The Score – Episode 1 – now on YouTube

And here’s the official (kind of) first episode of The Score – it’s a little smoother (though I apparently forgot to add the music beds to the cards before each section, even though they’re still in the original file, which is weird). It’s a pretty decent effort, if I can toot my own horn for a moment, so if you’d care to check it out, I’d be delighted!

Behold, the link to the video:

If you like it, spread the word and hit that magical subscribe button on YouTube. Don’t forget, feedback is much encouraged, so please fire away!

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The Score Has Launched!


So, it’s been a while in the making, but finally – finally! – the first episode of my new series has popped up on YouTube. The Score – Episode Zero is basically a proof of concept, a test to see if I can put together a relatively decent show, and I think it’s pretty decent. There are issues, of course – the sound’s a bit spotty in places, the intro and outro had to be recovered after a computer crash and are lower quality in resolution, the greenscreen in the Top Five section wouldn’t bloody work and I swore I centred the camera for the news section, but content wise… well, I’m pretty happy. Oh, and I wore three different shirts. Fuck you, continuity.

The idea was to put together a twenty minute show that covers a few different bases in the world of tabletop gaming, and over the next few weeks and months, I’m sure it’ll evolve and grow, but I always want it to remain around that run time. The channel that it’s on, Little Metal Television, will also have other video content – play throughs, reviews, convention coverage, that kind of stuff – but the main focus will be getting a new episode of The Score out every alternate Friday. The next one, a Halloween Special, will land on October 30.

If you’d be good enough to take a bit of time out of your day and have a watch, I’d really appreciate it. Your comments, subscriptions, shares and likes will also help massively as I try to build the channel up! In the meantime, The Little Metal Dog Show Podcast will also return shortly, so keep an eye out for the links to the start of the new run of that.

Oh yeah, may be useful to actually post the show, of course.

Thanks again – I hope you enjoy it!

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Tower of Strength – Rhino Hero review


I’ve written before about the merits of an excellent children’s game, and sung the praises of the best in the business, HABA, many times. Tier auf Tier remains a firm favourite with each passing year, and the bright yellow box sits proudly on the shelf alongside some of my most loved games. And now, another title has joined the ranks of games that are ostensibly aimed at children but can bring great pleasure to grown ups too. Rhino Hero is here, designed by Scott Frisco and Steven Strumpf with gorgeous, sweet art by Thies Schwarz, and it is bloody marvellous.

Part dexterity game, part gentle strategy, Rhino Hero – like Tier auf Tier – is once again all about stacking, albeit in a more collaborative fashion. On their turn, players take cards from their hands and add them to a central skyscraper that quickly becomes far from stable. Each card represents the top of the previous floor, capping the building temporarily, until the next player adds to this wobbly creation as the time comes. After choosing which card you’ll be using from your starting hand of five, you gingerly add walls made from folded cards before placing your new roof on top of the building; should the building fall when you’re the active player, you’re out.

Oh man, this is going so well - we've never built the tower this high before...!

Oh man, this is going so well – we’ve never built the tower this high before…!

It’s not that straightforward, of course. Different card types bend the rules ever so slightly, changing the direction of play, forcing the next player in line to miss a turn or take an extra card from the deck, or even allowing you to place two cards on your turn – not that it’s always a great idea, as they are slippery little buggers and can offset the balance of the every growing tower of cards. The most dangerous one is the card that brings the titular Rhino Hero into play…

Should one of these cards be added to the building – and there are a lot of them! – the active player has an additional action to perform that could well bring the literal house of cards crashing down. You see, also included in the box is a cute-as-a-button wooden Rhino Hero mini, which needs to be taken from whatever position he currently is sat at in the tower, then placed atop his image on the card that was just put on top as a roof. A gentle touch and nerves of steel are required to make sure this dangerous move doesn’t topple the lot.



It’s a very simple affair, but still quite the challenge, which is why it appeals so much to players of all ages. Dexterity games are a great leveller – a steady hand isn’t reliant on the ability to plan five moves ahead, after all, so it doesn’t matter if you’re five or fifty. Of course, excellent play could mean that the tower gets very high, so smaller children could struggle to reach the top, but that’s far from a major issue. If you manage to get rid of all your cards, you win, though it’s far more likely that victory is decided by whoever has the smallest hand leftover once the building is destroyed.

