Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: High School Drama

As a few weeks ago we dusted off one of the games that’s become a classic for us even though is pretty much unknown, let’s talk about it, shall we:

er-highschooldramaHigh School Drama

Category: Games

Find it on: you may try Amazon, I guess, or maybe eBay?

What it is:
A board game (or, more precisely, a card game) by Shifting Skies, in which you build your high school clique by hooking up with students and organizations and breaking up other player’s cliques so that yours is the most popular. If that doesn’t sound awesome, I don’t know what does.

How I found it:
Very early in my days of interest in board games I came upon a description of this one and it sounded like something made exactly for me! So, as it was unavailable here, I went through heaps of trouble (okay, I just asked M, who lives in the States) and got it and it became one of our favorites to which we regularly return.

Summary judgment:
From a gamer’s point of view it leaves a lot to desire but the storytelling possibilities and the atmosphere more than make up for it.

Best things about it:
It’s a high school experience in a box – if anyone’s experience actually resembled the load of clichés that high school movies try to sell us. Of course, the game is created with this awareness and it drips with irony to satisfy even the most demanding hipster (I imagine?). The art also perfectly matches the tone with its crisp, cartoony illustrations of most high school archetypes one can think of.

Worst things about it:
The gameplay is a mess. It looks like it was barely play-tested at all and the instruction booklet makes it hard to understand whatever rules there are. Often once someone takes lead on the scoring board – which, quite nicely, is a yearbook – there’s no catching up with them and if you decide to focus on breaking up others’ relationships, you won’t have enough actions to build your own… Stuff like that.

Other pluses:
Having said all that about the gameplay, I must say that its faults barely matter because the game is just so much fun! With the right group of people it would be an enjoyable game even if it consisted of throwing the cards at one another and trying to catch them – and the actual rules are better than that.

Other minuses:
There might be minor graphic improvements one could suggest but let’s not be that kind of person. Not today anyway.

How it enriched my life:
It added something with a completely different flavor to our game collection and gaming nights.

Fun fact:
Some of the characters in the game include Cruelest Girl, Tortured Artist, Pretty Rich Girl and Emotional Vortex but my favorite by far is Sensitive Jock. If possible I will always choose to play a character I have little in common with.

Follow-up:
The game was quickly dropped by the developer (though they did publish a second edition that I don’t have: possibly the rules were fixed there) so there are no extensions but I’m sure it will enliven many of our future gaming nights.

Recommended for:
Anyone who loves high school clichés, obviously. People who value a theme beyond game mechanics. People who managed not to get traumatized by their actual high school experience.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Orphan Black

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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Harry Potter Hogwarts

I am a fan of Harry Potter, board games and Lego blocks. And so today’s game was made specifically for me.* Let’s talk about

er-hplegoboardgameHarry Potter Hogwarts: a Lego game

Category: Games

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It is a Lego board game where you build the board out of Lego blocks and then play a game with Lego figures (but those smaller than regular ones). You play as one of the Hogwarts houses, trying to complete four homework assignments (which basically means collect four objects) and return to your homeroom before anyone else. The difficulty lies in the fact that throwing dice is inherently hard and that corridors are constantly moved by players so you often find yourself on a blocked path.

How I found it:
I guess I saw it in a store? We got it as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and play every now and then when we want to play something silly and fun.

Summary judgment:
It’s a fun game that most people enjoy, with just enough competition and a lot of Hogwarts atmosphere.

Best things about it:
We are pretty sure this is the best Harry Potter Lego set and Lego board game set that was released (not that we have any others). Its depiction of Hogwarts, while symbolic and minimalistic, allows you to feel its atmosphere like the books do.

Worst things about it:
This feeling when you don’t know how to move the corridors to get where you want to and to stop Slytherin from getting to their destination. (I’m not great at strategy or spacial planning.)

Other pluses:
The game is quite intelligently designed in that the mechanics fit with the fact that it is built of blocks.
Like Lego tends to be, the components are of good quality and building the board is simply fun, like assembling any other simple set.
You can change the rules of the game by changing sides on the die, which we do happily every time to make for a more varied – and meaner – game.
I’m not normally into competitive playing but here it’s a lot of fun and I’m sure it would also work with kids.

Other minuses:
I guess the instruction booklet could use a bit better visual design. But it works, which means I’ve seen worse instructions.

How it enriched my life:
It’s a great addition to any evening with people who don’t take themselves too seriously and don’t irrationally hate on Harry Potter.

