The 138 Games series rolls on this week with a Spiel des Jahres winner, a puzzle game, an obscure game, a deduction game, and a board game that really stretches the limits of what we call a game. This entry in the series continues our march through the 1980s with these games getting us from 1983 to 1985, and we’ll pick back up next time with a few 1986 classics.
– Scotland Yard –
Dale Yu: For me, this was the first co-op game that I came across – and as an added bonus, there is a large deduction element to the game as well. The premise is simple – one player is the mysterious Mr. X and he leaves a trail of travel tickets behind him. The other players (numbering from 1 to 5) take control of the 5 detectives that are moving around London trying to land on the same space as Mr X. It was this game that caused me to realize that there were more to board games than rolling dice and moving the number on them.
As a teenager, this was a favorite in our neighborhood, and many a Friday night was spent with a couple of pizzas and each of us taking a turn as Mr. X! Since then, there have been a number of alternate maps (NY Chase, Scotland Yard: Swiss Edition) as well as many games with similar feel (Garibaldi, Letters from Whitechapel) – each with their own subtle twists on the original. I’ve tried all of them, and I always return to my first love, Scotland Yard.
– Take It Easy –
Greg Schloesser: Take it Easy is one of those addictive games wherein you feel you must immediately play it again in an effort to improve your score. The puzzle aspect of the game is so appealing that I found my wife playing it solitaire over-and-over again. It is also perfect for large group settings. At our Gulf Games convention, we have a group game often consisting of over one hundred players. A true classic.
Brian Leet: My first experience playing Take it Easy was at The Oasis of Fun with about sixty other players. After scoring our own tables we all stood up and then dutifully sat back down as progressively higher scores were called until the room winner was discovered. The fact that a fun and clever game can so easily scale to such a large group gives it a unique niche, and conjures the Gamer Bingo appellation. Beyond that, I love the inherent press-your-luck aspect to the title as you reach a point midway through the game where you must cut off options and begin to be able to calculate the odds of drawing the remaining tiles you need. Whether played by math or gut the game is fun. There is now an iOS version which includes single player puzzle modes for the especially addicted.
– Auf Fotosafari in Ombagassa –
Joe Huber: While they all get lumped into the same container (the one I call German games, that most call Eurogames), there is actually a wide variety to the German gaming industry. You have the big players – the Ravensburger or Schmidt – who fill much the same niche that Hasbro does in the US, with the occasional nod to gamers (such as the Alea line at Ravensburger). You have the independents that have grown up, such as Hans im Glück. You have the single-author publishers such as 2F Spiele.
And, off to the side, you have the artists. Edition Perlhuhn is perhaps the most successful of these, run by Reinhold Wittig, but publishing not only his own designs but also games from other successful designers. The games are published in small quantities – two recent releases had print runs of 7 and 31 copies – and Wittig (as a publisher) takes advantage of a wide array of materials for pieces, from recycled metal and wood to native artistry and beyond. The result is not just games – they _are_ works of art, and I believe they’re meant to be appreciated as such.
But they’re not _only_ meant to be appreciated that way – they’re interesting games as well. And the games are in the German family gaming tradition – Perlhuhn has published some interesting and deep abstracts, but you’re not going to find an Eclipse or an Agricola here. But the best of them are very good family games – and Auf Fotosafari in Ombagassa is among the best of them. Players have a number of pictures of animals they are looking to take, including 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 specific animals. A picture is only right if exactly the animals shown – and no others – are present. But it’s a photo safari, and you want to increase your chances, so every player controls one jeep – but also has photographers ride along on two other jeeps, providing more opportunities to find the right picture. The players can also encourage the animals to move along, in limited ways. The first player to take all of the pictures they set out to take wins the game.
As a result of the popularity of the game, it’s become very highly sought out, and correspondingly expensive. The most easily acquired version of the game is Topfgucker from Haba, which changes the theme to cooking, and makes the game easier for young children (actually handicapping them in the game in a clever way). But if possible, I’d recommend trying the original, with the beautiful wood (or, in the second printing, brass) animals.
– Tales of the Arabian Nights –
Jonathan Franklin: I don’t game to win. If you do, skip to the next game on the list. If you love character, color, personality, and the vagaries of life, pull up a chair. Tales of the Arabian Nights (TotAN) is a paragraph game, meaning you make a choice and another player reads a paragraph to you, adding color and perhaps offers you more choices. The play continues round and round until someone ‘wins’ by reaching 20 points or you decide to stop. You can be transported by rocs, beaten by efreet, and have your sex changed.
There is a game structure in that you move, have events, travel on quests, track your wealth, gain skills and artifacts, etc., but the charm of the game is that you have a rich experience in two hours or so. You can tell tales of when you got to the Valley of Diamonds or were scorned by a princess. Another great aspect of this game is that non-gamers can play it as easily as gamers, so it crosses all lines, so long as you like the theme and can read.
Nathan Beeler: You must know when you’re sitting down for a game of this that things are going to happen to you that are completely out of your control. A mad barber is going to talk your ear off, if you’re lucky, and haunt you for the rest of your days. Or you’re going to be thrown into a pit when your partner from a strange culture dies, and if you’re lucky you’ll stick around to eat the next people thrown in after you. Or quite possibly you’re going to release a vengeful djinn. Or abscond with a princess. Or be shunned and scorned by all. Great and terrible events will happen to you, largely beyond your control. And it’s all great fun, so it’s ok.
Brian Leet: I nominated several titles that I’d categorize as “experience games” for this list, and Tales of the Arabian Nights is a poster child for the genre. You don’t play this game for control, or strategy, or tactics. You play to find out what will happen to you. Yes, you get to make choices, but in the end you realize you are the monkey riding the tiger. Along the way you will be treated to a great story, the ribbing of your friends, and situations simple, absurd, and bizarre. Even in this era of ubiquitous electronics there is something satisfying about the tome of stories and mechanical methods devised to make the game even work. All together it makes for a game that must be experienced, when you have the right group, the right mood, and the right amount of time.
– Code 777 –
Lorna: For anyone that fondly remembers the popular mainstream deduction games Clue or Mastermind, Code 777 is a must try. Each player has 3 numbers that they must deduce from questions answered by other players. Each player takes turns reading a question and then answering it truthfully by looking at the other players numbers. When you think you know your numbers you may announce your guess. The first to guess correctly 3 times wins.
It stands out because it seems like a simple game and it is. The game involves just 7 numbers and 7 colors. The questions you ask are pre-printed. The fun is that Code 777 is just challenging enough, it’s not easy, but your puzzles are solvable in a reasonable amount of time without anyone getting too frustrated. This makes Code 777 accessible to a wider range of gamers than some of the more difficult deduction games out there.
To be continued…