Tag Archives: SdJ

Just My Imagination – Dixit review

Who do you play with? It’s an important question. You may not have taken a step back and considered the people you choose to play your games with, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. That’s down to Dixit. It’s not a game for everybody, but it’s definitely one that I think everyone should try out…

Originally published in 2008, Dixit took the Spiel des Jahres prize earlier this year – and as usual, there was outcry amongst certain elements of the gaming community. The fact that this party game (which is in no way a derisive term) walked away with the award caused a fair bit of consternation amongst some people, many saying that yet again the jury had chosen the easy way out. A kids game winning the previously prestigious prize? It’s all downhill from here on in, they said. However, I reckon that most of the haters hadn’t actually got their hands on a copy, because if they did… well, I reckon there’d be a few changed minds.

The premise is simple. From a deck of 84 oversized cards, each player is given a starting hand of 6. Someone is chosen to take on the role of the Storyteller, meaning they must select one of their cards and describe it in a certain way. The choice of how this is done is entirely theirs – you could describe it in a full sentence, a phrase, even a single word. The card is then placed face down on the table as all the other players then choose a card from their hand that they think best fits the description given by the Storyteller. These are all shuffled then flipped, and all players (bar the Storyteller) then vote on the one they believe inspired the original description.

Now, here’s the trick. The Storyteller can’t be too obvious. If everyone votes for their card, they get no points (but everyone else does). However, you can’t be too obscure or abstract, because if no-one chooses your card you also fail to score. You need to find that middle ground, nothing too off-the-wall, but not explicit. If even one person chooses your card, you’re a winner. You can also score a point if someone casts a vote for your non-Storyteller card – some rounds can really see you boost your score, especially if you find the right answer while everyone else votes for your selection.

Dixit, as much as I enjoy it, certainly isn’t a game for everyone. At first play, newcomers to the game will raise their eyebrows and go “What?”. A quick demo soon sorts this out – just choose a card at random and ask everyone playing to describe it in an interesting way. No matter what card is chosen, I can guarantee that each person will come up with a different idea. It’s a game that requires imagination and thought – and, it must be said, a little bravery. Having played it several times, you can really get a handle on how some people’s thought processes function. Where one may see a scene overflowing with possibilities and hope, another may think it filled with danger and chaos. Have a look at the card below and see what you come up with.

Dixit card

A typical (and typically odd) example.

As you can see, Dixit has a style all of its own. Each one of the cards is beautifully painted and completely different to anything I’ve seen before. The game has an almost dreamlike feel to it – skies filled with letters, monstrous handbags… in the world of Dixit, anything is possible. Add to this the strange scoring track (rabbits leaping around the platform that has been built into the box) and you can see that this is no ordinary game. It requires you to let yourself go a little, to be a kid again. And isn’t that what games are all about? Being playful?

So far, I’ve only played Dixit with friends. So far, I think it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. Perhaps (for the more serious gamer) it’s a bit too light, but the frivolities of Dixit make me smile. It’s a beautiful game, quick to play and truly fun with the right people. It requires a certain level of understanding amongst the people involved, an almost unwritten rule that no description is too strange or curious. If you’ve got a group like that, I really recommend seeing if you can get your hands on a copy – Dixit may even teach you a thing or two.

Dixit was designed by Jean-Louis Roubira and was published by Libellud (amongst others) in 2008. It was awarded the Spiel des Jahres in 2010 (as well as countless other awards from around the world). It’s available from fine online retailers and will cost you around £30. It’s also already got an expansion if you want to check it out: a new deck of cards imaginatively titled Dixit 2.

