We Were Playing It Wrong: Bad Beets

Bad Beets
Bad Beets, by Justin Gary, 2015, Stone Blade Entertainment, illustrated by Liz Nugent, 2-5 Players

The Basics: Bad Beets, designed by Magic: The Gathering champion Justin Gary and adorably illustrated by Liz Nugent, was published by Stone Blade Entertainment in 2015. The game is described by the publisher as, “the fast-paced bluffing game that’s good for you!” Players are given a number of beet tokens at the beginning of the game that they are trying to rid themselves of because the players are…well…crappy little kids who don’t like eating beets.

To accomplish this goal they take turns during which they can feed beets to the dog, share them with a friend, or even eat one their beets if things get desperate. Each action (except for honestly and resignedly eating a beet) has a card associated with it. If you don’t have the card for the action you want to take, you can still take the action, but an opponent may call a player’s bluff. If they call and the player taking the action has the associated card, the calling opponent is penalized, the acting player is bluffing and doesn’t have the card in their possession, then the bluffing player is penalized instead.

On one level, this game owes a debt to Rikki Tahta, because at first blush this game plays an awful lot like a weird, inverted version of Coup. Players lie, set traps, call bluffs, wage economic warfare, the whole deal. The game uses a device, however, that sets it apart. Players pass a card around the table as the begin their turn which they may freely exchange with the card they hold in their hand. Depending on the cards and the players, this device usually has the effect of avoiding moribund game state such as may be found in some games of Coup.

What we did wrong: Early on when a player successfully tattled on another, the player being tattled got their beets from the supply, not the tattling player. This lead to beet counts that were amusingly high and practically impossible to dispose of. On further review of the rulebook, clearly the beets are supposed to go from the tattler to the tattled (nobody likes a tattletale, but they seem to do quite well).

Conclusion: This game is all right. While it probably won’t have the same impact that Coup has had, it’s fun. The best games of Bad Beets happen when the players really throw themselves into the game and start acting like little kids themselves. It seems relatively easy to have unfair games of Bad Beets through the caprices of the deck—high volatility and low card counts go hand in hand—but what was it that your parents used to say when you were a kid? Life’s not fair?

We Were Playing It Wrong: Bad Beets

Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Sushi Go!

Today we have fellow gamer and friend of the site JayBeeThree, who shares his experience with a rules mistake that not only ruined a game for him but perhaps dessert as well.

Sushi Go
Sushi Go!, by Phil Walker-Harding, 2013, 2-5 Players

The Basics: There’s a popular phrase in Japanese: 仕方がない (shi kata ga nai), literally meaning “way of doing, cannot” and commonly translated as “It can’t be helped” or “it’s no use.” Shi kata ga nai is not just an idiom similar to English’s “What’s done is done,” it’s a philosophical outlook. The idea that unseen, unchangeable forces influence our daily actions and there’s nothing we can do as individuals to change it for the better. After all, life is suffering and the pockets of joy we design for ourselves can be torn away.

Such is the way with Sushi Go!, a light card drafting game designed by Phil Walker-Harding, played over three rounds that are separately scored. Like a sushi bento it’s quick, light, and easily digested. Some cards grant you instant points, others reward long term planning, and some are all-or-nothing. I expected a tight card drafting game in the same vein as 7 Wonders.

What we I did wrong: Here’s where Sushi Go! falls off my platter and onto the dusty floor— the dreadful pudding. The player with the most pudding scores 6 points; the least loses 6 points. “Not a bad incentive” I originally thought, thinking foolishly that it was scored at the end of each of the game’s three rounds. But true to the theme pudding does not want to be enjoyed until the end of the game. And those points are split evenly among tied players.

As a scoring mechanic it becomes completely unnecessary. Here is a card that is statistically worth the fewest points in the game, will rarely influence the final outcome, and doesn’t see an effect until the very end. You have to play your whole hand by the end of the round so the game ends up becoming a crapshoot of who sees the least pudding. It’s like that one Aunt who thinks canned fruit and nuts suspended in jelly makes for a delicious dessert at Thanksgiving. She hands it to you and waits in anticipation. You smile sheepishly, ask how her self-employment is going, and nonchalantly pass it to the poor fool reaching for the buttered rolls.

