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Careless Whisper – Witness review

Witness

So, anyone in the crowd ever heard of Blake and Mortimer? While it’s true that many of us over here had a bit of a love affair with Herge’s Tintin books as kids, I’d never heard of Blake and Mortimer until relatively recently despite them having a similar kind of gung-ho adventure vibe and even appearing in the Tintin comics. Knowing what I do now, I’m frankly baffled as to why they weren’t bigger – checking out the Wikipedia entry on the comic, its mix of time travel, sci-fi and ludicrous spy antics (thanks to Blake working for MI5 and Mortimer being a scientist) would have appealed to me hugely as a child. Now I’m working through the English translations of the many available books, and it’s all down to a little game called Witness

Released last year by Ystari and designed by Dominique Bodin, Witness was a glorious surprise. After getting roped into a game of it at this year’s Tabletop Day I had little idea of what to expect, but twenty minutes later – it’s a quick little bugger – I had fallen in love with this simple, social co-operative puzzler. Strictly for four players, it’s best described as a hardcore variant of Chinese Whispers with an exam at the end. Set yourselves down at the table, empty the box of the many books within and let’s start the action: it’s time for us to solve some crimes!

The players each assume a role (Blake and Mortimer, or their colleagues Nasir and LaBrousse) shown by a little punchboard standee placed before them but frankly these aren’t important – it’ll be easier for the sake of this write-up to refer to them as 1, 2, 3 and 4. The game comes with a book filled with numbered adventures, ranging from straightforward and simple to brain-destroyingly wretched, but they always start the same way: with one of the players reading from the main text. A paragraph or two will set the scene, giving the group a little collective information but then everyone must refer to their own character’s book (from the same numbered page!) to get more details that are specific to themselves. Now the curiousness begins – as does the whispering.

There are, in fact, four rounds of whispering. For the first, player 1 will quietly say what they know to player 2, while 3 will give their information to 4. The players who are receiving the information must say NOTHING at all – no verbal cues can happen whatsoever as the focus is entirely on remembering what you have been told, and no notes can be taken… yet. Once the speaking players are both satisfied that the listeners have taken in all the information, everyone resumes their seats and round two takes place. Things are now turned on their head – players 2 and 4 are now the informants, quietly passing not just their own information but also what they’ve just learned on to player’s 3 and 1 respectively. Again, once the givers are OK with the receivers’ understanding, you sit down again.

Speakers and listeners alternate again for rounds three and four, until eventually everyone should hopefully have the information from all four characters’ books for this adventure. Players then have the opportunity to scribble down a few notes, generally what they believe to be the salient points that will help solve the crime, which could include sketches, words, timetables… all manner of things could help when it comes to the final part of each game of Witness – the questioning!

Another book is used here, generally giving a little more flavour text before we get to the meat of things – three questions are asked that all players must write down their answers to on their note sheets and the more correct responses (found in a final booklet), the better the players are judged to have done. For example, getting a collective score of ten correct answers or more is pretty decent – less than that and it should be generally accepted that you need to work on your memory, your ability to share information, or a little bit of both.

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So as not to spoil anything in the game, here’s a picture of a cat playing Agricola.

I realise that this is a spectacularly vague review but seriously, writing about any of the adventures or puzzles in Witness could potentially give away information that’ll screw up your enjoyment of the game – and you WILL enjoy this game. I’ve said many times that the reason I love to play games is because of their social aspect, and there’s little more social than whispering sweetly into the ear of a fellow gamer sat at your table. Witness is such a simple affair when you look at it objectively – all you’re doing is either sharing a little more information or listening and trying to remember as much as possible each round – but when you’re in the thick of it and desperately trying to recall a name, a time, a picture in your mind, then discovering that all the stuff you’ve remembered is absolutely useless when it comes to answering the questions the game throws as you, you quickly come to realise just how bloody good this is.

