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Tales from the Fireside – Separation Anxiety

Mr Campfire has another Tale, filled with woe. That’s what happens when you’re separated from what you love.

——————–

There’s a game I want to play.

But there’s always a game, isn’t there? Right now, the hottest game in gamerland is Quarriors, a deck-builder that comes with 130 custom dice in the box. It’s so coveted, otherwise staid game reviewers with all the flexibility of corrugated card have used flowery similes like ‘jewels in a treasure chest’ to convey their awe of it. I mean, the game has 130 dice in all the colours of the rainbow–how could you not want it? As far as gamers are concerned it’s Christmas come early: a box of baubles removed from the loft, a stocking of sweeties that, okay, present a serious choking hazard, but come on! When was the last time you encountered a game so visually enticing, so wonderfully tactile? To heck with how it plays, don’t you just want to grab those dice and roll them ‘til arthritis kicks in? You’d wear your dice-rolling chicken claw with pride, boasting Quarriors did this to you.

In Europe Quarriors has encountered a couple of distribution issues, meaning it’s rather difficult to get hold of over here. If you pre-ordered it, you’re laughing while you’re rolling. If you didn’t you might be stuck until Christmas or the New Year before you can get your future chicken claws on a copy.

But doesn’t that add to the allure of it? Doesn’t the game being rare–if only temporarily–make it special? How many of you have bought a game simply because it’s gone out of print or was the last copy in the store? Prompted by game boxes holding all manner of treasures gamers are hoarders, and the one thing we hate more than anything else is the thought of the game that got away.

Tell me, what did you do when you heard Fantasy Flight were releasing Descent: Second Edition? Did you wonder if the price would come down for the re-release or how the game would change for its second iteration? Did you put it on your Amazon wish list or did you hurry to your Friendly Local Game Shop to grab the original Descent just in case the second edition didn’t match up to it? All those pieces, all those figures: less of a treasure trove than an unearthed tomb filled with riches. Dare you breach its cardboard chambers to return with magic and gold?

These end of line products are often accompanied by a bit of a kerfuffle: they’re the Harrod’s sales of the gaming world. This week I discovered online retailer IGUK.co.uk was down to its last copy of the discontinued Memoir ‘44 campaign book, and were selling it for a reasonable price. I don’t own Memoir ‘44, but with this rare artifact before me for a moment I felt rather dizzy. Sure, I don’t have Memoir ‘44 now but who’s to say I won’t in the future? Wouldn’t the campaign book come in handy then, at some hypothetical point down the time-stream?

Fortunately common sense prevailed and I pointed a friend who already had a copy of the game in its direction, but for a second I nearly forked over money I can’t afford for a game I couldn’t play. Considering how quickly IGUK’s stock disappeared once they cut its price, I wonder how many people in the same situation thought “To heck with it” and bought the book anyway.

The game I most want to play right now is Warhammer: Invasion–a game for which long-term readers will already know I have a simpering, drooling weak spot. Unlike Memoir ‘44 I already own a copy of Warhammer: Invasion, so you’d think I’d just pull it from my game shelves to play whenever I wish.

I can’t: circumstance has separated me from it.

Board gamers don’t do well with separation, which is why travel editions exist of every popular game from Carcassonne to Hungry Hippos. Last week, briefly threatened with separation from his collection another friend boldly listed the board games he’d be taking with him to Wales, to force his wife to play while trapped in a chalet on holiday; his reading material during this time would be the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game rulebook, downloaded in anticipation of buying the game in weeks to come. iOS and Android devices offer the opportunity to play some of our favourite games while on the move; I can just imagine a hardened gamer climbing hills in the Peak District, trying to get a signal in middle of nowhere so they can send their next move for Ascension.

I’d love to review Warhammer: Invasion here, but I can’t. I’ve only played it once and as much fun as I had with it, once is hardly enough to write a solid, detailed description without bluffing and making stuff up, and I refuse to do so because I take my journalistic duties seriously–that’s why I wear a fedora with a bit of card tucked into the hatband that says ‘Press’ on it. Wearing a press hat isn’t a matter to be taken lightly, you know. It’s not the kind of thing you can remove and forget about.