I can’t help but feel that 7 Wonders’s military mechanic should’ve been a more satisfying fit. If you win you score 1, 3, and 5 points per round up to a max of 18. The loser only ever takes -1, up to -6. In 7 Wonders, not having military sucks but isn’t the end of the world. Investing too heavily into military takes your attention away from higher scoring cards. It’s a more tightly designed mechanic that keeps players thinking about their every action.

Conclusion: What should be a satisfying finish is a sour ingredient that spoils the pot. Curse you, pudding. You are wasted calories bloating an otherwise passable game. When I see your smiling flushed face, channeling your best Urkel “Did I do that?” I can’t help but feel defeated on turn one. Shi kata ga nai.


Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Sushi Go!

Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Ghost Stories

Today we have a guest feature from a fellow gamer and friend of the site, Chippen N., who talks about his experience with Antoine Bauza’s co-op game, Ghost Stories. – Ed.

Ghost Stories
Ghost Stories, by Antoine Bauza, 2008, 1-4 Players, illustrations by Piero

The Basics: Ghost Stories is a game by Antoine Bauza, a designer with a great personal track record that includes notable games such as 7 Wonders, Takenoko (Editor’s note: Takenoko is one of prior victims) and Hanabi, all of which I’ve played and own, and all of them are games I go back to regularly. Ordinarily I don’t keep track of who designs what, but when I made the connection between Ghost Stories and all of Bauza’s other fun games I became very interested in giving Ghost Stories a try.

Ghost Stories is a fully cooperative game where players take on the role of Taoist Priests or Monks defending a small village from a horde of ghosts.  Why?  An urn possessing the mortal remains of an evil sorcerer, Wu Feng, resides in the village and apparently the angry ghost of Wu Feng would like them back.  You all will need to work together, using unique special abilities for each Taoist, and plan actions carefully to maintain a proper balance.

The game board is comprised of a random 3×3 grid of tiles, each of which allows a player present on the tile to take an action.  Each player’s character also has special abilities, and there are 3 spots for ghosts.  While the game states to randomly assign the player colors and the abilities I’d suggest you start out by selecting each and save the randomness once you have a few wins under your belt, which may take some time.  Ghost Stories is a difficult endeavor.

The core of the game is simple enough.  On a player’s turn they draw a ghost and place it according to the ghost’s color: yellow, blue, red, or green.  There are also black ghosts that go in any available spot the active player chooses to place them.

The player may then move and choose to use their current tile’s ability OR to exorcise ghost(s).  If they choose to exorcise the ghosts they roll 3 dice and compare the strength of the ghosts, represented by dots of the ghost’s color to their roll. Players can boost their roll by spending tokens called Taoist tokens which are acquired through a variety of ways throughout the game.

The ghosts can have abilities that effect the players or board when they come into play, during the turn of the player whose board they are on, and/or when they are defeated.

Balancing the abilities of the ghosts is important as you can lose 3 different ways: If all Taoists are dying, if 3 tiles are flipped to indicate they are haunted or if the deck runs out with an Incarnation of Wu Feng.  Being that this all revolves around Wu Feng’s attempt to get his remains back he will send one or more incarnations which are stupidly difficult ghosts that have special requirements to defeat.  The only way to win is to survive the hoard until the last incarnation of Wu Feng arrives and send him back to Hell AND survive and any departing curse that might occur.

What we did wrong: First, my partner and I started by having every ghost with on turn effects trigger every turn. This escalated the game to unwinnable in 4 rounds.  On turn effects should only trigger for the ghosts on the current player’s board.

Second, during the ghost arrival step we initially were drawing the ghosts and placing them even when our player boards were overrun.  The rules on ghost placement are pretty simple but some of the penalties became confusing during the first few games. The in-game aids help quite a bit in clarifying when to place ghosts, and we might have avoided some confusion if we’d checked them more often.  Ordinarily, on a player’s turn if their board has all 3 ghost slots filled they take 1 Qi damage and do not draw an additional ghost to place.

Additional confusion came when I thought that if the board the ghost should be placed on was full that player would take Qi damage.  Properly played in this case the ghost should be placed on the active player’s board.  If no spot is available, the player places in any available spot of their choosing.

