Every spring, I gather with a group of friends in a cabin by the Lake of the Ozarks for our annual “Indoor Survival Summit”–where we stay indoors for 3 days straight, subsisting entirely on a diet of candy, beer, coffee, chili, and non-stop board games. I went ahead and gathered together some mini reviews (and pictures!) of all the games I played over that weekend.
As usual, I’ve rated the games with the following scale from www.boardgamegeek.com:
- 10 – Outstanding – will always enjoy playing.
- 9 – Excellent – very much enjoy playing.
- 8 – Very good – enjoy playing and would suggest it.
- 7 – Good – usually willing to play.
- 6 – Ok – will play if in the mood.
- 5 – Mediocre – take it or leave it.
- 4 – Not so good – but could play again.
- 3 – Bad – likely won’t play this again.
- 2 – Very bad – won’t play ever again.
- 1 – Awful – defies game description.
With that in mind, here’s what I thought about the games played at this years ISS:
Knit Wit (8)
This is a sort of Scattergories spinoff, where you are trying to come up with a word described by a series of interlocking spheres of adjectives (like “long,” “cold,” “hard,” etc). The groups of adjectives are created by laying loops of string over empty spools to create a sort of interlocking array of venn diagrams. It’s fairly easy to come up with words no one else has, but quite hard to come up with a word for the spool that has every goddamn string looped around it. Fun enough, though, figuring out which spool is enclosed by which loop is almost more work than fun sometimes.
Split Second (6.5)
Simple trivia game of writing down the simple answer to simple trivia questions as quickly as possible. The questions are usually ridiculously easy (“What is the abbreviation for the Internal Revenue Service?”), so the only real challenge is how quickly can you jot down “IRS” or “8.” In my case, the answer is “not quickly at all,” which was a detriment in a game that “hinges” on getting your correct answer flipped up on the rubber band powered arm before anyone else. It really is a decent party game, though I thought it suffered a bit for rewarding fast writing over all else–that and the fact that my rubber band was obviously slower than everyone else’s!
Once Upon a Time (9)
Not much of a game, but a very good storytelling exercise where you make up a fairy tale while playing a card from your hand whenever you can work one of your cards into your story. You absolutely can’t play too competitively, but with the right people this is pretty fun trying to come up with cool stories that “work” and throw monkey wrenches in other people’s stories to see how they get out of it. With the wrong people, however, you end up having a bunch of people stammering around then being like “um, can someone please steal and take over telling this story?”
When I Dream (7.5)
Beautiful game where one person is blind folded and then each other player around the table takes turns giving them a one word clue about what is on top of the deck. The blind folded player can guess the top card at any point, the other players moving it either into a “wrong” or “right” stack and revealing a new card–repeat until a 2 minute timer is up. The twist is that half the players (assigned randomly) want the dreamer to guess wrong, the other half want them to guess correctly, so the dreamer has to mentally sort the clues and try to figure out which players are probably giving out misinformation. It’s a good idea, but with strong play, it’s pretty hard for the dreamer to sort the nonsense from the actual clues, perhaps making the game a bit too frustrating.
This plays the same as regular Codenames (one person gives one word clues to pertain to different elements in a grid, and the other players guess which elements they are), only with Marvel-themed pictures instead of words. It turned out to be easier to give clues based on the visuals rather than actually using Marvel knowledge (some of the superheroes were pretty obscure). As a visual twist on Codenames, it actually works very well, but I still think I prefer the simplicity of the word version.
Déjà Vu (8.5)
Thirty-six annoyingly similar objects are spread out around the table, then cards with the objects on them are flipped up one at a time. The deck of cards has each object in it exactly twice, and as soon as you see a card flip up that has an object you saw on an earlier card, you can grab the object. If you were incorrect, the actual object will come up later in the deck, and you will be eliminated from the game. It’s a clever game that is surprisingly hard despite all the objects at first glance not seeming all that similar. Good fun, and actually recreates the promised feeling of déjà vu while playing!
Paku Paku (4.5)
The little plates are really cute, and there is a decent dexterity challenge in stacking them up without knocking them over. Sadly, the rest of the game is that genre of “roll dice over and over as fast as you can, which I never found very fun. The randomness of the scoring also makes this one WAY overstay its welcome.
Riff Raff (8)
Great stacking game of putting wooden pieces onto a ridiculously wobbly ship. There is some bidding for turn order to mix things up, but otherwise this is just your basic stacking dexterity game, with the added bonus of having a really cool ship to put everything onto. The only drawback I can think of is that it’s really fucking hard, but that might just be because I really suck at this one.
Possibly the best four player game I own, and it’s just a card game. It belongs to the “ladder” family of card games where you are trying to play out your hand by playing progressively bigger cards (or combinations of cards) on a led card until everyone passes in turn and your card is the highest (affording you the opportunity to lead the next card). The 4 special cards, the endless ways you can break up your hand into singles and combinations, the partner dynamic, and the simple joy of getting dealt that next hand and seeing how many good cards you got to crush the other team all add up to make this one an absolute classic.
