138 Games: From Blood Bowl to Liar’s Dice

This week 138 Games brings you five games from the mid-1980s that you’ve just got to try.  There are several sports games, including a football game, a bicycle racing game, and the blood sport that is Werewolf.  Then you’ve got a popular Ravensburger classic and a dice game that was even featured in a blockbuster movie a few years back.  Next week we’ll return with a deduction game, another racing game, and a game you’ve almost certainly never heard of, all from the late 1980s.

- Blood Bowl -

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue:  I followed the story of this game since the first release in the old Games Workshop boxed series.  Going through the years and the different releases, Blood Bowl was the only “sport” board game capable of keeping alive a huge community of fans with leagues and tournaments all around the world.  Blood Bowl is like Magic: The Gathering in that the people who play it tend to be similarly devoted.

Blood Bowl is a two-player game about a Fantasy Football match.  Every player has a team of up to 16 players.  The game is played on a square map board where the teams compete 11 vs. 11.  Every team is usually made of players of the same race: Dark Elves, Dwarves, Humans, Orcs, and many others.  During your turn you can act with all your players until something goes wrong or the time (usually 4 minutes) goes over.  You can run, pass, block, and blitz.  Every player on the board has stats like movement, strength, agility, and sometimes special skills like dodge, leap, or mighty blow.

What makes Blood Bowl a really great experience are the league rules where players get experience from match to match improving their skills and abilities.  Just after 3-4 games your team starts to be really customized.  I think that the affinity with a Blood Bowl team you are playing with after 1-2 years is only comparable to the attachment you can have with a character in role-playing games.

- 6-Tage Rennen -

Joe Huber: One of the great appeals of German boardgames when I first discovered them was the backlog of classic games one learned about as you dug in – and the difficulty in actually tracking many of them down.  It’s become much easier to find most games, particularly as a result of various reprints, but there’s still a thrill in tracking down a hard-to-get game of great interest.

So it was for me with 6-Tage Rennen.  I found a copy at Gamescape (the store in San Rafael) when I was in California on business; I’d managed to play the game and wanted to explore it further.  And, having done so many times since, I understand very well now why I’d heard about the game – it’s a fascinating bicycle racing game.  The rules are just as simple as can be – you play a card, move that many spaces, and then for each bike on the space you land on you move that many spaces again.  These rules do a great job of pulling back a breakaway leader – while still forcing careful play to avoid falling completely behind.  Six races are run, making the most important element to stay close in every race (if you finish too far back, you’re considered 1-5 laps behind), but among those on the lead lap sprint points determine the victor.

It’s entirely possible that you’ll hate the game – the success rate for the game is around 60% in my experience.  And it’s just not nearly as enjoyable with fewer than six players (the game handles eight).  But if you find yourself with the opportunity to try the game – the full six races, with at least six players – I’d strongly recommend taking advantage of it.

- Werewolf -

Frank Branham:  Werewolf pretty much completely breaks the mold of the term “game”. While it provides the basic hidden traitor mechanic that has eked its way into everything from Shadows Over Camelot, to Battlestar Galactica, to The Resistence, the single most important thing about Werewolf is that it really is a standout form of play.

All of the other items in the above list are better games.  They have structure, defined ways of finding out who the bad guy is, more game-like objectives, and people feel more comfortable with them.

Strip all of that away and you have Werewolf.  It is a… form of play… that can involve nearly anyone, as the basic structure is pretty immediately grasped.  The most important thing about Werewolf is what ISN’T in the rules.  If you play with a group for an hour or two, conventions begin to spontaneously appear.  Secret, unwritten rules that you’ve never encountered even as an experienced player.  Hints about which buttons will redirect a person, or which people are completely capable of looking you straight in the eye and directly lying.  The utter lack of structure and rules makes magic happen.

I once won a game as a werewolf by looking directly at a group and pleading “I am a werewolf.  Kill me.”

I once saw a man murdered for the crime of declaring that he “woke up this morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed.”

It is the kind of play that almost always comes with stories afterwards.  Easily the best sort of thing you can involve yourself in.

Brian Leet:  I first experienced this game as Mafia and while I knew – or rather ran in parallel social circles to – Andrew Plotkin about the time he sponsored the werewolf theme, I never played with that particular group and so rediscovered the game a few years later after it really exploded into the geek scene.  In either formulation it is an amazing game, sustained or not by the group playing it.  I’ve experienced players who are so transparent you can call their role before anyone says a word and others so convincing that you don’t believe them when they show you their actual card.

The structure of the game taps into basic human psychology and the werewolf theme does indeed resonate much more strongly than the mafia theme ever did.  Werewolf is a game that may look odd, awkward, and triggering, because it is.  It may not be all that removed from the petty drama of middle school.  In fact, my observation from various cons is that tweens can grow an addiction to this game that exceeds that of any adult.  But, in the end it is in fact a game.  And while I wouldn’t say it so strongly about almost any other game on this list.  You really should try Werewolf at least once, even if you think it isn’t for you.

- The aMAZEing Labyrinth -

Jonathan Franklin:  I love this little game.  Yes, it sells extremely well, has spin-offs, and can be easily thrifted, but that does not diminish it relative to the other games on this list.  Actually that is true of many of these games.  Well, anyway, this is a game where you are trying to move your piece to the treasure represented on your card.  The only problem is that you are in a labyrinth of moving tiles.  Each turn, a player pushes a tile into the labyrinth, which pops one out on the other side, then moves his piece to the treasure or to a strong position to get it next time.  The more players, the less you can plan ahead, but it is so elegant and fun while still having those wonderful ‘aha’ moments that you should seek it out.

- Liar’s Dice -

Mary Prasad:  Although “Liar’s Dice” in its current form was published in 1987, its history goes back hundreds of years, possibly 600 or more.  An early version, called Perudo, was said to have been brought to Spain by conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the 1500s.  Pizarro conquered the ancient Incan Empire and founded Lima, the now current capital of Peru.  Historians believe that Perudo was originally an Incan game dating back hundreds of years; the Spanish learned about it while in South America and spread its popularity (from Perudo.com, http://www.perudo.com/perudo-history.html).  One version called Pirate’s Dice, even made it into one of the popular Disney movies, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006).

This classic game of bluffing and dice is still going strong today.  It has been published all over the world, under several different names, including one of the most popular “Bluff” (also by Richard Borg) and its many foreign translations (e.g. Blef, Blöff, Bløff).  Liar’s Dice was the Spiel des Jahres winner in 1993.

Mark Jackson:  I think the thing I love most about Liar’s Dice is that the name itself is a lie. You don’t win by lying – you win by making sure that the other players don’t know if you’re lying or telling the truth… and by figuring out whether other people are lying.

To be continued…

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One Response to 138 Games: From Blood Bowl to Liar’s Dice

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    As a matter of fact, in Liar’s Dice, you don’t know whether you are lying yourself.

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