The game could have been built around any franchise with a detective story background but as you play more and more (especially with the same group of players) you’ll get much more of a feel for the Blake and Mortimer characters. You won’t need to have had any prior experience with the stories – I certainly didn’t prior to my first plays – but a good mix of logic solving and trivia knowledge will certainly see you do well in Witness. My only negative point is rather obvious – there’s absolutely no replayability here at all, and once a group has attempted an adventure it’s very much done and dusted even if you didn’t get everything right, but all it will take is the release of another set of books from Ystari and I’d be straight in there again, happily cursing my lack of short-term memory and laughing at the ludicrous evolution of our whispers as we fail to successfully solve another case.

Witness is available in stores now and will set you back approximately £20-25. Go get it, for it is pretty excellent, and even more accessible than Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

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Chasing Rainbows – Red 7 review

Red7 Box

Much like many of the folks who read the write-ups posted here on The Little Metal Dog Show, I’m more than happy to sit down at a table and play the same game for hours on end. Three hours of Twilight Struggle? I can do that standing on my head. A weekend of playing a single RPG? That’s not a challenge, that’s a bloody pleasure. But sometimes we all need something lighter, more bite size… something that, while quick, will also tease the brain and give us a good gaming workout.

I’ve written before about smaller games that I love to just chuck in a bag and bring with me everywhere – most of the time I’ve got at least one on hand from a list including The Great Dalmuti, No Thanks, Hanabi or Coloretto, but now I believe there’s another to add to the list. In fact, I reckon that this one could easily usurp all others that have come before it, taking its place at the top of the pile as the go-to filler game with bite. Red 7 is here, and it is a brutal little bastard in the best possible way.

Between two and four can play, and the game is built around one single, simple tenet: at the end of your turn you MUST be winning, or else you’re out. Players will place cards in front of them that will help them hit that rule, play a card to the middle of the table that alters the winning condition in their favour, do both of those actions or pass (which knocks you out of the game, so only do that if that’s the only option). You’re also booted out if you run out of cards, but that’s something of a rarity – most of the time you’ll find yourself hurling your hand onto the table and calling someone out as a [insert favourite profanity here].

All cards are uniquely numbered and coloured, 1 to 7, through the colours of the rainbow. The ruling in Red 7 is that the number on the card is checked first, then colour, so an Orange 6 is more powerful than an Indigo 6, for example – this makes the Red 7 the strongest card in the game, of course, hence the game’s title. Saying that, it’s only the strongest under certain conditions. It certainly rules the roost at the beginning of each round where the winning condition is to simply have the highest card, but things change very quickly in this game…

As well as a hand of seven cards, each player also starts a round with a single face-up card in front of them. This not only gives you all a base to work from, it also determines who starts play with the person to the left of the current winning player kicking off the fun. As mentioned previously, you only have four options available to you, but the cards in your hand will offer such a range of possibility to you that it won’t be long before brains begin leaking out of your ear. Fear not, you’ll get the hang of things quickly enough – the trick is working out what the best order to play your cards in, and precisely what to do with them.

Is it best to change the rules when play comes round to you? Perhaps just adding to your tableau is best? Regardless, you MUST make sure you’re winning, but most of the time you have options open to you; it’s not often that you’ll be dropped to only a single thing to do on your turn. The true challenge is managing to swing things in your favour while also making life harder for your opponents, and should you manage to be the last person standing, you’ll be the one to score.

RedGameplay

This is literally the whole game, condensed down into a single card’s two faces. It’s a perfect, nasty little swine.

Depending on what the winning condition was, points will be scored in different ways; if the Red rule is in play, only the highest card in front of you will be tucked under your reference card, eliminated from the game forever while also contributing to your score. However, manage to win while you’re all working towards the Blue “Most Different Colours” rule and you’ll take the highest value card of each colour in front of you. In a game where the winner is the first to hit 25 points, this is a great way to get a huge boost.

