Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mini-Reviews: The "Games That Require The Right Players To Succeed" Summary Review Spectacular

Arguably, any great game can be ruined by the group of people you play it with. Similarly, any bad game can still lead to a couple hours of fun with the right people sitting around the table laughing and mocking it. However, we tend to still quantify those experiences based on the game itself. I can distance myself from the fun I've had mocking Murder City with the other players to know that the game was abysmal. Also, my view of Dune never diminished even after I attacked and decimated a player I didn't know before and he literally screamed and stormed out of the room and sulked for ten minutes, leaving the rest of us to sit around the table uncomfortably as we tried to figure out if he was going to return (postscript to that story: The player did return, and later, he and I allied together and ended the game with a joint victory--which is exactly why I love Dune so much.).

But there are a bunch of games that thrive on the right group and the right players. They are games that are dependent upon it. While you might be surrounded by shitty people and not enjoying your experience at Automobile, you will probably still recognize that the mechanisms of the game are solid and see the game's potential. But these games take it even further. These games are the games that require right-minded players as one of their components.

Snake Oil

Snake Oil is a party game. That, in and of itself, starts to require specific crowds. Non-gamers tend to get nervous around games that they aren't familiar with and veteran gamers can often be snobbish and require a quota of wooden cubes and worker placement before they will allow themselves to admit to having "fun". Anyhow, Snake Oil is an incredibly simple design. Players get a hand of cards with one word on them, such as "College", "Tragedy", "Fear", or "Cream". Then one player sits out of the round and draws an occupation/persona card, which might be "Runaway" or "Sorority Girl" or "Fashion Model". The player announces his occupation card and he is the Customer for the round. The other players then combine two word cards from their hand and give their best sales pitch and try to sell their item to the buyer.

For us, that is what the game needs--enthusiasm about the sales pitch. You need players who will get into selling and describing their made up item. Often, the sales pitch is necessary and fun because you have a hand of shit cards to make something a Caveman would want to buy, and so you really have to put in your everything to try to make a "Tofu Hat" appealing to him.

However, this sort of interaction and coming up with wild pitches to make the bizarre sound useful really does put off some players. And, frankly, if people just put down their cards and read off "Tofu Hat", it will be nowhere near as fun as a player who tries to convert the Caveman to vegetarianism and being a hipster with his ironic food hat.

Now, my eight year old daughter loves this game, but sometimes it can be a little awkward when she struggles to come up with an engaging pitch for some of her items, but the rest of us generally carry the game and entertainment. That being said, my two all-time favorite moments of Snake Oil both came while playing with her. One time, as the Customer, my daughter was a "Pregnant Woman" and I watched my friend delicately try to sell her on a "Mistake Eraser". The other time, my wife was the Customer and was a "Prom Date". We pitched various things to her, including things like a "Wall Mirror" so that she could check out her dress. My daughter got up and walked over to her and silently laid down her two cards in front of her mother to sell to her: "Man Pleasure".

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Daybreak

This is the stand alone expansion to One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which was probably my most played game in 2014. The game is quick and easy to teach and it has a lot of appeal to the majority of players in most of the groups I play with. Game play really isn't changed from the original game, but new roles are introduced in this version. The roles can be combined with the original base game, which I highly recommend doing.

For me, what makes this game appealing isn't the deduction--although that is quite engaging. What I enjoy the most is the bluffing. Bluffing is how I deduce who other people are. I'll claim to be the Seer, for example, and say I saw someone's card and they were the Troublemaker. Then another player claims that I am lying and that they are the Troublemaker. Then yet another player verifies them by also stating that I am lying because they are really the Seer. So, I've now (potentially) outed two players by getting them to admit what they were. All I need to do now is to backtrack and get them to believe what I really was from the start. Now, imagine a group of five to seven of us all using this kind of bluffing deduction. It sounds chaotic, and it is. But there is a methodology behind it that makes it all work when everyone is on board and enjoys the bluffing game.

Players averse to bluffing make this game flatter than the wild ride it can be. Everyone immediately stating (truthfully) what they were and what they did during the night isn't that exciting and isn't that much fun. The only conflict then comes from the Werewolf's singular lie. You need a group willing to bluff to bring the life to this game.