My wife sums up her feelings about board games with the word ‘Eh’ which is really more of a sound than a word–the kind of sound a disgruntled mother bird would make upon discovering one of her unhatched brood was, in fact, a golf ball. It’s not that she doesn’t like board games; she just doesn’t see what’s so exciting about them.

It’s okay–she’s a physicist and I feel much the same way about gluons. I mean, I’m sure they’re important to the way matter functions or whatever, but you can’t roll them, or punch them from cardboard sheets, Whatever good they might do in the world of particle physics, for board gaming purposes gluons are pretty much useless.

For all her indifference, she’s made the mistake of playing Warhammer: Invasion against me and thrashing me at it. During our first and only time playing she constructed a brilliant scheme in which she built her resources over a number of turns, played a Bloodthirster onto the table, turned my attack damage back upon me, and stomped over my capital like a toddler run amok in Duplo Town. In an exhilarating moment of post-game deconstruction she told me how she’d held onto certain cards just in case while building her own fortifications, and how she’d turned my own headstrong nature against me. She’d played traditional card games with her family years before; all those bluffs and antes were good training for sending Chaos demons into battle and putting her husband into traction.

As much as I was impressed with the game I was far more impressed with my wife, the master tactician.

That’s one of the reasons why I miss Warhammer so, and a reason I’m sure all of us can get behind. When a game comes alive like that, it’s magical: the click of a light-bulb flaring as your opponent–who’d not known the game existed minutes before; who’d thought board games were ‘Eh’–chains a combo or hops a piece or hatches a tactical plan, and wins.

And they don’t have to win: that’s the beauty of these games. Things can get a little cutthroat, and I can’t deny I want a rematch to see if I can even the score but–and please forgive me the tree-hugging sentiment–so long as we’re both having fun, doesn’t that make us both winners?

I do miss the game, though. I scour Fantasy Flight’s website for card previews and send them to her over Google chat. “Look!” I say, like a kid showing a parent an unusually shaped leaf. “This one turns your corrupted units into uber-powerful ass-kicking machines! You’re a Chaos player: what do you think?”

And she, resolutely not geeking out, mutters only “Eh” and goes back to sitting on her oddly shaped egg.

I’ll play it again one day, I know. It shall be mine, as Wayne Campbell once said.

For the moment, all other games have become meaningless: their boxes gather dust and the very thought of playing them disgusts me. Greedy, oh so greedy, I eschew games I can play in favour of the one I want.

There’s a game I want to play, you see.

But there’s always a game, isn’t there?

——————–

Speak with Campfire Burning yourself – his email is, of course, campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Tales from the Fireside – Rival Turf

Settle down, settle down (do you see what I did there?) – Campfire has a Rival for his (and your) attention.

——————–

In my nascent board gaming days I played gateway games on Xbox Live. This was new turf and there were a lot of games out there, some looking surly, some flipping coins in a menacing manner and I had to affiliate myself with one of them if I was going to survive gaming’s mean streets.

I played Ticket to Ride. It was okay! I thought it wouldn’t be because, you know, trains, but I was happy to be wrong. I played Carcassonne. That was even better! I joined its gang in an initiation rite that involved a song and dance number and a meeple tattoo in an intimate area, and for a while we had fun.

Then I played The Settlers of Catan, and it’s here things became difficult. Settlers is all about human interaction, about trading resources with other players, saying you have wood for sheep and then tittering when you realise how rude it sounds but I was playing it against artificially intelligent adversaries and not a one of them of whom understood knob gags.

I didn’t enjoy it, and they ended up hounding me from the game yelling “GET THE HUMANOID” as they did so.

