Tag Archives: Bruno Cathala

Tonight Tonight – SOS Titanic review


In the Essen halls, amidst huge boxes filled with minis, the countless CCG booths, the big names all clamouring for your attention and your Euros, some companies play it cool. They know they make good games and all that’s needed is to show them off. It’s a Field of Dreams scenario – if you build it, they will come – except this time it’s all about the games. One such company is Ludonaute, who this year stepped up with two titles that have left many gamers quietly impressed. Lewis & Clark will be written about later – today, it’s all about SOS Titanic.

Initially, I wasn’t impressed with Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc’s collaboration based on rescuing as many passengers as possible from the doomed liner. It looked pretty enough, sure, and was well produced, but boiling everything down it just looked like another version of Patience. I can play that with a standard deck of cards, so why the hell would ask you lot to fork out more money on this? Well, gentle reader, the reason is this: SOS Titanic is really rather special.

Players each take a role of one of the ship’s crew on that fateful night in 1912. Your objective, of course, is to get as many of the passengers into lifeboats, saving them from the sinking ship and scoring your group a number of points. Being the Titanic, the passengers are split into two classes, with the posh people (who have purple backgrounds on their cards) numbered in two sets of 1-13 and the more populous second class folk comprising of two sets of cards going from 1-17. With class rules as they were at the time – watch Downton Abbey for a surprisingly accurate portrayal – the two classes shall never mix, meaning that your crew will struggle to get everyone off the boat alive.

(Minor aside: there were in fact three different classes aboard Titanic, the lowest being those in Steerage. However, the three groups were very much kept apart, and very few of those in the lower decks were actually made aware that the ship was sinking until it was too late. Most of the 1500+ lives lost were either passengers from Steerage or members of the crew. Anyway…)

The much needed lifeboats are all numbered 1, so with only four of them in the game effectively acting as our aces in the game of Patience, things will be tough. However, with each crew member having a specific ability and the presence of incredibly useful Action Cards, your task is made a little simpler. That’s not to say that SOS Titanic isn’t tough though… in the many games I’ve played, I have yet to manage getting everyone off in time.

As the pages turn, things get more and more desperate...

As the pages turn, things get more and more desperate…

“In time?”, you ask. Indeed, for the game is a slave to history, with play beginning at the moment the iceberg was struck and ending when she sank beneath the Atlantic. Represented by the included spiral bound book, you’ll slowly work your way through to Titanic’s inevitable demise as more and more compartments fill with water and with less space to work with, you’ll have fewer lines of cards to manipulate as play progresses. This turns out to be a surprisingly thematic part of the game, because as you draw cards from the passenger deck in a bid to add them to the lines (hopefully allowing you to move cards around that are already in play) each time the deck runs out the page must be turned. As these go by, the water sinks in and space becomes more limited.

Should a compartment fill entirely, the passengers within panic and flee to the next area. To represent this chaos all cards, both face up and face down, are taken from the two lines and shuffled together. All the hard work you have done to form a beautifully constructed and well ordered line is ruined thanks to the fleeing masses, so you start all over again as the pressure continues. This mechanism also prevents the often seen occurrence of getting locked out of a standard game of Patience, where you have no more legal moves at your disposal. Flipping a page or two ahead means that while the lines of cards must be shuffled, there’s at least an outside chance of the right one appearing.

Mercifully, the Action Cards will also allow you to bend the rules somewhat, diving into discard piles to pull out the right person at the right time, or re-order certain lines of passengers, but be warned – the flooding is inevitable, and the more players around the table, the less chance you’ll have to use your abilities and Actions.

Being a co-operative game, SOS Titanic works beautifully as a solo effort, but there’s something to be said for having a captain at your table to order their crew around. It’s a fantastic way to stop the issue of having an alpha player bossing others about – the captain just has to tell them to shut up! After all, the final decision goes to the one at the wheel… they’re going down with the ship, after all, much like the real Titanic crew who are shown in this game. And yes, while this game is an incredibly abstract take on a historical event, to see them all represented is a nice touch. It inspired me to dive into the history of what actually happened on April 14, 1912 and discover some of the stories from that tragic night.

To sum up, SOS Titanic has surprised me in the best way possible. I expected little from the game when I first opened it up, but find myself going back to it time and time again as I try and do better, to get more passengers onto their lifeboats and beat my previous score. The highest numbered passenger on each of your four lifeboats are added together to give you and your crew a final score, and with a current high of only 38 it would seem that there’s plenty of room for improvement in our house. It’s a light gaming experience but one that I will happily recommend, and I’d like to see the team at Ludonaute applauded for putting together something that manages to feel both familiar and new at the same time. Now, time for one more go…

SOS Titanic was first released at Essen 2013 by Ludonaute. Designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, between one and five players can attempt to save as many passengers as possible in games that take around thirty minutes. Copies of the game are available in the UK – Gameslore are selling it for £12.49 – and it will soon be available in the US. More information on the game is available from the Ludonaute site.


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History Repeating – Button Up! review

Sometimes a great game is huge, a sprawling extravaganza of a thing with countless wooden bits, huge amounts of depth and a playtime up in the multiple hours. Sometimes it’s the flipside of that, an idea so simple and straightforward that makes you wonder why the hell you didn’t get it first. Button Up!, a Bruno Cathala design from Jactalea, falls firmly in the second category – a tiny box, a handful of simple components and a wonderfully easy to grasp concept.

Three beermats, a set of instructions and a bunch of buttons. That’s all you get in the box. It’s not a lot, but then there’s not a huge amount of stuff you get to do in the game – however, in order to come out victorious in this lovely little two player release, you’ll need something that can be hard to come by that isn’t packed in – a bucketful of forward planning. Taking on the role of either Napoleon Buttonaparte or his nemesis General Ludwig Yorck von Buttonburg, you’re literally trying to end up on top…

Prepare for battle!