Production wise, Red 7 is simple enough; it’s a deck of cards in a wee box, not much can go wrong there, but it’s filled with little touches that make playing the game very straightforward. The cards are clean and bright, and every single one has their colour’s rule written down the sides. Players all receive reference cards that explain the hierarchy of colours in the game as well as the symbols used in the ‘advanced’ version of the game – just a few extra rules that allow for extra card draws and such like, but frankly the base game is pretty much perfect so these aren’t really necessary. The rules are laid out well and are easily understandable with clear examples throughout, but even though this is a simple game these examples are great – Asmadi Games have done really well in putting Red 7 together, and designers Carl Chudyk and Chris Cieslik should be proud of the little monster they’ve created. Trash talking and brain melting comes swiftly when this game hits the table – the game’s basis is in screwing over everyone else every single turn, after all – so the only question is Why Haven’t You Got A Copy Yet?

Red 7 was released in 2014 (in VERY limited numbers) but it’s now in stores all around the world, meaning that you really should buy it. Games take around 15 minutes at the very most and a copy will set you back under a tenner. Get yourself a copy now and discover that you’ve got a brand new favourite filler.

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What’s Going On? – Little Metal Dog Show News

Please don’t be confused – this isn’t a post about games news, moreso a quick update as to what’s going on with the site and show at the moment, hence Little Metal Dog Show News.

It’s been a little quiet here on The Little Metal Dog Show over the last few weeks, and that’s going to continue for another indefinite period – at least until America lets me live within its freedom lovin’ bosom. This whole “emigrating to another country” thing has taken a long time and a lot of energy, and if you throw in the fact that I’m working a LOT at the moment, that means there’s not a huge amount of time to play games, let alone write about them. There’ll be sporadic reviews, roughly one a week from here onwards until we’re settled in the States – you can at least expect pieces on Red 7, Star Wars Armada, Weiss Schwarz (yes, I tried out another CCG that wasn’t centred around My Little Pony) and more – but once things get sorted there’s going to be a lot more going on here.

The Little Metal Dog Show podcast will be reborn with specials from some of the world’s biggest conventions, as well as special one-off episodes when cool stuff happens to pop up. More video reviews will be making their way to the site, and there are also plans for the first LMDS TV Series: The Fox Report! News, opinion and general blathering at a camera, every week, all for you, for free. It’s going to be a very different show to what’s out there at the moment, so keep an eye out for the pilot episode later in the summer!

Thanks for reading, watching and listening. Oh, and following! Ludicrously, I’m nearly at 3,000 Twitter followers. Not sure how that happened. Perhaps I can use that fact to impress the US Embassy interview staff.

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Roll With It – Halfsies Dice VIDEO review!

Hello! John over at Gate Keeper Games sent over a bunch of his splendid Halfsies Dice for me to look at and play around with. Rather than write a thousand words about dice, I figured I’d do a video instead. So here it is. Watch it, then go check out the Kickstarter which is right here.

No money changed hands for this fine video, but if John thinks he’s getting these back, he’ll have to pry them from my wrinkly old-man hands.

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Barbarism Begins At Home – Imperial Settlers review

ImpSet

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll probably know that I’m in the middle of a move to the US. Everything is up in the air; I’m officially homeless, staying with friends as we grind through the slow process of immigration. All my stuff is in boxes – my games collection, my books, my consoles and my Mac… everything is just waiting to go across the ocean. Just before the packing, I was getting into the video game Civilisation V again and, cruelly, it has temporarily been taken from me. So sad. In the meantime, I need to get my civ-building fix from cardboard and the game collections of friends. And what have we been playing a lot of? The splendid Imperial Settlers from Portal Games, time and again.

Why so much love for it from me? Well, I enjoy any game that is based around a well-crafted engine, and Imperial Settlers really puts its focus into ensuring that everything works beautifully. With an easy to grasp set of rules, over the course of the game’s five rounds you’ll start off small with just a couple of cards and a handful of resources that are used in order to make your side the most dominant around. You’ll also begin with a long cardboard punch-out which your tableau will be built around that also lets you know what resources you’ll pull in at the start of a round from a selection of wood, stone, fruit, meeples, cards, gold, swords and shields.

