There are two unassailable truths about existence: first: there is an unbridgable gap between knowing the self and knowing others; and second: I definitely left my keys right here and now they’re gone.
While we can never fully grasp the implications of the latter, the first is reasonably easy to deal with. In our case we are going to look at board games (this being a board game podcast it seemed somewhat appropriate) and talk about the discrepancy between perception and reality. In other words, what do non-gamers see in this hobby as opposed to us.
Our stay at the guild is short, yet fruitful as we talk about unsalvagable rules and mechanics according to the most discerning listenership in all of boardgaming, and the one that is far too clever to be taken in by cheap flattery. (41:20)
The board game professor (commonly known as Nick Mariner) has come to bury Mombasa, not to praise it. Or at the very least talk about the good and the bad of it. (01:08:40)
This episode’s review (01:22:18) looks at a game that sets out to tackle questions of ethics, morality and metaphysics… by way of killing a bunch of things for fun and profit. We talk about one of the many recently released Eric Lang games: The Others.
It’s not always easy to review a game. Sometimes it’s because you’re too dense to figure it out, even after reading the rulebook twenty times. Sometimes it’s because putting the undeniable strengths and the blatantly apparent weaknesses of a game into words seems to cause more confusion than clarity. Or sometimes it’s even because your opinion runs so hilariously counter to everybody else’s, that the task of carefully and clearly laying out the reasons why a game fails, and gearing up to defend and argue your position just isn’t really worth the bother.
Hein? (or Huh?) fits none of these categories. This is a game that is hard to review, because its design seems so minimalistic that it is barely perceptible. Hein? is basically spoken Charades using a Dixit-like scoring method.
There. That’s it. Review over. If you know Charades and Dixit, you should know whether this game is for you. Or not.
No seriously, there’s little to say here. It’s like reviewing a re-themed version of Monopoly. Although, admittedly that comparison is a little off, since Monopoly is actually awful. (And I don’t care if people have fun with it or not. Arguing that Monopoly is in fact a good game, is like arguing that McDonald’s food is in fact healthy for you. It just isn’t. Stop deluding yourself. It really doesn’t matter how much you love any of their burgers.)
Admittedly, if there is one thing that can be said about Hein?… it is that it may not be ambitious enough in putting a new twist on an established idea. Yes, the scoring mechanism works very well. It gives players a challenge – vaguely reminiscent of Codenames – to tackle: reduce your hint to the absolute minimum and do it as subtly and cleverly as you can to make sure that as few people as possible actually catch on.
By doing so, your attention is drawn to the game portion of Charades as opposed to the activity of prancing about urging your team to say “fish” instead of regurgitating the same three ways of calling Prince by name. You are trying to get into people’s heads, your mining your shared knowledge of pop culture (as this edition of Hein? deals exclusively with movies, celebrities and TV) and choose your words very, very carefully.
Of course, it goes without saying, that this only works if you care about scoring points at all. Something that a great many games of Charades quickly dispense with as the evening drags on, because yelling at each other is just so much gosh-darn fun.
But fun is something that Hein? actually does fairly competently. It’s not a game to revolutionise the outer fringes of board gaming, where aunts, uncles and grand-parents converge to indulge their “playful” side. Yet it is a decidedly non-painful way of playing a game with people who feel intimidated or uneasy in the presence of more than one die, actual artwork on a board or cards with more than one game-function to them.
Still, Hein? lacks the one special ingredient to make people sit up and take notice. The je-ne-sais-quoi of game design. Like suggesting to play Twister in mixed company. (Or if I were still in puberty: non-mixed company.)
As it is, Hein? is a perfectly servicable, arguably superiour alternative to a basic parlor or trivia game. It’s not a ground-breaking, must-have addition to people’s collection. It’s a great gift to bring to your in-laws, even if it won’t get them excited or interested in some of the more unique pleasures of board gaming. And maybe that’s ok. Not every game that is good, needs to be ground-breaking and redefine its genre. Sometimes good is good enough.
In our little, local, gaming group Boffo is an intractable coot, Jobbers is painfully-prone to AP, Byll witters when he should be taking his moves and Smudge (frustratingly) doesn’t like PvP combat in games; none of this is of any consequence, however, because I love them all dearly…and, besides, I’m a volatile prima donna myself. Mind you, I don’t pretend that they are the bosomest of bosom buddies – we barely meet outside of a gaming context (if at all, in some cases) – but my life is most-definitely richer for having them in it.
In a wider world context, I have enjoyed the most excellent company of gamers since getting in to Magic: The Gathering in the late 90s: ‘Friday Night Magic’, Nationals, GP and PTQs; indeed, from 1999 through to 2001, halls up-and-down the UK would be filled with the same 128 faces. Since Surprised Stare Games, and my own evolution in game designing, have developed through the 2000s, the circle of acquaintances has exponentially – and Internationally – increased and its utterly brilliant: heart-swellingly, trouser-stiffeningly wonderful. If anything could be said to illustrate this best then it would be my experience at Essen 2016 (you can read a daily summary on my BGG blog) with every evening spent talking, laughing and breaking bread with friends old and new…no games in sight!
The downside is, of course, that real life likes to chip it’s oar in now and again; the cosy, colourful bubble that my hobby inhabits is pierced by the knitting needle of a cold and indifferent Universe – sometimes we lose people. Be these losses for personal, professional, criminal and/or mortal reasons, our gaming groups are ever-evolving; some, like mine, change tectonically-slowly while others are like one of those frenetic, time-lapsed clips of a busy railway station. So, I cherish my group – and its petty foibles – because the alternative is playing with oneself or (even worse) elitism; thus, I say:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you a starting hand (and set of wooden pieces in your colour). Take a Turn Reference card and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find I won’t crush you in your first game. For my jokes are cheesy and my boardgame is light.
(This article is dedicated to the memory of my dear gamer pal Peter ‘Greblord’ Armstrong – R.I.P)
Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark… allegedly… we can’t find any evidence for it really, except for some dusty old folios in Ye Olde English Library… but what Ben did find during his northern adventures were 30 minutes with Danish designer Asger Granerud.
Over the course of gaming history some ideas have been banished into the wilderness, to be forgotten… or at the very least ridiculed and dismissed as superstitions of an older, less civilized time.
But not everything old is bad. (Although, admittedly it might as well be.) There are some things worth rescuing. And if not that, we can at least recognise that certain practices served a purpose then and may still serve a purpose now. What am I babbling about?… well this week’s topic of course: the ostracized rules mechanisms of yesteryear.
In our guild we look at your guidance as to whether evangelising the hobby is a good or bad thing, and whether we even should. (36:25)
And finally we review Barcelona: The Rose of Fire (01:05:05). A beautiful game of property expansion, people coming to a city to make a future for themselves and something about the growing threat of anarchy breaking out. I’m not telling if it’s at the table or in the game… and which one of those two may be preferable.