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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‘Cabaret Poe’ returns with new site, fresh look and familiar chills

By John L. Belden and Wendy Carson

Quoth Wendy:

You always know that Halloween is approaching when Q Artistry launches its annual production of “Cabaret Poe.” This is not to disparage the show in any way – even after almost 10 years of shows, the audiences are still enthralled by it. In fact, a patron behind me was proudly seeing the show for the sixth time and still loved it just as much as the first.

This year’s show does mark another change of venue, this time in a small alcove on the fourth floor of Circle Centre Mall (in the heart of downtown Indy). Upon first entering the space, it seems very cramped and awkward. However, the company has turned this on its ear with inventive staging.

No longer do cast members leave the stage when not actively performing; instead they seat themselves throughout the crowd and become part of the audience, observering of the spectacle themselves. By utilizing the whole space as their stage, and with the addition of projection screens, they assure that there is not a bad seat in the house.

I was also quite impressed by the unique lighting effects utilized by designer Brent Wunderlich. From innovatively turning their black and grey hues to purples, to bathing the audience in a rainbow of colors during “Masque of the Red Death.”

Quoth John:

Oops, sorry Ben!  — Show creator Ben Asaykwee likes keeping it a surprise which of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems he has adapted for the evening’s Cabaret, and in which order. But it won’t give too much away to say that some pieces can be expected to appear, like the one about a heart that tells tales, or the quest for a rare cask of Spanish wine, or a certain obnoxious black bird…

Asaykwee presents it all with his catchy inventive songs, infused with dark humor, such as “Buried Alive,” “Dark (The Pit and the Pendulum),” and the recurring title theme. He also stars as one of three performer/narrators, the smugly sour Zoilus. His accomplices are two women, Morella and Berenice. On opening night, they were played by Julie Lyn Barber, a Cabaret Poe player since its first year, and Gerogeanna Smith Wade, a first-timer in this revue, but no stranger to the strange as a major player in the NoExit troupe. Some performances feature Q Artistry veterans Renae Stone and Jaddy Ciucci in the ladies’ roles. In addition, a ghostly dancing shadow is perfectly silently executed by Rebekah Taylor – she even gets a solo scene.

The lighting effects, projections, and shadow puppetry are new for this year, fitting seamlessly into the narratives and reducing the need for physical props. But then, the players do have us, the audience, to play with.

Quoth Wendy:

With the changes made, this was my favorite version of the show. “Cabaret” implies an intimacy different from other kinds of productions, and this presented it more effectively that in past shows.

Concludeth John:

So, it’s both old and new, familiar and surprising – like a 21st-century musical based on a nineteenth century writer. Performances run through Oct. 29. Get info and tickets at qartistry.org.

IndyFringe: Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace

By John Lyle Belden

This is the kind of show you go to Fringe festivals for: Entertaining, immersive, funny – and you might win a prize!

Drag diva Betsy Carmichael is the self-proclaimed “First Lady of Bingo,” and for the most part the show has everyone in the audience playing rounds of the game, called by her accompanist Jerry Mosey as “Chip.” But she spices it up with planned responses to many of the numbers she gets everyone to call out. Or maybe she has a little story to tell. Or maybe some lucky “player” gets to craft a good-luck charm right on the stage. Whatever she’s up to, she’s always charming.

And be ready when the number called ends in 4: that’s “four – candy store,” when Betsy throws candy.

She only had three performances during the recently-concluded IndyFringe. Hopefully, since she hails from Chicago, she’ll make the trip back down again soon.

Info at www.BetsyBingo.com.

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.