Fun fact:
Whenever we play no one wants to play Hufflepuff and everyone gangs up on Slytherin. I usually play Ravenclaw (and managed to lose badly the last time).

Follow-up:
I would play another Lego game if I had a chance though not necessarily buy one.

Recommended for:
Fans of any of the following: family board games / Harry Potter / Lego blocks. Which is to say: everyone?

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

* No, it wasn’t.

Next time: Holiday break. But I’m sure I’ll be back with a lot of new stuff to review

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Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Mousquetaires du Roy

Board games are one of my hobbies and we play them often, either just with R or with our regular “gaming group,” Z&A – or, occasionally, with other people who share our interest. I’ve played many different games but for me personally nothing beats the co-operative mechanics where all the players come together to beat the game itself. All my favorite games belong to this category and the first place (though jointly with another game) is forever held by an unknown gem called

er-mousquetairesduroyMousquetaires du Roy

Category: Games

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A board game based on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. In the standard version 1–4 players play as musketeers and 1 plays as Milady, who tries to trump all their attempts to save the queen’s honor. In the version we strongly prefer all players play against the game in a typical co-operative way where everybody tries to beat Milady together.

How I found it:
Probably on boardgamegeek.com and then I got it as a gift for my birthday from R – and what a great gift it was.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my two favorite board games ever and seeing that I’ve played quite a few of them, that’s saying something.

Best things about it:
This game has uncanny balance. It always seems to me like with all the different things to do, each harder than the next one, and the slightly messy gameplay, it should feel unbalanced but usually we end up winning or losing by a very small margin, which makes every dice roll exciting.
Story-based board games usually have a difficult job because too often they feel like complex mathematical constructs with some theme thrown on top of it. Not so here: you feel yourself in Paris, fighting for the queen’s honor as hard as she’s trying to ruin it.

Worst things about it:
This might seem minor to some of you but it’s a big thing for us: some typographic elements of the game are horrendous, particularly everything including numbers.

Other pluses:
The characters are drawn great in the cards. I particularly like dirty-yet-sexy d’Artagnan in his white shirt (who I usually play). The art style has just the right mix of cartoony and semi-realistic to please me.
The custom dice are lovely and also make for one of the most intuitive, fun duel mechanics I know.
The different tasks and mechanics that the game employs cover most of the basic plot of the novel and you don’t feel like anything is missing (except for the satire, of course, but that’s standard in the novel’s adaptations).

Other minuses:
I guess the instruction booklet is very unclear and it even needed some clarifications from Board Game Geek forums but once you learn the rules it doesn’t matter so much.

How it enriched my life:
It’s so much fun! I spent hours playing this game either with R or Z&A and it never disappoints, even that one time when we wasted a few turns trying to beat someone who permanently had two shields raised and we couldn’t hit him at all, showing what lousy fencers our characters were. In fact, it was one of the most hilarious games we played.

Fun fact:
This is off-topic, but have you tried re-reading The Three Musketeers as an adult? It’s quite surprising how the story functions as this great adventure novel about four friends and their exciting hijinks (and that’s certainly how I read it for the first time as a kid) while, in fact, it’s quite a merciless satire with despicable main characters. D’Artagnan is a rapist, Athos (whom I loved as a kid) an insane murderer, all of them abuse women and people of lower social classes… It’s so weird how little of this transferred into the general knowledge of the story. I suppose the action is just too good for people to pay attention to anything else?

Follow-up:
I’m sure we’ll be playing the game many times more but I will also review a few of my other co-operative favorites in the future.

Recommended for:
Anyone who likes co-operative games and is ready to muddle through the instruction until they figure out the game. Fans of themed games. Fans of corrupt 17th-century France.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Man Up

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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Regency Love

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good casual game has no equal in the realm of entertainment.

er-regencyloveRegency Love

Category: Games

Find it on: iTunes

What it is:
A casual iPad game about being a marriageable girl in Regency England ready to fall for (and, of course, marry) a charming bachelor. It was made by Tea for Three Studios (who should get down to it and make more games already). You play by making conversation choices (I love me a text game), which unveils the story (or stories) and answering trivia questions. And, of course, you try to marry as well as you may.

How I found it:
Around Christmas I was in an obsessive Pride & Prejudice mode after having watched the 1995 BBC series for the first time and somehow that led me to the game (I’m not sure how exactly I found it buy I’m glad I did).

Summary judgment:
I got really involved in the game and enthusiastically pursued both available paths (you can buy an extra one but I haven’t so far) as well as some additional minor storylines, all of which gave me great pleasure indeed.

