Games: Two adorable diversions

With Christmas gift shopping hitting its peak, we’re providing some reviews of games we’ve discovered.

By Wendy Carson

At the 2015 GenCon, we tried two of the latest games from Asmadi Games, home of absurd and anime-inspired diversions like “We Didn’t Playtest This Game,” “Win, Lose or Banana” and “Whack a Catgirl:”

Adorable Pandaring

We all know that pandas are cute, but is any one panda more adorable than another? In this new card game from Asmadi, players try to gain bamboo (points) by playing pandas that reflect the current Panda Law.

The game consists of nine separate varieties of pandas, each with its own different ability. Players take turns playing their pandas either face up or face down in order to win bamboo; the first player to five pieces of bamboo wins. While this seems simple enough, there is a lot of strategy at play.

First of all, there are four different Panda Laws that determine which pandas are “adorable” at any given time. Once four cards reflecting this law have been played, the most adorable panda of them all, the Red Panda, flips over and the scoring phase begins. Then all “adorable” pandas are shuffled back into the deck and play continues with the other pandas, the “unadorable”ones, remaining in play and the current player choosing then new Panda Law.

Since there are cards that can cause players to gain or lose bamboo or their pandas, copy other pandas’ abilities, or even change the Law, even the best thought-out strategy can be blown in a simple flip of a card. However, the game is still enjoyable and offers many hours of exciting and fun game play.

Note that it may take players a turn or two to fully get the hang of the game mechanics – once they do, it becomes a great time for all involved.

Meow

This is a cute, quick silly game for young and old alike. The deck consists of two types of cards, MEOW (cats) and NOT MEOW (other animals). Players draw a card, look at it and say, “Meow.” If you get two “Not Meow” cards, you win. However, if another player thinks you have a “Not Meow” card they can challenge you. You must then reveal your cards. If you do indeed have a “Not Meow” card, they win. If you do not have a “Not Meow” card, they are then out of the game. Play continues until someone either draws two “Not Meow” cards or successfully wins a challenge.

The lighthearted feeling of this bluffing game is reminiscent of “Win, Lose or Banana.” It’s just a few minutes of gaiety to distract you or lift your spirits.

Find Asmadi online at asmadigames.com, but more recent updates are at their Facebook page.

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Games: ‘Road to Infamy’ on fast lane to production

With Christmas gift shopping hitting its peak, we’re providing some reviews of games we’ve discovered.
Road to Infamy game crop

By Wendy Carson

I played “Road to Infamy” in a playtest demo at this year’s GenCon and really loved it. The game seems complex at first, but after you’ve played it once, the mechanics and strategy are easy to follow. Each player is a wealthy gang leader in Chicago who is competing against rival gangs to become the most infamous of all.

Players have color-coded cards with values from 1 to 6 which are used to bid for one of the three available Resources each turn. Each resource contains a benefit that makes it valuable to your empire: Gangsters (red), which have special abilities to give you strategic advantages; Contraband (green), helps you amass infamy points which lead to eventual victory; and the Cop (blue) who accepts bribes to not confiscate your contraband and to target opponent’s types.

Players spend each turn placing three bids on one or all of the resources. After all bids are made, the player with the highest total for a resource wins the benefits therein. Play then continues until all 12 of the Gangster cards have been claimed. Infamy points are totaled and a victor is declared.

What makes this game more of a challenge is that the designers have taken care to add a lot of checks and balances to the mechanics. They have added bid actions to the cards valued 1 or 2 which make them more valuable and extremely powerful in the right combination.

Also, the Gangster’s abilities are far more useful than you might think at first glance. In fact, The Launderer and The Guard have abilities that can potentially dominate game play if they are acquired early or together. The randomness of any one Gangster’s appearance helps, but know that anyone having either of these will quickly be the target of an assassination attempt.

It is clear that the designers went to a lot of effort to make a playable game that holds up to repeat play. Therefore, it is no surprise that they hit their Kickstarter goal within 4 hours of it going live. They are still working to finalize printing and distribution; for more information, follow their Facebook page.

The movie-themed game for everyone

With Christmas gift shopping hitting its peak, we’re providing some reviews of games we’ve discovered.
Double Feature game
By Wendy Carson

“Double Feature” is THE must-have game for any party or gathering.

While many movie games require you to know specific details and trivia of films, all you need here is to be able to name the title of a movie that has two items in common. Even if you haven’t seen many movies, you can still play along.

The rules are very basic: You have seven sets of cards representing different categories: PROP, LOCATION, CHARACTER, SCENE, a THEME or GENRE, SETTING, and PRODUCTION. Two different category cards are then turned over, and the first player to name a movie that contains both of the listed elements wins a card. Another card is played to replace the awarded one and the game continues.

An example of game play would be: CHARACTER, “Lions, Tigers or Bears,” and PRODUCTION, “Musical” – answers can range from “The Lion King” to “The Wizard of Oz,” or you could argue the film of “Les Miserables” for the sung line “…the tigers come at night…”

What makes this game such a hit is that you can’t help but participate. Every time I have played it, someone always says they “just want to watch,” and they always end up playing along. In fact, I have seen people just walking past the table during a game who have jumped in and played as well. Even the most game-averse people have enjoyed playing. Also, I have never seen this game not continue until all of the cards were used.

Plus, it is easy to understand and fun for young or old alike. Once you play it, you will have to get your own copy so that it’s always available to enliven any gathering. If you give this game as a gift, don’t be surprised if you end up playing it through at least once before you are finished unwrapping the other gifts.

Published by Renegade Game Studios, “Double Feature” is available at game shops and major retailers. For information, see www.renegadegamestudios.com.

