Cardboard Children – Off The List

By Robert Florence on June 24th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Hello youse.

Before my final video next week, my TOP 10 BOARD GAMES OF ALL TIME, I wanted to write about the games that I missed from the list. I’ll give you the reasons why. I’ll talk a little bit about games that will probably end up on the list at some point. Basically, these games need to be called out right here, because each one gives me a pang of hurty-hurty about why they ain’t on my list.

READ ON!

DUST TACTICS

I reviewed this before – it’s a game I REALLY love. Take a look at my column about this belter. Okay, so why is it not on my list? Well, since the Dust Warfare book came out, I see Dust Tactics as more of a tabletop miniatures game. It’s still a brilliant board game in its “Tactics” form, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, but I just see it as kinda sorta separate from the board and card games that make up the list. But then–

OH! I DUNNO!

I mean, Dust Tactics really shines as a quick-to-set-up, quick-to-play skirmish game. It’s not THAT far removed from something like Heroscape in its Tactics form. But – hey – I had to draw some lines somewhere, and so Dust Tactics is off my list. I mean, Warhammer Fantasy Battle isn’t on the list either. And I find that Dust Tactics/Warfare is more in that kind of area these days. Look. Look. Just take this as another recommendation for you to hunt this great game down. Okay.

Maybe I should have put it on the list. OH BOY.

TERRA MYSTICA

Okay, Terra Mystica. Let’s do this.

Terra Mystica is a giant, expensive Eurogame with loads of wood pieces. Seriously, this game has LOADS of wood with it. The box weighs a ton. It’s full of stuff.

Each player is one of a whole bunch of races with special abilities. The objective is to terraform and settle land across the board. You build little houses, then upgrade those houses into temples and strongholds and such. Houses spit out workers and temples spit out priests. Trading houses spit out money. As you change your dwellings and buildings, your race’s economy shifts. You need to balance your expansion to ensure you can pay for everything you want to do.

There’s a LOT going on in this game. And a game only lasts an hour or so with 2 players. Weirdly it still has the feel of a “big” game. As your little race spreads across the board, there’s a good strong feeling of development and expansion. It’s hugely satisfying.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why Terra Mystica works as well as it does. Certainly, it’s a game with a lot of play in it. You choose a race and you play a game with that race, okay? Then you finish up and think “I could have done so much better.” You play with that race again. This time you have more of an understanding of how the race’s special power is supposed to help you. Your Witches start springing up dwellings in distant patches of forest. It helps you link your towns. You get it. “I get it! Let’s go again!”

You realise that there are FOURTEEN different races in the box. All of them play differently. Great, right?

But it’s also the reason why this game is not yet on my list. I think it’s a SUPERB game. I can’t wait to play it again and again and again. But it’s just not ready to be placed on any lists yet. I’m sure it’s good enough to be on there, but it’s just not ready yet. Maybe next year’s list, huh? Check it out anyway. If you like this kind of Eurogame, if you like the whole puzzle of that whole “maximising your score” thing, then I’d say that Terra Mystica is a must for you.

THE PALACES OF CARRARA

I love this game. I wrote about it HERE.

Palaces is a weird game. I find it SO relaxing. The game comes with an expansion in the box (for the “advanced” game) but I find the basic game so chilled out and fun that I’ve been pretty much just mainlining that thing the whole time. I’ve only recently started digging into the expansion stuff, and it REALLY DOES make the game even better. I want to spend more time with it before I put it on any list on this planet. But it WILL be on the list. I like the game that much. Another Eurogame, and another great one.

It’s hard to find in English, I think. Still no reprint. Make sure to pick it up wherever you can.

ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE WEREWOLF

Oh my WORD.

We’ve all played Werewolf, right? You might know it as MAFIA. It’s a game where most people are villagers, and a couple of people are werewolves. At “night”, everyone closes their eyes and the werewolf players kill a victim. By “day”, everyone votes for who to hang. WHO IS THE WEREWOLF? It’s a game of bluff and psychology. A true classic.

Can the game really be played in ten minutes? Taking place over one “night”?

In One Night Ultimate Werewolf, everyone is assigned a role. Werewolf, Villager, Hunter, Troublemaker – there are a good amount of roles in the box, each with different abilities. Everyone closes their eyes and sleeps. The werewolves open their eyes to see each other. The Masons open their eyes to see each other. The Troublemaker switches roles. The doppelganger becomes the double of another player. Every active role does their thing. And then…

Then WAKE UP and the timer starts. Ten minutes to discuss, argue, fight, lie, bluff and laugh as the players choose who to execute. The villagers need to kill the werewolves. The werewolves just need to survive.

This game is SO good. It’s only not on the list because I just started playing it about six weeks ago. It’s a beautifully illustrated little set of role cards in a box. That’s all it is. But MAN – the good times you can have with this game you would not believe. If you have a group of players who enjoy making some noise and playing dirty, this will become one of your favourite games EVER after one night of play. It’s remarkable how this little ten minute game can play out so differently every time. It rewards creative thinking, and is constantly surprising.

