Tag Archives: light

Ooh Stick You – Sopio review

SopioCOVER

Listeners to the show should probably be at least aware of Sopio, due to me speaking with Danny Hooper, one of the game’s co-designers, on Episode 50. Originally a mad little game that he and his cousin (who happens to be internet celeb Alex Day) designed to play just with themselves and friends, it’s quietly become the obsession of many people – many of whom don’t know or care that something like BGG even exists.

Case in point. Last year, I was demoing games at the MCM Expo in London with the folks from Esdevium. We had a good selection of stuff, selected to appeal to the splendidly geeky clientele that attend the event. We’re talking Star Trek Catan, Fleet Captains, X-Wing… all good stuff. We were busy all weekend (as my lost voice on the following Monday showed) but the one game that people were requesting the most? Well, it was Sopio. And I didn’t have a clue what it was.

Naturally, I had to investigate. So, after wandering the halls while on a quick break late on the Saturday, I came across a very small table that could only be described as rammed – honestly, it was ten people deep wherever you turned, and all of them were desperately trying to get their hands on this Sopio thing. There was no way I was going to even get close unless I managed to grab a replica weapon from one of the many cosplayers, so I just took note to return the following morning before the doors opened and see what the fuss was all about.

Which I did! Danny was personable as all get out when I told him about the show and site, then thrust a bunch of Sopio decks into my hands. Never one to turn down a game – after all, I only look dumb – I gratefully accepted them to play at the next available time. And it turns out that the guys have created the sweetest, swingiest game that you’ve never heard of.

When most people start out gaming they will always – ALWAYS – end up playing Fluxx at some juncture. And that’s OK. It’s just that Fluxx a very divisive game, mainly because of the randomness and the occasional tendency for rounds to last absolutely ages. Thankfully the Looney Labs team are doing their best to deal with these issues with each new edition that’s released, but I’d like to suggest the next time you’re looking for a quick, light game to play, why not reach for a Sopio deck instead?

A few card examples from the very first deck. This is far from a normal game...

A few card examples from the very first deck. This is far from a normal game…

It’s so easy to understand, the rules can be condensed into a single sentence. At the start of your turn, you draw up to a hand of five cards and play one on ANY player at the table, with the winner being the first to one thousand points. That’s all there is. Sure, there are plenty of little nuances but the basics are so ridiculously easy to get round that pretty much anyone can play, regardless of age, skill, whatever… it’s a game where everyone starts on a level playing field and as long as you have some basic math skills in your brain, you’ll be grand.

Any cards that affect players’ running totals are stacked next to them alongside any that have lingering effects. Others that trigger one-off powers get discarded to the centre of the table, and play continues until one person hits that magic target. Some cards lower your necessary points total, some increase that of your opponents – things will often change drastically over the space of a couple of rounds, but don’t worry about it too much. Sopio is such a fast paced game that it’s very easy to pull things around in your favour again in a matter of moments.

That statement will pretty much decide whether it’s a game you’ll enjoy or despise; as mentioned previously, I see it very much in the same league as something like Fluxx or even 1000 Blank White Cards: a quick, almost disposable little game, a palate cleanser that’s ideal when you’ve got some spare time and don’t fancy anything too serious. Don’t see that as damning Sopio with faint praise, however – it’s very well made (thanks to it being produced by the good people at Cartamundi), highly playable and filled with silly humour. Admittedly some of it is downright awful – Danny and Alex have a minor obsession with bad puns, it seems – and the stick figure art style may turn some people off, but personally I enjoy the often terrible jokes. Plus I love XKCD, so little stick dudes and eggs with teeth are totally my bag.

In their own way, the designers have managed to carve out a little niche in gaming that many folks won’t even be aware of, but Sopio stands up for itself – the legions of fans who meet up for tournament play (because, oh yes, it exists!) is testament to that. Again, not everyone will enjoy it, especially those who see themselves as serious gamers, but if you’re the kind of person who can just take something on its merits, you could have some fun times with this one.

Sopio is designed by Danny Hooper and Alex Day, with the first deck being released back in 2010. Since then, a further three decks and six expansions have been issued, with the latest Easter based one available just about now. Pretty much any amount of people can play but it’s probably best with between two and five. Games take about fifteen minutes at most so play is super quick. Should you like to get hold of some decks yourself, there’s only one place to go – sopiocards.com – so why not head over there and support the little guy?  

