Eenie Meanie Miney Moe – A Covenant/El Pacto review

Now that we are about to firmly plant our feet in this post-truth society, we’re reminded of the many tasks that will provide entirely new challenges to us. Like deducing the culprit of a crime. Luckily Gen-X Games have provided us with a clever little card game to help us in framing some poor sap and taking down an entire district in our play to become the power behind the throne. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Who’s a good little killer/patsy?

That game is called Covenant – El pacto. And if you want to be glib and reductive about it, it’s essentially memory cross-bred with a take-that game. But that’s selling a good game short. While El pacto does not have the fancy components or artstyle with which other publishers attempt to spruce up a merely decent game into a serious investment, Gen-X have managed to condense a reliable little fun generator into two deck of cards.

But if it’s just a slightly reworked game of memory why is it worth talking about? Does it still provide anything of interest to the sophisticated ludicate (ludicure? ludoist? ludmilla?) Surprisingly – or less so if you’re familiar with cheap rhetorical tricks – it does. There is fun to be had screwing people out of their carefully assembled row of cards, while chasing after that one card that will score you an additional couple of VP.

So how does it all fit together? The two decks of cards portray the various unique inhabitants of the gothic dieselpunk city of Whatever-It-Is-Ville. One of whom will end up framed for murder, and take out the player who houses them – i.e. disqualify that player for the endgame. One deck is spread out face down on the table, the other is evenly distributed into the hands of the players. On their turn each player will play a card in front of them, executing its effect if there is one. They will look at one of the face-down cards, then reveal one of the face-down cards. Not necessarily the same one, mind you. If a revealed card matches one of the already played cards, this character has proven their innocence. They will not be framed and drag their player into ruin or the shameful darkness of “NO VP FOR YOU!”. This keeps going until all cards are played and/or three cards or less remain face-down on the table. Of those cards left, one is determined to be the murderer and whoever has that character in play in front of them is disqualified. Then it’s just adding up the VP that each played character provides, possibly increased by additionally fulfilling your secret objective. Said objective card deals out extra VP for either having specific characters or a certain set of character types in front of you.

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Somebody’s gonna go home angry. Or dead.

Really, the VP mechanics are neither unique or mind-blowingly different. What they are is solid and reliable. What makes the game interesting – or a random waste of time depending on your ratio of stick-to-posterior – is the way that cards get routinely swapped, switched or flipped over, thus making it more or less likely for one player to end up with the murderer in their midst. But since nothing is final until the last card has been turned, there is always a chance of escaping the unforgiving sting of defeat.

Covenant is not a deeply strategic game. The important bits of information about the game state aren’t fixed until close to the end of the game. You may know the position of two of your “unsafe” cards in front of you, but any player may reveal one of them to save you, or reveal one of the others to unintentionally help somebody else. Over-the-table talk helps, but then there is fairly little to gain from helping another player, so there really isn’t much you can offer to get what you want.

The upside of this being that the game remains in a constant state of flux, with each turn narrowing down the number of ways it could end. It’s almost impossible to predict who will get disqualified until it actually happens. You are just continually removing and reducing the window of possible resolutions to the game.

While the game starts off as a memory variant, it morphs into hot potato by the end of it as players push and pull unsafe characters back and forth between one another. And that is fun and funny. There is back and forth, take that and laugh-out-loud moments when a card is turned over only to be something completely unexpected. The one criticism I would level at the game, is that its presentation is a tonal mismatch between what you experience and what you see. The art is moody, slightly creepy and dark. (The 5-player variant that includes a cow as a possible murderer notwithstanding). But gameplay is silly, surprising and dynamic. The iconography of the card effects even suggests a far more involved and tactical game than what you get. And if you pick up the box expecting a brain-burner or a game of advanced strategies you will be disappointed.

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The fun just never stops with these guys…

Covenant isn’t a dumb game, but it is sillier than its presentation suggests. A slightly better than decent filler, that is just obscure enough to garner curious looks from your gaming friends.

-Georgios

Entirely fake edit: the game’s backstory is actually quite a bit more po-faced and mystical, but playing a game of lying liars and the lies they tell seemed entirely appropriate. And kind of what the game morphed into when I sat down to play it 🙂

Perfect Information Podcast Episode 30 – Old Men in Trees

Back to the Roots.

In a sudden and unexpected twist of fate we find ourselves in episode 30 of the Perfect Information podcast. But not to worry, after a few meandering words of welcome we dive headfirst into this show’s topic: moments that made us fall in love with this hobby (05:10). The answers may surprise you. (But they probably won’t.)

TC goes with his gut.. or his head… or maybe he hints at going with his gut because he thought it through first… I am not entirely sure what is happening.. anyway: intuition and counter-intuitive design seems to be a corner stone of this week’s Deep Design (38:24), which once again scores highly on the Lakoff-Varoufakis scale for insightfulness.