Also, Daybreak is a decent expansion, but it is best when combined with the roles from vanilla One Night. There are some roles that are just too chaotic (the Village Idiot moves every other player's card one space to the right or to the left), or remove the bluffing from the game for one player (the Revealer flips over one player's card face up). Personally, I would be very disappointed to see my card flipped face up as I lose my ability to bluff for the round. So Daybreak is best when a few of the roles are peppered into the original game.

Sheriff of Nottingham

Sheriff of Nottingham is another bluffing game. Players are merchants trying get their wares to sell to market. There are legal goods and contraband. The contraband is worth the most to sell, but sets of specific legal good types can rack up a lot of points. Players take cards from their hands and seal them into a bag. Each round, one player plays as the Sheriff. The players each hand their bags of goods to the Sheriff.

Now, the players must each look the Sheriff in the eye and declare what is in his bag. He cannot declare contraband, but may be trying to sneak some past. And since a merchant can only legally bring one type of legal good to market at a time, he may be lying and hiding multiple goods in his bag. The Sheriff can hand the bag back to the player, in which case, all of the cards in the bag make it to their stall and will score for them. Or the Sheriff can open the bag. If he opens it and the player's bag does not contain exactly what the player declared, then that player pays a penalty to the Sheriff. If, however, the bag's contents are exactly what was declared, then the Sheriff pays a penalty to the player. The role of Sheriff switches from players from round to round. Players can also bribe the Sheriff not to open their bags, but other players could also bribe the Sheriff to open other player's bags.

The game works well enough on its own, but it shines with players with the right attitude. When teaching the game to new players, I take the role of Sheriff first. When I inspect a bag, I'll hold it to my nose and sniff it. I'll tell them that I smell pepper (a contraband spice). I'll tease that I'll open the bag, then set it down and move to another player. Basically, I try to set the theme of the Sheriff building suspense. With this established and all of the players doing it, the game shines so much more. The game is okay with the Sheriff quickly opening or passing back bags, but a game where you have to look another player in the eye and possibly lie is only enhanced by the tension and threat that can be brought to play with the right group.

Marrying Mr. Darcy

Marrying Mr. Darcy is a card game based off of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice novel. Players each play one of the story's iconic female characters as you try to make yourself the most appealing to marry one of the gentlemen from the story. Now, I admit, that premise sounds wretched. Not in game design--it's an interesting theme. But rather it is wretched in the sense that it lacks all of the commentary of Austen's novel. In the novel, for example, Mr. Bennett only had daughters. This meant that after his death, he had no male heirs, and could not pass on his house to his daughters, but instead would become the property of Mr. Collins, who Mrs. Bennett did not like. The novel was enlightening and subtlety scathing toward the systems of patriarchy and entailment. The card game, however, ignores all of these points and focuses instead of the Bennett daughters (and a few others) trying to make themselves most appealing to attract the man that would best suit them.

Yeah. Without the presence of entailment in the game, the message really is lost as you try to make yourself the prettiest to attract Mr. Darcy's eye.

Also, there really isn't much to the game. On your turn, you flip over the top card of the event deck and resolve it. It may allow you to draw a card and play a card from your hand to increase your character's stats. Though, honestly, there isn't much decision making to be made and events are just played and resolved, offering you little meaningful to do on your turn.

So, why is it on this list?

Because with the right group and played with the right attitude, the game is a hell of a lot of fun when you don't take it seriously. You need to get as catty as possible and taunt the fuck out of your opponents.

Which seems like more fun? Drawing a card and saying, "Paint a Portrait. Okay, I draw one card and play one. Hm. I'll give myself +1 Wit. Your turn."

Or drawing a card and taunting, "Booyah! Who has two thumbs and just painted the prettiest damned portrait? That's right. This gal. And I'll give myself +1 Wit and BOOM! I am more witty than you and you and you! Aw... What's the matter? Afraid Mr. Darcy'll be all over me for me wit? What's wrong? Someone afraid they won't find a husband? Someone afraid of growing old alone? Someone feel like they need a husband to give themselves a sense of identity? Well, too bad, bitches! He's all over me talking about my wit."

