Review By: Jillian Schmett
Hey Everyone! Today I wanted to talk about a new(ish) little filler game that has been getting to my table a lot, Kerala: The Way of the Elephant by Kristen Hiese and published by Kosmos. I can think of no better way to dive into this review than going on a mental journey right to Kerala itself so please close your eyes.. actually don't do that because you won't be able to read this.. but join me.
Review By: James Freeman
AVAST YE! (See how i worked that in right away) The Winds of Fate are blowing, and fortune favors the bold. There is treasure out there waiting to be plundered, and coffers to be filled. It just takes a Captain with the will and strength to grab it. The seas are full of dangerous monsters and rival Pirate Captains, but this moment is yours not theirs. Your sails are full, your ships are ready, and your sword is sharp. Time to sail the seas, and make your name!
Review By: Mindy Basi
There is no lack of social games in the marketplace lately. Especially secret identity party games. Designer Ta-Te Wu from Sunrise Tornado Game Studio is throwing his hat in the ring with their game coming up on Kickstarter January 3, Kung Pao Chicken. It’s a crowded space right now, with many excellent games. Is there room for one more?
In Kung Pao Chicken, a filler game which plays up to five and takes about 15 minutes, players are either a chicken or a fox, and share a barnyard with hounds. The core mechanism is that a player does not know their own identity, but knows everyone else's, and must deduce which team they are on by observing which cards are played in front of them by other players. Points are scored by guessing if you are a fox or a chicken at the end of the round. More points are scored if players can save chickens from the foxes, who eat them. Foxes score if they catch the chickens. Hounds chase the foxes away, thus saving chickens from being a fox’s dinner.
The artwork is charming, if minimalist, and the components are of good quality. It comes in a small cloth bag so it’s easy to tote around. The name, although memorable, has little to do with the gameplay (Kung Pao Chicken is a Chinese dish, and there’s no cooking in this game – I assume the fox eats the chickens raw). For a family game, this one has violent undertones with all the eating going on in the barnyard, but only the most sensitive souls would probably object.
The “foxiest” person at the table is the first player, which my group found amusing. A round consists of players taking turns placing a small number of cards from hand (the number of cards you get depends on the player count), after a short draft exchange, into the barnyard of your own or another player’s barnyard, face down. Cards can also be discarded on a grassland card so they don’t go to any player but will still count in the final scoring.
After placing a card, you may (not must) turn over one face down card in a barnyard or the grassland to reveal what card it is, chicken, fox, or hound. Thus, at least in theory, you could determine what your identity might be from knowing whether other players are trying to help or hurt you. However, the option not to turn cards over makes this fairly difficult and it’s very hard to tell what is going on at your barnyard or any other location. You have no idea what team you are on, so placing cards on another player’s barnyard or the grassland for us was quite random as we tried to determine what team we thought should win.
Our group of three was left scratching our heads trying to figure out how a strategy might work in this game. It seemed to require a lot of thinking and card counting calculation, which was not what anyone expected in a light social deduction game.
The drafting aspect seemed yet another layer of “serious game play” that seemed to add nothing to the game but complexity, especially since it is a snake draft (change directions in alternate rounds).
Once everyone’s hand is empty, next players must guess what team they were on, chicken or fox, to score two points if you guess correctly. Then the stacks are resolved. If there is a fox and no hounds with chickens, the chickens are eaten, and the fox team scores. If there is a hound with foxes, each hound cancels out one fox, and the chickens live and score for the chicken team. Cards score on the grassland, as well.
In my preview copy, the game was missing the scoring card, so we had to improvise.
The game ends after three rounds, an appropriate length for a light filler.
Surprisingly, for a game that requires players to remember card play, hidden identities, and to think strategically, the game play has some silly aspects. At the beginning of the round, players are instructed to hold their identity cards on their foreheads to show other players (you cannot ever know your own identity, a core feature of the game). This feature was the inspiration for the rest of the game, according to notes from the designer. Even more silly fun is required at the stage when you guess what team you are on. The rules instruct that “ALL players close their eyes and strike a pose showing which animal they are. While holding the pose, have a player count to five. The ALL players open their eyes.”
My question here is, why. To add a little lightheartedness to a game that seems to favor a take-that kind of strategy? Why count to five while people are holding a pose that no one can see? Why build suspense at this stage of the game? You are guessing what your role is, not anyone else’s, as you know the teams of the other players. The designer note says, “you might want to figure out how to pose like a fox or a chicken before you start the game…or maybe not.” Striking a silly pose after every round may have appeal to players and add more fun to the game (it did not appeal our group, I am sorry to say, but we aren’t clowning around types so we might not be the audience for this filler game).
One of the biggest issues I had with the game is it played up to five. Five is not a party. For a social deduction game, with chicken poses and cards on the forehead, that’s just too few players. Other social deduction games play at least 6, if not more, making them good for a crowd or a family game night. It can’t be played with less than three, but not more than five, putting it in an awkward spot.
Unfortunately, the rulebook in the game is not well done. It has typographical errors (using “identify” not “identity”, for example). The rules, although in a large font and seemingly clear, were complicated. For a simple filler, there were a lot of instructions on randomization and steps to follow. It did appear from the rulebook that four was the sweet spot for the game, which gave everyone cards and left some in the grassland, which would randomize which cards were in play.
The juxtaposition of silliness and demand for aggressive strategic play in Kung Pao Chicken didn’t strike a positive note for our group. However, the game does have a unique element of players not knowing their own identities and having to guess given what cards are put in their barnyards. Some groups might enjoy striking poses and seeing what others come up with. The surprise of the reveal might have some charm. The take-that aspect of the team play might appeal to the competitive casual game crowd. It does have a family friendly theme, but the fact that the chickens are eaten by the foxes does make it a bit realistic for lighthearted fun for kids. Still, many social deduction games have violent adult or supernatural themes, so this game does fill a niche for a G-rated game. The field of hidden identity social deduction games is crowded, so the unique elements this one brings to the table may have to carry its appeal for the Kickstarter to succeed.