Consider it on the list even though it isn’t. And BUY IT if you haven’t yet. It’s incredible.

LAST WORD

Oh, there’s other stuff I feel bad about missing from the list. Catacombs, for example. Fleet Captains. Twilight Struggle. Labyrinth. Runewars.

They all just need more plays, that’s all. THAT’S ALL.

NEXT WEEK

At last! The Top Ten! We finish the LIST!

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22 Comments »

  1. gwathdring says:

    One night werewolf strikes me as an extreme example of the problem with every hidden-traitor sort of game. There is a point where even social power and bluffing stops mattering, and where the conceit of the game relies entirely upon just guessing. In One Night Werewolf, the game’s structure does particularly little to put you in a mode of thought were you aren’t just guessing. It does particularly little to foment a sense of strategy or goal and leaves you with a very odd conversation that doesn’t feel quite coherent.

    The Resistance has this problem, but it can take quite a few plays to get there in the right group and you always have time to watch things happen and narrow things down. Werewolf has this problem, but there is a sense of epic scale to the game that ameliorates it somewhat. Battlestar Galactica has this problem, but it’s complex and it has that middle-bit where new cards are introduced and the possibility of changed loyalties compels everyone to step out of “just guessing” mode and into a dark torrent of suspicion. Two Rooms and a Boom encourages intense negotiation and clever social play and does a fabulous job concealing the conceit that the final round can be a Battle of Wits style guessing game unless one team played substantially better than the other.

    One Night Werewolf doesn’t do that. It says “Here are some random cards. Everyone is going to do a thing with the card they were randomly given. Now you’re all going to try and figure out what happened based on nothing but a one-step-removed random process. Go!”

    There’s very little agency involved, the stakes are very low. I can see how the concept would be interesting but I honestly don’t understand how any of the mechanics serve that concept. I can see why people who have fun with the concept would have fun with the game, but I honestly don’t understand how the design is helping to create that. The mechanical design works against the core of what people who like this game say they enjoy about it–the players aren’t given interesting decisions to make or strong motivations for those decisions, there’s not succession of turns or other succession of evidence to build up a case for understanding about what’s going on, and so forth.

    The worst part, for me, is that everyone knows that nobody else knows what’s going on and the game doesn’t give you time and turn progression over which to sort it out and though there is hope ever here, the game gives you almost no leverage with which to get other people to share honest information with you. See Two Rooms and a Boom.for an example of this working; you know nobody else knows anything … but you can share concrete information with each other that gives you a mechanical lever into trust.

    I’m glad people can have fun with it. I certainly don’t understand it, though.

    • Moe45673 says:

      gwadthring, you put it so well. When I played ONUW, I had absolutely no idea what folks found so appealing about it. The Resistance is a ton of fun, especially Avalon, with its bare bones traitor mechanics and elegant design. With ONUW, noone has any idea what the heck happened nor if they’re even a werewolf (except the seer, if I recall correctly). It took social deduction and bluffing and turned it into pure chaos.

      RAB, enough with the digressions already. You have the best games all to yourself on this website, stick to the topic at hand! Post the freaking top 10 already! You announced this list 11 weeks ago and it could have been done in half the time. This article in particular could have waited another week!

    • JoeX111 says:

      Agreed. This is why I enjoy The Resistance and Coup far more than Werewolf. Werewolf is like playing match with a deck of cards. You just arbitrarily pick something and hope for the best.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s not the usual social deduction game in the same vein as Resistance, instead it’s more of a negotiation game. All players know what, if anything, they did during the night. The decision point comes in when you reveal that – if I’m the drunk for example I probably don’t want to reveal which of the cards I’ve taken until the Seer says whether they viewed any of the middle cards, however if the Seer saw a wolf in the middle cards they probably don’t want to say which cards they saw until after the drunk reveals. Wolves don’t want to say anything until after the Seer, but waiting too long to claim a role puts them under heavy suspicion.
      In other words, nearly every player (or every player, if you ditch the villager roles which are kinda pointless in this game) knows something about the roles in play. Choosing when to reveal and whether to tell the truth at that point is where the fun comes in.

      I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘just guessing’ though. Deductions can never be certain sure, but then I can’t be absolutely certain gravity will still work five minutes from now. There’s none of these games (standard Werewolf being the one exception) where you’re reduced to just randomly picking someone to accuse though* there’s always going to be a reason behind it.

      * For opposed games like Resistace the aim of the opposing team is usually to muddy the waters enough that you are reduced to randomly guessing, but that’s down to one team playing incredibly well rather than a flaw as such.

      • gwathdring says:

        The comparison to gravity is rather disingenuous.