Lastly, while this wasn’t done wrong it was overlooked as an option.  During an exorcism, the players are capable of defeating 2 ghosts from the corner tiles if two ghosts are present.  In order to do so, the exorcism roll in combination with Taoist tokens, player abilities and tile abilities must meet the difficulty of each ghost to defeat both.  To this end, we found that placing the weakest ghosts on the corners made it more manageable as players could defeat two ghosts with one action.

Conclusion: Ghost Stories takes worker placement, resource collecting and push your luck styles and puts them together in a cooperative game that will have players stressing over their desperate collective situation.  Players will remember the exact moment where things went south and rejoice in the triumph that bought everyone some breathing room.  Everyone that I talked to about it said that it’s the most difficult game they’d played and I can see why.  I’m a fan and if you enjoy working together this game can bring spirited reactions to your table.

Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Ghost Stories

We Were Playing it Wrong: Mafia de Cuba

Mafia de Cuba, by Phillipe Des Pallieres and Loic Lamy, 2015, 6-12 Players

The Basics: Mafia de Cuba is designed by Phillipe des Pallières and Loic Lamy. Pallières is a veteran designer with credits stretching back to the 90s. He also designed a little game you may have heard of called Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Mafia de Cuba is in many ways a follow-up to Werewolves, which is rightfully considered a classic and is one of the primary originators of the hidden-role bluffing type of game that have been so popular for the past few years.

Mafia starts off with a cool little twist: the game box is a component used during gameplay. This is because the game box represents the Mafia Don’s cigar box, from which he gives his favorites one after-dinner cigar. This cigar box also happens to hold the Mafia Don’s collection of diamonds (the Don is not very smart). The Don passes the cigar box to his consigliere and then, although this doesn’t appear to be strictly stated in the rules, should probably just leave the room. The other players then take turns taking stuff out of the box. A player may either take a poker chip that has role printed on it which establishes a victory condition applicable to the player taking it only, or can instead take one or more diamonds. Then after everyone has taken something, the Don comes back and, incensed that his treasure is gone, begins asking questions and demanding his henchmen turn out their pockets. His goal: get all his loot back. The thieves, such as they are, want to not only get away, but to get away with the most stolen diamonds. For this reason being a gangster is tricky: If you think someone has stolen more than you, you probably want to rat them out. On the other hand, they might retaliate…

What we did wrong: Games like Mafia require some variance in order to avoid becoming too routine. In Ultimate One Night Werewolf not every role is given to every player. In The Resistance players don’t know who is on which team. In Mafia de Cuba, the first player to pull stuff out of the cigar box is the Consigliere. The Consigliere may, in addition to taking a role or diamonds, put a role in a special black bag. That role is completely out of the game. When I played Consigliere, I thought a player could also put diamonds in the black bag, but it turns out that it’s just roles. Further, the player who gets to examine the cigar box last doesn’t need to steal anything. Everyone else must take something, either a role or one or more diamonds.

Conclusion: Mafia de Cuba is a fun, quick game. One of the things I like about this game in particular is that it de-emphasizes the semi-cooperative team play in favor of an every-man-for-himself style of play. In the genre of hidden-role bluffing games, that can be very tricky to pull off. And Mafia de Cuba does pull it off, at least in the short term. The chains of information in Mafia are not clean, and sometimes the game can feel a little chaotic. Also, this game is probably best enjoyed in a larger space that can accommodate everyone rifling through a cigar box in relative privacy. Whether or not the game becomes a classic on the same level as The Resistance or One Night Ultimate Werewolf is something that only time can tell, but fans of those games should certainly give this a try.

UPDATE 02/16/2016: Subsequent research on this fine game makes it seem pretty clear that Sr. Lamy was the lead designer of this game, even though my review seems to indicate otherwise. I regret the misunderstanding and want to make sure credit goes where it is due.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Mafia de Cuba

We Were Playing it Wrong: Kingsburg

Kingsburg, by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco, 2007, 2-5 players

The Basics: Kingsburg by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco was first published in 2007 by Stratelibri and ElfinWerks (who published it as their first game ever), and was picked up the following year by FFG where it has remained ever since. Kingsburg, both when it was released and in the years following its release, was honored with several awards, including the prestigious Lucca Games Best in Show award, which has also been won by 7 Wonders and BANG!