Review: Untraditional tradition delivers again

By John Lyle Belden

Gayle Steigerwald – a very familiar face to Phoenix Theatre patrons – admits during “A Very Phoenix Xmas X: Oh Come Let Us Adore Us” that what is mainly a lampoon of holiday traditions has become an Indianapolis holiday tradition itself.

Steigerwald, a veteran of numerous “Phoenix Xmas” skits, acts as emcee for this year’s show, with its mixture of old and new elements in its songs and short plays, garnished with projected photos from past productions while Steigerwald banters as the cast change costumes. The other players – Scot Greenwell, Paul Hansen, Olivia Huntley, Rob Johanson, Eric J. Olson, Sara Rieman and Lincoln Sientz with musician Deb Mullins – are also familiar faces, and eagerly deliver like the pros they are.

The sock monkeys and lighted dancers return, and we get unusual takes on Christmas carols, the tree, gifting, and even the jolly character at the center of the celebration. There’s an avant garde piece, a bit of political commentary, and moments that reach more for the heart than the funny bone. Nothing is too sacred for this bunch, but there is no big sacrilege either. So, feel free to indulge in this alternate “tradition,” playing through Dec. 20 at the Phoenix, 749 Park Ave. (corner of Park and St. Clair downtown); see www.phoenixtheatre.org or call 317-635-7529.

At ATI: A salute to another era, and some sweet stories

By John Lyle Belden

Actors Theatre of Indiana is easy to overlook, with its home space being The Studio Theater, next to the bigger Tarkington stage in the Center for the Performing Arts up in downtown Carmel. Yet this little company produces some excellent and worth-seeking shows.

“The Andrews Brothers,” which played just in time for Veterans’ Day, was a valentine to the old USO shows that kept GI’s, sailors and Marines’ spirits up during World War II (and the organization is a valuable resource to service members to this day).

Three men (played by Michael Dotson, Jay Emrich and Don Farrell) – conveniently, brothers with the last name “Andrews” – who couldn’t make the cut for service due to health reasons, but still wanting to do their part, want to move up from being USO stagehands to performing on that stage. When illness prevents the Andrews Sisters from making a South Seas gig, the Brothers get their big break in a way they hadn’t imagined.

Our trio, with pin-up girl Peggy Jones (Mary Jayne Waddell) sing and dance their way through many memorable hits from the era, both as guys, and, hilariously in the second act, as the “Sisters.” It’s all a lighthearted affair, and was a fun trip down memory lane for many in the audience who remembered those days. This led to many wonderful conversations between them and the cast after the show.

As for myself, I and Wendy fell ill in the following days and the distraction of fighting the flu (yes, I had my shot, so I guess it could have been worse!) kept us from writing a timely review.

But ATI is on stage again, and while the previous show was for the young-at-heart, this one is a treat for actual little ones (and the parents and caretakers who read them their bedtime stories): “A Year With Frog and Toad.”

I remember reading the sets of short stories about best-friend amphibians by Arnold Lobel to my son years ago, and can even recall a few favorites. Those scenes are there in the live musical play, crafted by Willie and Robert Reale. The lead characters are brought to life excellently by Bradley Reynolds and Don Farrell, with the help of some supporting critters (Kyra Kenyon and Shelby Putlak), including a very eager snail (Tim Hunt).

If you or your kids are at all familiar with these woodland companions, make plans to visit them on Friday, Saturday or Sunday through Dec. 27. Call 317-843-3800 or visit atistage.org.

Review: Locally-sourced ‘Toyland’

By John Lyle Belden

The Footlite Musicals production of “Babes in Toyland” is both old and fresh, as the classic songs by Victor Herbert a century ago are set in a new book by the show’s director Bob Harbin (of Bibdirex fame) and comic megatalent Claire Wilcher (who, unfortunately, isn’t in the show). Harbin notes in the program that the original script is public domain, allowing him to put his and Claire’s own spin on the play.

The first act is practically a play in itself, set mostly in Mother Gooseland. Jack and Jill (Thomas Whitcomb and Breanna Jaffe) have taken a tumble, and Bo Peep (Samantha Shelton) has lost her sheep, but the biggest drama is that Mary Contrary (Claire Cassidy) wants to marry Tom Piper (Jonathan Krouse), but wicked landlord Barnaby (Jeff Fuller) demands to wed her instead. Neither Mary’s mother (Susan Smith) nor Mother Goose herself (Miki Mathioudakis) like the deal, but what hope is there for a happy ending – especially when Tom disappears? Fortunately some Gypsies (“We are Gypsies!” is a running gag) come in to help save the day.

Barnaby suffers a setback, but is not finished. The plot takes our characters in the second act to Toyland, home of a toymaker (Dan Flahive) who has given up on his craft. Time to work up another dramatic showdown towards a happy ending.

This show is very much geared towards the children and kids-at-heart, tykes who don’t mind if the beak of Mother Goose’s Gander (voiced by Curtis Peters) gets a little out of synch or if some of the joke lines fall flat. Another giggle-worthy moment or song-and-dance spectacle from this large all-ages cast is coming right up. Kudos to Fuller for playing his “boo-hiss” villain for all it’s worth. And best scene-stealer goes to Keilyn Bryant as Little BB (as in “Boy Blue”). Harbin does a great job wrangling all of the various elements that go into this show, providing an experience that feels like a holiday tradition, yet is a good alternative to the other traditional holiday shows around town you saw last year (and the year before, and the year before…).

“Toyland,” at the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St. in downtown Indy, closes on Dec. 13, so get your reservation now at 317-923-6630 or www.footlite.org.