I’d wanted to like it, this godfather of modern gaming, because without it all of this would be fields and sheep and stones and desert. But I couldn’t because it was dry, like desert sand. I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. But I was willing to reconsider it. In 2009 Wired called Settlers ‘The Monopoly killer!’ and if anything would make me change my mind about a game it’s the possibility that, with enough encouragement it might one day stab Monopoly in its stupid, ugly face. So I picked up a copy of Rivals for CatanSettlers’ younger, pocket-sized, two-player iteration: the Jedward of the franchise, if you prefer — and hoping to Vasel it wouldn’t be dull I got wood for sheep and got stuck in.

Rivals for Catan isn’t a dry game: it’s a game of tears, of blood and of sweat. It’s a game of cruel winters and even crueler dice throws, and then, just as you’re about to cut up Uncle Morris for food to survive the snows, it’s a game about winter festivals, lights in the darkness and community in the face of certain starvation.

 Most of all, it’s a game about trading. You begin with two settlements connected by a road, end with a 17th century Milton Keynes, and develop the former into the latter by trading resources found in the surrounding countryside. At the start of each turn you roll two dice, one of which is the event die (more on that later) while the other determines which of these regions provides you with gold, wool, stone and all the other resources familiar from Settlers. Ingeniously the resources stored in each region are indicated by symbols around the card’s edge; you keep the edge with the correct number of symbols turned toward you, and when you acquire more or trade them away, you turn the card 90 degrees to indicate the new amount. In practise it’s rather like tapping cards in Magic: The Gathering only as you keep tilting the cards this way and that it’s more like tapping – TO THE EXTREME!

You can store a maximum of three resources per region but can trade three of the same kind of resource for one of any of the others in your principality. This comes in even handier after you build trade ships, which let you swap two for one of certain resources.

Turning cards to trade resources has a rather lovely feel to it, like playing combos in Dominion or cranking the gizmo in Mouse Trap. It’s also useful for bamboozling your opponent, fooling them into thinking you’re about to buy an expensive city card with the stone and wheat you’ve saved when really you’re going to play a gold ship and swing the trade advantage in your favour.

 What? You don’t know what any of these things are yet? Oh, well, I suppose I’d better tell you.

 You see, though you only start with a couple of settlements in due course you build new roads, new settlements, new expansions and new cities. Each player begins with a hand of three cards that can action cards, buildings or units to can build and populate your settlements with. Actions are played and discarded, while buildings and units are paid for with resources and placed either above or below your settlements. Settlements can be upgraded by buying city cards, and both cities and settlements are connected by roads. Every time you place a settlement you draw two new region cards which show you which resources can be harvested from the newly discovered countryside.

The buildings and units you place each provide a different advantage, whether it’s a lumber camp doubling the production of neighbouring forests or Harald, a beardy man who hits people with his hammer. Hammering Harald, Candamir the Axe-Happy and all their equally psychotic chums are a useful lot to have on your side, for reasons I’ll explain later.

Now, let’s go back to the event die. It’s another six-sider: two sides tell you to draw an event card, while the remaining four each trigger different events. Based on the event die you might get extra resources, have your opponent steal a resource from you, or be subjected to an attack from a wicked brigand party that steals all your gold and wool, so they might, I don’t know, make pullovers and bling, so they keep warm while looking well expensive in the winter, innit.

Some cards have special points on them, and how the event cards and die affect you depends on which of these you have in your principality; for example, if you have the most skill points in the game and event die rolls a Celebration event, congratulations, you get a resource of your choice while your opponent gets nothing. If you have three or more strength or trade points in your principality and your opponent doesn’t, you get to pop a lovely wooden token on one of your settlements, which gives you an extra victory point at the end of the game.

Now I know some of you hate victory points whatever ridiculous reasons. While you are playing for victory points in Rivals, you’re not playing for many of them. The basic game ends when one player accumulates seven points and considering you start with a point per settlement, you only have to grub five more together to win. You’ll do this by increasing your trade and strength advantages and by expanding your principality, building roads, settlements, and cities, and other buildings, depending on which of the scenarious you’re playing.