Those were actual taunts in our game.

This (lack of) game surprisingly gets a lot of play at our tables. And it's because playing it over-the-top is really the only way to do it. And when you play it what way, it really shines.


Spyfall is another bluffing/deduction game. In this one, everyone is passed out a card that lists the same location name on it--it may be a Corporate Party, or an Airplane, or a Restaurant, or any other of over two dozen locations. Each location card also assigns that player a role at the location. Perhaps you are the manager, or a customer, or the pilot--it depends on the location. Now, one of the cards distributed to the players, however, does not have the location listed on it. Instead it simply tells the player that they are the Spy.

The objective of the players who know their location is to deduce who the Spy is without giving away their location. The objective of the Spy is to not get caught, while simultaneously trying to determine what the location is.

Over the next few minutes (it is a timed game), players take turns asking other players questions. You can ask anything that you want. And the player can answer (or refuse to answer) in any what that they want. If you are too obvious in your question, such as asking, "So, do you like the onboard movie?" the Spy will figure out where you are and win. However, if you are too vague in your questions or answers, the other players might suspect you are the Spy.

Game play can be stopped during the game to call out the Spy or for the Spy to declare the location, otherwise voting occurs once the timer is up. There is a point system for determining how many points are awarded to which side, but honestly, it works better as an activity than a competitive score-keeping game. The game is also very different with different numbers of players. A smaller player count is harder on the Spy who has to respond to more questions, while a larger player count usually provides the Spy with more opportunity to listen and deduce before he is asked anything too pertinent.

Spyfall, however, is another one of those games that can really be intimidating to players who are shy or meek or are easily intimidated. Play can be delayed by a player trying to think up the "perfect question". And, frankly, some people just aren't too good at it. They don't like the pressure of coming up with a question or answer that isn't too revealing, especially when all eyes are on them scrutinizing.

However, with the right crowd, the game really shines, especially once questions and answers begin to take shape based off of your role at the location. When the location is a Day Spa and your question is, "Did you see that woman's hair?" And the response is, "I know, right?" a LOT has been said to those who know the location, but it may be well over the Spy's head. This is a game that is good with players who don't mind the spotlight for a couple minutes, but it is fantastic with players who enjoy being a ham while in the spotlight.

Faking It!

Faking It is actually an Android app (no iOS at this time) that is a spiritual successor to Spyfall. The phone or tablet is passed around and everyone sees the topic of conversation, except for one player who is told that they are "faking it". Then, everyone holds a conversation for five minutes about the topic. At the end of the time, players vote on who they believe is faking it and didn't know the topic.

Players need to be vague enough as not to reveal the topic to the faking player, otherwise he will blend in quickly to the topic and avoid detection. For many people, this is still much easier than Spyfall since a conversation is more organic than everyone taking turns throwing carefully worded questions and answers about. There also isn't a spotlight shined on anyone at any time--at least no more of one than would be there during a conversation.

While I actually think that Faking It feels better and is more organic and I prefer it over Spyfall, the game does miss a bit of the climax of an ending. In Spyfall, the Spy can call out the location and it ends the game with a bit of dramatic tension. Faking It could lead to a couple of people wall-flowering on a topic just because they do not know much about it and the tension of the reveal is lost. There is no calling out for the faker, just blending in. It is a fun game, but lacks the dramatic reveal at the end or at least the suspension of the faker suddenly blurting out the topic for a win.

This is another game that, with the wrong crowd, would easily fall flat. It is a social game and, well, not everyone in our hobby is very social. With a social crowd, however, the game can be simply amazing. It is a good icebreaker as well and hopefully it'll be out of prototype and available on iOS soon.

Both Ladies and Gentlemen and Dead of Winter also fit into this category of needing the proper group to make the game shine. The former because the spirit of the game needs to be embraced. We play our games with tiaras and cigars. The latter because, while the game forces players to take suspicious moves, there still requires an atmosphere and group mindset to make it work, otherwise, frustration could easily curtail the fun that is there when the game is played with the right group.

1 comment:

  1. We all had a good laugh when your daughter played " Man Pleasure" I don't think I could have stopped laughing at that moment. None of us could.