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News & Stuff – July 2, 2010

The big news of the week, of course, is the announcement of this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner. The SdJ is one of the biggest prizes in gaming with nominees and winners able to expect a healthy boost in sales worldwide, despite the award only covering games released in Germany in the past 12 months. Former victors include classics such as Ticket to Ride and El GrandeDominion took the title last year. While complaints about the lack of ‘heavy’ games on this year’s shortlist were many – Fresco being the only game that could be considered so – the actual winner that the panel chose was Dixit by Jean-Louis Roubira (and art by Marie Cardouat). The premise of Dixit is that one player acts as a storyteller, choosing one of the cards in their hand and coming up with an esoteric sentence about it – other players then choose one of their own cards that they think would also fit, and the chosen cards are all shuffled together. The other players must then choose which image was selected by the storyteller – if everyone (or no-one) gets it correct, the storyteller gets nothing but the others get points. In the case of there being a split decision, points are awarded to those who were correct and the storyteller, and the role moves on to the next person. 

A very very pretty game.

 

I’ve got a copy on the way, and after a few plays I’ll let you know my thoughts on it. For now though, the forums that are exploding with bile because Dixit won should just chill out. The SdJ panel are notoriously random (Niagara, anyone?). Awards mean nothing if people don’t like the game (or even the concept behind it), and complaining won’t make them change their minds. If Dixit isn’t for you, then so be it – go play something you enjoy instead. There’s plenty of other games out there. Like Agricola

Agricola has been one of the biggest names in games since it came out in 2007, hovering around the top of their best games list and regularly getting to the tables of gamers around the world. Naturally wanting to continue his success, designer Uwe Rosenberg has been keeping the game alive with extra expansions (like card decks) but now has gone full on with the announcement this week of Agricola: The Goodies. What was originally meant to be a small print-run of 2500 copies in English (with a further 500 in Spanish) sold out within a couple of days of being announced – to stop people from being ripped off, the producers have announced that more will be printed shortly. Most of the stuff that comes in the box is already available in Germany – hence the English / Spanish only printing, but if you’re lucky enough to pick one up, you’ll be getting four new decks (including the X-deck of aliens!), double sided player boards, a bunch of stickers and… you guessed it, a huge pile of wooden animals, vegetables and resource tokens to pimp your copy. 

There are people who will sell their grandmother for this.

 

Agricola: The Goodies is out soon, and will cost $60 / £40 – a lot of money for an expansion, but people will go mad for it. Knowing how popular the unofficial Agricola animeeples and veggieples made by the guys from Board Game Extras are (and how much they cost) it actually works out quite reasonably in comparison! However, think to the future… if this is The Goodies, how long will it be until we see The Baddies..? 

I don’t think it’s actually possible for me to do a news post without mentioning Fantasy Flight Games somewhere. This week is no exception, as a bit more information about their upcoming re-issue of the classic DungeonQuest was released from FFG Towers. Yes, it’s basically a prettier version of the truly hardcore dungeon crawler that we know and love (even if it destroys us nine times out of ten), but one thing really grabbed my interest. In a fantastic bit of cross promotion, all the heroes that come with the new version of DungeonQuest will also be fully compatible with several other FFG releases; namely Runebound, Descent and Runewars. Sure, it’s pretty much just a way for the company to get people interested in their other releases, but I think it’s a rather interesting idea. Will this see a rise in cross-compatible releases from other companies in future? A Small World map for Ticket To Ride from Days of Wonder, for example? Only time will tell. 

Yes, I'll invariably end up getting it, even if my last copy was cursed.

 

And that’s it for this week. In case you missed it, Episode 5 of the podcast is available through iTunes right now. If that’s not to your liking, you can always grab it directly from the site by right clicking and saving on this link here. Comments and questions to littlemetaldog@gmail.com as always, please! Have a great weekend.

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In My P(a)lace – Alhambra review

I never had much opportunity to build things when I was young. Sure, I had plenty of Lego which was generally used to build the tallest tower I could possibly construct before it tumbled over, but I wasn’t ever happy with the houses I made. Limited resources meant that they were never grand enough, never as opulent and sprawling as I wanted them to be. My small amount of bricks meant I was stuck with putting together bog standard bungalows with barely enough room to swing the slightly freakish looking cat that was included in the set.