Though I’ve been talking about the introductory scenario Rivals comes with extra other sets of cards, each of which adds a new slant on the basic gameplay. If you’d rather hoard gold in caches, mint coins and fend off pirates ‘The Era of Gold’ is the scenario for you. If you’d rather play an aggressive game competing for strength and worrying about riots then ‘The Era of Turmoil’ is right up your street.

Rivals’ tiny box contains a lot of bang for your buck. The cards are a little flimsy but they’re beautifully illustrated to show your settlers going about their everyday lives. The dice are chunky, the manual is clear — alarming so; it reads like a playschool teacher guiding you through gluing together your first macaroni collage — and the wooden strength and trade advantage tokens are so lovely you’ll be fighting over them before you even start playing.

In any game, it’s the ingenuity that wins me over. At first I thought Rivals was just as dry as I’d feared; too often turns would pass by in which I was incapable of making any move bar rolling the dice. I’d wait for resources I needed to turn up and it was as if, uninspired by my lack of gaming skill, my little workers had given up mid-construction.

I was, of course, doing it wrong.

You don’t wait around in Rivals for Catan because while you’re slacking off your opponent is not. Dreamy, meandering excursions into the countryside are all well and good for Jane Austen books but Rivals is about building cities and hoping you’ll survive — and no city was ever built by picking daisies. It’ll take a while to get the hang of this. You’ll run out of room to build more expansions and forget to build roads and settlements beyond. You’ll get caught up on hoarding resources — like I did — only to lose them all in a bandit attack, and by saving resources for one specific purchase you’ll commit the cardinal sin and neglect to trade.

I traded The Settlers of Catan for Rivals and I’m glad I did. It might only be for two players but for the money you won’t find a a better hoarding, trading, building, Monopoly-killing experience.

Just don’t tell your friends you have wood for sheep. I don’t think they’d appreciate it.

——————–

Contact Campfire Burning – as always – via email: campfire@littlemetaldog.com. And don’t forget to check out his splendid blog which can be found at http://campfireburning.wordpress.com/

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Tales from the Fireside – Choosing Sides

The siren blares, the sun has barely poked a sleepy eye over the horizon, and you and your friends are already there on the field, hoping that today won’t be the day. It’s war, my friends. General Campfire is here to rally the troops.

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“You are God and this is the universe you created. It took six days to find light in the darkness, place galaxies in the heavens and raise life on the planets you scattered about them. On the seventh day you rested, and dreamed for untold billions of years.

Today is the eighth day, the day on which you finally awaken.

Go anywhere. Do anything. Be anyone. The universe will react accordingly.

You’re in a room. You hear a beeping sound: an alarm clock on the cabinet next to your bed. Everything is dark.

What do you do?”

I ran an RPG. I did! It was a game of my own devising, the sum rules of which are written above, and though I didn’t run it for very long I did learn something very important from the experience:

Being a Games Master is hard.

Most of us gaming fellows play unaware that we’re bang in the middle of a great gaming cold war. On one side are metronomic robots: the dedicated war-gamers who play campaigns for days at a time and flip out when they discover the map of Italy they’re trying to invade has a section of concave shoreline where it should be convex, convex, damn it – you’re doing it all wrong! I bet Mussolini never had to work under these conditions.

On the other side, all flounce and forsooth are dedicated role-players who keep handy supplies of lightning bolts masquerading as bean bags, whittle their ears to points and spend their days in the woods hitting each other with foam battle-axes and running away from badgers they’ve disturbed with their lute playing.

If these descriptions sound like lazy stereotypes it’s because, with clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right I’m stuck in the middle with you guys, where all the fun is. There’s nothing wrong with a little war-gaming or role-playing in moderation – in fact I’d heartily encourage both. But these extremist gamers don’t have ‘moderation’ in their vocabulary except as:

“moderation, verb: to preside over.”

One lot’s obsessed with recreating historical war campaigns in bewildering detail while the other enacts ongoing battles to determine the fate of fantasy worlds. One lot never leaves character while the other never leaves their basement, and both sides have catheters fitted to their nether regions and wee baggies of urine strapped to their inside legs. Let not the call of nature interfere with the call to battle!

