Tag Archives: Ludovic Maublanc

Tonight Tonight – SOS Titanic review

SOS COver

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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Wicked Little Town – Rampage review

Rampage COVER

During my childhood – as has often been mentioned here on the site and the show – I played a lot of video games. Still do, in fact, during those down times when there isn’t a pile of cardboard sat on the table. It’s interesting when these worlds collide, as generally it can lead to some pretty decent results – see the range released by MB in the eighties based on classics like Pac-Man, Zaxxon and the criminally underrated Turbo, for example. Now, many years on, we have a new addition to the stable as Repos Production presents Rampage. While not officially based on the Bally Midway arcade original of the same name, the premise is certainly very similar – giant monsters are destroying the city! The twist though? You’re the one doing the smashing and crashing.

Yup, in Rampage you get to stamp, crush and generally wreak havoc on Meeple City, dashing all the buildings within to the ground and eating the tasty inhabitants within. There are also vehicles to hurl, powers to trigger and a surprising amount of decision making to get involved in. Designed by Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc, this is a very different creation to games that they’ve previously been responsible for but what is life without mixing things up a little? Why shouldn’t the guys who created titles like 7 Wonders and Cyclades go off the deep end and create a dexterity game with massive kaiju? Thankfully the world allows for such madness, because Rampage is a bloody hilarious experience that also happens to be a great game too.

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Behold beautiful Meeple City! Stunning beaches! Breathtaking vistas! Giant flesh-eating monsters at every turn!

 

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that setting up the game takes a little time. You’re creating buildings that are dotted about the board by stacking meeples upon thick card ‘floors’, repeating until each one has three floors aside from the massive central stadium that is only one storey high. Everywhere you see a little meeple icon, randomly place one on that spot to ensure that the buildings are stable – for now, at least – then choose your monster’s starting corner. Players are then given three cards, one each from three different stacks that give you a characteristic and power (which everyone can see) as well as a secret super power. This is a one off boost that, once revealed, must be discarded. Once those are sorted out, it’s time to commence destruction.

Each player has their own monster lizard – no giant gorilla or werewolf in this game, sadly – that comprise of two wooden bits, the Paws and the Body. You get the chance to perform two actions per turn from a range of four, of which moving is the most basic – just put your body to the side and flick the disc that represents your paws to where you want it to go. I’d suggest a few practice flicks before beginning the game properly so you get your eye in as that disc is pretty solid, but with practice you’ll be hurtling about Meeple City in no time. If you’re in the same colour coded neighbourhood as one of the game’s four wooden vehicles, you can pick it up and throw it at a building (which is done by balancing the wooden piece on your monster’s body and flicking it) – this, with some decent aim, can be a very destructive action, so is a pretty strong choice. For even more ruination, you can pick up your body and drop it on a building as long as your paws are touching the sidewalk that surrounds it.

Finally – and most stupidly – you can unleash your monstrous breath. Literally. This is the most mental part of the game, where you must place your chin on your monster’s head, breath in and bloooooooow. Of course, being hunched over means that you can’t get a lot of air in your lungs, but it’s hilarious when you set yourself up to unleash hell on the city and end up with a pathetic gentle breeze that barely moves a meeple. Not that that’s happened to me at all. Oh no. Or my mate Ben.

Once your actions are done, any meeples that are in your neighbourhood are eaten, up to a maximum of the amount of teeth you currently have. Yes, teeth are important, and the amount you have are shown on your player board. You’ll always have a minimum of two, but your starting six can be lost by getting into fights with the other monsters or being responsible for meeples escaping. If any of them tumble out of their buildings and off the board, they’re deemed runaways and placed on a special side board. At certain times – every three or four, generally – something bad will happen to the monster who let the final meeple escape and complete a set. It’s not exactly a fair way of dealing with fleeing meeples as one player could get hit with every single punishment, but it’s certainly funny when that happens…

There are actually six different meeple colours in Rampage, and points are only given at the end of the game for each set of six that you manage to collect, thus emphasising the importance of a balanced diet. Each rainbow set brings in ten points, while any that are left over are worthless. Floors that are collected through the game give you a point each, regardless of size, and are grabbed any time you’re responsible for clearing one off. Bonus points may also be gained from your cards and – surprise! – whoever has the most at the end of the game is the bestest monster. The game ends when either the last floor has been eaten or the runaways board is filled, but either way you’re looking at a playtime of between thirty minutes to an hour.

Things are... well, not going to great in Meeple City.

Things are… well, not going to great in Meeple City.

Rampage is raucous, silly, wonderful fun. Sure, the decision making is limited, but there’s enough in there to silence the critics who have decried it as dumb. Do you attempt to slam into an opponent and hopefully limit their meeple munching abilities later in the game or try and sidle up to a nearby building and prepare to drop onto it from a great height? Planning for that balanced diet can be a tricky too, so moving around the board as you seek precisely what you require is a challenge in itself. Of course, the main issue is that of your dexterity – if you’re unable to flick that Paws disc of yours efficiently, you’re pretty much going to be screwed when it comes to Rampage, but I’d urge you to practice. Dismissing this as a stupid party game because you’ve not got the skills or patience to get good at it is a ridiculous notion – devote a bit of time to it and you’ll see that this is a (not so) little gem.

On that subject, there’s been plenty of comment on BGG about the price being too high for what can be boiled down to a simple game. However, you look in the box and tell me that you can’t see where all the money goes. More wood than you can shake a stick at. Gloriously thick tiles that are designed to take plenty of damage. Individual art for each card. As always, Repos have excelled in their production quality and it’s fantastic to see the company taking a chance on something that’s very different to their normal releases. Yes, it’s far from the most serious and deep game in the world, but it’s such bloody fun! And after everything is done, isn’t that why we play games? For the fun and enjoyment? Put aside any qualms you may have and give Rampage a go – the kid inside you will be delighted.

Rampage was released through Repos Production and was designed by Ludovic Maublanc and Antoine Bauza. Released at Essen 2013, between two and four players can get in on the destruction of Meeple City (though I reckon that more is better – plenty of opportunity for smashing other monsters up). Copies are a bit hard to find at the minute, but expect to pay around £40 when it’s easier to get. Let the destruction begin!

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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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