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King of my Castle – Kingdom Builder review

Let’s kick off with the obvious – Kingdom Builder is a bloody awful name. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. It explains exactly what you’ll be doing in the course of the playing the game, sure, but it’s far from inspiring. Look at Donald X. Vaccarino’s other games; Dominion brings about thoughts of grasping for power, for example, while Nefarious makes me think of cruel and unusual scientists desperate to take over the world. Kingdom Builder though? Ummmm… yeah.

Anyway – to the game itself. Between two and four players are set the task of… well… building up kingdoms. Set-up is nice and quick; the play area is constructed of four separate large tiles, each of which made of hexes depicting different types of land as well as lots of castles. Each of the randomly chosen tiles also has areas that bestow special abilities on a player who manages to build in a hex adjacent to it.

Three cards are flipped up before play starts that state how gold (the points in Kingdom Builder) will be allocated at the end of the game. These could require that you build in each of the four sectors of the board or you’ll score your longest straight line of buildings, for example. In all, there are ten different ways that you’ll be scoring, and with only three chosen in each game (along with eight separate large tiles you’ll build the board with), there’s plenty of opportunity for replays.

Kingdom Builder in action (photo by Gary James on BGG)

How do you earn these points then? At the start of each player’s turn, they’ll flip a card off the deck that shows one of the five terrain types that you can place your houses on: Grassland, Flower Fields, Forest, Desert and Canyons. When you’ve shown your card, you must place three of the houses from your supply on the corresponding terrain wherever you please. However, if you’ve already got something on the board that’s either adjacent to or already built on that type, you must extend what’s already there. Your choices will be somewhat impaired by the Mountain and Water spaces which can’t be built upon but there are Castles dotted about the place that give you bonus gold when scoring comes around.

And in reality, that’s essentially all there is to Kingdom Builder – flip your card, place your houses, aim to meet the three objectives. So why did the Spiel des Jahres committee choose to add it to the pantheon of excellent games that have been celebrated in previous years? I’d say it’s down to that simplicity. Early games will leave you saying “Is this it? That’s all I have to do?” but there’ll come a moment when you realise that it’s a bit more than just putting stuff on the board. You’ll work out ways in which you can cut opponents off, discover how to use the areas that no-one can move into to maximise your placement, and learn which bonus powers you should race for.

Four player set up… let’s BUILD SOME KINGDOMS.

That isn’t to say that it’s a complex game that will require players to devote hours of play and study to get into it – KB is really about a deep as a puddle, albeit one after a decent shower – but it’s a splendid way to pass the time. A perfect game for people new to the hobby as well as those families that the SdJ winner’s status appeals to, it’s got just enough need for strategy in there for more experienced gamers who are after something that won’t tax their brains too much. Of course, the haters will say that the Spiel des Jahres is being watered down again with such an accessible title taking the prize, but ignore their whining. It’s well worth playing even if it’s far from the most complex release that Queen have ever put out.

What you’ll get when you pick up a copy is a (very) lightweight Euro that you’ll enjoy more when you sit down with people who are looking to play something for fun. If you’ve got someone who’s ridiculously over-competitive in your group, leave it on the shelf and try something else. Kingdom Builder strikes me as the very epitome of a ‘new’ SdJ winner; easy to get your head around, family friendly, nicely produced… it will do very well, of course. Yes, the relative simplicity may put off some more experienced gamers, but they’ll be the ones missing out on this fun little experience.

Kingdom Builder was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and was released by Queen Games in 2011. Two to four players can sit around the table for this one and games should take around 30-45 minutes. If you’re looking for a copy, you can pick one up for around £33 from the good folks at Gameslore, Spiel des Jahres award not included.

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The Hand That Feeds – My Happy Farm review

Farms are seriously aces. I spent the vast majority of my childhood on one in the west ofIrelandand have fond memories of long days spent wandering along riversides, climbing haystacks and watching small sheep come out of larger ones. There’s also the slightly less fond memory of my brother being kicked in the head by a cow and getting a fractured skull, but we’ll not linger there. He’s never been the same since, mind. Still, that’s what you get for having a five-year-old’s fascination with poo.