Although Kingsburg was followed up by an iPhone app as well as the excellent Kingsburg: to Forge a Realm expansion in 2009 and also by several online scenarios published by FFG at their website, the gaming community has yet to see another game of similar prominence from either Chiarvesio or Iennaco, though word on the cyber-street is that another Kingsburg product is coming sometime in early 2016.

Kingsburg has a deliciously simple mechanic: roll your dice, then take turns spending the dice to buy stuff that increases the strength and prosperity of your little kingdom. The board is marked with many different spaces labeled 2 through 18. The spaces with the lower numbers give less impressive loot, while the higher-numbered spaces offer a lot of stuff but are hard to get to because, and here’s where it gets tricky, players have to pay exactly the amount depicted on the space to use that space. So, if a player gets lucky and rolls three sixes, he or she can use either the 18 space by spending all three dice, the 12 space by spending two of the dice, or the 6 space by spending one die. Players keep what dice they don’t use for later rounds, but here’s where it gets really tricky: only one player can go on one space. That means that players can (and sometimes should) block each other from getting onto the spaces they need.

What we did wrong: On Kingsburg’s BGG page, there’s a helpful errata notice that states, “Only one [+2] token can be used per season by each player (to influence Advisors).” While this errata is supposedly now duly noted in the latest version of the rulebook, older versions of the game such as my copy do not include it and as result I’ve been playing this one wrong for nearly eight years.

Also, after returning to the game after not playing it for a couple of years, I forgot that the King sends additional soldiers to each governor immediately before the battle in phase 8. As you might expect, this made the game significantly harder!

Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to teach Kingsburg to twenty or so new players over the years, and I’ve noticed that one thing that always seems to come up is the role and function of the King’s envoy, that fancy purple doodad that is given to player with the least buildings at the end of the third productive season each year. Some players think they get to keep it if they never use it, and other players have thought that you don’t need to spend the King’s envoy in order to use it. The King’s advisor is a vital piece in Kingsburg’s suite of catchup mechanics, so it is well worth any rules-explainer’s time to go over what the King’s envoy is, how it is used, and what exactly the player using it gets. The King’s envoy usually only benefits the weakest player, so the player who needs this information the most may also be the player least likely to ask questions or to understand the rules the first time they play the game. This means it’s doubly important to get these details right: while it may or may not impact the game’s result, correctly getting the rules on the King’s envoy will probably enhance the weakest player’s enjoyment of the game and keep that player from falling too far behind.

Conclusion: Kingsburg is a classic euro that follows the best traditions of its genre: it plays quickly, the rules are relatively accessible to new players, the players compete but don’t kill each other, and you spend an hour or so getting to build something. Some of the game’s critics point out a line of play within the game that seems superior to other options, but in my experience these criticisms are overblown and don’t hold up in actual play. The game is greatly enhanced by its expansion just as Terra Mystica was greatly enhanced by its expansion, but by no means is it required to enjoy this excellent game.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Kingsburg

We Were Playing It Wrong: Takenoko

Takenoko, by Antoine Bauza, 2012, illustrated by Nicolaus Fructus, Picksel, and Yuio, published by Bombyx, 2-4 Players

The Basics: Takenoko by Antoine Bauza and winner of the 2012 Golden Geek award, was published in 2011 by Asterion Press, Bombyx, and the New Galactic Empire. Bauza, perhaps best known for 2010’s 7 Wonders, has had a lot of hit games in the past five years—Terror in Meeple City (originally titled Rampage), Tokaido, Hanabi, among others, and these games are all the more notable for the fact that they are all so different from each other. It’s one thing to design a game so popular it gets distributed at major retailers like Barnes & Noble and Target, but quite another for a designer to still be willing to take chances by designing games that are quite different from what has been so successful in the past and to pull those games off too.

Takenoko is a light euro tile-laying, set-collection game set in a Japanese garden inhabited by a panda and the imperial gardener. Players take turns expanding the garden, growing bamboo with the gardener, and eating the bamboo with the panda. Along the way, players score points by achieving certain objectives such as having the panda eat certain types of bamboo or having the gardener grow so much of a certain type of bamboo. The game is certainly very manageable in terms of rules, and the high production values, especially the little vinyl panda, create a light and pleasant experience even as the game becomes rather tense in the last few turns.