Our competition is still going strong and is in fact going stronger as we speak. Make sure you get in on this and win some tremendously epic prizes. Courtesy of What’s Your Game?’s warehouse. (51:19)

And to calm our nerves after that bit of monkey business, we return to the guild to have words. With thee. (54:30)

A few words for our sponsor Yolo-Games.com (01:17:15)

Fresh off the high of BGG-Con, Nick Mariner talks all about the games he passionately endorses after playing them. He’s fancy that way. (01:23:15).

Our review this week is about that small little dice game that could: Mondrian The Dice Game. Some of the most colourful fun you can have with dice. (01:35:42)

And then it is time to say farewell in the verbose and disoriented manner in which we usually leave all the listeners who make it to the end. (02:02:20)

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Taste the Rainbow – A Seasons review

Like a Skittles Monster™ has vomited all over your table, Seasons shakes off excess body heat by excreting colour. From the hacksaw shaped player boards to the frenetic L.S.D. art work, ocular stimulation is at a premium in this game. Even the humble cube has been sent down the road to the local stylist and has returned resplendent in eighties neon. It’s not just the way the game looks though but also the way it feels. This game is enough to make even the most restrained Ludophile tug suggestively at their shirt collar and exhale sharply. Those perfectly laser cut, oversized dice feel so good in the hand that it’s almost impossible to toss them and allow the game to commence.

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Two player p(r)ettiness

But toss them you should because for all of its lascivious beauty it is the game play that really shines in Seasons. This is a game that it so well designed that it has even managed to make a virtue of set up.

It starts with a draft that is replete with choice but also carries the danger that you will be gifting your opponent the final piece of their jigsaw. The tension is palpable and you haven’t really started playing the game yet.

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The chunkiest dice this side of Hurling Emporium

Ostensibly a Euro game it has enough player interaction, through the familiars, that it never feels like single player solitaire and there is enough variety in the cards to reward shifts in tactics and almost limitless repeated play. The strategic burden of the cards also makes it one of the most easily expandable games I have ever played.

I played last night and was predictably destroyed but rather than feel gypped I was panting to play again. This game is a well crafted gem with sharp little teeth (is that even possible?) and did I mention how good it looks?

-Ben

A Small Slice of Perfection – Part 15

Let it go, let it go…

And now we finally draw a curtain on this etiquette series with the final installment of me sitting in a café pontificating about something or other.

Namely: other. And in this case suggesting we should maybe not hold on to mistakes or errors of judgement too much.

It is rule #10 – Be gracious when others make mistakes and accept your own.

About as coherent a note to end on as 2016 would allow.

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[Voices from the Driver’s Seat] – Keeping Up With Gaming Trends

Roleplaying is a living hobby, and it has evolved over its forty year history. The first RPGs were very close in design and play to the wargames they originated from; the setting was primarily fantasy, plots focused around military goals, and tactics were prioritised over characterisation. As more people came into the hobby, games started to change to reflect their varying interests. Science fiction and horror settings broadened the range of playable worlds; plots became more varied, and a number of games focused on characterisation and intercharacter drama.

Modern technological innovations like the internet have brought massive changes to all aspects of the world, and roleplaying is no different. Once upon a time, gamers found out about the new and cool from magazines, or game details sent to them through the post. The advent of the internet meant publishers needed to create websites; many of them hosted forums, where fans could discuss their favourite games. The spread of social media sites moved many of the conversations to sites like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter; and most recently, we’ve seen a big jump in live and streaming games on Twitch and YouTube.

For a publisher, keeping up with the current trends in roleplaying is vital. The roleplaying audience is, for the most part, tech-savvy and forward-thinking, embracing each new technology as it emerges, and a publisher who is not doing the same is liable to be left behind. Social media plays an important role in keeping up with new developments; publishers need to use these sites for dialogue with their customers, not as a broadcast system for sending marketing messages, and listen to how their audience are playing their games, and what tools they need to do that. Roleplaying conventions offer publishers the opportunity to speak directly to both their customers and other industry professionals. Like gaming stores, conventions serve as loci for new ideas, and most publishers use the opportunity to discuss games and the industry with others at these events.

As well as technological innovations, publishers also need to stay on top of changes to roleplaying itself. There have been some major shifts in the hobby with, for example, the introduction of White Wolf’s Storyteller system in the early 1990s, and the rise of story games in the early 2000s. The Storyteller system was designed for a more story-focused style of play, shifting the focus from tactics to drama and characterisation, and attracting a new, younger and more diverse audience in the process.