What I’m getting at is that I love me some farming. They’re happy places, which segues perfectly into a new release from the lovely folks over at 5th Street Games: My Happy Farm. Yes, the title may give away the fact that it’s not exactly the next Civilisation or TI3, but sometimes you want to play something a little lighter, sillier and downright charming. For that is exactly what MHF is.

Originally a Ukranian release through IGAMES, it’s billed at a game of stretchy animals – and is very silly indeed. To begin with, each player has four very sad (and short) looking animals on their not yet happy farm: a pig, a cow, a sheep, and that famous farmyard denizen, a rabbit. The beasties are sad because they’re hungry and you’ve not fed them yet – however, you don’t have that much food to begin with. Thankfully though, you’ve decided that animal farming alone isn’t a viable option in this current economic climate, so have also decided to go for an agrarian approach by setting some land aside for crops.

I may be reading a little too much into the backstory of My Happy Farm. I’m pretty sure that designers Oleg Sidorenko and Oleksandr Nevskiy didn’t mean it to read like a socio-economic treatise on farming in the modern world. Oh well.

Anyway! The premise is simple. You need to grow those crops, but agriculture takes time. You have three seasons open to you: spring is the time to plant seeds that you’ve bought from the market, then summer and autumn is when you can harvest – however, different crops will be ready at different times. Winter’s ignored because everyone goes into the barn and hibernates, just like in real life. Any crops not harvested will be lost to the snow, meaning that you’ve wasted your cash and those seeds. No EU farming subsidies here.

Behold, the saddest animals in all the world. (credit to the lovely Games With Two for the picture)

Once you have food at your disposal, it’s time to start fattening up those animals for the pot / rearing them to look after as pets for the coming years (depending on the age group you’re playing with). Various animal body parts are available to be traded in for certain combinations of crop types, all of which will hopefully extend your animals and make them happy! If you’re short of money, crops can also be sold for coins, starting the cycle all over again. The stretchier your animals, the more points you’ll score (and the owner of the longest beasts will get some nice bonuses). Whichever farmer has the highest score has the happiest of farms and wins the game.

My Happy Farm is very light (as you’ll probably work out from reading the above) but that doesn’t mean it should immediately be discarded as fluff. With the right group, it can be a fun little diversion that can pass half an hour nicely. Of course, kids will love it – the game provides just enough challenge and decision to keep them on their toes without presenting itself as too difficult. As long as you don’t go into it with the mindset of wanting to destroy all your opponents around you, it’s really quite fun.

With a charming if slightly strange looking art style throughout (seriously, the animals are pretty bug-eyed – what are they feeding them in the Ukraine?!) MHF sets itself apart from a lot of kids’ games by coming across as just plain odd, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My review copy was well produced (despite being entirely in Cyrillic) and came complete with player aid boards, wooden coins and good quality cards. I assume 5th Street Games will ensure that the same will come in the English language production which you can currently find on Kickstarter. In fact, here’s a link to the campaign and a video:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5thstreetgames/my-happy-farm-the-game-of-stretchy-livestock/widget/video.html

So that’s My Happy Farm. A charming, silly little game that isn’t going to change your worldview but will make you laugh when you realise you have a rabbit that is bigger than a pig sat in front of you and make you curse when you see you’ve wasted all your beetroot. Sometimes, that’s all you need!

My Happy Farm is currently on Kickstarter and will be published by 5th Street Games later in the year. Designed by Oleg Sidorenko and Oleksandr Nevskiy, games take around thirty minutes for between two and four players. If you’d like to pledge to the campaign, you’ll be able to pick up a copy for as little as $17 – a bargain! Now, off to the shed with you! Those cows won’t milk themselves!

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Down Under – The Adventurers review

Sometimes I really want an immersive experience, to spend five or more hours on something like Descent, racking my brains and pushing the limit of how long I can sit on the floor around my table. I really should buy a comfy cushion. Anyway, sometimes I want something fun and disposable, where I don’t have to think too much and can just enjoy playing something light. After recently getting my hands on AEG‘s The Adventurers, I think I’ve found a game that fits the bill well – not too difficult to get a handle on, but still putting up a decent challenge.