Lexio (Lectio) (10)
Basically the same game as Tichu, except without partners and special cards, and the round ends with the FIRST person to go out, which provides a new set of strategic incentives to play out your hand instead of saving up for later in the game. The Bakelite tiles are a massive improvement over simple cards, but the confusing scoring system of 2 as the highest tile brings it back down a notch.
Clank! In! Space! (7.5)
This really is a cool variation on deckbuilders, basically switching out action points for movement points to wind your way around a cool little map full of upgrades and enemies. The “Clank” mechanic of some cards making noise which puts your color of cubes into a bag (and thus making it more likely you’ll be damaged when you inevitably have to draw cubes from the bag) is really cool too. Unfortunately, there were just a few too many moving parts to really feel like it flowed all that smoothly (part of this could be due to us learning the rules on the fly). A really cool concept, but some of the chrome could be dialed back a bit.
This war game uses the same basic framework (and piles of plastic) as the classic War of the Ring (you each roll a handful of action dice and then take turns using them to do stuff–bring more troops on board, move/attack, draw/use cards), but despite an overabundance of chrome, the game actually feels a bit more streamlined. Part of this is due to an accelerated end game timer (that does a good job of risking time for better options), but, the brilliant as always incorporation of theme almost justifies all the little extra rules. One minor complaint is that the Free People’s player has massively more options than the Shadow player each turn, though the “hanging on by the skin of your teeth until the end game” feel is still there.
Outdoor Survival (6)
Difficult to rate this one as it really is a pretty shitty game. You basically have to get to an outside edge of the map to win, but each turn you will most likely just move in a random direction (and then take ridiculously punishing losses for lack of water and food). That said, this one has become a tradition in my group (and even inspired the name of our yearly game “convention”), and there is a special kind of dumb fun to be had watching your hiker wander around in circles dying a slow death by dehydration.
In this game you draft tiles from an array of tile supplies in the middle of the table in order to fill up your grid of tiles in the most efficient manner possible. There is good tension in choosing what to draft before someone else gets what you need, and the presentation is very elegant. However, the game itself is pretty dry, excellent use of drafting aside.
Split the deck in half, draw a hand of three cards, and then race to empty your hand by playing them to the middle, the twist being that you can only play a card if it matches color, shape, or number of the top card in the middle. It works great, and is super quick, but speed identification games like this always leave me a little cold.
Great little two player game where you have to balance taking cards at the right time against trading them in for victory points. Nice push your luck elements as you try to get just one more card to squeak out a few more VPs before your opponent snakes them from you. Beautiful presentation as well.
Krosmaster: Arena (10)
I’ve discussed Krosmaster PLENTY in the past, there’s not much more to say than to point out that this tactical battle game with adorable chibi miniatures has remained my favorite game for 3 years running…
Some of the special hexes are pretty cool and give some nice variability over the vanilla Powerboats boat-racing game. This board feels a bit more open, possibly giving more options as well (and the damage track is an improvement). However, the theme is a big fail and would make me play Powerboats over this anytime for the simple fact that…space isn’t fucking 2d.
A rather unique drafting/push your luck/set collection game where you are trying to get rid of your hand of cards by playing them in front of you and hoping they make it around the table without anyone overplaying you. Good mechanics (though they take a while to sink in), this one is a worthy addition to your card game collection.
Brilliant horse racing game where you alternate playing cards/rolling dice to race your horses around a track. Everything gets bogged down in a mess of horses, front-runners get tired, and picking your moment to shoot ahead is of utmost importance. It’s amazing how realistic it feels with just a few simple mechanics, and the little horses look great to boot.
Eat Poop You Cat (10)
This is the more free-form (and free) version of the Telephone–Pictionary game Telestrations. Players take turns describing a picture with a sentence, or drawing a picture of a sentence, then folding it over so only the most recent is showing and passing it to the next person. Inevitably this just descends into a bunch of adults filling pages full of poorly drawn dicks, and as such, I have to rate it a ten.
Pow Wow (9)
Everyone draws a face down feather, places it face out where they can’t see it, then take turns going around the table guessing the total of all feathers until someone calls bullshit when they think the total is too high. Simple concept, but very fun, especially when everyone trolls the person who doesn’t realize they have a -20. It’s just too bad the whole cultural appropriation thing has NOT made the theme of this old German game age well…
Beautiful presentation and artwork (though the board could have been toned down a bit), and more fucking ways to score victory points than you’ll know what to do with, this actually plays pretty smoothly once you get your head around the rules. Don’t let all the plastic fool you, this isn’t really much of a war game as it can be impossible to stop your opponent from attacking (or doing whatever they need to do) if they set it up right. I have to admit I had fun, but I’m not sure the amount of effort involved here is entirely worth it.