Each turn you get to do one thing – and that’s it. However, while sometimes that one thing may simple like sending a couple of your dudes off to fetch some stone, depending on how things go for you, you may end up triggering a glorious chain of events that will make your opponents either look on impressed or glare at you with a barely concealed rage. It’s that kind of game, where those who are able to make their engines run smoothest will invariably come out victorious. The best way to learn how to do this, of course, is to play – just expect to get your arse handed to you in your first few plays as you try to figure out what’s going on.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Four civilisations are represented in the base game – Barbarians, Romans, Egyptians and Japan – with each of them having their own small deck of cards. Every card represents a location that’s exclusive to the civilisation but there’s also a larger central deck that all players can draw from; your personal deck is just for you, though. Every card has a cost that needs to be paid to add it to your tableau, normally a mix of wood and stone, but some also have a little house on them, meaning you’ll need to sacrifice one of your locations that’s either been destroyed (we’ll cover that shortly) or is taken straight from your hand, losing you a valuable card in a game where it can be very tricky to get hold of them.

Said cards will be one of three types: either Production, Feature or Action. Production ones are nice and straightforward: at the start of a round they add to the resources you gain but also give you them the moment you play the card. Actions need to be triggered, usually at the cost of a meeple or resource, but will generally pull in either something useful (like more meeples and resources!) or get you a few points. Features are invariable the trickier things to work with, often being the cards that serve as the links that make your turns splendidly convoluted or allow you to say “…and I score ten points off this one!” at the end of a game. The best civilisations will normally comprise of a decent mix of these card types, but it’s entirely possible to win using whatever set-up you manage to put together – really, victory falls to the player who reacts the best to what everyone else is doing.

By reacting, I really mean “attacking someone else’s locations with the swords you collect”. Two sword resources will be enough to force an opponents to flip one of their cards over, losing their precious cog in their machine that will inevitably cause their downfall (if you’ve planned it right). Shields (or meeples acting as Samurai if you’re playing as Japan) can be used to up this to a requirement of three swords (more if you stack them) but at the end of every round, EVERYTHING is removed from the cards you have in play – but you’ll have destroyed something well before then, won’t you? Oh, and you may also get bonus resources from doing this too, as long as the targeted card has a reward for razing it.

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don't end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don’t end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

There are so many little things that put Imperial Settlers head and shoulders above other Civ style games; you can boost your Production by making deals and tucking cards upside-down atop your tableau. You can wreck cards from your own layout if you’re short of resources. You can use meeples to go grab stuff too. Basically, the game puts an incredible amount of control into your hands – you do what you want to do, either focusing on your own buildings or eagerly eyeing someone else’s. Each civilisation feels and plays very differently, but all it takes is reading through a few cards to check up on what special buildings they all offer and you’re immediately up to speed.

No messing – Imperial Settlers is a bloody brilliant game. Ignacy Trzewiczek has created a simple game which still somehow manages to give the players a huge amount of strategies when they’re creating their own little dynasties. It’s a lovely game to look at with a cute graphic style throughout – seriously, the dumpy little buggers that are seen all over the cards are ace, and there are lovely details throughout, my personal favourite being the weeping family on the Ruins card… I am nothing if not cruel. Everything in Imperial Settlers hits the right buttons for me – it’s a streamlined work of greatness which, when I get to play it, is just so bloody pleasing that I want to bring it out again and again. When I get to the US, this will be the first game I buy – oh yes.

Imperial Settlers was released in 2014 through Portal Games. Between one and four can play (because yes, there’s a single player version of the game built in which is also excellent) with games taking around 30-45 minutes. Yes, not only is it great, it doesn’t outstay its welcome! A copy will set you back £35, though you can get it for under £30 at Gameslore. There’s also an expansion called Why Can’t We Be Friends which I’m yet to try out, but reports from other, more experienced players say that it’s well worth getting. So yes. You should do that. Oh, and follow designer Ignacy Trzewiczek on Twitter! Do that too!

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