Thankfully, now I’m older and have disposable income, I can go out and buy all the Lego I want. Or I could do if I didn’t blow the majority of it on games, anyway. Thankfully, there are plenty out there can can scratch the itch to build stuff, and one of my favourite ones is the 2003 Spiel des Jahres winner – Dirk Henn’s Alhambra. Players compete with each other to build the finest palace by collecting and laying tiles portraying different types of building. These tiles are bought by spending money (split into four currencies – one of the actions you can take on your turn is drawing from a set of upturned cards – I also play a house rule that you can draw from the top of the currency deck) that players have in their hand – each building is worth a set amount, printed on the tile. Only four buildings are ever on offer at one time, chosen randomly from a bag and put up for purchase on a builders yard board – another of the actions you may take. These buildings will not change until they’re bought and added to a player’s own collection.

As more and more currency cards are drawn, the three scoring phases of the game draw ever closer. The first two are triggered by the turning of scoring cards that have been placed into the money deck, the final one occuring at the game’s end. Players gain points by having the most (and later in the game the second and third highest amounts) of the building types – whoever has the most at the end is declared the winner. Simple! Well, not necessarily.

Those four tiles on the builder’s yard board can often scupper you – for example, if a tile you really need to get a majority of that set is available but you haven’t got enough of that currency, you’ll need to wait until you have enough of it, all the while waiting to see if someone else will pick it up. They may not, but the more expensive / rarer buildings score highly – even having one or two of a certain type could be enough to net you some points at the end of the game. There’s also the issue of walls; some tiles have a black border on one, two or three sides. Every aspect of your palace must be accessible from your starting tile (everyone gets a fountain to begin with) so walls must be strategically placed – they also net you one bonus point per scoring round for every section, particularly useful at the games end, so watch out for your opponents! You can, of course, have more than one wall, but only the longest counts towards your score. Any tiles that would be blocked off from the rest of your palace can be put on your reserve board and used later, but that’ll take up your turn – making the correct decisions at the right time in Alhambra is everything.

So, three actions – get money, buy a tile or swap. That is the basis for the whole game, and while it may come across as a simple one, there are actually many layers of depth to be found in Alhambra. Do you buy an expensive tile to hamper an opponent, even though it might be of no use to you? Do you spend a turn swapping a pair of tiles to open up an area of your palace while others grab high scoring buildings? Do you hold on to money towards the end of the game hoping you’ll get lucky, because whoever has the highest amount of each currency gets to take the tile from the yard for free?

Queen Games have put a lot of effort into the game’s production – all elements are high quality, and you get a lot in the box for your money. I’ve owned my copy for nearly five years and despite regularly visiting the table, it’s in excellent condition. I kind of think they’ve overmilked the cash-cow a little with the release of five expansions, a dice game variation, a forthcoming card game and spin-off title (The Gardens of Alhambra), but would heartily recommend you get a copy of the original. If the theme irks you, you can always wait for the reskinned version that’s due later this year, seeing players building in New York instead! While it perhaps involves a little more thought than your average gateway game, Alhambra is still one I’d happily introduce newer players to. A little more of a challenge, I’d see it more as a bridging step between something like Carcassonne and a more complex Eurogame.

Alhambra is produced by Queen Games, designed by Dirk Henn and was first released in 2003. It also claimed that year’s Spiel des Jahres prize. It is available here in the UK through all your friendly local game stores and online for around £20.

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Cards for sorrow, cards for pain – Dominion review

For the balance of deep strategy against sheer portability, there’s little better than getting into a trading card game. You may choose to throw your lot in with the daddy of them all – Magic The Gathering, while not the first, is certainly the most popular. A worldwide phenomena, it has been running since 1993; however, even it’s most ardent fans will admit that it has issues. Perhaps you could choose something newer – I personally favour the World of Warcraft TCG, a tight game that draws inspiration from the MMORPG of the same name. Recently relaunched after shenanigans at original developers Upper Deck, it has now been taken (unofficially) in-house to Cryptozoic, a part of the Blizzard empire. Whatever you choose, though, you’re going to have one problem – updates.