What We Did Wrong: Recently someone very special gave me a copy of Takenoko: Chibis, which expands the game by adding Mrs. Panda, baby pandas, and a bunch of new tiles and objectives. In the course of reading the rules to the expansion, I happened across a reference to a base-game rule that apparently I had missed. When expanding the garden, a tile must be placed so that it touches either the pool at the center of the board or two other tiles. I must have missed the second option. As a result, our Takenoko boards were always kind of fractal and jagged. I played a game last night with the correct rules and got a much more harmonious looking garden.

The end of a game with Takenoko: Chibis. Final score: 37-55.

Conclusion: Takenoko is a happy little game that doesn’t indulge in gimmicky or complex mechanics  and delivers a fine and accessible experience. Additionally, while I don’t usually care for expansions, Takenoko: Chibis has proved to be an exception. Rather than crowd its base game with half-baked and largely superfluous ideas, Chibis cleverly inserts just enough action economy in places where the game otherwise tends to drag a bit. The new tiles also break up the visual aspect of the board, which in the base game while being colorful and appealing can tend toward monotony. So, in addition to recommending Takenoko to anyone looking for a light euro, I also recommend its expandsion, Takenoko: Chibis.


We Were Playing It Wrong: Takenoko

We Were Playing it wrong: The Grizzled

The Grizzled
The Girzzled, by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, 2015, Cool Mini or Not, illustrated by Tignous

The Basics: The Grizzled by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez and with excellent illustrations by Tignous, was published in 2015 by Cool Mini or Not (“CMON”). CMON is an interesting company that’s produced a lot of successful and impressive games over the years. The Grizzled marks the latest entry in their expansion away from the miniature-focused games that defined CMON’s earlier successes, games such as 2011’s Super Dungeon Explore and 2012’s Zombicide.

The Grizzled is yet another cooperative game in a year that has seen plenty of high-profile cooperative games such as Mysterium, XCOM, and Pandemic Legacy. Players take it in turns to negotiate the difficulties of life on the western front of the Great War. On a player’s turn, they can either play a card in their hand that has one or more hazards pictured on it, make a speech to hearten his comrades, or withdraw from the mission and play a support tile. Hazards such as snow, rain, darkness, gas attacks, and charges into no man’s land add up very quickly and if a threshold number (initially 3, usually dropping to 2 for at least one type of hazard over the course of play) is reached then the mission is a failure.

Somewhat frustratingly, the rules hearken back to the old days of semi-cooperative design of Shadows over Camelot and forbids players from sharing information with each other. While this is an acceptable design element to protect the guilty in a semi-cooperative game, it seemed to make this game needlessly more difficult. Of course, given The Grizzled’s pacifist themes, this might be an intentional design choice intended to model the frustration of being unable to communicate critical information due to the fog of war. One of the notable things about The Grizzled is how it creates an increasingly tense, pessimistic tone throughout gameplay as the players accrue tics that hamper not only their own survival but the overall success of the game overall. It’s tough to think positive during a game of the Grizzled, usually your choice as a player will be to do whatever sucks the least, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

What We Did Wrong: Hoo boy. This one is a whopper. I’ve said in the past that in cooperative games it’s more common for players to make mistakes that make the game easier. During our initial play we overlooked a rule that required us, upon failing a mission, to replenish the deck with all the cards we had played during that mission. We just discarded them instead. Naturally this lead to a lot of confusion—what exactly is the consequence for failing a mission? It also led to some moral hazard as players began top-loading hopeless missions with their worst cards so they wouldn’t have to deal with them later. Somewhat shockingly we still lost pretty badly during our first games. So, if you fail a mission, all of the stuff you were trying to avoid will come back to haunt you later.

Conclusion: This game felt more like performance art than a cooperative game. While I appreciated the excellent art direction, which appears to take some cues from Goddamn this War by Jacques Tardi, this game felt like kind of a downer to play. Rather than accomplish some kind of goal, players are basically just trying to survive World War One, which makes perfect sense except it’s just not a whole lot of fun. I’d recommend trying before buying.

We Were Playing it wrong: The Grizzled