And that’s it. Short and sweet, much like this write up! Coming in at under $20 (just checked, at the time of writing it’s $12.34!), Rhino Hero is a bargain. It’s quick to set up, speedy to play, and as equally fun for grown ups as it is for younger players. Much along the lines of Loopin’ Louie, I can see competitive rules being introduced for convention play between Serious Adults (especially when beer is involved) but that doesn’t mean that the gameplay out of the box is watered down or weak in any way. In fact, its simplicity is what makes it such a wonderful little game to play. Now, anyone seen a relatively affordable copy of the Japanese large-format release? If so, let me know! I need it in my collection!

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Sweet Little Mystery: Codenames review (Czech Games Edition)

Codenames cover

Party games still have that curious stigma about them, despite the leaps and bounds that the genre has taken over the past few years. Even with the rise of the juggernaut that is Cards Against Humanity (as well as the insane amount of copycat rip-offs that are still being released some three years after CAH first debuted) the vast majority of people, especially those who wouldn’t refer to themselves as gamers, will still harken back to to the dark era of Trivial Pursuit when it comes to playing something in a group that is deemed accessible by all. For many games companies out there, managing to tap into that market is something of a dream, but with the right alignment of stars, Czech Games Edition could well be in with the best chance of making the leap to mainstream success.

There’s already a lot of love out there for Vlaada Chvatil’s latest game, Codenames, and frankly you’re not going to hear much dissent from The Little Metal Dog Show on this one. I first got to check it out at this year’s UK Games Expo where the game immediately was the subject of a fair amount of buzz – while not many people got to actually play it over the weekend, those who did manage to get around the table with the prototype were quick to extol its merits. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long for the actual release as copies were released at Gen Con 2015 and – of course – I was there to grab one on day one.

It is certainly something of a departure from Vlaada’s usual output. Codenames doesn’t have the complexity of Dungeon Lords or Space Alert, but for those who complain about its straightforward nature (and there’s been a small but vocal minority who have criticised the game’s simplicity), I’d say that they should remember that designers who stick with doing the same old stuff every time – medium to heavy eurogames in the case of Chvatil – generally end up seeing a marked drop in the quality of their output unless they start switching things up a bit. And don’t forget, he’s got previous experience with working on lighter material – the rather lovely Pictomania was released only four years ago, so the guy’s able to create interesting gameplay experiences without having to put together a usable 32-page rulebook as well.

Two groups are required to play Codenames, with a minimum of two per side – there are rules for a single-side, two player game, but two folks sat at a table really doesn’t constitute a party, does it? In the middle of the table sits a five-by-five grid of hobbit sized cards, each of which have a unique single word upon them – the codenames that give the game its title. These cards represent the agents that must be found by the teams, as well as unsuspecting members of the public and [dun-dun-duuunnnnnnn] an assasin that will ruin your day if they’re discovered (or at least this round of the game). From these two groups, each must elect a Spymaster who will lead the play; everyone else are the Spies who will be guessing at the codenames that are being alluded to.

Before play starts, the two Spymasters secretly check out a square Key Card that shows the positions of each team’s agents in the field of play. Flashes of either red or blue are dotted around the outside of this card, determining the side that will go first – both teams are looking for eight agents, but the team that goes first have their advantage somewhat nullified by the fact they’re also seeking a ninth double-agent.

In this case, the Blue Team are going first, but their advantage is lessened somewhat by having to find nine agents versus the Red Team's eight.

In this case, the Blue Team are going first, but their advantage is lessened somewhat by having to find nine agents versus the Red Team’s eight.

Agents are hunted down by the Spymaster for the active team saying exactly two things – a word and a number. The word must refer to at least one of your agents’ codenames, as shown on the positional Key Card, and the number is the amount of cards you’re looking your team to ‘contact’. So, let’s have some examples!

You could have an agent in play called Honey, which you could signal by saying “Sweet: One”. With that clue, you’re hoping that your team will make the mental connection and touch the card with Honey written upon it – that physical action must happen, by the way, or else the call isn’t official – but the trick to Codenames is to combine your clues to include more than a single agent. For example, if you happened to also have an agent called Hive, your clue could be “Bees: Two” – that single word can be linked to both Honey and Hive, and your teammates can contact each agent one by one, hopefully swinging the game in your favour.