Card sets for all notable TCGs appear with regular abandon, usually on a three- to six-month rotation. Certain older cards are phased out, replaced by newer versions or even scrapped entirely from tournament play. What could well be an all powerful deck that has taken you ages to build (and cost you a small fortune in trying to accumulate rarer cards) can be worth little more than the paper it’s printed on by the time a few updates have rolled around. The only solution is to spend more, update your deck and wait until the next set comes out, where the whole process happens again. Alternatively, you could invest in a dead TCG like the brilliant but expensive Netrunner, but finding decent opponents may prove difficult. For sheer numbers, you need to be playing something current, and you need a good deck or you will be destroyed.

But what about those of us who can’t afford a whole stack of glimmering rares? Where can we go for our regular card-gaming fix? Well, a few companies have realised the value of a decent card game, releasing new offerings that are entirely self-contained (or supposed to be, anyway). Some games have come out that require you to buy multiple copies in order to build decks you may want, thus defeating the purpose of getting it in the first place. If you’re looking for recommendations for a game that you only need to buy once, there is one word that you will hear again and again: Dominion.

Now, I can already hear the moaners. “Dominion has expansions,” they cry. ” There’s Intrigue and Seaside and Alchemy and promo sets and there’s that new Prosperity one coming out before the end of the year!” – and this is true. But you don’t need them. For the outlay of the original set, you’ve got a game that will serve you well for ages – no need to get the other boxes at all. You can, of course, choose to splurge on the extra versions, but there is absolutely no need whatsoever. Everything you require is in the box. Everything and more besides.

What you get are cards… lots of them. There are several different types. Treasure is split into Copper, Silver and Gold – you’ll need these to purchase others cards, or indeed more treasure. Twenty-five sets of Kingdom cards are included, of which ten are used in each game – already, you’ll see that there is a huge amount of variety in Dominion. In fact, there are thousands of possible combinations of Kingdom cards – more than enough to last a lifetime, in fact (see now why you don’t need the expansions?). These allow you to take actions, all of which are detailed on the cards, perhaps allowing you to buy extra things, grant you bonus money or even attack an opponent. Finally, you have the different Victory and Curse cards – these are the important ones, because they’re worth various amounts of Victory Points (or can deplete your score) at the end of the game. Quite simply, whoever has the most points at the end is declared the winner.

Every player starts with 10 cards – 7 copper which you use to buy things and 3 Estates, worth one point each. Shuffle your deck, draw five cards and away you go. Turn order is easy to remember: just follow the ABCD rule. A stands for Action – play one action card, do what it says, and keep going until you can do no more. B is Buy, where you use money to buy whatever you please from the available piles of cards. C means Clean Up, where every single card you have touched in your turn is placed face up on your discard pile. Finally, D is for Draw, where you take 5 new cards. If there aren’t enough in your stack, shuffle your discards and start a new draw pile. Basically, that’s it – build up your money by using actions, buying new things, upgrading treasure and Victory points cards. The game ends when either three supply piles (any of them, not just Kingdom cards) are exhausted, or all the Province cards (the ones worth six points) have been bought. As soon as that happens, the game is over and players tally up all their Victory points to discover who is on top.

Reading that back, Dominion sounds dull as ditchwater. Thankfully, when you’ve got the cards in your hand the game is way more compelling. There’s little downtime, and any spare moments are spent working out how on earth you can build up your own deck while scuppering your opponents’ progress. While it isn’t exactly the same as a regular TCG, it shares so many different traits with the genre it would be churlish not to include it with the likes of Magic – it just handles it in a slightly different way and actually makes deck building an aspect of the game. The selection of Kingdom cards at the start of the game can be selected at random and every different set-up will change the way the game plays. There are plenty of sites out there that suggest combinations, but the best I’ve found is Zack Hiwiller’s fantastic randomizer – set the parameters of the game you want and it’ll choose a set of ten for you.