Yes, yes; it’s a very lazy stereotype I know. The point is, us moderate gamer types who don’t mind playing a bit of Memoir ‘44 alongside our Pathfinder campaigns try to ignore that there are people who fit these stereotypes, and to a frightening degree. Maybe we’re a little self-conscious about it, and overexplain to our unimpressed co-workers that, yes, I do have a model tank in my cubicle and yes, it is from a war game, but gaming’s okay! It’s normal! You don’t have have to be a nerdy obssessive to play games! Look, the tank means nothing to me. I’ll throw it into the bin like a normal person, and as soon as you’re gone I’ll take it back out from under the banana peel where it’s fallen and see the cannon barrel’s snapped in half and wail to myself Oh God, what have I done, I’m so sorry, toy tank, I’m so, so sorry!

And you already know, don’t you? You know which side you’d pick if the cold war ever turned hot.

The guy above – who’s totally not me, by the way – would be a war gaming commando. He’d go to war equipped with pencils, protractors and set-squares. He’d delineate targets based on line of sight from his gun barrel to the centre of the square his enemy is standing on. He’d wait hours for his turn to roll around, all the while coldly plotting the demise of anyone within a 13.8” range. His best friend is a calculator. His wife is a calculator. His favourite game is The Campaign for North Africa.

The Campaign for North Africa isn’t a game: it’s a prison sentence. It’s playtime is upwards of forty days – that forty days of consecutive play. You can grow a beard in the time it takes to play a game. Women’s legs start looking like kebabs that have been rolled around on a barber shop floor. Tellingly, even the guy who designed it has never finished a game. It’s meticulously, ridiculously detailed: you don’t just keep track of the planes you have in the air but also the pilots flying them. Infamously the game contains rules concerning the water Italian soldiers use to cook their pasta.

The war gamer doesn’t sleep often – to him sleep is a sign of weakness – but when he does, he uses the map that comes with The Campaign for North Africa as a duvet.

But like I said, that guy isn’t me. I ran an RPG. It was a game of my own devising. And if push came to shove and war erupted I’d take a potato peeler to my ears and hey-nonny it up with the rest of the lads in tights because in this gaming civil war I’d be a LARPer, and proud of it.

We have women in our army. You see that wargaming woman with the hairy legs up there? She doesn’t exist. No woman has ever played The Campaign for North Africa out of anything other than hipster irony, but we have them here on the freeform RPG side: buxom wenches serving flagons of mead (or Mountain Dew, if mead is unavailable), pale and gothic wampyr with a kink for crushed velvet, who wear so many silver charms they chime when they walk; bow-toting Amazons who, okay, are a little obsessed with George R.R. Martin, but if walking on my knees and calling myself Tyrion suddenly makes me attractive then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. At least they’re not obsessed with Himmler.

Maybe this all sounds like drooling adolescent fantasy but isn’t that the point? Maybe everyone in our army is a little goofy, a little warty and a little crooked of tooth. Maybe we all wear glasses so thick our eyes risk catching fire every time we venture out in daylight. Maybe our waking lives are so crushingly depressing we want our dreams to carry over into the real world, where we can be Skulldar the Conqueror or Morlia the Witch-Maiden and see new realms in every forest, and magic in every beanbag.

Our game is a game of our own devising. We laugh at your mundane mortal rulebooks – and our laugh is tinkling and musical, and not at all like the asthmatic snorting you might expect it to be. We abide by rules, but they cannot be bound in anything as mundane as the common tongue. You may find the seeds of our philsophies in Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade, but we’ve progressed beyond attributes and scrawled down skill sets. We play characters when we go to work, have our hair trimmed and shop in Budgens; this fey being you see before you, with a +4 sword of bludgeoning with blood trickling down his earlobes? This is who I really am.

Is what I’d say if there was a gaming civil war. Which, understandably, I hope there bloody isn’t.

