the associated card colour.  Actions are split between those that manage the cubes you have available and moving your car around the track.  The former are activated and placed in the used area on the player board and the rest go out on the track to plot the course of your car on that turn. The track is colour coded.  Higher gears let you go faster / further and this is reflected in the board’s design.  On the home straight you can pootle along in 3rd gear which takes 8 white cubes, or fizz down in 6th, which only takes 2 black ones. You can switch to adjacent lanes and not through other competitor’s cars, which adds a slight puzzle element as the order you use the cubes can make a difference to your distance travelled and the lanes used.
    • Buy.  Any cubes not used in the action phase become spends.  Each cube has a value and you can buy new cubes up to that value.
    • Car.  Here you move your car as far as your cubes, (placed in the action phase), let you.

      Yellow is moving through the gears.
    • Decline is where you clear the track of your cubes and take wear for your track movement and any, wear inducing, actions.  If you manage to position your car directly behind another competitor you are considered to be drafting and this reduces your wear overhead.  Wear cubes don’t do anything apart from slow you down by clogging up your draw bag.  Incidentally, if you  draw a hand full of wear you can choose to take a pit stop.  This is like a “miss a turn” option, but you do get to return that wear to the supply.  You finish your turn by placing your used cubes into the discard area of your player board.   
    • End  Draw another 7 cubes from your bag.  If you don’t have 7, all the cubes from your discard area go into the bag to be drawn.

Play continues until a player makes it over the finish line. All players take the same number of turns and whoever makes it furthest past the chequered flag is the winner.

Playing with Three

Three isn’t quite the magic number with Automobiles. There is definitely a bit more on track action in a four or five player game, but it’s not a drastic improvement, just a case of drafting and manoeuvring having more importance.  

How easy is it to teach the game?

The game is mainly about the turn structure; actions, moment, buying, taking wear and cleaning up.  Passing that on isn’t too hard and movement can be covered with examples.  The rule book is really well written and helps a great deal.  The one area that needs to be stressed is the difference between the cost of a cube and its buying power. It can be a bit confusing.

Can complexity be scaled?

There is a suggested first play set up which eases players into the game. The standard game is three laps. Playing with 2 laps doesn’t change the complexity, but it will level the playing field, as the benefits of building a good bag tend to come out in lap three onwards.

Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?

I haven’t tried it.  Increasing starting money for the initial cube buy should work fine.  One thing to consider is playing with Gearbox because it gives a great catch up mechanic.  It’s no coincidence that it’s in the suggested first play set up.

How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?

Seeing you car being lapped can be a dispiriting experience, shorter races could help.

What do I think?

Automobiles is a solid game and having a deck-builder that doesn’t rely on victory points is refreshing. Does it replicate the action of motor racing? Not really, but that doesn’t matter so much, because it does translate the tension of a closely fought race.  The last race we ran saw 6 white spaces between 1st and 3rd and the difference between winning and losing coming down to a single cube colour not being there when you needed it.  OK, I was the one in 3rd and I’m not bitter about that.  I made some buying mistakes and got what I deserved.

Each game set up needs a different approach and picking the cubes for the job is where the nub of the game lies. It is a nice marriage of strategy, in building your bag, and the tactics of using your 7 cubes to the max.  There are questions to answer on each turn and, because a cube can be used for its action or currency,  they are more varied questions than a standard deck-builder.  There’s a great balance to the game play and the pace is good too.  It starts slowly and revs up to the final laps, which can pass in just a turn or two.  

If you like deck-building and want something a little different, it’s definitely worth giving Automobiles a run out.

Total Confusion kicks off Feb. 23rd! Here’s my official schedule and more about the convention

Every year in February, I have cause to celebrate! My favorite convention, Total Confusion kicks off and this year is no different! I’ll be in attendance all convention long, from Thursday the 23 through Sunday the 26th.

If you’re in or going to be in the area this February, you definitely want to check Total Confusion out. I’ll get to my tentative schedule in a moment but first I can give you a few other reasons to join us. How’d you like to play games with Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, Mike Pondsmith, John Wick,  Michael Curtis, Jay Libby, Peter Bryant, James Carpio, the Dark Phoenix folks, the Iron GM folks and more?! Oh, and I’ll be there too.