Dominion is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite games around at the moment. I have to admit that I was late to the party having only got my copy of the base game a couple of months ago, but man – I have fallen for it fast. The simplicity and purity of the design, the various levels of strategy and approaches you can take  to win, the insane replayability… it all adds up to a brilliant game. If you’ve not played it, I heartily recommend giving it a go – you won’t be disappointed.

Dominion was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, is published by Rio Grande Games (among others) and was a worthy winner of the 2009 Spiel des Jahres – along with many other awards worldwide. Between two and four people can play – it works well with however many – and it’s available here in the UK for around £30. Seriously, go play it. It’s aces.

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News and Stuff – 4th June 2010

After last week being a pretty slow one in news, this time around there’s loads to talk about – most notably, the biggie when it comes to awards. Yes, it’s that time of year again – the 2010 Spiel des Jahres shortlist has been announced. Five titles are up for the award this year:

* Dixit – designed by Jean-Louis Roubira, published by Asmodee

* Indentik (also known as Portrayal) – designed by Amanda Kohout and William Jacobson, also published by Asmodee

* A la carte – designed by Karl-Heinz Schmiel, published by Heidelberger Spieleverlag

* Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age – designed by Matt Leacock, published by Gryphon Games

* Fresco – designed by Marcel Süßelbeck, Marco Ruskowski and Wolfgang Panning, published by Queen Games

What surprised me about this year’s lineup is the simpleness of it all. I’d say only one out of the five is a reasonably hardcore boardgame (Fresco) and even I was able to play that without messing up too badly. Something else to note is the age of some of the nominees – A la carte first came out in 1989! The rule with the SdJ is that it needs to have been released in Germany within the last year, though, so original release dates don’t really matter. All five games have their good and bad sides, but for me… well, I’d like to see the nod go to either Dixit or Roll Through The Ages (and not just because RTTA designer Matt Leacock was on episode three of the show). There was also a special award (“Spiel des Jahres Plus”) for a game they felt deserved a particular mention – World Without End, the follow up to Pillars Of The Earth. The winner of this year’s prize will be officially announced on June 28th, and with luck you’ll be able to hear from them soon after on a forthcoming episode of The Little Metal Dog Show. Also, if you fancy giving Roll Through The Ages a go and have an iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad (you lucky bugger), it’s currently available on the App Store for £2.99 – bargain!

Staying on the subject of the triumvirate of Apple devices (well, the smaller ones, anyway) – The official adaptation of Carcassonne app was submitted to the powers that be earlier this week and is now available for purchase. Adding to the rapidly increasing selection of board game adaptations (of varying degrees of quality) is certainly a good thing, and from the development team’s Twitter feed it looks like this version will be on the decent side. Very early reviews are also very positive. Online multiplayer with push notification when it’s your turn seems to be the order of the day, as well as games against the AI. An official iPad version is also planned for release later in the year, but this one seems to scale up pretty nicely to the bigger screen. Will it be as good as the Xbox Live version though? We shall see soon enough!

Finally, this weekend sees the annual UK Games Expo taking place in sunny Birmingham. After starting small a few years ago, it has become the country’s biggest gaming event, covering everything from board and card games to wargaming, minis and even Live Action Role Playing. There are demos of games new and old, plenty of traders, talks, book signings and workshops, so plenty to do! I’ll be there on the Saturday, wandering around looking bemused – report to follow sometime this weekend.

That’s it for this week, but don’t forget to grab the latest edition of the show – currently on iTunes, it’s got interviews with SdJ nominee Matt Leacock and ace filmmaker Lorien Green. Should you fear Apple’s behemoth, you can grab the show directly from here! Just right click and save. Anything you want to tell me? Then email littlemetaldog@gmail.com or grab me on Twitter – I’m idlemichael. Thanks for reading!

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