And the rest of us get on with our games, moving pieces, having fun, never taking things too seriously until it’s too late, when we realise “Crap, we just bought every D&D Essentials book in the range and we don’t even have a group to play it with.”

 “Damn, we just shelled out £30 for a card to help power our new World of Warcraft deck.”

“Hell, it’s six in the morning, we have to go to work in an hour and a half and we’ve spent all night following eBay auctions for first edition Blood Bowl expansions.”

Or in my case, “Dear Lord, I created and ran my own role-playing game.”

Gaming’s a slippery slope, my friends. Let’s hope it never spills us into war.

——————–

Which side are you on? Let the General know, he’ll inform you where you’re posted. Email Campfire Burning at campfire@littlemetaldog.com, soldier!

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Episode 26 – Weeny Dancers

This one’s a bit of a different episode, in that there’s no interviews. Stuff will return to normal next time around (promise! The show’s already edited!) but I really wanted to put this up.

Regular listeners will know that at the end of lots of the shows, Chris and I get together to record our wee question and answers session. We did it again a little while back, complete with extra special guest Campfire Burning (with mini-cameos from Daisy)! However, what’s normally a twenty or thirty minute session turned into a ninety minute marathon… After some editing I’ve cut it down to just over an hour which is really still too long to attach to the end of an episode, but I still wanted to put it out… so here it is as a standalone Little Metal Dog Show.  We cover a bunch of questions from listeners (which you can do yourself by sending them to show@littlemetaldog.com) and answer them as best we can. We may not always be right, but we’ll at least give it a good shot.

The episode is available on iTunes or directly from this little link right here. Right click to save, left click to listen now (or if you’re on a mac… I don’t know. Anyone help?) – normal service will be resumed very soon! In the meantime, thanks for listening.

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Tales from the Fireside – It’s Filler Time

Campfire is back! This time he fills us in on… well, fillers.

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There are days when you’re exhausted from dungeon crawling, embittered by building civilizations, and just plain tuckered out from moving armies across battlefields. Your gaming group has slumped so far beneath the table they’re practically horizontal – you look like a bunch of em-dashes who’ve been served cards for dinner. Glutted on ponderous gaming ‘experiences’ the last thing you need is another behemoth devouring four more hours of your life.

“Come on, guys!” says your host, heaving Through the Ages onto the table. “One more game, eh?”

I’m not saying you ought to do it – and if anyone from the gaming constabulary asks me I’ll deny all knowledge of it – but if your gracious host were to vanish and appear days later with, say, a copy of Bananagrams crammed painfully up his jacksy, that mightn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Board games can be exhausting. The human brain can only contain so many rules at once and after four or more hours playing Twilight Imperium it’s only to be expected that you start looking at the coffin box it came in and wishing it was an actual coffin. Like Johnny Mnemonic ejecting memories of his childhood, more important rules are pushed out of your head: social niceties, the importance of cleanliness, how to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. In extreme circumstances the home-owner’s kicked from his house and the gaming group refuses to let him back in until he’s solved all the Mansions of Madness puzzles while blindfolded – no mean feat considering he’s three sails to the wind on Weston’s Organic and is having difficulties finding his hands.

At times like these, rather than playing something that will test your wits and home insurance to their limit, it’s best to reach for a filler game.

Filler – such an ignominious title. Filler games are by reputation frothy and light, but like a Mr. Whippy they can be frothy and light while still being delicious. Take Coloretto, for example. In Coloretto players compete to collect sets of coloured cards. Each turn a player either draws and places a card in one of a number of rows on the table, or collects one of those rows to add to his collection. It’s terribly simple – so simple in fact that someone I once played against scoffed and said it was practically Snap.

There’s a lot more to Coloretto than simply matching colours. It’s a game about doing what’s advantageous for you while disrupting other players’ plans – which is no mean feat considering you can only do one of two things on any given turn. Once you take a row, that’s it, your turn is over. Other players can continue placing cards to their heart’s content while you look on, regretting taking the row so early. Maybe you should have risked seeing what the other players would do next. Maybe you should have risked seeing what the deck dealt you.