For the last while, Total Confusion was in Mansfield, MA. This coming year they’re moving to the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel in Marlborough, MA. I’m bringing a bag full of games to play and I’ll also have some copies of Swamped and Ninja – Silent but Deadly with me as well.

Thursday

10am -1pm – Being interviewed, lunch, hanging at the flea setup, etc.

1pm-3pmAbove and Below.  Above and Below is a mashup of town-building and storytelling where you and up to three friends compete to build the best village above and below ground. tcaboveandbelowIn the game, you send your villagers to perform jobs like exploring the cave, harvesting resources, and constructing houses. Each villager has unique skills and abilities, and you must decide how to best use them. You have your own personal village board, and you slide the villagers on this board to various areas to indicate that they’ve been given jobs to do. Will you send Hanna along on the expedition to the cave? Or should she instead spend her time teaching important skills to one of the young villagers?

3pm-11pmFlea Market. I’m once again volunteering to help run the Total Confusion Flea Market. I’ll be setting up and then guiding excited guests through the maze of board game and RPG deals.

Friday

10am 12pmTerritorial Disputes – Eight Minute Empires, Ages of War, Guilds of Cadwallon and more. If you’re feeling like controlling some area in a few tiny games, this is the event for you. Explore some fun, fairly fast and not terribly large area-control games.

1pm – 3pm  – Cutthroat Caverns“Without teamwork, you will never survive. Without betrayal, you’ll never win.” I like to call this one Munchkin but for adults. It’s a semi-tccutthroatcooperating dungeon romp where you’ve already done the hard work, and gotten the magical gew-gaw! Now all you have to do is get back out. Easy, right? Right?! In Cutthroat Caverns, it’s every player for themselves, except  you need the other players to make it out! At least, most of the way out. 

3pm-7pm –  Scythe – Scythe is a 4X board game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and tcscythevalor. In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europa who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction’s stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. If you’re looking for strategic game play, beautiful artwork and resource tokens that will amaze, join us!

9pm-11pm – Kids Games for Adults – 2 Drink Minimum. What? Kids games? Where? At the bar. Why? If you have to ask, this event isn’t for you.

Saturday

I’ll be hanging out with friends, my daughter, my wife and playin’ games!

Sunday

10am – 12pm – Prototype Workshop. Join me with other industry insiders as we look at you board and card game ideas. Spend 10-15 minutes explaining your game and showing off your prototype. Receive 10-15 minutes of feedback from us!

1pm-3pm – Bohnanza – It’s Sunday, the convention is winding down and you’ve come to realize you have not yet fulfilled one of your bucket list items. To become a successful bean tcbeansfarmer. In the classic Bohnanza, players have a gas wheeling and dealing, making and breaking alliances and of course, planting lots of beans. This fairly casual card game could be the perfect way blow out the con.

And that’s my convention so far. I’m running a fair number of events and am reserving some time on Saturday for myself. I may participate in a panel, I hope to get in a game or two (maybe even *gasp* an RPG!) I’ll have my personal copy of Swamped and Ninja on me and I can easily teach either of these in a fairly short amount of time, so if you see me wandering around or stationary for a short time, feel free to come up, say hi and ask!

Candy Crash – a game designed by Luca for 2-4 players – grab your Print and Play here!

Candy Crash is a die rolling, card playing game for 2-4 players, aged 8+ which plays in 15-20 minutes.

In Candy Crash, each player takes on the roll of a teen, working a job such as lawn mowing or a paper route. They’re all saving up to buy the best candy on the street at the local candy shop.

Every turn, each player does their job and earns one coin. If they do an excellent job, they may earn a tip and start taking home some of that delicious candy!  Players earn money, purchase upgrades to their dice, special skills and compete to be the first on their block to take home the ultimate candy prize.

Luca came up with the idea for this game a few weeks before Christmas. Since then we’ve been hard at work on testing this and refining the rules! We’ve put together a Print and Play version and we’d love to hear what you think. You can download the PDF from right here. What you’ll need are 10-20 6-sided dice (depending on if you have 2-4 players), a printer and some scissors. That’s it! We’re also looking for a new name, as Candy Crash may be a little too close to some other, popular online game.

We’ve also entered this game into the Cardboard Edison 2017 Game Design Contest. Here’s the video we put together that gives you a good idea of what the game’s all about.

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