Article By Jillian Schmett
It's my favorite time of year!
love the Holidays. It's a time for gathering with family and friends and enjoying each others' company. Traditionally, many families have always brought board games to the table during these gatherings (after cleaning off the delicious turkey, ham, or my personal all time favorite side dish-mashed potatoes... Mmmm... but I digress... Never blog on an empty stomach, people!)
Luckily for us, the options for games to accommodate large groups have drastically increased over recent years. While I will never say no to a rousing round of Charades or Pictionary while enjoying our after-dinner cocktails, many games are taking the basic concepts of those classics and expanding on them, and they're doing it well!
This week I thought I'd talk about games that work well with large groups of people that often will include a wide range of interests, age, and in the case of that one uncle that every family has, levels of sobriety.
In no particular order, here are ten games that I hope to be getting to play during the next few weeks.
By Mindy Miron Basi
The idea that we should be kind to strangers has its roots in ancient times. Look anywhere in literature, even sacred literature, and the idea of hospitality will be there. Hospitality is about inviting a stranger in our midst, someone who we don’t know, to be welcome and accepted at our game table. A true act of hospitality is to make a guest, who starts out a visitor, into a friend for a limited period of time. For any game group, on any given game night there is probably always a new person that asks to be included.
Board game groups rely on the idea of hospitality. It’s important to welcome everyone to the table, otherwise meetups and other gatherings at game stores could never happen. But once we extend our hospitality, can we value the differences game players bring to the table?
Welcoming visitors to play games with us assumes that we will change our ways to accommodate their needs, and that they change their ways to accommodate ours. Accepting a new person can be difficult for some people, and the new player may find it just as problematic to accept the ways the game group plays games. Who should change? What obligations do we have to the stranger and what are their obligations to us? Values of inclusivity and hospitality come naturally to board gamers, it seems, but to what degree we can accept others is an important aspect of a successful group.
Once the new person, the visitor, has arrived, becomes a friend, and starts to play, then the idea of tolerance comes into play. Can we tolerate their behavior, their mannerisms, the way they treat the game pieces? It can become a real moral dilemma when a new member of a game group acts in a certain way or does things the other group members feel they cannot tolerate – is it wrong to ask someone to leave that you invited in as a guest? It is important to be inclusive, but the game group might insist that the guest change their behavior. Or can the group tolerate the new person and accept them as they are? Acceptance of a stranger means dealing with ideas and behaviors that might be unusual. Rules can help, but might become constricting and unwelcoming, which defeats the purpose of a social get together. Who will enforce the rules? What will be tolerated? The answers to these questions will define your game group.
Social media is full of problems and solutions on how to get a game group, keep a game group, and enforce rules (or the lack of them). It’s very difficult to offer pure hospitality when the guest does not know or refuses to conform to the game group’s expectations, or when members are intolerant. The very definition of a stranger is a person who is different than the host. Sometimes the limits of toleration become clear. Rude behavior, disrespect for the game pieces, or aggressive game play can quickly become intolerable to the members of a group. Other times, it is a slippery slope between toleration and intoleration, which can be just another form of cliquishness.
Hospitality is conditional and does not assume immediate acceptance: a visitor to an established game group may not be welcome next time. The visitor might decide not to return. But in game groups, who rely on new members and inviting strangers to play, it’s important to be open to differences and tolerate some behaviors that go along with people’s personalities so they become part of the group. Game groups that meet regularly, with a robust number of available players, are tough to get going and maintain. Without a sense of tolerance, there wouldn’t be people to play with. But tolerance assumes that there is a difference between us. Embracing the idea of hospitality, and then acceptance, bypasses tolerance. Strangers need to become friends and be included as valued members of the game group because they aren’t exactly like everyone else.
t’s also crucial that gaming be open to people who have often been strangers to the hobby – women, people with disabilities, older people, and others who may not have felt welcome in gaming in the past.
If game groups can accept a stranger on their own terms, they open themselves up to new experiences. Game playing is about socializing and having a good time. There always need to be rules, of course, but gamers need to be open to the possibility of surprise. By welcoming people as they are, and accepting their differences, game play becomes enriched because we can’t anticipate what is coming next. Tolerance isn’t enough. Hospitality, the gift of group acceptance of the visitor, evolves into acceptance and inclusion. Game players can respect differences, enjoy those differences, and explore new experiences by playing with the strangers that come to the table. By welcoming new players of all walks of life and experience, it creates hope: for the hobby and for those who sometimes feel unwelcome. It allows for new types of games to be played. New people bring new perspectives, which can make gaming into a whole new and richer experience for everyone.
Hosts and the guests can be changed for the better when true hospitality is achieved. True hospitality is a gift. It is the secret that makes board game groups vibrant and persistent. Tolerance will get us players, but genuinely valuing the contributions of new people, perhaps people that are not “traditional” board game players, will bring enjoyment and fun to our hobby and open all of us up to new ways of thinking about and playing games.
“I’m just the messenger. I have half a platoon of pissed-off Martian marines who are just itching for some payback.” – Jim Holden
Article By James Freeman
Hello friends. This is a new segment i will be doing once a month called overboard. I am trying to find gamers that are HUGE fans of one specific game.
Up first is Nathan Biangel. I noticed his collection of Imperial Assault on Facebook and decided to reach out to him and talk about what about this game make him such a big fan.
Weekly Blog Schedule.
Starting In January
A Gloomhaven Campaign
First Sunday Of The Month