In a brilliant piece of design, the more cards you have in a set the more points you win from them – except this is only true of the first three colours you collect. If you have more than three colours in your collection, the extra colours start costing you points. Clever players force their opponents to take colours they don’t want along with the colours they need. Sometimes there are colours on the table none of the players need. Everyone boos when they appear, and desperately tries to foist them off onto everyone else.

In another brilliant piece of design having one card in a colour you don’t need only costs you one point, but having two cards costs you three points, and three cards costs you six. Having the odd unwanted colour spoiling your palette isn’t a problem, and can be easily off-set with cards award two bonus points for every one you have in your collection. But find yourself with a fourth burgeoning colour set in front of you and you’d better do something about it quick, before it bites you in the Bananagrams.

If Coloretto is a Mr. Whippy ice cream then Fairy Tale is a ‘99 cornet: sweet and rich with a dark, core running hardened through it.

Fairy Tale is another filler card game. Like Coloretto, it’s cheap and small and would fit neatly into your game nights between bouts of meatier titles. It even has an an innocuous title: Fairy Tale. Like something you’d tell children at bedtime, with magical castles and princesses and unicorns . . . and wolves and witchy cannibals and cursed brier thorns that stab out your eyes. It’s quick and sharp and devilishly good fun. Here’s how it plays.

There are three stages in Fairy Tale. In the first you draft cards. You pick the card you want from your hand and pass the rest on to another player. They pick the card they want and in turn pass the rest of the hand onto the next player. Each player has their own hand of five cards they select from before passing it on, and all the hands circulate until you each have five cards you’ve specifically chosen.

In the second stage you play three of these cards from your hand. You play them face down, one at a time, and once all the players have placed a card you turn them face up. You then play the second card in the same way, and then the third. Once you’ve placed all three of your cards you discard the remaining two in your hand and start the first stage again.

Once you’ve repeated these stages four times you move onto the final stage, in which you count the points your cards are worth and see who’s won.

Like Coloretto there are card sets you can collect. Some of these give more points depending on how many you have in your collection – again, just like Coloretto. Others score depending on how many cards you have from a different set – Bards, for example, are worthless unless you have an Elven Warrior in your collection; the more Elven Warriors you have, the more points Bards are worth. As in trading card games, it pays to see all the ways the cards interact with each other.

But you don’t play Fairy Tale to score points. You play Fairy Tale to stop everyone else from scoring points.

You start with good intentions. In that first drafting stage you’re still trying to determine which sets you’ll collect. “I’ll be good this time,” you promise yourself.

But you’re lying.

Because come the second drafting stage, when you see the sets your opponents are collecting you start taking cards they need out of spite. You’re not going to keep them – heavens, no! You’re going to throw them away. You steal away their cards just to throw them on the discard pile.

You screw them over in other ways. You play cards that flip their cards over, making them useless, and steal other cards they could use to unflip them and return them to the game. There are ultra-powerful cards that can only be scored under rare circumstances – like when you draw a card of which there’s only a single copy of in the entire deck – and you hoard them, not because you’re feeling lucky but because you’re not willing to risk anyone else having them. You’re so intent on disrupting everyone else’s game you neglect your own, and end the third stage with a meager, pathetic score – but maybe, if you were enough of a villain, it’s just enough to win.

I won’t say you and your friends won’t end up holding butter knives against one another’s throats after playing these games – I can’t guarantee there won’t be Bananagrams related tragedies – because these little games can be every bit as a cut-throat as their bigger siblings. What I will say, however, is that with playing times of around half-an-hour, you won’t be exhausted playing them. They’re easy to teach, easy to play, and proof if proof need be that ‘filler’ isn’t always such a bad thing to be.

Now, who’s up for a game of Bananagrams?

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Read Campfire Burning’s splendid blog over at http://campfireburning.wordpress.com and email the blighter at campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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