Paying homage to the classic Indiana Jones movies (and if you don’t care for them, move on right now – this game isn’t for you!) The Adventurers sees between two and six players trying to pick their way through the ancient temple of Chac. Rather than a roll-and-move mechanic (which is what I initially expected), players are given a certain amount of actions to use, dependent on how much they’re carrying and the results of a roll of five dice. These actions can be used to move, search for loot, that kind of thing. As they pass through various sections, you get the chance to grab lots of lovely treasure – whoever has the most at the end of the game (each treasure has a points value) is victorious! But as usual it’s not as easy as that – your poor fortune hunters have an awful lot to deal with before they get to walk away.

That’s assuming they walk away, of course. The game actively hates you, you see, and will kill you at any given opportunity. If your little representative dies, all treasure is lost – but you do get the board game equivalent of an extra life in the form of a second Adventurer that you may introduce. More on that in a bit though; first off, let’s have a little walk through this Temple.

Behold the Temple of Chac in all its majesty! Beer not included!

Looking at the picture, you actually enter from the right side, where the first area to navigate is the Walls Room. As they slowly close in, you can dally around, picking up shiny objects as you go. You also get the opportunity to check out four tiles that potentially give you clues to upcoming traps in the next area – the Lava Room. Here you have the opportunity to take a short cut, hopping over the tiles, all the while hoping you don’t find a duff one that’ll see your Adventurer plummet to a fiery death. Of course, if you checked earlier you’ll have something of an advantage… but a lot of those glyphs look awfully alike. It’s a risky strategy, but it just might work if luck’s on your side.

Next, you have a three way choice; you can fling yourself into the rapidly moving river, which gives you the opportunity for more loot (but the possibility of death via tumbling off a waterfall). You can try the rickety bridge instead, which may well collapse underfoot if you’re too laden with objects. Finally you could play it safe and head down the corridor to safety and victory, but even that’s potentially not going to happen. Why? Well, as soon as you set foot in the temple, a ruddy big boulder is going to roll down the corridor (note that the corridor also gives the opportunity of some very nice high value treasures if your lock-picking skills are up to scratch), picking up speed as it passes all the rooms, squishing everything it can until it eventually blocks the only way out. If you’re still inside when that happens, YOU LOSE. If you die, YOU LOSE. There are lots of ways to lose in The Adventurers, as you can probably tell.

Thankfully, there are things built into the game that try to make life easier. Each character has a special ability, for example. You might be an adept swimmer (useful for the river section) or be able to carry extra treasures without them slowing you down. There’s also that ‘extra life’ I mentioned earlier… Should your first character meet an untimely end, you’re allowed to introduce a back-up in the Lava Room – there’s two tiles marked with a sun motif that you can restart at with your new character. Not much use if the boulder is crashing towards the exit, but who knows? You may get lucky!

That’s the big thing to consider in The Adventurers – Luck. More specifically, your luck, and how willing you are to take a risk. Short cuts may well get you ahead of your opponents but you could well be throwing your whole game away by stepping on the wrong space. If you play too cautiously, you’ll be punished by that ever moving boulder, either squashed or trapped forever. It’s all about finding the balance, giving yourself enough time to get enough treasure to put you in contention, but not dragging back so much that you’re not going to be able to escape.

Those gamers who need to have total control over every element of what they’re playing will utterly hate The Adventurers. It’s the kind of game that I actually find a little divisive – personally, if I lose (either through my own mistakes or screwing up royally) I don’t mind. However, many players do, and often can’t see that it was probably down to the choices they made. It’s probably a game best played with a group who are just up for something that’ll entertain them – you’re not really getting something incredibly competitive with The Adventurers. It’s a rare game where everyone actually manages to walk out of the temple alive, to be honest. If that sounds like something you’re able to handle, then I can’t recommend it enough – The Adventurers is a lost Indiana Jones movie made board game. If only each box came with a battered fedora, but that’d probably add a bit too much to the list price…

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac was first published in 2009 by AEG and Dust Games. Designed by Guillaume Blossier and Frederic Henry, it’s probably best with four or five players, but can handle between two and six. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can actually get the included figures pre-painted too. There’s also rumours of a sequel in the works! Now what tricky traps could that offer us…?

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