If your team have successfully made contact with an agent on your side, the Spymaster takes one of the slightly-larger-than-hobbit-sized tiles of their colour and covers the correctly chosen name. This success allows the team to choose again, with up to one more attempt than the number uttered by the Spymaster for that side – so, that “Bees: Two” clue could lead to up to three selections by a team, assuming they get each choice correct.

Using the Key Card above, Blue Team could give the clue of "Animals: Four", but that risks the Assassin hidden under Lion being chosen, losing you the game. Much safer saying "Marine: Three" and hoping your team choose Shark, Whale and Ray! Three in one turn is pretty decent!

Using the Key Card above, Blue Team could give the clue of “Animals: Four”, but that risks the Assassin hidden under Lion being chosen, losing you the game. Much safer saying “Marine: Three” and hoping your team choose Shark, Whale and Ray! Three in one turn is still pretty decent!

An incorrect choice, resulting in either of a member of the public or – even worse – an agent from the opposing side getting picked, means that those cards must be covered by the necessary tiles and the team’s turn ends immediately, with play switching to the other side. Worst of all, if the Assassin is somehow selected, the team who chose it loses straight away and the Spymaster kicks themselves for giving a clue daft enough to include a cold-blooded killer in their midst. This little wrinkle in the game really does add an element of danger to playing Codenames, especially when both sides have made a few correct calls and the amount of options on the table grow fewer and fewer.

As you can see, rules-wise this is very simple little affair, but like all good party games there are a couple of elements that make things shine. There’s a delightful agony when you’re stuck watching your team consider your clue, then go in the completely different direction to what you thought you were on about; the Spymaster must not say ANYTHING apart from their single word clue and the number of cards, and even pulling anguished faces is frowned upon by the rulebook. You must remain stony faced, even if the other folks at the table are wandering down some ludicrous mental cul-de-sac and are getting dangerously close to tapping the Assassin’s name, throwing the game away despite your hard work.

From the opposite side, playing as one of the selectors is equally as entertaining; constantly trying to remember previous clues, making links between the slowly decreasing words on the table in front of you… it’s a lot of fun. There’s also the fantastic feeling of managing to correctly choose a set of names from a particularly good clue that links three or more cards in play – it’s a rarity but man, when your entire team is working perfectly in tandem, it’s utterly glorious.

Now, there’s always going to be a section of the population who simply won’t get on with how the game works. Links can end up being very tenuous and I’ve been involved in a couple of games where players simply don’t understand the Spymaster’s thought processes, but I find this to honestly be part of the fun. Codenames‘ scalability works very well – you can dumb down your clues a low as you need to, picking off agents on your side one by one, and there’ll always be a tipping point where the options have been pared back so much that you should (should!) be able to make a link between a couple of those still remaining in play. Managing to have your side pick up on this and choose two or more correct agents on one turn really does swing things your way quite drastically, and after a couple of games of relatively simplistic play to feel your way around how the whole thing works, you’ll soon find the Spymasters really striving to call out bigger and braver clues.

Production is relatively simple, but CGE have really pushed the boat out on the amount of included content to ensure plenty of replayability. With two-hundred double-sided codename cards in the box, the potential available combinations are huge. Expansions are surely being planned, and will hopefully be as inexpensive as this initial release – copies are available for a mere $20, making Codenames one of the real bargains of 2015. Even if your regular group maxes out at four players, I can’t recommend this one highly enough, but if you manage to get together with larger amounts of players once in a while, you won’t regret adding Codenames to your collection. I’ve found that more players means more confusion, and that leads to some truly entertaining discussions about what the Spymasters could be thinking about. It’s part Password, part Minesweeper, part mental torture, and you need to get yourself a copy of what will inevitably be one of the Games of the Year – you’ll honestly have a blast.

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Animal Army – Shephy review


Essen 2014. An excited Tony Boydell, he of Snowdonia fame, comes up to me with a smile on his face as wide as can be. “I got it!” he says, an air of triumph in his voice. “I managed to get a copy of Shephy!” to which I responded “Eh?”. You know, like you do. He went on to describe it to me, a solitaire card game from Japan, released in ludicrously small numbers (even smaller than your average Sprocket Games effort) all about trying to gather as many sheep as possible. Sounded interesting, sure, and I lodged it in that part of my brain for games I’d probably never get the chance to see, let alone play.