        Uncertainty is inevitable. There’s a fuzziness in between guessing and deducing, though. It’s fuzzy, but it’s a meaningful distinction.

        I think it’s further very important that we look at the flow of concrete information in these games. Calling it a negotiation game doesn’t fix that negotiations are based on a very thin skeleton of actual data. In the Resistance you have those all important votes. In BSG you have a whole game to play separate from the negotiations and Cylons who are revealed can still play. In 2R1B you can reveal your color or role to other players. And so forth.

        One Night Werewolf doesn’t give players control over the flow of concrete data and thus gives them very limited understanding of when someone is lying and when they aren’t. It’s basically all Battle of Wits, and while I certainly see how that could be fun, I’ve found that what makes social deduction games work in groups where I’ve played them is having better control of concrete information. Of course you need social skill and charisma to play these games, but there’s an extremity to it when you have poor control of concrete information and I don’t think the results are consistent at all once you go there. I think it becomes more about the group design than the game design, if that makes sense.

        • rmsgrey says:

          Actually, I prefer ONUW to Resistance/Avalon.

          The key to ONUW is to reconstruct the night phase as far as possible in order to discover which team you’re now on before giving too much away yourself. A lot of the games I’ve played, a consensus emerges, and either the wolves have done a good job of selling a story or the villagers have managed to see through the lies. Sometimes, of course, the Tanner manages to appear sufficiently suspicious and gets killed instead.

          Everyone has reasons to lie early, and the village team has reason to tell the truth late – the puzzle of the game is putting together the various statements by various people with what you know was true at the start of the night to figure out what’s now true.

    • Scurra says:

      I think that one additional thing to note about One Night Werewolf is that it is over and done with in 15 minutes, and thus can be played multiple times in succession with the same group. Even the Resistance struggles to be that fast, and a full-on Werewolf game takes forever (especially since it has the curse of player elimination.)

      Personally, I hate social negotiation games because I’m not a psychopath who gets their kicks from manipulating others. But each to their own, I guess.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    No Twilight Struggle? Making of the President better be on the list, then.

    I’m also told 1989: Dawn of Freedom is better than Twilight Struggle. So maybe that’s on there? Maybe?

  3. zaibitsu says:

    Why can’t I comment on the R6 article? I made an account just to comment on that pathetic excuse of a game article.

    • Tiax says:

      Seems like the cosmic forces were kind enough to spare us from your comments..

      • zaibitsu says:

        It wasn’t for you. It was for the over sensitive, ignorant, hipster dude who made the article.

        • gwathdring says:

          It’s really rude to comment on an unrelated article just to say you were trying to complain about another article for which comments are either intentionally disabled or broken for some reason. That’s the sort of thing you e-mail RPS about or ask about over in the forums. Please don’t spam other articles with it.

    • JoeX111 says:

      It’s okay for the authors to express their opinions about what they perceive as wrong, but not for the rest of us. As the warning goes, “We do not have a freedom of speech policy here.”

      • toxic avenger says:

        You don’t have a freedom of speech on any blog with advertising. Also, that’s not a freedom of speech issue as I’m sure you’re snarkily aware

    • YeGoblynQueenne says:

      Guess it’s because you made an account just to comment on the article.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      You can comment on it. Just not on the same page as the blog post. This is the glory of having your own blog.

      There is also something to be said for reading something for the sake of absorbing its information, rather than for the sake of arguing. If you find that you are not fulfilled by articles that don’t allow you to comment, then you need to ask yourself hard questions about why you read editorials.

  4. McGuit says:

    Terra Mystica and Palaces of Cararra.
    Both are excellent games that came in 1 and 2 for me as the best games of 2013.
    Simply elegant and brilliant!
    They deserve a place in your top 50 and I’m sure with more plays they will get there.

    Great list by the way and although I don’t agree with you on all points, you have done the job proud.

    As final thoughts, thanks for doing this series and I wanted you to know that I have 9 grandchildren and by that experience I can say for a fact that your daughter is top notch and destined for great things down the road.
    Simply a wonderful, fun, intelligent young lady.
    You have done well sir.

  5. ohms says:

    Wow. I was certain Dust Tactics would be a top10 game. D’oh.

  6. jarowdowsky says:

    Any top ten guesses then?

    I’m gonna punt for, in no particular order -

    Mage Knight
    A Distant Plain
    Robinson Crusoe
    Chaos in the Old World
    Eldritch Horror
    Cosmic Encounter
    Space Alert
    Summoner Wars
    Netrunner

    And a prediction for number 1 -

    Space Hulk – Third Edition

    • dragonstout83 says:

      My guesses:
      Cosmic Encounter (which will be number 1)
      Spartacus
      Mage Knight
      Talisman
      Cyclades
      City of Horror
      Summoner Wars
      Space Hulk

      Definitely *not* Eldritch Horror, Distant Plain, Robinson Crusoe, Space Alert, or Netrunner.