Nine large buttons, three each in three colours – red, black and white – are dropped and randomly arranged around the central beermat. It’s here where battle will commence and your points will be scored. The aim is to move said buttons in a clockwise manner around the mat, forming stacks that will quickly grow into a single tower. However, only the white buttons (or stacks containing one) can be moved by the players.

If you’ve ever played Mancala, you’ll have a head start on the way it all works. Pick up a single white button and you’ll place it on top of the next button. Pick up a stack of two and you’ll be adding to the next two piles. Each pile may only be added to once, meaning that it’s perfectly possible that you could create a massive one quite early on. The trick to the game, of course, is to engineer it so that your coloured buttons – red for Buttonaparte, black for von Buttonburg – end up as high in the final tower as possible.

Von Buttonburg dominates the stack – for this round anyway…

Once the stack is complete, points are scored. The highest gets nine, then you work all the way to the bottom with its value of one. White buttons, the spies of the game, score nothing. Both players determine their scores and whoever has the highest total is awarded the difference between the two – for example, say I scored 17 and you totalled 11, I would be awarded 6 points. The first to 15 points or more is declared the winner of the battle and claims bragging rights aplenty.

And that’s all there is to it. I could see Button Up! included in a larger scale game as a way of settling combat, but Jactalea have seen enough potential in it to release the whole thing on its own – and why shouldn’t they? It’s a lovely little two player filler (remember, that shouldn’t be a dirty word in the gaming world) that plays out in ten minutes. If you’re looking for a quick playing little game that, it’s an ideal way to kill a wee while. The fact that Bruno Cathala’s name is on the front of the box should help with getting Button Up! out there a bit more than your average small scale new release, but in all honesty I’d heartily recommend picking this one up.

Button Up! by Bruno Cathala was launched at Essen 2012 by Jactalea. Only two people can play, and games take around ten minutes. Copies outside of France are few and far between, but you can order it directly from the company site for only 10 Euro by clicking on this link!

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Happy Jack – Mr Jack Pocket review

Despite what readers of the Daily Mail (one of the UK’s more delightful national newspapers) may tell you, the past isn’t as jolly as some might have you believe. It’s simple human nature to paper over the cracks and look forward, ignoring the dark times and recalling the days when everything was so much better. The old cliche goes that history is written by the victors, and in their writings they’ll work their hardest to give everything a glossy sheen to prove that what they did was for the good of the people. Except we all know that it isn’t always that simple, don’t we? Humanity is always fascinated by that dark side. Everyone is drawn to it in some way, and I’ll be the first to admit that playing the bad guys is always a lot more fun, no matter what you’re up to…

Despite it being an era of many technological and social advances, Victorian England was also a time of darkness. Rampant poverty amongst the lower classes saw crime rates rocket, with one of the most notorious villains of the day being Jack the Ripper. Famously elusive, he was never caught despite murdering at least five women in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888. There have been many theories as to who the killer was, from paupers to members of the nobility, but Jack’s true identity has never been discovered. And that’s essentially the meat of the game I’m looking at today: Mr Jack Pocket.

As part of the Mr Jack series, this two player affair retains many of the themes while implementing a few small changes to make the game more portable. One person takes on the role of the notorious killer, the other the detective searching for his secret identity. In this Pocket version, the board and tokens are exchanged for a set of nine tiles that represent the Whitechapel streets, while the team of detectives roam around the outside. As usual, it’s probably easier to explain with a picture, so take a look…

Nine suspects, one on each tile. The detectives move around the outside, looking down the streets...

The game plays really simply, with the Jack player taking a suspect card (which tells them who they need to protect on the board). Then four double-sided tokens are flung into the air – whatever they land on denotes the actions available that turn. This could be moving a detective token one or two spaces clockwise, rotating one of the tiles,  switching the location of two tiles, or drawing a suspect card. This last action is a little different for each player: the detective shows it, immediately eliminating someone from the list and flipping their tile, while Jack keeps it secret and adds it to their tally of hourglasses – and should they manage to collect six of these, they win the game (the idea being that they’ve wasted enough police time and have made a getaway). Turns always follow a pattern, with Player A choosing their action first, player B taking two, then player A having the remaining token – whoever goes first is denoted by a magnifying glass or knife on the turn tokens.

Once the four actions are complete, the tokens are flipped to show their opposite sides – these are the actions to be used on the next turn. The detective player then asks if any of their three characters can “see” Mr Jack – this is done by having being able to look down one of the streets. If the way is blocked a suspect is considered safe, so the Jack player must optimise their choice of actions and keep as many hidden away as possible. If Jack says they can’t be seen, they take that turn’s token and flip it, another way of gaining an hourglass. The Detective can then work out whether they can eliminate any of the street tiles, hopefully getting down to a single suspect before the game ends.

And that’s it. And despite being a very simple little game, it’s quite engaging. Initially I thought that this was very much in favour of the Detective player, but strategies soon became apparent to show that it’s actually a rather impressively balanced game of cat and mouse. Quick to play (even if you follow the directions to play twice, experiencing both roles) it’s an entertaining little experience. Sure, it doesn’t have the depth of play that the earlier games in the series do, but this is a well designed re-imagining. If you’re after a quick filler, Mr Jack Pocket is ideal if there’s only two of you, even if it’s based on a very strange property. It may well be steeped in a dark piece of Victorian history, but Mr Jack Pocket is a fun game that offers much entertainment despite it’s small size.


Mr Jack Pocket was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, with art from Jean-Marie Minguez. Published by Hurrican in 2010, it’s only playable by two people and is available now for around £10 / $15 .

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