Wind forward to UK Games Expo 2015. The Math Trade brings some excellent results for me, including a copy – miraculously – of this mysterious game. I receive mine on the Sunday, and immediately head for Boydell’s Surprised Stare booth. I show him the game, and he conspiratorially leans in to say one thing: “You’re one of us now.”

My name is Michael Fox and I am a Shephy addict. It’s not too late to save yourself. Run while you can.

Shephy is a game about gathering as many sheep as you can. What I didn’t originally know is that, according to the charmingly strange story on the back of the rules sheet, the game is actually set in a post-apocalyptic world where there are no humans – the sheep have taken over, but despite seemingly being the dominant force on the planet, there is still danger around every corner. Whether it’s meteors crushing part of your flock, overcrowding that sees some of your sheep fall off a cliff or, most terrifying of all, the rise of an ovine-specific Great Old One called Shephion, your target of getting to 1000 sheep in your fields is going to be quite the challenge.

So many sheep! The one in the bottom left is the Enemy  Sheep, rotated 1/4 anti-clockwise after each run through of the Event Cards deck.

So many sheep! The one in the bottom left is the Enemy Sheep, rotated 1/4 anti-clockwise after each run through of the Event Cards deck.

So, how does the game work? Well, it’s all about managing two things – the  “field” that will hopefully contain a maximum of seven Sheep cards, and the Event Deck that will both help and hinder you. The game begins with you drawing five cards from the stack and a single 1 Sheep card in the field. The other Sheep cards have values of 3, 10, 30, 100, 300 and 1,000, and cards can be combined through some of the Events that pop up, freeing up space in the field and allowing you to bring more sheep into your flock.

Each turn sees you choosing one of the Event cards in front of you which you must follow, place on the discard pile and then refill your hand to five cards. As you slowly work your way through the twenty-two Event cards, the actions you take may duplicate your Sheep cards that are already in play, introduce new ones and  even upgrade them to higher levels. Once you get all the way through the deck – assuming you actually manage to do so, for it’s pretty tough – you’ll rotate the included Black Sheep card to show that your enemy tribe has managed to increase their numbers. Play through the deck three times or end up with no sheep in the field at any time and the game is over. If you’ve got over 1000 sheep in your field, then you’re a winner (but you can continue to play as you bid to get an even higher score). Anything less and you’ve failed.

In all honesty, that’s pretty much it, and reading back it may appear at first glance that Shephy is a straightforward, basic affair. However, once you get past your first terrifyingly confusing play, wondering what the hell is going on and why you died after the eighth card, the game will get its claws into you. Trying to work out the optimal play will become an obsession – maximising the positive cards that are available to you while trying to rid yourself of the overpowered negative ones is hard, but certainly possible. Of course, some choices are pretty obvious – for example, if you don’t chuck out the Shephion card in the first round of play you’ll lose automatically, so the criticisms that the game does has an element of solveability (if that’s even a word) are valid. However, this isn’t really an issue – there are so many bloody awful cards that scupper your plans, any chance of solving the game is ruined most of the time, but not to the degree of every game feeling unfair. Just most of them.

Not all of the cards you deal with are awful, just most of them.

Not all of the cards you deal with are awful, just most of them.

Another part of Shephy’s appeal is how it looks – the designer (who goes only by the name of Pawn) is also responsible for the art throughout the game. The simple illustrations are silly and charming, especially the giant cubes of sheep that appear on the larger value cards that appear in the Field, and you’ll never see a more sweet representation of sheep mating in a game this year. Of course, actually getting your hands on a copy of the game is as much of a challenge as winning the damn thing, so seeing them in real life may not happen. However, if you manage to source a copy from Japan (because I believe that it’s still kind-of available over there) it’s well worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for a quick-playing solo game that is going to hand your arse to you almost every time. However, when you do manage to pull a win from the jaws of defeat, it’s an incredible feeling – and that’s why you’ll be as addicted to Shephy as much as everyone who has a copy of their very own. Now… back to the field – there’s a whole lot of Being Fruitful to deal with!

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