Best things about it:
Spoiler, maybe, but I really liked the storyline of Mr. Curtis, one of the available marriageable men (well, barely) that I pursued on my first play. While not necessarily that exciting in real life, a cranky darkly humorous man will often win my heart in a romantic story.

Worst things about it:
How fast it takes to get through the whole game.

Other pluses:
I really enjoyed discovering the stories and the challenges of both of the main storylines, even though Mr. Ashcroft was too typically attractive to be exciting.

Other minuses:
As in many casual games, the art was not that spectacular. On the plus side, it allowed one to read the general nature of the characters, which, I suppose, was the most important thing, but I found it too hurried and careless to be truly impressed. But I feel rather mean writing it because the whole game is so clearly a work of love and I always appreciate those.

How it enriched my life:
I had perfectly lovely time playing the game, got inspired for creating some light-hearted historical stories and learnt about the tastes of ice-cream in the Regency era, which were quite surprising.

Fun fact:
So apparently the popular ice-cream flavors were parmesan, muscadine and asparagus. I love parmesan but wouldn’t be tempted to try those. And you might think anything would taste good in ice-cream form but that only means you have not tried the tomato ice-cream I once thoughtlessly tasted.

Follow-up:
I would play any similar game or another game by the same studio but so far I haven’t found any. Instead, however, I started GMing a Victorian-themed RPG, which is a far jump, on the one hand, but on the other, an almost direct result of playing Regency Love.

Recommended for:
People who love Jane Austen, historical romances and text-based RPG games without any action scenes in them. (If you’re one of them – write me, we’ll be best friends.)

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Guardians of the Galaxy, the first one

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Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Vampire the Masquerade

Don’t get used to it but I have so many ideas for the reviews that I might be posting a few more than I planned at first. I’m sure it will even out in the end. So, today bare your fangs for

er-vampirethemasqueradeVampire the Masquerade

Category: Games

What it is:
Tabletop role-playing game about vampires. In the world of the game vampires live secretly among humans, feeding on them, playing political games, amusing themselves but, above all, maintaining the masquerade or the secrecy of their existence. Vampires are separated into clans with vastly different abilities, goals and role-playing potential. You create your custom character and engage in whatever stories the game master comes up with. The way we play it in our group, the story takes place in London, which our gang of misfits from different clans (incompetently) tries to take over. More or less.

How I found it:
Actually I first found out about tabletop RPGs in college (yep, I’m only mid-level nerd) when my friend A lent me Vampire manual. I was so excited! It looked just like something I would love to try. But A told me women didn’t play RPGs, which I’d found out later, and suspected all along, was a blatant lie. Aaaaaanyways, the joke’s on all of us, I guess, because A is now the venerable game master of our group, which, except for me, also includes his lovely wife, Z. Oh, quite independently of that I also played two parts of the computer game, but live version is better (I still loved that computer game back then).

Summary judgment:
It’s so much fun! So much.

Best things about it:
How much fun it is. You get to play make-believe as a half-respectable adult, to socialize and act silly. You also get to act completely out of your own character and the more the character you play differs from you, the more fun you’re likely to have (or I am, anyway).

Worst things about it:
How hard it is to fit sessions into our schedules, especially that it takes so much work for the game master that he’s not too hasty with the new episodes. In other words, the worst thing is how we don’t get to play enough.

Other pluses:
It’s like a custom-made TV show with the kind of drama you like. We, for instance, are not too big on fighting, so we mostly focus on incompetent intrigues and even more incompetent rescue missions. If I haven’t made it clear enough, we’re not that great players but what we lack in ingenuity we make up in enthusiasm.

Other minuses:
You need the right group of people for this to work, especially if you’re not extraverted by nature. I can’t imagine myself joining up with a group of strangers and relaxing enough to really enjoy the experience but I’m sure that also works for some people. Peculiar and curious people they must be, but still.

How it enriched my life:
It made it so much more fun. It also made me think about the construction of the story etc., etc. but mostly it’s a great way to spend a night.

Fun fact:
The last session we had I decided my character will open a French techno night club. So A prepared a playlist of French techno and we listened to it all evening long in the background. You know what, it fades back soon enough. It was possibly the most fun session ever, music notwithstanding.

Follow-up:
VtM was our first RPG but now we are venturing into other genres and themes and have started more games already.

Recommended for:
Obviously, vampire lore lovers. People who are not overwhelmingly shy (some shyness is okay), who want to shed the limitations of their personalities in fun space and who have at least two good friends they can do this with. Or people who like to act silly but can still follow and add to a coherent story as they do it.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Ghost in the Shell

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