Cute cooperative game has surprising depth

As Black Friday approaches, we switch from reviewing plays to reviewing playtime — one of the games we picked up at last summer’s GenCon Game Fair.

By Wendy Carson

When John and I attended GenCon in 2016, we noticed a few of the new games debuting were cooperative games, where everyone has to work together in order to win, rather than traditional game systems where everyone plays against each other and only one player becomes the victor. This year, that number seems to have exploded.

The game company Peaceable Kingdom specializes mainly in cooperative games with a learning slant, aimed at younger players. However, we quickly discovered that these game dynamics are challenging enough for adults as well.

In fact, one of our most favorite new games is “Mole Rats in Space,” designed to be played by two to four players, ages 7 and up.

The game takes place aboard a spaceship manned by four valiant mole rats (not “naked,” as the hairless burrowing mammals are in the wild, as they have space suits) whose ship has been invaded by hungry snakes. Players control the rats in their quest to get to the escape capsule, stopping to gather a few provisions along the way. However, the snakes are also on the move and could prevent the rats’ escape. Adding to the drama are various tubes and ladders around the ship that must be used and/or avoided in this race for survival.

For the players to win, they must move all the rats and four provision cards into the escape capsule without being bitten by a snake or having a snake enter the capsule. And remember, everyone wins or nobody wins!

Movement is by cards that show movement of the rats, snakes or both. There is also the possibility of new snakes spawning as well. However, it is in the resolution of the cards’ effects where a lot of the complex strategy comes in.

You can choose to reveal each card one at a time in player order, reveal all of the players’ cards at once, then resolving them in player order, or reveal all cards and resolve them in whatever order you choose. No matter which option is chosen, in cards depicting movement for both snakes and rats, the player chooses which creature’s movement to resolve first.

One additional note, in order to help our brave mole rats out in their quest, each one begins the game with a medical kit that will allow it to survive ONE snakebite. However, a second bite will end the game not only for the player, but for everyone.

The last time we played this game, the four players were “assisted” with three other observers adding their advice. We opted to reveal all cards at once and resolve the movement in the order we chose. Though it felt like the cards were stacked against us, we barely managed to survive and get our mole rats to safety. Also, note that all seven of the people involved were adults.

While we did win that game, at least half of the times John and I have played, the snakes have been victorious.

This game is sure to be a family favorite. It provides long-term playability and re-playability for a variety of ages. It teaches strategy, long-term planning, cooperation, and complex visualization.

It can also give curious minds inspiration to find out about the critters that inspired the game.

Peaceable Kingdom games are sold at game shops and stores including Target. Find them online at their Facebook page.

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Summer conventions!

Quick note that InConJunction is a month from today, June 30-July 2 at the Marriott Indianapolis East. This fan-run sci-fi/fantasy convention promises lots of fun, without all the crowds (attendance is under 1,000) or long lines (this is not just about waiting all day for an autograph) but chances to hang out with people like Guest of Honor Mercedes Lackey (noted for various fantasy books and the YA classic “Jinx High”).

Our thespian friends and fans can also see friend-of-the-con Lou Harry (and his improv “auction” show, “Going… Going… Gone!”) or attend a reading of “Shakespeare’s Star Wars.”

The event also allows John and Wendy to get involved in our other love (besides theatre) — games! There will be non-stop roleplaying, a computerized “bridge simulator” to pretend you’re on a starship, and a full library of card and board-based diversions. We will both be around, as well.

J&W will also be hosting a game event (the Fandom Feud) and an improv event (PowerPoint Improv).

This convention, and a horror convention across town, get “con season” into gear. The next week, Indy PopCon, a locally-hosted multimedia geek extravaganza, happens in downtown Indy.

Then, in August, the behemoth that is GenCon takes over downtown. Look for us to go big there — hint: We’ll do more than just write about it.

Active August

By John Lyle Belden

It has been a busy month, though you wouldn’t know that here. That should change a bit: GenCon was last week, and Wendy Carson and I will be giving more attention to the “games we play” portion of the blog with some reviews and info on the games we found at the convention.

Tomorrow (Thursday) also starts the IndyFringe festival, which will be a rich time for reviews and reports both here an at my “day job” with The Word (www.thegayword.com).

To all in the Indy area, have a look at the Fringe – we’ll be having a lot of fun and it would be a shame to miss it.

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.

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.