Independent publishers have been responsible for the biggest shifts in roleplaying technology. The story games they produce – with their endless variety of worlds, mechanics, narratives, and protagonists – have revitalised the roleplaying industry, and even industry stalwart D&D, in its most recent edition, has borrowed heavily from story games in its design. Story games have reminded roleplayers that ours is primarily a collaborative storytelling hobby, and eroded the historically antagonistic relationship between GM and players, leading to more systems encouraging GM and players to work together to create a better story, or abandoning the need for a GM altogether.

To stay on top of trends in roleplaying, it’s essential for publishers to have a regular gaming group that plays a variety of new games alongside favoured systems and campaigns. Great roleplaying games are not developed in isolation; they come from a deep understanding of what’s great in other games, and they build on existing themes, mechanics and systems. A knowledge of the games available, and open dialogue with other active roleplayers, shows publishers what’s not being covered by other roleplaying games, so they can innovate and expand into those gaps in the market.

-Cat

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves – A Come to Fishing Village review

Hello and welcome to our little village by the sea. Thank you for visiting. We have much that is promising here. Like a thriving fishing industry spearheaded by some of our most talented and motivated young fisherwomen. But we also have plenty of hard-working women in our factories, making sure that we can produce the machines that make our living so luxurious. And who could forget our plentiful job opportunities in our retail and service industry, or our agricultural industry. This village of ours is surely going places. Don’t mind the young men in suits and aviators, they are merely land developers that are speculating on our property. Yes, they have in the past lured young families from settling here, but we are determined to turn our village into a community to be proud of. So please… Come to Fishing Village.

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トーホクウィステリア

Some people seem to argue that there are more than enough cooperative games out there, and while they are not entirely wrong: Come to Fishing Village presents something interestingly unique. An accessible cooperative card-game with few rules and friendly artwork. It is unlikely to uproot any of the giants of this genre, but if you enjoy the art style and the idea of opposing suit-wearing land developers draining the life out of your community… this game might be worth your while.

When I talk about Fishing Village being accessible, I must add that I don’t necessarily refer to the rulebook. Once again, terminology does a lot to both challenge your understanding of the rules and the appreciation of the game play. One of the core mechanics of the game is called “book closing” and refers to fulfilling specific conditions with the cards in your tableau. Had it been simply called “demand” or “contract”, things would probably flow much easier.

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The many happy faces of Fishing Village!

But once you’ve wrapped your mind around fulfilling these challenges or risk people leaving your village for good, the game is pretty straightforward. Play cards into your tableau, play them to get rid of land developers, reduce your population to draw new cards or complete a challenge. If you succeed at the latter new people move into your village! YAY! New cards move into your hand! SUPER-YAY! New land developers come to beset your attempts to make life better for everyone. DAMN! They will even chase off people from your tableau if you’re not careful. SUPER-DAMN!

In play, the game is most reminiscent of a board-less Pandemic lite variant. You need to manage your hand cleverly, and choose whether to discard cards to benefit you later or discard them to remove an obstacle (the afore-mentioned land developers). It is just as easily grokked once you’ve played a turn or two, and you spent most of your time coordinating your efforts in an efficient way to complete challenges. Even strategic losses are part of the tactics you will use to win the game.

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Kick enough people out of their homes, and you too could become a menace to civilization!

So… ringing endorsement, then? Not quite. For all its accessibility in its rules, Manga-style cuteness and strong theme, the game ultimately ends up a little dry and mathematical. There are no sudden upsets or surprises waiting for you. The challenges you face are all fairly similar and none of them too unexpected.

Whereas in Pandemic the wheel of fate would occasionally come crashing down on cities you’ve prematurely deemed safe, Fishing Village only puts more obstacles in your way but doesn’t set you back.

In some ways, this might be the game’s strength. People who feel intimidated by the rules of cooperative games in the vein of Pandemic (or Hanabi; let alone Space Cadets!), this might be a good way to ease them into the fun that cooperative games can provide. For people who are used to rougher and less forgiving waters… Come to Fishing Village might feel a little too safe and family-friendly.

-Georgios

Perfect Information Podcast Episode 29 – Hey now, hey now…

…don’t dream it’s over.

That sure felt like far longer than just two weeks without an episode..

Anyway, this week we talk about things inexplicably falling out of favour and try to explic them. While this seems to be happening everywhere right now, we try to limit our gaze to games.

Our guild section comes to us from an allegedly alternate future, where things don’t seem to have turned out as rosy and uplifting as our present clearly suggests. Fancy that… we talk about forgivable gaming sins. (37:15)

We also have a competition. Yes, a competition! We’re giving something away for free. Por nada. ??????. ???? .Für nüschte. A highly sought-after game from WYG is on the table. How to get it into your hands? Listen to find out! (51:54)

Nick Mariner comments on current events. (56:56)

We review Flamme Rouge. A racing game from Finnish publisher Lautapelit.fi that you really need to check out. (1:00:45) (And here is the link to the other little jewel we’ve talked about: Honshu.)

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Kickstarter Preview – Spires

Without the faintest hint of bias we preview the new game from illustrious game designer and fiend of the show: T.C. Petty III. We uncover the beauty and rail against the foulness that lies within this trick-taking delight. Strap yourself in for some hot card game chat.

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A Small Slice of Essen Still

We need to talk about Essen.

Spiel is slowly receding from memory, we know. Which is why we bring one last hurrah.. of interviews with some of the illustrious heads (and other body parts) of this very hobby.

Ben interviews 2 Tomatoes, a Spanish game studio with a knack for games with a political undercurrent. But more importantly… TWO TALKING TOMATOES!!! (Also, technically… Lord of the PIGS and Peak Oil)

We also have a nice chat with Polish publisher Board & Dice and their love of beer(-themed games). A topic that is of particular interest to Ben, who usually does not partake of the alcoholic beverage as I understand it.

That interest quickly leads to one of the finest moments of boardgame journalism during the interview with Pini Shekhter. Long-time Perfect Information listener by day, household name of the Israeli gaming scene by night! (As in, I presume that he lives in some kind of household.) A game designer in his own right, he is happy to talk about games. With US! Which is really fortunate, since this is a board game podcast. And we did record this interview in Essen during Spiel.

And finally – though possibly not chronologically – we present an interview with the minds behind one of the most METAL!!1! dungeon crawl experiences on KS in recent memory: Perdition’s Mouth. Learn more about the game that is sure to make your mailman curse you and your family until the end of time.

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[Speaker’s Corner] – Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Essen?

It’s still 2016 so, legally and morally, I am still (but only just) allowed to talk about this year’s Essen Spiel. Some, if not most, of you will already have disregarded the products and experiences of this 175,000+ attendance gaming behemoth and be looking forward – in keen anticipation – to the Nuremberg Trade Fair, UK Games Expo et (USA) al with their attendant fountains of sweetly-scented, gamer jism ie. 2017’s “new releases”.

No longer, for you (it’s been an entire month FFS!), the back-spraining Odins, the Delphis and/or the Cattle-shoving Pfister-esque glories; those hard-to-source rarities from the Orient have been consigned to the shelves; the promotional items haemorrhaged into Social Media groups, the BGG Marketplace and eBay; the vast quantities of flesh and carbs have successfully transitioned through your alimentary canal and – most important of all – one’s definitive opinions on all hotnesses have been expressed. Time’s a-wastin’, dear friends, and we gotta keep movin’!

However, the one thing that has stayed with me from that Festival of Hysterical Cardboard are the memories of people; more so than ever before, my own experience of Spiel’16 was significantly less about the games and mostly about human interaction.

Stand demonstrations, interviews, meet-ups, shared meals and shared beers: I spent it in the company of friends, fans and fellow fanatics. When not chained to the booth, I was as restless as The Littlest Hobo. Even on my ‘day off’ (the Saturday), I played just the one game (Mondrian: The Dice Game, twice) and spent the rest of the 9 hours wandering about from hall-to-hall, stand-to-stand, chatting.

Essen has, after all these years and enabled by my minor dent in the game designing community, become a gratefully-received holiday with a bit of shopping/box-swapping tagged on for good measure!

However, if the above were not so (and I was just Tony the shy gamer), would I want/need to go to Essen Spiel in the first place? If I wanted to just buy games then probably not – the financial cost of travel and subsistence far outweighs any discounts I might get from buying direct.

What about promos? Realistically they’re dispensable, of course eg. I refused to pay 5 euros extra for the Lorenzo Il Magnifico Kickstarter exclusive cards because I could buy an entire Snowdonia expansion for that much (or, indeed, a donut shaped like a pig’s cock lollipop). What about the small, esoteric stuff? Most turn out to be just ‘Okay’ but, if ‘amazing’, will be picked up by the AEGs or ZMans in a frenzy of contract-showering, knob-swinging.

And what about the famous ‘buzz’? Well, if you mean ‘buzz’ as in chronic overcrowding, theft-paranoia, lifting injuries, body odour and/or a greenhouse of bacterial incubation then come on over, otherwise I think I’d prefer to just click-and-buy the proven delights from the comfort of a plague-free bedroom, thanks.

So, what I’m saying is: I am fanatical about going to Spiel because, as an exhibitor, my only costs are for game purchases and ‘to my liver’. That somewhat takes the shine of it a bit, doesn’t it? I’m so sorry.

(Afterthought: If you want to read MORE about my Spiel-ic adventures, look here:

-Tony